Dear Elton Pt 3: Your Song

I once found myself at an Elton show, on the first of two sold-out nights at Madison Square Garden.

A good friend brought me, having extended the invitation like this: "Hey man, I know this is random but do you want to go see Elton John? My ex-girlfriend's mother's old boss has a pair of company tickets he's not using." 

Who would refuse a five-degree hand-me-down? Sign me up.

The Elton magic is multiplied 100 times in person. From the stage, he said things like "Tonight is my 64th appearance from this stage…" and "Bernie Taupin and I have been writing together now for 46 years…". 

Just another day at the office! Here, have some stone-cold classics.

I didn't know most of the songs, even though I'd assumed I would. It was a ballad-heavy show, and different people in the hall would light up and cheer when he played "their" song, only to fall silent during others. The guy is mondo prolific! During my life he's released 123 singles, 31 of which have charted in either the US or UK, so you can forgive yourself for not knowing the whole EJ canon. It's worth a dig though, especially the early stuff. Check out "Honky Chateau" and "Rock Of The Westies".

Of course, the one song that always ties it up: "Your Song" for the encore. I'm sure I'd have seen a riot had he not played it.

 

[See also the Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman duet in Moulin Rouge]

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Dear Elton Pt. 2: Rocket Man

Speaking of songs which rise from the dead, a couple of years ago I was woken up late at night by "Rocket Man" and couldn't shake it until I'd made a home video:


A few other songs which have boomeranged for me: Perfect Day (via an old dusty tape), And I Love Her (after it was covered by both Cobain and Metheny), I'm Alright (totally my fault: a certain dancing chipmunk got burned into my brain after I watched Caddyshack about 100 times in middle school).

Quality songwriting is all about grace.  You can choose to be sophisticated also, but it may not resonate as well.  I'm a three-time conservatory dropout, mostly because Paul McCartney and Tom Jobim were never mentioned in those vaunted "music theory" courses.  Give me music reality any day.

A great song is like a little music lesson.  Compositional devices like appoggiaturas or a walkdowns will come up in just the right way to get the message across, and your musical brain will remember them because of the emotional imprint of the song.  Elton's chord changes are forgivingly slow for untrained ears, and he somehow manages to avoid predictability despite deploying pop warhorses with almost cartoonish obviousness.  Learning his tunes is a great way to learn the harmonic ropes.

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Dear Elton Pt 1: Tiny Dancer

Whether or not you care for Elton John, we all take him for granted.  

I mean, to argue about Elton John would be a little like arguing about Mt. Everest.  It won't change anything.  He just is.  

The Elton Formula of sweeping melodies over slowed-down gospel chords and either a super-lazy (Candle In The Wind) or a charging (Crocodile Rock) shuffle has been deployed steadily now for almost five decades.  The schmaltz was huge in the 70s, and he's mostly been on cruise control ever since - which is not to say you should overlook him.

His hits have this weird way of rising from the dead, at just the right time, long after you forgot them.  And he's been around forever.  People can love him or hate him but he's a traceable element on our musical periodic table.  For example, you'll find a high Eltonium content in the later work of Phil Collins.

Of course, tugging on heartstrings is a mysterious business and if you overdo it people will get turned off.  A lot of us are careful to avoid Eltonisms for fear of sounding too broadway.  Pour on the schmaltz too thick and you'll get branded for life as a cabaret act (or worse - a wedding singer!)  But Elton gets away with it most of the time.  Like those magical birthday candles that keep relighting themselves (in the wind?), long-forgotten Elton songs tend to boomerang back into view at the right time, taking on a whole new life (and a new audience).  The movie "Almost Famous" was the best commercial for Tiny Dancer ever.  

This song is in our DNA:

 

 

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New Years in Tulum

The last time I saw Mexico was when I was six.  My family lived there for a year in 19hmhmhaHM.  I don't remember much of it, but many years later I wrote a song, and all that remained of the trip was my affinity for sunny weather and love of tacos. 

But truthfully, it was pretty amazing adventure!  What's the most lost you've ever felt?  

There's something about being six, barely having learned English and suddenly having to transplant yourself.  Navigate a whole new culture.  Speak a new language.  I went from sleepy Newfield, NY to living in one of Mexico's largest cities with my parents, infant sister and several housemates.  It may as well have been outer space.

(What's your point, Trev?)

(Answer: I haven't been back to Mexico since before Reagan was elected, but that's about to change.  Click here to skip the story.)

