Rock and Jazz

Lots happening on the music front these days. My jazz group, the Haven Street Five, has been working on a bunch of my originals. We’re up to five or six of them now. The most recent, King’s Hex, is an uptempo waltz with voicings based on stacked fourths. The chart is four pages long, which is a break from my pattern of only doing songs that fit on a single sheet, and it’s a definite step up in terms of complexity. Still the guys in the band are really digging the material I’m bringing in and happy to put in the work to learn the tunes and make something out of them. In fact last rehearsal Gary suggested we record a CD of my originals and one or two covers.

I had planned on bringing up this idea in the new year when the Juke Box work is substantially done. We only have half an album’s worth of tunes right now. I have three more ready to go, but it takes a time to make demos and write out charts, and more time for the band to really learn the songs. I suggested everyone else in the band write one song each, and if you don’t have idea for a song just take a blues and write a new head. Gary came back and told me he tried that but ended up rewriting a Mile song.

I’ve also been doing some jazz jams with friend Charlie. Last Friday I sat in with his trio at a community center in Yonkers, a combination of his originals and some standards. They’re trying to get some kind of scene happening there, and although it wasn’t heavily attended, I think it has some potential. Charlie says he plays there once a month or so. Next Friday I’m playing with him at an art gallery in Hastings. This time we’re gonna go a rehearsal first, and I’m bringing a couple of my originals too. And the drummer is Ed B. from the bandshell gig I did with Lucas back in the summertime. Should be lots of fun.

I’ve been out seeing some of my friends bands lately too. A few weeks back I saw Sue and Fun Ghouls at a bar up in Mamaroneck. They’re a rock’n’roll bar band like the LEFT HOOK, but they’ve definitely leveled up since the last time I saw them, about a year ago, shortly after Sue and George joined the band on vocals and drums. Now they have a new bass player who also can sing high songs like Bon Jovi and the Outfield. Overall their sets have gotten much tighter, with basically wall-to-wall backbeat the whole time, one number into another, to really keep the crowd moving. Much improved vocal harmonies too.

Another night I saw my friend Jay playing bass backing up a vibes player at a local club Infusion. They’re looking to get some kind of jazz scene going there, so I’m hoping to get a gig with the Haven Street Five.

Saturday nite the LEFT HOOK played at Fisherman’s Net down in Pelham. It was a good show, especially considering we haven’t played for a few months. We had a good crowd and played our full third set since the people stuck around. Still, we’re trying to level up ourselves, get the beginnings and endings tighter, the tempos more consistent, and flow better from one song into the next. Trying to hook up songs into string of three or four to keep people dancing. Last go around we added a few funk/soul numbers like Vehicle and I Just Want to Celebrate. Next round of songs we learn are gonna be some 80’s pop-ish hit by band like INXS, the Fixx and the Cars.

One highlight of the show was, since it was Jeannie’s and my wedding anniversary, and she always likes to come to our gigs, the band learned Thank You by Led Zeppelin, and I sang it to her cuz it was our wedding song. She seemed pretty knocked out, and it went over quite well with the crowd too, especially considering we only rehearsed it once and never even got the whole way thru. Now we have a Zeppelin song in our bag, although probably not the one anyone would expect.

Tree Time

I used to have a champion Elm tree growing in my front yard. It was a great tree, the best, the tallest in my end of the block, over 100 years old. A couple years ago it succumbed to Dutch Elm disease and had to be cut down, leaving a giant crater. I finally got around to planting a new tree over the weekend. It’s a Japanese maple, very nice. Not so very big yet, but give it a few years. Obviously it’s a different kind of tree and will never get as mighty as an Elm, but still it ought to fill out the front yard quite beautifully. While I was at it I also re-graded and re-seeded the lawn. Luckily my neighbor across the street had pile of dirt he’s looking to get rid of, so I grabbed a few wheelbarrow’s worth.

