Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Goodbye, Oscar

I'm not alone when I say how much Oscar Peterson meant to me. I'm sure almost every other Jazz Pianist (and perhaps jazz musicians as a whole) can talk about how Oscar Peterson's playing spoke to him in one way or another.

But it isn't a stretch to say that Oscar Peterson is why I'm a jazz musician.

I'd been studying Jazz for a number (three, perhaps?) of years before actually being graced by Oscar's music, but what I was playing was more of copy-cat music; I could mimic just about anything my teacher showed me, but not much more. And he didn't have me listen to anything. That changed as soon as I found a new teacher at the end of the first half of 8th grade.

"So. What do you listen to?" my new teacher asked on my first lesson. "Well, uh..." "Okay. Go get some Oscar Peterson. Get Night Train. I mean, any Oscar will do, but get it."

I did.

I got the CD and put it in my Panasonic Shockwave -- the yellow one with the 10-second anti-skip that I got as a Bar-Mitzvah present -- and didn't take it out except to change the batteries every 10 hours. I listened to that album non-stop when my mother and I visited her parents in Florida that February. The plane there, the plane back, and every free minute in between. At the peek of my listening, I could sing every note Oscar played on that album -- including alternate takes and rehearsal takes included on that printing.

I never learned to play like Oscar, but I've always been jealous, of course. I even joke that "I grew up listening to a lot of Stan Getz, Thelonious Monk, and Oscar Peterson" to which the response "I can hear the Getz and the Monk, but ya really goofed on the Oscar!" is common.

That's right in some ways, but others, not as much. I'd like to think that while my technical abilities on the piano will never be what Oscar's were, I picked up the Oscar Peterson message -- that is to say that I make every note count and try to convey something.

I also picked up on some pretty obscure things that other people may not notice that came from Oscar, even though in my mind, they did. As a composer, I'm always told never to put a second (major or minor) below the melody, yet I do it often, anyway. I love the sound. It took until recently for me to realize that I stole that from Oscar's playing. (He talks about that specifically in his broadcast on Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz on NPR.)

I also took a lot of him as a side-man. Oscar, while known as one of the best pianists ever as a front man, is also the best side-man in history, in my opinion. Listen to his albums with Ella and Louis, or the entire Jazz at the Philharmonic series -- or accompanying any bass solo behind Ray Brown in any classic trio recording -- his comping is absolute perfection and beauty. While my voicings aren't there with his, I'd like to think that the moral of Oscar is still alive and kicking in my playing.

Beyond these influences to my music itself, I cannot forget the fact that I wrote one of my college essays about my first experience listening to "Night Train." Oscar got me into college. (Two of 'em, actually, if you consider that I needed to get into the jazz school and liberal arts school separately, and thus submitted the essay twice.)

So for the next few days, I'm going to listen pretty much non-stop to some of my favorite Oscar cuts. "Hymn to Freedom," "Place St. Henri," "L'Impossible," among the many favorites that make up the proverbial on-hold music of my brain.

Perhaps in a few days, I'll write a musical tribute to Oscar. Perhaps I'll learn to play one of my favorites verbatim. Or perhaps I'll just let my tribute lie with Oscar's spirit living within me, even if his notes never will.

Oscar Peterson died in his home in Toronto on Sunday from Kidney failure. He was 82.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The joys of unhappiness

With finals finally over and a couple days behind me, I have a clear enough head to write again. Yay for me! (Perhaps less yay for my subscribers. :) )

So the last few weeks, I have not been in the happiest of places. It's a tough time of year for me: there are a lot of birthdays of people whom I no longer speak to (by no choice of my own), I tire easily of Christmas music, I have the stresses of finals, my friends who usually keep me sane have finals and therefore cannot keep me sane, this is generally a lonely time of year for the bitterly single...and the Jewish...the list goes on.

But the weird thing, I'm happy to be feeling this unhappiness.

No, I'm not a masochist and I'm only a fraction of the self-hating Jew I claim to be, and while my roommate may call me a grinch, I'm not really one. I mean, I love how the streets look with trees lit (but not all the trees; I like the contrast of lit and unlit. I think if every tree in New York were lit, it wouldn't be as special), and I love the smell of the street-side tree sellers. I, like most people, generally hate to be unhappy.

So why am I here, on this blog, to my handful of regular readers and the scores of stumble-upon-ers, that I am happy to be unhappy? Because I've felt worse.

Exactly one year ago, I was unhappy to such an extent that I had no emotions. I couldn't get out of bed in the morning. I barely ate. I avoided people. I was short tempered with friends and family. (And I was in a place that it only got worse until late May!) I was so unhappy, that I didn't feel anything.

It's true that the opposite of love isn't hate, it's indifference. And the opposite of happy isn't sad or unhappy, but also indifference. And I was totally indifferent to the world -- and to myself. I cognitively wanted to get out of the funk I was in, but emotionally, I just didn't care what my state was.

