(Yes, the quote automatically changes daily: No, I don't check it for quality.)

Monday, November 5, 2018

Dear Members of the Oakland Magic Circle,

Here, please read my platform as candidate for the Presidency of the Oakland Magic Circle.

Thank you in advance for your time.


Oakland Magic Circle Renaissance

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Your Boring Holiday Party on Steroids (or how to hire your friendly, foreign, possibly local magician)

Hi Peoples!

Excited about my first blog! I wanted to title it, "Hiring Foreign-Born Guys with Mustaches," but the boss thought that was only confusing, and terrible marketing.

So here we go! Many of you meet me, and wonder how to hire a magician for your event, especially in December, or January (for those who wanted to defer their joy a month).

Here's rubber AND road:

  1. Make sure you've seen some video of the magician, or have seen them perform. There are lots of guys and gals who have a nice photograph or resume, but they might not be to your taste.
  2. Websites are kind of like business cards thirty years ago: if the magician doesn't have one, it's a little odd (though it's certainly no guarantee that they're good). But do peruse their website, and make sure you have reviewed their Frequently Asked Questions, and feel like you understand what you're booking. In my case, I offer shows full of "quirky magic with old-world flair."
  3. Contact their manager or them directly via the website. Typically, they'll provide a booking form there. If possible, be prepared with these items (but if you don't know, tell the manager what you DO know):
    • Of course, your contact info (name, email, and your direct line: if you are comfortable, give them your cell phone number, so they can reach you quickly)
    • Audience size (if you go to the movies with a group of 200, it's a different price than 30 tickets)
    • Venue (if not booked yet, let us know)
    • Date and time (if you don't know, ballpark is helpful)
    • Your per-person budget. If you budget more on the napkins per guest than your entertainment, the show you can afford might fall a little flat!
    • If you are not booking a specific show or package, is there anything in particular you want in our proposal? If it's a sales meeting, do you want us to introduce a product? Is there a special person you want us to have help us aid in the performance of a specific trick you know we do?
    • If you just want a great magic show, try to tell us as much as you can, and we'll make sure you're taken care of.
That's really it! A good manager will have a checklist for our logistics needs (parking, set-up space, and so on), but don't worry if it's your first time booking entertainment - we've done hundreds of shows, and you benefit from our experience.

We are here to please and entertain you, and will make you look great for having picked us from your many entertainment options.

For my corporate events and fancy adult soirĂ©es: WhoAteTheRabbit.com

For family entertainment: Ash4Kids.com

You can find out about my manager Kevin the Cap by Googling him, but this entry is about ME.

Happy Holidays! And oh yeah, it's better if you book me: I guarantee that I'll entertain EVERY guest at your event.

😊   < ---- my first emoji on the web ever! AND my first blog under my name instead of using someone else's logon!

Blame Canada, Or at Least Phillip And Henry (philipandhenry.com)

So imagine that there is an Unscrupulous Talent Agency from Canada who cleverly buys AdWords from Google and other search engines, so that if you're looking to hire a magician, their ad comes up, often at the top of the page. That's smart of them.

Now imagine that you are the magician (or his manager) getting that call from said unscrupulous talent agency (let's just call Philip and Henry the UTA for short), and the UTA wants to either a) book you for very little money, or b) you find out that having done a gig, they took 40 or maybe even 50 percent. That's wrong of them.

Welcome to the perhaps most unpleasant thing of being a professional magician, or his manager: turns out Ebenezer Scrooge is alive and well, and based out of Canada.

In California, talent agents must be licensed, and by law, there are limits on what they can take for their trouble. With the above incidents in mind, I reported "Philip and Henry" to the proper authorities in California some four years ago. (Philip is a real person, who did a ventriloquist act with his dummy, Henry. Philip apparently figured out that gouging magicians is far more lucrative than a vent act).

The official, Genie, didn't do anything about it (other than make vague comments about over-burdened {actually nonexistent} investigators), and has since moved on to another position in California government. Lucky us, California!

After being low-balled out of another couple of gigs by UTA a few years later, I inquired years what had become of the "investigation," which is when I found out Genie had moved on. Another twenty emails, thirty phone calls this spring and summer (seriously), and one meeting with my representative to the California Assembly later, I discovered that gouging magicians (or any entertainer) is indeed against the law ... but there's a catch. Keep reading.

In all fairness, Regina (Genie's supervisor) wrote Philip and Henry a stern letter this year (that was after phone call and email ten or so). Thanks Regina! That'll show 'em!

Regina Pagalilauan is a supervisor in the California Department of Labor. She didn't know magicians/entertainers have laws about them (California Talent Laws), despite being rather well paid (you can look up the salaries of all California public employees). Christine Baker, the Director of the California Department of Industrial Relations also could give a flying rat's ass (which you'll admit is quite an image), and after a tepid initial response indicating poor reading comprehension, and pretending lately that I am a wax koala bear who will eventually go away. (OK. Maybe the second image wasn't so great.)

