Monday, July 31, 2006

Blowing Out the Candles

SEQUIM--Just a quick break from the travelogue to wish a happy birthday to my sister Kristen. The jazz band will be flying out this evening and home late, late tonight; I'll finish the Thursday and Sunday posts when I get back and have a spare moment or two. (Also a belated birthday shout-out from Saturday to my friends Mark and Douglas, since I didn't have time to post that day.)

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Jazzin' the Clubs (Extended Edition)

SEQUIM--It's been quite a good two days for jazz out here. Imagine this, all within a few blocks of each other: Pete Christlieb and friends at an American Legion post; Gary Smulyan in a chordless trio at a Thai restaurant; the great pianist Bill Mays at a pub with alto player Steve Wilson, across the street from a coffeehouse with a frontline of Jiggs Whigham on trombone, Jeff Clayton on alto and Terell Stafford on trumpet...oh, and James Morrison sitting in for the last two sets. If you hadn't read the dateline, you might think I was on vacation in New York City, except that I was actually in Port Townsend, the charming little Victorian seaport on the Olympic peninsula that has a serious commitment to the arts, especially during the last week in July.

Catching up on the last two days (since these have been some very late nights): Friday evening, the mainstage concerts kicked off with the Jeff Hamilton Trio, led by the tasty, chops-laden drummer. The trio (also consisting of Tamir Hendelman on piano and Christoph Luty on bass) functioned as a highly cohesive unit, combining technique and sensitivity with a highly-honed sense of interplay. The venue, McCurdy Pavilion, was originally a military balloon hangar, though the balloon program was discontinued before it ever had the chance to house one. The sound was a little bit thin in the top section where we were located, but besides that, it was reasonably inimate for a place of its size. Since the concert started a bit late, we had to miss the second half, which was the great Latin percussionist Poncho Sanchez...but whatcha gonna do, we were here for a gig, so gig we did.

As for our own set, it went well, especially considering that we were playing from midnight to three by Texas standards. The crowd was a bit disappointing, but we were in competition with about seven other venues, and we did get some club-hoppers who at least stuck around for a tune or two. It was a good showcase for the program, and we were proud to be representing Texas up here. The trip home was pretty much on auto-pilot for me, but I got my vanload back to the hotel without incident.

This afternoon, we were delayed by a trip to the tidal pools just west of Port Angeles, but we did arrive back at Ft. Worden in time to see the Workshop Faculty Big Band. Directed by festival coordinator John Clayton, it featured names such as Ingrid Jensen, Terell Stafford, Jiggs Whigham, Pete Christlieb, Gary Smulyan, Kim Richmond and Jeff Clayton. Each featured soloist got to pick his/her tune to solo on, which added to the enjoyment. Among the guests were two of the vocal faculty, Dee Daniels (who was new to me this week, but she has an amazing set of pipes) and the great Kurt Elling. Even though Elling only did one tune (a treatment of the famous Neal Hefti ballad "Li'l Darlin'"), it was a treat to hear him as always, and I'll post the photo from my camera phone up here once I figure out how to do that. (One other notable thing that happened for the afternoon concert was that the side door of McCurdy Pavilion was opened--it looks like this when that happens--so that people could watch the concert from a side angle on the lawn if they chose to do so; it was a very cool effect.)

After dinner on the waterfront, we returned for the evening concert, which kicked off with pianist Benny Green and friends. Though he turns 43 this year, he doesn't look a day over 20, and he maintains the combination of fiery chops and sensitive warmth for which he's become famous in his duet work with guitarist Russell Malone (a group I saw at IAJE in 2000). Among his friends were Elling and Daniels, along with the other vocal faculty member, Nancy King; the three of them would collaborate on a rollicking "Bye Bye Blackbird" to close out the first half of the program.

After almost no intermission at all, it was time for the main show: James Morrison, the Australian multi-instrumentalist known as "The Wonder from Down Under," ably backed by the Jeff Hamilton Trio. James plays trumpet, trombone, euphonium, saxophones and piano, all at a very high level, and on one of his CD's, Snappy Doo, he recorded several tunes on which he played an entire big band's worth of instruments--everything except guitar, bass and drums. He only brought trumpet and trombone for this performance, but that was more than enough to dazzle the packed house. Sure, he brought several things out of the "bag of tricks" for this show (most notably, playing three-note multiphonics on trombone and trading fours with himself, holding the trumpet in one hand and the trombone in the other--which meant that he did all his trombone work using just his embouchure and the trigger!), but he also showed evidence of both technical brilliance and heartfelt sensitivity. He was also extremely funny, and the cool Aussie accent just added to the package. My only gripe about the festival format was that, by having double-features each night, most sets lasted only an hour, but it was still great to finally see this guy in person; I'd known about him since my college radio days.

From there, it was on to the clubs. We had lots of stops to make in three hours, and I did get to see a few of the people that I was planning on seeing: Christlieb? Check. Smulyan? Check. Steve Wilson? Yeah, from across the street. But I was drawn in by the session that took place at Sweet Laurette and Cyndee's, where the scheduled guests included Jeff Clayton (brother of festival coordinator John), trumpeter Stafford (known for his work with Bobby Watson and Horizon) and trombonist Whigham. I already had a kind spot in my heart for Sweet Laurette's, since they were the only place around that was still serving coffee (and very good coffee at that) during the late-night hours. The place was too packed to actually go inside (except to the separate side room to order said coffee), but they had their extra door propped open just enough to hear the music, and the players were clearly visible from the sidewalk through the windows. That was when I noticed that they had an unscheduled guest: Morrison. Needless to say, the chance to hear him some more, especially when he did fiery trading with Stafford and the other horns, was too enticing to pass up. I spent the entire last two sets out front, digging every minute (especially the extended jam on "A Night in Tunisia" that came near the end of the night). Getting to hear Steve Wilson and Bill Mays waft in from across the street during the breaks at Sweet Laurette's was just icing on the cake.

This was a really great time, and I'm already trying to figure out how I can get up here again during future years, while also wondering if something like this could be replicated at home during jazz festival or camp.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Son, someday you will make a girl very happy for a short period of time. Then she'll leave you and be with new men who are ten times better than you could ever hope to be. These men are called musicians."--Sign on the wall of the place in Port Townsend where we ate dinner last night.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Now It's Time for Music

SEQUIM--We've had several good days of tourist-y stuff on this trip, so it's time to let the jazz begin.

But first, a bit about what's going on here this week: The festival, known as Jazz Port Townsend, is put on by a group called Centrum--no, not the vitamin people, but a local arts advocacy group based at Fort Worden State Park in Port Townsend. Fort Worden hasn't been an actual fort since 1953, but it now serves as a wonderful venue for conferences and things of that nature. During the week, they also have a jazz workshop that's sort of like our jazz camp on steroids--they have around 250 attendees this year (that's twice what we had), and two-thirds of them are adults. Like us, they have a whole big band's worth of faculty (we'll see them on Saturday), and the days are filled with theory and improv classes, combo and big band rehearsals, master classes, and so on. Today, I got to catch a bit of the workshop, as well as the nighttime activities.

Part I: Genesis of a Combo, or Who's Your Buddy? The afternoon concert featured the legendary clarinetist Buddy DeFranco in what would amount to a public rehearsal with the combo that will join him for a Saturday afternoon performance on the main stage: Bill Mays on piano, Dan Balmer on guitar, Chuck Deardorf on bass and Jon Wikan on drums. He had played with maybe one of them in the past, so they really were having their first meeting right there on the stage. DeFranco discussed how they would figure out the specifics of each tune at the spur of the moment, and what they played really did sound as if it had been rehearsed already, which is one of the great things about jazz music--people who are well-versed in the style and in a certain body of work (the "standards") can get together and make it sound like they've played together forever. (There was one great moment as well, when the master was brought down to earth for a split second: He noted that he hoped he could get a good sound out of his clarinet--which he referred to as the "agony pipe"--after having just flown in that day, and sure enough, on the first tune, the clarinet let out a big squawk...but one and only one.) They did only three tunes (one in each of the usual styles), but it was a lot of fun to see a group of masters come together like that.

Part II: Jazz Goes Clubbing One of the great features of this festival is that the main concerts are followed by a number of performances in clubs around town. Since there wasn't a mainstage show tonight, the clubs started early at 8:00 (it waits until 10:00 tomorrow night, when we perform). There were only three locations going tonight (as opposed to the seven or eight that will be running tomorrow and Saturday), and a couple of us found ourselves at the Public House, where trumpeter Ingrid Jensen got top billing. Among those joining her were altoist Steve Wilson (who's worked with such luminaries as Chick Corea and Dave Holland, and whose sound bears more than a little resemblance to that of Kenny Garrett), guitarist Bruce Forman (whose name I remember from my radio days) and drummer Jon Wikan. Jensen and WIlson had a lot of great moments together; in many tunes, their solo section consisted of them trading fours or eights for an extended time. I really enjoyed Forman's soloing and will have to check out his recordings when I get back, and I was quite impressed with Wikan, especially during an extended turn on the hand drums, where he came up and sat at the front of the band. Trumpeter Terell Stafford, who's spent a bit of time with Bobby Watson and Horizon, sat in for a tune and nearly blew the roof off the place. This was a great way to start the nighttime portion of the festival, and I'm looking forward to the next several days.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "There are no bad solos; there are no good just be."--John Clayton, renowned bassist and festival director, in a speech to the workshop students this afternoon.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Flora and Fauna 101

SEQUIM--Today was our "become one with nature" day, covering over 250 miles in a giant loop that hit four of the high points of the Olympic National Park out here on the Olympic Peninsula. It felt like we'd had a whole year's worth of seasons in a single day, and we went everywhere from sea level to nearly a mile above. All this will best be described by the pictures that I'll eventually post here, but mere words (and links to the places' websites) will have to do for now...

1. Life's a (rocky) beach: We decided to hit the farthest point of our trip first, so we drove for nearly two hours through winding roads to reach Ruby Beach, made up mostly of rocks which evidently do have a pinkish hue to them at times (though not today). A brave few of us waded in the frigid water for a few minutes, and then we spent the rest of the time climbing around on the large rock structure and seeing things like live mussels and even a sea anemone. The weather was cloudy and in the lower 60's, so we didn't stay long. (You can see a cool panoramic picture of the beach here.)

Ruby Beach has some unusual rock formations

2. The Hoh truth. Our next stop was the Hoh Rain Forest, one of the few such forests in the United States. (And yes, since we were a bunch of musicians and mostly guys, the "Hoh" jokes ran rampant throughout the day, although it's actually named after the river that runs through the area and the Indian tribe that lived there.) We took one of the shorter trails, the Hall of Mosses, which was really amazing. We also had a picture of the whole band taken in front of a 270-foot-tall, 500-year-old tree that was appropriately named the Big Spruce Tree. On the way in, we stopped to take pictures of a good-sized herd of elk that were resting near the river bed. A panoramic shot of the Hall of Mosses can be found here.

A herd of elk chills out by the entrance to the Hoh Rain Forest.

3. Great falls. After dining at Pacific Pizza in the town of Forks (the largest one inside the national park), we embarked upon the third leg of our adventure: a trip to Marymere Falls near the lovely Lake Crescent. When we drove past it this morning, I noted that nearly every picture that could be taken of that lake would be postcard-worthy, and Highway 101 winds around a generous portion of it. After a shorter-than-expected (but very steep in places) hike up the trail to the falls, we stopped by the shore of the lake to get a bunch of pictures (which again will be up here shortly after I get back home). The glacial lake has clear, cold water and tree-topped mountains in the background. Again, check out the panoramic view here.

Marymere Falls

Lake Crescent

4. The mile-high club, in a way. Our last destination of the day was a trip up to Hurricane Ridge, which, according to the GPS in our van, is 5190 feet above sea level. It doubles as a ski area in winter (which is defined here as October through April), but in summer, it offers spectacular views of snow-capped mountains to the south (and we even found a bit of snow ourselves today) and the chance to see all the way to Canada from the north. We also saw a deer feeding nearby and got a few pictures. A Ridge-Cam can be found here, and a panoramic picture from the visitors' center is located here.

A view of the mountains from Hurricane Ridge

A deer and snow in the same picture--how cool is that?

Dinnertime brought us down to 22 feet above sea level (only because we had to park upstairs), as we took the Hurricane Ridge road north into Port Angeles for a delicious dinner at Downriggers on the waterfront. A lot of us had clam chowder in a bread bowl, just like we'd had in Vermont last summer, only this stuff was even better. It was a great way to cap off a long but productive day.

I realize that my travelogue isn't wasn't complete until I post posted the pictures, but I wish you could see the ones I didn't get--things of beauty that happened way too quickly to fire up the camera. I definitely encourage a visit to this part of the country if you haven't yet done so.

Oh, and go back to yesterday's post for updates to the "what's in a name" section.

Jumpin' for java joy: I knew that this area was really into its coffee (being the home of Starbucks and all that), but it's really hit home during these travles just how bean-crazy it is up here. Every small town has multiple coffee places, and even the most unlikely venues (bait shops, video stores) advertise espresso. It's my goal to try as much local coffee as possible while I'm here. (UPDATE: My favorite weird coffee place so far has been the place that advertises HOT DOGS, OYSTERS and ESPRESSO...but nobody has been brave enough to stop there yet.)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Thar' They Blow!

SEQUIM--Today was whale-watching day, as well as our first venture into Port Townsend, the place where we'll be performing on Saturday night. It took a few hours for the boat to get ready and some weather problems to pass, so we had a little bit of time to explore the town in the interim. We chilled for a while at a cool local cafe called the Boiler Room, which had a lot of unusual drinks besides the standard coffee fare, along with games and funky decor; the mocha I had was quite good. We also walked around in search of sandwiches that could be taken on the boat with us, and we were lucky enough to stumble upon the Victorian Square Cafe and Deli (940 Water St.) that is actually underground, located a short flight of stairs down from the sidewalk. The place was intimate and well-furnished (and, true to form, I was scoping out the place, imagining a very small jazz group playing down there), and the sandwiches were delicious; I'm sure we'll be back later in the week.

The boat trip itself was four hours long--a bit expensive, but totally worth it in terms of getting to see things that we'd never otherwise see at home. The boat, called the Olympas, was run by an outfit called P.S. Express, which is headquartered right on the waterfront. The captain (Roger) and tourguide (Eric) were friendly and informative, and, save for the rough seas, which got the better of a few members of our party, I think everyone had a great time. Among the things we got to see were a bald eagles' nest and a large group of harbor seals, including some pups. (I got a picture of the eagles' nest, but I'll have to get a seal picture from someone else. My batteries ran out at that point, and the rechargeable ones didn't charge properly, though that problem has been solved. I'll post everything here when I get it all collected.)

Sure enough, when we'd been out for about an hour and a half, we got to the whale area. There were actually three pods of whales, and Eric was able to identify most of them by name. One particular whale, Ruffles, surfaced quite a few times near our boat, and several people in our group were able to get a decent picture or two. Orcas are amazing creatures, and it's staggering to think that, on a full-grown adult, the dorsal fin alone is taller than nearly any human who doesn't play center in the NBA. Most of us on the boat hadn't seen anything like this outside of Sea World, which now pales in comparison. It took a while to get our land legs when we disembarked, but it was truly a memorable experience.

The rest of the day was spent taking a righteous nap and going into Sequim for dinner. Tomorrow will include visits to a rain forest and the Pacific coast (which means that, eventually, this week's posts will be filled with pictures).

What's in a name: We've seen some places with unusual names on this trip, and I'll post them here throughout the week. Here's the list so far:

Chicken Coop Road
The John Wayne Marina
Jimmy-comelately Creek {Johnny's brother?--ed.]
Fat Smitty's Restaurant

UPDATE: We gots more...
Kitchen-Dick Rd.
Tumwater Truck Rd.
State Salmon Hatchery Interpretive Area [what, the salmon do sign language?--ed.]
Dancing Elk Rd.
Undie Rd.
The Hoh Humm Ranch
Hard Rain Cafe
Camp David Jr. (we were trying to decide if Cheney or the Bush twins had their retreat there)
Camp Flattery

ANOTHER UPDATE: I forgot this one earlier...
Chevy Chase Golf Resort (be the ball)
and another real funny one....
(followed by a number at which you could evidently report people whom you caught in the act of littering)

Monday, July 24, 2006

Three Days, Three States

SEQUIM, WASHINGTON--Saturday night, I went to bed in Cleveland; last night, what sleep I got took place in my own house. Tonight, I'm so far northwest that I'm practically in Canada, and I'm looking forward to tomorrow, which will be the first time in four days that I won't be on an airplane somewhere.

But at any rate, I'm here in Washington state for the next week; it was nice to actually unpack the suitcase and use the hangers and drawers at the hotel, just like we did in Vermont last year. I'm also happy to have a room to myself for the first three nights until the "late group" arrives Thursday.

The flight up here was long; the plane was full to the gills, and to top it off, I was stuck in a middle seat, which pretty much meant no sleep on the flight. The window seat guy had the shade closed for almost the entire trip, so it took an announcement from the pilot and a quick glance across the aisle to discover the beauty of Mt. Rainier off to the side, which was breathtaking, and it reminded me that we weren't in Texas anymore, Toto. In general, thanks to the mountains and the overall green-ness of everything, it reminds me a bit of Vermont, despite the fact that we're on the exact opposite coast.

Tonight, we explored the town of Sequim (pronounced "skwim"). It's a charming little place, and we found a cool local diner to, well, dine at tonight (it's the Hiway 101 Diner if you're ever in the area). Tomorrow is whale watching, and, assuming I can find a way to keep my digital camera dry on the boat, I'll have some pictures up here eventually. Until then, since the wi-fi in the hotel works just great, expect some daily travelogue-type updates all week.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Travel Advisory II

I'm back for my little twelve-hour stint between trips, finishing up some laundry and transferring stuff from one suitcase to the next. Since my two-hour nap the other night felt much better than the all-nighters I usually do when flying out this early, I think that I'll get some sleep tonight as well. I have a random little story collection from the Cleveland part of my sojourn, but I'll have to update it later; the laptop goes with me on this trip, since our hotel has wi-fi, so I should have some posts every now and then, as well as lots of pictures when I get back (It's also my first vacation in the digital camera era). I haven't been to the Seattle area since I lived there as a little kid, so I'm looking forward to this.

It's A Dog's Life Flight, and Other Stories

Some random thoughts from the whirlwind trip to Cleveland:
  • The flight up there was...interesting. It was one of thsoe "regional jets" with one seat on one side of the aisle and two on the other. I had the "C" seat--the window seat of the set of two--and when I got there, a haggard-looking woman was in my seat. She was wrapped up in blankets, trembling, sniffling...she pretty much looked half-dead. I was almost reluctant to ask her to move, but I did request the window seat, so I politely pointed out that the "C" seat was mine.

    Once the flight started, it was obvious that she was a "crowder"--she kept stretching her legs out so that they touched mine and almost looked like she was going to fall asleep on my shoulder a few times. I was reluctant to catch whatever might be ailing her, so I had to sit in this awful, convoluted position for most of the three hours. But the kicker came about two hours into the flight, when I noticed the main reason she was under all thsoe blankets: She had smuggled a small dog aboard the plane in her carry-on bag! To the dog's credit, it didn't bark the whole time, didn't try to lick me when it was uncovered, and I couldn't see--or smell--any evidence of elimination on its part. Still, it was quite surreal when the lady said "ok, time to get back in now" (meaning the carry-on bag) to the dog as we approached the end of the flight.

