Fresh Elixir Mixes

Before I forget, I did a series of new mixes on side one of my forever-in-progress album Elixr. They’re sounding much better. It kinda makes me wanna go back and remix my previous records; I’ve learned so much since I started doing this. Meanwhile the remaining four tracks are close, but they still need something in the arranging department.

The last song, City, is still in the tracking phase. I laid down a bass part a while back, but being a funk groove the bass is the lynchpin of the whole thing, and I wasn’t satisfied with the consistency of the phrasing. So I practiced for a while until I got a blister on my thumb. This prompted me to change my whole bass playing style from using alot of thumb on the lower strings to using mainly the index and middle finger. This in turn led to exploring a whole new range of dynamics and tone colors, so it took a little while to get it together before I could switch between the two modes of playing fluidly and it will. So now I’m ready to lay down another take but with the holidays coming up, the challenge is to find the time!

Anyway here are the remixed tracks. Enjoy!

Rocket to the Moon
Sea of Tranquility
Is It Safe?
Black Swan

Grand Designs

Getting used to the new piano and it’s, well, pretty profound really.

First of all it was epic watching three guys get it up the stairs. In this age of technology it’s still a matter of strength and balance. They ought to make it an Olympic event.

It took a couple of days for me to get used to it being in my living
room. Once we got the rest of the furniture and things that go on the furniture back in place it felt much better. The seating area is actually improved now. The couch and chairs are in an “L” with one end where the old piano used to be.

Of course this has triggered a cycle of rearranging everything. It started with getting some old kiddie videos off a shelf, and moved onto retiring some old origami and deploying some newer stuff. We have two more opportunities to rearrange the furniture coming up: once when the Christmas tree goes in and again when it goes out. But for now the piano is basically at the top of the stairs where the Christmas tree has gone in other years. Only problem is the shelf where I keep my sheet music is across the room. And I need a place to put my drink when I’m playing. (Obviously no drinks on the new piano. As a matter fact Thelonious Monk got banned for life from Birdland for putting his drink on their brand-new grand. So you know it’s pretty serious.)

As for playing – the first thing you notice is the sound is sooooo much nicer. So clear and pure. Every note has a voice and all the voices blend. The first day I didn’t play anything bluesy or jazzy or dissonant, just alot of triads and open chords. Next morning I spent a half hour just playing different voicings of D major, listening the sound interact with the room. Much better action dynamic range too, and different sounds at different dynamic levels and in different octaves all have their own character. Alot to explore in the upper and lower ends of the range. It’s gonna change my whole playing style.

Yesterday I did my first real practice. It felt like I had super speed. Some Keith Emerson passages I’ve been muddling thru for years just flew right out. But even while the action is faster the keys are heavier too. A few hour later typing on the computer it felt like I’ve been lifting weights with my fingers. Gonna take a while to get used to that.

Naturally the kids are totally infatuated. I gave them a lesson or two and now they’re playing Heart and Soul together, and each learning some different songs and patterns and things. Downloading chords from the internet and working the song out. I wonder how long that’ll last. It’d be nice to see them get somewhere.

I’m adding a few new songs to my repertoire, notably some standards starting with Body and Soul. Looking thru the sheet music took out of the old piano bench I found a hand-written exercise of ii-V-I’s on the cycle of fifths that I wrote out exactly 25 years ago. A time-travel gift from my past self. You can do a million things with this idea. So I’ve put it into my warmup.

Bananas for Pianos

I’ve been shopping for a new piano recently. My old piano is a Baldwin upright, built in the 1970’s. I got it in 2001 from a friend who is a professional pianist and upgraded to a grand for his home. I spent almost as much moving it two neighborhoods across Brooklyn as I did on the piano itself. A quality instrument, it still plays fine even though I’ve played it almost every day for many years. It has served me well.

I’ve wanted upgrade to a grand for a long time. I started by looking on craigslist a few months ago and realized there was a healthy market for used pianos, and it looked like there were some decent ones in my budget, but it would require some research and some patience. I looked again a few weeks ago but all the ones I was interested in were gone. So I started going to piano dealers to see how they compare. I figured the dealers would have some inventory and some selection, and their instruments would be rebuilt/refurbished, tuned up and in good shape, plus they’d also have warranties and be able to handle the delivery.

