Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Holiday TAG

Wilbo Wright is holding a TAG Night at Joe's Mill Hill Saloon, Broad and Market streets, Trenton, 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 16. The theme of the night is holiday music and he's invited a whole host of experimental musicians.

"We've all gotten into that stuff [holiday music] at some point," Wilbo said on the phone with me recently. "We've all had ideas we've written down, you know, 'wouldn't it be great to do that.' We've got sheafs of those ideas laying around."

So Wednesday will be a chance to bust out a few of those. The performers will be a crowd in themselves in the small pub and each performer will be doing something short, only a few songs. So socially and musically, it should be a gas.


Friday, December 4, 2009

New Operas in Brooklyn

Get the most bang for your night at the opera at Galapagos Art Space, 16 Main St. at Water Street in the Dumbo neighborhood of Brooklyn, on Saturday, Dec. 12. American Opera Projects with Opera on Tap are presenting three new works, including a staged workshop of the chamber opera Semmelweis by Raymond Lustig, winner of the 2009 Chariles Ives Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Also on the program are Marymere, a chamber opera in one act by Matt Schickele and scenes from Sucker, a work in progress by composer James Barry.

As if those weren't enough names and titles, the entire trio of operas is billed as part of the series "Opera Grows in Brooklyn." Tickets are $20, $15 for students and seniors, and are available at


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Three Rooms

Saturday morning, Nov. 14, I got the news that my newly completed CD, Three Rooms, is officially available for sale on CD Baby. You can order copies of the CD in a jewel case or download the mp3s individually or as an album. In the next few weeks, CD Baby will make the digital version available on iTunes and several other sites as well.

The songs on Three Rooms were all written over the course of a few months last year, and I spent a lot of time since then arranging and recording. I've gotten some very positive feedback about the production and the arrangements, as well as the songs themselves.

A storm swept through New Jersey on Friday 13th--a good omen for the end of a long creative project.


Friday, November 6, 2009

Chamber Music in Lincroft

Violinist Joel Dewitt and pianist/composer Julia Muench present a concert of chamber music Saturday, Nov. 7 at the Unitarian Church, 1475 West Front St., Lincroft. The program will include Mozart, Brahms, Poulenc, Albeniz and Rachmaninoff. Tickets are $20, $15 for students and seniors. Checks payable to the church will be accepted at the door. Call 732-747-0707 for more information.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Upcoming at Historic Christ Church

Historic Christ Church, 5 Paterson St., New Brunswick, will be holding three noteworthy music programs in the coming weeks. The first is a presentation at 9:30 a.m. Saturday on psalm singing, accompanying, and improvisation as they are practiced in the Netherlands. The demonstration will led by retired Professor Thomas Spacht of Baltimore's Towson University.

Prof. Spacht and the choir will then perform the second program this Sunday, as part of the regular Evensong and Organ Recital at 4 p.m. The choir and organist Thomas Spacht will perform Johan Bernhard Bach's Ciacona in B-flat, Psalm 91 of Klaas Bolt, Psalms 116 and 138 of Margaretha Christina de Jong, Psalm 42 of Sietze de Vries and "Jauchz, Erd', und Himmel, juble!" of Max Reger.

The third is a Jazz Vespers at 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 1 in honor of All Saints' Day. Mack Brandon, Benny Barksdale and an ensemble will perform.

For more information on these programs, visit the church's website.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Kucera 80th Birthday Tribute

On Wednesday, Oct. 21, at 8 p.m., guitarist Dr. Stanley Alexandrowicz will be performing at Goucher College in Baltimore with members of the Music Department Faculty in a program dedicated to the 80th birthday celebration of Czech composer Vaclav Kucera. On the program will also be a world premiere of mine, a fantasy for solo guitar called In Perilous Seas that Stanley commissioned from me last year.

Stanley is a great performer, a former student of Manuel Barrueco, a graduate of Manhattan School of Music and an Albany recording artist. I've known him since the mid-80s and he has always been a relentless explorer of the guitar literature, turning up scores and composers that have, in turn, become major influences on me and others of his contemporaries.

Kucera is a great example. A remarkably original and inspired composer, he is not well known in this country and I would know nothing of him were it not for Stanley's research. Of Kucera's works, the birthday program will present a U.S. premiere, with a string orchestra conducted by Goucher's ensembles director Elisa Koehler, of the Concierto Imaginativo „Homenaje a Salvador Dalí” and the Maryland premiere of his solo Diario: Omaggio a Che Guevara. The program will also include work by Ernst Bacon, Brian Fenelly and Eric Sessler.

Stanley will be repeating elements of this program at the Composers Voice concert Nov. 29 at the Jan Hus Church in New York in the last week of November and I'll post information on that concert as it approaches.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Opera New Jersey

Just received an email from Opera New Jersey announcing that Scott Altman has accepted a position as General Director of the Arizona Opera and he and his wife Lisa Altman are stepping down as directors of the company they founded in 2002. Based in Princeton, OperaNJ has grown enormously in that time and is one of the leading operatic companies in the state, offering many performances by young operatic stars in many venues in many towns through New Jersey. The pair will continue to work with OperaNJ through the end of the calendar year to ensure a smooth transition, and the group plans to continue its 2009-10 season as scheduled.


[This article was corrected 10:10 a.m. 10/15/09: "they founded in 2004." was changed to "they founded in 2002."]

Busy Day, Part 2

In addition to the two events I mentioned in my last post, this Sunday, Oct. 18, has a few more tricks up its sleeve.

Cellist Sofia Nowik performs a solo concert at the Music at Saint Mary's series at 4 p.m. Nowik is a Juilliard Student and already a nationally known performer. The church is located 256 Augusta St., South Amboy. For more information, check out the MASM's website,

At St. James Church, 300 Broadway, Long Branch, organist Tom Colao offers a solo program of two pieces each by master composers and organists J.S. Bach, Maurice Durufle and Cesar Francik at 4:30 p.m. The pairs represent contrasts within each performer's style. The Bach selections, are the "St. Anne" Prelude and Fugue, and the E-flat major Trio Sonata. From Maurice Duruflé there will be the Scherzo op. 9 and Chorale variations on "Veni creator Spiritus " The César Franck selections are Pastorale and Choral in A minor.

The organ is a 3-manual French style instrument originally built in the 19th Century. Tickets are not required. Donations will be collected at the door. For more information call 732- 222-1411 or visit

Retired clergy member and brass band enthusiast Jacob Hohn writes "the Montclair music forces of The Salvation Army will be at The Salvation Army, Asbury Park, for a free concert" at 7 p.m. Hohn continues: "This brass band is considered one of the finest in the Eastern USA. Some of its players are internationally known in brass band circles. The bandmaster is Charles Baker, the principle trombonist with the NJ. Symphony."

The Asbury Park Salvation Army is located at 605 Asbury Ave., Asbury Park. The phone number is (732) 775-8698.


Busy Day, Part 1

This coming Sunday, Oct. 18, appears to be the most popular day of the year to hold a concert. As I've mentioned, the Monmouth Symphony Orchestra will be performing at the Count Basie Theatre, 99 Monmouth St., Red Bank at 3 p.m. A pre-concert talk will begin at 2:15. I will be there for that concert as my orchestral prelude, Certain Dark Things is on the program. Roy Gussman conducts and the MSO Concerto Competition winner, Suejin Jung, will be the soloist in Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3. I was one of the judges on the panel that selected Suejin, so I can attest to her capability. She's an extraordinary player. Also on the program will be Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, a work that was a huge inspiration to me as a young man.

While it seems like this concert was framed around me, the opposite is actually the case: Pictures and the concerto winner were scheduled before my piece was added. My connection to the other two works is a pure coincidence.

More information is available on the website, Tickets are $30, $25 for seniors and $5 for school-aged children, available by calling the Count Basie Theatre box office at 732-842-9000.

If you're not interested in joining me at the Count Basie, you can take your family to the Algonquin Arts Theatre performance of The Jungle Book, also starting at 3 p.m. Produced by The Magik Theatre (refer to Hesse's Steppenwolf to understand why that's a weird handle for a children's musicals production team), the show is 60 minutes long and "perfect for children of all ages". The Jungle Book story by Kipling is a more harsh and deeply entertaining story than is told by Disney, but I suspect this production will rely on the more popular version.
Tickets are $12 for children and $15 for adults, seniors, and students. To reserve seats or obtain more information, contact the box office at 732-528-9211, or visit the website, Algonquin Arts is located at 173 Main Street in downtown Manasquan.

And there's more! But I have to get ready for class and I'll post those later.


Getting Caught Up

I've had a number of obstacles to posting lately, including the beginning of the school semester. So I'll be spending the next few days getting caught up with the flood of concert announcements that have been coming in.

