Category Archives: Music

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.

Tim Wilson

I just read this article and tears are in my eyes. Tim and Deanne Wilson were good friends of ours during our time in San Francisco at the Opera. They were passionate, caring people then. The article clearly shows that that hasn’t changed.

When we went away, we didn’t stay in touch with Tim and Deanne. We really didn’t stay in touch with anybody at the Opera but that’s another story. I worked Opera in the Park a couple of times after I came back to SF and said hello to several members of the orchestra who knew me. In the brief conversations we had, no one mentioned Tim and I don’t remember asking.

Now he has glaucoma and other health issues that are serious enough to make him quit his job – again! What makes me sad is not just that Tim is ill or that I’ve ignored a friend for so many years. It’s that our society – our country – values music education so little that heroic efforts like this are needed.

OK. I’m resolving right here to get back in touch with Tim and Deanne. Meanwhile, I’ll put up one picture. It’s Tim, but you can’t tell. He’s showing Jeremy and Sarah how to make pizza from scratch. I’m pretty sure it was vegetarian, too.

Zach’s music

Rose mentioned to me the other day that she was still listening to The Airborne Toxic Event song that Jeremy had posted about last fall. I vaguely remembered it. There’s a link to a video of the song in the post.

I don’t like music videos, even of tunes I like, so I didn’t watch it. Also, the emotional overhead was too much.

But Rose’s comment started me thinking about music that Zach liked. He had a stack of home-brew CDs in his car which I inherited. I remembered them. I had gone through them while we were driving from Baton Rouge to Jeremy’s house during what would be his last summer. Most of them didn’t interest me. In fact, I had a hard time picking out anything I wanted to listen to. Zach was cool, though. He didn’t press anything on me or complain when I found a mash up of Eagles songs to put on the player

I went through them a year ago. I kept a couple. Some were mixes I copied onto my hard drive. A couple were mixes with people’s names on them so I sent them back. The bulk of them I sent on to Jeremy. I did copy some of them and they come up every once in a while on my random playlist.

It’s funny, despite having many thousands of tunes on my hard drive, it’s rare that one comes up that I don’t recognize. When I check, it most often is from that group of Zach’s CDs. Even though the music usually doesn’t move me, it’s a good feeling to have a little connection with Zach through his music.

I bought the Airborne Toxic album with that tune on it this morning. I think I’ll listen to it now.

catching up

OK, it’s time to catch up on the last few weeks. Every time I think I’ve got some time free, something seems to happen. This week it was the headaches. Last week it was a couple of unexpected days at work.

Whatever. Let’s look back,

SoundBox was really awesome. The young German conductor of the SFS Youth Orchestra, Christian Reif, was the curator. Rather than trying to describe it, I recommend you all just read this review. It is of course a glowing review, but what I especially like about it is how it describes the atmosphere at a SoundBox concert pretty well. A couple of people that I spoke to afterwards who had seen many SoundBoxes were quite moved by this set.

From the technical standpoint, the only difficulty we had was amplifying the instruments in the Black Angels string quartet. I didn’t find out until after the fact that the full title includes the words ‘for Electric String Quartet.’ I had only been given a note that the (acoustic) instruments were to Be mic’d, which we did for the first rehearsal. Everyone seemed to like it expect the players in the quartet who now told us the sound should be distorted and loud ‘like Jimi Hendrix.’

So we talked it over and they agreed that they would bring in their distortion pedals the next day and we would wire them through the overhead speakers.

What they actually brought in was a motley collection of amps, none of which had dedicated distortion circuits. All we could do was overdrive the inputs and hope it worked. After much fiddling – so to speak! – we got something that they professed to be happy with. It wasn’t nearly the overwhelming loudness of Hendrix. Oh well.

A week later was my date with Loose Gravel at the Valencia Club in Penryn. At the last minute, I had traded with Tom singing Dizzy Miss Lizzy for Blue Suede Shoes. That one I had sung back in the April days so I thought it would be straightforward. It turned out to be a problem, though, partly because the vocal starts without any introduction. I ended up in the wrong key. It was only the second song of the afternoon and people were looking at me and the band as if wondering what they were in for.

It got better, though. A few songs later I got to chew on Big Boss Man, which I had actually sung a few times in the intervening years. That went very well.

The second set was the Chuck Berry tribute and I sang Wee Wee Hours and Memphis acceptably. In honor of Chuck I had brought my red ES-335 which I don’t play much. I had bought it from Vince a couple of years ago because he offered me a great deal on it. Afterwards we talked about it. He offered to take it back but ‘didn’t have any money.’ Ha ha, very finny Vince! I don’t dislike it that much.

It’s a beautiful guitar. Here’s a picture of it in front of Allen Frank’s Super Reverb at his Drytown Club right after I bought it.

The next day – Monday night actually – the Skyline band played a ‘Mid-Term Exam’ at the Last Stop Sports Bar in Daly City. They are nice people there, but fitting a big band into the performance space they have is just not happening. We guitars were stuffed in the back next to the drums with all the wind players in front of us and playing in the other direction. It wasn’t too bad until I got to African Skies when I was supposed to be playing a unison line with the tenor sax. I couldn’t hear him at all! The trading twos at the end was a little better because it was just us and Zack was counting and pointing to each of us on our turn.

Here’s a picture of the ES-330 I use for jazz band:

It looks similar but it is really quite different. I won’t bore you with the details unless you ask.

The last SoundBox is upon us. Next week will be the last program for at least 7 months. Whether we get to start it up again in December is up to the Symphony board. It was funded for three years and those three years are done. No one wants to see it go but we all realize it is quite expensive to put it on. Some of the ‘features’ like the lighting and video will be migrated to the main Davies hall but the custom sound system I run won’t be one of them. Stay tuned . . .

Chuck Berry’s legacy

Chuck Berry died over the weekend. He was 90. Some might say he had a good long life. On the guitar forum I frequent (TDPRI.com), there has been a lot of commentary about his passing. Most of it appreciates the pioneering music he created but some commenters have felt the need to remind everyone of some of Chuck’s not-so-nice qualities. Anyone interested in the unsavory details can get them somewhere else. My thesis is that art is greater than the man (or woman).

Maybelline, Roll Over Beethoven, Sweet Little Sixteen, and especially, Johnny B Goode, will live on in Rock ‘n’ Roll music long after anyone cares about the kind of person Chuck Berry was. Once art is created, be it music, writing, painting, or whatever, it belongs to the community of humanity. Arguably, that’s where it came from anyway.

The example I thought of this morning was the reluctance of Jews after the Holocaust to perform any music by the German composer Richard Wagner. This seems understandable since Wagner was a favorite of the Nazi’s who tried to exterminate the Jews. Eventually, though, the art was allowed to speak on its own in 1981 when the Israel Philharmonic played an excerpt from Tristan und Isolde.

(That was what I remembered, but the truth is, as usual, somewhat more nuanced. I did some research and found that there was such an outcry after that concert that the orchestra has not played any of Wagner’s music since. Interestingly, the reasons for that are not clear. Many other well-known composers who were worse anti-Semites and/or more popular with the Nazi’s are performed by Jewish musicians without any comment. Wagner has that special something . . . Still, I will stand by my thesis.)

So, Chuck Berry is gone but his music will live on. Tom and I, along with Loose Gravel, will be playing a CB retrospective set on Sunday in Loomis. Chuck’s music formed an important part of our coming of age as band musicians. We won’t be celebrating the man so much as the music. The music will live on.