Tuesday, September 28, 2010

This Band Will Need a Hand

This was all over Facebook and various forums today, and my heart goes out to these kids and their director: The Powahatan High School Marching Band from Virginia pretty much lost all their stuff--instruments and brand-new uniforms which had only been worn twice--when their storage trailer caught fire soon after a return from an out-of-town competition this past weekend.

As noted in the video, there was a lot of time spent doing fundraising to get the new uniforms and equipment, and I'm sure there will be some sort of fund set up to help these folks; I'll post an update here as soon as I find out.

Friday, September 24, 2010

We're Still Having Fun, and They're Still the "One"*

Everyone has their own early-autumn rituals, and one of mine is making the very short trek to UT-Dallas on the last Friday in September to see the One O'Clock Lab Band perform about as close to my backyard as they get. Director Steve Wiest, a former college classmate of mine, calls this performance their "first real breakout gig" of the new year after a few early appearances on campus in the Syndicate (which I had to miss this year due to an obligation with my Region Jazz students) and the One O'Clock Lounge (which seems appropriate enough, doesn't it?).

It's always impressive how this band can put together a concert at such a high level in such a short time, especially considering the fact that there's often quite a bit of turnaround from the previous semester (this year, it's two new saxophones, two new trumpets, three new trombones and an entirely new rhythm section). Whether playing things from the new CD, Lab 2010 (which they had to learn in its entirety in about three days' worth of rehearsals for the Syndicate gig) or timeless One O'Clock classics from decades past, the band progresses seamlessly from year to year without missing a beat (*insert rim shot if desired*).

This year's concert opened with the Grammy-nominated "Got a Match?" from Lab 89, and the band made its way flawlessly through the intricate lines (which Chick Corea originally wrote to be played just by himself and John Patitucci). Since Lab 2010 was for sale in the lobby at intermission, a generous selection of tunes from the new CD were sprinkled throughout the evening, including "Prime Directive" (a Dave Holland tune arranged by student Josh Dresser), "The Oracle" by student Kevin Swaim, Director Emeritus Neil Slater's "Not Yet," and current director Wiest's "New Cydonia."

Closing the first half was a tribute to Director Emeritus Leon Breeden, who passed away in August. The triumvirate of tunes opened with "Willow Weep for Me" (performed by Breeden himself on clarinet on his final album with the band, Lab '81, and masterfully done tonight by Brian Clancy, who holds the lead tenor chair in the band) and was followed by a mash-up of two Lou Marini compositions from the '60s, "Looking with New Eyes" (which started out with a flowing melody to which one might picture Mary Tyler Moore walking through downtown Minneapolis, before descending into wonderful chaos) and "Hip Pickles" (a screaming blues-rock romp).

Certain things are expected at a One O'Clock Concert: Will they play some Stan Kenton? Of course they will; this time, it was the wonderful Marty Paich arrangement of "Body and Soul," featuring new pianist Colin Campbell. Will they choose the two-minute barn-burner "Machito" as an encore? Well, for a second it appeared that they wouldn't this year, choosing instead the fine Bret Zvacek arrangement of "Harlem Nocture" that opens Lab 85 (which would be my personal choice as the next "old" recording to be re-released on CD). But that generated enough applause at the end to warrant playing an "encore to the encore," so the tune I've dubbed a "two-minute, eighteen-second ball of energy" did indeed end the concert on a good (and very high) note.

Somebody asked me at intermission if I preferred the Wiest version of the One O'Clock to that of Slater; my initial answer was that it would be very hard to choose between my former professor (Slater), whose offering of a spot directing lab bands for two years in grad school set the stage for most of what I do now, and my longtime friend and former schoolmate (Wiest). But I also added this: I think that Wiest has brought some new youthful energy to the band (he may be in his early fifties, but I've considered him a "young soul" for the entire time we've known each other). He's also taken the band in some daring new directions (sure, some things get a little more "out" at times, but as I've noted before, the older I get, the "outer" I like). Besides, no matter how much some tunes seem to leave the planet at times, they're always anchored by that underpinning of swing that's so vital to good jazz.

I'm also quite impressed with some of the little touches that Wiest has added to the band--most notably, the increased attention to dynamics; the One O'Clock has long been known as the "higher, faster, louder" band, but Wiest has expanded the dynamic spectrum to include a lot of softer passages in certain places. It's extremely effective, and it's more than a casual nod to those pioneers of big band, the Count Basie Orchestra, whose dynamic range varied from a whisper to a scream. I also enjoy the things that Wiest does with the rhythm section during certain solos--adding stop-time or allowing the time to get very loose and combo-ish on occasion.

