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

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,