music, technology & life in pasadena, california

Drop That Metronome and Come Out With Your Hands Up!

I just discovered that teaching music in your own home is against the law in Burbank, California. That’s right…read that first sentence again. The law’s been on the books since 1998 due to neighbor complaints about loitering while waiting for lessons to begin and parents parking on the street.

What’s going on here? I can’t believe that a city council anywhere would even have considered this question, especially since elementary and secondary school music education programs have all but dried up. The lawmakers must have thought that there was a music teacher on every block, causing havoc in their neighborhoods. Oh no…a music teacher just moved in, there goes our housing values. Really…people have to learn to iron out little problems with their neighbors rather than running to legislators at the drop of a hat.

Now, after eight years, the council is thinking about bringing the teachers back into the realm of legality. But get this: they would need to get a city business license, have a background check performed and pay $175 for a permit! Additionally, they must provide indoor waiting rooms and off-street parking…

If you have a chance, visit this page and email these otherwise nice-looking people and let them know that you’d love to see them come to their senses, drop all the ridiculous requirements they’re considering and proclaim a special Music Teachers Day in their fair city. Do the right thing, guys!

February 19, 2006 | Link to this entry

Can you stand 1,000 more words about The Grammys?

The Grammy Awards have never been a serious yardstick by which to measure music. Looking at some lists of past winners will make you laugh until you spit milk out of your nose. Last Tuesday night was no exception…but there were quite a few (I’m shocked!) that were right on the mark. Of course, most of those categories were the obscure ones that the public never hears or even cares about. I would venture to guess that most NARAS members (the organization that sponsors the Grammys) just skip them entirely and focus on the big nominations. That leaves the decision up to those who really care and are truly knowledgeable about the music. That’s why you rarely see an outlandish or “political” or “sympathy” nomination in categories like jazz, classical and some of the smaller music niches.

Years ago, I had a friend who won a Grammy for Best Album in one of those “lesser” categories. At the post-show party, people came up to him with congratulations and told him that although they never heard his music, they voted for his album because they thought the name of the band was “cool”. I rest my case…

Robert Hilburn, rock critic for the LA Times, was complaining this morning about Kanye West not winning Album of the Year. C’mon, does he really think Late Registration is the “second coming” in all of music, not just rap or hip-hop? And don’t you think it hurt him a bit to pose as Jesus, complete with crown of thorns, on the cover of Rolling Stone? Geez, come to think of it, good thing he didn’t dress up as Mohammed.

A few people were also upset that Mariah Carey missed out on Album of the Year and Record of the Year. Just because she’s making a comeback doesn’t automatically qualify her for a Grammy in my book. A great singer surrounded by a polished detail crew, but still so boringly average.

So, what is the deal with Jack White (Best Alternative Music) and the White Stripes? I just don’t get it. When he was interviewed by Terry Gross on Fresh Air a few months ago, he talked about apprenticing as an upholsterer. When his mentor told him it would take about eight years in order to really become good at it, he said forget it. So he decides to play guitar and start a band. Sure, you can do that in no time at all. And what happens? He becomes huge! Can you say, “lucky horseshoe embedded up your ass?”

And, p-l-l-l-lease…American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson took home a few biggies, winning for Best Female Pop Vocal and Best Pop Vocal Album. Speaking of American Idol, NPR had a story a few weeks ago that called the show, “…the untalented judging the over-reaching.” That sums it up for me…

OK, my wife won’t like all this negativity…so here’s what I liked:

U2 keeps winning, but you know, they keep recording great stuff and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb is no exception. Loved it…and although it’s a few years old now, their Live at Slane Castle DVD is one of the most moving rock performances I’ve ever seen.

I really like Maroon 5…great songwriting, production values, a nice tight package. Should’ve won Best Pop Vocal Album, but picked up Best Pop Performance. I haven’t heard their latest live album, but Songs About Jane was one of my favorites. I’m hoping they can follow up with some great new material their next time out.

Pierre Boulez and his Ensemble Intercontemporain won the Grammy for Best Small Ensemble Performance for their recording of Le Marteau Sans Maitre. A wonderful recording of this work, the best yet…and the sound is delicious, too.