I spent alot of time the last few weeks playing different pianos and listening to their tone and dynamics and feeling their touch and response, as well as looking inside to see how they’re made, and doing alot of reading online about the history, quality and reputation of different brands. And I can tell you once you start listening and get in the zone, there’s alot of variation and you can start to discern what makes a really good piano.

I played a few rebuilt Steinways which were all really beautiful. It’s amazing, some of them were 100 years old and still hold their value. And they all have such great and consistent response and an unbeatable tone that’s well balanced between bright and mellow and mostly distinguished by a sea of lush and resonant overtones. It’s like the aural equivalent of a warm inner glow.

But unfortunately those were all beyond my budget, even the lower-priced ones. So I auditioned a number of other instruments. The one that struck my fancy was Kimball. Shiny black, very nice. It immediately seemed very warm and playable, with a big resonance and nice clear low end, being about six and a half feet long, which is a little longer than a typical baby grand. It has a great tone and response, almost rivaling a Steinway but for about a fifth of the price. It’s 25 or 30 years old but in basically new condition, having spent most of its lifetime not being played.

The better Kimballs are in line with Baldwins in terms of quality. They are regarded as well-built, sturdy workhorses but not a top-tier marque. Of course all piano companies have a long history and not all models or periods are equal, and there alot of Kimballs that are well worth staying away from. Apparently most American companies started manufacturing their pianos in China in the 80’s and 90’s and suffered from low quality in sound, workmanship and materials. It took them a while to really learn what they were doing, but newer pianos from China (almost all American brands except Steinway, which are still made in Queens NY, as well as some Japanese brands) are regarded as better built and generally a good value.

It turns out this particular Kimball is a real gem. It was built in Pawnee, Indiana at the time the Kimball owned the Bösendorfer company (world-class concert pianos from Austria, often regarded as the best in the world, superior even to Steinway) and shortly before they ended American production altogether, one of the last of its kind. It’s a so-called “Viennese Kimball” because its sound and feel are modeled on the venerable Bösendorfer concert grands and they took advantage of Bösendorfer engineering, craftsmanship and know-how in its design and construction. Plus it’s all top-flight materials: spruce soundboard, maple shell, black lacquer, ebony and ivory together in perfect harmony. Hopefully it’ll play great for many years.

The place I got it from is Ford Pianos in Peekskill NY. John Ford is a third-generation piano rebuilder and a really nice guy. First time I was there he showed me around his workshop and told me alot about piano materials and construction as well as the art of rebuilding. He gave me a good deal that included the moving and taking away my old piano as a trade-in. As an added bonus, since I’m a tall guy and my knees don’t quite fit under the keyboard, he’s making me a set of custom risers/casters to put under the feet and raise the instrument up an inch and a half. Very awesome! Turns out he’s also of Hungarian heritage, and his language skills are on the same level as mine, meaning his vocabulary is mainly centered around food.


Things have been going by fast around here. Hallowe’en came and went – we did our pumpkins in magic marker this year, and Lizzy birthday – went out for Japanese Hibachi steak house yum, as well as the clocks shifting, the much-ballyhooed election and a major deadline at work. I put in a few late nights and then took off the following Friday.

More fun: the windshield cracked on Lizzy’s car on her way to school one day so we had to get it replaced. Then it leaked in a rainstorm and we had to get it replaced again. Then Jeannie drove into a curb pulling over for a cop car and and banged up the bumper worse than it was before. Luckily I hadn’t gotten around to fixing that yet. Oy!

In the meantime if October was musical gig month, November has been origami convention month. I went to two conventions in two weeks. The first was OrigaMIT at MIT in Boston. It was alot of fun as always. The second was Origami Heaven at Stony Brook University on Long Island.

