***Apologies for the last post — that little plug for partypoker.fr just paid for 3 years of hosting this site. The Internet is a funny place.***
A few years ago, when I was applying for a graduate program in creative writing, I wrote in my letter of intent how excited I was by the “incredible dearth of talent” the school had shepherded. It’s a good thing I showed the letter to a friend before I sent it, because of course “dearth” does not mean a lot of something, it means a distinct lack of something. As in, “This website has had a dearth of updates.”
Sorry, friend – I haven’t been making much music this past month. My wife and I just moved into a new place and, between that and transitions at my day job, I haven’t had much time to wander the creative meadow.
There is one happy exception, however. The highlight of the past month for me was definitely my performance at Walter Reed Medical Center as part of their Stages of Healing program. The folks there heard me on the radio last year and kindly invited me to perform.
It’s an understatement to say it was a tremendous honor to perform for the patients and their families. It’s a memory I’ll cherish forever.
Despite my general lack of creative output, my friends have been busy making more awesome music than you can shake a Martin at. Here’s what I’m listening to today:
- Max Keenlyside released a tremendous album called “Mostly Max,” which features a dearth… I mean a plethora… of stunning original compositions and delightful performances. It’s basically been on repeat in my car.
- Bryan Wright delivered a magnificent performance of David Thomas Roberts’ “Roberto Clemente” at the Central Pennsylvania Ragtime Festival in Orbisonia, PA. This piece is one of Bryan’s specialties, as it showcases his lyrical, thoughtful, and eminently musical style.
- New York pianist-slash-computer-programmer-slash-jerk-who-is-good-at-everything Dalton Ridenhour unleashed his first CD, “Eccentricity,” which in addition to featuring 15 fantastic tracks, also features the goddamn peppiest “Maple Leaf Rag” ever recorded. Another must-buy.
- My buddy Brian Holland completed a new stride piece called “Scram”, which just rocks my socks. It’s cinematic in its intensity, it finishes harder than an orgasm, and it’s got some killer rhythms. I’ll definitely be stealing this one as soon as I possibly can. [note: the video this links to is just hilarious to me – you’ve got one of the world’s great pianists jamming the hell out of the joint, and all you can see are the backs of four stationary elderly people with the sounds of people shopping in the background… the ragtime life, man.]
If ragtime had a season, it would be Spring. I’m not sure why – maybe the blossoming and blooming of a billion life forms makes more sense set against a jaunty rhythm – but whatever the reason, it’s been a busy time to be a Martin.
In March, I had a blast in Starkville, MS at the Charles Templeton Ragtime Jazz Festival. It was pretty much a dream gig for me: amazing lineup, gracious-to-a-fault hosts, posh accommodations, friendly faces, great pianos, and good money. I can’t speak highly enough of the event, masterminded by Stephen Cunetto and the folks at Mississippi State University Libraries. If you ever get a chance to attend, take it. It’s wonderful.
A special treat was meeting Dave Jasen, the foremost scholar of ragtime music on the planet. Many, many nights of my youth were spent reading his books on the subject of ragtime. His words were often the last that would pass through my eyes before sleep took me, and so it was terrific fun to meet him. He lived up to his reputation as an iracible, vulgar teddy bear – I’m pretty sure he dropped more F-bombs in front of the southern ladies than we dropped in WWII – but it was the great honor of my life to have him say, “I hate you!” when he heard me play. A good, good man.
After Mississippi, I switched gears and put on my filmmaking cap. Ten years ago I started dreaming up my own Star Wars movie, which has materialized into a massive effort known as Star Wars: Hunt for the Holocron. I flew down to Texas in April to oversee some of the final photography on the project, and was delighted with the work we were able to accomplish thanks to artist Dan Harp and his incredible spaceship models.
Here’s a picture of me in director mode:
Now it’s back to ragtime, with my next appearance scheduled for this weekend at the World Old-Time Piano Playing Championship in Peoria, IL. It’s a new venue this year – the Four Points Sheraton downtown – and I have to try and defend my current title as reigning champion! We’ve got former champions in attendance, including Ethan Uslan and Bill Edwards, who no doubt want to unseat me and own the trophy. So, to prepare, I have followed a strict regimen of procrastination that has thus far looked like so:
- Choose my pieces at the absolute last minute.
- Learn three of the six pieces and decide just to “wing” the rest.
- Forget to get my name engraved on the trophy.
- Have nothing to wear because my old outfit doesn’t fit anymore.
…at this point I pull a Han Solo and go, “Never tell me the odds.” But if I were a bet on the craps table, let’s just say the House would be smiling right now.
After Peoria, I have a week to recuperate and learn some new tunes. From June 6-14 I’ll be traveling through Missouri performing at the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival and, for the first time ever, the Blind Boone Ragtime Festival in Columbia, MO. June 16th I’m playing at a wedding reception, and then July 11th I’m performing at Walter Reed Medical Center for the wounded veterans and their families.
Somewhere in here I have a 40-hour-a-week job, a wife, and a move to a new apartment at the end of June. Whew.
It’s a busy time to be a Martin.
Here’s a tune I wrote in honor of my friends Byron and Melissa Elliott of Austin, TX. Byron and Melissa are fantastic patrons of the arts, and have done a great deal for ragtime and the music that I love.
In June 2011, Bryan Wright and I were asked to perform at Byron’s mother’s birthday party in Hayden Lake, ID. We had a terrific time, and were treated like members of the Elliott family. I wanted to find an appropriate way to commemorate the happy occasion and, knowing how much Byron loves ragtime, decided that I would write a piece and dedicate it to him. The resulting piece, strangely, is one of the least syncopated pieces I’ve ever composed, but it’s got some lovely bits, a pleasing melody, and some complex voicing of which I’m very proud.
The piece is named after a drink that Byron’s grandfather invented. It is called “The Elliott Special,” and in the words of the grandfather, “One’s not quite enough, two are way too many!” The country club at Hayden Lake knows how to make it – that’s where the grandfather invented it, after all – but I’ve not tried it yet! The recipe is a closely guarded family secret, although I’m happy to say that in return for this piece, Byron made me an honorary Elliott and I will be able to concoct my own “Elliott Special” here soon…
Recorded August 30, 2011
Max Keenlyside, the young virtuoso who in June 2010 brought the word “face-melting” to ragtime, went one step farther into the Land of Amazing and composed a fantastic piece called “The Facemelter.”
Aside from being just a great piece – which, as you are about to hear, it is – this tune makes my day because, well, Max wrote this tune with me in mind!
To hear him tell it:
It was at the annual Scott Joplin Festival, one hot summer in Missouri, that I first applied the word “face-melting” to anything musical. I had picked up the ‘term’ from a guitarist friend years ago in Ontario, and had not since been moved to dub anyone or anything such a term. That is, until I heard some incredible performances by my friend, pianist Martin Spitznagel.
It seemed that this particular adjective really took off; in short order, the term was commonplace, with Mr. Spitznagel reigning as “the Facemelter” himself! I cannot think of anybody more deserving of the title – so as a hommage to a great pianist and composer, here is my new composition, “The Facemelter”. I hope you like it, Martin!
I’m speechless, so I will let the piece say it for me. But just so we’re clear, this is how I looked after I heard it: