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Posts Tagged ‘Moonlighting’

When last we saw our intrepid explorer…

 

 

So last week I talked about my favorite classical music (generic usage regarding music from a long time ago, as opposed to the specific music period known as Classical, being generally the years 1750-1820 CE). It will always be my first love, but there are a lot more genres of music out there, all with their own unique beauty and quirks.

As I grew in my skill as a musician, I also grew in my repertoire. My junior year of high school I took up tenor saxophone as an official second woodwind, and auditioned for the jazz band. In high school and college that equates to pretty much the standard big band format popularized by Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington during the swing era of the 1930’s. Much to my surprise (and the frustration of others) I landed lead tenor.

Now, let me explain some things about me and jazz. I’m a solid work-up musician, meaning hand me a piece of music a few days ahead of when you need it played and I’ll give you a professional rendition ready for performance or recording. But two things are my bane, and kept me from being a regular session musician. The first is my problem sight-reading. It’s not a technique issue – I’ve been told my technique is better than most. No, it’s largely a mental issue. And it’s probably the same reason I suck at chess and other strategy/tactics things – I just can’t pay attention far enough ahead to figure it out.

My second Achilles’ is my pure suckage at improvisation, AKA: ad libbing. When you mention jazz to most people, they envision a smoky club somewhere with a small combo backing a lone musician sending forth seemingly random walls of sound. Most of that sound isn’t actually written down anywhere. It’s using the chord structure of that particular tune to make up a new section within the piece, unique and original, yet somehow related. My little brain has a hard time with that. Again, because I can’t seem to think fast enough ahead of things to make my improvisation sound little better than a beginning student playing “Mary Had A Little Lamb.”

So me being lead tenor in the jazz band was a little weird because – you guessed it – lead tenor has a lot of improvisational moments in jazz. But I got away with it because we had weeks between performances, and that meant I could go home and figure out some cool riffs to play when it was my turn to stand up and wow the world. That worked at my first high school in Texas, where the jazz band was pretty average, and nobody really cared anyway because it wasn’t related to football. Not so much at my second high school in California.

I came to Eureka High in the middle of my junior year being a big fish from my big Texas pond, and found myself hitting a brick wall when it came to the jazz band. I wasn’t even allowed to audition to see if I could beat someone out of their seat. I was furious for weeks. And then I heard them play. And I knew why I couldn’t audition. And I became okay with that, because they were one of the hottest high school jazz bands in the nation. Their lead tenor was a guy named Sheldon Brown[1], who – as a senior in high school – could put most professionals to shame. Unlike some of us, he actually has made a successful musical career for himself, and I’m glad for him and hate him at the same time.

I did make it to lead tenor the next year, after Sheldon (and about 2/3 of the rest of the band) graduated. We weren’t as good as the previous batch, but we were still better than a lot of high school bands out there. And – most importantly – we had fun. The highlight of that experience was when we were invited to play at Humboldt State University as part of a weekend of jazz, which included “opening” for the college jazz band and their guest drummer, Buddy Rich. He had done a workshop there and was topping it off with a performance. Notorious in the industry for being difficult[2], he was nothing but cordial to us lowly high schoolers as we watched him rehearse. He was very particular about how his drums were tuned, and went through drumsticks like they were candy. And he was just mesmerizing to watch.

So I give you my first pick from jazz history, Buddy Rich and his big band at the 1982 Montreal Jazz Festival:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K91vjDcLA9o

 

 

The Year of Hellish Evil and Wanton Stupidity, AKA: 2016, cost us a bucket-load of talent from music, film, and television. Among the jazz casualties were clarinetist Pete Fountain[3], sax man Gato Barbieri[4], and consummate poet/vocalist Leonard Cohen[5]. All of them hurt, but a more recent loss really hit home.

