Journal Entry   (2017Feb19)

Sunday, February 19, 2017                                               3:28 PM


I’ve spent the day creating new piano videos for my YouTube channel. These are something a little new—I’ve taken my ‘masterpieces of art’ graphics collection and interleaved them with baby pictures of Sen—so you see one old master, then Sen, then another old master, and so on. The baby watches the videos at naptime, some days, so this will give her something to look at besides herself—and all the paintings are colorful with vivid images (which was why I collected them in the first place).

One of the videos is fairly long—that’s partly because it includes a ‘cover’ of the old Carpenters tune, “Yesterday Once More”, which I play rather freely, for a wonder—and the following improv is about twelve minutes—so, a rare recording in several ways. The other one is shorter, just an improv, and only remarkable in that I chose to name it ‘Toothpick Charlie’, for no reason on earth—it’s a funny name, is all. But I’m satisfied with both performances, making it a good day’s work.

My mom’s not well—the doctors are trying to figure her out but so far the best they can do is a morphine drip. I wish I could travel—I’d take up residence in the bed next to hers—I could use a good morphine drip—and those damn doctors could get around to me once they’ve figured out my mom. Meanwhile, we’re all pretty concerned.

Been doing a lot of reading lately—nothing to write a review about, but passable fare. It’s like that old bumper-sticker about ‘a bad day of fishing vs. a good day of work’—a bad book is still better than your average TV show.

Nothing much else to go on about.



Pete and I (2016Oct10)


Monday, October 10, 2016                                               9:25 PM

My good friend Pete came by today and we talked briefly about the presidential race and the disgusting Donald. We had a wild session today—I’m still not sure exactly what happened, but I’ve edited the videos, so you can decide for yourselves.

Right now, however, I have a big back-log of musical offerings. Some were delayed by waiting for fresh baby pictures of the princess—there are several improvs and a Haydn piano sonata. Then there are five song-covers and one improv, from Pete and me collaborating this afternoon. All together, it’s quite a concert—but don’t feel like you have to watch it all at once. A lot of production work, after the actual recording, goes into these videos, so I’d prefer they be savored, wherever possible.

Between the inspiration of becoming a grandpa and the turmoil of the campaign season, I’ve had all my buttons pushed lately—and I flatter myself that it’s coming out in the music. I’ve been doing satisfying stuff lately—not all of it recorded and posted to YouTube—but I like to think that what I do post is representative of my recent work. Pete encourages me—so blame him, if you like.

“Wrong Guy”

“Four (4) 60’s Covers”

“MacArthur Park”


“Music Room”

“Haydn-and-Improv Hash”


“Cautiously Optimistic”

“Sight-Reading a Haydn Piano Sonata”

“Storms May Come”

“A Phoenix, I”

“Mickey’s ‘Mama’ Song”

Pete and Joanna — In That Order (2016Sep15)

Thursday, September 15, 2016                                        6:50 PM

A long and productive day—Pete came by, we recorded most excellent musical diatribes, but he had to cut our visit short and return to the world from whence he came. Then Joanna came by to see Pete—moments too late, very frustrating—but she and I had a pleasant visit, at least. This time I remembered to take a picture:


Today’s posts bring my total YouTube uploads to 2,005. Of those, 59 are videos of Pete Cianflone and me, collaborating together on improvisations and song covers. The audio-cassette archives of our 20th-century recordings are lost in the mists of time—after many years of pursuing separate paths, we resumed our monthly journey together in January, 2014. It’s all on YouTube: Pete n’Me playlist

I’ll grant you, it’s an uneven catalog (always with the caveat that the problems are all mine—Pete’s a professional who’s nice enough to indulge me) but as we’ve gone along, Pete has figured out an impossible trick—drumming for a pianist with no sense of rhythm. He always makes me sound better than I sound by myself—it’s really something. Today’s videos are a perfect example—no matter how badly I mess up, Pete keeps things going.




Well, it’s been a very busy week. I think I’ll go back to bed for a few days.

