Thoughts on Providence, 11/30/99


Date: Wed, 1 Dec 1999 17:32:25 -0500 (EST)
From: Richard Handal
Subject: Thoughts on Providence, 11/30/99


I was moved to express a few thoughts on last night’s Providence show. This isn’t exactly a review, but anyhow…

Veterans Memorial Auditorium, Providence, Rhode Island, 11/30/99

“The whole air seemed alive as if the tongues of those great cold, hard metal things had become flesh and joy. They burst into being screaming with delight and the city vibrated. Some wordless thing they said touched something so deep inside you that they made tears come.”

—Emily Carr (Canadian painter, 1871 – 1945)

I’ve learned that there’s no way to know in advance from one show format to the next how Tori’s going to drive when she comes out of the garage. On the ’96 Dew Drop Inn tour she had a sports car, and proceeded to lead us at great speed through mountainous hairpin turns–pushing her limits and ours, seemingly daring herself to see how hard and how fast she could lead us without drifting over the edge of a cliff.

Those shows were often quite scary, and they came to seem sometimes like some sort of ritual testing ground of naked human emotion: How much feeling could she get in touch with, dig out and project toward to us? How much could she take, and how much could *we* take? She seemed to be keeping few secrets hidden, and on any given night anything and everything was fair game. I loved those shows with an abiding passion. Some of the deepest emotions I ever experienced in my whole life came around on that tour, and I never forget to this day how important all of that was and is to me.

The band shows last year and this seemed as if countryside jaunts in the family SUV. She used a more powerful one for the arena shows than she did for the smaller venues, but all were larger-than-life experiences, developed in no small part to impress with their pure might. Surely, she went off-road and utilized four-wheel drive over rugged terrain at points during these shows. Unlike some people, I loved the band shows a great deal, and to see how well she was ultimately able to pull off her vision of them gave me feelings of pride in her abilities as a talented and varied performer. And I liked having a few solo piano songs within the paradigm of a band concert. The shift at those shows between the types of instrumentation was pulled off in a way that seemed both casual and appropriate, and we got to experience the best of each world. For all their sheer force of energy, the band shows were approachable, engaging, welcoming, and often even joyous. I loved the hell out of the band shows.

It was with a huge amount of trepidation that I attended the solo piano show last night in Providence. I didn’t think my nervous system these days could take a harrowing concert of the type the DDI tour came to exemplify. Frankly, I didn’t enjoy watching her having to bear the bulk of the musical burden on her shoulders then, and even just for her to have endured the wear and tear on her body as she did in ’96 took a visible toll on her as well. I mean to refer to more than just a physical toll, but an emotional and spiritual one as well. I don’t know what all she was going through out there on the road in ’96, but we saw enough of its effects on her as a person that I came to be quite concerned for her by tour’s end. And although I attended nearly three dozen DDI shows, merely by reading accounts of those shows and talking with people who were there, one could readily tell that bubbling beneath the surface, there was a lot going on with her that year. I was relieved when it finally came to an emotional and life-changing conclusion.

I was therefore extremely relieved when I attended last night’s solo piano outing in Providence. Yes, she had her lithe sports car, but instead of taking us out at a breakneck pace, she seemed a calmer, less furtive and more seasoned pilot than I had ever seen at a solo show. I am perfectly content not to have to follow her at top speed along dangerous curves. Being led with introspection down dark and winding country roads suits me fine. It’s more than enough for me to be able to accompany her on these journeys, no matter what their nature. It’s great to simply be with her, and there surely was plenty of her in this Providence concert.

Tori has shown that she can pull off a variety of show formats. She has nothing to prove anymore. Now seems to me to be an upcoming time off the road to regroup musically, and simply to live. I think that holds true for many of us, including those of us who go to the shows.

I believe she needn’t worry who’s going to be around the next time she emerges from her garage to take a spin. I’m confident that many of us will be there with our thumbs out hoping to catch a ride, waiting to see where she has decided to take us next. I continue to have an immense amount of faith in her musical sensibilities, and where they steer her on her personal musical journey. And I love her very much.

