My blog is a place where I can tell you a bit more about me, the venues I have played and other things I have found or done in my life’s travels!
You can read in more detail about how a gig went, how great (or bad) the venue was and if anything new or exciting happened as a result of my playing somewhere!
I will also tell you about any new updates and releases I may be making or thinking about, things I have done, and quite possibly just the odd rant about things now and then.
Ask any musician what is the most challenging part of traveling by air, and they will all say the same thing.
At its worst, it results in situations like this one:
And breakage is not the only thing that can happen. I have talked with many people who checked their instrument and never saw it again. I think the normal response to that (according to me, so FWIW) would be to want to be able to see your instrument at all times.
But … help is on its way. Sort of.
According to a document from the Transportation Safety Administration (the people who x-ray your baggage and you when you are flying) dated 9/28/12, you may carry on your guitar. Here is a copy of the document. I carry it with me when I fly, in the same envelop with my boarding pass and ID. You can get it at: http://local1000.org/2013/01/download-forms-and-contracts/#.VD1b1CldWiQ
This document mainly has to do with carrying instruments through the security checkpoint, but in fact, Congress passed a law to allow you to bring your instrument aboard as carry-on baggage. According to John Thomas at Fretboard Journal:
Section 403 of the legislation, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, provides:
“An air carrier providing air transportation shall permit a passenger to carry a violin, guitar, or other musical instrument in the aircraft cabin, without charging the passenger a fee in addition to any standard fee that carrier may require for comparable carry-on baggage ….”
“Alas, we’ve fallen into a black hole in American jurisprudence. Recall that the law was to go into effect when the FAA promulgated the corresponding regulations. Recall also that Congress commanded the FAA to promulgate those regulations by February 6, 2014. Well, that date has come and gone and the FAA has not even begun the process of drafting the regulations. And, that black hole? There is no legal mechanism by which Congress can force an agency to do its job. As a result, members of Congress have been reduced to pleading, threatening, stamping their feet, and holding their breath until the FAA acts. So far, the FAA has not been impressed.”
In other words, we cannot rely on the law-makers to fix this problem.
American Federations of Musicians (of which I am a proud member, Local 1000), has been working with TSA to try to adjust the situation so that at the very least, every airline has the same rules. According to Ray Hair, AFM International president, there is progress being made in this, their second meeting with TSA and the Department of Transportation. All interested parties were represented at these talks, and in his message this month, there was this:
“The major takeaway from our July meeting was a general acknowledgement from DOT and the airline industry that most major and regional airlines have adopted company policies concerning the air transportation of musical instruments, most of which closely mirror the requirements contained in the 2012 law. The DOT is now bringing both sides together to help clarify and negotiate protocol differences, while ensuring that the airlines’ published policies are clear and will be adhered to, so that musicians can rely on them while flying with their instruments.
“We gained tremendous insight and engaged in productive discussions during our July meeting about the obligations of the US airlines toward musical instrument air travel. The need for the dissemination of information about existing policies, protections, commitments, and remedies avilable for musicians from government and industry, prior to the issuance of final administrative rules, was well recognized by every stakeholder.
“As a result, our September meeting would concentrate on the following agreed-upon items, including but not limited to:
Despite all this progress, there are a number of people who have come up with solutions for the problems that remain formidable — the flight attendant or the gate agent who has the final word, a concept designed to strike fear into the heart of every traveling guitarist.
At this point, I’d like to insert that I fly Southwest Airlines whenever I can. This is not because I’m affiliated with Southwest in any way. I’m not. But of all the airlines I’ve flown, I can count on Southwest not to give me a hard time about my guitar. I once got aboard a flight with a 9-piece band, all carrying instruments, and me with my guitar. No one batted a single eyelash, nor was there a single murmur. (BTW, if Southwest is not an option for you, the next best choice, running a distant second, is American Airlines. They usually don’t have a problem, but you can’t count on everyone who works for them to follow through. Not affiliated with them either, in case you wondered.)
Lots of people have lots of advice, but the best I found online was from CDBaby’s DIY blog. Their 5 tips included
And my personal favorite:
Far and away, the best advice I found was, ABOVE ALL, BE POLITE. Ask with a smile. All the airline personnel are people with families, issues, feelings, worries, etc. just like yours. Play nice, kids. Bon voyage.
From Wikipedia: “Americana is an amalgam of roots music formed by the confluence of the shared and varied traditions that make up the American musical ethos; specifically those sounds that are merged from folk, country, blues, rhythm and blues, rock and roll and other external influences.”
Says it all, right? Well … no, actually.
How about this from the Americana Music Association?
“Americana is contemporary music that incorporates elements of various American roots music styles, including country, roots-rock, folk, bluegrass, R&B and blues, resulting in a distinctive roots-oriented sound that lives in a world apart from the pure forms of the genres upon which it may draw.”
Not much better.
The word “Americana” already existed in the lexicon, before its introduction into popular music styles. According to The Atlantic,
“Before it became a term for a musical genre, “Americana” was slang for the comforting, middle-class ephemera at your average antique store — things like needle-pointed pillows, Civil War daguerreotypes, and engraved silverware sets. In the 1990s, radio programmers coined a new, related usage: “Americana” became a nickname for the weather-beaten, rural-sounding music that bands like Whiskeytown and Uncle Tupelo were making. It was warm, twangy stuff, full of finger-plucked guitars and gnarled voices like tires on a dirt road. If you can imagine an Americana song as a bottle of beer (easy enough), you’ll probably taste a hint of salt from the lead singer’s tears mixed in.
But the genre defines itself by its progenitors more than its present. Any Americana artist working today ought to know his Woody Guthrie, his Carter Family, his Willie Nelson, his Blind Willie McTell.”
While this is all true, the assumption here is that there is a limit to what may be termed Americana. Despite the fact that there are many genres that were generated first in America, besides blues, country, rocknroll, and Indie-everything. I’ll grant that European-style art music is not Americana. Likewise, what is now termed World Music is not Americana (though some has been adapted into the Americana music of late.) But let’s consider jazz, a unique American form, or even the Great American Songbook.
A lot of the songs in the Great American Songbook were born at the same time as those needle-point pillows and engraved silverware sets. If you google the term, you find out “The Great American Songbook is a term used to denote the canon of the most important and most influential American popular songs of the 20th century – principally from Broadway theatre, musical theatre, and Hollywood musical film.” It includes songs like Stardust, Over the Rainbow and Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.
Frankly, I think the major difference between “Americana” and other popular American music styles is mentioned in the article above. It is based on rural-sounding music.
That lets out anything done by Tin Pan Alley. I remember noticing the rural connection when I was living in Greenwich Village in the late 60s, so I was always delighted to find anyone amongst those musicians that loved “city music” the way I did. Unfortunately, it also lets out anything that doesn’t fit the White Male Southeastern (born in or admiring of) idea of the way things should be. And The Great American Songbook is but one example of what is left out of a supposedly all-encompassing American music, as implied by the name.
The other operative idea behind Americana is that it is Male (capital M not an accident).
I know that there are some female performers who designate themselves as Americana. Lucinda Williams, Terri Hendrix, Susan Gibson and, very likely, Emmylou are on that list. However, they are few and far between. This is not their fault, but I’m beginning to think maybe women should just group themselves in a style that is all their own. Just for awhile. Until the guys catch up.
There is a new form stirring in country music, as exemplified by Miranda Lambert, Gretchen Wilson, Kacey Musgrave and Ashley Munroe. More properly, this is Alt. Country, as it has a distinct rock flavor, but it could also be termed country-rock music by uppity women (color doesn’t seem to be an issue, although so far, all the stars of this genre are white. Uppity women come in all shapes, sizes and colors. A generation ago, Tracy Chapman and Joan Armatrading would have been good candidates for this genre).
According to the New York Times’ Jon Caramanica:
[The music] “couched tough-talk rural feminism in music that paid deep respect to country music tradition. [They] understood that making changes is easier when you slip in the door unnoticed.”
And the country stage has been far more accepting of these women than the Americana stage. And if you check the showcase listings for the 2014 Americana Conference just passed, the overwhelming majority of performers are Male, with a sprinkling of female acts here and there. None of them were any of the women listed above.
This same rural, male segment of the musical scene has been separated out many before in our cultural history. I’m thinking that the problem I’m having here is the name. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around “Americana” that does not include so much of American music. Do you think it’s too late for them to call it something else?
From (of all places) the Wall Street Journal:
“And it can hurt the Americana movement: If it permits itself to be defined primarily by retro-minded country and twangy folk, Americana runs the risk of appearing as a subset of country. Given that contemporary country album sales are flagging, one can imagine executives on Music Row swooping in and signing some Americana artists in an attempt to rebrand modern country as music of integrity.”
“Here, at this year’s awards event, there was ample evidence that members of the Americana community are aware that minimizing the natural diversity within American roots music is a sorry way to go. The show opened with a version of Willie Dixon’s “You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover,” popularized by Bo Diddley; later in the program, during a tribute to the music of Mississippi, Ms. Wilson sang Dixon’s “I Want to Be Loved.” Flaco Jiménez, the Mexican-American accordionist, was presented a Lifetime Achievement award by occasional collaborator Ry Cooder, who performed with the house band. Taj Mahal, who embodies all that Americana can be, revived “Statesboro Blues,” a Blind Willie McTell tune he released in 1968. “Now that’s Americana!” shouted Mr. Lauderdale, the affable master of ceremonies, as Taj Mahal was greeted with a standing ovation.”
Every songwriter, every storyteller, every painter, every choreographer, indeed every creator, knows the rush of well-being that comes from bringing their creation out into the world. Something from nothing. Often that creation has kept its parent up all night, tweaking the details until everything is just “so”. Only it doesn’t feel like it’s keeping its parent up all night, as the creator doesn’t feel sleepy or hungry or in need of anything but bringing that creation as close to perfection as is possible for humans.
Speaking, of course, from my role as songwriter, I know that there is another side to this. I go to bed, the song “completed”, and when I wake up in the morning, I’m excited. It’s time to learn to play and sing my new song, so that I can show it off to its best advantage. I begin to sing, and… Uh-oh…. There’s a part here that doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t sing smoothly. Perhaps a few too many syllables, perhaps the word here is too harsh, not concrete enough. The song needs more “furniture” to make it a more sensory experience for the listener. Whatever.
I can shrug my shoulders and say “Wow! I put in so much work on this already. No one is going to know about this little flaw I think I’ve found. Maybe it’s my imagination. No one is going to be a picky as that. If they’re focused that hard on the details, they’ve got the problem, not me. Well, maybe so. But every time I sing the song, I know it’s not quite right. And so, probably it’s time to knuckle down and re-write. (Ugh. Drudgery. I’d rather do housework.)
Not long ago, I discovered that seeking out just the right word, changing the phrase so that it fits snugly in the format, exploring metaphors until the exact right one is found, is also a flow experience. Plus, the added attraction of saying exactly what you meant, and OMG, it rhymes! I invite you to try it. You can get so involved in the investigation, and the hunt, and the performance of the necessary surgery (please pardon the mixed metaphor), that it begins to feel just like writing the song in the first place. Flow. Surprise!
Now it’s time to record. And again, it feels great. The arranging, the inviting of other instrumentalists to contribute, their contribution (I try not to control that beyond a few suggestions to imply boundaries.), et voilà! The recording. Let’s put it on and listen. Oh dear. The flute’s a little too loud, isn’t it. And there’s a bad note in the bass. Not the end of the world, though. Because we can re-mix. (Ugh. Drudgery. I’d rather clean toilets).
And again, it turns out that the process of re-mixing is so absorbing that hours later, you had no idea that much time has passed, until someone calls to find out where you are, because you’re supposed to be somewhere else.
And, even if the recording needs to be done over, which it sometimes does (*sigh*), I’ll bet you’ll find that it’s not quite the chore you were expecting. You may even find some new, better way of treating the song that makes it a better song.
Oh …. and the housework? That can turn out to be a “flow” experience too. A lot depends on your
There are so many aspects to what we here in the United States call “folk music”, it is difficult to keep track of them all. But, as it happens, I had a friend, no longer among us, who was a student of sea chanteys, and as a result, I have a special affection for them.
So imagine my delight to find out that the Folk Music Society of New York was going to host an evening of sea chantey singing they are billing as “Sing Like a Pirate Friday” on International Talk Like A Pirate Day, the 19th of September, 2014.
According to Evy Mayer, sea chanteys are easy to sing, as they were once used to keep the men at the same tempo as they hauled in lines, or rowed, or any other jobs on a sea-going ship that required a steady rhythm. Of necessity, they were simple songs, with call-and-response and easy-to-remember choruses.
Like this one, that you can’t swing a dead cat without hearing as you grow up:
(Listen closely for the “Arrrrgh!” near the end, tucked under the music!)
Story songs abound, full of derring-do, and swashes buckled and unbuckled. One of the more famous ones involves Captain Kidd, out of New York City, who became a pirate in 1699, but ended up hanged not long after.
