Friday, June 20, 2014

Connecting the Dots: Mulligatawny, Liner Notes and JT.

Georgette and I are having an "event night" tomorrow. I'd call it a date night but our whole married life has been sort of an extended date night. We are headed down I-80 to Lincoln to see James Taylor and to have dinner. It should be a great evening- good food, good music and good company.

But more than just a great night out, there will a lot of dot connecting going my head at least, beginning with the pre-concert meal.

Earlier this week, GK said something about having dinner in the Haymarket, Lincoln's old historic, now turned entertainment district, just west of downtown Lincoln. "Good idea", I said as the concert arena is located just a few blocks away. The next thing I know, we've got a reservation for 5:30 at the Oven, an Indian restaurant that has been there since......I had my job interview there 19 summers ago, or longer. Actually, my job interview was right next door to the Oven, quite literally in the same building where the agency I was set to join had it's offices. The same offices where I first laid eyes on Georgette, who was part of the team that interviewed me.

Now I'd like to say it was love at first sight but that's not the case. I do, however, remember her warmth and smile standing out from the other team members as I did my best to convince them to hire me as a staff counselor. They did and 6 months later we were a couple. And often we would gather for lunch next door at the Oven where they have the best mulligatawny in Nebraska.

First dots connected. The Haymarket, the Oven, my interview and first sighting of Georgette and of course, I'll be having a bowl of mulligatawny, you can count on that.

Next it's off the brand spanking new Pinnacle Bank Arena for a 3 hour musical feast provided by James Taylor and his All-Star Band. Or simply put, to see JT. Sweet Baby James is a living legend, for sure, but I'll admit to being more excited about seeing his band, than I am JT. And it has to do with liner notes.

You see, there are a lot of things that fathers are supposed to teach their sons-- how to hit a baseball or ride a bike, the facts of life or how to stand up to a bully. I got none of those but I did the get the lesson on how to read liner notes on record albums. I remember the day when Dad came home from the K-Mart with a stack of "cut-out" jazz albums ( records that didn't sell and had a corner of the album cover cut-out or punched through signifying that it was destined for the bargain bin). He proceeded to lecture me on the art of reading the liner notes to check out "the personnel" who were backing up the featured musician. Great personnel=great album, regardless of cut-out status or not. Liner notes was a life lesson I'm grateful to have learned at an early age and  it has resulted in years of dot connecting as I scoured through record bins in search of musical bargains.

Seems that JT's "personnel" is a group of musicians probably more well-known from their liner note fame than their headliner fame. Starting with the drummer, Steve Gadd. If you recognize the opening drum riff to Paul Simon's "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" or the Steely Dan classic, "Aja" or Van McCoy's "The Hustle" then you've heard Steve Gadd. Except that you would have to read the liner notes to know that. A truly legendary musician whose versatility and range spans pop, jazz and beyond, Gadd is the premier studio drummer of the last 40 years and I'm jazzed to hear him live again.

Next up is Lew "Blue Lou" Marini, the saxophonist on JT's tour. A member of the first Saturday Night Live band, Marini may be best known for his role in the Brothers Brothers movie, where he plays the short order cook in the scene with Aretha Franklin and Matt "Guitar" Murphy, featuring the song "Think". You may also recall the Steve Martin "King Tut" sketch on SNL...yep, that was Lew playing the saxophone in full Egyptian garb. No slouch on the saxophone though, Marini has made the rounds from Blood, Sweat & Tears to the original Blues Brothers band and now his current gig with JT.

If connecting those dots weren't enough, this last one will invoke the 6 degrees of separation theory, only the dots will get connected in 2 degrees, not 6.  

Jimmy "Flim" Johnson is JT's bassist and musical director. Back in the late 70's while working as a musician in Minneapolis, Flim formed a quartet called "Flim & the BB's" and they partnered with 3M who was developing the first full digital recording equipment. Early adopters of CD technology will know of this group as they released several critically acclaimed jazz CD's that were full digital and engaged a following of musicians as well as techheads. The saxophonist in "Flim & the BB's" was Dick Oatts, a classmate of mine for 2 years in music school. Oatts left Drake after his sophomore year and moved to the Twin Cities. He is now a musician in New York City.

If by some chance, I was to participate in the "hang" (musician-speak for hanging around on tour when not performing) with Gadd, Blue Lou and Flim, I'm sure we would have lots to talk about. And Flim, being 2 degrees separated by our shared connection to Dick Oatts, might have the most to talk about.

Speaking of the "hang", JT had a series of posts on his FB page about his upcoming tour where he introduced each of his band members to his fans. When asked  what they enjoyed most about the tour, almost all referred to "the hang". "It's a great hang", Gadd said.  If you spend weeks on a bus, grinding out a long, demanding tour, with lots of downtime, it matters if the "hang" is good.

There you go, liner notes,  mulligatawny and JT. Lots of connections, if only in my head.

But the most meaningful part will be who I "hang" with. She doesn't care as much about the liner notes  as I do, but we do love hanging with each other and that alone, should make it a night to remember.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

America the Beautiful 45 Years Later

It has never ceased to amaze me how much emotion and memory a piece of music can evoke. It happened to me again this past week at band rehearsal. We are in the midst of our summer season in the community band I  perform in, preparing for two concerts in the next couple of weeks. Thumbing through the selections that were placed in our folders I glanced upon a old sentimental favorite, the Carmen Dragon arrangement of "America the Beautiful" and thought, "welcome back, old friend".

But it wasn't until we began to rehearse this familiar favorite that the memories and emotions began to surface. Suddenly, I was transported back to  June of 1969,  under a large canvas tent that was positioned up the hill from a lake. On the podium, a handsome and charismatic conductor named Col. Arnald Gabriel had the captivated attention of 150 high school students as he led us through our first reading of Dragon's "America the Beautiful". It was also my first experience performing this glorious rendition and it immediately became a personal favorite of mine, so much so that is on the list of selections I would like played at my funeral.

It wasn't just the music that had me spellbound, for I was beginning to realize that I was in the presence of greatness. When I noticed a brochure on the band room bulletin board months earlier, for a band camp at a college in northeast Missouri, it sounded like fun. The price was right-$30.00 for the week, room and board included. There may have been a mention of who the guest conductor would be, but even if there was, I have no memory of that being the main attraction.

So off I went on a Trailways Bus through southeastern Iowa on a Sunday in early June, where I was deposited several hours later on the town square in Kirksville, MO. With my suitcase and saxophone in tow, I walked the mile or so to the campus where I checked in, met my roommate for the week, had my audition for chair placement and jazz band and soon was headed for the dining hall for supper. The next morning, we would all board buses and would be transported out to a state park, where the high school band would rehearse that week.

When Col. Gabriel stepped up to the podium, his presence alone captured our undivided attention. Not a tall man, but with jet black hair and a Jack LaLanne physique, he immediately had us in the palm of his hand. Col. Gabriel was the dynamic conductor of the US Air Force Band and Orchestra at the time. A decorated Army veteran who was part of the D-Day invasion at Normandy, he was intense, demanding, personable and a marvelous conductor. How that small college tucked away in the hills of northern Missouri managed to obtain his services for an entire week still mystifies me to this day. But make no mistake about, we were in for a treat.

I had the time of my young life that week. I made the jazz band, took some private lessons, hung out in the dorms like college kids would and even managed to lure a young woman's heart, short lived as it was to be. By the time my parents drove down from Des Moines that Friday to attend the final concert and whisk me home, the return on my $30.00 tuition had more than exceeded my expectations.

The high school concert band performed last and Col. Gabriel conducted us in his formal, white, Air Force concert uniform. We closed the concert with the Carmen Dragon arrangement of "America the Beautiful'. It was glorious, and stunning and I never forgot that moment. Months later when the record album of the concert appeared in the mail, I relived that moment again and again.

Memory, however, is not the same as experience. As many times as I've performed that arrangement over the years, it has never gotten old or lost its impact on me.  As Larry McTaggart, our current conductor, who like Col. Gabriel served in the US Air Force Band in DC, led us through our first reading last week, the magic of that night almost 45 years ago to the week, returned.

For me, the words and music of America the Beautiful conjure up images of the corn fields alongside the trail where I walked Grace earlier this morning. Of the skyline of San Francisco looking out over the Pacific Ocean. Or the deserted main street of small Iowa town,  the stunning skyline of New York City, the beaches of the Florida gulf shores. It is a hopeful anthem, one that always reminds me of how strong and generous we can be. And it saddens me when I see and hear the divisions that threaten our beauty, of the anger and hopelessness that presides all over this great land. Is America still as beautiful as she once was? I think so, you just have to look for the beauty.

Music can heal, inspire, encourage and unite. It can help us to suspend our divisions and embrace our common good. On the 4th of July, we will gather under a canopy of  trees for a old style concert in the park. There will be marches, a Broadway show-tune medley, a trumpet soloist, among  the usual fare. Among the selections will be Carmen Dragon's arrangement of  "America the Beautiful". It will be beautiful.

I can feel the goosebumps coming already.

Arnald Gabriel PhotoColonel Arnald D. Gabriel retired from the United States Air Force Band, Symphony Orchestra, and Singing Sergeants as Commander/Conductor after a distinguished 37-year military career. Following his retirement, he was named Conductor Emeritus of the USAF Band with the Rehearsal Hall/recording studio named in his honor. He was awarded his third LEGION OF MERIT for his service to the United States and to to music education upon his retirement.

