Saturday, April 30, 2005

Hot Jazz on a Cool Night

I got to see Arturo Sandoval last night at the Denton Arts and Jazz Festival, and it was nothing short of amazing.

I had been a fan of Arturo's dazzling technique and otherworldly high chops on the trumpet since I heard his work with the legendary Cuban group Irakere and his American debut, Flight to Freedom, recorded shortly after he defected to the States, but this was my first time to see him in person, and all I can say is...wow.

His trumpet prowess is, as I said, quite well-known, but he also plays wonderful jazz piano (even recording an entire CD of piano music) and scats like nobody's business. The scatting was quite impressive, because it was somewhat unexpected; if he's done that on a recording, it's not one I've heard. He did quite an extended scat section--sometimes doing so through the horn--with the highlight being when he pretended to do a "bass" solo. He is also an accomplished percussionist, playing solid timbales throughout the night.

But not only is Arturo a wonderful musician, he's also a fine showman, getting the crowd energized all night and being pretty much a perpetual-motion machine. There was hardly a time when he wasn't doing something, be it playing trumpet, piano, percussion, singing, scatting and encouraging everyone to get up and dance. He really is the whole package. (Oh yeah, and he also traded fours with his iPod for a minute! Really--he put it up to the mic; it blared some sort of rap song in Spanish, and then the band came in with their version. Totally hilarious...)

His backing band was also a fine musical unit; special kudos go out to percussionist Tomasito Cruz, who tore it up all night on the congas, and, on a softer number, did some of the most inspired maraca playing I've ever heard (seriously--I never thought I'd be typing that sentence either, but you had to be there).

The warm afternoon gave way to a chilly night, with a brisk north wind blowing over the lawn of the outdoor stage, but at least it was better than a year ago, when he was scheduled to perform and got rained out. We may have been cold on the outside, but the music was definitely hot.

And just think--this whole festival is free. Tower of Power is tonight; review to follow.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Airport Security Totally Kicked Their Axes

I've been hearing some disturbing stories the past couple of days from one of my schools that went on a band trip last week. Evidently, despite their taking all possible precautions, they came out of the trip with a bunch of broken instruments, and saxophones seemed to be the biggest "victims" in most cases.

Obviously, the best way to keep a musical instrument safe on a flight is to carry it on whenever possible, but tubas, baritone saxes and so on will never have that luxury (unless the horn's owner buys it a seat, which happens with professional players on occasion). I'm lucky enough to have a small-but-durable case to use for my alto, and I've never had to fly with anything larger than that so far. After the things I've heard from this school trip, I hope no horn of mine ever has to go in the baggage compartment.

It goes without saying that, in this time of heightened airline security, some instruments will end up being searched. But still, there's no excuse for manhandling (or in some cases, nearly destroying) these delicate pieces of machinery in the process, especially on a charter flight like the one taken by this band.

It's not like precautions weren't taken; the students were instructed to wrap belts around their cases for protection, but many of the cases ended up being opened and the belts never replaced. One French horn didn't get its mouthpiece properly put away after being inspected, which caused it to receive numerous dents from the mouthpiece being jostled around in transit. One alto saxophone had its octave key post bent sideways; it was one of two that was rendered completely unusable for the festival the band was attending. A baritone sax had a key cage come completely off, and another tenor got its octave key badly bent, but I was able to fix that one this morning. It's obvious to me that these instruments were handled very roughly by people who had no idea what they were doing (they probably just picked them up by any old thing that stuck out). This is unacceptable.

Understand, I'm trying to be realistic here. In no way am I expecting every airport security person to be trained in handling musical instruments; I'm just saying that they should all use common sense and a little bit of care when handling anything they're not familiar with, especially something of precision (such as a musical instrument) that might just be a big part of someone's livelihood. (The unfamiliarity thing became way apparent during our first trip to Vermont in '02, when I was called aside for additional searching; one of the security guys, who was obviously from another country, looked more than a little stressed by the gun-shapedness of my alto neck. Thankfully, his colleague recognized it as a legitimate part of the instrument.) I don't know how much of a claim these instruments' owners will be able to file against the airline, but clearly, someone needs to pay for this besides the people who entrusted their possessions to a company that hires careless people like that.

So c'mon in, commenters: have you ever had bad luck with your stuff being manhandled by airport security personnel, be it an instrument, golf clubs, luggage, whatever? I haven't had this happen personally *knocks wood*, but I'll never forget our trip to Switzerland in '99 with the college band, when the guitarist's luggage showed up a day late with his instrument in three pieces (he reassembled it with duct tape and Elmer's glue--no kidding--and it managed to hold together and stay in tune for three concerts).

I guess it could have been worse; another one of my schools went on their band trip a few weeks ago, and one of their expensive tubas (still in its case, mind you) fell off the little truck that carries luggage from the terminal to the plane and was subsequently run over by another vehicle. Ouch.

The Den is open: A big blogospherical "welcome back" to Dingus, who has started up his site, The Dingus Den, once again.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Story of the Week So Far

(I have no other things to post tonight, but this one couldn't wait; it was overheard while out getting ice cream during during The Hang™.)

"About three years ago, I was taking this introductory physics class, and the professor asked everyone how many pounds were in a kilo. I looked around and saw that nobody had raised their hand, so I shouted out '2.27 pounds!' The professor smiled, paused for a moment, and said, 'Well, at least we always know who the drug dealer is in the class.'"--Dude behind the counter, to some customers.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Green Mountains 1, Alps 0

So the college big band had secured two invitations to jazz festivals this year, one to this one in Switzerland, and another to this one in Vermont. I've been to both of them before, and they're both awesome, but it had been longer since I'd been to Switzerland, so that was the one I was hoping to visit again this summer. However, that is not to be--maybe next year?--so the Vermont trip it is.

