Huzzah!   (2016Jul12)


Tuesday, July 12, 2016                                             7:40 PM

Don Pietro del Cianflone has returned from summer hiatus—sing laude and strike the tambor! Here, we have the Buds-Up Semi-Ensemble wreaking havoc with the laws of both rhythm and harmony in a spectacular display of bongo-osity and piano-tivity. If you spot this duo—notify the musical authorities at once. If you hear something—you’ve heard too much!

 

 

The rest of this is just me—nothing to see here, just move it along…

 

 

 

 

 

That’s that, for now. A big thanks to Peter Cianflone for the jam session!

 

Roarin’ Piano Covers (2016Feb16)


Tuesday, February 16, 2016                                             3:23 PM

Billie Holiday’s discography includes some beautiful old standards—one of my favorites is “I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me” written by Jimmy McHugh & Clarence Gaskill in 1926. I find the sheet music demanding and if I can’t play the thing properly, I certainly can’t give you the slightest idea of how exquisitely simply beautiful it is on the Billie Holiday recording. Those early recordings of Billy Holiday with the Teddy Wilson Orchestra are, in many ways, the apotheosis of musicality—so weirdly perfect and so perfectly weird. (Apotheosis means “the highest point in the development of something; culmination or climax.”—I looked it up to make sure I wasn’t being stupid.) Here’s another favorite Holiday recording:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69CS90p-s80

 

Besides Billie Holiday, I’ve owned a few albums of Art Tatum, Joe Williams, Sarah Vaughan, and of early blues singers—this sort of wonderfulness:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4q7nYEDzljE

 

And that’s the context in which I first heard performed “Everybody Loves My Baby (But My Baby Don’t Love Nobody But Me)” written by Jack Palmer & Spencer Williams in 1924. Again, I struggle too much with getting this sheet music played to give it the easy bounce that it should have.

The middle piece from today’s video is by Vincent Youmans—a real class act—influenced in later years by Jerome Kern—but this early song is more of a jazz take on a revival-tent choir—“Hallelujah” written by Vincent Youmans, with words by Clifford Grey & Leo Robin in 1927. Here’s another from 1927, “I Know That You Know”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NF6cZJIsTgc

 

“Hallelujah” is a tricky piece, included today because I’m not likely to get a better take of it. So there you go, caveats included—my piano cover video for today:

 

And here are a couple of not-too-bad improvs:

 

(a short one:)

 

Th-th-th-that’s all, folks!

Journal Entry   (2015Aug14)


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Friday, August 14, 2015                                           2:46 PM

I like this new business of ‘clarifying’ things—walking things back, revisiting ones comments, non-apologies for things that may or may not have been said (hey, they’re on videotape). When I went to school, if you said something stupid that tail was pinned on your donkey for life—no take-backs. I guess grown-ups get to come at it two or three times (or over the course of a weekly cycle, as with Jeb’s recent multiple-choice answer to a simple question).

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This plays right into Trump’s hands, since he wants to make questionable statements—keeping the media coming back, keeping him at the top of every news-hour recap—campaigning for free, courtesy of the 24-hour infotainment cycle. God help us if he ever gets to that part of a stand-up schtick when the performer says, “But, seriously, folks…”—even a glimmer of intelligence will seem to us the wisdom of Jove.

But fuck Trump.

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I join all of you in dreading the end of summer—I could use another three months of this weather, but we’ll probably only get another three weeks. Yet, with global warming, we won’t have any snow until February. I liked it better the old way—four seasons, all distinct, all on schedule.

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Hooray! My driving test is scheduled for October. Re-licensing, here I come. It’s a two-edged sword, though—I’m pretty confident I know how to drive, but how embarrassed will I be if I flunk my driver’s test at the tender age of fifty-nine?

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The quest for Brahms-ian competency trudges on—I’m playing the Opus 117 every day—all three Intermezzos. I get better and better—I keep thinking: soon, I’ll be able to post a video of me playing the Brahms Opus 117! But it’s a moving target. Once I reach one level of familiarity, it only accentuates how poorly I’m handling the rhythm, or the dynamics, or the voicing, or the fingering, or the phrasing—there’s no end to the damned thing. I figure I’ll just keep going. This will be the first time I’ll have practiced a piece before posting a video of it, and I don’t want it to be a waste of effort—I want to sound like I can play the thing—yet that remains to be seen.

