Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Lieutenant's Log #13

 March 21, 2017

Lieutenant's Log #13


I've certainly spent a lot of time complaining about the internet here on the ship and it's absolutely the worst. You can't watch YouTube videos. You can't excess iTunes for downloads, etc. 
As I've learned from the experienced, we have to get off the ship and find a cafe in Kiel that has wifi. (We're in Kiel every other day.) Today I did just that. I found a cafe in the shopping center and downloaded a video converter from the Apple Store so I can upload videos to instagram, only to get to my room and discover that the app requires the internet to compress a file. So the app is useless on the ship. I'm using an iPad btw.
I've also wondered why we musicians have such lame rooms. The passenger cabins are quite nice. It turns out that this wasn't always the case.  The musicians and artists at one time were treated like regular passengers. However, it's the musicians themselves who are responsible for the downgrading of privileges and access. 

It reminds me of the days when I was playing the hotel / motel circuit.  There were designated "band rooms",  rooms with the banged up walls and other problems. For some reason, most bands lived up to their reputation of tearing things up. Not all hotels and motels had ransacked rooms for the band, but a lot of them did. Thanks a lot fellas.

Chatting with a fellow cruise ship musician veteran, he informed me that years ago, musicians slept in passenger cabins, among passengers, could drink alcohol, were allowed in the casino and disco room.  However, wee hour rowdy parties were just too much for most neighboring patrons. Alcohol induced brawls in the disco room was a cause for alarm. And regarding the internet, one talented musician/hacker, hacked into the ships main system, causing all kinds of problems. Changes were made and now it feels like we're all incarcerated because of some knuckle heads.    

As the fellow cruise ship musician veteran put it, "The ____'s fucked it up for everybody."  He attributed all the fiascos to a particular group. No, I won't name the group. Some of my best friends are _____'s.   
Speaking of groups,  the ship reminds me of what it must be like on the Starship Enterprise. Particularly in the mess.   The Norwegians, Germans, Africans, Bulgarians, Asians, Brazilians etc, generally sit among themselves. I'm sure it's not solely as it appears, that is, that no one mingles. However, it literally does look that way.  Getting back to the veteran's comment, it's awkward hearing pointed remarks targeted at a group.  The fact and or truth of the particular matter is beside the point. Some of us take offense. It's a knee jerk reaction.  I could only imagine the veteran saying to me:
Veteran: Do you know why the crime rate is so low in Denmark?
Me: No. Why?
Veteran: Because they don't have a lot of black people.
Me: ???????
Veteran: ..........
Me: Uhhhh...   So what do the hot dogs taste like in Denmark?

Speaking of Brats, I'm hungry.
  

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Lieutenant's Log #12

March 12, 2017

Lieutenant's Log #12


If you enjoy what you do, whatever it may be, it hardly seems like 'work.'  The last few nights have reminded me that playing music can indeed be hard work. There you are, putting your heart into a song, and it doesn't matter. No one's listening and they sit right in front of you, speaking and laughing loudly as if you're not there. It wouldn't seem so bad if the most obnoxious ones weren't so close. Last night, folks were sitting at the piano, literally right next to you, chatting loudly as if we weren't there. This really annoyed me.  I'd give less to the performance if I knew how.   
These are the times that separate inflated egos from maturity. These are times that define what a professional is. 
It's taken me years to understand one's place as a paid musician. Unless it's a concert, the folks aren't there to see 'said act.' They're in the room to socialize and drink while a live band is playing.  Premium Ambience. 
Getting back to our venue the"Manhatten Room", unless you're sitting upon us, you can hardly hear the music. Of course if the room isn't noisy you can hear the band.  The folks who want to hear the music, usually wants the band to be louder, so they can hear us over the crowd noise.  However, we can't risk offending the rest of the patrons who are more interested in 'anything else but the band', for fear of getting a pink slip.  Fortunately, the house PA system has a great monitor system. So usually, we can hear ourselves just fine. Usually.  Occasionally, there are evenings when the night feels like a concert performance. Occasionally.
Sometimes it takes everything I have to remind myself of the mental focus it takes to ignore all the chaos. It's an exercise to say the least. I was a little out of shape last night. It felt like a battle to see who would be the first to shout "SHUT UP!", someone in the band or someone in the audience.  
Given a choice, I'd rather do this, than work at McDonald's.  

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Considering that I've been very good at taking care of myself, getting rest and pampering my voice, it's still very difficult for one singer to sing 4 sets a night, 7 days a week. Particularly if you're not used to it. I'm starting to feel it. There's a total of 5 sets, but I play guitar during the 1st set which is instrumental. 
I didn't sing nearly as much 2 years ago.  In addition to the instrumental set, the band then, would play a few instrumentals before every preceding set. I'll have to suggest that we might continue with that idea, before I have real problems. Again, it's "work".
Oh, there's only one break for the contracted 10 week gig. And only because we have to change ships.  

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Monday, March 6, 2017

Lieutenant's Log #11

March 6, 2017

Lieutenant's Log #11

 

I finally met "N'awlins", the classical pianist from New Orleans. "I wouldn't say I'm a classical pianist, I just play music." Whatever the case, he's very good. Of course he is, he's from N'awlins.   Like Choko, Alabama, N'awlins and myself, a lot of the ship musicians are surprisingly older players.  It's as if we've been sentenced to do time on cruise ships while the young guys are having fun in the real world. :) Seriously, I don't know if it's intentional or not, but given the vast clientele, it's not a bad idea to have musicians that have almost encyclopedic music knowledge and references.  The older guys have it by default. The young guys, good as they may be, probably couldn't pull a Michel LeGrand tune out of their musical hat. "Who's that?" I'm not saying that there aren't any young musicians aboard, I'm saying that there are lot of older players. 

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Meat and potatoes. Particularly potatoes. Mashed, baked, boiled with skins, without skins, not eaten potatoes from the day before, thrown in a white sauce. Always potatoes.  And meat. Hunks of beasts, rare to medium rare. I haven't eaten this much meat since that the last time I was on the ship. Now that I think of it, we don't see chicken much.

I'm not a picky carnivore. I tolerate what's in front of me in small proportions. 
If I don't like the taste, I leave it. I specify 'taste' because some of us are against the idea of eating any animal that's not a pig, cow or chicken. 
I never cared to ask, "What's today's beast?"  Alabama on the other hand won't touch anything without asking, "What's that?" "I don't eat no deer."  Deer? Bulgarian Moose? Norwegian Yeti? I had no idea I'd been consuming these animals.   I'll start asking from now on.  

-----------
 
It's been an interesting couple of days on the ship.  Cowboys and Cowgals everywhere. 
I was pretty certain that the cowboys were from the states. Wrong. They were all Norwegians.  Apparently, if you take a fresh looking Norwegian, toss him down a flight of stairs, they make great looking cowboys. Some of the passengers weren't too pleased, as their family weekend had to be shared with drunkards with hats. "We've been on this cruise many times. If we had known about these rowdy cowboys we never would have..." "My young girls have never seen a drunk..."  
I found this very amusing. I thought that all Norwegians did was drink and eat Yeti.

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 I suppose it's odd that at night, when I'm undressing for bed, I close the curtains. I'm in the middle of the ocean and I close the curtains as if there's a band of Amazon pirates spying in my window.  "Look at him lassie. Just the way I like em. Bone thin." "Oooo let me see?"

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Lieutenant's Log #10

March 3, 2017

Lieutenant's Log #10

 
(The Day Room)

Though it was a brisk day in Kiel, the sun was out, and there was a vibrancy about town. I took a longer walk than usual.  I must have walked past three accordion players. They were all very good. I'm impressed that they are able to move their fingers in chilly weather. I couldn't help but wonder if the accordion players on the street, made more money than the beggars who simply sit on the bridge and ask for money as folks walk to and from the ship. The bridge beggers are almost always with a dog. From what I could see, the beggers aren't doing too bad. I think it would be a good idea for the accordion players to have a dog. People won't feed a starving musician, but they'll feed a dog. Hmmm, I think I should get a dog.

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Regarding shopping, you won't get a bag unless you ask for one. And of course there's a fee. I had already been to one store, so I had one coat pocket filled with items.  My last stop was the pharmacy. Usually the bags are in front of the line or at the  end of the line.  The clerk just puts your items on the counter, leaving you to figure it out. I didn't see any bags.  So there I am, both pockets visually filled with stuff and merrily strolling out of the store. This could never happen in Philadelphia without a chase scene.

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With me included, there are now four black men on the ship. A happy Kenyan that works in the mess (I'll call him Kenny) and three American musicians.  Kenny is the only outwardly cheerful person I've encountered in kitchen staff. It usually feels like the DMV in there.  Kenny chats easily.  No one ever makes conversation from kitchen staff and he seems very sincere. He was telling me about a black musician who's going to be playing in the pub. "I'll introduce you."  Sure enough, the next day there he was. Somebody shouted, "Hey New York!" I turned around and WHOA, the guy looks just like Morgan Freeman, taller than Choko, sporting a bold, "I'm an artist" haircut.  His voice is as deep as Morgan Freeman. I'd say deeper.  A gutsy, funny, extrovert.  The kind of guy I would have befriended in school to scare away bullies.  The 'Monkey Pub' musicians have to be bold and extroverted. That can be a rowdy room. "I'm from Alabama and there's a black classical pianist from N'awlins. Have you met him?"   So courtesy Mr. Freeman,  we black American musicians all know our names now. "New York" "Alabama" and "N'awlins" .      "Nice to meet you Alabama."    