And finally, as a tribute to my friend, Caryl P. Weiss, here’s one of my favorites of her performances:
If you’re in New York City and you’d like to partake of International Talk Like a Pirate Day, by singing like a pirate, here are all the details:
“The Talk-Like-a-Pirate Extravaganza and chantey sing will take place Friday, Sept. 19th at 7:30 P.M. at OSA Hall, 220 East 23rd St, suite 707, Manhattan (between 2nd and 3rd Avenues). Snacks will be served. Contribution is any pieces of silver one might wish to spare. For more information, call (718) 549-1344 (after 11 AM) or see http://www.folkmusicny.org/.”
Those who know me are aware that I have a show of Yiddish songs I learned growing up, which of course, I love and perform when and wherever I can. I stumbled across the Yiddish tango quite by accident, and wanted to share my delight.
Ultimately, you could argue that this is either Yiddish music being played with a tango beat, or else tangos being played by klezmer instruments. And you’d be more-or-less right. But it’s actually much more than that, and has a long and intricate history, some of it ugly, some shining.
We can start with the tango developing out of other dance forms in Buenos Aires in the early 1900s. Most of this was occurring at the brothels and such on the waterfront, attended by the less savory portion of the population. Originally, the dance was designed to portray a prostitute and her pimp, and so was not danced in polite company. But as time went on, the music became less raucous, and though the dance remained more or less the same, it became more acceptable as a result. This video was apparently made at a tango contest in the 1900, and the tango had already gained enough popularity to be competitive.
Just so you know, I make no claims upon the videos that follow, or the music in them.
I mostly included this next video because, even though it’s a computer simulation, it shows the setting most of the participants would be in for an evening of tango.
Over the years, the tango music began to acquire lyrics, resulting in singers achieving stardom and increasing the popularity of the music.
At the same time as this was developing, there was a heavy influx of immigrants from mid and eastern-Europe. A large proportion of the newcomers were Russian, Ukrainian, Romanian, Slavic Jews, who were seeking escape from the pogroms and other persecutions in the area. Part of that population ended up in the United States, but many went to South America, and particularly to Argentina, which was calling for laborers at the time (large areas of land to be developed now that the native population had been slaughtered). The immigrants gravitated to the dancing and good times as a way of easing their distress at being uprooted and displaced into a new and foreign setting.
So, into this musical environment came the influx of Jews from Eastern Europe, invited by the Argentinian government to work the land. Between 1910 and 1940, 250,000 Jews entered Argentina, making Buenos Aires the largest Jewish community after New York. In much the same way as the Jewish cultural heritage made its way into the general culture in New York, so it also did in Buenos Aires. Jewish musicians began to become prominent in the world of tango as performers, composers and lyricists.
And as the Yiddish Theater, which thrived in New York and Buenos Aires, continued on into the 30s and 40s, songwriters from the theater began to write tangos, both for theater pieces and as stand-alone songs, suitable for dancing. One of the most popular players from Yiddish theater was Molly Picon, who was Yenta in the movie version of Fiddler on the Roof. She wrote the lyrics for a lovely song called Oygn, set to a tango beat (also known as “milonga” with accents as follows 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8)
Yiddish Tango – Friling
The tango became more and more popular, and it made its way back to Europe, in the tracks of American blues and Jazz (and later, rock and roll.) Soon you could find Yiddish-speaking musicians writing tangos for their own performances, especially in Eastern Europe, where there was still a strong Yiddish culture.
By the time of World War II, Tango was the rage in Europe, in city and ghetto. But as the Nazis came to power, and began absorbing their neighbors, life became untenable for the Jewish population in general. Those musicians who did not escape, and ended up in the concentration camps, found themselves enlisted in Lagernkapellen orchestras by the Nazis. They were required to play tango, in preference to jazz. This was because the Nazis saw jazz as more likely, and tango as less likely to inspire rebellion. And they were required to play tangos, in particular the Tango of Death, as accompaniment to mass executions.
An example of El Tango de la Muerte:
El Tango de la Muerte
In the U.S., the Yiddish Theater continued to thrive, and tango was often the vehicle for the songs. The Barry Sisters recorded this one:
And today, in Buenos Aires, Yiddish tango is alive and well, in the form of the Yiddish Tango Club, founded by Gustavo Bulgach. Have a listen. You won’t be sorry:
And if you’d like to hear a sampling of my Yiddish show, go here: