weekly wishes

Weekly Wish VIDEO - "Lullabye"

Here is the latest Weekly Wishes video, filmed on location at my friend Matt Dinsick the Drummer's apartment. Singing is my friend Adam Reich, and joining us off-screen is Adam's friend Danny Reisbick the Bass Player.

This is the video that got tabled for logistical reasons back in the spring - it's hard enough to get two busy people's schedules to line up; four was a little ridiculous. But now it's the end of summer (read: not very lucrative, but less hectic at least), and we were able to find a couple hours the other afternoon to get together Matt's apartment in a leafy part of Brooklyn near Prospect Park.

Now, I'm a pretty considerate musician-neighbor. Matt is even more so because he's a drummer (neighbors are a lot quicker to get annoyed about drum practicing than piano practicing). He wanted to be wrapped up by 5 p.m. We got a couple decent takes at the beginning, but I decided to use this, our last take, what I like to call a f***-it take. I don't know that it was any better or worse than any of the others (as always, there are a hundred things I'd like to do better), but it was fun. And the dog outside seemed to enjoy it, too.

I have been wanting to learn to play that piano solo for a long time. Yay!

Weekly Wishes, Revisited

Ok, people.  I am back in New York.  It's been very refreshing to be gone most of the summer.  Now to recombobulate my discombobulated self.

To the garden variety blog reader, it will seem as if I've been very flaky these past couple months.  Those more closely acquainted with my life, however, will know that some matters of business have required my attention, and that I've been on the road an awful lot since about mid-June.  (Jacksonville, Cape Cod, Denver, El Paso, Silver City, Tucson, Phoenix, Memphis, the Hamptons... rough life I lead.)

Weekly Wishes require consistent access to a piano.  My little 25-key midi controller is fine for half-ass-memorizing the basic structure of a song, but isn't sufficient for learning to play a piano transcription.  Weekly Wishes also require what I will call Advanced Discipline.  Patience.  Perseverance.  Attention to detail.  

(Bleh.  I have to give myself a C- at the midterm... )

Last year was a survey course of Self-Discipline with my song-a-day project - just show up and do it, whether or not I feel like or not, even if some days I'm just going through the motions.  Weekly Wishes are harder, because the timeline is longer, and the while the goal (learn to play a piano piece well enough to tape) is more concrete, the path to get there is longer and more nebulous.  While song-a-day was almost exclusively about Process, weekly wishes have an element of Product (videos that are non-cringeworthy enough to post online).  

It was easy to cop out when I was traveling and only had my little wee keyboard, especially because I really did miss learning a song a day.  I wish I had time to do both.  But as long as I have regular practice time on a full-size keyboard, it's time to work the discipline and the details.  

To that end, I'm picking up a project I tabled months ago for logistical reasons - my Lullabye guys are still around and interested in recording with me, so I'm going to revisit that song and awesome piano solo and hopefully record the next Weekly Wish video sometime next week!

Plan B - Oscar Peterson

We pianists can be eccentric.  Musically self-sufficient - takes longer to get bored playing solo on a piano than on an instrument that can only play one note at a time (I would think, anyway).  Not portable - guitarists can take their instrument to the park or wherever the other humans are.  Yeah, we can be real weird, locked in the garret with our 88-key orchestra.

It was one of the oddest pianists I ever met who introduced me to the music of Oscar Peterson.  Must have been freshman year, because we were in the dorms.  He pulled out a CD and insisted, in his vaguely Slavic accent (my friends and I never could pinpoint his country of origin or sexual orientation, and he never deigned to clarify), that I had to listen to this.  "This" was Oscar Peterson Live. 

"Bach's Blues", what!?!?   It was Bach, but it was blues!  It was the real thing - jazz - but it had roots in "real", respectable, classical music.  To us weird maverick classical pianists, it was a little rebellious, but still safe to respect because it had Bach's name on it.  It was like being told you can have tiramisu for Communion, and it still counts.

So - I downloaded "Every Time We Say Goodbye" from the album Oscar Peterson Plays the Cole Porter Songbook (and subsequently, the rest of the album), and started playing along yesterday afternoon. Plan B, commence!

Weekly Wish - Farewell Songs

I wish there were time for everything. For instance, writing and performing with Nat.
Photo: Farrell Goldsmith

Nat is my opera singer/playwright friend, next-door neighbor, erstwhile writing/cabaret partner, force of nature, Fire Under My Ass (nickname Fuma).  It's been far too long since we've done a creative project together.  We're both too busy with individual projects now to, say, write, self-produce and perform a children's musical about time travel, but a little medley to close her studio's recital might be just the ticket.  I wish Nat and Kat could ride once more on the D.S. al Coda to the past! (You will get that if you were one of the...60 or so people who saw our show.)