Richard Handal

Wallingford was dangerous

Date: Mon, 15 Oct 2001 14:25:04 -0400 (EDT)
From: Richard Handal
Subject: Wallingford was dangerous

Hello, Folks:

I’m starting to feel like an idiot when I talk about the concerts on this tour. I mean, I’ve seen lots of amazing shows since 1994, and as for public comments, I have always tended to discuss the better shows and to remain quiet about a concert unless it was either pretty damn good, or there was something special to mention. So, maybe I never left adequate room to describe shows that might achieve heights no show has before.

Such is my current dilemma. This Wallingford concert was so far off the scale of any show I have ever seen that there is no possible way to not sound like a flaming lunatic when discussing it. I know it wasn’t just my own distorted view of things, though. To a person—including friends who’ve seen twenty- or thirty-some concerts and one who, as myself, has seen a hundred-some—EVERYONE I saw afterwards was astonished at the sheer force of power and deep emotional expression of this concert. Folks were absolutely flipping out. There’s nothing like the high of seeing a show where she has just hit one out of the park into the next county, and looking at the faces of friends as their jaws are dragging the ground in amazement.

’97 Bonnie & Clyde was delivered with the most concentration of intensity of any night on this tour. Past the Mission began with huge, crashing chords on the lower register of the Boesey which were answered with supple, organlike tones from the Rhodes.

Then it was time for the first appearance on this tour of Sugar. This was not the lovely, soaring version of Sugar from the Dew Drop Inn Tour. This was essentially a piano reduction of the band arrangement from the ’98 and ’99 tours—sledgehammer powerful still with “just” the piano and her muscular chest voice. Wow. How fantastic it’s been when the old favorites have shown up on this tour for the first time! The (for me) long-awaited appearance last week of Little Earthquakes was a real breath-taking moment for me.

By the time she was into Doughnut Song with its increasingly strong repeats of “you can tell me it’s over,” I was shaking in my seat.

At this point I want to mention that this show had one of the necessary ingredients for an astonishingly good show—a great audience. Folks were darned quiet during the songs but explosively enthusiastic after they ended. Without this there’s no way she can do a truly top notch concert.

My notes for Mother say “tons of rubato but it still seemed natural, appropriate, and enhanced the expression.” I see I also noted how wonderful it was the way she had such wide-ranging dynamics, such as when she whispered “he’s gonna change my name” during this Mother.

If I’m ever gonna finish writing this I best skip to Imagine. She had supposedly told someone in New York that she would play it there, and of course last Tuesday was the anniversary of John Lennon’s birth so why she skipped it there and brought it out in Wallingford I don’t know, but the effect was staggering. She prefaced it by saying something like “If you could help me sing this it would be good.” Perhaps eighty to a hundred folks streamed down to the stage area and formed a warm cocoon for the performance of what HAD to have been THE most overwhelmingly emotional version of this song—ever. I know this sounds like bloated hyperbole but I’m not kidding. Remarkable. She also slipped in a change once to make the line into “a brotherhood of man—and woman.”

The first version on this tour of Mary and then Twinkle, and we were done.

The brother of a friend of mine had a ticket to this show but didn’t attend because the last several shows had already taken their toll and he didn’t think he could take anymore. He made a wise decision to skip this show, because surely, it would have at least put him into the hospital. So, if you’re feeling none too stable these days and have tickets for a show yet to come, steel yourself before you go with a barrel-full of resolve at the very least. Yikes. I’m not even sure how much more of this I can take and I ought to be used to this by now.

Be seeing you,

Richard Handal

Where Would Music Be Without Tori Amos?

Where Would Music Be Without Tori Amos?

Amos pushed the envelope for musical innovation and confessional lyrics. Why didn’t we notice?
posted on March 12, 2014 at 3:56pm EDT
Sady Doyle, BuzzFeed Contributor

A long overdue encomium. Much thanks to Ms. Doyle. There’s just one bone I want to pick.

I have no idea why people ever believed Tori was copying Kate Bush. She has strongly denied it.

