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

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 Café 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 Café 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!


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Magician/Piano Player guy on Vacation in Austria

Dear Gang,

I am back amongst old friends. I lived & worked in Austria's capital, Vienna, in the spring and summer of 1988, then after finishing my BA at UC Davis, returned on an exchange program to teach in a small town south of Vienna the following year.

I am tickled pink to be here. I've seen several friends, visited some old haunts, and spoken with other buddies. I've known some of these people for almost 19 years! Egads.

The flight to London was marked by its beginning (no available seat, but others gave theirs up), and the end (two hours wandering around Heathrow, the sleep-deprived victim of poor signage and low-grade English chaos). I wrote a bitchy entry about it, but it's not what the trip is about for me. Did I mention I'm tickled pink to be here?

(This guy is performing in front of Stephansdom, the great cathedral in the heart of Vienna. He's more obnoxious than Ash, that's for sure!)

In Vienna, friends came to pick me up at the airport. Away we went into the night, and after dropping off my stuff at their home in a district near Schönbrunn, the summer home of the Hapsburg Empire, we wandered for a few blocks to a restaurant, and had Italian food.

As is the case everytime I speak French or German, as soon as I engage in speaking for longer than a few minutes, I begin to forget English words I am looking for, and am left in the precarious position of not being able to either clarify a point in German (not knowing the word), nor being able to remember the concept in English to ask for a translation. It's always been that way for me (I'm sure there is a neat, neurological explanation for what is probably a common phenomenon), but no kind of word is exempt. I couldn't remember the synonym for quirky until the next day, when "eccentric" popped into mind, and I have found my poor brain busily circling itself, looking for such difficult words in my native tongue as gloves, or ground floor.

Friends wait politely, until my brain coughs up an appropriate work-around. Today, my friend Petra just giggled when I could remember the German word, but not tell her the English word.

I'll tell some more entertainer stories later, but look forward to working with you this year, doing either magic or music for your guests. As always, I can do everything from break the ice at the rehearsal dinner with some table magic, to providing a classy band at the wedding. Let me know what I can do for you!

I'll be back at the end of the month, but would love to book some work from abroad. Please drop me an email at the email below, rather than gmail.

Your Colleague,