Category Archives: Music

Band Practice

ImageSundays are for band practice.  I play bass and it is my main passion in life now that I’m over the hill.  I want to play it well, at a professional level.  Here I am playing at the annual Beatles Tribute at the V.A. Hospital in Palo Alto, California, on September 18, 2013.

Other creative endeavors include writing (hence this journal) and Photoshopping, or digital art.  I love to create images, whether by drawing them outright or by combining and editing photos off the web.

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Playing String Bass (for Jazz)

p1000296edited1One of the loves of my life is the string bass.  Also called the upright bass, the double bass or the contra bass, it’s that giant fiddle thing you see in orchestras, jazz bands and other musical groups.  I’ve wanted to become proficient at playing the bass for years, but it was always a secondary priority to getting an education and then establishing a career.  

My number one New Year’s resolution is to finally become proficient enough on bass to join a small jazz group.  I’m not getting any younger:  it’s now or never.  I have a string bass, but it’s made of laminated wood.  Laminated wood basses are strong and resist cracking, but they don’t sound as good as a bass carved out of a solid blocks of wood (they use different pieces for the front, back and sides).  These are called “carved” basses for obvious reasons.  They have a warmer tone than laminated basses and are much more expensive.  You could easily pay $8,000 to $12,000 for a fine carved bass, and if you were part of the San Francisco Orchestra you probably should.  Alas, neither my checkbook nor my musical abilities have attained that stature.

Another resolution is to buy a carved bass in 2009.  I want one and by gum, I will have one.  However, it will probably be more in the $2,000 price range.  Countries like China, Rumania and South Korea are now making fully carved basses and orchestra musicians are using them more and more.  My own music supplier uses a South Korean carved bass in the San Matero Peninsula Orchestra; it’s a Hans Kroger bass.  I will either buy one of those or a similar brand.

So far I am living up to my resolution.  I have been practicing my bass steadily for the past week or so.  Playing a big stand-up bass is physically demanding, so right now I am concentrating on building up my shoulders, arms, hands and fingers.  All are a bit sore right now.  My plucking fingers on my right hand are calloused.  My endurance will grow.  When I have the strength to play a gig, that is playing  job of about four hours, I will consider myself sufficiently in shape.

I love the twangy resonance of a string bass.  I love the clicking sound of the strings on the fingerboard.  Listen to some Vince Guaraldi records or some recordings of the American Songbook, e.g. what they call “standards,” generally dance music and ballads.  I especially recommend Rod Stewart’s American Songbook collection — the orchestral bass player is excellent and the warm bass tones are amazing.

Turn up the bass tone and listen to the string bass.   You can hear it “walking” up and down the scale and the deep rhythms attune themselves with my soul.

My approach to finally becoming a bass player include the following:

1.  Practice playing my bass daily — start with half an hour and build up to an hour once my hands and fingers strengthen.

2. Listen to jazz and standards at every opportunity.  To play great music you must listen to great music.

3. Study music theory.  Practice arpeggios, scales and following chord symbols on sheet music.  I have some play-along CD’s by Jamey Aebersold Jazz for this purpose.  You can order them from Amazon.com.

4.  Eventually, find a group of other musicians to practice and play gigs with.

If there are any aspiring musicians in the South Bay area who might want a bass player, give me a shout.

When She Doesn’t Love You: Walk Like a Man

I have a son who is at a crossroads in a relationship; it appears that he may not be able to work it out with his lady love, that she has left and isn’t coming back.  As a father, there isn’t much I can do, except to say, we all go through the heartache of a lost love.  It is a price we pay for being human.

So for my advice in this dark hour of his life, I can only offer this song of solace:  Walk Like a Man, by the Four Seasons, from 1963.

Here are the words to the song:

Walk like a man

Oh, how you tried to cut me down to size
Tellin’ dirty lies to my friends
But my own father said “Give
her up, don’t bother
The world isn’t comin’ to an end”
(He said)

Walk like a man, talk like a man
Walk like a man my son

No woman’s worth crawlin’ on the earth
So walk like a man, my son

Bye bye baby, I don’t-a mean maybe
Gonna get along somehow
Soon you’ll be cryin’ on
account of all your lyin’
Oh yeah, just look who’s laughin’ now
(I’m gonna)

Walk like a man, fast as I can
Walk like a man from you
I’ll tell the world “forget about it, girl”
And walk like a man from you

Should You Marry Her?

Back in the 1970’s I knew this little Filipina girl and dated her for awhile.  I was divorced and had two boys to raise.  I had been through divorce, debt and a lot of hell.  The girl was cute and sweet, but I decided a bit too young and innocent for me.  Soon, I moved to Arizona with my two boys and left her behind in San Jose.  But she wouldn’t give up on me and started flying to Phoenix on a regular basis to see me. 

At the time, Olivia Newton John was a popular singer and had a hit out called “If You Love Me, Let Me Know.”  My feelings for the little Filipina kept gnawing at me and I sure didn’t want to give up my freedom.  But everytime I heard Olivia Newton-John’s song on the radio, I imagined it was my Filipina speaking to me:  “If you love me let me know, if you don’t, then let me go.”  I was falling in love with her despite my intention not to do so.

Then one day at Fountain Hills, surrounded by empty desert and a huge fountain shooting from the lake into the sky, my little Filipina, whose name is Tess, tried to pin me down.  While we were sitting on the grass, she lowered her head and said, “What are your plans, honey?”  I knew it was time to commit or to walk away.  I also knew that by breaking her heart I would break mine too.  So I replied, “I don’t know exactly what my plans are, but whatever they are, they will have to include you.”  A couple of months later I bought her a ring.

We have been married 32 years now. 

This week our son has faced a similar crisis.  His girlfriend, who has been with him around five years, got tired of waiting for a commitment and that elusive ring, and moved out of his apartment in Los Angeles.  I think she did the right thing.  If I was to speak to my son about the matter, it would be this:  “It’s simple son.  If you love her, let her know.  If you don’t, then let her go.”  Keeping someone in a state of limbo, is unfair and never right.  Or, just listen to Olivia Newton-John below and follow the advice.

Skeeter Davis’s Letters to God

Skeeter DavisBack in 1963 I was in love with a pretty little blonde named Joe Anne Wade.  Joe Anne was a student at Wilcox High School in Santa Clara, California.  I was a freshman in college.  We loved a song by a singer named Skeeter Davis (pictured at right) who was big that year.  Skeeter sang a song called “The End of the World.”  It was about how someone feels when the one they love has departed their life.   When Joe Anne’s previous boyfriend got out of the army, she decided she liked him better than me.  Soon Skeeter’s song was more to me than pretty music:  it described exactly how I felt about losing Joe Anne.

The years have passed and I forgot about Skeeter Davis until tonight.  My wife and I were at the “Jazz Bash by the Bay,” a meeting of jazz bands  in Monterey, California.  In the last performance of the evening, the drummer of one group told a touching story.  His name is Danny Coots and he lives and records in Nashville. 

Danny said his wife had been a fan of Skeeter Davis.  Skeeter lived in Nashville and died there of breast cancer in 2004.   Mrs. Coots went to Skeeter’s estate sale and bought a bunch of things, including boxes.  Inside one of the boxes Danny found some letters that Skeeter had written to God in 1962 and 1963.  The letters were handwritten on hotel stationery and were written while Skeeter was touring.  They were her personal conversation with God, asking him why things had to happen the way they do, why she had to suffer the loss of someone’s love.  She spoke of touring as a popular singer and how lonely it was on the road.

Danny said that, in reading these letters, he felt that he was intruding on Skeeter’s privacy.  It was obvious that when she was pouring her heart out to God, she never intended that her writings would be read by anyone else.  Danny said that the content of Skeeter’s letters could best be summarized by the words to one of her most popular songs – “The End of the World.”

