3:50PM May 8
Monday morning I went out for one last cappuccino and pastry with my parents before they headed off to Cinque Terre for a few days. This time I let them find their own way to the train station though, assuming they'd figured out the system well enough by now.
In the afternoon we had our final music theory class and we spent most of the time reviewing what we'd done this semester. I've known that we were moving at a faster pace than in previous semesters, but in doing the review, it finally hit home just how much we'd covered. I remember complaining the previous two semesters of music theory at the slow pace of class; it seemed as if we worked on three concepts or so each semester, which gave my teachers plenty of time to extemporate about whatever was on their minds at the moment. This semester, however, we followed the evolution of music theory from Wagner all the way up to Schoenberg and the 20th century serialists. It's incredible how much the music changed in that time, and our teacher got us safely through all of the material without making it feel overbearing.
After class, I rehearsed once more with the Afterthought Quartet and Andy Gravish. Unfortunately, it felt a bit like a step back for us, working with Andy again. He is a great trumpet player, and having a horn really adds to the group, but it feels like our chemistry is broken when he is added into the mix. Before, I could blame it on the difference between the repertoire we did with him and on our own, but now, most of the tunes we play with him are also in our set when we play as a quartet. I think we play stricter forms when we work with Andy because there are more instruments, so everything is more arranged, from solos, which we take less of, to melodies, which are played more rigidly. As a small ensemble we get more opportunities to spread out, and as a result, we can get more creative and evolve the music beyond the traditional structure we've worked out. I think we'd all love to play with the same abandon when Andy's around, but the atmosphere doesn't always allow for it.
Andy also brought in a new tune this week, which I didn't like very much. It was a re-arrangement of a standard with an awkward-sounding harmony part. I know he wanted to give us another tune for our last two performances where the two of us got to play in harmony, but it felt forced, especially when we have so many more interesting tunes already in our book. That being said, we did try to work Andy into the things we were doing as a quartet, and things felt better with him than it has before.
After rehearsal, John, Dave, and I dashed over to the Limonaia (top) for one of the week's final music recitals. The composition majors were having their pieces played, and then we were giving another performance of the Gershwin songbook revue. I really enjoyed the first half of the program. In particular, one of the students, Michael Bennet, wrote two scenes for an opera which I thought were really great.
Before one of the final performances at the Limonaia
This time the other ensemble, Origin Blue, played the first set of the Gershwin revue. When it came time for us to go on, there was only one music-stand though, as the other group had only needed one for the bass player. Our quartet needed stands for both bass and guitar though. I asked Antonio if he'd brought over anymore, but he had not. He just paused for a few seconds, glancing over at the giant lectern in the corner. There was no way we'd be able to use that though, so we worked it out so that Evan would use a stool to hold his music, and I would get the stand. After coming to this solution Antonio felt proud of his problem-solving capabilities—rather than acknowledging the added stress he was putting us through yet again—and told me, if this had happened to a German, they would have been running around, freaking out. "They always lay out strict plans," he said, "and when something doesn't follow accordingly, they have no idea what to do. We Italians though, we do not get scared. We find solutions."
I think we played our set even better than the day before. At least for those of us in the backing band, we'd only played through the music three or four times before, so there was still room to let the music grow. Taking Dave's suggestion, I tried to play less and give him more room to fill in behind the singers, which I believe made the times I did play that much more effective. The guitar would join in as a new voice to the mix, and I played more inspired material at those points. We went from a very good performance, to an excellent one.
The highlight of the night was hearing Dave play with Isamu, the piano player from the other ensemble. In advance of the concerts this week, two grand pianos were brought out of storage to be tested by the pianists. They'd never played together before, but that was not at all apparent in their performance. It was incredible how well they worked together, especially with two pianos, which can often make a clutter of sound if not done correctly. They played "When Your Lover Has Gone," and just brought the house down. It was evident that they were in mutual admiration of one another, and the performance was a real sight to witness. It is only a shame that nobody recorded the affair.
In Italian class on Tuesday we watched the video that one of our classmates recorded of the "spettacolo" the previous Thursday. It was pretty funny to watch some of my classmates completely letting loose in the dancing for the entertainment of the kids, including my teacher, who was a bit embarrassed a few times.
Waiting for the kids to file in and watch our "spettacolo."
After class I went over to Antonio's office, as I often do, just to check in, and he asked me to draw up a sketch of how we wanted the stage set up for our performance that day downtown. When I returned to his office after lunch he asked if I could draw up the same sketch on the computer so he could email it to the Blue Note in advance of our gig there on Thursday. I said "no problem," and within two minutes I had a pretty good outline of the stage which I made up in "Paint." When I showed it to him, he just looked at me and said, "you're done already?" to which I responded, "Antonio, this how Germans do things." He didn't even know what to say after that, and just gave me a look that seemed to say, "you got me this time."
That evening we had the final performance of the Afterthought Quartet without Andy at the Auditorium Regione Toscana downtown. This was a gig set up by Il Trillo, the music school where we usually rehearse with Andy, and although it wasn't a big show, it did bear the grand title of "Florence International Music Festival." If nothing else, at least I was a headlining act at the big stage of what can easily be seen as a major event. The funny thing is, Il Trillo made up lots of posters to promote the event (below), and because our name is difficult to pronounce in Italian, they spelled it as "Aftertough." For weeks, we've been trying to figure out how we could construe 'aftertough' to mean something interesting, but we couldn't come up with anything. Antonio assured us that they'd since fixed the spelling error, so on the program it read "Afterthought" in the inside next to our bios, but on the cover of the program they came up with the new derivation, "Aftertought," which is how it sounds whenever Antonio tries to say it.
The show itself went really great. It was our best performance to date. We felt so comfortable as a quartet, playing a solid hour-long set. We had two standards which Andy brought in and two pieces each from Dave and I. In particular, our last two tunes, Dave's "To Be Determined," (our performance of this from the Festival can be heard here) which has a great long form with several interweaving sections, and my "Happy-Go-Funky," have become real staples of our program that I know Origin Blue really likes. Unfortunately, the gig was moved up from its original time in the evening to 6:00PM, which is way too early for anybody to come see us. Most of my friends are just getting home from school, and few people are around at that time who are available to go see a concert. I don't know many people who go out to a show before dinner, so we played to a meager audience of ten to fifteen people. On the positive side, the audience we had was responsive and appreciative of the music we were making, giving us considerable applause despite their numbers, and we didn't let the lack of audience get in the way of the music. We played with as much intensity as ever, regardless of who was their to listen.
Wednesday was the big end of the semester performance at school, and all of the art classes were also displaying their various paintings, sketches, and photographs. While that was going on, David Travis, the president of the Florence program, had asked if our Italian class could perform the Tuscan folk songs we'd worked on in the entranceway to Villa Ulivi during the art gallery. We actually drew quite an audience, with some thirty students lined against the walls and up the grand staircase to watch us. Besides the Tuscan music, we closed out with our big number, "Mambo Italiano." In the middle of the tune there's a dance break, but no one ever felt comfortable doing a little mambo there, as our teacher had hoped, so it's just evolved into a guitar solo, which is a lot of fun. I've even thought about transcribing the tune to play as a regular jazz standard in other groups, maybe with "Aftertough."
Performing our Tuscan music in the entranceway to Villa Ulivi. As you can see here, many members of the class are musicians, including John Bishop (Afterthought drummer, far left), Frank Garcia (film scorer, center left), Isamu McGregor (Origin Blue pianist, center right), and John Spencer and I (back left).
Also here are Molly Gachigard (composition, far right), Jennifer Bissel (actor-singer, back right), Mimi Parroco (who sang "'Swonderful" with me for the Gershwin Revue, center), and Michael Bennet (composition, back center). My teacher and her daughter are singing in the front right)
Later in the evening we had the recital, giving many of the classical students their first and only chance to perform—they all had opportunities at the classical aperitivos, but few of them jumped to do it. After the classical performance, we had, as David Travis put it, "a quick break for dinner," which lasted some fifty minutes or so. Only in Italy would a fifty minute break be considered "short."
Following "dinner," we played three songs as the "Afterthought Quartet featuring Andy Gravish." We opened with "To Be Determined," which we were able to elevate from our quartet performance with the addition of trumpet. Then we did a tune I wrote called "Done," which follows the traditions of Thad Jones and the Village Vanguard orchestra, so it was great to play with muted trumpet. We closed with Kenny Dorham's "Lotus Blossom," after we'd convinced Andy that it would be a better selection than the new tune he'd brought in on Monday. "Lotus Blossom" is a real upbeat tune by Kenny Dorham from the peak era for Blue Note Records. We always play great solos on it, we've got a great drum break, there's room for Dave to open up a lot during the intro, and I get to play tight harmonies with Andy on the last melody. It's a perfect closer, and we really nailed it. That was definitely our best performance of the semester in any configuration.
Origin Blue played an equally great set after us, and then they opened up the stage for a jam session. At first it was just the faculty, which was great to watch, with Francesco, Andy, and our aural comprehension teacher, Greg Burk, among the musicians. Then I got to join in for a rousing take of "Blue Monk" that must have lasted fifteen minutes or more as musicians that weren't on the stage to start with, such as Dave Schroeder—the head of the jazz department back in New York, who was around for the week—and my roommate, Adam, joined in with us for a few choruses. It's always fun to play the melody on a blues with that many instruments because everybody goes for a different harmony line and we get a really big sound. It was quite an evening, and I was happy to represent myself well on stage in such good company.
Below are pictures by a professional photographer from the final Limonaia performance:
The Afterthought Quartet with Andy Gravish. From left to right: Andy, Piero Spitilli, and John Bishop.
At the jam: Francesco Bearzatti, Ares Tavolazzi, and me.
Isamu McGregor, with Origin Blue.
My roommate, Adam Price.
My other roommate, Sean Huston.
And yet another roommate, John Frederick Spencer IV.
Afterthought bassist, Piero Spitilli.
Afterthought pianist, Dave Mainella.
Afterthought, with me and Andy.
Introductions from president David Travis.
Dave Schroeder, left, and Greg Burk, right.
Francesco Bearzatti and Greg Burk
Francesco Bearzatti, Ares Tavolazzi, me, Andy Gravish, and Jeff Hatcher.
Adam Price, me, Evan Crane, Jeff Hatcher.
The Afterthought Quartet featuring Andy Gravish