Monday, January 12, 2009

Context Switch

A couple of friends recently asked if I'm playing much music lately, and why haven't I been talking about fencing?

I haven't been talking about fencing because I haven't been doing any. About a year and a half ago I pulled something in my right forearm—I didn't notice the moment when it happened, but I'd been fencing a couple of guys who liked to use a lot of muscle. You hold a fencing foil mostly with your thumb and forefinger, like a scalpel, but there's a limit to how much power you can put into a grip like that. I was using a french grip, which offers little purchase to the other fingers. One opponent was using a pistol grip, allowing greater strength; and the other was just holding his foil like a hammer. (He wasn't very good, just strong.) So something in my forearm, back near the elbow where the long stringy stuff is anchored, gave way. I've waited all this time for it to heal up, and it hasn't, not all the way. In November it was getting worse again, and I had to stop fencing. I'm now convinced that it won't heal on its own, so tomorrow I'll see my doctor and start the process of figuring out what's really wrong and how to fix it.

Oh, and I took two lessons away from that experience. The first: don't fight strength with strength. I shouldn't have been resisting all that muscle with my own. Instead I should make better use of leverage; resist only briefly and then release suddenly, so the opposing blade suddenly "flies away"; and on offense, try to avoid blade contact altogether. And the second: get a pistol grip.

As for music: no, I haven't been playing much. A while back I realized that my non-music schedule had become too unpredictable for regular gigs and rehearsals: too many sudden needs to stay late at work, or be at home for one reason or another. Needing to be in two or three places at once was causing a lot of stress, so I reluctantly resigned from my jazz band.

But I still play with them on special occasions, and sometimes "sub" with other bands. Yesterday was a very good day: I played with Ted Shafer's Jelly Roll Jazz Band. This is a two-cornet band in the tradition of King Oliver and Lu Watters. The band does not play a regular gig and does not really have standard personnel, but Ted has a short list of people to call when a gig is scheduled. They're all good, and some of them are really good. Yesterday they were all really good.

Fronting the band was Leon Oakley, an incredible cornetist who recorded with Turk Murphy, the South Frisco Jazz Band, and any number of other great bands. For my money Leon is the best living trad cornetist. He plays with tremendous power and vitality. I've played with Leon before, and it's always a challenge trying to keep up with him; I haven't always been proud of the results. But yesterday the stars all aligned, and the band put out a powerhouse performance, and I didn't do too badly myself. I was proud to have been part of the group, and immensely relieved that I didn't embarrass myself in the process. I received a number of compliments, from audience and band members both, about the two-cornet work. That was good to hear, because I was trying my best to blend well with Leon.

At the end of the day Ted was talking about getting the band, with exactly the same personnel, into a recording studio to cut an album. Talk's cheap and scheduling is difficult so I'm not holding my breath—but I hope it happens. I'd treasure a disc like that.

Our tuba player, Jim O'Briant, had recording equipment rolling during yesterday's session. He was worried that it might have been in vain, but I'm hoping it wasn't. That's another recording I'd love to have, even though the sound quality wouldn't be very good—you can only do so much with non-professional equipment in an echoing meeting hall. But I'm used to that sort of thing, and I'd dearly love to hear our performance. I was working so hard I missed a lot of it!

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