There's some Super 8 footage somewhere of me dancing around the yard in Guadalajara looking like I'm having the time of my life, but I also remember being in a semi-constant state of panic.  As beautiful as the city was, as fun as it was to roll around sunny Mexico in Volkswagens and eat pure deliciousness every day, disorientation will nevertheless take your psyche for a ride.  I've been chasing that feeling ever since.

Playing music really helps me stay grounded.  Playing every day, teaching, writing new songs, connecting with other musicians.  My musical pursuit has led a whole battery of routines and practices to sprout in my life.  Everything I do, every choice I make: from the food I eat to my meditation practice and fitness regimen to the way I socialize (or don't socialize) and run my business, all of it systematically serves my lifelong quest to become a better musician.

Naturally, the "visible-to-the-public" part of this process is just the tip of the iceberg.  I keep looking for ways to be more outgoing and accessible, but a musical life doesn't always mean a "performing" life.  I've come to accept and even celebrate that most of my best career moments happen in intimate spaces.  Most of you on this list have witnessed at least one!

2015 brought me a lot of development, a transformation or two (and more than one wrench in the gears).  I'm very gratified by the responses I've been getting to my video performance series, there's been a flow of interesting gigs and also a brand-new type of gig for me: the live yoga class.

You read right.  Some of you are going "what!" and others are probably like "how did it take you so long?"  Well, the right opportunity finally came. 

So here's what's happening:

I've just been invited to Tulum to take part in a New Year's retreat.  I'll be performing in paradise, there'll be two yoga classes per day with the astounding Kerri Kelly and we'll get to sing songs and eat tacos together.  

Click here for details.

How did this start?

The call came when the Wanderlust festival invited me to play classes in Aspen and Tahoe this summer.  With a hastily-assembled rig of drum machines and loop pedals I ascended to the mountains, cello in hand, and proceeded to weave some soundscapes for the assembled practitioners.  I had no idea how well it would go over!

The yoga room in Tulum

The yoga room in Tulum

Musically I was flying by the seat of my pants, but apparently it was a good match.  The unique texture of a gently-amplified cello apparently resonates quite deeply with a body in motion, so when the opportunity came to take it further I said yes.

Our practice in Tulum will be a dynamic mix of yoga, meditation, music and play as we transition into the new year and explore who we are becoming and what is possible. 

The retreat provides a space that is nourishing, an experience that is intensely personal, and a environment to seed your highest intention. It will include delicious and healthy cuisine, beautiful accommodations and two detoxifying practices each day. The sacred land of Tulum offers ample space for rest, reflection, adventure and community connection.

So I'd love for you to join us for a New Year's to remember. 

 

Space is extremely limited and filling up fast, so if this is your type of thing I'd definitely act quickly.

Click here to learn more about New Years in Tulum

Much love,

t

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You Can Dance Every Dance

The first time I heard Save The Last Dance, I'm embarrassed to say, was on a gig.  

This happens to me more than I'd like to admit.  I knew the title but it sat on the endless list of "classics" I just had to know.  And in the canon of hundreds (thousands) of jazz and pop standards we all have to know are several thousand songs I don't know, but heard the title referenced somewhere. 

[Click here if you don't see the video]

Any time I hear a song referenced, in literature or in conversation, I'll search my pretty-vast-but-actually-very-tiny internal catalog for familiarity.  I look for a match.  Do I know this song?  And usually I don't, which is fine unless you're a professional.

Oops. 

You can dance every dance with the guy
Who gives you the eye
Let him hold you tight

I was playing bass for Philip Hamilton back in 2000 and he called this tune as an encore.  Trio gig, packed house, and I'm scribbling out the changes right before the set.  He and Etienne Stadwyck (the keyboardist) both looked at me sideways for not knowing the tune already and I pretended not to be faking it.  Phil slays this tune (as a ballad!) but my first time playing it with him was a trial by fire.  

Needless to say the song has been etched in my DNA ever since.  

You can smile, every smile for the man 
Who held your hand
Beneath the pale moonlight

The lyricist, wheelchair-bound Doc Pomus wrote it on his wedding day while watching his bride dance with a succession of men.

But don't forget who's taking you home
And in whose arms you're gonna be
So darlin, save the last dance for me

I love the way these words roll off the tongue.  I love the happy-sad vibe and phrasing.  The melody soars a little bit but not dramatically.  Anyone can sing this song.  I've played it at many gigs, many weddings, I play it in the subway and for myself.

