In Memory of Steve

Monday night, at my jazz gig at The Slipway, I was discussing an upcoming absence of mine, and inquiring with the guys in the band about a sub. Steve Grover’s name came up as a possibility as a sub, but guitar player Dave said “I think I heard he’s struggling with cancer.” That’s the first time I heard such a thing.

In 1990, I was a Jazz and Contemporary Music major at the University of Maine, Augusta. The jazz program there was highly regarded at the time; it was where players went who couldn’t afford Berklee. I, of course, couldn’t afford Berklee, so UMA made a good choice. It was affordable, a fine school, and only an hour away from my parent’s house, so I could live at home. So I did. And Steve Grover was my drum instructor.

So intense was that music instruction that the one hour weekly lesson actually counted as two credit hours. I learned so much from Steve in that one semester, it’s unreal. So much of who I am as a jazz player came directly from Steve. I took jazz band in high school, and studied drums privately, but not really JAZZ drumming. That all came from Steve. Steve taught me the hemiola. Steve taught me independence, and comping. Steve beat alternating sticking into my head. He taught me how to count out loud by insisting that I do it–something I try to get MY students to do. And it was Steve that realized I’d been playing my right and left flams backwards for years! He made me go back and re-learn them–something that was very hard to do. All this stuff from Steve.

Wednesday night, two days after the initial news that Steve might be sick, I see a note from a mutual friend and trumpet player on Facebook. Steve’s in hospice. Hospice?! As I read down through the comments, I see “Steve’s taken a turn for the worse. He’s not in hospice. He’s in the hospital. He’s not expected to ever come out.”

Last night, just before 6pm, I was just about to start another gig, when I took a quick glance on Facebook. Steve died. Rest in peace Steve. You made a difference in my playing, and you made a difference in me.

Flags of the Revolution Part V (Part, the Last)

IMG_3057OK, I’ve got one more historical flag left in my collection that relates to the Revolution. It’s the Gadsden flag. Some people know it as the “Snake” flag, or the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag. General Gadsden was the designer of the flag. Congress appointed some Marines to go along with Washington’s Navy (see the Washingston’s Cruisers flag), and those Marines carried this flag. It flies today in downtown Spruce Head America, and this flag is a particular favorite of Mrs. Batty.

Flags of the Revolution, the Fourth (the IVth), The Taunton Flag

We talked briefly about ensigns yesterday. A ensign is a flag flown on ships used toIMG_3051 show the nation of origin. At the time of the revolution, the British used an ensign of the Union Jack as the canton, and a field of red. It was also known as Queen Anne’s flag, and when Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, it was under this flag. Apparently, in Taunton Massachusetts in 1774, and band from the Sons of Liberty raised a flag based on the British ensign with the words “Liberty and Union” sewed on it.

To me, this solidifies the idea the patriots weren’t just about breaking the noose of British authority. Yes, they wanted liberty, but they wanted it within the union of a British colony. I don’t think independence was the first thing on their mind; it was equality. Had it been given them, I think we might be seeing a much different globe today.

I like to fly the Taunton flag a lot, for the same reasons I like to fly Frankin’s “Join or Die.” We as Americans seem so divided. I appeal to heaven that we would have both liberty and union.

Flags of the Revolution, Day III

IMG_3023“Appealing to Heaven for the justice of our cause, we determine to die or be free.”
The Provincial Congress of Massachusetts

The Pine Tree flag, or as I know it, Washington’s Cruisers Flag, was a popular symbol during the revolution, especially in New England. The pine tree was used in flags in New England for over 100 years before the revolution. It was part of the ensign for ships in New England, and the pine tree was used in the flag that flew over Bunker Hill.

On Sundays, I like to fly a flag that represents my Christian faith. Usually, that means the Christian flag. Sometimes, though, when I feel like I really want God to intervene for the sake of our country, I’ll fly Washington’s Cruisers flag as a way to offer an appeal to heaven. Today, that flag flies over downtown Spruce Head America.

Flags of the Revolution Day II

IMG_3013When I bought Spruce Head House, I wanted to continue the flag flying tradition of my father. His father had a flag pole, and I suppose that’s why he had one installed on his property. As I was looking for secondary flags to fly with Ol’ Glory, I happened upon the Sons of Liberty flag. Most of what they stood for seemed to fit with the political leanings of me and wife, and so I bought “her” a Sons of Liberty flag as a gift.

In reality, one might consider The Sons a group of toughs; a gang. While they were a gang for liberty, and so are generally accepted as patriots, their methods were pretty strong arm. The Boston Tea Party was a Sons stunt. Tarring and feathering was done, as well as general beating of someone Brit loyalist who dared cross paths with them. So while I might not agree with their tactics, I agree with their ideals. For those reasons, the Rebellious Stripes fly over downtown Spruce Head America today.

History of the Revolution Through Flags, Day 1 Part II

017OK, technically Ben Frankin’s “Join or Die” cartoon didn’t start off as a flag. And, it didn’t even start off during the Revolution. It predates the revolution, actually. During the time of the Revolution, though, it came back into favor as a cartoon, signifying that if the colonies were going to defeat the British, they would have to stay united.

In our current times, I fly this flag with frequency. As a nation, we’re so divided. “Don’t think people should own an AR-15? You’re not welcome in my restaurant.” “Don’t agree with who I want for president? Unfriend me from Facebook.” Apparently, some people can’t even be friends with someone who doesn’t share their viewpoint. Not very united.

Anyway, today under the Betsy Ross flag, you’ll find Ben’s cartoon-cum-flag in downtown Spruce Head America.

The History of the Revolution Through Flags, Part I

For at least the next four days, the Betsy Ross flag will fly over downtown Spruce Head America. Under it will fly some other historical banner pertaining to the American revolution. Today’s entry will have two parts; this, the first, discussing the Betsy Ross flag, and the second will discuss the flag under it.

The Betsy Ross flag has been attributed to Betsy, but in reality, the details of how the flag with 13 stars arranged in a circle in a canton of blue came to be have been lost. Even if we agree with the story that’s been handed down through family lore, Betsy sewed the flag, but didn’t design it. Her input of the design was limited–according to the family’s own story–to changing the six pointed star to a five pointed; the story is most likely false.

Still, tradition calls this flag the Betsy Ross flag. In this instance, we’ll stick with tradition.

Sidebar: In addition to my interest in history and flag flying, I’m also a stamp collector. Betsy Ross has been honored by the USPS with her own stamp.

Hot Dog Hannibal Lecter

Sunday night, I heard an NPR broadcast about an actor who was in Silence of the Lambs, and his story of working with Anthony Hopkins. So when I woke at 3am this morning, I was only a little surprised to find scenes from the movie replaying in my mind. I found it hard to get back to sleep, as I thought about the gruesomeness of cannibal Hannibal Lecter.

I dozed off though, and started dreaming. I “woke up” in my dream (isn’t it crazy to be dreaming about waking up in your dream?), and there, next to me, in my bed, was a hot dog cart.* I somehow knew that only the mad craftiness of Hannibal Lecter could get an entire hot dog card set up in my bed, and not wake me up. I knew that there, in the dark, behind the hot dog cart, was the cannibal Hannibal Lecter. And in my dream I thought:

“Oh no, I’m about to be eaten with ketchup and mustard!”

Then I woke up.

*Incidentally, last night I attended a Kiwanis meeting with Keith Wass, hot dog magnate of midcoast Maine. After the meeting, I was behind him in traffic. His license plate? Hot Dogs.

A Youtube Clip You’ve Nailed

I started working with a new drum student a month ago. He’s very talented, hungry, ready to practice, and already studying out of my college freshman textbook. He’s a freshman too: in high school. Anyway, I asked him a series of questions about what he’s learned from Youtube. Youtube is, in the words of my former pastor, free music lessons for people who can’t take music lessons. And that sorta is right. There’s lots on Youtube for us to learn. My student has learned a lot from Youtube, since he hasn’t been able to me challenged as much as he’d like from teachers around here. (Incidentally, I think I’m going to be another such teacher; I don’t think I have the chops to teach him much. I’ll probably learn more from him than he does from me.)

Anyway, one of the questions I asked him was “What Youtube video inspired you to practice a particular lick/feel/groove/fill/system, and that you worked on so much you actually learned it?” Here’s my answer…

I’ve posted before about Steve Gadd’s “Crazy Army” solo. The video of Vinny Colitua and Dave Weckl displaying their drum polyrhythm madness, and then how Steve plays a solo based on a drum corps marching beat. Well, I loved that video so much, I found the music for “Crazy Army.” And, based on some videos I watched on Youtube, I learned how to play it.

So now, music type person, what video on Youtube got you to get into the practice room, learn something new, and now you have mastered that particular lesson? Post a link in the comments!

Getting Into the Woodshed

So what was the impetus for me getting into the woodshed? Why have I all of a sudden been on a practice jag? I’ll tell you the story. Listen my children and you shall hear…

Iburgundy sparkle ludwigs was playing a gig at a local place here in Rockland ME. On this particular gig, I opted to use my ’66 Ludwig Super Classic kit. (Here’s some vintage drum knowledge for you.) Burgundy Sparkle was only available for 3-4 years, from about ’66 to ’69, with maybe some spill over on either side. Usually, you could count on Burgundy Sparkle being dated somewhere in those years. The Super Classic is a designation Ludwig used for a 22″ bass drum with a 13″ tom tom and a 16″ floor tom. This particular drum kit is everything one would want to see in a Super Classic; matching “keystone” badges, rail consolette tom mounts, “baseball bat” mufflers, and white painted interiors. It’s just a regular, unmolested, honest Ludwig drum kit in somewhat rare finish.

So anyway, on my break, I head to the bar for coffee (my usual drink of choice), and there’s a guy sitting there, regular looking guy, and he says to me “That’s a pretty interesting Ludwig kit you’ve got there. Is it vintage?” So of course I drum geek out on him, and tell him all about it. I ask him if he plays, and he says that he does. He then says to me “I also noticed your grip; you must’ve studied somewhere.” And so I recount how I was a music major for a little while at UMA, and at the time I was there the jazz program was highly regarded, and it was known as the jazz school you went to if you couldn’t afford Berklee. And I said, not a little smugly, “I studied with Steve Grover.” I looks at me quizzically. I inform him that Steve is the jazz cat to call for drums in ME.

So this part gets a little hazy. After this little bit of bragging on my part, the guy I’m talking to mentions his name; it’s Tom Oldakowski. Then Tom drops this other little bomb on me: he’s the drummer for Radio City Music Hall.

Over the last year, Tom and I have hung out a few times. When he’s in the area, we have lunch, talk drums, catch a local act, or whatever. And his aquaintance has really inspired me. As we talked that night, I told him that my hand work stinks. And it does. He, very kindly (everything he says is very kind), said he thought my hands looked good. They don’t. He’s being a gentleman. But meeting him has made me work on my hands. I’m actually practicing, not just playing drums along with some music on the stereo. And it’s because of a chance meeting in the little town where I live, where a big fish in a big pond let the big fish in the little pond know… Hey, you’ve got work to do.