A little thought of no importance about Schoenberg’s Second String Quartet

(from my listening diary, and not fact-checked)

December 31, 1936 (“I was hoping we could finish by 10:00 PM…”)

Hollywood, CA; private recording produced by Alfred Newman

Kolisch String Quartet: Schoenberg – Second String Quartet in F# minor, Op. 10

Tonight it strikes me that this is by a wide margin the most accessible piece Schoenberg ever wrote. The runner-ups would be Verklarte Nacht and Gurrelieder, which is kind of cheating as they are among his earliest published compositions. Speaking of the latter, as of August 2015, I have still neither heard nor looked at Gurrelieder!!! I know, shocking. I guess it’s like Mahler 2,3, or 8, Missa Solemnis, Deutsches Requiem, opera – just not the kind of thing I listen to at home.

The whole piece goes down so easy. The tunes of the 2nd Quartet are memorable, there’s vamps, pedal tones, hooks galore, vivid episodes. It has that clumsy, eye-rolling “joke” in the second moment, the ach du lieber augstine or whatever. People should like that, right? It never gets really dense and strident, like some of Op. 16. It’s not as introverted and hermetic as Op, 11 or The Book of the Hanging Garden. It’s not shrieky, and not super difficult to play. The movements are short, and it has at least a likeness to the classical four-movement, sonata-informed quartet. You get a bonus lyric soprano, the novelty factor, if not quite on par with the chorus in the 9th Symphony. There’s a non-morbid text that could help the listener take that step into non-hierarchic tonality, or whatever you want to call it – atonality, pantonality. I know, let’s call it Schoenberg tonality.

It seems apart from S’s other string quartets, as well as the 2nd Quartet’s equally path-breaking contemporaries: Op. 11, 16, and the George lieder. Although I admit, all of these pieces have a many elements that reach out to the listener, that announce themselves, that have dramatic flourishes, rhetorical gestures, what have you. He really knew how to write a piece of music! But much as I love Das obligatto recitative, I don’t see people whistling it on the street. In the 2nd Quartet, all of the movements are listener-friendly, and diverse but unified.

The Second Quartet should have been Schoenberg’s big hit. It should have made him a living. It should have caught on, been the piece that soft-pedaled atonality. It should have become a cliché, like Le Sacre, or The Waste Land. After Monteux repeated Le Sacre, it might have still ruffled feathers here and there, and it was a long time before orchestras were basically comfortable with it, but in general it was an acknowledged success. After Verklarte Nacht, I don’t think S ever had another hit. Gurrelieder had a big success at its belated premiere, but it’s never been much performed or recorded. He was performed and talked about, championed and derided, but there wasn’t a hit, like Prelude après midi d’un faun, Strauss’s tone poems, or Wozzeck. Pierrot Lunaire was more of a success d’estime, and remains so to this day.

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Actual Trio West Coast Tour this November

The Actual Trio CD will be released September 18, and gigs both local and away are starting to come into focus. Holy moly, it’s been a loooooooonnngggg time since I’ve been in the ‘let’s hustle gigs, let’s spend money, let’s work it work it work it’ mode of musician life. Doing this was abhorrent to me for so long – I wouldn’t even play in Sacramento! -  and yet now it’s just what I do. Why this is the case is still mostly a mystery to me. 

Saturday Oct 9th
Berkeley Arts Festival
Actual Trio CD Release Concert
Berkeley, CA

Sunday October 4 5-7 PM
Actual Café
Oakland, CA

Sunday October 11 4:00 PM
Red Poppy Art House
San Francisco, CA

Sunday November 1 7:00 PM
Open Gate First Sunday Series
Eagle Rock Center for the Arts
Los Angeles, CA

Monday Nov 2
SOhO Restaurant and Music Club
Santa Barbara, CA

Tuesday November 3 7:00-9:00 PM
presented by the Bakersfield Jazz Workshop
La Foret Fine Dining and Lounge
Bakersfield, CA

Nov, 4 – San Diego? San Luis Obispo?

TO BE CONFIRMED: Thursday Nov 19 8:00
Relevant Music Presents: Crib Concerts
Arcata, CA

Nov. 20/21 Portland?

Sunday November 22 8:00 PM
Sam Bond’s Garage
Eugene, OR

Monday November 23 8:00 PM
The Royal Room
Seattle, WA

Sunday December 6 5-7 PM
Actual Café
Oakland, CA

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Two new pages added: Jelly Roll Morton and Jerry Newman

     The hazards of being a creative musician: being manically obsessed with art, while also being thoroughly depressed by the world’s utter indifference. This lethal combo of uppers and downers put me in a very bad way for a long time, which might be summarized as: “Why do anything?”