Sure, I'm a little disappointed, but in the end, it's really no big deal. Vermont's cheaper; it's as close to Switzerland as we get here in the States (not geographically, of course, but in terms of setting--nestled in between the mountains and a big lake), and we can have that righteous peanut-butter pie from Henry's Diner again (I'll link the original story later...too lazy tonight). It's also easier on me to miss a week of teaching in June than it would have been in July (so close to camp and all).

Oh, and it means I get to spend my birthday night seeing this, which doesn't suck in the least. The music, in fact, is comparable at each festival, save for the Steps Ahead reunion in Switzerland on July 4 (as I explained to more than one of my students the last time we went there, they do have the Fourth of July in Switzerland...they just don't celebrate it the way we do). But I have no doubt that I'll get back to Montreux before long, and I mean as a player (TD/D, anyone?). For now, the domestic equivalent will be just fine; I'm just glad we know so my summer planning can get underway.

Monday, April 25, 2005

A Street-Level View of the World

I did a most unusual thing today while running an errand: I actually walked to get there. And OK, if you wanted to get technical, it was a reverse errand, because I walked home from where I was. I'll explain that more in a moment.

(If anyone in, say, New York City is reading these words, they're probably laughing, because they're used to walking almost everywhere. But in Texas, where everything is really, really spread out, it's not so common. Our cars are woven into the fabric of our lives out here.)

So I'd been having radiator "issues" with Kevmobile 1.2 for a while now. I knew there was some sort of leak, because it was guzzling coolant like athletes drink Gatorade, and I could see the residue all over the top of the radiator. Someone at one of my previous oil changes had suspected it might be the cap (which would have been nice--that's cheap), but so far, I'd been content to throw down eight bucks on a bottle of coolant every few months rather than going to the shop and perhaps spending much more. But with air-conditioner season coming up, and the car's tendency to overheat at random moments when I was stuck in traffic, I decided to do something about it during my Monday afternoon break, since that's the only day of the week that I get one of those.

Of course, it turned out not to be the cap; there was a big crack in the radiator itself (which was fairly easy to see once they cleaned all the gunk off the top), so I was looking at a few hours in the shop. I had stopped at the garage close to my house, so, after exhausting their supply of interesting magazines, I decided to hoof it home and get some stuff done here.

The walk wasn't ridiculously long; I would later measure it at .9 of a mile each way. Still, it had been quite some time since I had walked that long simply to get somewhere. But it was a near-perfect day for this (overcast, with a cool breeze blowing in my face on the way home) with not a lot of traffic, and besides, I was going to now miss my chance to work out at the college, so this seemed like a good substitute.

Needless to say, the drive I'd been making since I'd moved to this neighborhood just over three and a half years ago looked very different when it was being walked. I had pavement to walk on virtually all of the way; the alleys that run parallel with the road were connected to the major intersections by sidewalks. I passed a few dogs on my way (since people's back fences come right up to the alley); most of them barked at me, but a pair of poodle mixes in someone's backyard never even turned around, much less acknowledged my presence.

It took exactly the ten minutes I guessed it would take to get home, and I didn't even break a sweat on the way there (the way back was a bit different, as it was starting to rain, so I upped my pace a bit, since my umbrella was--you guessed it--in my car). The way home was thus refreshing, while the way back was starting to feel like I'd accomplished something physical, which was of course the idea.

Once I paid my bill, I rejoined the world of the driver again, and made it back home in about two minutes flat. I wouldn't want to rely on walking to get everywhere (especially with a saxophone), but it certainly gave me a newfound respect for those who do, and it was nice to take life a little more slowly for a second.

He drove a stake through his own popularity: Dallas City Councilman Mitchell Rasansky, who exhibited some pretty batty behavior recently, gets taken to task multiple times in the Letters section of today's paper.

Cross-cultural celebration: Over at our multi-hemispheric co-blog, American Australian Fun, James wishes us a Happy Anzac Day (and no, it's not a medicine you take for depression). Read and learn.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Can't Find a Good Business Motivational Text? Don't Despair--It's Here

If you're in the business world--or like to make fun of it--you'll want to know about the new book from Despair, Inc. founder E.L. Kersten, The Art of Demotivation. Yes, it's an actual book, and it really does come in three different editions (Manager, Executive and Chairman). I love the illustrations done in "Wall Street Journal style" of some of the best-loved Demotivators lithographs (full disclosure: my brother-in-law is CEO of Despair).

The funniest link I've seen in a while: An a capella singing group from the University of Wisconsin performs a medley of Nintendo themes. (Hat tip: Althouse)

A reunion of a different sort: On the way home from my fraternity reunion stuff yesterday, I stopped by Recycled Records and picked up a CD from one of my old classmates, Russ Nolan. His name came back on my radar screen when his arrangement of Kenny Garrett's "For Openers" was revisited by the One O'Clock during a few concerts this year, and his compositional prowess is showcased on this solo effort, Two Colors (he's also really grown as a player, having studied with the likes of Dave Liebman, Chris Potter and Kenny Werner since leaving UNT). I'll have a full review later on (or expand this one), but so far, I'm digging what I've heard.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Bringing Back a Great Tradition

My home chapter of Sinfonia is celebrating its 65th anniversary this weekend (it's actually not until May, but school will be out by the actual day), and today featured the annual American Music Recital, AMR for short (since Sinfonia is an American music fraternity, one of its aims is to promote the music of our native land).

I was very impressed with the entire program; it ranged from duets to a small chorus to a full big band. I could tell that the ensembles had been rehearsing diligently all semester, as their hard work came to fruition today. I also had a great time visiting with several other alumni, including the guy from the '40s whom I'd met at the National Anthem tryouts a few weeks ago; he had some amazing stories.

I was happiest to see the big band, because I had started one of those in the chapter when I was in college. At first, our rehearsals were somewhat anarchistic, but after a while, we weren't getting much done. When I told the chapter president at the time that someone needed to be in charge, he asked if I would like to be that person, and I agreed, because it sounded like fun; I was also taking quite a few jazz courses at that point in time, so I felt like I could do the job.

We rehearsed for a number of weeks and then, just like today, we made our debut on the AMR, and then we scored a sweet slot opening for the One O'Clock and the Zebras at something called the Denton Spring Fling, a precursor of sorts to the Denton Arts and Jazz Festival (which takes place next weekend, incidentally). Neil Slater (director of the One O'Clock) saw us, and he encouraged me to sign up for his jazz conducting class the next semester, because he saw me as a future lab band director. I took the class and did end up conducting lab bands (the Nine and the Six) for two years.

So as I watched the tradition (which had been dormant for several years) get revived today, it really hit me that the whole experience I'd had was really a life-changing one; were it not for that semester in front of the band, I probably would have just gotten a straight Master of Music Education degree instead of the one with a Jazz Studies emphasis that I ended up receiving, and who knows if I'd ever have been teaching any of the classes I'm teaching now or ended up on the faculty of a great jazz camp or anything like that. From such a small seed grew a fairly stout tree...

Only time will tell if today will go down as such a life-changing experience for any of the student ensemble leaders from today's recital, but it was great to make music among brothers, and that's what counts. Oh, and the big band, which performed "Count Bubba" (a challenging tune written by Gordon Goodwin for his Big Phat Band), did very well, especially considering they only got to rehearse about an hour a week. This tradition should continue for a while this time, as the chapter has way more jazzers than it did when I was active. I'm planning on doing some sort of guest solo next semester, which would tie the two eras together rather nicely. At any rate, I'm really proud of the guys.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "No addicts unless your [sic] really good."--The line at the bottom of one of those ubiquitous "band needs lead singer" flyers around the UNT music building.

You could just hear the aftermath of those auditions: "Well, you're a total crackhead, but duuude, you sing great, so I guess we'll deal with you...at least until you O.D."

Friday, April 22, 2005

This Politician is a Little Batty

A 14-year old North Dallas Boy Scout did something unusual for his Eagle project, but a Dallas city councilman is having a rather bizarre reaction to that project.

The Scout (whose father did not release his name to the media) built three bat houses at Glen Cove Park. The parks board approved the houses over a year ago, and the Scout will receive his badge. But Mitchell Rasansky, whose district includes the park, is no fan of the project, and he's having a field day making fun of it as well:
"He's not from North Dallas," Mr. Rasansky said of the 14-year-old boy who built the bat sanctuaries as part of an Eagle Scout project. "He's actually from Transylvania."

Last Wednesday, Mr. Rasansky, who wants the bat houses removed, showed up at City Hall wearing a plastic bat on his lapel and sporting plastic vampire fangs.
Needless to say, the Scout's dad isn't too happy with remarks like that:
Ira Richardson said the controversy created by Mr. Rasansky's remarks has embarrassed and ridiculed his son, who was only trying to meet qualifications for his Eagle Scout badge.

"He's a minor child who has learned a tough civic lesson about the political leadership in this city," said Mr. Richardson, who declined to name his son. "I don't know Mr. Rasansky, and I don't want to know him. He's used my kid as the butt of his jokes. He's used his phobia to politicize what would otherwise be a good public works project."
But the councilman goes on:
When told about the teenager's trauma, Mr. Rasansky, a former Boy Scout, had little sympathy.

"I have enough people to take care of in my district. I don't need a colony of bats," he said. "We want people in our parks, not flying mice."

Mr. Rasanky concedes that much of his dislike of bats come from being spooked by Dracula movies as a child. He acknowledges that his jokes and his anti-bat stance have attracted critics.

"One woman wrote me and said she wanted to drive a stake through my heart," Mr. Rasansky said. (source)
Do you believe this guy? OK, so he's afraid of bats, but that's no excuse to ridicule a teenager for doing a worthwhile project. And they wonder why young people have such a cynical attitude towards politicians...

Besides, he should remember what a great tourist attraction has been built up around the bats who roost under the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin. Oh, and bats also eat lots of mosquitoes, which sure beats sending around those nasty fogging trucks through the neighborhoods.

You might want to rethink this one, Councilman.

She got fingered again: In case you missed it, the lady who found the finger in her Wendy's chili has now been arrested on charges of making the whole thing up. Why am I not surprised?

Thursday, April 21, 2005

This 'n' That

OK, I think things are finally getting back to normal around here. There's one more morning of testing at the high schools tomorrow, but that only knocks out two lessons, and I'll enjoy the extra few hours of sleep at any rate.

The trip to Waco was fun; I enjoyed hanging with the brothers out there and visiting with a couple of old friends who put me up for the night. After my last meeting yesterday morning, I found myself in the thick of the change of classes; it had been quite a while since I'd been in that situation at a traditional university (my college is mostly indoors and constructed like a mall, so the big passing period has a different flavor to it). It was almost certainly the first time I'd been in that situation wearing a suit; I envied the dressed-down students but joined them soon enough for my trip back.

