Saturday, March 25, 2017

Adding to the schedule

The band has gigs! Which you can find on its Reverbnation page at www.reverbnation.com/theraggedbladeband.


Or I could list them here, but anyway a couple are far off... we'll be at the Ferguson Farmer's Market on Oct 21, and The Public House Brewery in Rolla on November 4. We'll be at Magpie's in St. Charles May 18, June 3, and June 15 at 5 PM.

Oh,and North City May 13 at around noon. I like playing on that stage across from Crown Candy Co. For one, it's across from Crown Candy Co., and who can beat that? they have great malts and egg salad to die for. And BLT to die FROM because it's enough for three BLT's in one. Seriously it is, and you can get it to go and have BLT for days.

But something about playing up in the old North City, playing songs that were big when North City was "happening" instead of "has been," connects you. Old North St. Louis is coming back, it's being built up one house or storefront at a time, and I hope it succeeds. There are parts now that are pretty cool. So I'm not saying anything out of turn to say that it needs a lot of work. Anyhoo, the band's been playing up there for several years, and it feels good to be part of it.

My trumpet's been sounding more like a small cow lately, the valves stick so I need to soak it in hot water and hope that it fixes itself up. Or take it to the shop. Time to do that I guess, soon. what I really remember, on a more personal note, is playing the opening to Stormy Weather unaccompanied on the trumpet, and it bounces off the walls and the streets and the old buildings and it's all about the old times and what was, and I really hope the folks up there make it work. We have half a city out of commission.

Tomorrow I've got a show at Urban Eats, it's a "you eat while I play" show, so I'm practicing up a bit. Some days you practice and you're great, and some days you wonder why you bothered. But... tomorrow is another day. I'm all for admitting that some days are better than others. To say you're perfect, never had a bad show, never had the fear of messing up... it's not realistic. Even Beyoncé falls down now and then, and I'm sure Adele's sung Hewwo or something like that.

This is Livin' Life on De Fly
which features the band, so enjoy. Plus it's from a play called... well... Livin' Life on De Fly that could use a production someday. So if you want to live on de fly, start flappin'.

So go mint your money on mountains of lies
Success a disguise word for greed
A poor man I'll live and a poor man I'll die
But a miser I'll never be

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Seeking Asylum started in Longview, TX

I suppose one of the conundrums of my "life as a playwright" is that the play I wrote in the shortest amount of time with no forethought whatsoever has been my most successful full-length play.

I was talking online with a theater teacher in Longview TX, and he said if I could come up with a play in a week that he would probably have his class put it on. He told me who was in the class and who could play what kind of part. Like one guy did good playing "crazy," a couple gals were good playing "Hip Hop," etc.

And he said, I couldn't romantically link up black and white students because their parents would have a fit. So there was that.

So taking all this in hand, I started writing what turned into Seeking Asylum, at about 4 pm on a Sunday, and by 4 pm on the Monday I was finished. Even the end of the play didn't come to me until I got there. I read over the draft every day and on the Friday I sent it to the teacher, who really liked it. He had his class read it and it took them awhile to warm up to it, but they finally "got it" and it was scheduled for that December. Unfortunately, the music teacher hijacked the space and the show didn't get to go on, but I did get the play published and it's been produced more than any other with the exception of a one act Jack, The Beanstalk, and Social Services.

We put it on here in St. Louis, and of course it got a bad review, and then a follow up letter from another writer who agreed with the critic even though he didn't come see the play. This is why, to quote Jade Esteban Estrada, you should "never be local." But OK if someone doesn't like it they don't like it, nonetheless, you might want to come see it first. Or not.

The big point of S.A. is friendship, love, wanting so much to be liked that you make up your whole life and your circle of friends if real ones don't work out. But, in this world, there aren't enough friends and family to go around, so people are stealing friends and parents and going to whatever length to have access.

I suppose to some extent we are all lonely, or masking it.

I've been fortunate enough to see a few productions, including Higginsville and Fayette, MO, one in Udall, KS where the microphone dropped from the ceiling to the stage in the middle of a scene, and I learned... people are having fun so go with it...one in New Bremen, OH. I think there was one more, not sure... Hermann High in MO put it on but I missed it and I hear it was really good. Twice with this play I made the newspaper simply because I showed up.

I always try to be nice and gracious when I go see a play; no one wants the writer to come and be arrogant and whiny. It is an honor to have it be an honor that you are in attendance. if that makes sense....

Here's something too, we use photos from past productions to promote shows, and some of them are back from 2002 and 03, and it's like...wow those kids are probably married with kids of their own now...

What this whole experience got me thinking was "Who needs to think about what you're doing, just write the play, you only need a day." Well... I did that a couple times, one of them's been produced a few times (pen name) and the other is still on my desktop. It's The Eyes of a Dream which I like, maybe someone else will one day.

Seeking Asylum is available at hitplays.com

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Woof! The Road Show and ragorama

I'm trying to rework how the band does ragtime, and I think we're getting somewhere. It's more what goes on around me, try to give the instruments things to do that are a little more interesting, and take away some of the "marchiness" that a lot of it has. I think by now it's not so unique to do something different but it hopefully will sound good, or give it our own stamp, and I think that's what I might have been, while good, missing.

So we'll see. Working with Maple Leaf and Richmond right now. People will love it, or they'll go all traditional and not love it. Or they won't know because how many people can whistle the Richmond Rag anyway? Exactly. I'm glad to try to bring it back and make it cool.

I posted up a song on SoundCloud called Sometimes, from WOOF! The Road Show. What it does show, other than a road show, is that a little bit of effects on a rather mundane recording can bring it back to life. We did it at Jupiter Studios and listened to it once and it was like ugh, but it hasn't been "finalized" in any way, so it sat on the computer for 10 years. It's just piano and vocal but I enhanced the vocal and put in some reverb and delay and it came out pretty good.

Truth is that's all it needs, it's just a piano and vocal song. It doesn't need oboe d'amore or contrabassoon of banjo, really.

here, you decide.

https://soundcloud.com/jerry-rabushka/sometimes

I guess what's good is I do have all the songs from WOOF recorded, and with the original cast. I don't know what will become of the play, it's sort of a pastiche of a gay romance on the road, two guys who are doing a romance and of course one wants to romance the other in real life, but the "other" demands it stay professional. Plus people keep rewriting the play because it gets workshopped to death.

I'm not the biggest fan of workshopping and development and having 1006 people put their finger in your pie and before you know it your pie and your play are germy and disgusting, piece by piece. I was more like "I'll write it my way and accept the consequences/blame if it doesn't work." I've had my share of consequence and blame. But thousands of folks have produced my plays, mostly short ones, so...thanks because each one really means a lot, and I hope you've enjoyed it.

Woof got, I think, four reviews, one really good, one local critic seemed to like it and we actually took her recommendation to add a song. a couple folks didn't. so life goes on. It almost got produced in New York on three occasions... as in I was offered a production or help with one. But things come up, so no hard feelings really.

What makes the play unique, perhaps, is it doesn't have much of a plot, it more lets you look in. It sort of has a plot, but... sometimes I get tired of plot. So I try other things. Plus I used some discarded dialogue from another play, Love of Last Resort (not to mention some behind the scenes shenanigans that I instigated), as a catalyst for Woof. That's a story for another day.

anyway if someone would want to look it over, yea you can.

I would LOVE to have an oboe d'amore or contrabassoon on a song. Or both! Who wouldn't? Maybe sometime soon.



Monday, March 13, 2017

Stage Directions! (hedgingly)

There's a big debate over these... some people say leave 'em out, some say put 'em in, some say actors and directors ignore them, some say actors and directors need them... etc.

In my world, the editor at Brooklyn Publishers says the more the merrier. Since a lot of their customers are first time directors, or people new to it - and many schools use student directors as well, he says they like to have a lot of direction, and even ask for plays that have a lot of author's notes and/or stage directions.

I've done some "directing from the page," and if someone wants to use that, fine, if they don't, fine, but at least it's there, and also I notice in this world at least, most directors want to do it the way the writer wrote it.

I wrote a play called "High School Spoofical" which is also the name of an Australian musical. Who knew? Both are parodies of "High School Musical," my version more or less is about a class that's putting on the play HSM but how things in the school parallel the plot of the show. (insert spooky music here).

Editor said "you have some great dialogue but right now it's just people standing around talking, and it needs action." Kids in high school like to move around, and again, a director might need some help. So for this one I went all out, and I put in a whole undercurrent of directions and actions that augment the dialogue but that no one would infer from reading the lines. I had a lot of tossing basketballs and throwing paper and just doing things...

Turns out this play's been put on relatively often, which makes sense because some folks are all about High School Musical, And it's fun play. I saw it once in Ashland, TN, and the director there used every last one of my extra directions. It really added a lot of the show, and gave people something to do besides talk. As a writer, I got a chance to see that "it worked!"

And... who hasn't seen a play where people come up to the front and talk, and talk, and... talk. and talk.

I like to compare this to music. If you see a piece by Mozart, you see a lot of "stage directions," it tells you how fast, how loud, staccato, legato, accented, etc. 222 years later you know exactly what Wolfy wanted you to do, and the best musicians are the ones who interpret Mozart so you hear Mozart. I believe with any piece of music as well as a stage direction, there are 1000 possible ways to interpret it "correctly."

Ragtime music often has nothing. Just the notes. It's a challenge... or an opportunity... then because you get to do what you want. Come to think, most people do anyway, but I try more now to incorporate dynamics into the rags when they're there. I had that challenge directing Helen, by Euripides... the firs 20 or so minutes in particular is a lot of Helen having monologues, so you get to find your own directions and make it interesting.

