Sunday, October 24, 2010

A "Life Changing Experience"

About 10 days ago, Nathaniel had a couple of days off from school, around the Columbus Day holiday. A lot of his weekend was spent hanging with his friends. On Thursday night, with no school the next day either, he called to say he and his friends, Pete and Nick, were going to a place near Pete's, together with Pete's folks, to hear some music and did I want to come along?

The draw was this: apparently, they thought my good buddy and jazz guitarist extraordinaire, John Farrar, was playing, and that there was a chance his kid brother Jay was going to show. For those of you not in the know (as I wasn't when I first started playing with John many years ago now), John's brother Jay was in Uncle Tupelo with Jeff Tweedy, and then that band broke up and Jay and Jeff went their separate ways, Jeff forming Wilco and Jay forming Son Volt, both of which bands have had enormous commercial success. Uncle Tupelo is widely credited with creating the "alternative country" genre, and although Wilco may be more generally well-known, Son Volt has a raft of absolutely dedicated fans. They record and tour frequently and have been on Letterman, Austin City Limits and so on and so on. They're big time. And Pete's family in particular are dedicated Son Volt fans, and my son is not far behind.

So I naturally accepted the invitation. Nathaniel tells me to meet at Pete's, as it's walking distance from there. I know Pete's neighborhood, and I don't remember a lot of clubs around there. Then Nathaniel texts me that it's BYOB - and the Holohan family will hook the boys up with sodas, etc., but I might want to chuck a few beers along. And there "might be" food. Curiouser and curiouser.

When I show up to Pete's, I ask his dad Michael what's the deal with this place. He seems mildly surprised I don't know about Joe's Cafe, and says to me slyly, "Well, this is going to be a life changing experience." He wasn't kidding - or far off (or should I say "Farrar off" - sorry couldn't resist).

We walk around the corner (literally) to Joe's Cafe, and Michael is giving me the scoop. Joe's is a private club run by Bill Christman. Bill is a local artist who's had this place going for a number of years. It had in previous iterations been open to the general public, but because of

its proximity to Washington University, it morphed into more of a college hang than Bill really desired. So he shut it down, then reopened it as a private club, open only to members and their guests. Bill kind of has to know you, and who you're bringing. I think Michael even went by earlier in the day to give Bill the heads up that he was bringing three 15/16 year old boys, including his son, as a way to specially vouch for them (they are cool, if I do say so myself).

Around the corner the group encounters Bill, sitting outside the club, with a sign that says "Members - $5, Guests of Members - $10."  The boys are introduced and given the all-clear. I also pass the screening process (not a foregone conclusion, mind you, but Michael said I was a good musician - I think that helped). Michael had been explaining that this place also served as a studio for Bill's eclectic art. Bill designed Beatnik Bob's Museum of Mirth, Mystery and Mayhem at the City Museum in St. Louis. And this place is like walking in to the City Museum, except imagine it in a much smaller space, but the same amount of stuff, and everything crammed together. Everywhere you look there is something really cool. The stage is like a vaudeville stage. Neon lights glow everywhere. We nestle down to great seats, and Michael shows me around. Outside, in the side yard, there is more stuff than you can possibly imagine. Think of going to Gringo Jones near the Botanical Garden, mixed with the City Museum, and a bar with a vaudeville stage. For those who grew up in Southern Illinois, remember old "Big John" in front of the grocery store, towering 30 feet in the air? Well, I found him - he's buried up to his waist in

Bill Christman's side yard, still holding his grocery sacks, but with other stuff all around his big ol' muscular arms. Don't worry - he looks very very happy to be there (at least, he still has that same big grin). Behind him there's an old elevated train car, up on tracks. It just goes on and on. Oh, and did I mention some folks were set up outside cooking up the most delicious BBQ - not part of the club, but clearly "friends of Bill" and the community - $5 or so bought a meal that was pure heaven!

So when we go back in, Michael tells Pete he should give the guys the tour, and I say yes, you've got to see this place. Nathaniel looks up and says he's been before. Michael and I are incredulous that he could have failed to mention it to me, and he says, in absolute earnestness and seriousness, "Why? It's just a place with a bunch of stuff in it." The line of the night - and pure Nathaniel, for those who know him.

