Showing posts with label Music. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Music. Show all posts

Friday, March 15, 2019

Two Different Musical Eras

We attended concerts two nights in a row.  As it turns out, they are like the bookends in my life.

I began my love of music in my early teens, the music of rock ‘n roll.  In college my musical allegiance morphed to classical.  As I play the piano, my adult years have been consumed by the Great American Songbook, and Jazz.  As I’ve matured I’ve come to appreciate some opera and in particular the potent instrument of the human voice.

Last night we revisited a performance of one of the world’s great tenors, Emmet Cahill, who returned to the Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church in West Palm Beach.  Last year when I reviewed Cahill’s concert I had thought that his titanic talent warranted “a bigger boat” but nonetheless he returned to this same church and I understand why.  He began singing as a child in his home church in Ireland with his family and besides being a proud Irishman from the town of Mullingar; he is a religious young man as well.  Interestingly his love of these essential elements of his life transcends the ambition of many of his contemporaries.  Thus, he is content to allow his career to develop rather than rocketing overnight which perhaps it could if he pursued it at the expense of other values.  I have profound respect for him as a human being, not to mention as an astonishing artist.

He is also loyal to the Robert Sharon Chorale, the 84-voice-strong local community chorale which appears with him at the church, usually performing as an opening to Emmet’s solo appearance but sometimes backing him up as well.  His voice, though, needs no backup, other than his very talented accompanist, Seamus Brett, an extraordinarily gifted pianist.

The format of last night’s concert was similar to last year’s with perhaps more emphasis on liturgical and Irish pieces, but still a number of Broadway pieces so suitable for his voice such as “This is the Moment” and “Bring Him Home.”  Of course, with St. Patrick’s Day around the corner, his Irish upbringing impacted his musical selections this time around. 

Many of the pieces he sang were from his new CD Blessings of Music which includes “Be Thou My Vision, "Galway Bay," "The Gaelic Blessing," "Amazing Grace," "Ag Criost An Siol" (Christ is the Seed"), "Panis Angelicus,", "The Last Rose of Summer," "Moon River," "Danny Boy" and "How Great Thou Art."

As with last year, the audience was invited to shout out some pieces for him to sing and Seamus Brett would arrange them on the fly and Cahill performed them as if having rehearsed them for that particular concert.  I asked him to sing “Children will Listen” which he knew was from Sondheim, but said he’d better practice that.  And so I wait for Cahill to take that next step in his career.

I had selfishly asked his publicist about those plans and she said “Emmet has returned to his first musical love, opera, so don't be surprised if you hear him sing a bit of that at his concert. He's been training with a voice coach and fans will tell you Emmet's voice has more resonance now (and he sings in a higher key!). Yes, he'd love to do a Broadway musical one of these days. He told me that opera is a way to get into musical theater.”

And opera he sang, a superlative rendition of “O Sole Mio – which he also performed last year, but this time with a discernible intensity of voice and clarity which elicited another rousing standing ovation.

And as he said, he would not be let out of the auditorium on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day without performing “Danny Boy” which I managed to get a brief clip of and posted on my Twitter feed.

Emmet, you had us at the words “glad to be back” and we gladly look forward to your next appearance here and will watch your career with interest and amazement.  You are a unique talent, a captivating personality, and are truly blessed with a golden voice.

It’s hard to segue from Emmet to the dynamic denizens of Rock ‘N Roll, so apologies to Emmet’s fans, but welcome to those who remember the 50’s.  The night before seeing Emmet I experienced that other end of the “bookend” referred to at the beginning of this entry, and that is seeing One Night in Memphis at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre.  This included the original cast members of the Broadway hit Million Dollar QuartetIn effect it's a concert rendition of the show which was about a legendary one night session in Memphis at the birth of Sun Records, a jam session featuring Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley. 

Carl Perkins was my first favorite as a kid, a cross over performer of rockabilly and country.  His big hits were the original rendition of “Blue Suede Shoes” (before Elvis’ version), “Honey Don’t,” “ Everybody’s Trying to be My Baby” and he was quickly followed by Jerry Lee Lewis  (“Whole Lot of Shakin' Goin' On,” “Great Balls of Fire”), Johnny Cash ("Folsom Prison Blues," "Ring of Fire") and of course the most famous of them all, Elvis Presley (“Don’t Be Cruel,” “All Shook Up”).  These are but a FEW of the songs performed by the four talented guys in the show. 

