Since I got back into music, I have found myself occasionally frustrated by what I would call a "lack of professionalism" among band mates, both in concert and jazz bands. Most likely they were not trained the way I was; my high school jazz band played a lot of dance gigs, and we held ourselves to a very high standard. And I learned a lot in college bands about discipline and teamwork.

So I thought I’d lay out my take on how to be a (semi-) pro in a big jazz band. Some of this may be review. Some of this may seem a bit intense, but in a competitive environment a band will need to show a high level of professionalism to be successful and be invited back.

I’m assuming here that you already know how to play your instrument with an appropriate level of skill. This is not about musicianship, this is about the other stuff.

Music

  • Rule number one. Do not put the band in the position of having to wait for you to futz around with your music.
  • Have the set list up, in order, and ready to go. Be ready to switch to the next chart immediately after the conclusion of the last chart. Always be ready for changes in the set list from the leader.
  • Some people like to put their music in three ring binders. I find that unwieldy and hard to balance on top of a stand. And, you can only have two pages displayed at a time when often you will need three or more. I prefer the traditional method of just taping the sheets together in a continuous stream, because it allows me the easiest and fastest way of moving the music to where I need it.
  • Always bring the full book, and be prepared for tunes to be called that aren’t on the set list.
  • Or, use sheet music software. I would recommend getting some time in on the software before using it to gig with. You do not want to be in a situation at a gig where the software is misbehaving, you have a dead battery, etc.
  • In general, do whatever works for you but always keep in mind rule number one.

Equipment

  • Music stand. If you need one (or more) make sure it’s heavy duty and can support whatever you plan to put on it, even outdoors in a windstorm. I like the Hercules stand with the tripod base, because it can get low and is stable. I also have a Peterson plastic stand – it actually blew over on me one time. Not a good choice. Some bands have fronts or stands for the saxes, or even other sections. If so, be prepared for that and the issues you may have in seeing the music a bit further away than you are used to. One band I am in rehearses with old cardboard band fronts in order to be consistent. The older you get, the more this is an issue, especially when standing for a solo. But then you have all those changes memorized, right? :) Some people get corrective glasses made just for this purpose.
  • Music light. Always bring one (unless you’re using a tablet or laptop). You never know when you’ll need one. I have used them outside under a tent because of shadows. I prefer the Super Giglight or the Mighty Bright Orchestra Light. Both can be battery powered if needed. Do not count on AC power being available.
  • If you’re outside… a sheet of Plexiglas or other way of stabilizing your music outside in the wind, that allows you to quickly turn pages or do whatever else you need. You can get Plexiglas sheets at Home Depot. Clothespins notoriously suck at this. I also have a pair of special "music" clips that look like long clothespins with the front piece being clear. The problem with any pin or magnet type solution is that if you have to turn a page, you are screwed. It’s actually faster and easier to lift the glass, flip the page (or slide the music to the left), and put the glass back, then to fiddle with the damn clothespins. One of my music stands also has some springy wires built in to hold the music down. Worthless, the pressure point is never in the right place and they aren’t strong enough.
  • Instrument stands. Bring whatever you need to hold whatever you’re going to play, and make sure it is set up so it won’t easily be knocked over. Ask me how I know :)
  • Tuner as required. It’s a reference point, but don’t be a slave to it as the piano may not be in tune. Be ready to adjust tuning at any time.
  • Always bring backups for things that may fail onstage. Batteries, etc. In general, know that everything you bring to a gig (including your instrument) is reliable.
  • Greg’s gig bag contains:
    • Spare reeds that I know don’t suck. At least one Plasticover or other synthetic read that needs no warm up time. If you’re running late, you may need that extra two minutes.
    • A spare neck strap. I’ve had one fail.
    • Masking tape (for cork repair) and Scotch tape for music repairs. Cloth medical tape can also be used for a lot of interesting things.
    • A seat cushion. Venue chairs almost always suck. I got a nice one at Costco (in the automotive section) with Coolmax and memory foam. It’ll make a lot of difference in a long gig on a tiny folding chair.
    • A clip on battery powered fan. Gigs can get toasty.
    • Water bottle. Be sure and stay hydrated, just don’t knock the damn thing over during a quiet spot. I actually have a water bottle holder that slips onto a music stand (looks like a big spring) to hold it out of the way.
    • I always carry a random bag of stuff like batteries, tape, other little stuff. And some repair tools like tiny screwdrivers, etc. I’ve had to use them more often than I ever thought I would.

Dress code

  • Could be a topic of endless discussion. For most cases, you have three options:
    • Super formal. Tuxes, suits, etc. For weddings and formal dances, etc.
    • Nice but not formal. Usually black button down shirt, black slacks, black nice shoes (not athletic shoes or sandals) for guys. Most indoor gigs are in this category.
    • Casual. Can be polo shirts/khakis, or even more casual. Usually outdoor festival type gigs.
  • That being said, I think the tropical shirt thing has run its course :0.
  • Some bands have official shirts and uniforms. If so, then problem solved.

Behavior

  • BE ON TIME. I’m only gonna say it once. Being late for a gig is grounds for a serious conversation. Be early if you have to. Don’t be late. Bandleaders will forgive a lot of things, but not being present is usually hard to swallow.
  • Help out with set up and teardown where needed (rhythm section particularly, and PA where needed). Do not leave after the gig until tear down is complete and given permission by the bandleader.
  • DO NOT warm up or tune on stage. That’s what the green room is for, assuming there is one. If not, find a place where the audience will not hear you. They are not paying to hear you run scales.
  • DO make sure any microphones you will be using actually work. This is between you and the sound guy if there is one.
  • Always be ready to go to the next song IMMEDIATELY. Do not assume there will be a lot of chatter in between charts. The crowd is not there to listen to us talk.
  • Follow the leader. This shouldn’t need to be said, but I’ll say it anyway. You should always always always follow the section leader. Section leaders, you should always always always follow the bandleader. If we’re in the middle of 8 choruses of piano solo and the leader holds up his fist, WE EXIT at the next repeat no matter what else may be going on. Do whatever you have to do to make that happen; hand signals, yelling, whatever. Be alert and always listening and watching to what the rest of the band and specifically the leader is doing. The whole point of a band is to PLAY TOGETHER.
  • The primary reason you are there is to provide a show for the audience, and perform. That can be fun, but that’s a secondary goal. The primary goal is audience enjoyment.
Posted by: gregcagle | May 26, 2013

May Vacation 2013

So we decided to make a little run into California. Both of Lisa’s brothers have had some health issues recently, and so we thought we’d better check in, and we had some other things that we wanted to do for ourselves.

We flew to Sacramento early on Saturday May 11th. After we got the plane loaded and sat for a bit, the pilot announced that we weren’t going anywhere because one of the baggage doors would not shut. Luckily they had a spare plane, so we had to totally unload the plane and get on another plane. At least that gave us time to get Lisa some tea. Our plane’s ultimate destination was Maui, and there was a large family seated around us on their way to a wedding on Maui. Including a baby that SCREAMED for the entire flight. Sigh. My ipod will only go so loud.

So we were glad to reach Sacramento, and a little late. I was hungry at that point, so I forced Lisa to go to a convenient In-N-Out. Wise move, because then we got stuck in nasty stop and go traffic pretty much all the way to the Napa turnoff. Then we had to track down Mark and Jill; after some confusion there we finally met them at a place called the Fremont Diner. Kind of an upscale roadside diner experience. I was wearing my “It’s Willamette, Dammit!” shirt from the Willamette Valley Vineyard, which started a conversation with a guy about Oregon. The problem was that we couldn’t get any food where we were sitting; apparently you had to be sitting in the official green picnic table area to get food, as we were informed by the snotty hostess. So we got Lisa a malt and just sat and chatted with Mark and Jill for a while. They were going to Bottlerock, which is a local rock festival held at the Napa fairgrounds. Unfortunately the diner was in the middle of a recently harvested hay field, or close to it, because I started to show allergy symptoms. We were about out of time anyway so we left and buzzed up 101 just in IMAG0125time to catch the last tasting at the Raymond Burr vineyard by Healdsburg. It’s one of our favorites; we spent some time chatting with the folks there. They have a vintage Thunderbird for sale; no idea if it was Burr’s. After that we went into Healdsburg for some Mexican food, and stopped by a market and picked up some allergy eye drops and Claritin. Then off to the Worldmark at Windsor for the night.

Next day we got a late start to Los Angeles. Stopped in Petaluma for some really good BBQ at Lombardi’s. I expected it to be an Italian deli, but nooo…  Spent the rest of the day driving to Evelyn’s house in Torrance. Pretty hot weather in the central valley.

