Saturday, September 29, 2007


The Jazz Protagonists have long been fans of the jazz arranger Marty Paich. He wrote for Ella Fitzgerald, Art Pepper, Sammy Davis Jr, and Mel Torme, among others, and was known for his offbeat, agile brass charts. In particular, he quoted liberally and cleverly from bop masterpieces and pop culture, as well as throwing in obscure in-crowd references with a jazzy wink.

For a couple of years now, we've been talking about doing, as one of our weekly Protagonists Jazz Parties on KRTU, a tribute to Paich. Well, the time came last week. We decided to get together a dektet, a version of the rumbly small-big-band sound Miles Davis made popular with Birth Of The Cool. This includes, oddly, a French horn and a tuba. Darren made calls (Barry: "Where can we find a jazz French-hornist?" Darren: "No problem"), and I spent the better part of several days churning out charts. From eight o'clock Thursday morning to one o'clock Monday night I got a total of fifteen hours' sleep. Ah, but it was worth it! We got the guys together and had a really great time.

Give it a listen, and enjoy the Paich-ishness of it all. We did three songs that were pretty faithful renderings of charts that he wrote for Sammy Davis Jr and Mel Torme, but with my own tweaking here and there. And then we did our usual intro and outro tunes, the original compositions "Protag Blues" (by me) and "50-50" (by Darren), but with a Paichy treatment. I had some fun with them, giving the dektet crazy quotes from Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck, as well as Schoolhouse Rock (the killer brass lick from "Conjunction Junction"), Styx (the killer brass lick from "Nothing Ever Goes As Planned"), Rush (you'll have to keep your ears open for this one), Deep Purple ("Smoke On The Water"), and more.

Enjoy our Party With Marty.

Thursday, September 27, 2007


This last weekend they had the big jazz festival here — one of the biggest in the nation. Days are for local bands (the Protags only play every couple of years, though, for some reason), and nights are for the big acts. Saturday night featured the slammin' Jane Monheit and the ¨berslammin' Arturo Sandoval, whom we enjoyed from the VIP seats, front and center. What a show.

Afterward, local guru Henry Brun had put together a blowing session at Pete's Pub, right across from the festival. Catherine and I went and enjoyed ourselves so much that I went back the next night. Saturday was traditional swingin' stuff, and Sunday was the smooth-jazz stuff, so it was Chuck Mangione and the Rippingtons, both of whom I neglected in favor of dinner with my wife. At the Pete's thing, though, I showed up just in time to relieve bassist George Prado of his burden for about twenty minutes.

This was amusing, because not many people in the scene here are aware that I even play bass at all, much less that it was my main instrument for a while and I got a bass scholarship at Baylor. So the music was fun, and the looks of surprise were fun too. I even almost did pretty well.

Pianists don't ever get to hear other pianists, because, ya know, they're playing. So this was also fun in that I got to sit right next to the guy from the Rippingtons, who'd dropped in for some fun, and hear him rip. Fine player, with really interesting ideas (we mainly stuck to Latin jazz, of course). So. I jammed with a Rippington.

Monday, September 24, 2007


Catherine's friend Cathryn studies obscure languages. A while back, she was going over someone's field notes from rural China, and discovered that, where the researchers had reported two dialects, there were actually three going on, the third being heretofore unknown.

That's right: our friend discovered a new dialect.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


You will not at all be surprised to find out that Catherine and I have been given a baby grand piano.

It's a 1929 Brambach, in pretty good condition. After a tuning, it sounds resonant and rich, with a nice 2k ping that gives it some real strength and clarity.

Paul Soupiset has had it in his family for years, with no place for it. They've had it on loan to various places, but they just decided to unload it, figuring that the knowledge that it will be played well and often is payment enough.

Of course, Catherine and I have the same problem that the Soups have: where to put the thing? Theoretically, it could fit in our condo, but getting it up there wouldn't be worth the trouble since we're only staying there for a few months.

Meanwhile, the lovely country chapel that just hired me was pianoless. They've had an electronic keyboard there, which is fine so far as it goes but not the real deal. So, using my excellent problem-solving skills, I had Len and Mark Hess pack up the piano (where it had been bulking up a Soupiset friend's living-room) and make the hill country journey.

The chapel is small, with hard floors and walls, so the piano sounds awfully big in there. So nice, though! My first Sunday with it was last week. The congregation liked it, too: there were several nice compliments from people who enjoyed the sight and sound of the real thing.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


I've always wondered what I look like when I sing. Now I know.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


In email, which Marshall McLuhan would call a "hot" medium, we often tend to make much of things rather than little. People tend to take things personally that aren't meant personally, take things as representative that are anomalous, take things as offensive that weren't meant to be offensive, and escalate emotions at every turn. Strunk and White's advice holds true: "Check twice to see if you've said what you intended to say; chances are you haven't."

It may be simply because of a giant cultural literacy shift. For two or three generations, the written word had given way to the spoken word, by television, movies, phones. Then, suddenly, we were plunged back into writing, except we'd lost the age-old customs of writing that we'd previously had.

The fact is that very few people are masters of the written word. Facial expressions, tones of voice, the presence of other people right around — so many cues are missing in this type of communication. It's really a wonder the whole thing hasn't flamed out.

Saturday, September 8, 2007


Thursday, I noticed something like a large pimple or an insect bite on my forehead. Didn't pop: not a pimple. Very painful. Then, later that day, I noticed a lump at the hinge of my right jaw, just in front of my right earlobe. Extremely painful. Not my imagination.

It was suggested that we wait through the weekend to see what came of these things: Not me. The very next day, the very first thing, Catherine and I went to the doctor, waited , read a lot, overheard more Oprah than wanted, waited more, then showtime.

Forehead first: it's a staph infection (she thinks). It's large now and red, and beginning to get scaly. Having just seen a House in which someone with a staph infection goes into emergency-alert and almost dies just before every commercial break, I wasn't pleased. But apparently all I have to do is wash my hands every 1.5 minutes and take some pills and it goes away.

Jawlump: related to forehead. It's a swollen lymph node doing its job, which is to absorb poison from other places. In other words, it's a big swollen thing full of dangerous poison that appears in order to prevent you from getting a big swollen thing full of poison. Anyway, handwashing and pills should do the trick.

Monday, September 3, 2007

which awful boy

In Order of the Phoenix, Harry mentions "Dementors" in front of his relatives.

Vernon:'And what the ruddy hell are Dementors?'

'They guard the wizard prison, Azkaban,' said Aunt Petunia.

Two seconds of ringing silence followed these words before Aunt Petunia clapped her hand over her mouth as though she had let slip a disgusting swear word. Uncle Vernon was goggling at her. Harry's brain reeled. Mrs. Figg was one thing — but Aunt Petunia!

'How d'you know that?' he asked her, astonished.

Aunt Petunia looked quite appalled with herself. She glanced at Uncle Vernon in fearful apology, then lowered her hand slightly to reveal her horsy teeth.

'I heard — that awful boy — telling her about them — years ago,' she said jerkily.

'If you mean my mum and dad, why don't you use their names?' said Harry loudly, but Aunt Petunia ignored him. She seemed horribly flustered.


Brilliant storytelling, that. We all, like Harry, thought she meant James.

Again and again, Rowling excels in the artist's most mysterious skill: to seem to change the past, by changing our perceptions.