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My drawing continues to defy me—I know I can do it. Not as well as when my hands didn’t shake, but I can still get something out of it. No, the hardest part is getting myself to start. I have to find the pad and the pen and put on my glasses. (Who’d have thought you need to see what you’re drawing? You’d think you’d know, like you’d feel it or something, but no—not that easy.) Once I get going, I forget the cigarette smoldering in the ashtray—it’s always been that way—I look up a half-hour later and see this long ash that I could swear I just lit a second ago. It’s the starting that stops me.

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My poetry had a good summer—must have been four or five poems. They’re good for my drawing, too, since I have a “Graphic Poetry” blog and I get impatient, once I’ve written a decent poem, to have some artwork to make the new post with. It gets me drawing.

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So with all the recent activity, I daydream about releasing a twelfth digital album on CD Baby (See my eleventh  here). It would only be my second digital album, really. The first ten were privately burned to CD and distributed as Xmas cards to my friends and family somewhere between five and ten years ago. It’s just as well—I feel like my recent efforts are another level above my old stuff—not necessarily ‘great’, but certainly much better than my earlier recordings. Still, like the work on the Brahms, I’m inclined to wait and see just how much better I can get over the next few months or years.

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I’m also toying with the idea of printing out my poems. The beauty part about creating each poem as a graphic, like a small poster—is that I don’t need to do anything but print them out on good presentation paper with a fresh ink cartridge and a ‘highest quality’ print setting. I could even print them on both sides of the heavy paper, just like a real book. But while I’ve always meant to learn some DIY binding craft, I never got around to it—so I’d still be stuck with a loose pile of papers. I don’t know, just junk I think about…

Here’s today’s improv:

Stupid by Crazy (2015Aug08)


Friday, August 07, 2015                                           9:48 AM

An Off Day   (2015Aug07)

Yesterday, after I’d upgraded to Windows 10, I restarted my PC. Upon re-booting, it asked my for my MS account login. Had I not been able to, miraculously, dredge my password up from my foggy memory, my computer would have become a worthless chunk of chips and wires right then and there. Then the router started acting up—my son fixed it by plugging my PC directly into the cable modem, but now he and my wife have no WyFy access! Is it a coincidence that our router failed right when I upgraded to Windows 10? I’ll let you know after he’s bought and installed a new router. [Note from the following Saturday: Booboo installed the new router and all’s well.]

Operating System upgrades for Windows actually go back to DOS versions—before Windows, we had several versions of DOS. Sometimes a new OS would re-format the hard drive, erasing all the files. It always required changes to the software and the hardware-drivers—meaning that the new OS was useless until all the upgraded versions of the programs were installed. And OS upgrades had their share of bugs, too. After forty years of this, I am understandably leery of OS upgrades.

In the earlier days, a new OS would give noticeably faster response time, notably better user-friendliness, and noticeably more-reliable overall performance. As we’ve become more sophisticated, the changes are harder to pin down. And as OSes became more concerned with online connectivity, the changes have become blurred by differences in bandwidth, signal strength, and traffic density.

We see OS changes that benefit the computer industry more than the individual users—like adding the ‘Store’ option to our media-player apps. And we see an unhealthy focus on phones—as if having a desk to sit at is a bad idea—not that I’m against i-phones, PDAs, etc., but all that curries to the trend in making computing a superficial, convenience-based behavior, rather than an activity we use for specific purposes. It is glamour (and distraction) over substance.

But I’m mostly just grouchy because I’m having an off day—I suppose it’s to be expected after my recent run of very active, mostly successful days. Nothing is as reliable in life as ups and downs. I used to marvel at how the blackest prospects could turn around in a day, or how giddy climbing could suddenly come crashing down—now I just take it for granted. The miracle would be if change ceased and all days were uniform.

Today, I couldn’t play the piano worth a damn—relatively speaking. And I can’t get settled. And I can’t eat. And I went for my walk but I didn’t like it. Fuck this.

 

 

 

Saturday, August 08, 2015                                                11:53 AM

Stupid by Crazy   (2015Aug08)

Stupid by itself is not a problem. Ignorance is nothing but a blank space where information might be, but isn’t. Kitties are stupid—puppies are stupid—babies are stupid—ain’t nothing wrong with stupid. Crazy by itself I have no problem with. I’m a little crazy myself—there’s nothing wrong with a little crazy—sometimes it even helps. But when you take Stupid and lead it around by Crazy—then you’ve got trouble.

That’s why we need to get a handle on religion. That’s why we need to get together on the history of religion. Anyone can know about it—Frazer’s “The Golden Bough” gives a dense (and somewhat boring) outline of how beliefs and rituals evolved over time—how no religion sprang from nowhere, how they’re all related and they all evolved over the ages as a continuum of human nature.

