A Few Thoughts on History, and a Few More On Strength

I’m very sure that if you watch the History Channel, you may have noticed more than one special on the United States Civil War.

It has been 150 years. A century and a half.

This is an interesting piece of writing that I’m doing now, considering that I am not 48 hours off my plane from Texas. The largest state in the US has its own curious history, including one post office in a tiny, tiny town that’s barely on a square mile’s worth of arid land, and seeing that structure, comprised of wood and the ghosts of a time long past, was sobering in many ways.

Even though the politics of this country, especially today, seek to trumpet that the world has gone to shit because of corporatism as though it’s the first time such a thing took place, it’s a sober reminder that history repeats if not learned. Southern plantation owners profited on the backs of people whom they have treated as less than dirt for no pay and little food on no basis other than skin, just like the industrial magnates profited on the backs of severely underpaid workforce that has dogfought for the benefits that today’s employees enjoy. And today, corporations are fighting tooth and nail to squeeze their employees out of even such a basic luxury of sick leave.

This isn’t new.

To think that this part of social history goes back to that time too, I can’t help but look at what strength it takes to fight through conflicts, especially ones on a national scale.

Think back to America of the 1850s. Technology-free, farmland, still-expanding America. A country that had yet to turn a century old, a fledgling in many ways, and still hammering out such an issue as to whether or not consider nonwhites to be human beings. Not to put slavery as the sole cause to the Civil War – it was not. A large part, yes. But that isn’t what this post touches on.

Think of the strength that it took both sides to fight those years from the first shot at Fort Sumter, to the surrender of Robert E. Lee. War is a dirty, bloody business, and I cannot imagine that any of the young men – boys, in some cases – on both sides of the lines wanted to fight for long when they got to have a first-hand look at the realities of it. Back then, with no antibiotics, with death and fear around them, sometimes going without food or water for days, they asked themselves, “What cause is this that we are fighting for?”

The women, both the Yankee gals and Southern belles, weathered out the Civil War alongside the soldiers, and their strength too is of note. They were the ones who nursed the soldiers, housed them, and watched whatever life they knew crumble around them as one regiment after another would storm through their town. Which side they were coming from depended on which side was winning at the time. And yet, they held together, whichever way they knew how to hold on, their strengths hammered out by the harsh realities of life around them.

It’s one of the most absolute primary tenets of human psychology, and human character alike: you never know exactly what you’re made of, and how strong is the cut of cloth that you come from, until it’s tested by struggle. The people who lived through the Civil War, whatever lives they held before then, were carved through the transforming effect of that particular phase in history, from the field hand who finally faced freedom to do as he saw fit for the first time in his life, to the young girl in hoop skirts who was suddenly asked to care for a platoon of wounded soldiers, to the businessmen in the city that they had to flee – all walks of life were overturned, and from that overturn, a new strength emerged. If the chips were down and they survived…then they knew that from there, come what may, they would be fine.

The post office in Luckenbach, TX, put that into perspective. What news have traveled through the walls of that building? Who re-emerged a different person after tearing open a letter from a loved one?

One location, one tiny structure…a world of memories of a different era, and the raw human willpower that it took to live through it – in the North and the South alike.

I’ve also been shaped by struggle, cut from a tough cloth to begin with, and reinforced even further. Choice between eating and paying a bill? Yes. Caught between a rock and a hard place, no safety net except to get into more debt for a reprieve? Yes. And I know that the same choices are faced by thousands, millions of young people across the country. Theirs and mine isn’t a wartime, but nonetheless a struggle real enough to reshape world views. Just more modern. We still fight our own, internal battles.

And yet, right now, in a country fraught with social issues, financial struggles, vast disparity between what constitutes the haves and the have-nots, I can’t help but think back to 150 years ago and wonder, have they thought of the struggle that they would face? What did the students and the newly-graduated scholars say then? They were the ones on the front lines a few months or years after their graduations.

And think on it this way: this country is still young. Others have centuries, millennia of battle-worn history behind them. Ours is still being shaped as we speak.

K.G.

The Menu

H’okay, ladies and gents…time to do a quick little round-up as to what’s happening around me in the next while. You may read all about it at a later point here, but other things…well, we shall see.

