Wednesday, December 02, 2009
Why there can never be a cost of living increase in jazz.
A warm welcome and a hearty g'day to ya. Crack open a kangaroo beer, put a shrimp on the barbie and...wait, I just remembered -- I'm not Australian. So you found your way here to this blog and by now you're probably wondering, where the hell is the content? What did you expect, pole dances? I'm working on it! Give me time. I'm a pianist, not a blogger, damnit! Did I just curse? We'll edit that out.
What's the deal with musician's salaries? We haven't received a cost of living increase since the beginning of the 20th century. (thank you, TR!) The few times I have had the nerve to ask a club owner for a raise I've been made to feel like Oliver Twist. More?!!
My favorite was 25 years ago - I had this gig in the East Village -- the place was called Princess Pamela's Little Kitchen. Pamela weighed in at about 250 and was a surly blues singer who verbally abused her customers, but since it was the '80s the yuppies who came there loved it. They were like, "Thank you maam, may I have another?"
But I digress. The gig paid $20.00 but since it was 1985 that actually paid for 21 rides on the MTA. I had recently moved to Brooklyn and the commute was considerably longer so I had this idea to ask for a raise. A $5.00 raise. I had to go through channels and I asked the bass player, who was the boyfriend of Pamela. "Let me get back to you on that," he told me after our gig.
Three days later I get a call from him: "We're not working this week." In reality however, it was just me who was not working. That was how they fired me!
But I have since gone on to bigger and better pastures, increasing my average salary by as much as five fold. What a country!
That's it for post number one. Leave me a comment and let me know you're out there and in return I'll keep on supplying you with scintillating content. Good day
Posted at 05:32 pm by commish
Tuesday, December 01, 2009
Socialist, war monger, or both?
As a lifelong Democrat and liberal I find myself in a perplexing position. I am vehemently against Obama's policy of increasing the troop number in Afghanistan. Billion of dollars -- which could much better be spent bolstering our own economy, -- and tens of thousands of lives are being squandered. This is a war we can never win and we are propping up a country that has an illegitimate government, and in fact is ungovernable.
These feelings I have are identical to the ones I had in regards to the Iraq war. I want to feel proud of this president but right now all I see is a classier version of Bush. So I am in the unique position of disapproving of my president for being too far to the right, while Republicans continue to malign him as a socialist. Just how far to the left of center am I?
Posted at 10:38 pm by commish
Here's something different
I played at an affair for a corporate party today. It was a very interesting room built right under the approachway to the 59th st bridge, also known as the Queensborough Bridge. I've done this gig for 20 years running -- it's always the last Monday in November -- and up until this year it's been held at the Rainbow Room in Rockefeller Center. (another pain in the ass place to get to)
After the gig the catering hall maitre D said we had to use the service elevator rather than the front exit. Nothing new about this to musicians, and frankly I wasn't even that upset since I had parked closer to that exit. When I pushed the button to the service elevator one of the waiters standing nearby said "You have to find it and.bring it upstairs." This meaning we would have to go floor to floor until we located the elevator and pilot it back upstairs. I said 'fuck this' and went out the front.
Posted at 01:49 am by commish
Monday, November 30, 2009
I have been brooding, I have been practicing, I have been suffering with another Yankees World Series. I have been gigging and I have been composing. I have been stewing about health care and I have been disgusted at the lack of spine shown by the Democrats.
But what I have not been doing is writing and that will now change. Since I got facebook, and then twitter account,s my urge to write in this blog has lessened. I believe that this has led to a state of depression, slightly below the radar, but palpable novertheless. There's a kind of anxiety that comes with updating and waiting for responses on social media. At first it was a kind of dopamine release, but lately it feels leaden.
So I come back to you, dear readers. Let's see what we can get accomplished.
Posted at 12:41 am by commish
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Beta testing liner notes to my upcoming CD.
There comes a time in every New York musician's life, when he must load up his vehicle, point it east, and embark on a journey to the largest of New York City's five boroughs, Queens. In order to reach this strange and wondrous place, one must travel on a road which begins at the exit of the Midtown tunnel, and terminates 71 miles later at Riverhead, Long Island. Its name, which strikes fear into the heart of the most punctual of musicians, is the Long Island Expressway.