Further, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the library at Nag Hammadi give us insight into the early days of Christianity—when many different people had many different ideas about who Christ was, how He lived and died (and lived?) and what His message was. We have the record of the four Councils of Nîmes from the early first millennium, delineating the church rules that men ultimately formed based on their understanding at the time. And we have the history of the Papal Wars, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment to further show that religion is not set in stone—and never has been.

Then there’s the cognitive dissonances of religion. Ancient texts show none of the  knowledge of astrophysics or astronomy that one would expect in a creator of the universe—they indicate only the ignorance of pre-science humans. Religions have differences based on geographical limits—where one might expect a supreme being to speak to all humans as one, all over the world. I could go on, but religion itself is a process of having faith without proof—it’s as hard to argue with that kind of idea as it is to argue with an idiot.

Yet I believe religion has a place in our lives. It enhances community, it provides purpose and meaning in a world that lacks both, and it is especially important for children to have some framework to overlay the cold-blooded chaos of the godless universe. But we must forever relegate religion to a ‘Santa Claus’-like status, wherein it is given no domain over the decisions of adults, particularly our leaders. It is used now to promote and perpetuate fear, conflict, and abnormal psychology—we must remove that absolutism from our society if we are ever to stop bigotry, misogyny, and charismatic megalomania.

We in America see the rise of wireless communication begin to transform our leaders into followers—the instantaneous response of large numbers of the electorate leads to knee-jerk reactions on the part of our politicians. They no longer sit and contemplate the future well-being of their constituencies—they’re too busy responding to tweets about what happened two minutes ago. I’d like to see a politician or two stand up to a podium and say that they are atheists—that they don’t represent modern mythology any more than they represent the ancient Greek pantheon of gods.

What I’d really like to see is all the big businesses lose the support of all that evangelical hogwash they use to befog issues that should be determined purely on human rights, without any hocus-pocus. I’d like to see leaders with the guts to stand up to the universe without imagining a ‘Blue Fairy’ god at their backs, protecting them with magic, promising them an afterlife in heaven (or hell) or giving them permission to judge harshly those who are different.

“That Was a Way of Putting It” (2015Aug04)


Monday, August 03, 2015                                       6:55 PM

Here’s a T. S. Eliot quote:

“That was a way of putting it—not very satisfactory:

A periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion,

Leaving one still with the intolerable wrestle

With words and meanings. The poetry does not matter.

It was not (to start again) what one had expected.

What was to be the value of the long looked forward to,

Long hoped for calm, the autumnal serenity

And the wisdom of age? Had they deceived us

Or deceived themselves, the quiet-voiced elders,

Bequeathing us merely a receipt for deceit?

The serenity only a deliberate hebetude,

The wisdom only the knowledge of dead secrets

Useless in the darkness into which they peered

Or from which they turned their eyes. There is, it seems to us,

At best, only a limited value

In the knowledge derived from experience.

The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies,

For the pattern is new in every moment

And every moment is a new and shocking

Valuation of all we have been. We are only undeceived

Of that which, deceiving, could no longer harm.

In the middle, not only in the middle of the way

But all the way, in a dark wood, in a bramble,

On the edge of a grimpen, where is no secure foothold,

And menaced by monsters, fancy lights,

Risking enchantment. Do not let me hear

Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,

Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,

Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.

The only wisdom we can hope to acquire

Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.”

—from T. S. Eliot’s “East Coker” (The second of his “Four Quartets”)

Whenever I write poems, I always reach a point where I want to put in that quote from T.S. Eliot, just the first part: “That was a way of putting it—not very satisfactory: / A periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion, / Leaving one still with the intolerable wrestle / With words and meanings.”  I don’t know why—it’s just the perfect segue from being poetical to being self-referential.

It’s sad, really. I admire Eliot’s poetry so much that usually I’d just as soon stop thinking up my own stuff and just quote him. And even when I write my own stuff I often throw in a phrase or an expression that Eliot-lovers will readily recognize—but that is partly because I have ‘absorbed’ his poetry into my speech, quoting him frequently enough that I sometimes forget it’s not ‘original’, or ‘common speech’. I’m a walking pile of plagiarism—but, never having been published, it’s not that big a problem.

Another Eliot quote I can never get out of my head is:

“Words strain,

Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,

Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,

Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,

Will not stay still.”

