The Long March

Friday, 31 March 2006 — 9:00pm | Jazz, Music, Scrabble

March is usually a busy month for me, and correspondingly, a quiet one. Spring, as the song goes, can really hang you up the most.

So, what news from the secret lab?

One thing I have not been doing is playing Scrabble. Having missed the Calgary Spring Tournament on a last-minute cancellation, I won’t be formally tested against the new word list until the Sherwood Park tournament on the weekend of 22-23 April. Casual bystanders new to (and curious about) competitive Scrabble should note that this is a very good choice of a first tournament, since the expected pool of players is fairly low-rated, and the divisional cutoffs reflect that. Know all your two-letter words and be comfortable with a good chunk of the threes, and you should coast.

I wouldn’t hesitate to say that the choir I play with had a great performance at Choralfest, but it was a unique and unreliable aural experience. On a stage like that, everything is a little out of balance where the piano guy sits, especially if you put him right in front of the kit. But the gig was still a blast.

In fact, it was such a blast that my pages flew off the piano and onto my hands while I was playing, and I had to shake them off. As I would have it, my solo was henceforth wicked as the Witch of the West. There’s nothing like being spontaneously forced to listen; jazz, after all, is a social activity. I’d liken it to the uncoupling braces of the young Forrest Gump breaking into his first exhilarating run, but even I have my analogical limits.

Our next performance is at Convocation Hall on Saturday, 8 April. 8pm, I think, but I’ve been wrong before. In addition to the typical standard-bearing, there will be Paul Simon aplenty – and maybe, just maybe, a smidgen of Koji Kondo.

In the tail end of my lukewarm review of Inside Man, I take a parting sideswipe at acclaimed trumpeter Terence Blanchard for the mishmash that is his score to the film. I nearly forgot to mention it, but it’s an important point. It’s quite literally all over the place. Figuratively, too, in terms of style. While I admire genre-bending versatility, it needs to have some kind of rhyme or reason, and it needs to fit the film. Here, it just distracts.

I didn’t see Letters (Thursday, 23 March 2006) reprinted in the online edition of The Gateway, so I’ll reproduce another response to the Scrabble article I was moaning about last week. It comes from Tony Leah, who unlike me, is one of the best players in Canada, and unlike me, is polite and eloquent about it. I don’t know how he came across our campus paper all the way out in Ontario, but I’m glad he did:

New words doing nothing but improving Scrabble, Fedio

I play Scrabble competitively, and I think you should know that the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary is not an arbitrary collection of words and non-words (Re: “New words ruining game of Scrabble,” 21 March). It was compiled by referencing four major North American Collegiate Dictionaries. Only words that are listed in one of these dictionaries are included in the OSPD. Even so, the OSPD, with about 83 000 entries, is a tiny fraction of the complete Oxford English Dictionary, which lists some 616 500 words.

I am also not sure how you can so confidently set yourself up as arbiter of what is, and what is not, a “real word.” Anyone who has been to Hawaii will have likely seen aa and pahoehoe (different types of lava), and will find the words familiar, not strange. Even my Canadian Oxford lists aa. (By the way, aa is not a new addition to the OSPD. It has been included for years.) My Canadian Oxford also lists qi, and most well-read people will be familiar with this spelling of the word.

Serious Scrabble players would strongly disagree with your contention that the recent update, which added about 3000 words, diminishes the skill involved in playing at a high level. And, to draw comparisons with steroid use is ridiculous. Everyone has access to the new words, if they possess the skill and determination to learn them. In fact, the very best players have the ability to master different lexica for different tournaments – one for play in North America, and a much larger dictionary for the World Scrabble Championship.

I’ve been spending a great deal of time following the discussion on the All About Jazz forums about why jazz is so unpopular, and you should too. It reduces to a crowd of jazz evangelists strategizing about how best to save the heathens, but that’s a cause worth fighting for.

I buy that it comes down to a fundamental gulf in musical cognition between those who know how to listen to the stuff and those who don’t. The running conjecture is that most people who think they are listening to music aren’t actually listening to music.

More on this later. Suffice to say, if you are one of those people who reduces a listening experience to lyrics and “the beat” – and there must be a lot of you out there, because apparently you’re driving the recording industry – I don’t understand you.

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