Saturday, June 15, 2002

Solved the problem of group norms on insistent straight-eighths in Irish tunes... started a session the other day with Duke Ellington's "Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)". So there. 8)

Had two good public sessions the last two days. Yesterday there was a company picnic, and I took my box, sat down in the shade, and provided background music for a few hours. I didn't have to worry about leading a tune for others, I could just play, it was fun. Started with the old march "Thunder and Lightning", and pulled up a number of other tunes that I hadn't seriously practiced... brought back musette tunes "Retour des Hirondelles" and "Coeur Vagabond" (I should get more musette back up to speed)... sounded out requests like "Misty" and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"... played theme music like "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" during a ballgame... mixed in some trad stuff like "College Groves" and "Chief O'Neill's Favorite"... played some no-name blues, cajun shuffles... just went from tune to tune, relaxed. Didn't even sing, didn't have to. It was fun to play background music, and people said they liked it, too.

Today I brought my Dobro out for the first time in decades, to the SF folk festival. It was a small crowd of players, because of the simultaneous Weiser and Grass Valley festivals, but we had satisfying sessions on swing tunes and rembetika/balkan. That last was a surprise, but I met people who had a passion for that time in the world, and they were gracious enough to let me join in. My ear was able to follow the rhythms (some in 9/8, some in 7/8, some in 4), and I could catch some of the scales (many with a flat second degree), and I treat the Dobro as a drum, with much octave/fifth work. The tonality of the instrument seemed to fit in, mirabile dictu.

It's odd coming back to the Dobro, it's almost like I never left. My intonation wasn't perfect, but it was passable. I still don't have my positions wired, much less a large vocabulary of licks, but I can get around. People also like the instrument. It's fun all over.

During a workshop today fiddler Cait Reed stressed that dynamics are indeed used in Irish trad, and lamented how some treated tunes as a stream of steady eighths instead of varying durations ("so there" again). She cited Joe Cooley and others from Clare and Galway, but I'm still not sure if it's a regional thing that leads to that monotone of unstressed eighth notes.

I'm looking forward to this summer.

Friday, June 14, 2002

Odd week, that session on Monday night did some damage, the way all the notes were played even, and the assumptions behind it that that was *the* way to play. When I've played reels and even hornpipes this week I always start thinking in the middle whether those folks would approve. But I *do* hear those tunes with life, rather than flat and cataloged. I hear and play other styles with straight-eighths, but a stream of reels that way just doesn't sound right to me. Anyway, I've had little time on the box this week.

But I have had significant time on the Dobro and lap steel. The positions in this new tuning are starting to clear up... not sure if I'm at the point of picking out arbitrary melodies at tempo, but getting there.

Listening this week to Hank Williams, Connie Boswell, the Carter Family, Noel Boggs.

Tuesday, June 11, 2002

Picked up Dobro, it's great ... F-G-B-D-E-G-B-A. I've got the lap steel tuned to the same intervals two steps higher now: G-A-C#-E-F#-A-C#-B. I've still got some fine-tuning to do on string gauges and winds. String spacing is a bit tighter on the Dobro than on the Sierra, and combined with the sustain they're really different instruments, but I can work positions in either. The inside-out top string took a little bit to understand but is starting to make sense. Much of my practice this weekend has been on these two instruments.

Last night I went to a session at Ireland's, and it was a little unusual. The regular crowd wasn't there, but a bunch of folks I didn't know came by. For a while it was fun because we were playing different tunes at speed, but then I got bored when it turned into a recital. They didn't swing their reels... I could even play a clave against their hornpipes!! It felt like being a typewriter. I went upstairs and sang some Lefty Frizzell as therapy and left soon after. Overall positive, just a little boring towards the end.

Sunday I went to a picking party in Oakland... hot day, and I ended up walk 2.6 miles each way. Crowd was small and seating was scanty, and I ended up leaving early. One interesting thing we did was play some Scott Joplin and other old-time tunes... I liked it because we could play ensemble, rather than running breaks.