IMAG0126Monday we went to Wally World, er, Disneyland. Really our goal was California Adventure, which neither of us had been to. Weather was hot but attendance was pretty low, so we were able to walk on Space Mountain and only wait a little bit for the Matterhorn. We also learned a good trick – if you’re not obsessed about riding directly with someone, the “single rider” line can be very advantageous. We used it to get right on Splash Mountain and a few other rides. Part of our agenda was to test Lisa’s back procedure to see if she could take the theme park IMAG0129experience. She did really well in that area, but almost passed out from the heat later on. It was over 100 degrees in the afternoon in the park, and we had to park her in a shop to cool off at one point. We did go on Soaring Over California, which was amazing. Wonderful ride. And we rode the coaster inIMAG0132 California Adventure; it looks like a wooden coaster but isn’t. Surprise was that it looped, which neither of us was ready for. Good coaster though. After Lisa recovered we went over to the Blue Bayou for dinner. Ambience and service were great, food and prices, not so great. Worth doing once though. And we rode the submarine ride!

Next day we were scheduled to tour the Petersen auto museum vault, then drive to Big Bear. We were fifteen minutes late to the museum (traffic) but were able to join the tour in progress, with about 10 other folks. Unfortunately photography was not allowed. Really interesting stuff in the vault that weren’t on display in the main museum, including:

    • Ferrari Daytona
    • Cisitalia (look it up, they have one in the Museum of Modern Art)
    • Toyota 2000 GT
    • Two 300SLs (one gullwing, one convertible)
    • Tucker
    • Cord L-29
    • Round door Rolls
    • A lot of roadsters and customs (Petersen was into hot rods and published Hot Rod magazine)
    • Billy Gibbons’ Cadillac
    • Porsche 901 (original 911) and a couple of 356s.
    • SS 100
    • Steve McQueen’s Hudson that he used to sneak around in when he didn’t want to be recognized.

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And a bunch of others I can’t remember. They also let us peek into the super secret back vault where they had a bunch of things under cover. Couldn’t see too much of interest beyond a Porsche 914-6.

In the main museum they had a display about aerodynamics and fins, which was interesting. Also got a look at Steve McQueen’s Jaguar XKSS.

After we finished at the Petersen we headed on up to Big Bear. The road was twisty and the poor CVT Altima had a hard time keeping up speed on the steep incline. Big Bear is around 7000 feet. Still we 002passed a lot of cars and got lucky with the passing lane timing. Once at Big Bear we checked into the condo, and headed down into the village for dinner at the Peppercorn. Pretty good place for a resort town. We then spent some quality time in the luxurious hot tub (one of three) at the condo.

Next day we rolled over to Starbucks for some rocket fuel, then set out to drive around the lake and hike around a bit. Not much to see, it’s all pretty much high desert with pine trees, a lot like Eastern Oregon. We got a good look at the dam, which is kind of interesting. Both Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead were originally built to supply water for irrigation down in the valley. 107_stitch

Later in the day we took a “sternwheeler” tour of the lake. The paddle at the stern of the boat was actually totally fake and barely even moved. Ah well. Still we got a good tour of the lake from the water, and a good look at some of the celebrity homes:

  • Mel Blanc. The tour people apparently have a deal with his son Noel, who was standing out on his deck with a trumpet for some reason and greeted us.
  • Al from Tool Time (Richard Karn)
  • Mike Judge
  • Goldie Hawn
  • Vera Miles
  • The guy who runs Del Taco 155

And a few others I can’t remember. We also saw the observatory, which looks like some kind of alien structure.

After the lake tour we wound up at The Hacienda, which is a new Mexican/sports bar type place. Food was OK, service was overwhelmed and slow.

Thursday we bugged out for Lake Arrowhead, which is not far away. Lisa in particular wanted to check out the remains of Santa’s Village, which is a cherished childhood memory along the way to Arrowhead. Sadly it has fallen into disrepair and is for sale. 017Lake Arrowhead was somewhat more developed than Big Bear, and their village area had been completely redone since Lisa spent time there as a child. We had pizza at the village pizza place, which has a great view of the lake but a poor wait staff (Lisa had to pick the shrooms from her pizza). We also checked Lisa’s friend Lynn’s family cabin, which was pretty much unchanged from back in the day. Nice setting among the trees.

Then we made our way back to civilization and Evelyn’s house in Torrance. We hung036 out there for a bit, then went down to Redondo Pier and watched the sun set. Very nice. I wanted a little bit to eat so I had some chowder at Tony’s on the pier, which is very retro. It turns out the big deal on the pier nowadays is to serve feasts of giant crustaceans to large groups family style. I tried to work up the ambition to get a funnel cake but eventually decided against it.

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Friday we had an open day, so we decided to go to the movies in Hollywood! But first we had breakfast with Lisa’s childhood friend Lynn at a great place called Good Stuff.

Then we had some extra time so we walked around the Walk of Fame for a bit, then had lunch at the Veggiegrill. Yes, I had a fake chicken sandwich. Then we went to the first showing of Star Trek at the original Cinerama dome theater. Very cool.IMAG0136IMAG0138

After the movie we visited Sam (Lisa’s brother) and Diane at their home in Pacific Palisades, then we all went to dinner in Malibu. Lots of fun and we had some awesome gelato afterward.

Saturday we got up early and hit the road for Sacramento; we made good time and hit the airport early, so we managed to get on an early flight home. This flight did not have a screaming baby – instead it had a yippy little dog. Sigh.

Posted by: gregcagle | December 11, 2012

Our 2012 cruise experience

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We had been thinking about taking a third cruise for a while. We like cruising in general, and our last 10 day cruise around the Caribbean was pretty fun. So when our friends Ron and LeeAnn invited us to cruise with them right after Thanksgiving, we jumped at the chance. It was a bit difficult to get flights and whatnot lined up, but eventually we got it all sorted out.
We left Saturday 11/24, on the red eye from Seatac at 10 pm. We decided not to get a limo or shuttle to/from the airport, but rather to park the car at Masterpark with a coupon for $12/day. Turns out it would have been cheaper (and easier) to take a shuttle. Hmph.
Weather was cold and rainy when we left. We checked our two large suitcases along with "the blue thing" (a bag we bought in Hawaii to carry extra stuff) and the dive bag full of snorkel and diving gear. We decided to not bring any laptops, just ipad/touchpad. That worked well for this trip. Packed plenty of chargers and a small power strip thing. No technology failures on this trip. 264
On that topic, cell phone connectivity was spotty. I checked before we sailed and bought an international roaming data package from AT&T, which should have covered on ship usage and in port usage for the ports we were booked into. Still not sure if that worked since I got a nasty text from AT&T mid cruise about exceeding $200 in international data roaming. St. Thomas has AT&T 4G coverage, by the way.
We landed in Ft. Lauderdale around 6 am Eastern time. The flight was fine, although neither one of us slept. We got an exit row, which was good. Lisa was next to a squirmy guy :(. We cabbed from the airport to the Embassy Suites where LeeAnn and Ron were. We dumped the luggage off in their room, borrowed their key and got some fine Embassy Suites breakfast. Then we went back up to their room and slept a little.
232 (2)So we got going about 11 to the cruise embarkation point. The van driver insisted on putting us and all of our stuff in with a bunch of hungover "bros" who had apparently been partying all night. That van was full. Luckily they were going to a different ship. When we unloaded we had to retag our luggage since our stateroom had changed. Good thing we remembered the new room accurately (E620). They had changed staterooms on us without any communication, from the E deck down to one of the lower decks, on the assumption that having an unobstructed view was an upgrade; our previous room was on the lifeboat/tender level. We disagreed and preferred to be higher up in the boat, so we had that fixed, but not in time for the preprinted luggage tag process.
 
