Reinventing the Piano is a course available through Kadenze which put the first session up on September 13. The subject is of course the piano, and the course goes through how it is built, why it is built the way it is, and what would happen if it were deconstructed and rebuilt in new ways. I haven’t had music theory since college, and haven’t played much since I broke my right pinkie finger more than a decade ago, but the first session, though it rehashes some information I’ve heard before, is an excellent outline of the instrument itself.
The course is taught by Dr. Dan Trueman of Princeton (bio here).
The course can be audited for free, or can be taken with a $10/month premium membership which gives the student the ability to submit course work, get a certificate of completion, keep a portfolio online and other perks. Students can participate in the forums as either free or premium users.
These are my course notes so I can refer back to them from future sessions and note the books mentioned.
Session 1.1 – Course Intro
Session 1.2 – Musical Scales and the Keyboard
Session 1.3 – The Action
Session 1.4 – The Harpsichord Action
Session 1.5 – The Clavichord Action
Session 1.6 – The Organ
Session 1.7 – The Piano Action
Session 1.8 – The Sound: Strings, Soundboard and Timbre
Session 1.9 - Pedals
Session 1.10 - For Coders
Session 1.11 – Closing
Coursework – there is a Spotify Playlist with the same piece (C.P.E. Bach’s Moderato from Sonata in B-minor, Wq.49/6) played on clavichord, harpsichord, fortepiano and modern piano). Before I played the songs, I noticed that they were very different lengths. Then I went and read the assignment (yes, when I was a student, I often jumped too far ahead!) and the first question is…why are they different lengths.
The assignment also suggested taking a phrase and comparing it from piece to piece, picking a favorite performance and explaining why, and discussing why the harpsichord version’s lack of dynamics affects the piece.
The other suggested piece was Schubert’s Sonata in Bb-Major, D.960. I found a version of it on Spotify here. I much prefer the Andante Sostenuto movement over the Molto Moderato movement.
There is also a quiz and other coursework for those who are not taking the course in audit/free mode.
Session 2 is scheduled to be online September 27.
I made a trip down to the Fifth Ward of Houston on Friday. No offense to the people who live there, or who are from there, but the “Five Spot” is not my normal stomping ground; it is a long way from Tomball…but I was pulled there, to the point where I continuously asked my wife if I should go and she suggested I answer the call.
From a material perspective, all I received for the trip was a card, the image of which is posted here.
But the visit was worth a whole lot more to me.
Joe Sample passed away on September 12, and Friday night was his visitation, open to the public, a categorization for which I qualified; I don’t know his wife Yolanda, or his son Nick (though I’ve seen him play bass several times). And I only spoke to Joe once, in passing after a show, saying the normal words one says to a performer you don’t “know” but whose performance has been a part of your life. People are hit with a lot of that these days, feeling like they get close to a particular performer through one or many of the social and digital media channels which provide an artificial sense of intimacy. Robin Williams comes to mind.
But music is different; the intimacy and the sharing isn’t artificial…especially if it hits you the right way, at the right time.
Joe first hit me with his album “Old Places, Old Faces.” And yes, kids, I mean album, the kind that earn scratches and pops through wear and use. I wore out that album, to the point where my two fave tracks – “Black and White” and “Hippies on a Corner” both had slight scratches in them. I never realized I “needed” digital music until this album came out on CD, so I could once again listen to it the way Joe intended it.
I was privileged to see Joe in concert several times, solo, with the Crusaders and with Lalah Hathaway as a guest. My favorite concert was when he played at the Hobby Center as part of Houston Homegrown 3G; he was on the stage solo for a while, then with flutist Hubert Laws (who I believe was in his same high school class), then solo again; it wasn’t a highly advertised appearance, but it was one of the most enjoyable performances I’ve seen.
I always enjoyed the story he told as he intro’d “Hippies on the Corner” talking about walking along Haight Asbury and being surprised by white “hippie flower children” slinging racial slurs his way.
I have no doubt that Joe, growing up in Houston’s Fifth Ward in the 40s and 50s, had heard his share of these racial slurs before. Joe attended Phyllis Wheatley High School and then Texas Southern University, staying close to his roots, leaving only to head to LA with The Jazz Crusaders, the band he founded with fellow school mates (some say gents he’d known in middle school). After finding some success, he moved back to the Houston area.
