Finally doing some Latin music jamming on flute; also Irish and French

St. Patrick’s Day weekend means, of course, a party at Henry’s. Last year Abby and I even went to two of his St. Patrick’s Day parties! At the first, I played tin whistle for the first time, and I played some easy recorder music at the second.

This year, I reflected on how far I’ve come musically, and as usual, wanted to do something new and challenging.

And I did.

Irish music

I brought my tin whistle and Irish flute ready to jam. It turned out that Barbara had come with violin ready for some Irish jamming also. When she went at it with Henry on piano, she ended up playing “Danny Boy” (“Londonderry Air”) as one selection. Unfortunately, I had planned on playing it on flute, “redeeming” myself after being terrible on flute a year ago when I tried it, so since she had already done it, I quietly scrapped my original plan. No problem: there were many other things to play.

Barbara joined me and Henry in some jigs, reels, and waltzes that I pulled out, some of which I did on tin whistle and some of which I did on Irish flute. That was fun, if pretty exhausting: lots and lots of notes, not so easy to just plain sight read. But of course, nobody has to play all the notes. That’s the beauty of this music. There never were official notes anyway; these are traditional tunes with a certain recognizable rhythm and shape and harmonic movement, but everyone does the notes differently anyway.

French music

I’d asked Vasili to learn on accordion “Les Ormeaux”, which I had learned just recently at a French jam. It’s not actually a traditional tune, but it’s a great one. Unfortunately, it turned out that Vasili had learned it in a different key from the one I was using on modern flute, so one of us (him) transposed on the fly to try to match, and the result therefore wasn’t as good as it could have been. Next time! Anyway, Abby and I jammed with Vasili on stuff.

Latin music


The musical highlight for me was my debut in playing Latin, or more specifically, Cuban music. I fell in love with this music when I was introduced to Latin ballroom dance back in 2000.

I started off with an unnamed bolero from a World Music Cuba book I had first encountered a year ago when I was just barely playing flute. I got on flute and Henry enthusiastically improvised along on piano and we took a couple of turns. That was great.

Then I pulled out “Dos Gardenias”, one of my favorite boleros of all time (and the bolero is one of my favorite musical genres). (By the way, I am working on being ready to sing this and other boleros before too long, making my debut as a bolero singer.) Again, more fun opportunities for inventiveness for Henry and me.

Buena Vista Social Club

By the way, I first encountered “Dos Gardenias” through Ibrahim Ferrer of the Buena Vista Social Club:

“Buena Vista Social Club” was a very important music recording to me. At a time in my life around thirteen years ago when I was trying to explore Latin music and asked around for suggestions, my grad school classmate Andrej recommended this CD to me and my musical world was changed forever.

Cha cha

Finally, I pulled out an unnamed cha cha from the World Music Cuba book. We really went wild for this one, especially since Chad, one of Henry’s piano students (and a fine improviser) decided to join us and sat at the piano with Henry as both of them played with me and we kept going and going and I became very excited and inspired along with them. Wow. That was one of the most intense musical experiences I’ve ever had. It was frightening (didn’t know when I’d hit the limits of my technique or inventiveness) and exhilarating at the same time. When I was done, I was sweating from all the effort. Abby said she’d never seen me so animated before playing music, since she’s only ever seen me play Baroque and other such music mainly, or Irish and French. Well, Latin jazz is different.


At some point in the evening, I needed a break from playing music and from socializing and decided to rest. However, it turned out that my “rest” consisted of relaxing in a chair while closing my eyes and… playing blindfold chess!

(Update of 2014-03-16)

Abby and I couldn’t make it to Henry’s St. Patrick Day party in 2014. I felt sad about this, but our other plans made earlier made it impractical to try to attend.

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