I haven't blogged on this subject in a long time, but Halfling completed his first 2BC last night. It was totally spontaneous; he was really, really hungry, so he just got up and said, "OK, 2BC time," and proceeded to order and down the second big burrito. I didn't time him on all this, but I'm sure it was way slower that Stout's thirteen minutes and faster than my forty-five. The League of Lunatics thus has nine members now...I think. (UPDATE: This is correct; I found the post from the last time we had any inductees.)

I got to work out this morning; the college gym was only open from 7:00 until 8:30 a.m., but I actually got up and went there and did my stuff. Halfling was right when he told me that doing cardio stuff in the morning makes you more lively all day long; it almost--but not quite--rendered my beloved coffee unnecessary. I don't usually have the luxury of doing something like that during regular school hours, but I'm hoping to find some sort of comparable activity to do closer to home.

Order in the court...and that means Juror #12, wake up! Boredom proved costly to a potential juror who let out a loud yawn in a Los Angeles courtroom and was promptly ordered to pay a $1,000 fine.

This is not what they meant by "roughage" in the diet: I can't find a link for this yet, but evidently, there's yet another sequel to last week's finger-in-the-chili story: according to a report I heard on the radio this morning, an elderly lady found a "stem" in her salad that turned out to be the tail of a dead mouse. Can you say "eww?" (UPDATE: Link is here.)

Blowing out the candles: Happy birthday to my friend and colleague Kris (and a belated one yesterday to Scott B.).

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Travel Advisory II

I'm taking advantage of the mornings off from school this week to go visit my Sinfonia chapter at Baylor, so once again, blogging will be light for a day or two. Oh, and I realized that I'll be in Waco on the anniversary of the end of the Branch Davidian siege, but hopefully everyone's attention will be on Oklahoma City, where it should be today.

I'll still have my usual Wednesday P.M. activities, but expect a new post on Thursday for sure; even if I get up and go work out (which I plan to do), I'll have a good three hours off that day--maybe more.

In this case, the "R" stood for "RUN AWAY!": An 81-year-old Florida woman about to test-drive a car accidentally put it into reverse, hitting her husband, a salesman, a car and a tree before running into a wall. (via Dave Barry's Blog)

Monday, April 18, 2005

This Week Will TAKS My Finances

Here we sit on the eve of the TAKS test (the middle schools already did some sort of pre-thingy today, but it didn't effect me personally), and I might as well be on Spring Mini-Break II for as little teaching as I'll be doing in the next three days. I've already griped about this test (and even pointed out when a very brave teacher did so in the paper), but now we're on the eve of the blasted thing, and it's really hitting home what a supreme waste of time it is (especially during the days when one grade takes a portion of the test while the other two grades get one last review session).

Thankfully, I'll be able to fill the intervening time with good stuff--extra workouts, a trip to see one of my fraternity chapters, arranging, practicing, extra sleep--but still, I'd rather be teaching, and I bet the students would rather be learning things like music instead of the same test elements drilled over and over for the whole year. Oh yeah, and as I said earlier, I'm out about 450 bucks because of it. Thank goodness this week only happens once a year, but still, to me, that's once per year too often.

The cube root of 13,824: I'm continually amazed how, after only a few months of watching, 24 just keeps getting better and better. I'm so glad I'm hooked. If you missed it tonight (or, perhaps better yet, if you didn't), Dave Barry has a humorous synopsis on his blog.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

A Page from the Songbook

Last night, one of my favorite living alto players, Kenny Garrett (or, as I sometimes call him, "the only Kenny with the last initial of G who should be allowed to play saxophone"), performed with the University of Texas Jazz Orchestra as part of the Longhorn Jazz Festival, and noted Garrett-philes Halfling and myself were there. It was actually the first time Garrett had ever played his music (which is normally played by a quartet of himself, piano, bass and drums) with a big band, and several special arrangements were done for the concert.

I was particularly looking forward to this last leg of the spring Cool Concert Tour, since I hadn't seen Garrett in about eight years, and it was Halfling's first time. When I saw him most recently, at the Wichita Jazz Festival, he had the quartet with him, and they played a lot of selections from the Songbook CD, which was his newest one at the time. Although Garrett had been releasing recordings as a leader since 1984, this CD seemed to bring him into his own, because it not only showcased his amazing playing but also his compositions as well (his release prior to this one was Pursuance, a collection of John Coltrane standards). I was quite pleased to see in the program that three of the six tunes listed were from Songbook, because it's one of my favorite newer jazz recordings, bar none.

Garrett has a unique sound that's often copied by college students nowadays (including the lead alto from the UT band, who got to do kind of a "Mini-Kenny meets the real thing" alto battle on one of the tunes), and he also has a really interesting harmonic sense that sends his solos on adventurous, yet very tasteful, excursions "outside" on many occasions. And now, since Songbook, he's added composing to his bag of tricks. The guy's the whole package, and then some.

After an opening set by UT alone and a brief intermission, Garrett came onstage in his trademark African-style hat. Without further adieu, they launched into "Two Down and One Across," the opening track from Songbook. After a series of held chords, he was off and running. The arrangements were actually done rather smartly; they allowed Garrett to carry the head of the tune and then got out of the way for him to take extended solos. A few of the UT players would take a turn here and there, but it was basically Kenny's night to shine, as it should be. The night continued with a reworked "Giant Steps" from Pursuance; a tune I wasn't familiar with entitled "Tacit Dance" (which I would later discover came from the Black Hope CD); the Latin-flavored "Ms. Baja" from Songbook; "November 15" from the same album; and, to close the evening, "XYZ" from his latest CD, a 2003 effort entitled Standard of Language.

As I said, Kenny's the real deal, and he showed it all night long, playing amazing lines (after some of which Halfling and I would just turn to each other and shake our heads in awed disbelief) with a wonderful sound (including a rare command of the alto's lowest register). We all wanted an encore, but, as he noted at the end, that was all the music that had been arranged for him, so there wasn't much that could be done (though Halfling and I were thinking "just fire up the rhythm section and let him blow!"). This night was an appetizer at best; here's hoping the entire quartet comes through town sometime soon, but the Austin gig was definitely worth the drive.

Gas update: Speaking of driving, I paid $2.05 a gallon for regular unleaded at an Exxon in Round Rock. The lowest I've seen around here all weekend was $2.11 at various locations, mostly in Plano.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Travel Advisory

I'm taking a quick trip to Austin with Halfling today to see Kenny Garrett at the Longhorn Jazz Festival (and see my sister and her family as a bonus), so, as Dave Barry would say, "blogging will be light" for a day or two. I'll of course have a full review when we get back.

Blowing out the candles: Happy birthday Mom! Being the dutiful son that I try to be, I even managed to get a snail-card sent out on time in addition to the usual electronic offering (I'll explain another time about how my parents have outlawed birthday and Mother's/Father's Day presents for themselves...but cards and calls are still expected, of course).

Friday, April 15, 2005

What a Great Feeling It Is...

...to be in a band, playing well, in a place packed with people (many of whom are family and friends, but plenty who are not), and everyone is really digging what you're doing. That was the feeling we had tonight at the TD/D gig at the Coffee Haus. I'm looking forward to having that feeling even more frequently with this band.

Even though we hadn't played together in public in over six months, we seemed to be tighter than before; evidently, our individual growth as musicians over the past half-year has carried over to the group, and that's always cool. Sure, there were some "interesting" moments where sections of certain tunes didn't connect as they could have, but that's nothing that another rehearsal won't cure. The energy level was definitely there, so that made it a wonderful time for all of us.

It looks like this will lead to not only a return engagement at the Coffee Haus, but other things as well, and when we finally get to record our demo in late spring/early summer, we'll have even more doors opening to us. I'm really fired up about the group--not that I ever wasn't, really, but the long period between gigs made the concept of TD/D seem almost abstract at times. We're back in the land of concrete now, and I think it's here to stay for a long while. Tonight reminded me why, even though I still make most of my income teaching (which is certainly rewarding in its own way, plus that's how I originally met every member of the band), I think I'm a performer at heart. I'll be putting a lot of time and energy in the foreseeable future to getting that to as high of a level as I can, and it's great to have this collection of friends along for what's turning into a really fun ride.

More thoughts over at the TD/D blog.

Reunions are busting out everywhere: Tonight I managed to see a fraternity brother I hadn't seen in about five years (on the verge of his leaving for New England for six months), as well as Halfling and Dingus's old high school jazz director, whom I hadn't seen in a good nine months or more, and a former student of mine from ten years ago (he's working in local theatre now and just randomly walked in for a drink; as is often the case, he recognized me, but I didn't recognize him at all at first). One thing's for sure, the mailing list is getting bigger...

Funniest story of the week so far: Protesters from PETA target a KFC restaurant in Brownsville; the manager responds by turning the sprinklers on them. (Hat tip: InstaPundit)

Thursday, April 14, 2005

It's About Time Somebody Said This

I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one who thinks that standardized testing (like our TAKS test here in Texas) is a supreme waste of time. A student sounded off against it a few months ago (by announcing she's refusing to take it) and was roundly criticized, but now a brave teacher, Rebecca Coleman, has joined the fray:
Each year, I've noticed the emphasis in curriculum moving farther and farther away from a liberal arts education, which emphasizes knowledge across a broad spectrum of subjects, to a "skills-based curriculum," which emphasizes the ability to pass a standardized test.

... Standardized tests don't measure what students need to know in order to become good people who contribute meaningfully to society. They measure what is easily measured.

... "Drill and kill" tests, like the TAKS, create students who are easily manipulated, easily controlled and increasingly incurious. We begin with fresh, eager minds in elementary school, and through years of focusing only on meeting those state standards, we choke the fun out of learning and thinking, creating students who hate school and everything associated with learning.
By all means, read the whole thing.

I hope Ms. Coleman doesn't get any grief from her employers for saying all these things (she wisely lists herself as simply a "teacher in a local school district"), because they really needed to be said...and heeded by the Powers That Be.

(And yes, I'd be saying this even if I weren't having to eat [or would that be not eat?] about $450 in lost lesson revenue next week because of this idiotic test. I promise.)

The Plot Thickens Sickens

You've probably heard the weirdest story of the past few weeks, where the lady found a human finger in her bowl of Wendy's chili. Well, now the story gets even more bizarre: the finger may have belonged to a woman who had hers bitten off by her pet leopard.

Here's the best quote from the whole thing: "Wendy's has maintained the finger allegedly found in the chili had not been cooked, and that it didn't enter the supply chain as part of its ingredients." OK, so that's supposed to be reassuring?

And now a sequel? To top off that last story, a lady over in Ft. Worth found a 2-inch frog in her take-out order from Grandy's this week.

Blowing out the candles: Happy birthday to my Aunt Nora in Indiana (Mom's sis).

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Wreck Redux

Today, thirteen months after my unfortunate encounter with a soccer mom at an intersection near my house, I got an official notice from my insurance company: Soccer Mom is also Deadbeat Mom. They've tried for nearly a year to collect from her to no avail. Even their subrogation department (that was a new word for me too) had no luck. (It turned out the insurance information she gave me was from a policy that had been canceled for lack of payment about two weeks before the accident.)