Good overview here, including how 20% is the max talent agents are to take from the person doing the actual work of a show: LexisNexis Overview on CA Talent Law Practice from 2015

Met with my assembly person David Chiu, who was charming and smart and didn't do anything: his intern found out the law had no teeth. It's unenforceable, consequentless law.

It was a tad disappointing: a sea of uninformed civil servants and elected officials who not only did nothing to protect me and my brethren and sistren, but who also didn't know the laws they are paid to write and enforce.

But wait. It gets better.


Some unknown magician (perhaps as a sick joke – a not uncommon tendency in entertainment circles) referred PhillipandHenry to me in October of this year. On a whim after these months/years of futility with getting the law enforced, I called them. Spoke for about 30 minutes: pitched the simple notion that going after the lucrative convention market in San Francisco would make both of us more money, and then wrote it up in an email to that senior manager with whom I'd spoken, David Mills.

No response. Wrote David Mills of Philip and Henry again. No response. 

Called Mr. Mills a few days later. He wasn't sure who I was. When he remember, he said, "Oh yeah. We'll definitely call you if we get a gig in your price range in San Francisco." I explained that wasn't what I'd been interested in: that again I would be interested in getting lots of gigs this holiday season, helping him learn the convention market here, and making sure he got his 20% for a lot of money. Not a birthday party now and then.

"Are you saying I'd get just 20%?" Mr. Mills asked.

"Why?" I asked, "What do you normally get?"

"As much as I can," he answered.

I wished him good luck and hung up the phone. I didn't of course mean the good luck part, and now wish I'd told him to go suck an egg. (In my young childhood in South Lake Tahoe, this was perhaps the penultimate insult).

So these are agents exploiting the hundreds of us Californians trying to make a living as live entertainers (jugglers, musicians, magicians, et. al.).

Ash K. is a marvelous magician: watch the longer video at WhoAteTheRabbit.com/watch – I think he deserves, as any working person, fair and equitable treatment.

Why is 20% of what he makes not enough for about 45 minutes of work (filling out the contract, collecting the money, and paying us our cut) and your advertising costs?


The Takeaway?

Our Beloved and Appreciated Clients and Customers:

  1. If you hire an entertainer via an agent, please inquire as to the percentage the agent is taking. If they're not comfortable telling you, please take your business elsewhere.
  2. When you see our sticker price, remember, that price is not just for the show you're seeing: it's for our negotiation time, doing the paperwork, applying makeup, costume, packing up, loading the vehicle, making the drive, setting up, the show, then the reverse to get home or to the hotel, then our taxes and bookkeeping, and putting some away for retirement. And equipment repair. And endless practicing, scripting, rehearsal, and study. And having professional images and video taken/made. And maintaining websites. And writing marketing materials. And rude cheapskates wasting our time when we could have been enjoying our dealings with you and making a living. So relax, write a check for a living wage for our unusual skills and gifts, and enjoy the show.

Variety Entertainers (especially California "workers")

Whether you're a juggler or a ventriloquist, balloon tier, or bubble blower, please don't tolerate being exploited by "agents" who own homes but don't pay you enough to own one. Write Regina, Christine, and your legislator, and harangue them on the phone until we get this law some teeth, and these hucksters a new profession far away from us. Hi Joel Nelson! (To be clear, Joel doesn't work for the Canadian UTA - he's an unscrupulous, San Francisco Bay Area Agent who is fine with gouging entertainers {he used to call me for piano gigs} in California, a state that has zero laws to regulate him effectively.)


  1. Friends and colleagues of mine will entirely disagree with the entire premise of this post, and I know that. My simple counter to this line of reasoning is that the word "exploitation" is in the dictionary for a reason. If you think someone setting up a gig has earned 50% of the money, that's fine, but please go far away from me before you drop dead and decompose quietly.
  2. For the rest of you reasonable folks, please per the above get on these government officials to give the law some teeth, and ...
  3. Start sharing some stories about this agency, and other parties who make their living off your work, but take advantage of you. Don't know who your rep is? Most Californians don't. Look them up here: Look Up Your California Assembly Representative

Legislators (Not just in California)

  1. There are lots of fairy princesses, clowns, fire eaters, and comics getting screwed by Mr. Mills and his ilk. Stick up for them. Forget what you think about my tactic with this rant. Do the right thing.
  2. Pretending to do something is the same as doing nothing. Hi Regina, Christine, and David!


None of this is new: here's a thread on a website for magicians with people chiming in, including me, and a former business partner: Magicians Arguing about PhilipAndHenry Biz Practices

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Gave the tribute below to my dad on May 10, 2006, when he was quite ill. He died a month later.