—from T. S. Eliot’s “Burnt Norton” (The first of his “Four Quartets”)

I guess I love it because Eliot does what few people do—he stares directly into the weakness, the fault, the nothingness. He recognizes that we fool ourselves when we assume that speaking is a precise communication—a fact that most poets are loath to even think upon, never mind address as a part of their poetry.

I’ve experienced many kinds of misunderstanding. There’s the misunderstanding that comes from incomprehension—then there’s the willful sort of obliqueness that comes from those who don’t want to be convinced. There’s the misunderstanding that comes from inexperience—as when the old try to speak to the young. Differing preferences, different cultures and backgrounds, and especially different beliefs can all cause misunderstandings.

But as often as not, it’s the words themselves—sounding the same but meaning different things, sounding different but meaning the same thing, meaning too many things, or used as similes in ways that mean a potential infinity of things, such as ‘life is an onion’, etc.

This morning I had the pleasure of reading “They Saw A Game: A Case Study” -by Albert H. Hastorf & Hadley Cantril (originally published in The Journal of Abnormal Psychology in 1954). It concerns itself with a 1951 football game where Dartmouth played Princeton. On this particular day, the rivalry between the two schools engendered a violent, penalty-laden game with multiple injuries to players on both sides. For the study, spectators were given questionnaires asking their reactions to various points of play. The main upshot of the study was that Dartmouth boosters saw a different game than Princeton boosters—more than their interpretation of events, even their perception of the events was controlled by their preconceptions, their prior knowledge, and their preference for their own team’s welfare.

Princeton fans not only didn’t judge their players for hits against Dartmouth players—they didn’t even see them—and the same, in reverse, was true for the Dartmouth fans. And if we only see what we want to see during a simple football game, how can we expect to agree on what is happening during a complex conversation?

In my mind, it all boils down to entertainment—we talk to each other as much to pass the time as through any belief that we are actually sharing knowledge. Points of agreement are as often as not points on which two people already share a common thought—the words exchanged, rather than creating that bond, only reveal what is already there. Points of disagreement are reliably irreconcilable through anything as sloppy as verbal discussion or argument. (When was the last time you won one?)

We often see in dramas the ‘courtroom scene’ where a canny attorney uses the ‘yes or no answer’ limitation on a witness to force one into saying what the attorney wants to hear, rather than what the witness truly wishes to impart. We can look at language itself as a larger example of this kind of hobbling—words will often say only part of what we wish to impart to others. The clumsiness of language is most apparent when a speaker uses a chart or some other visual aid to add precision to their speech—the chart represents that which can be better communicated in ways other than words.

Words, rather than being the scientifically precise instruments we wish them to be, are merely sounds by which we reassure each other that we agree on our shared context—arguments are only the recognition of the void where shared context does not exist. We’d like to fill all those voids—‘the brotherhood of man’—but, like dark matter or dark energy (those necessary compliments to the substance of our observable universe) —these empty places surround and support the points on which we all agree, giving substance and character to society. We fear a tyrant who would force us all to think and speak the same—but how much more horrible that would be if it happened by itself!

Here’s a new video–and it’s pronounced ‘Swirly-Cue’ BTW–in which I’ve put pictures of myself. I don’t care for egotism, but who’s else’s pictures am I gonna put in there, huh? I was so busy putting in the pictures I forgot to add any weird visual effects. Next time….

Thinking Of Swing (2015Jul09)


Thursday, July 09, 2015                                           3:39 PM

The first time I got a true sense of history was when I asked my parents about World War II. My parents were children of the thirties, so WWII was their childhood, for the most part. But WWII as history—as it was presented to me in school, on TV, and in books and movies, was a historical event. When I asked them about it, it seemed to be something they heard on the radio news—no more a part of their everyday lives than I found the reports of Nixon’s Watergate scandal, which was a big part of my youth but which I found to be nothing but an annoying part of every day’s newscast and paper headline.

Most grown-ups of the early seventies were relieved when Nixon’s administration went to jail and he finally resigned—I was simply relieved that everyone could stop talking about it. My parents felt much the same about the last World War—it was something horrible that the grown-ups got upset about. There were things I learned about the Second World War that my parents didn’t know about—and didn’t have any interest in knowing about. I consider myself lucky that none of my kids ever took an interest in the Nixon era—I’d be just like my folks.

Similarly, we here at home knew far more about the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan than the soldiers who were doing the fighting. They probably don’t get CNN in action zones—and they’re probably too busy to watch it, even if they did. It’s always about perspective—if you can climb a tall tree in the middle of Kansas, you can see more than everyone else—but the people on the ground are the only ones who matter, the ones who get things done. On the news we see what’s happening everywhere—a soldier under fire has strictly local interests.

