Thursday, April 28, 2011

Wildly Implausible

Amazing how much my life revolves around connectivity and electronics: Starbucks wifi isn't working, and I forgot my headphones.  I had made one of my patented Wildly Implausible To-Do lists for this break between accompanying classes.  Thwarted by the internet demons, I started cementing my Frustration Face, and then I realized my break is only an hour long.  Just how much did I think I was gonna get done?  No big deal, I can work offline for an hour (offline!?  What's that!?).  

(Ok, the lady next to me just asked me if I'm having trouble with the internet, so that makes me feel better - it's not my computer or my troubleshooting skills.)

ummmm... No time for 'Round Midnight the past two days.  I was going to make a quiche tonight, but, particularly since I just spent a half hour trying to get a wifi signal, that is Wildly Implausible.  Looks like it'll be scrambled eggs for dinner.  That's ok, cooking is not a priority.  CookIES, yes, cookING, not so much. 

Joy of joys, 'Round Midnight is AABA form!  It has a lot of frills - intro, optional interlude, blah blah blah - but the main body of the song is AABA, which we all know is my personal roadmap to bliss.  I think I'll try playing it in all 12 keys tonight, to finish memorizing & getting it in my ear, then jam out with Monk if I have time left over.  Otherwise will have to jam late tomorrow night (all Wildly Implausible, but many things that happen are Wildly Implausible). 

Entering into a few weeks of freelance feast (not famine).  Yay!  And then when famine time comes, I'll have time to eat again.  Maybe even make quiche.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

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!

Monday, April 25, 2011

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.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Happy Earth Day (free caffeine!!!!!!)

Buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz mmmmm teaaaaaa...

Happy Earth Day!  Public service announcement for people who have a Pavlovian reaction to freebies: free coffee or tea today at Starbucks if you bring in your own mug.  I plan on having my third free cuppa on the way home from my church gig this evening.  As a musician, I'm conditioned to take advantage of free food or drink whenever I can. 

So, Arthur and I recorded "Hard Times" last night, and it was the most fun I've had recording so far.  This is because A) I like collaborating, B) Arthur is fun to work with, and C) I went into it knowing it was not going to be a polished performance.  In a perfect world, I'd have enough time to make it perfect.  In the world where I live and move and have my being, there was enough time to get the notes figured out by late afternoon yesterday.  So some of the notes went away (where do they go?  and where do the wrong ones come from?) when it came down to recording with Arthur. 

Then there's the fact that I worked from a recording with a full band.  Ray floats all over the beat with his bluesy fills, because the drummer and bassist are laying down the beat.  With more time, I could have made my left hand a little more independent to make the time steadier.  Would also love to have made a more dynamic arrangement (the horns take care of it on the recording, but I didn't think about that until too late), and gotten more of the articulations in the right hand (oh, and more of the notes... heh). 

So that's my self-critique.  I had a lot more fun, given that I had no illusions that I might be able to create a polished performance.  Score for this week: Katgut 1, Perfectionazi 0.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Ack Ack Ack Ack Ack!!!

Newly reinstated Don't Panic reminder
Two minutes later...
That is the sound my brain makes when I have to learn music quickly.  Actually, it used to be my inner monologue anytime I played music, because it never felt secure.  Fun thing about not having technique.  But since I've been working on it, the panic only sets in when I have to learn something really fast. 

Yesterday, I had to learn a couple scenes from a new opera for a last-minute rehearsal gig I picked up.  Because of that, I have to play catch-up on Ray Charles today, because, heaven help us, Arthur and I are going to record tonight.  Ack ack ack ack ack!

The problem with "ack ack ack ack ack" is that the panic gets into your muscle memory, and while music may sound frenetic, it should never feel frenetic to play it.  A few months ago, I printed out an image of "Don't Panic" from Hitchhiker's Guide and taped it to my piano.  Then Diesel ate it.  He's also a fan of post-its and corrugated cardboard, though not so fond of veal cat food which is the only flavor carried by the ghetto bodega next door.  I ask you, who feeds veal to kittens??!!? (It was a cat food emergency.)

But I digress.

I was pretty happy with my work yesterday - I stopped panicking long enough to get it semi-under-my-fingers, and to analyze which parts were important to nail and which parts, not-so-much (rhythm and cues notes for singers = important; getting every note of a series of 5-note tone clusters = not-so-much), and I was not the total disaster I feared in rehearsal (I don't dip my toes - or fingers - into the opera world very often).

So.  Back to the piano to hang out with Ray.  I printed out another "Don't Panic" sign for Diesel's eventual nibbling pleasure. Ack Ack Ack Ack Ack!! Don't panic, don't panic, don't panic...