Today, May 12th would have been his 92nd birthday. It's OK that he's gone, but a decade somehow needs to be marked. A historian found a recording of my musician father playing with some friends and colleagues, and I've saved it for the last few months for today. Seems like a good idea.

Click on "read more" below the pic.


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

10 Memories During A Little Run in the Woods

In town visiting mom & taking care of business: it's a hallmark of middle age. I have it pretty easy compared to most of the planet's adult children: I live in a modern, industrialized nation, with everything from Medicare and penicillin to licensing standards for medical professionals. As remote as my little, tourist resort hometown of South Lake Tahoe, California is, it has most of Twain's "modern inconveniences."

Bay to Breakers is this coming Sunday, and figured I should do at least one, seven-mile run before it. If I could manage it up here, more than a mile above sea level, my regular runs have indeed been sufficient preparation. You can find my pictures and whining about how much I loathe running via my #ReluctantAthlete tagline on social media, or here: Critically Kevin on Twitter

First, walked by Jamie and Molly's old house (they purportedly had parents too, and we saw them, but the house was about Jamie & Molly). Across from the home in the willow tree thicket, two naughty boys hid sometimes in the winter, from which they'd throw snowballs at none-too-amused cars. We'd have gotten by Scot-free in the 4' deep snow, if Jamie had chosen something other than a bright orange jumpsuit for his child-terrorist outfit that day.

Then Mark's house a few blocks down; his father changed sects of their religion, and then their first and last names, then moved away to San Jose, which to a 10 year old might as well have been to the other side of Mercury.

Then where I was incarcerated for seven years: Tahoe Valley Elementary School. Yesterday's ceiling is now two inches from the finger tips, and not a soul who braved instructing my generation hasn't retired or hasn't moved on or off our little stage. Saints, every one of them. Especially Mrs. Ward, Mrs. Cluff and Mrs. Johnson (sent back chocolate from Vienna to one of them, wrapped to stay cool - but got the name wrong. Pretty sure I got my sixth grade teacher's name wrong, again in writing this.)*

* Diana straightened me out: yes, it was Ms. Nelson.

A brief hospital visit, and as always impressed by the other genus of saints I knew not as a child: those who work daily with the ill and the infirm. If you know a nurse, you know a person who on their worst day is a roughly 20% better human than am I. In an odd coincidence, whenever I go there, I am on the ward where my mother gave birth to me: it is a peculiar thing to consider.

Getting ready for the run, and walking past where there was a movie theater once: the beautiful then and beautiful now (and now Dr. Jennifer, thank you) snuck me into a horrible movie about two teenager vampires. I'd look up the movie, but there's a reason I can't remember the name, and I feel I should not oblige you to waste any of your time on it, dear reader.

I set the Nike app on my now ancient iPhone 5s for 7 miles, and trotted off. Past the airport, and remember dad taking us there in a taxi to catch a PSA flight (like most American airlines, PSA was long ago absorbed into another), and him carefully explaining to me how never to tip more than a dollar. Mind you, this was about 1977, and perhaps he just didn't feel like explaining tipping percentages to an eleven year old.

On the right is where Diana and her fine family lived; her dad was particularly interested in mass transit, a challenge which is still of interest to me. Running on the edge of the high road, trying to be visible, until I turn onto Sawmill Road (no idea if there was a mill there ever: that is worth looking up, so if one of you diligent/OCD folks could get on that, it would be great), and pass the development where my retired elementary music teacher Jim Hildinger & his accomplished wife Gloria live. You might have heard her voice on international news coverage during the Angora Fire some years ago. Jim is an accomplished photographer with a national reputation, and everything he's shot is worth looking at. Go peek at some from a European musical tour here: Jim Pics.

Miles to go before I stopped, but that's enough. The magician I manage, Ash K., is back in San Francisco, probably crocheting or reading something I'd find dull. Or fixing a prop for one of his kids shows. But I'm here at the lake, the place my late father first saw as a small boy riding from Los Angeles with his parents in an old Ford in the 1930s, and that my mother saw first a half-century ago. His 92nd birthday would have been this coming Thursday: the choir she founded forty-five years ago, the Tahoe Community Choir, gave a lovely Mother's Day concert. It was something else to see her there, applauded nearly a half-century later for her impulse to bring another kind of beauty to an area chock-full of it.

Like them, I come and I go, but part of me is fixed here in the woods permanently, albeit invisibly, undetectably, and I'll concede not at all importantly. Maybe you'll see a bit of me, the next time you pass by one of the muskrat dens.

Monday, August 11, 2014

On the News of the Death of My First Giant, Robin Williams

It's hard to say how sad it makes me to learn of the death of my first favorite comedian.

I wrote this fan letter to him five years ago, but was either too proud to chance it being just another in the stack, or just too shy to send it. Yep. I can be shy.

Condolences to all of his fans, and those who loved him.


