Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Busy Signal... Busy Signal... Busy Signal

From the Editor:

Sorry I haven't posted in a while. Truth is that I have just been too darned busy: as my chops strength has improved, I'm practicing more... sometimes 3 hours per day or more. I'm getting ready for my first solo gig in more that 20 years. It's a private party this coming Sunday.

I've had a few visits from Dracrevocsid, the Lady of Lake Taneycomo which will interest my readers. I just need to get them straight in my head and write them down, and write them down, I shall --- chiseled, as it were, by my keyboard in the digital stone of the internet. Until then, please be patient.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sorry, my bad...

From the Editor:

Sorry, oh faithful readers, that I haven't posted anything new in a few days. I've been practicing my butt off (Dracrevocsid, the Lady of Lake Taneycomo should be pleased), working on my website, and etc.

The "etc." part is the time consuming one... The necessity of handling the nuts and bolts of life can, and does, drive me nuts and makes me want to bolt for the horizon. Still, I have some news-nuggets to pass on...

My beloved wife, Ann, had to bolt for California: my stepdaughter gave birth to a pair of twins. I sometimes wonder why everyone says "a pair of twins". Isn't it implicate? At any rate, they are Hannah and Joshua, identical in every way except that one is a girl, one is a boy, and they don't look anything like each other. Fortunately, Ann bought some flight insurance which allowed her to change her flight when the doctor decided to do a C-Section a couple weeks early, otherwise we would have had to eat the $700 she originally paid for the ticket. Unfortunately, the first-flight-out-tomorrow ticket cost a whopping $2,200!! What are you going to do? It's not every day your daughter has twins. This makes six grandchildren and two great grandchildren. Yikes!

I found a website that may be of interest to you musicians. It's called Musician's, and it has to do with curing or preventing typical physical ailments suffered by stringed instrument musicians, such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, "trigger" finger, etc. The website offers stretches and exercises which will help ward off such conditions and injuries. The website is authored by Dr. Jameson, who specializes in musician medicine.

And speaking of doctors, last Friday I had to go in for some minor surgery: I am prone to skin cancer, having spent all those Navy years performing out in the sun. Every six months or so, I have to go to the doctor and get a new crop of blemishes frozen off or cut out. Newsworthy for guitarists, is that while I was at the dermatologist I asked about dietary supplements to help strengthen fingernails. I use the fingernails of my right hand more than I used to now that I'm playing more classical guitar. Guitarists and ladies (and some guys) will be interested to know that the doctor recommended a supplement called Elon Matrix. It's a non-prescription once-per-day pill which can be had for around $15 for 60 pills. Just Google it.

Also, thanks to Steve Abshire who gave me the contact information, Gene Bertoncini has agreed to give me a lesson. I will be flying to Washington D.C. in late September to attend the interment of MUCS Tracy Ford's ashes (see earlier posts) at Arlington. During that trip, I will be taking a side trip to NYC to meet with Mr. Bertoncini. To say that I am looking forward to it is the understatement of the year! It will be a rare opportunity for me to pick his brain concerning arranging for solo guitar.

Speaking of solo guitar, I am working hard at learning a solo guitar repertoire of arrangements by Gene Bertoncini, Herb Ellis, Barney Kessel, and Joe Pass, as well as my own arrangements. My goal is to be able to perform solo (in coffee houses, jazz restaurants, etc.) in the Springfield, MO area. Oh yes, and I will be doing some wedding ceremonies --- not receptions (in line with my "no more crap" philosophy). By the way, any of you guitarists who want to hear and see some absolutely amazing stuff, check out Gene's YouTube page (link in sidebar).

Lastly, my Taylor ES72CE classical guitar arrived. It is a beautiful instrument and, with the lower action, easy to play even with harder tension strings. Speaking of the guitar, I'd best get back to practicing.

More news later...

Monday, July 19, 2010

Tommy Tedesco's "Oud"

From the Editor:

After posting yesterday's episode, "Tedesco the Younger", I remembered a funny story Herb Ellis told us about Tommy Tedesco, renowned jazz guitarist and pretty much first call session guitarist in LA for many years. Herb told us that Tommy could sight read just about anything that anyone threw at him during a recording gig. Herb's story illustrates it in a humorous way:

Herb said that he and Tedesco were on a recording session for some sort of soundtrack. Herb told us that he (Herb) could read music pretty well, unlike many guitarists (including yours truly), but that Tommy could read the proverbial "fly s**t" on manuscript paper -- on many instruments. In fact, since Tommy sometimes had no idea what he would be called upon to sight read at some recording gigs, he had an employee drive a truck load of equipment to every gig: different types of guitars, banjos, mandolins, etc., so that he could unload just the right instrument for the session.

