Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Happy Day

Sixty years ago, my parents got married. Last night, Barb, Steve, Max, Nathaniel and I shared a dinner with them. This morning, they went to Grandparents' Day at Nathaniel's school (Crossroads College Prep) and, among other things, heard him playing bass in the band. Tonight we will be snug in our home together.

Happy anniversary, Mom & Dad!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Greatest Generation

If you read my blog, thanks. I'm guessing there's a decent number of you that read my sister's blog, too (Notes from the W.G., see sidebar for link.) And some may even remember my son's short-lived blog from late 2007, which was better than either my sister's blog or mine.

But my ma would be the greatest blogger of the family. A natural. She forwarded this by email, which was sent to them by one of my Dad's old army buddies, about Thanksgiving in France during the big one. Enjoy.

* * *

This is from Dad's friend (B.O.) in the 99th and describes their Thanksgiving just a week or so after Dad left for the hospital with his frozen feet. They were a bunch of miserable kids - 18-22 years old. Hard to imagine, isn't it?

"Sixty-four years ago, in First Army defensive positions in Belgium facing the Siegfried Line, we took turns from our foxholes to go back to our kitchen area for Thanksgiving dinner. We'd been hearing that all the companies along the line would be having roast turkey with all the trimmings. It was cold and raining, and as we passed down the chow line and held our mess kits out for our turkey dinner, the cooks lobbed in mashed potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce and boiled turkey, plus pudding--all piled together in the mess kit. We had to eat standing under the fir trees of the Ardennes Forest with rain dripping from our helmets into our already-mixed-up meal. Our cooks had never been known to get any awards for their culinary prowess, but that was inexcusable! This occasion could not be considered a great Thanksgiving, but it was certainly unforgettable!And we could still be thankful for life...so.....

Let us give thanks."

Indeed, B.O. Thanks a million.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Scene: One Year Anniversary

Ok, it's not been quite one year since I started writing this blog, but nearly so. But just this week my good friend Kevin Flanigan emailed a link he stumbled on that he shared with his brothers Tommy and Sean [Kevin, Sean and Tom--my own personal Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard] and me: http://www.naturestable.net/. It is not a fancy website, but that's Nature's Table for you. It was a "real" place--real music and real food (although not the "real America" Ms. Palin spoke of--in fact, just the opposite!). I frankly cannot imagine my four years at Illinois without that place. I guess I didn't realize that it had only opened in 1979. To me, it seemed like a place that must have been part of the U of I music scene since the '50s or '60s (not that I thought that much about it at the time). And I'm a firm believer that the school is much poorer for not having it there still (sadly, it closed in 1991, a victim of university expansion).

But it was a scene. I never played there. My jazz chops were just not good enough at the time. But I was an devoted fan. The memory of that session with Ray's Condition Blue, featuring pianist Mike Kocour ("he's a math major? You've gotta be kidding me!") and the great Jeff Stitely on drums remains vivid (see my post of on Kocour from November 2007). I've copied some pictures from the website that include those guys, just as I remember them. (Hey, I didn't recall the flannel so much, but I guess it was "in, man, very in.") The list of daily gigs at the Table that is at the website is fascinating. I can still go down that list and tell you, with a fair amount of certainty, which gigs I was at (I mean, is it weird or what that I remember going to a Friday happy hour of hot music featuring Tom Birkner on cornet and vocals?)

In a strange three degrees of separation, Stitely was a neighbor and friend to Matt Farmer. Matt went to high school with my friend Neal Connors. Not only did I meet Matt by playing gigs with him and Neal up in Chicago but we've become very good friends. And where did I meet first meet Neal? While playing in Jeff Stitely's big band at U of I, naturally!