November 22, 2009
Dear Mr. Williams,
I have asked my friend XXX to deliver this to you, and hope this finds you and yours well this Thanksgiving week.
I write as a sort of debt-to-society-in-abstract. I have rewritten this letter in my head every year or so for the last decade (give or take a year), and think it best to put one neurotic regret to rest.
One of the last conversations I recall clearly with my late father was his simple declarative statement when watching your work on the post 9-11 show you gave in New York. He said, “I worked him.” (Musicians slang for, “I was in the band behind him.") Dad played at Harrah’s for 25 years, and until then I'd somehow not recalled his claim that apparently you played there sometimes in the early 1980s.
My dad had been friends with Lenny Bruce in LA & Las Vegas, and apparently knew Lenny’s mom quite well. I write because the first time I heard Lenny’s name was not from dad or from hearing Mr. Bruce on an LP, but instead from hearing you utter his name in a sentence I couldn’t possibly have understood at age twelve: “And when Lenny played at the Dunes, he did.” (At least, that’s my recollection of your line, thirty years later.) 
The line was on Reality, What a Concept, an album that two friends and I memorized (complete with errors, no doubt) and would quote from, often when bored in algebra class. As every reasonably bright child has a first book that grabs them, some of us have another work of art that grabs us, and your album of was, for better or worse, that to me. It was an opening into the world outside the terribly provincial town of South Lake Tahoe (it’s like Marin, but higher, and without the wealth or books or much anything than physical beauty), replete with references to men and places I’d never heard of, but with enough of the familiar to let me know that the world I was growing into awaited me, and there were people who found things funny the way I found things funny.
So you were my first intellectual hero. When younger, I wrote a couple of fawning letters to a few men I admired, but I think this is different in that I seek nothing other than the chance to say thank you for your work, and to wish you health and happiness.
What more could one possibly wish for another?

Sincerely Yours,
Kevin A. Madden

Thursday, October 29, 2009


Ever wonder about how a variety entertainer prices their work? Typically, there are six factors:
  • Night of week (holidays  and weekends are more)
  • Travel Time (of course)
  • Size of Audience (TV of 30 million pays more than fundraiser of 500 pays more than home party of 25)
  • Audio/Lighting/Stage Provided or We Provide (nothing more irritating than not being able to hear or see the entertainment)
  • Length of Performance (e.g., four hours of strolling mixing magic, or a 10 minute, hi-tech show, or normal 45 minute show)
  • Number of Performances (most of us discount if you sign up another party, or contract several performances)
Nothing shocking here - but good to know whether you're booking Ash K. or one of his colleagues for a kid's party here in San Francisco, or hiring him for working your corporate event.

Monday, May 11, 2009

New Pics!

More to come later, but my chum Pat Johnson did his usual incredible work.

Getting Ash to behave for the whole session? Another story!


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Ash K. Gets to Play at the Sausalito Art Festival

Ash here! Kevin is doing data entry or something tedious, but I just wanted to write about one of my favorite gigs this year, the Sausalito Art Festival. Look - these folks even have a groovy logo:

The performers are all top notch, and the staff is SO helpful. They're eager that all of the visitors will have the best performances possible.

And truthfully, I LOVE the work of the visual artists who show at the festival - the competition is tough, so the quality is high.

As for my show, I had all sorts of misadventures, including the kids pulling my underwear from rather than a rope through my torso. Their favorite trick though was when a high wind came up as I was counting down, knocking over two of the tables full of props.

Of course, I MEANT for it to happen. (So I said. I don't think the adults bought that.)

And how about this break area? It doesn't get much nicer than this!

OK - off to practice card tricks for grown-ups!


Thursday, March 20, 2008

An Introduction to Jazz Music

At an internet site where I participate had a regular poster, who is quite informed about music in general, and who has a working knowledge of jazz music, inquired as to what to hear next. About a dozen very informed folks posted their insights, and I added the following after they'd posted much of the jazz "canon."

* * *

"Before my brief addition to others' efforts, I'd commend Ken Burn's documentary on Jazz that he did seven years ago. Though it has its shortcomings, it's a tremendous introduction to this collection of musics we call jazz.

I'm also pro-sampler, and will begin my list with a little gem called, "Songs that Made the Phone Light Up."

Weather Report's "8:30" is live, and has stunning solos by some of the greatest musicians ever to walk the earth.

Gonzalo Rubalcaba is perhaps the greatest pianist living (bar none, of any genre), and I'd leave it to another to recommend a specific album, as I haven't kept up with my listening for the last several years.

Cannonball Adderley's seminal, funky, fun album, "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" is a blast, and features the same piano player (who wrote the title track) who with Saxophonist Wayne Shorter left Miles Davis' band, and started Weather Report. Joe Zawinul just died recently.

I will wager a substantial sum that you will love the piano of Bill Evans, and might commend to you, "Everybody Digs Bill Evans," which though uneven, will give you a sense of the man and his music, or perhaps, "Someday My Prince Will Come."

