Sunday, July 29, 2007

Wow... is July gone already?

Not quite, but I think I see the end of it around the corner.

What's been happening? Got back from Switzerland (had a great last couple of days), got back into classes, was deluged with gigs, got a new scooter, and a massive head cold. That enough?

Where to start? Gigs. Wow. Normally, late July/early August are especially quiet for me, and I was kinda looking forward to lots of practice time. Not this year. Over the last week or so, I've gotten a ton of calls I wasn't expecting, and I'm as close to booked solid as I can get. Upcoming dates that are open to the public are listed in the right-hand column of this blog (hint, hint to music lovers), and those don't include the obligatory rehearsals before many of the gigs. It's fun, though... two musicals, a bunch of big band stuff, and a couple of R&B gigs with Chadwick Williams. On one of the musicals (Oliver), I'll be reading the woodwind IV book, which is a bassoon book. That would be no problem if I played bassoon, but since I don't I'm going to be transposing from bass/tenor clef (both in C), to play the parts on a Bb treble clef instrument. I'm sure I'll be kicking myself later for saying I'd do that, but it's a good skill to develop, so I've already started practicing. I'll have to post again on how it goes.

On the work front, things are going well this quarter. I'm teaching three strategic management classes, and although it's never easy to keep people focused in summer classes (and let's face it--who can blame them?), I've got a nice group and they seem to be enjoying the class. We're pilot-testing a new version of the learning management system (a web-based system that allows me to provide online content, making my class a "hybrid" format as opposed to strictly face-to-face), and although I'm starting to get the hang of it, either the interface isn't as intuitive as the one I'm used to, or I'm just getting brain damaged in my old age. Something simple as quiz feedback suddenly has more options, the flip side of which is having more ways to screw things up. I'll get it, though... eventually.

In the ongoing quest to be greener, we've been taking a harder look at transportation costs and energy use, and with all the driving I do, that's a pretty sobering thought. In an effort to address some of that and have a bit of fun in the process, I started looking around at scooters, and about a week ago we picked out a true geek rocket--a Yamaha Vino 125. This is one of those in-between sized scooters--it requires a motorcycle license, but isn't big enough to be freeway legal. But it's FUN to drive... should hit up to about 55 or so (I'll have to test that once it's broken in), and so far I've been getting around 80-85 MPG. The first time I filled up the tank, it cost a whole whopping $2.40, and it was everything I could do to not dance around the gas station, giggling and pointing at the other drivers. I don't get to ride it at night until I take the skill test for the full license, but for the time being I'm having an absolute ball, taking it to rehearsals (I can't carry anything bigger than the tenor sax, but that still covers a lot) and trying to get a little practice in every day.

Other than that, I'm getting over my latest cold (and this completely sucks in July--thanks A LOT to whomever gave it to me), and gearing up for class tomorrow. Midterm exams are in about a week, so things should be interesting.

Yawn. Off to bed. G'night!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Montreux Jazz Festival: Day two

Day two of the Montreux Jazz Festival, and we had a busy agenda. First stop was a workshop with one of the jazz greats, Quincy Jones. These workshops were free events put on by the festival, and since Quincy didn’t appear to have a particular outline planned for his session, it became more of a question and answer period, facilitated by Claude Nobs, the festival organizer. Audience questions tended to be all over the map; some having to do with breaking into the music (and particularly film scoring) business, and others concerning Jones’ experiences with the “who’s who” of jazz and pop music. Two things in particular resonated with me. The first was that jazz was really a musician’s genre (that is, musicians also make up the core of its audience), and that jazz was a “gumbo” that tended to consume—and be changed by—everything in its path. His other observation—something I need to take more to heart at this stage in my learning curve—was that there was nothing worse than an opportunity you aren’t prepared for. His prescription, of course, was to prepare like mad, and when you’re ready, the opportunities will come. I think I’m gonna write this out and tape it to my music stand at home.

After the workshop, we had a little time before the evening concert began. First up was a duo performance of Chick Corea and Gary Burton, and it would have been great had we not found out upon arriving to the auditorium that the seats we bought (pretty much all that was left at the time) were standing-room-only at the back of the auditorium. That is, behind all the stadium-style seats—and the only real view of the performers were glimpses of them on two large monitor screens up front. It was a big disappointment, mostly because although both Corea and Burton regularly tour in the U.S. and we can see them at home, the same couldn’t be said for the late show—the George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band—who we had really made the trip to see. Fortunately, since the big band wasn’t nearly as familiar to the audience as Corea and Burton, at least a third of the people left and we were able to score fourth-row tickets from a sympathetic English couple who wasn’t staying (and if they ever read this, we just can’t thank them enough).

