Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Current playlist, or, Virgin should shut down all the time...

For those three who care, here is my, very new, current listening. It´s informed primarily by the fact that the Virgin Records in South Miami is closing with a half off sale, which is to say, it´s now vaguely affordable to us mere mortals. So, I went down and picked through what was left on Monday. (Had I made it two weeks ago, who knows how much better I´d have done.)

Gerry Mulligan Quartet at Storyville, 1963(w/Brookmeyer)
Dutilleux- Symphonic Works Volume 1
Cassandra Wilson- Thunderbird
Dave Douglas- Keystone (actually, I´m still stuck on the DVD)
Al Green- I'm Still in Love with You
D'Angelo Live at the Jazz Cafe
Bob Brookmeyer- Spirit Music

I will blog on Spirit Music in detail later. Anyone interested in the others shoot me a line.

full boat pose

One of the most rewarding things I do out here on Cruise Ship X is teach yoga classes for the crew. I started on the last Cruise Ship X, for the simple reason that people would get curious and ask me about it, or say they were interested, and I was the only one who was there to do it. Now, I´m teaching more often (and frankly, better), and I have a small but consistent band of regular students. Which also makes teaching easier.

Now, I don´t pretend to be a great teacher. While my experience as a student is substantial, I have no formal training, relying mostly on what I´ve been taught, my experience as a music teacher (on some level, I find that teaching is teaching, regardless of the subject), some books and a lot of advise from teachers I admire. That said, I think I`m improving, and the classes are showing it.

Classes here are just a little different from at home, though. For one, half of my typical class´ first language isn´t English, something I didn´t quite anticipate. A lot of senior teachers say that you shouldn´t demonstrate poses- you aren´t able to focus as fully on the needs of the class, and it´s too much monkey see- monkey do for the students- and I think I agree, but so far Í haven´t seen another option. For another, the reaction from students is quite different. A lot of my students are Eastern European, and they keep telling me what we do resembles the gymnasium classes they took as kids. (Not surprisingly, they tend to be in better shape than their American counterparts, even the ones who work out).

One thing that does carry over internationally, though, is body image issues. (On my last ship, another odd turn, my classes were 80% male. Here it´s more typical of a yoga class- 60-90% female). Having grown up without sisters, and having dated women who (in front of me, at least), were very secure about how they looked, I´ve been rather shielded from the body anxiety that afflicts many women. Or, I´ve practiced my invinsible ignorance.

There´s a good piece in the latest Yoga Journal on this topic, which I´ll like to when it goes online. It starts with a recent survey done by Dove, the love-your-body soap company, that says that 73% of women surveyed said they were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their appearance. My classes seem to bear this out- if I tell people to put their feet in the air, I hear someone muttering about how ugly their toes are, people who resist when I say to widen your sitbones (read, make your butt bigger) in a pose. I guess I´m not surprised, but sad nonetheless.

Finally, teaching gives me even more regard for good yoga teachers. Because yoga is more than a set of movements, I think it´s important to put heart and (dare I say it) spirituality front and center in a class. Otherwise it´s just slightly bendier aerobics At the same time, you have to lead people with very different bodies through the same postures, in a way that makes sense and brings benefits to all of them. I do, I will continue to sturggle to join the two. (My current M.O. is when in doubt, focus on the body.) And I´m excited to get home and see my teachers again.

Monday, May 22, 2006

looking in

I am meeting David Rypshien, curator of the thoughtful Settled in Shipping blog, for lunch today to trade notes about our cruise ship Xs. He is on the ship that started this blog in the first place, so I'm interested to see how things are back there. I can almost guarantee that the shows, the food, and the comedians haven't improved any. Of course, I'll report back with anything interesting.

EDIT: Had a very pleasant lunch, but nothing explosive, I´m afraid. We talked a lot about the preeminent importance of the drummer in any groove-based (in the broadest sense of the word) ensemble, a place where his cruise band is sorely lacking at the moment. And he hipped me to a store in Miami that has a huge selection of CDs and DVDs of Cuban and Brazilian art-pop. Anyone who cares e-mail me.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Whine, women and song (not necessarily in that order)

It's too nice a day here in Miami, sunny but not oppresively hot, to sit here and blog for too long, so a few odds'n'ends.

