Friday, December 31, 2004

I'm Glad Music Isn't Like Football

It occurred to me while I was writing the previous post that, while student-athletes are treated differently than all other students in many ways, it's a good thing that the rules for recruitment of athletes don't apply to musicians, or my alma mater might be in a world of hurt right now. Just on a whim, I took some of the guidelines from this site (which is way less cumbersome than the NCAA's own pages) and applied them to my "recruiting" of Halfling last year:

DO NOT provide "extra benefits" to student-athletes. The NCAA considers extra benefits to be: taking a student-athlete out to dinner, providing any gift of material value (including...Christmas presents). Oops, that rule got me twice there, as we've certainly done more than our share of dinners, and, like all best friends, one of us will buy if the other is broke at the moment. Needless to say, we certainly exchange Christmas gifts...

DO NOT provide transportation to (the university) for a local high school or junior college athlete who wants to visit our campus. Yup, I would've broken that rule a few times, as I drove him to the Syndicate and Lab Band Madness and maybe a few other things on campus too.

DO NOT entertain in any way or give gifts, benefits, special treatments, or free services to any high school or junior college student-athlete or his/her parents or relatives. Hmm, I think I'm seeing a pattern here...

DO NOT arrange a face-to-face meeting with or go to talk to a prospective student-athlete, his or her parents or relatives. As you can guess, I bombed that one as well, on a weekly basis.

Anyway, you get the idea. Granted, I didn't dig deeply enough to see how the fact that I was sort of his "coach" in high school fit into all this; certainly there are cases where a coach is an alumnus of a college which his players might attend, so it's not like they can prohibit contact between coaches and their own players. There are also some exemptions for family, and, I believe, family friends as well, so I'd probably be covered in some way.

But still, I'm really glad that musicians aren't subject to those same rules; imagine a big music school getting slapped with probation (what would that entail--a limit on concerts?) for giving a blue-chip high school tuba player a Hummer to entice him to choose their program. But then, imagine a world where (non-pop) musicians were compensated like boggles the mind.

The best way we can help: I haven't mentioned the horrible Asian tsunami yet on this site, because others have covered it way better than I could ever possibly do. (One of the best online clearinghouses for info on the disaster is the South East Asia Earthquake and Tsunami Blog. I will say that I was a little annoyed at the U.N. official the other day who accused the U.S. and other Western nations of being stingy, but my understanding is that the U.S. pledge has increased tenfold from a few days ago. One of the best ways that ordinary folks like ourselves can help is by donating to the American Red Cross through Amazon. (You may have to try a few times before getting through; I'm betting their traffic is pretty heavy right now.) As of this afternoon, donations through that site alone have passed $8.5 million.
UPDATE: Make that $10 million now. Thanks to Instapundit for the constant updates.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Bowled Over by the Rules?

I watched parts of both of the early Texas bowl games (Houston and Alamo, respectively) last night, and it was interesting to note that during the Alamo Bowl (which Ohio State won, 33-7), there was almost as much attention given to the latest booster scandal at Ohio State as to the game itself.

Without drowning everything in a huge back-story, here are the main details: Buckeye starting quarterback Troy Smith was suspended for the bowl game after allegations surfaced that he received improper benefits from a booster. This came on the heels of charges by former running back Maurice Clarett that he and others also received improper benefits during the 2002 and 2003 seasons.

A lot of ink and bandwidth have already been spent on the subject of scholarship student-athletes and benefits, and nobody seems to have a clear solution. "Shouldn't the players be allowed to hold a part-time job during the season?" some ask. After all, other scholarship students aren't restricted from doing so. And it sure seems like having to go through the school year without even enough money for a cup of Starbucks on the weekend would make that money envelope from a booster all the more tempting.

Others have noted that college athletics, especially football and basketball, are big business now, and they generate a whole lot of money for the schools, none of which is ever seen by the primary producers of those funds, the athletes themselves. The idea of paying the players has been brought up many times, but would that be a solution? It sure seems like that would be a budget-buster for even the largest of schools once non-revenue sports come into the mix. Even paying minimum wage to the captain of the lacrosse team would be too much for some schools, never mind how much a Heisman-candidate starting quarterback or running back would fetch. And others have noted that the players are already being "paid" with something than many other students don't have--a free college education.

The NCAA has no shortage of rules on the subject--487 pages of them for Division I this year--and many of them are quite confusing at first glance. Student-athletes aren't allowed to use the photocopier in the coaches' office...huh? And here's a good one: it's possible to be professional in one sport and still retain amateur eligibility in another (think of the football players who played minor-league baseball in the off-season), but endorsement opportunities in your pro sport may cost you your eligibility in your amateur one. This happened to Jeremy Bloom, a pro skier who also played football for Colorado. He had the chance to do some modeling work connected with his skiing career, but the NCAA took away his football eligibility anyway.

Some of this stuff doesn't make sense, you say? Probably because you're thinking rationally and logically. But as San Francisco columnist Gwen Knapp notes, start thinking like a cheater and they make a bit more sense. (Think this way and the no-photocopier rule might become clearer, if you can imagine a player suddenly deciding to run his own little Kinko's for profit using school equipment.)

By all accounts, the NCAA has lightened up a bit in recent years; Knapp points out that athletes can now keep their frequent-flyer miles, which was taboo in the past. They are also now allowed to have summer jobs (which used to be prohibited because of the concern that alumni might give them "no-show" jobs for above-average compensation--an issue which figures into the Ohio State difficulties).

I don't pretend to have answers at this point (unlike last year, when I suggested a solution to the BCS mess), but I think I know which questions still need to be raised:
  • Is there a way for student-athletes to hold down a (very much part-time) job during the school year, or is the combination of academics and athletics enough of a burden? (After all, plenty of non-athlete students juggle work and school with other co-curricular activities like music ensembles, drama productions, journalism, etc.)

  • If jobs should not be allowed, then what is the best way for student-athletes to have a little bit of "running-around money" that other students have? A small stipend from the athletic department? How about a closely-supervised "work-study" job on campus?

  • What is the best way for a university to control "rogue" boosters? Even though the rules prohibit booster/athlete contact, it's certainly being done. (The NCAA regulation site is gargantuan--and crashed my computer during the first draft of this post--but a decent distillation of the rules for boosters may be found here.)

  • Is there a fair way to punish a school for infractions without unfairly penalizing future players and coaches who were not involved in the past violations? It sure seems like the coaches and boosters involved should be the ones to bear the brunt of the penalties, but many times, the coach goes on to another job while future generations at their old school lose scholarships, miss bowl games, etc. Here's the extreme example: The NCAA only leveled the "death penalty" once, to SMU in the late '80s. Their football program is still suffering the effects of that penalty today, even though some of the players were not even born when the infractions took place.

Any ideas are welcomed in the comments.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

A Day of Holiday Shopping

No, this isn't a mis-dated post. While I managed to avoid going anywhere near a retail outlet on either of the two biggest/worst shopping days of the year (the day after Thanksgiving--a.k.a. Black Friday--and the day after Christmas), today was the day I hit the stores in earnest.