When I was seventeen years old — which was, I’m 30 now — um, people started coming up to me while I was playing in the clubs and saying to me, “God, you sound like Kate Bush.” And I would say, “Well, who’s Kate Bush?” So this happened for about, I don’t know, a few months. And I finally heard her work, and I didn’t think I sounded exactly like her. I felt like there were moments, but stylistically and the writing-wise things were very different. Um, I think she’s incredible and she gave a lot to music. She was quite a front-runner. But I try not to study her work too much, just because I was already getting compared to her um, thirteen years ago.

Some people genuinely believe Tori was lying as if she were trying to avoid admitting “the truth.” That’s astonishing.

Tori Amos grew up super close to where I lived, going to junior high school eight blocks from me in Silver Spring. I knew and even played music with some of her musician friends. If Kate Bush was known to anybody I was friends with before Tori turned 17, she certainly wasn’t a favorite musician of any of them. Kate Bush was not an artist who sold a ton of records where Tori and I lived in the 1970s. Tori would have likely needed to listen to WGTB or WHFS to have heard her on the radio in the ’70s. GTB was a rogue experimental station with a weak FM broadcast signal out of Georgetown (which might explain the comments of bar-goers when Tori played in Georgetown clubs). Its tag line was “WGTB: One nation, underground.” Tori certainly wasn’t listening to that station, especially in Rockville and Potomac. She probably heard HFS from time to time, but it’s difficult for me to imagine her living on their musical diet as presented by Cerphe and Weasel. I did listen to HFS constantly for years, and if I ever heard Kate Bush on there, she certainly was not played with great repetition.

No one has ever explained to me why Tori Amos would want to copy Kate Bush’s music. Tori Amos is a serious, trained musician. No serious, trained musician has any interest whatsoever in copying the music or sound of anyone else, unless overtly as a rare and/or amusing nod of respect. In the early days of learning one’s instrument one often plays to recordings and tries to match them note for note, but it isn’t to copy them in public performance nor to copy the style of the artist as if it were one’s own. I’ve known a ton of musicians for more than 40 years, and none of them ever copied another musician hoping to “borrow” the style as their own. Further, Tori Amos began writing songs when she was quite young, and she considers herself a composer above all else. Composers steal from many musicians not just one. The only way such stealing from many artists can be avoided is to not have heard them in the first place. The only such composers I can think of off the top of my head are Harry Partch and Carla Bley, although Ms. Bley came to often write brief humorous references to well known compositions by others.

Casey Stratton sounds so much like Tori Amos he is effectively a tribute artist. That’s not what we’re talking about. No one ever accused Tori of sounding nearly identical to Kate Bush at every turn. At least if they have I’m unaware of it, and it’s preposterous.

Sometimes Tori has sung in a tiny girlish voice one could say reminded one of Kate Bush when she, too, would sing in a tiny girlish voice. What is one to say to that? How much effort must a musician invest  to sound specifically unlike every other musician, simply to avoid risking an accusation she is trying to copy her? Seriously? People also live within categories of psychology, and no musician can reinvent the wheel every time she composes or performs—nor should she.

Did The Beatles not learn to sing harmony due in part to inspiration of the Everly Brothers? Did they not also “borrow” generously from others and succeed in forming their own style of creating and performing music?

There seems to be a psychological imperative among some listeners that they presume the first player with certain sounds is being copied by a second player the listener hears, if the second reminds them of the first. I wish those who feel this way would come to understand there’s a lot of aural illusion going on in such things.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Mozart

Jayson Dobney, Associate Curator and Administrator, Department of Musical Instruments
Posted: Monday, January 27, 2014

On January 27, 1756, the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born. One of the many musical instrument treasures in the collection at the Museum is a pedal piano attributed to the workshop of Johann Schmidt of Salzburg, Mozart’s hometown. [ . . . ] Michael Tsalka plays an excerpt from W. A. Mozart’s Variations in F Major, K. 613 on this piano.