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Choko is thrilled and determined to get me to perform in the Bulgarian Jazz Festival this summer. Everyday he updates me with the details.  I can't understand a word he's saying, so I have no idea what I'm agreeing to.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Lieutenant's Log #9

My plans today have been thwarted. I was looking forward to a stroll in Kiel, making a stop at the pharmacy for glucose tablets and GeloRevoice voice tablets...   Apparently I got mixed up. We're not in Kiel today, we're in Oslo.  So what's so great about Kiel? As it relates to the ship, in Kiel, the shopping center is in close proximity. You step off the ship and it's straight ahead. It's not so convient in Oslo. Shopping in Oslo requires a bit of a walk and hoping you don't get lost.  Oslo is a very attractive city. However, it's unbelievably expensive. Since the ship travels back and forth from Kiel to Oslo, Kiel is where the money is spent.   

----------

Poor Doru (pianist) is very sick with the flu. It's getting around the ship.  As Doru puts it, he's now talking like Louis Armstrong. 
I've been taking measures to pamper my voice, getting plenty of rest, throat messages, etc. What would the establishment do if I lost my voice? I don't want to find out.
I took a short nap. My room was cooler than I like, but instead of turning up the thermostat I just braved through it and plopped on the bed.

After our second set, I was struck with feeling cold and shivering. I couldn't stop shivering. I was hoping no one would notice. I felt like something was going on. Though it wasn't flu related (in my observation), it was something. I found myself wanting to ask someone to feel my forehead for a fever. This was not as easy as you'd think.. For reasons I can't explain, I refused to ask either of the male band mates to feel my head, preferring instead to ask a female, any female. But there was a risk that asking a woman, "Can you feel my head to see if it's warm?"may have been misunderstood.  Then I'd be thrown in the ship jail for lewd behavior. Fortunately, I was able to ask a lady while Doru was present. He was able to explain what I was asking.  
This was the longest night yet. I got to my room and went to straight to bed. Shivering. 

-------

On the musical front, I couldn't be more thrilled. Playing with Doru is a major honor.  I'm learning so much. The thing I love about Doru is, he's not simply a great jazz musician, he's also a classical pianist. He brings both elements to his improv skills. It dawned on me while listen to him that I had left out classical components of the nylon string guitar. What I mean is, there are certain simple voicing's that don't sound good at all on electric or jazz guitars but work very nicely on the nylon string.  I'll demonstrate this in a video one of these days. 

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Lieutenant's Log #8

February 25, 2017

Lieutenant's Log #8


Life feels a bit more isolated than before. The first time I was on the ship was in the months of May and June. The weather was beautiful. Everyday I'd get up and out for a walk. Now I'm here in the month of February to the end of April, so far it's quite cold and grey. Going for a walk is not a desirable consideration.  Perhaps the weather will change as we close in to the month of April.  

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I was always amused that at cheaper hotels or motels you no longer will find a bar of soap and mini bottles of shampoo. Instead, there's this mystery liquid that claims you can use it for body wash, shampoo, hand soap, mouthwash, tooth paste and coffee sweetener. I was surprised to find nicely packaged items in the Kiel Pharmacy making the same claims. Good thing I'm not much of a coffee drinker.  I'm guessing the nicer hotels know this mystery liquid fact to be true, that all such items are pretty much made from the same stuff, but recognize that customers will frown upon using a versatile single item, thinking the establishment is cheap and without 'class'.  I wonder if I can use it for shaving?

------

Last night as the band started our third set, a striking brunette, tall (6' or close) wearing a black one piece short skirt thingy with a bob style haircut walked up and sat down right next to me as I was singing. When one of the other guys were soloing, she'd start talking to me. Stroking my arms the whole time. This was very unnerving for a lot of reasons.  For starters any contact with other humans on the ship is rare. I found that I couldn't bring myself to say to the attractive woman, "Stop stroking me." Then her husband comes up and a sat at the piano next to her. Surprisingly, this didn't stop her behavior, she kept chatting and stroking away. I began to wonder what this could possibly lead to.   Then he said, "Black people are the best singers, right?" She stopped stroking. Then I was about to have a stroke.  This was an awkward question and I felt under pressure. If I had said no,  no doubt, word would've gotten back to National Black Caucus and I'd never be able to enter the US again.  So I answered, " Uhhhh, yeah."  Then I started singing.  "You are the best singer I've ever heard." "So smooth." "What are doing on a ship, singing. You should be a star."   Believe it or not, I hear this a lot. I'll just say, I'm grateful. The brunette left briefly.  When she returned, she stuffed a note in my jacket along side of my pocket scarf, in front of her husband.  I was honestly afraid to read it.  I finally got the courage during the break.  What a night. 