Alison Krauss and Union Station won Best Country Album as well as a few for Best Country Group Performance and Best Country Instrumental for their album, Lonely Runs Both Ways. Alison’s voice is pure heaven, always so perfectly in tune (musicians love singers who sing in tune) and so soulful. Her group, Union Station, is a collection of top Nashville players and songwriters who are amazing players, and the production of their CDs is peerless. Whenever people ask me, “What happened to all the good songwriters?”, I tell them to check out country groups like this one, Mary Chapin Carpenter or Shawn Colvin.

The Pat Metheny Group won Best Contemporary Jazz Album for The Way Up, an over 70-minute tour-de-force that stretches the boundaries of modern electric jazz while still staying true to his trademark style that has won him so many fans over the years.

Dianne Reeves won Best Jazz Vocal Album for her tuneful album of songs from the movie, Good Night and Good Luck. I mentioned her fantastic performance in this movie here a few months ago. Dianne is also the artistic director of the jazz program for the LA Philharmonic and Walt Disney Concert Hall.

LA pianist Billy Childs picked up a few nice wins for Best Instrumental Composition and Best Instrumental Arrangement accompanying a Vocalist. Billy’s an incredible talent that reaches far beyond the jazz he’s known for. I see him hanging out at my local coffee shop once in a while, and also had a chance to play with him, along with Peter Erskine, at an LA Phil jazz concert for kids not too long ago.

Martin Scorcese’s documentary about Bob Dylan, No Direction Home, won Best Long Form Music Video and I couldn’t agree more. This two-part PBS special was an incredible look at Dylan’s career and it kept me fascinated. Even though I have never been one to kneel at the altar of Bob Dylan, it made me want to run right out and buy all those old albums…highly recommended on DVD or a replay on your local station.

Now with the Grammys over, I bet you just can’t wait for the Oscars!

February 9, 2006 | Link to this entry


Sometimes when people ask me what I do, and I say, I’m a musician, there tends to be a few awkward seconds of puzzled looks as the inquirer tries to assess the answer. Are you in a band? they’ll ask. Well, not exactly, I reply. So I try to explain exactly what it is that I do, which is, to provide my services to a composer, orchestra or recording artist that needs a guitarist who can play in a kaleidoscope of styles for their particular film, television show, concert, CD or whatever. You get the picture. Do you have an agent? they inquire. Nope, just little old me going around trying to create some word of mouth by having enough people happy with my work to hire me again and recommend me to new clients. Oh right…and there’s this slightly blatant, self-promotional blog you’re reading.

I don’t write about every gig that I play. That would be interminably boring, but every once in a while something comes up that is so much fun or so fascinating that I can’t help but share it.

A few days after the Boulez experience, I had a call to play on one of the most legendary television shows of the last twenty-five years, The Simpsons. Yep…less than 72 hours after leaving Walt Disney Concert Hall, playing some of the most avant-garde contemporary music of the last century, I was at Fox Studios playing the theme from Bonanza and a few other country-style finger picking tunes for composer Alf Clausen.

Alf is an amazing person. He’s been writing and conducting the music for The Simpsons for fifteen years now. He’s very efficient in the studio and yet everyone is loose and calm. Here’s a guy who knows how to get the best from his players. And talk about great music cues…you might not realize the incredible music flying by in the background of a Simpson’s episode because you’re rolling on the floor and convulsing from laughter, but take my word for it, Alf’s stuff is unbelievable. And sophisticated. Unbelievably sophisticated.

I’m not one of the regular guitarists for the show; in fact, this was my first time. George Doering, who is one of LA’s busiest guitar players (and rightly so) was sitting next to me handling the first guitar chair and had the lion’s share of the cues. I was there to play rhythm guitar and some light finger picking. It ended up being a really fun afternoon.

From Boulez to Homer Simpson in the span of seventy-two hours. What a trip!

February 1, 2006 | Link to this entry


Paul Viapiano is a guitarist working in film, television and live performance based in sunny Pasadena, California.

You can email me here.

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