Tag Archives: Tom Kent

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.

band update

SoundBox Saturday. We opened last night and close tonight. I’ve got the day free until 7 to rest. The week was not without challenges but all in all was easier than most. The only night I worked late was last night for the show. Everyone involved is very proud of doing something special but there is no funding for beyond the next set in April. The Symphony has made huge investment in infrastructure but admission prices do not begin to cover the costs. The Constellation System will continue to be used for orchestra rehearsals and the odd special event but the lighting and projection stuff will go into boxes except for a few times a year in the big room.

Meanwhile, I’ve been faithfully going to jazz band rehearsals every Monday. A couple of the charts we’re doing have exposed guitar parts and solos which require a lot more practice than I’ve been getting away with previously. We have sort of a mid-term coming up. Zack has a deal with a local Daly City bar for us to play a set there on Monday the 27th. Last week he assigned which guitarist – there is myself and one other – will play which charts. One assigned to me is African Skies by Michael Brecker where the guitar plays the head with the tenor sax. I’m doing my best to channel Pat Metheney who played on the original track. At the end I trade twos in (more or less) F minor with the tenor. That’s fun.

We’re also doing a version of Bags’ Groove with both guitars playing the vibraphone part, then we each get a couple of solo choruses. It’s fun but there are some tricky rhythmic bits in it. Zack has been very patient with his guitar players who don’t read that well.

After the first rehearsal in January, I emailed Zack to say I was having trouble picking up the guitar away from rehearsal. He was gently encouraging and I’ve gotten better. I just spent a solid half hour working on African Skies. That’s more real practicing than I’ve done in a very long time.

My other band, Loose Gravel, is playing in Loomis a week from tomorrow. They’re not really my band, but I’ve been allowed to sit in with them whenever I want. This time I decided a couple of weeks ago that I really wanted to go so I arranged my work schedule to keep the Sunday free. When Tom was down here he said he was trying to sing less with them so I thought I would try to resurrect my singing. He’s given me Big Boss Man, which I used to do back in the days of April and Dry Creek, and Dizzy Miss Lizzy, which was always his to sing. We’re familiar with The Beatles version which features John Lennon on vocals. I dunno, I’m no John Lennon singing. We’ll see . . .

 

Tom’s visit

Tom Kent came down to my house over the weekend. He’s going all around pimping his new CD to radio stations and club owners. Not so incidentally, he’s playing his music for more people than ever.

Yesterday we went to the San Gregorio General Store to see Jay Howlett and Rolfe Wyer play. Actually, Tom had an agreement with Jay to let him play a few of his own songs plus he got to sit in and play some solos with Jay and Rolfe. It all went really well. I hadn’t seen Jay for quite a while even though he lives in Pacifica. We go back to our freshman year in high school and did some catching up yesterday.

Rolfe and Jay both encouraged me to return any time and sit in. They play there the last Sunday of each month so I’ve got that in my calendar now. I would try to learn some of Jay’s songs except he has so many and he follows the Grateful Dead mode of playing what seems right at the moment. Tom did great just listening and filling in so I should be able to do something similar. He’s got self confidence where I have fears, tho’. Another thing to work on.

Saturday night, Tom played me a demo of one of his new songs and we had some good conversation working on ways to improve it.

Not really germane to the story of this weekend, but about my music, is that tonight is the Skyline jazz band rehearsal. Zack (Bruno, the director) has chosen a couple of tunes that feature guitar. There is another guitarist but his skill level is similar to mine so we both are going to have to step up and play some exposed parts. I’m trying to practice more . . .

music

In recent years, when people have asked me about what I might do with my time when I retire, one of the answers I usually give is, ‘Play music.’

For those who don’t know, I was consumed by music as a teenager. I learned to play guitar and played in a band in high school. My local JC, DeAnza College, had a very good jazz program and, rather by accident, I ended up there for three years. My last year was primarily to take advantage of the opportunity I had to play bass with the #1 band. It was a hot band and I was stretched to the max. Many of the musicians in that band went on to careers in music but I decided to work in the theatre and have the freedom to ‘play’ music when and where I wanted.

As it worked out, I played very little music for the ensuing 25 years. Work and family took precedence.

About a dozen years ago I started to come out again, mostly playing rock and roll with Tom Kent and his bands. When I got back to the Bay Area, I enrolled in the jazz band at the local JC, Skyline College. I played bass for two years then guitar the third year.

Then . . . then I had jobs keep coming up on Monday nights so I quit. But last fall I started again. On guitar, on the theory that a missing guitar player in a big band is no loss whereas a missing bass player is more serious.

I needn’t have worried. They had three bass players and another guitar player; they hardly noticed when I’m there.

Actually, everyone was very nice and welcomed me back. Many of the current band members were there for my first go ’round but my contributions this time were minimal.

