Fall Meeting of the Michigan Storm Chasing Contingent

Last Thursday, October 27, the Michigan Storm Chasing Contingent convened at its favorite meeting place, the Walldorff Brewpub in Hastings. Present were L. B. LaForce, Ben Holcomb, Bill Oosterbaan, Tom Oosterbaan, Nick Nolte, and I, the unofficial recorder. The meeting was called to order, or at least something approaching order, and it was immediately moved that beer should be purchased. The motion was passed by five out of six, with one member abstaining. The recorder found himself in possession of a 24-ounce schooner of Cobain's Double Dark IPA, which easily balanced out the abstention. Truthfully, there is no official Michigan Storm Chasing Contingent. I made up the name. Membership dues have not been levied and cards have not been issued. The whole notion of a Michigan Storm Chasing Contingent is something of an oxymoron to begin with. Nevertheless, most of these guys have had a pretty impressive year, with plenty of miles logged and tornadoes observed. The sorriest mug in the lot was me, but I won't go into that; 2011 is almost over now, and I'm done whining. The big thing is, Ben Holcomb was visiting from Oklahoma, and that seemed like a good reason for all of us to get together and hang out for the evening. The Walldorff is becoming a tradition for us, and it's not a bad one. The place has award-winning craft brew. The cuisine, made from scratch using local produce, meats, and dairy products, is also fabulous, but the beer is the main draw. Not that this is a hard-drinking bunch; they're actually pretty conservative. But they do enjoy the Bee Sting Ale, one of the many superb craft brews turned out by Sam, the Dorff's world-class brewmeister. As for me, I opted for the Cobain IPA with its double-bitter blast of mega-hops and roast malt. It was the first beer I had ordered at the place since I joined its pub club a couple months ago, and I figured that it was time I finally took advantage of my member's discount. I expected a nice price break. What I didn't anticipate was the 24-ounce mug that the waitress set in front of me. It was big enough to generate its own lake breeze, and I could see surf breaking against the brim. Good grief. At 8.5 ABV, the Cobain is a potent brew, and all I wanted was a modest glass. I just can't knock off such stuff with impunity anymore like I used to. Out of shape, out of practice, and getting older. Oh, well. It was great to see all the guys, though we missed Kurt Hulst, who had to work. There's nothing more interesting than storm chasers talking shop, at least as far as other chasers are concerned, and this year afforded plenty of notes to compare. Ben, Bill, and Tom had been on the May 24 Chickasha tornado, a particularly violent beast that may be upgraded to EF-5. Seems that it pitched a Ford F-150 pickup truck 800 yards--nearly half a mile. It's hard to fathom that kind of power. But enough. It's late, this recorder is tired, and it's time I put this post to rest. Till next time, gents: L'chaim!

Gig Alert! November 4 with Francesca Amari at Seasonal Grill

The Seasonal Grille in downtown Hastings, Michigan, is a great place to eat, and if you're a musician, also a great place to play. I've done several gigs there over the past year, and from the start I've appreciated the owner, Justin Straube, and his crew as people who genuinely enjoy the music, and who treat musicians well. Perhaps that has something to do with a mutual respect among artists, because the fare that Justin serves up is just that: culinary art. I continue to be amazed that food as superb as what you'll find at the Seasonal Grille comes at such an affordable price. But enough of my touting the Grille. Let me switch to talking up my friend Francesca Amari. I met her on a big band gig four or five years ago, and we've played together ever since as opportunity has presented itself. Francesca is more than a great vocalist and gifted national cabaret artist: she is also an engaging, well-loved performer who projects a wit and sweetness that are totally authentic. In a word, she shines. She loves her audience, her audience loves her, and as a bandmate, she's just plain fun to work with. So you see, you have lots of incentive to come hear Francesca and the band, including moi, at the Seasonal Grille two weeks from now on Friday, November 4. We'll be there with a full rhythm section consisting of Dave DeVos on bass, Bobby Thompson on drums, and Mark Kahny playing keyboards. This is a more ambitious date for the Grille than the piano–sax duos that I normally do there. I'm pleased that Justin was open to my suggestion to bring in Francesca, who will be visiting Grand Rapids that week. This event will be something more than background music for diners, so I hope you'll come join us. If you enjoy live jazz and show tunes, I can guarantee you a great evening. Here are all the details in one compact call-out:
Francesca Amari and Friends Place: The Seasonal Grille Date & Time: Friday, November 4, from 6:00–9:00 p.m. Phone: (269) 948-9222 Address: 152 West State Street, Hastings, MI (right across from the courthouse square)
The band will also be playing the previous evening, Thursday, November 3, at One Trick Pony in Grand Rapids. Downbeat for that gig is 8:00 p.m., and Wright McCargar will be filling the keyboard chair. That will be another fun night, so if you can't make one, then make the other. See you in two weeks!