Normally, I don’t seek out performers who are imitators of famous entertainers, but will make an exception for this show as with every passing moment they seemed to BECOME the originals.  This particularly applied to the performer who played Elvis, as he was under the most scrutiny and at first your senses reject him as Elvis, but quickly he won over the audience.  I still have Elvis’ first 33-1/3 record he recorded for RCA.  My wife, Ann, actually saw him in person in 1956 at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta as an Elvis crazed teen!

John Mueller who played Carl Perkins was particularly effective as his guitar playing accompanied all the performers throughout the show.  Blair Carman as “the Killer” is a very talented pianist, convincing as Jerry Lee Lewis, even “tickling” the ivories with the heel of his shoe.  Shawn Barker plays the "Man in Black," Johnny Cash and in one song manages to sing a lick an octave below bass.  Truly, a crowd-pleaser.  Finally, Brandon Bennett as Elvis undergoes that transformation before our eyes.  And boy can he twist and shake!

Heartfelt thanks to all the many talented artists in this world who bring the joy of music into our lives.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Kansas City!

We all know the famous lyrics:
I'm going to Kansas City, Kansas City here I come
I'm going to Kansas City, Kansas City here I come
They got some crazy lil' women there
And I'm gonna get me one.

Well I already had my own crazy lil’ woman, Ann, a “Janeite” and when she suggested that I accompany her for the annual Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) meeting she usually attends, I said why not.  The meeting was to celebrate the 200th anniversary of what is arguably her best novel, Persuasion.  I like Austen’s works and we’ve never been to Kansas City.  So, I became a “Janeite” and we planned to make a week of it, arriving several days before the conference began to explore the city. 

More on the JASNA experience in a separate entry as this one covers the unexpected pleasures of the city itself and will be long enough.  For that entry click here.

The convention hotel, the Westin Crown Center (highly recommended, great hotel), agreed to give us the convention rate for the entire week and after a flight connection in Atlanta, we arrived at the crowded, outdated Kansas City Airport (MCI) where we immediately got an Uber into the city.

Imagine our surprise when we were picked up by a couple that could have posed for Grant Wood’s American Gothic.  Well, I thought, we ARE in Kansas City so why shouldn’t they look like that?  Turns out the driver’s companion was indeed his wife and he takes her on Uber rides to and from the airport on Sunday afternoons.  They were friendly as all get out: in fact, all the people we met in our city travels were as we took an Uber everyplace.

As Anne Elliot says in Persuasion, “…altogether my impressions of the place are very agreeable.”  Actually, ours were more than agreeable.  Kansas City, MO (there is a KC side in Kansas as well), has everything a jaded East Coast resident who considers everything between here and CA flyover country, could want, culture, jazz, historical sites, food (particularly Joe's BBQ), world class museums, and did I mention jazz and great food?  It also has something I did not expect…..hills!  Yes, imagine that, hills in Kansas City.  Living in FL, I am envious.

It’s called the City of Fountains and there are many striking ones, but I’d call it a city of diversity, different districts each with their own focus, the Union Station/Crown Center, Crossroads Arts District, Power and Light District, the River and City Market.   Our first order of business was to get on their FREE streetcar which travels throughout the entire Downtown area to reconnoiter.  Once we had our bearings, we went back to the hotel, with its fabulous view of the entire city, changed, and then began to explore.

Many of the places I will be mentioning are extensively covered on the Web, especially the museums, so expect nothing much more than our own personal reactions.

Union Station is a nearby walk in an enclosed overhead walkway.  It was one of the most heavily traversed train stations in the US, particularly during WW II, went into disarray after air travel devastated rail traffic, but has subsequently been restored into a tourist Mecca.  It’s simply beautiful and one can get a good sense of what it once was and its importance.  Freight train traffic still heavily rumbles nearby as well as one Amtrak train. 

Here’s Ann in front of the Amtrak waiting room and the waiting room itself.  Just like a painting.

The interior of Union Station, cleaned and restored. 

Love the ceiling.

Art work hangs in the station including this Homage to Hopper— Harvey House Union Station Kansas City, MO by Marlin Rotach.

They say that maybe a million people sat on this bench during the station's heyday.

From here on in, days and nights get a little convoluted, transposed, so I’ll take them by venue:

Museums range from traditional to modern to subject specific.  Towering above all is The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art which, like NYC’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, has something for everyone, from early European, to Egyptian and Greek and Roman, right through contemporary, from all corners of the globe.  It is massive and free!  Its marble lobby and skylight announce its imposing presence.