So... I'm going to learn "So Long, Farewell" from The Sound of Music, and explore a few other goodbye songs, including the Donny Osmond song "For All We Know".  This is step one in arranging a medley. 

I should note that I decided about this week's wish a couple days ago, and am not choosing this theme because of Bin Laden's death.  While I have great respect for the people who devote their lives to serving the country, and for those who lost loved ones in 9-11, I can't quite bring myself to celebrate a violent death. 

I heard about the president's address via - where else - facebook, and, like many other people in the 20-45 demographic, was glued to my computer screen for the better part of an hour, watching news results as they came up on screen, and waiting impatiently for NPR to switch to live coverage from the White House.  This morning, many of my facebook friends who are parents were wondering "out loud" how to explain it all to their children. 

I'm glad I don't have to figure that one out. 

Hard Times - Weekly Wish VIDEO #4!

Here's the video of "Hard Times" Arthur Wise and I recorded last week! 

Note the glass and the phone on the keyboard bench next to Arthur: I often lure friends and fellow musicians to my home with the promise of a beverage and some of my (almost) world-famous guacamole.  Arthur assures me he wasn't texting during the song, he was starting the phone to record. 

As I mentioned before, this wasn't my most polished performance, but I definitely had the most fun at this recording session. It's a tough balance to strike, between wanting to be perfect, and letting go of the nitpickiness in performance.  I knew from the get-go that I hadn't spent enough time to get all the notes Ray played, much less the exact timing etc. (which is really hard without a full band - I couldn't play exactly what he was playing without at least a rhythm section)... so I just ate a lot of guacamole and had a good time. 

More later on how I need to do more of this (have a good time, at least, maybe not the guacamole...).

Let me know what you think!

Weekly Wish 4/25/11 - 'Round Midnight

Madison Square Park
It is a beautiful, beautiful day in New York City - the kind of day that's just humid enough that subway stations hint at the murderous heat and humidity to come, but outdoors is a brief nirvana between slushy chill and odoriferous inferno.  There's a gentle breeze blowing through Madison Square Park, trees and flowers are blooming, and the wifi is free. 

I was going to do a little Art Tatum week, but about midway through my lobby gig today, it occurred to me that I really wish I could play "'Round Midnight" by heart.  In fact, I wish I could give it a decent go with the lead sheet in front of my face; my fingers stumble over the unexpected harmonies. 

The first time I played jazz in college, my combo-mates very generously compared my playing to Thelonious Monk.  This was the kindest possible description of my hopeful stabbing at the keys.  The difference is (well, one of the differences) that Monk knew what he was doing.  But we were both quirky and percussive, and the undeserved compliment kept me from dying of shame during some of my more pathetic solo choruses.  They thought I sounded like Monk! Yeah!

And here I am, a decade later.  I don't get to play Actual Jazz Music with Actual Jazz Musicians very often these days.  New York jazzers are scary - if they're not getting to earn a living just from playing the music they love, they at least want to be jamming with people who are good enough improvisers to give them a satisfying, challenging musical experience (ie, not me).  But I still like to think I'm a lot better than I was back then.

The moral of the story is, in order to get good at something, you have to A) love it a lot, and B) be willing to suck at it for a very, very long time while you're working on it.

Weekly Wish 04-11-11 - Fats Waller

Diesel is a sweet kitten when he ain't misbehavin'...
Well, that was a waste of five bucks. 

I just downloaded sheet music for a Fats Waller transcription (I hoped) of "Ain't Misbehavin'".  The first page (which is all you see before you buy) looked promising to be a note-for-note transcription of what he plays, but it was not.  Of course, they all say Fats Waller, because he wrote the song.  I guess that's what I get for being lazy and not learning it by ear.  I can do it that way, or I can buy the book of his solo transcriptions.  I'll probably do both - buy the book but learn some parts by ear anyway.  Eeeeee!!!

"Eeeeeee" is for excitement - I love, that is luurrrrrrve Fats Waller.  His playing is full of both muscle and humor.  He's the kind of guy who'd write a song called "Your Feet's Too Big."  "Your pedal extremities really are obnoxious", he says at the end of the song.  I mean, I ask you.  I wish I could get inside this guy's head a little bit. 

"Your pedal extremities really are obnoxious - one never knows, do one..."

Why Wish

Today I figured out why it's important to do my Weekly Wishes project.  I mean, beyond the wishing "...I could play like such-and-such".  As I've mentioned several times, I'm constantly arguing with myself about whether I should be putting time into my own whimsical project, when time is at a premium and there are so many other things begging to be done.  So today's revelation makes me a mite less conflicted than before, always a welcome sensation to this Gemini. 

