Irish Music in Tucson: Aris Plays at Prince Pizza


I met up with my music pals Richard and Margy at a local pizza restaurant–Prince Pizza–where we had a gig the other night: our little trio is called Aris. We have lots of material, but still have to decide what to play. It was fun; we’ve got a gig on November 17th at the same place. Nice to have a little extra cash!

Paddy Carty and Paddy Fahey Recording Now a Free Download

My email fiddle-pal Jake sent me the following link to a recently uploaded out-of-print record from 1969 of Paddy Fahey and Paddy Carty, Traditional Irish Music from Galway. It’s already on my Ipod and I love it.

The link is to Ceol Alainn, a great blog with all this great old Irish traditional music; I haven’t visited the site since last fall–I’m embarrassed to admit, I’ve been so busy–when I downloaded all this great Paddy Canny stuff.

Anyone who either loves traditional Irish music, or who wants to broaden their knowledge beyond what’s easily available on CD, this is a fantastic place to hear the pure drop.

Rainy Day Minutiae

Rainy days are rare here in Tucson. Last year was a drought. So far this year, there’s been lots of rain due to an El Nino weather pattern; it’s been unusually wet.

I started my rainy day by making some yummy chocolate chip/dried cherry/walnut scones:

Then I swam laps in the rain, something I don’t get to do too often; and as it was cold, no one was in the pool.

Then I learned a new fiddle tune. I wrote it down, not because I’m note-dependent, but because I’m making myself a tune-book of super tunes I’ve gotten from friends, it’s a tribute I suppose: I’m very lucky in that some great players have shared tunes with me over the years. Plus, some of these tunes I really don’t get to play with anyone around here. So, this helps me remember them. Maybe one day I’ll live in a place where I can play these tunes with someone, or play them at a session. How cool would that be?

Today’s tune is the Leitrim Lilter by Charlie Lennon. This blog is in the public domain, and while it’s unlikely Charlie would ever see it, I just want to apologize to him anyway for my transcription. There’s a tune-book of his that goes with his CD Musical Memories, in which he’s transcribed his tunes, and it’s a given he’d do a much much better job than me in writing down his own compositions! Now that I think about it, I’d like to get Charlie’s CD and book. I’d like to know the story behind the tune.

Then…the day just disappeared. Why does time go so fast? Suddenly it was dinner time. I cooked up some polenta; one part water to one part organic polenta. I brought the water to a boil, slowly poured in the polenta, and stirred at a boil for 3 minutes. Then, off the burner:

I added chopped scallions, garlic, salt and pepper, and 1 Tbsp olive oil and turned it into that pyrex dish above, which I’d brushed w/olive oil:

That baked for 30 minutes at 350. I then washed yesterday’s kale and beet greens from the River Gardens farm stand:

The greens in the colander got dumped into a pot of boiling water, and they cooked on medium-high for 5 minutes. I saved the water the greens were cooked in; I’ll use it for soup or just drink it–it’s not that disgusting sounding, it actually tastes pretty good with a dash of salt and it’s good for you, too! I’ve always done this, but then I heard Michael Pollan talking on CSPAN (yes, I am a dork) about his new food book and apparently this is one of his recommendations, too; so maybe more people are now doing what I’ve always done.

Anyway. The cooked greens I rinsed w/cool water, squeezed a bit, and then tossed them in the wok with a bit of bacon schmalz. Just a tablespoon. But even that was too rich; I think I’ll stick with plant-based fats next time. Here is my rainy day meal: polenta, beet greens and salmon:

Randal Bays House Concert

A couple of nights ago Randal Bays, a talented Irish fiddler and guitarist, was in Tucson for a house concert;  about 40 people showed up. I never met him before but heard only good things about him. And what I heard was true; he not only put on a good show, he really made an effort to make sure everyone present felt welcome and included.

I asked if I could take some photos of him while he played, to post on this blog, and he was kind enough to say yes. The photos look fine, but in them you can’t see how friendly he is; most fiddlers, when you take a picture of them, are looking down or away and they look asleep or else deep in thought, though I remember one who smoked a pipe while playing, Vincent-someone, a big tall fellow, that was years ago, in New Zealand.

So please click here for a better photo than what I was able to take; Randal’s website is impressive.

It is so hard to be a traveling musician these days, dependent on patrons–either listeners or students–for an income. While listening to Randal, I found myself wishing musicians and artists like him got more support. And why not? The arts greatly improve the quality of our lives.

I was talking to my fiddle pal Beanie today–of the Red Wellies–about the  show and about my sense that it’s probably never been harder to be a musician on the road, trying to drum up interest and business. Even in this nation’s Great Depression there was funding for the arts, which supported the likes of Mark Rothko. Geez. And yet today, we have no interest–as a collective–in giving the next Rothko a leg up. You’d think I’d no longer be stunned at what we value, as a collective. But, I continue to be stunned. No doubt it’s why I spend so much time with my sewing machine and my fiddle.

Anyway, as for the house concert; it was a fantastic listening experience. A good friend of mine said later of Randal that he’s a real mensch:  I agree. Well done! As they say in Ireland (perpetually, it seems, at sessions): lovely.

