Category Archives: Music

two deaths

Whenever there are two deaths, I always seem to hear people say these things happen in threes, who will be next. I don’t buy that. Things happen. Period. Humans being the supreme rationalizers that they (we) are, look for patterns in everything. Most of the time we find them. Are they really there? No comment.

The brother of a friend was found dead a couple of days ago. My friend asked that I not tell anyone just yet so I am camouflaging his identity. I’m also pretty sure that no one who might know them reads this blog. Anyway, the death was not related to Covid-19, as far as I know. I think alcohol was the main culprit but I may be rationalizing.

Both deaths were men in their 70s. I could argue that they both had lived decent lives and thus neither death is a tragedy. When my friend called me with the news he was pretty upset. I told him that even when we can see something coming, it can still be a shock when it actually happens.

Bud Oakley had had some serious health problems over the past few years. I hadn’t been as close to him as I had been in the ’90s and early 2000s. That’s when Sarah and Zach were most active in Villa Sinfonia, the violin studio he ran with his wife, Lynn. Over the years, there were rehearsals and concerts and trips to Europe. For a while I created the concert programs for them. I never went on any of the tours but I did go to the summer workshop at Zephyr Point, Lake Tahoe several times.

View from conference center

Other times Bud and Lynn let us stay in their house in South Lake Tahoe for weekend getaways. I’m sure we weren’t the only ones they were so generous to.

It is a clich√© that an organization is like a family. I heard a lot of this rhetoric from Symphony leadership this past three months. I was not convinced. Bud and Lynn’s organization was like a family. They did a lot of smart things from a business perspective but it was all grounded in a love for music and teaching. I always felt that the growth of the studio was due not to some hard nosed business plan but from the organic needs of the people they served.

Bud was a demanding leader but he gave of himself without reserve.

This picture is from a Christmas concert at Ghirardelli Square in 1995. It was a regular thing for a few years. Bud was surely thinking about the music that they were about to play but there were probably kids not yet there he was thinking about. A good man. He will be missed.

St. Patrick’s Day

I had forgotten that this year was the second time I had a band concert on St. Patrick’s Day. Sepi reminded me. She took pictures of me yesterday in my green tie – same one as last year – and my Irish cap. This year I wore a different coat. Also this year I was standing in front of the home that I share with my wife.

Here is the one from last year, taken in my apartment:

today

When I got up this morning I thought I might write a post riffing on something Zach wrote on this date. His entries for this date didn’t inspire me so I’ll just do a newsy post.

Today is my second date this year playing bass with Tom’s band Loose Gravel. We talked earlier in the week about tunes in the set. He wants me to sing Big Boss Man. The last time I tried it while playing bass I crapped all over it. It’s the Grateful Dead version so I hear Phil’s bass which is all over the place. I need to simplify.

One of the problems I have with Tom’s band is not trusting the drummer. The bass and drums need to lock in and the drummer, Dr Watson, is still a bit of a mystery to me. I feel, as the bass player who hasn’t rehearsed with the band and doesn’t really know the songs that well, that I need to really concentrate on playing my part perfectly. This lets out doing vocals.

Actually, ‘loose’ is a good metaphor for this band so I should just relax and enjoy it. Mostly I do.

Sepi will be going with me. She likes the burgers at the Valencia Club. Check it out from last time:

This time, we’re going to share our french fries.

As is her wont, Sepi took loads of pictures last time. Here’s one of me playing Franco‘s bass:

It’s a long day. I’ll be leaving my apartment at 10 am and likely getting home around 9 pm. I got paid $60 last time. It’s a labor of love. I do appreciate Sepi coming with me.

9:30. Time to go load the car!

the Symphony

I work at Davies Symphony Hall and ‘hear’ the San Francisco Symphony a lot. I put ‘hear’ in quotes because I usually ‘hear’ them from inside the lighting booth through one microphone hanging above the stage and some inexpensive speakers.

Today I went into the hall for some minor maintenance reason while the rehearsal was going on. OMG, what a sound!

I’ll tell you, live music on real instruments. There’s nothing like it!

BTW, MTT was conducting Mahler in what’s called the antiphonal setup. That is when the first and second violins are on opposite sides of the stage. No surround sound system can duplicate this!

jazz band

Already it’s been a week since the Skyline Jazz Band concert. Yikes! The last month has been such a blur. We got back from Southern California late Friday night. I had a long day at work Saturday. Sunday was Mothers’ Day so we went down to Santa Clara to be with Mom. The jazz band dress rehearsal started at 6 in San Bruno, though, so we had to bolt our dinners and head back up the Peninsula early.

Monday we went to the Brisbane City Hall to finalize our reception location. Then we went to San Francisco City Hall to finalize our wedding. (It’ll be August 8th at 5 pm. Invitations should be going out within a week or so.)

BTW, ‘finalize’ means ‘pay for’. Expenses so far haven’t been too bad, though. The catering for the reception will be expensive. Sepi at one point suggested that we contain our costs by keeping the post-wedding numbers to a minimum but I thought if there is ever time for a party this is it.

Anyway, the jazz band concert went ok. Teresa, along with several of Sepi’s friends, came to listen and everyone pronounced it good. I could only think of the mistakes I made. Nevertheless, making music is one of my favorite activities. It’s been a privilege to be part of this really good band. I already signed up for next semester.

Here’s a picture Sepi took of me warming up before anyone else got there. It’s kind of moody and cool thanks to the lighting.

guitars

After two weeks without posting there is so much to write about I hardly know how to start. I’m going to talk about my visit to Norman’s Rare Guitars in Tarzana last week.

Sepi and I went to Southern California to visit family and friends. That’s another story. I happened to see a little video thing by a guy named Mark at Norman’s a few weeks ago and thought it would time to see if my 1989 Telecaster Custom shop had any value. Here’s a picture of me playing it at Vince’s in 2011.

That’s Franco playing my Washburn bass in the background. Here’s his story.

I was prepared for a big guitar store, but Sepi was gobsmacked. She took about a hundred pictures. Here’s a view of part of the store.

It didn’t take long for the expert at Norman’s (Mark) to tell me the Tele was worth about what I paid for it. Of course I would have to give a significant discount if he were to buy it for the store. I’ll hang onto it . . .

Well, naturally, as long as I was here I was going to look around. The first thing I spotted was an Epiphone Century just like Peter’s except in better condition.

Then I looked for an example of the late ’60’s ES-335 I used to own. Yep, they had one.

Now I’m thinking of other guitars I used to own. My high school friend Bruce Johnson sold me a Gibson Melody Maker that I used for a while. No pictures of this exist and even my memory is a little cloudy but I’m pretty sure it looked like this.

None of these guitars spoke to me now. I was thinking of leaving and took one more turn around the shop. There were some archtops I hadn’t noticed before. One was a Gibson ES-150 from the early 1950’s.

Looked, played, and sounded very nice. Sepi suggested that if I liked it more that the Tele, I could work a trade.

Aieee! I hadn’t thought of that. I called Mark over and he said I needed to talk to Norman who was busy at the moment. More agonizing while Sepi encouraged me. I already had a very similar guitar although not a vintage Gibson. What a dilemma!

In the end I decided to let it go. I think I can sell the Tele myself for a lot more. I don’t want to be a guitar collector, just a guitar player. Time to go practice!

Epiphone Century

Rather an opaque title for most people. It refers to the brand and model of the guitar I am playing in this photo.

Sepi took the picture on the front porch of Peter and Nanci’s home in Spokane last Friday. The guitar is Peter’s. When, after Peter’s stroke, I visited them for the first time, I saw this guitar on a stand in their living room. I couldn’t believe it! It was the first real guitar I had owned! I learned to play on it! I had sold it to Peter years ago and forgotten all about it.

In subsequent visits I cleaned it up and did some other work on it. It plays great but sadly, Peter can no longer play guitar. I play it when I’m there but I suspect that’s the only time anyone plays it.

Last fall I asked Nanci if I could buy it from them. She said Peter really liked the guitar and didn’t want to let it go. She did say she told her daughters that I was to have it after their passing. I really don’t need any more guitars but it would complete a circle. It will always be Peters’ guitar though.

I quit jazz band

Maybe I had a short fuse last Monday night. For work I use the term ‘long day’ to designate a day that starts early in the day – usually 8 am – and continues until 11 pm or midnight. In reality, it can be anywhere from fourteen to twenty hours long, depending on whether you count meal breaks. A regular day plus a show means I leave the apartment at 7 am and get home between 11 and 11:30 pm. That’s a long day.

So I had a long day Saturday, then Sunday I drove up to Loomis to play with Loose Gravel. that was over twelve hours away from home. Monday I had a regular 8 to 5 day, but then had to rush to jazz band practice so I didn’t go home, I just wolfed down a chicken sandwich at Burger King on my way.

