Noise Pollution Allegation against Spanish Pianist


This BBC headline caught my attention: “Spanish pianist faces jail over noise pollution claims”.  What?  A pianist?  I can understand if it were heavy metal thrashers, or a kid with a guitar and a loud amp.  But a classical pianist? There must be something more to the story.  Turns out that there was a heated dispute between neighbors.  One apparently did not appreciate hearing the other practice 8 hours a day for years.  The article doesn’t give too many details except that the family of the pianist tried to sound proof their apartment. The “music critic” neighbor is suing the pianist to collect damages for prolonged exposure to noise pollution.

Could this pianist be such a bad player to have caused her neighbor so much suffering? What was she playing all those years? I have to confess that I like classical piano music, but there are some composers of it that I do not like, and one happens to be Joaquin Rodrigo, himself a Spaniard and world class pianist.  His music really is pretty out there in terms of accessibility.  I wonder if this budding noise polluter was banging out Rodrigo pieces 8 hours a day?  Another composer I am not in the least fond of is Liszt.  His stuff is virtuosic rubbish in my opinion and  it would be torture for me to be a captive listener for 8 hours a day.

If I were a conflict negotiator for the feuding neighbors, I would suggest that the pianist take requests.  Surely there’s some musical compromise possible here.  Everyone likes a little Chopin, right? I would recommend that the pianist play a Nocturne just before bedtime twice a week and alternate with the meditative and relaxing sounds of Ravel and Debussy on the other nights.  During the day, I would propose Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier which is perfect practice music and quite soothing.  If the complaining neighbor were not a classical music fan, I’d suggest Elton John or Billy Joel; if partial to jazz, Herbie Hancock or Bill Evans might help bring about peace.  Herbie Hancock actually is a peace ambassador to Japan.

I think the feud is all a big misunderstanding.  The two could be best of friends really if they just tried.  The pianist could even offer piano lessons.  Before long, they could be a famous duo playing Schubert: Piano Music for Four Hands.  And wouldn’t that be grand!

PS:  If you hit the links, they take you to Spotify where you can listen to any of the music I referenced here for free.  It’s well worth the minute or so it takes to sign up.  You can keep the free account or upgrade to a paid account.  I do not work for Spotify and am not paid a penny to say any of this.  I’m just a fan.

Can You Learn To Like Music You Don’t?

GH CT_Concert

Can you learn to like music you hate?  Research suggests you can.  But I’m a skeptic.  Country music?  NEVER.  And I’m a country boy (of sorts), having grown up in Arkansas and having spent summers and my college days in rural NW Arkansas.  The truth is, I probably could learn to like music I hate if I tried.   According to a research study, people react negatively to certain kinds of unfamiliar music.  They may not recognize a particular chord structure in the music and simply can’t hear and process it.  Researchers argue that it’s like encountering a foreign language for the first time. In the study, subjects with no musical background took a crash course on music theory and then listened again to music they had previously rejected.  On the balance, the “trained” subjects were better able to process dissonant chords.  Now this doesn’t mean they loved the music, but they apparently understood it better which is the first step toward acceptance.

This brings me to an interesting question:  how does one acquire musical taste?  Need one be a musician to enjoy a diverse palate of music? I submit that it helps, but is not a requirement.  Think of the language acquisition analogy.  Children consistently exposed to rich inputs of multiple languages in the home or school stand a much better chance of acquiring the languages (and without an accent) than children from monolingual backgrounds.

I can trace my own musical tastes to early exposure.  Jazz.  My dad used to come home from work and play jazz records – Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck were two artists I remember.  I didn’t really like the music much as a 6 year old, but I liked my dad.  I wouldn’t begin to listen to jazz in earnest until my late teens, but my dad paved the way.  Same is true of classical music.  I didn’t like it much growing up, but it was around me all the time.  My mother was a musician and music educator – still is.  She sang in church choirs and chamber orchestras. And she played the piano, as did my sister.  They played a lot of classical music.  As a kid, I took piano lessons from a  world class bell choir instructor and arranger and church organist.  This lasted about a year because my older sister, who also took lessons, was a much better keyboardist than I – plus I didn’t like being compared to her, or to practice.  The only thing I can play on the piano today is “Strangers in the Night” (with my right hand) and I learned that by myself before I began taking piano lessons.  I daydreamed and doodled a lot during church services as a kid, but when the church organist played, often Bach, the music dramatically soared out of hundreds of pipes and caught my attention.  I didn’t begin to seriously listen to and buy classical music until my 30’s, which was right around the time the CD was starting to compete with and overtake vinyl.