 
  
 


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Lieutenant's Log #7

February 22, 2017

Lieutenant's Log #7

Most of the staff have a two weeks on and a two weeks off schedule. So daily, folks are coming and going. I'm reminded of certain characters I'd soon avoid. Like this one guy I usually run into in the mess. He looks extremely intense and he never smiles. I'm pretty sure he's a hitman. Man-bun and all.  Which reminds me. There's actually a jail on the ship. Imagine that? Perhaps the hitman has escaped. Again.  And there's an exceptionally beautiful transgender Asian woman. She avoids eye contact and looks like she's VERY pissed, probably at the hitman. 

Compared to my last trip, it's helpful to know that making friends is a very difficult option on the ship, except with other musicians and a couple of clowns. And clowns can be dangerous. There's simply no time. Everyone works long and hard days. When they have free time, they sleep or smoke. It should be noted that introverts are very comfortable in these conditions. 
Again, compared to my last trip, I'm not even trying to make friends, which for an introvert is less stressful.  Perhaps I understand the hitman.  
 
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I talk a lot about the mess. I failed to mention the "Day Room." That's the staff social gathering room to relax. You can sit in one of those fancy "get a message" chair, they're great, watch a movie in an adjacent room or simply chill on a comfy couch. On my first trip, the Day Room was always occupied, because it was also the only room for staff to access the internet. Now the internet can be access from our cabins as well.  Because the internet is available in our rooms, the Day Room isn't as busy. Most used to spend all of their free time in the Day Room hoping to get a connection. Now we wait in our rooms hoping to get a connection.  Like before, the internet is the worst, whether on the sea or land. 

------------

 
(An early, empty promenade.)

Color Line workers are on strike today. Wow!  Apparently in politics, there's a labor consideration to hire cheaper workers possibly from the Phillipines and fire the more expensive Norwegian staff (and a few others). So today while in Oslo, a great number of Color Line staffers took a chartered bus to the Oslo capital building to protest from 10am to 1pm. This will delay the ships departure for about an hour. Heaven help the cleaning staff.  
In September, Norway will hold it's elections. We'll see...  

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Lieutenant's Log #6

 February 19, 2017

Lieutenant's Log #6

Two years ago I spent my first two weeks on the ship being sea sick.  I was wondering if I'd go through the same thing on this trip. It's been almost a week and no problems. It helps that I avoid looking out of my cabin window. 
Last night, the waters were mildly turbulent. It was a reminder that rough seas will likely override my 'not looking out of my cabin window.'   

------------


Last night, I thought I'd have to walk the plank for sure.  
As it should be, pleasing the guests is the ship's priority.  In the lounge, the bar staff are the judges and executioners. 
Sometimes they'll walk by our stage area and say something nice or joke and the band will automatically play quieter fearing we did something wrong. 

Things were going nicely. When we got to our third set, there was this noise.  An intermitting, clapping upper frequency. Like a tambourine jingle or 'Rice Krispies' from hell.  It was driving me crazy. It sounded like it was coming right through the speakers. I'm trying to troubleshoot the PA inputs as we're performing, turning down various channels, but the noise persisted. Through the set I'm making fun of the sonic annoyance, "Somebody ought to fire the tambourine player." "On the other hand, at least they're not being paid." Suddenly, a big bar staffer came up to our area, leaned over the piano and said "Is there something wrong?" I guess he was concerned, but the fact that he was there brought the fear of a Nordic Lucifer.  We're doomed.   Perhaps we can track down the house engineer to fix the problem before our next set.    
Turns out that the noise was coming from a table of folks playing poker or backgammon or... with the loudest chips I've ever heard. They were sitting along the side of me. They didn't seem to care how noisy they were in a very quiet setting. Hey, the customer is always right. 

