Monday, December 23, 2013


Usually I make an effort to crank out some sort of semi-decent post over the weekend, but this past weekend I was still catching up on the shoveling and trying to get back to a 'pre-white stuff' condition and get ready for the winter. I did however, get introduced to some brand new music and will be sharing that in the next few days. I promise it won't be something you've already read about.
 But I have been pretty tired these last few days and a bit frustrated that my fingers aren't working correctly and my play/practice sessions sound pretty lousy. That just puts me in a blue mood and I don't get much done when that happens. I honestly can't remember the last time I had to force myself to do my daily play/practice session but it was probably about 6 months ago. I have finally hit that stage where I enjoy the sessions and grab them when I can , even if it's just for 15 minutes. Sometimes it sounds good, and sometimes it don't. Sometimes the 'warmup' takes a long time and sometimes it's 2 or 3 minutes. Sometimes, no matter how hard I try, it just sucks and I can't seem to get my fingers to do what I want for any amount of effort, time, or trying. That's when I play scales and work on short passages and call it a night.
 But sometimes, it just happens. It all comes together for reasons that I still can't figure out and it all sounds good. I can push the tempo past what I could do before and it still sounds good, when I miss a note I can roll right over it and keep going and holding onto the tempo (or what, for me, in my limited capacity, I laughing refer to as 'my groove').
 Tonight was/is one of those nights and it was just rolling for me, with few if any mistakes, and the groove held in there. Pretty cool, I have to say. It still amazes me how much fun this music stuff can be and what a kick I get out of the very small victories.
 Thanks Bill.
Keep the Beat,

Friday, December 20, 2013


I am still on that 'Gift' jag, sorry. Actually not really, I just think this is pretty cool.
 Last night we were all at the Harmony for the weekly Thursday Night gig. It was the annual Bill Keith Birthday party gig which occurs every year on the Thursday closest to Bill's Birthday (December 20th). Some years we have a raft of local and semi-local performers to stop by and some years it is light because everybody is out working their own gigs. This year was the later, but the music was great, the assembled mass were all local folks in good cheer and anxious to wish Bill well. We had the usual guest players come up for a tune or two in the second set and we all had a lot of fun. There was also a lovely and tasty cake provided by The Harmony folks.
 As is my custom, I planned to stay for the entire gig. Usually I head out after the first set so I can get up for work in the morning, but on Bill's Birthday night, I stay. You never know who might walk in or what tune might come out in the mix and I don't want to hear about it from someone else later. It is very much worth suffering through a long day at work on Friday just to 'be there'.
 So when the formal music stops, a few folks do a bit of jamming and I always love listening to this stuff. The guest players still have some energy and start sharing tunes and some really good music can pop out. It's a lot of fun and I enjoy being a fly on the wall.
 Last night, my friend Matt handed me his mando so I could show him a little of what I have been working on, which I sort of did, but there was other noise and music going on and it was hard to hear. Matt picked up his guitar and said 'what do you want to play?'. I tried a couple of different tunes, but he couldn't hear my weak playing to pick up on it well enough and then I finally settled on "Ashokan Farewell". Well the backup melody that came out of his guitar kind of blew me away. It was gorgeous! Just like Molly Mason plays it and I fell right into the meter with his steady timing and we played it through twice with no mistakes. All I kept thinking to myself was 'Damn! this sounds REALLY nice!'
 When the tune ended I was a tiny bit numb, something of a cross between 'Wow I got though it'  and 'geez, now what?' A few other players moved over to us and started whacking out a much faster tune that I could add nothing to. I put Matt's mando in the case and listened for a while. Then I realized it was getting near midnight, said my goodbyes all around, wished Bill a Happy Birthday one more time and headed home.
 On the drive home I realized that this was the first time I had ever sat down with another person and played a tune through clean. (I have tried to work through some stuff with Evan, but just couldn't get through without screwing up something or other and breaking up the melody. The boy deserves a medal for trying to hold me to a steady pace and compensating for my ineptitude while still making it sound good. I fear I may have worn him out at this point.) On top of that, it sounded like music, REAL Music! Something that anybody could listen to and enjoy. At the same instant, it dawned on me that I may actually be capable of making some music, even if it remains at the back porch level with nobody listening but the birds. Up to this point I really believed I was just beating unmercifully on an instrument to provide myself with some satisfaction or relief or whatever personal enjoyment I might derive. Now I think it is conceivable that somebody might actually be able to listen to me play and not come away from the encounter emotionally scarred.
 This whole concept strikes me as pretty nifty and I know that Matt was trying to draw something out by sticking his beautiful mando in my hands and saying "what do you want to play?". A very nice little gift that I never expected and didn't even become aware of until much later. Thanks Matt, and Merry Christmas to you too!
Keep The Beat,