  • From the Cleveland airport, I took the Rapid Transit train downtown. I was born in a suburb of Cleveland, and my grandparents lived in that suburb, so all these memories came flooding back--the street where we'd go from the airport to their house, the street where Mom and Dad had their first apartment after getting married, and so on. And there was a point where the RTA tracks parallelled the "real" railroad tracks for a while. I wondered if Grandpa, who was a railway mail clerk, worked on those same tracks once upon a time.

  • I got there too late to go to the Indians game that was part of the convention, but I saw both Jacobs Field and the new Browns stadium up close during my trip. In a way, it's too bad that the Cowboys weren't able to work out a deal for a move to downtown Dallas, because these venues definitely added something to downtown up there.

  • As you probably know, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and, much like Dallas has lots of brightly-colored Pegasus statues in honor of that iconic sign atop a downtown building, Cleveland has lots of giant, brightly-painted electric guitars around town, quite a few of which were in our hotel. I got a picture of one of them with my phone and will post it here eventually, once I figure out how to do stuff like that.

  • The weather was great; it was in the 60's and somewhat drizzly when I arrived, whch was a nice contrast to the 106-degree days of Texas last week. We went to an outdoor Cleveland Orchestra concert last night, and it was quite pleasant; some people even got a little cold. (Also, on the way to that concert, we arrived at the Blossom Center, a great outdoor amphitheatre, and the bus in front of ours suddenly had smoke start billowing out of it; it turns out that it had totally blown a tire. Better there than at 70 mph, I guess.)

  • In the Extreme Irony Department, there was a dog on my row on the way home as well....but this one was in an approved carrier, and I was in the (single) "A" seat, while the dog-owner and her husband were across the aisle.

  • In the Small World Department, I saw a guy with a UNT Homecoming '05 shirt in the Tower City food court in Cleveland. Also, the conductor at the Clelveland concert was the musical director of the Ft. Worth Symphony, and several of my fellow Texans remarked at how funny it was to travel a thousand miles and see a guy from your own backyard.

  • I noticed something upon both departing and arriving at DFW: There's a cartoon of some guy's head on the back of Alaska Airlines jets; I'm not sure who it's supposed to be, but it looks a lot like the famous Che Guevara image that's on all those T-shirts. Surely it's not, but...who is he?
More later...

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Travel Advisory I

Camp was great, but there's no time to rest yet. I'm off to Cleveland in the morning for the tail end of the fraternity convention. When I get back Sunday night, I will have approxmiately twelve hours in town before I fly out again for the big band trip to Washington state. I won't be bringing the laptop this weekend, but it's my plan to do so on the longer trip. It's also my plan to actually get a few hours of sleep before then, assuming my laundry gets done soon. I'll have a quick post Sunday night during what really should be an all-nighter, since our meeting time is so early.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Heath Bars, Part 2: The Even Better Sequel

A few years ago, I got to see Jimmy Heath with the One O'Clock; tonight, I was among those on stage, and it was one of the most amazing musical experiences I've ever had. Since there's one more (rather busy) day of camp, I'll have to tell the whole story later, but read the old post if you haven't done so already, and it will "warm you up" for the story of tonight.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Concert Advisory

It's been the longest day of the week, so there's no real post today save for this: The concert with Jimmy Heath has been moved to Thursday night. He got stuck in New York today when a rolling blackout left his terminal at LaGuardia without power, but happily, he was able to get his flight rescheduled, and he'll be with us in two days. Tomorrow night is THRASCHER night; they're doing the show all by themselves, so if you were intending to head out and hear me, go ahead and wait one more day.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The RAZR's Edge?

From time to time, I poll my readers when I'm contemplating some sort of new technological gizmo, and it's time for another one: I got something in the mail from Cingular a few weeks ago; they're offering me a RAZR phone for fifty bucks. Should I go for it? Why or why not? I realize that I'll miss my righteous texting keyboard that's on my current phone, but the RAZR is pretty cool, and it's about time to re-up and change my calling plan anyway (the current one doesn't roam at all). So I think I'm about to do this unless somebody throws out a compelling reason why I shouldn't do so.

UPDATE (three days later): Got the RAZR. I haven't figured out all its features yet, but I'm enjoying it so far.

Happy camper: Blogging may be sparse this week, as jazz camp has started. The concert at the new amphitheatre went well last night, though it was all kinds of hot out there. Today was a relatively relaxed day of meetings and auditions, and we start out full force tomorrow. I will pop in from time to time with updates here and there.

