Monday, March 27, 2017

Guest Column by Tom Vardin, Travels from Guitar to Flugelhorn

Tom Vardin was one of my best friends circa grade 2.  How nice to have reconnected via Facebook! Please check out his amazing musical journey.

Makin' lemonade...

As many of my friends know, I have been living with progressive multiple sclerosis for 15 years and the hardest part has been the partial paralysis in my left hand, preventing me from ever picking up a guitar again...

But no matter. I immediately remembered when my Dad took me to see B.B. King when I was 11, already well on my way into guitar geekdom.  B.B. was great, of course, but the thing I think that impressed me most, as an 11 year old boy, was the fact that his trumpet player didn't have a left arm !
His suit jacket sleeve was tucked neatly into his left waist pocket!  I distinctly remember saying,  "If I ever get my left arm bit off by a shark, I'll just take up trumpet, you don't need a left arm for that!" 

Flash forward 34 years and, sitting in the waiting room after my 1st MRI, I thought, "Here we go, time to blow !"

So, yes, I was told that day, (my 45th birthday !) "You'll never play the guitar again !"

But I was one step ahead...

Trot myself down to Hermie's (3rd- rate music store,) plunk down a couple hundred bucks for a school band-quality trumpet..Now I already knew about "embouchure"(how to purse the lips and blow) as I played trombone in elementary school band, and of course, I knew theory from playing guitar 40 years, and, I must mention, the incredible Mr. Geitz - (high school theory teacher/Actual Saint - think "Mr. Holland's Opus") 

I "blew through" the beginner book and started accumulating what I called "little ditties," song fragments, passages, scale exercises, etc. And then I committed to learning​ a whole piece, something special. 

I selected an old song from the 20's (?) Called "She's me pal"
I transcribed it off a YouTube video from a movie called "Ironweed" (filmed here in Albany NY, featuring Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep and Tom Waits, written by Pulitzer prize winning Albany author, William Kennedy).  There's an amazing scene in the movie with Meryl Streep, as Helen Archer, a broken down homeless schizophrenic, and an old friend of the Nicholson character, gets up a tiny nightclub and sings, "He's Me Pal," and midway into her performance, her delusions give her the feeling she's a great star ! A stunning piece of acting by our first lady of cinema, and an outstanding directorial achievement by Hector Babenco...

It took a few weeks to nail it down, but soon I had my ditties, and a complete, reinvented "She's me Pal."

Just a few weeks later, I was invited over to a friend's place for dinner. He was a guitar enthusiast (of course) and I fumbled with a few of his nicer axes. He felt bad for me and gave me an decent acoustic he thought might be easier to play, although I explained​ it actually hurt a bit to even hold the neck.  Then, I saw that he had what looked like a trumpet case, and I inquired...

"Oh, that's my Flugelhorn...It's a really good one." I asked to try it. He asked that I be careful, but said okay.

I warmed up with a few ditties and then launched into my rendition of "She's Me Pal" which ends on a dramatic, very high note, indeed !

He seemed to prick up his ears, and declined my request that he blow a little in return...Just a few weeks later, my friend stopped by unannounced.  I inquired as to the nature of his visit, but I could see he had brought me the flugelhorn as a gift !

Epic win !

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Who is Colin David, and Where is He?

Back in 2011, some amazing videos appeared with a fellow named Colin David who played some really cool Leadbelly-esque songs.   I mean, Holy Cow, these are not easy songs. I'm very impressed by  what he was able to do. 

    Check out the Midnight Special:

The Midnight Special

     I also like this variant of House In New Orleans.  Leadbelly did the familiar version which has been recorded by many others, but also this variant version which has a different melody and some different lyrics:

Way Down in New Orleans

.     I've tried to track him down, without success.  All I know from his videos is that he used to play at McCleary's Pub in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.   I even called McCleary's but no one could identify him.  I kind of doubt whether Colin David is his real name, or at least I've not been able to find him via Google or the other usual search methods.  

    I wonder if it might have been tough to find an audience that appreciates Leadbelly songs in Lancaster County, but I would think the video medium is a perfect way to reach people all over the world.  
    I certainly hope that Mr. David will return to recording videos.  I think he's very talented and hope that the rest of the world will have the opportunity to listen. 
   Somewhere out there, I feel certain that one of you folks knows Mr. David, and I hope you'll let me know more about him and whether he's still out there playing Leadbelly songs someplace.   If you can shed light on this mystery, I hope you'll post a comment to this blog or get in touch with me some other way.