Friday, January 29, 2010

Napoleon's Battle Plan

Napoleon's battle plan was a simple two part plan.

Part one: Show up.
Part two: See what happens.

For the most part, this plan worked out quite well for him. That is, until he hit Russia. (But even then it didn't stop him. I mean, he escaped Elba, after all! Yes, only to be defeated at Waterloo and then die in exile, either from cancer or poison. But that's not the point here.)

The man single-handedly (or more accurately, with one hand firmly tucked between the sides of his jacket and with many, many hands, legs, arms, swords, shields, and force of soldiers) took over Europe. All that by just showing up and seeing what happened.

It didn't hurt that Napoleon's army was great in both skill and numbers, but they all showed up.

Showing up is a major part of life. You cannot do anything if you aren't there to act.

Which brings up step three of Napoleon's plan, which, even though it isn't actually part of the plan, per se, it was, without question, how Napoleon succeeded.
1) Show up;
2) See what happens;
3) Act and react.

(And of course:
4) Declare war on Russia;
5) Get banished;
6) Show up again.)

So maybe the lesson of Napoleon is less so about the first three steps and more about the last three. Quite simply:
*Never get involved in a land war in Asia.
*You can always show up again.

So on those days when I feel like I haven't actually shown up, when I'm on my own personal Elba, I just have to remember that sometimes all it takes is showing up again and I can rise to power again.

We'll stop the analogies there; I am in no mood for arsenic poisoning.

Soup is the perfect food

Yes. That's right. I said it. Perfect. There is absolutely nothing bad about soup.

It's easy to make, quick to reheat, it's tasty. And best of all, it goes well with crackers.

But soup has one other quality that is impossible to ignore: It requires time to eat.

Yes, you can eat soup faster than, say, a steak dinner, or even a large sub sandwich. But for what soup is, there is no fast way to eat it. You can't put a straw in and inhale, you can't pick up the bowl and drink it all, you can't take bites that are larger than, well, a spoonful -- and those soup spoons always seem too small when you're really hungry. But it forces you to enjoy it; to savor every slurp; to enjoy the smell of the soup before the taste as you put your head down closer so not to lose the liquid out of the spoon (we all look like buoys while eating soup...); to enjoy every spec of goodness as you pull the spoon to your lips.

I guess what I'm saying is that it's nice to be forced to focus on one thing, taking time with it -- voluntary or not -- and only it. You can't really eat soup while reading a book; that would get very messy very quickly.

Soup maybe is supposed to be seen and not heard, but no matter what, do it slowly.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


I woke up this morning with a particular emotion that can only be described as nostalgia.

I'm not nostalgic for a particular time, or a place, or a person, just...nostalgic.

I've been going through today with the sounds of scratchy vinyl and not-properly-mixed piano trios, playing songs with names of people in them -- Emily; Stella by Starlight; Laura...Have You Met Miss Jones.

Maybe this is what being a musician has done to me; it's imposed emotion of songs whose subjects I do not know onto my own psyche. Maybe it's given me such a vast library of old standards that I can't help but have them run through the jukebox of my mind bringing up memories of a time and place I never was. Or perhaps, it's just given me music to help explain an emotion I would feel otherwise.

Or maybe I'm just nostalgic for those times when I would embrace my inner (and outer) musician and sit at a piano for hours and just play. And play. And play.

And now, I invite you to join me, Bill Evans, his trio, and the nostalgia that Emily brings to us all.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Dick Johnson

My mother just called and shared with me the Boston Globe obituary of Dick Johnson, one of the unsung heroes of jazz. He was an incredible multi-reed player. If you want to know more about him, you can read the obituary, but suffice it to say, if he'd ever decided to leave the Boston area, he could have been a very big name in jazz.

I had the pleasure of meeting Dick a number of times, though he never remembered me. The very first time I played with a group of other musicians was with Dick Johnson. I was in 6th grade and my parents and I went to a local jazz concert. It was Dick Johnson and the band he was using that night, consisting of all local guys. My mother, being the pushy Jewish mother she is, said at intermission, "my son is a pianist and he would love to play with you guys!" Of course, I resisted, but a couple tunes into the set, Dick called me up. We played "Fly Me To The Moon," lamely enough, in C.

I would hardly say I played well. In fact, I was quite bad, I think. I mean, I was 12 and had never actually played with a bass player. I didn't know what I was doing, but I knew I wanted to learn.

I saw Dick play the last few summers around Cape Cod with various musicians, and he always sounded great. He always had a great joy for playing that came out through his music...or more often than not, came out through the conversation he would have quite loudly with the band or the patrons in the front few rows of whatever venue he was playing while someone else in the band was taking a solo.

Here my favorite recording, a duet of "Shaw 'Nuff" with Dave McKenna, another unsung jazz hero whom we lost in October of 2008. (I was lucky enough to see Dave McKenna's last performance in December of 2001, I think it was. I'm kind of surprised I didn't write about him on the blog then!) It was recorded live in 1980 and is on Dick's album Artie's Choice! and the Naturals.