I'm trying to persuade the Asbury Park Press to host this blog and pay me for it, as they do with staffers (I'm a freelancer for them). They've offered to reprint it, which I politely refused since that would split the audience for the blog even further. At the moment, many of my readers who comment on the reprint on Facebook never register as followers on Blogger, where the blog is actually located. So from a purely statistical point of view, they don't count.

I'd be interested in hearing from others in a similar situation, trying to wrestle the new media into something more businesslike.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009


As I mentioned in my Asbury Park Press column two weeks ago, Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" was one of the pieces that served as an entry for me into the world of classical music. I had heard Emerson, Lake and Palmer's version and liked it a lot. As a teenager, I saw the group perform at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena--in the style of concerts at the time, those were more or less spectaculars, almost like Broadway productions in scope. A professor of mine, referring to a Genesis concert he attended, said it confirmed his notion that they should be called "shows" and not "concerts." He was absolutely right. The ELP performances in particular involved a lot of lighting and visual special effects, a lot of theatrical antics, particularly by keyboardist Keith Emerson.

But as much as I liked the band's shows, the real experience for me came from its recordings. I liked the luxury that records provided of getting to know music in detail, to the point where a few seconds of a simple timbre could tell me exactly what part of what recording I was hearing. ELP's music in particular offered a lot of opportunity for discovery, not the least because their music was often drawn directly from classical sources.

Sometimes that connection was overt, as in the band's performance of Aaron Copland's "Hoedown" and Mussorgsky's "Pictures." And sometimes it was hidden, as in the band's arrangement of "The Barbarian" by Bela Bartok (not credited on the album) or in their original compositions like "Take a Pebble" that drew on classical models.

After finding the Mussorgsky score for piano solo in a practice room bench, I worked hard, very hard, and ultimately taught myself to slog through the three opening movements "Promenade"," The Gnomes" and a reprise of the "Promenade." It would have been no great thing to master a few of the other movements, but my teacher didn't insist and, being a kind of lazy teenager, I never did.

Building on my interest in "Pictures", my teacher handed me some Beethoven Country Dances and a couple easier sonata movements, Bartok's "The Barbarian," Debussy's "The Golliwog's Cakewalk," Chopin's preludes and Bach's two-part inventions. I was astonished that the Bartok was the same piece that appeared on the ELP album and I dove into it with all my heart. The "Golliwog" I came to love, with its ragtime references and comic timing. The Chopin and Bach I've never stopped exploring--a copy of both sets has been on or near my piano ever since, and led me directly to the Chopin Etudes and the Bach "Well-Tempered Clavier." Before I knew it I was in a deep world with wild-haired composers and glorious and strange musical styles sprouting up all around me.

Mind you, if my teacher's goal was to keep me excited, she made some serious missteps. I never did master a Clementi Sonatina--I considered it too much like boring beginner's music and just wasn't interested. I was wrong about that, as it turns out. The Clementi Sonatinas are interesting, even if they're not very rockin'. But the style was too reserved for me as a teenager. It's interesting, in that respect, that she didn't give me some of the more characteristic Beethoven sonatas with their drama and passion, or push me to learn the Rachmaninoff Prelude in G-sharp minor that she knew I loved so much.

Those are the mistakes teachers make. In my case, I can't really call them mistakes, in fact. I was a difficult student and by and large, she did well, more or less single-handedly turning me into a pianist. So these are just questions that continue to inform my own teaching and the exploration of music.

It is kind of nicely symbolic that I never learned "Pictures" completely. That piece opened a door--I walked through and found myself on a long journey. And I am not even close to being done.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Certain Dark Things

I mentioned in my Music Notes column last Sunday (Sept. 27) in the Asbury Park Press that the Monmouth Symphony Orchestra is performing my short piece Certain Dark Things on their concert at the Count Basie Theatre 3 p.m. Sunday Oct. 18. The piece was originally written as a piano solo dedicated to my wife, Lauren and orchestrated a couple years later.

The title comes from the Sonnet 17 of Pablo Neruda. Lauren had given me the poem as a gift a few years ago. I have tried several times to set it to music, failing each time, mostly because I can't come up with an accompaniment that satisfies the warm spiritual and sexual turbulence of this poem. The melody is easy and I have half a dozen different solutions sketched out. But the harmony and the underlying rhythms … that's another matter.

I don't love you as if you were the salt-rose, topaz
or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:
I love you as certain dark things are loved,
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that doesn't bloom and carries
hidden within itself the light of those flowers,
and thanks to your love, darkly in my body
lives the dense fragrance that rises from the earth.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
I love you simply, without problems or pride:
I love you in this way because I don't know any other way of loving
but this, in which there is no I or you,
so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand,
so intimate that when I fall asleep it is your eyes that close.

Is there codependency there? Yeh, probably. But who cares? In the moment of its expression, what is captured is the overpowering sweetness and despair of love mutual and complete, yet antagonized by outside forces, the honking traffic of mundanity. The lovers here are pressed together "between the shadow and the soul" like flower petals in a book and their devotion, their allegiance, their tryst, is apparent to no one but themselves. Something in that image is so sad, so ecstatic and so perfect. It is the final union, the perfect transcendence of Otherness that rejects bright daylight joy and the spark of individuality and yearning. It closes the circle as near to God as we can get.

Certain Dark Things, then, is my instrumental answer to the problem, an attempt to capture some small aspect of the poem in sound without the direct explication of words. I don't attempt a broader spiritual or theological meaning. Just using the poem as inspiration for an emotional state that is carried through here. Another day, the music inspired by the same source could be quite different. But today, it is thus.


James Levine's Carnegie Hall Performance

Carnegie Hall just announced a few minute ago that James Levine is scheduled to undergo immediate surgery for a herniated spinal disc. As a result, the program for the upcoming opening night gala featuring the Boston Symphony Orchestra concert has been changed. The new conductor has yet to be confirmed but should be identified publicly soon. The new program will be Berlioz's "Le Carnaval romain," Op. 9, Chopin's Concerto No. 2 in F Minor, Op. 21 with pianist Evgeny Kissin, the New York Premiere of John Williams "On Willows and Birches," for harp and orchestra featuring harpist Ann Hobson Pilot, and Debussy's "La mer."

The concert is 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 1 in Stern Auditorium. For further ticket information, contact CarnegieCharge at 212-247-7800.

Hopefully Levine's recovery will be swift and complete.


Monday, September 28, 2009

Music's Power

Music says something about our connection to Creation in a way that language can't--beyond the morality, politics, opposites that define the terms of language. Music reveals our connection to every thing, everywhere. The appearance of language, scientists tell us, is at least coincident with music in human evolution and most likely music even predates language. And in nearly every extant primitive human society, music serves some powerful magical or religious function. Music is the ultimate church.


Saturday, September 26, 2009

NYC Symphony Chorus

The New York City Symphony Chorus (aka SymphoNYChorus), performs at 7 p.m. tonight at Trinity Church, 503 Asbury Avenue in Asbury Park. The 30-plus member chorus and orchestra perform Gospel, spirituals, contemporary Christian music and old favorites. The event is free, with donations collected at the door. For more information visit the Trinity website or call (732) 775-5084.

At this writing, I know precious little about the choir. If I can find out more before the performance, I'll post again.


Saturday, September 19, 2009

Newman-Oltman Duo

Some years ago, I had the opportunity to hear the Raritan River Music Festival, now celebrating its 20th year. Sadly, I haven't been able to get back to hear more since then, but its reputation continues to grow. Back then I also had the joy of interviewing the founders of the festival, guitarists Michael Newman and Laura Oltman. A couple and performing duo, they are charming hosts and tasteful, highly skilled musicians.

Recently I got an email from them announcing that their 2009 CD with the Daedalus Quartet, "Music from Raritan River," has received two Grammy nominations. Since founding the festival in 1989, the duo has commissioned a boatload of new music, including four works included on this recording.

The CD, released on the independent MSR Classics label, includes:
• Dušan Bogdanović (b.1955)--SEVDALINKA (1999)
• Lowell Liebermann (b.1961)--NOCTURNE-FANTASY, OPUS 69 (2000)
• Roberto Sierra (b.1953)--THREE HUNGARIAN TRIBUTES (1996)
• Augusta Read Thomas (b.1964)--memory:SWELLS (2005)
• Michael Karmon (b.1969)--CAUGHT IN THE HEADLIGHTS (2003)
• Rami Vamos (b.1976) & Randall Avers (b.1974)--THREE SONGS FOR TWELVE STRINGS (1997)

Hopefully I'll be able to offer a proper review of the CD soon. In the meantime, snippets of tracks are available on the label's website.