As usual I taught a bunch of classes. Since it’s the fall I taught my American Turkey out of my book Origami Animal Sculpture. Actually the American Museum of Natural History asked me for a model again this year for the origami Christmas tree, and the one they wanted was my Turkey, so that was the original motivation to dust it off.

This is a pretty complex model, about 100 steps in the book, with a color change and detailed feet with toes and a fan tail and wattle on the neck and everything. The model always gets compliments, but it’s hard to fold well. In particular it’s hard to get it to balance and stand on two feet. It takes a bit of finesse and you have to use the right kind of paper. In fact I folded a beautiful rust-orange one for the AMNH but the paper was too soft. Ah well. I ended up giving them one out of my OrigaMIT exhibit folded out of shiny paper from origami shop, because Talo was up at MIT and I knew I wouldn’t have time to go down the the museum this week.

Anyway I brought paper with me for the students to use, to insure they’d have a good experience. The class at MIT was quite full, but we got thru it all in the time allotted, and they all did quite well. This guy Zev Eisenberg even folded tiny turkey out of a 3” square. Finished size just over an inch. Then he put it in scene as larger-than-life monster to attack a tiny pirate ship he’d folded.

There’s a sequence in the middle that’s a bit tricky, but it went just fine in the class. I realize I’ve gotten better at explaining complicated origami moves over time. It’s been a few years since I designed this model and my style has developed since then, so I began to think about a more refined approach. I tried a few variations in the design that didn’t work but served to remind me about why I went the way I did.

The other class I taught at MIT was my Flowerball Evolution. This was essentially the same thing I taught at OUSA last June. This class was much smaller and included two sisters maybe 8 and 12 years old, excellent folders. The CPs for this class were published in the collection, and Jason Ku also published a limited edition volume of his own works that includes lots of his better-know models such as the Nazgul. Other highlights included Rebecca Gieseking’s vases and bowls, Wan Park in from Hawaii doing dollar folds, and Hugo Akitaya giving a paper on software he wrote for his thesis that converts CP’s to full-on Yoshizawa-Randlett diagrams

Even though the convention is one day, going up to Boston kills most of the weekend cuz we drive up Friday nite and come home Sunday morning. Still the energy level remained up even though it’s getting colder and darker every day. I even moved my workout from Tuesday and Thursday morning to Monday Wednesday Friday to accommodate the travel.

The next weekend we went to Stony Brook on Long Island for Origami Heaven. This was my first time going to this one although Srikant has been asking me for years. It’s not as technical or academic as the MIT one, nor quite as large, but it has alot of OUSA folks from NYC and was alot of fun. It was at the hotel on the Stony Brook campus and at lunchtime Jeannie and I took a long walk around. Lizzy applied there for college so it was good to see the campus.

I taught my Turkey again, and this time I made a few improvements to it, particularly smoothing out the troublesome middle section and also improving the landmarks and geometry or the tail. Still not totally satisfied but it’s getting there. Someday hopefully I’ll published a revised diagrams for it. There weren’t that many classes so in the afternoon I added one and taught my Adirondack Moose.

In the evening there was a dinner and free folding and a raffle and silent action. Jeannie got a bunch of tickets and we won a few sheets of really nice fine paper as well as the new book and Akira Yoshizawa, widely considered the godfather of modern origami. It’s a beautiful coffee-table book published by my publisher Tuttle. Very nicely done.

The other major thing going on right now is I’m shopping for a new piano. However this post is already kinda long so I’ll save that for another time.

Dem Tempos

I’ve had four gigs in three weeks. This last one was the LEFT HOOK at Victor’s in Hawthorne. It went well, definitely better than our gig a couple weeks ago. It was a good crowd too. A group of five younger dudes walked in around midnight, and we were sure they weren’t going to like our music, but they really dug it, particularly the Sam and Dave stuff.

One major change was an intense focus on tempos. We noticed that the songs have crept up over time, to the point where some of them were starting to lose their groove, and at the list gig few were counted off way to fast. So we went and listen the the original cut of every song we do and wrote down the tempo. Next rehearsal counted off each song to a metronome click and concentrated on not speeding up (or slowing down).