So upshot is, I'm trying to use a lot of notes and directions because that's what my audience wants. If the editor says "leave 'em out" I'll leave 'em out.

Interesting too, I like to listen to YouTube music where they have the score of the piece and you can see if they actually follow the directions.

You can, of course, find High School Spoofical at www.brookpub.com

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Murder is so Rude

Most of us write to our strengths, which is why I don't do spy novels, police thrillers, and international intrigue. I'd like to some time, but I haven't exercised that part of the brain yet. I'm pretty good at relationships, and characters come to me fully-developed. Like I can think of a character and there he/she is in all his/her/either splendor without a lot of "trying to figure things out."

I have a couple Murder Mysteries, which are higher on humor than on mystery, and last week saw the world premiere of Murder is so Rude, at a high school fundraiser in Duvall, WA. Near Seattle.

Some folks are like "ooo high school, like, whatever." I am honored. Of all the plays in the world they chose MISR so who can complain? It would be rude, so thanks folks and I hope it was fun!

What I like about the play are the characters' names. I used working names for some of them... e.g. Mrs. Corpse, Mrs. Hostess and her husband, Mr. Hostess, and then I figured, well, let's just keep it that way, and I added the suspects, Mrs. Hacker, Mrs. Cutter, Mr. Blade, etc, the butler Mr. Bowenscrape, and the lawyer Mr. Overbill. Plus Mrs. Hostess has a great reaction to the murder, "I never know what to do with a widow at a couples party." and "I hate to hire the rug cleaners for just one room." But did she do it? Of course not, she's hung up on etiquette and after all.... murder is so rude!

So by now you're probably wondering "where can I get this play?" and of course, go to www.brookpub.com and find it there at Brooklyn Publishers. It's great for high school and community theater, and dinner theater.

Naming characters can be a challenge, and I've been told about it two ways... that people prefer easily recognizable names, like Bob, Tom, Chip, etc... but I had a young guy tell me he enjoyed playing a character named Xanthus because how often does that opp come along? I like unusual names anyway, it gives a character a unique stamp. Sometimes you watch movies and every man is Jack, Frank, or Joey. No offense, but, why not Xanthus? Actually sometimes you watch movies and have no idea what the character's name is, you just know "it's that guy that Harrison Ford is playing" and that's good enough.

Be nice. Because Murder is SO rude.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Memphis Blues

Handy & The Blues at Urban Eats

Tomorrow I'm playing background piano at Urban Eats Café at 3301 Meramec in St. Louis... it's sort of a non-Chinese dim sum where they bring out various small dishes and you pick what you want, dessert, salad, quiche, waffle, etc. Kinda fun. It keeps me in shape having something to practice for every month. I play third Sunday of the month most of the time, so pop on by if you can! The wraps are good, the quiche is good, pretty much it's all good. Plus local art's for sale, not everyone is into local art, but we have a lot at home, and it's a nice feel to have some affordable original photographs or paintings.

One thing I try to do with the old songs is play the original sheet music, which for many folks was how the song went if they didn't hear it played live. And a lot of the old recordings are pretty faithful to the sheet music, or orchestrated versions of it. It's sort of a shtick now that I do it, but it's also a challenge, and I think an homage to the era.

It's something to "shoot for," as in learning how to play it as it was published, vs. comping chords. Plus I guess it's a bit more authentic. You find out things, for instance a lot of WC Handy was originally a tango. The chorus to St. Louis Blues and Beale Street are both tangos, which you rarely hear, but you can even read about why he did that. to put in something familiar and introduce them to the blues at the same time.

Also old Blues didn't swing, but I swing it anyway. So sue me. It's just hard not to, but if you listen to the Handy Band, it doesn't swing. Also, you'll get the feel that early blues came out of ragtime, the way the left hand plays the rag bass and the right plays the syncopation is pretty much the same thing, and it goes from there.

Random thought, "Darktown Strutters Ball" which is a jazz classic from 1917, you can hear how jazz is taking over, the bass line doesn't do the rag thing, it does more the jazz thing as in it just moves along w/o so much oompah, but there's plenty of oompah to remind us we'll still in 1917. I think looking at the sheet music vs. just comping chords shows a bit of the history.

That being said, I've always been sort of proud of my arrangement of Memphis Blues by Handy, that I did off a lead sheet. It probably sounds more like 1950 than 1915. It's the version people don't sing that much, vs. the version they do, which was the version George Norton put out after he tricked Handy into selling him the copyright. (essentially he said the song wasn't selling, and it was, and bought the rights "for a song." Handy got the rights back later on.) I like that version too, and 100 years after the trickery it's still wrong, but the song is good, kind of a lazy blues. Below is Memphis Blues by The Ragged Blade Band: we recorded this in 2012 or 2013.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yd73fCi8uSw