Tag Archives: kogut

A better send-off than wretched 2016 deserved

Songs to Amuse, Steamer No. 10 Theatre, Dec. 31
Shawn Stone | Monday, January 2 2017

Keyboardist Malcolm Kogut and singer Byron Nilsson (aka B.A. Nilsson in these pages) brought their cabaret act Songs to Amuse to the stage at Steamer No. 10 Theatre on New Year’s Eve, where a happy crowd heartily laughed at a two-hour (including intermission) program of (mostly) 20th-century songs intended to, as advertised, amuse.

They began with “Lydia the Tattooed Lady,” which was originally introduced in a 1939 movie by Groucho Marx, and widely known now thanks to Kermit the Frog’s version. It’s a pun-filled, slightly salacious chronicle of one woman’s varied and outlandish body art, and as an opener, a pretty good indication of what was to come. Written by Harburg and Arlen around the same time they were composing the songs for The Wizard of Oz, Nilsson also told the story of–and sang–a lyric excised by a studio exec out of concern that it would “date” the number. The line? “When she sits, she sits on Hitler.”

What was the thing with everyone underestimating Hitler’s long-term prospects?

And that was the show: Smart, varied musical approaches by Kogut, fine singing and snappy patter by Nilsson. There were songs by Noel Coward and Tom Lehrer (the latter allowing Kogut to add a little synthesized Irish fiddle); songs made famous by the likes of Al Jolson (“Why Do They All Take The Night Boat to Albany”) and Blossom Dearie (Dave Frishberg’s “My Attorney Bernie”); a trio of thoroughly delightful numbers written by the Brit duo Flanders and Swann; and many more.

Nilsson even tossed out a couple of lines from DeSylva, Brown and Henderson’s “Turn On the Heat,” one of the more demented songs from that most demented year of Hollywood musicals, 1929.

Particularly enjoyable was the woe-filled (as opposed to woeful) temperance ballad, “Father’s a Drunkard and Mother Is Dead.” This horrible tale of 19th-century death and abandonment provided the opportunity for a jaunty sing-along. The duo helpfully included the lyrics to the refrain on the back of the program: “Mother, oh! Why did you leave me alone/With no one to love me, no friends and no home?/Dark is the night, and the storm rages wild/God pity Bessie, the Drunkard’s lone child!”

While there was no happy ending for “Bessie,” we in the audience had a fine time singing about her misery.

As the second half of the program wound down, the duo saved something special for the end: the 1937 labor ballad, “Capitalistic Boss.” This rich bastard’s lament gave Nilsson a chance to tear into a life of greed, exploitation, indolence, political violence and selfishness with an angry glee, as the narrator continually returned to one line of defense: “Something is wrong with my brain.”

The evening ended with everyone joining in on “Auld Lang Syne.” Kogut and Nilsson sent us out into the cold with warmer spirits than when we arrived, and ready to enjoy whatever revelry the last three hours of 2016 had in store.

http://thealt.com/2017/01/02/better-send-off-wretched-2016-deserved/

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Becoming a Better Singer

Ugh, I went to an organ recital recently and the organist, though technically proficient, was devoid of energy, interpretation, originality or excitement. No wonder today’s youth are not taking up the organ as an instrument because they have to listen to people like that in their churches every Sunday. What a turn off. In many of our churches on Sunday, the organ is like a sports car, backed out of the garage for one hour each week and only to the end of the driveway then back into the garage.

When I work with singers either in the church, workshop or theater venue, I often share one of several simple videos with them. We first watch the video with the sound off. Then we watch it a second time but this time I tell a story based upon the facial expressions and movement of the singer. Then the singers each take a turn doing the same. I then tell them the story of the song and we watch it one final time with the sound still off. Finally, we watch it with the sound on. Listeners often hear the notes and not the words because singers, like organists, put more effort into the notes rather than communicating.

This exercise not only makes the singers aware of their expressions, movement and inflection, but it also makes them cognizant of the importance of words and story telling. All too often singers are mired down with technique, notes and style rather than simple communication. This applies not only to theater performers but church musicians often fall down into that hole, too. I’m not saying they need to employ theatrics into their delivery of the Psalms and holy scripture, just become better communicators of it through basic facial expression, making eye contact and most importantly – BEING PREPARED. If you have to look at the page more than 20% of the time, you’re not prepared to interpret.

I’ll say no more on the topic. You can use any video you like but one of my favorites to start with is Betty Buckley’s interpretation of the song “Meadowlark.” The first video with commentary but, without sound can be found here:

Here is the original video with sound:

So, all you singers, story tellers, poets and organists, “SING . . . ” for me.

Halloween Organ Recital Q&A

When?  Before everyone else, on October 18th, 3:00 p.m. 2015

Where?  Trinity Lutheran Church, 42 Guy Park Ave, Amsterdam, NY 12010 (the United States one, not the other one where pot is legal).

Is there a Cost?  Only my blood, sweat and tears.  All others, free.