Commercial radio, the Midnight Special and American Bandstand probably influenced my tastes the most as a kid.  I worked throwing a paper route and mowing lawns to feed my thirst for records – 45’s, and LP’s.  One of my first 45’s was Stevie Wonder’s “You are the Sunshine of My Life” and one of my first albums was his landmark Innervisions, which ranks up there as one of my favorite LPs.   My dad turned me onto Joni Mitchell and Nick Drake in my mid-teens.  I felt some liberation from commercial radio when my sister brought home a Jeff Beck album, Blow by Blow.  And that led to my interest in jazz rock fusion, back to Miles and on to Weather Report and Herbie Hancock.  I discovered a lot of music on my own, often quite randomly; sometimes I bought an album of an unknown (to me) artist for the cover art or photography.  This is how I stumbled across the music of the Pat Metheny Group below:

Pat Metheny_Fayetteville AR 1984

I often joke that I have musical genes but no gift.  I may have an ear for music, but apart from some piano lessons at age 7, no formal training.  I owe my ability to appreciate and understand jazz and classical music to early and constant exposure.  I am proof that an average person can learn to like music that he previously rejected. But this process takes time, in my case, it took years.  Will I ever learn to love country and folk, rap and heavy metal?  Probably not due to the lack of early and consistent exposure; respect yes, love…love is such a strong word.

Here’s another self-indulgent look at the influences on my musical tastes:

  • Rock, Pop and R&B – Commercial radio, the Midnight Special, American Bandstand, Soul Train, friends, record stores and album covers
  • Jazz – my dad, my sister, Guitar Player magazine (the John McGlaughlin edition), KUAF, and a Miles record
  • Alternative and Punk – MTV, KUAF and KRFA DJ M.A.
  • Classical – my mom, ML Thompson, church organists, music appreciation class in college (an easy A),  Menotti’s Amhal and the Night Visitors and Star Trek
  • Blues – Muddy Waters with Eric Clapton one night in Pine Bluff, Arkansas
  • Industrial, Ambient, Minimalist and Odd Sounds – the drone of the industrial strength fan on a hot day in elementary school, church organists, WZBC and the laundry room at home where I used to chill and listen to the washer and dryer.

Musings on Rand Paul, C. Sheen & OxiClean


Charlie Sheen almost makes sense but then he doesn’t.

Rand Paul almost made sense too on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and finally did, not that I agreed, thanks to Jon’s clarification on what he meant when he said we are better off because of regulations.  He meant regulations gone awry can have negative consequences.  Something about we can’t have clean air and electricity too; that there needs to be a balance and I agree, but it seems he meant that we have to chose between clean air or cheap electricity, that we can’t have both, which is simply ludicrous.  The thing is with Paul, is that his ideological purity and rigidity gets him in trouble like when he tried to argue against Civil Rights legislation on the Rachel Maddow show by saying it went too far.

Funny, when I think of his name, I can’t help but be reminded of the novelist, philosopher and noted atheist Ayn Rand, who like Paul, believed in limited government and individualism.  She’d have been a polarizing Tea Party member were she alive today.  And then his name also conjures up the great jazz pianist and composer Ran Blake. I am not a fan of Rand.  Paul that is.

Very much like Rand Paul and Charlie Sheen, the Oscar winning Inception made no sense whatsoever.

An electric motorcycle is an oxymoron.  And OxiClean is little more than hydrogen peroxide.

Herbie Hancock’s Sunlight LP is probably the funkiest least heard album of the 70’s.

John McLaughlin’s Electric Guitarist LP could be my favorite record of the 70’s, and I bought it in a head shop (Peaches Records and Tapes) without ever having heard any of his stuff before, though I had read somewhere, Guitar Player magazine I think, that he could play lightening fast.   A blind buy, and one hell of a pick!

Stay tuned for more episodes of The Thing Is…..

Freddie Hubbard’s Spirit Lives On


Freddie Hubbard, one of the great jazz trumpeters of the last 50 years, died Monday night of complications from a recent heart attack. He was 70.

Hubbard made his recording debut on Blue Note with the dazzling Open Sesame, and followed with a string of successful albums for the label open-sesameincluding Hub-Tones and Ready for Freddie. However, he is probably best known for his work on some of the greatest jazz albums of all time, including Ornette Coleman’s 1960 genre defining work, Free Jazz, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messenger’s 1961 recording, Mosiac, Eric Dolphy’s 1964 classic, Out to Lunch, Wayne Shorter’s 1964 Speak No Evil and Herbie Hancock’s seminal 1965 recording, Maiden Voyage.  All of these LPs are essential works for any serious jazz listener and capture the essence of Hubbard’s virtuosic talents.


Hubbard was known for blowing hard and apparently this led to a lip injury in 1992 and to a subsequent infection from which he never completely recovered, writes jazz critic Peter Keepnews in a tribute to Hubbard’s career in today’s New York Times. has a compelling article up of an interview with Hubbard by Fred Shuster of Downbeat magazine in 1995 – “When Your Chops Are Shot” – in which Freddie discusses the injury and reminisces on his career. Downbeat posted a brief retrospective on Hubbard’s artistry.  Free lance jazz writer Dan Heckman provides a comprehensive summary of Hubbard’s major achievements in today’s LA Times.  And Doug Ramsey of Rifftides posted a heartfelt tribute along with a video of Hubbard playing with Art Blakey.

I will miss Freddie Hubbard. It’s hard to believe he’s no longer with us, but his spirit will remain in the hundreds of recordings he left behind for jazz lovers everywhere to enjoy. Thank you Freddie, God Bless and RIP.