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In Which Ryan Is Confused By Fall

October 2022 | 3:10


Goomba demonstrates that a yawn is but a silent scream for us to be less boring.

What's Been Happening

September is always an odd time of year for me.

Given how my life is structured it ends up being the intersection of a ton of my interests but with all of them at very different stages within their annual life cycle. DCI has just finished their season so there’s still plenty of afterglow, but since we’re all on single year contracts there’s a lot of professional change which is both exciting and sad, and in the middle of all that it’s already time to plan 11 months ahead and set up auditions and other materials to hopefully make next August even better. For marching band I’m finally seeing shows I wrote 6 months ago come to fruition and trying to help however I can from afar or by traveling, and at least this year I’m also doing a ton of judging across the country which gives me yet another perspective. In the jazz world it’s time for school groups to start up and professional groups to start confirming all their fall and winter schedules. Publishers are sending proofs to edit before they go to press and new commissions are finalizing details. Trade shows and conferences are looking ahead and this year looks to be whatever normal is for the first time.

In my life it’s also just been a time of year with a lot of emotion attached, for better or worse. I don’t have seasonal affective disorder or anything but the days are getting shorter and I like the sun as much as the next guy (within reason; calm down, Texas). I actually like the cooler weather and am a sucker for pumpkin spice whatever, and I love the smell of burning dust the first time you turn on the heat for the year. But it’s also the end of walking downstairs while cooking to get fresh stuff from the garden, and the last couple chances to use the smoker.

It’s calm and peaceful and slowing, and chaotic and unsure, and a chance to reset amid the run-on sentence that keeps going even while you plan the next phrase. It’s beautiful leaves changing color as they run out of energy and are sacrificed for the good of the tree, and an unstoppable progression of time towards snowy winter which by the way I look forward to. It’s a windowpane that reflects the past even as it shows the future amid the present.

September is always an odd time of year for me.

May your masks smell pleasant and your packages arrive without incident,


Chart O' The Month

ElisDePaul Jazz Orchestra w/ Phil Woods
00:00 / 08:33

Looking back there’s a surprising number of stories associated with this chart. The arrangement is of Phil Woods’ tribute to Brazilian singer Elis Regine, and it was done at Phil’s request to feature both of us for a concert while I was at DePaul. The recording is almost 15 years old and looking back I’m struck by how many folks on this recording I’ve gone on to make more great music with, and how lucky I am to still be in touch with so many of them. The only thing I distinctly remember from the rehearsals and performance though is something I still try to pass on whenever I get a chance, which is how easy it was to trade solos with Phil Woods. I was really nervous going into it that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with such a great improviser, but everything Phil played was just so clear and put the next thing I needed to play right on a tee for me. It really highlighted that improvisation and trading in particular is really about interaction, and the easier you make it to interact the better the experience is for everyone… which is obvious in hindsight, but I hadn’t really experienced it enough to internalize it before that moment.

Musically, I’m mostly proud of the way I pulled together the form for this arrangement. The original tune is an extremely long form which makes it not very practical to do the jazz default; repeat the form and allow the soloists to each improvise over the chord structure of the melody. I overtly stole the solution from my friend Mike Pinto who solved the same problem in his arrangement of the Jobim tune “Desafinado” by making the full arrangement once through the entire form. Various sections of the tune are then repeated or extended for emphasis and the solos grow out of these extensions. This makes the overall arrangement both true to the original version and sheds a fresh light on it, which is a lot of what I think makes any arrangement successful and worthwhile.

Epidendrum 'Pacific Sunset' x 'Pink Rabbit'.JPG

Look, Nature!

This picture is from a hike we did in Castle Rock State Park, and I just really like the view. There's a depth and distance you rarely see on hikes in Illinois or the rest of the great plains.

Also, look how many plants there are! There's probably a lot of animals too I guess, but I'm giving myself credit for progress on the "don't just show whatever animal we got a picture of" plan.

Education Notes

In addition to usually being the only reason I’m aware what day it is, my one-a-day calendar this year is Zen themed and has had some gems that I’ve kept on my desk or taped to my wall. Here’s a few that still stick out and have helped me in my teaching this year:

You may follow one stream. Realize that is leads to the Ocean, but do no mistake it for the ocean. (Jan-Fishan Khan)
Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck. (The Dalai Lama)
The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth. (Niels Bohr)
For forty years I have been selling water by the bank of the river. (Sogaku Harada, on being a Zen teacher)
If you develop an ear for sounds that are musical it is like developing an ego. You begin to refuse sounds that are not musical and that way cut yourself off from a good deal of experience. (John Cage)
You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water. (Rabindranath Tagore)
The shortest answer is doing. (English proverb)

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