Sunday, December 30, 2007

Sweet Dreams Are Made Of These

Great show last night at Boston's Orpheum Theater. The Dresden Dolls, with openers Meow Meow, The Luminescent Orchestrii, and the Lexington High School Drama Club. The traditional carnival atmosphere of Dolls shows prevailed, with performers throughout the venue - living statues, performance artists and more, including the girl dressed in the provocative nurse's outfit serving a platter of crushed strawberry shortcake that looked as if it may have just come out of the operating room. Gross - I didn't have any!

Amanda Palmer was under the weather, so I think they cut their set short. It was powerful and dramatic, even with Amanda's hoarse voice. I hope to one day see her in good voice! But the way she sings, I'm not too hopeful, unfortunately. She could definitely use some vocal training. But musically, she's the whole package, so it is easy to forgive her technical shortcomings since it is rock 'n roll after all.

Brian Viglione was in top form, and all that was missing was an extended drum solo. Why they didn't think of that, I have no clue. He has at least as many admirers in the audience as she does, if not more.

Anyway, it was a fabulous way to end a great year of concert-going. Cheers! and here is the Dolls' Set List:

In The Flesh (cover of Pink Floyd) - Brian opened the show with vocals - a refreshing surprise!
Girl Anachronism
Missed Me
Ultima Esperanza
Coin-Operated Boy
Mrs. O
The Gardener
Two-Headed Boy (cover of Neutral Milk Hotel)
Fool (pre-recorded by Neutral Milk Hotel with dancing by the Lexington High School Drama Club)

Mein Herr
Fight for Your Right (to Party) (cover of Beastie Boys) - with Brian on electric guitar and singing, Amanda on drums, and guest Sxip Shirey on what looked like a melodia
Mandy Goes to Med School - with Meow Meow's accompanist Lance playing piano four-hands with Amanda
Encore: Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) (cover of Eurythmics)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

In Memoriam Oscar Peterson

The summer after I graduated from college, my undergrad degree, I worked as the Artist Liason for a concert series in Waterville Valley, NH. This meant I was responsible for making sure the performers arrived, got settled in their accomidations, made it to and from the venue, and got everything they needed backstage. It was a very cool job to have at age 22. I met violinist Joshua Bell, Roberta Flack, the Canadian Brass and others. But the one artist that was a true gentleman, a really amazing person, not just musician, was Oscar Peterson.

I came to jazz late in my musical development. I was trained classically - in fact, I got that job through my classical saxophone professor. At that time I knew little about jazz. I had never heard of Oscar Peterson. My exposure had been limited to the excesses of late Mile Davis, who I saw play rock-fusion at the 1986 Amnesty International benefit concert, and Spyro Gyra, who I loved in the early 80s. This was my first brush with jazz greatness.

I had the rare treat of sitting in a completely empty hall the afternoon before the concert while Oscar rehearsed the trio. I consider that moment to be the true birth of my love for jazz.

I remember following his limo on the two-hour drive to Logan Airport the day following the concert (which was unbelievable). When we got to Logan, he was concerned about walking the long distance to the gate - his health was already failing him (he had a stroke a few years later, but never stopped playing). I arranged for a wheelchair and I pushed him to the gate myself. He smiled, signed some autographs for the staff that I had been charged with getting, and then gave me a generous $100 tip - completely unexpected and unecessary, but he insisted after I first declined. It was a memorable gesture, but not at all the reason I fondly remember him to this day. He was real. Not a superstar personality - though he had literally played with everyone who was anyone in the jazz world. When his hands touched the keys, he was a giant. But when it was just the two of us at the airplane gate, he was a grandfatherly figure. He loved life and this world. An unfortunately uncommon trait.

Thank you Oscar.

Oscar Emmanuel Peterson
August 25, 1925 - December 23, 2007

Sunday, December 23, 2007

2007 "Best of" List: Concerts

As I do every year, I am posting an incredibly subjective, extremely biased countdown of the top ten concerts I attended this year. I highly recommend any and all of these performers. Catch them the next time they're in town!

10) Matt Langley and Tim O'Dell (at The Press Room in Portsmouth, NH)
Matt is a great jazz saxophonist, and it is great to catch him on the all too rare occaision he has a Portsmouth gig with Tim O'Dell. The two of them really get each other and it comes out in their playing.