Now, understand that I don't mean that I was shopping late for other people; as I've said before, I did that early and 90% of it online, with most of it being here. What I meant was the post-Christmas tradition of redeeming gift cards and getting myself something that was on my list but didn't come at Christmas.

I also realized that I have yet to document "the haul" like I did last year. Here's a quick rundown of what I got: the Seinfeld Seasons 1 and 2 DVD collection; my usual set of Rangers ticket vouchers; a huge gift card from Kohl's; and a new compact suitcase. I also got a few Starbucks cards from students, and, between students, my parents and one of the middle schools where I teach, a whopping total of $75 in Chili's cards. (This is of course on top of the aforementioned Trifecta of cards from Halfling's parents; he also got a set himself, as it turned out, so it's off to Frisco sometime during the break.)

Today was a really good day to do what I was doing; the crowds were nothing like last week (or even two days ago), and lots of things were on sale. I even managed to find Tasha a late Christmas present (a huge, catnip-filled mouse...yeah I know, like she needs catnip). The only thing I couldn't find was a brick-and-mortar store with a cheaper price for the first set of Family Guy DVD's than Amazon, so I waited until I got home and ordered it there; I can wait the extra week. I'm not sure how the traditional stores are doing this year, but it's been a banner holiday for Amazon.

OK, I need to think up some more edgy (or at least entertaining) material to post in the next few days; lately, it's been too much Kev and not enough musing. At least, unlike TV, I'm still cranking out new stuff...

Browser update: Still lovin' the Mozilla. I have had a few problems getting certain plug-ins like Acrobat Reader and Real Player to launch properly within a browser window, but the speed and accuracy is amazing compared to what I was used to with IE. It's also nice to be able to do everything with one browser again.

And now I have proof: Mom sent me a picture of their house in the snow, so I added it to my Christmas day post. It'll be a long time before we see another white Christmas down there, that's for sure.

What will these guys buy next? The dad who put his naughty kids' toys on eBay last week found a buyer: the same online casino that bought the grilled cheese sandwich with the supposed image of the Virgin Mary in it. They only bought the toys--for over five grand, by the way--on the condition that the dad donated the proceeds to charity. He had said all along that any money raised by the auction would go to buy his church a new heater, and the casino plans to donate the toys to underprivileged kids right there in the Houston area where the family lives.

Kickin' old school to the curb: A game site recently subjected their 10- and 11-year-old panelists to some vintage video games, and their comments are pretty funny. (via UNEASYsilence)

Monday, December 27, 2004

This Post Came in Little Tupperware Containers

OK, I'm back; the trip yesterday went without incident, save for being stuck in a mini-rush hour just south of Conroe. They've done a great job widening I-45 up to the San Jacinto River, but the need to expand the bridges over said river means that the project stops there, and the narrowing of the freeway down to two lanes added thirty minutes onto my journey. At least I didn't have to be anywhere at a specific time.

On my way out of town, I did indulge in the tiniest of guilty pleasures, as I saved room at lunch for a snack stop at James Coney Island, my favorite hot dog place since high school. They so need to bring this place to Dallas...

And now, like the dinner I'm about to make reheat for myself in a few minutes, here are the leftovers--things I didn't get to post about in the past few days due to my limited computer time:

A little more on the snow thing: Not only did it snow in the southern suburbs of Houston, it also went all the way down to the coast, hitting Corpus Christi and Galveston, among other places. There was a picture in the paper yesterday of a snowman on the Galveston beach, and it was one of the most surreal things I've ever seen.

On my way back, I saw a great billboard advertising the arrival of four white tigers to Landry's Downtown Aquarium (no, the tigers don't swim), and it talked about how it would be a "white Christmas" in Houston this year. Little did they know...

Farewell to a classy skipper: Lost in the Christmas weekend (and now likely overshadowed by the untimely passing of Reggie White yesterday) was the news that former Texas Rangers manager Johnny Oates passed away on Friday. Besides being the manager who led the Rangers to three division titles in the '90s, he was also a fine human being according to everyone connected with him during his long tenure in baseball. I'm glad that he was able, while battling a brain tumor, to come back during the '03 season for his induction into the Rangers Hall of Fame's inaugural class, and I hope to be able to make the game next season where his number 26 will be retired. Between the losses of Oates and White, it's been a fairly somber holiday weekend in the world of sports.

Baby boom: This holiday was the most time that I've ever spent with two kids under the age of five. It was awesome to hang with my nephews, but it was also mind-boggling how much energy that they not only expend but also require of any adult in the vicinity. I have all kinds of respect for my sister for doing what she does practically 24/7. I surely look forward to the day when I'll have a few of these of my own, but I also see how parenthood, if done properly, is a full-time job in and of itself.

This is a lazy week ahead, so I'll probably be back to daily posts this week. Those of you who know me personally are more than aware that I'm rarely at a loss for things to talk about...

Saturday, December 25, 2004

(White) Christmas Greetings

KEV, LIVE FROM SUGAR LAND--For the first time in recent memory (or, for that matter, since they've been recording this stuff), we had a white Christmas in the Houston area. Never mind the flurries from yesterday's post; this was the real thing. It happened while I was inside rehearsing with the choir last evening, and I didn't find out that it had happened until we were walking between buildings and had to go under a covered breezeway for a moment. I was already covering the horn with my jacket to keep it warm, but then I found myself getting...snowed on? Sure enough, the snow had come back even stronger this time, sticking to roofs and cars and even the lawn for a while. Snowball fights ensued between services (not for me *sigh* since I was wearing a suit), and it took quite a while for my car to defrost before Dad and I could get home.

Sure, the picture postcards always show snow on Christmas, but in Houston (where I've spent every Christmas since third grade) that's just never a reality...until now. Most of it will probably melt off today, as it's supposed to go up into the 50's, but I did get out there early enough to take some pictures (which, like the ones from Wednesday, will take a while to post since I haven't entered the digital age yet). But for maybe the first time in my life, I can honestly say I've had a white Christmas. It really added to all the other great things that have happened this year.

As always this year, my computer time is short, so I'll post more after I'm back late tomorrow. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

UPDATE: Note the comments from James to this post; Christmas in Australia is quite a different thing, weather-wise.
UPDATE 2: I got pictorial proof of the snow from Mom; here's a picture of their house covered in it:

Wow, I was never this naughty: A guy here in Houston got so tired of his kids' bad behavior that he auctioned off their presents on eBay and even took the tree down.

QUOTE OF THE (YESTER)DAY: "I'd like to welcome those of you who are visiting with us tonight. Some of you may be interested in knowing that our Easter service will be held on March 27."--Assistant pastor at the services last night, aiming a good-natured barb at those who only show up to church twice a year. (Laughter ensued.)

Friday, December 24, 2004

Walking in a Very Tiny Winter Wonderland

KEV, LIVE FROM SUGAR LAND--Something really unusual happened about an hour ago: Snow flurries. On Christmas Eve. In the outskirts of Houston. Wow. It didn't last for more than a few minutes, and it didn't stick to anything, but it was still very cool (literally, heh).