Good Craic, Cookies and Tunes

For those of you who don’t know what craic is, read the definition here.

It’s my good fortune that David Levine and Roz McLean are spending part of the winter in Tucson; David has a great sounding concertina–for the life of me I cannot figure out how anyone can play that instrument, but he does it well. Sounds lovely with the fiddle.

David also plays the flute.  It’s great to have someone in town who plays all of my favorite tunes. We were trying to remember a really cool jig by the flute player from Offaly, John Brady, when Roz took this photo:

We also had a few chocolate-drop cookies I made; I follow this recipe, except I use 1 cup cocoa powder (Ghiradelli) and 1/2 cup butter and only good quality chocolate chips. It’s my favorite cookie recipe.

Transcription Ambition: Organizing the Impossible

Yesterday, Sunday,  Gordon and David and Roz came over and we had some tunes around the dining room table; sounded very good. We’ll go at it again before Christmas.

I’ve been trying–slowly–to transcribe some of my favorite really big and juicy tunes:

The notation is like a scrapbook of where I’ve been tune-wise and where I’d like to revisit: since I’m neither a child prodigy or a teen fiddle phenom when it comes to Irish music, I need something to remind me of what I once bothered to learn–because tunes just go in and out of my head, it’s ridiculous, regardless of how often I may hum, lilt or play a tune.

So, writing them down helps; but it doesn’t entirely stave off the entire Second Law of Thermodynamics, as it applies to Irish music (which it does, I’m quite certain). The tunes I’m writing out now are  simply THE best tunes I’ve ever gotten, so I’m really motivated to try and retain them; they’re from Beanie Odell (of the band The Red Wellies)  in Asheville, NC. Beanie she is a very gifted performer and teacher of Irish fiddle, and she’s been kind enough to share with me not just many of her tunes but also her ideas about how I could improve my playing.

Beanie herself writes down tunes and her transcriptions are very nice indeed.  I’m not the only one trying to create some order out of the loopy endless curlicues that are Irish  tunes.

I hope I can move to Asheville one day. From an Irish fiddle standpoint, it would be just amazing. I’d have both fiddles and potatoes coming out of my ears, 24/7.

Irish Music in Tucson this Sunday!

Tomorrow we’re having a little session in my home; maybe one day our little group will  find a public place to play. But, that’s not the most important thing right now; there are a very few talented players in town, and at least we can meet occasionally and have house sessions. I’m anticipating a strong showing on flute, pipes, fiddle, drum, guitar and voice!

Thinking about the tunes–there are so many–makes me nostalgic. I’ve been playing a long time; and I’m thankful to the folks in Tucson with whom I play tunes. But I often wish I lived in a place with more Irish musicians; and good ones, with good attitudes, because that’s what lifts your playing, when you have that kind of camradiere and talent combined.

I found this old slide–yes, a film slide–from a trip I took to Ireland to Willie Clancy Week in 1998. Here’s a photo of my fiddle class from that week:

For the majority of you who wouldn’t recognize them, the fiddlers in the back row from left to right are Bobby Casey, Joe Ryan and Peadar O’Loughlin.

In the front row, from left to right: an irritating woman from California;  Conor McEvoy –then 11 and now the 2009 “TG4 Young Musician of the Year”–what a talent, I learned some great tunes from him! Then, next, a nice fellow from Australia;  then me; and the very exceptionally talented Sophie Bardou, from Paris. She is an AMAZING fiddler. Check her out here.

How I got into this class is a funny story. I can’t tell you what a once-in-a-lifetime event that class was, either, to have those 3 giants of the tradition in one room for a week….it just blew my mind. Even now I can’t believe it happened!

I knew of Tony Linnane and liked his playing and went to his class the first day of the week-long festival, thinking it might be a good fit for me; and, he had everyone play a tune to audition, and I was the first to get booted out of his class because I didn’t play well enough. My playing wasn’t very good then; but, I had a good attitude, for an American, and that counts for a lot. Not enough, though, to keep me in his class!

I felt really bereft after getting the boot and was wandering around the halls of the old high school where the classes are taught during the week. I was listening to all the fiddle classes in session. I passed by classrooms and recognized teachers like Siobhan Peoples, Brendan McGlinchey and Martin Hayes; and as I wondered what I’d do,  I wandered past the registration desk and a very kindly round-ish middle-aged woman asked me what was wrong–I must’ve looked quite stricken–and I explained that I’d come all the way from Arizona to learn about the music of west Clare. And then suddenly–I don’t know where he came from, he must’ve been late for class–Peadar O’Loughlin was standing behind me, and he said something like “well if you’ve come all this way to learn about the music of Clare you must come with me”. So, that’s how I ended up in his class: he escorted me there himself.

Now, Peadar is quite fresh; there’s a photo somewhere of him trying to sit in my lap during the festival. Unfortunately, I don’t have it. Neil Bettinson, a Morris dancer and concertina player from St. Bees, Cumbria has it; and though I’ve written to him asking for a copy, I’ve had no luck in getting one. Neil, if you ever read this: cough it up! I’ll never be famous enough to blackmail.