Sunday, August 19, 2018

Living the Jazz Life

At my music school, my chamber group was invited to perform in an art gallery opening in the concert hall. We were asked only a week in advance but thought we could pull off a few movements of the Trout Quintet. We had a 45-minute time slot so we’d have to play some easy filler pieces as well. The violinist in our group suggested that her two sons could play some jazz on trumpet and piano instead having us scramble to fill the time. I immediately offered Adam to play the bass with them. Adam, who was present in the room, nodded and said he could do it. The violinist said that her sons would be in contact with Adam to discuss songs. Sounds good, no problem!

At this point, Adam’s jazz experience was mostly in the high school jazz band where they learn and rehearse a select few songs to perfection every year (he also racks up a bunch of Outstanding Musicianship awards for these). The only pickup jazz experience he had was several weeks of jazz ensemble in music school and a pickup jazz combo in summer camp the previous summer. When the boys gave him a list of songs to look from the Real Book, Adam started to panic because he had not heard of them. I said we’d just listen to them on YouTube. We started to listen while Adam followed along in the Real Book. Immediately the performances veered off the sheet music and Adam said he couldn’t do it. “Why are you making me do this?” I started to doubt myself in volunteering him, although he was in the room and never once seemed unsure of it when we said yes. Before the art opening, he never tried playing the songs by himself and keep dreading the day. On the day or the art opening, the boys were going to meet and rehearse the songs for a half hour before going on. When the day came, Adam had to rehearse with our chamber group first and then bow out to meet the brothers. After introductions, they actually only got 15 minutes of actual rehearsal before playing in public for 25 minutes. We played the chamber music first which was mediocre at best since one of the movements was fairly new.

Adam Jazz Combo
Click play!

Then the jazz trio took up residence and the whole atmosphere changed. It was easy going, mellow and smooth, as if Adam had been playing with the brothers for a long time. The whole room relaxed as the audience chatted quietly while viewing the artwork. Adam looked completely natural without a hint of nerves. Whew, I knew he could do it! To be honest, there was no way I could ever pull something like that off and I was beaming with pride that Adam could. There were a couple of spots where I noticed Adam got a little lost, but he played right through as if nothing happened. No one else could tell. I asked him about it afterward and how he recovered. He said he just he just played two chords until he figured out where he was. In fact, you can always tell if he’s made a mistake when you see him smiling. Like it’s simply amusing to be lost, no panic whatsoever. Now that’s living the jazz life!

At a jazz jam at the other music school Adam attends (which has a much larger jazz program), I was amazed at how versatile the musicians were. During the course of the jam, a trombone instructor scatted for a song. In another song, she sat down and played the drums. Then she switched it up and played the piano! Adam arrived in the middle where there was another bass player student already playing. The other bassist set down his bass, gave Adam the amplifier plug and then picked up the electric guitar while Adam played the bass. The leader was also a trombonist but spent most of the time playing the piano and drums (but didn’t sing as well). Even the saxophonist put down his horn and played the piano and drums for several songs! Wow, that’s some real musicianship! Adam, who plays only the violin and bass, clearly needs to pick up a few more instruments! We already have the piano at home, although I am completely useless at helping with anything jazz related unless the music is completely written out.

Jammin' - play me!
It appears so effortless when jazz players jam. There’s usually just a skeleton of the music written out in the Real Book but instinctively everyone knows where the changes and the handoff to soloists. The handoff could be just a look or a nod, and it is also completely OK just to talk to each other in the middle. No one ever gets lost or if they do can recover without anyone noticing. This concept is completely foreign to this completely classical pianist. In chamber music, when things fall apart, it’s usually full stop and then announcing let’s start at measure 132. In one performance of the Trout Quintet second movement, I sensed that we were getting out of sync and started to panic. Eight measures before the cadence I started the harmonic descent and miraculously we all arrived at the end at the same time. It was truly a miracle that we saved it. Even Adam thought it was a miracle. But this sort of miracle happens all the time in jazz.

Adam solos
Adam solos - play me!

A unique thing about jazz is probably the most frightening for beginners - solo improvisations. Adam had always refused to do solos, but thankfully this instructor makes him do it. And again, it sounds so effortless and fun. The best thing about being a jazz musician is being able to drop into a group and simply play without having hours of rehearsals together ahead of time. You can just go and make music together. So happy that Adam can live the jazz life!