The trip down was fine; almost no traffic to speak of (though I may talk later about how much the toll plazas in Houston make me appreciate the George Bush). After dinner, I went to the "mouse place" (or as Lileks calls it, Chuck E. Fargin' Cheese) as a special guest on Noah/Daddy Bonding Night (and man, it's amazing how bad I've gotten at video games). Anyway, today will be spent chillin' and wrappin' and playin' (doing two services at Mom and Dad's church). Hope everyone's having a great Christmas Eve; I'll duck in tomorrow with greetings on the big day.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Off to the Land of Sugar

I'm headed out to my folks' in Sugar Land just after lunch today. Blogging will be sparser than it has been recently, as the entire family will be there and the computer room will not be mine at night. However, I will definitely do a post on Christmas Day itself, and maybe some other times at well.

To my fellow travellers, have a safe trip to wherever you may be going.

I can't imagine doing this with Tasha: A lady here in Texas has just received the first commercially-produced cloned cat made from the DNA of her beloved previous cat who died last year. The company, called "Genetic Savings and Clone" (heh), got 50 grand in this transaction.

A little holiday fun: Here's an entertaining game for this holiday season (requires Flash). (via Dave Barry's Blog)

Got My Mojozilla Workin'

I've been having browser issues for a while. You see, believe it or not, I'm still running an original vintage 1998 teal fishbowl iMac (albeit with 256 megs of RAM added to the 32 megs [*shudder*] that were provided originally). It really can't run anything past Mac OS 9, so I've been unable to take advantage of most of the really cool stuff that's come out for Mac in the last three years or so.

It hadn't been a problem until recently, but the browser thing eventually became a royal pain. I've been running IE 5, which is as far as Microsoft went with that browser for Mac. (I did use Netscape in the past, but when 6 came out...uhh, no. Too slow, too fat, too buggy.) I've been having trouble accessing certain sites since last summer, so I needed alternatives. Firefox sounds great, but it's only available for OS X. I tried finding an older version of "regular" Mozilla at and on Mozilla's own site, but no luck. Noted Mac switcher Jeremiah Cohick turned me onto a German browser called iCab, which actually worked well as a "substitute" browser, though it would never be able to be my default one for various reasons: the formatting is screwy on most blogs, it won't run Hotmail, some sites don't recognize it as a supported browser at all. (I do love the heading on the translated webpage, though: "iCab homepage. Worldwide your guide.")

But as time went by, I was having to use iCab more and more, as IE was suddenly working in fewer and fewer places (this included the main Blogger site, of all things). The last straw came today when I could no longer access my TollTag account through IE. It listed Mozilla among its supported browsers, and it actually sent me to a page where I could go back far enough to find a still-existent version for OS 9 which downloaded and installed and everything. (It took a few tries to get it going; since it's very much related to Netscape, it had all my old Netscape preferences pre-loaded, including a connection to a proxy server that I used to use before I had cable. Once I turned that off, everything worked just fine.)

And the verdict is? So far, a resounding yes. I love it! All the sites that gave me trouble on IE are working just fine, and the whole thing is just fast, fast, fast. It may take me a while to get all my bookmarks imported, since there's no clearly direct way to do that, but I'm all kinds of happy to be able to use one browser again for everything. It was a bit time-consuming to set everything up, but it was the perfect project for a snowy holiday afternoon.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

The Hanging of the (Monde)greens

Last year during the holidays, I mentioned an entry at concerning "mondegreens," which means a way to describe what results from mis-hearing lyrics to a song. (The origin of the word "mondegreens" is explained in their post as well; I still say it sounds like a really upscale drugstore--maybe with a live piano player right next to the pharmacy.) Now Snopes has updated the list, which once again had me rolling on the floor. Some of the best ones include "Deck the halls with Buddy Holly" and "Chipmunks Roasting on an Open Fire," but my favorite of all time is still "We want some friggin' pudding." Check this one out for sure.

UPDATE: I don't know why this didn't occur to me when I originally wrote this post, but my nephew Noah came up with a great mondegreen that my sister sent me last week (many of the mis-hearings of songs do in fact come from young kids). They were listening to a Christmas CD in the car that had songs from all the great animated TV specials, and this was his take on "Frosty the Snowman":
Frosty the Snowman
was a jobby happy so
with a clock tower and a funny nose
and toys made out of coal
(In case you missed the earlier post, "clock tower" is Noah's way of saying "cocktail hour," so my sister mused that perhaps Frosty had a funny nose from drinking too much clock tower. Heh.)

I'm Dreaming of a White Three Days Before Christmas

A little after eleven this morning, the rain that was falling outside my window turned to snow flurries. This is about as close as we get to a white Christmas in Dallas, so I just had to go outside for at least a second--get the paper, make my coffee run, those kinds of things. I popped the Dianne Reeves Christmas CD in the car stereo for the coffee run and then took the long way home through the back of my neighborhood (which, ok, turned a two-minute trip into a four-minute trip, tops). If there had been smoke coming out of the chimneys, it would have been just about perfect.

I also took a couple of pictures, but since I'm one of the four people in the whole U.S. who doesn't own a digital camera yet, it'll probably be a long time before they get added to this post. (Even my parents beat me to owning one; that's one of the only times they've had a new piece of technology before I have.)

It's cool that this actually happened for once. After all, yesterday it was in the mid 60's, and two days ago it was 70-something. (This was in stark contrast to, say, Minnesota, where J-Guar told me it was 0 degrees last night!) The weathercasters had been talking about this for a few days, but many times when they predict a chance of snow (or ice, which gets the school kids all excited because it usually means a day off), it either doesn't stick or ends up being a totally false alarm. At the moment, this is sticking quite nicely, so I'll go take another picture when the roof is totally covered.

At any rate, if anyone in D/FW wasn't in the holiday mood yet, this should do the trick.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Trip to the Lights? Fantastic!

Last year at this time, I posted a list of my three favorite places to see Christmas lights in the D/FW area. Last night, Halfling, Angie and I hit two of them--Spring Park and Deerfield--in about two hours. Thankfully, it was a "slow" night in both places, and most people kept their lights on way past ten o'clock.

The newest trend this year seems to be the multi-colored miniature lights; to me, they're only good in small doses, but some houses were redlining on the Overkill Meter in that department. Still, most of the houses were really done up nicely, and there were a lot fewer "Scrooges" (i.e. the houses that aren't lit up) than any of the past several years. (Granted, this is probably due at least in part to an improved economy. Perhaps in years past, people just couldn't afford the lavish decorations or the electricity to keep them going, or maybe the Scrooge houses were just unoccupied.) New to the Deerfield lineup this year was a hot chocolate stand at the end of one of the cul-de-sacs; it was the best of its kind that I'd had in quite some time (I bet they used real milk). Oh, and I think we saw only two displays featuring SpongeBob SquarePants, which was a good thing; the three of us are unanimous in our distaste for the square-trousered one.

Light-seeing is a major part of my holiday tradition, and it was great to have my best friend and his best girl along for the ride. Next week, when things calm down, we're going for Interlochen.

What a gas: Usually, gas prices go up during big holiday travel periods, but out here, it's going nowhere but down. The lowest price I've seen so far is $1.56 for regular at a RaceTrac on the Tollway; hope I can find something like that before I go out of town on Thursday.

