I have a confession to make.

I like Kenny G’s holiday music.

Yep, you heard correctly: I am complimenting Kenneth Gorelick.

No, really. It’s a funny thing; while I will not listen to his originals for a moment, I find that his Christmas stuff is amazing. I didn’t pay much attention to him until The Millennium Mix version of Auld Lang Syne, which made me drop everything and just listen. To pepper a well-known classic with snippets of history is an excellent approach, and especially for history buffs like myself. Also, since I’ve grown up with the impression of New Year’s Eve being a time to reflect and make improvements on the year ahead, it puts reminiscence into a whole new perspective when a song for that time opens with Thomas Edison’s voice.

But his non-Christmas stuff…I hold by what I said many a time to many a person. Sap Meter alert. The needle is permanently stuck at 10, in the red zone of the meter, for Mr. G. Until he brings some funk to the stage, that will not rescind itself, and is compounded by the Tomato Test. As in, if I want to throw a tomato at someone’s head, ask a twofold question: what did that person do to earn it, and how fresh is the tomato.

(The Sap Meter is a bit of an inside joke. Will write about it later)

 

K.G.

 

 

On Family.

My wonderful friend Kaie said it best when she wrote about her definition of family.

I agree with her in many ways, and will now elaborate on her very aptly-put point: blood doesn’t equal family.

That’s right. Blood does not necessarily equal family. If you are lucky enough to have blood relatives that are supportive of you, that believe in you, who love you and will continue to love you as you are – as you are, and not as they believe you should be – then you are likely among the most amazingly lucky people out there. Because there are some, natch, a lot of people who do not have that luxury.

Christmas and the winter holidays are generally time for family get-togethers, and some of them are nowhere near as merry or jolly as Norman Rockwell and the ten o’clock commercials would portray them to be. People are forced into the presence of individuals whom they would never otherwise spend a moment with given the choice, and all for the name of “family.” Or, worse, “playing along for family happiness.”

Should an abuse victim be forced to spend time with his/her abusers? Of course not.

Should a person who spent the better part of his/her life hearing how they’re never good enough spend time with people who will inevitably repeat the same words, during a time that’s supposed to be happy? No.

Should a person whose trust was betrayed spend time with the betrayers? No, of course not.

And yet, if the perpetrators are blood family to the victim, the chorus of, “But it’s family! It’s different!!!” starts up. Apparently, being of blood relation makes a person automatically immune to any sort of wrongdoing and allows for any degree of ludicrous statements or actions, regardless of how hurtful, offensive, or outright insulting they may be.

I fail to see that. Maybe I’m the strange one in this regard, but I’ve always of the belief that if you have the holidays, you best spend them in a way that makes you happy. Which may not necessarily include people that you’re related to. Because I also fail to see how spending time with people one does not want to spend time with qualifies as happy.

My family is my friends in Seattle. California. Texas. Florida. Missouri. New Jersey. The United Kingdom. Australia. Queens. Long Island. All over the country. All over the world. My best friend/coworker whom I have known for eleven years. My clientele, scant though it is, is comprised of people that I adore. The Christmas cards I’ve received so far have all come from people I’m not related to, some whom I’ve not spoken to in years, but who remains as close to me now as they were when we still had the chance to talk nigh-daily.

When someone says “family” – take a moment to ask if they mean blood or not. Because there’s never offense taken for clarification, and you always learn something new about the person you’re speaking with.

This holiday season, expand your definitions, and all will expand with them.

K.G.

 

A Jazzy Christmas at B.B. King’s

The more I think about it, the more I think I should either 1. take notes of the set lists at shows, or 2. not write these things at 1-something am. But good gravy, this was one for the ages. I can’t believe I didn’t make the time to see this before, and now I have me a new Christmas tradition.

If there’s anything I love about the holiday season, it’s the fact that more often than not, this is the prime time for get-togethers. As evidenced by, well, today, and me suddenly finding myself split between going to five places at once. I did, however, have one picked to be already, and wish though I do that I could split myself into multiples and attend five shows at once – and what a feat that’d be, I tell ya! – I think I chose the right one.