Will there be refreshments?  I wouldn’t play otherwise.

Is the church handicap accessible?  Yes, there is a spacious elevator located on the parking lot side entrance. If need be, I will carry you up the stairs (I’ve done it before). Watch the end of the demo video, I show you how to find it.

What kind of organ are you playing?  It is a newly installed three manual tracker, built by a local builder. There will be a dedicatory recital in the upcoming months.  Come to find out when and all the other pertinent deets.

I hate organ recitals, they are boring, arcane, esoteric, stuffy, recondite and they all sound alike.  What are you playing?  I hate organ recitals, too.  I will be playing the ubiquitous, standard “scary” organ music such as the Chopin Funeral March, Bach’s (sic) Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, Boëllmann’s Toccata  plus a few novelty songs and pieces arranged by me.

The organ is currently lounging in it’s summer tuning estate but, here is a demo video of me at my first practice session getting to know the instrument and finding my arm weight. Here I demonstrate the en chamade and the full organ (which distorted my camera’s microphone).

See you then.

-Malcolm (The pastor wants a bio) Insert pretentious crap about myself here)).

Malcolm, a true Capricorn, is actually not funny. He is just really mean and people think he is joking.  He is a lover of ice cream and a runner – because of all the ice cream.  Malcolm is a Nomad in search for the perfect burger and is an especially gifted napper with killer abs (want proof, check out “Mount Baker Glacier Clips.”  Do not judge him before you know him, but just to inform you, you won’t like him.  He is not on Facebook and most likely wouldn’t friend you anyway so this is all you are ever going to get.  Malcolm feels sad for seedless watermelons because, what if they wanted babies?  The humanity.

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A Peek Under The Hood Of Modes

Modes are ancient scales of the church which are still used today by jazz musicians.  You can also hear modal music in many of today’s film scores and in some churches who still value their rich musical heritage.  Film composer John Williams composes many of his movie themes in modes.  One of the first jazz musicians to come to mind when I think of modes is Chick Corea.  Most jazz musicians are actually drawn to these classical scales because they are very rich in melodic and harmonic possibilities.  The church, in an effort to dumb down for the common person is actually dumbing down the common person.  If you can find a church offering a Tridentine Mass, most likely you will hear a lot of modal music.  As much as I love contemporary Christian music, it is very much trapped in the Ionian Mode (major scale) and doesn’t give a sense of the sacred as many other modes do. When I attend other churches, I usually leave feeling numb from the “white bread” music and musicians.

This video is a simple example of how one may explore the modes as an improvisational tool.  One does not need to explore the modes for only jazz styles, but they are a great tool and inspiration for writing melody and fleshing out rich harmony.

For further listening:
Theme from the movie ET, Jurasic Park, The Simpsons

Owning our Mistakes, Honoring our Mistakes, Everybody Makes

I recently performed a concert with a young artist who is going off to college to study opera.  He has dreams to then move to Europe to live and perform music.  Not only does this young man have a deep and rich bass voice but, he was also a pleasure to accompany.  Rarely do I get to play for someone who can both lead and follow an accompanist at the same time.  Many singers will either hijack a piece and force the accompanist to blatantly follow them or in contrast slavishly follow the accompanist.  When I encounter a singer who is neither a leader nor follower but does both, that is when music happens and a pleasure to work with.

There was one moment however when he began to sing the wrong verse at the end of the song.  He stopped and corrected himself, everyone knew he made a mistake.  Many musicians learn and memorize their music from rote by practicing them dozens of times over until it is “memorized.”  That method can set up many traps and things to go wrong without notice.  Rare is the musician who eats, drinks and sleeps their craft so that they are one with the song.

I once played the show “Nunsense” for a year and a half, performing six shows per week.  All the musicians in the pit had the score memorized.  One evening, Mother Superior accidentally sang the wrong lyrics and without a second thought, all the musicians looked at one another and we all seamlessly jumped to the spot where she was.  After her verse was over, knowing that she skipped an important lyric, Mother Superior walked to the edge of the stage, looked down and said to the pit “Vamp boys.”  Then she proceeded to tell the audience that she skipped a verse and said to the pit “take it back to the second verse” and we all flipped our pages, she counted us off and it was magic to have a mistake a living and breathing part of the performance.

At my concert last weekend when my bass started to sing the wrong lyric and melody, I knew exactly where he was and was prepared to jump to that spot because I was prepared for the possibilities.  When I practice music, I jump around on the pages, mixing and matching beginnings and endings, playing the piece in different keys, different styles and in general, exploring the possibilities of the work.  This helps me to learn it and to be prepared for whatever may go wrong or, in other words – own the song.  I thrive on these challenges.

My suggestion for all musicians, especially singers, when you practice with your accompanist, don’t just practice the song the way it is “supposed to go.”  Play with it.  Try different rhythms, accents and styles.  Without notice, jump to a different section so that the accompanist has to find you.  If your accompanist can’t do this, find a new accompanist.  There is nothing more frustrating than trying to make music with someone who is not a “musician.”  Music should not be something which is regurgitated from a page or set in stone.  It should be a living breathing expression of our selves and spirit.

