Friday, July 26, 2013

Page Turner to the Starz, Part 3

This is the last of my three-part series on a recording session involving Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, John Cerminaro, and Cecil Licad. I'm the page turner, WLB. Part 1 is HERE, Part 2 HERE. Today there's a bit of drama in the session and some brass-player solidarity at lunch.
Day Two: Prelude

Thursday, Jan 6. What to wear? Well, Diz had died. (Dizzy Gillespie, jazz trumpet player and a major hero of mine.) So I ought to wear black out of respect for Diz. (Conveniently, black is also artistically cool.) Now, my black shirt is flannel, but rather light. It might be a bit cool in the Music Hall. So I need to wear my black sweater with the cool red and blue and green accents. Now, if I wear my down jacket I'll be too warm on the walk – it's not that cold out. So that means I'll wear my chocolate-colored suede jacket, even though it might not be warm enough. And my so-cool prescription shades. All of a sudden I'm looking pretty cool. All just to pay my respects to Diz.

I arrive at 10. Everyone is dressed much the same (for all I remember, maybe exactly the same), except Nadia's wearing darker jeans. I ask John how his chops are. OK? And your throat? Better than yesterday, he says.

I was being sly with that question. He hadn't said anything about his throat. However, a good brass player works the throat to start molding the sound inside the vocal cavity. To get an open liquid sound you have to keep the throat open. That takes work and you can feel it in your throat muscles if you've done it for awhile. In extreme cases you get hoarse & a sore throat. In asking the question I was showing that I'm a good enough brass player to know about the throat and tone production.

I also mention that I've been mourning a bit over the death of a musician (oh, I'm so subtle aren't I?).

John: You mean Phil Farkas? (French horn player he'd mentioned yesterday.)
WLB: No, Dizzy Gillespie.
John: Oh, yeah, I heard.
WLB: I heard him about two years ago when he played on this very stage. His chops were gone, had been going for 15 years. But in his prime he was something.
John: Yeah, Miles is dead too.

Time to Make the Donuts

So, it's time to start. I'm seated. The third movement is quite slow; I won't be getting up and down all that often. I get up for the page turn and I hear change rattling in my pocket. The music's so soft that the mike will surely pick up the rattling change. I turn the page and sit down as quietly as I can. At the next break I remove the change from my pocket. When Cecile comes down from listening to the music in the control booth she asks me about the keys. I don't follow – she can't be talking about the music, that is, what key it's in, and I don't have any keys, as in keys for locks, and then I get it. Oh, I had some change in my pocket, which I've removed. The run-through concludes OK. Then the patching. This is a very slow movement. Cecile opens it alone, very softly, deliberately. Does the opening several times, chin hovering inches above the keyboard has she starts, hands and fingers a slow ballet as they approach the keys, touch them lightly to establish touch & position, then moving down into them to bring forth the sound.

This time I'm prepared. I quickly look over the music for the fourth movement and note there's a da capo. So, I put a paper clip in the appropriate place and I'm all set.

We start the fourth movement, which is quite snappy. First the complete run-though. We come to the da capo and I make it. The run-through was good. Now for patching. During one long passage, John removes a slide from his horn while Nadja is still playing. He does this to empty out the spit, which accumulates in the horn as you play and will gurgle if you don't empty it out. It makes some metalic noise, which breaks Nadja's concentration, and besides, the noise was probably picked up by the mic. Nadja angrily aborts the take. John explains he had to empty the spit out of his horn. Nadja, in an adult voice, not particularly loud, but with an edge, says "you don't have to empty your fucking horn while I'm playing." So the words go on, John worrying about his lip, Nadja talking to Karen, several times Karen says forget about it, just keep going. Cecile says nothing.

I wonder whether things will escalate too far and, while doing and saying nothing, go into an intense mode of acceptance and calm, as though … if I the page-turner can stay cool, that will help; I'd guess Cecile was in the same mode. It's like seeing into someone else's family quarrel; it doesn't concern you, you shouldn't be there, but even to leave would credit your presence at this break-down that's none of your business and so you simply try very hard to be Not There. Things stay cool. We resume recording. Later during the recording session John will compliment Nadja for an idea she had about how to interpret a certain passage, an idea that "I never would have thought of."

At the next break, when John and I are alone on the stage, he approaches me and, speaking softly, confidingly, back turned to the side of the stage where the control room is, remarks:

John: You know, no matter what they say, I don't think string players or piano players really understand or emphasize with the problems of brass players. They can play hour after hour and really can't understand why we can't.
WLB: Well, I think they understand to some extent. They believe you when you say your chops are fragile. But, yeah, you're right, they don't really empathize, they don't really understand us.
John, turning away from WLB and looking up into the distance: But I feel there's some kind of justice though when they work with a different player who falls completely apart and can't do it.
WLB thinking: That's a strange kind of justice; you get no compensation but others fail.

John's playing has been superb. A few clams here and there. But he made the horn sing.


People putzing around, meandering toward lunch.

Piano tech to WLB, close, sotto voce, with a trace of a voyeur's smile: Quite a little scene we had there.
WLB - All us musicians are crazy.

WLB thinking: What of it? Yeah, a little touchy. But mild compared to how I've blown my stack on occasion. And, nothing came of it. Was John doing the passive aggressive bit when he decided to empty his slides as Nadia was playing? Was her response to his action unreasonable, understandable? What's the standard? Recording is wretched tricky business. The players have to live with the record. Tension is inevitable. On the whole, things are going well.


On to lunch. WLB again leads the way, slightly worried that, as people group up during the walk, he's grouped with no one. Overhears conversation between Nadja – who's undone her pony tail for the walk and who's wearing shades which become way-cool by being plain pedestrian plastic – and the piano tech. He's remarking about the looseness of her jeans in the ass. She moves along, hands thrust down into her pockets straining against the bottoms, elbows locked, shoulders hunched from the cold – she's only wearing a denim jacket over her sweater and it's a little colder than yesterday – with the kind of stride where you deliberately roll through the balls of your feet to your toes so you thrust into the next step. Remarks of her jeans that "they're just loose, just loose."

We arrive at Holmes & Watson and, this time, go upstairs. We move some tables together and sit down. Again I manage to set across from Nadja & Cecile. Karen is to my left & John to my right. Tom (recording engineer) goes off to call a friend of his from Dorian Recording and invite him to lunch with us.

Nadja: “Fwank.” Meaning Frank Sinatra, who we heard over the sound system singing "I've Got You Under My Skin." When that's over we hear something inane, like Montovanni. Nadja remarks that she prefers the music downstairs. Chatter about music. Barry "I write the songs the whole world sings" Manilow is ridiculed. Maureen McGovern gets good marks. As "You Go to My Head" plays Karen asks what the lyric is before ". . . like the bubbles in a glass of champagne." WLB is pissed that he can't supply the lyric, because it's one of his favorite tunes, Louis Armstrong does a superb version, and Bird used to call the tune when he wanted to send a call to erotic action to a lady in the audience. WLB figures there's probably no particularly politic way to slip that piece of information into the conversation. Nor can he see any so casual and innocent way to introduce Dizzy's death. John does another Tylenol, to reduce swelling in his lip. Chatter about disaster films, which Nadja seems to like. Praise for "The Poseidon Adventure." Perhaps the link was that Maureen McGovern sang on the sound track.

Cecile, with a note of marveled discovery in her voice: Oh, I know what the most expensive toilet in the world is. The astronaut's toilet cost $30 million. We're suitably stunned. Cecile, Nadja & Karen comment, with Nadja getting the last word: I'd rather have the $30 million and just let it float. WLB, thinking to himself, was a bit skeptical about the wisdom of letting it float (what if it hit the fan?). Chatter chatter & more chatter about the beer. Nadja: Too bad they don't have San Miguel. Some talk about non-alcoholic beer. The waiter comes to take our orders. John orders first: orders a club sandwich, though Holmes & Watson has some fancy Holmsania name for it that I forget. Nadja remarks that the Baskerville was good, urges Cecile to order one. She does. So do all. Except WLB, who is last. He has his other favorite, the Scrower Special. And a pint of Harp. John, of course, sticks with his club.