So that pretty much means that I'm out my deductible, unless I go after her myself. So I throw this one out to the readers: Has anyone had any luck actually collecting on something like this? Since the attorney's fees would probably equal what I'd get back (I think it was $500; I'd have to go back and look), has anyone successfully done this without a lawyer? Any responses would be appreciated.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Happy Blogiversary to the Musings!

The Musings of Kev is two years old today. Certainly, a lot has changed since the very first post (especially the length; I knew that my typical long-winded self would come through eventually), but one thing remains the same: this is a great outlet for me to sound off on whatever I happen to feel like talking about on any given day, and I'm glad to see that others are along for the ride. I hope I continue to provide enjoyment to everyone who stops by this site.

Hey kids, here's your new driver, Mrs. Earnhardt: A Florida school bus driver was arrested for street-racing against her own kids.
(via Dave Barry's Blog)

Monday, April 11, 2005

Baby Mozart Grows Up...and Takes Over the World?

For quite some time, there have been some studies out stating that listening to music (even as early as while in the womb) helps in the development of children; some have even tossed out the hypothesis that "music makes you smarter." It's been called the Mozart Effect, and the basic premise goes like this:
The Mozart Effect is an inclusive term signifying the transformational powers of music in health, education, and well-being.

The Mozart Effect® represents

*The use of music and the arts to improve the health of families and communities

*The general use of music to improve memory, awareness, and the integration of learning styles

*The innovative and experimental uses of music to improve listening and attention deficit disorders

*The therapeutic uses of music for mental and physical disorders and injuries

*The collective uses of music for imagery and visualization, to activate creativity, and reduce depression and anxiety
(from the Mozart Effect website)
There's even a Baby Mozart video that adds visual stimulation to the melodies. Information like this, while not universally accepted, is certainly good "ammunition" for defending school music programs in the wake of possible budget cuts. (Plus, there has been recent research into a possible molecular basis for all the effect.)

The other night, while out with some Sinfonia brothers, I had a great conversation with a fellow alumnus that seemed to indicate that the effect could carry way past childhood, in a way I'd never considered before.

This guy got a music degree at UNT, and, although he still performs regularly in several different areas (including a reserve military band), his day job is in the financial industry. While some might think that a non-business background would serve as a disadvantage, he considers it to be his ace in the hole. In a nutshell, he figures that the experience he had getting that degree at a rigorous school like my alma mater puts him head-and-shoulders above 90% of his coworkers, because they've never had to experience the type of grueling schedule and rigourous personal discipline demanded of the students in the music program. I think he's absolutely right.

I'm not exactly sure what my friend has seen (or not seen) in his coworkers, but I know what skills are developed during the course of getting a music degree: time management, multitasking (think of all the things required just to play a piece of music: tone, pitch, rhythm, dynamics, expression, etc.), conquering of performance anxiety, organization of thought, and so on. Few other disciplines develop all these things to such a high degree, especially at the elite, performance-oriented schools like UNT.

Anyway, I think my friend is onto something, and it sure made me feel even better about what I do. People in more academically-inclined fields of study who may criticize us for not having a "real" major should do so at their own peril...and hope that we stay in our own profession and not theirs. Oh yeah, and if this guy does make executive VP in the next ten or twenty years, he's gonna be giving all kinds of money to support school music programs.

I am a perpetual-motion machine: The high school bands have their big concert and sight-reading contest this week, with the result being that I had to teach most of Wednesday's schedule today (along with part of today's too). It was a long day, but Wednesday will be cake now. (I'll wait and gripe about the state testing, and the little unpaid "holiday" it has spawned, next week.)

Sunday, April 10, 2005

This Made My Weekend...

When I was out with some friends last night, I ordered a beer with dinner, and a really unusual thing happened: the waitress carded me! (And while the exact number of candles that I blow out on any given June 10 is not a topic of discussion on this blog, let's just say that it's been quite a while since said cake contained fewer than 21 of them.) Needless to say, she got a really nice tip from me.

Cheap gas update: I paid $2.09 for regular unleaded at a RaceTrac at Trinity Mills and the Tollway; several stations just up the road at Frankford were the same price. That was even cheaper than anything I saw in Denton the night before (it's usually less up there).

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Jazz Club Owner Still Has the Blues

I wrote a while back about how the wildly successful Brooklyn jazz club in Oak Cliff's Bishop Arts District was embroiled in a legal battle with its neighboring businesses over alleged noise intrusion. Now the landlord has asked owner Lorna Tate to start paying for sound insulation immediately or move out:
"I think we're going to have to take them to court," Ms. Tate said. "We just can't walk away from our $200,000 investment here and start all over with nothing."

Ms. Tate was first notified by letter in December about noise complaints and given 30 days to turn down the volume or leave. Although attorneys on both sides have been negotiating for months, Ms. Tate said they've found no harmonious solution.

They had discussed hiring a sound engineer to monitor the noise levels, but Ms. Tate's attorney, Barbara Nicholas, received an e-mail Wednesday saying her client must begin building a soundproofing wall or face the music. (source)
I sure hope something can be worked out; we've lost enough good jazz clubs here in recent years, and this would be an unfortunate way to lose another one.

And speaking of live jazz: Only six more days till the return of Team Demon/Dingus, next Friday night at the Coffee Haus in downtown Plano. Hope that lots of Musings readers can make it (well, OK, James has a pass on this one, since he lives in Australia and all).

