Wednesday, March 29, 2017


I have been off of all social media for the past few weeks.

No Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.

I do respond to direct messages on those platforms. social media making noise in my life.

I must admit, it has been very nice.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017


My NCAA bracket was busted early. I had SMU winning the whole thing. They lost in the first round. I choose my picks with my heart, not my mind.

I did have Xavier, Gonzaga and Kansas in the Elite Eight. Only Gonzaga made it the Final Four. But it's Gonzaga's first trip to the National Semifinals. I'm definitely rooting for them to win.

Full disclosure: I'm not even sure where Gonzaga is...somewhere in Washington...right?

Friday, March 24, 2017

Staying True

Baseball is still popular despite the fact that it's a game that has been played since the 19th century. It draws millions of fans to beautiful stadiums every year. Most of these fans don't complain about the rules. Most of these fans don't complain about the  mustiness of the game. There have been changes to the game over the years. Designated hitters, time limits between innings, wild card teams in the playoffs etc etc etc.

Yet the basic rules of the game have remained fairly intact. Despite some changes, like this year's big change of allowing a manager to call an intentional walk from the dug out, baseball looks very much like it did when I was a kid, or when my Dad was a kid. No one is calling for the removal of second base as superfluous. No one is calling for the addition of an outfielder. People seem very happy with the basic structure of baseball. That continuity is one of the things that makes baseball great. It transcends generations.

So it drives me crazy when people who wish to maintain some basic traditions of jazz are dismissively labeled as neo-conservative or traditionalist. The battle between those who wish to radically alter the definitions of what is considered jazz and those who desire to hold on to some important distinctions has been going on for decades. But I was reminded of the debate while watching the multiple Oscar winning film, La La Land.

The main protagonist, played by Ryan Gosling, is a jazz traditionalist. He has left a lucrative musical career in pop music so he can continue to play jazz the way he thinks it was meant to be played...acoustically. He is lectured by an old buddy of his, played by John Legend, that jazz was always meant to be progressive. The giants of jazz are giants because they broke boundaries and took the music in new directions is his argument. He says's Gosling's character is stuck in the past and that attitude is killing jazz.

Anyone who listens or plays jazz has been engaged with this debate. I tend to fall on what some call the traditional side. Generally I consider myself progressive when it comes to music. When it comes to Rock and Alternative music, my favorite musicians are those who play in wildly original ways. Indie Rock is my favorite genre of rock music because of its inventiveness.

But when it comes to jazz, there are those who take it so far it doesn't even resemble jazz. That's fine and that's the prerogative of those musicians. Just don't call it jazz.

There are some rules of jazz. There's nothing wrong with having rules. Without rules you have the crappy fusion albums of the 1970's.

The rules of jazz are actually guidelines and they leave a lot for individual interpretation. That's the beauty of jazz. Some of those rules include...

Its gotta be blues based.

Its gotta swing.

It has to allow for improvisation.

There are other guidelines. People debate these all the time. You don't want to hamstring jazz with too many defining characteristics. But I think those are a start.  I personally think jazz should be acoustic although I will allow for a Jimmie Smith type organ or an electric guitar in certain circumstances on my iPod.

These guidelines allow for a lot of freedom and yet allows jazz to remain true to its roots. If, as a musician, you wish to move beyond these structures go ahead. Just don't criticize those who wish to stay true to something beautiful.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Genius Anywhere

So I'm reading this biography of Charlie Parker and the author tells a bit about the life of Buster Smith who was a huge influence and mentor to Bird. Buster Smith revolutionized how people perceived the alto saxophone. He played with everybody...Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald just to name a few. But he only recorded one album as a leader. But back in the 1930's he was huge.

But one thing stuck out in this passage. Stanley Crouch says Buster Smith was born in a small town near Dallas but didn't say exactly where. I live near Dallas so I did some quick internet research and found that Buster Smith was from Alsdorf, Texas. I had no idea where that was, had never heard of it.

Turns out Alsdorf is not too far from where I work. Right down the road less than 20 minutes away. But from what I can tell on Google Maps there's nothing really there. At it's height, it was the site of some cotton gins and had a population no more than a hundred folks. The post office closed in the 1920's and the last population data from fifty years ago has the population around 40 people. Today it is an unincorporated area halfway between tiny Rosser and Ennis.

I'd like to take a drive down that way. In its hey day Alsdorf had three businesses. I doubt there's any businesses there these days. Google Earth shows a few mobile homes and some farm homes scattered about. Pretty crazy that one of the great early purveyors of American jazz grew up in that spot. Smith traveled around but eventually settled in Dallas. He died in 1991 in Dallas.

I would be surprised that anyone living on Old Alsdorf Road today knows that a musical revolutionary once lived on their road. Wish a sign or something could be put up on the side of the road or something. Maybe I should contact a county commissioner or something. That would be a pretty cool thing...a lonely signpost reminding the few passersby that genius once resided there.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Grovey in France

This is The Roy Hargrove Quintet back in 2007 in France. Such a great concert. I don't usually like to watch concerts on video. I prefer just to listen. But this is so good. Grovey has had some tough times since this gig. But he seems to playing a lot more these days. I wish him nothing but the best. Wish he'd come back Texas way...after all he went to high school just down the road from where I teach!

Monday, March 20, 2017


We're squinting in this picture. The sun is in front of us. Dallas and the new Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge is behind us.

Well, we're back from Spring Break. We stayed around home. It was a nice break. Ate at good restaurants, took long walks to the park, went to the movies, watched Netflix, cleaned out large swaths of the house and generally relaxed.

44 more school days until summer. This has been a chaotic school year. Construction, moving classrooms and a restructuring of my Advanced Placement courses has made for a rather stressful school year. But we're in the homestretch. There is light at the end of the tunnel!

Saturday, March 11, 2017


Nothing more American than baseball and jazz. Listening to some Coleman Hawkins while the boy practices. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

Some of the Good Stuff...

Friday before Spring Break. Foggy and gray outside. Good time for some of the good stuff. The Jay McShann Orchestra featuring Charlie Parker on the alto saxophone. Early 1940's.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

McShann the Man

Just bought this book ^ last night on the Kindle. Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of  Charlie Parker by Stanley Crouch. I will let you know how it goes. Charlie Parker is one of my favorite musicians. Stanley Crouch is one of my favorite essayists and critics. I got big hopes. 

It's starting off well telling stories of the Jay McShann Big Band back in the 1930's. I had the honor of meeting Jay McShann in 1994 or 95 at the Charlie Christian Jazz Festival in Oklahoma City. He was getting up there by that point but could still play like fire. His small group burned up the stage. There wasn't a big crowd which is a tragedy since more people needed to see this master who died in 2006. 

So afterward I watched in amazement as the crowd just kind of dissipated and Jay was still on the stage with his group just talking. So I walked up there and introduced myself. I told him I was from Kansas City and had grown up listening to his music. I told him I was a big fan and he had been a big influence on me and my playing. 

He was the nicest guy. Super friendly and generous with his time. We talked for about thirty minutes about Kansas City, Charlie Parker and jazz. This guy didn't have to give me the time of day. Here I was, a skinny white college kid just walking up and he was willing to chat about the old times. A legend willing to hang out and talk with me. 

So yeah, this book is starting off right. Jay McShann should start off more books.