     But one of the byproducts of the manic swings I had in the past fifteen years are oodles and oodles of writings about music on my computer: Blind Lemon Jefferson lyric transcriptions, working out the mathematics of guitar tuning, homemade discographies of Howlin’ Wolf and Pierre Boulez, 107 ways to play a particular six-note chord on the guitar, writing out the form of every Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver recording. A lot of it was kind of “busywork”, my version of playing Tetris or Wordtwist or whatever. But a few of them recently struck me as candidates for inclusion here. To this end I’ve added a page entitled “Lists, Discographies, Transcriptions, and quasi-research” (see above). 

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News From All Over

Electronic Musician and innovator Tim Perkis made the thoroughly enjoyable documentary Noisy People in 2007, profiling experimental Bay Area musicians Phillip Greenlief, Dan Plonsey, Damon Smith, Tom Djil, Cheryl Leonard, Gino Robair,Greg Goodman, and Geirge Cremaschi. He has continued this endeavor through a Noisy People podcast, and I am the fortunate guest in the newest installment.

(A special screening of Noisy People will happen in SF on July 27th, as part of the Outsound New Music Summit.)

The medley of short excerpts from my records, heard at 2:20 in the podcast, really took me aback. As obvious as it should be to me of all people, I was struck by the bewildering diversity of the soundscape. I’ve really been all over the map! I think, heard in this manner, it sounds somewhat manifesto-esque: I Get Around.

I think the motivation behind each record being so different from each other, not too mention different from Junk Genius and T. J. Kirk, is that I feel my time, opportunities and budgets are limited, and under these circumstances, there is little incentive to repeat myself, when there are so many things I want to do.  

However, one of those things I now want to do is repeat myself. That itself would be novel. In particular, I want to make several Actual Trio CDs, as well as a sequel to Shuffle Play.

Lots of great work lately: Baguette Quartette played our annual Bastille Day at Chez Pannise, with Alice waltzing on the patio an indelible memory… Actual Trio had a blast at back to back gigs at City Lights Books, the Actual Cafe and Luna’s in Sacramento; really feels like we’re getting to new places. The art is all done and the CD is slated to come out in late September. We’ll play at the venerable Open Gate series, curated by Alex Cline, at the Eagle Rock Center for the Arts in LA on November 1st. Other dates in Seattle, Eugene, Arcata are pending, and I’m trying to find gigs in Portland, San Diego, Santa Barbara, and other fine left coast burgs… Myles Boisen is planning an six hour tribute to Ornette Coleman at the Berkeley Arts Festival on September 26…I caught a fantastic show from Natalie Cressman and Peter Apfelbaum’s Sparkler at the Freight and Salvage. I wish I could buy stock in Natalie, I got a feeling…

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A Gathering for Ornette Coleman, June 14, 2015, Berkeley Arts Festival

    A bunch of us got together last Sunday at the Berkeley Arts Festival space to celebrate Ornette. People shared stories: of seeing the Quartet repeatedly at the Five Spot in ’58, of spending many hours with Ornette at his home, playing and discussing music, of seeing the double bill of Ornette and Joe Liggins and the Honeydrippers at Wolfgang’s in San Francisco, a show which I’ve also heard about from Harry Duncan, who produced it.

     The previous day there was an event celebrating and marking the end of the two-year residency of Myra Melford at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. There too, the spirit of Ornette permeated the proceedings, and this was remarked upon by many. Lisa Mezzacappa and Kasey Knudsen played Jayne, so beautifully. The day and the residency programming as a whole were remarkable for their fusion of community outreach, large scale works with texts and voices, workshops, and an articulation of lineages.

Ornette Coleman, B.B. King, and Pete Seeger, y’know?

Chanting (from Virgin Beauty) - Ornette Coleman Chanting (from Virgin Beauty) – Ornette Coleman
L-R: Bill Crossman, [TBA!]. Dan Plonsey, John Schott, John Finkbeiner, Jason Levis, Vijay Anderson L-R: Bill Crossman, [TBA!]. Dan Plonsey, John Schott, John Finkbeiner, Jason Levis, Vijay Anderson
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Ornette Coleman

Every time I saw him was a religious experience. His sound, his sound. His sound and song were one. His love, his beautiful benedictions.

