#60 Sweet D-Flat

In the world of equal temperament, the extra-musical meaning associated with a key is an hommage to a composer, isn’t it?

(Pianist friends, please educate me if you have thoughts on this)

I have always been drawn to “sweet” music, and slowly over time, I have realized that quite a few of my favorite pieces are in the key of D-flat major. Is D-flat major supposed to be sweet?

After organizing these sweet D-flat major pieces in chronological order, it seems like this trend was started by Chopin. Liszt and Chopin were friends, Debussy studied with a student of Chopin, and Nazareth worshipped Chopin. I can’t help but think that after Chopin, all D-flat major pieces are an hommage to him. Yes, it’s just my simple-minded speculation. You can challenge it.

“Raindrop”, from Prelude, Op. 28 (composed between 1835-39) by Chopin

Nocturne, Op. 27, #2 (composed 1836, published 1837) by Chopin

Funeral March, 3rd Movement from Sonata No.2 (published 1840) by Chopin

Berceuse, Op. 57 (published 1844) by Chopin

“Un Sospiro”, from Three Concert Etudes S.144 (composed 1845-49) by Liszt

Minuet Waltz (composed in 1847) by Chopin

Nocturne (1892) by Debussy

Largo, 2nd movement from the New World Symphony (composed 1893) by Dvorak

Dora (ca. 1900) by Ernesto Nazareth

Clair de Lune, from the 3rd movement Suite bergamasque (1905) by Debussy

Fidalga (ca. 1914) by Ernesto Nazareth

(what Villa-Lobos pieces are in D-flat?)

#59 Chorei

Been indoors all day rehearsing. As I got home and the sun was still out, I couldn’t help and went for a bike ride. Not only was it too cold, but at some point, tears started dropping for no reason and I couldn’t open my eyes. Air was too chill? Staring straight at the sun? I wasn’t emotionally ready to cry the rest of the way home, but I did. Some strange force wants me to be sad. My body? My heart? You? The Universe?

#55 Adagio from Concierto de Aranjuez

From RoboCop (2014). Early on in the movie, a guitarist tried out his newly installed robot-arms. He was playing the Adagio from the Concierto de Aranjuez, by Joaquín Rodrigo. Apparently, the robot-arms don’t work if emotions are evoked. But how does one play without emotions?

Listening to Leo Brouwer’s arrangement of the Adagio (second movement) of the Concierto de Aranjuez (from the collaborative album Leo Brower Con Irakere), I was reminded of two arrangements of the same piece performed by jazz musicians: Concierto de Aranjuez (Adagio) by Miles Davis (on his album, Sketches of Spain, arranged by Gil Evans); and Spain by Chick Corea. In my junior (or sophomore?) year, I played a non-degree recital, and put together a quartet of friends – a bassist, a pianist, a percussionist, and myself – to play Spain. We basically did the Chick Corea version: began with the Adagio as an introduction, then launched into the main part of the song.

I have never looked up other versions of the Adagio, but sure enough, it has been rearranged numerous times. I went through a few versions listed on Wikipedia. The Modern Jazz Quartet rendition (with Laurindo Almeida as soloist) stays fairly close to the original, as is the one by jazz harpist Dorothy Ashby. Ashby’s version intrigues me though, as she played the whole piece as a harp solo. Buckethead’s simple arrangement lets the melody takes its course, but listening to Santana wailing over a reggae one-drop is interesting to say the least…

Of course, I would have to include the effortless performance by Paco de Lucía. Unlike all the other recordings, Paco de Lucía performed the complete concerto (not just the Adagio), and apparently learned the whole piece by ear.

And there are two versions I would like to mention that are not on the Wikipedia list: the first one is by the Brazilian guitarist Dilermando Reis. On top of playing a steel string guitar, Reis took a “Liberace” approach and shortened the movement to merely four minutes. Contemporary guitarist Don Ross also played the Adagio on a steel string guitar, but in addition, he had Carlo Domeniconi turning pages, and gave a “finger style treatment” to the cadenza!