So the band filters in. It turns out John is not playing at all, but it is a country group called Colonel Ford. Jay is not the main feature, but just "one of the guys: in the band, playing pedal steel guitar. (Not to worry - there was no shortage of Farrar's - Dade Farrar plays stand up "slap" bass with Colonel Ford, and is a great singer in his own right.) Colonel Ford plays country - and I mean country, complete with fiddle player Justin Brannun who had just won the Grand Masters Fiddle Contest in Nashville earlier in the month. They were playing George Jones, Buck Owens, the whole nine yards. They describe themselves as playing in the "Hillbilly" genre on their Facebook page. I didn't even know that was a genre - I guess that's what you'd call pre-Rockabilly as I think about it. Anyway, everyone had a gas, especially the boys (interesting, as this is not "their" kind of music - but they like good stuff no matter what it is).

Here's a Youtube link to a performance at Joe's Cafe by Colonel Ford earlier this year - I can tell you this video does not do justice to the visual and audio experience of hearing these guys in this venue. You can't help but smile when you're there....

Or, as Nathaniel succinctly put it on Facebook:

"Colonel Ford + Jay Farrar = Fantastic"

Indeed, a man of fewer words than his father. But he says it all.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

So What?

So you met some more jazz musicians? So what?

I'll tell you what's what - they are not just any jazz musicians. If you could name two living jazz composers, who would they be? Chances are, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter would come to mind. Kurt Elling once called Wayne Shorter one of the three greatest jazz composers ever. Not sure who the other two were, but might be Herbie and the great Duke Ellington.

What gives? My firm had purchased a table at the annual St. Louis Symphony gala. Renee Fleming was the feature solo performer. I had gotten advance word that "La Diva" was living up to the title and bringing an entourage that included Mr. Hancock. He of the Miles Davis 1960s jazz quintet (maybe the best ever). He of an incredible collection of jazz compositional masterpieces still being played regularly today (Dolphin Dance, Maiden Voyage, Canteloupe Island, Watermelon Man, Chameleon). He of the crossover hit fame (remember "Rockit"?).

So at the event David Robertson was conducting and starts talking about Renee an Wayne Shorter, how they loved each other's music, etc. I had neglected to pick up a program and was just going with the flow. But it turns out La Diva was singing a world premier of a composition by Wayne Shorter written especially for her. And of course, Wayne was there too. Also a member of the same Miles Davis quintet (I'm batting .600 now, having heard Ron Carter (bass) from that quintet - alas, that batting average won't increase, as Mr. Davis and his wonderful drummer from that quintet, Tony Williams, are no longer with us). Wayne went on to do many other things (Weather Report, e.g.). And he had his own wonderful quintet, and wrote many jazz standards - I would say from a jazz
purists standpoint, more than Mr. Hancock (Footprints, anyone?). On the album where Mr. Elling names him as one of the three all time great composers, he then sings the classic Night Dreamer, then sings Wayne's sax solo, and then Lee Morgan's trumpet solo (Mr. Elling has some wicked skills himself).

Well, you just don't see Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter everyday, let alone together. The only thing that would have made it better is if they would have played with the after-party band. But they didn't. Oh well, so what, as Miles might say. Speaking of which, here is Miles, with the great quintet (Herbie, Wayne, Ron and Tony) doing "So What" on the Steve Allen show in the 1960s:

Monday, July 12, 2010

Radio Man

Driving home the other day and tuned in to hear what the Cardinals were doing on KTRS the other day. The Redbirds had played a day game that day (last game of a three-game set and getting out of town). John Marecek had thrown out a topic: "What's the best baseball player 'theme' song?" I wondered if anyone would call with my favorite. His favorite was Metallica's Enter Sandman for Yankee reliever Mariano Rivera. Wild Thing for Charlie Sheen's character was another notable, if fictional.

After the break, John came back and announced it was his worst topic idea ever. Only one person called in, and wouldn't go on the air ("Hell's Bells" for Trevor Hoffman was his offering, off the air apparently to John). He went on and on how he'd never drawn a big goose egg on his show.