9) The Explorers Club/The Blueprint Project (at The Lily Pad in Cambridge, MA)
Charlie Kohlhase's Explorer's Club and Eric Hofbauer's Blueprint Project are wonderfully lyrical, experimental jazz ensembles where the players never stop interacting with each other in the most creative ways. And this was our first visit to the Lily Pad.

8) The Holiday Pops with Kenneth Kiesler (at The Music Hall in Portsmouth, NH)
Ken is a great friend to PMAC and eight of our young students sat in with the orchestra for two pieces at these concerts, just last week. I hope that one day we'll have a full time professional orchestra on the seacoast.

7) The Molenes (at The Red Door in Portsmouth, NH)
Dave Hunter, Tom Ferry and friends are one of the best local acts on the scene. Just the right mix of country, rock, blues and party.

More on my night out on the town to see The Molenes here.

6) Brandy Carlisle (at The Music Hall in Portsmouth, NH)
One of the best Music Hall concerts of the year. Riding the wave of her new album, Brandy took Portsmouth by storm and left the town a buzz. We'll definitely be there next time she passes through. (And we met her after the show - she's as sweet as her music.)

5) Kim Kashkashian (at Jordan Hall, New England Conservatory in Boston, MA)
Violist extrordinaire - that's VIOLA, not violin. A fabulous program that was made special by the fact that we had the rare opportunity to have dinner attend the concert with an old school friend from Baltimore. Thanks for setting that one up, Debbie.

4) Fiveighthirteen/RomanUs/ZumbaTres (at The Barley Pub in Dover, NH and at The Press Room in Portsmouth, NH)
We witnesses a spectacular accomplishment when Fiveighthirteen performed Radiohead's Kid A in its entirety at The Barley Pub, where RomanUs opened for them. And then they opened for ZumbaTres at The Press Room less than a month later. Three great bands, two great shows.

3) The London Octave (at St. Martin in the Fields in London, England)
Our first concert overseas, could you top St Martin in the Fields for a venue? Bach, Handel and more. It was a fabulous way to kick off the year.

For more, read my original post about The London Octave here.

2) The Bad Plus (at The Stone Church in Newmarket, NH and The Music Hall in Portsmouth, NH)
I preferred hearing them in the intimate setting of The Stone Church, but their performance at The Music Hall was nothing to sneeze at either. Very possibly the tightest trio in jazz today. And most definitely one of the hippest. And to top everything off - they performed Smells Like Teen Spirit at The Music Hall and Life on Mars at The Stone Church. Life is good.

1) The Year of the Dresden Dolls: The Dresden Dolls/Amanda Palmer with Jason Webley/Brian Viglione/Gil Ahron Trio with Brian Viglione/The Onion Cellar/True Colors/Sxip's Hour of Charm (at The Zero Arrow Theatre, American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, MA, The Space in Portland, ME, The Brick House in Dover, NH, the Bank of America Pavillion in Boston, MA and at PMAC)
If you read this blog, you already know about my love for The Dresden Dolls. I discovered them late last year, and took just about every possible opportunity to see them live this year. And next Saturday we will FINALLY see the Dolls the way we've alway wanted to see them. In a full rock show they are headlining at Boston's Orpheum Theatre. This year we saw them in the play "The Onion Cellar", opening for Cyndi Lauper on the True Colors Tour, and each individually in various locations and with various groups. Brian Viglione even gave a clinic at PMAC in February. So this was definitely the Year of the Dolls.

For more about The Onion Cellar read this post.

My True Colors Tour post is here.

And here is my post about Amanda and Jason at The Space.

Honorable Mention: Jim Howe Memorial Concert at The Press Room in Portsmouth, NH)
Farewell Jim, we'll miss you terribly. Thanks to Ryan Parker and Les Howe, Jr. for helping us all remember him the way he would have wanted.

Postlude: The concert that never happened - Regina Spektor (at The Orpheum in Boston, MA)
The one bittersweet moments of the year concertwise was when Katie won tickets to see one of our favorite musicians - Regina Spektor - from Bullmoose Music. Yet when we arrived at the concert, the tickets were not there. The show was sold out. HUGE DISAPPOINTMENT. Regina's Label, Warner Music, has promised Katie tickets to a show this year. We'll see what they come up with.

