Springin’ in the Slush

March sure came in like a lion this year. After a very mild 2nd half of February it turned cold and we had two major back-to-back snowstorms on Saturday and then Tuesday. Jeannie and the kids ended up missing two days of work/school, while I worked at home in between shovelling out. Now we’re well on the way to having melted away but hey, it’s already the third day of spring. And it’s back to the cold in the days a head.

The kids have been busy with shows and performances. The first weekend of March Lizzy had her school musical called The Boyfriend, in which twenty-first century high school kids pretend to be British thespians from the 1950’s pretending to be French debutantes of the 1920’s. Lots of fun, good cartoon-jazz music and dancing the Charleston.

Next weekend after the Michelle performed in the Lower Westchester Honor Band. Highlights included A Night on Bald Mountain and The Firebird, as well as lots of epicly-titled selections such as Fight Squadron A, Alien Attack, and THe Final Countdown.

And then a couple nights ago both girls sang in the Young at Arts Salon. This is an annual fundraiser in which the people who run the group call in favors from some of their Broadway friends to come and participate. Lizzy had a featured solo alongside the woman who is currently playing Princess Jasmine in Alladin on Broadway. I helped set up the PA the Saturday before.

Now Lizzy is in rehearsals helping out as a ringer with a prodcution of The Hunchback of Notre Dame at another local high school. She’s the only soprano who can hit and sustain the really high notes.

Meanwhile my band LEFT HOOK is playing this Saturday night at Fisherman’s net in Pelham. Lots of exciting new songs including some 80’s Australian power pop as well as all your rock’n’soul favorites.

And my Saturday jazz group is up to 10 originals. Gary keeps writing more bossa novas and latin-oriented stuff, and Jay the bassist contributed a great, slow bluesey number in 5/4 called slope. I have one more song we haven’t even gotten to yet.

The global jukebox is almost, almost, almost done, after sixteen month’s work. Just a few more tweaks and minor bug fixes and final testing. Then we’ll take a couple weeks off and start in on Phase II, which is shaping up to be another year’s work. Very cool stuff, very psyched for the launch.

Meanwhile in my day job we just moved offices to a much larger and nicer space in downtown White Plains. More on that in a future post.

Steppin’ into Spring

It looks like spring may be just around the corner. It’s been warm and sunny lately, at least for February, and the day are getting longer. It used to bother me all winter to have to get up before the sunrise but this year it seemed okay. I’ve gotten into the habit of working out early mornings, so when the sun comes up it’s sometime in my workout, a little earlier each day. I had had a rather bad foot injury over the winter, but it looks like it’s pretty much better. I’m taking longer and longer walks and I’m back to doing my full workout in the mornings, which feels good.

I worked from home quite a few days while I was recovering but now I’m back to going into the office every day. At work we’re at the top end of a big push for improving our code quality, which I’ve been pushing for, as we make the transition from a startup to a more mature company. We set up a unit testing framework for our front-end javascript project and have been going to town writing unit tests and getting our coverage up. Fun fun fun.

New Year New Music

Here it is, mid-January already. I feel like I missed out on the worst of the post-holiday cold and darkness this year. It’s been a pretty mild winter this year and I’ve spent alot of time indoors, working from home waiting for my foot to get better. Now I’m on the mend and feeling pretty well rested, and the days are beginning to get longer again. Of course there’s still alot of wintertime ahead, but it’s time to start getting going with new projects for the new year.

Both the software I’m writing for my day job and the Global Jukebox are now in beta/big-fix mode, counting down to the inevitable release date. So lots and lots of coding, fixing testing, repeat.

Lizzy had been getting her college acceptance letters and some scholarships. She got into every place she’s applied so far. Meanwhile Michelle has been getting acceptances for high schools and some scholarships as well. So things are good on that front and we have some choices ahead.

The new origami book is coming along. I have 12 or so diagrams done, and I’ve been working with the graphics guy on the patterned paper. The balance of the models are in the offing. Working with the publisher now on page layout and book format issues.

I had some projects I wanted to do over the break in the home improvement sphere that I had to push off. Also it looks like I won’t be skiing this winter. Ah well.

But the main point of this post is to update y’all on the music situation. Music has been coming along too, although at different rates of effectiveness on different fronts.

I’ve had my new tenor sax for a year now and I’m digging it more than ever. Also I’ve had the new piano for almost two months and I’m getting used to playing it, building strength in my fingers. I had it tuned and it sounds killer. Turns out the piano tuner is also and origami fan and we folded some paper airplanes together.

The Left Hook is still keepin’ on. We had a strong run in the early to mid fall, but we didn’t rehearse that much from November thru the end of the year because our singer was working for a political campaign. We did learn a few new songs in the time, mainly funky 80’s stuff.

The challenge remains to find more and better gigs. That was our main goal for 2016 but we we ended up playing the same old bars. Ah well gigs like that are still a good time. Part of the problem is there’s not that much demand, and the same half dozen bar bands are constantly rotating around the best place. Still, now we’re back at it, trying to crack into that circuit and casting a wider net, making a new round of inquiries and dropping off demo tapes, making a fresh list of venues . Onward and upward even if it takes a little more persistence to get up and go the distance.

My recording project, the third Buzzy Tonic album remains unfinished as well. I’m midway thru tracking the last song, City. I’d hoped to work on it over Xmas break but that was among the things I had to push off. Hopefully finish it before the end of the winter.

On the other hand I made great progress with my jazz demos, and that whole thing has taken on a life of its own. I’ve brought seven or eight tunes to the group, five of which are keepers, and I have one more in the offing. I encouraged the other guys in the group to bring in songs as well, and Gary Guitar has started writing too. He says I inspired him, which is great and fun and flattering to hear. So far he’s brought in two songs, both very good and different than mine. It’s good to have another voice and a good spread of styles and moods.

The guys in the band all like learning originals, and like the particular set of tunes, so now the main monkey business is to make a record. This is the Saturday group BTW, the Haven Street Quintet. It’s shaping up to be nine or so originals and probably one standard. Maybe Giant Steps since we have our own arrangement of that.

Now I’m looking into recording studios. The idea is to go in a do the whole thing live, like we did with Event Horizon back in the day, or like pretty much all classic jazz records. So I’m looking for a good live room with a grand piano and a nice sounding mixing board with warm preamps. Once we get the basic tracks down I can bring it into ProTools and Jay the bassist and I can mix and master it, although we’ll need an engineer to run the recording session.

So far though the local studios I’ve seen (via their web sites) seem more geared up for doing overdubs and electronic music production. This is useless to me since I already have a few good mics and an endlessly looptastic effects-o-rama ProTools rig in my basement. To me a real studio implies a real live room. Of course I’m just at the beginning of the research phase so you never know what’ll turn up. I’m toying with the idea of doing it in my living room as a backup plan, since I have an nice piano and a big, acoustically pleasant space.

Happy New Year

Happy new year everyone! 2016 was a great year full of all kinds of adventure and accomplishments. Kids growing up, a new day job, the Global Juke Box now feature-complete and on its way to release, a good number of jazz and rock gigs, a new piano and sax. The holidays came at us fast, amid a flurry of work deadlines. By the end I definitely needed a break. Among other events, we hosted Jeannie’s family’s big holiday party, which rotates around among the cousins so it’s our turn every seven years.

Lots of good stuff for Christmas. I got Michelle and acoustic/electric ukulele since she’s now playing in a band, and Jeannie a 3-D printer. She and Michelle have been having a great time learning how to use it, pulling files for models off the net. I must say it’s a pretty cool piece of technology! We went upstate to visit by parents and brother and his family which was very nice, and had Jeannie’s brother’s family down for New Year’s.

Only downside was right after Xmas I started having problems with pain in my foot and ankle. It got pretty bad to the point where I had to stay off my feet for a few days. Luckily Jeannie got me a book for Xmas – Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography. It’s very well written and you can tell you doesn’t use a ghostwriter. However, like his records, the early part of the story, up to the early 80’s is much more interesting the second half, in which rides out a comfortable plateau of superstardom. (Even thought I really dug it at the time, I still don’t feel like hearing anything off Born in the U.S.A. again, although I still enjoy the E Street Shuffle.) In any event my foot is starting to get better now, so hopefully I’ll be back to my usual self soon.