So at this particular gig, Herb was to play guitar while Tommy was to play an "Oud", a middle-eastern cousin of the lute which typically has 11 strings and no frets (to see an "Oud", click here). Tommy didn't own an Oud, nor did he have any idea what one was. He asked someone in charge what an Oud sounded like, and was told that it was kind of a twangy, buzzy sound, so he decided to use an acoustic guitar but detune it a few steps to approximate the sound.

The Oud has many different tuning systems and has no frets in order that an Oudist can play the microtonal scales of the "Maqam system", whatever that is... According to Herb, even though Tommy had a detuned guitar, he was able to successfully sight-read the score by sight-transposing the entire thing in his head. Now that's some sight-reading chops!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Tedesco the Younger

This morning I got the fright of my life!

I was peacefully waking up, sipping my coffee and planning my practice day. I was curious -- but not too curious -- as to why it had been more than a week since I'd seen Dracrevocsid, the Lady of Lake Taneycomo. I glanced at my coffee mug and thought for a second that I saw something in it. "Darn mosquitoes!" I said, "Where are the bats when I need them?"

I wasn't speaking figuratively. We have a few bats living in the ceiling of our garage. We called a company called Critter Control about them because we wanted the bats to be dealt with humanely, and that's what Critter Control does. Their man came out and checked out our house, telling us that in late August, after the baby bats have flown the "coop", he can install some cone-like affairs which will allow the bats to fly out, but not allow them to fly back in.

Anyway, so I said, "Where are the bats when I need them?" and swirled the coffee in my mug, trying to see what, if anything, was in there. To my fright and surprise, a head popped out! Startled, I spilled some coffee on the floor. For a moment, I thought it was a bat, but upon closer examination, it turned out to be the tiny head of... you guessed it... Dracrevocsid, the Lady of Lake Taneycomo!

With a pop, the tiny Dracrevocsid, disappeared from the coffee mug and appeared full-sized next to me on the couch. In the process, the displaced coffee in the mug caved in on the now empty space once occupied by Dracrevocsid, and splashed in my face.

"Gotcha!" she said, dripping coffee on my couch, "I just love that joke! It always gets 'em." I took it that by "'em" she meant mere mortals like me. "Well, thank you very much," I said, "A fine way to wake me up. You should go into show biz. They need people like you in Las Vegas!" "Don't insult me," she said, "I am not a 'people'! I am a magical-mystical-musical being!" "Anyway," I said, "I was just, uh... lamenting over the fact that I hadn't seen you in over a week." "And don't patronize me," she retorted, "I get enough of that whenever I talk to the Wood-Sprites about selling me a new guitar to give to one of my clients! I can't, for the eternal life of me, figure out why they suck up to me. I mean it's not like I'm going to buy a guitar from Manny's Music in New York!"

"Actually," I sincerely lamented, "it looks like nobody is going to buy a guitar from Manny's Music anymore." And it's true. Another New York jazz shrine closes and waits for the wrecking ball. I read in the news that Manny's and other shops on the 42nd Street "Music Row" are, or will be, closing. NYC suits are buying up the property to knock down and put up another skyscraper! Just what NYC needs: another skyscraper! It's a pity. Manny's is where I bought my first "serious" guitar, a Gibson L-5, back in 1973. Manny's was bought out by Guitar Center years ago. Now all the employees there will be transferred to other Guitar Center stores in NY and New Jersey.

"Wow!" said Dracrevocsid, mostly dry now, but taking the moment to wring some coffee on my living room floor from her frock, "That is bad news. But the good news is that I've come to bestow upon you another gift! And another task to perform." "I don't know," I said, "The last couple 'gifts' you've brought me have been more like tasks to perform, and the 'tasks' you've given me sounded, well... sounded closer to being threats! And I've been meaning to ask you: where's this student apprentice you promised me?" She replied, "All in good time. Patience, young padawan. Patience is the Jedi way. Impatience can only lead to the 'Dark Side'." I stared blankly at her, so she went on, "That last part was a joke! How come nobody gets my sense of humor? However, I want you to know that I have noticed your efforts of late and, as you have been working very hard, I didn't think it necessary to pop in on you to give you any instruction (which has enabled me to spend some time with my other clients). I have also seen that you have been paying quite a lot of attention to playing your classical guitar (what is its name?) and working on learning Gene Bertoncini's harmonic style."

And it's true: I have been playing a lot of jazz on my classical Yamaha CGX171CCA guitar, and beginning to learn Gene Bertoncini's (link in side-bar) style of playing. I bought a DVD put out by Mel Bay company named Gene Bertoncini: the Art of Solo Jazz Guitar. Steve Abshire (link in side-bar) sent me Gene's cd Body and Soul, plus a few recordings with Steve and Gene playing together! Man, what a fortunate guitarist Steve is (and he sounds great on the recordings). Bertoncini's music has opened up an entirely new world for me! Particularly in the area of arranging for the guitar. He does things on the classical guitar which some of his harmonies have been in my head for a long time and I am learning an encyclopedia of new ones. I hope to be able to travel to NYC this fall to hear and see Gene play and, if I am very lucky, to get a lesson from him. I am in the process of working up a repertoire for the guitar which I can play solo. Very handy around here where there is a lack, practically speaking, of jazz bassists and drummers (the really good ones are playing 6 - 10 shows a week in Branson and have little chops or time to play other gigs). I would like to add the classical guitar to my arsenal: in my head, some tunes just sound right on electric while others sound right on classical guitar.

"But enough wool-gathering!" said Dracrevocsid, "and I know what you mean about Mr. Bertoncini. I listen to him a lot, although I must say (giggling) that when he plays a jazz club and I hide in someone's drink, the alcohol makes me a bit tipsy! However, as I said, I have come to bestow upon you, a gift! I bring... will bring to you a Taylor NS72CE classical guitar which you shall address as 'Tedesco!'"

"Tedesco?!!" I said, "Kind of a weird name for a guitar although, now that I think about it, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco was a rather famous composer and performer of classical guitar, while Tommy Tedesco was a renowned jazz performer and session player (recordings you've heard: themes to Bonanza, Green Acres, and M*A*S*H, to name a few), so I guess the name does make sense after all. But see here, I've already got a classical guitar, and it's a special one because my wife Ann bought it for me."

"Oh, it's a fine guitar," she said apologetically, "And it does have some mojo on it, but it doesn't have the resonance and projection that my guitar will have, not to mention some of my magic. It will be a Taylor NS72CE ... top of the line Taylor. And I find I must apologize (not an easy thing for a Lady of a Lake to do) for the fact that it's been back-ordered." "'Back-ordered?' From Taylor??" I interjected, "I thought all your guitars were made by Wood Elves in their... I don't know... forest shop or something. What's this talk about Taylor?"

"Well, in the first place," she replied, "It's Wood-Sprites who make them. In the second place, they do make them in their workshop, but the Ladies of other Lakes have placed so many orders lately, partly due to your blog thingy, that they have run out of room in the workshop and have had to contract out with Taylor and other production guitar manufacturers for space in their workshops.Taylor , being the large and powerful company it is, agreed to let the Wood-Sprites work there, and allowed them to put as much magic as they would like on their guitars, but that they must use Taylor materials and put their logo on them. An untenable position, to say the least, but, hey, what are ya gonna do? The Master Luthiers all tell us that there will be a year or two lead-time through them, so it's either work with the manufacturers, or lose part of our client's market share. Even so, the Wood-Sprites have had to back order some guitars.

"Well..." she announced, glancing at her Rolex, pulling out her wand and preparing to disappear, "Time is money and I've got to trot. It's been nice giving you the... doing business with you..." "Wait a minute!" I interrupted, "When am I going to get this new guitar? And anyway, I'll then have two classical guitars. How shall I know how to address them?" "Cute!" she said, "Very funny. Okay then. At the Lake Ladies Orientation Course they told us to 'go with the flow' whenever possible concerning dealing with mere mortals: trust me, it just makes it easier. So you shall address the guitar you already have as 'Tedesco the Elder', and the new one as 'Tedesco the Younger'."

I thought to myself, "Geez, but I've got a lot of work to do, and somewhere in there I have to get my truck repaired from the hail damage..." "Oh, that..." she said, "I meant to tell you about that: I was running low on coin, so I had to 'borrow' that truck repair money from your bank account to pay for the guitar." "Mighty fine time to tell me about that! Anything else I can do for you? Need a loan? Would you like me to make some sandwiches for you to take with you?"

"Hilarious!" she said, "If this guitarist thing doesn't work out for you, you'll have a great career in comedy. Now get off your keister and go practice!" And with that, she disappeared.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Sad News re: MUCS Tracy Ford, Part 2

I've received information that MUCS Tracy Ford's interment will take place at 1300 on September 24, 2010 at Arlington in Wasington, DC. The Naval Academy Band will play honors (far right in pix).

I intend to travel to DC to attend the ceremony. Most likely, I'll be driving since I want to take my guitar to take a lesson with Rick Whitehead (Airmen of Note alum.) while I'm there, and I'm hoping that some other playing opportunities will come up.

I encourage the members of the Sixth Fleet Band, and any others who knew Tracy to attend. She was one fine vocalist and sailor.

If you'd like more information, contact me at and I'll tell you all I know.

Best, John Derby

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Mistake of Case Identity

Back in the day... I mean way back in the day -- cases of mistaken identity were considered to be high humor by playwrights... in fact cases of mistaken identity are still considered very funny. Mistaken identity is kind of hard to make funny in a book: in order to milk the most out of the joke, the intended audience has to be able to see the obvious that the characters miss!

Shakespeare used this device in several of his plays: Much Ado About Nothing, A Midsummer's Night Dream, and Comedy of Errors, for instance. Rossini, Bizet, and Gilbert & Sullivan used it in opera. Alfred Hitchcock used it in North By Northwest. There's even a semi-famous episode in the sitcom Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

I'll admit that I've had a few yucks over these and other cases of mistaken identity, but what about a "mistake of case identity", i.e. mistakes on the type of case that will hold my Les Paul Supreme, a.k.a. Axecalibur? Not so durn funny!

First, we ordered the Gator flight case designed for Les Pauls... Didn't fit! We sent it back (they charged me shipping for the return to the warehouse) and ordered the SKB flight case specifically molded for the Les Paul. Also didn't fit!! You see, the problem is that the Les Paul Supreme is just a bit thicker through the body than --- ALL the other Les Pauls! That's right: the Les Paul Supreme is the only LP model Gibson makes that is a hollow-body (meaning there is airspace between the front and back of the guitar), whereas all the other Les Pauls are solid wood throughout. The hollow-body construction makes it perfect for being an all-around guitar which can play a variety of styles, including especially jazz, which requires a warmer tone. But using either of those cases would have caused big problems if I had followed my usual faster-than-light snap decisions personality and leaped before looking. Due to the thickness of the body, it would have left about 1/2" space between the back of the neck and the neck rests. If I had used it, it would have caused the neck to warp. Bad news for me, not only because it would ruin a really nice guitar, but also because Dracrevocsid, the Lady of Lake Taneycomo, would have doubtless turned me into a cockroach... or maybe even something worse: a liberal!


So now I have a problem: the case that came with the guitar (albeit a good one) is not flight-worthy. So if I go to D.C. to attend Tracy Ford's interment at Arlington in the early fall, I had planned to take my guitar to get a lesson from Rick Whitehead. Since I can't take my guitar on the airplane, I'll either have to fly without the guitar or... (scary music)... drive! These old bones don't think I can drive that far, even if I take a friend to help with the driving. So now I have decisions to make. And I don't like either choice. Aaargh!

In other news, practice is going well for my recital. I'll be playing arrangements by Herb Ellis, Barney Kessel, Gene Bertoncini, and Bob Roetker, as well as a couple of my own. I've been concentrating on the classical guitar pieces for the last few days. I need to transcribe them from recordings and get to work on them as they will take the most practice time to get under my fingers.

Speaking of that, I can almost feel Dracrevocsid breathing down the back of my neck. I'd better get to practicing.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Operation Artistic Freedom

"Wake up, you maggot!" someone yelled. "Get your sorry [butt] out of your rack and turn to!!" yelled a familiar voice. "You've got exactly sixty seconds to get dressed, get downstairs and make me a cup of joe, recruit, or I'll make you wish you never were born!!!" yelled Dracrevocsid, the Lady of Lake Taneycomo.

I ran downstairs and made a pot of coffee while trying to figure out what in tarnation was going on. She yelled, "Get your feet on the marks, recruit, before I turn you into the worm you are!" I asked, "What marks?". "What!?" she yelled loudly. "I mean 'Sir, what marks, sir?'" "What, what!!?" she yelled even louder. "Sorry. I mean 'Ma'am, what marks, Ma'am?" She bellowed "What, what, WHAT!!?" making the dinner plates rattle on the shelves. I thought for a second, and asked, "Lady, what marks, Lady?" "That's better!" she yelled, whereupon she whupped out her wand and made two bright red feet-like silhouettes appear magically on the floor. "Those marks!" she yelled, indicating that I should stand on them, "And stand at attention!"

I couldn't help but notice that in addition to her not-much-left-to-the-imagination attire, she was wearing a Drill Sergeant's hat which perched on her head like a bird of prey, leaning forward and ready to pounce at the least provocation. I stood at attention. The only sound was the gurgling of the coffee pot. I was painfully aware that with a flick of her wand, she could turn me into something nasty if she took a mind to. Silently, she got a cup of coffee and sipped it while walking slowly around me. She looked me up and down, squinting as though she were looking at a bacteria through a microscope.

After a time, I said, "Lady, please, Lady..." I said, "All this yelling is going to wake up my wife." She replied, "Fear not, recruit! I have cast a spell upon her so that she will not hear us. Wouldn't do to have civilians interfering with musical-magical-military business!" "Forgive me, your Ladyness," I said, "I should have thought that you'd already taken care of that. But please... tell me what's going on. I haven't seen you since just after the NMA Reunion and I kinda thought you'd disappeared for good."

"What's going on, recruit, is that you are getting soft! Great Sousa's Ghost!! I give you a few day's R & R and you think I've gone for good!? Not on your harmonic device! All that went before was merely Phase One of this operation. Now get me your guitar!" which I did, wondering what this talk of "operations" was all about. I brought her Axecalibur and she yelled "Not that guitar, maggot... the one you've been playing the last few days!" So I went back to get my classical guitar, returned to my marks and held it at, uh... Present Guitar, I guess. "Hmm..." she said, closely examining my guitar, "I see that you've restrung it... and polished it! Good! Remember, recruit, that your life depends on these instruments!" whereupon she handed it back to me.

I remember having had to march, carrying a bass drum, from the Naval Academy Chapel, over to the stadium (a couple of miles, I think) and stand at attention while all the Midshipmen marched onto the field for the opening ceremonies prior to a football game. Standing there, my legs would lock up and get very stiff. When we began marching again, the first few steps were pretty excruciating. Now, in my kitchen, my old bones felt the same way without the "benefit" of the marching.

"Your Ladyness," I said, "what is this 'operation' of which you speak?" "I bring you another gift," she yelled, "'I call it... 'Operation Artistic Freedom'!" She went on to explain that "Operation Artistic Freedom", of which I was now beginning Phase Two, will be a rigorous program of organization and practice, both on the guitar and on the computer. She said I would be required to work up repertoire for a solo guitar recital and to commit the arrangements to paper on my Finale program. She said -- yelled, actually -- that this recital would be 30 to 40 minutes in length, and consist of arrangements of my own choosing (either my own or by others). She also told me that I must be the only person on stage but that I may use computer accompaniment in addition to performing some pieces solo and that I must use both my Yamaha classical guitar and Axecalibur, the Les Paul Supreme. Oh yes, and she said I must report back to her at "0-'leven-hundred hours" -- personally, I think she just threw that in for effect.

She continued yelling, "I expect you to schedule this recital at a venue of your choice for September or October of this year! I suggest you pursue utilizing the chapel at the VA Clinic and Missouri Rehabilitation Center in Mt. Vernon, Missouri, as the civilians out there have done much for you, however the choice is up to you! You may consult with other guitarists, if you so desire, as long as none of them perform with you! For instance, I've spoken to Rick Whitehead who, I'm sure you are aware, was guitarist and leader of the Air Force stage band Airmen of Note, and he is willing to give you a lesson if you can travel to the Washington D.C. area!"

"NOW...," she bellowed, making the dishes rattle again and causing the neighborhood dogs to bark, "Do you understand these orders as I have given them to you???!!" Trembling, I indicated that I did. "Good...!!" she thundered, "Now PROMULGATE them!!!"

With that, she disappeared, as did the foot marks, with a loud (and impressive, I must say) "wooshing" sound, leaving me alone in my kitchen to consider my next, uh... evolution.