Sunday, April 28, 2013

Into the Valley of Death Rode the Six Hundred

Perhaps it's a little overly dramatic to cite Tennyson's poem here but my reason for this piece of theatre is that I needed to say something about the number "six hundred".  According to Blogger, this is my 600th post since starting this web log lark almost nine years ago.  This statistic may not be particularly impressive by the standards of those who write for a living but at least I'm still here which is more than I can say for most of the personal blogs that started around the same time as me.  Like the luckier Lancers of the gallant Light Brigade, I've more or less survived the barrage of chainshot, grapeshot and other artillery fire of day-to-day life and kept going.  So onward to the next 600 posts  -the problem is that the flak is still incoming and I haven't caught a glimpse of the cannons yet...!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Outside My Comfort Zone (Again)

Only five days to go. The prospect of some formal education is incredibly exciting! Daunting too. I mean to have the Gary Burton as my Professor (you know, the legendary dude who did all the groovy vibes stuff with Chick Corea and has won zillions of Grammys and things) is about as cool as it gets.

Now let's check the check list:

• Flute re-padded and in good working order √

• Back-up plastic flute ready √

• Guitar(s) (for reference) tuned and ready √

• Keyboard (again for reference) functional √

• Audacity recording program working (and I think I know how to use it) √

• iPad app with all known scales and chords √

• Metronome(s) ready √

• Talented friends at hand who are real musicians and I can call if I need to cheat help √

• Sunglasses √ (this is jazz, remember  -if you can't play it at least try to look cool!)

• Familiarity with 50s/60s jazz patois √  e.g. "Check out the cat with the groovy horn, man, he's far out"

• Theoretical knowledge √  (I can lurch through major and minor [harmonic and melodic], chromatic, minor pentatonic, blues and bebop scales, arpeggios; I know what the modes are and can count most time signatures).

• Ability.....the critical issue is can I improvise any better than when I was 21 and didn't know any of this theory stuff?  Doubtful!

I'll keep you posted...!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Richie Havens

Bugger! Now we've lost two Woodstock alumni in about as many weeks.  I was fortunate to see this legend at the Plumpton Whitsun Festival, Sussex, England in May of 1970 where he performed this song.

RIP, Mr Havens

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Spam, Spam, Spam and Spam!

For the past two weeks the comments sections of the posts on this site have been bombarded with spam. Ostensibly (almost) legitimate comments inviting me or others to click on a link to the sender's site. Don't ask me where they go  -I haven't looked for fear of being mugged or catching a nasty infection. Oddly they've been distributed randomly throughout the comments sections of all 600 odd posts I've made since 2004 (wow, doesn't time fly!?).  Well I've deleted them all and added one of those wretched "Captcha" word recognition thingys that are supposed to defeat spam-bots. We'll see if it works. In the meantime apologies to all for the inconvenience  -sadly I think this is just modern living.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Have a Heart

Congratulations to former Bellevue, WA, residents Ann and Nancy Wilson for their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I love having famous neighbors! Back in the day, their band, Heart, jumped out of the punk and perfectly-produced-Bee-Gees era music and proved that ladies could rock just as hard as the men. In the clip below they show that they are just about the only band in existence that can cover this perennial classic in a respectful, convincing and joyous manner without embarrassing themselves or the song's composers.  Jimmy Page is clearly diggin' it and Robert Plant is (amazingly) moved to tears. Well done girls!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Major Drag, Huh?

Man’s capacity to subject fellow members of his species to inhumane acts appears to be limitless.  In my relatively long lifetime which has been spent in almost equal measure in the UK and the USA I have witnessed a bloody and pointless war fought in SE Asia; a less protracted but vicious conflict in the islands of the South Atlantic that could have been avoided completely with just a little planning (in the style of “the fastest sword is the one that is never drawn”); a bitter internecine struggle, fought asymmetrically over 30 years in Ireland and the British Isles; six full-tilt wars in the middle east; and two superpowers with mind boggling arsenals of high-tech weapons and who each failed to learn the lessons of history regarding the fate of previous superpowers in the same location, brought to a humiliating standstill in the mountains of Afghanistan. Yesterday, breakfast television news was speculating whether a pudgy oligarch with a heinous haircut on the Choson Pando peninsula, would test fire a rocket with possible ICBM capabilities.

That was the situation until lunchtime. Then the report of the bombs in Boston broke and the old familiar pattern began.  There were a few harrowing video clips, news anchors went into overdrive analyzing minutiae in prosaic if not asinine detail and a string of allegedly expert talking heads were paraded across the screen. Déjà vu all over again!  Sadly I feel that in my dotage I’ve become resigned to the horror of these events. Terrorism has touched (or just missed me) on several occasions. In 1974, two pubs in my hometown of Guildford were blown up with loss of life and huge numbers of injuries. I heard the car bombs that killed a renowned Professor of Hematology at a British medical school (1975) where I was later to work as well as the politician Airey Neave (1979).  I saw and heard ambulance dispatches to the Hyde and Regents Park explosions of 1982 where cavalry horses and colorfully uniformed troopers were mown down by nail bombs in scenes of unspeakable carnage. In 1993 I watched a movie in a cinema in Charing Cross Road, London, only to learn a day or so later that a bomb that had failed to detonate was found under one of the seats and had been placed there several weeks previously. In 1996 the blast from a ten-ton truck bomb at Canary Wharf, London, nearly knocked in the windows of my flat two miles away across the Thames. Then came 9/11 and my cousin Robert, working for the investment bank, Cantor Fitzgerald, was tragically lost in the World Trade Center.

I have more examples but I’ve made my point and the list is long enough. The values of my generation in its youthful prime were of optimism and agreeable co-existence. “Give peace a chance” and “Make love not war” were common mantras but sadly dismissed as naïve and unworkable by our successors. Maybe they were but it was nice to be optimistic. Unfortunately my attempts over the years at conflict resolution have been only partially successful. Indeed I’ve had some spectacular, almost hilarious, failures and sadly I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter how illogical or painful this behaviour may be, the human race thrives on conflict.  While this trait is certainly species-threatening, it remains to be seen whether it will cause an extinction event. Hopefully not but I’m not taking any bets. Indeed I’m reminded of the movie Terminator 2 and the conversation between the young John Connor (Edward Furlong) and his time-travelling Terminator bodyguard (Arnold Schwarzenegger) in which they discuss the fate of the human race:

John Connor: We're not gonna make it, are we? People, I mean.
The Terminator: It's in your nature to destroy yourselves.
John Connor: Yeah. Major drag, huh?


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Musical Postcards: Stephanie Porter

Here's another video clip of Seattle-area musicians. Earlier tonight I stumbled across this excellent combo: Stephanie Porter and her band. Absolutely superb!  Seattle is replete with talent  -the only place I know where you can pop into a neighborhood eatery for a bowl of soup and find musicians of this calibre just playing for fun.

All the usual caveats about photography with a telephone camera -it's dark and the lighting sub-optimal (my apologies to the band members who are nearly invisible). Noises from the bar and audience chatterings intrude on occasions but are bearable. The video was taken with Ms Porter's permission. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

War Stories: The Whispering Death

Wow! And it's near Cremona, too. I have a connection. Now I must get to see it. The Bristol Beaufighter is one of my favourite WW2 aircraft.  Despite being somewhat eclipsed by the sexier and faster DeHavilland Mosquito, the Beaufighter was a very capable aircraft. It was heavily armed and bristled with no fewer than 10 cannon and machine guns. In addition it could be fitted with rockets, torpedoes and bombs. It's large fuselage easily accommodated radar and the Beau excelled as a night fighter. It was also formidable in ground attack and anti-shipping roles.  Oh, and the name "Whispering Death" was apparently coined by the Japanese and is attributed to the aircraft's quiet Hercules engines that made use of sleeve valves instead of the more commonplace (and noisy) poppet valves. Oh Lord, I'm such a geek!

PS Seeing one of these aircraft in its physical form has been a bucket list item for quite some time. If the Italian site is not accessible there is always this one in Greece.