The great pianist Benny Green had a stunning album early in his career, "Testifyin'."

He told me to buy the late Oscar Peterson's "Night Train," and I would add to that recommendation Oscar's "Bach's Blues."

"Bird with Strings" doesn't normally get on my list, but given your taste for harmony, it is on this one. Bird was of course the nickname of Charlie Parker, who some would argue (including me) was one of the four most influential musicians of the 20th Century.

For Stan Getz, hear more of his work with a then young Chick Corea on "Captain Marvel."

For Chick, please buy his Mozart concert, and then "Now He Sings, Now He Sobs." He is a great genius.

His duet album with Herbie Hancock (who was this year's Grammy Album of the Year winner - NOT just jazz, but the whole shabang) must be in your collection. "In Concert, Chick Corea & Herbie Hancock" is I believe the name of the album, and there are two out, though one is still out of print, last I checked.

To Duke Ellington's must-hear list, check out "Live at Newport," as it is quite accessible, and will give you entree into one of the other top four 20 Century musicians' oeuvre.

For an unusual pairing, and damned beloved, hear two bassists in a quintet making unbelievable amounts of music on Ron Carter's "Piccolo," so named for his piccolo bass, with Buster Williams as the other bassist.

For guitarists, add in Pat Metheny's "First Circle."

A tear-jerker and tour-de-force if there ever was one, also buy the Modern Jazz Quarter's, "The Last Concert," which is also is a favorite of the leader of local stars Lavay Smith & the Red Hot Skillet Lickers, Chris Siebert.

I'm looking around the living room: on the wall is an enormous framed print of Miles staring down at me, his finger to his lips, giving the advice he rarely was able to accept himself. For Miles, to give context, get one of the albums that was recorded right here in San Francisco - their names escape me for now.

You love music, and you are sincere. That is all which is required to enjoy this: an open mind an heart, and time for the noise that is any new language to slowly gel into something which speaks to us.

I wish you great joy in your discovery."

Perhaps you, dear reader, might find some joy in these recordings, too.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

How I Came To San Francisco

Gentle Readers,

Here's a bit about how I got to be where I am today: an English major who does magic for a living.

It is a typical Sunday morning on the South Shore of Lake Tahoe, and mom & dad are reading the serious parts of the San Francisco Chronicle. My sister and I look at the ads and the comics.

Besides those colorful sections, the other stand-out portion of the paper is the "Pink Section," which lists all things arts and entertainment wise in the City. It is "The City," and I know this because that's how my father refers to it, and when I'm a bit older, that is what Herb Caen calls it, so it is even an even more infallible fact.

We have been passing through here for some time, my kin. Above is what might be a picture of my Great-Grandfather on a ship. The photograph simply says on the back, "Tiburon Island."

And here he most definitely is with his crew:

on the back is the list of the men's names, and the phrase in a blue pencil, "My Comsy Crew San Francisco Ferry boats Bars & Restaurants."

Great-Grandad has been dead for three quarters of a century, but some of the DNA that sat on that chair many years ago courses through the veins of the fingers that type this love note to my adopted city.

My father lived here for about six months between his two marriages in 1960. A few years ago, with my oldest brother and his family, we walked by the house where he had lived on Pacific Avenue, and where my brother had once visited at the age of five. The hills which threatened to flip the car over backwards, and the girl-friend's Rice Krispy treats, and preparation of this odd vegetable called an artichoke, impressed him tremendously. I didn't tell him which house it was, just that we'd be walking by it at some point.

He pointed it out, without prompting, almost a half-century since last seeing it.

On another weekend when I am about seven, the four of us come to the City. I have never seen anything like it. I can't sleep - behind my home are woods, not cars. I hear what sounds like garbage trucks doing their work, all night long. My sister makes a perfect ring of rice around her high-chair at the expensive Chinese restaurant, and my parents consider a suicide pact to appease the Gods that have been offended by a son who finds everything yucky, and a daughter with such a fine decorating sensibility.

On another long weekend, I am about ten, and love things that little boys love, like practical jokes, gimmicks (I still have the Spy Pen), and magic tricks. A man at the magic shop on Pier 39 makes three pieces of rope, of different sizes, turn into three that are clearly the same size, when they have never left sight, and are no where near his body. I am transfixed. I buy the first of what is to become the largest collection of anything I own, save perhaps sheet music.

A friend from work found for me, in the fall of 1999 when people are spending weeks of their lives competing for the right to fork over their rent to landlords, this place from where I now write. I decided to stay - I have always been told that I am a city mouse, and San Francisco will be the fourth great city where I have lived, after Paris, Vienna, and Boston.

The desk was a gift from someone at the Symphony trying to get rid of it; on the wall is a print of a painting from that artist with whom dad lived here - she's gone on to be quite famous, as happens to some people. In her instance, deservedly so.