As a conductor, Colonel Gabriel has appeared with bands, major orchestras in all 50 states, and in more than 50 countries abroad. He also has conducted the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. His 37-year military career began with his service in World War II when he served as a combat machine gunner with the United States Army's famed 29th Infantry Division in Europe where he received two Bronze Star medals, the Combat Infantry Badge, and the French Croix de Guerre. Following his separation from the Army in 1946, Colonel Gabriel enrolled in Ithaca College, New York, where he earned the BS (1950), MS (1953), Honorary Doctor of Music (1989), and the Lifetime Achievement Award (1997).

Following his retirement from the military, Colonel Gabriel served on the faculty of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia (1985-1995) where he served as Chairman of the Department of Music, conductor of the university orchestra, and was named Professor Emeritus.

Colonel Gabriel is the youngest person to have been inducted into the National Band Association Hall of Fame for Distinguished Band Conductors.

Carmen Dragon (July 28, 1914 – March 28, 1984) was an American conductor, composer, and arranger who in addition to live performances and recording, worked in radio, film, and television
He made a popular orchestral arrangement of "America the Beautiful" and also re-arranged it for symphonic band. According to his website, he was awarded an Emmy in 1964.

He conducted the Hollywood Bowl Symphony Symphony Orchestra, and they performed on The Standard School Broadcast, broadcast on NBC in the western U.S. for elementary schools from 1928 through the 1970s. The show was sponsored by the Standard Oil Company of California (now the Chevron Corporation), but other than the name there were no commercials. The program featured a high quality introduction to classical music for young people growing up in the 1940s and early 1950s.

Dragon made a series of popular light classical albums for Capitol Records during the 1950s with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. Some of these recordings have been reissued by EMI on CD. Dragon appeared as himself briefly at the end of the 1979 film The In-Laws, conducting the fictitious Paramus Philharmonic.

Dragon also hosted a regular classical music radio show broadcast on the Armed Forces Radio Network—now the American Forces Network—well into the 1980s.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Christmas in June.....sort of.

This isn't so much about Christmas as it is about a gift, and not a Christmas gift, but rather a birthday gift. And the birthday isn't in June, it falls in December, on the 26th, not on Christmas Day. Confused? Then read on and allow me to explain.

When I met Georgette about 19 years ago, I struck the relationship lottery. The big prize. The one with the astronomical odds.  More than a one in a million.

My first clue was when she invited me over to her house to watch the 1996 Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 2, which featured #1 Nebraska against # 2 Florida for the National Championship( NU won 62-24). The fact that I wasn't much of a Nebraska fan even though I'd lived in the state since 1986 was not a barrier to me accepting her invitation. I was the new guy at our place of employment and she was merely being a kind and considerate co-worker. When it came up in casual conversation that I had no plans to watch "the Game" (as it is referred to here in Nebraska where football is the state's unofficial religion)  the offer was extended and something was mentioned about holiday leftovers being served (Clue # 1).

Upon arriving at her home and greeting her daughter Steph, whom I'm sure was wondering if Mom had gone off the deep end, we settled in her basement family room upon which I discovered the quality  and plentiful buffet of leftovers artfully arranged on a table. Now if you are one of those people who thinks that the words "quality" and "buffet" are mutually exclusive, think again. This was a quality buffet. Chili, shrimp, spinach dip crab dip, veggies, cookies-- what I was to discover were holiday staples at her  house. I proceeded to load up "a plate" as we refer to it and sat down to watch "the Game".

A little sidebar- the relationship I was in a year prior to this point in time was with a woman who had food issues. Sort of a half-hearted vegan-granola type who was a picky eater. I spent most of the time I was with her hungry. I don't like to be hungry. Enough said.

As I was easing myself down to to floor to begin my attack on "the plate", I spilled my chili all over the carpet. My face turned red as a beet. Her reaction to this guffaw on my part couldn't have been more gracious and genuine. "Let me get something to clean that up. That carpet needs to be cleaned anyway. Get yourself another bowl". I did. And it was delicious. (Clue # 2).

As our relationship grew and we went from being co-workers and friends to a committed couple, I learned more about her. She was low maintenance. I didn't have to read her mind. She was easy to please. And her birthday fell on December 26th.

The only thing she was really picky about was that she wanted her birthday celebrated separate from Christmas. No combo "Christmas/birthday cards". No combined gifts. No opening birthday gifts a day early. And no Christmas food passed off as birthday food. Years and years of having your birthday party compete with the afterglow of Dec. 25 will do that to a person. So it seemed reasonable and doable to me.

Until the next year when I got to select and buy both Christmas gifts and birthday gifts all at the same time. And pay for them. For a gift-challenged guy like me that was no easy task. I learned to ask for help..."can you give me a list of things you want or need? No, I'm not buying pots and pans. OK, if you really want them, I might get them, but I'm having flashbacks of my feminist mother railing abut getting measuring cups on Mother's Day".  I learned how to manage the 2 day gift bonanza. I bought her things I swore I'd never buy as gifts. Dishes. Appliances. Cookware. Kitchen gadgets. She was thrilled (Clue #3).

And so this last holiday season, 18 years later and in that stage of life where you just don't need anything anymore, we've become our grandparents. The gift giving thing, while not extinguished, is simmering at a low temperature. Nonetheless, I had to come up with something cool for her birthday.  And I did. Enter the VegTrug.

In you haven't figured it out yet, she loves to cook and to experiment and serve wonderful home cooked meals. Last summer, I planted her an herb garden down below in our patio garden. But it was a hassle to get down there, especially when you are knee deep in gurgling, bubbling pots and pans on the stove.  When I stumbled across the VegTrug in the Gardener's Supply catalog, my 2013 birthday gift dilemma was solved. 

The VegTrug arrived unassembled in a long box and I hid it in the basement. And on the evening of her birthday, after we had gone to a movie and eaten at a great Thai restaurant, I walked her downstairs and presented the gift, still in the box, with no gift wrap- a move I wouldn't have made 18 years ago. I promised to plant it with whatever she wanted for herbs. And I assembled it a couple of days later where it sat idle until mid -May.

The pictures shown here were taken several days ago. The VegTrug sits outside on our deck, a mere few yards from the epicenter of the kitchen. She mentioned that a culinary treat we had for supper a day or so ago had freshly cut herbs in it. It was like Christmas June. I thought of cousin Eddie in "Christmas Vacation" and was tempted to mutter something like "it's the gift that keeps on giving all year long, Clark" but I didn't.

Because technically, it was a birthday present. And we don't mix and match December Christmas and birthday celebrations.

Maybe I should have titled this post "Birthday in June" but that doesn't have the same ring as "Christmas in June". 

Or maybe I should have titled it "I won the relationship lottery". But that's kind of cheesy.

Speaking of cheesy, she makes a kick-ass dish called "4 cheese pasta" which I affectionately refer to as"slop". Cooked in pans purchased as birthday gifts.

What was this post supposed to be about again? Seems I lost my focus. And know I'm trailing on too long.

Gifts? Lotteries? 

Oh well, till next time.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Garden-A Creative Expression

Looking east, the garden starts in spring as a stark and barren space.
By June 1st, it is lush and full.
I spent almost 6 hours working in the garden yesterday, mostly weeding and mulching.  After the long hard winter and reluctant spring, the garden is about to explode in her summer glory. Right now, she is in a transition state as the tulips and daffodils are a memory and the iris and peonies are all but gone.
One solitary Lupine, not the easiest plant to grow in our climate.
For me, gardening is a creative expression. My inspiration came from a visit to Claude Monet's Giverny back in 1995. Monet was a master at having the 3 seasons of spring, summer and fall overlap and spill into each other so that there was continuous progression of color and texture throughout the seasons.

Pole beans will climb this trellis while cosmos and other flowers provide the color.
My design technique might be described as eclectic or funky, a mixture of planned spaces and randomness. The garden space seen here in the photos is about 1500 sq. feet, approx. 80 feet long and 15 feet deep. 90% of it has something growing on it. Perennials, lilies, wild flowers, vines, a couple of Japanese willow shrubs. Throughout the summer I will go in and trim and prune back the growth so as to keep some semblance of order to it.

Two row of onions.
Snap peas ready to be picked, then stir-fried.
And although every year is different in the garden, this year has challenged me in a unique way. I am integrating vegetables into what has been primarily a flower garden. For the past 10 years I had been sharing a vegetable garden plot about with a guy I know, but decided to break away and do my veggies here at home. It's been fun finding ways to re-allocate space and squeeze in the vegetables where flowers used to be.
Cherry tomatoes

Husker Red Penstemon
 I love the creative aspect of experimenting with plants, space, color and texture. And when I have days like yesterday where I get totally immersed in the garden, I experience flow and timelessness. Sometimes what starts as just a walk through the garden turns into a series of little creative adventures. And as I like to say, "a Gardener's work is never done".

A row of nasturtiums, ala Monet.
The last iris of this year.
Besides the intrinsic satisfaction that working in the garden provides, there are practical benefits as well. We have a patio that runs along the edge of the garden and the house and is covered by the deck above which creates a wonderful garden room where we can eat breakfast or simply sit and soak in the beauty, butterflies and birds. And our house is always filled with vases filled with vases of flowers that the garden provides. Georgette will walk through the garden with a snipper and gather a handful of flowers and artfully arrange them.Her creativity is evident in the arrangements she puts together.
Zowie zinnias, started indoors from seeds.

So while the garden is relatively quiet today, she will be at her peak of splendor in about a month. And as with every season since I began gardening, there will be some surprises in the garden. That's what makes it so much fun.

Monet also used lots of cosmos.