May 2008 bring many, many more great shows!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Remembering Andrew Imbrie

In 1994 and again in 1996-97 I studied composition at the University of Chicago with Andrew Imbrie. He was a visiting professor my first semester at the university and he returned again a year later. I jumped at the chance to work with him both times, and studied with him during his entire tenure at Chicago. He was a friendly, kind man who took immediate interest in my music. In fact, he was one of the few teachers I think I ever had who truly believed in my music - from top to bottom.

We became friends and our relationship moved out of the studio and into the real world. Katie and I would go to dinner with Andrew and his wonderful wife Barbara and discuss life as a musician and composer. I remember him coming to our apartment on South Ellis Ave. to visit, with gifts, when Max was born. I can still see the joy on his face when he cradled week-old Max in his arms. He was in his mid-seventies at the time, tall and bone-thin. Simultaneously imposing and frail.

I remember stories of his children, including one son who tragically died at age 18 in a car accident. He remembered that son with a piano sonata titled "Short Story." His music is a wonderful mix of refined craft and deep sentiment.

Andrew chose a path of teaching for his life - not just to pay the bills. He was a teacher through and through. Many of today's top composers worked with him, and his contributions to the world of music education and composition are important and far reaching.

I am proud to have been one of Andrews students, and even prouder to have been a friend. I will miss him dearly.

For more on Andrew and his life, click below.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Melody for Melonae

Back at PMAC following the first snow storm of the season. May our snow days be few and far between.

Morning listening: Let Freedom Ring - Jackie McLean. The title of this entry is the first track. Happy Tuesday to all.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Let it snow...

There's not as much snow on the ground as we were expecting, but the roads are pretty nasty, so we decided to close PMAC for the day. It's often a difficult decision, but the saftey of our students and teachers is always the primary consideration. With reports that rain and snow will continue throughout the day and freezing conditions will remain on the roads, we think we made the right call. So if you were scheduled to come to PMAC today (or even if you're not) take the time to enjoy a hot cocoa instead, play a family board game, read a great book, or even make some music or art! Enjoy your day and we'll be back tomorrow.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

A Cold, Cold Holiday Parade

Last night was the annual Holiday Parade in Portsmouth, and boy was it frigid! For the first time in several years, we did not have a float in the parade. We were unable to secure a truck - I think the truck companies were justifiably cautious following last year's tragedy. (for those unfamiliar, google 2006 Portsmouth Christmas Parade Tragedy) So this year, we were in the crowd along Pleasant Street in Market Square. The parade moved along at a brisk pace, most likely influenced by the first serious cold snap of the season. I felt sympathy for the four bands - Rochester, Somersworth, Dover, and Portsmouth High Schools - who endured the conditions to bring musical cheer to the crowds. Holiday spirit was in the air and the Christmas season is now well under way. Hopefully we'll be back in the parade soon!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Pegasus and Icarus

Below is Roger Goldenberg's painting "Pegasus and Icarus". This weekend is the annual open house at Portsmouth's Button Factory - an enormous colony of artist studios on Islington Street in the former factory building. Roger is there all weekend, as are all the other artists. Support them this holiday season by buying a print, painting, or other item. Roger, of course, is a personal favorite of mine. Check out his work at And don't forget that they are there all year round. Support our local artists!

Happy December!

That special time of year has arrived and is in full swing. And it looks as if snow is on the way! I'm back in the gym, having recovered from a recent back injury (thanks, Dad - Chiropractor extrordinaire!), and trying to fight the national trend to gain weight this month. How are you taking care of yourself? When you ponder this question, don't forget your creative self. We all need to be able to express our creativity. And preferrably in a way outside of our ordinary, day to day lives. I, for example, am an ameteur writer. Poetry, short stories...I've even attempted novel writing. Nothing I would share, music remains my public art form. But even creative professionals have non-professional ways to express themselves. Composer Arnold Schoenberg painted (as many composers I know do). Writer Stephen King plays in a rock band. What do you do? And if the answer is "not much," think more on this as the new year approaches. And if music or art is something you find interesting, DO IT! Poetry, sculpture, photography, jazz, whatever. It is never too late.