So we went through security (which is pretty light) and then ended up in a long line for checkin. They had the entire check in counter shut down for no apparent reason for about an hour. It was particularly painful since we were within 20 folks of the head of the line! Ack. So we had to stand there for an hour. I was worried about Lisa but she did fine. So they finally opened up the checkin at 12:30; we whizzed through that and then walked onto the ship.
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The ship was the Ruby Princess, of the Princess cruise line. Huge boat, full of bars and restaurants and a showroom and pools and a casino and shops and, well, you get the idea. It takes hundreds of people to run the thing, mostly from eastern Europe as far as I could tell.
First order of business was to get some food, so we went up to the buffet and got 245some, then went out to the bar that overlooks the aft terrace and had the first of many drinks :). Nice spot.
We then went to get our soda packages, and get our dining room table situation figured out. Then we went off to take naps, and totally missed the ship sailing. Ah well.
So after naps, we met down at the Botticelli dining room for dinner at 830 pm (late seating). We then met Jay and Oky, our servers for the trip. I thought Jay sounded like Jar Jar Binks :). He is quite flamboyant and kept calling people "darling" :). Very amusing. Our table was 99, at the very back of the ship. Pretty cozy. Next to us a whole big table full of hip hoppers showed up, in white tennis shoes and the usual baggy shorts and whatnot. They never showed up again – we heard they moved to the earlier seating. Next to them there was a young couple; the guy had to leave abruptly in the middle of the dinner. Our speculation was249 that he was seasick. Next to them was another couple; they were both very tan, and the guy kept wearing his sunglasses on the top of his (bald) head. He became the target of much ridicule from our table over the course of the week. This was also the night where I managed to dump (red) wine on my khakis. The onboard laundry did an admirable job of removing the stain, though. Special of the night was prime rib, so some of us had it. It was OK. Can’t remember what we did afterwards.
Next day (Monday) we arrived at "Princess Cay", which is the Princess cruise line’s private island. The lowering of the tenders woke us up at 7 am – they were right 050outside our window. Otherwise we would have slept all day, probably. Essentially the island is just a long beach. You can rent little shells to sit under on the beach, or for a few more bucks you can get a small air conditioned cabana thing with lunch. So we did that, and just dorked around all day. Lunch was huge, way too much food for us. We gave some of it away. Drinks were much harder to get :0. We snorkeled, had lunch, sat around, really did very little. Super relaxing time. Big line to get back onto the ship as we all wanted to get back at the same time. We saw a woman with a Union Jack bikini :). Lisa got some good underwater photos too.019
Dinner again at table 99. Tri-tip this time, not very good. Certainly not as good as the Morton’s we get at Costco. We settled on a strategy of buying a wine we liked in double size bottles (1.5L), since we knew we’d need it :). And we started meeting for "happy hour" at 7:30 in the wine bar (Vines) on the lower level. Cozy place, free tapas and sushi. Good people watching spot, which is after all a large part of cruising.
076A moment to talk about the musicians on the boat. One guy we ran into everywhere played a steel drum with a laptop accompaniment. Interesting for five minutes, then pretty boring. There was a piano guy too but we hardly ever saw him. Most cruise ships have a "Caribbean" band; I think this one did too but we hardly saw them. Most frequently we saw the band "Volume", which consisted of a couple of Australian chicks who couldn’t sing very well (but looked great) backed up by mostly competent musicians. The highlight was the guitar player who ran the gig from his Sony laptop :). We also saw the "Princess 238 (2)Orchestra" a few times; super rhythm section backing a really good (but showy) bone player, so-so trumpet and lame sax chick. She had a thing on her tenor that I’ve never seen before – a piece of flexible clear plastic held out about six inches in front of her bell with a clamp arrangement. I guess the goal is to mute the sound a little (?). I meant to ask her what the hell it was but forgot. Still they were very flexible, playing a whole hour of sight-read Latin tunes one day and mining the real book that evening in the Adagio lounge.
Tuesday was an at-sea day. LeeAnn and Lisa went to some kind of shopping thing in307 the morning. I was moderately hung over :0 but eventually made it to the Wheelhouse Bar where we had the "Pub Lunch". I had fish and chips, Lisa had Shepard’s Pie. Actually not bad. Then we found a quiet spot near the pool but around the corner and lounged about for the afternoon. Like other ships we have been on, the pool area had a pizza/burger/ice cream bar, which was convenient. This ship, like other Princess ships, had a Jumbotron where they showed movies and concert specials. I’m kind of on the fence about that; I’m not sure if I really think it’s worth it to be paying $$$ to be cruising in the Caribbean only to watch Dirty Dancing. We also managed to work out that day; when I was on the elliptical my head was about an inch from the ceiling. Still I did my 40 minutes.
075Then it was formal night, which was pretty entertaining from a people watching standpoint. Lots of extreme footwear and interesting fashion choices. Ron and I went as Jake and Elwood (black suite, skinny black tie). Since he’s 6 foot 9, that made me Jake. I guess I’m OK with that. No handsprings, though. We also watched some really lame karaoke and checked out "Skywalker’s" at the extreme top of the back of the ship, which was deserted. And when people did show up, they were assholes. Hm. We also had some pictures taken as we wandered around the ship in our formal gear. We did agree we would do tuxedos next time though.
 
Wednesday we were at St. Maarten, which is a very nice place. Half Dutch, half 094French. We had booked a catamaran/snorkel/beach activity, which turned out to be pretty fun. First we went to a common snorkeling spot, where Lisa and I deep water snorkeled over to some big rocks and saw some fish. Turns out I’m not so good at deep water snorkeling. But after that they broke out the rum punch, which was suspiciously devoid of actual rum. I drank a lot of it anyway as a testing exercise. Then they took the catamaran around the back of the island to a nice beach where Ron and Lisa swam to the beach and saw some topless women. LeeAnn sat in the water on a floating noodle and drank beer. I stayed on the boat. Then we 106had some fun around raising the mainsail, which evidently takes six strong men, or four women. And we took a127 small detour while a Zodiac circled around us taking pictures for some promotional thing. Whee. My favorite part was standing on the front of the catamaran on the way back riding the waves at speed. I felt like a happy wet not real drunk dog. The crew kind of forced the good time thing on the way back, forming a conga line (sort of) and generally being goofy.
Each night we had dinner at table 99 with our buddies Oky and Jay. We tried to get into the Crown Grill one night, but twas not to be. Sigh. Ah well. Had a pretty good surf and turf one night. By the end of the week Jay was consistently ridiculing me for always getting the same thing (shrimp cocktail, caesar salad, one of the entrees). We were going to all order hamburgers the last night, but lost momentum and only Ron followed through :). They also celebrated Lisa’s birthday on the last night, and we had humongous Baked Alaska that night too (apparently a Princess tradition).
Another thing that happened was that halfway through the week it was somehow determined there was a risk of nolovirus, so after that we had to Purell up for any food and it had to be served by a crew member, which made some things incredibly inefficient. Turned out to be a false alarm (yay).
Thursday we were at St. Thomas, with no activity booked. I think that was the day we attempted to have breakfast in the main dining room, which turned out to be a disaster from a service and timing standpoint. Bad idea. Ended up taking over 90 minutes.
The first thing we noticed about St. Thomas were the iguanas sunning themselves 338along the breakwater right by the ship. UGLY and pretty large. We spent a few hours exploring the downtown area and just dorking around. We went to Gladys’ Cafe which is supposedly famous and had chips and stuff. Good homemade chips there. It’s hard to walk around some of these places; every ten feet someone is accosting you about something (usually a tour guide to the “mountains”).
Whenever we had some free time we usually hung out by one of the three pools and had a pool boy bring us blue drinks or margaritas or whatever. It was a bit difficult to read books on my Touchpad in the bright sunlight; usually I had to angle the thing just right.
Friday we were at Grand Turk, where Lisa went off to go scuba230 diving and LeeAnn and Ron and myself took a tour bus around the island. Not a whole lot to it, and it was raining like everything for a while. Lisa got some world class diving in, though, and we ended up at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville by the cruise dock drinking, 240 (2)well, margaritas. At least I did :0. There were two boats docked that day, ours and a Carnival boat. The combined population of the two boats exceeded the entire population of the island :). There isn’t much industry on the island besides tourism, and it isn’t very big. But the natives seemed happy and we had fun. Lisa managed to kill our Pentax underwater 256 (2)camera – it’s rated for 50 feet, and she took it to 80 which caused it to die a horrible death. But we were able to retrieve the pictures from the SD card (yay).
Saturday we were at sea, heading for the barn. Spent most of the day just lounging around and eating :). Watched Dirty Dancing :). We had to have our luggage out by 8 pm for the following morning’s exit, so we did that, then went and had a nice dinner. We also managed to see a rainbow on the ocean.
259 (2)
This was the night they served the baked alaska, and we celebrated Lisa’s birthday. Also Ron came to dinner wearing jeans and flipflops, so LeeAnn had one of the crew tell him that the captain wanted to see him regarding his crass violation of the dining room dress code. Unfortunately the crew member (a Russian girl, apparently) didn’t sell it too well so he only went with it for a second or two. But it was good while it lasted :).
Sunday morning we arrived back in Fort Lauderdale and started the process of stopping the constant swaying motions in our heads. For some of us this took longer than others Smile. Customs was trivial, and we took a shuttle in to the Riverside Hotel in Fort Lauderdale. We did this because we couldn’t get a cheap flight back on Sunday, so we paid for one night’s hotel room (on Priceline) rather than double our airfare. Ron and LeeAnn came with us and hung out until they had to run to the airport for their flight back to Denver. We spent some time at a sidewalk Italian coffee shop, then went to a place called American Social which had a very impressive craft beer selection and a pretty good menu as well for lunch. We sat and watched football for a while, then they left for the airport and we checked into our room. Unfortunately, the272 (2) hotel is pretty old (which explains the pricing) and kind of tacky. So we left and had dinner at a good place called Rocco’s Tacos, about 8 blocks away. I will say one thing about the Riverside, the location is excellent. Rocco’s was good but extremely loud. There was a group of 10 young women at a nearby table who were evidently celebrating a birthday or something. Their volume made it essentially impossible to hold a conversation at our table. I actually think my ears were ringing when we left the place. Still the food and service was good. We took a walk around the downtown area after dinner; pretty nice and every now and then an exotic car would go drifting by, mostly Ferraris.
 