Journal Entry   (2016Aug14)


Saturday, August 13, 2016                                                8:04 PM

Okay, I give up. Yes, the computer room needs an air conditioner. In this heat I waver from wanting to stay in the cool bedroom, or coming out here to the hot-box and typing on my PC. I can be comfortable and bored, or engaged and sweating like a pig. Neither one is working right this minute—and I always decide I need A/C on the weekend, when I have to wait until Monday to order one. What a schmo.


I just got back from the supermarket. Chef-Boy-Ar-Dee pastas and Progresso hearty soups—it’s a can festival. Also some hot dogs. Now that I know I can make it into next week without shopping for a while, I feel better—plus, call me picky, but I like to eat dinner almost every day. I bought dill pickles and pickled sausage bites and some Laughing Cow and those round cheeses in the net-bag.


I found the world’s best microwavable breakfast—Eggo’s bacon-egg-and-cheese waffle-meals. And I grabbed some Polar Bears (Heath bar flavored). I was worried about getting those two things home and in our freezer before they were ruined—I think I made it.


Sunday, August 14, 2016                                         12:48 PM

“98.6” by Keith—what a great tune. It lifts my spirits. I collect one-hit wonders—the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not of the music world—strange artifacts that belong to no movement or genre but their own personal musical ‘ear’. There are a surprising number of them—and it’s sad in a certain way. Think about it—you can try for a musical career, spend a few years touring local bars and clubs, then peter out from lack of determination or lack of audience interest—or you can get lucky and hit it big, get signed to a label, tour big venues, the whole nine. But with a one-hit wonder, the artists are served the success-banquet and then have the whole thing snatched from their mouths after the first course. The same amount of grueling giggery, PR, lawyers, fans, and yet more giggery—then the promise of fame and fortune—then the almost instant fading of it all—how hard that must be. I love one-hit wonders—but I truly feel for the artists that make them.


And it begs a question that often haunts a sixty-year-old would-be artist like myself: Is there a finite amount of creativity in each of us, to one extent or another? Would Beethoven’s Tenth have been anti-climactic? Did Van Gogh kill himself because he had used all the colors in every way he could imagine—and was loathe to repeat himself? Was Dickens’ last novel just ‘more of the same’? In olden times an artists could be satisfied with just one single ‘masterwork’. Of course, if one is capable of that, there was probably a bunch of stuff one could do—Michelangelo did sculpture, painting, architecture, and poetry, but he did some things better than others.


But today, with the ‘industrialized’ arts, if you can have a hit record, contracts are drawn up by the money-people, as if to say, “Well, anyone who can please the public can continue to do so forever”. There is no recognition of the possibility that what makes someone creative may be the same thing that bridles at being expected to play those songs every day for years, or come up with another whole album of ‘more’. What the hell is ‘more’ when dealing with inspiration? And how can we expect inspiration to stick to a release deadline?


We think of art as a job. It was never a job. The musicians that played at weddings and dances were just the folks who had a knack for music—they had day jobs. The artists of old weren’t working on canvas—they were carving sculptures into the furniture they made, painting landscapes with glazes on the pots they were throwing. The ‘career’ thing started with court appointments—Michelangelo was part of his Pope’s court, Bach worked for his church choir until his fame made him a member of the household of the Duke of Brandenburg.

These early artists didn’t do anything but their art—but they were servants to royalty, at their beck and call—even with regard to subject matter and style. No artists made a living from their art except the travelling troupes of entertainers—and they were mostly fugitives, working sub-rosa in a culture that forbade merriment in general—criminals of art, in effect. No individual musicians made a living concertizing until the nineteenth century. The monetization of art has a fascinating history—but it is a history of the deformation of the original impulse to art.


Sunday, August 14, 2016                                         6:48 PM

I’ve made a nice video that contains our granddaughter’s latest pictures and, in between the two improvs, a piano cover of Cole Porter’s “Tomorrow”—so I tried to throw in some entertainment. It’s difficult to create a video under these rolling thunderstorms—I’m a computer hack since back in the ‘80s—lightning is my mortal enemy. I always rush to power down the PC when the lightning gets too proximate.


