One Foot Out

One of this blog’s tropes is stylistic diversity. This is for myriad reasons, with the biggest being:
• I’ve loved and listened to a wide array of music my whole life.
• As a performer, I participate in a variety of styles and environments.
• I believe that the best music/art is often that which crosses or transcends style and genre.

The second point above makes for interesting misconceptions in conversation with many other musicians, oddly enough. More often than not, it seems that, according to many musicians, having one foot planted in a style and another outside of it is roughly the same as having both feet planted outside of the style in question. I’m sure it partly stems from the fact that I play saxophone, classical music’s bastard instrument par excellence. Academically, on paper, I’m a classical saxophonist by trade, but that only scratches the surface. I also studied and perform jazz, and there’s of course rock, ambient, and many others. (While I didn’t “formally study” rock music – a funny thought – I’ve enjoyed a lifelong education “on the streets,” as it were.) And yet, whenever I’m in a seemingly like group, there’s often a subtle implication – perhaps subconsciously so – that I’m “from” or “represent” another style. I’m not at all offended by it, but it’s noteworthy and, to me, rather odd. Actually, its consistency is rather entertaining.

I suppose part of it has to do with my instrument, as it’s so strongly identified with jazz. Consequently, that seems to be everyone’s initial impulse, which I can understand. However, you’d think that after performing for or with folks that they’d have a different opinion. And it’s far from just a “jazz thing.” Some examples:
• In rock circles, I’m the jazz guy
• In jazz circles, I’m the classical guy
• In classical circles, I’m the rock and/or jazz guy
• In ambient circles, I’m the jazz and/or classical guy
• In non-ambient circles, any mention of ambient music is met with a furrowed brow

I don’t really begrudge anyone for it, particularly if we’re just meeting. However, it’s fascinating when, much of the time, the aforementioned “circles” including those with whom I perform. If we’re on the same stage doing the same thing, is there not a musical bond taking place? Why continue with the “other” labeling? And there’s nothing wrong with a musician staying largely within one style of music. There are pros and cons to both approaches.

Interestingly enough, this extends beyond performing and somewhat into blogging. I’ve submitted this blog to the The Big List of Classical Music Blogs a couple times over the last year and it’s not been included. I’m sure it’s because this blog isn’t only about classical music, and that’s fine. It’s also noteworthy that saxophonists’ blogs are poorly represented on the site. The Big List… is a great resource if you’re looking for classical music-oriented blogs from a variety of perspectives. I regularly skim through the listings to add new blogs to my RSS reader that I may have missed. However, it’s curious that a number of those listed have been dormant for years, and others occasionally veer off into topics other than classical music: politics, history, culture, jazz, gender studies, etc. Apparently writing about music outside of the Western Classical Tradition is a bridge too far. Funnily enough, some of the posts that have driven the most traffic and/or new subscribers to this blog – as well as receiving noteworthy plugs – have been on classical music: Richard WagnerEinstein on the Beach, my PRISM Quartet album review, and more.

There are, of course, a number of musicians who do “get it,” and that’s often because they’re also chameleons of sorts. The thing is is that even though we feel at home in a number of differing styles, we’re aesthetic nomads – homeless and always on the move. In that case, it’s good to have both feet out of the box and ready to get moving…

(For other related posts on style, see here, here, and here.)

Etiquette & An Unexpected Journalistic Assist

I’m happy to report that, albeit in a very small way, I have possibly contributed to an article in The Boston Globe. More on that in a bit. I’d first like to say, however, that this post is simply about manners, if it’s about anything at all (beyond, perhaps, quasi-narcissistic neuroses). I often consider blogging about etiquette, as there never seems to be enough to go around, but this particular episode has provided the proper inspiration. Again, I’m only concerned with manners here. (I am in NOT suggesting plagiarism or anything of the sort AT ALL – my former students know how seriously I consider that charge to be…)

The Globe article in question is last week’s review of Miles Davis’s recently released Miles at the Fillmore – Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 3. It appears as though I helped find source material for the opening passage. Neat! However, I didn’t know at the time because the small nugget of information I believe that I provided – or at least showed the way to – to the article’s author, Globe Correspondent David Weininger, went unthanked and ignored. I’m certainly making a mountain out of a molehill here, but it’s nonetheless curious and a bit annoying.

