Sunday, Briefly

Feeling: Like my old self again. AT LAST.

Doing: Catching up on all the things. Working overtime at the day job, teaching my Plotting workshop, and editing for freelance clients. Plus, started costumes for DragonCon…

Not sleeping enough still, but it’s getting better.

Listening to: Cassandra Wilson, BB King (may he rest in peace), Sinatra.

Watching: I saw…

Daawat-e-Ishq (2014) Indian film somewhat (self-referentially) in the Bollywood style. Cute, happy, gorgeous colors and a focus on food/cooking. At the same time, it dissects the very serious problem of arranged marriages, dowry, and independence. Bonus for looking at it not just as a problem for women, but also for men: young men from “better ” households are essentially auctioned off to the highest bidder — the girl whose family can pay the most in dowry (generally presented as “wedding gifts”, though agreed to in advance between the parents). Change comes as much from women saying “I deserve to be valued for who I am” as men saying “I am not an object to be purchased or sold; I deserve love, too”. 5/5*

Nightcrawler (2014) Props to Jake Gyllenhaal for throwing himself into the character; if you’ve never been in the presence of an extreme narcissist — not the charming kind, but the disaffected, disassociated, bordering on sociopath without realizing most everyone around them sees that is something is just “not right” — then this movie might be worth watching. I turned it off three times, kept turning it back on and then giving up again. The main character was simply and purely unlikable. He was a bad guy. He was cold, violent, a thief and a liar. He didn’t bother trying to pretend otherwise; he pursued what he wanted, as if he deserved it no matter who he hurt in the process of getting it. He had, potentially, a few redeeming qualities that you could maybe make out if you squint hard enough, but nothing to show that he was capable of any sort of arc. By the halfway point it in the movie it seemed clear that he was going to be the catalyst for bad things happening to other people, and if he did suffer any consequences, it wouldn’t change him, only be seen as another setback, until he could steal another chance at his American Dream. (I blame the writing/directing here, not the actors, who gave good performances in the limited way they were allowed.) 2/5*

Wayward Pines (ep 1) A dull, Twin Peaks-flavored show without an original bone in its body. Don’t bother with this one unless you’ve never ever seen or read anything about a small town that isn’t what it appears to be in the first ten seconds. (Though this show is obvious from about ten seconds in.) 1/5*

Maggie (2015) Subtle, understated, purposefully anticlimactic (to be discussed further) story about a dying girl in a zombie-infected America. Notable for its stars, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, who gives an excellent performance, even given that I was somewhat distracted by someone else cracking up over the incongruity of a couple of Arnold’s lines. I will probably review this in depth later, depending on whether Don gets there first. (You want his review, honestly. It will have a lot more sarcasm.) Worth watching, so go watch it. 5/5*

Reading: NOTHIN’ BUT BLUE SKIES. Non fiction, reading based on Don’s recommendation. Go read his review here.

Writing: … Nothing, lately. I wish, but there’s too much else to do. Some day soon, I will be able to afford to cut down on freelance work and set aside time for my own writing again. Until then, I’m sneaking in bits of writing time wherever I can, and the last few weeks, there hasn’t been an opportunity. I’m hoping to finish revising a story I wrote a couple of months ago, this week, if the day job isn’t too hectic. (Half our admin staff is out for training, I’ve had to give up lunch breaks and am working late on top of it, so it will just depend on how much paperwork gets dropped on my desk before everyone else returns.)

What are you into lately?

Monday, Briefly.

Feeling: Sick, tired, and tired of being sick. I’ve officially been unwell for an entire month now, between having strep, surgery (which caused a throat injury), throat infection, vertigo, steroid-induced insomnia, and now — because I wasn’t given antibiotics for long enough — acute bronchitis. Ironically, the “invasive head surgery” part seems to have gone perfectly, and if I hadn’t had the complications, I’d have been back on my feet weeks ago.

Doing: Very little. Anyone wondering if I’ve been lazy and/or procrastinating lately should reread the above. I am doing what I can every minute that I can — which is why this blog post was written at 3 am — and a few more things powered by sheer force of will, but I’m behind on a lot. If you’re waiting on me for something, I will get to it. Probably right after I get a full night’s sleep. Or at least, on a day that I can actually breathe.

Listening to: “Uptown Funk”, still, especially because I found out the glorious Dap Kings provided the horns for this song. Video here. It’s fun, it hearkens back to hate-era disco (as in “everyone hates disco”), it features Bruno Mars — who’s starting to impress me with his interest in reviving older musical styles within his largely pop playlist — and did I mention the horn section?

Watching: I saw

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (the first 45 minutes could have been 20, but otherwise, a better film than I expected, and cements Ben Stiller on my very short list of Hollywood celebrities I’d actually want to have a conversation with).

Gremlins, because my son had never seen it. A lot of the dark, campy humor was lost on him — and more noticeable to me than I’d remembered — but he liked Gizmo enough to want a T-shirt with him on it.

Big Hero Six, because my son actually asked if we could watch this, and he rarely likes age-appropriate stuff. (He’s all Blues Clues and Walking Dead. No, I don’t let him watch Walking Dead, outside of the zombie scenes.) It was fun, touching, and while it was limited to a very tight PoV and almost no one did anything important except the MC, all of that focus was on a bright, awkward, Asian kid who wasn’t treated like a minority, just a person, living in a multi ethnic world.

I’m still watching iZombie, Jane the Virgin, and Grimm, whenever there’s a new episode. Other stuff too, if someone else is or I’m really, really, bored, but those are the only three shows on TV that I’m not burnt out on or tired of hoping will improve.

Reading: started Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation.

Writing: Revising last week’s 1700 word SF story into about 2500, when I figured out there would be no character arc unless I added to the beginning. Also trying to finish a 750 word story for this (deadline 4/26/15).

What are you into lately?

On Vinyl: The Jazz Piano Quartet, “Let It Happen”

(In my ongoing series of “records I own which I think you should hear”. Click here for more.)

thejazzpianoquartet-letithappen

Date: June 10 & 11, 1974
Location: RCA Studio A, New York City
Label: RCA, limited release in Quadraphonic sound
The Jazz Piano Quartet (ldr), Roland Hanna, Dick Hyman, Hank Jones, Marian McPartland (p)

10 songs laid down by a quartet of jazz pianists with no other instruments, without rehearsal, with only the barest of notes written beforehand – usually as a jumping off point – and recorded simultaneously without overdubbing… It could have been a disaster. Instead, Dick Hyman, Roland Hanna, Marian McPartland, and Hank Jones nailed every song on the first take.

The soloists are not identified, other than noting that Hyman and McPartland are playing through the left speaker, and Hanna and Jones through the right speaker.  The record starts with a melodic presentation of “Lover Come Back to Me,” then moves into a lower pace on “Maiden Voyage” and “Let It Happen.” The tempo picks back up again with “Here’s That Rainy Day” before side A ends. The B side is more experimental, beginning with the almost-atonal jazz fragments embedded in “Solace” — though never breaks all the way out of the box on that tune. They push the arrangement of Stevie Wonder’s “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” enough that you might not recognize the song until you get to the chorus line; the whole thing reminds me of a more-melodic version of a Bad Plus variation. The third track on side B is the star of the show, putting on display a fully improvised jam inspired by only a 6-bar fragment of a Erik Satie song. The grand finale is the most intense, dramatically-keyed track on the whole album, and literally ends with a bang.

Overall, the album is so excellently played that it’s hard to believe this is the result of a couple of seasoned pros sitting down, playing for two days, and calling it “finished”. Yet that’s exactly what it is. I love this album for the piano, for the way it pushes without taking the listener so far out of their comfort zone that they get turned off, and because it’s a reminder that we don’t always need to edit/revise/edit/revise our work to death. There’s something to be said for being fully confident of our skills, and just getting it done.

Listen to this if you can find it. You won’t regret it.