Which is why, last Friday night, I found myself at Our Mother of Mercy Church on Sumpter Street in the heart of the Fifth Ward. The Fifth Ward, from accounts I’ve read (which talk about poverty, high concentrations of felons, and other relator marketing nightmares), is not as bad as it used to be but as I drove by multiple run-down houses making my way to the church, I couldn’t help but wonder how this area had influenced a boy of five to take up the piano, and turn himself into the great jazz pianist and composer that he was. The answer wasn’t hard to find: Sample was influenced early on by the “la la music”, a pre-cursor to what is today called Zydeco, that his mother and father listened to.
One of the performances I missed was after Joe taught himself to play accordion (very late in life) and started playing zydeco as the “Zydeco Joe” band, with his son Nicklas on bass.
As I walked into the Church, several members of Phi Beta Sigma, which I learned was Joe’s fraternity, were milling in the front entrance way, getting ready to speak – some nervous, some joking to hide the nervousness, but all friendly, not just to each other but to me as I walked in. There was a viewing line which, after a moment’s hesitation, I queued into. I’m not big on viewings, not even with people I know.
I didn’t “know” Joe, only though his music and through one of those “in passing” fan meetings. I honestly can’t remember if it was after a Joe solo tour concert or if it was after the Crusaders “Rural Renewal” album tour. But I do recall that it was at the Arena Theater over in Bellaire. And it was nothing more than a handshake, me saying “that was great, pleasure to meet you” and Joe flashing that Joe Sample smile…which he should have trademarked. It was the same smile he had on stage when telling the story before “Hippies on a Corner.”
One of the speakers later in the service related a conversation he had with Joe, while he was sick and in his later days. He asked Joe how he was doing, and Joe replied, “I’m fine, always fine. I found my purpose in life early on, and that makes it easy.” I assume that means starting to play the piano at five years old, loving music and devoting one’s life to it.
I think that’s what that trademark smile meant.
I walked past Joe, past his wife Yolanda who was with someone she’d obviously known for years. Joe’s son and bandmate Nicklas was standing, looking at me like anyone would who is most likely sad, stressed, and wondering who this character is walking up to him. We both put out are hands to shake, me saying the usual “I’m sorry for your loss” and him responding “Thank you for coming,” like he probably had 100 times that evening.
And then I said “Your daddy’s music was inspirational, to me and many others.” Nicklas flashed that trademark smile himself, and said thanks.
Acorns never fall far from the trees. Nicklas’ professional biography (one as part of the Coryell Auger Sample trio) says “Forty years of experience in the music business is an unprecedented amount of information to gain in just the few years Nicklas has been working with his father. “Joe Sample is the best teacher I could ever have. I’m learning from the best”.
I haven’t heard much of Nicklas’ trio’s music, but I like this track, called “Beautiful.” I will seek out more.
As for the visitation, the Phi Beta Sigma brothers spoke about Joe, with one singing a hymn acapella so loud and clear that I’m sure my wife heard him back in Tomball. There were several proclamations from TSU, from the US Gov courtesy of Sheila Jackson Lee, and from many others.
There were lots of stories told, anecdotes shared, including on gentleman, who was MC’ing most of the affair, who stated something like “We can all imagine Joe in heaven saying ‘I know God is perfect, but where did you get this piano? And I thought the acoustics up here would be better?’”
Thanks very much to Nicklas and Yolanda for opening the visitation to the public, and my thoughts are with you. And thanks to Joe, for the music.
Below is a video of “Hippies on a Corner.” You can see that trademark smile at the end.
On a recent trip to see good friends in Hawaii (yes, this story does start on a beautiful island), after trying to kill my friend Bob with a hike, we were too tired to do anything but eat, drink wine and have the TV on while we talked.
“Have you seen Lillyhammer on NetFlix?” Bob asks.
“You mean the Olympics?” I replied.
“No, the show, with Steven van Zandt from the Sopranos.”
He turns it on, and we begin watching. Van Zandt plays a mob heavie who is forced into witness protection, and chooses to be sent to Lillyhammer because he liked what he saw of it on the Winter Olympics. If you haven’t seen the show, it is worth a watch; just remember to turn on the close caption support so that you don’t miss the translations from Norwegian (a setting I am familiar with from watching Asian Martial Arts movies with my son).