My friend and occasional duo partner Camille Jentgen now has a Myspace page for her music. The sound clips make me want to hear more...

Boston composer (and jazz wife) Julia Werntz blogs about the decrepit Boston jazz scene. I concur wholeheartedly with her analysis. There is no obvious solution- the direction of the culture in general, combined of high rents all over the city, the general lack of available space that gives Boston its quaint charm, and Boston's function as a launching pad to New York, don't show any signs of changing soon.

However, I think more innovative thinking is needed rather than simple bitching. In the last ten years Boston has seen an explosion of interesting, and somewhat improbable, new organizations on the classical music scene, from the fantastic BMOP to the early music group Vox Consort, to name two. Why couldn't this model work for us? (There is the Boston Jazz Collective, of which I'm a member. but suffice to say I don't think this is their model.) Maybe when I'm home, and not so in debt, I'll take this up further...

Finally, closer to my current home, the big buzz on Cruise Ship X this week was the UEFA Champions (Futbol aka Soccer) League Final, with Barcelona defeating Arsenal 2-1 on a late explosion of fantastic passing (by Barcelona) and terrible goalkeeping (by Arsenal). I'm not a big soccer fan, but I don't hate it either, and Nick Hornby sort of made me a passive Arsenal fan, so I watched. (Maybe too it's that Arsenal is often playing Red Sox to Man U's Yankees, complete with the Stienbrenner connection.) This was a very entertaining match, with lots of wide open play and scoring opportunities for both sides. One thing that sticks out to this gringo, however- man do those guys bitch at the refs. The whiniest American athelete would be the picture of restraint on a soccer field.

Current listening- Bobby Previte, Weather Clear Track Fast I've played a little of Bobby's music, and like it. He has a fascinating idea of the role of the composer in ensemble music, where the musician shapes the piece as the piece shapes the improvisation. I think this, and the slightly more obscure Hue and Cry, are the best examples.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Boom Boom

Nice to see the great Bob Brookmeyer get some due from the New York Times on Friday, with his new album Spirit Music on its way. Darcy has the details and some cogent analysis here, (since the Times is making you pay for it at this point). Prodded by the article, I went back to a compilation of the Gerry Mulligan Big Band that Verve put together. (The only one I know of in print- help me here?) Brookmeyer was the self described "straw boss" of the outfit, and many of the arrangements are his.

Conceptually, it's a remarkable unit; in many of the arrangements Gerry and Bob basically take the modus operandi of Gerry's pianoless quartet, and blow it up with fifteen-plus guys. The band is big and powerful, yet tremendously fleet of foot- witness the blues shout "Blueport" for a great example. Bob in the article talks about how much Basie rocked his world, and echoes of the Basie band- the riffy backgrounds, ten bars of quiet followed by a brass stomach-punch- abound here. The album is also notable for the inclusion of George Russell's masterpiece "All About Rosie". I still remember the first time I heard that chart- it absolutely blew my mind. It ranks (along with Brookmeyer's "Hello and Goodbye" and Ellington's "Such Sweet Thunder") as the chart that kickstarted my decision to write for big bands. (It also led to a tremendously frustrating classroom experience with George at NEC, but that's another story...)

There's a reason beyond boredom for my sudden re-interest in all of this big band stuff, and it's not just Bob's new album. Towards the end of my two years studying with Bob, we talked a lot about what came next, as my writing had seemed to improve dramatically in my time with him, and he wanted me to keep going. He had been talking for a while about an "expirimental" 13 piece group, a little more flexible and slightly more feasible than the 20 piece band I'd been writing for. In the fall, I'm finally planning to getting around to the project, so right now I'm thinking very hard about what I want it to be. Now, just to put pen to paper every day, that's the hard part. More as this develops, hopefully.

Friday, May 12, 2006

And they don't even hand out pins...