Confirmed:

This Thursday: Boney James in Austin, TX. I’ll write it up, but for the most part, I’ll be off the online radar. For one, I’m seeing a close friend. For two…too much to do! Seriously! I’m writing like a maniac, for many reasons. You will know more.

June 13th: Dave Brubeck at the Blue Note. Reasons obvious. How many people can say that they have seen a living legend?

July – August: Spirit Season – ’nuff said! You guys know exactly where to find me at 9:00 pm on Wednesdays…

August 26th: …I tried keeping it under wraps, and some of you may have gotten wind of it buuuut…this is the announcement. Boney James hits BB King’s in NYC.  This I cannot and will not miss.

Not Quite Confirmed:

- Earl Klugh at the Note

- Manhattan Transfer at the Note

- Gato Barbieri at BB King’s (oh please oh please oh please let me make this one…)

- A jazz fest in NJ – pending more information

- Giovanna Moretti – pending planning…

And, of course…Book 3. Chapter 14 is trying to eat me, but my characters finally made it into the subway tunnels. Now, the fun/creepy/adventurous part begins…

…and I just got an idea as to what else I can do to poor Jason… Those of you who know what else I did to Jay in this book can start cackling. :)

Adventuringly yours,

K.G.

AW May Blog Chain: Relationships

Per the prompt:

Show a character’s approach to relationships in a short scene. A harmless exchange between mother and daughter? A submissive character overwhelmed by a dominant partner? A passionate lover’s quarrel? A forlorn, unrequited letter?

Use your characters’ interaction to show the dynamics of their relationship, show how they’re growing together or growing apart, or just have silly fun. Character descriptions at the beginning are forbidden this time around–let them speak or act for themselves!

We all know it: Relationships are the most difficult maze to navigate. We know it too well. Romantic relationships, especially. In today’s age, where over half of marriages end in divorce, the dynamics, and the questions of how well do you know this person? all come into play. How well do you know, or don’t know, the person whom you’ve chosen for yourself?

Or, better question…how do you know when the spark is past?

I introduce you to Arriella and Shourron II. Mages both, powerful fighters, powerful personalities. Shourron II is resourceful, calm, and takes whatever action is needed. Arriella, his one-time protegee, tries her best to do right and protect those around her, even at great personal risk. Together for five centuries, you’d think all is well between them, right? They had a bonding ceremony, one step below a marriage. You’d think they’re a solid power couple, right?

Take a look at this little thing out of Book 3.Cut for length.

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Continue reading

Chasing Music, Newport Edition: Day 3

If Days 1 and 2 were something, then Day 3 confirmed, once and for all, that I came to the right place for music. I have got to do this again next year.

It started raining a bit earlier in the morning, and while it was overcast most of yesterday, I still managed to get a fair bit of a sunburn. My ears will recover (I don’t mean from the music either), I am sure.

Now, onward!!!

Shilts and Brian Simpson

If you saw my Midtown Groove designwork, you will recognize their faces, to be sure. Shilts being the ex-saxman for the original lineup of Down to the Bone and self-billing as the ideal dinner guest, and a powerhouse on the tenor sax, always puts on a kicky, funky show. Brian Simpson, who is best known as Dave Koz’s musical director, shows at Houndstooth that he is versatile enough to venture outside of what one would expect of piano jazz; he meanders very well and isn’t afraid to show off a bit.

Playing together at Newport was a great show, and between Brian and Shilts you get a barrel of laughs, but…again…the sound was driving me up a wall. Even when Shilts blasted into my favorite, Back on the Hudson, I could hear Brian’s ripple of the keys above the tenor sax. What the hell, soundman?! Since when is it that you cannot hear a sax on a sax-based piece of music?

The Sax Pack

Now, about this show I had my reservations, in part because of the sound quality of the prior shows. But, nonetheless, I parked myself right there for Jeff Kashiwa, Steve Cole, and Kim Waters. Yes, Kim Waters surfaced for this gig, and man, was it good to hear Waterfall. Easily my favorite by him, and, thankfully, soundman kicked up the alto, hard.

And you know, those guys are funny. I can think of very few other artists who can make me crack up as much as these guys. Jeff Kashiwa told a story of having an unrequited crush, and the way he told that story had the audience in stitches. Steve Cole and Kim Waters bounced jokes both off Jeff and each other, and Steve got progressively more warmed up with the banter.

And again, I was ready to whack the soundman over the head a few times. Why? Because when Steve covered Sarah MacLachlan’s Angel, there were several hard, high notes that he hit. None of which were discernable by volume. I sat close enough to notice Steve’s face reddening as he hit those notes, but the sound stayed even. It should’ve been anything but even. If the guy is pushing into the higher-alto range, this is not the time for the drummer to be more audible than the sax!!!

Tony Exum, Jr. was next to me, and I think there was a moment of a shared cringe.

Randy “Dynamite” Jacobs

You know what, Randy, if this entire “touring with Dave Koz” thing isn’t working for you, the blues festivals around the world would welcome you with open arms. That’s all I’m sayin’. Ladies and gents, the man can sing! And he can sing blues like a master.

I had a quick lunch while Randy tore it up with Sugar Girl, and he more than justifies the nickname Randy Dynamite.

Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue

There’s no proper words to describe Troy Andrews’s showmanship. Really, no, there is not. This youngin grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana, and walked in parades with his trombone before he could push out the slide to all the positions. And by the time that slide went places, he evolved into a dynamic onstage presence.

And let me tell you this, dear readers, Bourbon Street came full-force to Newport Beach, to the point where Troy should’ve brought a spare roof. He blew the first one clear off the stage. Holy shit. Louis Armstrong classics, James Brown at note perfect pitch, hit a wail like Michael Jackson, bring out Mindi Abair…what did this guy not do, short of lead a parade straight out of Newport Beach?

Dave Koz…and guest. ;)

I think you would know where this one is going, but I’ll just tell you the story. That’s my job. ;)

Dave, you and I both know, is a ham. He is a major ham. He will peek over Randy Jacobs’s shoulder (regardless of whether or not he has to stand on tiptoe to do it!), give Andre Berry a kick, lead Andre and Randy on a makeshift stage-march… anything to make his audience laugh and have as much fun watching him as he has onstage. And he certainly had a blast with it.

Now, the special guest…was little Vincent Ingala.

Some people said that Vinnie is taking after Dave. And you know, that may or may not be the case. But if Dave is the example and the teacher, then Vincent Ingala is, hands down, the star pupil. In his solo show just the day before, Vincent proved that he could marshal the stage every bit as well as any other saxman in the festival. But put him on stage with Dave and toss in The Pink Panther from Dave’s At The Movies album, and there are, once again, multiple jaw indentations on the lawn.

You know the song. C’mon. It’s impossible to miss when you hear it. It’s kicky, playful, slick, and sounds great on nearly every sax that plays it. So…Dave on the soprano, light and a bit sly, and Vincent’s tenor, rich and straightforward, take one of each, mix well, and add the exuberant energy of the song and the festival atmosphere, and the mix is combustible.

At risk of outing myself as a nerd, if Dave is the Jedi Master, this concert was Vincent’s trials, and he passed with flying colors; the audience gave a standing ovation. The Padawan has learned well indeed.

(shaddup, I’m a nerd, and I’m proud of it!)

So now, it’s the day after the festival’s wrap-up. I’m flying somewhere over Colorado right now, cloud cover everywhere, in a Delta jet taking me home. I had a blast reuniting with old friends, meeting face-to-face with my online friends, meeting new people, and drinking in an atmosphere completely unlike the NYC hustle that I’m used to. The sweet Southern California sunshine got under my skin from the moment that the plane began to circle Orange County, and I am now carrying it – and many amazing memories of people and music – back with me to New York.

With special thanks to Lory, Anita, Joy, Anisha, Tony, Len and Julie, Lisa and Char, Renata and Tamara, Bruce, Marissa, Vinnie, and everyone whom I’ve connected with on this trip. You made this a hell of a birthday weekend to top!!

Until my next high-flying adventure…

K.G.

Chasing Music, Newport Edition: Day 2

Waking up, breakfast – I won’t bore you with those details! But…there is music. LOTS of music!

I will confess, I didn’t catch the entire day’s show. Jeffrey Osborne does not appeal to me, and I had forgone DW3 in order to have a late post-lunch meetup with my ladies and finally meet Tony Exum, Jr.

But…here’s what happened.

Down to the Bone

I love the irony of this one. DTTB is a band that’s best known for its New York City-themed acid jazz. You have Long Way from Brooklyn. You have Staten Island Groove (again, what groove? SI has none, far as I can tell ya). You have the worldwide-known Brooklyn Heights. And the band’s British!

Go figure. :)

So when I came to Newport, I hardly thought that NYC would follow me, but this is the one part of NYC that I wanted to follow. Rufus Philpot’s guest star du jour was none other than Lao Tizer, whom I heard many a great thing about, but never saw live before. Let me put it this way: if Lao Tizer can rock Brooklyn Heights‘s ripples on the piano, then I definitely want to find out more. A great way for me to remember, just when the California jazz atmosphere got under my skin, to remember where I came from.

Vincent Ingala

Now, the jazz scene is an interesting animal. It’s a hit or miss. So when young (and yes, young he is!) Vincent Ingala got tossed into the mix, it was a hit. Pat Prescott’s lines at The Wave 94.7 started lighting up like fireworks. And on Facebook, there was an instant buzz about this guy, a youngin out of Connecticut with a touch on the tenor sax.

Once Lemonade happened, all of us saw the extent of Vinnie’s talent. Instantly, the buzz became a roar.

Now, Newport is something else. Add Bruce Nazarian on guitar, Ricky Lawson, Gary Stanionis, Jervonny Collier and Vincent’s raw, exuberant energy, and you get something that leaves jaw-shaped indentations in the ground. I think the hill of the golf course definitely has mine.

Vincent Ingala. I think that from here on in, just his name alone should be a byword for rocking tenor saxophone, energy, exuberance and plain on-stage chutzpah. You would be amazed at how well he can move;Dave Koz and Brian Culbertson definitely have competition in the live show kick-ass factor. Vince hits the stage ready to rock out, he does the covers and his originals, and his energy is outright infectious. Having a powerhouse all-star band backing him is more than fitting. Vincent Ingala… If he does not have his name in lights one day at the Best Buy Theater, I will be seriously cheesed off.

The way he made It Is What It Is sound, there’s absolutely no question that he was born to be on stage. None what-the-fuck-soever. Next year, when I’m back here again (like there’s any doubt), this guy needs the main stage. Needs, note the word.

In short: I am not worthy. Seriously. And if you haven’t heard him yet, get your arse on iTunes, CDBaby, etc. and get North End Soul. Or else.

Gentlemen of the Night

Considering it was noon, I would have thought they’d at least change up the act name. Kidding, of course. But this was interesting.

Warren Hill, Paul Taylor, and Marion Meadows have their acts. They’re pretty well-established in their own right. So tossing them into a mixed gig was interesting indeed. Paul Taylor, whom I have never seen live, brought out a bit of a saucier take on the alto and soprano. Frankly, I enjoy his music, he flavors it nicely with R&B, and when he needs to get contemplative, he can do it like a master. No On The Move from him, though. Then there’s Warren Hill, who’s raw and up-front with what he wants to convey through his music. Marion, well, is Marion. That’s about all that needs to be said.

However, if I ever meet the soundman for that show, I would conk him over the head. Reason being? Marion finally brought out the tenor sax for the show, and it was bloody inaudible. Paul and Warren would rip into their solos, but time for the tenor, and I’m left asking, what the hell? It’s not as though he doesn’t have the lungpower for it. But when Marion picked up the soprano, lo and behold – no sound issues. Mr. Soundman, thanks for the sour persimmons.

Jazz Attack

Now, I’ve always been a Gerald Albright fan. And a Rick Braun fan. And a Peter White fan. And mixing them together was every bit as much of a treat as I expected it. Peter played his favorites and ours (Who’s That Lady? being mine), and where Rick played it safe with the hits, Gerald picked up the sax and tore into My My My. Oh my indeed.

Norman Brown and Richard Elliott

Now this, ladies and gents, is a game of contrasts. Norman Brown, or Stormin’ Norman as I can call him, has long held a reputation for bringing the highest energy to his shows. And the crowds were up on their feet, dancing, consistently throughout the show last night. It was a long day, people were tired, they went to this show or that, and count it on Stormin’ Norman anyway to get them up on their feet again.

Richard…now, I will not make any bones of this. I’ve said it before and I say it again. When a Man Loves a Woman is one of the cheesiest pieces of music that I’ve ever heard. I didn’t like it when Percy Sledge sang it, I definitely don’t like it when a tenor sax wails it and milks it for all it’s worth. And Richard has to play it at every show.

Yes, he played it at Newport. Tony Exum, Jr. and I were discussing this very part of Richard’s repertoire earlier, and I told him, “If he plays that song, you owe me a drink!” Lo and behold, cabernet time.

But then Richard made up for that moment of Sap Meter overload with A Night in Tunisia. Yes, he went big-band. And that, ladies and gentlemen, put Richard firmly into my Cool Saxmen book, Sap Meter aside. For someone who had built his moxie with the Tower of Power, and who has a solid lineup of good smooth jazz behind him, to go classic is an inarguably good move. Similar to Kirk Whalum going Glenn Miller, a reminder in the style of classic big band is always, always a good touch.

And that, ladies and gents, was my Day 2. Onward to Day 3!

K.G.

Chasing Music, Newport Edition: Day 1

This truly goes down in history as being the best birthday ever. Again, thanks everyone for wishing me well. It means a lot.

So, after about 10 hours of traveling time total (note to self: direct flights are good, kthx), I made a landing in Santa Ana, California.

I don’t think I have words for what it felt like to make the descent into SoCal. You know how I always say that NYC is home, and possibly the only home I’ll have? I may have to amend that statement by saying that I have to live in SoCal for at least two years. It just feels welcoming. Even from midair, if I get the feeling that I just plain need to be somewhere…I tend to listen to that.

So, when I am off my flight, whom do I meet with but Joy, Lory, Lisa, Char, and Anita? And Len & Julie? And Renata? And my new client and Lemonade star Brad Rambur? And Bruce Nazarian? All people whom I have connected with, but never thought I’d ever meet face-to-face. Until, well…now. Again, I don’t think I have words. There’s a certain magic to being surrounded by people whom I bonded with across the miles, and to have them on my birthday…what better gift is there? What better gift can there ever be than to have my friends?

But land in SoCal I did, and first thing I did was get the first wristband. One quick talk with Bruce, and I run like hell to the Jazz Amphitheater for the first show: Euge Groove & Mindi Abair.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me just say this point blank: California knows its smooth jazz. If there is a shining example of a jazz fest that riles people up, that gets them dancing, that gets the energy sky-high – Newport Beach is it. I have not seen so many people pack a hotel with just the expectation of great music since I went out to Berks last year. To say that they have absolutely killed it is an understatement, completely. From the Euge’s newest Seven Large disc to Mindi’s tried-and-true Be Beautiful, there was never a dull moment with those two. The crowning jewel on that show was Euge’s tenor and Mindi’s voice on Grover’s Just the Two of Us. Euge’s mastery of soul-playing blends very nicely with the shade of soprano that Mindi’s singing happens to be.

… And at around that time, I went zonk. Yes, awake too long. Flying does that. :)

And soon to come, just wrapped, Day 2!

K.G.

Notes to Self for Future Traveling:

- If taking Delta, hit JFK. 

- Also if taking Delta, have breakfast beforehand. 

This is brought to you by the unpleasant discovery that not only is the Delta terminal at LaGuardia is woefully nothing like the one for American Airlines. The food sucks. In the AA terminal, I’m fed for under $10, and trust me, there are few breakfasts worth $20 that don’t include a side of Will Donato on the sax. 

But the flight…heavenly. Doubly so considering that the inflight Internet is a first for me, and a lovely one. This way I can safely work on the book, stay connected to my people, and tool around on the MiniBeast. 

Where have I been? Delta rocks!

MiniBeast needs some tinkering, though… But no worries. Nothing I can’t handle from 30,000 feet aboveground. :)

Leg #1 of my journey, New York City – Minneapolis is about to finish up. I have an hour and change for a meal, and a charge-up. And since planes make me zonk, I’m not worried one bit about the late-night. :)

Travelingly yours,

K.G.