Tuesday, February 28, 2017

House of Tribes

Beware, listening to this album on your computer will turn your computer into a machine that will kill unoriginal thinking and pre-planned ruts.

Wynton Marsalis Live at the House of Tribes. 2002

Monday, February 27, 2017

La La

I watched the Oscars last night. I'm not a big fan of quantifying art but my wife enjoys watching the fashion. The spectacle can be entertaining. Was glad to see La La Land win six Oscars last night. Very strange how it all ended. I haven't seen Moonlight so I'm not able to weigh in on its merit.

I did see La La Land and can say it is well deserving of recognition from the Academy. Great film. Nostalgic yet innovative. As a fan of acoustic jazz I had great appreciation for Gosling's character. Typically, musicals aren't my thing. But La La Land was a reminder of what makes movies great. It really captured the magic of the cinematic experience. It was a hearkening back to the glory days of Hollywood, yet placed the story in a modern context.

Often I haven't seen many of the nominated movies before the Oscar show. I had seen Arrival, which is very good and probably deserved a bit more attention. Hidden Figures is also an excellent movie. Rogue One definitely deserved more technical awards. But it's hard to argue with The Jungle Book receiving technical attention. It was a good year for movies.

Sunday, February 26, 2017


^ That's how I feel right now. ^

Friday, I received news that one of my former students had been killed in an automobile accident that morning. I had heard about an accident. It had occurred right before school on the state highway that runs through Kaufman. It had shut down traffic and buses could not get through. We were told not to count students tardy to first period because of the traffic shutdown. I had heard that someone had to be CareFlighted to the hospital.

I didn't realize at the time that one of my former students was the victim.


Jacob was a fine student. Class of 2012. He had been one of my Advanced Placement students his sophomore year. He was a baseball player. He was very respectful. He had a fine future ahead of him. An awful tragedy.

I have a list of over a dozen former students who have passed away in the past eighteen  years. That list is way too long. It would be much too long if only one student had died. But over a dozen? It's hard to process. All these fine young people, lost so soon. Car accidents, suicide, health issues, drugs... All sorts of circumstances and all sorts of tragedies.

So today, I remember Jacob. And I look out at my current students and I tell them to be nicer to each other and to make good decisions and to enjoy life as much as possible. But I often wonder which one will be next. Which one will be taken too soon.


Saturday, February 25, 2017

storage space

Another day at school. Some essentials. 

Friday, February 24, 2017

iPods and Moleskines

Yes, I still use an iPod Classic. My iPhone, which has a lot of storage...still does not have enough storage for my 400 albums of music. My 120 gig iPod still has space to spare.

Yes, I use a Moleskine to record my thoughts. I use an iPad and iPhone and laptop a lot. But the Moleskine is where my most creative thoughts go. 

Call me a Luddite. I'm okay with that. 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Commercialization and Art

The video above is a fascinating interview with Rod Serling conducted by Mike Wallace in 1959. Much of this conversation seems prescient when looking at the state of commercialization and art in the current day.  

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Acta non verba

"Many claim to “believe” in God and yet so few seem to actually trust God. Trust or faith means belief in action. Faith does not mean mental assent to a propositional truth. Faith means demonstrated trust."

- J.D. Walt 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

For Arts Sake

"To objectify art is to measure its commercial value and squander its transcendental powers of benevolence. Reciprocity demeans art; or, rather, it functions to incarcerate its powers, to judge it for its charity. Like putting Mother Teresa on trial, or in prison, for the crime of compassion. On the contrary, perfect art, as a perfect gift (without ulterior motive, without gain, without compensation) courageously gives itself over to the world asking nothing in return.'

- Sufjan Stevens

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Show

Saturday night, me and the Little Man performed in a talent show at our church. It was a fundraiser and winners were decided by how much money was put in each act's jar. Shockingly, me and J won. Guess Grandma and the J-Man's piano teacher put in some nice cash for us. I had the easy part, mainly there for moral support. Jackson played great. He doesn't seem to get nervous. I still get nervous. 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Saturday, February 18, 2017


Снова сделайте Америку.

Friday, February 17, 2017


I received this valentine last Tuesday. Fans of The Darjeeling Limited will appreciate.