Little things can fundamentally alter the course of one's life, can't they? One big one was my introduction to this wonderful U of I jazz scene in the summer of 1981, between my junior and senior years of high school, going to the two week Illinois Summer Youth Music program (ISYM). I also went to Indiana that year and did a band and orchestra camp. Because of that, I elected to go to the jazz program at Illinois. There I met Tom Birkner, heard and played in a big band with the even-then-amazing Kevin Kizer (a kid my age, already playing in the #1 jazz band at Illinois), experienced John Garvey (Garv), encountered Tom Wirtel (then Shabda Nur), heard the likes of Brad Wheeler, Ron Dewar, Joel Spencer and others I can't remember right now, and of course, met the Kev-ster himself. Two young trumpet playing kids--one from just south of Chicago and the other from smack dab in the middle of nowhere-- but who had a lot in common. One of the most important of which was a love of music and playing which I think has shaped the people we became, even if we were not the next Dave Bilger or Wynton Marsalis.

What a scene.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

On the Edge of Being on the Edge

What does it mean to live life "on the edge"? Sometimes, when feeling particularly smug, I think that I do. But I know deep down I don't, really, compared to many.

But I had a self-congratulatory moment like that while on vacation in Turkey. (Hey, isn't being on vacation in Turkey in itself on the edge? I guess not for the 75 million Turks of the world.)

On the second night of our recent sojourn, I found myself with a small opportunity. I knew we'd be doing things "as a group" for most of the trip (not on the edge!). Which was going to be fine. But if I was going to do anything on my own, off the beaten track, I could sense, "this was it." So I asked our guide, Ozlam, about the jazz club in Istanbul that had been recommended to me by a friend of an acquaintance. She said she'd help me get there.

Maybe it's the way I look. (Someone once remarked, hearing me play in a club, "Hey, you sound great--but you look like a lawyer playing the trumpet.") Ozlam looked up the address on the map. She went over it with me carefully. She wrote down her cellphone number and made me tuck it in my wallet ("Please, please, call me if anything happens!"). Oh, and about that wallet--take out all your credit cards, she advised. Not getting the warm and fuzzies.

So about 10:00 p.m. (after the evening group meal) she loaded me into a cab and gave the cab driver the proper coordinates (in Turkish, naturally). And off I went, into the night in Istanbul with no hope of communicating with my driver.

Over the bridge and water to the north part of Istanbul. Feeling a little nervous. Ozlam had told me it was at the base of a tower. Unfortunately, not knowing Turkish, I didn't realize she had only told the cabbie to take me to the base of that tower--no club name, no precise address, let alone even the right street. I couldn't communicate well enough to make him understand my precise destination. So I paid the fare and got out. I did not see the club, so I fished around in my wallet for the address--unfortunately, I had removed the small slip of paper with the address when I took out my credit cards. (At least I still had Ozlam's number--Whew!) Asked for directions. "Up there and to the left." Those directions were meaningless, as the street layout was Byzantine. Literally.

Edgier still. Should I just pack it in and go back to our hotel? I've made a good faith effort here--who would know? Giving up would make a funny little story in and of itself. But when am I going to be in Istanbul again? So I snaked down and about (after a couple of false starts, a couple more questions of patient waiters at a couple of restaurants) and eventually made it to the club. A guitar duo playing classic jazz. (And a cover charge that would have made the owners of the Blue Note in New York blush.)

"Do you have reservations?" they asked. "No," I replied. I looked around - the place was maybe a third full, on a weeknight. Reservations--are they crazy?!?!

So I settled into my seat, taking in the amazing little scene:
A perfect, small club, with brick walls, a small bar, small round tables and a little stage with a piano and drum set, unused that night (but well worn, otherwise). The smell of clove cigarettes in the air (John Garvey, anyone? "BE QUIET!" Garv would have implored). Wonderful musicians from Europe playing wonderful American art music at the crossroads of Asia, Europe and the Middle East. I emailed my friend Matt Farmer in Illinois (coverage in Turkey was amazing), who immediately replied I should request Steely Dan's "The Fez". And guess what--in the half hour since I arrived, the place had become cram-packed --a mostly young (but all vibrant, happy, and happening) group. Reservations indeed!

A couple of over-priced beers later, the place was buzzing with energy (but quiet--it's all about the music--but they're into it, man). The group swung into "Some Day My Prince Will Come," and I thought of my man, Miles. I looked up by the entrance to the door, and saw the sheet music for the tune that is the club's namesake: "Nardis" Then in little letters, its composer (well, at least by attribution): Miles Davis.

In Istanbul.

Listening to a tune Miles made famous.

At a club named after a Miles tune.

Miles, who plays the trumpet. And who grew up in Alton, Illinois, a stone's throw from where I live now.

On the edge. And right at home.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Go Green for Christmas

What are the traditional Christmas colors? Red and green, naturally. Why not emphasize the latter and buy Tim Green's new Christmas recording, Change of Seasons? Click right here and get on the bandwagon: http://www.timgreenjazz.com/recordings.php. Tim's website has been on my blog sidebar from the get-go. If you don't have his other recordings, you can rectify that situation, effective immediately.

Tim is playing bass with Trio Cambia (or, as I call them, Gang Green) on this recording. [Hey, doesn't "cambia" translate roughly to "change" in Italian? Works on multiple levels--Change is coming to the White House. Tim is a master of playing the changes. And his recording is available for mere change.]

I have never known someone who has mastered two instruments as an adult, at whatever level--forget about at a professional gigging level. But Tim has. And it's mighty tasty playing.

Do you want to support the environment? Time to go Green!

Worried about the financial crisis? Help the new Treasury Secretary and put some more Green in your life!

Want to make your friends green with envy? Make them envious of your new Green!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Our Moon Shot

I'm not much into czars. Really, I'm not. Whether it's the "Drug Czar", an "AIDS Czar" or a "Katrina Czar", this somehow seems a uniquely American (shall I say, Bush-ian) knee-jerk response to any serious problem (see http://www.humorgazette.com/bush_czar.htm or http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?article=wish_upon_a_czar). Well, that and declaring "war" on something, like a tactic (terrorism) or a seemingly intractable societal problem (poverty or drugs).

But here's something that's been cooking in my brain since this summer: Obama needs do the Kennedy thing and set an aggressive goal that we are going to achieve energy independence and create a new green technology base in America in a ridiculously short period of time (8 or 10 years). Then, appoint Arnold his "Energy Czar." And turn him loose. Let him go. Give him real power. Don't muzzle him (could you anyway?). Like Biden, let him rip. Allow him to "terminate" his way to energy independence and environmental sanity. We'll clean China's clocks on this new green technology, Tom Friedman-style.

I know Arnold has an "R" by his name when they identify him as the California governor. But let's get real: the Governator is a Democrat. He's married to a Kennedy, for crying out loud. Plus if you listen to him, he generally says the right things. OK, he supported McCain. But that just shows he's a politician, and a pretty smart one. (Look at Joe Lieberman. Joe's a Republican, I'm sorry to say. He should either quit (or get kicked out of) the Democratic party, OR have backed the Democratic candidate. One or the other. Stupid politics. As Sarah Palin would say, say it ain't so, Joe!)

Arnold got my juices flowing when I heard him on George Stephanapolous's Sunday morning gab-fest this summer. It just makes so much sense: (1) Arnold is right on this issue. (2) Arnold's done what he needs to do making money and politically (perfect that he can't be president--he can't have much higher executive ambitions now--he's been the governor of a state that is bigger and more powerful than most countries). (3) Obama gets credit for "reaching across party lines"--big time. This guy's a Republican superstar (notwithstanding he's really a Democrat).

And finally, and most important and urgent of all (4) The country desperately needs this to happen, immediately, and with the right policy.

Check this out. As Peggy Noonan might say: Savor. http://steveadamsstudio.blogspot.com/2008/11/ripped-off-of-salon.html

Friday, November 7, 2008

Back Again

I guess blogging is like exercising--you either get into the habit or out of it. Not having posted for two weeks in Turkey, I came back to having my Internet down at home. It took me a few days to realize it was going to take more than unplugging and replugging in my modem, and that combined with jet lag put me out of the humor to blog. Not to mention having to be glued to the election coverage.

Well, I will try to do some posting, and hopefully people will "check back in" to the blog. Talk to you soon!