Monday, January 31, 2011

January: Alba NY and John Scofield

Sunday, January 30, 2011

I took a short trip up to Albany today to hear John Scofield and Joe Lovano perform at The Egg.

The trip on GoTo Bus from 34th Street was easy (and only $20), and would have been restful had it not been for the abusive father threatening to hit his baby. Not a pleasant Sunday ride. The view, however, was gorgeous: a winter wonderland along the highway.

When I arrived in Albany, I was surprised to see virtually no one on the streets. Was this really the capital city of New York? As I walked along the empty streets, admiring the monstrous marble buildings of Capitol Hill, I began to think about other capitals. Cairo, for example, would be swarmed with hundreds of thousands of protesters trying to oust their president Mubarak. In Tunis, police were brutally attacking protesters who wanted to see the ministers of the former president leave the government. The sleepy capital city of New York began to feel oddly peaceful.

Lunch at Jack's Oyster House: my waiter was a lovely man with a strange accent, who turned out to be born in England, raised in Australia, with an English father and German mother. He was one of those people you'd expect to see as a character in a movie rather than as your waiter in Albany. He spoke to us for most of the duration of our meal about many things: his family's history, the history of New Zealand rugby, and Wales, but most interesting was his story about the very city in which we were eating.

According to him, when the Dutch surrendered to the British in the mid 1600s, King Charles II granted the territory in this region to his royal brother James. James wanted to give the town formerly known as "Beverwyck" a new name. It reminded him of Scotland, and so he decided to bestow the town with the name "Alba, NY," Alba being gaellic for "Scotland." Alba, NY... Albany. Whether or not this story is true, it certainly made for an educational lunch.

The Egg is shaped like a gigantic spaceship. It doesn't seem like there are any windows at all, and while the undulate architecture makes one feel slightly disoriented when inside, it is beautiful in an odd, futuristic way.

The show was sensational. The last time I had heard John Scofield was at Carnegie Hall a couple of years ago, and while it was a thrill to hear this legend live, it was also so loud that I needed earplugs. This time, John Scofield was playing in a smaller setting, with his old friend Joe Lovano. These guys really do play together like old, dear friends. What amazed me most about John Scofield's playing was how he comps (or accompanies) Joe during a solo. It was as if John could make his electric guitar sound like different wind instruments! At one moment, I really thought I heard another saxophone somewhere, or a warm brass instrument. At another moment, I turned my head to see if a singer had walked out on stage.

Then there are the intros. When John played the intro to Since You Asked, I felt that the whole room was breathless. He just stands there, and out comes this gorgeous melody, simple at first, but then taking the most unusual turns.

Bill Stewart and Matt Penman provided the tightest of grooves, the kind of rhythms that make you hold onto your seat so that you don't jump up and dance. The conversation taking place among the quartet was intoxicating, and the audience was electric.

During the Q&A, I was reminded of how much we can learn from the legends. Both John and Joe commented on technology today, and said that while it can be helpful to use in personal practice, it has changed the way people put out recordings. I particularly liked what Joe said about how any young person can put out a record, but perhaps before they're ready to. Back when Joe was growing up as a musician, producers would guide musicians and would release only the highest-quality recordings that best represented the musicians. Now, it's hard to know what will be good quality by young, emerging artists.

So, young musicians, take heed! While recording may be good practice, try to release only what best represents you, because it will make a lasting impression. As Joe Lovano said, "If you make a bad record, people will remember it and talk about it. And years later, they'll STILL remember it."

Thursday, January 27, 2011

New Zealand... stay tuned!

I'm working on some blogs about my trip to New Zealand over the holidays. Come back to see some pics and stories!

Friday, January 21, 2011

January: Radu Lupu and the New York Philharmonic

I'm usually a fairly discerning audience member: I've been fortunate to hear the world's greatest orchestras multiple times over, and when a concert is anything less than sublime, I leave having noticed a few inconsistencies here and there. But tonight, I was probably the best audience member a musician could wish for. All I wanted was to be played to, to be sung familiar melodies and carried along a sea of beautiful sounds. Brahms 1st Piano Concerto and Dvorak's 8th Symphony, two of my all-time favorites.

Radu Lupu looks a little like Brahms himself, portly, with bushy gray hair and a bushy gray beard. While I wasn't drawn into his every note as I have been with other pianists, I very much enjoyed the whole performance. OK, I thought the horn vibrato was weird and inappropriate for the solos, but he did it with conviction, so I went along with it. But I would have preferred to hear Radek Baborak...

Upon reflection, Radu Lupu struck me as more of a chamber musician than a soloist; he blended with the orchestra in a very organic way, and the piano and orchestra seemed to accompany each other. He isn't imposing or flashy, he is humble in front of the instrument, and as an effect, the piano blends cohesively with the orchestra. This may also be why the piano solo didn't make a particular impression on me other than, "I love this. I am so happy to be hearing Brahms right now."

Brahms was followed by Dvorak's 8th, another old-time friend. Sometimes I'll turn on the 8th or the 7th and blast the third movements on my stereo. It's that powerful brass, the punctuated rhythms, the lyrical folk dances that get me every time, that make me want to grab my horn and blow along, or the nearest person and spin around the room. And the NY Phil did it superbly. The basses sounded particularly strong, and I wanted to leap out of my seat at one point with their energy.

I do think it's unfortunate that an orchestra that can shine so brightly plays in such a dull space. Imagine how they would have sounded tonight at Carnegie Hall, or the Philharmonie. The hall really makes me sad as a musician, and even sadder as a listener, because the joy of hearing live music diminishes when you struggle to hear muffled sounds. We need exceptional spaces for live music, to make the experience of going to a concert feel infinitely better than listening to a recording at home.

Still, Brahms and Dvorak were brought to life tonight. For my first classical concert in awhile, I was delighted to just sit back and enjoy. No (or few) judgments, just music.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

January: Yoga journey- teaching Yoga Basics!

I am finally a certified yoga teacher!

My journey with yoga began when I was 15. I had seen "Light on Yoga" on my mom's bookshelf my whole life, and wondered about this strange 70s phenomenon. When she invited me to join a class with her at a tiny studio in Newhall, California, I went, and loved it. I kept going back throughout high school.

In college, I found a studio in Evanston, Illinois and a teacher I adored, who spoke about how yoga is connected to life in a way that made sense to me. Eventually I discovered the Sivananda studio in north Chicago and went as often as I could. I loved the environment, the incense, the repetition of the asanas and the way I felt when I left. I felt calm, patient, focused, and as if my perception re-calibrated to see what was really important in life.

In Berlin, I didn't want to continue Sivananda because it was all taught in German, and this was before I learned the language. I discovered Elizabeth Smullens, an Iyengar yoga teacher who became a long-term teacher and dear friend.

At first I didn't like Iyengar. I didn't think the props made sense, and I didn't like that there was no attention to Pranayama (breath practice) in beginner classes. And there was no flow, at all. But over time, I realized that this practice had enormous benefits, and I began to truly understand yoga in a way I never had before. I learned about proper alignment, and how to do poses correctly that I had practiced incorrectly for years. I became so enamored with Iyengar that I dismissed all other styles of yoga as frauds. But it was through this experience with yoga that I realized that I would love to offer people a way to explore how to do poses correctly so that they not only protect themselves, but can go deeper into the poses safely.

Cut to New York, after several years of practicing yoga intermittently. I had some time to take a 200-hour yoga teacher training, and found the most wonderful yoga school, Finding Sukha. I have written another blog post about it because it deserves its own review.

And now I am a certified Vinyasa instructor, teaching a Yoga Basics class at Finding Sukha Yoga School Monday nights at 8pm. I like to think of my approach as "alignment-based Vinyasa," with a good deal of attention to detail in order to really enjoy the full expression of each pose. As with practicing music, I love the idea of getting back to basics, to the foundation of building the note or the pose or the phrase. I have a much more open mind to other styles of yoga now, and I'm excited to incorporate what inspires me into my teaching. More classes to come, hopefully around Brooklyn.