So I ran in and googled the radio station's number, and they put me on the air. John was so happy to get any caller, but he loved my pick - he called me "the man", said I'd brought something to the table, reminded him of a theme he'd totally forgotten. He asked to stay on for a gift certificate that I'll probably never use.

What was the theme? The tune that ol' Ernie Hays used to crank out on the ballpark organ for Ken Oberkfell, the Card's third baseman throughout the '80s. Most of his RBI's seemed to come in contests where the Cards already had an 8 run lead. But he could field. We may have been slow back in the day, but it took a while to figure out why it was the Star Wars them - but it was for Obie, of course!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Gig from Heaven

I've had plenty of gigs from the other place (h-e-double toothpicks, as my brother used to say). But Saturday, June 26 was quite the other way.

I must say that I was not in the right frame of mind going in. Work had been difficult (not killer hours, but a stressful time). The gig had been "on the books" for a long time, which presents its own challenges (you think you have oodles of time, so you end up wasting it all). This particular weekend, it was one of four performances, with prior two weekends leading up being three-fers themselves.

So the gig in question was playing a concert in the series that the White County Historical Society had set up. I grew up in White County (Carmi, to be precise), and the local historical society had gotten a nice grant from the Smithsonian for a presentation on "Roots Music". They supplemented the museum presentation with concerts, and wanted me to do one on the history of blues and/or jazz, more or less. I had something of a free reign within that general directive to do what I wanted. A week or so before the concert I reviewed the write up I had done on what the program involved, and realized I had bitten off more than could reasonably be accomplished in a short evening:

"Program Description: We will trace the history of jazz and blues in the 20th century, giving an historical perspective of the music. That perspective will include the influences jazz and blues had on each other as distinct genres, the similarities and differences between jazz and the blues, and the influences of both on other popular music genres in the 20th century--most notably rock and roll, country, "soul" music and the big band/swing music of the 1940s.
We will also touch upon what makes jazz "jazz"? What kind of music do jazz musicians read? Do they in fact read music? How do they voice chords in a jazz style?"

Luckily, I saved myself by including a last line: "But mostly it will be about playing and listening to great music."

The bass player had unexpectedly canceled less than a week before the show. I lucked out and found a great replacement (not easy for a summer Saturday - it's wedding season!). When I sent around a tune list for the guys, David remarked I had enough for a three-day jazz festival. But I had not figured out exactly what we were doing by that time.

But I had been sorting it out in my head and had a decent idea. I drove to Carmi Saturday afternoon. I was exhausted when I arrived, so I took a nap, then about 4 p.m. jotted out the rough sketches of what we would play, in what order, and what I'd say in between. I'd made 50 copies of the program and the players' bios (John Farrar, guitar, Eric Marshall, piano, and David Certain, bass - no drummer because the acoustics of the First United Methodist Church would not have worked with that). I was wondering if I was wildly optimistic. I thought it a possibility 20 people might show - I would have been very happy with 50.

Nervous is not the right word to describe my feelings as I went down to the church. I didn't know who would show, I didn't know if the program would go over, I didn't know if I'd get tongue-tied. I thought people might just be polite after the concert (people in Carmi are not the types generally to say they didn't like something like that). I wondered if the musicians would be annoyed for having to drive 2+ hours from St. Louis to get to the gig. I didn't know if they'd show up five minutes before it started (or five after!).

But as I arrived at about 6:20 or 6:25, I was the last musician to arrive. Concert attendees had started to show. We got all set up, and I was miked up for talking. The wonderful grand piano dedicated to my grandfather Max had been rolled out prominently, with the lid up so it could be heard in all its glory. My max goal of 50 people had showed up by about 6:35 for the 7:00 show, and they were reproducing my program in the church office like mad for the anticipated crowd. The musicians went back to the church school area (like a giant "green room") and we just chilled out and talked before the show.

