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.