Usually a storm comes and I call it a day, computer-wise. But with this kind of late summer weather, I can either play the margins or wait for Fall—intermittent thundershowers are forecast for the foreseeable future.

So, I’m going to upload my video and get off until tomorrow—it’s hot and muggy even when the sun breaks through. Only a fool gets stressed on Sunday. Bear returns next Thursday, thank goodness.



I Don’t Flyin’ Give A (2015Oct17)

Saturday, October 17, 2015                                              1:14 PM

I don’t know—I mean, I know a little, but not enough. I have no confidence—I mean, I have a little, but not enough. I don’t have the strength—well, maybe I could manage one effort, but not over and over. Most importantly, I lack enthusiasm—I can forget the past and enthuse for a moment, but inevitably I remember the past—entropy, illness, betrayal, and indifference—and I feel the enthusiasm melt away, a mist in sunlight.

Was it a wrong turn I took—and if it was, was there any life I could have lived that didn’t come to cynicism, eventually? (Maybe it’s Maybelline—right?) If I could have lived a life that avoided the lessons I’ve learned, would that ignorance have been better? No—I struggled equally hard with a lack of information. People are animals—once I learned not to judge that statement, once I learned just to accept it, I had to stop believing in the ‘but’. “People are animals, but…” But there is no ‘but’. Take away convention and pretense and all that’s left are animals, social animals—but animals just the same.

One divergence we like to point to is the ‘path of least resistance’—a dog will bark and dig from behind a fence, trapped because it cannot move forward; a person will look around and walk away from the fence to take a route around the obstacle. We cite this as a sign of human intelligence. Yet our powerful skills in finding obtuse escape routes seem to fail when we try to deal with society—we bark behind self-imposed fences at things we could easily work around, had we the imagination to walk away from conventions and acceptance.

Such open-mindedness might bring people further away from their animality—but whenever an open-minded person suggests getting away from conventions and acceptance, a close-minded person will jump on the idea and say, “Yes! Let’s start by ejecting morality and inclusion.” The desire to act out among others without consequences is really more animal, not less. A good liberal wants to avoid the strictures of conventions and acceptance, but retain the cooperation and inclusion that are society’s best features—it’s never easy and it’s never simple.

So we see that being a ‘rebel’ is an ambiguous role—breaking the rules encompasses both forward progress and devolution. To be conservative is to consider the whole thing as being too dangerous, too unpredictable—better to just keep things as they are, warts and all. A liberal considers change a necessary risk that it is better to engage with purpose than to strive to avoid. I’ve always considered conservatism as cowardice—but to believe that, I’m implicitly agreeing with conservatives that change is dangerous. It’s really quite a pickle.

Personal Day (2015Jul29)


Artist: Winslow Homer (American, Boston, Massachusetts 1836–1910 Prouts Neck, Maine)
Oil Paintings by Winslow Homer (1836–1910)
“Camp Fire” (1880)
“Searchlight on Harbor Entrance, Santiago de Cuba” (1901)
“Rainy Day in Camp” (1871)
“Harvest Scene” (ca. 1873)
“Moonlight, Wood Island Light” (1894)
“Shooting the Rapids, Saguenay River” (1905–10)
[courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC]


Xper Dunn plays 5 Piano Covers – July 29th, 2015:
“How About You?” Music by Burton Lane
Lyrics by Ralph Freed (© 1941)

“The Last Waltz” Words and Music by
Les Reed & Barry Mason (© 1967)

“Sunday In New York” Words and Music by
Carroll Coates & Peter Nero (© 1963)

“Rain” Words and Music by Eugene Ford (© 1926)

“Rag-Time Cowboy Joe” Words by Grant Clarke
Music by Lewis F. Muir & Maurice Abrahams (© 1912)

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