At this point, everything changed for the better, because the George Gruntz band was spectacular. Gruntz is a Swedish composer who writes these unbelievably rich and textured arrangements of his own tunes, band members’ compositions, and a few standards. The band was made up of jazz heavyweights from all over the world; guys like Marvin Stamm and Jack Walrath on trumpet; Dave Bargeron and Earl McIntyre on trombone, Sal Giorgianni and Chris Hunter on sax, Howard Johnson on baritone sax/tuba, Danny Gottlieb on drums… all monsters. They played nearly two hours of the most intense big band jazz I think I’ve ever seen—right up there with the Mingus and Vanguard bands in New York. Some highlights: a killer alto solo from Chris Hunter on So: What (Serious Fun), great trombone solos by Gary Valente and Earl Mc Intyre, and a surprise sit-in by Adam Nussbaum, who happened to be in the audience.

We were so wound up afterward that it was a few hours before we were able to sleep—just a total, life-altering experience.

Just, wow.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

At the Montreux Jazz Festival

Hello from Montreux!

It's a rather soggy city at the moment, but we're here and it's great. Took a cab into Geneva this morning, caught a tram from there back to the main train station, and took a train from there into Montreux, arriving at about 1pm. The hotel is great--right on the water--and includes FAST in-room Wifi access, so I can actually update my iPod and do a bit of rainy-weather web-surfing. Cool.

Spent a little time at the festival today, and I have to admit that I was a little taken aback by something that, apparently, everyone but us already knows: there is precious little Jazz to be heard at the Montreux Jazz Festival. A quick sample of the playbill includes The Chemical Brothers, Placebo, the Beastie Boys, Tori Amos, Jeff Beck, Ricky Lee Jones, the Wu Tang Clan, Sly and the Family Stone... etc., etc. The "surprise" jazz show, announced on the 6th, was Prince. Granted, I would have gone to see him if the show hadn't sold out within minutes, but it's still a little odd to have expected, well.... jazz... and then find out that nine out of ten acts are pop/rap/blues. Clearly this has been the case for years--I don't know why it took me so much by surprise.

Getting over this small prejudice, however, means I can accept the event on its own terms and get back to digging it. Today, we stopped by one of the outdoor venues to see a high school band from Apple Valley, Minnesota, as we had run into the parents of one of the players in the hotel lobby. The band played very well, and it was a kick to hear that their tour would also include performances in Paris and at the North Sea Jazz festival. Kudos to their director for being so ambitious, and to the parents of these kids who apparently served beer at innumerable Vikings games to raise the funds. Those kids are having an experience none of them are likely to forget.

After lunch of a doner kebab (food is shockingly expensive here, which makes fast food WAY more attractive than usual), we wandered around a bit and then came back to the hotel for a nap. Striking out again at about 9pm, we hit the Montreux Jazz Cafe, which is really a pop venue/bar. The lighting was cool, though, and they allowed cameras so I had a lot of fun taking pictures. Some of the early results are posted here; I'm going to have to give a few of these more post-processing attention, but I'll get to it when I'm home.

Tomorrow's agenda includes a workshop with Quincy Jones, the evening concert with Chick Corea and Gary Burton, and a midnight concert with the George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band. Can't wait!

More later....

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Well, I was *supposed* to have something exciting to report...

But as it turns out, today wasn't that kind of day. One problem with the way this whole trip came together is that we didn't have time to assemble an agenda for our days in Geneva. You know the deal... museums, historic sites... crap like that. We never even got around to getting a guidebook. We had fun, but it's probably not going to be anything worth reading about.

What *did* we do, you ask? (Probably nobody asks that except my mom, but she's also my most avid reader so I might as well cover her imaginary questions.) Well, after managing to sleep a couple more hours, we got up, had breakfast, then went shopping for a short while. I should explain that the hotel we're staying in these two nights is quite a bit off the beaten path to Geneva, but that comes with the excellent trade off of being right across the street from a supermarket and a little Wal-Mart-like place called GiFi. After acquiring staples such as shavers (for me... duh) and water, we deposited everything at the hotel and struck out for town. This involved a walk back to the border, a stop along the way at the fruit stand up the road to satisfy my recent "I-have-to-eat-healthier" needs with some fruit, then on into Geneva by way of the tram. Once we arrived, we did more of what we did last night: hung around the lakeside, peered into shops, had a meal, listened to the music coming from the riverboats... but nothing earth-shattering. Took a short nap in the park (my first picture was actually taken from that spot), fed the sparrows, and just generally enjoyed the great weather. Who says we have to run around at breakneck speed ALL the time?

For those who haven't been to Geneva before (like me, prior to this trip), and who imagine it as a mountainous place where Bavarian-style milkmaids wearing pointy hats carry their produce to the chocolate factories, let me set you straight right now. Geneva is French. As in, France might as well annex the place... just extend that southern border northwest by a hundred miles or so, and you'll get a much more accurate picture of the culture here. Mind you, I don't have any particular problem with it being French, but it's a little odd to think that you're coming someplace different and then discover that you can't tell the two countries apart except by their currency. And the ironic thing about THAT is that Switzerland is still on the Franc, where France is in the E.U. common area and uses the Euro. Go figure.

Of all the productive things we might have accomplished today but didn't, I did learn one thing that I'll share with my fellow Mac addicts: You know those travel power adapters you buy for trips like this so you can run all the electronic crap you can't live without? Well, if you actually bother to read the instructions, you'll find dire warnings against using those things with computers or other electronic equipment that draw more than 50 watts. Since I'm still in the honeymoon phase with my MacBook Pro (not bad, since I've had it over a year now), I was somewhat reticent to test the veracity of that warning, and I was moping a bit this morning about not being able to use the computer I had just carried halfway across the globe. Well, it turns out there was a better solution: at a department stored in Geneva called "Manor," we discovered that Apple makes and sells a "World Power Adapter Kit" that converts standard Apple power adapters, simply by swapping the plugs on the ugly white brick in the power cord. So now, my computer runs on 220 power as though it was designed that way, and as a bonus... they include TWO of each plug, so my iPod power adapter got one too. How totally, utterly cool.

We didn't feel like another trek into town for dinner, nor did we feel up to foie gras or whatever else they were serving in the hotel restaurant tonight, so dinner turned out to be supermarket fare in the hotel room. Specifically, we had salami, tabbouleh, a couple of carrots, bread, and some cheap-but-decent red wine. And it came to about a third of what lunch cost. I wouldn't do this every night... but it was just fine for now.

Off to post this blog and see what's in my e-mail. Bon sois!

Friday, July 6, 2007

On the road again...

Hello from Annemasse, France! We got here at about 2:00 this afternoon, arriving by way of New York, then Geneva, and then by train and tram to the Swiss/French border, which is just about a mile and a half away.

This journey was *almost* uneventful, but as other sojourners can attest, any trip of this length is just, well... literally, a pain in the ass. Connecting in New York helps, since it cuts down on the length of the flights themselves; you end up with about five and a hours to New York, and then another seven or so to Europe. But tack on a couple of ATC-imposed delays: one coming in to JFK that set us back a half hour, then one as we attempted to leave that stranded us on a taxiway for another 2 1/2, and you end up spending one hell of a long time in that cramped little coach-class seat. It's one of those things I conveniently forget a few days after I return home from one of these trips... good thing, too, or else I might never go.

But we made it at last to Geneva airport, and then to our hotel, courtesy of a kindly English gent who volunteered directions when he saw us staring dumbly at the ticket machine in the airport train station. A short train trip into central Geneva and a 40-minute tram ride got us to the border crossing, then a taxi got us the rest of the way.

Immediately after checking we were faced with a difficult decision; when one is hungry, tired, and sticky from travel, which gets satisfied first? Exhaustion won this time; a four-hour nap, followed by a shower, put us back on our feet, and we decided to walk back to the border in search of food. A corner shop we found along the way got us a baguette (my favorite oh-my-god-I'm-starving food while in France), and some soft drinks, and an Italian restaurant just this side of the French border took care of the rest. Afterward, we took the tram back into town, and spent the rest of the evening tiring walking along Lake Leman and peering into shop windows. The weather is absolutely perfect, and flowers are blooming everywhere, perfuming the parks and acting as sort of a olafactory "backdrop" to the swans that were cruising the lake at sunset.

And with that, I think I'll wrap up this post and scrounge around for something to read. It's 5am--gotta love jet lag--and I need something to distract me from wanting breakfast already. Argh.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

No, I'm not getting an iPhone

Right now, I don't see the point. I already have a smartphone that does just about everything the iPhone does; maybe the interface isn't as hip-looking, but it does the job. I also have an iPod, and it comes with 80GB storage, which makes the iPhone's 8GB pale by comparision. I've got a serious concern about battery life, since if I use my mp3 player a bunch and end up with a dead battery it's a mere inconvenience, but if my phone gets laid up for the day, I end up incommunicado for work, which is a FAR bigger problem. But finally, I just don't have any desire to pay upwards of $500 to have to change my current service carrier. AT&T's network coverage isn't as good (especially for data), and there just aren't enough benefits to the phone to make it attractive enough. Sorry Apple--I really am a fan, but this product still needs work.

Given all this, it's probably not surprising that I'm pretty much sick of all the hype surrounding the iPhone launch. This news story, however, cracked me up. The guy was kind of a creep, but this woman sorely deserved to be 0wn3d.

Yawn... off to bed. Class tomorrow...