Friday, December 13, 2013


Gift giving season is upon us. I have long ago ceased to get excited about this time of year with respect to that aspect. When the kids came along and became the center of our universe, so too went the focus of any gift giving thoughts. For my wife and I, we focus on the practical needs and there was little excitement there. We found our ‘excitement’, when there was any, in finding something that made somebody else smile. My wife has always been the thoughtful expert in this area although sometimes by accident, I stumble on a good idea.
Selfish expectations (let’s admit it, we all have them) for me were also restricted to the practical, like better fitting underwear, socks, or a stiff pair of good jeans.
So it came as a surprise to me the other day when I was chatting with a friend, Dean Seabrook, and he gave me a gift. Well, we weren’t actually talking, we were sending chat messages back and forth sporadically over a period of hours, but that is nearly the same these days.
At the time, it didn’t seem like a gift, and actually  I had just asked him for a little help, but a gift resulted none the less. I am quite certain that Dean didn’t look at it as ‘giving me a gift” either which makes it that much more valuable. You see, I have been working on the same tunes for a while now and getting a little better each day. I had realized a few weeks ago I was in need of something new to work on and keep the enthusiasm and interest up. I looked around, thought about what might be good and really didn’t find anything. Because I am not at the stage where I can just pick a tune and work it out, I really need to choose carefully so that the amount of effort I have to put in, results in a tune that makes me smile every time I play it. So far, I have focused on tunes written or performed by folks I really enjoy. ‘Ashokan Farewell’, written by (at the time) neighbor Jay Unger and still a staple fiddle tune around these parts has always brought me great joy, since the first time I heard Evan Shultis play it. ‘Devil’s Dream’ is the tune which Bill Keith first heard that made him realize he could play it note for note and led to his work in developing what every banjo player in the world now knows as the “Melodic” or “Keith” style of playing.  Bill first performed that tune 50 years ago this year playing with Bill Monroe. Bill frequently plays that tune as a medley with ‘Sailor’s Hornpipe’, so I learned that one too. Then I took on ‘Opus 57’ (David Grisman) because Bill also had a hand in that and I just love the tune. So I am still working on all of these to get them closer to acceptable, but I needed something new.
I had always wanted to learn a Rushad Eggleston tune, just so that I might have something to haunt him with at Grey Fox. However, there is little or no published written music of his 1,000 or more compositions and, as he plays mostly cello, it becomes even harder for me to make the transcription to mandolin. Still Rushad has this one tune which has a very simple melody, augmented with his incredible chop and back beat. It’s a simple, silly sing that I have seen him perform in front of thousands of people and have them all singing. Tried as I might, I could never figure out the notes.
So, I asked Dean because in addition to playing cello, Dean is also very good friends with Rushad. Dean gave me the progression and the notes, one happened to be right, and the other not so much on the first go round because we started early in the day and he was probably interrupted when I asked him. At any rate we figured it out (there was this little octave change in there he didn’t mention until I had figured it out for myself which also gave me great pleasure). When I finally had a minute to grab the mando and play what we had transcribed, IT WORKED! In just a couple of minutes I was playing a song and it was MY FIRST SONG. All the others are tunes, this one has words, simple words. Something I can sing, this is SO freaking COOL! “I peed on a bird/ I peed on a bird/ I stood on the edge of a cliff and/ I peed on a bird.”
Yeah I know, if you have never heard this performed it must strike you at about the same level as “My dog has fleas” for the guitar playing set. No matter, I know the history of the song, I connect it to a friend and great player/performer, and it has meaning and memories for me. Yes, of course I still have many hours of work to do. I only have the chorus and need to learn the verses better. I also need to find a way to simulate the incredible chopping beat that Rushad punches out this tune with. But that’s the fun part, working it out and playing it over and over to get it right.
I just find it fascinating that I thought I had a ‘technical problem’ that Dean was helping me out with and I wound up with a gift that makes me smile, hard, inside and out, every time I pick the notes. This music stuff is SO cool. Thanks Dean.
Here is a video from Grey Fox 2013 of the song being performed by the Grey Fox Supersonic Late Night All-Stars. This is a killer group of folks: Tim O’Brien on Mando, Noam Pikelny on Banjo, Courtney Hartman on Guitar, Rushad on Cello, Casey Driessen on Fiddle, Chris Thiele also on Mando, and Jerry Douglas on Dobro. I apologize to the other world class performers in this incredible lineup that I did not mention here because I don't quickly recognize their faces. I believe that is Mike Bub on Bass for instance. Now I talked to Rushad about this set in the hours before it happened and he confessed to me that he was fairly nervous about playing with these elite guys and gals. As humble as he is, Rushad was concerned and wasn’t sure which tune to call when his turn came around. It may surprise you, but Rushad is not a ‘traditional straight bluegrass player’ {SMIRK} although he can kill it whenever he wants to. He also journeys very far afield in his music and some of it is ‘really out there’ by traditional standards. He didn’t know how far he could go in this set and was concerned, as I understand it, as to how the rest of the ‘straight-up’ players might take it. Now my understanding was that Tim O’brien or Noam Pikelny, or perhaps Chris Thiele that actually suggested “I Peed on a Bird” and I think Rushad threw in ‘Mississippi Sawyer’ to soften the blow. The kicker to this is that Rushad was absolutely blown away when he realized that Jerry Douglas had launched into a pretty awesome break on ‘I Peed on a Bird’. It’s very safe to say that this was not something Rushad expected at all. Jerry is known as one of the finest dobro players in the world today. He plays hard driving, dyed in the wool, straight up stuff and he plays it better than just about anyone. Solid Country, Bluegrass, and other genre’s are Jerry’s stock and trade. He doesn’t get into the ‘alternate stuff’ much, if at all. He killed this one, and I won’t soon forget that moment or Rushad’s excitement later when he realized what happened.
So the first half of this clip is ‘Mississippi Sawyer’ (in G), a classic traditional tune, followed by “ I peed on a Bird” (in Dm). If you enjoy it half as much as I did, you will have a blast. I was very glad to be standing right in front of these guys during this set, and it’s yet another reason I smile every time I pick those notes.
Keep The Beat,


