Booked for the Evening

Playing here tonight, and donating to the auction.


Composition in the Metatarsals

Scotty Barnhart advocates transcribing jazz solos in real time because he’s heard too many note renderings that lack the spirit, which is really the point after all. The improviser that sounded so good was to some extent thinking about the notes but in the moment was feeling it in the lips, diaphragm, fingers, ears and eyes. That’s where the music lives.
As I’m learning piano charts from sheet music, it’s pretty obvious which ones were improvised and then written, and which were composed on paper and left for the pianist to master. You can feel it in your tendons. It ultimately lets you see into the composer’s mind, to really get what they were thinking and experiencing while writing.
It also makes it easy to work out fingerings, phrasing, dynamics, and generally the musicality of the piece. Maybe you can learn that by studying sheet music–I had a composition professor who never even listened to the notes he put on the pages–but following in someone’s fingersteps connects you to the piece directly.
I’m learning lessons that I probably wasn’t ready to learn when I was trying to learn them. I find they’re showing up in other areas of performance. I haven’t been writing while pursuing this project, but I’ll bet it informs some of that work too.

Piano Repertoire

So, these are the pieces I’m practicing nowadays:
Moonlight Sonata (just the well-known adagio part)
Ashokan Farewell
Music Box Dancer
Linus & Lucy
Prelude in C (Well-tempered)
Fur Elise
Chopin Prelude Op. 28 No. 20

Music Box Dancer is giving me problems because the left hand leaps around doing arpeggios across multiple octaves. I don’t think I like the effect. As for Beethoven, I was rusty at reading that many sharps, but it came back. He isn’t afraid to expect players to have large hands 🙂

Piano Year One

I realized recently that if someone asked me to play the Moonlight Sonata, I couldn’t do it. I’m hardly a concert pianist, but I ought to be able to do the early canon. I went to to get some sheet music, and I went to my local music store for some others.
Actually, that’s inaccurate. I went to several music stores before I found one that had a selection of sheet music other than some school books. It’s becoming a lost business, apparently.
Anyway, I’ve been pleased at how easily it’s come back. I read better than I thought I would. On trumpet, I can sightread pretty much anything I need to, but that’s one note at a time…
In high school, I’d get home and go straight to the piano. I’d play until the world was set right–sometimes two songs, sometimes two hours. I still have the same piano, and it still puts the world right.


This weekend marks the 150th anniversary of Taps, and all that is covered at

Today I played for a WWII veteran’s funeral.  I met the honor guard, and when it was time, they went in and folded the flag and I played.  I got the notice via, a civilian volunteer organization.
I have a few things to say about that.  First, Taps is free for a veteran – you don’t pay money for military honors – and inappropriate for a civilian.  Second, it is the position of BAA that a live bugler is preferable to a recording, but it is also the position of BAA that it is inappropriate to argue the point if the honor guard planned to use a recording.

It’s tough to play Taps.  There are 24 notes, and today I didn’t miss any of them, but the tone wasn’t as smooth as I would have liked.  Funeral homes tend to be a bit dry, and it can be tough on the embouchure sometimes.  Plus, of course, sometimes you get choked up.

Standard Solo

Sometimes my bandmates mock me, all in good fun, on Black Orpheus. I always play the same solo, verbatim, and frankly some of us think of that more than the melody when we call the song. Maybe that’s a bit hoary, but I figure it’s something I gradually perfected over a year or two of playing it.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong–or in fact original–about having a standard solo for a song. That’s all Ornithology is, and often people study and transcribe the solos on favourite hero recordings. It’s something I can play cleanly and with a sure hand, and I don’t have to worry about a creative off-night.
That isn’t the only song where I’ve worked out “my” solo, and on several other songs I have a partial chorus–I always do the same thing in the second eight bars, or some such. Same with harmonies – I always play the same harmony on Black Orpheus and Blue Bossa and any number of other tunes.
And yes, sometimes I decide to mix things up and not play my standard solo. I find that having gone through the exercise, I know the song better than others where I’m still experimenting or just prefer to keep it open-ended. Most importantly, though, I know a prepared solo is going to have musical sense and structure. A good off-the-cuff solo does too, and you have to taste your freedom to discover something better than what you have, so I don’t think it’s good to ossify on more than a small percentage of the book.

Keeping the Distance

Takedown and loadout usually aren’t the most fun part of the gig.  We finished fairly early, but it was still dark out, and there was no parking near the loading area.  I drew the short straw and waited with the instruments while the others got the cars.

People walking by made me nervous, so I set up the keyboard and started playing.  It wasn’t plugged in.  There was no sound to attract passers-by, and yet some stopped to listen.  Some even nodded and smiled, pretending, as if they were ashamed to admit they couldn’t hear the music.

Nobody bothered me.  I should’ve put out a tip jar.