Our intrepid musician emerges from the tunnel onto a modern three lane highway, the urban sprawl of Queens in front of him, and the majestic skyline of Manhattan in his rear view mirror. He is pleasantly surprised at the ease in which he is able to achieve speeds of upwards of 50 miles an hour, and he begins planning a diversionary trip to Starbucks to kill the inevitable hour of free time that awaits his early arrival. That is until, mere minutes later, he crests a hill and is confronted with the stark reality of bumper to bumper traffic. He begins to formulating an excuse for his late arrival when he spots a possible escape valve.
There is an alternative, but few have possessed the wherewithal and the moxie to attempt it. I'm speaking of the infamous Maspeth cutoff; which has been rumored to have shaved as much as forty minutes off of driving time. Developed by Henry Hudson in the 17th century as a trading route with the Massapequa tribe, it eventually fell into disrepair and was forgotten, resurfacing for a brief period in the 1920s when Franklin Delano Roosevelt used it to decoy press and paparazzi on his way to the Jamaica OTB.
That was the last anyone had heard of the Maspeth cutoff until, one afternoon, late for work and stuck in traffic, I had the gall to exit the L.I.E. Off I went into the bowels of western Queens, confident in my ability to succeed where untold others had failed. This is the story of why I failed, and why others after me will fail:
The L.I.E.is not a straight East/West road, but a series of long, arcing curves. The city streets are not perpendicular, but veer off at 40 degree angles, confusing the driver into believing he is heading east, when, in fact, he is driving south. I shudder with terror as I recall the series of one way streets which lead onto narrow, pock-marked roads, which dead-end at vacant lots. There were chop shops, a towing pound, warehouses that produced toxic gases, and chemical factories. Each road steered me further and further from my destination.and it soon became apparent that I had lost my sense of direction. I broke out in a cold sweat as the minutes became hours. I asked for directions but no one could tell me how to return to the L.I.E. Very few of them had ever left Maspeth. Eventually I came to the cold realization that I could never leave and I began to look for an apartment. I found a cold water flat on Eliot Ave, eventually marrying a Romanian slubberdoffer named Uzana. You see, one does not escape from Maspeth, he settles there.
And so, a cautionary tale for you. the reader. Do not leave the highway for any reason whatsoever. The choice is yours. You can be late for a gig, or you can live in Queens.
Notes on the music. This date, inspired by the perils of Western Queens, represents the composing and the playing that I have done with my trio over the past three years. Bim Strasberg and Taro Okamoto are not only two of my favorite musicians, but two of my closest friends. I met Taro on my very first gig in New York City, over 25 years ago. He doesn't remember that muscle-bound kid with the young Burt Lancaster looks and the Mercedes convertible. And it's no wonder -- that wasn't me. Taro, however, made a great impression on me, and I was delighted when years later we would reconnect as members of trumpeter Richie Vitale's quintet. Taro has worked, and recorded with Richie Vitale, David Schnitter, Hank Jones
I have known Bim Strasberg for almost as long, working in a myriad of musical situations, some dubious, but most great. There was the time we played for Madonna's CD release party wearing asbestos suits while on fire. But I've said too much. During the early 1990s Bim and I became co-leaders of the NY HardBop Quintet. Through several tours of the U.S., Japan, and Switzerland, countless club gigs in New York, and four CDs on the TCB Music label we forged a close personal, as well as musical friendship. Bim has worked and recorded with Charles McPherson, Bootsie Barnes, Mickey Roker,
The Group begins the date with a great introduction from Taro, and after some hilarity involving a B flat minor chord and various household appliances, the song reaches it's conclusion. Jerome Kern's Nobody Else But Me, features Bim, who is one of the most lyrical players I know. It was pleasure to hear his conception of this song. Every record needs a boogaloo -- at one point, I believe, it was in the bylaws of the union. Ours is a tribute to my best friend, the Bronx's finest, Jeff Mazzei. Lucy is my daughter and this, along with the old HBQ songs Little Jake, Leevin Von Cleefe, and Debra, completes my bevy of family songs -- unless I start on the cousins. Bim and I came up with some interesting changes to Cole Porter's I Concentrate on You many years ago when we were perforrning it during an early HardBop (Trio!) tour of California in 1992. We never quite worked it out for quintet, but about a year ago I came up with a fresh arrangement and began performing it. The vamp was a lot of fun to come up with, but tricky to play over as there's no real tonal center. A little vodka usually solves that problem on the gig, but for the recording I used the motivational technique of donning lederhosen and screaming "damn the torpedoes!" Now it plays itself.
And that, my friends, is a show. We hope you enjoy this affectionate tribute to the borough of Queens, and remember, don't drive drunk.
Posted at 12:05 am by commish
Tuesday, June 09, 2009
I read a somewhat depressing article in Sunday's Times stating that the amount of abandoned blogs are increasing exponentially as more and more people migrate over to Twitter and Facebook. I felt a pang of guilt as I read the article, not the least because I am guilty of the same.
I have kept this blog for almost 5 years and feel a loyalty to my small, but treasured readership. But I too have become enamored of the immediacy of twitter, and the nostalgia of reconnecting with old friends that facebook offers.
I have no intention of abandoning this blog, however. I am nothing, if not stubborn, and I intend to keep this going as long as I have fingers to type with. Who would have thought that blogging would count as long-form media? Attention spans are decreasing to be sure, but there must be some room for paragraphs on web 2.0.
Posted at 10:30 am by commish
Friday, May 22, 2009
A few months ago I had a post about a certain accent or dialect that I have noticed around New York City. Here is an excerpt:
I know one thing that confounds me is the hard O. For instance the O sound in Tom or com. It sounds like it comes from way back in the throat. Not quite British and not quite New England. If any of you listen to WNYC there is a woman who does the promos and she speaks this way. It's the way that I imagine a Vassar or Barnard grad speaks. "You're listening to WNYC dot cahhm."
Then there is "Thank you so much" (I hate that expression) That comes out sounding "Think you so much." And the general elongating of the vowels leading to that valley-girl sound. Towtally.
I realize I'm probably talking about more than one accent here. The valley girl accent -- oh muh god!!! -- is different than that preppy way of pronouncing the hard Os. Emyn commented on the valley girl portion of my post:
Emyn: I know how that sound. It's like, ya know, towtally immachurr. With a tone that's, like, tilting at the uhnd of uhvry sentuhns. It's, like, so awfuuuuhhhlll!
She is dead on in her assessment. But for now I am obsessed with the 'preppy' accent. I even catch myself doing it. Is it Northeast regional? I was even thinking it could be a Manhattan thing -- they don't have the hardcore New Yawk accent in Manhattan. That's more a Brooklyn/Queens/Bronx/Long Island trait. I just want to know where this originates from. Is it something that has always existed and I never noticed until now -- or is it a recent phenomenon?
Posted at 10:58 am by commish
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Am I the only one who wasn't blown away by Star Trek? See here's the thing: The original show was idealistic, corny and had special effects that looked like they were invented in, well, 1968. But for all it's flaws and bombast, it had a sincerity about it -- a sweetmess, if you will, that gave it integrity.
Even though this Trek looks better, and has much better acting, where is the soul? I feel like the filmaker is winking at me -- "Remember this? And this? Remember how gruff, yet loveable McCoy was? How Chekoff couldn't pronounce his Vs?" I'm tired of being winked at. I get it -- I'm a boomer and so everything must be eternally hip. Give me some grease.
Posted at 12:01 pm by commish
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Was reading yesterday about the two part episode of Maude where she has an abortion. I actually remember watching this as a kid. I'm not sure how it registered for me back then, but can you imagine there being a sitcom today dealing with this issue? Not only that, the episode aired a few months before Roe v Wade was enacted.
Posted at 12:14 pm by commish
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Bea Arthur, the actress who portrayed Maude in the 70s, died. I always liked this brash, bold comedienne. Here is a recounting of meeting her.
25 years ago, when I still lived in L.A., I had a solo gig at a trendy restaurant in the Palisades. One night Bea Arthur came in with her husband and some friends. On the way out she was smashed, and as she passed the piano she commanded, in her best Maude voice, "Play Lady is a Tramp!" I obeyed and she proceeded, in the middle of this staid, understated restaurent, to belt out "Tramp." Her husband was doing his best to get her to leave. "Cmon honey, let's go..." And she shouted back to him, "Don't worry, honey, I'll fuck ya later!"
Posted at 03:00 pm 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.