Wintry Mix

Been busy recently.

The days are getting longer and the weather getting milder, even some sunshine. I think the end of winter is in sight. I’ve been working out in the mornings, but now it’s daylight. Been focusing on the legs, building strength. We might go even skiing next weekend.

Last weekend was Jeannie’s birthday. We saw a great concert in the city. There’s a little nightclub inside the Apollo. The show was Matthew Whitaker, a blind, sixteen-year-old piano prodigy. Jeannie actually saw him a few years ago because he’s the son a friend from her old job, and she’s been telling me ever since to check him out.

The kid is amazing. Matthew’s main influences are Chick Corea and Stevie Wonder, but there’s flashes of Herbie Hancock, Ray Charles, Oscar Peterson and lots of other stuff in there. He also plays a mean Hammond organ, including some bass solos on the pedals, and some tasty Moog. He has his rig set up kinda like Keith Emerson, with the piano and organ back to back, and the synth on top of the piano. The thing that amazes me the most is how he’s able to draw straight line thru 100 years of jazz and R&B, from Art Tatum to Gnarls Barkley, and make it all sound unified while treating each style faithfully and making it his own.

Its crunch time at my day job. We’re in the bug-fix Olympics and our CEO has offered a bonus to whoever fixes the most bugs in the next two weeks, like a pirate captain nailing a gold, silver and bronze coin to the mast. Too bad cuz last week I fixed 11 bugs, by far the most in the company, but they don’t count toward this goal.

Jay and I have been continuing on with mixing Buzzy Tonic. We have four songs in the can, five to go. I’ve decided to re-track the bass for Rocket to the Moon because the existing take is not very well recorded. This is because it’s a very hard part to play. So I’ve been practicing and trying a take every day. Getting closer but still some rough spots. Jay was over the other day and and I showed him the riffs and he could just play ‘em like that. Basterd.

We’ve also begun work on the jazz record. When we left the studio not everyone was really satisfied with their playing, but I knew we had enough coverage to put together a killer take of every song. I don’t think Jay really believed it until we started cutting together the songs. This is more my area of expertise but he added an invaluable pair of ears. One thing I’ll say is that our tempos were really consistent. At one point I dropped in a whole ‘nuther solo, something like a minute and a half of music, and at the end had to adjust the timing by only a few milliseconds. We got thru half the songs and hope to do the rest this weekend, then move on to the actual mixing.

On the downside, it looks like our rock band may finally be dead. Been trying to get everyone together but it’s just not happening. More on that in a future post.

Meanwhile right now the Olympics are on, which is cool and fun, but I never watch TV anymore so the ads are all really weird.

Recorda-Me

We had our long-awaited recording session this weekend. It came off great, without a hitch. Thanks to Robert Kessler for the use of his studio and for doing the session engineering, and to Josh his assistant. The whole process went really smooth and the sound was great. As mentioned before, Robert has a great live room with a Steinway Grand piano, and a deep bench of mics and preamps, an overall comfortable setup, and he really knows what he’s doing. So the group could just relax and focus on the music.

We actually managed to record a whole album of material, nine songs in all. In the end we jettisoned the cover and added two more originals, both from Gary. A Minor Event is a cool hard bop blues kinda of number, and Case DiGozo is very latin, bouncy and piano-driven with a fun drum solo.

We got there around ten and by the time everything was set up and we were rolling tape it was a little after noon. We averaged around forty-five minutes per song. In that time we got at least one good take, and usually two or three, and since we figure we can splice them together we have a few of just the first part or last part of a song. Everyone in the group did a really fantastic job playing. Gary, Dan, Rich and Jay, thank you all.

Next comes the editing and mixing. Jay and I are going to do it in my studio. Fun fun fun.

And just in time too. We’ve all been writing new songs. I have a number called Lift Off, inspired in part by John Coltrane’s Countdown, and particularly the idea of having a sax-and-drums section to lead off a song. However I picture the groove more like Bodhisattva by Steely Dan.

Harmonically I’ve been experimenting with chord substitutions, specifically different ways of embellishing a ii-V by putting another ii-V inside of it. The pattern I’m using for this song is to lift the inner ii-V up a half step, so you get ii-biii-bVI-V. You can loop it into a iii-IV-iiV and you’re off and running. By the time you get to the bridge it’s kinda whole-toney and Monk-ish. I had envisioned it uptempo, but once I put down a melody and started practicing, I discovered it works great as a ballad too. So we’ll see where it goes. Sometimes songs take on a life of their own.

Wintertime Blues

The weather had been mild the last few days and the snow has melted again. Good thing too, I’ve had as much as I can take.

My mixes are coming along for the new Buzzy Tonic record. I applied the same set of FX Jay put on the first song to the rest. This is mostly EQ and compression on the individual tracks. The most noticeable thing is the kick and snare drums are much clearer, and sound louder, and the bass and cymbals too. The kick went from a thwomp to a thud and the snare has a nice bright snap. Everything is much clearer and in it’s own zone across the spectrum. After that I needed to dial all the balances again. Some things were too loud and all the subtle blends needed to be recreated. Now that’s taken care of and things are sounding really good. Of course I’ve yet to hook up my new studio monitors, so that’ll be the acid test. Hopefully I’ll have Jay come in for one more session and we’ll finish the record.

Meanwhile the jazz group has a date set for our recording session, the 28th. I’m glad now we didn’t record last December cuz the songs are that much better. Looser and tighter. We’re thinking we can record a whole album if all goes smoothly and our energy holds up. Else we’ll just go until we run out of time and get as much as we can. We have three more rehearsals to go. This last weekend I sat down and wrote out the scales to the changes in Gary’s tunes. The set list looks like this.

1. Buzzy Blue (John) – a bossa blues with cool changes on the turnaround, Miles meets Jobim. Nice and easy, a good warmup.

2. Samba Astor (Gary) – Spanish guitar with a Chick Corea vibe. Lotsa chords, not in an easy sax key.

3. King’s Hex (John) – crazy uptempo jazz waltz with a free modal solo section, channeling Coltrane. Tracks 2 and 3 are the complicated ones that we anticipate might take a couple tries to nail.

4. Slope (Jay) – very bluesy ballad, partly in 5/4, with the melody on the bass.

5. D-Bop (Gary) – cool and clever uptempo number with a 3/4 interlude.

6. Dark Skies (John) – minor jazz ballad. Great changes if I say so myself. Needs a better title. The image I have is of a pre- or post-thunderstorm moment when the sun is breaking thru the clouds or covering up. The juxtaposition, the light behind the dark, or inside the dark. I was thinking of Burnished Skies but don’t know if that has a ring to it.

7. Atonement Blues (John) – a joyous and laid back gospel blues, Branford vibe. It’s not strictly a blues because the chords are all dominant 7th chords and it actually hits all twelve of them once each chorus, like a tone row for chords.

8. Have You Met Miss Jones? (Rogers/Hart) – a standard; the bridge is probably the inspiration for Giant Steps.

Origami Heaven

Winter coldness continues. We had a couple days last week where the temperature got well above freezing and everything melted, then it shot right back down again. Snow expected again tomorrow.

This weekend Jeannie and I went to the Origami Heaven convention in Stoney Brook, LI, sponsored by the Long Island Folding Enthusiasts (LIFE). It’s among the smaller conventions, but a really good time. It’s at a nice hotel, so there’s a really good breakfast and a comfy bar on-site. Lunch and dinner is catered by the hotel for the convention, really good food. I only with I had a chance to use the hot tub!

I taught my Monoplane and my Flying Fish. Both of with went over well, and teaching them allowed me to refine both the model and the folding sequence. I took a few classes including Paul Frasco’s Gnome. Inspired by Michael LaFosse’s brass origami squirrel, Paul is teaching himself how to make cast resin sculptures out of his models, and experimenting with materials and techniques. So far he’s made a Duck (naturally!) and a multi-part Lion. It turns out you can mix grains of metal in with the plastic and come out with a material that had some metallic shine and some serious heft.