Next morning we were up early, to the airport, and back home by midday Monday.
All in all, an excellent time with excellent people. I only got a mild sunburn and gained four pounds. The biggest problem was maintaining the proper buzz Smile.
Posted by: gregcagle | March 13, 2012

In the Pit with the Kamikaze Kids

Yesterday’s obit for Dick Harter got me to thinking about my time at the U of O during the 70s, and those basketball games…

I started at the U of O in the fall of 1974. I began (and ended) as a computer science major, which at that point largely consisted of programming in Basic/Fortran/Pascal/assembly language, and a fair amount of operating system and data structure theory. I spent most of my time on the DEC-10, working with punch cards, teletypes, and a few ADM-3A video terminals. Some students wouldn’t use the video terminals – they thought if the program didn’t print out then it didn’t exist. Still it set me up for the career I have today. If you want to call it that.

Besides graduating near the top of my class in high school, I had also been a pretty serious band geek. I had made a conscious choice going into college to decouple from that, knowing that I needed to focus on academics and that music would be a distraction. So I spent my first year in computer science, five days a week calculus (bleah), American Lit, and other assorted things. Did OK, but not super great. By the end of that first year, I was getting restless. I think I was growing tired of trying to meet other people’s expectations of me and always doing the right thing, and wanted to cut loose a bit.

So I thought I’d join the marching band. Seems obvious, doesn’t it? Cut loose by joining the marching band! Woo hoo! But that’s exactly what happened. I borrowed a cheap tenor sax from a friend (I think it was an early Yani; the thing was a monster player) and signed up. It was an experience. The band was at a pretty low place, and so was the football team. Autzen was hardly ever full, and it was quite a bit smaller then. I’ve gone to a few Alumni Band events since then, and most people think the marching band actually didn’t exist during the 70s. But it did, and I have the photographic evidence to prove it.

A clear positive, though, was that the level of musicianship was pretty high, at least when everyone was sober. If I remember correctly, music performance and music education majors were required to be in marching band. If you weren’t a music major, you were required to take concert band as well. I well remember being chewed out by Ira Lee now and again during concert band, usually for playing too loud. At the start of every term he would pick a victim, usually in the first rehearsal, and yell at them like a drill sergeant until everyone was uncomfortable, even if their error was insignificant. This was his way of establishing power in the room for the balance of the term, and it usually worked. People lived in fear of him.

I don’t remember too much about that first year in marching band. I met some good folks (hi, Bill Clingman!!) I know we went to Palo Alto on buses for the Stanford game. I remember we came away from the Stanford band room (somehow) with the arrangement for All Right Now, which became a band trademark and is still scan0007played today. I remember that the Stanford band (which had recently become infamous for outlining a middle finger during a halftime show) was entirely student run and had no faculty leadership. There was some conflict between the two bands as well, but I’m hazy on the details. Something about cheerleaders, probably. Here we are in 1976 at Husky Stadium (right).

So football season ended, and with basketball season came the opportunity to play in what was then called “Pep Band”. Like the Stanford marching band, the Pep Band was a student run organization. The first two years of my time in the band (75-76, 76-77) it was directed by John Schuberg. scan0005John was a born leader; he was famous for his seldom removed train engineer hat and his ability to somehow inspire the best from a bunch of basically cynical and hung-over college students. We would have followed John anywhere, and often did. During this period the band manager was a gentleman named Roger Senders, who basically kept the whole thing afloat doing what managers do. Later he was an extra in Animal House (he’s the next guy in line after Flounder during the “naming” sequence, as well as several party scenes). Unfortunately he had to cut his massive hair to take the part. Roger was also famous for proposing that marching band should be a PE credit in 1975. Still makes sense to me.

During those two years the band was known as “Dick Harter’s Green Garter Band”, as we had a lot of yellow and green garters on our horns, along with other decorations. Later (in the 80s) that name was resurrected for a much smaller group that plays smaller events and whatnot around campus:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Garter_Band. That band gets FULL SCHOLARSHIPS. Jeez.

I learned a lot during the four years I played in the pep band. The band was an essential part of the ambience in the Pit during the Kamikaze Kids era, and I feel honored that I was a part of it. We were responsible (either directly or indirectly) for a lot of interesting things that people still remember from that period, and still do. The “O” that people make with their hands all the time now in Eugene? That was Schuberg’s signal to play the fight song. And you had to have that sucker memorized and ready to play on 5 seconds notice, because you never knew WHAT would happen in the Pit. You know when crowds chant BULLSHIT when they don’t like a referee’s call? That was us too (at least that’s how I remember it). The “Lone Ranger” riding around the court on a stick horse before the game? That was us (along with one nutjob from the crowd). We specialized in loudly yelling odd and disturbing things at the other team during quiet moments, and laughing hysterically when someone missed a foul shot. We also had some world class screamers in the woodwind section. And we went out of our way to drive the cheerleaders nuts, often by speeding up or slowing down randomly. Often the instigators were from the trombone section, usually Jim Sandau or Rick English. Rick was particularly good at yelling “Sit On My Face” during quiet moments on court.

From a musical standpoint, the Pep Band was essentially a semi-pro level show band. We played a wide variety of music. Rock, classical, disco, jazz, show tunes, the Muppet show theme, whatever we thought the crowd would enjoy. And the musicianship was exceptional, and I have the MP3s to prove it. Some awesome players in that group. You had to be hyper aware, because John would often shut down the band abruptly or change directions depending on what else was going on. Often it was hand signals, because the SPL would exceed 110db in the Pit when the scoreboard was swinging. I’m sure that’s where a bunch of my hearing loss started. But at the end of the day it was about being professional, and we were tough on slackers.

Instrumentation was variable, but usually consisted of five or more saxes, four or more clarinets, some flutes and piccolos, and a buttload of trumpets and bones and other brass. We had mellophoniums later on too. And a set drummer, an electric bass, a guitar player sometimes, and a bunch of misc. percussion (timbales, cowbell, whatever). I played tenor the first year, bari the next three. The legend is that they had to replace me with two people when I finally quit in 1979. The school had a practically indestructible King bari with a Level-Air mouthpiece that I used most of the time.

We also had in house arrangers; Schuberg did a lot of them, also Don Kelley and some others. Here’s a set list from our first recording, in 1976:

  • Lucretia McEvil – screaming Blood Sweat and Tears chart
  • “Ernst overture” – which was essentially us making fun of band member Bob Ernst by grunting his name just because it sounded funny.
  • House in the Country – even better BST chart
  • You’ve Said It All – which was the Budweiser theme song. Arranged for tuba and piccolo. Coincidentally, after each game where we played this tune, an ice cold keg of Bud would magically appear at a designated location in a tympani full of ice. Which got me started drinking beer drinking, but that’s another story.
  • California Girls
  • “Nelhybel Fanfare” – not sure which piece it was from but it was damn impressive brass fanfare stuff.
  • Hallelujah Chorus – often played after winning games.
  • Mellow Duckie – Kermit’s “Rubber Duckie” with slighly modified wording and band vocal.
  • Duck Soup – a ripoff of the OSU Beaver fight song mixed with some hokey other stuff
  • Rock Entrance #2+TSOP+Chameleon+Go Down Gamblin’ – we were in the habit of jamming three or four songs together with percussion in between to keep the beat going. Who knew it turn into a big deal later at dance clubs?
  • Mexicali “O” – we had three or four different versions of the fight song with preludes of different styles glued onto the front. This one sounded like Malaguena before mutating into Mighty O.
  • Dudley Do-Right
  • Hava Nagileh – guaranteed to work the crowd into a frenzy.
  • For What Ales Ya – more beer music.
  • Still Crazy After All These Years – often played after losses, kind of melancholy.
  • Fancy Colours – Chicago tune.
  • All Right Now – of course.

The following year we added the Looney Tunes theme with extra added band vocal. And other interesting stuff. We were on the court now and again during half time – this picture scan0006was taken during a Beach Boys/In The Mood medley, probably in 1977. That was actually the first time I played In The Mood – but not the last. Note that for this gig I borrowed the Thurston High Selmer MK VI I played in high school from Royce (thanks!). The name tag on the front of my bowler hat declares that “Basketball Jones” is a Pietro’s employee.

