Ashtray from Alan Cristea Gallery Twentieth Anniversary Portfolio 2015
Ashtray from Alan Cristea Gallery Twentieth Anniversary Portfolio
2015

Yesterday I went on a Tinder date to the Museum of Modern Art. There’s no real reason for me to tell you that I was on a Tinder date except for the fact that I probably just won a few more readers who are titillated by the phrase “Tinder date.” And now, despite the fact that I keep repeating the phrase Tinder date, I’d like to direct your attention more towards my experience of the MoMA and less on the Tinder date. I confess that at the MoMA I felt a lot like how my German friend Dierk feels feels when he watches a Richard Pryor standup comedy special: “I don’t get it!” (please imagine a deep-voiced German man saying that). I could chalk this up to the fact that I am not well-educated and up to date on the trends of modern visual art, but I actually experience this same feeling when listening to some modern musical art (a field in which I’m at least relatively well educated and up to date). The truth is that some art and music is simply more intelligible than other art and music.

For instance, I had a wonderful experience of perfectly intelligible music last Saturday at the legendary Blue Note jazz club. At the classic venue, looked after by a suspender-clad waitstaff, I saw the one and only Bill Frisell play alongside Petra Haden (vocals), Thomas Morgan (bass), and Rudy Royston (drums). With his trademark reverb-laden telecaster tone, Bill and company played arrangements of classic film and television music from their album When You Wish Upon A Star. They put a haunting and spacious twist on classic movie songs like You Only Live Twice, The Windmills of Your Mind, and the theme from Psycho. Yet for all of the unique character that they infused in each song, they never sacrificed clarity for the sake of novelty. I walked back to the subway feeling uplifted, whistling the tunes that I had just heard.

Conversely, on Tuesday night I took a stroll to a new venue called Nublu— this is likely a stretch but I wonder if the phonetic pronunciation of the club (“new blue”) is an intentional nod (or perhaps even a jab) towards the long-standing Blue Note. Nublu, with it’s darkly lit industrial aesthetic, glowing bar, and psychedelic tapestry of light projected onto a large wall, was clearly much more modern than the Blue Note. As I watched the band tune up and prepare to play, I realized that this was one of the most talented collections of musicians I would ever see perform together (Dave Binney-sax, Chris Potter- sax, Adam Rogers- guitar, Matt Brewer- bass, Craig Taborn- keys, and Justin Brown- drums). Between the sleek setting and incredible musicians, I had a giddy sense that this was one of these “only in New York City” kind of moments. And yet after thirty minutes of hearing them play relentless, high energy, complex, and sometimes atonal music, I was ready to leave. There was no doubt of the skill onstage with each performer playing blistering solos— there was simply little for me to latch on to and enjoy. I left with nothing in my head that I wanted to whistle.

“What ever happened to melody!?” This was a question my film scoring instructor Chris Hajian asked me this week in our lesson, and a question I was asking myself after the show at Nublu. For the past couple of decades or so (and probably much longer), whether in jazz, or film scores, or pop music, the importance of melody has undoubtedly waned. For example, what’s the billboard number one song right now? Don’t worry I’ll look it up— ok it’s a song called Closer by the Chainsmokers. Now I just really hate this song already, and I’ve only heard it once, but let’s identify what is important and prominent about this song: the beat, the timbre change from the male vocals to the female vocals, the distinct intentionally lo-fi sound of the synth, and of course the corny, cliché, stupid ass lyrics. It is certainly not the melody that is important. The melodic moments are short, simple, and repetitive— this is certainly not a hit song because of the melody alone. Ok now then what was the number one hit on this day in 1996? Oh no, it was the Macerena! I was hoping to prove that 1996 was more melodic than 2016, but that is not a great example now is it? Ok we better go even further back in time… on this day in 1976 the number one song was Chicago’s If You Leave Me Now. Whether you like this song or not, you’ll have to admit that the melody plays a much more prominent role in it than in most of the hit songs of today. There’s strong contour, momentum, and variation in this melody. Indeed, unlike the song Closer, the main reason that If You Leave Me Now was a hit is because of it’s melody.

And now, straight out of the blue, it’s time for me to stop being pretentious and start getting real. I’m abruptly signing off of this blog post, because I have a laundry list of other things to do including film clips to score, guitar solos to transcribe, and Westworld to watch. But are you still wondering why melody has diminished over time? And do want to know how my Tinder date went? And is this a complete cop out ending the blog post like this? Stay tuned for the thrilling conclusion next week as these and many other questions are finally answered!!


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Last week I was in a coffee shop struggling to write a blog post about booty, when I started eavesdropping on an amusing conversation. I listened as the shop’s two hipster employees spun a random web of banter (from farmer’s markets to penne pizza to Keurig coffee to that business card scene in American Psycho) and suddenly I had a sad realization: eavesdropping on this conversation was the most interesting thing I’d done all week. I was struggling to write the blog post because I didn’t do anything worth writing about that week— I just went to school, practiced, did my homework, ate food, watched game of thrones, read Harry Potter, and slept. It was a good week— but a boring week to read about, so I was stuck mining my mind for some interesting concepts. But concepts are not interesting— they’re just dead ideas unless you do something with them. So I vowed then and there that the next week I would go out and really do something, because (dammit) I live in the most vibrant city in the world, and (dammit) I need these blog posts to be easier to write. Thus, I’d like to throw out the tired old concepts this week, and just give you a recap of some of the more interesting things I did.

I began my adventures last Friday night by taking a stroll down to Union Square (well known hangout for eccentric characters). I was just eating an apple doing some people watching when I saw a large mass of people circle up and heard someone from the inside suddenly shout “If you’re loving the Cyphers put your fist up, and say hell yeah!” (and naturally all the spectators put their fists up and shouted back “hell yeah!”). I approached the crowd and soon realized that there was a hip-hop beat playing and many people trading freestyle verses over it. Apparently I had walked into a meeting of the Legendary Cyphers, a renowned freestyle session that happens every Friday night in Union Square (read about it here please). Many of the MC’s were wearing Legendary Cyphers shirts, most were just in plain-clothes, and one guy was inexplicably wearing a full Aquaman costume. I learned from their verses that they were honoring an MC called Majesty, one of the founding members of the Legendary Cyphers who had recently passed away. I was captivated by the scene— some of the MC’s were incredibly talented and effortlessly picked up where the previous rapper had left off, then spitting a clever collection of puns, metaphors, and cultural references. Some of the MC’s were clearly amateurs, yet this was obviously a safe, supportive space with the beginners being lifted up by the heavy weight MC’s rather than put down by them. If one rapper began to flounder, there was no dissing or booing—another MC would simply pick up where he or she left off and the cypher would continue. For the roughly hour-long duration that I watched, the rapping never stopped. The beats would change every five minutes or so, yet the MC’s never stopped flowing. As I watched I was constantly aware of the many similarities between this and a jazz jam session, but that is the topic for a future blog post…

The next day I decided to do something I have not done in years: watch an Arkansas Razorback football game. There’s a bar in Times Square called Hurley’s Saloon that hosts watch parties for Razorback sporting events (don’t ask me why). I wanted to go hear some Arkansan accents so I threw on a red shirt and brought my buddy Jonathan along to watch Arkansas get royally stomped by Alabama (coincidentally, Jonathan went to the University of Louisville who is currently having success under the memorably-fired former Razorback coach Bobby Petrino). We sat and drank some beers and I told Jonathan that I wanted to go talk to the people at the table nearby. He seemed doubtful that I would actually cold approach a table full of strangers and introduce myself, but he’s never been to Arkansas and doesn’t understand how small of a world it is there. So I got up and introduced myself to a table of five women (oh maybe it was the “five women” part that made him doubtful), and after some brief small talk I discovered that two of them were indeed in Bible study with my aunt Martha Jane at First Methodist church in Hot Springs, and one of them was an assistant principal at Pine Bluff High School when my friend Epiphany Morrow was a student there. To borrow a term from Malcolm Gladwell, Epiphany and Martha Jane are “connectors.” They both know a lot of people and a lot of different types of people. I’ve been very lucky to have been propped up and helped along my life’s path by a number of friends and family members who are connectors. Because of this, I too aspire to one day be a helpful connector to many people in my life, but that is the topic for a future blog post…

My week at school passed by with plenty of practice and classwork, and by the time Thursday rolled around I was ready for another outing. A fellow guitar student at NYU named Ben recommended I go see the excellent guitarist (and NYU professor) Adam Rogers perform at 55 Bar with his power-trio Dice. Rogers is mostly known as an accomplished jazz guitarist, but in this band he breaks out a Fender Stratocaster and fully flexes his rock muscle. He still played with his trademark technical skill and advanced harmonic and rhythmic ideas, yet he did so in the context of arrangements of songs by Sam Cooke, Bobby Womack, and Jimi Hendrix, as well as some heavy-hitting originals tunes. It was fun and invigorating to see such a great performance, yet watching Rogers play this style of music was inspiring on another level as well. For I imagine that the current generation of jazz guitarists did not first pick up a guitar because they heard a Kenny Burrell or Wes Montgomery album. They were probably first inspired by rock gods like Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page and only later seduced by the deep well of musical ideas that the jazz cats provided. Thus, it was great to see present-day Adam Rogers playing something that I imagine a 13 year old Adam Rogers would have enjoyed— certainly my 13 year old self would have enjoyed it, but that is the topic for a future blog post…

I keep harping on this phrase “the topic of a future blog post” to show that simply by going out into the world and doing something (anything really), I have gained, if I want to use them, ideas for at least three new blog-posts as well as concrete experiences to support them. Whereas last week I spent hours upon hours struggling to write a purely conceptual post, this week’s post flowed easily from the pen to the page (and then from the fingers to the screen as I typed it up). Yet because I’m a conceptual kind of guy and I can’t stay away from abstract ideas for too long, I’d like to leave you with what I think is the underlying lesson of this week’s post: The more that you do, the more you that you can do. The more you practice your craft, the more gigs you’ll be able to handle; the more people you go out and meet and invest yourself in, the more people you’ll have to help you in your personal and professional life; and the more you just get out of the house, the more you’ll have to talk about in your music blog. See you next week!