Thursday, December 16, 2010

Saxophone Memories

About 7 weeks ago the eleven year-old started sax lessons.  The first 2 weeks he couldn't even get a pure note out, and I was, like, WTH are they teaching him in that class?  At the end of his first week, I had to retrieve him from school because he had been suspended for the day by his music teacher for misbehaving.  That's not like him at all, and I'm thinking that this music class is a bust. Well, 7 weeks later and somehow we have a 180--I don't know what happened; he is actually quite good.  His music teacher says he has improved tremendously--he is in the first seat most of the time.  And he seems motivated--last night he took his sax out and practiced before AND AFTER he did his regular homework.

At this point, I'm actually getting excited.  He's not particularly athletic, and I told him if he kept at it and became really good he could maybe get a scholarship to a good college.  I thought, hey, let's look online for some examples of musicians who make a living at this, and listen to how some of their work sounds.  Among other things, I found a blog from a guy who did a rating of various sax solos from the 80's.  He included some applet that allowed you to play the sax solo from each song he "rated."  Here's the link if you're interested; you might be surprised and pleased at the gems you find:

But the online excursion was good news and bad.  Bad news, I couldn't get the kid interested in the music we found--I'm not sure what his niche will be if he does in fact become a sax aficionado.  On the good side though, it reacquainted me with some great tunes from the 80's that, as it turns out, had at least one thing in common: sax solos.  I never realized how many great songs had a sax interlude.  They ranged from a basic, moody bridge, like in Tear Us Apart by INXS; to the manic, integral instrumentation of one of my favs, Trouble in Paradise by Huey Lewis and the News.

Below is another fav, Icehouse's Electric Blue. The talented lead singer and song writer Iva Davies sports the absolute last word in mullets.  He co-wrote this song with John Oates of Hall and Oates, another mullet pioneer.

Every list of top sax players I found has Charlie Parker, now deceased, as number one.  I plan to find some of his stuff and try it out on Jake.  One guy I've listened to a lot is David Sanborn--he does jazz-fusion stuff and he's pretty amazing.  However, I really must embed Trouble in Paradise.  As an example of popular work, the sax in this is absolutely nuts, and is integral to the song overall.  For one thing, it's too much for one guy--there are two different soloists, and two more players on harmony!  God I love this song--and I love the 80s!

 Ah, it seems nobody does this stuff anymore...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I Really Like Peggy. But Shame On You! Me!

I just finished Bob Newhart's memoir "I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This," a quick and fun read.  Newhart is one of the pantheon of "original" comedians, meaning his style was unique and refreshing when he came along. Over the years my family has enjoyed telling me how much I look like him, or he looks like me, or whatever. It would be a compliment to say I was funny like him; but looking like him--not so much.

But I do love to laugh, and I chuckled out loud a couple times reading his book.  Bob said he didn't feel humor should be analyzed too much, parsed and dissected so as to become un-funny.  His public humor is of the gentle sort, but privately he is capable of some perversity, as he claims are all comedians--such is the nature of the comedic mind.  Still, it would be a stretch to say any of Bob's humor has ever offended anybody.

There have always been comedians who reap laughs using shocking statements, often leaving the audience with some guilt feelings about their response.  Ethnic humor has haunted the shadows for many years but still sneaks into the daylight from time to time and may even be making a comeback (SNL actually used a Polish joke last week, I have to say I didn't see it coming).  And some TV commercials also brush with the ethnic taboo; enter Peggy.

Peggy is a foreign-outsourced phone service operator for a bank card.  Reinforcing  the obvious extreme cultural disconnect, Peggy is not a woman, but instead a misnamed Caucasian teddy-bear of a man with a voice that should be reading children's stories on Public Radio.  His English is broken and he omits some verbs, articles, and the odd participle.  He seems to be based in some frozen East European country, working from a slap-dash shack with a support staff right out of the Beverly Hillbillies.  My guilt confession: Peggy is hilarious.

There are 4 or 5 ad spots of consumers dealing with Peggy.  After briefly digesting the name/voice disconnect, the earnest customer attempts to conduct business over the phone but is met with obfuscation, misdirection and inevitable disappointment.  Peggy is willing to do something, but that something will assuredly fail to meet the need.  Peggy is alternately simple, confused, and/or downright devious, and the message is clear: outsourcing is inherently evil and substandard service will ensue. It is also (gasp), funny.

Should I really be laughing at this?  Maybe if I break it down, I'll find I'm not laughing at ethnicity.  Let's see, the name--yeah, that could happen to anybody, lots of things are lost in translation.  How about the English?  Well, I can only imagine how I'd sound in Paris after 4 years of C+ high school French, but I'm not trying to resolve someone's over limit fee, either. Maybe the real villain is greedy corporate America, for sending jobs overseas and making a mess of it.  Come to think of it, they are real life villains. 

Ok, lets cut to the chase.  I, too, have dealt with outsourced call service centers, it wasn't funny.  None of them were evil, per se.  Any problems I had stemmed from language pronunciation, which tended to drag out the conversation.  What these commercials do is make fun of a situation, and they want you to use their product.  In this regard Peggy and company are guilty of an unforgivable sin--the commercial is so funny you forget to  associate it with the product.  After seeing these ads for months I had to look up the product for this blog--it's the Discover Card. Apparently those guys keep it real, and keep it in the States.  Too bad, I still won't be applying for the card.

Well, I better close, NBC is running episodes of "Outsourced" back to back, and I don't want to miss one minute of those crazy Indians.  Oh that Manmeet!  Where do they get those names?