As noted many times before, I received both of my degrees from UNT, and you already know of my ties to the director, so I realize that all of this could just come off as excessively rooting for the home team. But I've never been hesitant to offer constructive criticism when necessary; it's just that, more often than not, all I can do is rave about what the One O'Clock is doing. This is one of those times.

*Did I really just riff on the lyrics of a rock song from a '70s two-hit wonder for the title of my jazz concert review? Why yes, I did.

Well wishes: I should also include a shout-out to my longtime friend Micah Bell, the new second trumpet player in the band, who's been sidelined by illness this week and had to miss tonight's gig. Get well soon, Micah, and I look forward to seeing you play in the band before long.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "That last piece you played? I can't hum it...any of it."--Old-timer at the concert, to Steve Wiest during intermission. (And the guy had just the right Southern accent so that it really came out as "Ah cain't hum it." Priceless...)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Extreme Makeover: Concert Hall Edition

I don't get up to visit my alma mater, UNT, nearly as much as I used to a few years ago, but I've been there enough to be aware that the Concert Hall--the major performance venue of the College of Music until the opening of the Murchison Performing Arts Center in 1999, and a hall that was, until now, virtually unchanged since the opening of the older portion of the Music Building in 1960--was undergoing a massive renovation, and I also knew that it was about to have a "soft" opening in the next few weeks. But until today, I had no idea that it would be this beautiful:

Nor did I know that it was being named after a major Denton figure whose name is known to virtually everyone in town. Here's the skinny:
A redesigned concert hall in the University of North Texas Music Building will be unveiled this fall, after a $6.4 million renovation project to create a more intimate performance space, enhance the acoustics and install state-of-the-art equipment.

Formerly known as the Concert Hall, the performance space has been renamed The Paul Voertman Concert Hall in honor of Denton philanthropist Paul Voertman (pronounced "VERT-mun").

"We are thrilled with this transformation of a tired, worn-out and dated hall into a beautiful and acoustically splendid space that will serve our students and faculty for their many performances of solo and small ensemble music," said UNT College of Music Dean James C. Scott. "There is no doubt that Voertman Hall will house more of our performances than any other College of Music space."
Read the full story here.

The Concert Hall was always something of a white elephant when I was in school; the design was plain, the seats were bulky metal with worn cushions (and they creaked when the seat bottoms went up and down), and it was starting to show its age (I'll never forget when a large fluorescent light bulb just fell out of its socket and crashed onto the back of a [thankfully unoccupied] seat a few rows away from me during a recital). It was too big for most recitals (it seemed cavernous whenever it was less than half full), and it was almost too small for the large ensemble concerts. It was definitely due for a makeover, and it looks like those involved have outdone themselves with this effort.

As Dean Scott noted above, this venue should be the perfect complement to the 250-seat Recital Hall (also in the Music Building) and the 1,025-seat Winspear Performance Hall in the Murchison Center. I'm looking forward to seeing this venue in person very soon, and when I do, I'll pass along my thoughts (and an actual picture or two).

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Todd and Co. Can't Dodge a Bullet Right Now

I didn't get to hear all of today's UNT/Army game on the radio, as I had a lunchtime engagement (one at which it would have been rude to constantly check the scores on my phone). But it wasn't looking good when I got out of the car at noon, and when I came back, the game had just ended, and it was bad news once again: The Mean Green lost to Army, 24-0, falling to 0-3 on the year.

And once again, the game wasn't a blowout in the beginning, and that's been the story all season so far. They played Clemson tough for the first half; they very well could have beaten Rice last week. And in the first half of today's game, they held the ball for far longer than Army and kept things close, only trailing 7-0 when I got out of the car. It's been close--oh, so close--but since this isn't horseshoes, hand grenades or atom bombs, close doesn't count. And I'm afraid that if this ship doesn't right itself pretty soon, Todd Dodge won't get to reap the benefits of the new stadium that I'm sure has been a key part of recruiting for the past several years.

The worst thing is this: If the team does have a losing season, it can be blamed on something largely out of Coach Dodge's control: Injuries. This paragraph pretty much tells the whole story:
Injury woes have taken their toll on the Mean Green this year, and hit home again at West Point. After losing center Nick Leppo in the game's second series, quarterback Derek Thompson left the game with a leg injury. Starting receiver Christopher Bynes also left the game with injury, making nine starters lost to injury this year.

Thompson was filling in for Nathan Tune, who left last week's game against Rice with a hip injury, and Riley Dodge was once again called into action.
And remember, Riley Dodge used to be the starting QB himself, until he was switched to receiver because of...wait for it...injuries. And Leppo was filling in at center for J.J. Johnson, who was lost for the season to a foot injury in the opener against Clemson. So that means that, by the second quarter yesterday, the third-string center was snapping to the third-string emergency quarterback...in the third game of the season. It makes one wonder if the team will eventually run out of players at this rate.

Granted, there are still a lot of games left to go, including the entire conference schedule. One could find hope in the fact that the Green have hung in there well against their non-conference foes. But considering what happened earlier tonight, when Texas A&M barely beat Florida International, a Sun Belt team, earlier tonight, it reminds us that the conference won't exactly be a cakewalk either.

I haven't given up hope yet, but these injuries are killing North Texas. I still believe in Coach Dodge, and I'd love to see him still in charge when the new stadium opens next season, but things have to get back on track very soon.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Where Were You...

...nine years ago, when you heard the news? I've posted this in some form every year since I started blogging, and I pause to remember again:
I was on a break from teaching, like every Tuesday, and actually spent the time of the attacks in blissful ignorance at a nearby Starbucks. I had CD's on in my car instead of the radio, so I totally missed the news on both the way over and the way back. I did hear someone listening to a radio on the Starbucks patio and they were talking about "the second plane," but it didn't register with me at all. (It amazed me later that nobody walked inside and told us about it.)

When I got back to the school, the flute teacher stopped me in the hallway and asked me if all my students were being pulled out of school (evidently hers were). I said, "No, why?" and she told me what had happened. I spent the rest of the day like everyone else, in shocked, depressed amazement, catching the news when I could. There I was, not even two weeks into being a homeowner, and the world suddenly felt so different. It added to the pall cast over everything when I found out that the sister of a girl I graduated from high school with was on Flight 93, the one that crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. (I know that there have been quite a few lists of names read aloud today, so let me share hers: Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas. May she rest in peace...)

The whole thing felt so surreal; how could anyone hate us that much? The concept of the suicide hijacking was unprecedented as well (before that, hijackers just usually wanted to go to Cuba, and that's why airline personnel were taught to cooperate with them rather than try to subdue them).

I know there are still terrorist plots being hatched, and people capable of carrying them out...but I hope nothing like this ever happens on U.S. soil again. Or anywhere, for that matter.

For those who may be new to reading this blog since then, I'll invite you to share your recollections in the comments to this post.

As I've said for several years now, I hope nobody tires of talking about this every once in a while, because if we stop talking, we might forget, and this is a day that need not be forgotten anytime soon.
I'm sure that the blogosphere will be full of great tributes today, and I'll add links to those later, after I get back from judging a competition this morning.

LATER: A few more items...If I run across anything else noteworthy today, I'll come back and post it here.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

No Ark Needed Today, But It Was Interesting

Living as far inland as Dallas/Ft. Worth, it's not too often that we're directly affected by hurricanes. And while Tropical Storm Hermine never quite made it to hurricane status, she certainly wreaked havoc with our weather all day today.

It's not as if we don't need the rain up here; we certainly do. But getting it all at once as we did (some areas of the Metroplex have gotten ten inches since yesterday) causes all kinds of problems--flooding, treacherous commutes into work, and so on. And the event that seemed to get the most news coverage was the early evening tornado that sheared part of a wall off a paint warehouse on Mockingbird Lane near Irving Boulevard just west of I-35. (I myself was teaching right through a tornado warning, blissfully ignorant of same until someone texted me about the status of an evening event.)

I can count myself among the thankful, because the only effect that today's weather had on me personally was a couple of really rainy trips between schools. I use a few back roads on my Wednesday commute, and they were almost flooded, but not quite; the afternoon activities at my last school of the day (which would have included five of my lessons) were almost canceled (actually, they were for a second, but they were subsequently un-canceled by the time school let out), and the bridge that would have taken me home was almost closed due to high water, but the levels dropped by the time I used it.

I hope that everyone else was as lucky as I was, and may tomorrow be a much less eventful (and drier) day.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

It's Sonny on a Rainy Day

As I noted on Facebook a bit earlier, I can't let another minute of today go by without wishing a happy 80th birthday to Sonny Rollins. Not only is he one of the few remaining national treasures of his generation of jazz, but he's still tearing it up on the tenor and has a rather active touring schedule for a guy his age.

I've had the privilege of seeing Sonny three times: At the late, lamented Caravan of Dreams while in college; in New Orleans at the House of Blues in '99; and at the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival in '03. That most recent time was highlighted by the 30-chorus blues solo that he took on one tune--yep, he played for 15 solid minutes and it never got old. That was at the age of 72, and from everything I hear, he hasn't lost a step. I hope I get a chance to see him at least one more time.

Happy birthday, Sonny, and thanks for all you've done for our music.

Monday, September 06, 2010

I Have No Idea What This Means...

..but I'm sure there's a good story behind it:

Since it was so unusual (and since my mom's name is Barbara) I had to stop and take a picture of it (and email it to her, saying "Wish you'd been in Dallas today"). I'm guessing it has something to do with one of the owners or a close friend or family member of theirs, but who knows.

Update on me: My guess is that the toe isn't broken, just deeply bruised. I've got it splinted up (as much as a little toe can be) with that special tape that sticks to itself but not to skin, and it hasn't been too bad getting around today. I'm not necessarily looking forward to having to wear shoes tomorrow while teaching, but I'll deal with it as best I can.

Not too laborious over here: Did you get to enjoy the Labor Day holiday, or did you have to, well, labor? I taught two people and ran an improv session for a couple of the high-schoolers trying out for Region Jazz this weekend, but other than that, it was pretty chill over here.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

This Pain Was Toe-tally Unexpected

I wonder how many stories about mishaps start with the phrase "It seemed like a good idea at the time." Except in this case, it really was a good idea--just one, I suppose, that needed slightly better execution.

I had a gig this afternoon, in a part of Dallas that's not too far away from my church, just a few hours after church let out. Since I didn't want to make the trip from home to almost-downtown twice, and since the intervening time would allow me to have lunch at Zuzu along the way, it made sense to me to turn it into one big excursion.

But the thing is, I'm not used to taking a lot of things with me to church, and certainly not the four things (bari sax, bari stand, music stand, and flute) that I'd need to bring to this gig. And since I tend to be a little slow on Sunday mornings, I could totally see myself running out the door without any of the gig stuff, which would require the double round-trip. So I decided it was best to leave everything near the door, just in case.

Looking back, I probably could have just done what I did last night--leave the music stand near the door--and I would have remembered everything else. But when I got up this morning, I decided to be efficient and move the rest of the stuff to the front.

And when I did that...well, I thought I had left myself plenty of room to walk back and forth to the kitchen, but I guess not. Because right before I was about to leave, I managed to walk right into the bari stand (which was sitting on the floor parallel to the bari case), whacking the living daylights out of my right little toe in the process. (In a fit of clumsiness that's not altogether foreign to me, I also managed to get somewhat snagged in the stand after running into it, which gave my left ankle a much gentler smacking as well.)

It hurt like crazy, of course, and I said a few choice unSundaylike words right afterwards, but I could find no immediate evidence of damage. Still, I decided on shoes rather than sandals for the immediate future; it might hurt more, but at least I'd be protected from any further damage. (And while at church, I found the most remote part of the balcony so that I could have a row to myself--this made it much easier to slip out of my shoe and sock, to let it "breathe" and check for any signs of swelling or bruising, though none was found.) And I was most happy to get a very close-in parking space at my gig; it was all street parking, so that was very much in doubt until I got there.

But when I got home from my gig about six hours later, there was in fact a fairly substantial bruise. There was not, however, a ridiculous amount of swelling, so after a bit of research, I've decided to play things by ear and see how things are going in the morning, hoping all the while that the bruise is just that, and not a sign of a fracture. I've done some ice and elevation, and being out of shoes for the past six hours has helped a lot (and with tomorrow's holiday, I don't technically have to put a shoe on again until Tuesday morning).

So wish me luck; with the schedule I have for the next several months, this is something that needs to be able to heal quickly and on its own. And while I'm walking carefully (and watching my step, of course), I haven't really had to limp for the past several hours like I did when I was in shoes; needless to say, I had more than a few unpleasant flashbacks to last year's knee injury when I was hobbling around.

More as things develop...