They had a special exhibit there which drew me, “The Big Picture” – the Hall Family Foundation gift for photography acquisitions, photography being one of my special interests.  The exhibit ranges from historical photographs, such as this one which is attributed to Silas A. Homes, a Salt Print of New York City’s Union Square from 1856.  Some one hundred plus years later I would be crossing Union Square after getting off the subway from Brooklyn on my way to work.  To me, the photograph is a time capsule.

Another favorite is Robert Frank’s Hoboken 1955, capturing a certain kind of ironic sadness at a patriotic parade.

And what better time to display Andy Warhol’s homage to baseball?  His ‘Baseball’ 1962, is his first photo-silkscreened painting.  It celebrates an American institution using news photos of Roger Maris.

My heart be still.  A photograph by none other than the beat poet, Allen Ginsberg, depicting two writers of his generation, William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac.  I had no idea Ginsberg indulged in photography as well.  Note his handwritten description at the bottom of the photograph.

This is just a sampling of this unique collection, including one by Diane Arbus, but space in this blog is limited so the best way of seeing the collection is by saying (singing?) “Kansas City here I come!”

I’m including some representative works from their regular collection, ones that have special appeal to me.  Such as Willem de Kooning’s Woman IV which, I shall never forget, was a favorite of the playwright, William Inge.  Then Claude Monet’s Mill at Limetz 1888 is as striking by its style as its presentation.

Armor for Man and Horse 1565 is carefully preserved and dramatically exhibited:

And what museum would be complete without a Rodin?
A recent acquisition is “Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise.  The 17-foot-tall gilded doors, weighing 4 1/2 tons, are casts of the original doors created in the 15th-century workshop of sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti for the east facade of the Baptistery of the Duomo (cathedral) in Florence, Italy.  Ghiberti’s original doors can be found inside the Museo dell’ Opera del Duomo di Santa Maria del Fiore.  Casts were made in 1990, and a set was installed on the outside of the Baptistery in Florence.

This pair at the Nelson-Atkins is a sister set to those at the Baptistery.  The installation in the Nelson-Atkins will be the first time the casts will be seen in a U.S. museum.  No photograph can do it justice, but I include some of its detail here.

I include the Nelson-Atkins bust of Caracalla, probably Italy, 215-217 CE because it speaks to our times. Wikipedia summarizes the nature of the man and his “accomplishments:”  The Roman historian David Magie describes Caracalla, in the book Roman Rule in Asia Minor, as brutal and tyrannical and points towards psychopathy as an explanation for his behaviour.  Gibbon, author of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, takes Caracalla's reputation, which he had received for the murder of Geta and subsequent massacre of Geta's supporters, and applies it to Caracalla's provincial tours, suggesting that "every province was by turn the scene of his rapine and cruelty”.  The historian Clifford Ando supports this description, suggesting that Caracalla's rule as sole emperor is notable "almost exclusively" for his crimes of theft, massacre, and mismanagement

Finally, an enjoyable lunch in their Rozzelle Court Restaurant was a welcome respite.

Outside the Kemper Museum of Modern Art is a giant sculptured spider and the irony of a modern message across the street.

This is another one of Kansas City’s gems, free to the public, and its special collection of paintings by Angela Dufresne had just opened.  She is known to be from “The School of Gena Rowlands,” interpreting cultural histories of fine art, film, literary and oral histories.  Her pieces “The Line” and “Lonely Are the Brave” are shown here.

Then again, we needed a break and had to have lunch in the art lined dining room of Kemper’s CafĂ© Sebastienne.

Kansas City also has several museums not to be found anywhere.  Two are actually housed in one building and you could easily spend an entire day there.  They are The American Jazz Museum and The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, naturally at 18th Street and Vine.

The American Jazz Museum has memorabilia, and best of all, hands-on- exhibits where you can interact with jazz musicians to deconstruct the music for a better understanding of what it means to “jam.”  They have an original Picasso extolling Ella Fitzgerald.

Posters and panels proliferate there.

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is a moving tribute to forgotten heroes who were denied playing in the major leagues, although some of the later ones, such as Satchel Page and Jackie Robinson, finally broke through the color barrier.

They’ve reproduced a field, built it and they came, with life size statues of some of the luminaries who have played there.

Original equipment and uniforms are on display, as well as a painting of the Kansas City Monarchs who were to the Negro Baseball Leagues like the NY Yankees were to the Major Leagues.

Finally there is the remarkable Arabia Steamboat Museum.  At first I thought this was simply a tourist trap housing some of the artifacts of the Arabia which sank in 1856.  But it is a veritable time capsule as it was carrying over 200 tons of cargo intended for general stores and homes in 16 mid-western frontier towns.  But no, it took the imagination and adventurous spirit of five stalwart men to begin a treasure hunt that ended in the most miraculous collection we have ever seen.

Buried below ground in over four stories of river mud for over a century simply because the Mississippi River had changed course, David Hawley ultimately located the wreck in July 1987.  David, along with his father Bob, brother Greg, and family friends Jerry Mackey and David Luttrell, would soon return to the farm and begin an adventure consuming the next 20 years.  The excavation resulted in the discovery of the largest collection of pre-Civil War artifacts in the world.  And to the credit of the Hawley family, they decided to collect these thousands of items and once carefully excavated, clean and preserve them, and put them on display.  Nothing from this fabulous treasure was ever sold.  The net effect is overwhelming, tools, clothing, furniture, and every imaginable artifact so well preserved in a nearly frozen state entombed under a Kansas farm, some 45 feet below the surface.  This was a walk back in time and all due to one family’s efforts with the help of their friends.

Photographs cannot do justice to the breathtaking extent of this collection, but I post some, glassware and other cargo they reovered.

 The Arabia Steamboat Boilers:

Finally, on to the main attraction for an early arrival: KC Jazz.  That first night we hit the Green Lady Lounge, having heard that some of the best jazz in the city can be heard there.  It looks like a plush den of iniquity, and they don’t serve food, but, oh, the music, and with no cover as well.   

We were lucky to see the Steve Gray trio along with a great jazz singer, maybe the best we’ve seen in a long time, Shae Marie.  What is she doing in KC I wondered?  She belongs in Birdland, reminding me a little of Peggy Lee.  Here are two brief videos providing my point:

The next night we were at The Blue Room for a Jazz Jam.  The Blue Room is at 18th and Vine and is actually connected to the American Jazz Museum.  No food; just drinks and great jazz.

The following night we were at the Phoenix, a local bar reminding us so much of the one we go to here in Florida for jazz jams, Double Roads in Jupiter.  The Phoenix serves some good bar food but we came for the music.  The little area set up for the performers only accommodated drums and a piano so I was wondering what that would be like.  Pianist Mark Lowry, purported to be one of the best in KC, turned that duet into a trio, setting up an electronic keyboard on top of the piano and playing a walking bass, making the transition to trio.   It’s a brief 45 second video, but it is a must watch by clicking on here.

Our final jazz night was at The Majestic, downstairs where an old speakeasy resided in the days of prohibition (not very meaningful in KC, it was a wide open town).  But this is a top steakhouse as well so bring your appetites!

The night before the full conference we had to try another one of KC’s well known restaurants, Lidia’s.  One of their specialties is their unlimited trio of home-made pastas, changing the selection regularly.  We lucked out having wild boar ravioli, spinach pasta with shrimp, and farfalle with marinara and thick slices of fresh Parmesan, all you can eat, freshly made at Lidia’s, a PBS chef and author.  It’s in a KC warehouse building just adding to the fun.

That step back in time described by our visit to the Arabia is a good segue to the Jane Austen Conference, but best to break the narrative here and continue in another entry.  Suffice it to say, Kansas City was much more than expected, reminding us a little of Asheville, Seattle, and New Orleans in its own quirky individuality.  And, oh, did I mention great museums, food, jazz, and sights?  Did I say how much I loved Kansas City?  


Thursday, June 21, 2018

Musical Notations

My former self speaks to me…….

It sometimes laments not committing more effort into improving my piano skills over the years.  Not that I am gifted, but I am teachable.  Not that I even had the time to pursue more intense lessons being involved my entire adult life in a publishing career that was all consuming.  But I still have regrets about not developing what talent I do have into a higher degree of proficiency at the piano.

I am most envious of those gifted musicians, who can hear a song and then play it, improvise it, embellish it, all without reading a musical score.  It is an extraordinary gift and most of the prominent musicians have that ability. 

Irving Berlin’s story is intriguing.  He couldn’t write or read music.  He never had a lesson although Victor Herbert briefly instructed Berlin, who was already established as a major composer of popular songs.  In fact, he abandoned the effort knowing he didn’t really need those lessons to further his career.

As a youngster Berlin taught himself to play the tunes he heard in his head using the F# scale, thus playing mostly on the black keys.  He found it simpler to just learn them to express his musical ideas (why bother with the white keys : - ).  Remarkable.  As any musician will tell you, it’s a heck of lot easier to compose and play in C Major. 

