I'm back. The trip was great--a badly-needed break and a most excellent time. There wasn't even time for a "Live from TMEA" post this time, as the Internet court had a pretty substantial line to use it every time we passed by. But that was no biggie; two days without the Net never killed anyone who was on vacation. Sure, there are spots in the convention center that are now equipped with wi-fi, so someday there'll be a year where I'll do a post while waiting in the long cattle-pen-like line for an All-State concert, but yesterday I just enjoyed the steel band they had playing in the lobby instead.
I relaxed a lot, learned a lot, and saw a whole bunch of people whom I might only see at this time every year. I guess the easiest way to recount this is to list the high points of each day, so here goes:
We made great time on the trip down, arriving around 4:00 (since registration would close an hour later, there wasn't time to see Noah in Austin on his birthday; that would have to wait till Sunday). After a quick walk through the exhibit hall (which is gargantuan, as you might imagine), it was on to the first thing we came to see: a clinic on rhythm by Peter Erskine, the veteran drummer who's played with everyone from Weather Report to Steely Dan to the Bob Mintzer Big Band (he was also the guest artist with us at the college back in '01). He had a lot of great things to say; a point he drove home repeatedly was that players had to learn to "respect the space between the notes." He also had an engaging back-and-forth with a special guest in the audience: another veteran drummer, Ed Shaughnessy (he's the guy with the bushy sideburns behind the drum kit in Doc Severinsen's Tonight Show band from the Carson era).
From there, it was a dynamic duo from my alma mater as the UNT Wind Symphony and the One O'Clock played back-to-back in the massive Lila Cockrell Theatre. I hadn't seen the Wind Symphony since its current director, Eugene Corporon, took the reins, and it was quite impressive. The music being written for wind ensemble these days is much more appealing than the "band music" of several decades ago; writers have learned to get a lot of interesting colors out of wind instruments instead of going for the old organ-like sound (I'll write my thoughts later on how film-score composers saved classical music; this concert bolstered my opinion in that area). A piece featuring piano professor Steve Harlos was very enjoyable.
The One O'Clock was very "on" for the capacity crowd, and while they played mostly pieces that helped define their signature sound (call them flag-wavers, barnburners or whatever), they played them well. Halfling predicted almost their entire program (including "For Openers," "AWJ" and "A Study Was Done" from Lab 2004), and then I figured out that they still had one more chart to go after their "final" selection: an encore of "Machito." Sure enough, that's what happened, and it was much more polished than it was when they trotted it out at the Syndicate a few weeks ago.
The night of music was capped off with a trip to The Landing, the famous jazz club on the river level of the Hyatt. The Jim Cullum Jazz Band plays traditional New Orleans jazz (what some would call Dixieland) indoors; I spent an evening there last year, but this time, the weather was nicer, so the outdoor riverside area was open as well, and there was a trio of trumpet, piano, bass and drums that played some enjoyable standards. We hoped the weather would hold up for the rest of the weekend so we could see more.
This was a morning of rest; nothing we wanted to see was happening until 2:00, so we took advantage of that and took our time getting downtown (even scoring some Thin Mints from a Girl Scout Cookie booth at a shopping center). However, we underestimated the parking problem downtown on a Friday (this was the first time in four years that I hadn't gotten a downtown hotel to begin with), so we ended up a bit late to another fine Peter Erskine clinic. This time, however, I got to say hello to him for the first time since he'd been our guest artist, which was cool.
Most of the rest of the afternoon was spent in the exhibits; as I mentioned before, the hall is probably the size of a couple of football fields, and it features anything that's remotely connected with music education: instrument manufacturers, music publishers, retail stores, fundraisers, professional organizations, and so on. Halfling and I brought a menagerie of mouthpieces and tried out a bunch of different horns; some were much better than others, but nothing would quite pry me away from my Mark VI's quite yet. I did get to play the straight alto that was on display there, which was fun but weird; the sound is just so much farther away than you'd expect it to be. Oh, and I came up with 2/3 of a blues head while testing out the Cannonball alto, so maybe I can actually finish it and add it to TD/D's repertoire before long.
The musical highlight of the day was the concert by Dimensions in Blue, the jazz unit of the Air Force Band of the West, based right there in San Antonio. Their guest artist was Eric Marienthal, an amazing alto player who's best known for his work with the Chick Corea Elektric Band and Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band. Though his own solo recordings have leaned quite a bit toward the smooth side, he's got quite a lot of technique and a full bag of tricks, and it was a pleasure to hear him live for the first time since I'd seen the Elektric Band in college. Dimensions in Blue have recorded a CD of the music of Gordon Goodwin, so the program was heavy on Big Phat Band tunes, including "Hunting Wabbits," "High Maintenance," and the as-yet-unrecorded-by-Goodwin "Count Bubba's Revenge."
From there, we had Mexican food on the river at Casa Rio (lucking into a table after only five minutes) and made a quick visit to the UNT reception at the Hilton before heading back to the convention center for the Sinfonia sing, which ran as efficiently as ever; we actually had time to spare before the building's midnight closing time. This day would also end in jazzful fashion, as we went back down to the Landing to catch the trumpet player again; this time he had some folks sitting in, including a few of the All-State Jazz Ensemble members. I asked him afterwards if this were a normal thing and if he'd be back the next night, and he said he wouldn't, but maybe the guys who would be there would let us sit in with them. We made it a point to bring horns with us the next day.
(continued tomorrow in Part 2)