Monday, October 31, 2005

It all becomes clear

It was a little less autumn-like this weekend. The daylight saving hours and a sudden increase in temperature made the weekend somehow more upbeat and less morose, and I had one of the best weekends in a long time. You could call it a blues weekend, if you will. But it was more than that.

Friday night I saw Mary Shaver in one of her best performances ever with the legendary Keith Grimes and Raice MacLeod (of the Eva Cassidy Band fame) at Summit Station. It was 80% pop and 20% blues, but what the hey? I liked it. It gave more room for Mary to do what she was good at, which was howlin' and growlin'. I never saw Mary as a traditional blues singer anyway. She is more versatile than just blues, and there's nothing wrong with that. Spence is always reliable and laid-back on the bass. He'll be playing with us at Barefoot Pelican this Friday, so stay tuned.

And of course, with Clarence being out of town, I had the opportunity to work with people I like this Saturday at the Majestic. And I got myself two superstars: Linwood Taylor and Whop Frazier. I may not be a great harp player, but I've got great friends in the business who will always help me out. This was the first time I worked with Linwood, though I met him and spoke to him on the phone a few times before. His guitar stylings are very different from Clarence's - he's more refined, restrained, meticulous, full of surprising chops. A very tasteful player all in all. Most of all, he's a nice guy and he has no ego about this biz though he's been on the scene for many a-year. After the show, Linwood came up to me and said, "I don't like harp players, but I like you." That statement alone beats winning any competition.

Sunday night I saw my hero Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers once again at Rams Head. What a show! They're still the tightest existing blues band in the universe (even though Honey told me their new drummer is only one-month old). He could play! Rod played the usual Piazza set with a little show-off time from every member of the band. Bill Stuve, Henry C, Honey were all on top of their game. Rod paid tribute to Little Walter on two songs, "Mellow Down Easy" and "Key to the Highway." I might go check out their Blues Alley show again on Tuesday because I didn't get enough of it. After the show, I had a great chat with Rod and Honey. Honey was impressed that I play with Big Joe and we were also chatting out their ex-drummer Jimi Bott and how much he loves talking about the old days. We all do.

So apparently Clarence didn't win. My little scientific experiment failed. I wasn't the factor that made Clarence lose both years before. But what is it? What keeps him from winning? Waverly and I had exchanged e-mail correspondence about our feelings toward the competition. That's no rhyme or reason to it. Bottomline is: I made a conscious decision not to be part of it because I knew I would have a much better time at Rams Head watching the Mighty Flyers and apparently I did.

For me, learning the blues straight from the greats beats winning any competition. I told Linwood that when I was playing with him, it was almost like he was passing the wisdom and knowledge to me since he had worked with such greats as Albert Collins and Johnny Copeland. The Clarence Turner Blues Band has done alright for the last three to four years. For one thing, prominent blues musicians who are in their own league don't mind working with us and letting Clarence and I do our thing even though they are not being in the spotlight. That's saying a whole lot.

Paying dues is a painstaking process. You sometimes don't immediately get the results that you want. In the case of Clarence, his fame is long overdue. For me, I'm just grateful I'm surrounded by the best possible cats in this biz, not only in DC, but in the whole industry. The best feeling about playing the blues is when you're owning the stage and doing what you do and then you ask the audience, "Are you with me?" and the answer is in the affirmative.

That is the best feeling of all.


Friday, October 28, 2005

Just want to share the following excerpt from Roger Ebert's review of "Shopgirl."

"I've been around a long time, and young men, if there is one thing I know, it is that the only way to kiss a girl for the first time is to look like you want to and intend do, and move in fast enough to seem eager but slow enough to give her a chance to say "So anyway ..." and look up as if she's trying to remember your name."

Very well-written indeed.

Or as what Bill Heid would say, "I wanna make a curly W out of you."

You dig!


Monday, October 24, 2005

Too much has happened, too little to report

First off, Shirley Horn passed away. I saw Shirley twice. Once at Blues Alley where she was sitting next to me on a wheelchair watching Larry Willis, Buster Williams, and Ben Riley. The second time I saw her on stage in the Library of Congress she was on a wheelchair too. She still sounded good though she wasn't playing the piano. I heard that she started playing the piano again months before she died. She was a bright star in DC and all of the world. Her legacy will continue.

This is a great article about Shirley Horn's career.

Still haven't had a chance to comment on the new Fiona Apple CD. I've been enjoying it though. The new Stevie Wonder CD also came out. Haven't listened to it yet.

Lately I've been expanding my musical horizon, just listening to a variety of stuff. It's good to stay away from the blues in awhile. It's bogging my creativity and logic.

Autumn is coming. Hence then Chet Baker mood. It's nice though. It's just that time of the year where everything falls into place. It's a moment when people start to re-think their priorities.

Also saw Steve Martin's "Shopgirl" in a sneak preview show. I gotta say Martin's writing is very strong, especially in the first 45 minutes of the film, the dialogue seems very real to me. Jason Schwartzman's performance is inspired, outgrowing his Max Fisher role in "Rushmore." Claire Danes seems out of place. You can see why she's the logical choice for the role, but it is just not a very appealing role.

The movies season has begun. The awards season is goingto begin. Life's just beginning.


Thursday, October 20, 2005

The piano is the least racist instrument because blacks and whites live happily together on it.

The harmonica is the most racist instrument because even though the words "Made in Germany" are printed on it, black youths in the DC subway claim they invented it. Once upon a time, an Asian guy played it at HR-57 (the place that is supposed to promote racial harmony), the owner said to the Asian guy, "You don't know ebonics."


Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Master of the universe

There's a huge difference between a mere musician and a music master. There are many musicians in the world (too many if you ask me). But masters are few and far between.

There are five ingredients one needs to become a master. First, she and the instrument must become one. There's no separation between two. The instrument thinks what the master thinks and the two operate as one unit. All her emotions are being carried out by her instrument. She is the music itself.

Second, there's no time for thinking. At the master stage, technique and skills become secondary. A master will not think what he's going to play. He simply plays. The mind he enters becomes a world of his own. In this world, he's free to create his own music because there's no limit for innovation.

Third, a master must truly capture the audience's heart. Performance and excitement level are the most important at this stage. One cannot play something so profound that no one can understand and agree with you. In other words, you cannot be boring. Yet, one needs to generate enough emotions that will strike a chord with the audience. In order to promote your art, there must be people who listen to you and support you. One cannot afford to lose one spectator. That's why in my opinion, people like John Cage, Philip Glass, Keith Jarrett, Pat Metheny are not masters because their music do not resonate with the audience.

Fourth, the master status is only attained through others. One cannot call herself a master. One can only be a master if she's being called by others, notably her peers, critics, people who have enough knowledge in the field, etc. One should not be proud if certian critics call her a "master," however. Critics, as we all know, are very opinionated people. Being called a master by one critic should not be a "be all end all." A true master will ignore what a critic says but embrace the opinions (even criticism) of those who truly appreciate his art. Self-proclaimed masters are indeed the "anti-masters" because they abuse the very essence of the word.

Finally, a true master will stand the test of time. Some music may sound good when it first came out, but it became a laughing stock years later, e.g. Donny Osmond. The true test is time. If someone's music is eternally acclaimed, then the master status is hard to destroy. But beware of the volatility of time. For example, Elton John, Rod Stewart, and Barry Manilow were loved by the mass in the 70's, trashed by critics in the 80's, and embraced again today. Well, minds can be changed one more time before dinner.

Examples of masters are as follows (for illustration purpose):
Dr. Lonnie Smith is the master of the organ;
Toots Thielemans is the master of the chromatic harmonica;
Stevie Wonder is also the master of the chromatic harmonica;
Carlos Santana is the master of the guitar;
Oscar Peterson is the master of the jazz piano;
Ron Carter is the of the upright bass;
Max Roach is the master of the drums;
Bobby Bland is the master of soul blues ballads; and
James Brown is the master of soul music.

Now you know what I mean.


Monday, October 17, 2005

Over the weekend rainbow

There ain't nothing like hanging with Dr. Lonnie Smith backstage. He's still at the top of his game.

Attended Jeff's housewarming party. He did some nice stuff to it. It's now a cozy little crib. Also finally met the legendary Ms. McDonald. Unlike her blog entries, she's very chilled and laid-back. It's amusing how blog personas can be somewhat deceiving. In my case, I'm just a nice guy in real life.

I'm overwhelmed with music. I'm going to stay off that for awhile.

Now the autumn mood picks up. I must return to doing nostalgic things I did two years ago. Life happens in alternate years.


Thursday, October 13, 2005

Shows I'll be attending this autumn

10/16 Sunday 4 p.m. Dr. Lonnie Smith @ New Haven Lounge

10/28 Friday 8 p.m. Mary Shaver Band @ Summit Station

10/30 Sunday 7 p.m. Rod Piazza & Mighty Flyers @ Rams Head Annapolis

11/17 Thursday 9:30 p.m. Eldar @ KC Jazz Club

11/21 Monday 8 p.m. Shemeika Copeland @ Rams Head Annapolis (Maybe?)

12/11 Sunday 8 p.m. Joshua Redman @ Blues Alley (Maybe?)

12/23 Friday 8:30 p.m. Frank Wess & Junior Mance @ Rams Head Annapolis (Maybe?)


Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Smurfs are bombed in a Belgian ad

Find out why here.


Tuesday, October 11, 2005

My good friend Sam Smith

I just received notice from Chris Grasso that the fabulous vocalist and my good friend Sam Smith passed away early this morning. Sam was an exceptional vocalist, blending R&B into jazz singing. Always at ease, always relaxed, he delivered showstopping phrases that only he could pull it off, and he never interpreted the same song twice. There was always something refreshing/original about his singing, not to mention his "larger than life" lung capacity. Sam was an easy-going person: humble, polite, always smiling and telling jokes. He was one of the reasons why I frequented Henley Park. And he would always get me up to do a few songs with him.

I'm sure Sam's death is going to make many of us temporarily philosophers. Cliches aside, I'd like to take this chance to voice something I've always wanted to say. Sam was a great musician and he could sing his ass off, yet he remained a humble cat. The same with people like Herbie Hancock, Lewis Nash, Ray Brown, Dr. Lonnie Smith. These world-class musicians have no attitude and they embrace the world like they have always done. Music was only a means to an end to them, not an end in itself. And some of these people were even pioneers of this music. Yet, there are some local jazz and blues musicians who behave like they are 1000's of Billie Holidays and B.B. Kings and think that they're the next coming of Christ. Shame on you! Shame on all of you! Sam Smith's humble and carefree attitude will always remain my example.

This is from Sam's sister:
"He is up in Heaven now with our Mother and my daughter, Sam past away early this Tuesday morning around 1:30am Oct 11, 2005, he was in no pain and died in peace and love from all his family and friends here in Seattle, he had a great last two weeks here and laugh and joke and up till the time, he stop eating and talking, which was around last Thursday or Friday, he only ate a little on Saturday and talk with the Aide nurse that he jokes around with.

Family is glad he did not have to suffer - God took him away us - but he will always be in our hearts and I can just hear him Singing now.

Keep in touch and I try to tell you about - when the body can be review and the Memorial Service I have choosen Saturday Oct 22 around 1:00pm at 16th & fir, same church we all grew up in, same as where our mom and my daughter service was. Lets come and celebrate his Life on that day.

Sister Margaret and Brother Calvin Smith"

Sam, may God rest you in peace. You're an angel and you always will be.


I've got a right to play the blues

This weekend marked one of the most important weekends for the Clarence Turner Blues Band. We played two of our best and most successful gigs: Friday night at Bohemian Caverns and Saturday night at a church in Columbia, MD. Of course, the loyal and always fun Solid Gold Dancers showed up on Friday night, burning the dance floor with some nice blues dance. Sue, who is a Mary Ann Redmond fan and a producer from the local radio station, WRYR-LP 97.5 FM, also praised our performance, bought a CD, and said she would play "I'm Tore Down" during her show at 7:30 p.m. tonight. I'll be tuning in tonight.

If Friday night was a warmup night, then Saturday night was the main course. We played probably our best performance (The Blues Alley show comes super close) ever. The concert was sold out and about 150-170 attended. There was literally heartfelt applause after each inspired solo and the "Columbians" knew what they were hearing and clapping about. After the show, Sean said, "I wish every show was like this. That way, I'll just quit my job."

Bill Heid delivered some of the best solos I've heard him play, including a five-minute unaccompanied boogie woogie solo that brought the house down!! Afterwards, I asked Bill why he doesn't play like that all the time, he said he only shows off during big concerts like this because "it'll likely drive the audience nuts." Yeah, can you imagine doing something like that at Cafe Toulouse when people are there to get drunk and loud?