Friday, September 18, 2009

Justice for Jazz Artists

A group called Justice for Jazz Artists is holding a rally 2 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 29, at Judson Memorial Church, 55 Washington Square South at West 4th St., New York City. The group, founded in 2006, is petitioning clubs to help provide retirement benefits for working musicians. According to the group's recent email:

We successfully lobbied for a tax break that would go to jazz musicians' retirement payments, at no cost to the clubs; and yet none of the top NYC jazz clubs will even discuss the issue with us -- these clubs include the Village Vanguard, the Jazz Standard, the Iridium, Birdland, the Blue Note, Dizzy's Club Coca Cola, Smoke and (le) Poisson Rouge.

We're holding this rally to put public pressure on the clubs, so that they do the right thing. After the rally, we will march to the clubs and deliver our petition with 1500 signatures of professional musicians, demanding that the clubs direct the forgiven tax dollars to musicians' pension payments -- a tax break that we lobbied for, and the clubs are now enjoying.

The website provides more helpful background on this issue. Anyone interested in attending is encouraged to RSVP at and sign a petition available on the site Musicians are encouraged to bring their instruments. Call (212) 245-4802 ext. 185 for more information.


"Music and Human Experience"

Teaching a Fall semester Freshman Seminar at The College of New Jersey on the topic of "Music & Environment." I've noticed, of course, that there's relatively very little scholarly writing on this topic, despite the fact that every writer on music at some time or another points out the love of Nature (with a capital N) exhibited by musicians of all cultures through the ages and to a lesser extent the relationship of a composers' environments to the work they create.

The only actual textbook I've found specifically on this subject is called Music and Human Experience, by Arthur Komar, and was published in 1980. The book attempts a standard survey-of-music curriculum from the perspective of music's functions within society. It's a fascinating approach and handy to have. But it is also hopelessly out of date from a teaching perspective, pointing out just how much our culture has changed in the last few decades.

Given the book's raison d'etre as a substitute for standard intro to music literature texts, its emphasis on Western musical canon and standard repertoire is somewhat understandable. Within that scope, Komar strikes a nice balance of informative and entertaining, perfect for the lay reader. But it's been a long time now since educators have allowed themselves to talk exclusively about the music of Europe in such a course. In that respect, the book simply represents the dead end of an era.

Funniest of all in light of contemporary standards is the unit "The Music of Lands and Peoples" which deals exclusively with nationalist-inspired composers, from Mussorgsky to Copland. Just passing remarks on Bartok and little discussion of the growing ethnomusicology research, let alone its ethical quandaries. No mention of world music influences. No mention at all of African American music or its influences on European repertoire apart from Milhaud's use of jazz and one or two other such. No mention at all of women composers. No mention of environmentalism or soundscapes. No acknowledgement of the power of popular music (barely even a reference to the Beatles).

Even by the standards of the day, the absence of any discussion on minimalism is glaring. The style was still evolving and at the time amounted to an open sore on the body of traditional classical music scholarship. Funny, that so often what we can't see or can't tolerate in the present becomes the central element in our recounting of history.

I would say the '80s were the cutoff point for this particular group of offenses. By the mid-'90s, every music department was at least encouraging scholarship in these overlooked areas--perhaps "overlooked" is too soft. "Ignored" would might be the more correct word. A 1983 article on the absence of women composers in contemporary textbooks uses the diplomatic phrase "benign neglect."

No matter how you look at it, it's hard to believe that such a complete shift in scholarly expectation and emphasis, one that is now so widely accepted, could have occurred so recently.

I've got Komar's book on reserve for my students (that is, they can read it but do not have to buy it). Along with the valid scholarship it presents and its attempt to tie together music with other aspects of life, it offers a time-capsule glimpse of the wildly shifting sands of cultural definition and the simple, yet glaring mistakes that await us in our research.


Friday, August 28, 2009

Walking on Cookman

Just back from a lovely walk on Cookman Avenue with my family, chatting with the gallery owners and other entrepreneurs down there. It was a great evening, with dinner and dessert and running into friends, visiting some of the more creative shops.

Still, I couldn't help but notice, for the umpteenth time, the Asbury Park Chamber of Commerce slogan "Bought In!" pasted with bumperstickers on the glass storefronts. A vague feeling of nausea hits me every time I see this slogan. I'm a longtime homeowner here--"Bought In!" long before it became a catchphrase. But even so the slogan makes me squirm.

What it seems to say is that our community is not a caring one, but is actually a community of delighted speculators for whom return on investment will be the bottom line. The return is virtually guaranteed, otherwise we wouldn't be so gleeful as to put an exclamation point on it. The message says: we're not putting down roots, we're in this for the money. And Asbury Park is a sure bet. ("!")

Now, the Chamber of Commerce exists, of course, to cultivate the climate for growing wealth opportunities. I certainly don't mean to criticize that. And neither can I lay claim to any great business savvy.

But even so, it seems to this lowly musician that if our slogans equate money with our level of commitment to our community, then what we will reap will be more of the same--the same culture of selfish greed that brought this town to its knees during its most difficult decades and has never completely subsided.

A commitment to a community is not a commitment to make money, or a commitment to spend money. It's a commitment to people, a commitment to be active for the betterment of all the people. For some, a commitment to community doesn't even involve personal gain. Are those folks less "Bought In!" for never having spent a penny and expecting no dime in return?

I can understand the impulse to make investment in Asbury Park attractive. But it seems that at the same time we've cheapened the appeal of the city. Reduced it to the level of pork bellies and copper--a commodity.

In the end, of course, words are just words. The city's social and economic climate will be shaped more by people and actions than slogans. But still, "Bought In!" rankles.

We're not a commodity. We’re a lovely little Shore city with lots of good people living here. We're a community.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Rossini Stabat Mater

There was a typo in Ocean Grove's press release that was repeated in my Asbury Park Press column last week: Rossini's Stabat Mater will be performed 7:30 p.m. this coming Sunday, Aug. 30, not Aug. 23. Also on the program will be Mendelssohn's Second Symphony and his "Hebrides" Overture. The concert is in the Great Auditorium, Pilgrim and Ocean Pathways in Ocean Grove. For more information, call 732-775-0035 or visit

Friday, August 21, 2009

Locrian Chamber Players

Just got a postcard today announcing the Locrian Chamber Players upcoming recital, 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 27. My friend, composer David Macdonald is one of the directors of
this New York new music ensemble. The group performs a few times a year at Riverside Church, 91 Claremont Ave., New York City (north of W.120th St. and one block west of Broadway). The concert is free.

On the program will be work by British composer Gavin Bryars, Japanese composer Somei Satoh, Austrian composer Kurt Schwertsik, and Americans Suzanne Farrin (pictured) and ensemble member Jonathan Faiman.

Members of the Locrian for this performance are violinists Cal Wiersma and Curtis Macomber, violist Dan Panner, cellist Peter Seidenberg, bassist Troy Rinker, percussionist Eric Poland, pianist Faiman and harpist Anna Remersman.

Directions and more information are available on the Locrian Chamber Players website.


Friday, August 7, 2009

REVIEW: "Sweeney Todd" at Algonquin

I have seen many fully professional productions that weren't as good as last night's "Sweeney Todd" at the Algonquin Arts Theater in Manasquan. Directed by Cynthia Meryl and starring a young cast of the New Jersey Youth Theatre both onstage and in the orchestra, the production was a wicked success. The actors, particularly leads Kevin Melendez and Jaclyn Ingoglia, are exciting, energized and enormously talented. It was clear for both that we're witnessing the birth of celebrated careers.

One of the reasons I love this Sondheim musical is the complexity and inventiveness in the music. It's gorgeous, but also thorny and unpredictable. That also makes it one of the most difficult musicals out there, for the orchestra and the cast of singers.

There were rare moments of weakness in the orchestra and in the singing voices of some of the cast on stage. If you weren't looking for them you would not have noticed. Mostly, the musical professionalism was staggering, particularly so given the young age of most of the players. The cast's ensemble numbers, like "God That's Good" that opens the second act, were especially effective. The opening "Ballad of Sweeney Todd" is reprised throughout the musical at key moments and each time with powerfully unified synchronization of voices, acting, lighting and staging.

The hits of last night's performance, hands down, were delivered by Ingoglia as Mrs. Lovett with her song "The Worst Pies in London" and her duet with Melendez, "A Little Priest," both in Act I. At intermission, the audience was still laughing over her mad capering dance during "A Little Priest".