I pride myself on my ability to connect the dots, but Bob’s next comment made me realize that I missed one.
“He looks a lot different than when he plays with Springsteen, doesn’t he?” Bob said.
I had never been a large Springsteen fan, but surely should have made that connection. Springsteen made me think of pop music and benefit shows, not really a band I was into.
After the Woodlands show, my wife and I are big fans. It was great weather, the lawn at the Woodlands Pavilion was the perfect spot.
We went to see van Zandt as much as Springsteen. But van Zandt wasn’t there; he could not make the NA part of the Springsteen world tour because he needed to be in Norway to film season three. Tom Morello from Audioslave and Rage Against the Machine was the stand-in and a stand-out, and is also on some tracks of Springsteen’s latest album, High Hopes.
No opening act, just Springsteen and the E Street Band for three hours. It was a party, my wife never sat, dancing through the songs she knew and the ones she didn’t.
Springsteen hadn’t been in Houston in five years, his first appearance here was 40 years ago. The E Street Band had a full horn section, including Jake Clemons, nephew of the late “Big Man” Clarence Clemons. Though not yet possessing the stage presence of his uncle, Jake more than held his own on the sax; hopefully you can tell from the video from the lawn.
The second song in the set was the title track from High Hopes. If you haven’t heard it, I highly recommend it.
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We learned that fans in the front hold up requests on posters, and the most creative ones (or the ones he wants to play) Bruce grabs, shows to the camera, and then plays. There were several of these, but two young men held up one that said they would sing every word of “No Surrender.” Bruce got them up on stage, where they sang/screamed every word, running around the stage to hug as many of the E Street Band-ies that they could. There are some great photos of those two on the Springsteen web site.
He later pulled up a young old lady to dance on “Dancing in the Dark.”
The new rendition of “The Ghost of Tom Joad” which is on the new album featuring Morello on guitar and some vocals is a great update to this song. Morello’s guitar solo on stage was longer than the album, and just as well done; he pulled the plug on his guitar, smacking it against his hand generating feedback, prompting my wife to give me a “WTF was that?” look.
Near the end, special guest Joe Ely joined the band for renditions of Great Balls of Fire and Lucille. Joe didn’t look to comfortable up there with the up-close Springsteen-mike-sharing but the renditions were toe-tappers.
The show went up to and a bit past the Pavilion’s 11pm curfew. The fact than van Zandt/Lillyhammer wasn’t there just means we need to see them again.
In the late 1970s and early 80s, the race to get primo concert seats was physical, not electronical. Bob, Tom, Dan, Slim, myself and a varying cast of others would wait outside of Joske’s, a department store in North Oaks Mall, San Antonio, in an foreshadowing of what Apple fanboys do before a new iPhone launch. Depending on the show, the wait could be most of the evening, or just early morning. When the mall opened in the morning, we’d race in and get in line at the ticket booth inside Joske’s to purchase as near to front row tickets for Rush, AC/DC, Judas Priest, April Wine, UFO and a variety of other acts that came through our Rock and Roll capitol of the world, SA TX.
In that time, and at our age (high school and college) the shows were more raw, less slick and technical. There were pyrotechnics, there were lighted stages, and occasionally there were graphics and pics.
But always, there was the music that we listened to, loud and proud, on LPs and in our cars, on 8-tracks and cassettes…singing, air guitaring, air drumming…being enveloped by the songs. That carried over to the concerts; sitting close, singing (or yelling, by some definitions) every song, air guitaring so demonstratively that we sometime banged into each other. Some songs, those that we listened to repeatedly, became immersive experiences live: the band and me in a tunnel vision of shared entertainment, where no outside thoughts intruded. At once concert, I found a discarded broom, apparently used by the cleaning crew; much to the chagrin of the folks in the row behind me, it became my air guitar and air bass. I do not believe I put out an eye with it, but I do believe I was note perfect.