But what I noticed was that I wasn’t practicing the material. I looked at it and worked at it long enough to get through it, but I didn’t work it to get any better. In fact, the second half of last semester I don’t think I picked up the guitar at all except on Monday night for rehearsal.

I decided to write about this when today, with no need to go to work, I got up and did my laundry and the dishes, then wrote a nice blog post, then  . . . farted around the house: read some, tried to take a nap, ate lunch, read some more, did a crossword, had a cup of tea.

Now I’m writing this. Why don’t I play the guitar? Or the bass? They’re all here, hanging on the wall, begging to be played. I don’t know.I’ve got tons of resources: books, music, backing tracks. It’s making me reassess my stated retirement plans. And wonder about all my motivations.

Well, I signed up for another semester of band so I’ll keep trying. It starts in a couple of weeks.

Franco

I mentioned Tom Kent in these pages not too long ago. Tom is very gregarious and when he moved back to Northern California from New Mexico, it wasn’t long before he had found people to play music with. For the most part I have been content to tag along and sit in with Tom’s band when I could. Starting around the same time, Tom & I got together with our old band mates from the ’70s about once a year.

Even though I had played guitar in that band, I had played more bass in the intervening years so I was usually the bass player.

The bass player in Tom’s band was a crusty guy just a little older than me named Franco. I say crusty – he was friendly enough but perhaps a little suspicious in those early days of Tom’s old friend showing up at jobs. He was in his element at bars and seemed to know everybody. I remember one time early in our relationship when I had come down to the Valencia Club in Penryn to hear and perhaps sit in with the band, Franco was slow getting back to the bandstand after their first set. After they called several times and he didn’t appear, I plugged in my bass and started playing with the rest of the band. That got him back out there right away. He was nice but firm: ‘I’m the bass player.’

As the years went by I hung out with the band a few times a year, less often at jobs than at rehearsals at Vince’s house in Loomis. There we could relax when not playing and chat without the distraction of bar patrons and we became friends. I had made it clear that I wasn’t trying to get into the band permanently on either instrument. The band, especially in the early 2000s, was pretty busy, playing 3 or 4 times a month around the Gold Country. I was still getting my feet back under me musically.

Franco was not a flashy player, but he had been playing professionally for a long time, mostly in country bands. He knew what sounded right and how to do it. I always enjoyed watching him work with Tom and the band on parts of songs. He was not the leader – Tom was – but when something wasn’t right, he demanded that it get fixed, and stuck with it until it was.

As time went by, Franco let me sit in on bass every once in while. Usually I was the third guitar player. By then I knew most of the songs the band played so there wasn’t a huge let down in quality.

It was about this time 5 years ago that I sat in for Franco for the last time. Of course I didn’t know it then. The band was playing at a pizza restaurant in Cool. Just before the second set he said he wasn’t feeling so good and would I mind playing. No! I had gone outside during the first set and I remember marveling at the strong and clear bass sound that carried well out past the parking lot.

I don’t remember how the evening ended; whether I played bass for the whole rest of the evening or Franco came back. There was no indication that anything serious was wrong but it was only a little over a month later when Tom called me with the news that Franco had died.

I was honored to play through his rig with the band at the memorial. Later I bought it from his nephew and treasure it still. Franco wasn’t married and had no children so the nephew was the closest relative he had. The band has had a few bass players since but none to match Franco.

Rest in Peace, Franco Giovannoni. The heavenly band is better for your presence!

Zach on my mind

Seemingly out of nowhere, Zach has been back at the front of my attention. I think it’s because I’ve been on the roads a lot in the last couple of days. Actually, everything has been pretty nominal except for yesterday.

Yesterday was Tom Kent‘s CD release party in Roseville. I was going to go anyway – I had arranged for the day off – but he called me in the morning and said he wanted me to play on two of his tunes from the CD and to please bring a guitar and bass. I had played on those tunes for the CD but had missed the rehearsals for the live show. When that happened I told Tom I would just show up to the party to support him but wouldn’t play.

Anyway, that’s another story. What is germane is that I drove 280 miles yesterday including a significant portion on two lane roads. Today I just drove to work at Davies and coming home a few minutes ago I got to witness several drivers driving faster than they needed to: quick lane changes, tailgating etc.

How do I know they were going faster than they needed to? In almost every case I caught up to them at the next light and they were sitting calmly waiting for the light. All I could think of was, why are you risking the life of an innocent pedestrian or bicyclist for that 10% of the time when you get through the next light. And then what? You’re 30 seconds ahead of where you would otherwise be.

With the anniversary of Zach’s death coming up I have been thinking about some posts I want to do. One will be titled ‘that awful night’ and describe my experiences that night. Some others will be the statements made to the police by the drivers and witnesses. The last several months I have let the whole thing go but I am not finished with the legal system. I am gathering my strength to read those statements again and analyze them carefully. I have an idea what they will show but I will not say now. It may be that it will be different from what I expect. There is a 4 year statute of limitations on criminal charges.