A Blue Note Holiday Season (Thanksgiving)

In the event you guys hadn’t gathered this, I am not the traditional sort (except maybe the Christmas cards). I don’t do the formal family dinners, I don’t do turkey and the trimmings, and considering that my definition of family is vastly different than the general, then you can gather that I do not spend much time at home around the holidays. And this year, the lovely Blue Note delivered the perfect alternative: Thanksgiving Weekend of Music.

Keiko Matsui (11/25/10)

The piano is a very personal thing to me. As a wee lass of about five, my parents enrolled me in music school, and I loved it, if only because it wasn’t the day-to-day. The connection turned out to be lifelong, and to this day, nothing touches me quite like piano-driven jazz.

Keiko Matsui was one of the many musicians whose sound danced across my ears thanks to Pandora Radio. It was Facing Up that I heard, off the Wildflower album, and when it got past the intro and really started up, I gave my Pandora a look askance, as though asking what is that and why is this so hauntingly beautiful?

So naturally, when I saw that she was back-to-back with Dave Brubeck for Thanksgiving Weekend, it wasn’t even a question that I would trade turkey and stuffing for a night of music.

When Keiko and the band launched into Doll, I couldn’t help but appreciate the simplicity of the arrangement, and how well everything melded together. The bass was lower than what I’d hear in a jazz arrangement, and since Keiko’s music is just this shade of New Age style, the accent on the horn was less alto, more the soprano, and completely unobtrusive, letting the keys and melody take over and pilot.

When I looked carefully at who was on the saxes, I got a pleasant surprise: Jackiem Joyner, whom I had never heard on the soprano prior to tonight. When I heard him at Berks, he was mostly on the alto, and it left me asking, “Show me what else you got.” And he most certainly showed it on the soprano; his sense of subtlety on that particular brass is fantastic.

When, a few minutes later, Keiko introduced a new song, The Road… from the upcoming album by the same name, ellipsis included (January 20th! Be there, people!), and launched into it, I had to honestly do a double take as to where I was. It looked like a Blue Note show, what with the packed tables, sold-out crowd. It certainly looked it, but when I closed my eyes, it was a feast for the subconscious soundtrack. Keiko Matsui knows how to weave the piano notes in a way that is as piercing as it is gentle. Hers is the sound that forces you to pay attention and doesn’t quit until you’ve immersed yourself in it for what it is. And if this was my first time seeing her – as it was indeed – I knew that whenever she’d come through New York, I’ll be right there, sitting stageside.

Dave Brubeck (11/27/10)

For all the great contemporary jazz, one has to, occasionally, touch back onto the classics and the standards as they were back in the ye olde days. For all the Boney James I enjoy, I occasionally jaunt to John Coltrane. For Rick Braun and Cindy Bradley, and Chris Botti, all my favorite trumpets – Chuck Mangione and Dizzy Gillespie come to mind. And for my piano fix, I can have Oli Silk and Keiko Matsui give way to Count Basie and…Dave Brubeck.

You will probably recognize Take Five when you hear it; you may also recognize it when you hear Grover Washington Jr.’s cover of it. You may also recognize Blue Rondo a la Turk. And you may listen to it and think, “Them’s the good ol’ days.”

And when Dave came to the Blue Note, them good ol’ days came alive.

I shall ask you this: is there any substitute for the simple combination of drums, unamplified upright bass, clean alto horn and the grand piano? It is brilliant in its simplicity, endless in its possibilities, and Dave had recognized that from the get-go, and to this day keeps his sound exactly as it was back then: clear, clean, simple, and captivating. Before my time, it used to be that the bands on stage were all in full suits, and nowadays, it is very rare that we see a band appear on stage that formal and, for the lack of better words, stilted. And when the band helped Dave to the grand piano and took the stage, it felt almost as though the entire atmosphere of the Blue Note got turned back a couple of decades.

And indeed, in the lineup were the features of Duke Ellington’s classic Take the A Train (and which subway did I take to the Note, take a guess…I dare ya!) and the lovely These Foolish Things (music by Jack Strachey, lyrics by Eric Maschwitz), which half of the audience had sung along with the band. Myself included.

