Monday, March 31, 2008

Play Ball!

Baseball season is upon us again. This year, the Rangers started on the road, in Seatlle, but it was a mid-afternoon game out there, so it came on at the perfectly normal time of 5 p.m. out here. I wasn't able to catch the first pitch (since, literally, that would be Kenji Johjima's job today), but I did listen to quite a bit of the game on the radio coming home from the college and again when headed out to dinner.

Some of my friends find it boring, but I'm a huge fan of baseball. As I've said before, it reflects some of the great qualities of this nation, and it's even a little bit like jazz. And Opening Day is always full of promise; every team (with the exception of the two that played overseas last week) starts out the day undefeated, and the ghosts of the past can sometimes stay there.

Granted, it was not a great opening for the Rangers, who lost to Seattle, 5-2, but tomorrow's another day, and there are 160 more tomorrows after that (unless there's a doubleheader in there somewhere). How do you think the Rangers will do this year?

Weather or not: A lot of people in the Metroplex tend to beat up on the local news stations for oversensationalizing the weather reports. This morning, the forecast called for a chance of rain, but most of the bad stuff was supposed to be to our north and east. But right before I got to the college, there was a big bulletin on the radio: We were under a tornado watch till 9 p.m., with the possibility of large hail and damaging winds. The worst stuff was supposed to happen around 4 or 5. But, although I heard a bit of thunder (or was someone just practicing the bass drum in the hallway?), it was sunny by 5:00, and the rain never materialized here at all. So the morning forecast was right after all. Was the second forecast a case of overkill, or was it a "better safe than sorry" situation?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Home Again

The busy-ness isn't over yet, but at least I'll be operating out of my home base for a while. After having spent four of the past ten nights in hotels (and four different hotels at that), this will be a welcome change. (Not to say that the things that put me in hotels weren't great--they were--but living out of a suitcase always makes things a bit more complicated.

I may not be able to finish the Chicago posts tonight, but it's my goal to get them up by tomorrow at the latest.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Travel Advisory

The busy-ness continues: I'm off to Austin for the weekend for a fraternity conference. Back Sunday night, when I'll hopefully finish the four incomplete Chicago posts from this week. Thanks for your patience; time's been at a premium since I got back.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

I'm Dreaming of I Was Given a White Easter

I'm back from Chicago, but it's late and I'm tired. I'll hit the highlights of the trip tomorrow, but one quick observation: I'm pretty sure this was my first white Easter ever (there's a pretty good chance that I'm right, seeing as how I've been in Texas since third grade). Needless to say, it wasn't a good day for a swim...



My next two posts will be a chronicle of the trip and a review of Saturday night's amazing Chris Potter concert.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Travel Advisory

Even though it's supposed to be "spring" break, I'm going against type and heading north for the weekend. I'll be in Chicago tonight, hearing the Chicago Symphony (yes, Kev at a classical concert!) and probably checking out the Art Institute while we're there. Then tomorrow, it's up to Milwaukee for a Chris Potter Underground concert. I'll be back late Sunday night and resume posting on Monday.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Did You Wear Your Sweater Today?

I forgot until about 11 p.m. tonight, when it was much too late (and it was a bit warm today to boot). But once I realized that it the celebration was today, I sat back and gave proper homage to the man being honored.

So what the heck am I talking about? This:


If the video won't load--or you're short on time--here's a summary:
In honor of what would have been Mister Rogers' 80th birthday on March 20, Mr. McFeely -- aka David Newell, the public relations director for Family Communications, Inc. (the nonprofit company founded in 1971 by Fred Rogers) -- has a special request.


"We're asking everyone (including members of the media) everywhere (from Pittsburgh to Paris) to wear their favorite sweater on that day," he asks. "It doesn't have to have a zipper down the front like the one Mister Rogers wore on the program, it just has to be special to you."

Sweater Day is part of Pittsburgh's 250th anniversary celebration and the first-ever "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" Days March 15 - 20.

"We wanted to recognize Fred in a way that would reflect his deep appreciation of what it means to be a caring neighbor," explains FCI's Margy Whitmer.

As a result, "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" Days was born as a means of promoting neighborliness throughout Fred Rogers' own backyard -- Southwestern Pennsylvania region.
Not only did I--like millions of kids across America--grow up watching Mister Rogers, but later in life I joined the same fraternity of which he also was a member. When we did the free-form radio show in college, we had a Mister Rogers album; it was meant to fall under the "novelty" category, but underneath the child-friendly lyrics was a crackerjack jazz band led by the amazing pianist Johnny Costa. The station also had a Costa-led instrumental album called "Neighborhood" or something like that; I think it had a picture of Trolley on the front. (Yes, I was correct, though it was a retitled remaster of a 1955 date; he also recorded a full album of music from Rogers' program.)