And, wouldn’t you believe it, Lizzy already banged up the bumper on her car, on the opposite corner from where I painted it. Ah well.

We Got Elephants

Recently OrigamiUSA announced a partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in its official attempt to break the world record for the largest display of origami elephants. Who knew that was even a category? The goal is to reach 35,000 origami elephants to bring attention to the 35,000 elephants that are killed each year for their ivory. So I happily contributed a few, my own design diagrammed in my book, made out of 25cm Marble Wyndstone, A.K.A. Elephant hide paper. This was something of an experiment since I usually don’t make ‘em that small, but they turned out quite successful. I finally got the wetfolding down for this model. It’s funny how they all come out a little different, how each has its own personality.

While I was at it I made a couple to put on my desk at work, one for the Westchester office and one for the Manhattan office. Whenever put origami on my desk at work someone asks if they can have it, so I have to keep making more.

I don’t know when or where the exhibition of all these origami elephants will be (maybe the Bronx Zoo, cuz that’s where the Wildlife Conservation Society has their offices), and frankly I can’t even imagine 35,000 folded paper elephants, so it should be something to see. I expect there’ll be an announcement when the time draws closer. Hopefully it will be effective in raising awareness, cuz obviously we’d all like living elephants to be around for a while. By coincidence I’m shopping for a new piano these days, and I wonder what they use for the white keys. As I understand it the only legit source of ivory left in the world is digging up Wooly Mammoth tusks from the permafrost in Siberia.

LEFT HOOK Returns to Fisherman’s Net

The rock band basically took the month of August off, but now we’re back and rehearsing again. We’re still running our master plan to break into bigger and better gigs, but meanwhile we’re always down to play the local neighborhood bar Fisherman’s Net in Pelham, which has become something of our home base. Someday all’y’all’ll say that’s where it all began. We’re playing there on October 8, and it should be a great show, fresh off our break and with lots of new material.

While we were at it, I made a new image for our poster. This was from out gig at Burke’s last spring, where our friend Nick showed up with his camera and took a bunch of great shots. Only problem was there wasn’t a single one with all five of us, so I had to stitch two together. Michael doesn’t like it so much cuz he’s not singing in this shot, but at least you can see our drummer Gus.

City Lights

Jeannie took a long-exposure nighttime photo of the view looking south from our front lawn out over the field to the memorial beacon on the site of the former World Trade Center.

Turn Turn Turn

Life continues as we turn the corner towards fall. Vacations are over and another school year has started.

We often go the beach at Ocean City MD over Labor Day weekend, but this year there was a hurricane barreling up the coast from Carolina, and the weather report was for heavy rains and gale-force winds, so we ended up cancelling the trip. Still we had a nice relaxing weekend, and went out to dinner on the water on Long Island Sound. Lizzy got to work a couple more days at the pool and ended the summer with some extra cash, and got to practice driving too. Michelle got to go the Renaissance Fair with her Aunt and cousins, and afterward we had them all over for one last barbecue.

I spent some of my found time dusting off Elixr, my long-neglected three-quarters completed third Buzzy Tonic album. Been tracking the bass part for what will probably be the last song, Leave the City Behind. I have other songs that I haven’t even begun to track, but I’ll probably save them for a future record. Hopefully I can finish this one by the end of the year. After that, seeing as I now have a working rock band and a real live jazz band too, I want to figure out a way to record some of my songs with real musicians.

But for now I’m going back and listening and mixing, adding the occasional part to round out an arrangement. I’ve been putting autotune on the vocals too. (Shhh, Don’t tell anyone!) Autotune has come a long way since the days of Believe, and the default mode makes it easy to manipulate while still sounding natural. It basically brings it about halfway to true pitch, so there’s still room for tremolo and tonal effects, everything sounds a bit more in tune, kinda like quantizing my midi piano parts for tighter phrasing. So far I have four new mixes out of the eight finished tunes. So watch this space for some new mixes soon.

