Sunday, April 30, 2017

Retirement Party


No, it’s not my time yet. But having just gone to a high school concert featuring 7 of our alum students from the SF School, I’m already making plans for my Retirement Party, whenever that might be. It’s simple: a concert where I get to play music with all the alums who have gone on to seriously study and perform. Of course, as I go through the list in my mind, it seems like it might be a 4-hour affair. I’ve always thought that the percentage of kids from our school who went on to play music is not higher than any other school, but lately I think I’m wrong. And I need to apologize to all the parents who will have no financial security from their musician kids as they approach old age. Sorry!

But dang, I love the way these kids play and neither myself nor James and Sofia can take all the credit for it. But yes, some for sure as we gave them the solid foundation of musicality at the right age in the right way for the right amount of time—11 years for some! And I can testify as a musician still suffering from my own shaky childhood foundation that it you get it right the first time, build that solid base as it was meant to be, the only question remaining is the time and dedication to keep soaring.

And back to my retirement. In Europe, it’s mostly mandatory. In pregnancy, you have nine months. In graduate school, you have 2, 3 or 4 years. But here the freedom to choose carries the maddening question of when? When is the right time? I keep waiting for some sign from the gods or an amazing better job offer or my own sense that I have nothing left to do with these kids. And why can’t I have the party so I can play with these kids without actually retiring? Can I have “Will probably retire sometime in the next 10 years Retirement Party?”

Well, no more time to think about it. I have to plan tomorrow’s classes.

Relationship Troubles


Can I complain a bit about my relationship here? The old “can’t live with her, can’t live without her?” The fact is that she constantly disappoints me, lets me down and at the same time, is constantly disappointed and let down by me. At times, her voice is so harsh and abrasive I can barely stand to hear her. She trips me up, verbally abuses me and at times, seems repulsed by my touch.

On the other side of the fence, there are times when her voice sings so sweetly every previous harsh note in our relationship is forgiven, all our difficulties redeemed. Sometimes we are so in sync, I can’t tell where I let off and she begins. We can make love for hours on end, reach astonishing climaxes and then just snuggle so peacefully, making small talk in loving whispers. She knows every corner of my heart and soul and yet, perpetually remains a mystery to me, so many nooks and crannies of her sweet self that I’ve yet to touch or even imagine.

We have a hot date this Saturday and as always, I can’t predict how it will go. I’ve done my homework, studied her, practiced how to talk together, but at the end of the matter, I just never know how things will turn out when we meet. And even more difficult because other people will be there to witness it.

Okay, I got that out of my system and fully confessed the story. You know who it’s about, yes?

Yep. Me and my piano. House concert this Saturday. Wish me luck.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Whether the Weather

                                         Whether the weather be cold.
                                         Whether the weather be hot.
                                         We’ll whether the weather, whatever the weather,
                                         Whether we like it or not.

I’ve been playing hide and seek with Spring for the past six weeks. It was unusually warm in Salzburg during much of my two weeks there in March. Then got cold and rainy in Prague and Berlin and San Francisco when I returned. A touch of sun in the Carmel Valley and then snow in Edmonton and back to a rainy San Francisco.

But the other day, Spring emerged in her full glory and I spent the morning trying to figure out some piano voicings of Gerald Clayton instead of basking in the sun. Well, music has its own weather and when it’s flowing, it’s like running the rapids on a summer’s day or floating down the river ambling along to nowhere in particular.

But today I hoped to knock down the soldiers of e-mail one by one to stop them from invading my to-do list. And now the world outside my window beckons to me, entices me with blue skies and intoxicating fresh air and skin-perfect temperature. The birds are singing and am I just imagining that they’re taunting me and telling me to get the hell out of the house?

If we are to align ourselves wholly with the natural world, we must learn to love and accept all kinds of weather, enjoy the gifts of each season while also coping with its challenges. Hot, cold, windy, rainy, snowy, grey, blue, calm, tempestuous, they’re all our children. But let’s face it—we all have our favorite children (except me, Kerala and Talia— I love you both equally!) and for me, the clich├ęd perfect day that is neither too hot nor too cold, but just right, doesn’t come along that often. Here it is and here am I typing.

Until now. I’m out the door and e-mails be damned! Bye!

Friday, April 28, 2017

Change and Loss


Back from six weeks away and in that short time, a lot has changed:

1)    The ugliest, most unnecessary, most ruinous of a beautiful skyline building in recent history was just about completed: The Sales Force Tower in San Francisco.

2)    The beautiful 150-year old main building of the Jewish Home for the Aged is now roped off and about to be torn down for a modern, certain to be less elegant and beautiful modern building.

3)    They changed the piano where I play there and the new one is pretty bad.

4)    Three more teachers decided to leave the school where I teach.

5)    The portable toilet outside my front door that has been there 6 months for my neighbor’s renovation got taken away.

Except for the last, none of these changes are welcome and the first three were all human-initiated changes supposed to improve something and from my point of view, made it worse. And as I’ve said before, a bad decision in music class is a temporary fleeting problem that washes away like a footprint in the sand. The same decision in architecture is a pretty permanent disaster, short of an earthquake (heaven forbid) taking it down. And from just about any vantage point in the city, there it is staring you in the face like a big wart on a once-reasonably handsome face that will never go away. It’s maddening. Not to mention attracting another 10,000 cars or so into the city to clog the arteries of the freeways and streets or overtax our already crumbling public transportation system. Whose idea was this? And why didn’t we get to vote?

Then there’s the other kind of change, the natural, organic one of gravity’s tugs and the everything harder to hear and harder to see (except that damn tower!) and the lion’s paw of time raking across one’s face and the ongoing parade of farewells and goodbyes. The picnic for my hired-in-the-70’s partner-in-crime Patty Corwin’s retirement is in two weeks. Now ain’t but two of us 70’s folks left at the school.

And then going to the Jewish Home to play for the first time in 6 weeks and ending with That Old Black Magic and tearing up thinking of Fran Hament, especially singing the line, “You are the mate that fate had me created for.” That was us, a soul-to-soul love affair based on these old songs and damn, I miss singing with her so much! By all standards, the change had-to-be, passing on at 90 years old and if I have to complain, it would be simply that I didn’t meet her earlier than 9 years ago to start this music-to-music romance.

But life marches on and I’m grateful that I’m still here marching alongside it, even if the new piano sounds bad and the beautiful passes or is torn down and the ugly raises up in the wrong place for the wrong reasons. As Irving Berlin said (and he’s fresh on my mind having just seen the fabulous show at the Berkeley Rep, Hershey Felder As Irving Berlin):

There may be trouble ahead. But while there’s moonlight and music and love and romance,
Let’s face the music and dance.

Thank you, Irving. That I will.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

History Lesson

1921. On this day 96 years ago, my Mom was born. Notable events of that year include:

• The De Young Museum in San Francisco opens.
• Women get the vote in Sweden.
• The first Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City is held.
• Charlie Chaplin’s full-length movie The Kid is released.
• Warren Harding begins his Presidency.
• World War I ends and the Allies decide that Germany has to pay 33 trillion dollars in reparations for World War I. (It was finally paid off in 2010.)
• Hitler becomes the Fuhrer of the Nazi Party
• White Castle hamburger restaurant opens, the first of the fast-food chains.
• Albert Einstein wins the Nobel Prize.
• The vibraphone is invented.
• Donna Reed, Carol Channing, Betty Friedan, Errol Garner, Steve Allen, Jon Hendriks are born (my Mom outlived them all except for Jon Hendriks, still alive at 95 years old!)
• D.H. Lawrence publishes Women in Love, Langston Hughes his poem The Negro Speaks of Rivers.
• Picasso paints Three Musicians, Mondrian Composition in Red, Yellow, Blue.
• Schoenberg composes Opus 25 for Piano.
• Hit songs include Irving Berlin’s Say It With Music, Zez Confrey’s Kitten on the Keys (part of my Pentatonics Jazz band’s repertoire) and April Showers (a song I played at my Mom’s Memorial Service in 2014).
• Louis Armstrong goes to Chicago to play with Joe Oliver.
• A pound of bacon costs $.52, a pound of coffee $.47, a pound of cheese $.38.
• There were 7 million cars in the U.S. (now 263 million).

That was the world my Mom was born into. Growing up in Coney Island, she was 8 when the Great Depression hit, 12 when Hitler rose to power in Germany, 24 when World War II ended, 28 when my sister was born, 30 when I was born, 71 when she moved to California, 87 when she moved into The Jewish Home for the Aged (thanks to those Liberals who gave us Medicare) and two weeks short of her 93rd birthday when she left us. The world changed more in her lifetime than it had in the previous 500 years.

Yesterday driving to school, I listened to a recording of a concert I gave in her honor. Titled “Flowers for Florence,” it was all jazz tunes that had to do with flowers—April Showers, Lotus Blossom, Passion Flower, Blue Orchid, Menina Flor and more. At the end, I told a story to the audience of coming to visit her when she was in one of her belligerent “I’m-old-and-tired” moods and I managed to soothe her with some ice cream and conversation. Then I wheeled her over to the piano and asked her, “What would you like to hear?” and without missing a beat, she replied, “That you love me.” And I ended that little story with “Easier words were never spoken.”

So Mom, I’ll say it again. I miss you pinching my cheek and showering me with your praise and conducting at my side while I played piano. Tonight I’m going with Ginny to see a show about Irving Berlin and I’ll let him say those words “I Love You” with the song he wrote the year of your birth: Say It With Music. That’s what I’m trying to do, every time I sit down at the piano, at least part of the time, I’m playing a love letter to you. No more counting the years when April 27th rolls around, but still and always, I’m so happy you were born and I had the privilege to be your son. Your name won’t make the Wikipedia list, but for me, the most important event of 1921 is that you were born. That’s my history lesson for today.