In other news, I’m in the process of review the comps from my publisher for my Origami Air and Space book. There are a few minor layout an alignment issues, but overall it’s looking really good. The cover is just great!

ZMP Origami Update

We we endured a pretty deep cold snap, with temps down close to zero every day for the last two weeks. Today it finally got up above twenty. Woo-hoo!

In other news I updated the origami page of my website:
zingman.com/origami

It’s been two years since the last major update. I have about a dozen new models, mainly airplanes, spaceships and flowerballs, and of course the flying fish. Alot of the work went into image editing, and while I was at it I updated some of the older models with new pics. Of course there’s always more to do. Next steps include support for multiple images for each model. I hope to get to that sometime this winter.

Enjoy!

ZMP Music Update

A cold and stormy day today, a genuine blizzard.

I updated the music page of my website:
zingman.com/music/

I put up links to the Elixr rough mixes, and updated the links and blurbs for the other groups and projects as well. I realize the Haven Street Quintet needs and new photo cuz we still have our old drummer shown. We ought to be able to take care of that when we get into putting our album together next month.

As mentioned before, my friend Jay has been helping me mix my new Buzzy Tonic record Elixr. Jay is graduate of the Berkelee School of Music and a former professional recording engineer and producer. He came over after jazz the other day.

Unfortunately, as soon as we got underway I discovered one of my studio monitors was fried. I’ve mainly been working with headphones recently so I didn’t notice earlier. I figure it probably happened when I was messing around with my new Moog. Ah well, those speakers were getting on twenty years old. Time for an upgrade.

It was amazing working with Jay. I mean I understand how EQs and compressors work, but Jay is at a level where he can really sculpt the sound, like an artist with light and shadow. He knew what he was after and just dove right in and got to where he wanted it pretty fast. It would have taken me ages of experimentation to get anywhere close. Jay was able to put the instruments into their own space so they were louder and clearer, particularly the bass drum, snare and bass guitar. This set it up so that the rhythm instruments, horns and vocals had more space too.

It took us the whole afternoon to mix one track. The good news is I can apply the set effects to the other tracks and get pretty much in the ballpark. They all use the same drums, bass, and other instruments. Then when Jay comes by next time we can hone right in on balance and arranging.

Meanwhile, I’ve also begun updating my origami site. It’s been two years since the last major upgrade I have over a dozen new models, plus photos for everything my upcoming airplanes and spaceships book. So watch for that soon.

A Merry Little Xmas

We had a most excellent Xmas vacation that included lots of visiting, hosting, gifts, food and entertaining. Good to end the year on a healthy and prosperous note.

On the Friday before xmas my office closed early. We went out for Mexican food and then went to see the the new Star Wars movie. Both very good. Next day I had jazz, then Jeannie’s big family Xmas party out on Long Island. Lizzy had jello shots. I played some pool. On Xmas Eve we went out for sushi, our take on the Italian seven fishes tradition. On xmas day Mary’s came over along with Jeannie’s folks. On boxing day we headed up to Buffalo to see my parents. The next day Martin’s arrived, and that evening we visiting Larry and Jackie and went out to a great dinner at a place in Hamburg. Thursday morning Martin and I planned out the next round of work for the Jukebox, and we drove home later that day. Friday Denis and Sara and their kids came over for a visit. Saturday was jazz again, and then Jay came over the help me mix my record. Finally on New Year’s Eve Nick’s came over, and some of Lizzy’s friends too. Whew! All of it was very nice and a much needed break.

In between we watched most of the original Star Wars trilogy, I went up in weight on my workout, worked on mixing my record, updating my web site, and some new origami ideas, read most of Magnus Chase, and hung around and relaxed.

Well it’s back to work again. It’s been bitter cold the last couple weeks, with no end in sight.

