Seven Jazz West

Switching gears completely, my jazz group has booked it’s first gig. We’re playing Friday November 14 at the Bassline Jazz Club in Mount Vernon, starting at 9:00. The address is:

The Bassline
130 E 1st St, Mt Vernon, NY 10550
(914) 433-1052

For those of you who don’t know, we play a good variety of modern jazz, straight-ahead, hard bop, latin, and funk, from cats like Miles, Monk, Mingus, Joco, Horace Silver, Wayne Shorter, Hank Mobley, Clifford Brown, Joe Zawinul, the list goes on.

Rehearsal have gotten a bit less relaxed now, as we want to get everything tight for the show: beginnings and endings, transitions, who’s soloing when and all that. Should be no problem, but we have a half-dozen or so new tunes in addition the ones we already know well. We actually have enough material for two shows, so if the first show goes well we’ll do another.

Now we need to come up with a name for the band. The top contender right now is the Seven West Jazz Band, or some variation on that, because there are seven of us and we rehearse in Westchester, and it’s short and easy to say. There are other ideas floating around. We’ll see where it ends up.

Night Trippin’

Last night’s Day Tripper gig at the Crossroads went quite well. The Crossroads is a really nice place for bands, with a good stage and sounds system, pretty large and pretty full of people. There were two other bands opening for us, and both sounded really good. By the time we got on stage it was almost 11. We did seventeen songs, just over an hour. If we had more songs we could have gone on longer, but that was all we had.

Musically most songs were right there. Good response from the crowd, and we had new people coming in throughout the show. A couple minor issues, coming out of the bridge of Here Comes the Sun, the ending of Lady Madonna, and on the last couple songs energy level seemed to be flagging a bit. We did some of the real high screamers early in the set – Don’t Let Me Down, Band on the Run and I Want You (She’s So Heavy), but my voice stayed strong the thru the end of the set, and I felt I delivered a good performance. My voice continues getting stronger in terms of range, endurance, control and expressiveness. Woo-hoo!

In fact we’re getting good enough now that I feel we need to work on taking it to the next level. Really tighten and polish the arrangements and vocal harmonies, string together the songs in threes or fours without a pause, work on our between-song banter, and generally keep the flow of the show going. As a singer I know the songs well enough now to focus more on performing them at an emotional rather than technical level. Plus we need to learn a bunch more songs. We seem to be learning about 8 to 10 per show, so for the next one we want to get up to the 25 to 30 range.

So I guess we’ll see when the next gig comes up and take it from there. Meanwhile the Crossroads also has jazz, so we may get a gig there with our jazz group.

Origami Animal Sculpture Reviewed at Gilad Origami

My book Origami Animal Sculpture has been reviewed by Gilad over at Gilad’s Origami Page ( For those of you who don’t know, Gilad has a pretty comprehensive origami site with lots of reviews and galleries and an expansive database of lots of different models (by subject) telling you where you can find diagrams to fold such a thing.

He says of my book: “John Szinger has a knack for creating complex-looking designs with ample attention to details, which are actually not incredibly complex to fold. The models … using an innovative array of folding sequences, are well-designed, maximizing the surface of the paper and making them suitable for folding from almost any type of paper.”

I consider this great praise, as that’s pretty much what I’m going for. You can read the full article here:

Gilad has also folded and photographed several models from the book. I particularly like his rendition of my Brown Bear. It has a really nice snuffling quality.

Every Which Way But Loose

Everything looks bright and shiny on the band front these days. First, the Day Trippers have gig coming up (see my previous post) and we’ve been learning a bunch of new material, including Rain, Lady Madonna, Hello Goodbye, Dear Prudence, I Want You (She’s So Heavy), Here Comes the Sun and a few others. Hope we have time for all of them. I played an Abbey Road medley – from She Came in Through the Bathroom Window on – for the guys in the band. While they all agreed it sounded great and was a great idea, they also thought it was too much material to learn for this show, so it’s on the slate for the next one.