Nadja: You're not having a Baskerville!
WLB: No. I can come here any time. I like the Scrower.

Nadja: Are we gonna order something to, you know, share around? This time we order two sets of appetizers. More chatter. Tom's friend (Peter’s his name) arrives and takes a seat. The piano tech, who also knows him, introduces him around. When the introductions get to Nadja, quickly, Nadja: I'm Nadja and this is Cecile. The waiter comes to take Peter's order. Told that everyone else is having a Baskerville, that's what he has too. The food arrives and all agree that, yeah, the roast pork sandwich is good. Cecile puts some Tabasco sauce on hers; Karen follows. John enjoys his club, giving a quarter to Cecile. WLB is down with his Scrower. We eat. At some point WLB notices Cecile looking at the silver bracelet (technically, it's a cuff) on his right wrist.

Cecile contemplates dessert.

WLB: The pecan pie is excellent. But don't forget John has some more truffles back at the Hall.

That thought seems to satisfy Cecile. Nadja and Cecile decide to get some beers to drink in the van on what way home. Nadja wants to drive the van. Karen decides not, she'll drive the van. (After all, she rented it; her company is responsible for it. And she probably feels responsible for Nadja.) We get the check and pay up. Karen has to borrow from Nadja, who has a wallet full of platinum and gold cards.

We leave and return to the Hall. Again, WLB walks alone. On the way back Nadja does a broad smile and a 360 turn when she sees a local woman who resembles her – a little shorter, a little fuller, but the same brown hair & eyes, and the same jeans and light blue denim jacket.

More Truffles

Back at the Hall and John's truffles – more munching. Cecile gets out her glasses – her contacts are dry and she has no more fluid for them. The piano tech jury-rigs the glasses so they'll stay up.

Back in the Hall it's gotten considerably warmer. Now all we have to do is complete another run-through on the 1st and 4th movements. Both go well. Some triple-grin music. WLB's legs threaten to dance him away from the piano. But he hangs in there and makes his page turns. John's chops have survived. Some fine playing all around.

One last thing. Cecile's got to do the opening four bars of the 3rd movement. Very tricky. Nadja: Do you want me to leave? Cecile, slight giggle below the surface of her voice: Yes. John has already left the stage. I'm sort of walking away figuring I should leave as well. As I walk away Nadja says: Come on, lets go. She goes her way and I go mine. Cecile does two takes of those four bars. We're done.

So, it's over. John's once again buzzing his lips on the trombone mouthpiece. Now I find out just where to submit my invoice and I don't see these people any more. Go upstairs to the control room. Karen & Tom. WLB asks Karen where to submit invoice. As she's writing the information on a yellow pad Nadja comes in, glances at the pad, and sits down.

WLB, as Karen hands the information to him: I enjoyed it.
Karen: Thanks for helping us out.
Nadja: Yes, thanks a lot.

Nadja, sounding, looking, tired: I didn't enjoy it. WLB, looking at her, has nothing to say. Wonders what she's trying to say. Has no trouble understanding that, for her it could easily have been wracking. But, as Karen remarked at various times over the intercom, there was some lovely playing.

WLB turns and leaves. Walking back home – that's the last he'll see of these people. He stops in at the public library to pick up a copy of Metroland. Getting a Metroland is part of his psychic security blanket.

It's time for the Thur PM jam session. Maybe next week. Don't want to wear out my welcome there. Problem is that the guy who runs the session is mediocre – and he certainly knows it. Others who come are better. So the decorum is tricky and I don't want to take up too much space.

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