Some people bashed Rogers for overdoing the gooey self-esteem angle, but for his intended demographic, it worked like a charm (and there's nothing wrong with people of any age being more neighborly to each other). Even if he weren't my fraternity brother, the man deserves a moment of our thoughts today.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Midweek Smorgasbord

Once again, a smattering of blogworthy stuff, none of which quite rated a post on its own but still needed to be discussed:
  • Headline of the week so far: Bad monk steals sex films.

  • A Colorado salon owner has been cited for dyeing her poodle pink as a symbol of the fight against breast cancer. (The law under which she was cited was originally intended to keep people from dyeing chicks and bunnies for Easter.)

  • This makes sense, in a way: The winner of the Odor Eaters corporation's annual Rotten Sneaker Contest is a kid from Alaska (and yes, I know that it doesn't snow there all the time, but they might have to keep their shoes on longer than they do, say, here in Texas).

  • Stupid criminal of the week: A teenager in Michigan was busted for trying to steal gas from a police cruiser. The cruiser in question had officers, who were on a stakeout at the time, inside of it.

  • A Taiwanese man hired a stripper to perform at his father's funeral. The father, who was 103, was "known for his interest in strip clubs."

  • And finally, an Ethiopian farmer--distrustful of banks--hid his entire life's savings in a haystack, only to find that nearly a third of it had been gnawed away by rats.
I'll have one more big post tomorrow before my weekend trip.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

But Wait...I Thought It Was All About Safety?

If you're here in the DFW area, you may have heard by now that the city of Dallas has shut off nearly a fourth of its red-light cameras. Why? Because they weren't making enough money to pay for their operation:
Initial gross revenue estimates for the red light camera system during Dallas' 2007-08 fiscal year were $14.8 million, according to city records. The latest estimate? About $6.2 million. City Manager Mary Suhm on Friday estimated net revenue will fall $4.1 million under initial estimates.

That leaves Dallas government with a conundrum. Its red light camera system has been an effective deterrent to motorists running red lights – some monitored intersections have experienced a more than 50 percent reduction. But decreased revenue from red light-running violations means significantly less revenue to maintain the camera program and otherwise fuel the city's general fund.
Sure, part of the problem comes from a new state law that requires cities to send a portion of camera revenue to Austin. But still...everyone kept saying this was all about safety. Were they trying to pull something over on us all along?

At least one Dallas City Council member agrees with my sentiments:
Council member Angela Hunt, long skeptical of the reasoning behind such camera systems, says she's not surprised Dallas is faced with altering its efforts to reduce red light running.

"The idea of the red light cameras is that they'll be used as a revenue generator instead of being implemented for public safety purposes. It's imperative that the council review this program, especially when the results don't align with the initial performance projections," Ms. Hunt said.

She cited national statistics suggesting that the cameras increase rear-end collisions.
And as anyone who's been reading this blog for a while probably knows, that's the origin of my only real dog in this fight. Four years ago last week, I was rear-ended at a signalized intersection (by an uninsured soccer mom, from whom neither I nor my insurance company ever got a single dime), and, even though she hit me when I'd been stopped for quite some time, I would have actually gone through the yellow light on that day had I not known that my town had recently installed some of the cameras (not realizing at the time that such intersections were precded by warning signs).

Well, once you've been rear-ended (especially myself, since I keep the tools of the trade--my horns--in the trunk), you try to avoid that if at all possible. On my main teaching route, there's a segment where three out of four signals have the cameras, and I can't tell you how much I've done to try to avoid having anyone too close in front of me or behind me in those areas, just in case the light turns yellow. Sure, if I were the first in line, I might well run it if someone was too close behind me, but what if someone in front of me panicked and hit the brakes? Granted, in the first scenario, I'd be risking a citation, but it's always seemed wrong to me to have to choose between what is safe and what is legal.

At any rate, as someone pointed out on the radio yesterday, if it were really all about safety, the city would spend the necessary money to keep the cameras up. The fact that they bailed so quickly seems to support the idea that they really were all about revenue in the first place.

(I do like the idea expressed in the DMN article that they should just leave the cameras up even if they're turned off, as it's likely to serve as a deterrent to the ignorant, or those who just plain forgot.)


Instapundit takes notice as well, and he also points out that they're not doing so well, money-wise (if for a completely different reason) in his hometown of Knoxville either.

They'd need more than cameras to help this guy: A California man crashed two cars on the same highway within a span of about three hours for the same reason: He fell asleep while driving.

I'm glad the cameras weren't running for this guy: A man in suburban New York is charged with going through a Dunkin' Donuts drive-thru with no pants on .

Do as I say, not as I (hic) do: Meanwhile, a Massachusetts driving-school instructor has pleaded guilty to being drunk while teaching a driving lesson.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Did Today Really Get Your Irish Up?

Today was a most unusual St. Patrick's Day, because it didn't actually coincide with the religious holiday of the same name. That portion was moved to last week so that it wouldn't fall during Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter. (If you thought that Easter comes really early this year, you're quite right; it's the earliest possible day that it can be. And the St. Patrick's Day/Holy Week convergence--the first since 1940--won't happen again until 2160.)

I wasn't out and about all that much today, but I didn't see all that many people wearing green; not having to go to school this week evidently lessens the chances of being pinched or whatever. The most green-clad people I saw were at an Irish-named restaurant (no, not the one you're probably thinking) to have a tasty Reuben, thus fulfilling the corned beef-and-cabbage requirement of the day. And of course I wore the green (it's easy when your alma mater has the Mean Green as a mascot), even if I was rarely in a position to be pinched. I may be only a quarter Irish, but I've got the name to show for it, and, while I'm not a fan of group identity politics or anything, I definitely show pride in my heritage.

Read the whole linked article above; one of the most interesting things is how the overcommercialization and secularization of what was originally a sacred holiday is lamented by some; it sounds a lot like what people say about Christmas every year. (But, as the article points out, people usually don't have a wet T-shirt contest or a pub crawl on Christmas!)

So what did you do to celebrate today, if anything? Wear something green? Eat or drink something green? (Hopefully not because it's been in your fridge for six months or anything...) As I said in an earlier post, I welcome people of all backgrounds who get to join me in being Irish today.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Another "Shrek" Sequel

Baseball season is almost upon us, and I'll have my annual tribute on Opening Day in a few weeks. But in the meantime, during spring training, the DMN has been running profiles of various Rangers players every day. But it was surprising to me, while reading Saturday's paper yesterday (yes, I was behind), to see a profile on...Kevin Mench? The one they called "Shrek" (see this picture and maybe you'll catch the resemblance), back in Texas? I thought they traded him a few years ago...

Well, my memory wasn't wrong, but, sure enough, he's back, having signed a minor-league deal last month. Here's hoping he makes the team, as he was always one of my favorites when he was here.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Take a Look Into My Mind...

...or at least of others like me. A team of scientists has scanned the brains of jazz musicians:
According to new research, jazz musicians unconsciously switch off regions of the brain involved in self-censorship and firing up the area linked to self-expression. The scientists from Johns Hopkins University and the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communications Disorders used fMRI to scan the brains of jazz musicians as they played a specially-designed piano keyboard.
Sounds cool. Here's a little from the scientists' press release:
The scientists found that a region of the brain known as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a broad portion of the front of the brain that extends to the sides, showed a slowdown in activity during improvisation. This area has been linked to planned actions and self-censoring, such as carefully deciding what words you might say at a job interview. Shutting down this area could lead to lowered inhibitions, (professor Charles) Limb suggests.

The researchers also saw increased activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, which sits in the center of the brain’s frontal lobe. This area has been linked with self-expression and activities that convey individuality, such as telling a story about yourself.

“Jazz is often described as being an extremely individualistic art form. You can figure out which jazz musician is playing because one person’s improvisation sounds only like him or her,” says Limb. “What we think is happening is when you’re telling your own musical story, you’re shutting down impulses that might impede the flow of novel ideas.”

Limb notes that this type of brain activity may also be present during other types of improvisational behavior that are integral parts of life for artists and non-artists alike. For example, he notes, people are continually improvising words in conversations and improvising solutions to problems on the spot. “Without this type of creativity, humans wouldn’t have advanced as a species. It’s an integral part of who we are,” Limb says.
Read the whole thing. (It's interesting to note that Dr. Limb is himself a trained jazz saxophonist.)

What's in a name? It's been an interesting few weeks for unusual names out here in Kev-land. In that time, I've been waited on by a server named "Mermaid," bought gas from a convenience store with a manager named "Babyline," and read something on one of my listservs posted by a "Coravious Cowart" (which just has "Harry Potter character" written all over it, doesn't it?).