Now, here’s an interesting factoid: despite my atheism, I rather like Christmas music, especially Christmas music done right. So naturally, where would I be today but with Peter White, Mindi Abair and Rick Braun for the Christmas special?

The first show, the one that I had my ticket for way in advance – since before the Big Cruise, mind! – was sold out. How I got the seat right next to the stage, I will never know, but you cannot beat that view. And what is first but Rick opening up with Little Drummer Boy? Muted trumpet, brushes on the snare – a light, simple-but-classic take on this holiday favorite. And soon enough, Peter and Mindi come on up as well and the rest of the band, standing by, joins in as well, turning an easygoing tune into something rousing.

You know, seeing that trio on stage together is something interesting, considering the stylistics. Rick Braun is almost old-school in his handling of the trumpet – and he handles it to perfection. Peter White is deceptively straightlaced, and is immensely playful when he’s on stage. Mindi – all attitude, sharp and energetic. But put them together, and the creativity on stage is infectious.

After the Christmas intro, they took turns playing their new releases. Rick went for Tijuana Dance, something that shows off his mastery at taming the tricky animal that is Latin jazz. Strong rhythm, synth accents, and a straight, almost un-embellished trumpet melody with a funk that just refuses to quit – that is something else. Peter White – what else but Bright, which was his nomination for the American Smooth Jazz Awards. And although I’ve said it before, I will say it again: something about that song is vaguely bittersweet, just enough to make me regret that I never got to meet Mr. Tisdale before his passing, and it still makes me smile with its amazing simplicity.

And then Mindi, whom I will confess to having expected to play Bloom, instead brought back some New Orleans-style old-school to BB King’s and commissioned Rick and Peter’s assistance on the vocals to play Be Beautiful. Off her new album, In Hi-Fi Stereo, and available in a free download somewhere off her site if I might add!, this is a serious taste of the old-school sax style. The pop stylings that Mindi is so well-recognized for faded off, and gave way to a Hammond B3. The alto sax takes on a little half-rasp and varies the notes almost a little more readily. And the vocals are subtle, soft, and surprisingly persuasive:

Be free,

Be strong,

Be Beautiful.

And to hear it live is something else entirely. It was as though someone blended in just a little drop of the Big Easy into BB King’s at that song; the energy was unbeatable.

And, of course, it can’t be Christmas without Christmas music, and everyone  showcased their favorites. Mindi played a bit from the Peanuts Christmas Special – a reminder to me that David Benoit’s Charlie Brown special is next week, really. Rick threw in Winter Wonderland, with everyone in the audience joining in. And, although he speaks through the guitar with a voice unmatched, Peter White had to sing his favorite. And he tried…but then asked for a bit of help from the band.

The lights faded, the music swelled a bit, and it only then hit me that Peter was trying to sing Elvis’s Blue Christmas. And he was doing something by the amp that I couldn’t see. But, all considered, I had a feeling.

“Waitasec,” I thought. “What is he doing? Is he doing what I think he’s doing?”

I barely finished the thought when the spotlight hit Peter White…in an Elvis wig. And glasses. Busting a move. I think the entire club audience nearly had apoplexy, myself included. And the next thing I know, Peter lights into Blue Christmas, his voice note-perfect to Elvis Presley’s range and pitch, with Rick and Mindi as his backup singers. Elvis wig or no Elvis wig, swivel-hip move or not, I’m singing along unabashedly. Not only is this one of my all-time favorite holiday songs, but what a way to have it.

And, also because this is a Peter White special, he donned the Santa hat and the shades, and Mindi assisted him in the James Bond theme, and no matter how many times I’d see Peter, this one doesn’t get old. Ever.

The wrap-up of it was an ingenious splice of Santa Claus is Coming To Town with…Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy by the Andrews Sisters. A kicky blast from the past, and a way to end the show with a bang.

So, since it is one-something o’clock right now, I will leave you with a little bit of old-school holiday cheer….okay, a little more old-school…

K.G.

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.

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.