Track List:

a-01 Lover, Come Back To Me – 2:22 (Sigmund Romberg, Oscar Hammerstein II) / arr: Dick Hyman
a-02 Maiden Voyage – 3:55 (Herbie Hancock) / arr: Dick Hyman
a-03 Let It Happen – 4:21 (Ettore Stratta) / arr: Dick Hyman
a-04 Watch It! – 3:03 (Dick Hyman) / arr: Dick Hyman
a-05 Here’s That Rainy Day – 4:43 (Jimmy Van Heusen, Johnny Burke) / arr: Dick Hyman
b-01 Solace – 3:38 (Scott Joplin) / arr: Dick Hyman
b-02 You Are The Sunshine Of My Life – 3:45 (Stevie Wonder) / arr: Dick Hyman
b-03 Improvviso – 6:48 (Marian McPartland, Dick Hyman, Hank Jones, Roland Hanna) / arr: Dick Hyman
b-04 Warm Valley – 3:38 (Duke Ellington) / arr: Dick Hyman
b-05 How High The Moon – 3:00 (Nancy Hamilton, W. Morgan Lewis) / arr: Dick Hyman

Notes: All titles on: RCA LP 12″: CPL1-0680 — Let It Happen (1974) “Solace” listed as “Variations on Scott Joplin’s ‘Solace'” and credited to Scott Joplin and Dick Hyman. “Improvviso” is based on a fragment by Erik Satie.

Movie review: FRANK (2014)

5/5*

FRANK is a brilliant, introspective, and illuminating film based partially on real events. It follows a bumbling, seemingly talentless, wanna-be musician (Jon) as he gets sucked into the world of a charismatic and mysterious Frank – a man with a paper mache mask for a head. At first, it seems Frank and his pals are the ones with the vision, and Jon is desperate to be someone more than who he is. He craves fame and respect and Frank, he is immediately sure, will help him get there. It quickly becomes obvious to the viewer what John doesn’t realize until later: Frank is severely mentally ill, along with at least a few of his bandmates. His genius isn’t in his wackiness, but is obscured by it; the sad truth is that Frank’s musical talent wasn’t set free by giving in to his illness, but his illness robbed him of the chance to truly express his talent. Outside of the carefully manufactured and strictly guarded world that Frank allows Jon to be a part of, the outside world – let in by John’s tweets and blog posts (part of his desire to connect with others and find his audience) – can clearly see what Jon doesn’t.

John think they’re making avant garde art. The world thinks they’re making a joke.

Warning: vague spoilers ahead Continue reading

On Vinyl: BENNY GOODMAN – The Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert – Vol. 2 (1956)

(In my ongoing series of “records I own which I think you should hear”. Click here for more.)

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The oldest record I currently own is BENNY GOODMAN – The Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert – Vol. 2, though the music in it is slightly preceded by The Swing Years Collector’s Edition, 1936-1946 (not pressed ’til 1966). I have other records which contain music written earlier (performed by Nat King Cole, BB King, etc), but the actual tracks weren’t laid down until the ’60s or later.

Goodman’s January 16, 1938 concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City was called “the single most important jazz or popular music concert in history: jazz’s ‘coming out’ party to the world of ‘respectable’ music.”(1) Put together by his publicist, Wynn Nathanson, Goodman’s performance made him the first jazz bandleader to perform at Carnegie Hall. Goodman was nervous about doing it, but his latest movie, Hollywood Hotel, had lines of fans waiting outside the Paramount lot to see him, so he went ahead. Why was he nervous? At the time, the Hall was considered “An import house of Old World traditions where snobby smirks toward American culture had a way of making status-sensitive Yankees feel like Babbitts for comparing Gershwin to Wagner or Tatum to Horowitz….”(2)

It’s important to know that this was one of the first public concerts to feature a racially integrated group, which helped to convince white audiences that jazz could be an “elevated” form of music, though they were aware of its beginnings with mostly-black bands. The show sold out, even with a higher than usual ticket price. It started with a couple of contemporary songs, segued into a history of jazz, including some guest appearances by Count Basie (his Hall debut) and members of the Duke Ellington band, before heading into the songs that had made Goodman famous. Lionel Hampton and Gene Krupa, shown in the photo below, were there, as were Buck Clayton, Johnny Hodges, Walter Page, Lester Young, Harry Carney, and Freddie Green.

The event—one of the first public concerts to feature a racially integrated group—helped elevate the status of swing music, and included some of the brightest jazz luminaries of the day. Count Basie, making his Carnegie Hall debut, appeared as a guest, and members of Duke Ellington’s orchestra also participated. Lionel Hampton and Gene Krupa, shown in this photo, were there, as were Buck Clayton, Johnny Hodges, Walter Page, Lester Young, Harry Carney, and Freddie Green.

Continue reading