Wednesday, April 28, 2010
I never thought it would ever happen. I figured I would live here the rest of my life. A friend of mine told me that once you make it past the five-year mark you become an official New Yorker. I made it past the first five years. In that span I endured two muggings, vandalism, theft, threats from roommates, a fair amount of vibing from fellow musicians, and the non-stop mishagos that comes with living in the big town.
And it was great.
I played with some of the best musicians in the world, and I met some of its great characters. I hung out until all hours of the night. Got drunk at the West End trying to meet college co-eds, invariably failing and staggering home. There I saw Bob Berg play an electrifying sax solo and not get paid at the end of the gig. I saw Benny Green execute one of the coolest sit-ins ever at Sweet Basil when in mid-tune he replaced Larry Willis. I saw Woody Shaw at the old Star Cafe almost deck a guitar player who was pestering him. I saw Elvin Jones at Fat Tuesdays play John Bonham licks.
I lived in Manhattan in a room a little larger than a walk in closet. I lived in Brooklyn in a house with four roommates, one of whom stole from me and threatened to beat me to a pulp. A few years later I would move back to Manhattan's Upper West Side where I lived in an apartment nicknamed "the dungeon" by my first cousin for the amount of direct sunlight it received: two minutes a day.
I played at great venues and I played at dives. In the early years I gigged at a McDonald's where I had to climb over a steel railing to get to a loft suspended 15 feet above the restaurant which contained the piano. I worked at Princess Pamela's Little Kitchen when the East Village was still dangerous. I accompanied a fat blues singer who would verbally abuse her yuppie clientele. I was fired for asking for a five dollar raise. And I worked at the Empire Diner on 10th avenue from 11PM-3Am on Saturday nights where I would meet my future wife. A few months after we began dating we drove across country in a Nissan Stanza that had a sun roof which we nicknamed the Stanzaterium; a drive we will reprise this August.
I played at the Village Vanguard, The Blue Note, The Village Gate, Sweet Basil, Fat Tuesdays, Birdland, Lincoln Center, and Smalls. I never played at Carnegie Hall. Didn't practice enough.
I met my best friend in the upper deck of Shea Stadium between games of a Mets/Cubs double-header. Together we attended a myriad of sporting events. We saw game I of the 1996 World Series, a game which the Yankees lost by 11 runs to the Atlanta Braves. Little did we know that game would be one of only three Series games that the Yankees would lose in the next six years.
While I lived here the Mets won one World Series and played in another. The football Giants won three Super Bowls (!) and the Knicks, though they made the playoffs almost every year in the 1990's, made the finals only once, losing to the Houston Rockets in seven games in 1994. Most improbably, in 1994 a few days after my first-born arrived, the Rangers won their first Stanley Cup in 44 years.
My three children, unlike me, are native New Yorkers. Just as I did, they will have started out on one coast only to emerge on another. Unlike me, however, they carry the cache of being from New York. They are savvy city kids who will not be easily rattled and are much greater equipped than I to deal with this move.
Now I find myself in the unenviable position of starting over. This fall, and for the foreseeable future I will be living somewhere in the Bay Area. I do not know any musicians there and I have no gigs. Part of me is relishing this new challenge. After all, I knew only one musician when I moved to New York 26 years ago. All I ask is for a good bassist and drummer, a few laughs, and the occasional gig to get me started. I know it can work -- there are great musicians all over the world. There will be some where I'm going. Just got to find them.
Posted at 12:44 am by commish
Friday, March 26, 2010
I'm a Lame Duck New Yorker
In September I will conclude a 26 year stint of living in New York city and move to San Francisco. I grew up in California in Los Angeles but L.A. and San Fran are very different. They have about as much in common as New York and Los Angeles do. So in essence I am not so much as coming home to California as I am moving to a different city.
I have lived in New York longer than I have lived anywhere, and although it took me several years to feel at home here I now identify myself as a New Yorker. I have paid my dues — been mugged on the subway, endured the stress of searching for apartments, and screamed at random strangers on the street only to end up laughing and hugging. I have performed at some of the skeeviest dives, as well as some of the most elegant and esteemedvenues.
