On the road again. 40hour drive to Banff, Alberta, Canada…the type of drive that makes you reconsider your fear of flying. We travel this time in a Lincoln Navigator. I look forward to this ride because I know I will get some sleep. These last weeks have been rough.
We have driven so many miles up and down the U.S. in the last 25 years; the front seat of a car sleeps better than a single bed. Frank Stewart and Andre Bragg are driving and will be on the road crew, and Frank will also take all kinds of great pictures.
We have had more problems with vehicles over the years. One winter we had a Winnebago with no heat on a tour through the Midwest in the middle of a deep freeze. You had to sit right under the front vents to get any heat. "Man, is it supposed to be this cold in here?" I asked looking at my breath. Frank accused me of whining and volunteered to switch places. “Three blankets and still no satisfaction.” Later he observed, "Damn it’s cold in this m.f.!" We couldn't switch the vehicle until reaching the west coast so we eased the situation by using this inconvenience to considered real hardship that folks have endured. We ended up speculating on how Napoleon's soldiers must have felt in Russia which led to talk about why vodka doesn't freeze. Sometimes I read books or poems out loud to them. They wouldn't admit it but they always say, "Read another one man… read another one." We also pass hours by telling the stories of each others lives from first memories to the present. It's called 'the life of', but Frank's life is so interesting, we never get past him.
You may have noticed we had fewer post in the last weeks. That's because J. Kelly and I have been up day and night with notes, notes, notes…thousands of them. Wayne Shorter once told me, "Notes are like people. You have to go up and meet each one." Well I must be running for something because I've met a lot of those people in the last three weeks. These were hard but extremely intense days of 15, 16 hours of concentration. It’s funny because that type of absorption is difficult to get to and harder to let go. Once rehearsals began for tour, no more day and night vacation withmusic. And I'm still late and not working on orchestration yet, so this is gonna be three or four completely sleepless weeks. I love this, and when waking up at 5am after 2 or 3 hours of sleep, mutter to myself, "Let's see m.f. Let's see." J. Kelly joked with me after one week of intense work. "No posts huh?" He sent me this list of number of notes for each movement in the piano sketch:
Whenever I compose long pieces and see page after page of hard-earned music, I think about Sandy Feldstein-drummer, composer, arranger, music publisher and educator par excellence, man of sartorial splendor and down home humor. He would always say, "Are you suffering with diarrhea of the pen? Man, turn the music upside down when you’re halfway through and that's your whole piece with half the work." Good drummers hate to see a lot of notes anyway. You have to let them do their thing for the music to be free. Duke didn't write drum parts (I think). Sandy used to laugh when looking at a pile of notes and say, "Yes, there are a LOT of notes, but are they GOOD notes?" I loved him. We lost a great friend of music and American education whenhe passed away. I'm gonna check on Wendy today.
Before satellite radio we used to search all over for games and have the radio cut out at the crucial moment. Well, I slept from 9pm (when we left) to 5 in the morning (now) and missed that Packers-Bears game last night. We tease whoever sleeps about their snoring but Frank wins the prize. Now it’s just past 6 and the sky is that deep Matisse blue. We are chewing up open, American highway, and the trees are shadows that dot the misty landscape. The pre-sunrise lights of people's homes make us nostalgic for the school time mornings of our own childhoods, and the big trucks roll on and on and on…and so do we.
Today is my big brother Branford's birthday.
We had some helluva times growing up. He is a musician with such great ears and reflexes that playing with him was something you could take for granted…until you played with other people.
I remember us learning tunes in the mid-70's off of Earth, Wind and Fire, Parliament, Stevie Wonder, Tower of Power and all the recordings of funk bands with good horn sections. We were so country…we would write the names of notes (a-b-b-d-f-f) on regular loose-leaf paper.
Our first gig was an elementary school dance in Kenner, LA. We had a four piece band——sax, trumpet, guitar and drums. The gig was supposed to be two hours and took place in the school cafeteria-gymnasium-meeting room. We learned about 12 songs. Well, those songs took us about 35 minutes into the gig. We stopped. People said, "We came here to dance, y'all better come up with something, NOW". The next hour was a continuous medley of all 12 songs with some of the saddest solos you ever heard in your life. We were 11 and 12 then.
4 years later we played in a funk band called the Creators. Girls would ask us, "What do y'all create?"
The band was about 9 pieces, and Branford and I were the youngest by 4 or 5 years. We played a talent show in the 9th ward at Nicholls High School, and some kind of way had neglected to learn one of the contestant's songs…and to add insult to injury, didn't realize it till he walked out onto the stage.
Now these could be raucous brown affairs with the audience commenting (back and forth about what they liked and disliked) to the band. One group of singers earlier that evening had butchered “Kung Fu Fighting” and had the nerve to announce to the audience, "The band is fuckin' us up, y’all."
We had 9 and 1 packing, so we took the mic and announced that they weren't shit. It was funny, but we had to think about whether they would go home and come back with something because it was their neighborhood and those karate outfits probably gave them the feeling they could whip someone's ass. So we were on edge and the people were ready for some Crescent City type excitement to jump off.
Here comes my man whose song we definitely don't know. The show stops while we discuss another song to do. "Hey man, this is what I know. You motherfuckers better play my song." He has his country-best clothes on and probably all his friends and girlfriend there.
It was tight.
The people start murmuring which soon leads to shouting which we know will lead to a really colorful story, if you survive to tell it. Branford had only heard the song a few times on the radio. He sat down at the electric keyboard and played the intro and changes of the tune. He guided our bass player and drummer through it all with complete cool and saved us from a very unpleasant physical encounter with a hyped up audience.
My man made it through his song, yellow suit intact, and we all couldn't believe Book pulled that off. That was Branford's nickname Book, Bookie, Book-Book Nova, Track Star Book. He could play any instrument he touched and run the hundred in 10 seconds or faster if being chased through South Boston.
Happy Birthday Book.
Jonathan Kelly is from Maine. He plays bass.
J.K. copies music (translates the hand score into playable parts). He is a one-man team of copyists. When we did my Abyssinian Mass he turned 2hrs of music into professional parts in one week and made the choir director tremble.
He used to have a bass at my apt. and we would play after going through something to be copied.
His wife Phoebe is perfect for him. They were married in a most soulful and completely unpretentious ceremony in Manhattan's Central Park.
J. Kelly and I will be up and sleepless for 4 or 5 days rushing to meet some deadline at 3 in the morning but we still sit down after every music pick-up to play a game of chess.
We always say, "no need to be uncivilized."
He immediately walks out the door upon making a winning move to let me assess what has happened. Not a word. We have worked on hundreds of pieces.
Phoebe asked jk once late at night.
"What ever happens to all this stuff you are killing yourself over?
"We laugh about that all the time because we don't know what happens to it and wonder why we do it especially on really long pieces that never get recorded and everyone complains about it's too long and hard. Let's just play Black Codes forever. It would be a lot easier… Then jk says, "pick up at 2" and I have to be ready. When I'm really late, we compete. Can I compose faster than he copies? I knew I would miss the deadline for the symphony last year when jk said," we're not going to make it. This is too important to write with this type of fatigue."
He never says that. It's ready to be that time again.
Long live JK and Phoebe!
I'm thinking about how he can translate my completely homespun scores with thousands and thousands of notes into all that printed music and almost never make one single error. Must be something in Maine.
I'm thinking about whippin his ass on that chess board.
I'm thinkin' we're gonna be up for the next 4 weeks.
Happy birthday to my brother Ellis.
He is to the point and no frills. He is a photographer, poet, and computer engineer. Has three kids and works his ass off. We call him the oracle. He is constantly studying something. He was reading a transcript of Justice Scalia's opinion and decrying the lack of precision in the language.
All the while he's reading passages that he's marked in fluorescent blue to highlight this lack of judicial integrity. He backs every opinion with some form of evidence. We called him Lut when we were growing up. I still call him Lut or Lil 'Lut even though he's the tallest one of us. He's writing a book on war.
Ellis said he has been getting distracted lately and not doing what he is supposed to do. So I'm wondering what was he doing. Maybe looking at TV, gambling, hanging out, going to clubs, some frivolity…....he's reading the Old Testament.
When I first moved to New York, I studied ear training with the great Cuban maestro Alberto Socarras. I think Socarras was the first one to tell me about the master of choro—Pixinguinha (who is to Brazilians what Scott Joplin is,or should be, to Americans). Both Socarras and Pixinguinha played the hell out of the flute.
Kent Jordan (who made me practice as a teenager leading by example) plays an unbelievably virtuosic New Orleans flute. (He played on the first ballet I composed for the New York City Ballet,' Jazz Six Syncopated Movements'). I wrote an impossible to play part for him and he didn't even blink at it.
New Orleans people are related to Cubans through red beans and rice and to Brazilians through feijoada and Carnival…..and sometimes through flute.
Socarras would have loved Kent.
I'm writing a flute part right now.
Pixinguinha would have loved him too.