Three decades later, a few days ago this month (October 2012), I took a forced flashback into those days, dragging my lovely wife to see Rush at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Both myself and the boys in the band (Alex Lifeson, Geddy Lee and Neal Peart) are older (the two front men and I are in our fifties, the “new guy”, Peart, just turned 60). The crowd was noticeably older, and, as one of our seat mates told my wife, mostly male (“no lines for the ladies room, but huge lines for the men’s”). I’d made her a copy of the playlist from one of the concerts earlier in the tour, but she’d only listened to them a couple of times, and after the concert confessed that all of the music sounded the same to her, as most music does if you are unfamiliar with it. Her opinions form an interesting contrast to those of us subsumed by the cult of Rush.
It couldn’t be the same, of course. Or could it? As soon as the lights went down, the first easily recognizable notes of Subdivisions came out (as did the smell of weed; apparently some things never change) and the crowd was on its feet…and stayed up throughout the entire concert (except for intermission and slow The Garden). My wife had the guy behind her singing (or yelling) in her ear, and me singing (not yelling, but, of course, note perfect) in front of her. Three rows down, three buddies were singing in chorus, usually arm in arm, head banging to the music together.
It was nostalgic. It was entertaining. And, in the end, yes, there was air guitar (and air bass and air drums).
It was different, more multi-media with the large screen at the back playing mini-videos, smaller screens in the front with birds and objects flying from screen to screen. And there was even the Clockwork Angels String Section, a set of four or five violinists with a couple of cellos joining in for the playing of the new album….but this string section rocked. I did not know that you could play violin and head bang at the same time, but these folks did it from the opening number.
With such a long list of songs to choose from, there’s no way one can hear all of ones favorites at a Rush concert (Geddy introduced the song The Analog Kid as “a song celebrating its 30th birthday”). Though Working Man was on the set list, it was replaced by Spirit of Radio, making the 2112 encore pieces (they played part I, part II and part VII) the oldest songs in the sets.
In some ways, seeing Rush is like seeing an old friend who tells stories that you’ve heard before with a few new twists. They share their humor through the videos (the three of them as “gnomes” when the taxman comes to see the Watchmaker) or through quips…or though those impromptu moments. We witness ones of those when the BEST POWER TRIO EVER (had to throw that in) was jamming through 2112 and Alex broke his guitar. Geddy and Neal kept going as Alex rushed to the side of the stage…but there was no replacement ready. As his two bandmates kept going, we could see them laughing at him. So Alex danced a jig on the side of the stage to much applause, until he could get his backup guitar and once more join the fray. The sense of humor of the boys in the band was on display, much like that which allowed them the use of Fly By Night on the excellent Volkswagen commercial (during an interview, when asked why they finally consented to the commercial use of one of their songs, Geddy responded “because it was fun.”)
My air guitar made several appearances, but it stayed out as I pogoed my way through YYZ. And the best thing was I didn’t poke my lovely wife’s eye out. She remained standing, clapping and cheering, on sore feet from the two ten-mile walks around NYC that we’d done the day before. She’s done Lambeau field in the cold and a Rush concert with a vast majority of male cult members…she is gorgeous and a trooper.
My impressions from the concert: Best of the first set: Analog Kid and Far Cry. Best of the second: the strings section for Clockwork Angels, Headlong Flight and The Anarchist. 2112 in the Encore was the best by far. If you haven’t gone to see them on this tour, go.
Set List (which I am holding in the pic while Rush plays Seven Cities of Gold in the background):
Intermission (old man’s break)
My review of CLOCKWORK ANGELS by Kevin J. Anderson, based on a story and lyrics by Neil Peart, is up on SFsignal.com. An excerpt:
REVIEW SUMMARY: A fable of Order vs. Chaos fighting for a young man’s soul set in a world of alchemy and alternate universes. And steamships! KJA’s world building plus Easter eggs for Rush fans, and a struggle that starts out simple but is complex.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Owen Hardy grows up in a world controlled by the Watchmaker, where “the Universe has a plan, All is for the best.” His yearning for something more takes him out of the order of his small town, and thrusts him into the battle between order (the Watchmaker) and chaos (the Anarchist) leading him to explore places and worlds he did not realize existed.
PROS: Hugh Syme’s graphics (wish there were more in the ARC!); Rush easter eggs; combination of alchemy and steampunk world
CONS: Starts slow; more backstory (i.e, a longer novel) on the world’s history and characters;
BOTTOM LINE: After a slow start, Clockwork Angels barrels through a world of alchemy, multiple universes and steamships, using a manipulative war between chaos and order as the canvas for a philosophical discourse based on lyrics by Neil Peart. Not just for Rush and KJA fans, but enjoyable for those who like different worlds and allegorical fables.
