Saturday, June 6, 2009

Fritz Stansell Broke My Camera

I bought this camera right before the trip, a Canon PowerShot SD780, and it's chock full of features I haven't explored and will probably never use. One of the most interesting things it does is that it somehow "reads" people's faces, and if their eyes are closed, it won't take the picture.

This is for real. I tested it by asking subjects to close their eyes while I snapped the picture -- when they did so, I'd push the button, and ... NOTHING WOULD HAPPEN!

Now, folks respond to this in 2 ways: some folks say "Wow, that's really cool!"; others say "Man, that's kind of creepy." (There is actually a third response I've heard: "Wow, that's really cool -- but don't you think it's kind of creepy?")

I can't really show you this feature in action, since by definition if one's eyes are closed it won't take the picture, and no picture equals no documentation. So I can only tell you about it and hope for the best.

Also, unfortunately, once you start talking about this, people start, you know, *thinking* about their eyes as you're taking the shot, resulting in photos like this:

Or like the following, where Deb and Tim look like okay-but-not-entirely-lifelike models from the Puy l'Évèque Wax Museum:

It also results in a photograph's subject, once armed with this information, having veto power over your photographing them. In the following gig photo from the Hotel Henry soirée (more on that later), when Tim saw I was trying to get a shot of him playing he shut his eyes and put me out of business! Only when he opened his eyes could I get the shot:

I was explaining this cool and somewhat creepy feature to Fritz and Gretchen at the Restaurant Claude Marco in Cahors, and Fritz immediately squeezed his eyes shut and said "Prove it!" I point the camera at him and ... it takes the shot!


Okay, okay, I said, let's try this again, it must've been the ... the ... what? I have no idea -- but I can assure you, if you shut your eyes, um, properly, it won't take the shot. Or shouldn't. Unless you're cheating somehow.

Fritz unambiguously shuts his eyes, I squeeze the shutter and ... have this lovely portrait as a result:

I finally found an explanation in the manual for what was going on -- there's an asterisk in the section describing Canon's Face Detection Technology (tm), and in small print at the bottom of the page it reads, and I quote: "*Does not work with Fritz Stansell."

Saint-Cirq Lapopie, Part 2

Tom's camera had some sort of exotic newfangled memory card that wasn't stocked in local shops, along with a lavish 512K of memory -- so Tom took one shot and then had no more actual use of his camera.

From that moment, for anyone unlucky enough to be holding an actually functional camera near him, Tom would -- like a frustrated out-of-work movie director watching some neophyte make a hash out of a film script he loved -- point out the shots you should and would be taking if you had his photographic eye. Here he shows Steve the shot he's missing:

Steve, on the other hand, was an "early adopter" into digital camera technology, and as a result had a camera that was able to shoot one pixel (but of such a vivid color!) every 3 seconds or so. His camera was of sufficiently early vintage that it didn't record video, but it DID record audio!! -- and if he'd been recording himself while shooting, here's what it would have sounded like, as he'd point his camera at some fleeting moment of pure French beauty and then waited an interminable period of time while his camera emotionally prepared itself to actually take the shot:

"[click] DAMN! C'mon. C'MON! DAMN!"

Here's more from Saint-Cirq Lapopie:

Friday, June 5, 2009

Saint-Cirq Lapopie, Part 1

I read somewhere that Saint-Cirq Lapopie was voted most picturesque village in France. The bottom line here is that no matter where you live, Saint-Cirq Lapopie is prettier, and you're just going to have to deal with it.

(After the quintet visited, I told Deb that she should check it out. A couple of days later she had. I asked her about her take on the village, and she kind of sniffed that she wasn't really impressed, it was just a bunch of shops and whatnot. Later still, while we were in Paris, she starts showing me various items of clothing and jewelry and tchotchkes that she'd bought. "Where did you get that?" I'd ask as she'd pull out yet another pricey looking item, and invariably the answer was "Saint-Cirq Lapopie." It turns out that for Deb Saint-Cirq Lapopie *really was* nothing but a bunch of shops -- so I offer the following pictures as evidence of the kinds of things she might have seen if she'd been able to wrench herself from the stores...)