As he never studied music, and wasn’t a great pianist, he couldn’t transpose.  Most gifted musicians can transpose to another key “on the fly.”  I can’t.  I have to work it out.  Berlin couldn’t so when he wanted to change keys in a song he relied on a mechanical instrument that changed keys for him.  He would write that section of the song in F# and the mechanical transposer changed it to whatever key he wanted.  He also asked musicians to transcribe his music.

Even professional musicians are confounded by Berlin’s abilities and lack of ability.  But the point is he could play without music, music he couldn’t read.  In that regard, he played strictly by ear.

Classical performance completely relies on the ability to read musical notation.  Of course there is still room for a performer’s interpretation of the composer’s score.  Many concert performances by pianists, with or without the orchestra will be performed without the pianist consulting the musical notation, or just having it there for a passing glance to be in synch with the orchestra.  These are remarkable pianists being able to internally assimilate large and complicated works.  It’s really the ability to “see” the score or to sight-read “silently.”  They simply hear it in their heads.

There are also jazz pianists who can not only play by ear, but have been trained classically, and can thus sight read such as Bill Evans and Oscar Peterson.  They were double threats at the keyboard, using their incredible knowledge of musical theory, voicing, and virtuoso technical training to interpret a song.  Both Evans and Peterson were comfortable playing solo or with a jazz group, without having to read music for any performance.  To them, playing was like speaking a language they were born with and then studied to know the entire vocabulary and usage.  A gift few have.

Hearing it in one’s head is the most salient characteristic of a jazz performer, particularly one performing in a “jazz jam” with other jazz performers without any rehearsal, maybe never having played with the other.  Jazz performers who are playing a piece they are not familiar with use a lead sheet and/or a chord chart.  Lead sheets consist of the melody line in the treble clef and the accompanying chord for the bass and for “filling in.”  I can read a lead sheet or “fake book” music, they’re usually synonymous. 

I have “fake books” for most of the Great American Songbook, a favorite repository from which jazz artists take their pieces.  But just having the melody line and the chords does not make one “jazz jam worthy.”  Jazz artists can take a chord chart which corresponds to the lead sheet and improvise using the song structure, usually returning to the melody itself at the end of the jam. 

In order to do so, the jazz artist must be able to follow the melody in his or her head, as well as follow the rhythm.  Jazz jam artists “hand off” solos to one another.  The music can become very abstract, but all participants in a jam are speaking the same language.

I have put to rest the fantasy of jamming, although I could do some.  It would just be too anxiety producing for me.  I now accept the fact that I’m an inveterate soloist; just enjoy playing as I do, not at a professional level, but simply for the joy of revisiting the classics of the Great American songbook and play them for myself or for others as part of a structured program.  My playing adheres mostly to the melody, improvising mostly for the bass based on the chords. 

I started this entry about my distant self talking to me in the present.  Rick Moore, the very gifted jazz keyboardist who is the founder of the Jupiter Jazz Society (an “organization committed to presenting ’live’ improvised music and promoting Jazz education throughout the Palm Beaches”), wrote a piece he calls “Song for Cherie,”  a song for his wife.  She is really the organizer of the Jupiter Jazz Society.  I was struck by the piece as it reminded me in some ways of Bill Evans’ original work, my favorite jazz artist.  Rick’s work has clockwork simplicity to it, and although a waltz (Evans wrote many), a beautiful jazz feel to it, particularly the B section.

I asked him whether he would share the lead sheet with me which he was kind enough to do, so I could have the enjoyment of playing it.  You can hear the composer himself play the piece at this link. 

He’s composed many pieces over the years and will be issuing a CD of them in the future.  It is something to look forward to.

It made me think of my nascent songwriting efforts from decades before.  They are mostly uncompleted pieces, simply because I’ve never had any training either in theory or in composition.  Also, there was the time factor.

One of my finished pieces was called Annie’s Waltz.  Ironically, both Rick and I wrote songs to the women in our lives in 3 / 4 time.  I wrote a brief blog entry about my piece ten years ago but Google Pages pulled the link to my recorded version.  That entry makes reference to it being written the year we were married, 1970.  But I’ve found the original and it was written in Jan. 1969, just about the time we started dating seriously.  In a few months, that piece will be 50 years old.  50 years!!!  Here is a photo of what I wrote, warts and all given the passage of time and the worn edges of the music.  It’s a simple piece, but heartfelt for this mere amateur.

As I’ve had difficulty posting what I recorded, I have simply posted a You Tube version.  I’ve learned to accept less than perfection with my little digital camera and even reluctantly and nostalgically to accept the fact that I’m a soloist, not destined to be a jazz performer and I’m ok with that.  I just enjoy playing.  All the videos I’ve posted can be found here.