Now the kids are back in school again. Lizzy is a Senior and Michelle 8th grade; both are really excited. Lizzy is driving to school now (!). I had been thinking of getting her an old jalopy of a car since her commute is so long by train. Then thru a lucky turn of events we got a much nicer car then we originally planned. Only problem with is was the bumper had had a close encounter with a garage door and repainted the wrong color. Today I sprayed it with the correct matching shade and now you can hardly even tell. Other random good news: Jeanne got promotion at work, and a raise big enough to cover the hike in our car insurance.

The last couple weeks at work have been pretty mellow for me. I took a couple Fridays off, and alot of people were gone a whole week, and then at the end of August our management was all out in Vegas for the year’s most important trade show. And as a former trade show exhibit designer, let me tell you we had a very cool booth! The software engineers had all been scrambling like mad to get a sufficiently stable and polished demo of the new UI out for the show. Apparently it’s a hit. Then last week we got to catch our breath, and do some refactoring, bug fixes, and planning.

Now we’re at the top of another big long run of work. The goal is to have a fully functional new UI by the end of the year. Google will no longer support Flex and Flash in chrome, so we need to retire our old one. When we were told this back at the beginning of the summer I thought it was well nigh impossible, but we’ve made alot of really good progress over the summer, and it looks pretty doable from here. Meanwhile we’re also rearchitecting the backend of our product to be modular, distributed and scalable, and to be able to handle a million computers in our system.

New Song: Kings Hex

Big wheel keeps on moving along. Jeannie and I just got back from quick but very fun and relaxing camping trip with our friends Erik and Jen and Jerry and Rose. This trip we didn’t bring the girls cuz they just got back from a trip of their own, going to camp for a week with their theatre group YAA. I must say the house is really quiet without the kids around, but OTOH it’s not hard to get used to. Jeannie and got to go out on out own a few times. Friday we went to downtown Yonkers and had dinner on the waterfront with some jazz group playing right across the square.

Last week was big deadline for work. Working at a startup, my company is running at a pretty hot pace, pretty much the limit of how fast you can write software without it becoming total chaos. This weekend the company is at a big trade show in Vegas giving our customers and prospects a preview of the new software I’ve been working on. (My boss is one of the crew going out there and doing demos. I offered to teach him the MIT card-counting system for blackjack, which I learned from some MIT guys when I was out in Silicon Valley in the ‘90’s. He thought he’d be too busy to have much time for casinos.)

So it’s the end of the summer and I’ve been working hard and getting a little fried, working late into the nite to get everything in for the code freeze. But I figure it’s August to I took a couple of well-deserved days off mainly to catch up on random tasks and some rest.

The camping trip itself was very nice. Got to hang out with friends, cook over a fire, swim the lake, play some guitars, everything you want. I must say, as much as I enjoy it all I was thinking I might be done with camping after the July trip. It’s just alot of work. And next year we and all our friends have kids going off to college, so the situation is changing and the opportunities for family vacations are numbered. Maybe better to rent a lake house or beach house or something. But then it turned out that with just the two of us it’s alot easier, alot less gear and food and everything, like in the before times when we used to travel light. So now I’m back into camping again.

If you’ve stuck with this rambling post this long, we get to the payoff. In my downtime I finished off another jazz demo. This one is called King’s Hex. It’s a development of an idea I’ve been kicking around for a long time. The basic groove started as an attempt to write a song for my prog rock group Infinigon, but I didn’t have a lyric. Some of those ideas eventually found their into the song Angel or Alien of the second Buzzy Tonic record Face the Heat. Meanwhile I wrote an instrumental version – which by this time was a completely different song – for Flip|Hippo, the acid jazz duo I had with Erik for a time in the 90’s, but the melody was very challenging to play, and we never really got it together.

So I figured I’d dust if off and tighten up the arrangement for my new jazz group since I finally have a group players that can handle a song like this. I actually had to practice the sax part a few times to get it right. Now here you go:

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!