Once I was riding in a car with John Zorn and Trevor Dunn. Zorn had these mix tapes he would take with him when he traveled. We were listening to one when this track came on with a French singer and the unmistakable sound of Ornette Coleman. I recognized that it was a track I had read about in David Wild’s discography of Ornette, and in Litweiler’s biography, but never heard. I was excited, and mentioned that I had read that Ornette had asked for and received $10,000 to play on this one song, a single for Claude Nougaro. “Worth every penny!”, said Zorn. As we listened to the song, motoring up highway 80, the sound of Ornette, his melodies so beautiful they made you laugh, seemed to radiate out of the speaker like a glimpse of Divine Eternal Love.

Somehow I never even contemplated life without Ornette before; it felt so shocking this morning.

Charlie, Billy, Don, Ed, Dewey, Ornette…

Remember Marty Erlich’s song I Don’t Know This World Without Don Cherry? The world is once again a strange, disorienting place. 

1. Gloria - Claude Nougaro with Ornette Coleman: \"Gloria\"     

Claude Nougaro with Ornette Coleman, Barclay Records, 1975.

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What Key Did Erroll Garner Play It In?

     When and if science examines my brain, it will show that in the Sonny Rollins area of my brain, there is a considerable wing devoted to bassist Bob Cranshaw. So I DEVOURED Ethan Iverson’s interview with Mr. Cranshaw, which is full of priceless details, reflections, and insights.

Cranshaw speaks of a session he did with Erroll Garner that really sparked my imagination:

BC: Another experience that I’ve had like Sonny’s – I did a CD with Erroll Garner and Grady Tate. His last CD [JS note: the record is Magician, issued on Garner’s own Octave Records label in 1974]. The same kind of experience, like Sonny, played standards. He played a tune; it was his tune. He said, “Okay, Bob. I’m just gonna play a little of it so you can hear it.” He played the tune down. “Okay, now we’ll make a take. Take one!” He turned back to the piano and put his hands down for an intro. He was in another key. He had no idea. He played by ear. Grady and I looked at each other. I heard it, so I didn’t panic, but the two of us are looking there and we’re laughing because how in the hell… two second ago, he just played the tune in one key, and the guy says, “Now we’re gonna make a take,” and he turns to the piano and he’s already… wherever his hands were, that’s where it was. He had no idea. He couldn’t read shit.

EI: What a hell of a player, though.

BC: To think of that kind of gift.

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Mingus Speaks, by John F. Goodman (UC Press, 2013)

Mingus SpeaksDid this book get enough attention? I think it’s a major contribution to the literature. Goodman was a jazz critic for Playboy, reviewed Mingus’s 1972 so-called “comeback” concert, and began interviewing Mingus, first for an article, then for a book. And only forty years later, here’s that book! At the time, Mingus was in high spirits, and he and Goodman seemed to have a rapport.

There are so many brilliant observations, witticisms, polemics, and word improvisations here! Some of my favorites:

     Charlie Parker didn’t bullshit. He played beautiful music within those structured chords. He was a composer, man, that was a composer. It’s like Bach. Bach is still the most difficult music written, fugues and all. Stravinsky is nice, but Bach is how buildings got taller. It’s how we got to the moon, through Bach, through that kind of mind that made that music up. That’s the most progressive mind. It didn’t take primitive minds or religious minds to build buildings. They tend to go on luck and feeling and emotion and goof. (They also led us to sell goof.) (p.25)

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Actual Trio CD – audio excerpts posted

I’ve made an Actual Trio page with short excerpts of three songs from the forthcoming record. Soon I’l post a long interview with Dan Seamans about hunting, a subject neither of us know anything about, a John Hanes photo-retrospective, and a version of the liner notes in Esperanto.

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A talk on mentors and influences for YBCA

Thanks very much to Myra Melford, Isabel Yrigoyen, Roko Kawai, Doug Katelus, and Anya Rome over at the Yerba Buena Center for The Arts in San Francisco. Yesterday evening I gave a presentation in their “Mentors and Influences” series. Unusually for me, I wrote the entire thing out beforehand, and more or less read the paper. That makes it easy to present here, albeit without the live musical interludes played by Dan Seamans and I. Here goes:

When one is a novice at something one usually over explains, over writes… and over explains. So I ask for your forbearance in advance. I didn’t expect to write a formal paper and read it here, but thinking about this topic so got my wheels turning that I needed the contemplative, critical thinking that writing provides me.

[ first live musical interlude: West End Blues ]

As long as I can remember, I have had an insatiable appetite for teachers, mentors, role models and, let’s just come out and say it, HEROES. My life has been an obsessive, life-long, sometimes anguished, sometimes comical quest for people, in my life and in the pages of history, to serve as my personal North Stars. To be Moses, and lead me out of degradation and bondage, to the promised land. My relationships to the actual mentors in my life have sometimes been very intense. Not Whiplash intense, mind you. No one threw a guitar at me!

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