I remember the Stanford band was in the house that night, and they played “Cities on Flame” by Blue Oyster Cult. I love BOC but that just did NOT lend itself to that type of band.

The liner notes for the 1977 tape goes like this: “The U of O Green Garter Band was recorded “live” at the University of Oregon Music School on February 25, 1977. This recording serves only as a remembrance the 55 talented and spirited musicians, whose energies provided the spark which would, time and time again, ignite a blazing fire under the 10,000 sick and deranged screaming idiots who assembled for each game to make McArthur Court the finest place to play basketball in the country.”

I can’t describe how exciting it was to be at those basketball games, and we did our best to keep the excitement level high. The team had a lot of talent then, and Coach Harter made the most of it. They were extremely aggressive (thus the “Kamikaze Kids” name) and amazing to watch. Many games were total cliffhangers – this was because college basketball had no shot clock at that point. Coach Harter was a big believer in stalling until the other team made a mistake, so we often had extremely low scoring games with everything riding on one last shot. The year we broke UCLA’s 98 game winning streak at Pauley the score was 65-45.

scan0008We were stars, in a way. People recognized us all over campus and the town. The games were televised over local TV, time delayed (after 11 pm news usually) and people were always mentioning to me “saw you on TV last night!”. And I was usually hung over. Look at me. I think I was afraid to breathe at that point.

This picture was taken during the Far West Classic in Portland, where we served as the house band in 75-77 or so. I distinctly remember we were told not to return to the Lloyd Center Sheraton after too many loud parties in 1975. Note funky sax strap.

scan0009The band lost steam after Schuberg and that crowd graduated. Two years later it mutated into the “hard hat band” (see right) and that was the end of it for me. I quit, focused on graduating, and eventually got my computer science degree in 1980.

But that’s another story.

Posted by: gregcagle | December 15, 2011

Back in the saddle again…

Cranking up the blog again now that I have a more reasonable working environment. Stay tuned for more from my twisted mind.

Posted by: gregcagle | November 29, 2010

Hello world!

Welcome to WordPress.com. This is your first post. Edit or delete it and start blogging!

Posted by: gregcagle | March 26, 2010

Me playing Honk again.

Posted by: gregcagle | February 16, 2010

My life as a semi-pro musician

The first music I remember hearing was country. My dad was from Oklahoma, and his musical tastes reflected his heritage. He controlled the radio in the car, and so that’s all I knew. I don’t remember having a radio in the house when I was a kid, although we probably did.

When I was ten, two things happened. For some reason we got a console electronic organ in our fourth grade classroom, and we took turns playing on it with headphones. I remembered thinking the “clarinet” sound from the organ was very cool. And, I got a transistor radio. It was by Westinghouse, and I vaguely remember my dad objecting to it because it came from Japan, and it wasn’t that long ago that he had been bombing the crap out of them. But it opened up a whole new world for me, and I heard things I immediately responded to and it set me on a lifelong path.

Then in the sixth grade we had the opportunity to learn an instrument, and so I picked the clarinet. My parents went into debt to buy it; it was a Pan American (Conn) hard rubber clarinet, and cost $80 if I remember correctly. It played OK but not great, but it was good enough to get me started. I remember learning “Glow Worm” and getting immediately how the thing worked. I also remember picking up a Beatles songbook for clarinet, and another one with 100 pop songs or something like that. I distinctly remember playing House of the Rising Sun, which really sounds goofy on the clarinet.

In junior high I got into the “intermediate band” (directed by Mr. McAlexander, who was a great guy), and realized that I was never going to be a great clarinet player, and that there were others who were better and always would be. So, in the interest of reduced competition, I took up the bass clarinet, which turned out to be a huge amount of fun, easier to play, and much less stressful. We would play things like Hawaii Five-O and pep band stuff a lot. And then… one day in 9th grade Mr. Mac showed up with a super long black case, and asked if I would try it. It was a Leblanc EEb straight contralto clarinet, brand new, from the high school. The thought was that I could work on that, and specialize in it during high school, which was exactly what I did.

There were, however, a couple of obstacles. One was that there wasn’t a lot of music explicitly written for the instrument, so I had to learn to read bass clef. And, it took a LOT of air. Knowing what I know now, I would have to say that the tip opening on the mouthpiece was too open; eventually I learned how to work on the reeds and soften them up so I could at least hit the lower register without passing out.

When I got to high school (Thurston High School, Springfield, OR), I was lucky in that the music program was strong, well-established, and had lots of talent and momentum. The band program was led by Royce Osborne, who was not only an excellent musician and teacher but a great human being in general. He has always been one of my personal heroes and was a mentor to me for a long time. I played contralto clarinet in the concert band, along with a couple of excellent bass clarinet players (Sheryl and Carol). That physically placed me next to the last chair clarinet player, who is my friend to this day (Keith).

One of our activities that year was a band trip to Victoria, BC, which was quite an adventure. I’d never been anywhere much, so this was a totally new experience in a lot of ways. I’m not exactly sure where the first concert we played was; it may have been Port Angeles because I know we took the Coho ferry to Victoria. But I *do* remember the jazz ensemble. I’d never heard anything like it; they opened with Final Analysis by Don Ellis, and it was beyond amazing. I knew then that I was going to have to learn the saxophone, if only so I could be in THAT BAND. They had TWO DRUMMERS who were equally good, and strong players in almost every chair. The lead trumpet player, Brad Allison, went on to become a pro. The piano player, Gene Skinner, arranged for the band as well, which was a major plus. I remember his arrangements of “Thunder and Lightning” and “Old Fashioned Love Song” were pretty good. The band had Phil Wilson in for a clinic (“Piano Fortress” is on the record from that clinic) that year, and also gigged constantly around the area for dances and proms and whatnot.

We made a double album that year, one disk jazz, one disk concert band. I still have it, and I am still amazed at how good we were. The cut of Basie Straight Ahead is particularly good, and Channel One Suite is awesome along with Final Analysis and its odd time signatures. There is also a short cut on it of a clarinet quartet piece, called just “The Blues” or something like that on which I play bass clarinet.

That summer I attended band camp (I know…) at the U of O, where I played the contralto clarinet. The next year I made it into the regional and state honor bands, again on contralto clarinet. I think that was probably because nobody else HAD one.

I had somehow made friends with the lead alto player, a very cool cat named Barry Bogart. He taught me a lot, and that summer I took home one of the school’s two bari saxes (an old Conn, I think) and taught myself how to play it out of the Rubank book. The previous occupant of the bari chair, a guy named Norm Dahlquist, had graduated, and so in September I found myself in the bari sax chair of the best high school jazz ensemble in the state. Gulp. Luckily I had some good teachers; the alto players in the band (Mitch Costin and Vic Myers) were both monster players and good mentors. By then I was playing the other bari sax the school owned, a King Tempo with a Brilhart Level-Aire mouthpiece. There had been some turnover in the band, but most of the key players were still onboard and we still were a damn good band. I remember playing a lot of gigs that year, and taking my first solo. And it turned out I had a certain amount of talent. Playing bari in a big band takes a certain skill set, and a certain mind set. It’s complicated, and not always straightforward, and I was pretty good at it.

That summer a bunch of us piled into Royce’s station wagon and drove to Sacramento for the Kenton “Jazz Orchestra in Residence” program. Basically this was a week at Sac State; each day we had an hour of theory with Phil Rizzo, then playing all day in bands and sectionals, then a concert each night by the Kenton band. Our sectionals were run by Roy Reynolds, one of the two bari players in that incarnation of the Kenton band. I could not for the life of me understand how he could chain smoke and yet still play bari. He gave me a key piece of advice – “Kid, always play louder than you think is necessary, until somebody tells you to quiet down”, delivered in a grizzled old veteran voice. Words to live by.

That fall we got a pile of money in the band budget somehow; we picked up a Fender Rhodes, a keyboard bass, a bigass PA, and a brand new Selmer Mark VI low A baritone. Be still my heart :). It was AWESOME (although the middle E was pretty far out of tune). But the downside was that we had suffered a lot of attrition, and I ended up playing lead bari a lot. We tried hard, and actually attempted a couple of Maynard Ferguson charts with Jim Svoboda on lead. I know we recorded a bunch of things that year on reel to reel tape; no idea what happened to those. There was one chart in particular I liked called Moon Song that I remember taking a really awesome solo on – now I wonder just how awesome it was :). I thought I was a pretty good soloist then, even though I was totally lazy and didn’t know a bunch of the scales. It was more about instinct and feel, I think. We gigged a lot as usual and went to a lot of festivals and whatnot, and it was a good year overall. I was voted “outstanding jazz musician” that year; I haven’t been in the band room at Thurston lately so I have no idea if the plaque is still on the wall (probably not!).