I will say this: Dave Brubeck onstage is something to just watch and enjoy. He interacts with the audience readily and willingly, sings along with the music, throws jokes around with the band – whether the audience can hear or not – and not once does he miss a note. He told of the 1958 tour through Poland as commissioned by then-President Dwight Eisenhower, and featured a song from that tour, named Thank You (translation from Polish, original song name escapes me…it’s 2am, bear with me here). He told stories, improvised his intros brilliantly, and enjoyed it all as though he was not playing in front of a packed house but in an amiable jam with friends.

All that and 90 years old in a week, on Dec. 6th. Think about that for a moment.

Dave’s crowning moment was, of course, the finale, and by the close of the show, the audience was calling for this song. Listening to Take Five as it was performed like that, with all the charm and charisma of its composer and with the lively skill of everyone in the band was one of those experiences: a confirmation that something like this, seeing Dave Brubeck and the band jam on his most celebrated standard is once in a lifetime. I can only be happy that I got a chance to see this with my own eyes.

I leave you with a hearty good night, and a little somethingfrom YouTube that you’ll enjoy. :)

K.G.

Capital Jazz SuperCruise: Days 6 and 7

Day 6: Grand Turk

After another day of lacking sleep, which I more than welcomed, I knew one thing for sure: today was going to be a good one. Why? I was docking at one of the destinations on my Top 10 List of Places to Visit…Turks and Caicos. Most specifically, Grand Turk Island. And as soon as I came up to the cafe deck for some well-needed coffee and gazed out at the shoreline below me, I suddenly thought, “To hell with breakfast, this is exactly where I need to be right now.”

I was off that boat before you could blink.

You know how sometimes, there’s one place that just gets hold of your heart and soul the minute you set foot into it? Only two places prior to this have given me that feeling. The first one was the Celebrity Century ship on my very first cruise, which made me say that I have come home. The second was the beach of Montego Bay, Jamaica. The third has to be the beach at Grand Turk. A long dock-walk later, a detour through the seaside mall, a couple of left turns, and my feet were suddenly touching coarse, almost white sand. A sea-salt breeze stirred palm leaves, and the heat was climbing steadily. By the time I spread out the beach towel, I knew that there is just no better way to relax.

One happy morning roast – ha! – later, I crawled aboard again, and just in time for…Jonathan Butler?!

Hey, wait a second, thinks I. He wasn’t in the lineup when I booked this thing!

It wasn’t until later that I found out that Will Downing was in the hospital with a case of pneumonia, and JB was his substitute. My absolute best wishes to Will on his recovery, and a warm welcome to Jonathan on being aboard CapJazz. I was quite happy to see him again; of all the vocalists that ventured their way aboard this cruise, he is easily a favorite of mine. Easy flow, amazing spirit, and unwavering faith – all of this shines through his music loud and clear, and the standing ovation that he got from both cruisers and cruise staffers proved it.

Then, of course, there was the jam session.

Now, not for nothing, I love me some guitar. Chuck Loeb proved with his Between 2 Worlds record that he is capable of damn near anything, and when he goes bossa nova, he goes bossa nova. Carmen Cuesta’s voice is a perfect complement to his variety, and especially on that record, the operative words to go by are, “I died and went to Rio de Janeiro.”

This jam session, though, he brought the rock on. All electric, all sharp, piercing, and off the chain.

Some of the other highlights included Tom Schuman on the keys, Marion Meadows once again on the soprano sax, and a great collection of vocal talent from Take 6. Bonny B of Spyro Gyra came out to lend his drumming skills as well.

There was just one minor problem…

…I was falling asleep, quite literally. In the overflow lounge. Wherein I’m pretty sure that at least one person had to peel me out of my seat so I could make it to my cabin. I don’t remember leaving the lounge past giving a few hugs, and I think that was the first night of the entire sailing that I slept…

Day 7: At Sea

yeah, right. At 6:41am sharp, like always, my eyes snapped open – for a while, anyway.

Out I crawled into the sun, into a brunch, and all throughout I’m wondering, why the hell is my head spinning? I’m not seasick. It’s too early for sea legs, considering I’m still on the ship. So, what do I do but go towards the ye olde coffee machine?

While giving my coffee the fixings, I struck up a conversation with a gentleman with an accent that sounded distinctly familiar, all the while backed by the ever-present sound-check echoes from the pool deck area. That was how I met than Tony of Incognito, and based on the sound-check, it was right about the time to start seat-hunting. And, just like before with the Spirit Cruises, I had only one feeling: get there early.