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Happy Stars and Stripes

After making the knitted American Flag wreath, I had lots of leftover red, white and blue yarn, so I went on an American flag craft frenzy. First I created this infinity scarf using a 1x1 rib stitch. The same star pattern was used to attach stars on both sides of the blue section. I couldn't quite figure out the right length, one loop looks too long and two loops look too small!

After that, I made this mini crochet flag using this free pattern. Of course, I wanted to be authentic and sew exactly 50 white beads in the correct pattern. This painstaking task took about 10 times longer than crocheting the two sides, so I only beaded one side. And what exactly do you do with a mini crochet flag? I wasn't going to use it as a keychain, so it just sits there on the table for random crafts.

Still, the best flag craft is the American Flag wreath. Go check out the pattern!

American Flag Wreath

Happy Fourth of July!

Monday, June 18, 2018

High Flying College Visit from UConn to Foxwoods to Upton Bass

We had the fantastic opportunity to visit Foxwoods and try out their HighFlyer Zipline. Since this required taking the kids out of school, I was determined to make the most of the day. Dova was away for her 8th grade Washington DC trip so it was going to be a mother and son day for Adam and me. Although Adam is a junior in high school, he has no idea where he wants to go to college and what he would major in, so in tiger mom fashion, I created a list of suitable colleges that met our criteria of having a good engineering AND music programs within 200 miles (one of Adam's criteria). The University of Connecticut in Storrs was on the college list, so that was our first stop. Besides, two college visit days are allowed at his high school as an "excused absence". I just looked up the policy, and you "must provide proof of visit signed by college representative". Oops, next time!

Adam was not in the mood for pictures, but he was definitely in the mood for a day off from school, as seen by his choice of t-shirt, "Save Ferris". This strange multi-layered entranceway was to the Chemistry building.

Aha! I captured Adam in a selfie! Some of the grounds and dorms at UConn were really beautiful. We passed the somewhat dated United Technologies Engineering Building and I reminisced about my short employment at Sikorsky Aircraft 28(!!) years ago, long before United Technologies sold it to Lockheed Martin in 2015.

After our self-guided tour of UConn, we headed down to Foxwoods Casino and Resort. What a difference in venue from the rural collegiate campus. I asked Adam how his college visit day was going and he replied, "I'd like to go to college here [at Foxwoods]".

On this rainy day, the zip line wasn't open just yet, so we looked into the restaurant options. Adam had previously been to Foxwoods and ate at the Hard Rock Cafe. I scanned the multitude of restaurants and saw that Junior's Restaurant had pastrami sandwiches. As soon as I uttered the word pastrami, Adam could think of nothing else. I reminisced how my father used to work at Long Island University in Brooklyn directly across the street from the original Junior's Restaurant on Flatbush Avenue. He used to bring home their world famous cheesecake all the time. This meant nothing to Adam, he was only interested in pastrami.

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Did I mention that Adam had pastrami? Piles of tender, juicy, salty pastrami? I had a wonderful plate of lox and bagels, another New York delicatessen specialty.  We could also view the zip line from the restaurant and saw some high flyers come down as we finished lunch.

It was finally time for our high flying flight. We've all been ziplining before in the Berkshire mountains, but never off the roof of a 350-foot tall building! After watching the safety video, we arrived at the top of Fox Tower.

Although ziplining sounds physically challenging, this ride is not at all. It really only requires stepping into the harness and climbing about two flights of stairs to get to the roof. Everything else, including all the safety straps, is done for you.

We headed down the line at the same time, but Adam beat me down due to his higher weight.

For the landing, we were taught to brace by leaning back and extending our legs. Adam actually hit the stop block on the landing.

I was laughing here because I stopped way before the stop block and I wasn't bracing for anything at all. They pulled me in by grabbing my feet.

It was a fantastic flight! No, my hair didn't get grayer because of the flight, it was the wind, really!

We wandered outside the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center while waiting for the shuttle back to the hotel and finally made it back to purchase these fabulous professional photos.

To make the most of this college visit day, we then headed to nearby Upton Bass to look at instruments for Adam. We stayed for nearly two hours trying at least a dozen basses. He even brought his own bow, but we didn't end up picking one.

We finally made it home by around 9pm. It isn't often that I get to spend that much quality time with Adam, he's a very busy young man. We had quite the jam-packed adventuresome "college visit" day!

Thanks to Foxwoods for providing lunch and tickets to the HighFlyer Zipline. Use code "hfbloggin" for a $10 discount on your HighFlyer Zipline tickets! Watch this video for more info.

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