People talk a lot about how they learned about leadership and teamwork in high school sports, and they talk about their coaches and student leaders and stuff like that. Well, I learned all that IN BAND. Playing in a big band is essentially a 22 person team, with four subteams and leaders that you are trained to follow no matter what. You learn teamwork real fast when you’re in the middle of a dance chart and the rhythm section drops the ball. I learned early on how to behave as a professional, and it’s served me to this day.

In the summer we went again to the Kenton camp – this was 1974. I took the Greyhound down this time; it was kind of weird because one of the lower doors on the bus CAME OPEN somewhere up in the Siskiyous and some luggage came out. Luckily neither the Selmer nor the bass clarinet I had with me fell out of the bus! That year the band I was in played a chart called “Indra” by Hank Levy that had a soprano solo in the bari part. Luckily my friend and fellow bari player Norm had a brand new Selmer soprano that he let me borrow; I had never played one before, and it was quite an experience. I have a distinct memory of being up on stage in front of hundreds of people, playing soprano for the second time only, in 9/8 (I think), and TOTALLY SUCKING. Or at least making some pretty odd noises. Ah well, it was the 70s.

So in the fall of 1974 I started at the University of Oregon, which has a very strong music program. I had taken a hard look at my transcript, however, and realized that two hours a day of band during high school was a fair chunk of time, and I decided to quit music and concentrate on class work. This lasted until the following year, when I signed up for the Duck marching band. I borrowed a tenor sax (I think it was an early Yanigasawa, looking back. Good horn.) and played in the marching band and the pep band. These were not the glary years of Duck football, and we were seldom victorious. We in the band were of the opinion that we were better than the football team was, generally speaking. Although we had practically no budget to speak of; I remember going to an away game in Seattle and being amazed at the obvious wealth of the Husky band. And they knew it too, and treated us like dirt. Did I mention this was also the year I learned to drink beer? I did not, however, get back into jazz. This was a result of an ill-timed kidney stone the day of my audition for the renowned U of O jazz ensemble. But I continued to play in the pep band, switching to bari and being one of the cornerstones of the band through the Kamikaze Kid era at Mac Court. The band was directed for a couple of years by a guy named John Schuberg, who was a great leader and director. We had some awesome musicians in the pep band, and we had a LOT of fun. We were legendary, and feared, throughout the conference. And so I once again became a band geek – but I never became a music major. That was just looking for trouble :).

In 1979 I was once again faced with a dilemma, and I decided to drop out of band activities so I could graduate college. I managed to stumble out of the side door at the U of O finally in 1980, and got a job in Portland. I rented a bari for a while from Portland Music, and played in the PCC adult jazz band for a couple of quarters, but it was frustrating and so I quit. And that was it till 1998. I had been watching big bands now and again at community festivals, and it seemed to me that there was no reason why I couldn’t play that well. Most of the bari players I saw sucked, and I just missed the music. A lot. I’ve always got a tune in my head, and I know I have to play. It’s a central element in me, for good or bad. And so, after some soul searching,  I went to the WWBW site, and ordered up a new Yani 990 bari, which at that time set me back $4500 (choke). And I started to practice a bit, and it came back to me. The horn was perfectly set up, and better than the Selmer I had played in high school. I started to experiment with the sound, with reeds and mouthpieces, and soon got to a place where I thought I would not embarrass myself. The horn played like a dream, was perfectly in tune, and after a bit I got another Brilhart mouthpiece like I had in high school, and I was rolling.

So I signed up, once again, for PCC Monday night adult education jazz band class. It was then directed by an old big band vet named Frank Leuck. The band was gigging a lot, mostly due to pro management by my friend and trombone player Ken Stine, and I was immediately thrown into the deep end of the pool. I think I sight read half the charts at the first gig :). But Frank and I got along well, the band had some good players and vocalists, and it was overall a pretty good experience. We played the Oregon State Fair, the Portland Rose Festival, the grand opening of the Oregon Convention Center expansion, something at OMSI, and the Cathedral Park Jazz Festival, among other gigs. We were quite busy. Frank, however, was good at alienating some folks; he used to spend time yelling at people who really didn’t deserve it, and we lost some good folks that way. The other issue was that the band was making a fair amount of money… which was going into the PCC slush fund. Hmm. So we had a band meeting and decided to split away from the school. Ken had bought a big band music library from someone, and so we struck out on our own. The trouble with *that* scenario was that once we were no longer associated with PCC, the gigs dried up for some reason. We blew a bunch of money playing at the Bridgeport Brewpub; the gig was OK but Frank was drunk the whole time and the crowd was, well, not as large as it might have been.

So we broke up with Frank and got Jack Quinby, awesome trombone player, to direct the band. We were rehearsing at that point at the Kingstad Center near the Nike campus, and had several open rehearsals where people just showed up and danced and listened for free. I remember at one of them a high school kid came up and told me that I was the best bari sax player he had ever heard. I managed to be gracious about it :). Around this time I also played in the Duck alumni band a couple of times, which was a surreal experience. It’s like the 70s never happened; no one even thought there WAS a band during those years. Where do you think the arrangement of All Right Now you guys are STILL PLAYING came from? Yes, the Stanford band room. But that’s another story…

I also played in the One More Time Around Again marching band for a few years, for the Rose Parade. That was a physical challenge; marching five miles with a bari is not really fun.

Also during that timeframe I picked up some other horns, as I had some disposable income. I got a soprano, alto, tenor, clarinet, flute, and bass clarinet as well as a Telecaster and a Fender Precision Bass just for the hell of it. And a whole drum set, which I never quite figured out how to master. Apparently I don’t have the drummer gene although I always thought I did. Hmm. My clarinet chops are not good, but I can still do pretty well on bass clarinet.

The last gig I remember playing with that band was at the Jenkins Estate in Aloha; somewhere there is some video of it but I never saw it :(. Not long after we moved to Seattle.

Since being in Seattle I’ve played a LOT more. Seems like the music scene in Seattle is much busier than in PDX, with many more big bands and other groups to play in. My horns were all in storage for about six months while our house was being built; when I finally got them out I started playing with the Woodinville Community Band on bari in the jazz band. I managed to connect up with a number of other players, and have substituted on bari, tenor, and alto for the Mach One Jazz Orchestra, Route 66 Big Band, Moonlight Swing Orchestra, Sophisticated Swing, and Critical Mass. And I’ve actually gotten paid a few times! I’ve also played in some smaller groups, and the Microsoft Jazz Band. And I’ve been playing bass clarinet and contrabass clarinet in the Woodinville Community Band (courtesy of Jim Glass and his extensive instrument collection) and also have substituted in the Washington Wind Symphony on bari sax and bass/contrabass clarinet. During the course of this I’ve been on a seemingly endless quest to find the perfect folding music stand, as well as stand lighting (currently Peak stand with Super Giglight) and have spent a lot of time on ebay trading mouthpieces (now on RPC on bari).

Probably the coolest thing I’m up to currently is the Eastside Modern Jazz Orchestra, which is what the community band jazz band has mutated into. Neil Proff is directing, and we are definitely a non-traditional group. We play a fair amount of funk, and other unexpected things. The band is really gelling now and we have a number of gigs lined up.

So where is my head at now? I think I sound better than ever. I think this is partly experience, and partly luck. I think it was advantageous to play contralto clarinet when I was a teenager, and I think it worked to build up my lung capacity. Anyone will tell you the key to a good bari sound is breath support, and I have that. Usually. I am also a bari player by inclination and training; as I mentioned above, playing bari in a big band is a challenging and unique thing, and it’s what I do. I find I’m uncomfortable playing tenor or alto; I just can’t get my head around it. Especially since second alto and fourth tenor are usually unrewarding (but important) roles. I don’t have the soloing chops to play lead tenor, and I’ve never tried lead alto. Maybe I should one of these days.

And about small groups – I don’t like them that much in jazz. To me it’s almost always bunch of noodling, usually done to show off for other musicians rather than actually engage the audience. Too much of bop in my view is inward looking, not outward. I find it boring; the musicianship is usually astounding, and I totally respect that, but it’s damn hard to whistle the changes to Giant Steps on the way home. I guess I’m just not cool enough :).

I relish the drama and power of a full big band; that is what pushes my buttons and it’s what I will continue to pursue until my lungs give out.

Posted by: gregcagle | January 20, 2010

My take on “Under the Dome” by Stephen King

I just finished listening to the Audible.com audiobook of Under The Dome, and I’ve been thinking and talking a lot about it. Now I’m blogging about it. There’s just no stopping me.

