Sunday, July 24, 2016

Speaking of Grammy winners

I actually had some more dealings with another Grammy winner prior to my visit to New Orleans (where I met Grammy winner, Irvin Mayfield). The pianist Laura Sullivan released her latest album a little while ago, a lush recording of moving, delicate, and inspiring pieces, more in the line of easy listening or New Age than the traditional jazz that Mr. Mayfield is all about. Here’s a light reworking of my review of Ms. Sullivan’s latest work:

This is my second CD by Laura Sullivan, and although I am a jazz musician and blogger, I enjoy listening to different types of music, including Ms. Sullivan’s work. It brings back memories of years ago when I was enamored of Enya, Dream Academy, and Clannad and was making my own soothing sounds and songs in my small but versatile studio.

Cover and CD, both signed.

It is a joy to listen to this recording. Laura has broken some new ground and is moving in a subtly different direction by focusing on her piano composing and playing. The backing to her piano work is lush and complex, soothing at times, and pushing the music forward at others. Personally, I would have preferred if there was actually a bit less instrumentation, simply because I was getting a little frustrated with having to pick out the piano lines from all the other stuff that was going on with some of the tracks. I feel that her piano playing is one of her strong points, and I wanted to hear it a little more. As a jazz musician, I just found some of the effects and accompaniment distracting from the heart of the music. Fortunately, the production (by Laura’s husband, Eric Sullivan) is clean, crisp, and technically efficient. The songs are pretty and well-conceived and even when it is slightly overdone, the instrumentation still breathes some spirit and energy into the thematic elements of the songs. As the music flows, the distractions fade and the melody surfaces, calm and reassuring.

I guess my musical sensibilities just aren’t what they used to be, but I still know good music when I hear it. Laura Sullivan is one artist who is truly making good music, whether I get a signed free copy of her CD or not.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

My first appearance on stage in New Orleans

The working title of this entry was: "My debut as a blues poet"

This year, with July 4 falling on a Monday, our factory found itself in the enviable position of being able to basically shut down for a week. Since that meant we could travel with little or no impact on my vacation hours total, Mrs. S and I decided to take a road trip. Then, when she found a great rate on a fancy, famous, landmark hotel in New Orleans, The Roosevelt, our destination was decided. One night of fireworks, half day poker tournament, three days of good food, and infinity of heat and humidity in the land of jazz was what we had in mind, and what we got.

Before the action: Make sure the stage looks nice for my NOLA debut
I won’t go into all the details of the food. We spent a lot, ate a lot, and thoroughly enjoyed everything. Even a travel day breakfast of southern fare at the Ruby Slipper was good. The fireworks over the Mississippi River were, well, average, but it had been a while since I had seen a professional level fireworks show, so even having to stand for an hour to hold a spot for the twenty-minute display seemed worth it in the end. The poker tournament, the first I played in like, I don’t know, five years, almost ended well, too. I finished fifth out of 26 players, but that was one out of the money. Just a few different cards, a few more calls, a few faster folds, and I’d’ve cashed.

On the last night, the eve of Mrs. S’s birthday, we got a front row table at Irvin Mayfield’s to see the Grammy award winner himself. He was appearing with what I guess is his sextet, with a phenomenal, sax player named “Choo-Choo” and a newly married trombone player with incredible chops, TJ Norris. I believe the drummer was the indefatigable Adonis Rose, but I’m not sure. Anyway, they were good.
Irvin does his thing
At one point in the show, Irvin brought up some famous poets who were in the audience, and they regaled us with some of their works over a slow blues riff that the band kept swinging. Then, he had one of the audience who was not a poet, who earlier in the show had commented about being married for 48 years and Irvin thought he would be a good candidate to talk over the blues. He said something about how happy he was, and got a warm reaction from the crown. Then Irvin asked for somebody to come up (I raised my hand) who was “unhappily married”. I lowered my hand. He asked for anybody, but nobody was forthcoming. I said, let me have a go. He looked at me kind of funny and said, “Come on up.”
I was not lying. That's me, on stage, at Irvin Mayfield's Playhouse.
I have little recollection of what I said while I was on stage, except for when Irvin tried to get me off stage by saying, “This isn’t working!”. I stated firmly into the microphone, “I’m trying to do the blues, Irvin! Did I not say I lost a poker tournament?” This got a good reaction from the crowd and enabled me to sort of rap a little rhyme that I masterfully ended in rhythm with the blues riff. I got a very appreciative round of applause from the crowd, and the saxophone player gave me a warm congratulatory handshake. As I made my way back to my seat, Irvin grabbed the mic and said, “White guy’s got some skills!”

Mrs. S, Irvin Mayfield, and the best improvisational blues poet wearing a gray shirt that night
After the show, I chatted with Irvin a little bit and he held still for some photos. He’s a very nice guy and a consummate musician. (Honestly, I don’t know how this guy isn’t more well-known. He’s tremendous.) Both Mrs. S and I commented about him not selling his CD’s at the show. We decided that he’s above that level. He’s one of the few who is truly keeping jazz alive and in the forefront. All that said, his show was terrific and we really enjoyed it, which says more about the power of jazz than anything else.

Although this wasn’t our first time to visit Irvin’s Playhouse, this was our first time to meet Irvin. Hopefully, this wasn’t our last time to do either of those.