Panda-monium: The list of eating choices in my part of town continues to grow; tonight I sampled the new Panda Express near Super Target. I've been to other locations many times, and the food is, and was tonight, quite tasty. It's a little more expensive than, say, Chick-Fil-A or Subway, but, like most Chinese food, it's quite filling. The only downside was that it was so new (opening yesterday, I think) that the huge construction dumpster hadn't been moved out of the parking lot yet. This ate about four parking spaces and made for rather close quarters in the spaces that remained; I almost got backed into twice on my way in. I don't know if this place is a school-day option or not (forgot to check the hours when I left), but it's a great addition to the local mix.

PLAYING THIS WEEK IN THE KEVMOBILE: Yellowjackets, Peace Round (Heads Up HUCD 3090) . As you can tell from a few recent posts, it's been 'Jacket weather in Kev-land. I was totally psyched when I found this CD at my first stop yesterday for a reasonable price. It served as our official "soundtrack" during the Spring Park visit last night, and it offers some really fresh interpretations of timeless holiday classics.'s got Mintzer; what more needs to be said? I'm happy to have this one in my holiday mix, which, just a few short years ago, consisted only of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and a Mannheim Steamroller CD (don't get me wrong, Vince Guaraldi is awesome, but the whole soundtrack barely tops thirty minutes). I also picked up a new Christmas CD by Dianne Reeves, one of my favorite female vocalists ever since I saw her live in college. I'll post a blurb about that one after I've heard the whole thing.

Just Plane Stupid

OK, one more post on the subject of airlines: Michelle Malkin reports in her syndicated column that the guy in charge of the federal air marshals is actually putting them--and us--in danger by requiring them to adhere to a stiff, business-formal dress code which makes them stand out from other passengers:
No idiot would send his men on a covert mission wearing clothes that would so blatantly give them away, right?

Wrong. Meet Federal Air Marshal Service Director Thomas Quinn. The man in charge of our in-flight cops, who are supposed to be spying secretly on would-be terrorist hijackers, refuses to allow his employees to dress undercover. Quinn insists that air marshals abide by military-style grooming standards and a rigid business dress policy regardless of weather, time of year or seating arrangement. He wants them to look PROFESSIONAL.

That means collared shirts and sports coats -- even if a pair of marshals is traveling in coach from Los Angeles to Orlando.
Read the whole thing.

I've never been a big fan of making everyone conform to the business world in terms of attire in the first place (there's at least one good post in me on school dress codes that will likely be written once I'm in the proper ornery mood), but causing the marshals--who are supposed to keep our flights safe-- to stick out like sore thumbs endangers everyone. I agree with Malkin, this guy needs a pink slip--holiday week or not, and even if part of the recently-passed intelligence reform bill would put a stop to this practice. One more unemployed mindless bureaucrat is usually a good thing.

OK, I think that's probably all from me about airplanes for a while.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Just Plane Annoying

You may have seen last week that the FCC voted to allow wireless access on planes. They also will begin taking public comment early next year on the possibility of allowing cell-phone use during flight, though no action will be taken until the conclusion of an FAA study as to whether the phones' use would interfere with the navigational operations of the plane.

Personally, I think that the cell-phone thing would be a horrible idea. Certainly they can--and should--be used in emergency situations like the United Flight 93 passengers did on 9/11, but as far as normal, everyday usage? I think not.

My opinions on the subject were reinforced on last week's flights to and from New Orleans for the game. On the way there, we were surrounded by businessmen. They talked a lot, but at least not very loudly. I think I heard the phrase "we need to write 'em a contract" about 27 times during the course of the 45-minute flight.

On the way back, I had the middle seat, and to my left was a rather annoying woman who seemed to be complaining about everything in one of those grating voices. When the plane stopped at the gate, she immediately busted out her cell phone and started talking very, very loudly all the way past the gate (we managed to lose her by walking quickly through the terminal). If I would have had to listen to that screechy voice at top volume for the entire flight, I might have come unglued.

I think this is the biggest downside of allowing general use: someone's gonna be stuck between two people talking too loudly, too long, or about things that shouldn't be broadcast to the general public, like, say, Aunt Gertie's gallbladder operation. Flight attendants have enough trouble dealing with unruly drunk passengers at times; why burden them even more with the inevitable confrontations that will arise from passengers with bad cell phone etiquette?

So what does everyone else think of this--good idea? Bad idea? Talk to me in the comments.

Blowing out the candles: Happy birthday Dad! Though there may be a downside of having a birthday so close to Christmas, as I mentioned last year, it does mean that I always get to see him within three or four days of the actual event (seeing Mom on her mid-April birthday is a potshot, but one of their visits actually hit right on the day this past spring). Once again, Dad and I will get to collaborate on something musical on Christmas Eve, as I'll be accompanying his choir on the soprano for two services (and play a prelude, if I can find one).

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Another Cool Conspiracy

Halfling's parents threw their annual Christmas party last night, and I got to stay for the whole thing this year, unlike last time when I had two parties and a gig in the same evening. Even though we'll see each other quite a bit before I go to Houston on Thursday, we used the party as an excuse to do presents early.

He told me to open the two presents in a specific order, and I complied. The first one was a long-sleeved UNT shirt, which immediately doubled my stock of official regalia from my alma mater. The second one, which appeared to be a CD, had a story behind it...

A few months ago, when we saw the Yellowjackets in Ft. Worth, we only had enough money between us to buy one CD (and all the ATMs were down), so we snagged the live Mint Jam; they released it on their own label, so we figured it'd be harder to find in a store. We took it to the autograph table to get it signed, and Mintzer asked Halfling his name. That resulted in the CD being signed "To Matt," so I decided that it was only appropriate that Halfling should be the one taking it home; after all, it's not like I wouldn't get to listen to it whenever I wanted to or anything.

(I didn't think anything of it after that, but unbeknownst to me, a little conspiracy was already brewing. Best friends tend to be involved in these elaborate underground schemes to engineer some sort of cool event without the other's knowledge. In the case of me and Halfling, the best one was when I worked secretly with his parents and an old fraternity brother to snag him a Selmer Paris alto over spring break this past year. But now it was my turn to be on the receiving end.)

So when I opened up the second present last night, it turned out to be a copy of Mint Jam, signed by Mintzer, but this one said "To Kevin." Wait a did that happen when we only got one that night? Halfling told the tale:

A mere three days after the concert, Halfling went to the forums on the Yellowjackets website and contacted Mintzer, basically explaining the whole story and how he wanted me to have a autographed copy too, so if he bought another one and mailed it to Mintzer, could he sign that one to me? After many emails and snail-mails, this actually happened, and the results were sitting in my hand. I was appropriately blown away.

(UPDATE: It turns out that the CD was sitting around in Halfling's dorm room several times when I was there; I even moved it off a chair to sit down one time! Knowing that he had that autographed copy, I didn't actually look at what was written on it when I moved it, so I ended up none the wiser.)

Oh, and here's a cool coincidence: I realized, as I was listening to the CD on the computer and re-reading my post about our encounter with the Yellowjackets, that it had been exactly three months to the day from the concert to last night. Every day in September is the same day of the week as its counterpart in December, but there was more than a bit of serendipity in how this all worked out.

On the CD cover, right next to his signature, Mintzer added something in parentheses: "Your friend Matt is a good guy!" That's so true, and Bob doesn't even know the half(ling) of it...

Cuica solo! So if you're wondering what I gave Halfling...well, first a little background: Ever since the night we saw Dave Pietro's Brazilian group at TCU, Halfling has been infatuated with the cuica. It's probably the funniest-sounding of the Brazilian instruments (having originally been developed in Africa to imitate the sound of the female lion, so hunters could attract the males), but besides that, it's just cool. Halfling kept talking about how he was going to learn to play one and eventually write a big band chart featuring it. So I decided to grab the bull by the horns and give the gift of Latin percussion--a Christmas cuica, if you wish. It's a fairly small model, but it did come directly from Brazil, and he got some rudimentary squeaks and grunts out of it last night before he even got to look at the free online cuica lesson I found earlier in the week. Assuming that chart will get written someday, we laughed at the possibility of future hecklers at the Syndicate shouting out "Cuica solo!!!" the way they always shout for "Machito" nowadays.

Hookup x 3: There's probably a trip to Frisco in the offing, as Halfling's parents' present to me was an entire Trifecta's worth of gift cards--that's right, one of each from all three places! I can taste it already...

They say you have two families as you go through life: the one you're born into, and the one you choose. I'm really grateful for this part of my chosen family, that's for sure.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

....With Every Christmas Card I Write

I just got done with my Christmas cards this afternoon. As I mentioned in passing in yesterday's post, I'm old-school like that. It's been said that written correspondence of any sort is a dying art, but there's something about a Christmas card that an email (or even an iCard) won't ever replace.

Ever since the time that I've "come home for Christmas" (i.e. freshman year in college), one of the first things I've done upon my arrival is sat down and read my parents' big basket of cards. It's like a whole bunch of never-ending stories that only have one new chapter released every year. Some of the people I knew when I was little, but some of them (even distant relatives) are just names on the cards, but I read them anyway, because the story wouldn't be the same without them. My parents may not hear from some of these people except at Christmas, but they do maintain a relationship that way.

I wonder if, later on in life, I'll ever have a basket of cards that big. I have no actual basket; but the pile on the mantelpiece numbers ten cards at the moment (which should grow once I send mine out tomorrow, as some of the people I'm sending cards to will send me one back--recipro-cards, if you wish). Granted, some of them came from students sending me late payments, the fraternity headquarters, my insurance agent--and one is from UNT wanting me to send them money--but at least I do have a little pile.

My friends and I will keep in much better touch over the years than a lot of my parents' "card buddies" do, thanks to email and AIM and so on, but it'll be interesting to see if the younger generation embraces the written card at some point in time. (That's one thing about my card demographic: over half of them are older than 50, and nearly all of them are married.) It only took an hour out of my day (and I was watching football at the same time), so as far as I'm concerned, it's well worth the effort, because of the permanence of it all.

So here's a mini-poll: Do you send any real Christmas cards, or is it all e-cards...or just a friendly little IM on the big day itself? Use the comments, of course...

Friday, December 17, 2004


I'm sure most of my holiday-time posts will be full of the appropriate good cheer, but here's a quick rantlet:

On the way to the airport the other morning, Halfling and I were listening to one of my favorite talk shows, and we were both appalled by some of the things we were hearing from callers. The subject was the shooting death last week of Damageplan/ex-Pantera guitarist "Dimebag Darrell" Abbott and several others at a Columbus nightclub. Anyway, host Mike Gallagher had received several calls and emails from people saying that, since the guy took his nickname from the drug culture and was in a band that occasionally had obscene lyrics, nobody should be shedding any tears over his death. Wow. To me, that's just...heartless. Sure, the guy wasn't exactly a role model in many ways, but come on, show some kind of compassion, will ya? The guy went to work one night--just like anyone else, if on a larger stage, literally and figuratively--and some deranged fan (who the papers are now saying had some sort of schizophrenia) came in and shot him dead. Even if you don't agree with Darrell's lifestyle choices, surely you have to feel something when you hear a story like that, especially since those choices didn't really contribute to his demise; the guy was simply doing his job. I agree with what Gallagher said: there's no reason to make Darrell a martyr or put him on a pedestal or anything, but c'mon, let's have a little heart here...

I'll admit that the contrast between the peaceful death of Frederick Fennell and the violent one of Darrell Abbott did seem to be keeping in line with their particular genres of music (classical and heavy metal, respectively), but that's not always the case. This was reinforced this morning when I read about the symphonic conductor who shot himself to death in an L.A. cathedral early this morning. So much for stereotypes...


(Yes, the title of this post is a shout-out to a tune from the first Yellowjackets CD with Bob Mintzer in the band. It seemed appropriate for the end of a semester where Combo Too played the tune in the fall concert and Halfling and I got to meet Mintzer a few months ago.)

Vacation is here. A few weeks to recharge, get caught up on stuff, and hopefully play my horn for fun again like I did in the summer. Blogging should increase, since I have quite a few topics on my mind and will actually have time to commit them to the keyboard now.

Technically, there's a tiny bit of work left to be done: finishing up the last bit of Christmas shopping, figuring out my taxes for the last part of the year (though I suppose I'll wait to see if any checks from the lagging students come filtering in during the next week or so), addressing my Christmas cards (yes, I'm old-school like that and will post on it later) and doing my grades. The grade part will be easy since it's all done online and can be completed right here in the comfort of my home office.

Speaking of doing things from home, I've gotta say, I really love the Internet. Sure, it's been a major deal for me for a long time, keeping me connected to my friends and being a handy source of all kinds of information. But this year, my Christmas shopping is almost complete, and I've only bought one item (a toy for my one-year-old nephew) in a brick-and-mortar store. Everything else has been purchased online, with the majority coming from here. I've only had to go to the post office once to pick up a package; the rest of them have been left right by my front door, which is nicely concealed from street view (that also came in handy a year ago when I accidentally left my front door open for a few hours). You could say it's the lazy man's approach to holiday shopping, but on the other hand, it's been nearly stress-free since I haven't had to fight the crowds and parking-lot maniacs so far.

At any rate, it's good to have some time off. With any luck, there'll be something new here every day for a while.

Weird news story of the day: The San Antonio City Council voted today to require all exotic dancers to be licensed and wear a permit while performing. As you can imagine, talk radio was abuzz today over the story, with the obvious question being "where would they wear the permits?" Heh. You'd better believe I emailed this one to Dave Barry's Blog.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

A Little Trip to the Big Easy

OK, I'm back from the bowl. As I'm sure you know by now, the Mean Green fell short again, 31-10 (and the touchdown we scored didn't occur until the last six seconds of the game), but it was still an awesome trip.

I won't do a lengthy synopsis like last year's, but the game came down to this: no protection from the offensive line. Scott Hall spent way too much time looking a the Superdome ceiling, and Jamario Thomas had no holes in which to break one of his trademark long runs; they held him to only 92 yards last night, way below his average of 188.9 yards per game going into the bowl. The defense played solidly, but in the end, they were on the field too long. The crushing blow came when Southern Miss linebacker Michael Boley stepped in front of a Hall pass early in the fourth quarter, returning it 62 yards for a touchdown and a 24-3 lead. At that point, I turned to Halfling and made the "putting a fork in it" motion, which was all too true.

