Monday, December 31, 2007

Pacers in Birmingham

Detroit is a great sports town. From the Tigers to the Wolverines and Spartans, from the Red Wings to the Pistons, the city (and its state) has crowned many a champion in the past couple of decades. My favorite Detroit team when I was a kid was the basketball team -- the Pistons. I played some basketball in junior high and high school and naturally looked up to some of our hometown players, especially Joe Dumars.

Back home in Michigan for the holidays this year, I stopped by a coffee shop in Birmingham with some family last Thursday. And guess who walked in? No, not Joe Dumars. But, a couple of guys who were in town playing against Joe Dumars' Pistons: Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy of the Indiana Pacers. I recognized those guys because they played for the Golden State Warriors for a number of years before they were traded to Indiana.

On our way out, we stopped by and said hello. They were nice enough to take a picture with me and my brother-in-law. It's one thing to watch these guys on TV or from the stands with 20,000 other people. But, they're much more real -- and a bit taller -- when you actually meet them face to face and shake their hands.

Pacers in Birmingham

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Photo in the New York Times

After a picture of me at a group dinner wound up in the New York Times last month, a few thoughts passed through my mind. At first, I was pleasantly surprised when a friend of mine sent along the email informing me about the article. It's not every day that your picture ends up in the New York Times -- even on their web site. That was a bit of a fun departure from the daily routine.

My second thought was one of gratitude. I'd always been grateful for the unique opportunity to attend MIT. I was never the kid who grew up expecting to go to a school like MIT -- I was the kid that worked really hard to get there, but still felt lucky to get in. And when I did get in, I thought the excitement would be fairly short lived because there was no way I could afford to go. I grew up in metro Detroit and attended a public high school whose lovable-loser teams would get squashed by the prep schools in just about every competitive category -- only, I'm not sure we were that lovable. When I received a letter my freshman year in college telling me that a portion of my financial aid was from the Tang family, I felt gratitude for this man, Jack Tang, whom I didn't even know, for helping me out with my education. And when I finally met the Tang family years later at an alumni dinner in San Francisco, I was again reminded of their immense generosity. I was happy to see this article highlight their philanthropy and encourage a culture of giving among wealthy Chinese-Americans.

My third thought was a reflection on identity. Some times you get a glimpse of how other people see you and when this happens, it can be a bit eye-opening. To be labeled a nameless, "poor Chinese American" in this particular photo is not typically how I'd seen myself. Of course, as a kid I was aware that we didn't take that many family vacations, that we shopped for clothes at discount and thrift stores, that not all my friends worked newspaper routes and jobs at McDonald's to save up money for college. For some reason, though, I never really thought that all of this meant that we were, in effect, poor by some standards. My parents always provided for us, after all, and we never went to bed hungry. For the New York Times to be the one to call us "poor" -- well, that was a bit thought provoking.

Tang Scholar Dinner

Monday, November 26, 2007

Thanksgiving Nephew

It's great to have some time off for Thanksgiving -- to take a break from work, to spend some time with family, and to write. It's especially enjoyable when you have an opportunity to meet new family members. For me, this Thanksgiving was a chance to meet my very first nephew (or niece for that matter) -- born only about a few weeks ago. A number of my friends have had babies, now, and each time it's always particularly fun to meet the kids the first time. When it's your sibling's turn to experience parenthood, though, it feels a bit different. Maybe it's because you still remember when you were kids yourselves, running around home, playing board games, getting into trouble, and in our case, moving into a new neighborhood every few years. Or, maybe because their kid automagically turns you into an Uncle... just like that. It's unfortunate that not all family got to see the little guy, though. Hopefully they will, soon enough.

I did manage to get some writing in over the holiday. Sitting in a cafe in L.A., I felt the creative vibes of the surrounding music industry as I worked out a melody for Song #5. I also felt the hustle of Black Friday shoppers swirling about -- a very different sort of vibe, but energy nonetheless.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Tony Bennett -- Pop or Jazz?