History, despite its importance, has already happened. We can talk about it, we can learn from it, but we can’t change it. Our interests in history tend to focus on whatever means something to us on its face. Everyone likes the Revolutionary War because it was a war for freedom—and freedom is a popular thing. The history of science has fewer fans—science is a forbidding enough topic without the addition of dry old history. Neil DeGrasse Tyson has remarkable success at it—yet he has to leaven it with plenty of the new, the latest things, the wildest new theories, the bleeding-est-edged tech. My point is that you don’t have to stray far from the beaten path of military events and inventions to find areas of history that have no writers, never mind no readers.

It makes sense. History, in a sense, is a playback of the past—put too much detail into it and you end up without enough of a present to do anything but study the past. Plus, history is the history of all—we have enough trouble keeping track of all the details in our own solitary lives. To tell the story of everyone mandates that we speak in mostly general terms—else we reduce history to a series of actuarial tables.

I was equally nonplussed by my parents lack of interest in the classic movies that I watched incessantly on old late-night TV, and later, at the dawn of  cable, on American Movie Classics, followed, finally, by Turner Classic Movies. But those movies were seen by my parents as they were meant to be seen—in a big old movie palace with close-up faces ten feet high. Those stars weren’t legendary to my parents in the same way—they were contemporaries, even if my parents had never left Bayside Heights to mingle with the Hollywood elite.

More importantly, I have contemporaries of my own, many of whom have no interest in old movies. A taste for cinema isn’t all that common, no matter what generation you’re a part of. There are lots of people who go to the movies—that’s not quite the same thing—in the same way that lots of people listen to and dance to popular music, but have no interest in music in its broader sense.

One piece of music history that has relatively few fans is swing music. It gets by—no genre is completely ignored in this age of media. But being so distinctively antique while lacking the gravitas of classical music—plus being confined to such a tiny slice of the historical timeline—it has a specificity that limits its mass appeal to the occasional cameo in popular culture. I count myself among its adherents, though I don’t pretend to any great learning on the subject—I just like to play it. Don’t get me wrong—I listen to early Sinatra, Billy Holiday, Glenn Miller, Arte Shaw, and lots of others. There’s a sense of power to the percussion in swing music that isn’t exceeded (perhaps couldn’t be exceeded) until the advent of electric instruments and amplifiers.

I admire that—I’m always trying to get the maximum effect from my baby grand’s acoustic sound alone. I feel like whatever extra fanciness I could get from a synthesizer or a beat box would be frosting rather than cake—not that I don’t like frosting. And I recognize that there’s a power to amplification and synth that nothing I can do will match—maybe a great pianist could take that challenge, but I’m still shooting for ‘good’.

The jingoism of the post-war forties and fifties was out of favor by the time I ran across “They Call It America (But I Call It Home)” by Freddy Grant (1953). Singing such unabashed patriotic mush was frowned upon by my Flower Power generation (see this wonderful essay on Patriotism in Music).

Nevertheless I can’t deny the thrill of such crowing. It feels good to celebrate the greatness of America, even if we are far from the perfect picture being painted in the verse.

The “Our Love Affair” cover is not the famous “An Affair To Remember (Our Love Affair)”—a romantic song composed by Harry Warren for the 1957 film An Affair to Remember”, but the lesser-known song from “Strike Up the Band” (MGM, 1940) in which it was sung by Judy Garland.

I used a bunch of my classical art graphics to create the video backgrounds today—they give a sense of history, though I didn’t put them into any chronological order or anything. I’m kinda pushing the copyright envelope today—song covers with screen-grabbed art-works. Hey, I can’t do everything myself—and my amateur status makes it all fair use, since nobody really watches my videos anyway.

The following songs are performed in “Six (6) Swing Songs That Start With ‘S’ “:

“Seems Like Old Times”  Words and Music by  Carmen Lombardo & John Jacob Loeb (© 1946)

“Should I”  Music by Nacio Herb Brown (© 1929)

“Spring Is Here”  Words and Music by  Lorenz Hart & Richard Rodgers (© 1938)

“Stompin’ At The Savoy”  Music by Benny Goodman, Chick Web, & Edgar Sampson (© 1936)

“Street Scene”  Music by Alfred Newman (© 1933)

“Sunday In New York”  Words and Music by  Carroll Coates & Peter Nero