The worse thing for a musician to do when they encounter a bump in the road is to stop.  Don’t train your mind to stop.  Don’t practice making mistakes.  Train your mind to be flexible and prepared for the possibilities.  I once worked with a great singer who during rehearsals would stop every time she made a mistake.  That practice manifested itself when she made a mistake on stage, she didn’t know how to recover and everyone in the audience knew it.  It also made rehearsals unbearable for me.

If one were to tell the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, chances are we are not reciting a memorized version of the story but, extemporizing, improvising and re-living the story pretty much in our own words.  If we make a mistake, we don’t stop, go back or apologize.  We effortlessly and almost invisibly correct it on the fly and continue with the story.  Nobody would even notice.  Music can be like that too if we are not a slave to notation, propriety or our egos.  The purpose of telling the story is to tell the story.  The purpose of music should be to tell a story, not put on a concert.  Janis Joplin once said that she doesn’t put on concerts when she sings, she makes love to the audience.

This is what making music should be about. That is the difference between an amateur, professional and artist.  Very often amateurs can also be artists and very often, professionals can be mere amateurs.

Do you think organ recitals are long and boring or that organists can be uninspired, uncreative, they play safe or all sound alike? Are you afraid the music will be stuffy, long haired, or worse – like Sunday church organ music? Then you should come to this one which I promise will be unique, fun, engaging and filled with surprises. Come experience “The Scary and Fugal Side of Nursery Rhymes” May 3, 3:00 p.m. at the Foothills United Methodist Church on 17 Fremont Street, Gloversville, 12078. The price is freeeeeeeee! So that you won’t suffer from organ indigestion, in addition to the organ solos there will be guest singers, singing bowls and instrumentalists. Here are two samples of what I will be playing (the second half of each video BTW, is of Len Anderson who took my collection of arrangements and improvisations then rearranged each piece for his saxophone quintet): http://youtu.be/0GMUG7Wr5RA BINGO in Fugue http://youtu.be/h-ZWaiXVnLY Old MacDonald Had A Farm Did you know that there are dozens of diseases a human can catch from a lamb? There are orphan children buried alive in the pillars of the London Bridge? Ring Around the Rosie is about the plague? The original lyrics to “Ten Little Indians (which is still not politically correct)” was also racially offensive? Come discover what other creepy, rapey and phobic topics our joyous childhood songs are really about. The church is handicap accessible with an elevator but it is squirreled away in a closet. Here is a short video tour showing where the elevator is hidden within the building: http://youtu.be/qXO5NFGKo9c -Malcolm. After watching his parents murdered by a mugger in a back alley, Malcolm Kogut grew up vowing to become the world’s greatest crime . . . wait, that’s Batman. Theorizing that one could time travel within his own lifetime, Mr. Kogut stepped into the Quantum Leap accelerator . . . no, that was Sam Beckett. After being bitten by a radioactive spid . . . uhm, Malcolm suffers from nefelibata. Truth.

Do you think organ recitals are long and boring or that organists can be uninspired, uncreative, they play safe or all sound alike?  Are you afraid the music will be stuffy, long haired, or worse – like Sunday church organ music?

Then you should come to this one which I promise will be unique, fun, engaging and filled with surprises.  Come experience “The Scary and Fugal Side of Nursery Rhymes” May 3, 3:00 p.m. at the Foothills United Methodist Church on 17 Fremont Street, Gloversville, 12078.  The price is freeeeeeeee!  So that you won’t suffer from organ indigestion, in addition to the organ solos there will be guest singers, singing bowls and instrumentalists.

Here are two samples of what I will be playing (the second half of each video BTW, is of Len Anderson who took my collection of arrangements and improvisations then rearranged each piece for his saxophone quintet):
http://youtu.be/0GMUG7Wr5RA                BINGO in Fugue
http://youtu.be/h-ZWaiXVnLY                    Old MacDonald Had A Farm

Did you know that there are dozens of diseases a human can catch from a lamb?  There are orphan children buried alive in the pillars of the London Bridge?  Ring Around the Rosie is about the plague? The original lyrics to “Ten Little Indians (which is still not politically correct)”  was also racially offensive?  Come discover what other creepy, rapey and phobic topics our joyous childhood songs are really about.

The church is handicap accessible with an elevator but it is squirreled away in a closet.  Here is a short video tour showing where the elevator is hidden within the building:

-Malcolm.
After watching his parents murdered by a mugger in a back alley, Malcolm Kogut grew up vowing to become the world’s greatest crime . . . wait, that’s Batman.  Theorizing that one could time travel within his own lifetime, Mr. Kogut stepped into the Quantum Leap accelerator . . . no, that was Sam Beckett.   After being bitten by a radioactive spid . . . uhm, Malcolm suffers from nefelibata.  Truth.