Friday, July 14, 2006

This Idea Is Gonna Work, By Gum

Everybody seems to have some sort of crazy weight-loss idea, ranging from the practical to the absurd. I certainly realize the best way to accomplish this task: Expend more calories than you take in. You won't see me taking diet pills or using "lose weight while you sleep" cream or any of that stuff, but I do have one little thing that, while it may not actually help me lose weight, will at least help keep there from being any more of me. The unlikely source? Altoids gum.

Here's the thing: I'm sometimes a really bad snacker. Late at night, when I'm sitting here at the computer, I find myself going into the kitchen way too often. Usually it's just a handful of peanuts or maybe a single cookie, but I've come to realize that I can end up doing that on multiple occasions some nights, and I know that's not good for me.

So a few months ago, I spied this little box of gum at the checkout counter at Super Target. I've always liked the Altoids mints, so I figured that I might as well give the gum version a try. But what I also noticed was that if I had the gum in my mouth, it made it virtually impossible to go in there and grab any of that other stuff. And a little while back, when I ran out of the gum and couldn't find it at the checkout counter, the over-snacking resumed. Thankfully, I have the gum again, and sure enough, less snackage occurs now.

I realize I need to get to the gym more (if their hours were more in sync with mine, that'd be great), and I really miss playing racquetball on a weekly basis...and ultimately, more of those two things will mean less of Kev over time. But until then, anything I can do to keep the after-hours intake down will be a good thing.

Anyone else have a weird food-suppressant device you'd like to tell us about?

Another weighty subject: Do you remember the story a while back about the opera singer in England who was fired by the Royal Opera House for being too fat? She got stomach surgery, lost 135 pounds, and now she's gotten her job back. (But I guess those Wagnerian roles with the Viking horns are out of the question now...)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

While I Was Out...

I may not have been blogging the past few days, but I've still kept collecting those unusual stories that you usually see at the bottom of every post. Here are the best ones so far; oddly enough, they come in pairs:

Culinary delights, part 1: How about a delicious eel salad to start things off?

Culinary delights, part 2: And you can top it off with a beer float. (And kudos to the inventor; among other things, he opened up a jazz bar that 1) allowed teenagers and 2) didn't allow smoking. Yay for both of those things...)

All in the family, part 1: The husband is a Republican; his wife is a Democrat. They're both running for the same seat in an upcoming Kansas House race. (I guess the header for this could have been "bedfellows make strange politics.")

All in the family, part 2: The president of Poland announced his new appointment for the office of prime minister: His identical twin brother.

Animal stories, part 1: A man in Borneo was convicted of bigamy. His punishment? He was fined a buffalo and a pig.

Animal stories, part 2: Over in Alaska, a dog is running for governor.

With any luck, I'll have a normal post tomorrow.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Adult Homework

I have two reports that absolutely must be done in the early part of this week, so it's time for a bit of forced discipline. As much as I'd like to post, I'll be refraining from doing so until at least one of the reports is done. So if I'm really industrious, I'll be back on here tomorrow night. If not? Wednesday, for sure.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

A Little Help For My Friends

I have a gig tonight--you can read about it on the sidebar if you're reading this on the day I'm writing it--but I'm not here to promote it. It's at a really nice, pricey steakhouse, so it's not the kind of place that my usual crowd could just descend upon with the same one day's notice that I had.

But that's OK; if you're in the area and you want to hear live jazz, I'm going to ask you to support my friends tonight instead. My buddy Colin, who's the drummer in every combo that I'm associated with right now, also has his own group. I subbed with them two weeks ago in the newly-reopened-and-renamed Coffee Haus (it's now called the Fusion Cafe) in downtown Plano, and that's where they'll be tonight. There's no cover, but if you go, please buy something; the drinks are quite good, and I want this place to succeed the second time around, and not just because I want to book my own band there. They're playing from 8-10 tonight, and it should be a good time, so help them pack the place. (If the cost of the place where I'm playing isn't a deterrent, you're welcome to come see me, but I think I'm pretty much in the background--designer wallpaper, if you wish. Again, check the sidebar for details.)

Friday, July 07, 2006

I Am a Poet Hermit. I Am Very Fond of Bananas

As it approaches midnight, I realize that today was a very weird day. I didn't drive my car at all. I didn't spend any money. In fact, I didn't even leave the house at all except to get the paper and the mail and to see friends off when they left. Yes, I did have people over, but it was still very odd for me to not participate in any sort of commerce whatsover, especially on a Friday.

But considering all the things that start up at the end of next week (jazz camp, fraternity convention and the college jazz band trip, all back-to-back), I'm not at all complaining about living the hermit's life for one day--especially since I got a gig for tomorrow night, which I'll talk about in the next post. There hasn't been too much "quiet" this summer, so one day of it should do a body good.

Oh, and if you're confused about the title of this post, go here.

Words to your mother: The newest edition of Merriam-Webster's College Dictionary has come out, and as always, they have added several new words. Among this year's entries are unibrow, soul patch, drama queen and google...and yes, executives at the popular search engine are concerned that their company's name will become the generic name for its product, much like Thermos, Xerox, Kleenex and Dumpster have already done.

I wonder if he was listening to "Ride the Lightning" at the time: A teenager in the Denver area is lucky to be alive after being struck by lightning while mowing the lawn wearing his iPod. The current evidently went right up the headphone wires, as his ears, cheeks and side were burned.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Another Cool Class Discussion: Desert Island Week

Last month, we had a cool discussion in the summer evening combo (which I posted about here), where each person in the group was asked to name the one tune in the Real Book that they thought was essential for everyone to know. That generated a really good conversation (as well as the opportunity to play each tune that was contributed), so I decided to carry it one step further this week by going to a "desert island" theme. The premise is simple: If you were stuck on a desert island and could only play one tune, what would that tune be? I also asked them to give a little background information about their tune, and, when feasible, perform their portion from memory.

We still have one more week to go (the combo has twelve members at this point), so I'll wait and post the selections they made after we're done, but I'm throwing the discussion open to readers of this site as well: What is your "desert island" jazz tune...and why? The comments are open...

(Cross-posted at The Green Room and my music MySpace)

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Speaks, No Evil

I seem to be relaxing a bit from the opinion pieces for this part of the summer...which is fine; I'm sure I'll get back to plenty of those during the year. In the meantime, I'm once again asking my readers for opinions on cool new gadgets. This time, it's speakers for the MacBook. The ones from my old computer were a two-input set, and this has a single headphone-type jack, so I need something that works that way. I'm not looking to spend a big chunk o' change, but I want something that will be powerful enough to play Aebersolds behind me and whomever I'm teaching/jamming with (yes, I can use my stereo in the other room for big jam sessions, but it's nice to use the computer for that when teaching) while letting me listen to CD's or iTunes without going deaf in the process. Any ideas would be greatly appreciated.

She's driving them bananas: A snow monkey, appropriately named Oops, escaped from the city zoo in Roanoke, Virginia, prompting a shutdown of the entire park that surrounds the property.

I hope they had a blast, because the town didn't: The town of Old Fort, North Carolina didn't exactly have a sparkling Fourth yesterday after someone stole all the fireworks that were meant to be used in the town's display that night.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Wheel of Fire...Works

Just a few random thoughts as we conclude the celebration of our nation today:
  • Here in this part of Texas, we've had a drought for most of the year. So it figures that we'd get a pretty decent rain on the one day we didn't want it to do so. At least the fireworks show out here wasn't rained out...

  • In another touch of irony, Firewheel was more crowded than I'd ever seen the place (even on opening week or around Christmas), but it was one of the first times in recent memory that I didn't run into anyone I know there.

  • Moving the Fourth fireworks to Firewheel (say that ten times fast) was a shrewd move on the City of Garland's part. If the city and the new town center had tried to compete, Firewheel would've won (definitely for me, because of the proximity). The fake downtown of Firewheel was a perfect substitute for the actual downtown that, although it seems poised for revival with the DART train station and all that, hasn't seen much life lately.

  • The traffic control has a few bugs that need to be worked out. I parked across the turnpike at Fuddruckers, and it took us an hour to get home (keep in mind, this is a place that's so close to my house, we could've walked there and back and there again in that amount of time). Next year, it's an earlier trip and dinner at Potbelly to get a good parking place close to the road.

  • In case your neighborhood festivities got rained out, check out an oldie but a goodie: The Vitural Fireworks Display; it's even better over here this year, thanks to my much faster computer. (Once again this year, the hat tip goes to Dave Barry's Blog.)

  • The lucky-but-stupid award of the day goes to the family in Fuddruckers parking lot who decided it would be OK to let their kids light up sparklers and wave them around in front of the whole world. Thankfully, they put them out just mere minutes before the local firefighters came out from dinner to that same parking lot.

  • Quick poll: Did you work today? My boss was a slavedriver and made myself teach till lunchtime...but it was all good.
Hope you had a wonderful time today, in whatever way you chose to celebrate.

From the archives: One of my all-time favorite questions asked of me about the Fourth happened again and again during the summer that I went to Switzerland with the college jazz band. Read it, and more, in this post from 2004.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Blogging and Jazz

Over at Althouse this weekend, they're discussing the question, "Is blogging jazz?" The subject was prompted by a post at AmbivaBlog which itself was inspired by one over at the Beiderbecke Affair. (If nothing else, that's certainly like jazz; think about, say, Horace Silver writing "The Hardbop Grandpop" over the changes to "Donna Lee," which itself was done to the changes of "Back Home Again in Indiana.") The Beiderbecke piece contains a cool quote, which is excerpted by Amba:
[J]azz prides itself on impermanence & unknowing. “One of the things I like about jazz, kid,” Bix Beiderbecke told his fellow cornetist Jimmy McPartland, “is I don’t know what’s going to happen next. Do you?”
The Althouse post goes in lots of interesting directions, and a few commenters even point to Pat Metheny's G-weasel bashing from several years back, which is always great fun. A few others tried to compare some of the A-list bloggers to noted jazz musicians.