So now, when I'm unhappy, I'm ecstatic to be able to be unhappy. Even when a little blue, I jump out of bed in the morning with a vigor to attack the day ahead of me. I may not want to go to class, but I think that's just me being your normal slightly-burnt-out 4th-year college student. I may want to stay under my blanket with my teddy bear when it's cold and rainy -- or snowy, or icy, or wintery-mix-y -- but that's just me being human. I may want to stay blue a little longer and watch a movie that will make me cry a little...but that's me just being...um...me. (It takes someone truly comfortable with his masculinity to admit to curling up with his teddy bear and crying. And to wear pink. But I don't have the complexion to wear pink, I'm told, so I'll stick with the former.)

Bottom line: I may not enjoy being unhappy because, well, it isn't being happy, but I enjoy the fact that I can be unhappy, so by extension, I enjoy being unhappy.

I'm the only person you'll ever see smiling and singing gleefully while being completely unhappy, and it isn't a cover-up.

But then again, I've never been normal.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Steroids in baseball

After reading through about 200 pages of The Mitchell Report, I think I'm ready to comment on the use of performance enhancing drugs in professional baseball.

So my response is quite simple:

Nothing in it surprised me. Baseball, while it is the closest thing to religion I have at times, is still merely entertainment. I don't look up to any of these players as American Heroes. I love baseball, but its individuals are all but irrelevant to me.

This is a great opportunity for baseball players -- those mentioned in it -- to distinguish themselves, though. I get a lot of flack for this, but I have a lot of respect of Andy Pettitte. He came out after the report and said, 'yeah; I took HGH...I made a mistake, I'm sorry.' People who deny it when there's a lot of evidence, I have no respect for. Especially those who say "I didn't do it, and I don't think it's a problem..."

Will I still watch baseball? Yeah! Will I still root for the Red Sox? Of course! Will I worship those players who were not named? Nope! They still make ungodly amounts of money to play a game. I'm jealous of them and hope to one day be as lucky to be paid to do what I would do for free. But for now, I'm just going to digest baseball the same way I did before: as entertainment and a medium through which life can be communicated.

But that's a story for another post.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Mitchell Report

I downloaded the 409 page document that is the Mitchell Report. The report on performance enhancing drug use in Major League Baseball.

I've spoken before about my love of baseball, so I will be responding to this report in depth at a later time.

For now, I'm just going to say that the parts of the report I've read thus far (already nearly 100 pages) are fascinating and I cannot put it down. (Proverbially, since I only have it in digital format.)

My love of baseball remains unfeigned, but again, there will be more comments later this week. So be ready, blogoverse.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

It's not polite to stare

I'm a people watcher. It's a favorite activity of mine, and I've touched on this a couple (or more) times, most recently about my love of eating alone at restaurants.

I people watch because I am a storytellers. I find those I see, pick one out, and make up his story. It is irrelevant how true my made up story is, and it usually bares no resemblance to the subject's actual life story. In fact, the falsified is usually more exciting than the genuine.

So when I see someone that catches my eye, I fill in his story. I see someone dressed nicely in a late-night subway filled with people in jeans, I make up her story. I see a man looking solemnly at a letter, I make up what the letter says. I see a woman on the verge of tears, I empathize with her pain through making up the story of where her pain comes from. I see someone with crutches, a cane, a cast, or any other such injury-revealing accessories, and I make up the story of how it happened -- of course starting with what his particular ailment is.

Today was one of the last examples that threw me off.

I saw a man in the train with a cane and two boots as if he had torn ligaments in his ankle or a stress fracture or a broken toe.

While making up his story -- how it happened, where he was coming from, where he was going with his wife, why she was obviously the care-taker and knew not where they were and he had to give instruction -- I started surveying his belongings and his being to see what clues I could fill in to complete the picture I had of him.

My picture was shattered when I realized he had no toes on his right foot.

I don't know why this bothered me so much and put me aback; most things I see, I just manage to avoid and move on and keep writing the narrative I had already started. Yet this, I couldn't stop looking down at his foot. I had to keep telling myself "don't stare...don't stare...don't stare..." and yet I kept on gazing.

For the first time in my life, I could not think about narrative. I was stuck on the object and not the person.

I didn't think about how much I'd miss my toes, or how much I need to find my toenail clipper, or even how hard it must be to find a pair of shoes that fits right, I just kept gazing at his foot, trying to hide the fact that I was mesmerized and disgusted all at the same time.

I have phantom pains for this man's toes. And no story to go along with it.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Christmas in New York

Funny for me to discuss Christmas, being Jewish and all...and in New York, no less, since this year will only mark the second time I've ever spent Christmas in New York. (Actually, third; when I was little, we took a vacation to New York City on Christmas that I don't remember since, well, I was like 9...)