Friday, March 14, 2008

Spring Has Sprung...

...and Break has broken. I have something very cool coming up at the end of the break, but until then, it's pretty much chillin'. I'll use this as the opportunity to get caught up on a lot of "adult homework"--taxes, arranging, reports and the like--as well as getting to play my horn just for the fun of it again (imagine that!). One of the really cool things about working in academia is that you still get the school holidays, no matter how many years it's been since graduation.

UPDATE: And now I'm finding out that a lot of my friends will actually be out of town while I'm in town, and vice versa. It's entirely possible that I could even be bored at times over this break. But, considering the ├╝ber-busy schedule I'm under right now, I'm sure I'll find a way to attain the proper mix of accomplishment and relaxation.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Midweek Smorgasbord

It's been a while since I posted any odd news stories, so here goes:
  • Actress Dawn Wells, who played Mary Ann on Gilligan's Island, was busted for having marijuana in her car. And I always thought Ginger was the wild one... (One of my MySpace friends titled a bulletin about this story, "Now we know who sunk the S.S. Minnow." Heh.)
  • Maxim magazine apologized for a review of a Black Crowes CD penned by a writer who hadn't listened to the entire CD when the review was written.

  • A man in Washington state who didn't want to go to work one morning picked a strange way to get out of it: He had a friend shoot him in the shoulder.

  • A Minnesota man hit a woman while waiting at a bus stop; even worse was the fact that, at the time, he was on his way to an anger management class.

  • A nine-year-old boy's birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese's was interrupted when the boy's mother got into a fight with another mom.

  • An Arkansas family's cat survived a February tornado, hiding in the woods at first. But his next place of refuge was in a pile of debris that the family set on fire after the storm. They found him afterwards, singed but alive, and he's likely to be OK now.

  • A cable sports network has apologized to a Massachusetts town for making fun of its name in a print ad, for which the town council Athol is undoubtedly appreciative.

  • A Chinese woman, irate that her husband walked out on their marriage, set 400 cell phones on fire in protest. (The phones belonged to a business they had run together.)

  • And finally, the cool gadget of the week: The Etch-a-Sketch Clock.
I'll have a more substantial post tomorrow, if I don't hit too many snooze alarms (Thursday is a 14-hour teaching day, after all).

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

R.I.P. Dennis Irwin

I had read recently that the amazing bassist Dennis Irwin was sick with cancer, and I knew that the jazz community had been rallying around him of late. But now comes word that he passed away yesterday, on the same day that a benefit concert was held in his honor at Jazz at Lincoln Center by his longtime friends and cohorts, Joe Lovano and John Scofield. (Upon news of his passing, the concert became a tribute instead, and plenty of jazz giants--including Tony Bennett, Wynton Marsalis, Ron Carter and Jack DeJohnette--joined with Lovano and Scofield.)

I became aware of Irwin through his involvement with the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra (which he joined when it was under Mel Lewis' leadership), and he always struck me as a solid accompanist and fine soloist. I didn't learn until recently that he also attended school at UNT for a while (and majoring in clarinet at that!); two of his fellow students who turned him onto jazz were bassist Marc Johnson and drummer John Riley.

From everything that I've read tonight, Irwin was not only a fine musician, but a really good guy. The jazz world will truly miss him.

Be sure and check out a recent YouTube video tribute here.

Monday, March 10, 2008

There's No Place Like Home(school), at Least In California

(Completion delayed by a Blogger outage Monday night.)

I'm not sure if I've ever really covered the subject on this blog, but I've never been a staunch defender of homeschooling (I'll explain why in a moment). But still, this L.A. Timesstory was a bit troubling to me:
Parents who lack teaching credentials cannot educate their children at home, according to a state appellate court ruling that is sending waves of fear through California's home schooling families.

Advocates for the families vowed to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court. Enforcement until then appears unlikely, but if the ruling stands, home-schooling supporters say California will have the most regressive law in the nation.

"This decision is a direct hit against every home schooler in California," said Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, which represents the Sunland Christian School, which specializes in religious home schooling. "If the state Supreme Court does not reverse this . . . there will be nothing to prevent home-school witch hunts from being implemented in every corner of the state of California."

[...]The California Department of Education currently allows home schooling as long as parents file paperwork with the state establishing themselves as small private schools, hire credentialed tutors or enroll their children in independent study programs run by charter or private schools or public school districts while still teaching at home.

California does little to enforce those provisions and insists it is the local school districts' responsibility. In addition, state education officials say some parents home school their children without the knowledge of any entity.

Home schoolers and government officials have largely accepted this murky arrangement.

"This works so well, I don't see any reason to change it," said J. Michael Smith, president of the Virginia-based Home School Legal Defense Assn.
The suit came out of other legal actions against a set of parents who were accused of abusing their eight children. Here's the key quote:
"Parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children," wrote Justice H. Walter Croskey in a Feb. 28 opinion signed by the two other members of the district court. "Parents who fail to [comply with school enrollment laws] may be subject to a criminal complaint against them, found guilty of an infraction, and subject to imposition of fines or an order to complete a parent education and counseling program."
Read the whole thing.

Now, as for the reason I'm not a huge homeschooling fan: It's always seemed a bit arrogant to me on the part of the parents if they really think that they have the specialized knowledge to sufficiently replace five or six teachers all by themselves. I just can't get past the "jack of all trades, master of none" idea, and it seems as though some area of the kids' education would suffer in this manner. (And if someone really is that good at teaching multiple subjects like that, why didn't they become teachers in the first place? Share the wealth!) It also strikes me that the parents who often decide to homeschool are the conscientious, driven, involved types--exactly the ones that the public schools need to have around (as classroom volunteers, trip chaperones, arts and athletic boosters, and PTA officers) in order to improve.

Also, having taught, worked with, and even dated former homeschooled kids, one thing stands out: Many of these people have both an extremely narrow and sheltered worldview, and they're also highly opinionated about same. And how do they expect to work with all kinds of people in the so-called real world if they've only experienced a small snippet of it?

But all this being said, I think the California judge is overreacting a bit. If homeschooled kids are spending an appropriate amount of time learning, if they're scoring highly enough on the SAT to get into college, and if they're allowed ample time for social interaction with other kids, the government has no reason to make a blanket ruling like this. Judge each case on its own merits (especially if abuse is suspected), but let's not be in a hurry to paint everyone with the same broad brush.

What is your take on homeschooling? Do you know any homeschooled kids? Were you one yourself? And do you think the California judge went way too far in this case?

Sunday, March 09, 2008

A Phat Time Was Again Had By All

For the second time in slightly less than a year, I had the privilege of hearing Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band last night. Last time, I had to fly to St. Louis for the opportunity, but this time, they were just a few hours away in Stephenville.

Before writing this review, I decided to peruse last year's entry, so that I wouldn't duplicate my efforts too much. I then realized, upon searching the archives, that I had managed to write about three-fourths of that one without ever completing it or hitting the "Post" button. (D'oh.) So first, let me point you to that review (so that all my previous work wasn't for naught), and then I'll compare and contrast the two shows. Go ahead; I'll wait.

(pause)

Are you back? OK, here goes:

Once again, the concert opened with "High Maintenance" from XXL. But it was a different night from the start, because the two celebrated lead players who weren't in St. Louis a year ago--altoist Eric Marienthal and trumpet titan Wayne Bergeron--were back in the fold tonight. Marienthal brought high energy and squealy, Sanbornish altissimo to his solos (one of my friends in attendance said that he out-Sanborned Sanborn on "Play That Funky Music"), while Bergeron, as always, nailed everything in an almost unhumanly clean manner (he was also spelled very nicely by second trumpeter Dan Fornero, a One O'Clock alumnus). The presence of these two guys alone added greatly to the thrill factor, and the audience of high-schoolers (most of whom had performed at the Tarleton Jazz Festival earlier in the day) ate it up.

The band played a lot of its best-known charts ("Count Bubba's Revenge," "Samba del Gringo," "Swingin' for the Fences"), but it was never formulaic; indeed, a lot of the tunes sported new intros, so we were never sure if what we were hearing was a classic or something brand-new. A special treat was a new number, "Back Row Politics," that featured the trumpet section dueling it out front-and-center. Once again, every member got a chance to shine on at least one tune, and everyone concerned is a master of his instrument (and Goodwin, who gave himself a fine tenor solo in addition to his piano and bandleader duties, ia a master of two).

I suppose it could be said that this band isn't for everyone; there's still a lot of shtick involved (including the trivia contest; I won't reveal any of the answers, but some of them were really humorous), and the band is polished to a high West Coast sheen, but the level of musicianship in this ensemble rises above everything else, and that alone makes this band worth hearing (even traveling several states away, like I did last time). The fact that Goodwin is also engaging and funny as a leader is, to me, a feature and not a bug. I've seen way too many concerts where the musicians didn't talk to the audience at all, and, while such high-mindedness might in a way be admirable, there's something to be said for connecting with people on a personal level and a musical level.