Michael Tsalka plays

Hip to the Wind by The Hydrogen Jukebox—live in a club, 2002



I never spoke of this publicly before because it could sound self-serving, but here in the year after the year of the selfie, what the heck. Some friends of mine in the now-defunct band The Hydrogen Jukebox wrote a song about me in late summer 2000. It’s based on a visit I paid them in their dorm suite at Temple University in the spring of 2000. I had been visiting friends in New York and had a giant box of CDs with me plus various accoutrements in a shopping bag. They had one fellow who would do bizarre, impressionistic monologues, and I insisted on taking them to Tower Records where they were required to purchase a Lord Buckley CD. It came to be their most popular live song through several band incarnations and arrangements, and much dancing would take place whenever they started to play it.

My friends moved into touring around the world full-time with their sideshow troupe as the Squidling Brothers.

“Potato Head Blues” with foundational Louis Armstrong solo

Uploaded on Mar 10, 2010

Potato Head Blues — Louis Armstrong & His Hot Seven

“Potato Head Blues” is a Louis Armstrong composition regarded as one of his finest recordings. It was made by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Seven for Okeh Records in Chicago, Illinois on May 10, 1927. It was recorded during a remarkably productive week in which Armstrong’s usual Hot Five was temporarily expanded to seven players by the addition of tuba and drums; over five sessions the group recorded twelve sides.

Not strictly speaking a “blues,” the chord structure is a 32-bar form in the same neighborhood as “(Back Home Again in) Indiana.” The recording features notable clarinet work by Johnny Dodds, and the stop-time solo chorus in the last half of the recording is one of Armstrong’s most famous solos. The last, hot “ride out” chorus is an example of this New Orleans jazz custom brought to the level of genius through Armstrong’s inspired melodic playing.

Tallulah Bankhead said that she played it in her dressing room every day during intermission while she appeared on Broadway for the invigorating effect it gave her.

In Woody Allen’s 1979 film, Manhattan, the character Isaac Davis (played by Allen) lists Armstrong’s recording of “Potato Head Blues” as one of the reasons that life is worth living.

The earliest recording of a structured solo that leads harmonically within the regular chord changes of a song, and which uses a melodic method of anticipating them. And so I say the modern jazz solo is invented. It may seem odd to call something from so long ago contemporary, but the manner of extemporized instrumental solos owe greatly to Armstrong’s example demonstrating how it’s done to this today.

The eventual sense of new-found freedom when the changes finally reach their goal instill great joy and release in the listener. And is mighty.

further reading: 85 Years of the Hot Seven: Potato Head Blues


In defense of Lang Lang (sort of): Pianists and stage persona

In defense of Lang Lang (sort of): Pianists and stage persona

By Evan Mitchell, 07 January 2014, photo © Philip Glaser
via Bachtrack, the largest classical event finder online

Every age has its own tastes, its own aesthetic lines drawn in the sand. Since the 19th century, with its seminal guardians of musical decorum (Clara Schumann chief among them), pianists and their critics have debated the role of stage persona. Most outspoken are those who believe that a quiet, undemonstrative approach to the instrument – à la Arthur Rubinstein – best reflects a serious commitment to earnest musicianship. The corollary is presumed true as well: that excessive body movement or facial expressions can cheapen an interpretation or betray a lack of real understanding. Pianist Lang Lang, often insensitively derided as “Bang Bang”, is held in this case to be Public Enemy Number One. Our current notion of good taste is less extreme, and concedes that a bit of visual display can be acceptable and even beneficial, so long as it is a natural byproduct of a performer’s interpretation. [ . . . ]

All this is surprising to some? The entire ecology of a concert affects the experience of it for everyone in the audience. It begins with anticipation building up to buying tickets when one hears a concert has been scheduled. People speaking near one or waving their lighted phones around during the concert certainly affect it. Some would argue a musical performer’s demeanor and physical embodiment of the music which emanates through them is of no consequence? Between robotic artifice and rock concert flash bombs lie endless forms of visible expression.

ASCAP 100: Why We Create Music [Film] – Collaborative Score

Published on Nov 22, 2013 ASCAP hits its 100-year milestone on February 13th, 2014. For an entire century, the leading US performing rights organization has made it possible for American songwriters, composers and music publishers, who create the music the world loves, to thrive alongside the businesses that use their work. The site ( features an interactive timeline of ASCAP’s rich history and additional interviews with each of the 15 ASCAP members featured in this film.