Gigantofreak Matt terrorized the tiny villagers.

Tim Froncek for Miracle Gro!

The Cats

(Left to right: me, Matt Heredia, Steve Talaga, Tim Froncek, Tom Stansell.)

The Blue Lake Faculty Jazz Quintet consists of folks who, for the most part, have taught at the camp at some time or other over the years. Some of these guys (Tom!) I've known for, oh, nearly 30 years; others (Matt!) were brand-spanking-new to me.

The rundown:

Tom is one of my best friends and favorite saxophonists. He played tenor for this tour, and he's got a beautiful sound, laid-back time feel, etc. (He must be a "natural," since he professes to almost never practicing -- though he plays with enough groups in Western Michigan to keep his reeds wet.) Tom's one of my favorite folks to play with -- we have contrasting styles (many's the time when I've played my butt off, only to have Tom follow me saying a whole 'nother thang and showing me what I wished I'd played...), but I think our approaches, while different, are complementary -- and I hope that just maybe I have occasionally inspired Tom half as much as he inspires me every time he plays.

Tim, the musical director of the quintet, is, quite simply, a world-class drummer who just happens to live in Western Michigan. I've worked with Tim over a couple of decades at the camp, and I'm fortunate to have some recordings of Tim playing my tunes at Blue Lake concerts, which I've used from time to time to introduce my material to new groups. Here's the thing: *every* drummer I've asked to listen to this or that track that's got Tim on it has come back to me: "Who IS that guy?"

I first met Steve a couple of years ago in Grand Rapids, when I was helping out Blue Lake by playing tenor in a symphonic band (yes, it was a really big band, but not the sort I usually play with... I tried to make sure to scoop less...). They'd arranged to have a jazz quintet play at an after-rehearsal party (hey, Tom was in that quintet too! -- in fact, come to think of it, it was three-fifths of this group...) and that's where I met Steve. Beautiful cat, and great player and composer -- I'm looking forward to posting some of his tunes (with his permission!) after we have our July get-together at Blue Lake...

Okay, Matt's story is flat out the coolest story of the tour. First, as I had noted in the previous post, I'd expected to meet the guys in Paris and that we'd all fly together to Toulouse, but that didn't happen. However, the only guy I didn't know in the group was the bassist, Tom Knific -- but I knew a fair bit about him, because I'd helped put together the promotional materials for the group, including assembling the photo montage that was used on the posters (sorry about that, Steve: the only photo they gave me of you was Really Dorky, but I did with it what I could...).

So I knew his bio, and knew pretty darn well what he looked like: it's a certain form of intimacy when you Photoshop a guy, scaling him and cropping him and generally messing with him. You get to know the guy.

(I mean, of course, in a totally superficial, not-really-knowing-the-guy-at-all kind of way. What I really mean is: you get to know the dude's head size, since you're making a montage of the cats and you need to scale everybody's head to be more or less the same size, lest one of the guys stands out as some sort of encephalitic freak. [No offense intended toward any actual encephalitic freaks reading this. Some of my best friends are encephalitic freaks...] [Just kidding, please get away from me.] So anyways, I'd really had to monkey with Tom K's head size, since he was also holding his bass and I wanted to get the proportions just right... Bottom line: I *really* knew what the dude's head looked like, even though I'd never met him...)

When I got to the Stansell's place in Vire-sur-Lot for our first get-together in France on the night of our arrival, there were the folks on the poster! But wow, Tom K really looked ... different. Younger. And really ... different. I just figured his head looks ... really different ... in photos.

Turns out, it wasn't Tom! The Real Tom Knific had a family emergency at the last possible moment, and as a result had to back out of the tour. Tim and Steve were suddenly faced with having to find a Fake Tom Knific in a day or two. To help clarify the situation: they had to find a replacement who...

