Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Marine Corp Historic Half Marathon Race Course

Sunday morning, 7:00 AM, I become a runner again.

Nad and I are running the Inaugural Marine Corps Historic Half Marathon this weekend, held in my (sorta) hometown of Fredericksburg, VA. I am so not trained. For those of you who are, check out this write up of the course by the WhiteKenyan:

I met up with B, M and a few other guys Sunday morning and we ran the “Historic” Marine Corps ½ Marathon coarse for our long run. It was pouring rain when we started but in the upper 50’s so it wasn’t too bad.

The Expo Center has tons of parking and there are lots of parking lots near by so it won’t be bad getting there to morning of the race.

Most of the first mile is flat. As you make the left onto Cowan Blvd. there is a small hill. After the mile 1 marker there is a medium hill that takes you over I95. It’s pretty much downhill through the mile 2 marker and the rest of Cowan Blvd. After making a right onto Keeneland Road there is a short fairly steep hill. After cresting the hill it’s downhill to the mile 3 marker. Route 3 is pretty much flat from what I remember. You run up a decent hill after making a left onto Williams Street. As you approach UMW and your left it’s downhill to the 4 mile marker. After making a left onto Sunken Rd. there is a slight uphill followed by a slight downhill. The coarse weaves through the neighborhood as you pass mile 5 and follow Kenmore back to Williams Street. There is a bit of and incline when you’re on Williams street before making a left onto Washington. There is a nice downhill as you pass mile 6. After mile 6 it’s mostly flat as you run though Old Town F’burg until about 8 ½ miles. There is a short hill after going underneath Route 1. There is a little bit of a downhill around mile 9 ½. You will be on the canal path as you pass mile 10 (pretty much flat).

About mile 10 ½ as you turn onto Mary Washington Blvd you start to climb the most significant hill of the race. The hill actually flattens out about half way up it for little bit. The first half is less steep then the second half. By the time you hit the traffic circle at mile 11 it flattens out and there is a downhill as you turn and run down Cowan. Keep in mind once you turn on Cowan you are running the opposite way from Mile 0-2. There is a step hill as you approach I95 but it’s nothing after getting up the hill by the hospital. Once you get to the top of the over pass it’s down hill then flat the rest of the way.

Over all the most significant hills are as you cross the 95 overpass (both ways, ~mile1.25 and just before mile 12). The beginning of Williams Street at ~3.5 miles). And finally the Hospital hill from mile 10.5 to 11.

I’m probably slightly bias on what is considered a hill since we run these roads all the time but it’s really not that bad. Get ready to have some fun!!! See you May 18th.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Give the people what they want?

In all honesty, I can't STAND "Take the 'A' Train."

It grates on me almost as much as "Satin Doll," which is my #1 most hated song. I love me some Duke, but I could honestly live out the rest of my life never hearing either one of those two tunes again!

I was just raging about "A Train" the other day to Joseph. Which is why I sat in complete shock, giving him my dirtiest teacher glare, when the other night at his Garage hit, near the end of his second set, I heard the iconic piano intro to "Take the 'A' Train." "WTF?", I glared with my eyes. He gave me a "give the people what they want" shrug and launched full on into the opening melody.

"Yeah! Take the A Train!" exclaimed the boyfriend of my friend whom I was sitting with.

"Excuse me," I muttered, deciding this was the ideal time for a bathroom break.

A few minutes later I returned to the bar, and became cognisant of an increase in noise level. Why are these half drunk trendy twenty-somethings sitting next to me all of a sudden so rowdy? And my awareness was shifted back to the band, where the pianist, Brooks Hartell, was banging out a 6 chorus, perfectly crafted, fantastically inspired stride piano solo, and the people were actually cheering him on!

I shut my eyes and for half a second felt transported back into "the day." The day when the unknown pianist sat at the out of tune piano at the local speakeasy playing for the non-musicians who actually liked the blues licks and improvised solos, inspiring them to dance and become rowdy, giving "jazz" the reputation of being devil music. This is what is must have been like, when people liked jazz and appreciated jazz, and the music was more about the sounds as they happened and less about the harmonic analysis or intellectual composition techniques.

We jazzers certainly like to (dare I say) over-think our music. There has been a lot of discussion recently regarding the place of vocabulary (read the comments) and education (IAJE's bankruptcy) within the vast, yet vague world of jazz. These are complicated issues with circumstantial answers. And yet I can't help but feel that we as jazz musicians, whose very nature is intrinsic to making order out of chaos, bring on the complexities of our genre ourselves. Our world is very small, very young, and currently very under-appreciated. It's hard for us to just let music be music, be it bebop, third stream, dixieland, big band, avant garde, or any other sub-genre of jazz. We feel the need to understand and define every aspect of the creation of the music, the social impacts of the music, the education or "street cred" of the music, and the category that the music falls into. Our egos are easily bruised and we look to one another for validation.

It is because of this jazz trait that I can't let "The 'A'' Train" go. I can't help but ponder the popularity of the song. Is it because it's about a subway line (an unreliable one at that!) in NYC and everyone (including New Yorkers) are fascinated with anything NY? Is it because Duke did an exceptional job of promoting this song back in the day so that it became ingrained in everyday life? Perhaps it was the educational system who chose this song as it's token jazz tune, thereby brainwashing America into thinking it is the only good jazz tune. Or maybe it's because that opening line is just so damn catchy?

Why? WHY! my over analytical brain screams! Duke, and others, had so many great songs, why was THIS the one that is recognizable by almost every non-musical person out there?

