More About the Saxophone

Last weekend we had a big ol’ snowstorm, over two feet in 24 hours. Clearing out was just fine. We went out Saturday just before dark, with about a foot on the ground, and cleared the front steps and a narrow path down the driveway to the street. Sunday morning it stopped snowing. The snowblower started on the first pull and took less than two hours to clear everything out. It immediately got warm after that, up above freezing every day, with some days in the 40’s or 50’s. Even though it’s been melting fast there’s still plenty of snow on the ground.

Toward the end of the week I finally had the chance to take my Mark VII tenor to my repair guy. His name is Virgil Scott and lives in Yonkers and works out of his house. He’s fixed everyone’s horn from Michael Brecker on down, and also runs one of the few remaining swing big bands on the scene. Been playing sax for over sixty years! So you know he knows what he’s doing.

My man replaced all the pads on the upper stack, plus a couple more on some side keys. Now pretty much the whole horn has new pads. He also replaced a few random bits of felt and cork, and made some adjustments. He even knocked out a couple of minor dents. I had thought he would need to take apart the horn at the bow to do this, but since the last time I visited him, he invented a special tool that goes in thru the neck.

After I got the horn home I took it pretty much all the way apart, cleaned and polished and oiled everything, and put it back together. Along the way I put on a few more bits of felt and cork, and got rid of the last of the clacking. It’s never looked nicer, shiny but well worn like C3PO. It plays much better too, especially in the low end of the range.

One or more of the new pads in the upper stack – I think it’s the B – may not be closing fully on all combinations of notes. Virgil says this is to be expected, as there’s lot of mutually interdependent things to adjust, and that I should bring it back in a couple weeks, after I’ve played on it a few times and it’s had a chance to break in, for him to give it a final once-over. Meanwhile, I clamped those keys shut before I put the horn away so as to give them a chance to seat better. I’ll bring the horn to jazz this week and see how it goes.

Left Hook at Burke’s Bar

Destined to replace the mud shark in your mythology, LEFT HOOK is moving up and kicking off our Slightly-Less-Crappy Bars of Westchester and Greater New York Tour of 2016 next month.

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

Saturday February 20, 10:0 PM
at
Burke’s Bar
645 Bronx River Road Yonkers

Actually Burke’s Bar looks like a nice place, and apparently they have a dinner crowd, so why not come out and get some dinner before the show. See you there!

BZ3 Update

I updated the page for the ongoing new Buzzy Tonic album, Elixr, at:
zingman.com/music/buzzythird.php

The page now includes links to the mixes of my three new songs, Your Dancing Shoes, To Be a Rock, and (When My) Soul’s on Fire, plus info and lyrics. That’s more than half of side two done. Only two songs left to go, the serene and poignant Ballad of Galadriel, and the epic and proggy Plague of Frogs! It’s a good thing too, I have a whole bunch of other song ideas ready to go outside of this album, and I’m writing new stuff for my jazz group too. Anyway, here it is, enjoy!

New Recording: Soul On Fire

We’re more than halfway thru January and winter has finally arrived in earnest. We got out first snowfall last night, and the start of a spell of sustained below-freezing temperatures. I’m weathering it alright. It helps that I’m working form home these days; don’t have to wait out on the train platform in the early morning. With the new Star Wars movie out Michelle asked that we watch episodes I – III, so we did over the weekend. I must say, they’re much better than I remember them, except episode I, which is even worse! I’d forgotten the bit where Jar Jar gets his tongue electrocuted and develops a speech impediment. Yeesh! Still, it’s frustrating because they could have been such really great movies if George had put a more effort into the characters and the dialogue and less into over-the-top CG action set pieces. Ah well it’s over now.

I’ve been able to get around to a few random tasks. I don’t have as much time for recording now since I’m mostly focusing on live bands, but I finally finished tracking the long-awaited Soul On Fire. I had laid down a sax part earlier but wasn’t quite satisfied with it. The new track is also the debut of my new Reference 54 tenor. It sounds quite good. I usually do a few takes and edit them together create the best total performance, but in this case I just used one take as-is with no alterations.

While I was at it I circled back and added a few synth parts to To Be a Rock. Martin had listened to my last mix and though it was missing something, and suggested I think in terms of David Gilmore. Well I didn’t add a guitar track, but I think I have something of that kind of feeling.