1) Had to be a great player.

2) Had to be able to drop everything for a week on almost no notice...

3) Had to have a valid, ready-to-go passport.

Tim was left calling folks on the weekend before Tuesday's departure for France. Here's what you might have heard at Tim's house:

"Hey, man, how you doing? Uh-huh. Cool... Say, would you be available to leave Tuesday and spend a week in France?"

But you had to wonder: anyone who actually *could* leave like that -- would you really want them in the band?

Turns out, in the case of Matt, you would. Matt was studying at Julliard, but he took a pause for a while to fulfill his lifelong dream of working at a Subway franchise somewhere in the depths of Western Michigan. Although he slung a mean Chipotle Southwest Sauce (tm), he walked even meaner bass lines and swung his ass off. And his manager at Subway was tolerant of his taking a week off to tour the south of France with a jazz quintet. (I mean, the guy was the manager at a Subway: he'd heard 'em all...)

So: on a Sunday night Matt was asked if he could go, and on Tuesday he was IN FRANCE! Work hard at Subway and someday you too might get to ... oh never mind, it's not going to happen to you.

At any rate, these guys were great fellas to tour with and travel with and hang with, and I can sincerely say it was a pleasure and I wish I could see them and play with them more often!

Puy l'Évèque

Puy l'Évèque is an achingly pretty little medieval town in the Lot River valley of southwest France, a couple of hours north of Toulouse. When we arrived in Toulouse, we'd expected to meet Gretchen, who'd lead us in a rental car caravan to Puy l'Évèque and our destination there, the Hotel Henry.

Unfortunately, something went wrong. We knew there was a problem as we left Paris: the other members of the quintet were not on the plane, even though we were supposed to meet them at Charles De Gaulle and fly in together. Had their flight from Detroit been delayed? We figured Gretchen would fill us in on our arrival.

At the Toulouse airport, however, there was no sign of Gretchen. We had her paged, with no response. We had no phone number for her. We were on our own.

This should have been No Big Deal. Deb's a near-native French speaker; we'd both spent lots of time in Europe, and have gotten ourselves into and out of plenty of jams over the years as "sophisticated world travelers."

However, all we knew was the name of our hotel: Hotel Henry. I couldn't remember what town it was in! I'd so taken it for granted that Gretchen would hold our hands and lead the way that I'd done absolutely none of the kind of obsessive planning and plotting and fulminating I often do over stuff like this.

That, plus a very-last-minute decision to leave the laptop at home — I mean, jeez, we're spending 2 weeks in France: to hell with the internet! Why bother with the hassle of traveling with a computer that we'd be idiots to use when ... you know, France was all around us and stuff.

Unfortunately, all of my information on the Hotel Henry was on that laptop...

We went to the information desk at the airport, where our pitoyable predicament ("All we have is the name 'Hotel Henry,' but we're sure it's in France!") made us look exactly like the Moron Americans abroad that I used to tut-tutt at under my breath as I'd watch their clueless, would-be-hilarious-if-they-weren't-Representing-America antics in train stations and shops across Europe.

After a delightful interlude with the Information Lady, who saw us as the idiots we were, and who wanted to make sure we were aware that she was aware that we were fools, and who then, drunk with power, seemed poised to withhold the info on the hotel once she'd tracked it down, BECAUSE IT ONLY HAD TWO STARS!! — "I can imagine some friend might say 'Oh it's the best place,' but you can surely do better..." — anyways, I put her in a choke-hold and she sputtered out "Puy l'Évèque."

I won't recount the jet-lagged 3+ hour drive, the wrong turns, and the rest, because: IT WAS ABSOLUTELY WORTH IT! The place is flat-out gorgeous, Deb was smitten, I was relieved, and: here are some photos....

Getting Started...

I've just gotten back from two weeks in France: the first week touring with a jazz quintet in the Quercy region in the southwest, and the second week in Paris. My first plans for this blog involve documenting that trip...

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