I ♥ NY.



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Published in: on December 16, 2009 at 12:01 am  Leave a Comment  

Christmas Time is Near…

As a kid growing up in a Jewish home, I never celebrated Christmas with my family. We lit the Chanukah menorah, played dreydl, and helped my dad deck the halls with tacky decorations as he sang along to klezmer music.  That was my holiday season, and it was fun.  Yet I always had a yearning for Christmas.  Not for any religious or spiritual reasons, I was just taken with the secular American holiday: the peppermint candies and gingerbread cookies, the sparkling lights, even the hustle and bustle of shopping at the mall.

On Christmas Eve, when most of my friends were awaiting a visit from Santa, my family would hop in the car and cruise the Chicago suburbs, gazing at the houses decorated with lights, wreaths, and giant inflatable reindeer.  And while we drove, we listened to Christmas songs on the radio.

I loved those songs, and I am moved by Christmas music to this day.  I think it’s because those Christmas songs are the only Great American Songbook songs that are still familiar to the majority of Americans. Even as pop music marches inexorably on in search of the “new,” the core repertoire of Christmas songs remains old, stable, and beloved. The resilience of these songs is also the source of their wonderful flexibility – we all know them well enough to appreciate when a musician does something new with one. As an improvising musician, it makes me glad that this widely shared musical idiom still exists, even if we only get to hear it for one month a year.


Published in: on December 10, 2009 at 4:40 am  Comments (1)  

Happy Thanksgiving!

We hope that you all have some things to be thankful for. We certainly do.

Enjoy the original Martha Graham ballet, as filmed in 1959. The whole thing is definitely worth watching, but this is the part you want.

Published in: on November 26, 2009 at 3:41 am  Leave a Comment  

In Defense of Learning the Trombone

Not how you should hold the trombone.

I’ve decided to learn to play the trombone. When I told friends this, they invariably replied “What? WHY?” Most scoffed at the idea. Some questioned my sanity, and my manhood.

Now, I understand their incredulous reactions. After all, there isn’t a shortage of trombone players. I’m pretty certain that the bands of the world are mostly NOT waiting for some heroic slide jockey to arrive, horn in hand, to fill their empty hearts and trombone chairs. But I have my reasons, which I shall attempt to articulate here.


Published in: on November 19, 2009 at 8:13 pm  Comments (8)  

Here It Is…

…your moment of Zen:


...and back.

I particularly like the text above the FBI Anti-Piracy Warning: “WARNING!  Not to be listened to while driving!”

UPDATE from the manufacturer’s product description, as seen on Amazon.com:

“Testimonials prove that Bedtime Beats works!  This 2 CD set is an effective and affordable alternative to medication and has been specially sequenced and mastered to deliver a highly tranquil experience for all ages.  It has been programmed in accordance with the Case Western Reserve University study, which discovered that listening to soothing jazz music with a tempo of 60-80 beats per minute induces sleep.”

Published in: on November 18, 2009 at 1:32 pm  Leave a Comment  

Back from Intermission

It’s been several weeks since I posted anything here.  I don’t really have a good excuse – it was just a general lack of inspiration combined with laziness, with a brief period of seasonal illness thrown in for good measure. It’s remarkable how quickly one can fall out of the routine of regular blogging; it feels a lot like music composition in that way.

Anyway, I figured that I would ease back into this by posting links to some fun things that have been distracting me for the past month!


Published in: on November 12, 2009 at 3:56 am  Comments (1)  

Happy Birthday, Matt!

matt-rubinTrumpeter, composer, jazz iconoclast–Matt Rubin is many things to many people.  Use the comment thread to let him know what he means to you.

Published in: on October 21, 2009 at 9:42 am  Comments (4)  

A Creative Life

“A jazz musician is not a jazz musician when he or she is eating dinner or when he or she is with his parents or spouse or neighbors. He’s above all a human being . . . the true art form is being a human being.”

– Herbie Hancock

A number of people have graciously linked to this blog since Vikram and I started writing it over the summer. Some of those linkers have expressed a little confusion, or perhaps just curiosity, over the scattershot subject matter of our posts. One week, it’s a music blog, the next week political commentary, and then the occasional bacon recipe.

This is intentional.

We are both musicians, and we went to school to study jazz music. But we’re also poker players, and bemused political observers, and voracious readers, and gourmet dessert fans. We have interests besides music, and this blog is an attempt to put everything together in a pot to see what bubbles up.

During our graduate studies, we each had the opportunity to take a few lessons, play a few tunes, and enjoy a few sandwiches with a brilliant musician named Adam Benjamin.  For those of you who don’t know him, Adam is a co-leader of the band Kneebody and keyboardist in Dave Douglas’s Keystone.  He’s also an avid baseball card collector and mall enthusiast. Take the time to check out Adam’s bloggy-thing here.


One of the major themes of our work with Adam was our personal relationships with music, or more specifically, how music related to all the other interests in our lives.


Published in: on October 8, 2009 at 3:44 am  Comments (8)  

Size Matters.


Last week, the Wall Street Journal published an article by Larry Blumenthal, celebrating Jazz at Lincoln Center’s fifth season in Rose Hall and evaluating J@LC’s impact on the New York jazz scene. Chris Rich, at Brilliant Corners, posted this characteristically acerbic response. Couched in Rich’s flame-thrower language, however, was an idea that I think deserves further exploration.  About J@LC’s $38 million budget, Rich writes:

“Most musicians I know who actually keep the parasite afflicted idiom alive and healthy are quite thrilled to do a gig for 600 bucks a person. That is good money, so 38 million is more than fifty thousand gig units.  You could buy an instrument for every poor kid in LA, New York City, Chicago and New Orleans who wants one and probably have enough change to pay their tuition at Julliard.”

This is the common complaint against J@LC — that all that money could be better spent if it was dispersed through the jazz community, rather than consolidated at one institution.  There are a few other institutions that give artistic grants for jazz, such as the NEA and the MacArthur Foundation, and these spread wealth out into the community. But their grants tend to be huge lump sums to established artists, and thus prosperity is not so widely shared. Besides, there weren’t even any musicians listed among this year’s recipients of the MacArthur “Genius” Grants.  This kind of top-down support is good, but it is not enough to maintain the grassroots of a community. What might an alternative look like?


Published in: on October 1, 2009 at 4:41 am  Comments (5)  

Why I Love Jazz.


“Check this out.”  For one edition of my trombone teacher’s weekly dose of music appreciation, he removed a red CD from a jewel case with dark blue liners and placed it in his stereo.  Mysterious, rubato piano chords floated out of the speakers; then the bass kicked the time off, and the piano answered it with a simple riff.  A drumset quietly simmered beneath it all.  Three horns joined in with the piano for a while before giving way to a trumpet solo.  “This sounds pretty cool,” my teacher said, fading the music out just as the trumpet solo ended.  “He’s not a great trumpet player, though.”  I was fourteen years old, and I agreed.


Published in: on September 29, 2009 at 12:00 am  Comments (15)