We’ve only been home a little over a week and it already seems like it was ages ago. So before it recedes too far into the past here’s some pics of our trip to Puerto Rico. As always drop me a line if you want login credentials. BTW Lizzy’s run of Hunchback of Notre Dame started last weekend at it was very impressive. I’ve seen professional shows on Broadway that weren’t as good.
The dance band gig last weekend with Crazy Feet Pete went great and was alot of fun. We started with In The Mood, a song I haven’t played since high school in stage band (hi Kris!), and went on to all kinds of other songs with a tempo between 105 and 115 bpm. I was sight-reading out a book and soloing whenever Pete called for it. It took a couple numbers to get used to it, but everything was fine. A good group of musicians too.
It was fascinating watching these people moving in unison since they know all the steps. It turns out there’s a distinction between East Coast and West Coast Swing. I had no idea. East hews closer to classic big band music, while West favors more rockabilly and bluesy shuffles. Also the east is based on an eight-step pattern while the west is based on a six-step pattern. The dancers definitely appreciated the band and some of them even taught me some steps. It looks like Pete has a pretty solid niche playing this kind of gig so hopefully I’ll do another one sometime.
Last week while I was away the Global Jukebox was finally debut. Come check it out at:
I’ve been working on this project for over a year as lead developer, designer and architect, working with Anna Lomax Wood and her research associates Karan and Kathleen, as well as other scholars, statisticians and developers, even bring in Martin the last few months. It’s been alot of fun and very cool piece of work.
For those of you who don’t know, the Global Jukebox is an interactive showcase for a comprehensive library of world folk music and cultural data assembled by music scholar and anthropologist Alan Lomax. Beginning in Texas and Mississippi the 1930’s, Alan went all around the world, from the Caribbean to all over Africa and Europe, the far East, and even Buffalo, NY, building up a comprehensive library of folk music from all different cultures. He then created a scientific framework, called Cantometrics, to compare the characteristics of the music and the relationship between the music and the culture. The results are very revealing about who we are as a species and why humans make music.
The Global Jukebox was the Alan Lomax’s lifelong vision and the culmination of his life’s work and scholarship. He began working on it 1960’s using punch cards, and I first became aware of it in the 1990’s while writing interactive music software at Interval Research. Now, many years later the computer technology finally exists to present it to the world and in interactive resource for educators, researchers and lay people who care about music.
We’ve been getting lots of press, beginning with the New York Times. Looks like we’re over 700,000 page views now. See the links below.
Just got back a few days ago from a fantastic vacation in Puerto Rico. I’d been to the Caribbean a few times, but always British islands. This was my first time on a Spanish island, which is a bit funny cuz it’s part of the U.S.A. It reminds alot of a humid version of California more than it does of Jamaica or the Bahamas.
Spring break is kinda of a weird time of year for a tropical vacation, cuz spring had already arrived so it’s too late to escape the cold. Still, it was summertime hot down there, which felt great. Out trip was a nice balance of hanging around relaxing by the beach on going on adventure outings. This may be the last big trip for the four of us as a family, with Lizzy going off to college in the fall.
We stayed a resort hotel on the seaside. It was very nice. The first day we arrived in the mid-afternoon and the weather was stormy, so we explored the place, relaxed at the bar and got dinner. Next day the weather slowly improved so we spent most of the day hanging around the pool. By the afternoon the sun came out but the ocean was still too rough to go swimming. We had a visitation in the hot tub by the local giant iguana, who was very friendly.
We went on an evening kayaking trip, starting in a bay on the ocean and going up the river thru a jungle of mangroves to another, inland bay where there was bioluminescent algae. Very Kurztian. We watched the sun set floating on the still water of the bay. Once it got dark the water literally glowed when you cut thru with your paddle or waved your hand around in the water. Other than that the trip back was in total darkness. Very cool experience.
Next day we went to El Yunque National Forest, a tropical rainforest. Went on some hikes to some waterfalls, saw some cool birds and lizards and lots of strange plants, climbed to the top an observation tower. Had lunch a roadside stand and discovered mofongo. Now we need to find a place around here that does mofongo. Yum!
The ocean finally got calm enough to go for a swim, although they had no life guards so I didn’t go too far out, and the kids didn’t go in at all.
Another highlight was we trekked out to the Arecibo Radio Telescope, which was until a few months ago the world’s largest radio telescope, with the main dish 1000 feet across, or 20 acres in area. It’s built in a natural depression in an part of the island with weird hilly terrain, full of caves and sinkholes. It turns out you can’t rollerblade in the dish even if you wanted to cuz it’s not solid. It’s just a bunch of aluminum mesh plates held up by a gridwork of wires. There’s jungle growing underneath! You need special metal snowshoes to walk on it, and there’s a weight limit of 120 lbs. So there goes that dream.
The telescope itself is storied and older than I knew, designed in the 1950′ and operational by 1963. It was where they first measured the length of Mercury’s day, and where they first discovered pulsars. In addition to receiving signals it can send them, so it can function like a giant police radar gun and image individual asteroids millions of miles away, halfway to Jupiter. One of it’s major missions now is building up a catalog of all the near-Earth asteroids. It has a whole ‘nuther antenna for atmospheric research. And more lizards!
The last stop of the trip was Old San Juan and the fort build by the Spaniards in the 1500’s. We threaded thru the neighborhood by car, although the streets were clearly not designed for cars, and as luck would have it we found the one parking spot on the street, as close as you can get. Also right when we arrived a big cruise ship was leaving, so it was all relatively uncrowded.
On the way into the fort we saw a band setting up in the square outside, trumpets and tin pans, but by the time we came back they were gone. I wish we were able to hear more local music. Ah well. At least we found a nice pub and a cold relaxing drink after all that.
The flights were uneventful and comfortable enough. We got home around two in the morning. I don’t fly as much as I used cuz it’s so often a hassle, but this trip was fine. Now I’m thinking of going to France in July for an origami conference.
Coming soon: pictures!
I’m doing what should be a fun and exciting gig out in New Jersey next week. It’s a ballroom dance band. The leader of the date is my friend Happy Feet Pete. I’ve played with Pete as a jazz bassist, but for this one he’s singing and playing guitar. The sound is maybe something like Brian Setzer Orchestra; the set is swing, some early rock’n’roll and I guess some salsa and cha-cha and tangos and different dances. I don’t know exactly; he has a book of charts. I do know the other horn player is Rich Williams, probably the best sax player I know, an absolute monster especially when it comes to Charlie Parker.
So if you’re into ballroom dancing come on down.
Sunday, April 23
4 PM – 8 PM
American Legion Hall
13 Legion Place
My rock band LEFT HOOK recently lost our lead singer. The issue was that he didn’t want to do alot of the material the rest of the group did. We’re trying to cover a pretty broad range of stuff, from the 60’s thru the 80’s and keep it generally on the uptempo and funky side, whereas MJ basically wanted to do obscure songs from the 60’s from band like Spooky Tooth. So rather than let him dictate the set list by veto, Gary and I have been taking on a larger share of the lead vocals, unit MJ had had enough.
So now we’re looking for a new lead vocalist. We’re pretty open about our expectations, but of course they need to be good and have broad taste and fit in personalitywise. Ideally they’d sing high, cuz Gary and I are both baritones. It’d be nice to be able to a song like Carry On Wayward Son in three-part harmony. Also a plus if they play an instrument like harp or congas too.
Meanwhile, we’re carrying on as a quartet. It’s sort of a win-win situation. If we take on a new singer it’s because they lift the band up to another level. As a quartet we’re still quite capable, and we can take some time to explore and refine our sound. We jettisoned about half our set, cuz neither Gary or I wanted to sing them. About half of these are actually great horn songs, but I can’t sing and play sax at the same time. Ah well. So we made up a list of new song to try. We all have no problem with working up a song just to see if it works for us and fits our sound/style/mood, so they probably won’t all be keepers.
This week we learned You Can’t Get What You Want (‘Till You Know What You Want) by Joe Jackson. This was a suggestion by Ken our bass player. I hadn’t listened to the song in ages, but it turns out it’s a killer track, and great for us. Right in my zone singing, great groove, horn part, everything. Definitely a keeper. Next week it’s I Want a New Drug by Huey Lewis and the News.
The Cheshire Cat – Buffalo, NY 1992
Here’s a video of The Cheshire Cat live in 1992, from their CD release party for their record Balance. The Cat was the best band to come out of Buffalo in the time I lived there and was on the music scene. And that’s saying something cuz there were alot of really good bands out there, including my own, Event Horizon, which had Scoob on synthesizers Mark Colecchia on drums. And mine wasn’t even the most successful jazz fusion band, Gamelon had that honor.
The Cat were friends of ours, and we watched them evolve from a decent stoner-rock bar cover band into a top-flight pop-prog powerhouse. They had a unique sound and songwriting style, with catchy hooks set amid complex instrumental passages, John’s synths on one side balanced by Mike’s metal guitar on the other and a rhythm section of Joe Q and Ryan anchoring the middle. They had three excellent singers and shared the lead vocals and did lots of harmonies. It’d say their influences were mainly bands like Rush, Yes, Genesis and Van Halen, but their sound was completely their own.
Their live act ran from heavy and serious to upbeat and fun. They were great showmen, with alot of energy and new surprises. By the time of this gig they were at their peak, with over a dozen originals, many of which by then were well-known to their fans, and new stuff coming in all the time. They had just finished recording a CD of their newest best stuff, and the level of their playing was getting pretty impressive.
We all thought they were on the cusp of becoming huge nationwide. Unfortunately the music biz is very competitive, and being in Buffalo it was hard to get the necessary attention. Even though their regional success sustained and increased, you’ve probably never heard them on the radio. For me, this show was right around the time I left my hometown for good and moved to New York with a plan to make as a jazz musician or software visionary. So this is a great document of a great show by a great band at a unique moment in time.
Yesterday we finally got our first nice day of spring. Spent some quality time outdoors, took a long walk around the neighborhood, started the spring yardwork cycle, and got the Mustang out on the road the first time this year. Last weekend I finally finished my main indoor/wintertime home improvement project, which was to paint the doors and trim in the stairway in my house. Just in time for spring.
Last weekend was also the first Left Hook gig in a little while. Back at the Fisherman’s Net in Pelham, which is something of a home base. Debuted some new material, including me singing The Cars, although our lead singer MJ conveniently forgot the lyrics to the new songs he was supposed to do, which evaluate to the ones he doesn’t like. In any event it was a fun gig, and the crowd at the bar definitely thinks we sound good and enjoyed the show. Plus Charlie and Lana from Lagond came down to catch the show. Going forward Gary and myself are going to take on a larger share of the singing to avoid MJ limiting our repertoire. We’re learning some new songs now by Joe Jackson, Huey Lewis, Santana and Grand Funk Railroad. And the search for mo’ better gigs continues. Onward and upward!
Meanwhile in the Wednesday jazz circle we’ve been following a format recently where a different member of the group picks the set list each week. This has unearthed a wealth of rarely-played gems as well as revealing something about everyone’s preferences and style. Only drawback there’s now alot of great songs that we’ve barely scratched the surface, so once the first round is complete we’ll circle back and dig deeper into alot of those songs.
In the Saturday group Gary and I are both continuing to bring in new songs. I really like Gary’s songwriting style, especially as contrasted with mine; make for a really nice diverse set. My most recent contribution is a song called The Sun, a reworking of a number from the Event Horizon days that features grooves in 5/8 and 7/8. I hope our drummer can handle it.
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.
It’s that time again everyone. To remind all y’all to floss? No time to update our photo galleries for the previous year. You can see it all at the links below. As always the fotoz site is protected, so ping me if you need login credentials. Enjoy!