Here’s looking forward to a mellow and prosperous 2017. Lots more changes ahead.

BTW, this January marks the ten year anniversary of my blog. Thanks to all who’ve been reading. Might be fun to page back thru the archives and see how things have changed in that time.

Dog Days

Moving into the long backstretch of summer. The political conventions are over and the Olympics are on TV now. Believe it or not we’ve had two low-key weekends at home in a row, but we’ve been so busy it’s been a nice break.

Last weekend I went rollerblading, which turned out not to be such a great idea cuz the streets around here are hilly and roads have grown bumpier, and I don’t tolerate bad pavement as well as I used to. Still, good fun. This weekend it worked out that both the kids were out of the house Friday and Saturday nite, so Jeannie and I got to go out to dinner two nights in a row.

Work has been fun and exciting and so has the Global Jukebox. I hope to devote a full post to each of those soon.

Been working on music. People have been on vacation so we haven’t been doing full rehearsal what we can. Left Hook is on hiatus all of August so we’ve been doing unplugged sessions and vocal sectional. I have a new jazz demo in the offing called King’s Hex; hope to debut it soon.

I had a random origami commission, a dude in Texas wanted one of turtles as a gift for his wife. He had in mind to put in some glass dome, so I had to make it a but smaller than usual, but it turned out very nice. I used at 10.5” sheet of green Rhino Hide. The final model was a little over five inches long. Totally forgot to take pictures before I sent it out. As an experiment I also folded one out of an 8.5” sheet of some kind of blue sparkly paper that’s alot like Elephant Hide. That one came out pretty well too, but the detail on the toes was a bit sloppy. Really at the limit of foldability.
The weather was really nice in late July into early August, but then it turned really hot. It’s been 100 degrees here the last few days, and very humid. I had to get up and go out early to do the yardwork so I could be in before the full heat of midday. Even so by 11 it was well over 90. There’ve been flash thunderstorms almost every day. There’s violent lighting out right now. It’ll probably pass in ten minutes.

Lizzy is going to take her road test for her driver’s licensee this week Good luck!

Every Day’s the Fourth of July

After five weekends in a row of nonstop running around we finally have a day of rest. Most recently we were upstate visiting family and friends for a few days around the 4th. My friend Larry had a graduation party for his daughter. Meanwhile his oldest son is now twenty and looks just like he did at that age. Amazing. Larry also got a dart board and a pool table and some very nice bourbon and made a game room, so that was alot of fun. I went rollerblading for the first time this season. I’ve come to realize the streets around here are hilly and bumpy, while in my parents’ neighborhood they’re flat and smooth. Much nicer. Went up to the falls, with my kids and my mom. Martin came to town with all his kids too. We had a barbeque, saw the fireworks, had a great time. Lizzy drove home partway, for a good hour thru the hilliest part of the trip. She did a cool 55 while I usually like to go 80 when I can, but it was totally fine.

Before we left and again since we’ve been back the weather has been super hot, but the last few days we’ve had some rain, which is a welcome relief. I’ve been super busy with work – went into the city all but one day last week – but even so I’ve really been enjoying the summer. I just really like this time of year.

We had jazz today with the full group for the first time in what feels like ages. Made some recording of a few songs including a couple of my originals. Hopefully they’ll come out. Last time we tried something was wrong with the balance and you couldn’t hear the bass. I also introduced a new tune but we didn’t have much chance to work on it.

This summer is a bit mellower than the last few for travelling. For one thing I’ve started a new job recently, and also the kids are busy. Michelle is taking a high school prep summer school program, and meanwhile Lizzy is taking driver’s ed and has a job at a local pool. I’d like to the beach sometime, and we have a camping weekend coming up, but that’s mostly it for a while. Hopefully we can continue to get things done and at the same time enjoy ourselves.

Bustin’ Out All Over

It’s June already, the summer’s here the time is right. Lots going on right now. Settling in to the new job, doing the GJB at night, ICS carnival came and went, a pair of great back-to-back band gigs too, the origami convention coming soon, the kids having their shows and recitals, getting into final exam time, counting the days until the end of school. Wow. Amazingly everything is going smoothly.

