Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Last night I saw the new indie movie Once, which I would highly recommend to anyone, really, but mostly to anyone who has ever been frustrated with the way music and musicians are treated on the big and small screens. This is the most realistic treatment of musicians and the way they work that I've ever seen. There's no overblown Rocky approach, songs are allowed to be performed, usually on the street, in rehearsal, or as they are being written, in their entirety. This is almost unheard of on film or documentaries (other than concert films), since filmmakers seem to think that allowing an entire piece of music to be heard would put a film audience to sleep.
The movie stars Glen Hansard, lead singer of the Irish band, the Frames, and Marketa Irglova, both musicians, and until this movie, nonactors. Hansard was originally signed up as songwriter and consultant but when the intended star (Cillian Murphy) became unavailable, he was recruited. His performances with Irglova are stunning and while it ostensibly centers on their budding romance and musical collaboration, by the end you realize that the film portrays the sort of fleeting, temporary (thus the title, Once) musical interactions that happen all the time in the music world, and that are what keep musicians doing what they do. It doesn't hurt that Hansard's songs are catchy and literate (and that his performances are powerful and heartfelt) and that Irglova is one of the most charming screen presences I've seen in awhile. Definitely a movie not to be missed.
Monday, July 23, 2007
Monday, July 16, 2007
Thursday, July 12, 2007
Monday, July 9, 2007
Whether in music or in fiction, the most basic thing is rhythm. Your style needs to have good, natural, steady rhythm, or people won’t keep reading your work. I learned the importance of rhythm from music — and mainly from jazz. Next comes melody — which, in literature, means the appropriate arrangement of the words to match the rhythm. If the way the words fit the rhythm is smooth and beautiful, you can’t ask for anything more. Next is harmony — the internal mental sounds that support the words. Then comes the part I like best: free improvisation. Through some special channel, the story comes welling out freely from inside. All I have to do is get into the flow. Finally comes what may be the most important thing: that high you experience upon completing a work — upon ending your “performance” and feeling you have succeeded in reaching a place that is new and meaningful. And if all goes well, you get to share that sense of elevation with your readers (your audience). That is a marvelous culmination that can be achieved in no other way.
Friday, July 6, 2007
Thursday, July 5, 2007
One of the topics of the TGIFriday's crew at Kaufman Kamp was how few people in the US actually vote. Beppe and Tony were both amazed at the low percentage of voter turnout. This week I'm working on a story on the band Nathan, and songwriter Keri Latimer had this to say about her politics (or lack thereof):
"I’m not very political at all. Or I can’t seem to follow politics, because they frustrate me and then my frustration leads me to just turn everything off and then I become stupid about it all. So I can’t talk politics with anybody. "Scarecrow" [which features the refrain 'I feel a podium under my feet] is my song about politicians, how I see them in general. Most politicians just like to be up on the platform, waving their arms around. It’s so strange, it’s accepted now that the parties will pander to what they think the majority of the people want instead of taking a stand on something and sticking to it. It’s all a matter of polls, and 'If everyone wants this, we’ll say we’re going to do that.' And everyone knows that they’re not really going to. So how can you even vote nowadays when you know that nobody really means what they say? It’s really strange that we all just go along with it. [In 'Scarecrow'] I was thinking of them like scarecrows and how they want you to believe that they’re guarding the fields, but they secretly want to be crows."
Tuesday, July 3, 2007
Well, I’ve been off the blog for awhile. Too many other things to do, I guess. But I thought I should post something about my week at Kaufman Kamp. Steve Kaufman had been asking me for a few years, and I’d declined, mostly because when I was working it would have meant taking a week of vacation time to do it. Had I known how much fun it was, I would have made more of an effort to get there. Steve is not only a great guitarist and businessman, but puts on an incredible event.
The teaching format was a little different than other camps I’ve been to, where I either had the same guitarists for a week, or had two to five classes that meet daily. At Kaufman Kamp, the guitarists are split into groups by level and rotate through all the guitar instructors (of which there were nine the week I was there). This means you see every group once, for two hours. It took me awhile to figure out how to teach that way, but it worked well. You end up teaching real concepts and spending very little time saying “put your second finger on the third fret . . . no the third fret . . . no your second finger.
It was also a good hang and I met and re-met lots of great folks. I shared a cab to Kamp with the legendary banjoist Pat Cloud, who currently has the great misfortune to be living in my hometown of Long Beach, CA. He’s an amazing banjo player—none like him really: bebop and jazz lines on melodic banjo—crazy. And he’s a fun guy to hang with—favorite line: “Where does the time come from?” I spent a couple post-concert evenings at the local TGIFridays imbibing Sam Adams with Beppe Gambetta, his wife Frederica, Casey Henry, and Tony McManus, who kept us in stitches until they kicked us out: One of his gems: “I come from Paisley, Scotland, which is known for being the stingiest place in Scotland. At Christmas every year, a man there takes his children to visit Santa’s grave.” I also enjoyed hanging with Rolly Brown, Adam Granger, Mike Kaufman, Steve Kilby, Jim Baggett, and Marcy Marxer.
There was also an incredible group of mandolin instructors: Alan Bibey, John Moore, Don Stiernberg, Roland White, Radim Zenkl, and the unsung Emory Lester, who, if he was in the right band would be winning IBMA Mandolin Player of the Year for the next decade. I was thrilled that he asked me to play a tune with him on his concert set.
As for the Kampers, this was one of the largest and most cohesive groups of students I’d ever seen. Great players—ages 12 to well, I don’t know, but there were a few downright old guys. They all seemed to look after each other, have a great time together, and as Rolly Brown commented at the end of the week, there wasn’t a dud class the whole week.
On the last night I played my 20-minute concert set. I was a little nervous, but it went OK—I got Tony McManus to play “Josefin’s Waltz” with me and ended with “Richmond Blues,” with Steve K joining in. Then after I went backstage, Steve told me they wanted me onstage again. There were no encores, so I thought they just wanted me to take a little bow or something. But no, they were presenting me with the Kaufy Award—for “contributions to flatpicking.” What a shock and an honor. I was very moved and couldn’t really think of much to say. But it was a nice cap to the week, and made me feel very welcome in East Tennessee. Thanks, Steve.