[For additional background, see the review of the Clockwork Angels album by Rush]
Neal Peart, lyricist and drummer of Rush, has, ably assisted by Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee of the band, written lyrics for hundreds of songs for the band’s 19 studio albums (the other (20th) was a cover of rock standards). Several of these songs formed “concept albums” where all of the lyrics (or maybe just a side of the LP, for those of us who remember and still have those wonderful discs) put together told a tale: a revolt against the controlling priests of Syrinx (2112), the battle of emotion vs. logic fought by old gods (Hemispheres), and many others. The band has been listed on several of “those lists” of “Bands influential in the worlds of SciFi and fantasy” (and I will confess, I penned a completely awful short story based on the lyrics of “A Farewell to Kings” in college).
In spite of his place in life as a drummer ranked repeatedly among the world’s best, in his motorcycle tour/philosophical/observation books such as Ghost Rider and Roadshow, Neal Peart comes across as a normal guy (or as normal as a Canadian can be ) who has tried to follow his own path and is often in awe and even doubtful that people see him as something special.
Take away the drums and motorcycles and replace them with juggling and steamships, and you get to the everyman that is Owen Hardy, the “hero” of the novel Clockwork Angels. Not that this tale is autobiographical, but it is certainly a fable of an everyman, confronted and pulled by the tides of order and chaos, asking him to chose one or the other. That everyman concept, and the choices they make are the topic of several Rush songs (“I will choose the path that’s clear, I will choose free will”).
Writing lyrics and writing a book are, of course, different animals. It is good to be friends with an experienced author like Kevin J. Anderson (mentioned in Roadshow). KJA takes the lyrics of the album Clockwork Angelsand builds a world around them. It is hard not to read this book with the album playing in your head, and KJA interweaves the lyrics into the story to keep the voices in your head singing along.
Clockwork Angels is the 20th studio album (including the EP Feedback) from the best power trio in the world, Rush. It has been five long years since Snakes and Arrows, the band’s last studio album. This is advertised as a concept album, as the band used to do in the old days (one side of Caress of Steel, 2112, A Farewell to Kings and Hemispheres come immediately to mind), with the added bonus that Rush lyricist Neil Peart (and an author in his own right) will collaborate with Kevin J. Anderson on a book based on the album lyrics.
In a quote about the book from KJA:
In a young man’s quest to follow his dreams, he is caught between the grandiose forces of order and chaos. He travels across a lavish and colorful world of steampunk and alchemy, with lost cities, pirates, anarchists, exotic carnivals, and a rigid Watchmaker who imposes precision on every aspect of daily life.
Some of the themes and lyrics remind me of a mature-man’s 2112; instead of a young man fighting against the Priests of Syrinx, he is questioning the “lack of free will” mantra that he was taught growing up. Free will is a consistent Peart theme so there is no surprise that it is included here. The concept of a conflict between order and chaos reflects the logic vs. emotion conflict that was part of the Hemispheres album. The album cover, with the clock and the alchemist’s symbols ( a great discussion here), fits well with the lyrics and the forthcoming novel. The clock symbols look like they correspond with the 12 tracks on the album…coincidence, I think not!
Hazarding guesses at the plot of the novel based on lyrics is tricky. Luckily, the Digital Booklet that comes with the album has an intro paragraph for each tune in the liner notes. Piecing it all together, I would guess it is the story of a man who is either a rebel or is chosen as a champion, brought up in a world where everything is run like clockwork (and everyone expects it to run that way (brought up to believe)). He longs for something bigger, and sets out on some sort of quest. He meets the “Clockwork Angels”, the ones who run the joint, pulling back the curtain like the Wizard of Oz. Once he gets over his “god-worship” based on how he was brought up, he is either indoctrinated as an apprentice, sent out on a quest (Seven Cities of Gold) or enlisted/tricked in a fight against something that threatens to bring down the Clockwork Angels (order vs. chaos!). Along the way, he finds out secrets/background about the Clockwork Angels (All I know is that sometimes, you have to be wary Of a miracle too good to be true). Perhaps he is disillusioned by what he discovers about the workings of the world, and seeks to travel to places where they do not maintain control (The Wreckers). In the end, he looks back on his life (which is now no doubt a story of legend) and through trials and tribulations, wouldn’t change a thing. He passes on, into the Garden (which may just be a many worlds jumping off point, so he can do it all over again).