Second, my jazz project may actually be getting some gigs. Our drummer and leader Mike is booking us into a place called The Baseline in Mount Vernon. After a year of rehearsing we’ve gotten to the point where we sound pretty damn good, and I feel like people are missing out not hearing us. Personally I feel like my sax playing has gotten back to the point where it’s as good as or better than it’s ever been, and that’s saying something looking back at the days of Event Horizon. My tone is really great, and my sense of time has improved, and I can even slalom those bebop changes. But now I’m much more relaxed, focused on melody and phrasing and dynamics and expressiveness. On songs we’ve done a few times I know I can forget about the chords and just blow, and really tell the story. Now the challenge moves on to having something fresh to say each time. On top of that it’s a really good group and all the players are really strong. I particularly dig Rich, Mike and Ken on piano, bass and drums. So I hope this gig comes through. I’ll let you know when we have a date set.

Third, the rock band has reformed and it looks extremely promising. Two weeks ago I brought in young Wolfgang Skywalker on bass to meet Gus and Jefferson. Gus is our drummer, and he’s pretty tough on bass players he can’t groove with. But he fell right in love with Youngblood within sixteen bars of the first song. Even without a guitar it was an excellent rehearsal. The whole things sounded more solid and energetic. One of the songs we were considering dropping was Long Train Running, but with the new bassist the song had a whole lot more energy and was suddenly a keeper. And the group is moving in much more of a funk and soul direction, which I really like. At the end of the session we decided to add another James Brown song and another Sly Stone number. Also Youngblood amazed us all even more revealing he’d only been playing bass for two years (switched from cello) and is taking lessons with John Pattitucchi.

The next week were joined by Gary Guitar. He fit in really well. Like Gus and myself he’s a seasoned pro and knows tons of songs. He favors a clear jazzy tone that fits right in with the direction of the group. So now all we need to do is learn a bunch of songs and think of a name for the group and then we can start booking gigs. I’m expecting we’ll be ready around the new year.

Only thing I’ve been neglecting is my home recording situation. Well not exactly neglecting. I’m working on a new song, To Be a Rock, and it’s been slow going. I haven’t had a really big block of free time in a while, so it’s bit by bit. I had put down a scratch piano and drum track to lay out the time, chords and structure. Then I got to work on the bass line. The song begins with a bass solo, which is fairly hard to play, at least for me, so I had to practice it a while, and it took me several attempts at recording it to really nail it. So that’s in the can now, and it’s time work on the other parts. Listening back, neither the drums nor the piano sound very good to me, so I’m looking at having to tear them down and basically start over. Ah well. Should be worth it in the end.

Down to the Crossroads

My Beatles tribute band, the Day Trippers, will playing Saturday night, October 25 a place called Crossroads in New Jersey. It looks like a pretty cool place. Recently had Stanley Jordan on the bill. The address is:

78 North Ave Garwood, NJ 07027
(908) 232-5666

Oddly, they’re in the middle of a block. Also, our guitarist John put up a facebook page for the band, featuring some photos and videos of our earlier gig:

So come on out and have a good time. Hope to see y’all there.

What Is and What Should Never Be

I went to two rock and roll concerts this week. I can’t remember the last time that happened. One was for Alan Holdsworth, angular post-fusion jazz. Power trio format. Went with my origami friend Marc. The show was at a really cool club in Times Square called the Iridium. Good food even. Great stuff but the kind of music where most of the audience left their wives at home.

The other was Robert Plant, where the audience included a pretty high chick quotient. I brought Jeannie, party in celebration of our upcoming anniversary. We figgered the closest we’d ever get to seeing Led Zeppelin. This was at the Capital Theater in Port Chester, which is has become one of my favorite venues to see a show. It was set up with an open floor area with a bar at the back. We ended up hanging out mostly at the bar. Plant played a lot of new stuff which he described as “country and eastern” and it was good stuff in a sort of Texas-blues-meets-Kashmir kind of way, and Robert still can sing. The first Zeppelin song he did was Thank You, which was the song Jeannie and I danced to at our wedding. So by the end we were slow dancing in the theater and kissing blissfully; it was a very tender moment. Standing next to us were two really tall blond ladies – maybe over six feet tall. Good looking, one of them was a dead ringer for Erik’s wife Jen, and the other looked like she could be her sister. They were quite friendly, chatting, buying me drinks, and one of them kinda hanging off me once she was tipsy a little bit later on, despite the fact I was obviously already with someone. Maybe they were after me cuz I was the only guy around taller than them, I dunno. Jeannie dubbed them “team blonde”. The tipsy one indicated Jeannie and asked “is that your girlfriend?” I told her “that’s my wife.” A minute later I turned around and they were gone.

So Very Autobiographic

I read two books this week, both autobiographies of famous Californians. I read a lot of nonfiction, particularly histories and biographies, but not usually contemporary pop culture figures. Still. One was Total Recall by Arnold Schwarzenegger, actor bodybuilder and politician. This was a natural follow-on to having re-read the whole Conan the Barbarian series last month. One interesting thing was his childhood in Austria. Arnold grew up less than 100 miles (160 km) from my dad in Hungary. He talks about when he was ten years old or so helping his dad, the police chief, take in a flood of refugees who crossed the border after the revolution. Also made me decide to add some exercises for my lats to my workout.

The other was Crazy from the Heat, by David Lee Roth, original frontman for Van Halen. Having gone back and listened to their albums again with a fresh ear (currently enjoying Diver Down in heavy rotation), I’ve concluded Diamond Dave was the real magic ingredient. He’s a very smart and insightful guy, and has a couple things to say about music that really struck me:

“Tone is a direct result of your personal character. And that tone will come out regardless of the equipment you use. You will fiddle about until you have the perfect representation in your mind of who you are, whether you know it or not.”

And a bit later:

“The saxophone was the original fuzz tone instrument. That’s the barometer of soul power, that’s what you set your watch to.”

Interestingly, both Arnold and Diamond Dave mention reading Teddy Roosevelt’s autobiography, which I read a few months back.

Churn Churn Churn

So Gus and I have decided to reboot the rock band. After jamming together since June, the summer came and went and we didn’t have any more than a few songs really tight and weren’t ready to start playing out. Our bass player wasn’t really cutting it, and our guitarist was not willing to learn new material and was just kind of a dickhead in so many ways it made you wonder how he was able to function in the world of adults. The kicker for me came when we couldn’t even make Roadhouse Blues sound good last rehearsal. I was thinking “I’ve known high school kids better than these guys!” So we had to let them go. Later I found out the bass player was coming back from a long period of not playing due to a hand condition, and I felt bad about that, but I was glad to be rid of the guitarist.

That left me, and Gus the drummer and Jefferson the singer. So we’ve been looking for new musicians. I got lucky cuz there’s been a guitar player Gary who’s been sitting in with the jazz group the last few weeks. He’s an excellent player, you could tell from the first note, great sound and phrasing. And I was telling him about my learning Van Halen on the piano and he had a few things to say about Eddie (“He’s the real deal”), so I had a hunch he was also a rocker. At the end of the jazz jam I made my pitch for him to join the rock group. “Yeah I do all that stuff. I’m your man”, he said.

Then I got a referral from a friend for a bassist looking to join a group. He was pretty enthusiastic about both the cover band and the possibility of a group based on my originals so I invited him over to jam and see what happened. It turned out he’s a high school kid! Just a couple years older than my kids. My mind was truly blown.

But man, he sure could play. Particularly into Joco, James Brown, and all kinds of funk and jazz. His knowledge of classic rock is kind of limited but he’s a quick study. He was also able to grok my originals, which are too hard for a lot of people. Still, I’m not sure I want to take him on. Yeah there’s a chance he might flake, or his parents wouldn’t let him continue with the group down the line, or it might be hard to work at a bar with him in the group. No matter what he’s not that experienced. But you gotta figure a kid who’s that good has the capacity to focus and would pretty much have is act together. Also, I was playing in bands working in bars when I was just seventeen, and never had any problems if I didn’t try and order a drink. No, the reason is this:

