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Martin’s Top 100 Moments of 2012

January 3, 2013 Uncategorized Leave a comment

Wow, it must have taken some cajones to put him on the cover of anything.

Here’s a tradition carried over from my old blog. At the end of the year, I make a list of the top moments in my life for that year. The list is not about my favorite moments, nor my best moments. These are the top moments, the “Hitler as Man of the Year 1939″ moments, the ones that changed me, moved me, taught me, inspired me, humiliated me.

These are mistakes, triumphs, failures, wild successes. Some are comprehensible by anyone, others belong only to me. They are not listed in any particular order, only the one in which I think of them. Listing them, the good and the bad, is my way of saying “thank you” to a Universe who gave me another adventurous.

If I left out a moment you think should be here, don’t be upset. Exact your revenge by leaving a comment!

  1. Finally meeting Max Morath in person in Columbia, MO and going to lunch with three generations of ragtime pianists.
  2. Savoring a cup of “No Chewing Allowed” hot chocolate with Jess in Bryant Park (it was $6 for a dixie cup of the stuff and oh so worth it).
  3. That moment when I learned that the phrase “meet me at the Yoda fountain” included having to find an actual statue of Yoda in a fountain.
  4. Sitting with Bryan, Yuko, and Bill for two hours at a Japanese restaurant in Sedalia, MO trying to come up with rhyming quadruplets to use in our big show on Saturday afternoon, and then finally roasting our ragtime friends at the John Stark Pavilion on the final Saturday of the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival. “Who does it with your pet…”
  5. Filming the map sequence from the latest episode of “Mark v. Universe,” where we did 10 takes of Mark fake running while his friends threw leaves at him.
  6. My catastrophic performance in the cruise ship’s “shake your ass” dance competition, of which I am grateful no photographic evidence exists.
  7. The time I was holding baby Ava and she tried to breastfeed off of me because she mistook my moob for a boob.
  8. Chowing down on a cheeseburger with friends Adam and Jess at Chicago’s Billy Goat Tavern and picturing Bill Murray behind the counter.
  9. My first, second, and five hundredth glimpse at the Star Wars:Hunt for the Holocronaction figures made by my friend Daniel Harp.
  10. Polishing a bottle of Maker’s Mark and laughing my guts out with Sonny, Brian, and Jeff in Mississippi during the Templeton Ragtime Festival.
  11. Accidentally interrupting an NAACP meeting in rural Mississippi while wearing my absolutely most metrosexual shirt (thanks, Jeff).
  12. Brewery tour of Brooklyn Brewery and getting trashed on great beer before noon.
  13. Throwing my golf club after a particularly frustrating round of golf, trying to quit the tournament, and finally turning it around the next day to win the team tournament.
  14. Riding the Coney Island Cyclone for the first time. It ripped me a new one and I’ve never been so happy to be ravaged.
  15. Walking the silent halls of Ellis Island and trying to imagine the place as a cacophony of hopeful, hungry people all very unsure about where the currents of life would deposit them.
  16. The ghost tour in Annapolis where the very first ghost story the guide told was about a ghost who haunts unfaithful couples and asks for “Martin.” Ugh.
  17. Making sweet Victorian love at the Chalfonte Hotel.
  18. Seeing “Million Dollar Quartet” in Chicago and having my socks rocked by just how great the musicians in the show were. I’ve never wanted to play piano like Jerry Lee Lewis more than I did that night.
  19. Flashing my Yoda poster out the office window at Stormtroopers in the Old Town St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
  20. Two epic piano fails: bombing my big concert in Mississippi and forgetting how to play my own composition in Sacramento (the first time I ever started a piece over in front of an audience… ugh).
  21. Touring the house from A Christmas Story with Jess and fulfilling the dream of any civilized person by posing for a picture with the Leg Lamp.
  22. Having my golf buddies sing “Martin do you remember…” to me after I drank an entire bottle of Old Forester the night prior (and no, I didn’t remember any of the things they said I did.)
  23. The team golf tournament, where Chris and I competed for best team player. We could call in Mat or Mark to help for one shot. For me, their help was devastatingly effective, but the pressure was intense, which led to: Mat, to Mark, after Mark blows a drive for Chris: “Redeem yourself.”  Mark, to Mat, after Mat blows a long iron for Chris: “Redeem yourself.”  Chris, after calling for help on his third shot: “For the love of God, somebody redeem themselves.”
  24. Margaret giving me a Christmas gift, and in the process accidentally dumping an entire glass of iced tea down my crotch.
  25. The wild horses galloping by our tent in the moonlit morning at Assateague National Park.
  26. This phone call: “Martin, this is Chris from the Manor Theater in Squirrel Hill. Happy birthday! Just wanted to let you know how excited we are to debut your movie.” (this is how I found out that my birthday gift from Mat, Margaret, and Mark was (known collectively as “The Halo”) was the gift of a movie premiere for the little Star Wars movie I’ve been working on for years. The premiere is April 20th, 2013). This led to…
  27. Rolling camera again on the film project that I’ve worked at for 10 years, making two trips to Houston, TX and spending hours with my friends gathering footage of Dan’s amazing models in our quest to finally finish Hunt for the Holocron, which included…
  28. Jeffrey mounting the camera to a bicycle to construct a makeshift camera dolly, reminding me how blessed I am by friends who say “Why not?” instead of “Why?”;
  29. Vicky ironing the giant fabric greenscreen against which we were shooting the models;
  30. And Emily force-feeding me Chick-fil-A and making sure I didn’t pass out from heat exhaustion.
  31. Getting lost with Jess in the woods by Clopper Lake.
  32. Max Keenlyside’s concert for the Northern Virginia Ragtime Society, in which he played both a piece I wrote and a piece he wrote for me.
  33. The crummy day made the best one by Brian Holland, who called me from the recording studio in Nashville after he and Danny Coots had recorded my “Seagull Shuffle” for their new album. Incredible.
  34. Winning the bowling championship with my bowling team, Livin’ on a Spare.
  35. Smoking cigars and drinking single-malt scotch with Tooch, Scotes, and Jess on our birthday cruise in June.
  36. The moment where I almost gave up and slept in the car when the temperature hit 27 degrees while we were camping at Shenandoah. I may never feel warm again.
  37. Performing my “Melody for a New Life” at the baptism of my goddaughter, Olivia, followed by drinking Adam Litke out of all of his “RyePA” at the baptism party.
  38. Finding our rabbits’ new den… in the box spring of our queen bed, inspiring a future rag called “Bunnies in the Box Spring.”
  39. My impromptu singing lesson from Jeff Barnhart at Chip’s house in Mississippi.
  40. Sitting with my oldest friends in a cramped car until 3 AM watching the first rough cut of my film in years.
  41. The moment Jeff Barnhart turned to me and said, “I had a great time this weekend; you being here was a big part of that.”
  42. Jessie’s hilarious private dance routine after we watched “Hugo” together.
  43. Getting promoted, demoted, and promoted again in the span of three months.
  44. Spending the day after my 30th birthday in the hospital with chest pains. Seriously? The day immediately after?
  45. Playing a duet with Marit Johnson in Columbia, MO. Marit was one of the first ragtimers my own age I ever met (in 1999).
  46. Climbing Dunn’s River Falls in Jamaica, swimming with dolphins in Grand Cayman, and riding a bobsled roller coaster through the rainforest in Jamaica.
  47. Staring up at Niagara Falls from the Maid of the Mist.
  48. Climbing the stairs to the Cave of the Winds and getting more wet than I can remember being.
  49. Tart gin coolers and the world’s greatest Bloody Mary on a bar tour of Key West with old friends.
  50. Losing the title of “World Champion of Old-time Piano Playing” at the contest in May and finding a program with my name on it in the trash.
  51. Celebrating my mother’s marriage to a fantastic man in September.
  52. Climbing (and hunting from) a treestand for the first time with my brother and father. It was so serene, so quiet — the whole day felt like it moved with the wind.
  53. The moment in December when this line from a poem I wrote in 2006 finally made sense: I know the inevitability of coffee tables/and the books that are sent there to die.I know what it is to be caught by sunsets and snowdrifts,/Ugandans and shiny pumpernickel,/and still seek the caption/that proves the story of my life/was really about someone else.
  54. Performing my composition “The Elliott Special” for the Elliotts in Sedalia at the Maple Leaf Site, and finally getting to taste an Elliott Special (it’s an amazing, old-school cocktail) at the after hours.
  55. Finally seeing “The Hobbit,” a film I’ve anticipated for 9 years, and watching the rock giants battle to the death.
  56. Listening to Keenlyside’s “The Facemelter” for the first time and realizing that I really had achieved my dream of inspiring someone with my music.
  57. Receiving the devastating and accurate Letter from a Friend.
  58. The adult horse’s first entrance in War Horse and forgetting, for the remainder of the show, that it was a wooden puppet.
  59. Finding this amazing website and devouring all of the artist’s creations in a single sitting: zenpencils.com (#50 is my favorite)
  60. Going bowling with Brian, Bryan, Max, Will, and Bill in Sedalia, MO. It was our first non-ragtime event together, and it was absolutely hilarious to see some of the finest pianists in the land – men who eat the ivories for breakfast – bowl like disfigured cockatiels.
  61. Jamming with ragtime pater familias Mike Schwimmer on Eubie Blake’s “Baltimore Todolo.”
  62. Playing charades with Mark, Mat, and Chris up at the Chautauqua house. Chris: <acting out Webster’s Dictionary, miming opening a book and examining it as a reference material> Martin: He’s a scientist, he’s a researcher, he’s looking in a book, he’s looking in an old book, he’s looking in an ancient book, it’s an ancient book of spells! Mark: HE’S A WIZARD!
  63. Watching “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and enjoying all of the Pittsburgh sights (not to mention crunching on delicious, delicious teen angst).
  64. Claiming victory not once but twice in our annual Risk tournament. The Sparrow Rises!
  65. Trying to pull down the horse saddle from the wall at New Years so I could ride Tooch, an impressive feat of drunken laddering.
  66. Seeing George Lucas in the flesh at the LDAC in San Francisco during my Lucasfilm tour.
  67. Realizing there would be another Star Wars movie in my lifetime thanks to the Lucasfilm/Disney merger.
  68. Directing my brother in a corporate video shoot for the FDA, and directing Carrie Compere in the same shoot, especially her alternate “ghetto” take on the very technical dialog which continues to crack me up to this day.
  69. Receiving the Christmas wreath from Emily, bedecked as it was in music and little books for my two great passions.
  70. A round of horseshoes with the boys at SSCC – a glass of scotch in one hand, a horseshoe in the other – followed by a twilight walk in the woods.
  71. Gnoshing on cheese fondue at Kashkaval in NYC.
  72. Finding out that the first of my very close friends had become a first-time father.
  73. The train ride between Sacramento and San Francisco through mountain, valley, and stream.
  74. Having TJ, my new boss, tell me I was a “valuable member of [his] team.”
  75. The Oreo milkshake at Boxcar Barney’s and the cone of kings at Twist ‘o the Mist.
  76. My epic dice rolling that won my friends $850 at Craps (I think I won $30).
  77. Performing at Walter Reed Medical Center as part of their Stages of Healing program.
  78. Meeting Dave Jasen after years of admiring (and devouring) his scholarly works on ragtime. It was a great honor of my musical life to have him say, “I hate you!” when he heard me play.
  79. Spending our wedding anniversary (June 28) moving out of our old apartment of five years during one of the hottest weeks on record (the average high from June 28 through July 8, 2012 was an astounding 99.5 degrees), only to have that disgusting day become an amazing one when our maid of honor and best man surprised us with a romantic dinner at her place. As one person said on Facebook, “You two live your lives in Technicolor.”
  80. The moment when I realized my second album, “Handful of Keys,” had done more sales in 6 months than my first CD had done in 4 years.
  81. Drilling into aluminum with Dan and Bill to build a proper dolly for the second model shoot in TX.
  82. Max Morath saying, “Call me Max, for God’s sake,” when I tried to call him “Mr. Morath.”
  83. Trying to hook Tooch up with the guitar player on the cruise ship, proving once again that while I am a talented pilot, I am a horrible wing man.
  84. Soul food at Yats with McNally.
  85. The Haiku Tsunami of 2012,which resulted in gems such as, “No English needed/Yeah, Martin has a degree/Doctorate of Peep.”
  86. The 14,000 hilarious moments on GChat, my window to the world, with old friends.
  87. The drive from Sedalia to Columbia, MO with Will and Max during which Will displayed frigging freaky talent for playing jazz neckpillow.
  88. Mark’s homemade breakfast in Brooklyn and dining on the terrace.
  89. Dennis James’ theater organ concert at the Missouri Theater for the Arts where the whole room came alive, like a giant wind-up music box.
  90. Getting my piano back after three weeks in storage. It was like having sanity delivered by the truckload.
  91. Interviewing for German radio with Georg Hirsch.
  92. Realizing the cover of the Old-time Piano Contest’s program misspelled my name “Spitzbagel.”
  93. Receiving our first trick-or-treaters ever. We lived in an apartment in DC for five years and never got any until we moved to the townhouse in July.
  94. Posing for old-time photos with Jess and Tooch, and then again with my Texas friends.
  95. Performing at a great, swanky Great Gatsby party in Colombia, MD.
  96. Playing Donkey Kong Country Returns with my brother over Christmas like we did when we were kids.
  97. Having LoveSac post our little video on their Facebook page for all of their fans to see, and having LoveSac’s owner posting a comment on the video.
  98. Learning what a McGangBang is from Will Perkins (double cheeseburger with a McChicken inside of it).
  99. Partying with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg at the Supreme Court in January with the Council for Court Excellence.
  100. The last time I stood in our King Street apartment, waving goodbye to five years of happy memories.