And we walked out at 7:00 p.m. sharp (you don't start late in Carmi!). The place was packed (137 they told me later - great crowd!). We smacked them with Back at the Chicken Shack, a Jimmy Smith blues. It was an hour and 20 minutes of jazz and blues, a little tutorial on some historical facts. We ended with the Chuck Mangione '70s classic Feels So Good, and I don't think the St. Louis guys were prepared for the reaction (neither was I, but they were completely flat-footed). They had no idea that was my "coming out" tune back in 1979 at my freshman year One Niter. Mike Croghan went nuts for it, as did everyone else. So much so, David looked at me and said "we need to do an encore" - so we demonstrated the I Got Rhythm changes using the Flintstone's theme. You get a sense for when people really like a show - and Carmi really really liked this show. And the musicians loved playing to this crowd who just ate it up, and could have sat there for another couple of hours, or so it seemed. And it was a real jazz program! Who knew?

Lots of great friends there too (Sarah (Lewis) Johnsoton, Scott Fechtig, and Jana Potorff, etc.) Wish Scott Wylie could've made it, but we hung out with him, Sarah, and the jazz musicians at the Yellow Tavern afterwards.

Anyway, it was exhilarating. My favorite concert in a long, long time. Thanks Marjorie, Gary, Mom and Dad, Croghan, Sarah, Scott, Jana (and Doug Hayes, for running the mike)! I'll remember this one for a long time.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Inner Game

Several friends who are colleagues at work were emailing over the weekend in a friendly chatter, and I had mentioned that we ought to send the son of a client who was recently drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies (good for him!) a copy of the Inner Game of Tennis. I had expressed mild surprise that one of my colleagues had not heard of it in an earlier conversation, and someone asked us how in the heck two guys who don't play tennis were talking about the Inner Game of Tennis.

The Inner Game of Tennis has long been something of a bible for performing musicians. I was first introduced to it in college (perhaps even earlier). It is literally a life-changing book, and is especially helpful in figuring out how the mind works, why we get nervous, and most importantly, how to deal with that nervousness, overcome it, and perform at your highest levels. Tim Gallwey wrote it and I believe he really thought at the time he was only writing about tennis - but it has spawned an industry. If you don't know about it, you need to check it out, even if you don't play tennis (or music).

As "proof" to my colleagues, I started to look up a reference to the book, The Inner Game of Music, that Barry Green wrote in collaboration with Gallwey. In looking for that I saw that there is (naturally) a website on the "inner game" generally (Gallwey's site, As evidence that application to music is not just an enhanced memory of mine from "old college days", I was interested to see that one of the main navigation points on the homepage of Gallwey's site is to its applications to music (IG Music). And there is a website devoted entirely to the Inner Game of Music,, run by Mr. Green. I am going to check out the websites (there is an interesting little video bite of Tim Gallwey on his site).

Using the Inner Game techniques got me through Juilliard (when my teacher reconstructed my embouchure from the ground up, not easy at 22 after 13 years of practicing and playing every day using a technique that was not going to get me where I needed to be). I still probably consciously think about one of the techniques on every single performance to this day.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Katie Bar the Door

Well, the Endicott household has just become the proud owner of a Ludwig five-piece drumkit, thanks to the fact that a friend's young son is moving to New York and trying to get rid of stuff and raise a bit of cash. He may be able to have a nice meal out, at NYC prices!

Now the drum set can be set up to be the "house" set for Nathaniel's band rehearsals, Voodoo Blues Band touch up rehearsals (yes, we have them occasionally), and for perhaps some impromptu jazz jam sessions.

Next step will be to get the basement in a bit better shape to accommodate the same!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Main Entrance or Service Entrance?

Weekend before last was a lot of fun. Friday night was a Voodoo Blues Band gig at the Jeff Ruby's Steakhouse at the new River City Casino in South St. Louis. We were there with our wonderful singer, Roland Johnson, who uses the Voodoo band for some of his gigs. (Roland also makes frequent use of some of the members of Kim Massie's band - really wonderful musicians.) Roland really works well with the band, and tailors his material to the Voodoo band's and his mutual strengths - the Otis Redding, James Brown and Al Green "soul" songbook, breaking out some old Otis tunes in particular that featured the Stax lineup of Booker T & the MG's plus the Memphis Horns.

It was a treat in particular because "the boss" showed up - Cincinnati Restauranteur Jeff Ruby was at the bar checking out his newest spot: Mr. Ruby thought the music was a bit loud for his taste, but a few cocktails later he was up on the bandstand with us, and by darn he knew some of tunes cold - not half bad on Knock on Wood!