The Saxophone Situation

Today I had the chance to take a good look at my old horn, and made an inventory of the work it needs. Much to my relief I found the leak on one of the lower side keys that would account for the low-end tone problems. Everything else looks pretty tight. So I’m gonna get that replaced, plus the three pads in the upper stack, and a few bits of cork and felt to dampen the clacking. After that I expect it’ll play just fine again, and pretty much all the pads will have been replaced in the last two years. (Last major pad work I had done before that was 1999.) Then I’m gonna take the whole thing apart and clean and oil it, and put it back together. I’ll probably continuing using this horn for the rock band, particularly for gigs, and use the new horn mainly for jazz.

The Global Jukebox

I recently took on a very fun and interesting client. It’s Alan Lomax’s Global Jukebox Project. For those of you who don’t know Alan Lomax was musicologist who, beginning in the 1930’s went all around the world, from Texas to Siberia to all over Africa, Europe, the Caribbean, and even Buffalo, NY, building up a comprehensive library of folk music from all different cultures. Then he thought about ways of comparing them scientifically to see if they reveal anything about the relationship between the characteristics of the music and characteristics of the culture. It turns out they do.

Along the way he invented a thing called Cantometrics to evaluate the music along an exhaustive list of parameters. The results are really quite revealing – as a musician I’d even say mind-blowing – and are encapsulated in his book Folk Song Style and Culture. Highly recommended reading. It’s very well written, and ultimately speaks directly to the question of why all human cultures make music, and why different kinds of cultures make the kinds of music we do.

Except now you don’t have to read the book, because we’re building a web site to bring it to life! The Lomax foundation has literally thousands of hours of field recordings, backed by an immense a meticulously catalogued database. We’re pulling it all together to present interactively, using different ways to visualize the relationships including maps, trees, lessons and journeys.

I must say it’s a refreshing change from corporate, agile-driven software work. As the front end developer and UX/UI designer, I have alot of freedom to shape the site. They’re academics, and while they’re very smart and care deeply about the work, they’re not software engineers or interaction designers, so they’re also very hands-off and trusting about things in my domain. They also tend to be more laid back, creative and open, so it feels alot like R&D work. Right now it’s a fixed-length contract, but they have enough ideas for years of work, so I hope they have enough money too, and the gig transitions into a long-term relationship.

This is also by far the oldest legacy codebase I’ve ever worked on. The original Cantometric data was originally encoded on punch cards in the 50’s thru the 70’s and entered into an IBM mainframe computer at Columbia University. Sometime in the 80’s someone ported it to C or maybe Pascal, and into a relational database on a PC or a spreadsheet on a Mac or something. Then apparently in the early 2000’s they ported it again, this time into a modern platform that was web-ready and could be queried using mySql. Then they spent an enormous amount of time digitizing all the music and cleaning up the data. That bit still isn’t quite done, and my first programming task had to do with rights and clearances.

Still, it’s interesting how computers were part of the vision from the beginning. In Folk Song Style and Culture there’s an appendix explaining the software at the time, mainly the data encoding and the statistical analysis work. I haven’t looked forward to reading an appendix so much since The Lord of the Rings!

The Night has a Thousand Saxophones

I bought a new saxophone today. It’s a tenor, a Selmer Paris Reference 54. Very nice, great condition, almost like brand new, all golden and shiny, and it plays just fantastic.

My old horn is a Selmer Mark VII, and it it’s getting pretty long in the tooth. I just had a worked on a few months ago, and then first band practice of the new year a pad fell off. Oy! I was able to put it back on with tape, but the sound isn’t quite the same, and now it’s got to go into the shop again. In general the horn is fairly clackity, and it’s difficult to sound the low notes softly without using subtone. Like I said, the horn is old. Like forty-five years old. And I’ve had it and been playing it in working bands for almost twenty five years now. I think it may really need a complete rebuild.

So, the other night I was feeling kinda down about the situation, this being my main axe and all. On a whim I decided to look on craigslist to see if there were any saxes for sale. I’ve been looking off-and-on over last couple years for various things like PA equipment, a soprano sax, a bass clarinet, and even a tenor, but haven’t found a deal I wanted to take. The really good horns only go by rarely. There’s lots of crap out there, and sometimes some pretty good stuff, high-end second-rate stuff that tends to be really expensive. I figured for a tenor I’d never find a Mark VI or Mark VII that is good shape that I can afford, so maybe I’d look for a Super 80, or a Japanese model.

So I was pretty surprised when I saw this horn listed at reasonable price, and what’s more the guy selling it is right in my neighborhood. The Selmer Reference 54 is the current Paris model, based on over 100 years of saxophone making, the direct descendant of the Super 80, Mark VII, Mark VI, Balanced Action, Cigar Cutter and all those. It’s based on a Mark VI, the most legendary horn of them all, but with modernized design and manufacturing. Literally the best you can get. And beautiful engraving too. I have few other Selmers but none have the fully engraved bell like this one.

