Tuesday, March 30, 2010


How fitting that I chose to learn 'Fever" on a day when I actually have a fever. Ok, so it's from the 1950s, so kinda bends my timeframe, but it's an uber-standard. I'm glad I chose this song for today, because it's easy, and because everyone does it, and there are a jillion different ways to do it. My friend Alysha Umphress (currently in Broadway's American Idiot) does her rendition of "Fever" with Ray Fellman at the piano - lyric & arrangement-wise, it's like the Peggy Lee version. The video's from a couple years ago, but I got to hear them do an impromptu performance of it a few nights ago. I could listen to Alysha sing all day, and ditto for Ray's playing.

Ok, people, I'm going back to sleep! I have two shows tomorrow, so I need to get rid of this bug. Maybe I should bend my timeframe rule again and memorize "I'm Young and Healthy"??

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Rainy Saturday Night

Here's a fun little haiku I wrote a couple months ago:

crushed by loneliness
asphyxiated by love
slow death either way

Recent songs - Alicia Keys:
"Superwoman", "If I Ain't Got You"

Friday, March 12, 2010

Stages of Grief

Must... stay... awake... long enough... to post...blog...

Yesterday: "Hurt", performed by Christina Aguilera. I am not a psychoanalyst, but I'll hazard a guess that this song describes the "bargaining" stage of grief pretty well, what with the lyrics in the pre-choruses and the bridge ("there's nothing I wouldn't do", etc).

This song is in a minor key, not surprisingly. E minor, to be exact, one whole step above "the saddest of all keys" - (shout-out to Spinal Tap fans).

Warning: I am just beer-influenced enough right now to try to explain a scientific concept I can barely grasp myself, and am far, far too tired to be very thorough or very accurate. So, first I am going to provide you with a link to a page about the Overtone Series.

And, second, I will try to make sense of it in my own words...
Basically, when you play a note on a pitched musical instrument (one on which you can play a melody- many drums are non-pitched), that note vibrates at a certain frequency which we recognize as a particular pitch. But it is also simultaneously vibrating at faster frequencies. What we hear the most is the slowest-vibrating (lowest, or fundamental) tone, but in the mix we also hear the faster-vibrating tones (or overtones).

There are whole-number ratios involved in the differences in frequency (like I said: beer, fatigue). Whole-number ratios in different frequencies = notes that sound good together. The first few overtones consist of the notes of a major chord. It starts to get a little funky after that, but one could argue that the overtone series spells out a slightly out of tune dominant 7 #11 chord - a hip jazz chord one often hears at the end of big band numbers.

This occurs in nature! I think that is so cool! So anyway: major chord = as nature intended, happy, bright, yay! ...
Bum, bum, bum...
Minor chord = slightly deviant from nature. Sad. Brooding. Also, sexy.

Today I learned Sheryl Crow song "Strong Enough". Given that she talks about "tears of rage" in the first verse, I'm going to stretch and call this song representative of the anger stage of grief. Yes, I am making this up.

I love this song. What do I love about this song? I love that the chord progression is really simple and repetitive, making it easy to memorize (even though the internet chart I found had bogus chords on the bridge, sending me to Ear Training 101 for a hot second). I love that it's in three-four - not too many pop songs are. Lyrically, I love that she clearly is jaded enough to hold out for a man who's strong enough for her, but lonely enough to invite him to lie to her if he isn't strong enough to be her man. I love how the pitch of the melody rises on the lyric "please don't leave", and she switched to head voice - vulnerable, plaintive.

Why am I writing about grief tonight?

"Hurt" really struck me as I listened to it yesterday morning. I suppose it saves time to show up at therapy already in tears. Then tonight I saw a play about grief, which involved a character who had been a singer but hadn't sung since her infant child died. So it seems to be the subject of the moment.

The excitement of moving in has faded as I am beginning to settle in to my new place. Things that I couldn't process while still living with my former beau begin to surface. I dip my toe in the surface of the pool of Social Interaction with Boys Who Are Cute, and realize that it's been almost five years since I've been out with a boy I don't already know from doing a show together. And I'm just hella exhausted from moving and life and my crazy schedule.

And that, dear readers, is why I have written about grief tonight.
Hasta pronto - let us see what adventures tomorrow brings!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

My Way

What makes an artist?

I'm sure there are as many answers to that question as there are people to answer it. To me, one key thing about being an artist is stubbornness - being willing and able to stick to your guns when you are the only one convinced that you are on the right track. Take Thelonious Monk. Certainly no one else would have thought the notes and funky, angular rhythms he chose were the "right" ones, yet when you listen to Monk, they seem to be the only right notes and rhythms in the universe.

And so I begin my "new" year with two songs entitled "My Way". Today's "My Way" was the old chestnut made famous by Sinatra; yesterday, I learned "My Way" by the Texas band Los Lonely Boys.

Los Lonely Boys: 3 chords total, bluesy rock jam
Sinatra: many more than 3 chords, in a pretty standard jazz/pop progression
Los Lonely Boys: in-your-face lyrics of a youngish person determined to live his life the way he sees fit
Sinatra: philosophical lyrics of a man nearing the end of his life and reflecting on having lived it as he saw fit, through all its ups and downs
Los Lonely Boys: three brothers' Texican rock band; no famous covers that I know of
Sinatra: This song was made famous by Sinatra, but the original song is a French song called "Comme D'Habitude" by Claude Francois, Jacques Revaux and Gilles Thibaut. Paul Anka wrote English lyrics that have nothing to do with the original French lyrics. It has been covered a zillion times. I was familiar with the Gipsy Kings' version, "A Mi Manera" before I knew that "My Way" existed. Those Spanish lyrics don't have much to do with Anka's version or the original French.

Speaking of "my way", I tried playing around with both of these songs, to see if I could find a different take on them. A way that is mine, ahem. Los Lonely Boys' song was pretty easy to play with - I think I came up with a sort of mellow version that was pretty fun (which makes the lyric seem like fair warning rather than in-your-face ...suits me fine, thank you very much).

The uber-famous "My Way" (I tire of calling it Sinatra's, since he didn't write it, and was one of hundreds who performed it, even if his version is the best known...) was harder to change. It's not that I am so familiar with it that I just can't think of it any other way. I've actually logged a lot more time listening to Los Lonely Boys' "Way", because it's one of my favorite songs. No - it's that "My Way" is one giant dotted rhythm the whole way through. The emphasis falls on words that are on the 1st and 4th beats of the measure for the majority of the song. So it's hard, without drastically changing the rhythm of the melody, to make it sound like anything other than a stately French overture.

It's a shame Edith Piaf died before this song was written. She would have killllllled it! The English lyrics are actually a bit reminiscent of her signature song "Non, je ne regrette rien": "I'm about to die. I regret nothing. Nope. Nothing.", is what both songs seem to say. Hmmm... I smell a medley...

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Happy New Year!

What? ...um, Kat, it's the 8th of March. It isn't New Year's, it isn't Chinese New Year's. It's not even Jewish New Year's.

I am restarting my year, complete with the intention to maintain - er, form - healthy habits like jogging, keeping my apartment clean, and springing blithely from bed in the morning without hitting the snooze button. And learning music, and writing about learning music, because music and writing are what I love, and I gave myself this project, and I am determined to see it through. And well-behaved young ladies from rural Southwestern mining towns don't get to be professional musicians in New York City if they are short on determination. So, even if I have to start over every day (which I do have to do, if you think about it), here is what I'm going to do:

Learn and memorize one well-known popular song a day. Suck a little less each day. Try to have fun in the process.

Rule #1:
I have to like the song, or at least be really interested in learning it. This is now Rule #1, because life is too short to wait to do things you like, and too long to spend doing things you don't like.
Rule #2:
The song has to be a well-known song either written or made famous between 1960 and the present. I decided to narrow down the category because there are so many songs in that category that I want to know, and because I get lazy/busy with 32-bar standards from the 30s and 40s. This is supposed to be a challenge, dang it!

I knew as soon as I started this project that it was about more than just learning songs. I thought it was going to be all about dealing with my arch-nemesis, Perfectionism. Well, it has been about Piano Kat vs. Perfectionism. But there's more. I am one original musical, one important relationship, and over two grand in moving and home expenses lighter than I was at the beginning of the year. I don't know how all the spiritual mechanics of it work, but I do know that having this Musical Task Thingy to come back to every day helped me get unstuck from a Life Ditch and back on the road (a bumpy road, but a road nevertheless). This Musical Task Thingy also helped see me through some recent dark weeks, even as I took the Half-Ass-Music-Learning to a whole new level. Showing up counts for something, right?

So. I surrender. I have no idea what this project is going to be about. Learning music, obviously - and I have noticed a marked improvement in some aspects of my playing - transposition, groove, arranging, all things that are critical to my work, all a tiny bit less sucky than before. And instead of berating myself for that which still sucks, I'm trying to be really specific about what it is and work on improving it. Take that, Perfectionism! Other than that... all bets are off. This could be about anything. Having fun playing music, even. Bring it, life.

I did learn a song today - "My Way" - not the one you're thinking of, but the Los Lonely Boys song. It might be a slight bend of Rule #2 as it's not all that well-known, but it's one of my favorite songs. It's 1:17 a.m., and I'm wiped out from my long Manhattan-Ping-Pong day, so I will write about it tomorrow with the other "My Way".