I’ve always been a reader, and when I was a kid I used to take pride in the sheer size and density of the books I read, and the fact that I always completed books, no matter how impenetrable the prose. I specifically remember reading “The Arms of Krupp” when I was 10 – it took me about a week. At some point, our neighbors across the street (the Smith family) gave me a box of second hand paperbacks, because they’d “heard I was a reader” and might find something worth reading in their box of leftovers. And I did, underneath all the romance novels and other crap I found two books that affected me greatly: “Dracula”, complete with creepy cover art (true to the description in the book, unbelievably), and “Someone Like You” by Roald Dahl. I still have both of these books. By the time I read these I had already spent some time watching classic horror movies – one of our local stations had a late Friday night feature called “House of Fear” and they had an endless supply of old Universal horror movies, which I loved (and still do). Both books just fascinated me, and I’ve reread each many times. I turned Lisa on to the Dahl book recently, and she is really enjoying it. If you only think of Dahl as a children’s book author, you are really missing out on some interesting stuff. Several of the stories were made into Twilight Zone or Hitchcock TV episodes. Dahl was very familiar with the darker aspects of human nature.

I think what happened is that I found I enjoyed the thrill of a good horror novel or movie. Notice I said “good”. The horror genre as a whole is infamous for more than its share of crap – largely because it makes money, I imagine. Anyway, I quick discovered the works of H.P. Lovecraft, probably at the public library. If I remember correctly it was an Arkham House edition of “The Dunwich Horror and Other Tales” and also included The Outsider, The Rats In The Walls, Pickman’s Model, The Shadow Over Innsmouth, and several other chilling tales. This was fascinating stuff for me; new and complex ideas written in a way that engaged both intellect and emotions. Highly recommended. But then I ran into some trouble; I had quickly run through the “classics,” and there really wasn’t much of anything being published in the genre at that time.

Then came Stephen King, and right behind him a host of others. I first read Night Shift, which I absolutely loved and still do. King has always been good at short stories, and his recent collection holds up well too. Then Salem’s Lot, which I quickly realized was essentially a modern day rewrite of Dracula, and I was hooked. Carrie, The Stand, The Shining, the Bachman books, The Body, The Mist, I read them all and loved them. Even his nonfiction books on horror and writing. But along about It I started to lose interest. Seems like he got big enough to where people were afraid to edit his stuff, and much of his later stuff is just bloated and unfocused to me. And I moved on to others; Dean Koontz, Robert McCammon (who seemed to be bent on mirroring King’s topics for a while), F. Paul Wilson, James Herbert, lots of others. Graham Masterson, who wrote terrifically gory and yet scary stuff. Some splatterpunk even. But I finally grew tired of the whole thing, and haven’t read much horror in the last five years or so. I still read Koontz now and again, but he seems to have lost his way as well.

The early reviews of Under The Dome referenced King’s early work directly. I decided to give it a try based on the reviews I read. Apparently he started it very early in his career but couldn’t figure it out and left it for decades under the bed or something. That may be; the writing definitely sounds like his early days. Lean, to the point, and brutal in its depiction of the darker aspects of human nature. The audiobook I listened to is narrated by Raul Esparza, who is a Broadway actor. He does a reasonable job; he struggles now and again with the required accents, and mispronounced a few things (“Chinook”) but overall his reading was compelling and exciting. The book is very long, and it took me a long time to get through it as I was listening during commute time largely, on my ipod.

I’m convinced now that it ranks among his best work. It combines elements of The Stand (good vs. evil) along with elements of The Mist (small group being held prisoner by an unseen force) as well as countless other examples of King’s insight into small town life and human behavior. It’s very dark, and it’s a difficult read in some ways. Bad things happen to good people. And its depiction of the hypocrisy of organized religion may turn some people off. Parts seem a bit far fetched, and some suspension of disbelief is required. Jack Reacher makes a bit of a cameo, which was welcome.

Bottom line, I think King’s observations about the way humans might behave in this particularly stressful situation is interesting and the story he tells is compelling. If you’re a King fan at all, you should read it. If you’re easily offended, you might want to avoid it :).

Posted by: gregcagle | January 20, 2010

How I spent my winter vacation

So we managed to wrap up our respective to-do lists and get out of Dodge on Sunday 12/13. We packed two large suitcases, one dive bag full of snorkel gear, one misc.bag-o-stuff, one photo backpack full of Nikon equipment, and two computer backpacks. Many hours of exit row flying later we arrived in Miami, and caught a shuttle to the Fort Lauderdale Sheraton near the cruise terminal. Monday we got up to board the ship, but first Lisa had get a portable hair flattener thingamabob, so we made a cabbie take us to a nearby Kmart. While she was blue light shopping I went into a BJ’s, which conveniently had a liquor store. Our intent was to smuggle some Grand Marnier onto the ship. I discovered it was REALLY CHEAP – $22! Unbelievable. We double checked this at every port and it was always more expensive.

So we boarded the ship in mid-afternoon, and spent some time just wandering around. The ship was newly constructed in mid-2009, called the Celebrity Equinox. 16 decks, two pools (indoor and outdoor) many many bars, and an area with actual living grass on the top deck. Seems like a bit much… especially when combined with the glass blowing exhibit (!) but I’m not complaining :). Our luggage was delayed somewhat, so we went to the pool bar and got giant frozen margaritas and toasted the ship’s departure as the sun went down. Very nice. Then we went to the buffet and ate, since we were still wearing shorts which are verboten in the main dining room and our luggage had not yet arrived. Hmph. The buffet was very large and had many eating options, although their Mexican food setup left something to be desired. You could also go up to the pool bar and get a burger pretty much any time of day, and they were cooking them right there so the smell was compelling.

So then we had two days at sea. One of them was “formal night” – unfortunately, Lisa had forgotten her formal dress so had to forgo the dining room that evening. Instead we sat in the Oceanview Bar on the back of the ship and made friends with William the bartender, who was kind enough to make us some blue drinks. We like blue drinks. We did go to the dining room the next night and met for the first time the people at the next table, who were from Nashville TN. Our table was very nice and right next to a window, and the food was very good. Certainly a step above the buffet although it was good too. We had some nice wine as well. The way the menu worked was that there was a standard offering on the left side of the menu each night (salmon, NY steak, chicken, etc.) and a nightly special menu on the right side. One night they had an excellent filet *and* turkey. So we got both :). It was also possible to eat at the optional upscale restaurants, for a small extra fee and a reservation. We were able to get into the Italian steak house the last night we were on the boat. Really great food there, excellent filet and located right at the stern of the boat.

They have a lot of onboard activities for the sea days; one day we went to a one hour wine education seminar where we got to watch a Romanian open champagne with a sabre. How cool is that? We also familiarized ourselves with the entertainment and shopping. The ship had a pretty large theater in the bow with a balcony where they would have shows each night. Usually these are Vegas side lounge style shows. We did watch a guy named Mario d’Andrea one night; he came out wielding a white Stratocaster and ran off some pretty good licks, but for most of his set he told bad jokes and impersonated lounge singers. Bleah. He was backed by the “Equinox Orchestra” which was four horn players and a rhythm section. Extremely competent players with jaws of steel, not to mention the stunningly attractive Tatiana on piano :). We also became fans of the a capella quartet, and the string quartet composed of Russian girls. Best musicians on the ship, along with Peter James the piano guy. The “caribbean” band, though, was worse than karoake and lazy to boot. So there. One night the “orchestra” got together in the main atrium and played some cut down big band swing tunes, which was pretty good. I noticed they were using Wolpe arrangements :).

We also did a lot of bar hopping. I think one night we visited seven or eight bars. Let me see if I can remember:

  • One of our favorites was the Oceanview, directly behind the buffet at the stern. William was our favorite bartender and was very cool. Relaxing to sit there, sipping on a blue drink, and watch the water go by.
  • Directly above it at the top of the rear of the ship was the Sunset Bar. Unfortunately the first time we went there the bartender was clueless on how to make a margarita. Usually it was deserted, I guess for good reason.
  • There was a huge bar at the bow, with a dance floor and band stand. We rarely saw anybody there, though.
  • Small bar right by the pool, very busy usually.
  • Space age disco down near the shopping. We never went there as it didn’t open till 11 or 12 most nights.
  • Nice lounge type bar on the way into the optional restaurants. We went there quite a bit.
  • Side lounge called “Michael’s” with a solo piano.
  • Wine cellar. Very cool place – we caught the string quartet there one night.
  • Martini bar – killer lemon drops and a icy bar top.
  • A few others I can’t remember :).

Overall the service was good, although sometimes there was a language barrier as the crew was from all over the world. Lots of Russians and Serbs and other central Europeans.