(For those who subscribe, you may need to click to the original post to listen to the tune. Even if you are not a jazz fan, you can appreciate the energy, facility, and enjoyment of this music. I promise.)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Filled with tears and flapjacks

That was the title of a chapter of a book the man standing across from me was reading while on the subway this morning. I loved the image of it -- or, more accurately, I loved the juxtaposition of these two nouns: tears and flapjacks. Tears is clearly a stand-in for sadness, while flapjacks is, while, breakfast.

So it got me thinking about comfort food.

When I get down, what do I eat? Usually I have to force myself to eat, as my ideal activity for when I'm down is to sit on my sofa, curl up with my teddy bear, and watch The Muppet Show (or some muppet movie) for hours on end until I decide it's time to get up and the lines on my face from the creases in the pillow are getting too deep.

But when I do eat, there are a few staples: Of course there's chicken soup, I am, after all, Jewish. When I have the time and the proper ingredients, it's nice to make chicken soup. Cinnamon toast is another food that brings me back to childhood in that cinnamon toast is what was always made for me when I was home sick. (I have recently come up with a wonderful variation on cinnamon toast: cinnamon English muffin. That is to say, when you can't decide whether to have an English muffin or cinnamon toast, butter and cinnamon sugar up your English muffin!)

Of course, M&Ms are a comfort food. But more so for me, milk chocolate. Nothing makes me smile like a smooth piece of milk chocolate melting in my mouth and sticking to my tongue. (Of course, my dentist hates me for this, but that's another story.)

And what would a good comfort food day be without ginger ale? Canada Dry is my brand of choice.

So while I appreciate tears and flapjacks, I prefer tears and chocolate. Because everything goes better with chocolate!

Monday, January 11, 2010

How did I get here?

Today was my first day of law school. (You will notice that I, who almost never uses tags, have tagged this entry as "law school," which I'm sure is a tag that will be showing up often from now until, well, the next 2-and-a-half to 3 years, depending on if I decide to add a semester and get an LLM in addition to a JD...but that's discussion for 2 years from now.)

As the day went on, I started to feel a little more comfortable with the people around me, and a little bit with my surroundings -- though tomorrow is going to be my first day studying in the library (or some other alcove of the school). But no matter how comfortable my surroundings may feel, one question still lingers, and probably will for quite a while.

How did I get here?

As I said to someone today, "This is weird; a week ago, I was a musician." Granted, I was not really doing much as a musician, and I've had quite some time to prepare myself for this mentally, but I am still not sure what exactly this is that I'm doing here.

I think I'm going to like it, though I may never get used to it.

Friday, January 8, 2010


Comfort is a weird thing. We always strive to be comfortable. We want to be in that comfortable pair of jeans, that comfortable relationship, that comfortable job, that comfortable house...We always say there's no such thing as too comfortable, and then we think about it.

There's certainly such a thing.

I am only going to speak of one kind of too-comfortable that I've always avoided, though I have many more personal experiences with plenty of other kinds, too.

For me, I've always tried to avoid comfort when it comes to my academics. I start law school in 3 days. (why am I awake at 2:30 in the morning, then? I have 3 days to adjust my sleep cycle!!!) (Oh yeah...I started reading my contracts text book and got so excited that my tea to help me relax wore off, but I digress.) Law school will, most certainly, not be a comfortable experience for me. It will require lots of hard work and plenty of shutting out the people around me, I'm sure. I will be irritable at times, and I am certainly sure there will be times when, no matter how hard I try, I will only be able to speak of what's on my plate -- be it a story from class, freaking out about an exam, or the case I just read. (Note to my friends reading this: I apologize in advance. Feel free to yell at me.)

But this is not the first time I am making myself feel uncomfortable.

My previous educational experience as a composer was filled with voluntary uncomfortableness.

I spent 5 years figuring out what I was good at and doing the exact other thing. If I was really good at writing 3-horn arrangements of standards, I made sure to write for 5 horns. If I felt I was good at writing interesting voice-leading accompaniments, I would spend my time writing counterpoint instead. If I...well, for those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, I'll just say it simply, and redundantly, if I was good at it, I avoided it.

I learned. I moved forward. And oddly enough, I started getting uncomfortable with things I was once good at since I got out of practice.

I'm still confident I can write a 3-horn arrangement of a standard quite easily, though perhaps not as quickly as I once could. I'm sure I could do a saxophone quartet arrangement of "Rainbow Connection" without it being horrible, but as I move on to new uncomfortabilities, what was once comfortable no longer feels quite right.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this, but comfort has been on my mind a lot in the last couple days. I guess you could say I was quite happy being comfortable for once, and since then, I've been forced out of comfort.

I guess I'll just learn how to be comfortable in this new situation...and then move on, whether I want to or not.

(Which, by the way, I don't.)