I must say the springtime really flew by. I started my job, consequently spending alot of time indoors, back in April when it was just getting warm and things were beginning to grow. Easter was early this year, as saw the kids’ spring break. Then BAM! greensplosion. But you know summer is my favorite time of year and I’m happy it’s here. Soon it’ll be time for tiger lilies and fireflies.

This just in — Lizzy got a 95 on her recent NYSSMA solo for voice, singing a grade 6 piece. Very good!!!

Lots to say about the new job, but it’ll save most of it for another post. One thing I’ll say is that I’ve been getting up early every day to work out, and that it’s been going better than expected. I feel energized in the morning, I’m drinking less coffee, and no matter what the day has in store I’ve already worked out. On even days I do a full workout with weights, getting up at 6:00, starting by 6:30 A.M., takes about an hour. I’ve gone up in weight twice for the bench press. I’m back up to 155lbs now, and up 90/110lbs on the dumbbells. Going up about 11lbs/month. Not bad considering I had to start from zero last fall — I’m still rehabilitating from a torn muscle. Ought to be back up to 185lbs — nominal full weight — by the end of the summer or so – just about a year since the injury. I’ve also added deadlifts and squats, which are really good for the back, yet amazingly no one suggested when I was PT years ago. On odd days I’ve been adding the Nordic Track in the morning, or going into the office early, or a combination of the two. The commute to the Westcehster office is nice and short, which helps alot, and the Mahnattan office is about as convenient as it gets, although you have to factor in waiting for the train. Trying to do something physical every evening too.

Keith Emerson

I am shocked and saddened today to learn of the death of Keith Emerson, mastermind of the accounting firm, no make that rock band, Emerson Lake and Palmer. Piano virtuoso, organ rocker extraordinaire, synthesizer and electronics pioneer, imaginative epic songwriter, and all around wildly adventurous musician, Keith Emerson was a singular talent and force in music. ELP was the definitive prog rock band, one of the first stadium acts, and the original supergroup, with their elaborate compositions, extended jams, sci-fi themes, deep forays into classical and jazz, out meters, innovative sound palette, monstrous musicianship, and over-the-top stage presentation, yet all held together by some intangible essence. Who could ask for more? Well then, they even had a ballad or two.

Keith ranks up there on my list off all-time favorite musician heroes and influences, right up there with John Coltrane. A sort of weird fusion of Aaron Copeland, Dave Brubeck and Jerry Lee Lewis who took it all too far, but boy could he play anything with a keyboard: left handed, upside down, rotating in the air, stab it with the steely knives, you name it. In a year that’s already seen the passing of many great rock stars, this one is the saddest for me. I’d heard he was sick for a long time, but sadder still it appears that he took his own life. He’d suffered never damage in right hand that pretty much ended his ability to play the keyboards. Just wow.

I was lucky enough to see Keith Emerson live a few times, in a few different contexts, including the full-on Emerson Lake and Palmer rock spectacle on their Black Moon tour. They did a three-hour-plus show that included Tarkus (only slightly abridged but actually tighter and less plodding than the original) and all of Karn Evil Nine, and everything else you’d hope for. The level of playing was superb, but apparently by that time Keith was already having trouble with his hands. One other time was with the Keith Emerson Band. They had alot of great new material and teased us with the promise of a new album that never materialized. Last time I saw him was in an unplugged format with Greg Lake, which was really enlightening in many ways, including several extended improvisations.

In any event, Keith’s legend loomed large. He will be missed, but his music lives on in his fans. Here’s a cover of Karn Evil 9, 2nd Impression I did a while back.

There’s no end to my life
No beginning to my death
Death is life

Winterlong

All quiet on the western front. It’s getting into the second half of winter and I’m starting to feel hopeful about spring. Lizzy is in Switzerland. Michelle got her braces off the other day.

I’m working from home these days, and I must say for the most part it suits me. My health is better then it’s been the last few winters. No getting up before daylight to stand out on the train platform in the bitter cold. No colds or flu, no back or leg pain.

I’m still rehabilitating my shoulder. I can do all the exercises I used to before I injured it, pushups and free weights, but on bench press I’ve plataeued, and every time I try and add weight it starts to hurt, so I go back down and wait a few weeks to try again. This last time the soreness went away faster and I’m ready to try again after only a week.