Happy Holidays!

December 28, 2012 Uncategorized 1 Comment


Benefits of Playing the Piano

July 24, 2012 Uncategorized Leave a comment

There is nothing sadder to me than the adult who says, “I used to play the piano. I wish I’d kept up with it.”

First, you’re implying that the period in which you could learn has ended, which is patently untrue unless you are dead. Second, you’ve denied yourself a source of tremendous release, refueling, and joy. There are so many benefits to be gained from having the piano in your life. Things that even a game on partypoker.com, a warm drink on a cold night, or a cold drink on a hot day can’t even do.

Here are some benefits:

  • Self-discipline – You might have been forced into piano lessons as a child, but self-discipline is never a bad thing. A regimen of daily piano practice gives you an excuse to schedule “me time” into your day.
  • Happiness – Playing the piano can make you a much happier person. It’s a tremendous creative outlet, and is a great way to relieve you of the daily stresses of life. Personally, I go crazy without it.
  • Memory – Learning the placement of the keys, learning how to read music, memorizing a composition until you play it effortlessly… playing the piano involves you intuitively exercising your memory, and the more you do so, the better you remember.

It’s beautiful, it teaches discipline, and it brings happiness to the world. What’s not to like?

Letter From a Friend

February 24, 2012 Uncategorized 1 Comment

Hi Martin,

Thanks for writing.

You’ll always have some unease until your “job” truly matches up with your life’s work. It doesn’t matter how many titles, doctorates, or honorifics you try to throw on it. A doctor is a noble profession, and it would sort of matter to you, just like [your workplace] sort of matters to you. Or, perhaps, how it matters will be in the basics – money, food, employment, something to prove to your wife that you are bringing value to the union. But it doesn’t really matter to you. Not in the ethereal or magical sense – and most importantly, not in your heart and soul.

So if you truly want to get a master’s degree, go for it. Just make sure it’s not just throwing another blanket over the box that’s hidden in the back corner of your mind that has the piece of rock that you scrawled, “I want to create when I grow up” on when you were a child.

Honestly, I think one of three things will happen:

  1. There will be an earthquake of change.

    Ideally, you would just throw up your hands and say, “To hell with all of it” and start Spitzfire Productions as a real company – one that makes movies and shorts and scores and compositions. Your wife buys in and gives you support regardless of whether you start off well or poorly, and you repay her faith by working harder than you’ve ever worked. Only you’re not working at all, because it’s what you love to do. And you end your 12 hours of work a day feeling like you never even started working.

    Conversely, this could also happen if you were to be fired, or you moved, or something else thrust you into it. Only you’d likely have less buy-in from your wife, more pressure to be successful, and the small, gnawing knowledge that you waited for the universe to hand you what you wanted when it was in your power to do it yourself, if you had the balls.

  2. You will change incrementally.

    You keep working at [workplace], only you ramp up the efforts to support yourself on other terms. You make movies and vignettes and compositions and word starts getting out. You bring extra money in and your wife slowly comes around to realizing that this is a viable solution. Eventually, so many requests start coming in that you have serious discussions with Jess about quitting [workplace] and working for yourself full-time. You suddenly are free from the shackles of [workplace] and are free to demand higher salaries, bonuses, and equipment. You eventually stop working there by either choice or because they don’t meet your demands, and either is fine because now you’re doing what you love full-time. The change is so slow and the support to the bank account so consistent that Jess never mounts a real opposition. Everyone wins.

  3. You continue to work at [workplace] because you have to, and you sort of tinker with movies and music and on occasion sell some stuff, but less because you’re really making an effort at it and more because your raw talent is so absurd that you can’t help but sell things even with the minimum of effort. Spitzfire Productions never really becomes anything other than what it is, and you eventually have kids or move and really lose any chance of pursuing any of your dreams because you don’t have any momentum that you could have built up from the time when you could actually do that. Your increasing needs tether you more to [workplace], not less, and leave less time for creating anything, while the increased stresses and requirements for the family means that your wife than has tremendous ammo to question blowing up what you have and striking out on your own to support while you create. Your creative world stays as a small, occasional supplement to your main income that decreases in frequency over time, and you struggle for the rest of your life with the vague worry that you never really made what you could have out of yourself.

I think I’ve been waiting five years to see where you’re going, and right now it’s a combo of two and three (more one than the other at that).

We get one life, Martin, and the difference between a rut and the grave is the depth. So you have to decide, what option is it going to be?

-A Friend

The Top 100 Moments of 2011

January 4, 2012 Uncategorized 9 Comments

Wow, it must have taken some cajones to put him on the cover of anything.

Here’s a tradition carried over from my old blog. At the end of the year, I make a list of the top moments in my life for that year.

The list is not about my favorite moments, nor my best moments. These are the top moments, the “Hitler as Man of the Year 1939″ moments, the ones that changed me, moved me, taught me, inspired me, humiliated me.

They are mistakes, triumphs, failures, wild successes. Some are comprehensible by anyone, others belong only to me. They are not listed in any particular order, only the one in which I think of them.

If I left out a moment you think should be here, don’t be upset. Exact your revenge by leaving a comment!