The game results notwithstanding, it was still fun, as Halfling and I were able to sample some of the area's great food. Within mere minutes of his grandparents' picking us up from the airport, we were chowing down on shrimp po' boys from a local place called La Bella's. After the game, we tried to hit Copeland's in the Garden District, but it turned out that the 11:00 closing time they told us when we called was really 10:00, which we missed by five or ten minutes. But no worries; we were in a town famous for its culinary delights, so we hit the waterfront to see if some of my favorite haunts were open. The Crescent City Brewhouse was just closing (though that place hasn't been quite the same for me since they took the alligator pie off the menu a while back), so we dined just down the street at Cafe Maspero instead, and then we topped off the evening at--where else?--the famous Cafe du Monde. We came back to a good four hours of sleep (half an hour more than last year--yay!) before having to go to the airport this morning.

The flights back were uneventful (yes, flights--there was a layover in Houston for about 15 minutes), and we even grabbed a tiny bit of sleep on the planes. We snagged lunch at Snuffer's on Greenville since we were in the area, and then Halfling departed for Denton and I went back to a rather sleepy afternoon of teaching for about four hours. Having just now awakened from what turned into an inadvertent five-hour nap, I'm probably going to be all kinds of messed up tomorrow, but the semester ends at the end of the day, so laziness will commence soon enough.

So again, despite the outcome of the game; the trip was still awesome. I'm hoping we'll have another sequel next year. And the year after that. And the year after that...

Comrade in arms: Phil Dokas, the artist formerly known as Stereoboy, rants against the Machine. He makes the great point that many of the biggest downloaders of music are also the biggest buyers of music (such as himself).

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Good Lord, no, I can't fit through there. I'm a hundred and ninety-five pounds!"--Parking lot attendant in New Orleans, when Halfling pulled up to the window of her booth before she had a chance to get back in.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Birthday Wishes to One of the Greats

I wasn't expecting to be posting today, since we're leaving for the airport a bit after 11:00. Of course, I also wasn't expecting to get to my first school this morning and find out that I had the flattest tire I've ever seen in all my years of driving. That knocked out all of the rest of the morning of teaching (and, ironically, means that, if I'd had a laptop and wi-fi, I could have blogged from the tire store like Instapundit did yesterday). Once I was done there, it was pointless to teach a lesson and a half, so I came back home to chill.

The weird thing is, my car wasn't the only one nursing a bum wheel; I am too, in a way. Yesterday, on the way to one of my schools, I stepped in this little hole in the grass and nearly twisted my ankle. I didn't fall down or anything, and was fine once I stopped, but it started to hurt a bit later. I have ice on it as we speak, and I think I'll be ok for walking around the Big Easy later on today. The oddest thing was having to stop myself from tapping my right foot during the one lesson I taught this morning.

Anyway, the only reason I popped on today was to make note of something I read in the paper while waiting on my tire: Jazz great Clark Terry turns 84 today. I had the privilege of performing with him at our college jazz festival in '98 (the faculty combo concert was especially cool, since he and I were the only two horns on stage). I also got to drive him around to the hotel and back and listen to all kinds of Duke Ellington stories. The guy's still got it as a performer after all these years, and he's a total sweetheart of a guy as well. Getting to meet and perform with him is something I'll never forget--a true brush with greatness.

Grab your mittens modem, we're going shopping: Today is expected to be the busiest online shopping day of the year. I'm glad I'm most of the way done already.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Almost There

It's weird to say "I need a vacation" only three days before the start of the longest vacation of the year, but that's how I feel at the moment. The trip to the New Orleans Bowl tomorrow will totally hit the spot. Sure, last year's trip was a great time, but having Halfling along will increase the fun factor exponentially. Now, if the Mean Green can win the game, that'll be icing on the cake (and indeed, they're due; so far they've lost in odd-numbered years and won in the even one).

The concert went well yesterday; there were some interesting moments, as there so often are with young players, but overall, I was really happy with the work they got done in a very short time. Kris's band sounded good too; they debuted "Poultry in Motion," and I even got credit (blame?) for coming up with the title. It was really cool to see my name all in big letters on the program and everything, and I really hope this will lead to other similar opportunities. (Oh, and in keeping with the whole stepping-outside-the-burbs mode of the last post, my pre-concert lunch after church yesterday was at an all-indoor Sonic. That's right, no cars...unless you accidentally drove through the front window. You order your food through a little phone at the side of your table, and some of the cartablehops still use roller skates.)

At any rate, one of the two full teaching days of the week is over. A half-day remains before the trip, and another one will follow its conclusion on Wednesday. It's expected to go down to around 28 degrees tonight, but with any luck, it'll be a little warmer in N'awlins (though last year, it was so cold and windy after the game that it felt like Chicago). All I have left to say now is...Go Mean Green! (If I were like Instapundit--who today was liveblogging from the tire store, I'd say I'd do a live post from the Superdome or something...but alas, no laptop, and I doubt there's wi-fi in the dome anyway. Oh well.)

Dude? Dude!! In case you missed this one, a linguist has come up with a deconstruction of the word "dude." It really does have so many meanings...

Saturday, December 11, 2004

A Different World

The clinic went well today. It's a challenge to do all the rehearsing in a single day, because, even if they do practice the rough spots tonight, there will only be a brief soundcheck tomorrow for us to run things. But even though some of the usual problems happened (fix some spots, have everyone mark the music, then come back from lunch and the spots are un-fixed again), I really enjoyed working with everyone, and they were rather responsive and attentive for having to start out so early (9 a.m.) on a Saturday. Oh, and they laughed at my jokes (though there was a bit of groaning after the "Miss Dakota" one...but hey, if you miss the coda, you're gonna hear the joke). The drummer even responded with a well-placed rim shot.

It was really interesting being in Highland Park. Even though the school is only five minutes from my church, it really is, for a suburban guy such as myself, like being in a different world. Getting to Inwood Village for lunch put us on a road that had only one lane of traffic in each direction so that the businesses on either side could have double lanes of parking. (In the 'burbs, the road would have been six lanes wide and the parking lot would have gone on for acres, but out here, they would have had to knock down a whole block of houses to pull that off). We actually saw the mayor of Dallas at the place where we had lunch. The two tony suburbs known as the Park Cities prohibit fast-food restaurants within their borders. But the most fascinating thing was the school itself.

Where can I start? Probably out front, where there actually is a set of steps leading up to the school. Every high school on TV has those steps, but you never actually see them in my neck of the woods. There are plaques on the wall dating back to 1937. A four-story parking garage sits across the street to one side. Perhaps the most interesting thing was when, while giving myself a little tour of the school, I hung a right from the back of the auditorium and the first door on my left said SWIMMING POOL. For real--they have an on-site natatorium. Swim teams in my part of town have to go to a completely different suburb to practice, and these guys can just slip across the hall from their math class or something.