This was the Big Phat Band's first visit to Texas; I hope they come again very soon.

And now for a bit of arts advocacy: One thing that really stood out tonight was the rabid enthusiasm of the crowd. Sure, I've seen that same energy level at Maynard concerts before, but these guys were treated like rock stars. And to me, that's a good thing; can this be replicated on a larger scale?

Some of the friends I was with pointed out that it was possible that this was the best jazz these kids had ever heard, and indeed, they may not have ever heard a big band that was better than their own before. It's also possible that a lot of their enthusiasm was brought about by someone who plays their instrument taking a solo (I remember those moments in my own youth). But still, it's great to see this many people getting this excited about a jazz concert; we need to grow this idea.

Goodwin mentioned that pretty much everyone in the band had once sat where these kids were tonight--in the audience of a jazz festival, listening to a smokin' band, and maybe realizing that this was what they wanted to do for the rest of their lives (his own such moment came in seventh grade!). He noted that, as they all got older, they realized that not too many people would pay money for people to play jazz, so lots of them had to take soul-sucking day jobs like playing for things like American Idol or Dancing with the Stars, but the handsome paychecks from such things allowed the band to be able to do things like come to Texas and play at last night's concert.

While I realize that jazz will probably never again have the wide appeal of pop music, perhaps the jazz audience can still be grown by making sure that jazz programs are available in as many schools as possible--yes, even the middle schools (this is commonplace in New England, so I hear). It's crucial that music educators take at least one jazz course (hopefully more!) during their college studies, and it's really important for them to make the time to have this great American art form as part of the curriculum. The reward should be obvious: People who are really excited about music and practicing, even larger audiences like the one last night, and kids who grow up to be patrons of the music and who encourage their own kids to participate.

To my fellow music educators: If you're doing this already, keep up the good work. If you're not, it's time to jump in with both feet; it's well worth the effort.

Friday, March 07, 2008

They've Still Got It Down Pat, In Smaller Form

When Pat Metheny plays his hollow-body guitar, it's as if all is right with the world. His sound is immediately recognizable, and it projects a warmth and optimism like no other (as I've said before, it's reflective of his Midwest upbringing--like a drive through the country on a perfect Sunday afternoon). I've tried to see Pat in concert whenever possible, so even yesterday's snowy weather (which, thankfully, abated in time to make the trip to downtown Ft. Worth) couldn't prevent me from seeing him for the first time in trio form at Bass Hall.

I realized while watching the concert that this particular trio (Pat on a variety of guitars, Christian McBride on bass and Antonio Sanchez on drums) was the first that I'd seen where I also had recordings of each member as a leader (having recently acquired Sanchez's freshman effort in that area, 2007's Migration). And indeed, the group managed to keep a cohesive whole even as every man played like the leader that he is. The result was nothing short of masterful.

Though we arrived about ten minutes late due to the weather, we still caught every tune, as the evening opened with a solo recital from Pat, playing both the baritone guitar (featured on the 2003 effort One Quiet Night) and the unusual 42-stringed, three-necked Pikasso guitar, which was also used to segue into the trio's opener, "The Sound of Water," first recorded on Metheny's second collaboration with pianist Brad Mehldau. (Indeed, one very enjoyable aspect of the concert was the use of music that had not originally been done by the trio; in addition to the aforementioned Metheny/Mehldau tune, they also drew from Metheny's Ornette Coleman collaboration and an early Metheny Group number. While some of the larger-form Group compositions like "The First Circle" might not have translated to the trio setting, it was nice to see how much of the Metheny back-catalogue fit quite well into the smaller group.)

Metheny noted that this group had done things backwards--they toured for several years and then recorded an album. That recording, the recently-released Day Trip, was the source for quite a bit of the evening's material, including the album-opener "Son of Thirteen," the bluesy "Calvin's Keys" and the hyper-energetic "Let's Move." Even though it's a great record, it still pales in comparison to what these guys did with it live.

Throughout the evening, each man's contribution fully supported the trio-of-leaders idea mentioned earlier: Metheny's energetic and thoughtful lines, McBride's jaw-dropping technique (not to mention one of the finest sounds I've ever heard on the upright bass; he joins the late Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen as one of my two favorites in that area), and Sanchez holding it all together with taste, tight grooves and a fine mixture of chops and sensitivity. The main portion of the show concluded with another Day Trip number, "When We Were Free," which was spun out to epic proportions even before being taken to another universe by the addition of Metheny's trademark synthesizer guitar (I used to refer to the hollow-body sound as "Good Pat" and the synth guitar as "Evil Pat," but, as I noted in my review of The Way Up tour in '05, evil is still good in this case.) By the time the tune was over, the entire stage was bathed in a metallic green light that reinforced the otherworldly journey, as if the trio had been taken over by really cool aliens.