Martin’s Top 100 Moments of 2011

  1. The cyclonic windstorm on the first tee of the preliminary SSCC golf tournament round where Mark, Mat, Chris, and I were nearly blown into oblivion.
  2. Playing “Seagull Shuffle” with Brian Holland and Danny Coots at after hours in Sedalia, and having Danny call it “the deepest pocket I’ve ever been in.”
  3. Learning about the death of Steve Jobs and having my entire world rocked repeatedly by watching his 2005 commencement speech over and over.
  4. Receiving Max Morath’s review of my new CD and having him tell me that Eubie Blake would have loved it.
  5. Learning that an 8th-grader in Connecticut did a PowerPoint presentation on me for his school music class.
  6. After repeatedly assuring Mat about how good of a driver I am in the snow, crashing his car into a snowy embankment because I was thinking too hard about what to do next with my life.
  7. My phone interview with the Sedalia Democrat that turned into an article about me on the front page of the paper.
  8. Getting into a fight with my boss and nearly losing my job.
  9. Animating and scoring the holiday card for our parent company and having it go out to thousands of people all over the world.
  10. Driving in the car with my sister and listening to the radio at the precise moment when the radio is playing “Red Elephant Rag,” which I wrote for my sister. CRAZY AWESOME.
  11. Finally winning the Old-time Piano Playing Championship after deciding, “Fuck it, I’m just going to make something up,” and improvising arrangements of “Five Foot Two” and “I’ve Been Working On the Railroad”.
  12. Learning that Good.Bye Films wanted to make a documentary about me, and filming my first interview.
  13. The grand and emotionally turbulent ride from Sedalia to St. Louis on the Missouri River Runner.
  14. Eating the best barbecue on the planet at the gas station in Kansas City with Jerry and Mary Grace.
  15. Having my voice teacher, Marguerite, tell me in all seriousness that I had a good voice.
  16. Making my public singing debut with “Oh You Beautiful Doll” at the Black Fox Lounge in DC.
  17. Failing to deliver a master that Rambling Records wanted to use, and ending up with nothing to show from our supposed record deal.
  18. Earning the nickname “Senor Cuervo” at Risk because I left our host, Mat, with an empty bottle of Tullamore Dew, an empty bottle of Captain Morgan, an empty bottle of Maker’s Mark whiskey, a 95% empty bottle of Jose Cuervo, three mangled and chewed on pieces of the Green army, and a broken toilet flusher, all by my hand (and mouth).
  19. Getting kicked out of the Steinway Hall practice room for not paying to use it (I maintain it was because Art Tatum was too hip for them).
  20. The hot, impromptu duet on “Dizzy Fingers” with Richard Dowling in Baltimore.
  21. Being able to say, “Last night was incredible!” multiple times to the woman I’ve been with for 10 years.
  22. Birdieing the 10th hole in the SSCC team tournament, having finally relaxed (after three days of golf) and found my swing.
  23. The food tour at Pike’s Place Market, following the bearded man with the pink umbrella, and watching them throw the fish.
  24. The shrimp and cheese grits at Slightly North of Broad in Charleston, SC. Hot damn.
  25. Meeting Smiley Wallace in Kansas City and listening to his stories about Eubie Blake, his wife, and his lifelong perpetuation and promotion of ragtime music.
  26. Purchasing my new iMac with money I saved up from my ragtime concerts and finally retiring my workhorse Power Mac G5 after six years.
  27. Learning that Eubie Blake ate chocolate cake every night before he went to bed. I mean seriously, how awesome is that.
  28. Performing live with my brother for the first time, and then with his band.
  29. As Artist in Residence, being asked by literally ten 8-year-olds if I played “Uncle Ian” in the Alvin and the Chipmunks movie.
  30. Taking the brewery tour at Leinenkugel’s in Chippewa Falls, WI with Wheels and Adam.
  31. The Gullah performance at Boone Hall Plantation that lifted up my heart.
  32. Standing around the green room with the next generation of great composers – Max, Will, Brett, and Bryan – talking about music and playing each other’s pieces.
  33. Nighttime beach walk on Two Mile Hollow Beach in the Hamptons; getting soaked in the surf; looking up at the stars.
  34. Staying at the shadiest hotel on the planet in Versailles, MO and fearing for my life.
  35. Selling my first copy of Handful of Keys to Daniel Levi.
  36. Arranging flowers for the first time and realizing that it was very, extremely, wonderfully Zen.
  37. Skyping with Emily and Jeffrey for the first time – so different than talking on the phone!
  38. Being featured in a company press release for the music I composed to the 2010 holiday card.
  39. My epic single-dice-roll defense of the Northwest Territory that went 5-6, 6-6, 3-3, 4-6, and 1-6. Nate’s yellow army has never recovered.
  40. Racing go-karts at 50mph like a crazy person with my brother out in Prince William County.
  41. The endless adventures with my bowling team, Livin’ on a Spare, including Jess and I combining for a no-open-frame 185 in one game.
  42. The amazing, picturesque sailboat/snorkeling tour in Puerto Rico that ended when the main sail tore clear in two right above my head and we had to navigate the seas on a 20hp backup engine.
  43. Paddling through a mangrove forest at twilight.
  44. Dipping my hand into a luminescent bay and watching as the lives of billions of bacteria extinguished in a light display worthy of Pandora.
  45. Swimming under a waterfall in the El Yunque rainforest.
  46. The Segway tour of Old San Juan.
  47. Discovering the mysterious and dangerous La Perla.
  48. Chowing down on the salted caramel ice cream at Molly Moon’s. Sweet pancakes it was amazing.
  49. Touring the Spragpole museum and eating huckleberry shakes in the middle of nowhere, Idaho, with the Elliotts.
  50. Having my sisters and father in Sedalia this year and getting to show them off to all my ragtime peeps.
  51. Completely screwing up the piano accompaniment to “Mister Rogers” and earning the ire of “Handyman Joe” Negri at the concert to benefit the earthquake victims in Japan.