So while I was in the neighborhood, I decided to be a city-ite for a bit longer. After pricing some Birkenstocks (the winter variety; I already have the sandals) at a store I always see advertised but rarely get a chance to visit, I decided that I really needed to eat at someplace different. I chose someplace that's very new to the area: Cheeburger Cheeburger (yes, it's named after the classic SNL skit). It's a full-service burger joint that allows you to build your own burger from a whole bunch of choices of cheeses, toppings, etc. I have to say, it was pretty good stuff. Oh, and it should go without saying that I ordered their smallest offering (5.5 ounces); their biggest one is a whopping 20 ounces, but I would've had to walk home to counterbalance that one.

And now I'm back here in the boring 'burbs...but dangit, they're my boring 'burbs. Still, it's always cool to have a little cultural exchange so close to home. I'll report back after the concert tomorrow.

My website is a little less lame now: The guy in charge of the region jazz bands needed a bio from me for the program, and he asked me if it were available anywhere online. It wasn't at the time, but his request prompted me to revamp the entire frontpage of my website. Honestly, I've spent way more time on this blog the past year and a half, and my website was showing its age. Eventually, I'm going to do an even more massive renovation which will include the artwork for which I was a model a few semesters back. But for now, the front page looks way more professional; it pretty much just has the links to everywhere else on the site...including, yes, a bio page. Check it out.

Friday, December 10, 2004

In the Homestretch

I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel as far as this semester is concerned (and I'm reasonably sure it's not attached to the proverbial oncoming train). I only have two full teaching days left now: Monday and Thursday. Tuesday and Wednesday will be partial days, as Halfling and I head to the New Orleans Bowl Tuesday night. Since Friday is an all-exam day, and most of my students will have already had their band class, Thursday will mark my semester's end.

Tomorrow will be a fun (if very early) day for me, as I'll be the clinician for an all-region jazz band in Highland Park. It's the first time I'll have done one of those, but I'm basically looking at it as a similar experience to directing my band at camp, only with not quite so much rehearsal time (we're even doing two of the same tunes my camp band did this past summer). I'm really looking forward to the whole experience.

TV tribute: Frederick Fennell, to whom I paid tribute in my previous post, will be honored during the In Memoriam segment of ABC-TV`s "This Week with George Stephanopolous."  The program will air 9:30-10:30 CST this Sunday (December 12). I was pleased to see that he got a fairly big writeup in our local paper; he was a giant in the classical music world, but I had no idea how well he was known in the world at large (though his Dallas Wind Symphony connection certainly raised his profile around here).

Unplanned damage: I was really shocked the other night on my way home from Denton when I heard about the Columbus nightclub shootings that took the lives of five people, including "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott, a Metroplex resident and member of the band Damageplan. He was also a former member of Pantera, a band that I saw live several times during my metal days (yes, I had metal days, believe it or not). He never really struck me as a particularly cuddly figure, but everyone who talked about him in the paper said he had a heart of gold, and he and drumming brother Vinnie Paul Abbott were known for helping launch local bands and showing up randomly at clubs to jam with the musicians onstage (they did this at a Sepultura show I attended). But no matter whether you like metal or not, it's unsettling to know that someone would gun down a musician onstage in the middle of performing. As the NBA fiasco of a few weeks ago proved, the unwritten line between fan and performer keeps getting breached these days. I wonder how concert security will be affected in the future (and I'm also really glad that I perform in a much more sedate atmosphere).

This one came from Combo PM, where we were talking about how Alex the guitarist managed to both move out of his house and play a concert in the same day:
NORMA (the pianist): Wow, he's a better man than I am.
ME: Well, I hope so...

Blowing out partial candles: It's my half-birthday today. I still think it would be funny to give someone the front half of a humorous card on this occasion and then make them wait six months to get the half with the punch line. Heh.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

He Made Magic with Music

I received word last night that Frederick Fennell, a pioneer in the wind band movement and founder of the Eastman Wind Ensemble, passed away yesterday morning at the age of 90. Dr. Fennell (who was also Brother Fennell to me, being a member of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia and the recipient of its esteemed American Man of Music award in 2003), led the transformation of the concert band from being "only an entertainment ensemble" and into the serious professional entity of the modern wind symphony.

Here is an excerpt of an email that is making the rounds, composed by Fennell's daughter. Since it's addressed to "the greater music community," I have no hesitation in including it here:
I want you, and the greater music community to know that my father died peacefully in his sleep early this morning, Tuesday, December 7, 2004. Elizabeth and I were by his side. I had promised him that I would do all I could to get him back to Siesta Key so he could watch the sun set over the ocean. With the help of Hospice, he arrived home in time to see the brilliant orange and pinks in the western skies last evening.

A bit before Midnight, dad told me he was "frustrated and disappointed." When I asked him, "Why?" he replied, "There's no drummer here yet. I can't die without a drummer!" I told him that I loved him, and that "Heaven's best drummer was on the way." Moments later he said, "I hear him! I hear him! I'm OK now." This was my final conversation with my dad.
--Cathy Fennell Martensen
I had the great fortune to work under Fennell twice, during recording sessions for two CD's by the Dallas Wind Symphony, Fennell Favorites and Pomp and Pipes (the latter on which I played bass sax!). (I'll link to these recordings when the company's website is back up.) I can say beyond the shadow of a doubt that working with him was the greatest experience I've ever had in classical music. He was not a tall man at all, but he used his elfin stature to his advantage, as there was no doubt the man was making magic. The best way to play under his direction was to memorize your part and just watch him. Though many times there was not much of a strict, discernible beat pattern (as if performers at that level really needed one!), it was easy to become enraptured by watching him, as he just radiated pure joy whenever he was on the podium, and that joy was reflected in all those who played under him.. Also, while many of the great wind ensemble directors of his generation were known to be a bit tyrannical, he had the sweetest disposition of anyone around.

I last saw Brother Fennell at the 2003 Sinfonia convention in D.C.; I mentioned to him that I had played bass sax on Pomp and Pipes, and his face brightened even more as he told me that was one of his favorite recordings with that group.

He will be sorely missed in the world of wind music (and music in general), but his contributions live on in his recordings and arrangements, as well as in all the people whose lives he touched.

(A biography of Fennell, as well as a link to his keynote address at the 2003 Sinfonia convention, may be found here.)

Monday, December 06, 2004

Artists and the Internet

The Pew Internet and American Life Project has released its report on artists, musicians and the Internet. I haven't quite tackled the entire thing--it's 61 pages of .pdf files--but the prologue is interesting. Here's a small appetizer:
Artists are divided, but not deeply concerned about the file-sharing that happens online. They want control over their creations, but most do not say Internet piracy is a big threat.
It also goes on to say that most artists, even if they think file-sharing is illegal, would go after the companies who run the file-sharing services, rather than the individual users. It's interesting stuff, and I'll probably read the whole thing over the holidays.