A few weeks ago I happened to see via Twitter that someone (Weininger, whom I was unfamiliar with at the time) was asking about a particular Keith Jarrett interview regarding a Miles anecdote. His question, retweeted by an account dedicated to ECM (Jarrett’s label of choice), grabbed my attention, as I immediately knew the answer. (My large Miles and Jarrett collections pay off in more ways than one, I suppose.) After quietly gloating to myself and quickly confirming the answer with my own copy of the interview, I checked online video sources (hence the YouTube mention) and answered. And, as you can see, I was at least the only one to respond publicly via Twitter (screenshot taken tonight from his page):

One retweet by @ECMSound and one reply from yours truly. That’s the extent of the whole thread. I had visited his Twitter feed a few times after that to see if anything came of it, but I never heard back and eventually forgot about it. Until this evening, that is, when I thought of it for no reason whatsoever. Returning to his feed, I was surprised to see the following succession of tweets from last week:

And if you click on the links to the actual article, you’ll see that that Miles anecdote is the first paragraph.

Now, should I have been cited in the article? Absolutely not – the very thought is absurd. But a simple reply of “thanks” (no capitalization or punctuation required!) or some other brief acknowledgement would’ve been great. And, who knows, perhaps Weininger found his answer elsewhere. Totally feasible, and I completely understand. Though, the aforementioned video of that interview is difficult to track down outside of sold, copyrighted media – hence my YouTube reference. It’s noteworthy that a quick Google search of that quote, for me, is topped by Weininger’s article, which is accurate, followed by some slightly paraphrased versions on websites of Miles quotes. (I just watched the interview on my DVD again to confirm the accuracy.) So he must’ve tracked down the legit video somewhere…

Even so, isn’t it polite to say “thank you”? In a similar crowdsourcing escapade last summer, Dr. Mark Berry asked his many followers (of which I’m one) for recommended recordings of Wagner art songs. It’s a positive case study, considering he already received his answer:
IMG_0527(Granted, I had had limited online interaction with Dr. Berry preceding this, but I doubt he could pick me out of a crowd despite the semi-annual RT.)

Again, my “role” in that review is tangential at best. If Weininger’s a head chef, then I’m a dishwasher…but he did ask for a clean salad bowl! Tonight I tweeted at David to see if he’d respond. He hasn’t yet, but he’s since been tweeting with others, so I’ll go ahead and green-light this post that I doubt he’ll see. And that’s unfortunate, because I really want to tell him something…

You’re welcome.

US House Judiciary Subcommittee Hearing on Section 512 of Title 17

The US House’s Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet convened on Thursday 03.13.14 to discuss Section 512 of Title 17 of the Copyright Code. The hearing dealt with piracy, takedown notices, and online copyright infringement.

I watched the entire hearing with interest and I recommend that you do the same, especially if you’re a musician or any other “content creator.” While many of the lawmakers offered uninformed comments or questions, there were some insightful kernels, and the panel – lawyers, law professors, legal counsel for Google and Automattic Inc. (i.e., WordPress), and composer/bandleader Maria Schneider – was particularly noteworthy.


This is a topic that I’m passionate about, and paying for what you like is one of this blog’s long-running tropes. If I have the time, I’d like to provide a more longform commentary on the hearing, but a few brief thoughts in the meantime:
• I intentionally don’t get politically partisan on this blog – that’s not this site’s purpose, nor do I want it to be. Having said that, I find it particularly illuminating that a majority of the lawmakers implicitly siding with big business and piracy seemingly going against the artists and content creators are the same folks trumpeting entrepreneurship to anyone with eyes and ears. Freedom? Curious.
• Thank you Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX), a former judge, for calling freeloaders what they are: THIEVES. He also acutely defined the conundrum: In typical theft/crime, we expect the state (i.e. police) to intervene. With piracy and intellectual property, we expect the private sector to settle it amongst themselves.
• Google’s lawyer, Katherine Oyama, seemed at times to be evasive, happily taking questions about search term autocomplete and answering with information about manually entered searches.
Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA), Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA), Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), and the aforementioned Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) stood out to be as being the most genuinely interested and/or informed of this topic.
Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX). Wow; I didn’t know he was on this panel. I’ve seen this dunce in various interviews before. His questions are perfectly representative soundbites. People voted for him. Hm…
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) did his usual grandstanding, on this occasion in support of thievery. Curious, given the allegations of car theft in his past…
• I think Ms. Schneider did well in representing “content creators.” Well done on the visual aids to discuss the steps and verbiage surrounding YouTube uploading and takedowns.
• It’s odd that we can continue to reference YouTube, Google, Facebook, etc., as having been started by the proverbial “two guys in a garage.” What about four guys/gals in a garage (i.e., a band)? Why aren’t musicians being represented in the same entrepreneurial light? Are these not small business (and occasional big businesses) also?
• Topic aside, I found it almost disturbing at how quick each lawmaker was to compliment and massage Google as a whole. Even many of their criticisms were sandwiched with praise.  (And no, this isn’t an Apple vs. Google statement.)


Pat Metheny Unity Group at Ann Arbor’s Michigan Theater

On Monday evening I was fortunate enough to see Pat Metheny‘s Unity Group at Ann Arbor’s Michigan Theater. I had originally waffled on whether or not to attend for various personal reasons – none of which were a lack of interest – but a last-minute invitation from my new friend (and longtime fellow tweeter) Mark Jacobson kept me from missing out on a top notch performance. (Thank you again, Mark!)

I’ve been a fan of Metheny’s for a number of years but I’m by no means a completist. (Although, everything I have of his I quite like.) His current ensemble, the Pat Metheny Unity Group, is the quintet incarnation of the four-piece Pat Metheny Unity Band, which I saw at the 2012 Detroit Jazz Festival. The Band consists of Metheny, saxophonist Chris Potter, bassist (and fellow Spartan) Ben Williams, and drummer Antonio Sanchez, with the Group adding multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Giulio Carmassi. 2012′s self-titled Pat Metheny Unity Band is a really solid and often hard-driving jazz quartet album, including a little orchestrion treatment here and there. The Group, however, which just released Kin, explores vastly more sonic terrain. What was a quartet is now a five-piece orchestra, with the orchestrion regularly and tastefully integrated, and Carmassi providing varying instruments and textures. (Full disclosure: I hadn’t yet picked up Kin despite my intending to, but I surely will after seeing Monday’s show.)

The Michigan Theater’s vibe had more in common with a rock show than jazz, between the orchestrion-adorned stage and Metheny’s ecstatic fans. Kicking off Monday’s 2h45m set was, as Metheny described, an “opening set” of just the quartet, which features Band tunes “Come and See,” “Roofdogs,” and “New Year.” Don’t let the “diminished” forces fool you, though, as it’s a burning quartet. Potter and Metheny are intense, melodic powerhouses, with Williams and Sanchez providing and nimble but deep and grooving pocket. After about 40 minutes, Metheny addressed the audience and welcomed Carmassi (on piano, vocals, and percussion) to the stage, at which point the Group launched Michigan Theater deep into the sonic cosmos for two hours of exploratory, psychadelic, and at times face-melting jams that transcended genre. The set largely featured material from the new album, and the quintet almost sounded like a completely different ensemble from the quartet. Kin‘s tunes are compositionally more complex than its predecessor (which featured a more “traditional” jazz approach of head-solo-head, etc.), with each piece traversing various themes and textures. Later on in the set, Metheny featured each of his sidemen via an extended duet. His show-stopping and jaw-dropping rendition of Trane’s “Countdown” with Chris Potter was one of the night’s highlights. Like the original Coltrane recording, they waited until the very end to tease the melody, with the preceding minutes causing this saxophonist – and likely all other musicians in attendance – to question his existence and purpose. The Group ended end their main set with a rockin’ “Have You Heard” (sounding great with the added saxophone) followed by a full-band encore “Are You Going With Me” and a solo acoustic encore of an improvised medley of various tunes including “Last Train Home.”

I may not be a Metheny expert, but I’m familiar with his various projects over the years. And, from what I do know, the current PMUG is a near ideal synthesis of Metheny’s catalogue. It not only features new compositions that can be held up to its predecessors, but the band’s intense live sound also includes hints of Pat Metheny Group (especially with the use of voice – one of my favorite Metheny qualities, actually – and thick orchestration) and the Orchestrion Project (though tastefully used as a means and not an end). Shame on me for almost missing out on such a tremendous show. If the Group ends up in your neck of the woods during this year’s mammoth tour, I highly recommend attending. Not to be missed.

Earnestness or Artifice? III

I’d like to revisit a topic touched on here and here: artistic intention and production. Below is the first half of a two-parter within this series. Two items tie these posts together:
- how each artist claims to feel about his craft.
- neither seem sincere.

This post, and a portion of the next, deal with practicing and rehearsing. As for rehearsing, I’ve been in groups at both edges of the spectrum: some ensembles rehearse meticulously and incessantly (though the two aren’t mutually exclusive), and others almost never rehearse for various legitimate reasons, instead relying on spontaneity and the excitement of the being in the moment while buoyed by foundation of shared history and skill. Sometimes, though, stating that one wants to forgo rehearsing in order to be “in the moment” isn’t entirely honest. Perhaps one just prefers not losing a Tuesday evening to a rehearsal. The same can be said of solitary practice. We musicians have all been there at one point or another. And I’ve definitely played in groups with people who’ve just said something to the effect of, “Eh, we’ll be good. I’d rather us sound too new than too rehearsed.” Of course, that can be performer-speak for, “I want to go home.” For an example of being disingenuous in this arena, let’s turn to Kelsey Grammer.

Television’s Dr. Frasier Crane, M.D. & Ph.D.? Yes, that one; but specifically the Kelsey Grammer of Frasier‘s tenure, not that of CheersBoss, etc. (And I’m only discussing him as a performer. He’s another in a long line of artists whose work must be assessed separately from their personal lives.) While he’s not a musical figure – at least not as much as Dr. Crane – he’s a performer and offers a particularly illuminating example that translates well to musical rehearsal and attitudes.

Frasier is one of my all-time favorite shows. (If you’re curious, it’s behind Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Ally McBeal, and alongside John From Cincinnati and Fringe.) I’ve long been a fan, having watched the original run after Cheers. This isn’t a post to champion the show, but suffice it to say that it’s funny and features a strong cast. And, for the classical music-inclined, particularly in opera, the various references and allusions are quite entertaining. The characters portrayed by Grammer and David Hyde Pierce, and the relationship between to the two, are one of the program’s crown jewels.

As I’m wont to do when interested in a show or movie, I’ve spent more than my fair share of time in the past reading about the actors behind the characters, especially concerning their other credits, training (if applicable), and performance methods/quirks. I’ve long been fascinated with Grammer’s seemingly unique – in the truest sense of the word – acting method: “requisite disrespect.” He’s discussed it in some interviews (here and here), notably during Frasier‘s run, and in an autobiography. In his own words, “If you know what your lines are and you’re over-rehearsed, you’re not thinking anymore; you’re an automaton…So, I do myself a favor. I raise the stakes by making it real borderline that I know that I’m going to say. So, there’s a slightly wildeyed kind of energy when we tape [an episode].”

My initial reaction when I first read that was “Wow.” For me, it put a number of my favorite scenes and deliveries in an entirely new perspective. And for the most part I was quite impressed. However, moving on to a more objective assessment, I then realized the extent that which that really freed up his schedule. (This is rightly mentioned in the LA Times article.) While the rest of the cast and crew slogs through each week of finalizing, blocking, and rehearsing a new episode, Grammer need only appear on the night of the taping, “learning” each scene’s lines right before filming. On the one hand, it must’ve sucked to have been a guest star or co-star. On the other, more power to him. He acted well and managed to earn an eight-figure salary without rehearsing. While his co-stars somewhat endorse his methodology by talking about the on-set excitement and amazement, it’s worth noting that many of the co-stars seem to have close off-screen relationships with one another that often don’t include Grammer.

So why am I going on and on about this? Well, for starters, it’s my blog and I love Frasier. More importantly, though, the fact that Grammer burns calories actively describing his “method” of requisite disrespect is rather impressive in a sense. Instead of avoiding the topic, fibbing about rehearsing more, or just saying that he’s the star and doesn’t need to rehearse, he instead opts to label and therefore legitimize his tactics. And yet, if you’re to find another star that subscribes to the same approach using the same jargon, good luck. He’s the only one, so far as I can tell. What’s more, his methodology’s glory days coincided perfectly with his starring in his own television show, dominating prime time television for years. He doesn’t seem to reference using it when playing the same character on Cheers. And I don’t think he did it for Boss (another convincing portrayal, if I may say so). In fact, in a 2009 interview on the Adam Carolla Podcast, Dave Koechner glowingly described Grammer’s professionalism and preparedness when shooting a TV pilot (one that would’ve ostensibly put Grammer back on the map after Frasier‘s end). Curious, eh? Look, I’m a fan and I’ll watch anything he’s in, but a little less hot air is welcome.