Buzzy Third

I’ve finally finished the rough mixes my long-awaited third Buzzy Tonic record Elixr.

http://zingman.com/music/mp3/elixr_roughmixes/

1. Rocket to the Moon
2. Sea of Tranquility
3. Is It Safe (To Go Outside)? – written by Martin
4. Now and Forever – written with Michelle
5. Black Swan
6. Your Dancing Shoes
7. To Be a Rock
8. (When My) Soul on Fire
9. Leave the City Behind

The ones with numbers are the album tracks; the rest are bonus tracks. Some of these go back quite a few years at this point. In fact I released side 1 as an EP a while back, but even those are all remixed and much improved.

I really wanted to get this project done this year. When I bought my Moog back in the fall I had the idea that I’d overdub some of synth parts onto the last couple songs. But finally I said screw it, I’ll use the Moog on the next record. I have a whole ‘nuther album worth of music in my mind, so it’s time to move forward.

As for final mixing and mastering, I’ve enlisted the help of Jay, the bass player in my jazz originals group. He was a sound engineering major at Berkelee back in the day, so he ought be able to make the mixes sound as good as they can sound. So watch this space.

Anyway here are the penultimate mixes, enjoy!

Leave the City Behind

I just got back from a great but fast trip up to the Adirondack mountains. I love it up there and don’t get to visit as often as I’d like. It was my good friend Mark’s fiftieth birthday and his wife Kelly was having a surprise party. I’ve known Mark from high school and college and the early days of my career in multimedia in NYC in the 90’s. So our friends Seth and Cathy and Jeannie and me went up to Seth’s place Friday night and then onto Placid the next morning. A whole weekend of catching up, sitting by the fire sipping whiskey, going out to breakfast, all very nice. It turns out we’re all turning 50 this year. We also had the first snowfall of the year, which was beautiful but not so nice for driving.

The party itself was great. It was also release of the first CD by Mark’s band Crackin’ Foxy. They do banjo-oriented old-timey jazz with tight vocal harmonies, sort of Django Reinhart meets the Andrews Sisters, with an eclectic mix of covers and originals. Great stuff. The party was at the house across the street from Mark. These are old TB cure houses, and they have great flowing floor plans with lots of windows. Both Mark and his neighbor’s are very nicely restored and modernized. Mark’s friends seem largely to be Bohemian expats from NYC and elsewhere. Only problem is it can be hard to make a living up there, so many have to leave after a few years. In fact Mark’s neighbor’s house is for sale. Jeannie and I are toying with the idea of buying and airb’n’b’ing it for a few years until we’re ready to retire. Only problem with that plan is the winters up there are brutal and I don’t really like the cold.

GJB and TypeScript

We had a pretty major release of The Global Jukebox back in October. Since then we’ve been busy planning new features, and taking some time to up the architecture. One thing we did was to combine the different views and pages into a single-page application. The the two main views are the Map and Wheel. To switch between the two required a full page reload, but now it happens within the page so you can continue in your song, playlist or journey. Very nice.

The next thing is we converted the site to Typescript. We’ve been getting into Typescript in my day job. I must say it’s a big improvement over Javascript, and it feels like coming home to a real programming language. I’ve been getting into alot of functional programming in JS the last year two, and for the first time I really feel like Javascript is becoming a really cool language. I also made a whole new build and deploy pipeline in Node and Gulp. This has been on our todo list for a long time. It’s nice to be making everything more solid.

It’s funny, things have been following a similar trajectory with my day job. It was extremely chaotic in the time approaching our last major release at the end of the summer. Since then the focus has shifted towards getting things done in a more mature and organized way. We started migrating to Typescript in the fall, and we’ve finally moved to GIT as well, and the company is getting a bit more disciplined about sprint planning. This is all stuff I’ve been advocating for for a long time. So things are improving, although I’m still being told more often than I’d like that we don’t have the time to fix things properly. Ah well.