Old home week: I had a couple "blasts from the past" today; first, a former student of mine from several years ago got a job at the store where I teach (we caught up for about an hour, since we probably hadn't seen each other in 6 or 7 years), and then I ran into one of my old high school buddies when I was checking results at all-region tryouts tonight (I had three people make it--one on each sax--and one alternate, and it bodes well for the future, seeing as how three of the four are sophomores). And it was just a couple weeks ago that I talked to a former student of the same time whom I hadn't heard from in about four years, and then I saw yet another one the same night at the region jazz concert (I didn't immediately recognize him when I saw him; likewise for the guy at the store today; they both look all kinds of different). The music world continues to get smaller and smaller.

Birthday parade: Lots of birthdays to acknowledge from the weekend and early this week: James of the Daily Prawn (it's not till tomorrow, but in Australia it is tomorrow already); yesterday's trifecta of Chris C. (formerly of 15th St. Jazz), my frat bro and future club-owner Wyatt, and my former combo-mate Andrew D. (the latter two also born in the same year as well as the same day); and Lexi, Halfling's li'l sis, on Saturday.

UPDATE: Halfling just reminded me about an addition to the birthday parade--one which I'd actually read about in the paper much earlier today: Dave Brubeck turns 84 today! He's one whom I really hope to be able to see someday, though I don't know how much he performs at the moment.

Saturday, December 04, 2004


OK, I've now finished all the previous week's posts, which took way too much time last night. However, there was a scary moment which lasted from right before I went to bed until just a few minutes after I got up this morning--during that time, all the posts on this blog disappeared! The front page and sidebar were there, but there were no current posts, no archives, and the place on the left side where the text normally sits was nothing but a skinny little bullet-shaped blob of color. I wasn't completely panicking, because I knew that nothing ever disappears from Blogger unless you tell it to...but still, it was fairly unsettling to see a year and a half's worth of postings reduced to nothing for a moment. I couldn't even get back into the editing site to fix it either; it kept telling me that an "unexpected error" had occurred (this even happened when I tried to send them a support message).

Once I got up this morning, I was in fact able to access the editor again, and a simple republishing of the entire blog brought everything magically back to life...whew. I'd hate to imagine having to rebuild this entire thing from cached Google searches or something.

Today is the fall jazz concert at the college, and, as always, I'm directing two groups and playing in another. I think it should go really well; the big band sounded great at dress rehearsal on Tuesday, and the two combos did really well at their performances in the atrium on Thursday. Until then, it's chill time, though I'll probably go over and see how my students are doing at All-Region tryouts today.

'Bout time: Each of the past two summers, I've griped on here about how the Tour de France, of which I'm a big fan, has only been available on a minor cable channel that I don't receive. Well, I got a notice in the mail yesterday from Comcast saying that OLN will in fact be moving to "expanded basic" by the end of this month. Yay!

But I it too little, too late? For one thing, Lance Armstrong's former U.S. Postal Service team is now sponsored by the Discovery Channel, and I always figured that they would at least get some sort of agreement to air the Tour in the States if they were pouring so much money into the team. Oh yeah, and Lance keeps saying he might sit out next summer as well. Bleh. But hey, it'll be nice to actually see the program more than one time a week again.

This is just all kinds of cool: Anyone who liked the Transformers as a kid will get a kick out of this Citroen car commercial from Europe.
(via Instapundit)

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Pow! Pow! Pow! Pow!

True aficionados of the One O'Clock Lab Band (or the Stan Kenton Orchestra, for that matter) may recognize the title of this post as a representation of the four fat opening chords of Pete Rugolo's big band composition "Machito," which serves as an exciting opener to the One O'Clock's Kenton tribute CD, With Respect to Stan. Recorded at a time when the trombone section included the amazing Steve Wiest (who's known for his high chops), the tune is quite a challenge and isn't played live that often.

For several semesters on end, the running joke at Lab Band Night at the Syndicate is that the well-meaning hecklers (pretty much the same guys every week) shout out requests for "Machito" no matter which band is playing. (They'll also occasionally ask for a tenor battle, and sometimes "Free Bird." Heh.) Halfling and I had been joking for weeks that one of the "lower" bands ought to learn those first four chords and play them at the Syndicate just to see what the hecklers' reaction would be. (UPDATE: My friend Jim, in the comments to this post, notes that the tradition of shouting out "Machito!" at Lab Band Night goes back at least a decade!)

Last night was the final Lab Band Night of the semester, so it certainly was our post-dinner destination during The Hang™. The Nine closed the evening, and before the last tune, the director said that there was a certain tune that people had been requesting all semester, so they wanted to fill that request. We figured maybe someone had taken our idea, and sure enough...POW! POW! POW! POW!....except they actually kept going. That's right, the so-called "bottom" lab band learned one of the hardest tunes in the library. The hecklers loved it; some of them (J-Guar included) went up front and either faked conducting or cued all the horn hits. Some of the screaming trombone stuff at the end wasn't quite there, but my hat is off to them for pretty much pulling it off.

Oh yeah, and after that...they played it again. Equally as well. It just goes to show that the old quote from Leon Breeden (who led the One O'Clock to prominence in the '60s and '70s) still rings true: Once the rehearsals start, the "numbers" on the lab bands go away to some extent, meaning that they all sound great.

So I wonder, now that they actually got their wish, what the hecklers will scream for next semester? I bet it's still "Machito," just because.

Hear a clip of "Machito", including the famous opening chords, courtesy of the UNT Jazz Studies website's recordings page.

Diggin' in the archives: Some of you may know that I directed the Nine back in the day, and during that time, I sent a letter in to the old "drive-in movie columnist" Joe Bob Briggs, taking playful issue with his assertion that the Nine was the "bottom of the barrel." You can actually read it here (scroll down to the letters section); I had no idea it was on the Web until I Googled myself one time. It's also funny to note that the column ran on Halfling's birthday, though we of course were years away from meeting at that point.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Brazilian Madness, Part 3

I went up to Denton last night to see the Rep Ensemble perform its second concert of Hermeto Pascoal music. I'd seen them at the Syndicate earlier in the month, but I'd missed their last Kenton Hall concert a while back, so it was cool to see the band in a place where people were paying attention all the time.

I missed the opening tune, coming in from big band as I was, but I heard most of it from the hallway. It had the rhythm, vibrancy and joy that typefies so much Brazilian music, and it also reminded me so much of...the Pat Metheny Group. I was always aware of how much his music was influenced by Brazilian sounds, but this served to reinforce it even more.

One of the coolest things happened on the next-to-last tune, "Bebe," when director John Murphy told us that we were about to see the class in action--the true "lab" part of things. He then passed out a chart they'd never seen before, and they spent a few minutes discussing some things and doing some spot-arranging of parts. There were a few ragged edges, but all in all it sounded great. I was especially impressed with the fact that their awesome singer, who I discussed in the post about their earlier concert, was also sight-reading her parts and still nailing them.

Next semester, the group will tackle the "top 96 tunes of the Swing Era," which is a stylistic 180-degree turn, but should still be really interesting. And I definitely need to add some Pascoal CD's to my collection now.

You stepped out of a dream: Halfling has started a new site where the objective will be to list your "dream big band." There will be several different categories: all-time, all-living, all-dead, and so on. I'll be involved with the site as well, and anyone can enter their favorites in the comments section. At any rate, it's called Dreamland Big Band, and you should go by and check it out sometime.