But singling out those moments is an injustice to what is overall a very exciting, polished and compelling production. Tickets are still available for performances that continue through the weekend, 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 7, and Saturday, Aug. 8, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 9. Algonquin is located at 173 Main St., Manasquan. Call 732-528-9211 for more information or visit the theater's website,


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

"Damthesnes" at TAG Night Tomorrow

Jack Wright
Wilbo Wright's experimental music series at Joe's Mill Hill Saloon, sponsored by Trenton Avant Garde Inc., continues tomorrow night, Wednesday, Aug. 5, with sax/bass/drums trio Jack Wright (pictured at left), Todd Capp and Andrew Lafkas, plus the Trenton premiere of Wilbo's improvisational instrumental opera, "Damthesnes" (pronounced "damn these knees").

The trio carves out a distinctive place in the free jazz tradition. "Damthesnes" involves a truckload of instruments played by two people, Wilbo and Eric Haltmeier (Wilbo's the one on the right in the photo below). The story unfolds entirely in the music. As Wilbo points out, "no words, no singing and no bad acting." Wilbo performed this at the Black Box's Music of Invention series in Asbury Park a couple years ago. You can read about it in this Atlanticville article.
Eric and Wilbo

The show is 8:30 to midnight. Admission is $5 at the door. The Mill Hill Saloon is located at 300 S. Broad St. at the corner of Broad and Market in Trenton, 609-394-7222. (From the Shore, take I-195 to the end, follow the signs for Rt. 29 N. and get off at the Market St. exit in downtown Trenton. You'll see Joe's ahead on the right.)


Sunday, August 2, 2009

High School Years

Author's note: The following picks up a topic begun in my Music Notes column in the Asbury Park Press, Sunday, Aug. 2

Some of us have great associations with high school band. Others, not so great.

On a good day, band builds social skills, cooperation and confidence in the student players and gives them an introduction to what it means to be part of a successful team. They make exciting, pulsing music and serve as the motor behind the magic of school spirit at games and ceremonies.

On a bad day, band is a bunch of loser nerds made to endure regular humiliations at the hands of a Chief Loser Nerd of a teacher. To add insult to injury, sooner or later you don a silly hat and march around with your instrument on football field, anonymous comic relief parading around for the sport of a couple dozen much more manly and popular jocks and their doting parents.

Obviously, a lot depends on the teacher and the subtle and not-so-subtle signals a administration sends to the band members and the community. More depends on them, in fact, than on the students themselves. The worst group of players can have the most positive experience if given the right support.

Myself, I chose choir to get out of band. I'm not entirely sure my high school band experience would have been as terrible as I thought at the time. But for me it was both a professional and a social choice.

I was a piano player and a guitar player in the days when guitar wasn't really considered a "serious" instrument. I was a rock 'n' roll fan and a Beethoven fan (that rock 'n' roll titan of the Classcial era) in an age when those seemed contradictory pursuits. I slammed the piano keys, even in the most gentle of Beethoven country dances, as if I were Jerry Lee Lewis. I dressed to offend. I was a rebel.
With its odd uniforms, its Sousa marches and fraternity-style camaraderie, my high school band looked really hokey to me. Band was all about fitting in and I didn't want to fit in. Choir, by contrast, looked easy and maybe even compelling. The music was more arcane and exotic. The blend of voices had an almost magical appeal. I didn't have to take lessons on another instrument and I could wear a robe instead of a uniform (this was the height of Tolkein-mania and robes were pretty cool). Plus, I never had to march at football games.

I went on to sing in choirs during my entire college training. Ironically, I became more and more fascinated with exactly those aspects that I had initially sought to reject--the work of cooperation and discipline, the slightly forced camaraderie and the social stew of rehearsals, performances and tours.

Such choices are the stuff that professional careers and lives are made of. While I left off choral singing when I left college, my understanding of music from every respect is definitely colored by the experience.

My choice of the piano as an instrument fits into this story. I knew I was defining who I was and who I wanted to be. But much of my choice was born out of compromise. I wanted to be a rock star and I couldn't afford to buy a bass like the one Paul McCartney played in the early Beatles records. We had a piano in the house. Plus, Beethoven was pretty cool and you couldn't really play that stuff on a bass.
So I learned a handful of acoustic guitar techniques, to impress girls. And when the party was over, I would go back to the family piano for more private time with Beethoven, improvising long piano compositions in imitation of the great composer's sonatas.

Could I have pursued the same tack while a member of the band? For many years I thought the answer was no. I assumed band was too stifling, too rigid, too much superficial ceremony and not enough opportunity for personal expression.
But as an adult, it suddenly dawned on me that discipline was exactly what I needed. Plus, I see now that my rather undisciplined high school choir experience was more the product of a sleepy, disinterested choir director and not at all germane to the choir experience.

Perhaps my choice of choir was entirely arbitrary. Perhaps it was born out of personal laziness. But in the end, I think it was the right one. Even now I am more compelled to find beauty in the flowing counterpoint and the characteristic colors of the massing of many voices, professional or amateur, than in the honking and stomping of even the best band.

A personal prejudice that lingers to this day.

The moral of this story: In the end, I was who I was and the music ensemble class I took in high school wasn't going to change that significantly. I had only to follow where my talents would make more most successful and make the best of any situation in which I found myself.

But kids don't know that. They often choose for reasons that have nothing to do with what's best for them. They often make the wrong choice. And they often despair in situations that are not ideal, rather than plow ahead, demanding the education they need.

For these jobs, they need adults--to encourage them to make the choice that honors who they are and at the same time challenges them to do better, and to guide them to rise above adverse or less-than-perfect circumstances.


Friday, July 31, 2009

Benny Goodman Tribute

Joe Muccioli and the Jazz Arts Project are producing a tribute to King of Swing Benny Goodman at the River's Edge Cafe, 35 Broad Street Red Bank. The band will be Dan Block, clarinet, Ehud Asherie, piano and Rob Garcia, drums, with special guest Warren Vache, a faculty member at Juilliard and a veteran of Goodman's band.

Here's Muccioli's email PR:

I could think of no-one better to lead a tribute to Benny Goodman than our own Dan Block. Many of you have heard Dan in concert with the Red Bank Jazz Orchestra at our Holiday shows performing the Ellington Nutcracker or the Sinatra Birthday Bash at the Count Basie Theatre. While reviewing the video tapes recorded at one of those events we heard an audience member clear as a bell proclaim; "oh my, he's incredible. Its like he's channeling Benny Goodman!"

Reservations are strongly suggested. Call 732-741-7198.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Storm Continues

Took my two children to see and hear "The Storm" concert at Ocean Grove ( last Wednesday. As I noted in my
previous post
, these free concerts invoke pictorial sound effects of a large storm, thrilling listeners. Curator John R. Shaw and organist Gordon Turk explained that this type of concert has a long history, dating back at least as far as the French Revolution. During that time, the church was out of favor and the organists repurposed their instruments for popular spectacle-type concerts, both to keep the instruments in use and to curry the favor of the populist leadership who would otherwise have surely cannibalized the pipes for scrap metal and other parts.

The kids loved it. Some of the presentation was just cheesy enough to be historically accurate. The wind sound effect, in particular, required a leap of imagination. ("It sounded like a blender," my daughter said later.) The rain effect sounded like rain. And if the lightning looked like an electric light being switched off and on ... well, that's just that much more 19th Century. And it is great fun to watch Turk rip into the pedal-tone clusters and wild, swooping passages that create the thundering storm imagery.

There are two more of these coming up. Each program uses different music as a vehicle to paint the storm picture. The next is tomorrow, Wednesday, July 29, and the last one is the following Wednesday, Aug. 5. Both begin at 7:30 p.m. Tomorrow's will have the second half of the lecture/demonstration, presented by Shaw and Turk in tandem.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Storm

In the days before television, before movie houses became ubiquitous, when the most exciting amusement ride was a relatively tame wooden roller coaster, there were other ways for audiences to find thrills. One of them was to attend theater organ concerts that simulated giant storms. Theater organs around the dawn of the 20th Century routinely included wild sound effects as well as musical timbres, and a small repertoire of music evolved to use these to their fullest advantage.

In 1905, one such series of "Storm" concerts at Ocean Grove, on the Great Auditorium's massive organ, caused an uproar. As recorded in the New York Times online archive, summer residents found the concerts "too noisy."

Cottagers and hotel guests in the vicinity of the Auditorium have become surfeited with the organ's noise. They complain it disturbs their afternoon naps and annoys them at tea time.

Organist-in-residence Gordon Turk should take heed from this ugly precedent as he prepares for a return of "The Storm" 7:30 p.m. tomorrow, July 22, as part of the Great Auditorium's free Wednesday organ recitals. The composition, "The Storm," will be accompanied by a lecture by Turk on the subject of "storm" compositions and the restoration of certain sound effects to the Great Auditorium instrument that make the performance possible.

For more information, visit the theater's website,


Monday, July 20, 2009

Mail Call

I've received some nice comments lately from readers regarding posts and articles. I thought I'd collect them and share them with you here.