When I was ten or eleven, BC High, the high school my dad has taught at for forty years (!!) and my alma mater, was part of a summer high school exchange with students from still-Soviet Russia, For a couple of nights, we hosted two of the adults from the exchange, which consisted of about 20 or so kids and four or five adults. I don't remember much about the trip- I was only around for the first evening's reception, having basketball camp or something equally vital the next day. I rember there were girls- I had just discovered girls, so any girls, especially foreign ones, were of immediate interest.

Two things do stand out in my head. One was all of the little pins they gave us as gifts- little plastic pins of Lenin's head, the hammer and sickle, etc. Even during Glastnost, this seemed a little subversive, and maybe they were more fun for that reason. Second, one of the women we hosted was a math teacher or something, and the other, whose English was substantially better than any of the others, was never really clear about why she had come along, and none of the Russians explanied. The American adults just figured she was KGB. Big Brother personified.

I remembered this story yesterday after seeing the reports about the NSA's secret database. I'm too jaded to be surprised, but am certainly still outraged. Its not very far from here to there, and not nearly as far as we think. If this, combined with the news that Congress just extended tax cuts for the richest today, doesn't mobilize us coddled minions to action, I don't know what will.

EDIT: cogent discussion of if Wubba represents facism- good starting point is here.

Monday, May 08, 2006

other bits...

A few odds'n'ends today:

I just finished Stephanie Crease's biography of Gil Evans, Out of the Cool, and I highly recommend it. She is clearly very knowledgeable about the music, including on a technical level, but she doesn't resort to the blow-by-blow descriptions of tunes that slow down many jazz biographies. (Collier's Ellington jumps to mind) Great interviews, great insights, just a good read. Makes me go back and listen to much more of Gil, especially the stuff post-1965, where I pretty much plead ignorance. (I have one album from the 80's, which the book says is one of the poorest. On the first listen- I was 17, I think- I couldn't get the bird whistles and the moog.)

I'm told that fellow blogger David Ryshpien is spending his summer on my original Cruise Ship X, which meets us once a fortnight. I hope he blogs about it, and that we can trade notes.

Belatedly, egged on by the lefty blogosphere, I watched Stephen Colbert's painfully funny skewering of all assembled at the White House Press Corps' dinner. (Warning- it's a Salon link, so there's an ad involved) It's been hashed over a lot at this point- I like this one best, written by a comic. For myself, I thought is was tremendously funny, but I ultimately wonder if it is all that useful. Maybe it's useful to tell the emporer he has no clothes, but we're well beyond that point with Wubba. Maybe it will drag the White House press corps off its ass, but I doubt that too. (I went to high school across the street from the offices of the Boston Globe, and I think we got more coverage than any school of our size in Boston. Not because we're that good- though I think we are- but because yes, reporters on the whole are that lazy.)

It's clear to me, and I hope to everyone- by now that wit is lost on Wubba and his cronies. They are so virulently anti-intellectual (that's too "reality based") that wit, or any other flexing of mental muscle- is pretty well lost on them. Part of me thinks that Bush kind of knew he was being insulted, but otherwise missed teh joke completely. Hence, the position we're in. The only language they understand is power. (Witness the immigration marches- both sides know that thousands of people in that crowd can, and will vote, hence you see motion on both sides) We on the left had better find any power we can get our hands on- political, social, intellectual, moral- and ride it to change this November. Then, just maybe, we'll see some movement, instead of being left to criticize the emporer's wardrobe.

Current listening- Glenn Gould's "Well Tempered Clavier"

Friday, May 05, 2006

snap. crackle. POP

My listening this past week has been dominated by two aforementioned trumpet-tenor fronted discs,

Dave Douglas- Meaning and Mystery (Donnie McCaslin- tenor)
Kenny Wheeler- What Now? (Chris Potter- tenor)

I like both records; the Wheeler disc immensely, the Douglas album quite a bit. The playing on both is phenomenal, in different ways- the Douglas band has built a knowledgable, organic interplay among the members fitting a touring band of its calibur, and the Wheeler session sounds like what it is- four friends, but not bandmates, getting together and laying it all out on several of Wheeler's brilliant tunes. Casual elegance.