The next night was the Siteman Cancer Illumination Gala. It was a fun evening with a good table - everyone knew each other and was happy to hang out. It was also fun to see the high-end auction and the special host - basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He is of course amazingly tall (7'2"), but his hands were so big and his fingers so long - imagining how he used to grip that basketball like most of us grip a softball. He was an excellent host, and it was fun to think about the fact that he is the NBA's all-time leading scorer. That's a pretty amazing feat. Like all records, it will fall some day, but to think of how many great players who have come before and since, and he outscored them all.

So I was thinking - it is nice to use the main entrance and be one of the "in" crowd (even if not that far in - I wasn't in a position (like some) to pony up a $100,000 donation on the spot). But I also like being the "help", having to slip in through the service entrance, toting my own gear, and accompanying the "boss-man" when he wants to take the stage. I wouldn't want to give up that aspect of my life.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

How ya doin?

Nathaniel has taken to watching the Sopranos. Every few days we get a new disc from Netflix with 4 episodes of gold, featuring Tony and all his pals: Sil, Paulie, Big Pussy, Christopher (Christafa), Uncle Junior, Meadow, Anthony Jr. (AJ), Father Phil, Artie Bucco, and, of course, Carmela and Livia. And now Janice has entered into the scene.

We are surprised at how hilarious and just plain weird some of the shows are. And the more bizarre the shows, somehow the more believable they are (I guess because, face it, life it just plain weird).

Favorite moments include many a comment by Paulie (Saul: "Don't mess with those Jews - they're Hasidim." Paulie: "Hasidim - but I don't believe 'em." Or this gem: Pussy: "They gave him the 'Moe Green' - you know, shot him in the eye because he saw too much." Paulie: "You mean they shot him in the glasses.").  Or Sil's admiring his new shoes.  Or Livia telling Artie Bucco that Tony burned down the restaurant.  Or Tony: "You'd think I was Hannibal Lecture or somethin'".

The written episode descriptions on the disc are themselves great little nuggets of entertainment ("Janet is pulled in to Livia's treacherous web of self-pity and spite." [you bet]. Or "Something's got to give - and Tony's in the giving mood" [hoo boy - someone's getting whacked!].

And of course, the ubiquitous "How ya doin?" from Tony.  James Gandolfini was born to play this role.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Where's the diversity?

I think it is remarkable that we are headed toward our third female Supreme Court justice (assuming Elena Kagan is confirmed, obviously). And mostly for the fact that the mere fact that she is a woman is no big deal. A long time coming!

And we have a dead-conservative African American on the Supreme Court (not that I agree with much of any of Justice Thomas's views, but that's not what this blog's about). And of course Latina Sonia Sotomayor.

There has been discussion in the media about lack of a Protestant Justice with the retirement of Justice Stevens. That doesn't overly trouble me, although having six of the nine of the Catholic faith strikes me as a bit unbalanced.

But what I have not heard much about is the fact that all of the new Supremes will have attended Harvard or Yale. All of 'em (Justice Ginsberg attended Harvard but graduated from Columbia).

Now those schools are diverse, to be sure. But they represent a tiny fraction of the legal pool, even of the so-called "elite" law schools. And those institutions (Harvard and Yale) no doubt promote diverse thought within their walls. But it strikes me as plain weird and scary that graduates from these schools so absolutely dominate the SCOTUS. Plus, then there's the current President. Oh, and Bush II. Oh and the current Secretary of State. And Bill Clinton. And Bush I (all Yalies except Mr. Obama).

Group think can set in with even the best of minds. I think there should be more written and said about getting a SCOTUS with a more diverse educational background. I just can't believe that there is too narrow of an educational mind-set being served up to our highest leadership positions. Don't you think there is possibly something different about the way folks approach things at the University of Chicago? Northwestern? Berkeley? Stanford? What about a fine state institution like Michigan? To analogize to sports, Magic went to Michigan State, a big-time Big 10 school in basketball at the time. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Lew Alcindor, as my brother might fondly recall), went to the vaunted UCLA program, of course. But I seem to recall Larry Bird did just fine out of lil' ol' Indiana State University.