It was a total revelation! Everything was alot groovier and funkier, with more room for phrasing. It was like a whole new set. And it carried thru on the stand. One other thing we’re trying to do is string our songs together in groups of three or four within a set. So there was a bit of confusion sometime as to the countoff, but overall it worked. We’re gonna keep using the metronome until it becomes second nature, and that ought to raise or level of musicianship.

Now we’re back to pounding the pavement for some new gigs. Meanwhile we’re gonna learn a few 80’s tunes. So stay tuned.

Soprano Sax and Art Opening

I recently bought a new soprano sax. I’ve been looking for one for a long time. You can often get a good deal on a used instrument but you have to be willing to search and to wait.

The horn was from Roberto Winds, just about the last music store in the historic music district in midtown Manhattan. They’re a third-floor walkup and the space also has a bunch of practice rooms. Roberto himself makes beautiful high-end saxophones that are quite reasonably priced, at least compared to Selmers. But they’re still pretty pricey for your second or third horn. Fortunately they also do a brisk trade in used saxes, particularly old Mark VI’s, and they list part of their inventory on their web site.

I tried out about four horns and ended up getting a used intermediate model Yamaha, about ten years old but barely played. Lovely tone, intonation and balance. It’s a one-piece model without a separate neck. I also played one of Roberto’s horns as well as a pro-level Yamaha from the 1980’s. Both were better horns than the one I ended up getting, but were twice the price. For that extra money you get lots of amazing engraving on the bell, plus one level up terms of tone and intonation, that smooth silk-butter-cognac sound like my tenor has.

Ah well, the horn I got still very good, much better than my old soprano. While I was at it I got a new mouthpiece too, and Otto Link.

Only a few days later I got a chance to try it out. I had a gig at an art gallery in Hasting called The Square Peg. It was an opening for a painter named Jerzy Kubina who does these large, bold yet subtle, semi-abstract canvases. Great balance of color and tone, dark and light, very suggestive but not quite figurative, really amazing stuff. The band set up in front of a giant mural in this beautiful bright space, a perfect setting.

The band was my friend Charlie on guitar and Ed from the Ossining gig in July on drums, and this dude Joel on bass. We did a mixture of standards and Charlie’s originals. We were going to do one of my songs too, but we ran out of time. The band sounded really good, everyone’s playing was really on, and the crowd was enthusiastic and appreciative. The gallery owners were really nice people too. I hope to go back sometime.

LEFT HOOK Returns to Victors of Hawthorne

Fresh from our recent engagement at the Net, LEFT HOOK is back in playing form, and delivering some new funky soul material as well as all you’re favorites. Hope to see you there!

Music with a punch!
Westchester’s classic rock Funk & soul party band

Saturday October 22
8:30 PM
Victors Bar & Grill
500 Commerce St. Hawthorne

Rock and Jazz

Lots happening on the music front these days. My jazz group, the Haven Street Five, has been working on a bunch of my originals. We’re up to five or six of them now. The most recent, King’s Hex, is an uptempo waltz with voicings based on stacked fourths. The chart is four pages long, which is a break from my pattern of only doing songs that fit on a single sheet, and it’s a definite step up in terms of complexity. Still the guys in the band are really digging the material I’m bringing in and happy to put in the work to learn the tunes and make something out of them. In fact last rehearsal Gary suggested we record a CD of my originals and one or two covers.

I had planned on bringing up this idea in the new year when the Juke Box work is substantially done. We only have half an album’s worth of tunes right now. I have three more ready to go, but it takes a time to make demos and write out charts, and more time for the band to really learn the songs. I suggested everyone else in the band write one song each, and if you don’t have idea for a song just take a blues and write a new head. Gary came back and told me he tried that but ended up rewriting a Mile song.

I’ve also been doing some jazz jams with friend Charlie. Last Friday I sat in with his trio at a community center in Yonkers, a combination of his originals and some standards. They’re trying to get some kind of scene happening there, and although it wasn’t heavily attended, I think it has some potential. Charlie says he plays there once a month or so. Next Friday I’m playing with him at an art gallery in Hastings. This time we’re gonna go a rehearsal first, and I’m bringing a couple of my originals too. And the drummer is Ed B. from the bandshell gig I did with Lucas back in the summertime. Should be lots of fun.