Today, I shall meet a new magician friend, and work on tricks and rudiments. I will eat, drink, and be merry, though my vegetarian teetotaler ways would no doubt have puzzled Great-Grandfather Charle (no 's'). ("Why in the hell do you live here if you're not going to eat all the great food, and drink all the great drinks, son?" asks the ghost of my imagination.)

Save for this posting on these modern, paired miracles of the computer and the net, my life will not be remarkably different from those of my ancestors. That being said, I will walk the streets that fascinated my hero and honorary San Franciscan Mark Twain, and be within a mile from where the Charter of the United Nations was signed.

We sit here, we San Franciscans born or adopted, at the edge of a Great Nation, on the eve of a no doubt complex and fascinating century, at the edge of a continental shelf that threatens to rub against another at any given moment, wiping us all off of the face of the earth with an indifferent shrug.

And I wouldn't miss it for the world, and there is no place I would rather be.


"I have done more for San Francisco than any other of its old residents. Since I left there it has increased in population fully 300,000. I could have done more--I could have gone earlier--it was suggested." - Mark Twain

Momma, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Musicians!

From today's email bag:

Dear Kevin,

This jazz trio wants to charge me $1,200 for just TWO HOURS! Isn't that incredibly expensive?

Anonymous Economist

Dear AE,

This is always disheartening to hear from folks. But today, I thought I'd write a thorough response. It's a little testy, but I hope it's useful for people to read.

The question above is one professional musicians hear with some frequency, and represents an implicit view: that playing music is a hobby, and not a viable profession. You might be right, but if you don't mind, here's a bit of analysis:

If the trio's leader is paying himself for doing the job of marketing and managing and contracting the equivalent of one person's income, that's four persons who need to get paid. Let's say it's the piano player (who by the way is bringing his own, $2k setup (keyboard, speakers), and he also runs the gig, start to finish. Making all the phone calls to find those musicians - you follow? And managing the musicians, from advising them of the attire, to making sure they get fed.

So that's $300 each, ergo $1200. As the guy doing all the extra above tasks, the leader would walk with $600.

And is that really for two hours? Not so much. That's two hours of performance time. But not work time. For me, from the time I packed the sheet music, sound system, instrument, and drive there, unload, set up, play, and then the reverse, no gig is less than six hours of work. I only got paid for two of them, and apparently, at that, too much.

$300 is what many of the better waiters at any good restaurant makes in SF every night, five nights a week. They didn't spend $20k learning to do it, nor 20 years of practicing. And they got paid while they were learning at a lower rate.

And they work every night.

If that doesn't make the fee seem a tad more reasonable, how about this: you are offering grown adults the same wage somebody makes in about three days at a minimum wage job (when you factor in health care), and that most lawyers in San Francisco bill for hourly.

Hope this gives some perspective, and some insight into some the awkward silence that ensues when asking adults to work for insufficient compensation. It is, forgive the pun, quite maddening.

Best of Luck,

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Joe Zawinul, 1932-2007

I have just learned of the passing of the World's Funkiest Austrian, the keyboardist, composer, and band-leader extraordinaire, Joe Zawinul.

He got that title from his first noted American employer, Julian "Cannonball" Adderley, the jazz saxophonist, who made famous Joe's Gospel-based tune, "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy."

I got to meet him once, outside of Yoshi's in Oakland, the night that Princess Diana died. Her death was just recently marked, and I thought to myself that for my interests and cares, how much more Joe meant to me. I greeted him after the gig, briefly, and said in German that people often ask me why I went to Austria instead of Germany, and I said, "Daß is wo der Joe ist!"

"That's where Joe is!" He smiled, politely.

Mr. Zawinul went on to work for his most famous band leader, Miles Davis, and there met the man he'd collaborate with for a large section of the rest of his life, Wayne Shorter. The two giants formed there group "Weather Report," which some of would argue remains as the most influential group of serious musicians from the late 20th Century. And they're funkier than shit.

Joe wouldn't mind me using such vulgar language.

Throughout the rest of his life, he continued to help fuse together musics to make something better, always tracking down monster musicians from all over the globe, particularly Africa. On that night ten years ago, I learned that that thumb piano was an instrument instead of a toy, because Joe hired one of its masters to play it.

I miss him already. Go hear what you've been missing, and hear what how a boy from Vienna went on to change the world of music.

To his friends & family: I'm so sorry for your loss.


Thursday, July 12, 2007

The World's First Magic Trick for the iPhone!

Gentle Reader:

Many inquire as to how I spend my time when I am not

a) doing paperwork
b) practicing
c) doing paperwork
d) making phone calls that will result in
e) doing more paperwork or
f) screwing around

This week's answer is a novel one. I was helping out a buddy of mine who was creating the first magic trick for the iPhone: iBeer.