When I lived in California I was in horn-section funk band called The Hip Pocket. It was one of the better bands I’ve even been. Played a lot of great gigs. There were 4 guys in the horn section and 10 in the whole group. It was also a 50-50 split of black guys and white guys. The bass player was this dude Dmitry, who was the second best player I’ve ever played with. (The best was Jim Wynne, master of two-handed tap who had a whole technique he developed after borrowing a Chapman Stick for a few months but had to give it back. We were in several bands together including Automatic Man and The Purple Connection. After he left my group Event Horizon he went on the play in Gamalon.) Anyway Dmitri was from Odessa, in the Ukraine, where he’d been classically trained on symphonic bass. But he loved funk. And in a year of playing with him I never heard a single clam. Such a solid groove. Then one day he told us he was leaving the group cuz he’d been accepted into Berklee School of Music. We all wished him the best, then we tried to find a replacement and when we couldn’t find anyone as solid the band had to break up.

I told this story to the kid I was auditioning and he said “that’s my plan!”. Oy!

The good news, however is Ken, the bassist from my jazz group and The Day Trippers, has changed his status from “maybe” to “very interested”. The reason being one of his other bands seems to have folded. He didn’t want to commit cuz he was already in two other groups. If we get both Gary and Ken I feel we’ll have a really solid group that could do some serious damage!

In other news, The Day Trippers next gig has been confirmed for the last weekend in October for some bar in New Jersey. I’ve requested we do an Abbey Road medley. I’ll let you know as details emerge.

In other news Lizzy is learning De-Lovely for her performance group, so I dusted off my Cole Porter songbook to try and learn it on piano.

Van Halen Adaptations for Piano

As my rock band lurches on I’ve been looking for new songs to add to the setlist. Going for an upbeat party vibe, and this led me to some early Van Halen. I’ve always felt that VH has something that none of their imitators did, and that’s old-timey jazz as one of their influences. The Van Halen bros. father was a big band sax and clarinet player, and of course David Lee Roth’s fondness of Louis Prima is well known. I also recently found out Michael Anthony’s dad was jazz trumpeter and MA also studied trumpet and jazz bass before he switched to rock.

So I got the VH songbook to work out a handful of their songs and make piano adaptations. (Last time I tried to do this, by ear, I ended up writing Heat Wave instead.) I’ve narrowed it down to just a few songs for now: Runnin’ With the Devil, Beautiful Girls, I’m the One, and Feel Your Love Tonight. These tunes have a boggie shuffle beat, lots great chromatic harmonic movement over 7th chords, and superb backing vocal parts, including a whole bop-do-wah shoobie-doo-wah section in one.

The books are funny because they’re designed for guitar players, with obsessively superdetailed tab and guitar-specific annotations to the phrasing, but no bass (or left hand piano) part at all. I guess this is alright cuz Bach sheet music (for example) is biased toward piano players. If you work beyond the idiosyncrasies of the notation to grok the underlying music, it’s really not so complicated to play. Of course I have to change some of the voicings to work better on piano – power chords can be pretty boring – but the basic concept of the interplay between comping and tossing in riffs, and Eddies phrasing and timing, reminds me a lot of Fats Waller and those cats. Since there are no bass parts in the music I have to go back and listen to the records and fill in my own thing to get the left hand sounding right. I’m doing a lot of stride and walking bass lines.

Then it’s onto the solos, where everything goes completely bananas. The good news is I can play fast, and the solos are all written out, and since Eddie is classically trained a lot of his solo lines remind me of Keith Emerson. The whole thing is very tight. The only thing is I have to go back and listen to the record to see how exactly its sounds compared to how it’s notated when the tremelo bar gets into the action. Figuring out the bass part here is a bit harder since Eddie loves to modulate when it’s time for the solo, and then play outside the changes on top of that.

The last thing is putting the vocal on top of everything else. David Lee Roth is pretty much in my range, but I’m trying to bring out his phrasing and style. One more gotcha: when you go back and listen to the records, they tune down a semitone. So the choice is to play it in E or Eb. Eb is slightly easier to sing, but I have to read all the parts down a half step. This is not so bad actually. But then I wonder when I bring it to the group if the guitar player will want to tune down or do it in E.

Of course the guitar player I have now says Steely Dan is too hard, so he’ll probably be scared shitless to do a VH song. The good news is, even though he doesn’t know it yet he’s been kicked out of the band. Bad news is now we have to find a replacement.