Monday, April 18, 2011

Weekly Wish 04-18-11 - Ray Charles

If last year was a time for generalization and overview, this year is a time for detail. I didn't do much w/ Fats last week (sadly), but I'm kinda ok with it, because I did a lot of details work with some other music I had to work on.  It falls into the category of "I wish I had more of a career", so I'm ok with that. 

Back to my own quixotic Wishes this week, though: Ray Charles/Hard Times.

My friend is coming over to sing & record on Thursday night.  (Rolls up shirtsleeves.) I work well with deadlines. 

Today's mission: play the song in all 12 keys - sans riffs/fills, just to get really comfortable with the progression and possible chord voicings. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Annual Pop Quiz!

It was about this time last year when I posted my "messed-up love" quiz.  This year's quiz is inspired by a reader comment: What well-known pop song contains the lyric "moot"?

That's it!  That's the pop quiz!  See you next year!

...Ok, the real reason I'm springing this pop quiz on you, gentle readers, is that I have done diddlysquat on my Wish this week; ergo, I have nothing to write about it.  Well, almost nothing - I just reserved a copy of of the solo transcriptions from the library, and I've got some Fats Waller on my ipod "Wish Project" playlist, and I've been thinking about it a lot...

Here's some stupid human behavior for you: I was looking at the transcriptions the other day on Amazon, contemplating ordering it so I'd get it today (I have free 2-day shipping with Amazon prime, blah blah blah).  Well, I happened to see that it's available for Kindle.  Huh.  I'd never noticed that before.  Instant download.  All of a sudden two days seemed like such a long time...

No, I didn't buy the Kindle (I'm saving for a drumkit, remember?)... but at that moment, I couldn't bring myself to order the book when it would take TWO WHOLE DAYS to get to me.  This from a girl who hails from the Land of Manana, where 2-day shipping regularly takes over a week.  

Hopefully I'll get the music by Saturday, when I have a day off and a little time for Wishful practicing.  Again, the by ear thing... just that Fats Waller played sooooo many notes, and I didn't learn to read music for nothin'... C'mon, NYPL, don't let me down!  I owe New York state a lot of tax money, and I wanna get something out of it!

Monday, April 11, 2011

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..."

Friday, April 8, 2011

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. 

Monday, April 4, 2011

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. 

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Gershwin Transcriptions (and Bloopers!)

Wow, this Weekly Wish video was a pain in the ass, especially for a 1-minute solo piece! But more on that in a moment (you can watch the blooper reel while you wait, only 45 seconds!) - first, for those who followed a link here in the hope of getting actual information:

This piece is from a collection of solo piano arrangements Gershwin wrote of his own songs. I chose Swanee, because it was one of two songs in the book that were also available on the Gershwin Piano Rolls recording.  Of course, what he wrote down is much simpler than what he actually played on the piano rolls.  Mortal that I am, I chose to learn what he wrote down.  The arrangement I learned is only two pages long, and doesn't include the intro or verse, just starts right on "Swanee, how I love ya..." etc.  It's a short, repetitive song, so much of the musical interest lies in the variations Gershwin wrote for the piano - fills and ornaments in the right hand, and harmonic variation/passing chords. 

Mind you, "musical interest" should not be confused with "important".  One of my Stonewall singers, Brookes, was over for rehearsal the other day.  Since the piece is only a minute long, I've taken to bombarding innocent people with it when there's a down moment.  Brookes was digging through his bag for his sheet music, and I saw my chance - and what do you know, he started singing along!  Fun. 

A couple days later, I was practicing after my failed recording session, berating myself for being a terrible musician and a failure in life, when I did have one lucid, helpful thought: Why was is so much better when Brookes was singing with me?  Not just because I prefer accompanying to solo piano.  The melody, dumbass.  I'd been working so hard to get the damn 16th-note triplets clean that I forgot about the melody (see, this is why I like singers; for their sins, they do take care of the melody for me).

About recording: listening back to yourself.  Aggagaggggglkkkkk... but if you can get over the cringe/gag factor and listen as if you were listening to a student, it's really enlightening.  My playing has gotten maybe a little bit better recently, but I've gotten waaaaaaaaaay pickier, from listening back with the knowledge that I intend to put in out there on the interwebs where anyone can see it.  This is not a comfortable thing, but I think it's a good thing. 

I wasn't satisfied with my playing on this one, but I decided to find a stopping point so I can move on to other things I want to play.  I chose the take I did for the video because, while there were a couple takes where the technical stuff landed better, this one felt free-er and less careful.  And it didn't involve a falling piano lamp.