Last week saw the passing of arguably one of the greatest artists of his generation, Al Jarreau. Known for his impressive vocalizations (a modernization of scat singing) and his versatile range, he came to the attention of most people when his album Breakin’ Away (1981) crossed into the pop charts for, like, the rest of the 1980’s. It was certified platinum and spawned the hits “We’re in This Love Together” and “Breakin’ Away.” He also sang the theme for the biggest TV show of the same decade, Moonlighting[6], starring Bruce Willis and Cybill Sheppard. His voice was so unique and versatile, and I was hooked for life. And while I followed him on and off through the years, always enjoying what he had to offer, my absolute favorite is his “Teach Me Tonight.” It never fails to give me a warm blush, even after all these listens.

So here’s Al Jarreau and band at the Leverkusener Jazztage 1996:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3F4f7YUzxd4

 

 

 

Now, before you go thinking I’m stuck in the ’80’s musically (okay, I might be a little), let me move on to the next person who has constantly inspired me, and not just in jazz. Though born in New Orleans the same year I landed on this planet, and from a line of jazz musicians, he has crossed between jazz, classical, and avant-garde with equal ease. Let me introduce you to trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, probably the best brass player in the world today. He has nine Grammy’s covering both jazz and classical forms, a Peabody award for his PBS and NPR shows on music from the mid-‘90’s, and is the first jazz musician to win a Pulitzer Prize in Music, for his composition Blood on the Fields[7].

His brother Branford Marsalis[8] is also frequently on my playlist because of the ease in which he plays the saxophone. Plus I was able to see him play with Sting[9], live, when I lived in LA back in the day. Both of the brothers bring a transcendent tone and ability to their respective instruments, which makes it hard to pick between them. But I discovered Wynton first, so I’ll make him the top choice (for now…).

As such, let me present Wynton Marsalis and friends at the Newport Jazz Festival in 2005:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJhW2Iy8aKw

 

 

Finally, no jazz list would be complete without John Coltrane. Especially a list bandied about by a so-called saxophonist. Born in North Carolina in 1926, Coltrane’s life was sadly cut short at age 40 from liver cancer exacerbated by heroin use. But in that relatively brief period, he left an indelible mark on the jazz world. Playing along side the likes of Dizzy Gillespie[10], Miles Davis[11], and Thelonious Monk[12], he became known for his “sheets of sound” playing style. His seminal album Giant Steps[13] is essentially a master class in technique and improvisation for any musician worth their salt, and on my regular listening rotation. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve just sat and tried to absorb his music. To this day, I discover something new each time I listen.

So to send us out for this week, here’s John Coltrane live in Germany, 1960:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDhyJvKe88o

 

 

When next we meet, I’ll bring us back to the modern era with my favorites of rock/pop. Until then, happy listening!

 

[1]   Here he is playing in the Silvestre Martinez Quintet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1wrbsgPtsHU

 

[2]   Though proved he had a sense of humor on the Muppet show, in what is the greatest drum-off ever: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJh9W3Gcpmo

 

[3]   Where I was introduced to jazz clarinet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wGV0DjYXBLk

 

[4]   He won a Grammy for scoring Last Tango In Paris, and I loved his Latin fire: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_XHjGyNcbYs

 

[5]   Everyone knows his Hallelujah, so how about this one instead: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YuCpTi0EtbU

 

[6]   Here’s a reminder for you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qZxLXuFfPvM

 

[7] The full composition is over three hours longs, so here’s just a taste: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3OH8qpvLDt4

 

[8]   Here he is with his quartet in 2009: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_X_1r1PojY

 

[9] The two of them at Sting’s 60th birthday concert: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HLl3SSt-qoo

 

[10] With his trademark trumpet at the Lincoln Center in 1982: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_nxthSkRT6g

 

[11]   An audio excerpt from his 1959 album Kind of Blue: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PoPL7BExSQU

 

[12]   The title cut from his ground-breaking 1956 album Brilliant Corners: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-zBhOrOQeFU

 

[13]   Hang on to your hats: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=30FTr6G53VU

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I love movies. To me, they are the ultimate entertainment form. They combine music, photography, performance and storytelling into one big glossy bowl of wonder. That’s why I went to film school, to learn more about the magic. And while my naïve little eyes were opened wide by the experience, it also gave me an unparalleled appreciation for the art form. Never mind that a part of me still wants to dissect every aspect of a movie, from shot angles to casting to how much catering must have cost. Sometimes it’s best not to see behind the curtain.