And then I think...

What does it matter? Aside from perhaps wanting to discover a magic formula for making my own tunes so popular, does it really matter why audiences love "Take the 'A' Train?" At least it's a Duke tune and not some crap like "Yakkity Sax."

And the thing is, it does work like magic!

For the first set and a half, Joseph and his quartet played a great balance of standards and originals. It was wonderful playing, but they really could have been up there reciting scales over and over for all the patrons of the restaurant cared. No one applauded after solos, and no one acknowledged the band when they were introduced at the end of the set. That's not so abnormal, as the venue is after all a restaurant and bar, not a jazz hall. However, after hearing "'A' Train," the now drunk twenty-somethings were all into the music, cheering for all the tunes, and even staying for all 4 sets. All of a sudden the music was alive to them, and there was an energy and communication in the room. Isn't that what we as musicians, any musician regardless of genre, strive for? A connection to the listener?

Now I think it's safe to guess that the drunkards did not stick around because they were instantly transformed into active jazz listeners, eager to interpret the improvisations and arrangements of the tunes to come. But it is highly likely that the music created such an energy and vibe that fit the mood of the pending hook-ups, that the crowds stayed, if not for the genius of the music, but for the environment it created. I think we need to realize that our music does still serve that function. While we with our educated compositional minds do yearn to express and communicate various personal agendas with our music, we need to remember that if we want to call our music jazz, then we need to embrace the historical roots of jazz as (deep breath)... entertainment.

The word "entertainment" has a negative connotation these days. I hear "entertainment" and I think Britney Spears, cheesy chick flicks, and rag mags. But entertainment is defined as "something affording pleasure, diversion, or amusement, esp. a performance of some kind."

Our music is amazing in that it has the ability to be intricate, multi-layered, and in need of a (musically) intelligent listener to fully grasp the fullness and genius of the music. At the same time, the music can appeal to those who simply want to be diverted, pleased, and amused. We need not always have both goals within the same song, set, or performance. I do think there is a time for a more serious concert performance, and a place for the "lite" set. I also think it is possible to achieve both at that same time. Regardless of the your intent as a musician, I don't think we should value one goal above the other.

It is for that reason that I feel a bit ashamed of my elitist reaction to "the 'A' Train." My snobbery doesn't help the cause of jazz, or the essence of music for that matter. I won't quit trying to perfect the high level of expression and storytelling I hope to achieve through my compositions, but when it comes to playing for a young crowd, on a Saturday night, at a bar, after a long work week, isn't it okay, especially if it helps reel listeners in, to just count off a swing beat, and give the people what they want?

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Celestial Bodies

I got my first Lois Greenfield calendar back in 2001, I think.

I never tire of seeing each month's amazing depiction of dancers caught mid-movement in a sort of immortal expression. I find the strength and poise of the dancers' bodies frozen by Greenfield's quick eye to be an inspiration of creative expression, and motivation to get back in the gym!

I was quite saddened this year when I could not find the 2008 Breaking Bounds calendar and have been with out my monthly dose of awe. So I was very excited when I received an email from Dance New Amsterdam announcing an exhibit of Greenfield's work.

Celestial Bodies opened last night in the gallery at Dance New Amsterdam, my favorite dance studio in the city. DNA, as we like to refer to it, has really remade itself in the last few years. When I first started taking class there in 2004, they were located in SOHO in a run-down converted factory on Broadway, and was called Dance Space Center. The place had an established, gritty feel to it that will never be replaced by its new shiny and polished studios, now located in the Financial District. But with the location and name change, many new opportunities have presented themselves to the dancers of DNA. The current location offers a theater, studio and office space rentals, a pilates and wellness studio, performance opportunities, and now, an art gallery.

Joseph and I arrived to the opening night reception fashionably late. We barely managed to snag the last two glasses of the obligatory free wine before the drink table closed. I was a bit disappointed to see that there were only two walls of photographs on display; we made our first round in under 5 minutes. With our second lap, wine securely in hand, we lingered and were more comfortable whispering impressions of the photographs. Not unlike listening to a new CD for the first and second times, far more detail and emotion stood out on this second walk through. Words such as "discomfort," "sensual," and "biblical" were exchanged in a pseudo-intellectual attempt to see more depth in what at first glance are simply mostly naked, really fit men and women. We marveled at the use of fabrics and mirrors to create a multi-dimensional image. We had fun playing (if not geeky) games of "what sounds/music do you hear looking at this picture" and "which photos would you collect in a set for your living room wall."

The space is rather small and I scanned it religiously on the slim but possible chance of seeing someone I knew. My presence in the dance world was too short lived, but several dancers that I went to school with and others that I met during my three summers at the American Dance Festival are here in NY working professionally and are affiliated with DNA. I am constantly yearning to resubmerge myself into the world of modern dance, both as a musician and a dancer.

As expected, after attending this exhibit, seeing the beautifully photographed dancers as well as the living, breathing dancers who were also in attendance, my motivation to return to dance is renewed. Chambers Street, where DNA is located, is quite a trek for ten or so photographs, but if you have some time, or happen to be in the area, a stop into the gallery will yield nothing if not an awesome appreciation for the dancers' sculpted bodies, and perhaps elicit an emotion or two to inspire and motivate you toward your innermost aspirations.

"Celestial Bodies" will be on exhibit until Aug 31. Dance New Amsterdam is located at 280 Broadway, 2nd Floor (entrance on Chambers). Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday–Sunday. 212.625.8369