Due to unforseen circumstances, Evan Shulits will not be performing his gig at the Hopped up Cafe' on Saturday night (12/14).
 HOWEVER, Gilles Malkine will be doing his solo act there that night instead. I tell you, this little Valley has some depth in the talent pool for sure. C'mon out and see a great show in a very intimate venue.
 There is some weather coming in for sure, but lets see how it flies.
Keep the Beat,

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


But first, the unusual disclaimer: The say 'write what you know' and up to this point in my adult life I have pretty much stuck to that. However, with this post I break that streak and with, I hope, good reason. I don't really think I will know enough about this subject to really write with knowledge. However, not being one who is easily dissuaded by a little ignorance, and being up front with that fact, I feel that it is nearly safe enough for me to sally forth into the partially known in order that I might bring to your mind a performer who I find most worthy of a good audience. If you've read my review of Gilles Malkine's latest CD, then you saw mention of the subject of this post, Gilles oft time and questionably acquired partner in paradigm, parody, and sarcasm Mikhail Horowitz (aka: Mic, or Mik, depending on your accent). Having been regaled with an outstanding performance just a few mights past wherein I acquired a copy of one example of Mik's solo work "the blues of the birth" I felt inspired to share some thoughts and a rapidly growing (Mik might say "festering") appreciation and admiration for Mik's work, and more specifically the broad range of knowledge he draws from to create his art. It seems vast to my small mind.