  • Regarding the analysis of Jimi Hendrix's "Star Spangled Banner," two different soldiers (one retired, one a bugler at Arlington) emailed to express their appreciation. Former Army Captain Rick Barnes agreed that Hendrix's interpretation expressed the "duality of pride and criticism that was reflective of that time." And Jari Villanueva writes that Hendrix's use of the "Taps" melody was "a stroke of genius and a salute to those who served." I must say that for all the hoopla regarding Hendrix's rendition of the National Anthem at the time and since (it was called a "hate-filled" performance by one misguided academic writer), soldiers were the last people I expected to hear from--I was just blinded by my own preconceptions, I guess. Thanks guys for wising me up.

  • Today my editor, Kathy Dzielak at the Asbury Park Press, said on the phone that my article on Michael Jackson (E1, Sunday, July 16) was "the only one out of all that's been said and written" on the singer's death to capture the scope of the public's fascination and the complex of reasons behind it. Jackson was a hit soap opera unto himself. In the article, I compared him to a character from myth, like the Greek gods, full of huge triumphs and enormous failings. What we find compelling is the entire package, both good and bad, not just one piece or another. "You nailed it," she said. "And you were the only one." She forwarded the article to friends and colleagues with a note that said, "wish I'd written this." Coming from a lifelong journalist, that's the highest praise.

  • A couple weeks ago, I received a letter from Ocean Grove Great Auditorium organist-in-residence Gordon Turk thanking me for the coverage of their classical series and organ recitals and inviting me to attend some of these concerts. I plan to take him up on it. He says, "we certainly appreciate articulate, interesting writing and the good publicity it provides." Gordon is a musician of incredibly high standards and I'm honored by the compliment.

  • Lastly my high school friend Celinda Black made a comment on Facebook that my post Evolution and the Singer/Songwriter was "an excellent point to ponder." In the blog post, I wondered what it would be like for a hearing person to live without music, particularly a nonmusician (for a musician it would clearly be a kind of hell on earth). But probably "pondering" is the best we can do, really, since as soon as you stop to think about it, you realize that the music in our lives is inescapable. We only need to open our ears to recognize it where it occurs. Later, we can worry about which sounds have the most meaning for us. First, just listening is enough.

I read all the mail that's sent but I've been lax about responding directly, which I hope to correct in the future. As always,


Sunday, July 19, 2009

Robot Gamelan

The League of Electronic Musical Urban Robots presents Karsh Kale and Timeline, GamelaTron and Forward Motion Theater 9 p.m. Tuesday at the Winter Garden of the World Financial Centre in Lower Manhattan. I've written about the LEMUR instruments before. Here you get to see a full robotic Gamelan orchestra.

The gamelan itself might be new to a lot of folks. It's basically singing with a percussion orchestra where the main instruments are made of ranks of metal plates, struck with mallets. Looks like a sort of giant xylophone with metal can lids instead of wood bars. Traditional Indonesian gamelan playing is a community activity, like a handbell choir, where each player is responsible for a very small part of a much larger pattern. It's a highly influential style that seems to connect Heaven and Earth with a stairway of slowly changing sound.

GamelaTron, the robotic gamelan, is ... well I haven't heard it. Nor have I heard the composer/performer Karsh Kale. It would be nice to go and get acquainted with both, but I don't think I will be able. You will have to go for me and let me how it sounds.

The event is free. Visit The Arts at the World Financial Centre for more info.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

One more on the WQXR deal

In the online press explosion regarding the WQXR deal, very little mention has been made of Univision and the current 105.9 station, WCAA. Univision is responsible for the programming of some 70 Spanish language stations in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. They're the ones who just shelled out $33.5 million, so you'd think everybody in the news media would be calling for an interview. Apparently the company is just going to move its current WCAA station to the new frequency. With greater signal strength and a central location on the FM dial, the company will be able to expand on an already successful formula.

WCAA is a commercial pop station popularly known as "La Kalle," ("Caliente 105.9"--not to be confused with every other "caliente" frequency out there). "La Kalle" is a popular respelling of "La Calle" or "Street." The station plays what is known in music marketing as Spanish Tropical, a format Univision defines as "Salsa, Merengue, Cumbia and Reggaeton."

The fact that the station broadcasts in Spanish has contributed to the lack of discussion about it in the media. There's clearly a language barrier at work in the news industry, if not an actual bias.

The station's commercial pop format also makes its victory in this deal seem less than newsworthy. Where QXR is basically the only classical music station in New York City, La Kalle 105.9 is one of five accessible Spanish-language stations listed in the New York Radio Guide (not all five are playing reggaeton, but a few are). That may simply be another facet of a Spanish-language bias, but there it is.

Adding to the problem, Univision hasn't released a statement yet.


RE: WQXR sale

So I've now read confirming reports that the 105.9 signal will definitely be weaker than QXR's current signal and I've updated my blog entry below to reflect that. That means, regardless of what happens, it will be New Jerseyans and other outlanders who suffer from this deal, as most of us will no longer be able to get WQXR. The new owners could choose to boost the signal strength (they've done that with WNYC). But without such a boost, it is unlikely we'll be able to pick it up down here at the Shore.

Even for those within broadcast range of 105.9, the future is in doubt. WQXR's website uses the carefully ambiguous wording "for the future, WQXR will continue to bring classical music to FM listeners in New York, and online listeners around the world, for a long, long time to come." That's clearly not a firm commitment to their current status as a clsassical-only station.

WQXR's website is saying that a timetable for the relocation to the new frequency "is not yet known." In a formal announcement, WQXR's president said only that it will occur "later this year."



Public radio station WNYC announced yesterday (Tuesday) it has acquired the last all-classical music station in the New York area, WQXR, for $11.5 million. WQXR was owned by The New York Times; WNYC is an independent nonprofit. The deal involved a third party, Spanish language media corporation Univision. The Times is making a solid profit as a result, reaping a total $45 million. It is uncertain at the moment exactly how the move will affect the already beaten-down classical music broadcasting for the Northeast area.

NYT first sold Univision the rights to WQXR's broadcasting frequency and accepted Univision's WCAA frequency, 105.9, in exchange, along with a 33.5 million. In marketing psychology, this swap automatically reduces the value of WQXR by pushing it to the edge of the FM radio dial. Then NYT sold the WQXR call letters and business to WNYC. WQXR is still broadcasting as of publishing time (7:54 a.m. Wednesday).

The deal will also reduce the strength of QXR's signal, but it is uncertain how exactly it will affect programming. Bloggers and online comments are immediately concerned that QXR's signal will be as weak as WCAA's current signal and that programming will shift to a variety format, a la WNYC, pushing classical music into the background.

Alternatively, WYNC could move its remaining music programs--the popular weekday "Evening Music" with Terrance McKnight for instance--to the newly re-located QXR. Any move like that could be bad news for us in Central New Jersey. I just tried 105.9 on my kitchen radio and I get nothing but static, while 96.3 comes in loud and clear.

Several large cultural institutions in New York, including the Metropolitan Opera and the Juilliard School, depend on QXR to broadcast their performances. While those relationships are now uncertain, it is doubtful the board at WNYC would want to abandon such high-profile content altogether.

Many comments on news sites and blogs have painted this a positive move likely to preserve classical music on the New York radio. It also effectively turns QXR from a loss-making arm of a for-profit company to a nonprofit, following the successful model of WNYC's 93.3 and that also bodes well for the future.

For those of us farther away from New York City, it just may not be our future.


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Evolution and the Singer/Songwriter

Preparing my notes for a class on Music and Environment in the Fall, I find myself thinking again about the deep importance of music in human society and human psychology. Researchers in the new field of evolutionary musicology now believe that music is intertwined with language, arising out of a mother's vocalizations to her newborn. As the primitive child grew, other, similar vocalizations would come in handy for socialization and coordination within groups. Both for newborns and for adults, certain sounds elicit certain emotions and reactions. At that point in human history, music and language are the same thing.

So I'm wondering, what would it mean to live without music? This is a topic I'll return to in subsequent posts and along the way I'm particularly interested in hearing stories and reactions from readers. I'll begin with a personal example of my own.

As a composer, for many years I had neglected my song writing--songs with original lyrics in various popular styles, for voice usually accompanied by guitar or piano. In that singer/songwriter style, I hash out the music and the lyrics more or less at the same time, as I'm improvising. The style focuses an awful lot of brain power on emotional and intellectual levels, as I'm puzzling over poetry, melody, rhythm patterns and song structures--harmonic patterns, forms and relations of material across large distances--all at the same time. And, at the same time, I'm trying to realize a full blown performance, involving the kind of ritualized motion found in dance. I'm forcing any ideas I have into the vessel of my own performing style, abilities and limitations.