  52. Resenting Jess’ desire to get bunnies. Getting the bunnies. Hating the bunnies. Slowly coming to love the bunnies. Now inseparable from the bunnies.
  53. Two words: crisis beard!
  54. Watching the Super Bowl at Dukes and Boots, drinking myself silly on Captain and Diet, and playing pool with JC while being unable to feel my hands.
  55. Staying with Jerry and Mary Grace, while in Kansas City, and feeling like their adopted child.
  56. Losing my brand new Zoom H2 recorder in Eau Claire without ever having had the chance to even turn it on.
  57. Jamming with guitarist Craig Ventresco at the hotel bar and just looking on in wonder at how amazing he was.
  58. Recording “The Entertainer” with a couple of ragtime crazies on an old upright outside in 20-degree weather.
  59. Holding Ava Lynn Lee for the first time.
  60. Lisa’s 30th birthday party at Secrets in DC where I saw more perfect flying penis than you could shake a stick at.
  61. Making Bryan Wright scat-sing to “Charleston Rag” before an audience of 200 people and play coconuts, washboard, and scat sing in front of 600 (all while wearing a tuxedo).
  62. Having Yuko bring cookies and Red Bull, and give great massages to get me through the late-night recording sessions for Handful of Keys.
  63. Playing laser tag against vicious 12-year-old girls with my DC friends for my 29th birthday.
  64. Streaking naked through the woods in drunken glee at the cabin for New Years.
  65. Failing to finish Monsters!, the children’s book that I was writing for an app on the App Store.
  66. Writing 10k words in my novel at WW’11. Medium-core anal has never been more productive.
  67. Hearing that my version of the “Tiny Toons” theme delighted series creator Tom Ruegger, who later friended me on Facebook and posted it for all his friends to see.
  68. The fantastic Riskino night, with big wins at the craps table and my first Risk victory against three former champions.
  69. The horrific (but still fun) That’s Me Lucky Rolls craps outing where I lost all the money I won at Riskino night.
  70. Speaking of losing money, I blew my own mind when I spent $700 on two coats, four shirts, and two pairs of jeans after my concert.
  71. The wonderful gift of Rebecca Sheir and my interview with NPR that brought folks to my show, sold a bunch of my CDs, and gave me the mountain-fresh scent of musical legitimacy.
  72. Surviving a dark night of my soul in March (and not leaving any puke in the ZipCar afterwards… whew.)
  73. The first moment when I composed with the chorus from the EastWest symphonic library where all of a sudden a whole new world of possibilities opened up and I discovered a new sound inside of myself.
  74. The great appreciation of dark beer I developed drinking with Chuck and talking about work.
  75. Having the tour guide at the Bayernhof Museum get mad at anyone in our tour group who asked a question.
  76. Driving through the misty, snow-kissed mountains and auburn, windswept plains of the West on our way to Seattle.
  77. Premiering “The Smoky Rose” for Danny Matson in Eau Claire, and having it go on to win the composition contest in Peoria.
  78. Failing to get a Grammy nomination despite talking and acting and dreaming like I would get one. Thanks for nothing, law of attraction and The Secret.
  79. The standing ovation I got after the 10PM show at the Black Fox that filled every pore of my body with excitement.
  80. Watching the last Harry Potter movie and realizing that the first movie had come out 10 years earlier, right as I was graduating film school, and even after 10 years I still had not finished my Star Wars movie.
  81. Filming the videos for my brother’s website, theaugustactor.com, and feeling a small flame enkindle within me that said, “You should do more of this!”
  82. Walking around New York City in women’s shoes, and then no shoes.
  83. Living to see another awesome Muppet movie be released in theaters.
  84. Discovering Austin Kleon and reading about how to “steal like an artist.” From Austin: “Make the art you want to see. Write the stories you want to read. Play the music you want to hear.”
  85. Deciding we were moving out of our apartment, only to decide to stay in it two months later.
  86. Reading the eulogy Steve Jobs’ sister wrote for him in the New York Times and wishing I could impact one person the way he impacted millions.
  87. Impromptu dinner party with Jess, Bill, Dasha, Bryan, and Yuko in NYC and feeling like a wealthy person.
  88. Max Morath saying, “I recognize you as a major pianist.”
  89. Preparing for Hurricane Irene for days and then having absolutely nothing interesting come out of it except a small leak in the ceiling.
  90. Having the gang say, “The champ is [whatever mundane thing I was doing or feeling]!” every time I did something in Peoria after winning the trophy.
  91. Finally seeing Les Miserables live and learning what all the fuss was about. Other theater highlights: Billy Elliot, Mary Poppins, and Memphis!
  92. Having a moth fly into my ear in Adams Morgan, drowning the moth inside my ear with earwax remover, and then having to go to the ER to have the moth removed.
  93. Looking up through the ancient purple glass in the sidewalks as Jess and I took the underground tour of Seattle.
  94. Hearing Dalton Ridenhour’s take on the blues at Mimi and Friends in Versailles, MO.
  95. Realizing I’d gained back 30lbs of the 75lbs that I lost in 2010. Dammit. See #74 as to why.
  96. Shoveling the driveway of my host family as Artist in Residence for the SJF.
  97. Nearly losing my job because of, and being given brand new Mac Pro by, the same people in one week.
  98. Canceling, un-canceling, canceling, un-canceling, canceling, and then putting on my show on November 12th.
  99. Improvising on “Amazing Grace” at 3 AM in Bellefield Hall, with nothing but the happy silence of creation and a perfect 9’ Steinway to accompany me.
  100. Looking out upon the night sky at Writer’s Weekend and its thousands of stars when suddenly, in the night, the largest shooting star I’d ever seen streaked across the sky and I wished the same wish I always do, the one that I hope comes true…


Handful of Keys – First Review

November 19, 2011 Uncategorized Leave a comment

Jack Rummel, Ragtime Music Reviews

What exists on this disc by Martin Spitznagel is one of the most amazing and diverse collections of syncopated styles and genres to be found on a single CD.

— Jack Rummel | Ragtime Music Reviews

Jack Rummel, a figure that looms large in the ragtime world as a composer, performer, scholar, and historian has reviewed my CD, “Handful of Keys.”

It’s my first official review for the new album, which came out in June, and I’m delighted to see positive feedback from Jack! It’s been a slow process getting the albums into the hands of people, and every little bit counts. I’m especially pleased with this review because I seem to have answered some of Jack’s criticisms of my first album, Tricky Fingers, with my performance on this new release. Yay for getting better with age!

You can read the original here here (click on “This Month’s Reviews” on the left-hand side of the screen). I’ve copied it below for easy access 😀

Source: http://www.ragtimers.org/reviews

By Jack Rummel

Handful of Keys
Martin Spitznagel, piano
Rivermont Records BSW-2217

Handful of Keys / The Easy Winners / Mary Poppins Medley / The Chips Are Down / The Smoky Rose / Ticklish Tom – A Carolina Cakewalk / The Train Town Rag / Hobson Street Blues / Marty’s Blues / Legend of Zelda: Overworld Theme / The Newbie Eubie / Hot Cinders / Final Fantasy: Amblin’ with Chocobo / Incandescent Rag / The Entertainer (Blues) / Pork and Beans / Marigold / The Seagull Shuffle / Super Mario Brothers Medley / Amazing Grace / Tiger Rag (à la Art Tatum) / Maple Leaf Rag at 4AM.

Martin Spitznagel refers to this recording as “face-melting” ragtime, defined as exposure to an event of epic awesomeness. While making that claim may border on epic audacity, this CD does have an awful lot going for it. The recorded sound is excellent and the graphics are very good, too. His touch is completely under control; he can switch from loud and brash to feather-light in the time it takes to draw a breath. The extensive liner notes are personal and fun to read, and while they’re spiced with occasional name-dropping and horn-blowing, as Dizzy Dean once said, “It ain’t bragging if you can do it.”

Every track is a winner but some deserve individual mention. Stride piano has re-interpreted many pop tunes, Broadway melodies and “longhair” classical themes, so why not Mary Poppins? It’s hard to imagine “Feed the Birds” taken in stride, but blended with “Chim-Chim-Cher-ee,” “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” Spitznagel’s medley is a champion. He has also recorded the best version of Hot Cinders I have ever heard; under his talented fingers, Joe Lamb’s complex melodic ideas all make sense. Amazing Grace is a meditative interlude that hooks the gut beforeTiger Rag shatters the inner peace with an unhumanly blur of 128th notes. He closes with Maple Leaf Rag at 4AM , a jazzy take on this warhorse, complete with scat chorus (although it’s a bit disconcerting to hear the A-section reduced to 14 measures).

The Spitznagel originals are also worthy contenders. The Smoky Rose is a lovely, relaxed tone poem that could easily be mistaken for a long-lost work by Billy Mayerl. Marty’s Blues is a gently ambling ode featuring Gershwin-like harmonies, while Newbie Eubie is full of Eubie-isms yet maintaining its originality. The lightning-fast Incandescent Rag lives up to its name and Seagull Shuffle is a fine stride opus. Of special note is The Train Town Rag, a complex piece full of new ideas which won the Scott Joplin Foundation’s 2010 composition contest.

Being an empty-nester at the time that video games began to exert their grip on the youth of the world, I missed out on the Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy and Super Mario Brothers. Their theme songs, which Spitznagel has adapted to ragtime, do not awaken childhood memories for me as they do for him, but his versions are enjoyable.

What exists on this disc by Martin Spitznagel is one of the most amazing and diverse collections of syncopated styles and genres to be found on a single CD. Whether it’s stride, ragtime, jazz, soundtracks, spirituals, blues, novelty or themes from computer games, it’s all included and no tempo has gone untried and no dynamic has been excluded in these performances. Highly recommended.

Worst. Oracle. Ever.

October 27, 2011 Uncategorized Leave a comment

There is no spoon. Yes there is.

Steve Jobs

October 6, 2011 Uncategorized 1 Comment

Another hero of the Martinverse passes through the veil...

I worked for Apple in 2006-2007 as a specialist at the Apple Store.

The best thing about working at the Apple Store was that, on a daily basis, I got to help people purchase technology that would improve the quality of their life.

The worst thing about working at the Apple Store was that I spent all my money… at the Apple Store.

I got to do all of this with a straight face and a clean conscience. I got to say things like “Isn’t that cool?” without sarcasm or slickness, because I believe(d), in my Real Place, that it was cool. I got to believe in what I was doing – with the sole exception of being asked to sell .Mac, which was a suite of online apps that did for $99 what Google did (better) for free, but I digress – and I felt good when I helped folks pick out a new computer or iPod. I felt like I was helping them in a small way to be happier, more connected, and more powerful.

My hero was Steve Jobs. Steve made it fun, made it cool, made it magic. Because of him I was happier, more connected, and more powerful.

Steve Jobs died today.

His death was one of those things that I knew was coming – pancreatic cancer is the most vicious, the most pernicious enemy – and yet when it came, it did so as a total, wind-out-of-my-chest shock. I’m not above confessing that I cried. Like Jim Henson, he was a personal hero of mine.

The web is alight with people offering their obits, their stories, their condolences. Aside from dealing with my own thoughts on death, I don’t have much to add to what has been said, only this:

The reality distortion field became reality, and the world is a better place.

Thank you, Steve.

Sent from my iPad

An Open Letter to Megabus

September 30, 2011 Uncategorized 2 Comments

Yeah, but he's not sleeping with your WiFi...

Dear Megabus,

Hi. It’s Martin. This is the third trip in a row where there was no WiFi on your bus.

Either stop advertising free WiFi, or fix your damn routers.

I know you’re cheap, usually on time, and not all that disgusting, but you can’t advertise amenities – things like wireless internet and power – and then consistently not provide them.

This is called “false advertising,” and I’m pretty sure it’s illegal.

I wouldn’t be so upset if the words “Free WiFi!” weren’t slathered on the side of all of your buses in garish orange letters. I did not realize this was an attempt at irony. I can understand a service outage here and there, but this is the third four-hour-plus bus ride where no one had access to wireless Internet.

Also, none of the power outlets on bus DDO070 work. There is a circle of Hell waiting for you because of this fact.

