Glen Campbell in the Old Sod

Nebra waiting on concert time, with me.

Glen Campbell died today, and I was glad to have seen him perform in person one time, in Ireland no less in 2006.

I had bought tickets for Nebra and me for the Midlands Music Festival primarily to let my favorite singer, Van Morrison, mesmerize me again, only this time in his native land.  I didn’t even realize then Campbell was on a card with Don McLean and the headliner, Dwight Yoakam.

We were on our way back toward Dublin from the West Country and had stayed the previous night in a B&B at rainy Mullingar, about 25 miles distant. The rain faded, and the next afternoon we drove up in the rental car to the festival site at Ballinlough Castle as sun broke through clouds.

It was surreally beautiful.

The 17th Century castle stretches out on a rural hilltop overlooking two lakes with the stage on the slope. I recall seeing some colorful clothing hanging out to dry in a castle window as we swilled a few beers (photo) and waited. Only a few thousand hard-core fans showed up defying the prospects of more rain, most laying out like us on blankets spread in the summer grass.

Campbell was not at his best that day. Alzheimer’s had already started its dirty work on his mind. His daughter, Ashley, sang at his side, raising her voice when he stumbled over the words or sang off key. I remember thinking it was an embarrassing performance.

But now 11 years later, I don’t care so much about the quality.

It was a great moment to see Campbell fighting to do what he no doubt loved, and doing it in front of a crowd, even if they were mostly Irish..

Yes, that, and realizing the tragedy that was unfolding.


A sad farewell to the trumpet

I wanted to play the trumpet as a boy.   I was reminded of that a few nights ago while watching the film “Chinatown” for the umpteenth time.  The rich, melancholy sounds of Uan Rasey’s trumpet dot the soundtrack and capture the film’s essence, Los Angeles noir, to a tee.

It’s unclear when I first fell in love with the brassy sounds of the trumpet.  I suspect it was a 40s film toward the end of the Big Band era but really I do not know.

I was in fourth or fifth grade when the music instructor, Mr. Christopher, began meeting with parents, urging them to buy instruments for their children so the school would have a decent band by the time they reached high school.

My choice was the trumpet, or the similar cornet.   Making the choice easier was the fact my two best friends had signed up for the trumpet.  But to my great disappointment, Mr. Christopher, told my parents I didn’t have “the lip” to play trumpet and suggested the clarinet whose softer often squawky sounds marked it in my mind as an instrument for girls.  I didn’t like anything about the clarinet but in the end, wanting to please my parents, I capitulated.

I see now that I was probably the victim of a numbers game, that Mr. Christopher was less worried about my lip and personal desire than he was in having X number of clarinets to go with Y number o trumpets and cornets.

When I finally got old enough to start thinking for myself and making a limited number of decisions, I dropped the clarinet and gave up entirely on the music game.  I liked to listen to music.  I just didn’t want to play it.

Looking back, I wonder what might have happened had I been allowed to experiment with the musical instruent I admired.  Parents make a mistake when they force certain musical instruments on their children to please a band instructor.  Such decisions, I’m sure,  always turn out bad.

And people wonder why their children grow up frustrated just like they did.  It’s bad parenting.

Catching up with Ahmad

Ahmad Jamal comes to the desert.

I never thought it would happen, but last Friday night in Phoenix I attended a performance by Ahmad Jamal, the great jazz pianist.

Ahmad and I go back a long way, though he does not know it.  He was my introduction to jazz music back in 1958.  I was going to military school in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, at the time.  The guy who bunked above me, a handsome Italian from Chicago, was a jazz buff.  Among the many albums he played in the evening was one by Jamal, the title I no longer remember.  I ended up buying a Jamal album of my own, a live recording, I believe, from the Pershing Hotel in Chicago.

The years passed, and my music taste shifted into soul and Mo-Town.  To my discredit, jazz took a back seat.  Still, I occasionally thought of Jamal, always in a good way, and then I lost track of him until about two weeks ago.  That’s when I was startled to see an ad in the local newspaper saying he was coming to town.  I had thought he was probably dead by now.  Or at least retired.  He had to be in his 80s.  I snapped up a couple of $40 tickets to the 9 o’clock performance.  The 7 o’clock was sold out.

The performance took place at the lavish Musical Instrument Museum, the MIM, in the far north part of town.  As we walked in from the parking lot, a middle-aged woman coming out said to Nebra and I, “You’re going to love it.”   And she was right.

Jamal is 81 now, his beard entirely gray, and he shuffles along on stiffening legs.  “I have a good memory, but it’s short,” he joked, sorting some notes in his hand.

But once Jamal sits down and touches the keyboard, you realize those hands, that musical mind, remain youthful.   Even if you’re not a great fan of jazz, you recognize immediately the dexterity and the command of the man’s music and admire it.  It’s a cool form of jazz, classical you might say.  Very little ad lib, honky-tonk comment goes on as the quartet plays, and I’ve come to like it like that.

The quartet played for an hour and 15 minutes and received a standing ovation at the end from the 150 or so in the auditorium.  And in turn Jamal played a short medley for an encore, and them ambled off the stage following bassist James Cammack, drummer Herlin Riley and percussionist Manolo Badrena, marvelously talented men in their own field.

In my time, I have seen performances by some of music’s greats.  Elvis, Johnny Cash in Las Vegas, Van Morrison in his native Ireland.  I rank the Jamal concert right up there with them.