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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Trombone Shorty and All That N.O. Funk

First of all, I am dedicating this post to my old Cal roommate. Tyler was my "trombone brother" in those carefree college days. He is back in the woodshed, working his on his trombone chops, after a successful business career. Tyler is a huge fan of Trombone Shorty; I think they have even hung out on occassion.

Yes, yes - Trombone Shorty, aka Troy Anderson. He is only 25 years old. He plays both trumpet and trombone like a man with hundreds of years of study under his belt. TS grew up in the Treme' neighborhood of New Orleans. He is a stone N.O. guy, a grad of the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts. He has been playing in bands since he was six years old.

TS came to Chicago last Wednesday night. Tyler flew in for the event; a group of us gathered. The Park West was full and the decible level was very high. There are six players in Shorty's band - baritone sax, tenor sax, guitar, bass and two percussionists. This band had the polish and precision that comes from playing 250 gigs a year. They provided a flawless foundation for Trombone Shorty's wild improvisations. The band also pulled a stunt durng their encore that we used to call "the Big Switch" - all the players picked up different instruments and played (Shorty on drums, the drummer on guitar, the bass player on trumpet. etc.). These guys are professionals.

Young Troy is a phenom. He is built like a welterweight boxer and dances with a boxer's masculine grace. Since I am an old trombone player, I have a deep appreciation of Shorty's towering mastery of a balky horn. Some of his excursions had me howling in amazement. His trumpet work is equally stunning - he has speed, range and power, and he also can use circular breathing to play continuously for long periods of time - a very flashy, crowd-pleasing technique. I can't think of anyone else that has conquered those two instruments so completely. I was flooded by the flow of his musical ideas.

TS is a great singer, too. His tribute to James Brown was a real eye-opener.

My main beef about the show at the Park West was the sound mix. The bass was way too heavy and devolved into an indistinct rumble that muddied up the sound of the band. Of course, I miss the days when musicians played with dynamics. The relentless volume is near-deafening and becomes stupifying after a while. And the crowd was as loud as the band.

I sound like a grumpy old man. As the t-shirt says, "If its too loud, you are too old."

I don't know if a talent like Trombone Shorty will ever cross over into the mainstream popular culture. He is certainly striving to get there.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Just another day in the Loop

We have hit that warm stretch of early fall, popularly referred to as "Indian Summer." I am not sure that this description is still considered to be politically correct, but I don't know what else to call it.

There are no trees to speak of in Chicago's Loop, so we don't see the leaves turning color. As the days shorten, you notice that it is darker when you step off the train in the morning and darker when you step back on at night to go home. You are grateful for the lingering warmth because the big freeze will be on us soon enough.

A splinter group of the "Occupy Wall Street" movement has taken up residence at LaSalle & Jackson, near the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and the Chicago Board of Trade. They, too, were enjoying the fine weather, banging on drums and yelling at guys in ties. It is a small group, expressing generalized dissatisfaction with the status quo. It is hard to figure out what their goals might be. Sometimes you just need to bang drums and yell - beats sitting at home, unemployed and grumpy. One fellow was carrying a sign - "Lost my job - Found an Occupation." That sums it up, I guess.

I went to a breakfast session held by a downtown business group. There was a panel of three economists and investment strategists. They all said that the U.S. is not in a recession yet, but the growth trajectory is so low that many people aren't noticing any change. One of the panel members fulminated about the Baby Boom generation, how the debt crisis is directly linked to the same lack of character and self-discipline in that group that led to an explosion of illegal drug use. He believes that things will gradually get better as younger people move into power positions in government and business. Hmmmmmmm. The panel broke up, we all networked over coffee for a bit. I could be mistaken, but it looked like some people had a slightly panicked look in their eyes.

I saw a guy collapsed on the sidewalk as I walked to the train on Thursday evening. He was bald and overweight. He fell at Monroe near Canal. I think he was dead. The paramedics were working him over but they didn’t seem like they were saving a life - they lacked that "911" urgency. I think I heard one of them say “He’s gone.” If so, RIP, stranger.

Last Thursday was also the day that the obituaries for Steve Jobs were printed. I have always thought that it is dumb to mourn for a famous person that you have never met, but I couldn't avoid it. He was the best of the Boomers.

For some reason, I was happy when Thursday ended.