The next five months I assume the role of a lame duck New Yorker. It will become a time of lasts. I noticed the forsythia beginning to bloom all I could think of was this will be the last time I have a New York spring. (they don’t have seasons out in Cali) Soon I will have my last maddening Memorial Day traffic, my last 4th of July, and my last birthday.
This year is a milestone too — I am turning 50 in August. The thought occurred to me today to combine a 50th birthday party with a going away party for all of us. That was I can avoid the surprise party scenario and spread the pathos around!
Right now it hasn’t fully hit me yet. My feelings are an odd combination of melancholy and excitement. There is something to be said about a new beginning and there are worse places in the world than San Francisco. It will be difficult as a musician to begin gigging right away, but I am confident that I am too good to remain idle for that long. Stay tuned.
Posted at 02:34 pm by commish
Tuesday, March 09, 2010
Giant Steps is a fascinating album. It was a breakthrough album for John Coltrane whose frenetic sheets of sound took up residence in its impossibly difficult title track. The Giant Steps chord changes, which some say are based on the bridge of Rogers and Hart’s Have You Met Miss Jones, would dominate the album, as well as the several dates that would proceed it. It is remarkable to hear Coltrane cut through those changes as if they were butter, particularly on Countdown, a duet with drummer Arthur Taylor for three-quarters of the track.
I have always felt that the songs on Giant Steps served as etudes — vehicles for Coltrane’s obsession with these angular chords. In the subsequent dates, particularly on Coltrane’s Sound (not released at the time) and My Favorite Things, Coltrane was able to discover the soul in these changes. His playing became more lyrical, and if it can be believed, even more confident.
These Atlantic dates, recorded in an 18 month period between April of 1959 and October of 1960, were Coltrane’s farewell to playing over standard 32 bar song chord progressions. Few players before or since could equal his mastery of harmony, as well as his lyricism. When he found the drummer and pianist that fit his sound it was if his concept and sound came into alignment. In the later Atlantic dates you can hear him straddling both hard bop and model music. In the fall of 1961 at the Village Vanguard things would change for everyone
Posted at 10:30 am by commish
Sunday, January 10, 2010
All the money in the world for national security...
...but a public option is out of the question. Where are our priorities. The chances that any of us will die in a terrorist attack is thousands of times more remote than needing chemo therapy. Yet we continue to shovel money into a security system that is dysfunctional at best.
The latest over-reaction to the Nigerian terrorist attack has me very concerned. The fact that we, as passengers will have to sit with hands in lap for the last hour of international flights — in effect infantilizing us – would be laughable if it was not so infuriating. A third grader could see through the flawed logic of this inane policy.
The fact that the would-be terrorist made it through several red flags — no luggage/one-way ticket/already on the watch list — leads me to believe that there is more here than meets the eye. Is it possible that we are in a pre-totalitarianist state? What disturbs me is the public willingness to accept these rules in the name of safety. Time and again I have heard the phrase ‘It is a priviledge, not a right, to fly.’ It is a priviledge, in so much as it is a priviledge to buy a candy bar or a television set. While we have the choice not to fly, there are many situations in which it is not practical to travel by any other method.
We are sanguine about getting behind the wheel of a car, or being a passenger in that car. How many of us take the bus or subway? We trust that drivers and motor men will safely deliver us to our destination. What if there was an attack on mass transit? How many of us would accept a twenty-minute wait to enter the Times Square subway station?
Dehumanization is not the answer to attempted terror attacks. By reacting hysterically we have given a gift to the terrorists. In reality they do not have to blow up planes to realize their goal. They have already bred fear and anxiety, and have contributed to the crippling of our economy.
Posted at 01:21 am by commish
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Here's how to win the war on terror.
I think we can all agree that we are sick and tired of the war against terror. The problem is, how do we extricate ourselves from this political quagmire? Finally there is a solution.
First Obama must call a press conference and declare Islam the winner in the war on terror while announcing that we are immediately pulling out of Iraq and Afghanistan. ”When we first joined battle with you, the terrorists, we had no idea that you were so good at jihading. Heck of a job out of you guys. We’re scared. You win. goodbye.”
Here now, is the brilliant part. Unbeknownst to the terrorists Obama will have sent out a mass mailing to every U.S. citizen stating “Shhhh…. we know that we really won the war on terra — we’re just going to allow the terrorists think they won. ” Then BOOM! We begin subsidizing opium farming in the U.S. thus putting the Taliban out of business. We move into Afghanistan and binc, binc, binc, there’s a direct pipeline straight to France. Game, set, match.
Posted at 02:10 pm by commish
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Just read an article on the health care bill on Slate
Barring a desertion by Lieberman, which is not out of the question, the bill will go to a Senate vote next week. From what I can glean, this watered down bill could potentially do more harm than good. It certainly seems like a gift to the insurance companies which will have even more business without the competition from a public option. How does this effect people on the fringes who will have to buy health care or face a tax fine? Will they opt to pay the fine? Some people (in the comments section) say that the bill, watered down as it is, will still be a marked improvement over what we have since insurance cos will not be able to drop those with existing coverage, or deny others wilth existing conditions.
Had an interesting conversation with a bass player friend about it today. He is an Obama supporter to a fault. He is extremely progressive, but he sees the political side as well. He is saying that Obama wanted to get things done incrementally. He realized a public option was a non-starter and at least wanted to get the trigger in. He thinks Harry Reid, by forcing a progressive issue caused a backlash on the right. I think it's reading too much into it to presume to know what Obama thinks, but I do agree that there is a political element here that is driving things.
If health care passes and things marginally improve is this huge? Many administrations have tried and failed. It's sad and disheartening the levels of greed and hatred in this country.
Posted at 01:24 am by commish
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
I've Got You Under My Skin
No video but this is a great example of Sinatra's connection to the beat. One of the all time great Nelson Riddle arrangements. It's all building tension, almost overtly sexual -- he (and the arrangement) tease you throughout the first chorus but you can sense something simmering, until finally in the instrumental, an orgasm of horns, and when he reenters the tension is rebuilt - climax -- break - resolution.
Posted at 12:26 am by commish
Monday, December 14, 2009
A Republican in sheep's clothing
Speaking of Republicans, did you know that Joe Lieberman's wife works as a lobbyist for medical insurance companies? WTF?! Why does Harry Reid and his cohorts put up with him. They should strip him of his committees before they are not in a position to do so. (appx 1 year from now if math serves)
Posted at 09:12 pm by commish
Friday, December 11, 2009
The pinnacle (possibly of western civilization) is a record called Only The Lonely. It was made at the height of his career in the mid 50s and he's at the peak of his talent. It was the first concept album - it's all ballads, heavily orchestrated around the theme of lost love. He would repeat this formula with less success with Come Fly With Me. Come Dance With Me and others, although that is like saying a BMW is not as good as a Porsche.
Some words about those that arranged for him. Nelson Riddle, who did Only the Lonely, among many others, was one of the greatest arrangers ever and his sound, combined with Sinatra's basically changed the way that people listened to music, or at least it raised the bar to an extremely high level. This kind of symbiotic relationship between arrnanger (sometimes composer, as in Jimmy Van Huesen) and vocalist had never existed before and it made the Sinatra lexicon special, separating him from the ancillary big-band singers who were mere components of a larger group with no real power. I really believe it was an alignment of the stars between singer, arranger/composer, and musicians that made these records so great -- not just Sinatra.
Posted at 09:19 am by commish
I enjoyed playing tonight. Sometimes with a steady, especially one with a singer, I get into ruts, but today everything seemed light and fresh.
I wanted to ask what do you all think of Sinatra? Most people of our generation only remember him from his tuxedo-wearing, larger than life, arena appearances of his last 2 decades. The kind they would parody on SNL. If you listen to the stuff from the 40s, and especially 50s and 60s you hear an original artist whose concept of phrasing is practically unequalled. The way he sings a ballad -- it's romantic, but more than that there is a kind of vulnerability mixed with raw sexuality. He makes you believe in the song and he makes you feel for him. when you think of it there's a kind of genius in that because think of the man -- he was a powerful man who associated with mobsters, liked to drink and carry on and he was not what you think of as a sensitive guy. Anyhow I'm curious because there is this dichotomy in him that I find fascinating.
Posted at 01:16 am by commish
Born in a small coal mining town, I combine the ability to play I Got Rhythm in all 11 and a half keys with my love of washing machines to form a perspective so skewed that my wife insists on seperate seatings at dinner.