Follow by Email

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The most important part of learning music is ...

By Ted Slowik

Here's an obvious one,  but it's easier said than done. The most important part of learning music is listening.

Listening occurs on many levels. In a live performance or rehearsal with a group, you have to be able to hear yourself and where you fit into the mix. You also have to be able to listen to your fellow musicians and be able to isolate their individual parts.

When learning a cover tune, it's easy nowadays to find lyrics and charts on the Internet and follow along with songs. That's fine for speeding up the learning process, but those crutches only help so much. You don't want to become too reliant on charts to help you through a song. Eventually you're going to want to be off book. I still think the best way to really learn a song is by repeatedly listening to it.

When I was little this was how I studied violin, using the Suzuki method. Your lesson book included not only the sheet music but a recording your were expected to listen to as well. For complicated pieces, with multiple movements and little variation or repetition, listening attentively all the way through is often the only way to learn and retain all the subtle transitions.

I believe only when a musician fully knows a song off book can he begin to interpret it for performance. I'm not a fan of using music stands during performances. Charts are fine for rehearsals, but eventually one needs to be able to play a piece from memory.

That's today's musical topic. On the health front, I've had to quit smoking cigarettes after 30 years. I had poor circulation, and blood wasn't getting to my fingers and toes. A wound on my left index finger wasn't healing. Well, it's only been three days, but I already notice a difference.  Blood, and life, is returning to my extremities, some of which I'm rather fond of. Not out the woods yet, but if the choice is between smoking and feeling great pain or not smoking and being able to play guitar, I'm choosing the latter.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Can quitting smoking save my finger?

Effective immediately, I have smoked my last cigarette. Doctor's orders.

Now, I've been smoking about a pack a day for about 30 years. I've quit before, sometimes for months, but always started up again. What makes this time any different?

About six to eight weeks ago, around the beginning of March, I noticed the tip of my left index finger felt cold. After a few days or a week I Googled the symptom, and it said cold extremities are a sign of poor circulation. No other insight was immediately available. It said people often just deal with it as an inconvenience.

I went off to Florida and had a great vacation and came back. About this time--late March--the finger started hurting, and developing what looked like a callous. It became more difficult to play guitar. Within the past couple weeks it's really started hurting like a son of a bitch.

I first went to get it checked out at Quick Care on April 16. The doctor on call said it looked like an infection, ordered a tetanus shot and a week's worth of antibiotics. The scrip ran out yesterday, so I went back to Quick Care. This time the doctor on call was baffled, but said that ain't no infection. He told me to come back and see the hand specialist today.

Well, I just saw the specialist. Great guy, Dr. Cohen. He operated on my left hand when I broke my thumb seven or eight years ago. His initial thought is it might be something smokers get called Buerger's Disease, so he said I gotta give up cigarettes. Immediately.

OK, fine. I don't think I'll have a problem with it. There's nothing good about smoking, and I've wanted to quit for some time. Something about the severity with which he said it made me realize now is the time. I remember seeing blues harmonica player Billy Branch perform at Buddy Guy's Legends in January, and he said on stage he quit smoking 10 years ago and "now he can do this," then launched into about a harmonica solo that lasted a couple minutes but seemed a lot longer.

Anyway, my finger hurts like hell. I can barely play guitar or bass. Doctor thinks it may be a wound that is slow to heal due to poor circulation. Cigarettes, caffeine and chocolate all impair circulation, so I have to almost cut out coffee and chocolate too, doctor says.

We still don't know the cause of the condition. There was no traumatic injury, like getting the finger caught in a car door, though that's what it looks like. It just went cold and started shrinking and turning purple. It feels dead. I suppose I should cut out french fries and other fried foods and eat better while I'm at it.

One other clue: an X-ray shows part of the bone is missing. I said it hurts, didn't I?! I don't know where it went or how it's gone missing. Like I said there was no injury that started this, just a coldness. I have to go back for an MRI. I hope this is diagnosed so I can begin treatment soon.

If anybody out there thinks he or she might know what this is, let me know. I'll leave you with a picture of my finger. I warn you, it's pretty gross, so if you don't want to see it, stop reading here and don't scroll any further. I'll put a picture of a kitten first so you won't see it by accident if you don't want to.

OK, now here's the finger:

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The power of music to unite people

By Ted Slowik

What a week. From the terrible bombing at the Boston Marathon and the dramatic manhunt that followed, to the disaster in Texas and devastating flooding here in the Chicago area, this has been one heck of a ride.

Don't know why it is, but this third week of April is the anniversary of a bunch of craziness, from Waco to Columbine to Virginia Tech to Oklahoma City, to Hitler's birthday to 4/20. Glad to put this week behind us and reflect on musical happenings.

In times of tragedy, music has the power to bring people together. Friday night I performed at Chicago Street Pub in Joliet at a benefit for Guardian Angel Community Services, an agency here in Joliet that helps people affected by sexual violence. Thanks Chris Flood of Flood Management Group for inviting me to be part of a show that was headlined by Alex Hoffer and featured appearances by Pat Otto and Eric Lambert, a very well-known and busy flatpicker.