#48 “I cannot teach you, only help you to explore yourself, nothing more”

Two days ago was Bruce Lee’s birthday. He would have been 80 years old. Once a year, I watch his interview on the Pierre Burton Show around his birthday to remind myself of his sayings. He might be know as a kung fu movie superstar, but he was a true artist. Every word from the interview is gold. One thing he said was ” ultimately martial arts means honestly expressing yourself”, and this has been the guiding principle for me since I watched the interview last year. Everyone can interpret it differently, but I see it as doing things (performing and arranging) in a way that would please me the most. This might not be the best “commercial” decision, and it might not be the best “career move”, but [I think] I am slowly learning how to live and not worry about how others would judge.

A different Bruce Lee video this year has provided reassurance in one thought I hold as a teacher, or rather, a “teacher”: “I cannot teach you, only help you to explore yourself, nothing more”. This was a line from the TV show, Longstreet, in which a blind man received martial arts training from Bruce Lee (never seen the show before, just a guess from the 9-minute clip I saw). I was fortunate to have teachers who expressed the same thought at different points of my life, to frame my view of learning: when I was in my second-to-last year of high school, my beloved economics teacher Mr. Siu told the whole class that he’s not smarter than us, and he’s just a man who knows more at that moment in time, and we should know as much as he does by the time we graduate from high school (Mr. Siu was the one person who advocated me to continue education in U.S.); when I was pursuing my undergraduate in music, Professor Bruce Frank said that his job is to teach us, so that he would lose his job.

A few summers ago, I was back in Hong Kong, and attended a Bruce Lee memorial exhibition. Included in the exhibition was a newly produced hour-long documentary on the life of Bruce Lee. I have always known Bruce Lee won a Cha Cha dancing competition when he was young, but apparently he was fond of creating his own moves by mixing and matching different steps. The true master creates…

Brandon Lee- Bruce Lee’s son – also had a cool interview. I can’t say I enjoy most of the it, as the host kept asking Brandon about Bruce. It’s more about Bruce Lee than anything. True, without Bruce Lee, Brandon Lee might have a more difficult start with his career, and perhaps it was necessary to introduce Brandon Lee to the audience with as much Bruce Lee as possible during a short interview. But… I am not going to defend the show anymore. Regardless, I thought Brandon Lee did a pretty good job presenting and expressing himself, as well as protesting the promotion stunt by saying hi to his girlfriend on TV. Smart and fun.

#47 Random Thoughts on Teaching

My classroom this semester is a large space, filled with instruments, and usually reserved for large ensembles to rehearse. Upstate New York is getting cold, and the heat hasn’t been turned on yet, so the room was empty and chill. The rainy weather made it even cooler today. After teaching two lessons, I decided to teach in the hallway. As I often tell my friends, I grew up in Hong Kong, and my body was made for subtropical climate (although I have been living in Upstate NY for 10+ years).

As I was teaching in the afternoon, I was so surprised to see one of my students, because he just had a lesson with me in the morning. He said he came back to practice! I asked him to use my classroom, since I wasn’t teaching in there, and there were amplifiers he could use.

As a first year arts student (ceramics), I thought he signed up guitar lessons for fun. He’s been making a lot of progress, and does not mind when I drill him on technique. We have been working on blues improvisation, and from his video assignments, ideas he came up with went above and beyond what I have shown him.

A dedicated student like him is a teacher’s dream. I have had colleagues who told me they only teach to the best students, and wouldn’t care about students who don’t do well. It doesn’t matter if the “bad” students were trying hard or not, beacuse if they were not performing well, they have not put enough time and effort into the materials.

I am still conflicted with that thought. I always thought “good” students wouldn’t really need a teacher and would be motivated to succeed no matter what. It’s really the “struggling” students who need a teacher. But my colleagues aren’t completely wrong. I have had students who couldn’t care less about class materials, no matter how much feedback I provided on their assignments. But is a student “under performing” due to my bad teaching?

Back to my super dedicated first year student – after I finished my teaching, I went to the classroom to collect my belongings, and he was practicing what he learned in the morning with a metronome. Since he has been doing so well, I have decided to show him something more challenging – the first chorus of Freedie King’s Hideway. We are six weeks into the semester, that’s how long he has been playing guitar, and I understand why he is improving so fast. I couldn’t help but sat at the drumset to play with him. He had a background in playing drumset and percussion, and so we switched instruments and jammed a bit on Pipeline! He later told me he is considering adding music as a second major. I couldn’t be happier.