The song doesn't have to stay in that jar--I could choose to arrange it later for some other combination. But it's important to me that I can play it and gain satisfaction from it immediately. I think that gives it a sense of spontaneity and it also helps maintain a sense of style between songs, even as I'm experimenting with different influences. I know what I like to play, so I form my ides into those types of musical patterns.

Back in February of 2008, I suddenly started writing songs again. About 10 years had gone by since the last song. I had written many things in that decade. But to me, composition on paper isn't necessarily the all-engaging exercise that songwriting is.

Immediately, with the first song, I felt changed, refreshed. The sense of creation, of immediacy, was there again. Casting an effective magic spell might feel that way: all of sudden, a power flows through you and out of you to create something that wasn't there before. A song can take a few minutes, a few hours or even a few weeks to complete. When I'm done, no matter how long it has taken, I'm left with a feeling of magical satisfaction.

Imagine turning that off for a decade. Seems perverse, doesn't it? Yet, that's exactly what I did. Don't know why. Returning to it felt like regaining the use of a withered limb.

The musical experience from a creative, performing perspective may not be the same as it is from a listeners' perspective. I'm interested in hearing how music, and the absence of music, affects nonmusicians in particular. Add your comments or write me at


Monday, July 6, 2009

The Word 'Repertoire'

There's got to be a better, less snobby and obstructive word than "repertoire" to mean the same thing. I find myself over and over resorting to that word to describe a certain body of work--"standard repertoire," "Classical repertoire," "piano repertoire." The words that come easily to mind--"canon," "literature" and the Anglo "repertory"--are all equally, shamelessly and needlessly snobby. The word should be generic, like "stuff" or "collection".

The word "stuff" has a derisive quality. But that almost seems to fit with my personality. Maybe I'll use it from now on. "The orchestra performed largely standard stuff with one contemporary work thrown in, by a composer well-versed in the 20th century modernist stuff."

Then again, maybe not.

"Collection" makes every concert appear like a museum. "The band played two little-known symphonies drawn from the classical collection." You have to scrape the dust off that sentence to see the meaning.

The word "stream" is used to define contemporary musical styles in jazz or classical traditions. But it hardly serves with traditional … stuff. Although, there are moments where it could be appropriate. "The audience was caught in the net of Schubert 'Trout" Quintet and another from the Romantic stream, Dvorak's String Quartet No. 1." But not every concert is going to supply me with an opportunity to put on my waders.

Likewise "fare" is a word I steer clear of. I'm not even sure how "fare" ever got to be applied to food. It means something akin fo "offering" and, in effect, it mineralizes whatever it touches, turning the finest gourmet into a subway token.

The word "style" and "genre" really are misleading and the latter is just as stuffy as the worst word in my stuffy repertoire of stuff. "Category" is scientific, but overly so. "Lineage" sounds like they're all holding a nylon rope on the mountain road of history.

"Repertoire" isn't so limiting as any of those, although it does make the stuff sound like the library of an exclusive club. But still, most everybody knows what it means. I suppose I should just resign myself to it--join the club.

But why oh why does it have to be so … French?


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Giants of Jazz at TAG Night Tonight in Trenton

One of Wilbo Wright's many blessed incarnations will be appearing at Joe's Mill Hill Saloon, Broad and Market streets, Trenton, tonight at 8:30. Here's his emailed publicity, cut and pasted:



FEATURING: UNCLE "The Weather Up Here's Fine" HO - piccolo and curved soprano

WILL "Travelling Gulliver" CONSTANTINE - pocket trumpet

DOUG "Too Tall" MILLER - Schoenhut toy piano, miniature bakelite organ

JOHN "You People Look Like Ants" SHERIDAN - miniature Shredder guitar

WILBO "His Head In The Clouds" WRIGHT - cello as bass

CLAUDE "I Can See Your House From Here" COLEMAN - toy drums


2 SETS starting at 8:30PM, 5 measly bucks

This is a RARE gathering of this group, an idea out of JOE Z's head, more fun than a barrel of monkeys. Please come out and Please forward this message to your friends who like music and have a sense of humor. The Mill Hill Saloon is located at 300 S. Broad St. in Trenton, at the corner of Broad and Market. 609-394-7222


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

National Anthem Hoopla

Jimi Hendrix's performance of the National Anthem was and is one of the more significant and more scandalous arrangements. But it was by no means the first, or the last. Like the flag, the National Anthem is thought of as a kind of sacred relic. Attempts to try to spruce it up, or draw it into an artist's personal style, have been met with hysterical outcry.

The words for "The Star Spangled Banner" have been around since the War of 1812. Francis Scott Key wrote them in 1814, inspired by the huge American flag flying in the morning over Baltimore’s Fort McHenry, a sign that the fort had not fallen to the British during the night of battle. The poem, including two additional verses that nobody sings, was later set to a pre-existing tune by English composer John Stafford Smith, a song he had titled "Death and Victory (The Anacreontic Song)". That song was a popular tavern ballad honoring the fall of Admiral Nelson in battle.

"The Star Spangled Banner" was a hit and remained popular for decades. At the first World Series of Baseball, in 1917, it was used to honor the soldiers in World War I, boosting its popularity. On March 3, 1931 Congress made it the official national anthem.

In 1944, the Boston Symphony Orchestra did NOT perform an arrangement by Igor Stravinsky that featured some light touches of the composer's modern harmonies. Legend has it that he was arrested for the performance, but this is apparently not true. There was a law on the books in Massachusetts that prohibited reharmonizations of the National Anthem and for that reason, he was advised not to have it performed. Louis Andriessen and Elmer Schönberger tell the story that Stravinsky was arrested in Boston for an earlier performance. The mug shot at left accompanies the article in their book. The arrangement is lovely, but hardly offensive in any way. Stravinsky no doubt thought of it as a way to show his loyalty to his new country. He was awarded citizenship in 1945.

In 1968, a year before Hendrix's performance, Jose Feliciano shocked a crowd at a ball game and on national TV with a rendition in his own, Latin-inflected blues style. His career suffered from the angry censorship of "patriotic" disc jockeys and radio stations.

But Hendrix's version was different. It was deliberately provocative, where the others were accidentally so. It understood as a protest. To be more precise, it was aimed at an audience who were generally opposed to the ongoing war in Vietnam. Beyond his target audience, many reacted as they did to Feliciano, assuming that this music meant Hendrix was "un-American." But that's a ludicrous charge that was labeled at every hippie who ever disagreed with The Establishment, as the government and corporate powers were then known.

Importantly, Hendrix's rendition is an extremely powerful musical expression all on its own, music that allows for a multifaceted interpretation. Feliciano and Stravinsky created beautiful interpretations of the National Anthem. But Hendrix's was searing, provocative, raw and virtuosic. As a consequence, it will likely be discussed for decades to come, if not centuries.

More about the performance itself in an upcoming post.


Monday, June 29, 2009

Woodstock Anniversary

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, that messy, joyful and iconic bit of hedonism. I wasn't there. I was too young. But I remember the sensation of it happening, the chatter among family members, the news reports. I have siblings and cousins who wanted to attend and couldn't for one reason or another.

Naturally, this year also marks the 40th anniversary of Jimi Hendrix's performance of the National Anthem at Woodstock, one of my favorite moments in rock history. Over the next couple posts, I'll talk about some of these things by turns--Woodstock, the scandalous uses of the National Anthem and the Hendrix performance.

But right now, I just want to tell a brief story or two, stemming from the Rock 'n' Roll class I taught for a few years at Middlesex County Arts High. First, the director of school walked into my class to observe and found me skimming through the Woodstock film on my computer to show my students some of the highlight moments--Richie Havens, The Who, Sly and the Family Stone, Jimi Hendrix. The discussion was rock history. After class, the director said to me, "This can't be 'history'! I was there!"

In a different class, I mentioned that we would watch the film of the Woodstock festival and one of my students said, "Which one?" The other students, trying to impress me with how much they knew, all nodded, "Yeh, weren't there, like, five Woodstock festivals?"

Deep breath.

No, I said, trying to be patient. There was one. And there will never be another.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Asbury Park Jazz Festival

You can find the complete schedule for this Saturday's Asbury Park Jazz Festival at the official City of Asbury Park website. Keyboardist Radam Schwartz is a featured performer, a colleague of mine at the Middlesex County Arts High School. He'll be appearing with with the band from his 2005 release on Blue Ark Records, “Conspiracy for Positivity."