Friday's show was extra special because it was an early all-ages show and my kids Hannah and Noah were there, as well as my brother Mike and his wife Diane. Noah shot a little video of the proceedings and posted it to Vine. I played some covers but stuck mostly with originals and got good audience reaction to songs like Murika and the Slowiks family song.

Tim Placher stopped by, and we talked about a show we're going to do together May 11 at 30 Buck, a bar the Thayer family owns in Joliet. We usually do these shows together where he plays an hour solo on the piano, then I do an hour solo on guitar, and trade off for four or five hours. We'll still do that but for May 11 the guys from Bluesonic want to get involved and play a set, so that should be interesting! Haven't fit a full band into that tiny space before so this should be fun!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The evolution of an entertaining, original show

By Ted Slowik

Friday night I performed at Phyllis' Musical Inn, 1800 W. Division St., Chicago. Division Street is home to many musical venues and has history as a "Polish Broadway." Friday night's crowd was great. Many thanks to friend Dennis Robling from the old LaGrange Sun days for connecting me with the place. DJ Dennis spins honky tonk and other vinyl there, and invited me to play while he's there.

I joined Dennis March 28, a weeknight, for some solo tunes before a light crowd. This second visit was a weekend and the bar was full. Dennis suggested I bring other musicians, so I first asked Bluesonic bandmates Greg and Matthew but they were busy. Luckily Ron was free on drums and our good friend Rich Westrick brought his keyboards. I told them Dennis suggested we focus on originals, so I prepared them to back me up on many of my songs.

The show went great, and I realized that the original show is coming along nicely. It's not just an assortment of unrelated songs, but more a story that unfolds over the course of an evening. I relate personal history in songs like Slowiks and Record Store, get some laughs with a  satirical number like Springfield, offer social commentary on tunes like Hinsdale and Murika and try to make them cry with a number like Red Rover.

The individual pieces of the act are falling into place, and as I refine the commentary or "schtick" in between songs, "The Ted Show" will continue to become more entertaining. I couldn't be happier with the progress.  I mean, a mere 18 months ago or so, a performance meant playing a bunch of covers on acoustic guitar. After many Wednesday night open mics at Tribes Alehouse Mokena with John Condron, and audience reaction and feedback from many other musicians, the show gradually has evolved into something original that's entertaining, funny at times, witty, insightful and makes you think--I hope!

Without a chance to rehearse, I wrote charts for my songs for Rich and he played them beautifully. Ron was great as always. It was so much fun. I was very relaxed. But after more than an hour of originals I lost most of my voice so Ron and Rich took over on vocals and we filled out the evening with a bunch of fun rock covers. Everyone had a good time. It was great having other musicians--especially such good friends--back up the original set and add a whole new dimension to the music. I'll continue to refine and improve the show for future performances. You should catch the act if you get the chance.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Playing original music on the Topless Burrito Bar radio show

By Ted Slowik

Writers and performers play their share of gigs in bars, clubs and other places where there's a lot of chatter going on during the music, so opportunities to perform for a rapt audience of listeners are cherished and special.

Yesterday I performed on an hourlong weekly radio program, the Topless Burrito Bar. There are several hosts, including Travis the Healer and BJ the DJ. Every other week they take a break from spinning vinyl and invite an artist to perform live from their studio in Charlie Champene's house. The show is aired live on an FM station in Hudson Valley, New York and over the Internet on Party934, a freeform radio initiative.

Friends Alex Hoffer and Scott McNeil previously performed on the show, and I was excited for the invitation. While planning for the show, I considered ways to get other musicians involved and help with solos. We talked about it during band rehearsals and decided it would be pretty crowded to squeeze a full band onto the show. So Ron the drummer stayed home but Bluesonic bandmates Greg Toombs and Matthew Law joined me for the show on guitar and keyboards.

It was great fun talking with the guys, answering questions that listeners texted and playing songs. I played nine originals, the first three by myself and then six with Greg and Matthew. Eric Totherow's sound on the acoustic numbers is awesome! You can download the full April 6, 2013 Topless Burrito Bar show from Party934's Podcasts page, and I pulled out one song from the show and uploaded it to my SoundCloud page.

I really appreciate opportunities to play original music when people are listening closely. Yeah, it's a bit more intense and that can make you a little nervous, but you've just gotta relax and then it's fine. Part of the fun in playing with a band is the comfort of knowing you're not under a microscope as much and there's far less pressure than as a solo performer.

The rewards of doing the show were immense. It was a lot of fun, a great way to spend time with friends and it's cool to have the first quality recordings of several new songs. And I think the different approach to rehearsing material for the show with Matthew and Greg also helped us as band mates understand each other better. It was a great experience, thanks to all the friends who helped make it happen and check out the show if you get a chance!