Blog Baroque

I have two purposes for this post: one is to let you know that Jaqui Hope, Heath Proskin, and I have two more songs “up” on YouTube (more videos filmed by John Mount at the Museum of Monterey reading/performance described in the second-to-last post); and the second purpose: to honor a multitalented artist I much admire and respect–someone who submitted  favorable commentary on two songs we performed that night and who made me aware that I am not capable of such a customarily cryptic blog response as “Cool, Dude, thanks,” by way of Comment myself  when someone I admire and respect submits a Comment–so I would like to turn the occasion into a complete post and devote “Testimonials” space to Bob Danziger (much more on him coming up!) and express my own feelings about brevity when it comes to gratitude.

First, here are two photos of Jaqui (vocals), Heath (bass) and me (piano) “in action,” and URLs for where the new YouTube videos can be found:

It's a Wonderful World    Jaqui Singing

“It’s a Wonderful World”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xLHVwizEvNA&feature=youtu.be

“‘Round Midnight”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VBynYTsvv8A

When I decided to enter the Brave New World of “self-presentation,” of multi-faceted digital, relational communication–and mostly at the time, in the hope of letting a wider audience than I had at the time know about a book I had out (The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir)–I entertained two reservations. The first was focused on strong feelings I had when it came to “friendship.” I’ve long regarded friendship as a sacred matter (not an “institution”), a condition that comes about naturally, spontaneously, and often accidentally, but once set in motion, a state that should span a lifetime. Consequently, when it came to my own work, I found the thought of having to choose “friends” formally and “officially” and asking them to represent themselves that way online (especially for the purpose of selling my own books) appalling. At the same time, I realized that today, refusing to become publicly “relational,” a writer doesn’t stand a prayer in hell as far as promoting her or his own work goes–so here I am, blogging away (and enjoying it!), and finding myself represented on Goodreads and Google+ as well.

The second reservation related to just how, once I was “on board” in this Brave New World,  I would respond to “Comments” if and when they started to come in regarding what I was posting online. I’d previously had a blog on a jazz site, but my entries proved to be so prolix that the editor and publisher took to calling me his “William Faulkner,” an epithet that was by no means intended as flattery or approval. I didn’t last long, and my next shot at call and response in the  digital world came when I had a poem published on a site which appeared to have a corps of “greeters” for each new participant, sending quick and concise word (“I enjoyed this Bill,” or “These lines really clicked for me,” the lines cited), to which I attempted to respond in kind, but found myself so grateful that I tended to go on and on (and on and on) by way of response or thanks–painfully aware that I was not playing the “game” as it should be played, but unwilling to go against my own nature. When someone from the site quoted four words from my poem and wrote “I like that” in response and I replied with five long paragraphs, I realized I was helpless.

So … to move this “story” along, I have now begun to receive “Comments” on my blog, and as W.C. Fields said about the blonde who “drove him to drink,” I will be eternally grateful “ever since.” But faced with the task of responding–succinctly, briefly, concisely, pithily, tersely, cryptically,  laconically, cogently (but with brevity)–I’m not sure I can do so without employing eight adverbs in place of the single best one.

My answer to this dilemma right now is not to try–but just go on being my old Baroque self, without apology. As a matter of fact, I was just about to congratulate myself on having invented a whole new genre when it came to blogging: Blog Baroque (the inversion intentional to give it more class, as in “Eggs Benedict”), when the situation of responding to Comments arose–that is, the challenge of doing so with suitable brevity, rather than as who I am.

And that’s where Bob Danziger comes in. The Comment he made on Jaqui Hope singing a song I wrote (“My Fingers Refuse to Sleep”) and one by Hoagy Carmichael (“The Nearness of You”) is a model of clear, concise, insightful approval or praise, and this coming from a man who knows the world of music, even the “industry,” inside and out (along with a host of other things I’ll tell you about). So when approval comes from such a knowing source, I feel it would be inappropriate (or even rude) to respond with a quick “Cool, Dude, thanks!” or “I enjoyed that, Bob!” I feel he deserves a more extensive response.