Writing for movies is a whole ‘nuther animal from novel writing. I was okay at it, but screenwriting was never going to be my best creative avenue. I’m too wordy, too detail oriented, too into the minds of my characters, too control-freaky. Once I came to accept that fact, and the fact I was never going to be awarded anything besides a pat on the back (oh, the fantasies children have of golden statues and piles of money…), I was able to sit back and just be happy writing to my strengths. And I was able to watch movies just for fun again. I have a few favorites that I keep going back to. Not because they’re Great Films, but because they’re great escapes. As I thought about them, I realized I haven’t shared much about my tastes in movies here, despite bragging about my film school education. So get some popcorn and a big drink and sit back for my top five.

1)        Blade Runner

Blade Runner

My favorite of all time. Directed by Ridley Scott, and starring Harrison Ford and Rutger Hauer. The tone and texture of this thing is just beyond anything else I’ve experienced. A commentary on what it means to be human, it is a feast for the eyes with exquisite detail and a subtle depth in its storytelling. I’ve never cared for the soundtrack – my tinnitus and electronic tones don’t get along – but I can overlook that for everything else it offers. I’m one of the few who actually saw it in the theater when it was released and I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve watched it since.

My favorite scene:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a_saUN4j7Gw

2)        The Omega Man

 The Omega Man

Charlton Heston at his badass best. I remember seeing this at a drive-thru with my parents. I think it was part of a double-header, but it’s been awhile so forgive me if the details are fuzzy. This thing haunted me for weeks afterward. Okay, it still haunts me. Probably why it’s one of my favorites.

Based on the Richard Matheson novel “I Am Legend,” (which has spawned several other movie versions as well), it’s more than just a monster movie or a tale of survival. Just check out Chuck’s not-so-subtle position at the end:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rhPOEFnQkw8

3)        Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Star Trek II

The best of the original series/cast movies, in my not-so-humble opinion. Ricardo Montalban (and his amazing chest – he was 62 when this thing was released) gave us one of the most memorable science fiction villains in modern history. And William Shatner proved that he was more than just a caricature for comedians to make fun of. Subtle performances combined with sharp writing gave us fans a fitting big screen entry. A beautiful story of friendships and sacrifice, Spock’s final scenes still have me reaching for the Kleenex. Too bad the studio couldn’t leave it alone, and the sequels cheapened the experience.

Since there’s too many good scenes to pick just one, I’ll give you the pretty bitchin’ extended trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vBpwPfW1Lsw

4)        Gladiator

 Gladiator

Another Ridley Scott entry. The man is a friggin’ genius and I’m still mad he didn’t get a Best Director Oscar for this one. But Russell Crowe garnered his first for acting, in a performance that can only be termed breathtaking. Grand and tragic and noble and heartbreaking, his character lives the motto of “Strength and Honor” right to the bitter end. This one is more than a movie; it’s also a FILM, so be ready to actually pay attention.

Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack is haunting and its own work of art, while the opening battle sequence is worth the price of admission all by itself:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4AP7XCCUcug

5)        Die Hard

 Die Hard

The definitive action movie. There was a collective moan of horror when it was learned Bruce Willis had been cast as the lead because he was only known as the wisecracking David Addison in Moonlighting at that point. Did he ever prove the naysayers wrong. And then there was Alan Rickman, who gave the villain Hans Gruber such depth he’s become the gold standard for bad guys everywhere. Sharp writing, tight action and stellar performances make this my go-to escape whenever I feel the need to see some justice in action. But let’s just forget the sequels, shall we?

Just in case you need a reminder, here’s where the catch phrase we’ve all added to our lexicon originated:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pEOVNmSR7_c

So there you go. Some rainy afternoon time wasters for your perusal. I hope they bring you as much fun escapism as they have me. Yippee ki yay….

 

© 2014   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved*

 

*         Except for the movies themselves. I’m just passing them on and don’t claim any rights to them or the creation thereof. Those rights stay with the original creators. Please don’t sue me. 😉

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