I’ve been out seeing some of my friends bands lately too. A few weeks back I saw Sue and Fun Ghouls at a bar up in Mamaroneck. They’re a rock’n’roll bar band like the LEFT HOOK, but they’ve definitely leveled up since the last time I saw them, about a year ago, shortly after Sue and George joined the band on vocals and drums. Now they have a new bass player who also can sing high songs like Bon Jovi and the Outfield. Overall their sets have gotten much tighter, with basically wall-to-wall backbeat the whole time, one number into another, to really keep the crowd moving. Much improved vocal harmonies too.

Another night I saw my friend Jay playing bass backing up a vibes player at a local club Infusion. They’re looking to get some kind of jazz scene going there, so I’m hoping to get a gig with the Haven Street Five.

Saturday nite the LEFT HOOK played at Fisherman’s Net down in Pelham. It was a good show, especially considering we haven’t played for a few months. We had a good crowd and played our full third set since the people stuck around. Still, we’re trying to level up ourselves, get the beginnings and endings tighter, the tempos more consistent, and flow better from one song into the next. Trying to hook up songs into string of three or four to keep people dancing. Last go around we added a few funk/soul numbers like Vehicle and I Just Want to Celebrate. Next round of songs we learn are gonna be some 80’s pop-ish hit by band like INXS, the Fixx and the Cars.

One highlight of the show was, since it was Jeannie’s and my wedding anniversary, and she always likes to come to our gigs, the band learned Thank You by Led Zeppelin, and I sang it to her cuz it was our wedding song. She seemed pretty knocked out, and it went over quite well with the crowd too, especially considering we only rehearsed it once and never even got the whole way thru. Now we have a Zeppelin song in our bag, although probably not the one anyone would expect.

Tree Time

I used to have a champion Elm tree growing in my front yard. It was a great tree, the best, the tallest in my end of the block, over 100 years old. A couple years ago it succumbed to Dutch Elm disease and had to be cut down, leaving a giant crater. I finally got around to planting a new tree over the weekend. It’s a Japanese maple, very nice. Not so very big yet, but give it a few years. Obviously it’s a different kind of tree and will never get as mighty as an Elm, but still it ought to fill out the front yard quite beautifully. While I was at it I also re-graded and re-seeded the lawn. Luckily my neighbor across the street had pile of dirt he’s looking to get rid of, so I grabbed a few wheelbarrow’s worth.

And, wouldn’t you believe it, Lizzy already banged up the bumper on her car, on the opposite corner from where I painted it. Ah well.

We Got Elephants

Recently OrigamiUSA announced a partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in its official attempt to break the world record for the largest display of origami elephants. Who knew that was even a category? The goal is to reach 35,000 origami elephants to bring attention to the 35,000 elephants that are killed each year for their ivory. So I happily contributed a few, my own design diagrammed in my book, made out of 25cm Marble Wyndstone, A.K.A. Elephant hide paper. This was something of an experiment since I usually don’t make ‘em that small, but they turned out quite successful. I finally got the wetfolding down for this model. It’s funny how they all come out a little different, how each has its own personality.

While I was at it I made a couple to put on my desk at work, one for the Westchester office and one for the Manhattan office. Whenever put origami on my desk at work someone asks if they can have it, so I have to keep making more.

I don’t know when or where the exhibition of all these origami elephants will be (maybe the Bronx Zoo, cuz that’s where the Wildlife Conservation Society has their offices), and frankly I can’t even imagine 35,000 folded paper elephants, so it should be something to see. I expect there’ll be an announcement when the time draws closer. Hopefully it will be effective in raising awareness, cuz obviously we’d all like living elephants to be around for a while. By coincidence I’m shopping for a new piano these days, and I wonder what they use for the white keys. As I understand it the only legit source of ivory left in the world is digging up Wooly Mammoth tusks from the permafrost in Siberia.