Friday, April 08, 2005

They Get the Picture in Virginia

I was happy to read today that the state of Virginia has officially canceled its red-light camera program, effective July 1. Lawmakers in Indiana and New Hampshire also voted down legislation this week that would have allowed the cameras' use. (Hat tip: InstaPundit)

And if you're wondering why I'm no fan of the cameras, it's basically because they seem to place a priority on revenue rather than safety and may even compromise safety. Previous posts are here and here.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Another Traffic Rant

I had an annoying experience on the way to the college today. As the light where I was stopped turned green, the big black pickup truck that was two vehicles in front of me took a really long time to get going, and when he did, he was going very much below the speed limit (30 in a 40 zone, if I recall). The car directly in front of me managed to pass him on the right (which, thankfully, is legal in Texas), but nobody else could get around him, because another smaller pickup with Oklahoma plates was now blocking the right lane as well. These two lumbering trucks drove virtually side-by-side for the next two miles, blocking traffic behind them in both lanes for the whole way. Thankfully, one of them turned right at the next intersection, and the gridlock was finally broken.

So if we can discount collusion in this case (as in, the two drivers were members of that group who drive side-by-side to keep other people from speeding), what was the story here? Was each driver ignorant of what was going on in the next lane, or was it just plain selfishness on their part? Or is it a combination of both--is not paying attention to what's going on around you also a form of selfishness?

And if you want to talk stereotypes, it made total sense to me that the Okie truck was going really slow (I see that all the time, and joke that, when they're doing this while headed north, they must not want to get back home), but the big black truck should have been going about 80 if it was living up to its usual reputation of big trucks barreling down the highway and eating smaller vehicles in its path.

At any rate, I'm glad nobody got rammed or anything.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

I'll Take a Mulligan

Gerry Mulligan, the greatest baritone saxophonist in jazz history (in my humble opinion), would have turned 78 today. I'll have more of a tribute later at this spot.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Discipline

One of the biggest challenges of teaching my daytime combo (as opposed to the evening one, which is mostly older adults and thus more stable personnel-wise), is that I never know exactly what my instrumentation will be until the first week of school. This makes picking music beforehand a challenge, because I could have anything from what I have now (a fairly "normal" horn section of alto/tenor/trombone, just like TD/D) to what I had about five years ago (four saxes, four guitars, a trumpet and a piano). Putting a vocalist into the mix adds to the challenge, because I always want to add horn parts to the lead sheets she (yes, it's always been a "she" so far) brings in.

There's a really good vocalist in there this semester, so I obviously wanted to write for her, but my writing tends to move at a glacial pace most of the time. More often than not, I have to be in the mood to write, and because of that, many of my big projects have never gotten past the idea stage. But this semester, they've come to fruition not once, but twice.

While I've always been pretty disciplined in my work, the times outside of work have tended to be downright lazy. I feel like I've earned the break, in a way, but lately there's just so much I want to accomplish, especially in the area of playing and writing (I really want to start writing for big band soon, for one thing). The first little project was taking a big band arrangement of "Orange Colored Sky" and condensing it to three-horn combo; that got done earlier in the semester. But the magnum opus of the spring was born when our vocalist wanted to do "Nature Boy" as a samba, and the idea came to me to add a long, technical soli section like the one found in my very first jazz composition, "Samba de ZuachiƱu." I actually sketched the idea out on paper over spring break and started writing the parts out last week. I still had a few to go as of this morning, but I had promised the group they'd get to read it today, so I finished the parts in the faculty office at the college (totally forsaking the computer until I got home). I was really happy with it; it turned out like I wanted it to do, and everyone seemed to really like it, even though it's hard. I still have to come up with an ending and some horn parts for when she sings the head, but the hardest part is done. The plan is to play it on the spring concert on May 7.

So, after years of wanting to do some big, elaborate arrangements for combo, I finally did it. (I also practiced during the time when a student didn't show up to his lesson, and I worked out at the college gym after combo...what a day.) I think this more-disciplined approach to things will stick around this time, because I like the results.

Oh, and if you're in a non-jazz mood at the moment, this post shares its name with a pretty cool King Crimson CD.

Buzz kill: I was scared for a moment earlier today when I thought my computer was about to give out; it was making this weird random buzzing noise for no apparent reason. It turns out that the sound in question was coming from a little animated fly in a banner ad at the site I was visiting. I'm not sure that's a really effective form of advertising; while the ad got my attention, it sure didn't make me want to buy the product or service it was hawking (which, appropriately, I've already forgotten).

Plllllllllllay ball! As I type this post, the Rangers are on TV playing the California Anaheim Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. It's so great that baseball season is back; if you missed my tribute to the virtues of baseball from about a year ago, check it out, because I can't add much else to what I said then.

(OLD SCHOOL) QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Discpline is never and end in itself, only a means to an end."--from the liner notes to the above-mentioned King Crimson CD.

Monday, April 04, 2005

All Caught Up

The two posts I started last week are finished; read them here and here. There is plenty of busy-ness left in April, but I don't see too many more all-consuming days like some of the ones last week, so regular posting should resume, assuming I have something to post about. (Me, at a loss for words? Yeah, right...)

The ecstasy (and agony) of de feet: Many people are aware that I never wear shoes in Casa de Kev and encourage my friends to join me in that practice (that's Fun Fact #9 if you're keeping score); I read an article today that mentions how such behavior is becoming common practice in many other homes as well. I never really thought about it being good for the circulation, but it makes sense to me.

Oh, and I also saw the flip-side of that equation over the weekend; having misjudged the length of my dinner break (and not knowing I'd have the opportunity to chauffeur the guest artists around again), I didn't bring any spare clothes for the Corea concert that night. The end result was that, for the first time in recent memory, I had to wear dress shoes for about 16 straight hours. All I can say is....bleh. I'm so glad I'm not in a business that requires that on a regular basis; I doubt I'd still be able to walk by now.

