Michael Johnson Concert

on Saturday, December 29, 2007

I went to see Michael Johnson in concert at the Pioneer Place on Fifth last night -- what a thrill! I remember seeing him for the first time in the Stewart Hall Auditorium back in the mid 80s and sitting a mile away, last night I was in the front row.

He hasn't lost a thing, although his voice was a little weak at times, but that's understandable seeing as he just had quadruple bypass surgery only 4 1/2 months ago. His guitar playing, on the other hand, is still up to snuff, in fact it's beyond snuff, he's one of the best guitarists I've ever seen.

He played an Irving Berlin song that I simply must learn, but I forgot the title (grrr!). Berlin wrote it for the woman he loved, but back in those days it was unthinkable for a Jewish man to marry a Catholic woman. It's something like "That'll Do" or "It'll Have To Do," I just can't remember -- I even asked him after the concert, but it was gone by the time I got home. Sometimes it really sucks being ADD.

He'll be back again next year, maybe I can find out then.

At one point I was in the bathroom washing my hands and the guy next to me asked what I thought of the concert, I told him I was thrilled because I am such a fan of Michael Johnson.

"What did you think of the opening act?" he asked.

I told him I didn't really like them. It was a husband and wife team from Duluth, I didn't catch their names, and they did cutsie folk. One of their songs was "Matching Baggage" and it told the story of how they met. I found it way too cute and walked out after it in order to wait in the bar until the main act started.

It's just a matter of personal taste, he used simple chords and simple melodies and both their singing voices were very weak and thready. But he was very entertaining to the crowd and very engaging to them.

It just wasn't my cup of tea, I told him.

"That other fellow can sure play the guitar," he said and I agreed, "but I'll bet he can't fish." That was such a non sequiter I had no response.

Later I saw that fellow talking with the opening artists, his body language told me he was a close friend or possibly family. I didn't feel bad, though, I didn't diss the guy, I just said it wasn't for me.

Now, to figure out that Irving Berlin song…

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Dakota Xmas Show

on Monday, December 24, 2007

It took us 2-1/2 hours to get to downtown Minneapolis last night for our gig at the Dakota Jazz Club. As usual, Jeff & I meet at the Clearwater Travel Plaza and travel the rest of the way together. When we were about a mile and a half from the Hasty, MN exit traffic slowed down to 5 mph. We crawled along, looking at all the four-wheel drive vehicles in the ditch (those people are idiots, they think because they have four-wheel drive that they can drive normally when there's 2 inches of snow on the ground) with a plan: we'd take the Hasty exit (I know, I know) and take as many back roads as we could. We must have passed 100 cars or more!

We rolled into downtown Minneapolis, late for a meeting we were going to have with a guy who wants to rep my coffee in the twin cities (keep your fingers crossed), but on time for our gig. We played from 7 until 11 pm... and made $100. That fits in perfectly with what we call the "Engholm Corollary" (yes, we know it's not really a corollary): The more they're listening to you, the less you get paid."

We have played "wallpaper" gigs in a room full of conventioneers and gotten paid ridiculous amounts of money, but when we play one of the premiere jazz clubs in the nation, we get $100. And half price drinks, to be fair.

All in all, though, it was a very fun night, but a little long. I would have been happier playing only two sets instead of three. But it's such an honor to play that stage. The piano is signed on the inside by a veritable "who's who" of famous jazz players, I never feel worthy of being there.

That was the last holiday show of 2007. Now onto New Year's Eve...

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Cats of My Life

on Friday, December 21, 2007

The new addition of Frank to my life has given me a chance to think back on the cats I've had in my life. I never thought I'd be a cat owner... well, that's not true, I thought I would probably, eventually own a cat, but I didn't know when that might happen.

I wish I could remember the exact year… it had to have been around 1990 that Tristram came into my life. I was musical director for the dreaded boy orphan musical, Oliver, in Elk River, MN, I was living with Kim. One night, I needed a rehearsal pianist to fill in for a night, so I asked my friend Linda to help out (that woman could sight-read a Chinese newspaper), I offered to drive here there and back and stopped by as she was just finishing up doing the dishes. She asked me to make myself at home, I sat down and this little gray streak darted out of the living room onto my lap. There sat a stripey gray kitten, only a few weeks old, he rolled onto his back, looked into my eyes and started purring.

It's an odd feeling knowing you've just been picked, I can't explain it, but I knew at that moment he'd be with me for a while. I sat there dumbstruck, simply knowing that I had to have that cat for my own. I don't remember when I said it, but I told Linda that if she wanted to "get rid of the gray kitten" I would take it off her hands. I suppose that was the most nonchalant way I could think of to let her know I needed to have him.

She explained that her daughter had picked that cat out of the litter of barn cats in their, er, barn to be her house cat. I said I understood and wondered if I would be separated from this wonderful little fuzzball.

A couple of days (weeks?) later Linda called and said that since her daughter was going away for college anyway, and that she, herself, really didn't want a house cat, I could come out and pick up that gray kitten if I wanted to. I enlisted the help of my good friend, Eric, and he and I grabbed a cardboard box and left immediately

Tristram came to me with an upper-respiratory disease, I poked a pill down his throat every day for a couple of months (how he could "ack" it up 20 minutes later -- still dry -- is totally beyond me) while he sneezed vile green goo on me every morning. He got healthy while his mother and siblings all died of it. So he became my little orphan boy.

He and I had a relationship that was beyond owner/pet, I called him my familiar. Mages, wizards and witches have familiars, they are connected to them in a magical, spiritual way, that's the way it was with he and I. I could merely think about him and he would appear. He was such a constant companion that I would not even notice, I'd look down and he would be sleeping on my lap and I would have no recollection of when he got there, it was just normal.

He was with me for only ten years, and he got very sick, very fast. When I got him to the vet, it was too late, his liver and kidneys had already shut down and it was just a matter of time before he would either die on his own, or let me know it was time. He picked the latter. I came home from work today, there were puddles of clear vomit everywhere and he said, meekly, "now."

I took him to the vet and had him put down. I breathed his last breath into me, kissed him and said goodbye. He is buried up at my friend Russel's beneath a cairn of stones.

Callie poo came into my life rather accidentally, my girlfriend brought home a stray that she found behind Cub Foods, where she worked. Turns out that cat was pregnant and it wasn't too much later that we had a batch of five kittens in our back room.

We had another cat at the time named Zodie. She was a gray and white long-hair who hated everybody but Christy and me. She got along rather well with Tristram, but nobody got along with the mother cat, Billie. After the kittens were born she would have screaming fights with Tristram and Zodie, I guess she was just protecting her own, but it made for some rather nasty times. Callie was one of the kittens, we kept her even after giving her mother to away to some friends.

Callie grew up to be a very sweet cat, but very aloof. She would find the highest point in a room that she could and view the world from there -- the top shelf of the closet was her favorite hiding place.

She would hide, it is true, but when she wanted lovin' she would make it very obvious, I called it "okay, you may pet me now" time. When she was really content she would show me "Miss Happy Hand," a presentation of her paw and claws as stretched and spread as she could make them. Some cats "cush," kneading whatever is under their feet as kittens do when they are drawing forth milk from their mother, Callie would "cush" the air. And drool, when she was happy she could leave wet spots.

She was a hider, and not likely to show up unless it suited her. I didn't notice until it was too late that she was sick. She died in November of 2007 aged around 12 years or so.

I didn't have the connection with her that I had with Tristram, but I loved her dearly. She is buried at Jeff & Stacie's near Kimball. I miss her.

Frank is my new cat, I got him at the Humane Society last Sunday. He is everything I've wanted in a cat since Tristam died, he is friendly, cuddly, inquisitive and a complete love! I don't want to compare personalities, but he is almost like a reincarnation of Tristram. I believe in love at first site! I got picked again! I am so thrilled to have another cat that I can totally connect with.

He likes to sit on my lap and he sleeps with me at night. He's teething right now, so he tends to chew on my fingertips, he also may be looking for milk, but nipples my fingers ain't. He's a very sweet boy and I look forward to many years together.

And his name is going to stay Frank... like Sinatra. Ol' blue eyes is here to stay.

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New Kitty!!

on Sunday, December 16, 2007

Here's my new baby! I picked him up today at the Tri-County Humane Society. He's 4-1/2 months old and very friendly.

I know I said I wanted an older orange cat, but he kind of picked me. The minute I took him out of the cage for a "test drive" he started purring and butted his head into my beard. That did it. Tristram used to do that.

He's got blue eyes, so he has some Siamese in him, and a pink nose. He's cream colored with orange on his ears, tail and the backside of his rear legs. He'll need to be neutered in February.

I brought him into the house and introduced him to Rusty. There was a little low meowing and a couple of hisses at first, but they were running around the house playing about an hour later.

His name is Frank, but that will probably change. I usually let my cats pick their own names. Frank does seem to fit, though. We'll see.

I'm pretty happy! This is my Xmas present to myself.

Holly Ball 2007

on Tuesday, December 4, 2007

This was the first year the St. Cloud's Holly Ball was held somewhere other than the Holiday Inn. Aparently it got too big and they we're turning thousands away. I'm not sure what the Holly Ball is all about, a friend of mine called it the Old People Prom. All I know for sure is the St. Cloud's "Movers and Shakers" are there (I remember seeing Stearns County Prosecuting Attorney Janelle Kendal -- she's a babe!). the mayor was probably there, too. Anyway, there's a whole lot of money floating around in that room, tables go for over $2000 and there were a lot of tables!

We were hired to perform in various forms, the end of the evening featured the George Maurer Variety Group trading off sets with Bella Diva. We're a good match, GMG does 50s, 60s & 70s rock and Motown, Bella Diva, a group fronted by three women, features more 70s, 80s & 90s with a strong emphasis on disco and other high-energy dance stuff. The early part of the evening had us split up, George playing solo piano at the front of the room and Jeff, Scott & I playing trio at the back of the room. It's a big room, 105 x 265 feet.

The problem was, they also asked some of the players in Bella Diva to also play trio music, and another pianist, too. They put us all on the same end of the room about 30 feet from each other, meaning we were about 60 feet from the other trio with the pianist in the middle. I could hear the other drummer, and I really feel sorry for the piano guy who had to try to concentrate on his own music while hearing two different jazz trios play different songs -- all seven of us playing simultaneously! I can only image what it sounded like in the middle of the room. Cacophony! We won't let that happen again.

Anyway, the gig, apart from that little nastiness, went over like gangbusters and we've already been asked back for next year! It's nice to know I'm booked in December of 2008!!

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