#44 1959

When studying for my doctoral comprehensive exam, I looked up a bunch of Youtube videos. How nice would it be if I can study by watching a Youtube video? That was just wishful thinking, but I did come across a lot of cool music documentaries. One of them was 1959 The Year that Changed Jazz. It talks about four influential jazz albums released in 1959: Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, Dave Brubeck’s Time Out, Charles Mingus’s Um Ah, and Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come.

My first reaction after watching the documentary: 1959 was quite a happening year, in addition to the four influential jazz albums, Black Orpheus was released, Villa-Lobos passed away, Giant Steps was being recorded. I began looking more into what happened in 1959.


Me visiting Motown in March, 2019.

1/1 The Cuban Revolution overthrown Fulgencio Batista, and U.S.- Cuban relationship turned sour.

1/3 Alaska became the 49th State.

1/12 Berry Gordy Jr. formed Talma Records – later incorporated as Motown Record Corporation on April 14, 1960.


2/3 Plane crash killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper

2/5 Water Talk by John Cage premiered on “Lascia o Raddoppia,” a TV program televised in Milan. Here‘s a video of Cage performing it on TV show I’ve Got A Secret.

2/14 Renee Flemming was born.


3/2 Recording session of Kind of Blue by Miles Davis.

3/8 Release of Chega da Saudade by Joao Gilberto.

3/9 Release of Porgy and Bess by Miles Davis.

3/9 Barbie and Ken debuted. Check the commercials.

3/19 The movie Green Mansion (starring Audrey Hepburn) released, with a soundtrack by Heitor Villa-Lobos. VL edited the score into a cantata, Forest of the Amazon (Floresta do Amazonas), which included the beautiful song, Melodia Sentimental.


4/22 recording session of Kind of Blue by Miles Davis.

4/? Release of The Flamingos’ version of I Only Have Eyes for You.


5/4 and 5/5 recording sessions of of John Coltrane’s Giant Steps.

5/5 – 5/12 recording sessions of Ah Um by Charles Mingus.

5/22 recording session of Shape of Jazz to Come by Ornette Coleman.


Julian Bream and Malcolm Arnold

6/12 release of movie Black Orpheus in France.

6/14 Marcus Miller was born.

6/25 recording session of Time Out by Dave Brubeck.

6/25 first performance of Malcolm Arnold Guitar Concerto by Julian Bream.


7/1 recording session of Time Out by Dave Brubeck.

7/1 the movie Anatomy of a Murder released, with sound track and cameo appearance by Duke Ellington.

7/17 Billie Holiday passed away.


8/14 Magic Johnson was born.

8/17 release of Kind of Blue by Miles Davis.

8/18 recording session of Time Out by Dave Brubeck.

8/21 Hawaii became the 50th State.

8/25 Miles Davis beaten by police outside Birdland.

8/? release of Put Your Head on My Shoulder by Paul Anka, eventually reached no.2 on Billboard.


9/? Johnny and Santo’s Sleepwalk reached no.1 on Billboard.


10/? release of Ah Um by Charles Mingus.

10/21 the Guggenheim Museum open to public


11/16 Sound of Music musical open on Broadway.

11/17 Heitor Villa-Lobos passed away – did he hear bossa nova?

11/18 release of the movie Ben-Hur.

11/19 Rey de la Torre premiered the Concierto de Aranjuez with the Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Robert Shaw.

11/? release of The Shape of Jazz to Come by Ornette Coleman.


12/2 Naima (part of John Coltrane’s Giant Steps) recorded.

12/14 release of Time Out by Dave Brubeck (just in time for Christmas. Who got Time Out as a Christmas present?)

Unidentified dates

?/? Publishing of Fuga No.1 and Tres Apuntes by Leo Brouwer (there’s some descrepancy on the dates of Fuga…)

?/? the release of Persuasive Percussion

1959, pretty important (musical) year? I have a feeling if I dig hard enough, every year is an important year.