The festival takes place in Sunset Park on Main Street between 5th & Sunset avenues in Asbury Park and runs from noon to 8 p.m. Should be a fun day if the weather holds up.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Boogie Bob Seeley at Midweek Jazz Tonight

Ocean County College's Midweek Jazz series hosts boogie-woogie and stride pianist Bob Seeley tonight at Mancini Hall, Ocean County Library, 101 Washington Street, Toms River. If I have my information right, Seeley is currently 80 years old. He looks miraculously vigorous, with a strong left hand that pumps out its own rhythm section. His music is considered "old-timey" and best understood as preserving a tradition. It's still exciting to hear him wail at the keyboard.

Here's a clip of Seeley playing Chicago Breakdown at the 2008 Templeton Ragtime and Jazz Festival. More clips of him are available on YouTube and elsewhere.

The college has been offering $13 advance tickets through the box office, 732-255-0500 and they're still available until the box office closes at 1 p.m. I just called to make sure. Otherwise tickets are $15 at the door. For more information, call the box office before 1 p.m. or visit The college's website isn't the easiest thing to navigate, but the A-Z Site Index and the on-campus "search" window on every page should help if you can't find what you need.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Dave Stryker Organ Quartet

Jazz guitarist Dave Stryker is playing at Cecil's Jazz Club, 364 Valley Road in West Orange, Friday and Saturday this week, 9 to 1:30 p.m. What I know of him is mainly from press releases and his own, very thorough website. But I'm impressed with the recordings that I listened to there. Stryker has about 20 CDs out under his own name, a number of them on the European SteepleChase label. But he's also an distinguished sideman with a lengthy discography that includes Stanley Turrentine, Jack McDuff, and Kevin Mahogany.

I think the casual jazz listener will find a lot to like in Stryker's mellow intensity and tasteful solos. The more sophisticated will (hopefully) notice a compelling intellect at work, within a style that mixes mainstream and old-school fusion approaches.

Stryker was again voted a Rising Star in Downbeat's 2007 Critic's Poll. How established do you have to be to be pushed out of the running for "Rising Star"? What constitutes "rising"? Ah well, since we can find joy in simply listening to Stryker's music, maybe such silly categorizations don't really matter.

Here's a hot jam with his organ trio--Bobby Floyd, organ, Jonathan Higgins, drums--excerpted from a 2008 DVD.

The quartet appearing at Cecil's will include Stephen Riley, tenor sax,
Jared Gold, organ and Steve Williams, drums. Call Cecil's for more info at (973) 736-4800.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Senor Mouse

In response to my last post about Gary Burton, Bob Terrio at Rider sent me a link to a video of Burton and Chick Corea in "Senor Mouse" from one of their famed duet performances in 1978. It's so hot, I just had to share it.

Burton, Bob said, has the "gift of spontaneous composition"--as opposed to relying on familiar patterns. I think you can hear that here.


Gary Burton Quartet Revisited

The Count Basie Theatre boasts one of the true jazz legends on its stage tomorrow. Actually, make that two of the true jazz legends. Oh what the heck, make it four.

There isn't a mallet player alive who doesn't owe a debt to Gary Burton and his eloquent and sweet vibraphone style. The Gary Burton Quartet Revisited features Burton with quartet's original bassist Steve Swallow and guitarist Pat Metheny, who of course by now also casts his own huge shadow over all of jazz. Pat Metheny Group drummer Antonio Sanchez rounds out the ensemble.

You can see and hear a performance of the group in action on YouTube. It's not perfect, but it transports both spirit and mind in a way that few performers can.

A quick search on YouTube or Google video turns up a bunch more clips.

The concert is 8 p.m. Sunday, June 21, 2009. Tickets are available through the theater box office.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Champian Fulton at Two River Theatre

June 19th & 20th, the Jazz Arts Project continues its Summer Jazz Cafe with singer Champian Fulton & Trio. Fulton has two CDs out, "Champian" and "Sometimes I'm Happy." This past December she appeared at Jazz Arts Project's second annual "Sinatra Birthday Bash" at the Count Basie Theatre.

Tickets are $20, $10 for students. For more information phone 732-345-1400 or check out the Jazz Arts Project website.

Looks like Jazz Arts Project might be having some trouble keeping its website updated with fresh press releases, photos, recordings and articles. That's always a problem, particularly for nonprofits. Every website needs to be maintained to generate new interest, but with very little feedback from visitors it can be really hard to justify spending the time filling in all the details.

Think of a new shopkeeper: he puts out a sign that advertises his store hours, but during certain times nobody comes. Does he close the store? Absolutely not! At least not until he's had a chance to advertise the change in hours. The same is true with a website: it needs to be current and open for business. Stick to it, even if nobody comes. The one or two people that find your store closed when the sign says you're supposed to be there are never going to come back.

Still, I don't mean to condemn any website producers for failing to maintain a site. It can be really hard, particularly when relying on volunteers, and the rewards are not easy to quantify.

Meanwhile, some old video clips are still available on the Jazz Arts Project site, including a wild one of stride pianist Tony DeSare playing "Fly Me to the Moon".

Friday, June 12, 2009

Sounds of the Highlands

The best music, like the best food, is often homegrown. "Sounds of the Highlands," a concert of folk, jazz and new music by local professionals and also features dance, celebrates the genius next door 7:30 p.m. tomorrow (Saturday, June 13) at Central Baptist Church, Third and East Highland avenues, Atlantic Highlands.

This is the fourth annual installment of this variety event, sponsored by the Atlantic Highlands Art Council. This year's artists include guitarist David Paul Crowton, jazz duo Dan Wilensky and Joe Accurso, classical duo Joel Dewitt and Julia Muench, folk guitarists Carl Alderson, Susan Vosburgh, and Carol Barbieri, classical guitarist Tony Sloan, vocalists Lindsay Stefan Wood and Christie Schwartzman, Core of Fire Dancers and more.

Tickets are $15 at the door, $5 for children 12 and under. Advance tickets can be purchased at the Flaky Tart and Bella's Restaurant on First Avenue in Atlantic Highlands, or ordered online at

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Radiohead and The Money Thing

Composer and blogger Christian Carey brought up an interesting article in a Facebook post recently. Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth points out that Radiohead's offer of "name your price" downloads for "In Rainbows" was essentially a brilliant marketing tactic that only a band with such a huge following could employ. Others made a similar point when Trent Rezner self-published "Ghosts I-IV" two years ago.

Gordon goes so far as to imply that this strategy is a betrayal of fellow musicians, since it raises expectations for the availability of new music and lowers expectations of price. Most bands, including Sonic Youth, she points out, are really struggling to pay bills and can't afford to bring music to market without earning direct income from it.

The idea of giving away highly popular content seems to be limited to recorded media--film and music. In most of the rest of the art world, the content is tied to the medium in which it is created: a visual artist doesn't have an unlimited number of copies of a painting or a sculpture--he has one. When making prints, artists are careful to make only so many, noting each one's unique order in the print run. Then they destroy the plates from which the prints were made, creating a limited number of "originals" that can be priced accordingly. The total number of prints made this way (10? 50? 100? 1,000?) is purely arbitrary, a marketing decision that, combined with other factors like the celebrity of the artist, drives the price point for each print.

Nothing like that exists in popular recorded media. With the advent of digital technology, the media has become cheap and irrelevant, allowing sellers to price the product any way they want. Some of them, particularly in the world of DVDs, have chosen the standard capitalist model: the greater demand, the lower the price.

Consider this: If Radiohead were to follow the art world model, they would make a single, limited edition, high-priced product. Those who couldn't afford it would be encouraged to buy work of lesser known (and cheaper) artists, thus fueling the growth of the market. They could still hear Radiohead in concert, or on the radio, but they couldn't necessarily own a Radiohead recording.

This model clearly doesn't work in popular music. Pop music lives and dies on its appeal to the everyman. Even for Radiohead, it's very easy to alienate your audience with an ill-considered marketing strategy. Alienate your audience and suddenly you've got nothing.

When Rezner self-published "Ghosts," he used a tiered system, selling a limited edition vinyl box set at the high end and cheap downloads on the low end, with various packages, including a standard CD, in between. As a teaser, a way to cement his relationship with his audience and a way to grow his audience, he offered the first nine individual track downloads free of charge.

My guess is that elaborately tiered systems like Rezner's, which build on well-established marketing practices, will come to be the new industry model, with "free" as the entry level price point. But this model doesn't appear to address Gordon's main gripe: With bands like Radiohead giving music away for free, who's going to plunk down $12 for a Sonic Youth CD?

Was Radiohead's offer a betrayal? This is admittedly a difficult issue. Very big acts do have a responsibility to encourage the prosperity of lesser-known bands and help introduce them to new audiences. And very often they do, through production work, joint tours and recording projects. Could they also do so through their product pricing? Eh … probably not. The pop music world is fickle and the risk that a new album will fail is just as great for a monster act as it is for a club band--even greater perhaps, as big name bands tend to invest more in a product and employ a lot more people.