I have a pullup bar that sets up in a doorframe, and I’ve been using it in the doorway of wizard room (the closet under the stairs) for like 2 years. The other day the molding there cracked, so now I’m thinking about how to rebuild it stronger.

OTOH with working from home there’s less human contact. I’ve been getting out on the weekends, to dinner and the movies (Star Wars) for Jeannie’s birthday, to a party at Nick’s, and surprisingly saw a really good jazz group at a fundraiser at Michelle’s school. The band director is an amazing drummer, especially at Latin jazz.

For Valentine’s day I took Jeannie out to a local restaurant, Infusion, that I’ve passed by hundreds of times but never went in. But then I found out the bass player Jay from my Saturday jazz group was playing there with a guy on vibes as a duo. It turned out to be a very nice place, classy, dimly lit, with very good quasi-French food. They seated us right up near the band so I was able to suggest a few songs: My Romance, My Funny Valentine, All the Things You Are, that kind of thing. They were really good. Just the perfect thing, and a really pleasant surprise.

Before I found out about Jay’s gig the plan was to go to Burke’s bar, where LEFT HOOK is playing next week, to check the place out. So we went there afterwards for a drink of two. It’s a pretty big place, a step up from the joints we’ve been playing. The calamari is yummy and they got lots of different beers. They have a nice big stage, but we still have to bring our own PA. I don’t think they had a band that night cuz it was pretty dead. I’m sure bitter cold snap was keeping people home.

The Global Jukebox project is coming along. There was a bit of a crisis a couple weeks ago cuz they’d used up the money for my initial contract but we were only about halfway thru the projected work. By the end of the first week we were already several weeks behind schedule, as we discovered that the database needed some serious work, the codebase I was taking over was a mess, and there were lots of little things they’d need to go live that they’d never thought of. Growing pains getting from a prototype to a product. Like I said, they’re not software engineers. But they found some more cash and were able to extend the project a few more months, and they’re working on getting funding for a whole year. I hope it comes thru. They have alot of great ideas and I’d really love to be able to do it right.

I finished a major milestone build last week. Done the first major round of refactoring and getting the core features in place. Still lots of little cleanup and loose ends, but I hope to have something sharable soon.

I’ve also been learning Python and Django (the D is silent), since our database guy has limited availability and there’s lots to do on that side.

Believe it or not I’m still negotiating with my publisher about the origami airplanes and spaceships book. I thought for a while it was totally dead, but now it may happen after all. The point of contention was the graphics they want printed on the paper. I have a pretty strong idea of what I want and what I don’t. My feeling generally is that it should be pretty minimalist and not detract from the folded form. After they saw my samples they thought it’d be a useful guide, but wanted to have their staff graphics guy do the graphics, and to add insult they want to pay him out of my advance.

Then the sample graphics they sent me were a travesty. It was not my model, and not for my book, but it was a picture of a very cartoony robot slapped on a sheet of paper that didn’t look like anything like a robot to begin with. It looked like they reinvented the back cover of Mad Magazine!

So I said no way, I’ll do the book my own way and get another publisher. Then they decided they wanted to negotiate. First they agreed to pay their graphics guy out of their share. Then I said I’d only go with them if they gave me some sample graphics for my models and I approve of them. Surprisingly they agreed. So that’s where we are now, waiting for them to produce some graphics.

I’ve been thinking of buying a new synthesizer. It turns out Moog is making reissues of their classic analog synths, but with modern components and with midi and digital control/memory/recall. You can get a full-stack modular moog a la Keith Emerson for a mere $35,000, not including keyboard, ribbon controller, extra modules, etc. Or you can get a modern day MiniMoog for about a grand.

BTW, I learned the other day the original voice of R2D2 was an ARP 2600 synthesizer, one of the first “semi-modulars”. It also appears on a bunch of Rush albums beginning with 2112, and on Edgar Winter’s Free Ride, which my rock group learned and then abandoned because it was too high for our singer.

So in closing, here’s a reminder that LEFT HOOK has a gig coming up a week at Burke’s Bar. We learned 5 new (keeper) tunes including Sledgehammer by Peter Gabriel and Beginnings by Chicago. Very rockin’!