And I gotta tell you it plays like a dream. Butter and cognac and molten gold. Lots of little refinements mean the intonation is better and the tone is more consistent throughout the range, and the action is tighter, which means you don’t have to move your fingers as far and it just plays faster. Best of all the tone is rich and solid at pianissimo all the way down to the low Bb. I can play Lush Life again! The tone is clearer than my old horn, but still sufficiently dark and smoky, at least the way I play (I only played about three bars when the dude says to me “Wow, you’ve got a huge tone!”). And like I said, very shiny. Like new, just one or two tiny scratches.

Dude even threw in a second neck. I don’t know where he got it, but it’s not Selmer. But is makes the horn sound pretty different, more open and brighter. I’ll have to experiment with it.

As for my old horn, well it’s still a classic. People generally prefer the Mark VI over the Mark VII, but to me that’s a great horn. It’s got everything the Mark VI has plus a high F#. Mine has a great, tone, smoky and edgy, although that’s partly cuz it’s a but leaky, creaky, and squonky, and I’ve gotten used to its idiosyncrasies. Someone told me a long time ago that horns tend to improve their sound over time because the crystals in the metal actually reoriented themselves to align with the resonant energy patterns of the horn. I don’t know if that’s true, but it sounds like it could be.

So I guess I’ll take it to my man in Yonkers and at least have him replace a few bad pads and whatever bits of felt and cork have fallen off since the last time, and see how far that goes. Who knows, maybe that’s all it needs. I can ask about the rebuild, how expensive it is and how long it’s likely to take. If it’s not outrageous I’ll probably go for it, since the work goes straight into the value of the horn, and I have another horn now, so I don’t need it back in three days or less.

Meanwhile I’ll spend time some exploring my new horn and getting used to it. Next up, I need a new mouthpiece too. I don’t even know if they make the kind I use anymore.

Graphic Design from Outer Space

Happy new year everyone! I’m just getting back into things after a nice break for the Holidays. Lots of visiting friends and family. Now it’s lots of catching up on random tasks. And, after a really mild December we had our first brace of truly cold weather. Eight degrees this morning, brrr. But still no snow.

It’s been a while since I posted anything about origami and my new book, so I bet you’re wondering what’s up with that. Well, I’ve been continuing to chip away at designing and diagramming new models, and I finally came to an agreement with my publisher about the kind of paper to use in the new book for folding. Next step was to come up with some sample graphic designs to use on the sheets. This task was hanging out there for a while, because I didn’t really have a concept for how to proceed. Mostly I knew the kind of designs I didn’t want.

I finally found a source of inspiration in a geeky cookbook that Michelle got for Christmas, which included some space-themed cakes and cookies. And then today I finally had the time to sit down and work out the designs, print them out, fold the models, refine and repeat. Hopefully my publisher is on board with the direction and we can get this show on the road. Meanwhile go ahead and enjoy these pics.

Mo’ Better Responsive

I’ve pretty much completed a first pass at making all the pages on my web site mobile-first responsive. Along the way I made a hit-list of items that were too much trouble for the first pass, so now I’m circling back to them. They mostly fall into one of a few categories. First is tweaking the existing styles and fleshing out new ones so the page layouts look good under all resizing and formats. Things like font size, padding and spacing. There’s also a few pages with unusual formats that still have to get converted. Some of this gets pretty subtle and I didn’t want to let it slow me down, but it’ll be worth it. Second is adding new content to the existing sections, and I’ve been doing this on an ongoing basis. It’s getting easier now, as the templates are all largely complete. You’ll notice an expanded roster in the music section, for example. Third will be some all-new presentation formats for the audio and visual elements of the site, but that’s still a little ways off. So for now, go click around and see what you can see.

The Haven Street Five

Happy Holidays everyone. I’ve been having a good break with lots of parties and travel, and two trips to the movies. I had a bit of downtime too and I’m finally getting around to a few random tasks. Today I put up a web page for my Saturday jazz group, now known as the Haven Street Quintet, or Haven Street Five. It includes an official band photo and a bunch of audio.

http://zingman.com/music/havenstreetfive.php

Most of the work was actually mastering the audio. The recording was actually quite good, done old-school style with a single microphone in the middle of the room. It came out well balanced, and I didn’t need any EQ, just a bit of dynamic boost, and trimming the beginnings and end, and converting it all to mp3s. Here’s our take on Giant Steps. Enjoy!