The world needed "iBeer," and Steve brought it to the world. The video you see here was produced in its entirety by Steve, albeit with heavy amounts of swearing, laughter, duct tape, stacked chairs to hold the lighting JUST right, and a little beer splattered - everywhere.

Go to to see the video. If you have an iPhone and can't stop laughing, download it via iTunes.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Ash K. Speaks

I tell you, I am getting a little sick of Kevin's blah-blah-blah. Austria this, Austria that. Fey!

Let me give it to you straight. I didn't get ONE date while I was there. And I have a magnificent mustache, and a sexy European accent, which is all the more attractive when in Europe. Yet not ONE woman proposed marriage to me. Barbaric, Vienna. And they have Starbucks now. Imagine my surprise. Hey, I think the invading barbarian hoards may take different forms, don't you think? Sometimes they don't dress in animal skins, but drink mediocre coffee in paper cups WHEN NOT LEAVING the café! I am a foreigner I know, but even Europeans are acting in ways I find odd and positively alarming!

Now for something interesting. I'm reading a fascinating book called, "The Magician and the Card Sharp," published in 2005, written by an American named Karl Johnson. I think even non-magicians would enjoy it, but I find it fascinating. It is a biography of America's most important magician, Dai Vernon, centered on his quest for finding a man who can do an impossible trick. Actually, literally a quest - he travels through middle America during the Depression, looking for this fellow. A fascinating, true tale.

I have to go practice. I just didn't want Kevin to torture you any more with blah-blah.

With my Profound Sentiments,

Sunday, February 18, 2007

At the Mill with the Jazz Man

This is a program from when it was effortless to weigh 170 lbs. That is to say, it was a while ago.

Towards the end of my stay in Europe in January, I was able to make plans to visit my friend and fellow musician Hepi Kohlich (Hepi is a nickname for Heribert, though I’ve never known another Hepi!). He kindly invited me out to his “new” digs on the Western outskirts of Vienna, Neulingbach, and I spent the day with him and his eight-month pregnant partner, Julia.

We spent the day wandering around, and later Hepi gave me a lift back into Vienna, as he had a gig at a place where I used to hang out in 1988, called The Tunnel. He was doing the job that we pianists are most frequently paid to do: accompany singers. In this case, amateur singers. He was patient and professional, as always. I met my friend Joe, a journalist who has lived in Vienna for 20 years, and who had taught at the same school where I taught a few years before I got there. After gabbing till quite late, I returned downstairs to listen and ponder the fact that I had been first come there before some of the waiting staff were born. Egads.

The day with Julia & Hepi was a blast. They mentioned that they lived next to an old mill, and when we went for a long walk, that the there was a museum nearby. I didn’t understand that the other part of the house they lived in now was the museum! They opened a door (I expected perhaps a closet on the other side of the door), and instead was the inside of an actual mill that had been used up into the 1930s. The owners of the building were a couple with a strong interest in history, and the place was filled with implements and books.

It was two floors of nicely displayed materials, including explanations of how the equipment worked, and artifacts from all aspects of Austrian life.

The program is a page of the Mattersburg Culture Center’s advertisement, referencing the concert that I gave back in 1990. Hepi was also an instructor of mine at that time, and he kindly agreed to play the vibraphone in several duets. He was a blast to spend time with then, and now. Note the picture & reference to San Francisco? Oh, the strange, strange fates we weave. I never had a big plan to move to Mattersburg or San Francisco, and that's about all the two towns have in common!

Thursday, February 1, 2007

At the Cafe With Austria's Most Famous Magician

One of the many pleasures of the trip was meeting with a fellow whose stage name is the same one his colleagues call him – “Magic Christian.” We met at the CafĂ© Sperl, which has been his regular haunt for all of his life, and which was one of mine when I first lived in Vienna in 1988. It’s the first CafĂ© I went to on this trip, too.

When I tell folks about meeting him, the first question is how did I get to do this? It’s been my experience that when you present yourself to the world seriously, people take you seriously. People tend to treat respectful inquiries with respectful responses, and he went a step beyond with his openness and generosity in giving his time.

We didn’t have any shortage of things to talk about, and I sat at the table that afternoon and later that evening at another place, across the way from one of the living masters of my art. There are things I can do with my fingers with coins and cards that impress many folks; there are things that Magic Christian could do at age 17 that I’ll probably never fully master.

FISM, the Olympics of Magic, is held every three years, and he won the World Championship in the manipulation division not once, nor twice, but three times. He is also a fine scholar, and a fluent English speaker. We chatted mostly in English; in German, his voice is serious and dramatic, and in English, he sounds remarkably like Henry Kissinger.

But he’s nicer than Hank. When I complained of problems I’d been having with my rented cell phone, he told me I should have called him – that he’d have been happy to loan me one.

Later that evening, someone recognized him at the place where he’d gathered with some other magicians after a formal meeting of Magic Club of Vienna, and I watched him not only handle the drunk, boisterous, over-enthusiastic and grabby group of folks, but mesmerize them as well.