 First lets get the demographics out of the way. No man is an island and although Mik is the key player on this album with suprano recorder, harmonica, and of course voice,  he is joined by Gilles Malkine on Bass and doing some speaking parts in Italian at the very end with a little haiku bonus track. Joe Giardullo plays alto sax, bass clarinet, and talking drum, Jim Fin contributes with the tenor sax and flute, and finally there is David Arner on Piano. The album is in the 45 minute range and is produced by Sundazed Music. Recorded in June  of 1998 at Nevassa Studios in Woodstock, NY. It is available as a download from Sundaze here, or get it from Mik at a show.
 You've read enough now that if you are still here I fell safe telling you that Mik is a poet, not a pop star. Wait, don't run away yet. This is GOOD stuff. If you are over 55, then the term 'beat poet' may not be foreign to you. There were quite a few in the 50's and 60's, still a few around n the 70's (those who did not starve to death), and still fewer in the years that followed. Sad to say that Mik is one of the last that I know of, but I am sure he could give you a list. I don't travel in those circles hardly at all, so I am tickled that fate brought me across Mik's path. I would never had known what I had missed, but I would have missed it none the less. If you are under 55, then you are in for a treat. Mik uses his words, his voice, his thoughts, and his music to put it all together in such a carefully crafted presentation that it is hard to process on the first, or even second go around. Words come at you like a freight train and they are not the words you are used to hearing in everyday speech, so the words themselves can take your brain precious seconds or more to process, by the time you've done that, you might have missed the thought those words created. It takes practice to pay attention at the speed of thought, especially when the reference material covers such a vast chasm of knowledge. Everything is fair game for Mik from the early Greek philosophers, to the intricacies of jazz, all the major players in world history from the neolithic period to the present day. I don't consider myself a particularly smart guy, but I am better read than many I think. My library does boast several hundred volumes and I can even grab a copy of Homer's Odessey, Hegel, Darwin's Century, the Icelandic Sagas, most of Ibsen's plays, and many other widely dispersed subjects off my shelves.
 None of that did much to prepare me in grasping everything Mik could throw at me in just a few minutes. Fortunately Mik knows this and he crafts his words such that you can 'get it' on almost any level you want, to a point. There has to be a limit, of course and although his work is crafted for delivery in this post-literate age he still pulls out the big guns from time to time. In the liner notes of this album, Mik is quoted as saying "Actually, I assume half the people in the audience aren't going to know what the fuck I am talking about." He may be right, but I will tell you this, he has some funny stuff in here. Surely he is making a point and telling a story, and sharing a philosophy, and sometimes even opening one of those 'I had a thought and I wonder what you think about this..' conversations where he declares no end 'message' but leaves it out there for you to think about.
 Certainly Mik has accomplished that, getting one to think, that is. I like to think and ponder others points of view. I believe it makes me a better person, or certainly a bit more enlightened. But I also have to be honest and tell you that on some of these tracks, Mik was dead right, I have no idea... and I like that too. Now I should quickly add that it doesn't mean I gave up on it, it means I have a lot more listening and thinking to do, and I find that so very cool. He stumped me and now it's my job to figure it out. 'What the hell is he talking about?' Well, I can take what I know and move on from there, I love a challenge, especially an intellectual one where I don't have to grow new callouses and sweat a lot.
I suppose I should take a few words to explain why Mik’s work grabs me in such a way that I find it worth sharing. The best way I can think of to explain this is as a corollary to music composition and delivery. In most music, the composer seeks to present a melody which generally follows a theme throughout and has variations. The listeners ear becomes accustomed to the melody through repetition and then it becomes easy for the listener to discern changes or variations in that melody. So the composer first trains the listener as to what the melody is, then varies that melody to provide interest and color with occasional excursions which wander briefly afar but return to the ’comfort’ of the original melody. The listener gets a bit of an idea what to expect we can be surprised by unexpected changes which we quickly assimilate to catch up with the flow. It keeps your brain active and that is what makes it fun and/or enjoyable.
Poetry is much the same in that it has a rhythm or meter to it. The words used are normally words we are familiar with and because there is some manner of rhyming involved, the brain begins to try to fill in any gaps or works in anticipation to guess what is coming. “There once was a man from Nan______”. See how your brain filled in the missing part of the word?  Here’s the thing, you can’t really do this with Mik’s work. The rhythm is usually steady with occasional changes, but the rhyming conventions and particularly the words are nearly always unpredictable. Mik uses a plethora of word concatenations to create new pictures in your brain, they come like flowing water and for each ‘new word’ your brain must first identify the root words, put them together for the first time and then create, for the very first time ever, a picture of what that word ‘looks like’ to you. This is a pretty cool trick, but it means the listener really has to use their brain. When you combine the mastery of words with a supporting musical coloring, you wind up with quite a workload for the brain, which for me, translates to a bigger payoff in the ‘satisfaction column’.
That’ a lot of words to describe something that happens at the speed of thought, but if you follow what I am saying, you will understand why I enjoy his work so much. You throw in some hip-hop, some bee-bop, a bit of rap, and a jigger of jazz, flavor it with some recorder, flute, Sax, piano, a thrumming bass line and you have a party. That's the hook for me. It may be the same for you, or it may be quite different, but that is how my puny brain works.

 I can't give you more than a rudimentary description of the 9 tracks on this album because I only have a few listens and that is no where near enough time for my brain to process all the words that come flying at me like David Grisman giving a new mando a speed check.
 Swingin' Chicadas (3:59)

 Mik's piece on the 17 year chicada cycle. Ironic that this was recorded 17 years ago and this year the cycle came around we were treated to an updated version of this piece just a couple of months ago. His take on what the cycle feels like from the point of view of these jazzed up insects, "The COOLEST Insect of all".
The Blues Of The Birth (10:14)
 The title cut with recurring character T-Bone Sphinx who appears in a later track in a different incarnation. Now here I have to confess my brain is working overtime. T-Bone is the pre-mordial creator of hip and all the variations of blues that led to what we have today, everything from "The Jesus with the Meter Running Blues" to the "The Sunhouse, Bed Louse, Better Fed Church Mouse 1930 Down and Dirty Blues".  The crafting of this in pretty much a genius level study of philosophy. A recurring theme with respect to the 'chicken or the egg ' discussion that is not unique to most students of philosophy. At least that's where I am with it now.
Litany of the Dead (4:29)
 This piece explores the sad realization that the dead have lost all opportunities for sexual discourse. You have to be there, so to speak.
Art (1:10)
 I just love this piece. This is a short one minute brain download that condenses Mik's abilities into a thought provoking discussion of 'what is art'. This of course is another one of those questions that we walk around with in our heads since some high school teacher asked the question to provoke thought, with very limited results. I like Mik's take on this very much. Concise, on point, humorous, and he gives a different line of thought than you might have expected.
Bird Lives (12:02)
A brilliant work on the lives of dinosaurs in a jazz environment. Evey time I listen through I pick out new words and subtleties that I didn't catch before. There are lots of 'new words' in here and it's hard to process them as fast as they come. Trying to explain this futher is like trying to explain what Robin Williams might be thinking 10 minutes from now. It ain't happening, just give it some study. Great fun and a really interesting ending.
 Death (1:10)
How could one be considered a true Beat Poet without a piece called 'Death'? Mik does a nice job with this mandatory subject. Can't help but snap my fingers to this one, every time.
 Subway (3:47)
This is another effort that I am working on. Looking at the mundane observances of a subway rider. Never having been a city kid, I am working on processing it. I am not quite clear on things like "a Misbegotten cross of a nazi and hotten-tot". Nice drum work.
CIA (;59)
 Brilliant rapid wordsmithing. Built somewhat on the 'If I were King, how would I fix things" train of thought (but only just vaguely). Not what you would expect exactly.
Apocalypse Wow (15:14)
Set in the Cafe Afterlife this explores the complexities and philosophical perplexities of the time-space paradigm and it tells the tale of T-Bone Sphinx final send-off. Complex and simple at the same time. You were there too, but you may not remember it...yet. Very neat, and the music is great in this piece.
 Bonus track (I think)
Not sure if this is a separate piece or just tacked onto the previous track but this is a fun little piece which shares a few witticisms offered by The Hit Man Haiku from the poet in residence of the Genoveise Family, in the original Italian, with translations.

I haven't let much out of the bag here and my impressions are quite sparse I know. I prefer to let you do the listening and evaluating. I will tell you this, when you watch Mik perform, IF you can take your eyes off him and watch the audience, you will understand what he said, there are faces out there that make it clear, they don't have a clue what he is talking about. Not many, but there are always a few. If you don't get it all, don't be ashamed, you not always supposed to. I will say that I greatly enjoy this CD and look forward to many listening's and more than a little study and looking some stuff up. If you don't mind some work where needed you will enjoy this piece of work.
 Here is a sample of Mik's work with Gilles. I learned the other night a little more about this piece, This has been aired on PBS, Screened at the LA Comedy Festival, the London Independant Film Festival, the NYC Downtown Short Film Festival, The Williamsburg Film Festival and the Woodstock Film Festival. It is currently showing at a film festival in Wales.
 The rap tunes are probably my favorites of all Gilles and Mik's work. The best of which, so far, in my opinion, is Hip-Hop Hobbit which you can hear on their CD "Poor, On Tour, and Over 54", very good stuff, indeed. (The new one they pulled off the other night regarding Bob Dylan had me in tears I was laughing so hard.) On the other hand, you may prefer the one below.

Keep the Beat,