After a short break, the trio turned thoughtful for the first tune of the encore, "Is This America?" (an ode to Hurricane Katrina written while on tour in Fall '05), before closing out the evening in fine form with "Lone Jack" from the first PMG album.

As I discovered on my last visit to Bass Hall (in Spring '05 for Directions in Music), the sound of the hall lent itself well to a jazz concert, even with amplification. Parking was easy, and the Bass personnel were friendly and helpful to a fault. There were a lot of empty seats for a performance of this caliber--I'm sure the inclement weather of earlier in the day caused more than a few no-shows--but those of us who braved the elements were given a performance that was more than worth the trip. Having seen Pat seven times now, I can't wait until the next opportunity, no matter what configuration of musicians is in tow.

Reviewing the reviews: I was somewhat disappointed with the review in the Dallas Morning News' GuideLive section this morning, if only for referring to the concert as "an evening of good smooth jazz." Never mind the possibly oxymoronic nature of that phrase; what went on last night was far too adventurous for the average Koz or G-weasel fan. One of my friends said that Pat would have slapped the reviewer upon reading that, but I've met Pat before, and he's way too nice a guy; he'd probably just laugh. (The reviewer also suggested that "t would have been a little jazzier if there had been an occasional vocal performance." Umm--without current or former PMG members like Cuong Vu or Pedro Aznar on board, exactly who was he suggesting should sing? Pat may be many things, but I'm not sure that a vocalist is one of them.)

For a much better review, try this one, from the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram; he's got the idea of this group much more "down pat" than the Dallas guy.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

In Case You Missed It

Apologies for the spotty posting lately. I have a system designed to fix this (blog in the morning when I'm not talking with anyone online), but I just need to implement it (stop hitting so many snooze alarms). Here are a couple of things I completed last night that might be of interest:Happy reading and wish me luck with the weather for tonight's Metheny concert.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Could Winter Weather Mess Up My Plans Tomorrow? Snow Way!

First of all--has the weather in DFW this week just been nuts, or what? Let's chronicle the past few days:
  • SUNDAY--Beautiful mild morning, cold rainy afternoon

  • MONDAY--Spotty rain in the daytime, sleet and snow at night

  • TUESDAY--Snow on the ground and icy bridges in the morning, clear and 50's in the afternoon

  • TODAY--Clear and beautiful, near 70
And now it's supposed to get cold again, as soon as tonight, and start raining again tomorrow. Then that rain will turn to sleet and snow by afternoon. And for me, the timing of that couldn't possibly be worse.

Here's the thing: Like many local jazz fans, I have tickets to the Pat Metheny Trio concert tomorrow night at Bass Hall in downtown Ft. Worth. And yes, it doesn't take a meteorologist to figure out that "sleet and snow" and "driving from Plano to Ft. Worth" don't really fit together all that well.

I realize that weather forecasting is often an imprecise science, but here's hoping that the bad stuff either completely misses us, waits until after midnight to come in, or messes things up well before we attempt the trip. Getting caught in the middle of it would not be a happy thing. And if it does come early, I hope the concert gets rescheduled somehow.

UPDATE: The weather cooperated enough for us to make it to and from the concert without incident. I'll post a review on Friday night.

What's the biggest event you've ever missed because of weather?

Monday, March 03, 2008

A Teacher By Any Other Name (Would Be Less Embarrassed)

As someone who works in the schools, but not for the schools, I often have a unique perspective of things. But part of me sometimes wishes I did work for them, just so I could be a rabble-rouser and call people out (in a bigger forum than this blog) when i see things that just shouldn't be happening. (It goes without saying that, if this were the case, I'd have to have some sort of trust fund or lottery jackpot backing me up, to cover the inevitable job loss that would probably come from speaking up.)

Some of my schools started a new trimester this morning, and I was at one of those schools. Evidently, they had some sort of procedure where they had to make sure that every teacher had returned all the unclaimed schedules from his/her classroom and possibly sent down some sort of acknowledgment that the rest of the schedules were handed out. So far, this is all well and good.

But what raised my hackles on this day was the process of calling out teachers by name if the office hadn't received these confirmations by a certain time. This just struck me as wrong.

