Free Hands Academy Day One

posted in: Chapman Stick, Music | 0

Ring. Ring. Ring. Dude, where am I and why am I waking up in my clothes? Again.

It’s Kevin Keith, he’s running late. It’s 5am. I’m in a dorm. Half mast and half awake, I stumble to grab the phone.

5am. You couldn’t have waited till, oh, 6am to tell me that? I laugh, and it’s funny now, but everything just hurt at that moment. And here I was thinking I was going to sneak in another hour of sleep Kev. He feels bad, think he may have had a late night at work. I manage to muster up “I won’t worry if you don’t”, he likes that, so we’re all good.  I say, Greg’s here, Don will be here, don’t worry, there’ll be donuts, bagels, fresh fruit, bottled water and coffee.

Which reminds me, I have to get up and go pick up donuts, bagels, fresh fruit, bottled water and coffee.

I grab a shower, skip the shave and then head down the hill to forage for breakfast. I call in my order to Coffee Bean, juggling my phone as I head down into the valley. I am trying to get a bead on where I will find a market. At that moment, I pull over and slow myself down. I have the world’s gnarliest headache.  Really excited to get everyone together and get classes started, but there’s so much potential for failure here, ease back. I am overcome with the feeling that I am in over my head and now I am thrashing, thinking I can scrap together some sort of social on the side of the road on Mulholland Drive at the Johnson Overlook. I should have booked breakfast at the AJU, but I didn’t have an exact headcount. I should have done a lot of things. Press on.

Feeling the lack of sleep, too little to eat the previous day and maybe one too many dixie cups of white wine, I am almost ready to succumb to the evil that has laid it’s egg inside me and is now chewing it’s way out through my skull. I shrug it off  and hit the Vons on the way to the Coffee Bean. I pick up bagels, fruit and cream cheese. I contemplate lox, is that too Jew-y? I do love lox, but it’s $8.99 for some Salmon strips. I punt on the lox and roll my cart out to the car, now holding my head from the pain. I need to get Advil, this can’t go on. I secure what I have purchased and circle back inside to pick up advil. As I head inside, I realize that I have forgotten water. Water, or lack thereof, becomes a theme for me. I pick up some advil and a 24-pack of Nestle bottle water. 

I settle all the supplies into the car, while I am feeling a little more prepared, my headache is now raging. Next stop Coffee Bean, almost there – stay on target. I pull myself the first bottle from the pack, 93.1 is playing saved by zero by the Fixx. I knock back two Advil (actually, I got the generic – I can’t justify the additional $2.59 for the brand name), and I down the delicious 16 ounce bottle of water. I toss the bottle into the backseat. TAKE THAT YOU PUNKASS HEADACHE. I AM LISTENING TO THE FIXX YO!

I pull out on to Ventura Boulevard. Something’s wrong. At that very moment, it becomes unofficial. The headache, the evil, or the night before, whatever,  has won – I just have to decide to what degree I am going to wear it. My mouth is watering, I can feel it in my teeth. I am going to barf.

I don’t chance it and pull over on the street adjacent to the Vons (so much for the Fixx yo), and I don’t have time to even roll down my window.

I rush to open the door and I throw up.

The acrid taste of bile with partially digested advil (generic) is hurling out of me. My eyes are watering, my nose is dripping – it is a sad fucking sight. Every ounce of that delicious Nestle water bottle is now residing on the side rail of my 2003 Mitsubishi Sport ( I do love the Sport) or on Ventura boulevard. And then there are two follow up hurls, the second one any bit as worse as the first. The third is a formality, kind of like a double tap if you are a fan of Zombieland.

There is some sort of cloth item that I manufacture from within the car, and I wipe clean my mouth, nose and eyes. The evil has been hatched and taken the form of fear, uncertainty and doubt. I can’t believe how long I have planned the day before me, only to see it slip away by 7am on day one. I am, in a word, bummed.

The realization of what happened washes over me and head back into the Vons a third time to buy mouthwash and some gum. I’ll be damned if I am going to smell like vomit AND be bummed. Fuck it, the show must go on.

I grab an extra bottle from the back and clean the vomit-water off the side of the of the Sport. I leave the rest in the bottle. Pull out the phone, hit up the Google map and book down to Studio City. Coffee will make this all better. Next time, lead with the coffee.

Coffee Bean has two to-go carafes of coffee, creamers, sugar and all the pink / yellow / blue sugar substitutes ready to go. Some good news. I want to pour myself a cup, but I just rinsed three times with scope and I am chewing gum. I savor the moment I will raise a cup of hot, rich, sweet and creamy coffee to my lips. But not yet, too much mintshit going on right now.

Not a donut out of place.

Last stop, K’s Donut emporium. I roll up and into the emporium, which is more like a shop, a very well-stocked shop, with many donuts. I stare at the rows of pink, orange, yellow, rainbow sprinkled and chocolatey-brown donuts – this is a happy place. Two 50-something asian ladies greet me with a big smile. They are helping me to defeat the evil, that specter of fear and self-doubt. Two dozen I say. You pick em. They all look delicious and I am not in a place to make these kinds of decisions. They smile, they like easy like I like easy.  I pay them and settle the precious cargo into the back of the Sport. 7:25am, I am on time.

I roll up to the AJU at about 7:45am. I am much more calm now. I crush a buttermilk donut, almost biting off a finger that got in the way. So happy now. I head back to my dorm, freshen up and make my way down to Auerbach and await peeps to awake.

We all roll in at a decent time except Greg Smith and Chuck. I grin along with Claire, oh they were the life of the party last night. And they were, I love these guys, so I don’t want them to miss out on coffee and donuts. I hang back and let Greg, Don and Brett roll out the crew to the Johnson Overlook. I bang on Chuck and Greg’s door, yell a little, a friendly yell. They shake it off like warriors and we all roll out in the Sport to the Overlook.

Chuck Hughes at the Johnson Overlook. Chuck appears in the Free Hands book. He’s a fantastic player and singer too.

Greg finds the actual place I was looking for and we quickly re-locate. All settled in, we break out the goods. Don overshoots the spot, so I feel bad, like he’s going to miss out on donuts, but he shows up and we all chow down. Hmm. So happy. I crunch an apple, eat two donuts and have three cups of coffee. THEN, it’s time for a bagel.

I am getting caught up with Mad Monk, who is an insane Stick player if ever I have heard one. He’s misunderstood, complicated and wearing all black. I think I have only seen in him in all black. If this was 150 years ago, this guy would be Mahler, maybe Shostakovitch. He’s so into, I can’t love him anymore than I already do. He and Greg talk shop. Like an arm-wrestling match, but there is mutual respect coupled with the friendly barbs. I am getting caught up with Claire, she’s fun. She has a lot planned for the Stick, so it’s fun to hear her plans for her MA.

Mad Monk and Vlad at the Johnson Overlook. A fantastic start to the day.

Evan, Brett, Claire, Vlad, Dean, Mad Monk, Greg Smith, Chuck, Randy C., Diana, JRJ, Grant, Don, Greg and I are all there.  It’s a lovely view and lovely conversation. I am trading calls with Lyn Dorgan and Phil Rahn who have both called to let me know they are up at the AJU. A little later, Lyn would roll in with a patch of shades, causing all jaws to drop. Phil was one of our four NS players and my roommate, a totally cool roomy if ever I had one. Cool. There’s a funny moment when one of the boxes of donuts slides off the hood of the car and somebody screams, “Oh the humanity!”. I am now completely happy, and all self-doubt has been eclipsed by how classes will run and if the AJU is able to stir up a decent lunch.

We gather up all the leftovers (these come in handy on day two), and head back to the AJU. I get to meet Lyn and Phil, both lovely people and ready to jump in. We strike up the class upstairs in Auerbach Hall. Greg gets the class going with exercises and drills that don’t even involve the Stick, but he’s got us thinking about it. Don is getting setup downstairs. In my mind, his back room becomes Club NS. Lol, where would I be without Don? I am snapping pics and making sure everything is in order. Before you know it, it’s time for lunch. Kevin rolls in at that moment, lots of introductions, everyone is helping him bring gear downstairs – it’s really friendly and an awesome moment to observe.

Don Schiff, Stick hero, fueling up at the AJU cafeteria.

We mosey down to the cafeteria and get some lunch. I pop in the DVD of Neal and Jack and Me. Pizza, a little salad and I indulge in some coke-cola. Great conversations are happening all around us. I get a call from Jeremy Cubert that he and Ignacio Gomez (or just Nacho) are up at Auerbach. I re-route them down to the cafeteria and get to meet them. More eating, more Stick talk (tuning, pedals versus racks, the benefits of Matched reciprocal) ensues. I am paid the mother of all compliments by JRJ when he asks me, “Why do you play pop songs if you play Jazz so well”. I want to hug the guy, I just blush. There is a different sort of relationship you have with someone you have bought / sold a Stick from – JRJ and I have this bond. It’s magic! I can’t really recall my response, I only know I am made quite happy that JRJ threw that out there.

Now it’s time to split the class. I get a little nervous about it as I don’t want one class to be huge and the other to only have 2 people in it. It works out really nice. Kevin is still getting set up, so I do a little bit on how to simplify parts on the Stick, to think of songs as projects with a beginning-middle and end. Kevin has brought 4 separate rigs, including a pretty substantial MIDI rig with PA. He gives me the high sign and I hand it over to him.


About 7 people pair up with Don to work on looping and the 9 go into a class with Kevin who is showing off the 9-fingered technique. I am snapping pics and lining up private instruction sessions with Greg. As I recall, Dorian Thomas enters the picture and settles into class. Dorian has an older refurb and nice fluid chordal style. We now have two full rooms of people learning from Don or from Kevin and Greg is giving private lessons.

Greg Howard and Greg Smith talk setup during one of Greg’s private instruction sessions.

It’s a kickass moment and we all bask in it.

We take a break around 3:30pm and then get started on our rig building class. It morphs into more of a shared musical sharing session. Don’s group is still doing their thing and right about that time, we decide it’s better if we stay on campus and play music. Greg does a demo of the StepAbout, which is super cool and we get deep into pickups, unbalanced vs. balanced outs and the R-Block. at 6pm, we head down for dinner. It’s quarter chicken, roasted and served with rice or maybe potatoes. Really good. Lots of fresh vegetables and fruit, a stellar end to the day.

We pick up and head back to the Auerbach and there’s music all night. I play 7 different Sticks, 3 different NS Sticks and Don’s half fretless. It’s a wonder. He’s a wonder! I end up staying down there till about 2am practicing tunes I want to play for Stick night. Of course, I am deliberating 3 new tunes, and while I don’t know it yet, I am over-committing myself given all the event planning I have in front of me.

Greg Smith wanders down and we have an amazing discussion about our lives, what we do to help others, what we love about the Stick. I find out some deep stuff about him, and how committed he is to his studies with Steve A., it’s a great moment and I let him know how very glad I am to see him again. He is brimming over with enthusiasm and it’s just infectious!

He heads back up. I clean up a little in the big room and then head back up to my dorm. Phil is sacked out, so I walk very cautiously and quietly so as not to disturb him. I make sure to get into my night clothes (comfy cotton shirt, lightweight Himalayan pants) and try to get some rest. It’s 2:30am.

It feels like everyone is getting along and learning lots and that our facility is worth the pretty penny we paid for it. Mostly a success minus the hurling. Sleepy time.

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