Oh I know that the music's fine like sparkling wine
Go and have your fun
Laugh and sing, but while we're apart don't give your heart
To anyone

Love is such a mystery, we're often caught between longing and the longing for freedom, the desire to be longed-for but also to celebrate our lover's freedom.  Dance is the ultimate expression of this paradox, and who hasn't lived some version of this moment?  Watching from the sidelines, aching with love, he can't dance, so he sings about dancing.

Baby don't you know I love you so
Can you feel it when we touch
I will never ever let you go
I love you oh so much

Sadly, Doc's marriage didn't last.  But this song will live forever.

Read D.P.'s story in colorful detail here.

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Orphée / Paris 22 Sept 2015

9/22/2015, 2:34am

A perfect night in Paris.

The evening began at Radio France, the French BBC type thing.  The thing I wish we had something like in the US.  We rolled up in there and did our one a capella song at the end of James's interview on the French Fresh Air program.  It was very classy, very high tech.  Espressos were served on trays, again, like usual in my dreams.

From there I caught an Uber (like normal, from my phone, using the wi fi of the place, right there on my phone in France)  The car rolled right up front and I jumped in like ya do.  All good, found the tasty little joint I was going to play in, walked right in and it was pure magic.  Paris totally knows how to do its little nightclubs.  I soundchecked, relaxed for a minute and then hit it.  Right there on the one microphone in the middle, under the perfect mood lighting.  James and the crew were right there along with about 30 locals and they were all digging it.  The sound was perfect, the vibe was perfect, the response was perfect.  Keith, Adam and Damon got up at the end to jam with me.  Perfection.  I recorded it, so you can hear it: click HERE and press play.

I'm thinking France needs to happen once in awhile.  I want to properly belong to this place a little.

Anyway, so that went great.  I'm sated, I just gave it up pretty good to Paris.  Something about this place makes us play our best, but only if we've earned the right.  They'll tune you right out if you blow any chunks up in here.  Even just one little one, they'll show you the door.  Luckily I didn't tonight, and they didn't.  

So it wound down gently and I got to take my friend Mary Noelle out to dinner, say a proper thank you for setting the gig up and also do some more catching up.  She's one of my closest friends and we never run out of stuff to talk about.

Then I took her home, hopped in a cab in the drizzling rain and got on the road back to Pernety where the band was staying.  On the way home, crossing the Seine, the perfectly orange half-moon was low in the sky right next to the Eiffel Tower, and even though I was already ruminating on how perfect the night was, it just got a little bit perfecter.

1:30 am and the boys are still up, munching the cake and the croissants and re-living the glories of our week with James McBride.  I walk in and they all start cheering, saying how I killed it tonight and we all dished for another hour.  Telling the stories, laughing our asses off.  

Total perfection.  

I love this life, I love this city, I love this world and I love you.

Paris is calling me back soon.  

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Sun, Sun, Sun Here It Comes!

Little darling, it's been a long and lonely winter

I can usually remember the first time I heard a song, but in this case I do not.  I doubt anyone under 45 can remember the first time they heard "Here Comes The Sun" because most parents since the 70's have made sure it's one of the first things their kid hears:

[Click here if you don't see the video]

The smiles returning to their faces

One thing I love about it, among many: the happy-sad thing.  Some people, when it comes on, they'll jump up and smile.  But many do the opposite: I played it for a friend once and she started crying.  Didn't make it past the first verse.  Not all childhoods are sunny, and this song certainly doesn't always sound it.  

It depends on what it's following: if you were just listening to Aqualung or Philip Glass or Jay-Z or Mutemath I doubt it'll connect as intended.  It's totally childish and innocent-sounding.  

But a lot of us hear the breakup of the Beatles in this song too.  

Sun, sun, sun here it comes

Here Comes The Sun is too pure a song to allow anyone an opinion of it.  You have to sing it with a straight face.  You can't insert yourself into it.  It's totally a head-above-water song, the song grownups sing to the kids to pretend it's all ok.  

One day I woke up and knew I had to learn it, so I did.  I didn't learn it because the sun had just come out, but because I needed it to.

I feel that ice is slowly melting

I've been categorized as "happy-sad" before.  I'll confess that learning to perform this song on a cello was an important step on my own road to happiness.  I like to play what's true.  

And I love this song! 

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