Why? Well, first of all, changes to society have pretty much stripped away most of the authority that teachers used to have. Once upon a time, if a kid got in trouble at school, he or she would get in even more trouble at home because of it. Now, more often than not, the parents will be running down to the school and challenging the teacher, claiming that their little darling couldn't possibly have done wrong. And many times, the administration will back down and give in to the parents' demand, throwing the teacher under the bus in the process. Treating teachers as if they were students themselves by calling them out by name in this manner leads to further erosion of that authority.

But besides that, it just seems unprofessional. Virtually every teacher has a computer at his or her desk these days; just send out an urgent bulk email to those who are lagging behind at whatever task the principal is demanding at the moment. There's no reason to broadcast their names to the entire school, and besides, it interrupts the people who might be, oh, trying to teach something. And why would dedicated educators like to work under conditions like that?

(I'll be the bigger man here and not call out this principal by name...which of course means that the aforementioned lottery jackpot hasn't come yet, either.)

As always, there's an answer to this: The teachers need to regain control of the schools again. I can't say this enough...

Book 'em, Dano--on your own time, please: Here's another apparently common occurrence in schools these days that also blows me away: The students actually have to turn their textbooks in before semester or trimester exams! This makes no sense at all; wouldn't the days leading up to exams be when students need their books the most? Are they leaving everyone at the mercy of their own Mad Note-taking Skillz now?

The simple way to do things would be the way I thought it was always done--turn in the book at the end of the exam. (Thinking back, I can always remember the giant pile of books at the front of the room during exam week.) So why did it change?

The answer I've been given--at least what the students are told by the teachers--is that if they waited until the end of the term, the person in charge of the bookroom would have too much work to do at one time. Seriously.

I bet my jaw hit the floor when someone told me that. Umm, isn't the bookroom guy's job to handle the books? Wouldn't it be expected that he or she might have a little overtime at the "crunch" times of year? It's not like CPA's expect to knock off work in the middle week of April or something.

Again, what seems to have been forgotten is this: these people are here to serve the students. If certain times of year call for extra work from non-teachers, so be it. I shouldn't have to explain this to anyone.

Is it me, or has education really lost its way lately? Your comments would be appreciated.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

The Older I Get, The "Outer" I Like

The subject first came up in a conversation over lunch in Denton (where I had accompanied a student to auditions for my beloved alma mater). I can't remember what brought it on, but I remarked that, as I have gotten older, my musical tastes have changed quite a bit, so that things I would think were rather "out" (avant-garde, outside the mainstream, whatever you want to call it) in the past are now things that I enjoy quite a bit. It's not that I don't like plenty of basic, straight-ahead jazz, but certain other things that never would have made it onto my college radio show are now a prominent part of my collection. (I should mention that the three rules I had for my radio show, which took place in the morning drive slot, were: Nothing too slow, nothing too long, nothing too out. Part of this was my concerted effort to create a certain mood that I figured most people would appreciate at six in the morning, but some of it was a reflection of my own personal tastes as well.)

The point was driven home later in the evening when I got the chance to hear a big band playing some rather "out" charts, especially for the setting (a college-sponsored jazz festival for high school and middle school bands). I was really digging what I heard, but it seemed like they may have lost the majority of the parents with the first tune; the response was not the usual unbridled enthusiasm that is found at most such festivals. Yes, I know the composer; yes, I have several friends among the bandmembers. But I really liked the music on its own merits, and I'm not sure I would have felt the same way about that music as an undergrad.

Granted, what's "out" is (to quote Dewey Redman) in the ear of the behearer. While I'm still not a big fan of what I once described as the "five people dropping acid and all improvising at the same time without paying attention to each other" type of avant-garde jazz, I've managed to develop an appreciation for the likes of such artists as Eric Dolphy, Kenny Wheeler, Bill Frisell, Tomasz Stanko, and even the "high priest of out" himself, Ornette Coleman. I still like my outness to have a sense of humor rather than wallowing in angst all the time (emo jazz?), and I'm sure that some of the appreciation for odd humor has come from working a camp with the guys in THRASCHER for the past nine years. Where I used to recoil from the squawk in favor of another interesting bop line, I've come to realize that the two can coexist nicely on the same plate.

But some would say that this is odd; don't most people's musical tastes get more conservative as they get older? Or does "most people" only refer to non-musicians in this case? It certainly makes sense that the more one knows about music, the more one can appreciate something that's more complex and off the beaten path.

So I'd like to hear from you, whether working musician or avid fan: Have your musical tastes gotten more, or less, adventurous as you've gotten older? And how out is "too out" for you?