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)  

Just Make Us Look Cool

Those were the days...

Jazz is a niche interest. The days when a jazz musician might appear on the cover of Time magazine are long gone; we are rarely featured in films or TV, and we have a private language all our own (Cats, Jive, Killing…) The jazz universe resembles that of railroad enthusiasts or Magic: The Gathering players. It is a subculture: cared for passionately by a small group of insiders, but thought of as a mere curiosity by the wider population, if they think of it at all.

As such, I’m always surprised when jazz bubbles up into mainstream entertainment. A few such instances were linked to by prominent jazz bloggers recently: DJA posted Spinal Tap’s thoughtful comments on jazz a couple weeks ago, and Peter Hum found this clip from the new Mike Judge movie Extract. Both of these clips are pretty funny, but I am starting to pick up a disturbing trend. It seems like the only reason jazz is referenced in contemporary popular culture is to mock the music and its fans. Let’s review the evidence:


Published in: on September 24, 2009 at 1:24 am  Comments (37)  

My Latest Obsession: Warren Zevon

Not much of an update today – more coming soon. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with my latest discovery: Warren Zevon. I remember hearing about him when he passed away back in 2003, but I didn’t know what all the fuss was about. Now I get it.

The geopolitical references in the song are a bit dated, but the story still comes across. Notice the unusual six measure bridge that segues seamlessly back into the main riff of the song.  Also, the spoken introduction is hilarious. What a badass.

Published in: on September 10, 2009 at 2:25 am  Comments (2)  

Honest Thoughts on Lying.

There is a highly regarded instructor in the jazz department of USC who will never admit that he does not know a tune. If he is on a gig where an unfamiliar song is called, he will say, “Oh sure, I know it.  What key is that in?  Uh-huh. And the bridge goes to the IV chord, right?  Oh, it goes to the III, of course. Great, let’s do it.” Essentially, he bluffs, and just picks up the bits of the tune over the course of the performance. Now, this professor is a world-class player, and can generally get away with this sort of thing. Unfortunately, he advises his students to do the same thing. I realize that it is the sort of skill that can only be picked up through experience, but it leads to some pretty awful train-wrecks during jam sessions and casuals, and it drives me crazy. I’d much rather have the musicians all agree on a tune that they really know, instead of allowing one player’s bluff to sour the first few choruses of a performance.


Published in: on September 3, 2009 at 2:24 am  Comments (3)  

An Invitation.

Speak up!

It has come to our attention that there are a number of people who read this blog regularly, but rarely/never comment. Consider this your invitation to speak up! Make yourselves heard! Starting a conversation is one of the reasons we founded this blog in the first place.

We’re looking at you, USC folks.

Published in: on September 1, 2009 at 11:25 pm  Comments (2)  


Happy Birthday to Wayne Shorter, who turned 76 years old today. He still looks and sounds pretty fantastic – just further evidence that thinking young keeps you young, I suppose.

1, 2, 3... Infinity!


Published in: on August 25, 2009 at 3:02 pm  Comments (1)