I must say; I thoroughly enjoyed Christmas in New York last year. It consisted of what it always does for Jews: Chinese food and a movie. (Of course, I was on duty as an RA and couldn't leave my dorm, so it was a movie on TV...and like six DVDs with a friend of mine...mostly chick flicks, and I blame her for that.)

I did a seven mile walk on Christmas morning, and it was unlike any other New York walk I've ever had.

But this nostalgia or love of the holiday season is not the point of my post. The point is that it IS Christmas in New York City already, and it has been since THE FIRST WEEK OF NOVEMBER!

I can't escape it. Everywhere I go -- and everywhere I've been since November 1 -- is a reminder of Christmas.

Now I don't mind Christmas music -- especially the songs written by Jews (which are, in my opinion, the best Christmas songs there is) -- but it does get tiresome. In fact, my walk home from the subway doesn't even escape it as the scaffolding at the construction site outside the stairs to the subway has speakers blaring out carol after carol.

I'd just like to be inundated with music I don't like that I don't find myself singing along to. These carols are addictive, and I don't like them. And just because I sing along, doesn't mean I want to hear them again.

They just frustrate me.

And I'm sorry that this post isn't better thought-out, but my brain -- still on strike...or consumed with finals...or singing "jingle bell rock" so loudly that I cannot concentrate.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Some quick bullets

*Not that I'd know from experience or anything, but I gotta say -- it's pretty upsetting when a computer blind date service cannot find you a date and you are forced to read emails thrice a week that say, "We're sorry, but we couldn't find you a date tonight."

Yeah -- not that I know from experience...

*I had an eerie subway ride home from school today. Totally silent. Rush hour, uptown 4-train from Union Square. It was not as packed as usual (because there was one immediately in front or us), but still, even in trains with seats still available they are never this quiet, There wasn't a single person whose iPod was loud enough to hear it outside of his own ears, and the only conversation in the entire car was in sign-language and only lasted for 7 seconds or so.

*The rumors are true: I own my first (and second) pair of jeans in over 10 years. And in the 3 days of owning jeans, I've worn them twice. (Today because it was laundry day.)

*Related story: Sitting in school today and someone said hi to me and had to double-take. "You look different. Wearing contacts?" "Nope; I had laser eye surgery in March." "Haircut?" "Not since I last saw you." "Shave differently?" "Who knows; I have a new facial hair choice ever two weeks." "Then what is it?" "I'm wearing jeans for the first time in 10 years?" "Hmm...that's it?" "Yeah - that's the only different thing about me." "Wow. That really IS it! Well, welcome to the world of jeans." "Thanks; it'll take some getting used to."

*I had a coupon for a free small order of fries at Burger King today. Bad fries, but fun experience. Well-dressed 40-something black man behind me (and next to me after I ordered) in line. He just started telling random stories. Here's one. (Remember, his words, not mine.)

"I love the English language. You can really make anything. Like last week, I was in a diner and a woman came in. This is a true story, by the way. 'I'll have a small Greek.' And the guy at the counter turned around and said, 'Dmitri, you're wanted.' And a small Greek, a midget -- all dressed up in uniform -- came out to the front. I love this language. She just wanted a salad and they gave her a small Greek man!"

I asked how much the woman was charged for the small man, but he had no answer and instead started talking about this guy he knows who raised chickens in the basement of a store on 3rd Ave and that he should have raised pitbulls, because that's where the money is. Then the cashier chimed in, saying that she raises pitbulls and they get $350 for a female and $200 for a male puppy.

*This post has been brought to you by procrastination: Now with MSG.

*I'm wearing khakis and a gray fleece tomorrow, if only so I can feel like me again. And now, back to work.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

NaBloPoMo recap

Well, I succeeded in National Blog Posting Month.

A recap.

-Days: 30
-Posts: 30
-Total words: 13,343
-Average words per post: Just shy of 445
-Shortest post: 70 words
-Longest Post: 971 Words
-Posts with more than 500 words: 8
-Posts with fewer than 300 words: 3
-Post with the oldest material: From the summer of 2002
-Favorite post: The Bar Scene
-Post that I like a lot partially because it makes me cry a little: Her Birthday
-Best old memory: Rooftop Picnic
-Best new memory: Close your eyes for 30 seconds
-Most likely to hear me actually start spewing with no end in sight when we're actually in the same room together: "Are you, by any chance, Jewish?"
-Post that most exemplifies how strange I tend to be: Tie: Baby, It's Cold Outside; Eating Habits
-References to WGA strike: 4
-Links to Tom, who was trying to beat NaBloPoMo with 60 posts in the month of November: 2 (Hmm...I thought it was more...)
-Number of email subscribers who canceled their email subscription in the month of November: 1
-Number of new subscribers: Um...0
-Number of times I asked someone what to write about: Countless
-Number of times I listened: one-half (Ilana said I should write about her. I didn't write about her, but I addressed her at the end.)

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned; I'm not done writing...but probably taking a few days off.