I knew what the rest of my week was going to be: long days through Friday, one day off, then another long day Sunday. That’s a grind.

In band this semester, I’m playing bass because Zack asked me to help with one of the other, less experienced, players. The rehearsal is supposed to end at ten, but he almost always takes it right up to ten or a little past. Monday, at about 4 minutes till ten, he called up a chart and Amanda (my mentee, as it were) decided she wanted to try playing it. Zack said some things about it while we were shuffling around and we thought he was starting in a certain place. We were wrong, though, and when the band was done he called us out for being unprepared. I didn’t get pissed right away but on the way home I decided that things were too confusing with three bassists and I would bow out.

I sent him an email right away but I didn’t get a response until last night. He expressed disappointment and hoped I would reconsider. I guess the bloom is off the rose. I won’t be going to jazz band tonight.

band pictures

Looking back, I see I’ve posted a bit about the Skyline College Jazz Band. Zack Bruno, the director, sent out some pictures yesterday from our May concert. This is the one I was pretty steamed at the other guitar player for playing on every number when he was supposed to take turns with me.

Since I’m playing here, he should be just watching . . . but he isn’t. I’ll get over it someday. Actually I was over it until I saw these pictures.

Here’s a picture of the whole band from the same concert.

This semester I’m playing bass at Zack’s request. There’s really no option for multiple bass players. So far the three of us have all taken turns nicely.

my musical weekend

In order to free up my weekend for personal things, I took on work towards the end of last week that ordinarily I would have dodged. Wednesday night on house electric, Thursday all day until midnight with the sound crew for a Disney/Pixar film, then Friday morning for a graduation, followed by house electric duties again in the evening.

Saturday morning I was pooped, but by early afternoon I was ready to go to a benefit party for Sarah’s quartet. Here‘s a link to their website, by the way.

The party was very nice, in a modest home in San Francisco. The quartet played excerpts from their repertoire, most notably from David Ryther’s transcription of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Even in their opening number, a selection from Vilvaldi’s Four Seasons, it was astonishing how loud 4 acoustic instruments were in a small room. They played in the living room which wasn’t more than about 15′ by 15′ with a normal ceiling.

Hearing a string quartet in such intimate circumstances is one of the best musical experiences I’ve ever had. Saturday afternoon was not one of the best, mostly because excerpts do not allow each piece to develop as it should.

At 5 it was over and I had to run to my own concert. The Skyline Jazz Band’s concert was that evening. We had done a dress rehearsal in the theater Monday and one the last things I heard from my rhythm section mates was that we would do a sectional there at 5 on Saturday. No one seemed to care when I asked if the theater would be open to us then. As it happened, the jazz vocal group was already there and rehearsing so the sectional crumbled. The section is a little chaotic, with three drummers, two bass players and two guitar players.

In theory, charts are assigned so that only one of each plays at a time. It works well, as far as I can tell, with the other players, but my guitar partner doesn’t seem to get it. During rehearsal, throughout the semester, no one is bothered by both of us chunking along, but even one guitar in a big band is arguably too much. Gram is very young, and I am very non-confrontational so I haven’t played the heavy with him. I did complain some weeks ago to Zack, the director. He made some gentle efforts in class to make it all clear. I don’t know what, if anything, he said to Gram in private.

None of it made any impression. Gram just kept playing on every chart! During one that I had been assigned to, in the middle of the concert, Zack came over and indicated (I thought) to Gram that he should stop. Nope.

Oh, well. Zack announced during the concert that Gram is going on to study jazz guitar at SFS State in the fall. I wish him the best, but I’m not going to miss him in the section.

Sunday was Doghouse Blues in Drytown. Steve had graciously smoothed the way for me to have a lesson with Allen Frank. Allen is a good player but not formally educated in music so he’s not a very good teacher. It was mostly do this, try this. Hard to assimilate under the conditions. He’s also the owner of the club so he was a little distracted by some necessities of getting the club ready for a Sunday afternoon crowd. He did let me sit in with the band for three numbers later in front of a nice crowd at the club. Thanks, Allen!

Still, 14 hours and 300 miles driven. That’s a lot for 20 minutes of playing. OK, about an hour including the lesson. I did get to spend some quality time with Steve and Leigh beforehand.

Tonight, I’m back to jazz, sort of. The band is playing in the gymnasium for graduation and tonight is our run through. If past experience is a guide, we’ll play three or four numbers before getting down with P & C for the graduates’ walk in.