Gordon was certainly right about one thing: Radiohead's strategy was an effective stunt. For any band to follow that model exclusively, it would need consistent access to a huge potential audience, many of whom would be happy to take the music for free. Even Radiohead wasn't ready to make that commitment. It helps to remember that the band's decision to release it's "In Rainbows" as a "pay what you want" scheme was followed relatively quickly by the establishment of a regular price-point, matching the industry standard. And they made a killing.

Eventually, all recording artists will have to come to terms with the Rezner model, to the degree that they are able. Whether they self-publish or not, they'll need to offer a few tracks free--maybe even only one--to generate interest and bond with their audiences. The rest will have to be priced at the industry standard--the same standard that applies to the biggest stars out there. Creating higher-priced versions of the same recordings offers a way to increase return on investment while rewarding a die-hard fan base. Meanwhile, audiences are already becoming intuitively aware that only the very popular bands and hobbyists can afford to give away all of their music.

The bright side is that once they have learned their lessons from Radiohead, Rezner and others, record labels should be a lot leaner and a lot more inclined to support the artists they represent. Where they are not, self-publishing and self-promotion are viable options. In either case, the artists will likely be called on to invest more in return for greater control and greater potential for profit.


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

TAG Night in Trenton

I'm playing tomorrow night (Wednesday night, June 3) at Joe's Mill Hill Saloon, in the basement pub. I wrote last month about Wilbo Wright's experimental music series there, TAG Night. So tomorrow I'll be one of the performers.

I recently completed work on a CD, to be titled "Three Rooms", that has an opening and closing sound collage and seven new songs in between. Except for a handful of backing vocals, the music is all performed by me, mostly on my Knabe piano, with inside-the-piano work and some other natural and electronic effects to give it variety. I also do the lead vocals and play flute, guitar, hand percussion, marimba and synthesizer.

So I'll be trying out a few of those songs along with a couple improvs tomorrow at TAG Night. A second CD, of piano music, will be coming out soon as well and I'll probably throw in a couple of those pieces.

Also on the program are:

  • The Harmolodic Bastards (Tri-State), a Trio with ex-members of Bern Nix's band;

  • Dann Pell Moosic (Phila.), freeprov and rockabilly stick-twirler does a freak-folk set;

  • The Nurseryman (West Windsor), one of Wilbo's solo incarnations.

    Suron Song in Stag was slated by has the flu (for crying out loud!) and had to cancel.

  • Sunday, May 31, 2009

    NJJS Jazz Fest

    The New Jersey Jazz Society's annual Jazz Fest is happening this coming weekend at Drew University. Jazz singer Curtis Stigers is featured, along with Sherrie Maricle and the DIVA Jazz Orchestra, both appearing Saturday night. Other performers include the Houston Person Quartet, Trio da Paz, Vince Giordano and his Nighthawks, the Allan Vaché Benny Goodman Tribute Big Band and the Rio Clemente Trio with Laura Hull.

    The festival begins Friday evening with a free "Stars of Tomorrow" concert featuring high school jazz bands from around the state. Professional performances are scheduled all day and evening Saturday in three different university venues. Tickets for Saturday are $50.00 in advance, $65.00 at the gate with discounts for New Jersey Jazz Society members. Students are $10.00 at the gate and kids 16 and under are free. For more information visit the group's website ( or call 800-303-6557. Drew University is located on Route 124 in Madison. Parking is free.


    Tuesday, May 26, 2009

    The Robots of Brooklyn

    Anytime I get to write about music and robots, I am there. And LEMUR certainly fits the bill. I am totally in love with these guys--an irrational, selfish joy of attraction. They have shows coming up all summer, each a mix of live performers with their mechanical contraptions.

    When I was a kid, I recall sitting in the storage space under the stairs in my basement and daydreaming about building robots, a fantasy that completely overwhelmed my fascination with the Beatles, drum sets, Batman and everything else.

    I have no mechanical ability whatsoever, but the allure of robots was powerful just the same. Maybe it was a power thing--an idle kid (too idle--what were my parents thinking?) out in the sticks dreaming about building a device that would obey his commands. But it wasn't that kind of power that was on my mind: It was the sheer joy in creating something that would move and have a pseudo-life of its own. That's a kind of power too, perhaps even a more base kind. It's the kind that eventually turns a kid to religion, to cosmology and astrophysics, or to art. It turned me into a composer and a writer both.

    LEMUR is the vicarious fulfillment of that dream. The acronym stands for League of Electronic Musical Urban Robots. The group has its own space in Brooklyn at 461 3rd Avenue between the Park Slope, Carroll Gardens, Gowanus and Red Hook. Its members are an even mix of composers and engineers, and the central attraction is the orchestra of instrument creatures they build and incorporate into performances.

    GuitarBot is my current favorite, a four-stringed instrument in which each string plays itself, turning out a polyphony human guitarists can only dream about. It's loosely mounted on a stand suspended about three and half feet off the floor and it does a little mechanical shimmy as it plays. But GuitarBot is only one of about 50 instruments in the growing arsenal, many of which I haven't seen or heard yet.

    The next LEMUR performance is May 29 at the Brooklyn space. Visit the group's website for more concert information, You can check out a video introduction and demonstration of GuitarBot LEMUR founder Eric Singer. Also written for GuitarBot is a more conventional bit of music by Joshua Fried --the video for Fried's piece gives a more detailed view of the robot in action.


    Tuesday, May 19, 2009

    Verdi Requiem in Westfield

    The Westfield Symphony Orchestra in cooperation with choirs from the state and overseas will present a performance of Verdi's Requiem, 8 p.m. Saturday, May 30, at the Presbyterian Church, 140 Mountain Ave., Westfield, N.J.

    The Welsh Choral Union of Liverpool, England, and Bergen County's Pro Arte Chorale will combine for this performance. The collaboration is part of Westfield Symphony's initiative SOUNDPartnerships, an effort that encourages cross-fertilization between artists and mediums.

    Tickets are available through the WSO office (224 E. Broad St., Westfield) or by calling the box office at (908) 232-9400 and are also available at Town Books, Broad St, Westfield and Martin Jewelers in Cranford. For more information call 908-232 9400, or visit the group's website,


    Thursday, May 14, 2009

    The Parent Influence

    There have been a couple kind of creepy coincidences in my life where my love of music and my parents are concerned. OK, more than a couple, but today I'll only talk about a couple. In my post about my Dad's tastes in music, I was hinting that his influence may count for more than I care to admit. Here I am, a full-grown creature with kids of my own and I find myself looking at my tastes in music and thinking, how did I get this way? Did I choose to like what I like? Or was it chosen for me?

    The answer is complex and I think it's complex for everyone. Even when tastes are a reaction against the tastes of parents, that in itself constitutes an influence that seems to compromise what we think of as free will. Would such folks have chosen their current path had our parents been more sympathetic?

    In my case, my parents didn't always understand my tastes in music, but they were proud of me for having them. In some cases, like my ceaseless playing of Mussorgsky and Beethoven on the piano, my Dad was highly approving. Other loves, like the Beatles, he teasingly referred to as "monkey music"--it just sounded like noise to him.

    More significantly, I don't recall my Mom ever saying a negative word about any music that I liked. I do remember her telling me that I couldn't make a living off only a few songs--which was her way of encouraging me to work harder at the things I loved.

    In my 30s, long after my mother had died, there was a moment when I just wanted to write something that had a lot of joy in it. I had begun a new relationship and I wanted to celebrate it. The piece that came out was a crude, but fun little waltz that quoted the song "Buffalo Gals (Won't You Come Out Tonight)". I still like to play it once in a while--it's a bold, shouty sort of piano solo. I didn't give any thought at all to how I had come to know the song. I still don't really know.

    On the phone with my Dad a week or so later, I happened to mention the Buffalo Gals Waltz and hummed the song and laughed about how much fun it was to play. He was quiet for a minute and then he said, "That song was on your mother's lips the night we met."

    He had never told me that. Mom certainly never told me that.

    A couple years later, I was again talking to my Dad about musical interests--these were rare conversations. Mostly we didn't talk, we just enjoyed each other's company. I told him about Charles Ives and his love of clashing sounds and how important that composer had been in my development and my understanding of contemporary music. And he said, grimly, "I know that guy." Umm .... What?

    "I was stationed in Boston briefly," he told me, "and the orchestra would put on free concerts in the summer on the riverfront. Your mother used to drag me down to hear the music and one of the composers they played was Charles Ives. I didn't like it, but your mother was excited about it."

    I can recall only one conversation that I had with my mother about music. She told me that the orchestra tuning up was her favorite part about going to the symphony. She loved the swirl of the random sounds, the scraps of melodies zooming past each other.

    One conversation. So how is it that I am so much her?