#DarjeelingLimited #WesAnderson #Adrien Brody

Thursday, February 16, 2017


"I believe that men are here to grow themselves into the best good that they can be, at least this is what I want to do."

- John Coltrane

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Monk Madness

We're in the midst of a free trial of XM Sirius Satellite Radio. Had the dial tuned to the Real Jazz station this morning on the way to work. Bemsha Swing by Thelonious Monk came on, one of my favorite tunes. Had fun teaching my son a little about Monk this morning. I told him listening to Monk may possibly raise your IQ because he was a mad genius who played in a madly angular way. Listening to him can only make you smarter. Or maybe a little crazy. I have this tune in my jazz fake book. I can't wait until my son has learned the chords (he's only ten right now and progressing fast) and he and I can play this together.

Track Personnel: Thelonious Monk, Piano. Sonny Rollins, Tenor Saxophone. Clark Terry, Trumpet. Paul Chambers, Bass. Max Roach, Drums. Recorded in New York, December 7, 1956,

Now that is an all-star crew.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017


Sometimes you just got to stop and reflect. 

Friday, February 10, 2017


photo: Rosa Parks, arrested for not giving up her seat on a bus to a white person. 1956

"She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted."

Senator Mitch McConnell said that about Senator Elizabeth Warren earlier this week. But men have been saying that about inconvenient women for a very long time. 

Thursday, February 09, 2017


It's gone. A couple of days ago they tore down my old classroom. I had a front row view since my new temporary home (I move again at the end of the year, the room I'm currently in will be an English classroom.) is directly across from where the old building once stood. I have to admit it was kind of depressing. I was housed in that building for 17 years, 16 in the same classroom.

^ This is my old chalkboard. Tough old board. Lots of knowledge was imparted on that thing. I'm tempted to venture into no-man's land and snag it.

Looks like Hiroshima outside my window.

Progress. I guess.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Not to be Silenced

Yesterday, Senator Elizabeth Warren was silenced on the floor of the U.S. Senate Chambers as she attempted to read a letter written by Coretta Scott King. Mrs King, the wife of Martin Luther King, Jr, had written the letter thirty years ago to oppose the nomination of Jeff Sessions to the federal judiciary. Session's nomination was eventually voted down by the Senate nominating committee and President Ronald Reagan withdrew his name from consideration. Now, he has been nominated by Trump to be Attorney General of the United States.

Senator Warren was silenced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who used a rarely used rule that forbids senators to impugn other senators on the senate floor. Ms Warren has since been banned from involvement with Session's nomination process.

However, other senators were allowed today to read from Coretta Scott King's letter. What happened? Why were they allowed to read Mrs King's letter and not Warren? I think it's pretty obvious. The senators allowed to read from the letter are men. Elizabeth Warren not only was criticizing a Republican nominee...she is a woman.

Of course, Mitch McConnell's blatant sexism and censorship has backfired. The King letter has been read and published all over the world today. It concerns me anytime someone is silenced. You may disagree with someone, but in the United States Senate, opposing views are allowed to be respectfully expressed. That concept is a bedrock of the American legislative process. I would be just as angry if the Democratic Party silenced a Republican on the Senate floor in this manner.

Here is the text of Mrs King's letter that got Senator Warren silenced...

Dear Senator Thurmond:

I write to express my sincere opposition to the confirmation of Jefferson B. Sessions as a federal district court judge for the Southern District of Alabama. My professional and personal roots in Alabama are deep and lasting. Anyone who has used the power of his office as United States Attorney to intimidate and chill the free exercise of the ballot by citizens should not be elevated to our courts. Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters. For this reprehensible conduct, he should not be rewarded with a federal judgeship.
I regret that a long-standing commitment prevents me from appearing in person to testify against this nominee. However, I have attached a copy of my statement opposing Mr. Sessions’ confirmation and I request that my statement as well as this be made a part of the hearing record.
I do sincerely urge you to oppose the confirmation of Mr. Sessions.

Coretta Scott King

Monday, February 06, 2017

Dualistic Thinking

God is not a Democrat. God is not a Republican.

Humans are obsessed with dualism. We want to break things down to good versus evil, right and wrong, black and white, us versus them.

I tell my students repeatedly, it's rarely that simple.

For example: Protesters at the University of California are wrong for using violence in their demonstrations. They are violating the very premises of free speech Cal is known for protecting. They definitely should protest. I would have protested if I were there. But violence is unacceptable.

However, that doesn't mean we automatically take sides with the person they are protesting against. The man, who shall not be named here, who was scheduled to speak at their campus is not one you want to be associated with. He is a racist. He is a bigot. He spreads viscous lies. He is a cyber-bully. It takes a lot to be banned from twitter. Twitter allows all kinds of bullying and trolling. This guy was banned from twitter for crying out loud.

Rarely does life come down to saints and sinners. Dualistic thinking is destructive and counter-intuitive.

For example, just because you claim loyalty to a political party or ideology does not mean you should give blind loyalty to that organization or movement.

I cut my ties to the official Republican Party in 1993 because I saw the dangers of feeling like I had to defend my party regardless of their actions. I didn't want to be under the powerful sway of groupthink. So I declared my independence. Since then I have voted for Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Greens and Independents. I have ideas that are considered conservative. I also have ideas that some describe as liberal. I am not going to swear allegiance to a label.

Dualistic thinking led many Christians to blindly vote for our current president despite the fact that his proudly stated values often run counter to the Christian faith. As I've said, I could barely stomach the idea of Hillary Clinton as president, but despite her flaws she was far superior to the disaster of Donald Trump from a moral perspective. Every moral failing possessed by Hillary was exaggerated ten-fold by Trump. There was indeed a true lesser of two evils in this election. Trump was not it.

Many Christians voted for Trump due to their long cultivated hatred of Clinton. But I suspect many more voted for Trump simply because he was their party's nominee. This makes me come to the reluctant conclusion that many Republicans would have voted for anyone, anyone simply because they were their party's nominee. Who the nominee is does not matter.

How more distasteful could you be than Trump? He's not a conservative. He never professed to be a Christian until last year when it became politically expedient. Pastors preached sermons against Trump back in the 1990's when he proudly bragged about his marital infidelity and said you shouldn't have to work at marriage. When he said he would only run for president if Oprah was his vice president many conservatives recoiled. Many Christians decried his lack of humanity on his reality show. Ten years ago my conservative friends couldn't stand Trump. What changed their minds? Party loyalty.

Party loyalty or any institutional loyalty is a very dangerous thing. And the Democrats do the same thing although to their credit they've never had a candidate quite as abhorrent to their party values as Trump is to the Republican platform. Free trade? Let's throw that out the window and place taxes and tariffs on Mexican imports. Time and time again Trump violates basic conservative principles and Republicans continue to line up behind him. I don't usually agree with George Will, David Frum, Glenn Beck and Bill Kristol but at least they are standing up for their conservative ideals and are calling Trump out on his scam.

Dualistic thinking is poison.

The other side is not necessarily evil. Rational thinking must be our guide. It's important to weigh the bias inherent in the media and make conclusions based off our observations. I read the Drudge Report and the Huffington Post. I watch Fox News and MSNBC. I read the New York Times and the Washington Times. The truth is usually somewhere in the middle. Party loyalty should never be a part of the criteria. Because parties and institutions often have one major goal above all: to claim power and to maintain power.

Sunday, February 05, 2017


"The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command."

 - George Orwell, from his novel 1984

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Letter to America

Sufjan Stevens is one of my favorite singer-songwriters. He is a brilliant talent. He's amassed a large following in indie circles.

He's also a professed Christian. The other day he penned a letter to America. Agree or disagree, there are important points for Christians to consider. Here it is...

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

How I got the Trumpet back

In 2008 I gave up the trumpet. At the age of 35 I was getting braces. I didn't want anything to mess up the process so I gave up one of the things that had really defined who I was...playing the trumpet...particularly playing jazz on trumpet. The whole braces thing lasted a lot longer than expected. I was a unique case. It's also tougher to straighten teeth out as an adult. Two years lingered into three years. Then there were four oral surgeries to go with it.

I had to have implants and bone grafts, the whole works. I had a team working on me. A dentist, an orthodontist, an endodontist and an oral surgeon. My oral surgeon had to invent a new procedure to make my bone graft work. He uses my case at conferences. I'm very thrilled about that. Also thrilled to help pay for several of his ski vacations during those years. Three years merged into four, then five. Finally after five years the whole thing was done.

But I did not pick the trumpet back up for fear of ruining a process that had cost several thousands of dollars. After a year, I decided to give the trumpet a shot. Playing trumpet had given me so much joy over the years. I wanted my son to know me as a trumpet player. He had never heard me play. Guitar yes, trumpet no.

So in July of 2014 I picked up my horn and everything had changed. My chops were out of shape after not playing for six years. My embouchure was completely different after braces and reconstructive surgeries. I said on Facebook that if Chet Baker could re-learn to play after having his teeth knocked out I could re-learn to play. Of course, I'm no Chet Baker, never was, not even close.

I could barely get out a low C. I couldn't even hit the tuning note, the concert B flat. It was super depressing. I tried to play for a few days and then just gave up. I put the strad back on its stand and left it there...

...for another two years.

A couple of weeks ago I decided to give it another shot. Not that I had ever stopped listening to jazz but recently I had been diving back into listening to jazz pretty heavily and all those swinging cats had inspired me. Jazz provides a respite from the stresses of current events. And I wanted to play. But this time I needed a plan.

I lowered my expectations. I restricted myself to the basics. The first few days I would simply try playing long tones. That's it. Five to ten minutes of long tones on low notes. Nothing higher than middle G. And yes, it did sound awful. But after the third day the low notes began to sound reasonable.

After a few days I decided to play the concert B flat scale. Long tones and real slow. One time. Just one scale. Getting to the concert B flat was not easy. But I played that one scale for a week. Five minutes a day. I had already told myself this was going to be a slow process so I was okay with it. I wasn't going to bail.

Within a few days the scale sounded acceptable. And I made it a goal to play the B flat scale ten times each day. I set strict limits. No more, no less than ten runs through this most basic of scales per day. Nothing else.

After a week of that I began playing my old warm up...running through five scales, C-D-E flat-F and G. Man it was rough. Getting to high G was a killer. But I refused to get depressed even though a high G was nothing back in the day. I played them slow for days and then faster and faster.

Baby steps.

My dexterity began to return. My range began to slowly improve. After two weeks of crawling I started to add some of my other old warm up exercises to the mix. And then I felt ready. I had gone to Amazon and ordered the Hal Leonard Ultimate Jazz Fake Book, the book I had used in college when playing with the Earl Enterline Quintet. This book has all the great jazz standards in it with all the chords.

I had already decided which song I would practice. My plan would be to practice this song for a month until I was satisfied I could play it without embarrassment. Not only would I master the melody, I would re-learn all the chords I had forgotten. I actually wrote out all the notes of all the chords so I could eventually start to improvise again.

The song I chose was "Four" by Miles Davis. "Four" is a jazz standard and one I had played quite a bit in college. I chose it because the melody is simple yet the end of the chart does require some dexterity both in valve fingering and embouchure. The chords are accessible but not simplistic. Plus, on the second run through you have the option of taking the chorus up an octave which would provide an additional challenge for me to attack. This seemed like a good song to play.

 "Four"...the first song I had played on trumpet in eight years. Here's Miles and Coltrane playing it...

Three days and it's proceeding slowly but nicely. I've got the chorus down. The close can still snag me a bit on occasion. The upper octave still doesn't sound as clear as I would like. And I haven't even started trying to improvise with the chords yet. I figure in a couple of weeks or so I'll put it on the stereo and try to play along. I'm taking this nice and easy so I don't freak out and bail again.

I can't tell you how much happiness this has brought me. Just playing a song has been cathartic. Getting back into a chorus has been a sweet release. Geez, I needed this. I didn't realize how much a void there was without playing jazz. Words can't express it.

I have many many months, perhaps years to go before I feel good about even getting close to playing trumpet in public again. And I was never that great of a player to begin with. But I had forgotten what the sheer joy of being lost in a jazz classic felt like. Once I have "Four" down, memorized, and improvised I'll move on to some other classics that will help me progress in various ways. "Friday the 13th" and "Well You Needn't" by Thelonious Monk are definitely on the list for their dexterity. "Polka Dots and Moonbeams" will be a nice easy ballad to work on tonality. "Cherokee" for the challenging chords. I'm in this for the long term.

My goal: to play trumpet with my son playing on piano. That would be sweet.