This gives new meaning to the term "busted": A police officer is accused of downloading naked photos of a suspect from her cell phone after a recent arrest.
(via Dave Barry's Blog)

Sunday, April 03, 2005

A Festive Weekend of Jazz

This weekend was our jazz festival at the college, and it was a particularly good one. As you might have seen on the sidebar the past few weeks, our guest artists were Denis DiBlasio, former baritone saxophonist with the Maynard Ferguson band and director of the jazz program at Rowan University in New Jersey, and Gregg Bissonette, a former member of the One O'Clock Lab Band who also toured with Maynard as well as David Lee Roth.

Evidently, these two guys hadn't seen each other since their Maynard days in the 80's (they both played on the Live from San Francisco CD), so they had stories aplenty, and it was great just being around them--sort of like dropping in on a family reunion of sorts. On Friday night, they played with our faculty combo, which was all kinds of fun. We had four horns (Denis on bari, myself on alto/tenor, along with trumpet and trombone) and a four-piece rhythm section. Denis was just as amazing as when he was our guest artist at jazz camp back in '02; he's all over the horn (with a sick extended range, too; he hit the alto's altissimo A a few times during the weekend) with great lines, clever quotes, and an effective use of the bari's low end to produce bass-like effects. Gregg is also world-class, mixing tastefulness and technique with a variety of cool sounds, and you can tell he's having an absolute blast doing it. It was an honor to share the stage with them.

I also had the good fortune to serve as their chauffeur from the hotel to the concert on both nights. On Friday, I had John Coltrane's Crescent playing in the car, and Gregg noticed that Elvin Jones's cymbals on that recording didn't sound the way that his usual brand did; that spawned a whole back-and-forth about lightness and darkness in cymbals and how they worked in different settings (I listened and learned). Saturday night, Gregg popped in a track from a new Steve Vai CD that featured Steve scat-singing; it also had the famous Jerry Hey-led horn section that graced all those Al Jarreau CD's in the eighties (or at least some of the same people, but Jerry's arrangement for sure).

Saturday was the part of the festival where different school bands came in and performed and got comments and clinics. As one of the judges in the Black Box Theatre, I had a full day (depsite there being three other jazz festivals going on in North Texas this weekend, we were booked solid and even had to turn some bands away). I was especially impressed with some of the middle-school bands we heard in the afternoon; some of those kids have only been playing for a year and a half, and they're already getting some of the concepts down and even trying their hand at improvisation in some cases. The day went pretty quickly, considering we had ten bands to hear. I felt more comfortable as a clinician than I ever had before; doing that All-Region band last semester obviously helped.

The evening concert opened with the college big band (of which I'm a member more often than not, but they have enough students to fill the section this time) along with Denis and Gregg. Denis pretty much stole the show with his solo turn on "Lester Leaps In," switching from bari to flute to scat-singing and eventually trading fours with himself (four bars of bari, four bars of scat) before engaging the audience in a call-and-response a la Cab Calloway in "Minnie the Moocher." Great fun.

But the evening was not over; after helping hand out the awards, I high-tailed it over to Addison to catch the Chick Corea Trio. I had heard earlier in the week that the incomparable young bassist Christian McBride was going to be there, but I didn't find out until a few hours before the show that drum legend Steve Gadd would be rounding out the trio. I'm not sure I can describe this event in mere words, but I'll give it a shot.

I had only gotten to see Chick one time before, with the Elektric Band. While it was cool to hear all the synth-playing that night, I remember thinking that I would just rather hear him play piano. Last night, I got my wish, and then some. Having McBride and Gadd up there with him made for a dazzling display of musicianship: brilliant piano flourishes and the Latin undercurrent for which Chick is famous; rock-solid support from McBride, whose solo turns left many mouths agape with his otherworldly technical prowess (as well as one of the best-played arco bass solos I've ever heard); and Gadd, who's played on so many recordings I've owned over the years, tearing it up with stunning, how-does-he-do-that-with-only-four-limbs fills and solos (it would have been a drummer's personal nirvana to hear Bissonette and Gadd within hours of each other like we did).

Since the trio hadn't played together as a unit very much (though Chick had worked with each of the others separately), they worked up a bunch of Chick's best-known tunes and ended up sounding like they'd been together for years. The slightly-over-an-hour set included such standards as "Humpty Dumpty" and "Windows," as well as "The One Step" and "Sicily," two tunes from one of my favorite Corea albums, Friends (which I busted out today in the car). Since Gadd played on that recording too, it was great to hear those tunes played with half the original lineup.

But I knew it wasn't over. My guess was that they'd come back out and do "Spain" as an encore, and I was indeed correct. It took Chick a minute to lead into it, but the familiar "Concerto de Aranjuez" intro came soon enough. Near the end, much as Denis DiBlasio had done a few hours earlier, Chick did a call-and-response where he'd play something on the piano and then motion to us to scat it back to him, and the crowd responded in rather competent fashion.

What a night...what a weekend. I'll get caught up on the old posts now and even get a little more sleep, but this was all worth it. It was really a great weekend to be a jazzer in North Texas.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Coincidence or Prank?

Go to the comics page of your newspaper. Read today's FoxTrot. Then read today's Pearls Before Swine. Interesting similarity, huh? Do you think that was a coincidence, or did the two artists get together on an unusual thing for April Fool's Day? (You may recall a few years back when a whole bunch of different artists switched strips for a day.)

UPDATE: Get Fuzzy has the exact same premise and punch line too, so it has to have been planned. (Hat tip to J-Guar's mom, whom I got to meet at Lab Band Night this week. I had no idea she was a Musings reader until she said something that referenced my paddling post.)