Archive | July 2013

Sunday Jazz — July 28th

If asked to describe Jazz with 5 words, I would guess that most people’s list would include the word “improvisation.” Much of the history of Jazz was, and most likely still is, written during late night jam sessions where artists would try out new techniques and tempos. When someone hit upon a sound that was new and fresh, everyone around them adapted the sound of their instrument. Furthermore, improvisation shows itself in the fact that two recordings of the same exact song can often sound miles apart even when it’s played by the same group–every cut is an opportunity to take the melody and tempo to a different place.

This improvisation isn’t limited to the sounds coming from horns, keys, strings, or drums though. Jazz vocalists adapt on the fly almost as often as the bands behind them, with the form of singing known as “scat” being the prime example. Wikipedia defines scat as “vocal improvisation with wordless vocables, nonsense syllables or without words at all. Scat singing gives singers the ability to sing improvised melodies and rhythms, to create the equivalent of an instrumental solo using their voice.”

The list of Jazz vocalists who incorporated scat into their singing is lengthy, and reads like an All-Star roster: Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Bing Crosby, Sarah Vaughn, Cab Calloway, and on. Scat has also made its way into more modern music, with elements present in the songs of artists ranging from Aretha Franklin, to Van Morrison, to Chaka Khan, to Dave Matthews. But scat’s widest popularity was undoubtedly during the height of Jazz from the late 20’s through the bop era of the 50’s and 60’s, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to crown the one and only Ella Fitzgerald as its Queen.

Which brings us to the video for today. This is a 1969 recording of Fitzgerald where she doesn’t just incorporate scat into some other vocals, but she unleashes a 6 minute performance entirely in scat. It’s performances and abilities like this one that put Ella’s voice right next to the trumpets, saxophones, pianos, and guitars of the all-time greats in Jazz history. Enjoy.


To Look At….Or To See

Twin Falls

I’ve hiked the trail to Twin Falls outside of North Bend, WA a few times.  And when I say, “a few times,” what I really mean is “a lot.”  A quick tally in my head after a co-worker asked how many times I had been on the trail brought the number close to 20, if you included the potential number of times I will hike it this summer with Summer Program kids.

The reason for the large number is simple:  it’s a great hike for kids from elementary through middle school ages.  This is especially true when the kids are urban kids, often times ones who are on a hike for the very first time.  Over the course of the 3 mile round-trip trail there are climbs that are challenging for most kids, there’s the chance to play around in the South Fork of the Snoqualmie River, you pass an old growth tree that was most likely standing in that same spot when the Union and Confederacy were at war, and there’s the great view of the falls from an observation deck built on the hillside directly across from the falls at the end.  So if you’re scoring at home, there’s a challenge for the kids, there are learning opportunities for them along the way, and then there’s the pay-off of seeing a really cool waterfall.  It’s almost the perfect hike for kids.

As a result of being on the trail so many times with kids over the last 4 summers, I’ve almost got the trail down to a science.  I know where and when the kids will need to stop to rest and drink some water, I know how long it takes groups of different sizes and ages to hike the trail, I’ve got a few educational moments for the kids that I hit on almost every hike, and I know exactly what time we need to turn around in order to get back to the van to beat traffic coming back into Seattle.  I even know a few places to offer a bathroom stop before we get to the trailhead since 95% of the kids would rather be in the agony that comes with holding it than go into the non-flushing trailhead “outhouse”.

This in-depth knowledge of the trail can be both a positive and a negative however.  On the one hand, I feel pretty confident about taking any group out there at any point.  On the other hand, the trail can become incredibly monotonous.  Rarely is there something new to see for me, and if there is it’s a slug on the trail or 4 chipmunks hoping for dropped crumbs at the benches rather than 3.  Sometimes, like Henry David Thoreau talks about in his essay, “Walking,” I can drift through the entire hike in body only, without ever getting there in spirit.

That wasn’t the case last week though.  Last week I hiked the trail twice: once with an elementary group and once with a middle school group.  Even though several of the kids from both groups had done the hike with me before, these two days both offered the chance to hike the trail as if I was doing it for the first time.  Everything was amazing to the kids, from the trees to the water to the birds singing to the waterfall.  Cameras and camera phones were clicking left and right, and around almost every corner one of the kids let out a “WHOOOOOAA!” reaction to something they were seeing.  For 4 hours over the course of 2 days, I was brought back to the reason I love the outdoors:  the opportunity to explore, to be inspired, to see something new, to feel small, and to step away from the frantic pace of the city.

Thoreau also once said, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”  My job for the summer is to take kids into the outdoors and show them the wonders of Creation.  But for these two days last week, the opposite was true:  the kids were showing those wonders to me.  They were enabling me to once again see the things that I had fallen into only looking at.

The Art of Camille Seaman…

Since posting a series of pictures on June 11th where clouds became the subject of pictures, I’ve come across the photography of Camille Seaman in several forms.  Her photographs have appeared in a long list of publications, she’s received awards from National Geographic and others, and she’s spent a large amount of time over the last decade photographing the changes in the Polar landscapes.

What caught my attention at first, however, was her photographs of the supercells that often drop tornadoes throughout the Midwest.  The sheer power that comes through in these photos is amazing….and makes me glad that I live in the Northwest.  Below are links to a short talk for TED, and then her full website with all of the supercell photographs as well as her shots of the melting icebergs.  Enjoy.

The Big 3-0

I’ve never been one for big parties.  While I’m all about hanging out with friends, my preference has always been that the “hanging out” be more on the low-key side of the spectrum.  A bar…a club…lots of people packed into a house to the point where it’s hard to move around?   Not my cup of tea.  Some friends over for a cook-out…a day at a park with some baseball gloves…dinner and a movie?  Sign me up.

This preference also holds true when it comes to the birthday party realm.  Some of my favorite birthday memories have been as a result of small scale, a few friends and family involved, no big planning sessions required events.  There were the family get-togethers when I was younger where we celebrated my birthday (July 5th), as well as my grandpa’s (also July 5th), and my older brother’s (July 11th).  There were birthday parties at the local Putt-Putt or sleep-overs at our house in elementary school, where I would get to invite a handful of friends.  There were numerous birthdays spent at camps or conferences throughout middle school and high school, which would be celebrated with my high school youth group that was filled with good friends.  My 18th birthday started in a broken down van on the shoulder of an interstate highway in Virginia, telling jokes and laughing with a couple of friends as we waited for someone to return with the gasoline needed to get the van working again (and a short while later getting a visit from a nice highway patrolman, who was kind enough to act like he was arresting me while my friends video-taped the “incident”).  My 21st birthday was spent fly-fishing with my dad in West Virginia.

Since moving to Seattle, the trend has continued.  Lunch with a group of friends, a small get together at another couple’s house, steaks with some good friends and my parents, who were in town for the 4th and my birthday.  Nothing fancy.  Nothing much planned.  No hoop-la.  All successful.

Which brings us to last week, and the latest milestone birthday:  the big 3-0.  Leading up to the day, I didn’t know what the plan was–or if there was one at all.  I hadn’t spent much time thinking about it, because in truth, I hadn’t had much time to think about it because of the start of the Summer Program I help run–aka the busiest time of the year.  And yet, everything turned out just fine thanks to some candles stuck into a box of doughnuts surrounded by church family late on the 4th (after the youth group had been setting off fireworks in the church parking lot), and then backpacking into a beautiful alpine meadow with Becky over the 3 day weekend.  Again, nothing fancy.  Nothing elaborate.  Right on the money though.

Here’s a few pictures from the backpacking trip into Spider Meadow: