It’s been such a pleasure to stay at Baby Hand’s mom’s house. It’s just so lovely and relaxed here. We went grocery shopping and made everyone a sumptuous meal the other night. Feels real good. We’ve had a bit of down time to just hang out and chill.

Yesterday in the afternoon we finished writing a song together, rehearsed and recorded it. The song is for an Exquisite Corpse festival that we were invited to be a part of. Exquisite corpse is an art form that came mostly out of the Dada school of painters. Three artists would collaborate on a work. One person would do the head, the next the torso and the last would paint the legs. The resulting juxtapositions would create a new work that was bizarre and garish. The festival organizer is attempting to create works of art in a wide variety of media: painting, sculpture, dance, and song. We are contributing the first part of the song. Within that first minute of a song we decided to do our own exquisite corpse project. Stefan did the intro. I wrote the verse and Clifton came up with a chorus. We didn’t hear the other’s work until we put the thing together yesterday.

It came out pretty good, I think. The intro sounds like a tango of sorts and then it goes into a story called Zombie Casanova. It winds up sounding like a scary music theater number like something from Sweeny Todd. We set up a portable stereo mic and made the recording right away. The whole project was a good way to spend a rainy afternoon at home.

In the evening we had a show at the Green Bean in downtown Greensboro. The gig itself was kind of a flop. Not that many people showed up and we did that thing where we play our normal repertoire with arrangements and tempi that we have never used before. We played “Ida, Sweet Like Apple Cider” at a glacial blues crawl. We played “Summertime” in seven and “Bucket” as a minor waltz. Basically, we were trying to get through the set and not get discouraged by the fact that the majority of the crowd was doing their homework or surfing the internet. The second set was better. Some folks from the private party the other day came out and some other folks too. We actually put on a show and got some dancing happening.

In the crowd that last set were two people that we got to know pretty well before the night was out. Ben came up to us afterwards and proposed that we go play an open mic at fun club nearby. He promised 50 people in the crowd and a PA. Let’s do it. The Flatiron was a short drive away. We arrived to find a smoky dive bar that was populated entirely by dudes. Oh no. No way near 50 people. We were initially discouraged but decided to stick around. Glad we did. The place filled up gradually including almost the entire crowd that was actually listening over at the Green Bean. When it was our turn we opted out of using the stage and set up by the pool table right in front of where people were sitting. Within a minute of our first song Stefan had hopped up on the bar and got the whole crowd going. They let us do a five song set and we crushed it. We had everyone dancing and clapping and all excited. It was fun. Mostly because we took an environment that was basically tolerant of the talent on stage in a distracted, when am I on next, kind of way, and turned in to a focused room where everyone was engaged in the music.

For the next few hours we just hung out there, drinking and laughing and meeting all kinds of great people. Including Crystal Bright (her real name as it turns out). She was at the Green Bean too. She plays saw and accordion and performed at the Flatiron that night. Beat boxers, joke tellers, singer song writers and just people out to party. Like J.R. He was a teller of tall tall tales. According to him he parents were the kings of Czechoslovakia. He lived in New York City on Bleeker Street on the Upper West Side! etc…

Finally, at the end of the night, after everyone had had their turn at the mic we decided to do another song. Stefan took out his tenor and started playing an ultra-funky line and walked over to the corner near the couches. I came in a minute later with the trumpet and then Clifton joined in on guitar. Some pulse-y, bluesy jam in G. It was open enough that we were able to get a couple of the performers to join in with us, singing verses of random stuff. An excellent beat boxer named DC helped in and was directing traffic getting people to take choruses. We rounded around by the bar and Stefan and Clifton got up on the bar. Hands had his bass out by then and we moved in to “Lonely Avenue.” It was a great moment. All 45 people in the bar were in a tight semi-circle around us. And EVERYONE was singing with us on the chorus. We do this thing at the end of the song where we keep repeating the hook “A lonely avenue” over and over again but it gets slightly slower each time. In a about a minute we had everyone in the place shout singing the phrase – A Lone–ly—Av—E—Nu… Priceless.

And yes, we met some more teacher types and today we are going to play a jazz class and tomorrow we are going to help teach a world music class. Thanks Sara!! Thank Crystal!!

For the Baby Hands fun fact of the day, please see the comments below.

We woke up and got to hang out at Alex’s house all morning before our drive to Greensboro. After a few of our horn meditations, Stefan and Clifton went on to practice French and English horn etudes. I tried to read a long on clarinet but they were both reading in F. F as in forget it. My skills on the clarinet are just too sluggish.

We got in the car (Baby Hands went separately) and played the iPod game. Clifton made it almost the whole hour long trip with out getting dinged. Have I explained the game yet? You put your iPod on all song shuffle and let ‘er rip. You can’t vote on your own iPod. The other people in the car can either choose to enjoy the song or say “skip” or “ding.” If you get more than one “ding” you have to surrender your iPod and the next guy takes a turn. A “ding” and a “skip” equals a skip. The songs get skipped and you move on to the next guy. We play this game on almost every road trip. It’s fun. Anyway, Clifton’s 45 minute reign was our longest yet I think. I heard some great music I hadn’t ever heard before. Some beautiful ambient rock by Mogwai, some good old soul by The Staples Singers and a great a Columbian mezzo-soprano named Lucia Pulido. Killer. Eventually a song by The Yardbirds came on and Stefan and I dinged it. Hard. Oh well.

Now we were in Greensboro. The birthplace of Baby Hands. Fun fact of the day is illustrated above. Nice one, Hands. Make your momma proud. And she is. What a sweet and wonderful woman. She’s putting us up in her lovely Southern Home for the few days that we are here. She even invited a whole bunch of her friends over for a party and we performed a small little show for them. It was delightful. Some real good people.

We set up in the living room over in the corner. It was actually a really fun show to play in a parlor like that after doing so many raucous nights in clubs and dance halls. We got to play all the slow and soft ones that don’t work for dancers necessarily but definitely work for a rapt crowd of listeners in an intimate setting. “Make Me Down a Pallet”, “My Life Will be Sweeter: etc… lovely slow and heartfelt songs. The folks assembled were spellbound from the start. I love playing in a more concert hall type setting where there aren’t the distractions of food, dance or chatter to get between us and our listeners. We closed with a version of “Shake That Thing.” Clifton got everyone up on their feet and told them to pay attention to the guy in the white suit who was going to show them some new moves. It was fun getting all these Southern Gentlemen and Ladies to do the twist and the trucking and the hitchhiker and the thriller and the sprinkler. And yes, mostly because it is so absurd, I got everyone doing the Shy Tuna. Perhaps I will release a Shy Tuna instructional video at some point. Ha!

Later that night we hung out downstairs doing our horn meditations in the dark and looking through Hand’s old boxes of history that his mother had preserved. We found a Chilean Charango. It’s a ten string smallish guitar that is tuned a little bit like a ukulele. He also had a pair of these wonderful Chilean cowboy hats. You can see the blissful state I am in.

Hope you have been enjoying the details of our trip so far. Tomorrow is a day off so no update but we’ll catch you again soon.

Be well.

In the morning, Bill, the harmonica player we met at the Blue Note Grill, came by Alex’s place while Swami Schwarma was leading us in our morning intonations. Bill sat down smilingly. It’s pretty much how he left us the night before in the back room of the Blue Note. I think we was getting used to our tight knit and mysterious ways.

Clifton, Stefan and I got in the car with Bill and we headed to the best music store in the region. Marsh Woodwinds in Raleigh, home of Rodney Marsh. What a great store! Stefan started flipping out almost immediately. He was a kid in a candy store. I sauntered over to the trumpets, Clifton went french horns and Stefan went for an Eb sopranino clarinet. Ultimately we just geeked out for about an hour. Before we even met Rodney.

Have you ever had the following experience, ’cause I think it’s pretty rare. Have you ever stayed in a single retail location for FOUR AND HALF HOURS straight? Shopping, chatting, drinking espresso from the espresso machine, taking a tour of the back of the store, playing music with the owner, meeting everyone on his staff, promising to meet again, telling war stories, swapping dumb jokes, having a beer and some snacks. All this while marching band kids with their parents in tow came and went with little repair issues and accessory purchases. Ultimately, it was an epic hang. Rodney, you are the dude! What a great place. Thanks for the hospitality, it was such a pleasure to meet you and try almost every instrument in your store! I love the little tags on each used instrument that describe what makes it interesting or cool. I love the music hall you have created upstairs. I only wish we had time in the evenings to come hear a concert there. What a vibe. Folks, if you are in Raleigh and need someone to do some repairs, looking for a good horn, or just want to meet some real interesting folks… Marsh Woodwinds. Rodney’s been there for about years in his current location. It used to be a bridal store. Don’t be fooled by the Easter teal awning that says “Mordecai Bridal.”

That was pretty much our whole day. When we got back to town (after stopping for a quick, tiny, delicious pork sandwich at Hog Heaven BBQ) it was time to head out to the evening’s venue. We performed for an over capacity crowd at the Triangle Swing Dance Society. They were expecting 70 people and the turn out was closer to 200! I took this photo during the pre-show dance class. By the end the party was spilling out into the hallways and other rooms in the building. You could hear the band everywhere and everyone was dancing. Big props to Richard Badu for spreading the word about us so well. I think Angela Shek has a lot to do with it too by bringing so many dancers out to the Blue Note Grill the night previous. I’m telling you it was packed.

I also want to give them credit for a very interesting and creative policy they have there. If you are a new dancer they give you a necklace full of bright red raffle tickets. If a member of the Swing Dance Society asks a new person to dance, they both get a chance to enter the raffle. Also, you can tell who is new and there were a lot of them. I like the new dancers. They don’t have many preconceptions or experiences around it so basically they just move around and have fun! Tin Pan loves when you just don’t think and go crazy on the dance floor. It doesn’t matter if you think you are going to look silly. It’s just so joyous it doesn’t matter. I taught about twenty people the “Shy Tuna” dance at the Blue Note and on our song “Shake That Thing” I got a bunch of them to do it. So much fun. The Shy Tuna is the next big craze I’m telling you. At the Blue Note one girl started a different dance and that one is called the “Happy Salmon.” We did the Happy Salmon last night as well.

Ended the night at a bar called The Federal with Alex and Jenny (our hosts in Durham) doing the evening recap and laughing a lot. At one point a incredibly drunk dude just walked out the back door of the bar with a full pitcher of beer. Some girls rushed to the door. “That’s the guy that just puked in the bathroom, he just stole that pitcher of beer.” The dude walked over to his car, peed on it and then got it with his incredible drunk friend in the passenger seat. Alex called the cops. I mean this guy was trashed. Baby Hands – looking full on like a G-man with his grey tight suit and pork pie hat – walks over to the car and converses with them in their native tongue. Spanish. “Are any of you sober?” “Nah” The passenger had the full pitcher of beer sitting in his lap between his legs. Hands: “Listen, the folks inside are calling the cops on you right now. You probably shouldn’t be driving.” “Ok, thanks… Vamos!” Here’s Alex’s conversation with the police station: “Two guys. Yep. No, their wasted! He’s going to his car. He just pissed on his car. No they’re not driving yet. Wait. He started the car. Yes, Alex Maness. We’re at the corner of Albermarle and Main. OK here they go. Oh crap. They just missed a parked car. Oh man. Nope. Their turning right on Main. And there they go. Oh well. Yep… ”

Lastly, Baby Hands fun fact of the day: Ladies, Baby Hands is pretty darn good and making all the breakfast foods you could ever require. Griddle cakes, biscuits, eggs. You need to taste to his sausage.

Here’s to Professor Jennifer Jenkins of the Duke University Law School. We met her at the Pinhook show and got to talking. Sure you can buy us a round of drinks. How ’bout we play at your class tomorrow? And then, there we were, not even a day later: standing in a Duke lecture hall playing a few tunes and answering questions for 45 minutes. The theme of the day was genre and the elements of genre. The legal issue is whether an idiomatic element of a composition is copyright-able. So we played the Georgia Grind to get the conversation started. All the core elements of the genre are in: 12 bar format, call and response vocals, breaks, shout chorus, back bends during the sax solo, “bar” walking, and making up topical lyrics related to the people in the audience.

The Q&A was pretty fun. Many questions were coming from James Boyle an we got to hang out with him a bit after the lecture. His main work is all about theft and what it is. Jenkins and Boyle are soon to complete a comic book on the history of musical theft. They gave us a copy and Stefan was cracking up for a good long while checking it out. We might wind up doing the soundtrack for the accompanying CD. We were thinking that it would be one song done in a variety of historical styles. Boyle was hanging out with Hank Shocklee (Public Enemy and Bomb Squad fame) on NPR talking about sampling. What if we couldn’t quote anyone with out having to by the rights to do so? That would pretty much crush humor and context in music. Where is the line, though?

Moving on. In the afternoon we went around to all of the local pawn shops to see what was available. I’ve been playing on Stefan’s clarinet for edification and amusement and I figured if I get one for myself I wouldn’t have to be borrowing his all the time. The first one I saw turned out to be the best of about seven that I tried. I went back and haggled. It was quite simple really: “Why is this marked at $89.99?” “Uhm… I’ll give you a 10% discount.” Cash, no tax and I walked away after handing over 4 twenties. It plays pretty good. It’s a Jupiter. Stefan found a pretty good alto sax that he could have made about a grand on but he passed it up. We’re going to a 5 star music store this afternoon. I’ll let you know what we find.

Night time. We go out to the gig and we start having some serious concerns about the venue. For starters, we can’t find it. It may or not be in a huge shopping center that features a “SUPER Target” store. We do find it. It’s directly, immediately beneath an enormous, full size, brightly-lit, vivid red billboard. The blue note grill is in a tiny strip mall subsection of a huge mall shopping center complex. It’s next to a tattoo parlor. We thought it would be empty. Nope. Totally packed. Every table was taken. The Duke Street Dawgs were throwing down some killer bluegrass and old-time country swing. It was happening. Bill, the owner was super friendly. The food was great. We met Bill’s wife later on, Andrea. She was the cook as well. She’s the one responsible for that great Carolina Vinegar BBQ sauce. At the end of the gig she was all hugs and brought us all some bread pudding that she described as: “Be careful. It’s kind of like crack.” That was the best bread pudding I’ve ever had. Sorry Grandma.

The show itself was super fun. We segued from old time vibe into our core wheelhouse of repertoire and made the night happen real good. A dancer friend I’d met in Rochester, Angela, brought all her dancer friends out to the show and besides the regulars, we held the crowd late into the night. Baby Hands played great. We only had a few mics so we had to share a mic on all the spots where he needs to sing back-ups. I had to walk the mic-stand over to him and lean in. We were basically singing right in each others faces. It was kinda fun actually. I had no idea he was singing so loud! Right on, Baby Hands! While we are on the subject: Baby Hands fun fact for day #2. Did you know the names of Baby Hands’s revolutionary war ancestors? I promise that I will not invent any of these facts. This is for realz. There names were: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. And yes, they were triplets! Very rare at that time I’d imagine.

Last stop: after party. Before the show even started, an interesting old-timer who fully looked like a back hills moonshiner came up to our table in the back. He started speaking with a charming and surprising Welsh accent. “Are you the band? Won’t you please come to my home later. We are having a musician’s party.” He home brews beer and mead. He had a fire in the back. He rocks out on the harmonica. Him and his wife sing and shriek at the top of their lungs. They own gongs. Many of the folks from the Duke Street Dawgs were there with guitars and a mandola. Almost 20 musicians with guitars and fiddles. It was a song circle in the living room. Wood burning stove. We may have a video of Clifton playing the alpine horn… stay tuned.

Today – music store in the afternoon and then the Triangle Swing Dance Society tonight.

Tom Maxwell turned out to be a super cool hang. He and his band mates were extra chill as well. Got to hang out with James (keyboards) and Mark (Vibraphone) too. Good peeps. The songwriting really reminded me of John Lennon. This was confirmed by a song lyric later on which fessed up to the influence, “Why do I keep writing John Lennon songs.” James on the Wurlitzer kind of locked in the “Let it Be” vibe with his big George Harrison (circa Hey Jude) beard and happy smiling face.

But how did the night start? Kym Register at the bar. That’s a pretty cool name for a pretty cool chick. She wound up making us some delicious drinks because she had Tribuno sweet vermouth back there. Yum. Tribuno, the most under-rated $4 liquor store purchase. Makes a great Manhattan. Last night’s cocktail was a Boulvardier: equal parts Bourbon (Blanton’s in this case) Tribuno and Campari.

Tin Pan’s set was a good high energy hour. We’re so used to playing these long shows that just doing an hour is like a tornado of energy. I know that I don’t have to save my chops on the trumpet or my voice and we all just go for it. I was a sweaty mess within twenty minutes. The crowd was really appreciative both during and after the show. When the sound guy (Hey Greg), says that we were the best band he’s heard in a while it really makes me smile.

Before and after, Clifton, Baba G, and I did our prayer circle thing with the horns and the long tones. We went of behind the venue over by the train tracks. In our line of site, Old Bull cigarette plant, a large well let performing arts center, and the county jail. Tones and tibres of these three horns are beginning to affect me in a good way. I wonder what six sessions a day of this will do to us…

We wound up the night down the street at a bar called Whiskey. Clifton: “Can you make me a Vieux Carré?” Tall, smoking, blond bartender girl: “This is Whiskey.” They tasted great. All that was missing was the brandied cherry. I’m not going to complain. A straight ahead jazz band was playing. Tenor, alto, trumpet, good drummer, bass. Those guys were really putting it out there. Good vibes in that place. Got to hang with Tom Maxwell a little more and some other cats from the Pinhook. It seemed like “our” after party for a while there. Needless to say Stefan and I jumped in with the horns and Baby Hands got on the bass for a number. Clifton even broke out the French Horn to play some blues.

Baby Hands mysterious fact for day one. Hands goes over to the drummer and says “¿Como Estas?” The drummer says. “Ola Señor Manos.” Turns out Hands was the drummer’s Spanish teacher about eight or ten years ago.

Journey with us now over the next 10 days into the heart of North Carolina. Vinegar BBQ, lots of colleges, a little bit of Blue Ridge Mountains, and in fact the land of the Baby Hands. If nothing else we will learn the Baby Hands origin story. We are all after all sojourning in his native lands with those that have tasted with his native tongue.

Today, we have but arrived: flying into Raleigh and driving through the private north end of the airport to escape into the realm of Durham along route 70. We rendered ourselves unto our host, the Baby Hand’s older brother, Alex. He lives with his wife Jenny. They have dogs: Checkers and Babs. Checkers is all bark at first but really is a sucker for a strong rub on his hindquarters. I can relate. We ate at the Federal (pork sandwiches) and had some Foothills Pilsner and Eight Mile Milk Stout.

In a wandering spell of rectitude and discipline, Hyde, Zeniuk and Selengut have committed to playing unison long tones together a whopping six times a day. The instrumentation: French Horn, English Horn, Clarinet. Olivier Messiaen was roaming the halls of our last impromptu choral. Zeniuk, our spiritual leader in this regard, has assumed nominal and preposterous titles such as Felafel, Schwarma and Baba Ganoush. We look to him for guidance timing and knowing the correct direction to face before commencing.

Tonight we are at the Pinhook in Durham opening up for Tom Maxwell who could only be described as a heretofore Squirrel Nut Zipper. Should be good.

…have our music in another short film. This one is a student film by Francisco Guijarro Hernández. It’s called “Yes We Can.” The password is yeswecan_final

YES WE CAN Notodofilmfest from Fran Guijarro on Vimeo.

photo by Jay Frederick

Clifton was recently profiled by suchcoolstuff.net


Clifton Hyde is a Mississippi-born guitarist/composer/steel guitarist/mandolinist/producer/French Horn/Baritone Saxophone player/arranger/baritone guitarist currently living and working in New York City.

A member of the Blue Man Group, he has performed alongside such notable musicians as Lou Reed, Sigur Rós, John McEuen (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band), Julee Cruise, Vernon Reid (Living Colour), Pape Armand Boye, Ray Davies of The Kinks, Patti Smith, Phillip Glass, Michael Stipe, Debbie Harry (Blondie), and Jesse Selengut among other notables.

Making his feature film debut in Sona Jain’s “For Real”, Clifton performed as pianist for composer/tabla player, Zakir Hussain. His piano and steel guitar can be heard on the upcoming feature film, “Sun Dogs”.

He has also collaborated with the sculptures of French artist Alain Kirili and the paintings of artist Lou Rizzolo for the World Peace Art Initiative in Stavanger, Norway. He has composed modern classical music for modern dance choreographer Janis Brenner as well as providing music for the Czech-American Marionette Theatre.

He has performed in the pit for numerous Broadway/off Broadway shows such as Jesus Christ Superstar, Guys and Dolls, Hair, City of Angels, Return to the Forbidden Planet, Blood Brothers, Tommy, The Three Penny Opera, Little Shop of Horrors, Children of Eden, and many regional and touring companies.

Hyde currently works with The Blue Man Group (Zither/Chapman Stick), Tinpan (Guitar, Voice, French Horn, Music Director, Producer), & Gato Loco (Guitar, Baritone Guitar, French Horn, Producer) as well as producing and playing with numerous other projects and musicians.


How do you describe your music to people, Clifton?

By playing it…

Tell me about how you originally got into your craft.

Growing up in Mississippi we didn’t have much money but we definitely had a large family.  At least 2-3 times a week we would have singing sessions doing everything from Dylan & Beatles tunes to old church hymns & bluegrass standards.

My uncle David was the resident guitarist & song leader and I was in awe.  Around 5 or so he strapped a guitar on me and I never looked back…

What is your favorite thing to do in the whole wide world?

It changes depending on the day.  Today it is sitting peacefully alone and planning dinner…

What is your biggest challenge when it comes to running your business?

Finding time to myself.  All work & no isolation makes Clifton a volatile boy…

When you were a kid, what did you think you were going to be when you grew up?

I claimed the following trifecta:

-Lawyer

-Thoracic Surgeon

-Grocery Store Owner

In what way has your community impacted your development as a musician?

Growing up in the South you learn to play for the party.  If you aren’t getting people laid then you aren’t getting invited back.

What other artists out there do you love?

I’m fond of Murray Stenson, Mario Batali, Michel Rolland, Ken Burns, Raggedy Supreme, Dita Von Teese, & Meshuggah.

What does your future hold?

Hopefully some fine wine, candle light, good food, & great tunes…a perfectly made Manhattan wouldn’t hurt.

Perhaps you see flaming saxophones every day. Maybe the whole idea of flames jumping out of a huge baritone saxophone makes you yawn and check your texts. If that’s you, then please don’t waste your time on this video!

If this is your first time with this kind of thing, Stefan invented the Flame-O-Phone for a musical we did earlier this year. Now he’s got worked out so he can play melodies and actually make some pretty darn good music on it too. The song we’re doing here is “I Wanna Be Like You” from the Jungle Books film. The lyrics are about an Orangutan who wants to learn how to make fire so he can be like humans. This video is the evidence that the monkey figured it out…

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