I did, and let me just say it: Bluey knows how to party. You have to hand it to Incognito for having a rousing, sharp style to their music, and the voices meld together perfectly. Tony Momrelle and Maysa, as well as everyone on backup, had the entire pool deck – all four levels of it!!! – on its feet.

It was right about then that I realized that the light-headedness that kept me from wrapping up the jam session with everyone else yet again had not faded, and the explanation was simple: I was dehydrating and fast. No worries, nothing that two big-ass bottles of water wouldn’t fix.

A small public-service announcement, though: watch your water intake in the tropics. You can dehydrate on a dime. I had no idea anything was wrong until I realized that I was effectively passing out as I was walking, and I have a tolerance for extreme temperatures, both hot and cold.

Nonetheless, there were still two more shows to go to, and one of them was Chuck Loeb in the lounge. Even though I already knew the music, and have seen him many times, I always come back. I grew up listening to Sarao and Tropical on CD 101.9, and on this particular night, I got to hear something I have heard very infrequently on commercial radio stations as well as in show: Blue Kiss. One of his slower tunes, must more introspective than what you’d expect of him, it’s a surprisingly strong melody to listen to. I am no sentimentalist, but this one…something about it just gets to me in the very best of ways. Hearing it live is a treat indeed.

“Also, Gerald and I are part of a law firm, named Veasley, Beasley and Loeb…for all your legal troubles, just go to to cabin [redacted],” Chuck cracked.

Very New York of him, that.

I will say this in retrospect: it was rather appropriate that The Music Inside was on the playlist, seeing as the lounge was at the bow of the ship, and even though the blinds were drawn on the windows, the Caribbean sunlight still found its way in. I knew that outside was the perfect tropical vacation with sunscreen, umbrella drinks and heat, but in this lounge (which was freezing! thanks to the air conditioning…Jesus on a pogo stick, why is it that everything’s like 50 degrees even with the cabin AC at off?!) but inside that lounge, with that melody on the guitar, there was an entirely different sort of atmosphere to drift away on.

The evening show was one of the best, and one of the people that I see live the least, truthfully: Kirk Whalum.

Now, you know how picky I am with my saxophones. Having ripped many a song apart (Lory, you know exactly which one I mean…it has to do with a certain gentleman with a zebra-stripe horn!!) on the account of my over-active sap meter, when I first heard Kirk Whalum, I was surprised by how very…Southern Gentleman he sounds, for the lack of  a better word. The album that I have is Into My Soul, and what drew me in about it is how mellow the sound is. Note that I use the word mellow as an attitude, not so much as the pacing of the music. Club Paradise is well-paced, but so easygoing at the same time that the hey, look at this one is infectious. Hoddamile is stronger, funkier, heavy on the horn. And in that show, Kirk brought the funk, Southern style. The audience was on its feet almost immediately, and then he brought out his brother, Kevin Whalum.

Now, when Kevin started singing, I knew that I heard that voice before, and when the band changed to a light, trippy sort of rhythm, I recognized where I heard him.

“I just have to ask this, right now,” Kirk said, putting his tenor sax aside for a moment. “Do you feel me?”

The audience certainly did. And that was where I heard Kevin from, indeed. And, of course, that was the next song to play – one of my favorites.

I won’t lie; that show had to be one of the most-attended, right up there with Maysa and Spyro Gyra on the opening night.  It also drove home that this was the last night of the cruise, and, like always, I had to pack, think back on the interesting times, and travel back to New York City, and with it to reality.

Introspection on these cruises, trips, festivals is a very funny thing. You spend a week away, and coming in it feels like a week is too long to be away. Getting out, it inevitably feels like it was way too short. Unlike the way it felt on the Century in January of 2009, my first cruise – which turned out to be the last sailing of that cruise series – this one felt like the start to something different. Maybe, like the Spirit Season in NYC, the CapJazz cruises will also become tradition? Who knows. I’m certainly attending 2011. :)

And, thinking back on it all right now, especially come Thanksgiving, I think, how lucky am I. How lucky am I to have this as a part of my experiences, as part of my tradition and – maybe, someday full time! – work. And how lucky am I to have booked a single-rate cabin for next year, because holy crap, it’s sold out already.

Until my next musical meandering…

K.G.

Calling All My People

It just occurred to me…it’s Thanksgiving. Which means that Christmas/New Year can’t be far.

Which means that it’s time for my Annual Christmas Card Mail-Out soon.

Non-traditional me does have a tradition, you see. My friendships have formed in so many ways that I’d be telling the stories well into next year if I had to tell them all, and my people are scattered far and wide. And as the weather gets warmer, I find that a little hey, thinking of you will go a long way in warming them up. My tradition is that every year, without fail, I send out Christmas cards.

So! This is my call for mailing addresses. If you want to receive a Christmas card from me, then either leave me a comment (they’re moderated, and I have the power to edit them, so no one but me will see your address), or e-mail me at k.gilraine@gmail.com with your info.

K.G.

Thanksgiving

Every year, around this time, I see multiple posts on FB, as well as hear general inquiries of the question, “What are you thankful for?”

The responses vary from family to deity,  and it never fails to get me thinking about things in terms of, “What or who had gotten me this far?” Where I come from, the end of the year is a time of introspection, and there’s a saying that if you start a year a certain way, you’ll spend it exactly like that.

Oddly enough, it’s exactly how things worked for me so far. I spent my holidays with friends, and spent most of the year with them. If I greet the New Year stone-ass-broke (but with good reason, like I rang in 2010!), then I’ll stay that way and the reasons will still be good.

So, this year, I began thinking about what got me this far.

Year after year, and this one is no exception, I end up thanking my chiropractor first, always, if only on the account that she is singlehandedly responsible for me having a steady job. I got hired when the economy just started heading into the pits, and by luck it was a job that I ended up keeping for what is looking to be the fourth year. Also in retrospect, this job was exactly what I needed, especially if you consider that my ambition is to be my own boss. At my day job, I learned all the skills necessary to run my own business and be my own manager and bookkeeper.

Most definitely, I am also thankful for my group of friends, both at home and out of state. Where most people think of their blood relation when being thankful for their family, but when I say “family” I mean something else entirely. I mean the group of friends who, regardless of how long they were as such, have been nothing but supportive in my sometimes harebrained endeavors. I went through some interesting times with those people, both good and bad, and if not for them and their support and influences, I really haven’t a clue what would have happened to me.

And I’m especially thankful for the musical and creative experiences that had come my way through the past two years, not just 2010. The 2009-2010 period has so far been nothing short of madcap, and I loved every single minute of it. I can’t wait to see what is waiting for me in the coming year, and if the tentative lineup for CapJazz 2011 is any indication…then geeze louise, I’m in for a HELL of a good time.

To all of my readers, have a great Thanksgiving, with whomever you think your family to be, and celebrate it whichever way you see fit.

My celebration? Blue Note with Madame Keiko Matsui.

K.G.

Soon to Come

Just to let you know:

1. Writeups coming of Chris Geith at Trumpets and Nate Najar at the Houndstooth.

2. NaNoWriMo is almost done! I’m approaching the 41K mark of 50K, and I hope to put that thing to rest this week.

3. Writeup coming of the final few days aboard the Carnival Liberty and the CapJazz Supercruise

4. Holiday writing coming

5. Book 3 is to be edited heavily, for right now the Editing Queen is buried under grad-school homework, and we’re both entrenched in NaNoWriMo. So, as you can imagine…yeah. Stalled. Big-time.

I still haven’t the slightest how I manage all that, a day job, and The Business. Yarr. But them be the breaks!

Onward we go…

K.G.

NaNoWriMo update #4

Good grief.

I’ve…slacked. A lot. I should have written at least the rest of the chapter – which is becoming more and more verbose and long-winded; I can almost feel the word-padding going on – on Tuesday, but I effectively crawled over to my friend’s house and passed out. The day made me feel like a squeezed lemon. I did a good amount of laptop-wrestling last night (AVG 2011 decided to spazz on me then) after Nate Najar’s lovely show, so of course, my writing was minimal. I should have been at 35,000 words last night. I’m very much not.

That should be, and will be rectified posthaste.

Oddly, though, the more I write, the more I get excited about the storyline I started putting into place. It’s definitely slow going, and the character of Corwin Jacobs (newly renamed, and I like this one) may be showing some of his personality soon. So far he’s just a sideman, and I don’t have a bigger role for him…not yet, anyway. The larger plot is still percolating, but it’s definitely now giving way to the Other Plot that I have in place right now, also percolating. And of course, there’s a big battle in there too…of course. :)

Between all of that, I’m awaiting a few e-mails and calls regarding unrelated-to-writing things, and I have two deadlines to meet. So, plenty for me to do :)

K.G.