Origami Animal Sculpture Now on Sale!!!

Today was the big day. My book Origami Animal Sculpture is now on sale in bookstores in North America (and maybe elsewhere) and also via the internet. Order your copy today!


And if you like it, go online and give it a nice review.

Van Halen Adaptiations 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.

Meet Mister Mantis

Home again and updating the blog again. I had planned on making my next post about how I finished my ebook or showing some video from the last Day Trippers gig, but both of those have a bit more work before they’re ready.

But then today I worked from home and got a good number of random tasks off my plate in my lunch hour, including an overdue round of yardwork that I didn’t get to last weekend. In the afternoon I noticed we had a very cool visitor. A giant praying mantis, over 6” long, was hanging out on my back door. I’ve never seen one of these in my neighborhood. He stayed all day, let me approach him quite closely, and was still there when I shut the curtain for the night. We’ll see if he’s there in the morning.

Also looks like the Day Trippers may have another gig in October. I’ll keep you posted.

There and Back Again

You may be wondering why you haven’t heard from me in a while. Well I’ve been doing a lot of traveling the last few weeks. One weekend it was camping in the mountains, next a soujourn on the seashore, and then an unexpected journey to Canada. I must say the trip to the beach was very nice and relaxing at least, but it already feels like it came and went too fast. In between I’ve been working on the ebook version of my book Origami Animal Sculpture, which ought to be ready in the next few days, just in time for the release of the print version of the book. Now of course it’s back to work and back to school and getting the fall off to a good start.

The Day Trippers

If you’re free this weekend and want to check out some live music come on down to Heights Fest in Berkeley Heights, NJ (http://heightsfest.com/). My band, The Day Trippers is kicking off the show at 4:00. It’s a fitting name since it’s a one-show-only Beatles tribute band. I was recruited to sing and play keyboards by my friend Ken, a.k.a Dr. Pluto, who is the bass player in my jazz combo. Ken is old friends with John, lead guitarist and mastermind, and his drummer Rob, who both live in NJ. We had one rehearsal over the weekend, and we all hit it off and the music came together really well. I was a bit surprised cuz I was singing lead and some of those Paul songs are pretty high; I figured my voice would be shot by the end but it got better as we went on. I could even hit the high notes in Band on the Run.

And So It Goes

It’s August now. Been busy with camping trips, seeing more family and friends, and getting things done at home. Work is still pretty busy too. I just finished a little skunkworks demo for my boss’s boss. My boss dropped it on me as she was headed out the door for vacation. Nice. Along the way I learned angularjs. It’s been a while since I’ve been deep in the javascript world, but angularjs seems like a nice framework, very helpful in writing logical, organized code. Or maybe my demo just happened to be in the sweet spot of what angularjs is good at.

Lots of churn on the band front. Right after my last post on the topic, our bass player and my good friend Mike quit the group. We got a new bass player now, who I found quite by accident. My friend Charlie guitar asked me to sit in one evening with his jazz group. I was unable to commit, but didn’t want to say no because we were scheduled to rock rehearsal that night, but with no bass I wasn’t sure it was on. I hit reply to all instead of just replying to Charlie, and one of the other guys in the jazz band said he’d be into playing bass with a rock group. This really confused me at first cuz the guy, Rob, plays piano in the bebop group. So he came down and it turns out he can jam on bass. He plays a fretless, which is pretty interesting.

Now the challenge moves to building up a set, getting more tunes and getting them tight. Our guitarist Jeff favors basic 70’s guitar rock and is reluctant to learn new material outside of his comfort zone. I like some of that stuff, but too much is not very interesting on the piano. So I’m trying to broaden the palette and some Steely Dan, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, maybe some Rush and Genesis and some other piano-oriented songs, as well as some more funk, ska, soul, new wave, etc. Should be interesting to see where it goes.

Meanwhile I have several other irons in the fire. I answered an ad for a group looking for a keyboard player in a Ronnie James Dio tribute band. They have some gigs lined up, so that could be fun. I also got an invitation to sit in with a group doing Beatles songs at some fair in New Jersey in a couple weeks, singing and playing piano with Dr. Pluto on bass. And lastly I’m trying to get Buzzy Tonic Live off the ground. Asking around to line up musicians. More on that as it progresses.

New Recording: Your Dancing Shoes

Here’s a rough mix of my new song Your Dancing Shoes. My friend Lee was supposed to come an lay down a guitar part, but we were never able to work out a time, so I did the guitar part myself. I used the Stratocaster thru my Roland JC amp. I had never really dug the strat before but this turned out to be just the right sound for the song. My part is pretty much straightforward rhythm. I had envisioned having a riffing lead guitar toward the end of the song, but since I don’t really solo on guitar I did that on sax. I’m sure now if the song gets too saxophone-y by then, but it’s pretty slammin’. So yeah, go ahead and enjoy.

Next up: To Be a Rock

New Song: Your Dancing Shoes

I’m close to finished song I’ve been working on lately. One feature of this song, which I’ve wanted to write for a long time, is a horn section break in the mode of Domino, Spain or Sir Duke. Last night I laid down the horn section tracks. All that’s left is some percussion and maybe rhythm guitar, and then onto mixing. I’ve been focusing on simplicity in my songwriting, at least in certain aspects. This one has a eight-bar chord progression that changes every two beats and loops over and over the whole song, nice and soulful.

Bb Eb C7 F7 Bb Eb C7 Bb
Bb Eb D7 G7 Eb C7 F7 Bb

The finished track should be ready soon. Meanwhile, here’s the lyrics. Not the deepest thing ever, but lively and fun.

Your Dancing Shoes
by John Szinger

Put on your dancin’ shoes
Don’t wanna hear about no bad news
I spent my nine to five just payin’ dues
So put on your dancing shoes

Throw down your safety vest
Kick off your working boots and give it a rest
Don’t wanna hear about what’s worse or best
Just wanna see you in that party dress

I’ll loosen up my power tie
Put down my thinking cap and let it all slide
Been payin’ dues yeah since the nine to five
Now all I wanna do is catch your eye

So put on your dancin’ shoes
Ain’t got time tonight to sing the blues
Yeah spent my nine to five just payin’ dues
So put on your dancin’ shoes

(horn break)

Now your decoding ring
And your utility belt don’t mean thing
My smoking jacket and my fancy pants
Now all I wanna do is see you dance

So put on your dancin’ shoes
Don’t wanna hear about bout no bad news
Ain’t got time tonight to sing them blues
Just put on your dancin’ shoes
Yeah put on your dancin’ shoes

(horn break and out)

Rock and Jazz

The summer’s been buzzing along nicely. I took some time off after OUSA and did some traveling, lots of seeing family and friends. Today we went to the beach, which was nice even though the sun never came out and eventually is started raining. Still we got a good swim in the ocean. All back home now. Tomorrow it’s back to work for the first full week in a while. Still lots of other fun stuff coming up this summer.

In origamiland I’ve gotten back all the models from my various exhibits, and am preparing a new round of exhibits. These will both be sent out by mail. One is Centerfold in Ohio, at the end of July, It’s the biggest origami convention in the Midwest. I wish I could go this year, but the logistics are too much. The other is for a bookstore in Lake Placid. They contacted my asking if I could do an event there. It doesn’t look like I’ll be able to make the trip this summer, but I figure since they were nice enough to reach out to me, and several of the chapters of my book are Adirondack themed, it might be a fun idea to send them a box of models to display and promote the book.

The third thing is I’m now starting work on the ebook version of my book for Tuttle. This ought to be fairly straightforward. They’re doing the actual production. I’m providing guidance and approval on the layout and format as necessary, and re-rendering any art assets that need t be scaled. Lastly, updating all the photo galleries on my website to use lightbox for slideshows has been in the offing for a long time and is inching closer to reality.

But this blog post is about how things are going with my bands. I’m happy to say it’s all going great. My jazz band seems to have solidified around the time I became a regular member, with a new bass player and piano player too. Things are now getting really smoking, with an ever-expanding set of material, played at a higher level of musicianship. One night when I came in I warmed up on the intro to Liberty City. The bass player Ken jumped right in, and so I found out he’s a big Joco Pastorius head. Now we’re doing The Chicken with Joco’s Soul Intro, and I get to do all the wailin’ Michael Brecker tenor parts, which is tons of fun. Last week we had another really amazing cat sit on alto, and I feel like my playing rose up a to meet him.

In the rock’n’roll realm it looks like the new group is going to work out, and sound better than the old group. The two guys that came in are Jeff on guitar and Mike on Vocals. At this point we’ve rehearsed three times and have about thirty songs. We’ve pretty much combined the best of our set list with the best of theirs, and started adding new material. Among the new songs I’ve learned are: We’re an American Band, Them Changes, (Ain’t Nothin’ But a) House Party, I Got You (I Feel Good), Dancing Days, Godzilla, Love Me Two Times, Can’t You Hear me Knocking, Brown Sugar, Honky Tonk Woman, Come Together, Miami 2017 and Dear Mr. Fantasy.

I’m singing lead on the Stones songs. Mike says he’s sick to death of singing these songs, but they’re a lot of fun for me. You don’t need a lot of range, you just belt it out. These are all saxophone songs too, so I need to manage switching between singing and playing the horn. We’ve also jammed a few others like The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys, Money and some other Pink Floyd, but these seem a bit sprawling for a bar set. The consensus is we need forty songs before we’re ready to gig out. And of course we need to get the ones we have tight, but that’ll come naturally.

The big thing now is we need to come up with a name for the band before we can start booking gigs. We’ve been brainstorming and tossing around ideas. So far the one to beat is The Strolling Jones.