It was a pure pleasure to watch him work, and spend time with him.

For more about FISM ( Fédération Internationale des Sociétés Magiques), please see their English language web page: http://www.fism.org/Home.htm

For more about Magic Christian, his web page may be found here: http://www.magicchristian.com/index_en.html

The Café Sperl: http://www.cafesperl.at

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Mattersburg, Forchenstein, & Some Friends

My friend and former student Marko picked me from the little town of Mattersburg last Thursday. He put me up at his home in the village of Sigleß, because Mattersburg (pop. 6,000 - was 5,000 when I lived here 16 years ago) is too cosmopolitan for him. He studied music in California, and got his BA there, before returning to his home town. He's a talented, committed musician.

Sigleß has 1,000 folks or so. Fery, a friend of mine who owns two bars in Mattersburg grew up in Sigleß, which Marko didn’t know until I introduced the two of them. You’d think with so few people that everybody would know everybody, but it ain’t so.

My former landlady claims that I nearly gave her a “Schlag” - a heart attack (in this context), when I surprised her with a visit. She’d sent me a Christmas card asking simply to also hear a few words about how I am (I am normally a rotten correspondent), so I brought the card with me on the trip, and showed it to a friend of hers at the coffee house (really a “Konditorei,” but we don’t have a good English word for the combination of bar/coffee shop/pastry shop in English) that Martha used to manage before she retired. I asked Martha’s friend to call and tell her that someone from the high school was there to see her, but not to mention my accent. Her friend asked me if I wanted her to then lie. I explained that it was a joke (Schmee) rather than a lie (Lueger). She agreed, and Martha enjoyed my effort to let her know what I was up to these days. (It’s been five years since our last visit.)

Martha came down, and after hugs and a few stories, and showing her pics on iPhoto on my MacBook (the same beast that helps me generate these notes), she went to pick up her husband Hans, and brought him by. I had my back to the room, so when they returned, and she asked me to turn around, he stared, turned ghost white, and said something along the lines of, “Damnit, it’s good to see you, but don’t do this to me,” in rather heavy dialect. I went to their house for a snack the next day, and it was great to spend time with them.

Hans explained that he had a new hobby, “keyboards,” which I at first took to maybe mean video games. He’s a builder and construction worker, and though he knew I played music professionally, we’d never talked about music, even though I had once given a concert in the town. It turns out, he’s taken a rather serious interest in music. About five years ago, he decided to play the the piano (he’s had a few years with bad teachers when he was about twelve), but then...get this folks...buys a keyboard, sets up his room, found a teacher, and practiced three hours a day for two years. He now plays “at least” one hour a day. So Hans is my new Held (hero). I hear people say, almost monthly, “Gee, I’d like to play the piano.”

He’s the only person I’ve ever known who made a commitment to something like this, and did it. Strictly speaking, it’s much more fun with the keyboard he uses (it accompanies him), but the important thing is his on-going love affair with his keyboard. He played several pieces for me, the last one being his “Dearest’s Favorite Song.”

I don’t know which was more impressive, Hans, or Castle Forchtenstein, which has a distinction in Austrian history in that it never fell during numerous Turkish invasions (enjoy the link). It’s an amazing place (still owned, I believe, by Mrs. Esterhazy, though via a foundation that has worked out a tax deal – she lives in Switzerland, or so I’m told.

But my vote goes for Hans. Castles come and go, but people who do what their heart tells them to do are a rare lot.

Your correspondent,

Friday, January 19, 2007

Check out the links!

Every man has his Mecca. This is me humbly kneeling at a wall of Swiss chocolate, just two kilometers from the town where friends of mine grew up in Western Austria, called Lustenau.

I spent about an hour at a cafe where I used to be a regular guest in Mattersburg, Austria this morning, putting together some links - please enjoy them, and avoid doing data entry like I do!

Happy Friday from the other side of the world,

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Vive la Difference!

Forgive the poor quality of my Treo's pics; I had too much stuff to justify my older, rather bulky Sony Digital camera. It's ancient - like four years old. ; )

For starters, those darn foreign countries have nearly everything in a foreign language. I first came to Austria because I wanted to learn German, and continue to accept the reality that being able to say something fluently doesn't mean being able to function in that culture. I'll be darned if I could even write a passingly literate business letter in German. The above pictue was my first "Aha!" moment regarding puns. I knew each word, "Because ice not ice is," but couldn't get it in 1988. Then I heard somebody ice cream, and probably said, "I GET IT" outloud in the subway. "Because ice cream isn't ice." Got it.

Other things are different, too. We're used to doors/windows opening like this....

....but NOT like this. Oh, those wacky Austrians. But like so many other things here, these differences are quite practical. The window opened from above lets air circulate, but maintains safety. At least, that's my guess.

More later!