How’d I do, KJA?
Though the lyrics are sweet, let’s not forget the music. The boys in da band are nearing their late fifties (looks at self) but their musicianship is still individually and collectively superb. I subscribe to the martial arts way of training – practice, practice, practice; a 50 year practitioner is so skillful that age doesn’t come into it. In the same tone, these three Rush martial masters are obviously Sifus of their chosen weapons.
Notes on each track after the break. Hope it is not five more years, gents! (more…)
Friday, May 11, 2011 (The Hobby Center) — Three generations of Houston Jazz musicians provided a sold out audience with a once-in-a-lifetime concert, highlighted by the ending set: a duet from pianist Joe Sample and flutist Hubert Laws.
We had serious trepidation about this concert; though the advertisement had a picture of Joe Sample (one of my all time faves) and a brief mention of him, there was no listing of the performers. And the bargain price of about $15 per ticket made me worried; I was sure we would here some great jazz, but would Joe Sample be there? The last time we saw him with the Crusaders, we paid a pretty penny for those tickets.
Not only was he there, but he was joined by Grammy-award winning Houston flutist in an ending set that was simply magical.
The concert was the season ending one by MusicDoingGood, a local organization I had not heard of, but we certainly be following closely.
Of the Third Generation performers, Chase Jordan on the Vibes stood out, with a clear sound and an almost artistically acrobatic usage of the mallets.
Horace Alexander Young on tenor sax shined on both selections in the Second Generation set.
Then the originals arrived. Horace Grigsby did an outstanding rendition of What a Wonderful World, and Jewel Brown, sitting down though she was (refusing to take her cane onto the stage was a nice touch!) absolutely rocked Time After Time.
But the best set was Sample and Laws. Joe Sample came out, performed one track by himself, then Hubert Laws joined him for a set that quickly got into its groove, making the audience think they had been playing together since their high school daze.
The whole group returned for a final rendition of I’ve Got Rhythm.
The set list (thanks to Music Doing Good for providing it):
Though lighter on the Rugby (disappointing for this former and now occasional rugby player) than on the subject of Mandela, Invictus is an entertaining movie covering Nelson Mandela’s backing and support of the 1995 South Africa Springboks rugby team, and their efforts in that years Rugby World Cup (the third most watched event in world sports, for my uneducated American friends). Up to that point, the blacks hated the Springboks as a symbol of white supremacy, and Mandela threw his weight behind the team as a symbol of unification.
Invictus (see the poem at the end of this post) is directed by Clint Eastwood (which is reason enough to go see it), and stars Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon. Morgan Freeman plays Mandela, and his performance ranks right behind The Shawshank Redemption (IMHO) in a long line of excellent work. Damon plays Francois Pineaar, captain of the South African Rugby team. (more…)
“Grammy says you are too old to play Rugby,” my nephew, who had a short college Rugby career of his own, tells me.
“She’s probably right,” I reply, “but I’m still playing.”
Master’s Rugby players get a lot of grief from friends and family, about why they are still playing (note the timely Sunday Mother Goose and Grimm (4/10/09) comic my wife found for me right before the tourney).
Last weekend, New Orleans played host to the 2nd Annual French Quarter Masters Rugby Tournament. The Texas XXX’s showed in force, along with teams from Memphis, New Orleans and part of a Birmingham team. Undoubtedly, the economy kept this year’s tourney from being as successful as the first one, but we got in two good matches and lots of bourbon street.
Master’s Rugby is for players over 35 years old. The rules are modified to protect older players, but what happens in reality is that the team captains meet before the match and decide on the restrictions. (more…)
With the Rockets win over Portland combined with the Spurs loss (stomping) at Cleveland, the Rox are now 1/2 game out of the Southwest Division lead. The New Orleans Hornets loss at home to Utah gives the Rockets a 1.5 game cushion over the 3rd place Hornets, with Dallas three games behind the Rockets.
A quick look at the remaining games in the schedule shows the Rockets with an excellent chance to win the division: (more…)