Quick, name three songs you know by Tony Bennett. I admit that prior to last week, I probably could not have done that. This week, I have a better chance of being able to do so now that I've seen him perform -- albeit briefly. Tony stopped by my day job last Monday to talk about the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts that he co-founded in 2001. He also sang four songs: They All Laughed, Who Cares?, The Good Life, and I Left My Heart in San Francisco. While his voice is very distinct and identifiable, what struck me most about this particular performance was the interesting subject matter of the tunes. His lyrics not only included references to business and famous cities, but also inventors like the Wright Brothers, Marconi, Whitney, and Edison. Having written songs in the past about technical innovation and the work place, I was inspired to hear some of his songs cover a variety of topics beyond what mainstream music tends to address today. So is he classified as pop or jazz? His songs are listed under both categories on iTunes, while on Wikipedia they call his genre "standards" as well as "traditional pop." Regardless, I may go ahead and search out one of his albums for a more detailed listen. An octogenarian, Tony looked to have an impressive amount of energy and charisma -- another point of inspiration.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Chronicles of a New Album

The time is appropriate to officially announce that I've begun work on a sophomore album. I learned so much while making When So Late Becomes So Early that I've been itching for quite some time to give it another go.

Why now? Well, first of all, I just finished graduate school this past spring and had some much needed time off this summer. I got a great head start on writing a bunch of new stuff already and I've had so much to write about -- including meeting my lovely wife, our memorable wedding, and more traveling than I'd ever done before.

Second of all, my recent trip to Paris was truly inspirational. Seeing so much art at the Pompidou, Louvre, Orsay, Rodin Gardens, and numerous cathedrals was very rejuvenating. Learning about the artists' stories, subject matters, the plethora of their work, their commentaries and observations of life, connections with audiences, the numerous challenges they faced, and their persistent desire to create an experience -- it was all quite thought-provoking and motivating for me. In addition, having the rare opportunity to write in the beautiful Luxembourg and Tuileries Gardens, in front of Sacre Coeur, and in the Rodin Garden provided the proverbial kick-in-the-behind to get moving.

As far as my time frame, I'm targeting release of the album by the fall of 2008. It may be slow going at times, but I'll do my best to provide a progress report on this blog. Will I be able to stick to this deadline or better yet, beat it? What obstacles will lurk about? Who will lend a helping hand? What shall I name it? Should I listen to the critics or ignore them? Will I be overwhelmed by the daily grind and have my artistic soul crushed by responsibility...?

Wish me luck.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Melody First for the First Time

I'm working on a new song, now, where I'm actually writing the melody, first, and then harmonizing it with chords, second. On When So Late, I always wrote either the chords or the lyrics first, but never the melody first. As a guitarist, chord progressions are the most natural parts to write as they just materialize as I'm noodling around and experimenting with different sounds. Then, once I have lyrics, it's fairly intuitive to stumble across a melody to fit with the progression and that just sounds right. As a result, I suspect that some of my melodies on the first album tended to follow the chord progressions a bit much and were therefore constrained in some ways. Will there be a noticeable difference in my songs if I write the melodies first? I happen to think so... but I guess I'll have to let you guys be the judge of that when you hear the new stuff.

Friday, October 5, 2007

"Matador" and "Dream of All Ages" Caught on Video

I've added pictures and video from the CD release party to the web site. I don't think any of you have actually seen these videos before, even though they are live recordings of Matador and Dream of All Ages taken at the release party in San Francisco a few years ago. Back then, it was not quite as easy to stream videos of these sizes on a web site. What a difference YouTube makes!

Since the original videos are somewhat dark and grainy, I had to try to lighten them up a bit. In doing so, I also decided to try to make them a tad more interesting by adding television and film effects.

Monday, October 1, 2007

New web site!

For the first time in a few years, I've made some big changes to my web site. I think the old site was perhaps a bit impersonal and looked somewhat tacky... for those of you who don't remember, it was red and black with various graphics that resembled spotlights. Updates were provided through some rather stodgy press releases. Ugh. What was I thinking?!

Nevertheless, I've now decided to give this blogging format a try. Hopefully this will help me post a bit more regularly and give all of you better updates on what I'm up to with my music. One really cool thing -- if you use an RSS reader, you can easily subscribe to this blog by clicking on the "Posts RSS" link in the left menu bar. You can also subscribe via email by clicking on "Register" below.

Finally, please do submit comments and let me know what you think every now and then!