But what jumps out at me on both recordings is the tenor players, the way they play the notes. I remember how Brookmeyer, in lessons, used to complain about the "robotenor" phenomenon- every tenor player he hear all over the country had a predictable, post-Coltrane language, always energetic, rarely original. I don't entirely agree, but I know where he (and others) are coming from- Coltrane, and to some extent Sonny Rollins and Joe Henderson, cast a shadow so huge that only thirty years later is the tenor starting to emerge. (With apologies, I'm leaving the Evan Parker/European art scene approach out, only since its so far outside the mainstream, not because it's not relevant) However, one reason that I don't hear mentioned is that tenor players not only got tied up in Trane's harmonic language, they got caught up in his delivery. They imitated, I reckon unconsiouly, the way Trane (or Joe, or Getz, Sonny not so much) played his phrases, and distilled it to a formula almost as paralyzing as Giant Steps can be.

And hearing Chris and Donnie points out one way out they are keenly aware that there's more than one way to articulate the swing eight note. Their phrases pop, crackle and bubble over for a phrase, then roll like molasses in the next. Music is in some way rhetoric, and these two (actually, all the players here) are master speachmakers.

I will walk on South Beach...

Greetings from South Beach, where the sea and sand are beautiful and natural, and everything else, you'll have to judge for yourself. I try to get over here once a month or so on port days- it's about a 20 minute bus ride from downtown. It has a lot of things you can't find downtown, including the only health food store in Miami, the predominantly Art Deco architechture is a trip. (I walked by a pastel yellow and pink synagogue on a side street today.) And the shore is beautiful, even if it's overrun by huge hotels, tourists and topless bathers. (The only public beach I know of on the east coast that allows it. I remember the first time I came over here, only barely aware of this fact. I walked down the beach to the water, I ran across- literally- two women sunbathing. Their faces said they were in their forties, their bosoms said that they were 23. I felt duly welcomed. And I've found that they are the norm, not the exception.) Never before have I been to a place that so goes out of its way to live up to the stereotype.

On another note, taking public transit anywhere in Miami brings you face to face with one of the bitter undercurrents of the current debate about citizenship in this country, the issue of language. Miami is the first place I've ever lived where it's easier to function without English than it is to function without Spanish. On the buses, in the supermarket, at McDonalds Spanish is the first language, and people give you that initial double take when you don't speak Spanish that I'm sure Mexican immigrants get in Boston. And this is not the normal, first-generation stuff that accompanies every immigrant story in America- it's not uncommon to run across second and third generation Americans who can't, or won't (I'm really not sure) speak English. I was listening to a friend talk about her fiancee, who works in tech support for a big multinational company in Miami, who's official language is English. Just about every interaction with two of his colleagues is a battle, because they ask all the questions in Spanish, and he won't answer in Spanish. It's a little turf war, one I fear is common here.

I don't pretend to have a solution. I remember the last time the national language debate came up, as a dutiful liberal I opposed having an official language for the US, and I still do. But living in Miami makes me aware of the balkanization that can happen without language as a unifying factor, and it makes me uneasy about its impact- without common language, dialogue of any kind becomes impossible. One of my goals for this contract is to learn to function, at least basically, in Spanish. But I think the relative merits of a bilingual culture, especially in the context of the current immigration debate, is a subject that deserves far more conversation.

Monday, May 01, 2006


Walking down the street in Nassau this morning, I ran across a brass band, from some benevolent group or another. There wasn’t a parade, just this one band headed to the capital building, I assume. The band was probably a dozen or fifteen brass, and almost as many drummers playing something that sounded strangely like Dolly Parton’s “Island in the Stream”. At least I think it did- the brass were, well, poor, typical Shriners stuff. But the drums, my God; a street beat there is a symphony. There’s all sorts of subtle things going on, cross-rhythms, inflections, etc., and at the same time they’re just kids walking down the street. You’re body, even this skinny little white boy’s body has to move when you hear it- you can’t help it.