Our room was pretty small, as you might expect. It was on deck 6, which meant that our view was partially obstructed by a lifeboat. Still we had breakfast out there one morning and it was nice. The *other* problem though was that our neighbors were a loud Italian family with a screaming baby who all smoked and yelled seemingly constantly on their veranda. But you’re not really meant to spend that much time in your room anyway.

So after two days of cruising and eating and margaritas we were in St. Thomas, which is part of the U.S. Virgin Islands. We had two activities scheduled; a tram ride to the top of the hill behind the town, and a mini boat ride to a snorkeling spot. We also wanted to do a little shopping, and it turns out there was a Kmart (of all things) within walking distance so we went there and got a few things we had forgotten. Then we took the tram, and the view was awesome from up there.

The miniboat tour was loads of fun except on the way out we got one of the slower boats and so had some trouble in keeping up. Still we made it to a lovely white sand beach with just a few people, called Honeymoon Beach. Did some snorkeling there, and saw some great fish. We had equipped Lisa with a new Pentax Optio underwater camera, which is good to ten meters underwater. She got some excellent shots with it. We also stopped at another spot where we had to snorkel from the boat, which was a little challenging. Lisa told me to just step off, which I did, which was interesting. Still I navigated across open deep water with no extra flotation, which was a new experience for me. The problem, though, was getting BACK INTO THE BOAT since it was essentially a Zodiac type inflatable thing with no dive ladder or access. It took some doing but eventually we made it. On the way back we saw the Queen Mary 2 which was also in port, and Eric Clapton’s converted trawler, called The Blue Guitar. All in all a good day and we were TIRED. So we got some drinks :) and hung out on the top deck watching the sun go down as the ship left the island. Very nice.

The next day we ended up in St. Kitts. It was part of the British Virgin Islands originally, now an independent country, along with the nearby island Nevis. We did not plan an activity here, so we just walked around and did some shopping. For centuries the economy was based on sugar crops alone; now it’s based on tourism alone. So being a tourist makes you a bit of a target :). I spent some time looking at phony Rolex and Tag Heuer watches, but decided against it.

Our third stop was Barbados. It is not volcanic like the other nearby islands, and so is relatively flat. Here we took another snorkeling tour our to some shipwrecks, which was very cool. Then we had a lengthy bus tour of the island, where we saw the native green monkey and listened to the tour guide complain about golfers. The Caribbean side of the island has very nice beaches, but the Atlantic side is very rocky and suffers from strong rip tides. Swimming is banned on the Atlantic side for this reason. We picked up some local rum here and used it to spike the fruit juice on the ship.

Next step was Dominica, which was much like Kauai in that it was very mountainous and lush. The economy is very depressed there. We took a bus tour to the back side of the island where we inner tubed down a short river and visited a waterfall. Fun, but a long bumpy ride in a hot bus. They don’t have a lot of money for road improvement on Dominica. They also were quick to mention that parts of Pirates of the Caribbean were filmed around the island.

Last stop was St. Maarten/St. Martin. The name depends on which side of the island you are on, Dutch or French. It was pretty highly developed with a lot of upscale resorts and nice homes. Our activity here was “Rhino Riders”, another Zodiac-like boat that we got to drive ourselves. Unfortunately we were an hour late getting there due to gridlocked traffic. Still we had a good time; we zoomed across the inner harbor out to the open ocean, then to a great beach for snorkeling. I didn’t feel like snorkeling at that point, so I just dropped into the water and floated around for a bit. I had the same issue getting back INTO the boat, and had to have some help. Lisa found a perfect sand dollar while snorkeling, but unfortunately it didn’t survive transportation. We got back just in time to do a little shopping, but not nearly as much as we had hoped.  We had been told St. Maarten was the best shopping in the islands. St. Maarten was also the busiest port we had been to, with three cruise ships tied up at the same pier. Unfortunately we missed the departure, where they opened up the helipad on the very front of the ship to passengers for the only time.

Then we had two days back at sea, which was kind of a relief after all the activity. We spent a lot of time reading and just hanging out. I particularly got to like the espresso lounge, where you could sit in a comfy chair with a good view and read quietly. We also did some shopping onboard, and sat in the game room and played Yahtzee one night. The last night we went to the “Tuscan steakhouse” specialty restaurant, which was excellent. And the weather got a bit rough there toward the end; Lisa shot some video of the pool sloshing around which is kind of fun. All in all our shipboard experience was pretty good. There were a lot of older folks on the boat, who seemed mostly to be from New Jersey :) as well as a lot of travelers from foreign countries. We met a lot of British folks, Italians, Spanish, and a bunch of other countries. The weather was uniformly good until the end; we got a lot of pool time in and yet I managed not to sunburn myself, which is a minor miracle. Lisa’s health was good and we were able to do a lot of things. The ship had internet connectivity, but it was slow. We did watch a few on demand movies as well before going to sleep. I do not recommend Bride Wars, but The Vikings with Kirk Douglas was a lot of fun.

We got back to Fort Lauderdale on Xmas Eve, and managed to collect all of our stuff, pick up our rental car, and bug out to Orlando. Our car was a silver Dodge Charger that looked kind of like a cop car, which I think caused some odd behavior now and again among our fellow drivers. But it had satellite radio and we were able to make it on up to the Worldmark condo in Orlando in good time. So we went over to Downtown Disney and visited Pleasure Island, lamenting the fact that Disney was forced to close down the many clubs. Apparently they were having security issues and gang activity. Too bad. But we were still able to get drinks; there was a little Mai Tai hut right by the old 70s club that had the strongest drinks we encountered on the whole trip. Woo hoo. Turns out Downtown Disney is a lot easier to deal with when you have a buzz on :). We also stopped to admire a big balloon with Mary Poppins on the side, which for $16 would take you up 600 feet. Unfortunately I made a tactical error at that point and mentioned that I had never seen Mary Poppins *or* the Sound of Music. Whoops. So when we got back I was forced to watch both. In a row.

We went down to the House of Blues then, did some shopping (got a great bowling shirt) and had blue drinks and dinner; OK but not great. We then intended to see Avatar at the giant cinema there but they were sold out, so we saw Up In The Air instead. Really interesting and smart movie. Highly recommended.

The next day, of course, was Xmas, and our plan was to go to the Magic Kingdom, thinking that it would not be crowded. Well, we were WRONG about that. And it rained a good portion of the day. Sigh. Still we had fun and got to do pretty much everything we wanted. In my mind, though, the Florida park is not as good as California. There is no Indiana Jones ride, no submarine, and no Matterhorn! The castle is a lot bigger than in California, though, and has a restaurant in it, which is apparently booked decades in advance. And the Haunted Mansion is completely different, kind of just tacked onto one end of things with no New Orleans square. Hmph.We did go on the sternwheeler and the thing that replaced the Peoplemover.

When we left Lisa wanted to go visit the Grand Floridian where she had stayed before. We ended up having a surprisingly good but expensive dinner there. Awesome pork chop. It’s a really nice hotel and had a giant xmas tree in the central atrium.

Our plan then was to go to the Hollywood Studio park on Saturday, and end up at EPCOT where Lisa had a pass to the Siemens VIP suite at Spaceship Earth. We got to the Hollywood park around lunchtime and had lunch in the 50’s drive-in diner, which is really cool. You sit in these little cars while they project old sci-fi movie trailers on a giant screen. Way fun. Then we watched a short movie about Walt Disney’s life, and rode the Tower of Terror. By the time we got to Epcot, it was five PM and unfortunately the VIP center had closed at one. Sigh. Then we tried to get something to eat at Epcot, which was just impossible. Finally we ended up going to the American section and getting some fast food. But *then* we got a funnel cake, which is my new favorite dessert. Wow. Then we went on the GM Test Track, which is a pretty fun ride where you are in a car-like thing which is taken through a bunch of auto test scenarios, eventually accelerating up to 65 MPH or so on a banked track in mid air. It was thrilling.

Sunday we decided to go to the Space Center, which is 40 miles east. It, too, was insanely busy. Still we had a good time at the exhibits and the simulated launch. Again we had trouble getting food; you would think at 9 pm on a Sunday night that we could get in SOMEWHERE. But nooooo, we were turned away at three restaurants before we locked in on the Lone Star Saloon and had a pretty good dinner, eventually. But Lisa broke out in a rash for no apparent reason – we think it may have been the peanuts. Hmm.

Monday our flight was at 6:40, so we decided to go BACK to Epcot and go to the VIP center. Which turned out to be well worth it; it’s a quiet spot away from the crowds, and empties directly onto the Spaceship Earth ride. No line! Awesome!!! We also went on the Test Track again, which was equally as much fun in the daylight.

Then we had to come back. Luckily the flight back was a bit better than the way out; the flight crew was friendlier and more liberal with the wine :). All in all a great vacation and it was hard to come home.

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