Jazz Friday Night at the Seasonal Grille

Yikes--almost forget to mention, I'll be playing tomorrow night (Friday, September 23) at the Seasonal Grille in downtown Hastings, Michigan. Come on out, drop a few dollars on dinner with your sweetheart, and take in a little live jazz. The Seasonal Grille is a fabulous place, and the food is not only outstanding in quality, but also just about absurdly affordable. Paul Lesinkski will be joining me on keyboards. We've done a good number of piano-sax duos through the years; he's a fantastic musician, a good friend, and someone I love playing with. You'll like what you hear. Here are the details: The Seasonal Grille 150 West State Street Hastings, MI Time: 6:00–9:00 p.m. Phone: (269) 948-9222 Hope you can make it!

This Week: Gig and Recording Project

I'm pleased to say that all the time I've been spending these days practicing my saxophone is going to get some practical application. This week Thursday, October 7, I'll be playing with keyboardist Paul Lesinski at The Seasonal Grille in downtown Hastings, Michigan. Then Saturday, I'll be getting together for a recording project over at Tallmadge Mill studios west of Grand Rapids. THURSDAY'S GIG: October 7, the town of Hastings is promoting a Ladies' Night on the Town. With The Seasonal Grille offering a combination of wonderful ambiance, superb Italian cuisine at eminently affordable prices, and a good selection of wines and beers, I'm sure the place will be doing a thriving business. I'm pleased to be providing the music there with Paul. Come on out and get a mouthful, an earful, and a beerful!
Place: The Seasonal Grille Address: 150 W. State Street in downtown Hastings, Michigan Phone: (269) 948-9222 Time: 6:00-9:00 p.m.
SATURDAY RECORDING SESSION: I'm really excited about this! The guys I'm getting together with are some of my musical heroes. Ric Troll, owner of Tallmadge Mill Studio and organizer of the get-together, is not only an extremely tasty drummer, and more recently a guitarist, but also a wonderful composer. Anything I could say about him would be too little, and that goes for the rest of the guys as well. Randy Marsh, Kurt Ellenberger, and Dave DeVos are not merely superb players, they're also fantastic, complete musicians, widely known and respected in West Michigan. I'm thrilled that I'll be playing some original music with them this weekend. Look for cuts from the session here on Stormhorn.com in the future as they become available. That's the news for now. It's late and I'm tired. Time to call it a night.

Playing Jazz on the Local Level

Last night I spent an enjoyable evening playing in the orchestra pit for a production of the stage musical, "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," in Hastings, Michigan. Tonight I'll be there again, and tomorrow night. The cast is all high school kids, and they do a great job. My buddy, Ed Englerth, is sitting in on guitar, and Mark Ramsey on keyboards serves as musical director and does by far the bulk of the actual playing. My job is to keep my ears open and provide improvised sax work wherever it seemed appropriate. If that sounds like a rather loose approach, it is. But the informality and spontaneity are a good part of the fun for me. You see, we're not talking some high-pressure effort here that has involved weeks of practice (my preparation consisted of attending the dress rehearsal, then walking in last night and playing the gig). This is a local, grassroots production--which is by no means to minimize the talent, just to recognize a difference in approach that I really enjoy. That's what's nice about local efforts: they have an irreplaceable, homespun feel; they are high in entertainment value; they are often very well done; and they tap into and foster the gifts that are right at hand. Some surprisingly bright stars may be shining far from the Big City in a small town near you. This has been my first time playing with Mark Ramsey, and I'm impressed by his level of professionalism. Hastings, the capital of Barry County, Michigan,  is a small town blessed, as is many a small town, with a number of good musicians. My friend Ed Englerth, for instance, is an absolutely brilliant songwriter. Trumpet man and vocalist Joe LaJoye, the town's retired band director, is the driving force for jazz in the community and the spearhead of its annual jazz festival. And Mark is the first keyboard player I've encountered in the area who demonstrates a well-rounded command of his instrument, one that shows a grasp of many idioms ranging from jazz to show tunes to classical and more. And he's a very nice guy to boot. No attitude, just a humble spirit and a love for what he's doing, qualities that make him a joy to work with. As for the cast of the show, these kids are clearly having a good time. They're taking their roles as actors seriously, and they're having fun doing so. My point is, living in a small town doesn't necessarily mean lack of opportunity for a jazz musician. Depending on the community, you may delightfully surprised at what you find. Hastings is fifteen miles down the road from where I live in the cow town of Caledonia. My home town being an outlier of Grand Rapids, I have access to a broader music scene that I can tap into. When it comes to playing jazz, some of the musicians I play with reside in Grand Rapids, but others, like me, live farther out--far enough to enjoy the countryside, yet close enough to be a vital part of the West Michigan music scene. If you work hard at your instrument, and if personal growth as a musician is its own reward for you, then sooner or later you'll connect with other capable players. You'll make music. You may not make a living at it, but you'll find opportunities to share your talent with appreciative ears.