The Monterey jazz group ended their performance by playing and singing this song and by dedicating it to Skeeter Davis.  It was a touching thing to do.   The audience responded with a standing ovation.  Thank you, Danny Coots, for sharing this with all of us.

Following are two things:  the words to “The End of the World” and then a Youtube video of Skeeter singing the song.  Enjoy – then say a prayer for Skeeter Davis. 

THE END OF THE WORLD

Why does the sun go on shining
Why does the sea rush to shore
Don’t they know it’s the end of the world
‘Cause you don’t love me any more

Why do the birds go on singing
Why do the stars glow above
Don’t they know it’s the end of the world
It ended when I lost your love

I wake up in the morning and I wonder
Why everything’s the same as it was
I can’t understand, no, I can’t understand
How life goes on the way it does

Why does my heart go on beating
Why do these eyes of mine cry
Don’t they know it’s the end of the world
It ended when you said goodbye

Why does my heart go on beating
Why do these eyes of mine cry
Don’t they know it’s the end of the world
It ended when you said goodbye

Happy Birthday, Connie Francis

cfrancis1.jpgConnie Francis was born 69 years ago today. She was a popular singer in the late fifties and early sixties and I still love her music even today. All generations have their great performers. Connie Francis belonged to mine, the era of the early sixties when I was in high school. There was no sock hop, party or dance that didn’t feature plenty of her songs. When we went driving around in our jalopies, she was on the radio, singing songs like “Who’s Sorry Now,” “Where the Boys Are” and “Lipstick on Your Collar.”

Happy Birthday Connie! And a very Merry Christmas to you too.

A Small Town Christmas: Hollister’s Parade of Lights

xmas-lights.pngLast night the small, rural town of Hollister, California had its Christmas Parade, “Lights on Parade.”  It is the official opening of the Christmas season in Hollister.  Townsfolk bring folding chairs and blankets and line the street three deep on both sides to watch the parade.  Local businesses and organizations build floats decked with Christmas lights and parade through the main thoroughfare.  The Christmas lights of the town are turned on and all is merry and bright. 

Hollister is a very small town and that’s what makes it special.  Parade floats are amateurish, built onto long trailers and pulled by trucks.  People sit in them and wave or sing Christmas caroles.  There was one from the Hollister High sophomore class, one from the local Methodist Church, one from my wife’s Hip-Hop Dance Club, and 46 more.  That includes the local Sheriff’s Department, parading in white squad cars with flashing lights.

My wife took part in the parade by riding in the backseat of a 1961 Chevy Impala.   Her younger Hip-Hoppers rode in a float waving to the crowd. 

It was corny.  It was small-town.  It was delightful.  It made me glad to live in Hollister where people enjoy each other and don’t take themselves too seriously.

Later, at the Town Hall, several local studios put on a demonstration by their students.  There was a tumbling school and some dazzling acrobatics by the young students; there was a ballet school where a dozen or so young ladies, ages 2 to 4, waved their arms and bobbed up and down to Christmas music while trying to remember their routines.  Finally, there was my wife’s Hip-Hop school where young people dance Hip-Hop style to Hip-Hop music.  My wife joined for the exercise but really got into it.  She danced with the adult faction.  I was surprised to learn that she is pretty good.  If I had one suggestion for her it would be:  do it with a little more attitude.  You gotta think you’re good before you can make others believe it too.

The lady who started the Hip-Hop dance school is a Hispanic lady who once weighed well over 200 pounds.  She started dancing Hip-Hop to take off the pounds and is now lean and tough.   She’s also very nice – she won’t play any music that has profanity and won’t tolerate it from her students.  She is anti-gang and pro-responsibility and she’s having a very positive effect on the lives of her young charges.  Her name is Isabel Torres and the name of her dance studio is Waves of Illusion.

I work in Silicon Valley – “where the future lives.”  But I live in Hollister, where one might say “the past lives.”  The past of small towns, farms, fruit stands, family-owned local businesses and small stores where you can still buy Coca-Cola in bottles.  It’s a nice place to esape to.