Bob Danziger is a gifted musician, composer, sound sculptor, inventor, author, entrepreneur, and a key player in the alternative energy industry for over thirty years. You can check out his amazing string of achievements at:

http://www.linkedin.com/in/bobdanziger

http://www.bobdanziger.com/

http://energylaughs.com/

He has recently completed a remarkable series of CDs that make up his Brandenburg 300 Project. More information on this can be found at: http://www.brandenburg300.com.

After the first album from the project came out, Brandenburg 23: Six Variations, I wrote, “Bob Danziger contains multitudes, but he does not contradict himself, as Walt Whitman boasted of doing. Recently, he has turned his all-embracing but fully consistent attention to adapting Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto to his own unique ‘vision,’ and the result does not merely bring the music up to date, but places it within all ages or eras with solid emphasis on our own–and the future. It’s an ambitious undertaking, but one for which he possesses not just the vision and creative means to fulfill potential, but friends as well.”

At the time I may have suspected, but lacked full foresight to comprehend all of the multitudes Bob Danziger contains—just how ambitious his undertaking was, how inclusive, how comprehensive his vision and creative means would prove to be, and just how many friends he had to assist him in carrying out this project. That initial single album—Brandenburg 23: Six Variations—now resides in the company of ten other albums, ranging from one containing a medley of sixteen songs from the complete project to duets, trios, and “hybrids”—the tracks on all of the albums named for Honorees who, in Bob’s own words, “were selected because the world would be a better place if there were a lot more people like them, and because they represent something to aspire to, to measure oneself against.” This extra-musical (or inter-musical) intention resides at the center of the wide range of tribute to Bach himself that makes up the project as a whole: a generosity, a commitment to excellence for its own sake (“not for glory and least of all for profit,” in William Faulkner’s words), a genuine altruism or agape that runs through every phase of the project—something rare (if not unheard of) in the music “industry” today.

Throughout this blog I have attempted to call attention to the two fine musicians I’ve been working with–vocalist Jaqui Hope and bassist Heath Proskin–in our readings/performances to promote my book The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir, and in the last post I paid homage to important people in my life such as poet Paul Oehler ( “On the Nature of Literary Friendship: Paul Oehler, by William Minor” in Writers Friendship, edited and compiled by Robert Sward: http://webdelsol.com/f-friendship.htm), editor Chris Hebert, drummer Akira Tana, my friend Yuri Kochiyama, the musicians–Tiger Okoshi and Daniela Schachter–with whom I was “on tour,” and the members of the Albatross Swing Jazz Orchestra in Nikko, Japan. After, I thought, “I should have a special category called ‘Others,’ one in which I can honor such excellent folks and more” (the way Bob Danziger paid homage to his Honorees), and I then decided to do so in the “Testimonials” category already set up for word about my books–now promoting the work of others as well as my own “stuff.” And that’s just what I hope to do here, starting with Bob Danziger. What better way to make this blog truly “relational,” then to establish a Mutual Admiration Society of sorts, one in which we can all pay a large measure of respect–and love–for one another’s lives and work?!

I’ll close this post with two album covers from the Brandenburg 300 Project, and three paragraphs of appreciation for that work I included toward the end of an article I’ve just completed on Bob Danziger’s extraordinary project as a whole.

Brandenburg 23- 2  Brandenburg 12-3

Bob Danziger’s Brandenburg recordings offer both horizontal and vertical mobility—the music unfolding or even sprouting at a joyous (occasionally breakneck) up tempo pace, but also disclosing layer upon layer of slowly absorbed meaning. Listening to the complete gathering of recordings, I felt as if I were on some endlessly progressing trek or “trip,” a voyage of discovery, an archaeological or spatial “dig” that eventually brought to light abundant unanticipated treasures and resultant wonder—an encyclopedic tapestry of sound.

Marcel Proust wrote about a musician whose piano performances were so fine that we, as listeners, are “no longer aware that the performer is a pianist at all,” that the “apparatus of digital effort,” all that “splattering shower of notes,” drops out, and what we are left to experience is a performance “so transparent, so imbued with what he is interpreting, that one no longer sees the performer himself—he is simply a window opening upon a great work of art.” All of the particulars, the parts, “flow into lakes of sound vaster than themselves.”

