Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Are You Glad to be In America? vol. 1

Okay, maybe an easy target. So sue me. This (sadly broken) CD was at the corner thrift store, Gracie's, for 25 cents. Except it was the monthly half price day, so I guess it was 12.5 cents. Did you know there was a Fellowship of Christian Cheerleaders? Did you know there was both "Beginner's Music" and "Advanced Music"? And then the Spirit Mix. I wish the CD itself were playable, as it gets my imagination going. But I guess I'll just have to imagine that perhaps the "Beginner's Music" is in some sort of duple meter, the "Advanced Music" is maybe in five and uses a few microtonal flourishes and the "Spirit Mix" is something like Ayler.

A friend of mine who requests anonymity teaches Comp 101, you know, freshman writing. On the student questionnaire for the happy, relaxed, get-acquainted days of the early semester, one of the questions was: If you could meet anyone from history, who would it be? A few students put Jesus; one student put Ronald Reagan. Many students answered the "ethnic background" question by writing "white." Or "American."

If I could meet anyone from history, it might be the graphic designer of the FCC Cheer Mix CD, so I could ask: why the dancing mouse?

On another front entirely, yet somehow still from within the borders of this Great Nation of Ours, this excerpt from Katherine Stubblefield's moving account of Max Roach's funeral:

"If I recall correctly, at around this time Stanley Crouch spoke... it was amusing to hear a few groans from our position in the balcony...and one person called out that he only has five
minutes... anyway, thank you Stanley Crouch for speaking well of Max Roach."

I wonder if Crouch was before or after Bill Cosby? Or the reading of Bill Clinton's letter? And thank God that Crouch spoke well of Roach, thank God he didn't say something like "You critics would have totally ignored a Wynton album with Roach on it but you practically sainted the man for playing with Braxton."

As to what may or may not have been discussed in the foyer of Riverside Church either pre or post memorial, only the hallowed walls can tell.

Maybe as a karmic offset for buying the FCC Cheer Mix for 12.5 cents and eagerly ripping it open only to find it unplayable, a lot of kind folks have been sending me music lately. The wonderful free improvising saxophonist from down under, Massimo Magee, sent me his recent recording, "To Those for Whom No Time Exists." Kevin Frenette sent me a CD I haven't had time to listen to yet. Ditto Stanley J Zappa. Ditto guitarist Lily Maase. Massimo's title more appropriately for me could have been "For Those Who are Chronically Out of Time." Double or perhaps triple irony intended.

And I've sent the extraordinary duo recording of Paul Rutherford/Paul Lovens from '76/'77 to the fine fantabulists at Destination Out, so maybe we'll see parts of that up there soon.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Max Roach

There's a wealth of Roach tributes pouring out, quite rightly, all over the web. What jumped into my mind on first hearing the news of Roach's passing was his solo on Valse Hot, a Prestige recording with Sonny Rollins, Clifford Brown, Richie Powell and George Morrow. This was one of the workouts that Andrew had me try to cut my teeth on when I first started lessons with him. I'm reminded also that I had started drums at about age 5 or so, and had been studying and playing, sometimes fanatically, for roughly 23 years by the time I worked with Andrew. And I had heard Roach's solo on Valse Hot maybe 50 or 100 times by the time Andrew put its architecture in front of me.

I had never tried to work through it, had never approached 3/4 in the absolutely literal way that Roach deadpans his way through it. The experience absolutely kicked my skinny Irish ass. It's not conceptually very difficult, really. The idea: boom chick chick, boom chick chick. Right foot, left foot, left foot. Then just layer patterns over the top. But in the way that Roach's conception was always deceptively simple, capturing this pattern in a convincing way, with musicality of phrasing, with his sense of absolute confidence, proved highly challenging for me. The process of transcribing the solo was eye opening and deeply humbling in many ways.

And this goes to so many different layers of musicology and beyond. The drums, in particular, attract a lot of wankers. There were some street drummers out last night at the corner of Mill and Fourth Streets in the execrable (supposedly hip) "downtown" area of Tempe. (More about that in another post). These 3 young drummers had some moves, for sure. They had choreographed some pretty slick stuff and executed some impressive sticking, some flashy acrobatics. I admired their flash and the ways they worked together. I also admired their mastery of the rudiments and their stick control. But there was not much music in the end result. I have nothing against flash. And Roach had plenty of flash himself (his hi hat solos, for but one example). But Roach also made music. Always.

He was an artist first and a drummer second. And I can clearly hear that the end result of this sort of priority is that one becomes massively expert on one's instrument. But the technique is in the service of some sort of statement. Roach was always saying something. Some great drummers are sometimes simply saying "look at how great I am."

One of my growing up moments was moving from Buddy Rich to Max Roach. (and Elvin Jones, and, perhaps oddly, regaining more appreciation for Gene Krupa). The public library where I grew up had a record called "Rich versus Roach," and the role of that record changed over time...from justifying my Buddy Rich fetish to highlighting my newfound respect for Roach. There's a lot I still admire about certain Rich performances (especially excerpted from the cornball contexts that Rich often stooped to). And no matter how much Rich's snare technique can still floor me, if I want to hear the drums as an instrument capable of making music, I'd rather hear Roach in a heartbeat.

What's echoing in my head now is Roach on Bemsha Swing, from Monk's Brilliant Corners. Roach on tympani. Then what piles in is the extended duet with Cecil Taylor from 1979. That this same artist confidently spans these styles and is instantly recognizable is a miracle of American musical culture.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Valley Fever

At first, I figured Valley Fever was just a catchall name for the crazy behavior one sometimes sees exhibited by residents of Central Arizona, probably caused by the searing heat and overexposure to strip malls, strip clubs, road construction and big box retail. Turns out that Valley Fever is an actual fungal infection.


Strange: landmarks here are constituted by a bewildering array of drug stores, supermarkets, chain restaurants such as Outback Steakhouse and Chili's, gas stations and department stores. Problem: It would seem simple enough to remember that Trader Joe's, for example, is located in a plaza at an intersection with a huge Walgreen's. However, it's an identical plaza with a huge Walgreen's, maybe 5 blocks south of the one closer to the house.

Beautiful: the saguaros and other cacti in people's yards.
Ugly: Just about everything else.

I started work as a part time High School algebra 1 teacher last week, rumbling through endless orientation and set up activities. Classes start Monday. I'll be teaching about 50 (mostly) 9th graders at a charter school that focuses on the arts. The pay is unbelievably low and the hours are actually relatively long, as well as the professional requirements being fairly detailed. Call me crazy, but I'm stoked.

Also stoked about the High Mayhem Festival next month. The schedule isn't completely finalized, but I know through the grapevine that Chris Jonas's Rrake project (I'll be on drums) is Friday, 9/21 and my own Traps performance (with 6 drummers on 6 drumsets) is Sunday, 9/23. I don't think I'll be able to get to Santa Fe this month so it's especially exciting to have this in the offing.

Also stoked about an "audition" for The Phoenix New Times, writing one of their arts and culture event previews for the section called Night&Day. The paper devotes an entire page to every day of the week, with short pieces of about 150 words for three or four events each day.

Do people still say "I'm stoked"? If not, let's just say "I'm old" and leave it at that. Maybe it's all of the Hawaiian shirts I bought at Gracie's Thrift Store last week. Dude.

I notice checking out the blog rounds that there's been a recent flurry of commentary on Kieth Jarrett's recent outburst in Perugia. I don't have any strong opinions on any of it yet. The only thing that comes to mind is my recent hour-long telephone conversation with Sonny Rollins and attending a wonderful Meet the Artist event where Rollins was interviewed by AB Spellman, as well as the stunning Rollins performance the following Sunday night. Without saying a word, Rollins exudes dignity, humility of a strong and centered spirit, a sense of humor, a sense of perspective and gratitude. There isn't one molecule of kow-tow nor any shred of the submissive in Rollins. Yet, at the same time, there is no sense of brittleness nor of self-seriousness. In describing to a friend of mine how solid Mr. Rollins seems, he said "Man, if I had accomplished even one tenth of what Rollins has, I'd be the biggest prick in the world." Interesting perspective.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Into the Hot

Apparently, the Hohokam name for Phoenix was "Hoodzo," which literally means "the place is hot." So far the biggest surprise is the humidity, actually. I had no idea that this area received an influx of monsoonal moisture every summer. It feels and looks tropical outside, palm trees towering over the apartment buildings behind our back yard.

Music? I still haven't discovered much. Well, I've only been here 5.5 days. These things take time, like at least 8 days or so. I checked out the Phoenix Creative Music Movement's web site again and sent an email but it got kicked back. So I'll have to see about it some other way. We took a drive into downtown Phoenix last night and saw a few blues clubs here and there, but nothing particularly interesting yet.

Meanwhile Chris Jonas' Rrake project goes up again in preparation for the '07 High Mayhem Festival Sept. 21-23, so I'll be headed back to Santa Fe for some rehearsal, hopefully dovetailing with a rehearsal for the Traps project.

Friday, August 03, 2007

front yards, insane and otherwise

The top photo is our front yard in Tempe. The bottom photo is a neighbor's front yard. We've had to mow the front yard three times since July 20th thanks to flood irrigation. The neighbor just gets to be awe inspired by completely xeric cacti.

It's not fair, nor is it sane. Grass grows in Kentucky. In the Sonoran, do as the Sonorans do.

selling out

My blog is worth $9,032.64.
How much is your blog worth?

Thursday, August 02, 2007

What the?

well hey, here I am in Tempe. How strange is that? Listening to Corey Wilkes play two trumpets on the title track of Ethnic Heritage Ensemble's Hot 'n' Heavy. It's playing on my own radio show, which I recorded last Thursday...streaming on the web from

AND I finally managed to put together a workable home studio to record the show here, putting August 16th's show in the can this morning. I was all set to use the MBox2 but the sucker wouldn't power up from the USB so I ended up just running the stereo into a mixer and the mixer (mic included) directly into the 1/8 mic input on the back of the Mac G5. Recording using the free recording software Audacity, which seems to work just fine. The mic sound isn't so great, but it's a loaner mic, a loaner mixer...the whole deal ended up costing me $15 in cables and adapters.

Job offer: full time middle school math teaching with an additional high school algebra I class for about half what my last full time teaching position paid. Great school, great people. I just can't do the deal anymore...I might be teaching part time at the same school, maybe music theory. It was interesting to note my reaction to being offered the job, which was a sort of kneejerk "great, when do I start?" Only after I slept on it overnight did some clarity come my way.

Generally: the feeling is I have fallen into a vortex of disarray. I'm sure everything will sort itself out after a bit more time.

The internet fortune tellers at astrodienst actually back me up this time:

Favorable results**
Your energies are high, you feel good, and you believe that you can do twice as much work as usual, which you probably can. This time is also favorable for most business activity, for your actions are blessed with insight that helps you succeed in business where others might fail. For the same reason, this is a good time for making decisions. You have a very clear sense of yourself and your needs, so that you can make decisions according to your best interests, in the largest and most enlightened sense of the phrase. If you must take chances or do something that you can't foresee the outcome of, this is as good a time as any. Your optimism now creates a positive energy that will attract favorable results from your gamble. Besides, you have the sense at this time to avoid any real risky ventures.