It was a memorable night of good music. Better yet, the Columbia Flier had a featured article about us and the 2nd Saturday concert series in general. Dennis Ottey, the organizer of the event, had something good to say about the band, and particularly, myself.

Well, I'm hoping these two shows will place Clarence Turner Blues Band on the next level. This is great timing because Clarence is embarking on his first European tour this weekend. He'll no doubt be a superstar over there in Amsterdam. I hope he'll remember me and those who have backed him when becomes a big star. I just want to take this opportunity to thank those who attended either of our performances this weekend and supported the band throughout the years. In particular, I would like to thank: Mr. & Mrs. Felix McClairen, Dave and Becky Weatherford, Fred, Sue, Sarah and the Solid Gold Dancers.

For those who have never approved of my playing, I'm still doing it and you can't stop me.


Review of Crash

"Crash" as a movie has many problems. However, since I'm devoting my time to write a review of it, it's saying something. It's an ambitious effort that tackles an important issue called racism in America, especially in LA. But it's too obvious. And racism is not as black-and-white as the movie portrays it. Even though the movie treats blacks and whites as multi-dimensional characters, it still looks at Asian and Middle Eastern people with one-dimensional character. This still shows that while gringo directors are slowly undrestanding the African-American culture, they still have no clue about what Asian and other non-mianstream cultures think and behave. For a more accurate portrayal of Chinese and black culture, try "Rush Hour 2" starring Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker. ("Never mess with a black man's radio.")

I admire Paul Haggis's courage to tackle such momentus issues, but he needs to do more research. His previous screenplay "Million Dollar Baby" was more successful in the way that it was more subtle and was less meticulously calculated. The dialogue in this movie, on the other hand, seems forced and unlikely. The only situation in this movie that I believe would actually happen in real life is Matt Dillon's encounter with a black female employee at the HMO office. That is a scene that most of us can identify with.

Though the movie is problematic, it makes us think. It makes us think about the inequality in this world, especially in America. However, by showing us the different scenarios in the film, Mr. Haggis also shows us the typical white man's view about racial inequality, which is very limited. It increases the viewer's awareness about the race issues, but it simultaneous shows his weakness in not looking at racism from all angles. Another movie that comes to mind is a failed Asian-American film "Better Luck Tomorrow." It's a movie about Asian-Americans from an Asian-American point-of-view except that in reality Asian-Americans do not act like that. Similarly, Haggis would like us to think blacks, whites, Koreans, Iranians, Latinos act the way they do in the film; unfortunately, that is far away from the truth.

The main problem of "Crash" is: In order to overcome stereotypes, the film is trapped in the very stereotypes it seeks to overcome.

I would mildly recommend the film to those who care about race issues and those who seek to admire courageous writing and directing, if you don't mind the movie wandering aimlessly and arriving at no set conclusion.


Thursday, October 06, 2005

I'm not an eccentric

Some people criticize me for not liking mainstream pop music. That's not true. The last two big concerts I went to were Prince and Alicia Keys. And when James Taylor, Sting, Paul Simon, and even Beta Band comes out with a new CD, I usually go buy it or search for a cheaper version of it on eBay. My next acquisition is going to be the new Fiona Apple album, which I haven't purchased yet. But I've heard that it's "sublime" and "worth the wait." If any of you have heard it, even through the Borders listening station, let me know how you think it is.

I've followed Fiona for about 5 years now. I thought her first album "Tidal" hit the mass with a bang; and it was that good. The second "When the Pawn................." took an even further step towards fine artistry, even though it was a bit low-key. Musically speaking, it was refreshing, exciting, coherent, and most of all, pleasing to the ears. Some of the stuff out there may have great artistic value, but if it's melodically challenged, I might just stay home and listen to good ole Everly Brothers tunes like "All I Have to Do is Dream." What happened to the good old-fashioned love songs?

And I'm not that big of a fan for art-house movies. I saw the new Jodie Foster movie and I liked it a lot. See? I'm mainstream. Though I'm a Hank Mobley/Lee Morgan fan at heart, and I even liked the weird Wayne Shorter shit, I'm all for the good music and movies out there. Case in point: I even saw the horrible "War of the Worlds."

I'm not that discriminating. I'm merely trying to appreciate life without sacrificing my good taste.


Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Who's Who of DC Blues

Dave and I were talking about a dream team in DC Blues. I said, I don't think such a thing exists. But I came up with a list of the bestest blues players in the DC metro area. I'm sure this list is bound to offend some people, but this is just one man's opinion. Here it is:

Vocalists: Jesse Yawn, Mary Ann Redmond, Juanita Williams, Julia Nixon, Kelly Bell, Billy Hancock

Saxes: Joe Stanley, Gene Meros, Ron Holloway, Chris Waitling

Harmonicas: Phil Wiggins, Charlie Sayles, Roger Edsall, Larry Tapper, Glenn Moomau, Rich Sampson, Doug Jay, Bruce Ewan

Guitars: Rusty Bogart, Clarence Turner, Bobby Parker, Linwood Taylor, Pete Kanaras, Tom Principato, Mike Dutton, Steve Jacobs, John Cephas

Piano/Keyboards: Deanna Bogart, Bill Heid, Kevin McKendree, Tommy Lepson, Benjie Porecki, Ann Rabson, Daryl Davis

Bass: Brian McGregor, Whop Frazier, Spencer Lickliter, Jeff Sarli, Wayne Davis

Drums: Big Joe Maher, Pete Ragusa, Robbie Magruder, Clark Matthews, El Torro Gamble, Dave Elliott

Sue me now!


Sunday, October 02, 2005

I am starting to write about music again...

I stopped writing about music for a while because there are some ill-willed individuals who ready my blog and take what I write out of context and slander me. I think I have a rough idea who these individuals are. Shame on you! But then, a few people including krawdaddie (my man in N. Cali.) and Justin say that my strongest writing is music-related stuff. So I decided to write about music again.

First off, I attended the first annual Duke Ellington Jazz Festival on Saturday. I saw Wayne Shorter, a legend that I always wanted to see and was delighted to have finally seen him. His quartet played a fine set of music that was just plain beautiful. It wasn't straight-ahead jazz; it was avant-garde pro-African music with unlimited room for improvisation. Wayne had trouble walking, but he had no trouble playing both tenor and soprano saxes, and he was fantastic! He gave a lot of room for his sidemen to imagine and execute his ideas. John Patitucci and Brian Blade (who also played in the Hancock, Brecker, Hargrove band together) knew and played off each other like husband and wife. Seeing those two intereact was worth the price of admission which, in this case, was free. You gotta give credit to the DC government and sponsors for putting this together. I just laid on the lawn, listened to Wayne, and started to daydream. It was the perfect music to daydream. After witnessing Wayne Shorter first-hand, I know now why's he's a legend. He will always be a momentus figure in the genre of the music.

Then, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band came on and did their New Orleans thing. I saw them once before some two years ago at State Theatre. These performances were very similar. But it was mainstream New Orleans street music that made everybody feel good. Most people stood up and started dancing. I still laid on the lawn and daydreamt. After 5 or 6 songs, they invited DC's own go-go godfather Chuck Brown to join them for a song called, "Who parked the car?" Chuck Brown shone on that song. Not only was his a great entertainer, he was also great singer, guitarist and frontman. It was my first time seeing Chuck Brown and he really lived up to his reputation and it was a truly eyepopping experience. After the song, he humbly said, "I haven't played this fast in like ten years." Clarence mentioned that Chuck is close to 70 years old. I just don't believe it. His energy and youthfulness makes him look like he's in his early 40's. I was starstruck.

Friday night I played a great wedding gig with some of the finest musicians in the name of the blues today: Big Joe Maher, Bill Heid, Whop Frazier, and Clarence Turner. Each one of them can hold his own as one of the leading players in the instrument. Despite some personality clash between Whop and Bill, the gig was pitch-perfect. Whop even said, "You're doing good for yourself. Only you can put such a lineup together cuz everybody wants to work with you." Well, it might have something more to do with that, but thanks Whop for his compliments. In fact, Joe and Whop hadn't seen each other for years and they chatted for 45 minutes for old time's sake before the gig in the parking lot. We talked about everything. It was like a musical fraternity and I was welcomed to the club. No wonder why Clarence said to me after the gig, "We were hanging with the big boys." Yes we were!

I finally got the proper respect that I deserved. So long midgets. Hold on I'm coming big boys.

To top the story off, my uncle Dave from LA called me Saturday afternoon and asked, "Guess who's buying a BMW from me now?"


"Danny Summer."


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