You clearly have this issue often with your riders, as you state on your website, “Megabus will make a reasonable effort to make WiFi services available free of charge to every passenger. If the WiFi service is unavailable no refund will be issued.” I’d like to know what you mean by “reasonable effort,” as I’ve seen no such effort on the part of the driver or any of your lackadaisical staff to ensure WiFi is available on the bus.

I’d be happy to, you know, reset the router for you. Have you tried unplugging it and plugging it back in?

Helpfully, your customer service number offers more than 10 choices for automated information, none of which are “If you’d like to complain to Megabus about their lies, press 4.” Also, this number hangs up on you if you press “0” to get an operator more than twice. Ask me how I know this.

So, in short, I’d like you to repaint your buses to state, “Probably No WiFi!” or “There might be WiFi onboard!” or “Will there be WiFi? Board to find out!”

Not as catchy, but at least it’s true.

Mr. Morath and Mr. Blake

September 23, 2011 Uncategorized 1 Comment

The recreation of Eubie's house built at WHYY studios in Philadelphia, 1970...

I got the most marvelous e-mail out of the blue from Max Morath, who has the uncanny ability to make my day.

Max read my post about his interview with Eubie Blake in 1970, and thought (correctly) I might appreciate knowing the real story behind the interview. My knowledge of ragtime’s history is studied but not encyclopedic, especially compared to many of the ragtime faithful, but when it comes to Eubie Blake I’m a thirsty sponge. The man was a national treasure, and his music has done more to shape my own than most any other.

As soon as I recovered from the shock that Max Morath reads my blog – which took a not-insignificant amount of time – I started a lovely correspondence with him that culminated in some fascinating insights into how the interview came about and why there are only 6 minutes left out of a five-hour interview.

Think about that. 98% of the interview was lost. 98%!!! That’s why I wanted to share this story, which you might think only appeals to ragtime nerds; it offers a profound case study in how ragtime is riddled – riddled! – with bullet holes from the double-barrels of ignorance and indifference.

Here’s what’s left of the interview again, in case you haven’t heard it:

[Note: I’ve made some edits to the original per Max’s request, and some layout changes for readability on a website, but the content below is 100% Max’s, and I extend my sincere gratitude for his allowing me to publish this account on the web. -M.S.]

The interview took place at the studios of WHYY-TV Philadelphia. I was living in NYC, had done some work with them, and had some PBS attention, as my two series on rag and turn-of-the-century history were still playing around the country. Eubie Blake was just emerging into renewed national attention, his classic 1969 Columbia double LP just released, and with the WHYY producers it was decided we’d video tape a lengthy oral history session with Blake — in their studios.

They did a remarkable job. They visited Mr. Blake’s handsome brownstone in Brooklyn and re-created it in the studio, Steinway grand and all! At the time, I was in a run of my show at Ford’s Theatre in DC, and on a Monday day off (must have been late in 1970) I went up to Philly. We spent the day — literally video-taped five hours of ad-libbed conversation and playing (all his, not mine). Looking back I have to say it was one of the best PBS efforts I ever had a part of, and must have cost them some big bucks.

Now the dumb part.

There was never a precise intention to broadcast these tapes. The effort was viewed as a valuable archive, but somebody — probably in NYC, not Philly — decided to edit out Mr. Blake’s piano solos, along with his brief introductions, and broadcast them as a one hour special — perhaps, as I recall, one of their fund-raising specials. Well, OK so far. I was not consulted, nor was Mr. Blake — and I’ve always wondered if the original WHYY producers were, either.

Now comes the real shocker.

Following the one-hour edit, the other four hours of video were lost. I have no idea where and how that limited audio portion was made available — the material you (and others) have quoted –but I can assure you that the original broad scope and intent of the project went on the editing floor.

Those original five hours captured all of Mr. Blake’s spontaneity; there was no intent to record complete, well-edited solos, and I’m sure the broadcast edits didn’t do him justice. Often, he’d just go over to the piano and lay down 16 bars of something as part of the conversation, then come back to the sofa. Remember, we’re sitting in a gracious living room, snacking on coffee and cakes, Mr. Blake smoking cigarettes (I had quit a few years before.) I think they used three cameras — lots of CU’s of the Man, his hands, his energy!

I’ve often puzzled how/why the original five hours of tape were allowed to disappear. It was 1970; video tape editing was electronic, but it’s tempting to think the edits were actually cut from the masters — which could still have been 2″ reel-to-reel, or possibly an early cassette format.

But whatever happened, I did hear later that the original tape(s) ended up as scrap, and were over-dubbed accidentally for re-use. It’s a good thing that portions of the session survived as audio. I don’t know how that occurred. And of course there were countless other interviews with Mr. Blake in the ensuing years, that covered much of the same ground. But the WHYY session was informal video in a perfect setting.

This may constitute more than you want or need to know about this episode, but I thought you’d be interested.


No story I’ve heard in the past 10 years captures quite so effectively why being into ragtime in 2011 requires one to be both purveyor and proselytizer. It gets really hard sometimes to have to keep advocating for the value of this music, and if Max’s tale is any indication of how people regarded Eubie and this music when we still had the original masters on this earth, it doesn’t give me a whole lot of hope that attitudes are going to change.

But I suppose that’s why I’m here, and where my friends and me come into play, literally and figuratively!





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