This is what I found happening to me as I listened to the complete Brandenburg 300 Project. If my own attempt to describe the effect tends to have become a bit “Baroque” itself, it’s because the music I experienced became so delightfully diffuse yet in accord, so “epic” in its inclusiveness, so wild yet comforting in its “reach,” so overwhelming with the full range of emotion it offered (from, yes, joy to sorrow to rage—and Bach himself was no stranger to rage!), that I myself became “imbued with what [it was] interpreting,” and for many delightful, truly meaningful moments I felt a bit vaster than myself. Thank you, Bob Danziger.

Next post: I hope to write about more amazing musicians I’ve been privileged to see and hear–this time at the recently attended Monterey Jazz Festival. Next time, I’ll take you there as best I can!

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YouTube, Book Tours, and Beyond

This may end up another “Mostly for Fun” somewhat miscellaneous post that I’ll place under “Testimonials” (for reasons to be explained) and “Music,” but I’d like to let you know that the August 24 performance of “The Best of The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir and New Poems and Prose Set to Music” at The Museum of Monterey filmed by John Mount provided two fine YouTube videos–of Jaqui Hope singing a song I wrote (“My Fingers Refuse to Sleep”) and Hoagy Carmichael’s “The Nearness of You.” In my last post I said the results would be ready soon and–“nothing promised that is not performed”–these two videos can now be found at:

“My Fingers Refuse to Sleep”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RLqjmDeiz2s

“The Nearness of You”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5lJKRAftpvM

I’d like to place these songs, an account of a genuine “book tour” I was once fortunate to undertake, and some leftover “blurbs” or testimonials for the book responsible for that tour (Jazz Journeys to Japan: The Heart Within) under “Testimonials,” for that’s obviously where the latter belong; an account of the tour might prove entertaining (and maybe even “instructive”); and what can express better evidence of, witness to or testimonial about the worth of a work of art than the Thing Itself? I hope you enjoy Jaqui offering these two songs, with Heath Proskin on bass and me on piano providing accompaniment.

A book tour is–like starting a blog–an adventure, and one that writers seem to like to hear about, in hope perhaps that such “news” might assist in planning their own. I’d only traveled “afar” twice before I set out to promote Jazz Journeys to Japan: The Heart Within: the first time when poet Paul Oehler and I gave a reading from Natural Counterpoint (a book of poems we collaborated on) at Kelley House–now Kelley House Museum–in Mendocino, California, after having read in Paul’s hometown Sacramento.  We felt that if folks could hear the poems (and liked what they heard!), they might be tempted to take home a copy of the book–and it worked (and still works!). (For Natural Counterpoint, look under “Other Books” and also at “On the Nature of Literary Friendship: Paul Oehler, by William Minor” in Writers Friendship, edited and compiled by Robert Sward: http://webdelsol.com/f-friendship.htm). The second “trip” was a solo flight South to Pacific Palisades, California, where a comic novel of mine, Trek: Lips, Sunny, Pecker and Me, had been adopted by a book club and I read at Village Books there. (See Trek: Lips, Sunny, Pecker and Me under “Other Books” also).

The Jazz Journeys to Japan: The Heart Within tour had been arranged by Mary Bisbee-Beek at The University of Michigan Press, which published the book (as part of its Jazz Perspectives series: Lewis Porter, Series General Editor; Christopher Hebert editor of the book, and the most simpatico editor I’ve ever had!).  I was paired off with musicians, alternating readings with their music: the first time at the San Francisco Library with drummer Akira Tana’s trio. Akira, who’d written an ethnomusicology thesis on “jazz in Japan” at Harvard,  had been of immense help to me with regard to my own work, so this was a perfect “fit” (there’s a chapter on him in the book), and the occasion was made additionally joyous by the appearance of a friend of mine from my mid-50s Brooklyn days, Yuri Kochiyama, a remarkable woman I’d also written about.

Here are some photos from that July 14, 2004 event at Koret Auditorium : of me more than likely reading about Akira (or perhaps Yuri), embracing the woman I hadn’t seen in forty-eight years, and Akira himself on drums.

Bill at SF Public Library   Yuri Kochiyama   Akira Tana

I’m not sure, overall, with regard to the “tour,” how musicians felt playing alongside some guy reading from a book (except perhaps, Akira, who’d been of so much help throughout the book’s “construction”). If I may have been concerned that reading might compromise (rather than enhance) their performance somehow, I was also aware that most of what I was reading was–after all–about them. When the concept of “performing” myself alongside musicians was proposed, I thought it was very cool, and doing so was–obvious to me now–a forerunner of forming the “troupe” (vocalist Jaqui Hope, bassist Heath Proskin, me on piano and reading) I work (play) with now, where music itself resides not just alongside but within, around, and about the text.

The risk for a writer, I suppose, is that the means of promoting the book may become more interesting–or at least immediately entertaining–than the book itself. Unlike hearing a few poems read by Paul Oehler and myself at Kelley House in Mendocino, with what I’m doing now, an audience may feel they’ve heard enough, have seen a whole show (which they have) and be less inclined to take the book itself home as a souvenir. But “so far so good,” for if there’s any “instruction” for writers involved here, it may be: Let people hear what you write, enhanced by whatever means (music, visual art work, photographs) you find suitable. If I may attempt a baseball analogy, I think the “batting average” has been good–for me so far: 26 copies of The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir purchased by a standing room only audience of sixty-some folks, and even three copies sold when we had a small (but richly appreciative!) “crowd” of thirteen. Five of those present already had a copy of the book.

Returning to my “tale” of touring, a few months after the San Francisco Library “gig” (with some activity in between I’ll also tell you about), my sister Emily–who lives in Old Lyme, Connecticut– and I drove up to Manchester, New Hampshire for a February 11, 2005 Northeast Cultural Coop event at the Palace Theatre–advertised as “Jazz by Tiger Okoshi Quartet & Readings by William Minor,” an adventure that would turn out to be the highlight of the “tour” for reasons I could never have anticipated. I’d first met Tiger in Hawaii, when he performed alongside Toshiko Akiyoshi at the Hawaii International Jazz Festival, and I interviewed both of these great artists (the result: two chapters, one called “The Tiger …”, the other “… And the Lady”) on my way to Japan. Extraordinary musician, inexhaustible teacher, humanitarian, and just a great human being, Tiger Okoshi furnished much fine material–and I was looking forward to seeing him again in Manchester.

My sister and I attended a late afternoon rehearsal at the Palace Theatre (“New Hampshire’s Home to the Performing Arts Since 1915”) and Tiger greeted us warmly, immediately, and introduced us to the members of his quartet: Justin Purtil, bass; Jordan Perlson, drums, and a pianist whose fine touch and taste impressed me from the start, Daniela Schachter, from Sicily: all three musicians who’d graduated from or were attending Berklee College of Music in Boston, where Tiger teaches. He outlined a program he had in mind for that night, then asked me if I played an instrument. I said I played piano, but quickly added, “but not when Daniela’s in the room!” (She is that good!) Tiger then asked me if I sang, and little did I know, when I said, “a bit,” that I would end up singing “St. James Infirmary” with this extraordinary group that night–but I did! After the performance, I phoned my wife Betty and said that I’d just had one of the “peak” experiences, if not “the peak” experience of my life–and it would all more than likely be “down hill” from this point on, for I’d now done just about everything I’d ever dreamed of doing in this life. Here are photos of me on stage singing “St. James Infirmary” (Daniela Schachter playing harmonium) and Tiger alone with his muted horn.

Manchester3      Flugelhornist Tiger Okoshi

This wasn’t the full extent of the book tour adventure, but that evening, and spending time with the members of the quartet, Tiger, and his wife Akiko before (at an improvised “dinner” for Daniela, on her birthday!) and after (running into Tiger and Akiko checking out of our hotel the next morning) had certainly been a thrill for me. And I’m happy to say that Daniela Schachter has made an excellent name for herself in New York as pianist, vocalist, composer and arranger. If you want a source for some first-rate music, check out her website: http://www.danielaschaechter.net/.

In October, 2004 I’d flown to New York City to give two lectures–“Jazz in Yokohama: Past and Present” and “Yosuke Yamashita–A Musician Who Has Made a Difference” at the Japan Society on East 47th Street, the talks given just before concerts by pianist Yamashita of music from his then recently released Pacific Crossing CD. On February 16, 2005, I gave a reading at Chapters Book Store in Washington D.C., with jazz critic Willard Jenkins serving as host; talked with Hiroshi Furusawa, Director of the Japan Embassy Information and Cultural Center (discussing a possible fall program that didn’t pan out); and met Chris Hebert with a University of Michigan Press booth display of the book at an AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) conference in Vancouver, Canada (March 30-April 3, 2005).

Lining up radio “appearances” never hurts, and the “tour” was fleshed out with radio interviews and presentations of music in and from Japan: with Kevin Kahl (Magic 63, Station KIDD, Monterey; CA); Megan Marlena (Station KKJZ, Long Beach, CA); Alisa Clancy (“Morning Cup of Jazz,” KCSM, San Mateo, CA); Mike Lambert’s KUSP jazz show in Santa Cruz; Amy Cox of CNN, and Sasha Rush at Harvard University’s WHRB, who presented a “Tokyo Jazz Orgy” in May, featuring interviews and LOTS of recorded music. These occasions were coupled with booksignings and talks at IAJE (International Association for Jazz Education), in New York City, January 2004; Cody’s Bookstore in Berkeley, CA (reading/signing with Al Young) in July; at the Valona Deli in Crockett, CA in November–and conferences in Palo Alto, Long Beach, Pleasanton, and at a National Symposium of Critics in LA in May, 2005–two years of mostly delightful activity in behalf of a book I still strongly believe in–and one that is still available:

JJJ Cover
Click on cover to purchase from AMAZON.COM

I was not just fortunate but “blessed” to have much of this activity arranged for me by Mary Bisbee-Beek at The University of Michigan Press, but as someone who has done his share of self-publishing, I realize that much of such activity also comes about by word-of-mouth, other “connections” or “networking” (IAJE, AWP, the Jazz Journalists Association, the Monterey Jazz Festival), some hard work “hustling” on my own (perseverance: faith & patience!)–and solid friendships and acquaintances: the support of people who care!

I’ll close out with the testimonials I said I’d include here–and with praise for “Japan’s special adventure in jazz,” the remarkable music that’s been played over the years in and from Japan. And here are two photos from Jazz Journeys to Japan: The Heart Within: one of my wife Betty and I with our son Steve’s wife Yoko’s relatives, the Kawagishi and Nakamura families, in Nara (an upright Yamaha piano, which received frequent use, in the background); and a photo of me standing with some members of the Albatross Swing Jazz Orchestra of Nikko (one of the best of thousands of such amateur big bands playing the music in Japan).

Yoko's Relatives in Nara   Albatross Swing Band in Nikko

“Anyone who has read William Minor’s Unzipped Souls: A Jazz Journey Through the Soviet Union knows the rare combination of talents he brings to his writings on music, from his sustained observation of a culture’s internal dynamic to his skill as an interviewer. He has a poet’s knowledge of the creative process as well, an insight that allows him to engage musicians at a special level. All those abilities are apparent in his new book, Jazz Journeys to Japan: The Heart Within … It’s a penetrating study of Japan’s special adventure in jazz, including remarkably insightful interviews with Tiger Okoshi (who talks about teaching rhythmic sub-divisions to a large group of autistic children) and other major figures like Masahiko Satoh, Makoto Ozone, and Yosuke Yamashita.”–Stuart Broomer, Coda Magazine

“Based on years of immersing himself in Japanese culture and two trips to the country, Minor shares his ’take’ on the Japanese jazz scene and what makes it unique or different from other countries … If you never miss the Monterey Jazz Festival and/or are interested in all aspects of Japanese culture, this is a must-read.” –Silas Spaeth, Salinas Californian

“Armchair Traveling at its Finest: You don’t have to be a fan of jazz, Japan, or anything else to enjoy this book! The author’s own insights and enthusiasm, captured in deft prose, will have you eating sushi and browsing the jazz section of your local music store in no time. Read it for the fascinating view it gives into both the jazz and Japanese cultures, or simply read it because it is extraordinarily well written.”–A satisfied customer; amazon.com