So is blogging jazz? It certainly can be, especially in the case of blogs with a lot of commenters, where the whole thing could be compared to guests at a jam session trading fours or choruses with the host. Commenter Theo Boehm, who's visited here before, weighed in at Althouse with the following:
When I was in college I used to think Kenny G was a complete fraud. He became rich and famous, while I had to sell my Mark VI alto to pay the rent.

Blogging-as-jazz: You can think of a given blog template as the type of ensemble you’re playing in. The host sets the style. The posts are the tunes, and we get a chance to solo as commenters. Some blogs are bop, some are fusion, some are cool, some are blues, etc. The topic is the tune’s harmonic progression, and we riff on that. If you stray too far from the changes you’re either revealing your incompetence, or you might be a new Thelonius Monk. And you might suggest something cool for the next person.

The analogy breaks down a little in that we’re not limited to length in commenting. “You’ve got 32 bars to make your point, or the next guy’s gonna step all over you.” Not a bad idea, but what’s the word equivalent of 32 bars? Some people cram in a lot more notes and try to impress you, while others play something simple and maybe beautiful.
I thnk Theo made some good analogies, and I added my two cents' worth down near the bottom of the comments:
As the resident active jazz musician among the commenters (or at least the only one who's uncloaked as such, so far as I know), I'm sorry I missed this thread on the day it came out. But I had a good excuse; I was jamming with friends all day!

So...are blogs jazz? Sometimes. I tend to think that Theo had it right with his point about the give-and-take between commenters and the host/hostess; it can certainly end up like a jam session in that respect.

(Oh, and Theo, I'm sorry you had to sell your Mark Vi to pay the rent. I've been lucky enough to be able to use mine to help pay my mortgage.)

As for the "musical necrophilia" link {referring to the Metheny piece], when I first read that a long time ago, it made me respect Metheny (whom I respect immensely to begin with) even more. No political correctness from him; something was crap, and he had the guts to actually say so. (It's sort of like when Clinton was president and used to play his sax on talk shows and what-not. All politics aside, the guy's just not that good of a player, but that didn't keep a lot of celebrities from kissing his butt. I remember being quite disappointed in Lionel Hampton when he said of Clinton, "He can join my band anytime." Meanwhile, Branford Marsalis said something to the effect of, "I'm sorry, but he just needs to put that thing down." )

As for my own blogging, it's not so spontaneous as I'd like it to be. It seems like I'm always going back and editing my posts until it looks just right. That process reminds me of classical composition more than jazz improvisation....but then, maybe, if you're reading my posts before they've been given the final edit, it's the equivalent of watching me practice.
Look at that--I see a few awkwardly-written sentences in there; I guess I missed a couple of changes on my solo! And since Blogger comments can't be edited, what goes out there is a lot more like a live performance than a regular post like this.

We're not likely to ever arrive at a definitive answer to this question...just like there may never be a definitive jazz solo, although many of the great ones over time are pure works of art. Still, there are about as many opinions on this as there are types of improvisation, so this was definitely an interesting topic to me. Feel free to add your own chorus in the comments.

Weird prank of the day: Workers at an Italian restaurant in Arkansas arrived there one day to discover six garden gnomes sitting atop the roof....but the owner doesn't mind; she says they help keep pigeons away.

The nose knows: Want to remember a familiar scent from your childhood? Japanese inventors are on the verge of perfecting the smellophone.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Crazy Like a (Fire)fox

I had my first freeze-up on the new computer today; I'm still not sure why. One of the sites I was visiting on the Safari browser was likely responsible for the freeze, so it made me consider the possibilty of switching to Firefox for more of my online activities. (I already use it for blogging, most of the time, because Blogger isn't fully supported on Safari; among other things, the date/time stamp menu and the comments allowed/disallowed buttons don't show up.)

But when I restarted the computer, I was quite surprised to find out that Firefox had disappeared from the Dock. It wasn't in the Applications menu or anything, so I decided to reinstall it. Yet when I did that, it relaunced with my settings intact (using The Musings as its default homepage, among other things). It obviously wasn't gone the first time; it must have just been...hiding? And when I quit the program later on, its icon disappeared from the Dock again. I now have a Firefox alias on my desktop, but it's really weird that it doesn't seem to keep its Dock position. Any comments from OS X users would of course be appreciated...

They picked the wrong place to get the munchies: Two pot-smoking guys decided to drive through a KFC in Buffalo recently; unfortunately, their smoke wafted through the window into the restaurant, where two narcotics detectives happened to be having dinner. The detectives went out to the car and made an easy bust.

FREE FOOD ALERT: Want free Chick-Fil-A on July 14? All you have to do is dress like a cow from head to toe and you'll be rewarded as such; it'll be Cow Appreciation Day, after all. (This seems a lot harder than dressing up like a Chipotle burrito on Halloween.)