I imagine it must be really lovely to be a naturally cheerful, positive person.  I wouldn't know.  I've learned from experience how destructive pessimism can be, and how nothing worthwhile gets done without a constant stream of "I think I can, I think I can".  The pastor at my church gig uses the example of two wolves - which wolf wins the fight, the good one or the bad?  The one you feed.  I have to fight every single day to keep from pouring a bag of premium feed into the big bad wolf's trough (wait, do wolves eat out of troughs??!). 

My point is, I realized today that my Weekly Wishes project is my reminder to feed the good wolf.  It has indeed been a busy week, but when I threw up my hands the other night and decided to give a teeny part of my week to working thru my Dr. John book/CD - just because I like that style of music and because studying music is what I do with my life - the good wolf won.  I haven't had much time to put into it, but I've been having fun with the Texas boogie (started memorizing it and trying it in other keys today), and just reading/listening through the rest of the book.

To satisfy the Voice of Reason:  I'm a lot more motivated to practice when I have a just-for-fun thing on the practice list.  And making time for one important thing helps me remember to try to make time for other important things, like friends and working out.

Oh, and sleep. 

Weekly Wish 4/4/11: the Battle of the Doubts

Remember the Doubts?  My friends, the insidious little inner monologue mofos that try to convince me that every decision I'm making is wrong?  Well, lately they've been creeping back, doing reconnaissance work, lobbing the occasional test missile to find my new weak spots. 

Some doubts are useful - like when I see some old person struggling to get around on the subway, and I wonder exactly what I'm going to do when I get old.  Work til I die, still schlepping up four flights of stairs at the end of the day, after I've bounced my old bones around the city on public transit?  Maybe better think about how I can make enough money to put away for when I can't work so hard - or at all (God forbid, I'd go crazy). 

Then there are the useless Doubts.  They were being "helpful" today when I was trying to figure out my Weekly Wish for this busy week. 

"Don't do a wish this week.  You don't have time. You should focus on actual work, that might make you actual dollars," intoned the Voice of Reason (the VR is related to the Doubts by marriage).

"Hey, I've got a wish for ya," hollered a Doubt with a thick Brooklyn accent.  "How about, I wish I hadn't grown up in the middle of buttf***ing nowhere, so I could have gotten more experience as a kid, or at least seen professional performances?"

And all hell broke loose:  I wish I'd known more about my career options when I was in college.  I wish I had been ready to know my career options in college.  I wish I hadn't spent so many years getting in my own way.  I wish I hadn't played for so many years with bad technique before I found a teacher who could help me fix it.  I wish it hadn't taken career disappointment and near-injury to take that step.  I wish it weren't too late (thirty thirty thirty thirty...)...

"SHUT UP!!!!!" Katgut came roaring back. Ok, regroup.  Just make a damn wish, ok? Just pick something and learn it.  Fats Waller? ...nah, not this week.  Review Billy Joel or Elton John favorites? Go back to Lullabye? No, I need something new, a present for my bedraggled self.  ...Hey, what's this book I bought and never used?  Dr. John Teaches New Orleans Piano?

I do wish I could play a little New Orleans piano.  So I'm gonna take a little time every day, a half hour or so, and work through as much of this book as I can.  The CD that comes with it is cool, because it's Dr. John himself playing - not soulless midi tracks of the examples in the book - and he breaks down the examples with an intereviewer, so it feels kinda like a really chill master class.

I did my half hour just before I wrote this  - annoyed the neighbors by playing the basic Texas boogie in all 12 keys.  Status: much better now, Doubts have retreated for the time being, and I can play a really simple Texas boogie. 

Weekly Wish 03/07/11: Gershwin

You know it's been a long week when you're dreaming of happy hour at 11 a.m. on Monday. Freelance musician "weeks" sometimes stretch into the "month" neighborhood. Finally a bit of a respite today - just a couple short rehearsals and one lesson to teach.

This is by way of explaining why I didn't post my Wish last week. Last week was "I wish... I could play the piano solo from Ben Folds' "Lullabye"." It went ok - one of my favorite songs & I fell in love with the solo the first time I heard it. Never enough time to work on it, as usual - I continue to ask myself why I bother at all, when I should be working on my career instead. Networking, practicing audition material, updating my website blah blah blah... I don't have the answer to that, except possibly the answer "I suck at business".  What I do know is this: Wishing gives me something that I need to survive in the shark-and-disappointment-
infested waters of the music business.

This week's Wish:
Go back to the Gershwin "Swanee" transcription... More specific Wish: "I wish I could play it up to tempo." I've worked out a couple technical snags in it, so hopefully this is the week. Then I can record a video and go back to torturing my neighbors with the accordion.