If that wasn't bad enough, right across and below the lounge we play in, is a dining area.  The dining room closes after the first set. Now I'm hearing a buzzing sound.  A very loud buzz.  It was like a gigantic bumble bee. So now I'm on the microphone humming along in pitch with the buzz. Finally, after humming in the mic I said, "Somebody ought to swat that thing."  I was absolutely sure that the dining room cleaning staff was running a vacuum cleaner.  Well apparently, there was a older gentleman who had some condition in which he hums loudly.  Miche fails again. "Somebody ought to swat that thing." kept going through my head.  This all happened in one evening.  How many people can I offend in one night?  I felt terrible and concerned that I'd be reported for misconduct. 
Other than that, it was a great night.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Lieutenant's Log # 5

February 18,  2017
Lieutenant's Log # 5


It's taken a few days, but I'm starting to get a hang of things. So many rules and you only learn about them after you've broken one.  You're measured by every detail.  It's the classic old demerit system. "Your room is filthy. You must walk the plank or never board this ship again if you survive."  Entering the mess is potential trouble for me.  Staff is REQUIRED to wash their hands in the designated sinks before nearing the food area.  Why should this be a problem for me?  Practically every time I'm having a meal it's after taking a shower or mirror prep before public life, so my hands are already washed before going to the mess. It seems redundant to wash my hands again. 
So once or twice I've just walked in and scooted right past the sink. I could sense the eyes on me. "What a nasty African American." So for show, I'd slink back to the sink and wash my washed hands.   Even if I explained it, no one would believe me.

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The crew cuisine on the ship is very meat, fish and potatoes.  Oh and vegetables.  Sandwiches and salads are available 24/7. Hot meals are served three times a day. I find that I eat less on the ship than when I'm at home, because you don't want to be seen with a heap of food on your plate if you're eating alone. "What a piggy African American and look, he has no vegetables." 
Often I don't recognize a dish and after someone kindly describes it to me, I feel obligated to try it. It's a gamble and I've been on a losing streak lately.  
Yesterday there was baked Cornish hen. That's what it looked like to me.  It looked really good, but I opted for the broiled fish. That's what it looked like to me. I really wanted the chicken but, well... I became self conscious about how I would eat it. Normally at home, I'd use a knife and fork to carve the sides leaving thighs in place.  I was never one for ripping the legs off. Even when I was a kid, my mother gave me a hard time about eating chicken because I left too much meat on the bone.  I just couldn't deal with the veins and  ripping things apart.  So I never touched chicken when I was home because I was tired of my mother complaining about it. 
The only time I enjoy chicken aside from breast, is when I'm eating KFC in a vehicle. It's usually dark in the car and you can't see what you're ripping apart. As for the innocuous fish, I forked a piece into my mouth only to have a mouth full of bones. I would have been better off dealing with the chicken.  
This evening was a great surprise. My "taste memory" rejoiced in it.  It was chipped beef (That's what it looked like to me) and rice. 
The taste brought back childhood memories of waiting in the surplus lines with my uncle to receive free cheese, powered milk and a coffee can size of 'beef stuff'.   We'd eat it with rice. I loved it. I haven't had it since. The meal this evening tasted exactly what I remembered. That's what I call a happy meal.

 


Friday, February 17, 2017

Lieutenant's Log # 4

February 16, 2017
Lieutenant's Log # 4

 My first band cruise experience was a trio. Piano, bass and voice.  The band was great.
This time the line up is piano, voice and saxophone. I've worked with the pianist (Doru) in the previous line up. No bass?  Doru and I were both unnerved at the thought. However Doru, the pro that he is, figured out how to make it work using backing tracks minus piano.  It's different, but it works if you know how.  So Choko's saxophone was a nice touch.  Choko himself is a great musician, and hard not to really like as a person. 
I'm actually playing a lot more guitar than before, mainly because the ship has upgraded their monitor system. Now the acoustic guitar sounds great. 

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Knowing that I haven't been singing much these days, I was very nervous about my voice, having to sing five sets a night and seven nights a week. Fortunately, I quickly remembered and adjusted to the softer singing style which I actually prefer. It's more musical and lyrical. My voice likes it.  I recalled a few tips I learned from the one of the ship's show-group singers two years ago. From baking soda to "TMRG (Voice Solution)", I came prepared. 
 
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Last night was awkward. There are chairs placed around the grand piano which puts people up close to the band. Sometimes too close.
It's not so bad when women are seated or couples, but when a gang of men are seated up close, it's ... weird. That was the case last night.  
The piano is designed so that drinks can be placed on top of it or on the shelf made around it.  I stand on the side of the piano.  Last night I had my usual water, tea and not so usual, two cookies near me.  An adorable Norwegian (I'll call him Sven) became enamored with alcohol and the band. Through the evening he became enamored with me. Eventually, he nabbed a chair right next to me, expressing his love for me, grabbing my hand. I was hoping someone from the staff would intervene.  Then Sven helped himself to my glass of water AND my tea.
"Would you like a cookie?"  "No thank you."     Well, it's only the beginning.