Jazz in the Park, Indoors

So the jazz concert last week came and went, and it was a really fun time and a good show. A few friends showed up, which is great for a Monday. The only downside was that it rained, so the show was moved to the local community center. The outdoor venue was apparently right near the train station, so we would have gotten a good crowd of passers-by. Ah well.

The music itself was really great. Great group, great selection of tunes. I felt like my playing was really on, and it was good to have a good group of players to bounce ideas off of. As I mentioned before the show was put together by Lucas, a.k.a young Wolfgang Skywalker, from the LEFT HOOK. He’s eighteen now and going to college for jazz bass in the fall, and his playing has gotten better. His soling in particular has more purpose and melody.

The piano player was his friend Gabe, who’s also starting college in the fall for jazz. The two of them play really well together and have a great rapport and interaction. Gabe is heavily influenced by Bill Evans and Herbie Hancock, to give you an idea of his sound. The drummer was this dude Ed, who’s about my age, and playing and teaching drums is his day job too, so he’s really excellent. Great, fluid sense of time, groove and pocket, plus really creative sense of sound and alot of dynamics and even melodic ideas stirred in there all at once. Plus a really cool cat too. Rounding out the group was Ava, a singer who’s a friend of Lucas and Gabe with a sweet and strong voice.

We only rehearsed twice, and neither time with the full group, so when we got on the stand there was alot of spontaneity. The songs in the set were of three kinds: Bird, Miles and standards. We opened with Cherokee at a suitably brisk tempo, with Ava singing the vocal. This was a really fun one to solo over, and the rhythm section really kept it together. On the reprise of the head Lucas and Ed did a cool half time thing. Next up was Billie’s Bounce, which I knew a long time ago on alto, but don’t think I’ve ever played on tenor. We’d never rehearsed this one and it was a complete surprise when Lucas called it, but still I was able to fake my way thru it no problem.

We did In a Sentimental Mood as a funk song, with vocal, and it worked surprisingly well. Ava stretched out more on this than any other of her numbers. I had to learn it in F (it’s usually in D) to accommodate the singer. We did a pretty straight rendition of There Will Never Be Another You, which also came out quite nice and is right in her zone. We closed the first set with Nardis, which got suitably out-there.

We continued in the vein in the second set, playing Footprints with a bunch of embellishments to the arrangement by Lucas, including a drum solo over an ostinato that lead back into the reprise of the head. Very cool. We did Blue In Green, a beautiful ballad which Gabe and Lucas knew well, but I’d never played or studied before, even though I’ve listened to Kind of Blue a million times. It’s a surprising subtle and deep song.

Switching gears again Ava came back on for Misty. I haven’t played this song in many years, but it felt great and I played a whole chorus for the solo. After the show someone in the audience told me I sound like Coleman Hawkins, which is high praise indeed.

We finished with Donna Lee, another fast bop number which I learned once on alto. At least for this on I had the music, although once more it was unrehearsed. Lucas started playing the head Joco style and then into solo, and we went on from there. Ed took a really good solo too. We played the out head in unison.

So all in all a great show. When it was over and we were leaving, a huge rainbow appeared in the parking lot, from horizon to horizon. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to play another gig this summer.

What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been

We’re about halfway thru the summer now, and finally have a chance to pause and catch our breath. Michelle is done with her summer school and Lizzy has only a couple day’s left of driving school. Work for me is busier than ever and the weather has been really hot the last few weeks. We’ve been on some good adventures.

A couple weekends ago we went down to Jones Beach on Long Island. We went early on a Sunday morning, the best time to go, before it gets too hot and two crowded. The waves were just perfect, the ocean was calm and beautiful, and the sky was warm and sunny. Mary and her kids came out too; they live only a few minutes from the beach. We decided to go back to her house for lunch, which was a lucky thing cuz on the way I got a flat tire and it wouldn’t been bad news if I’d stayed on the highway much longer. As it was, AAA came out and changed the tire, and we were able to find a place nearby that was open on a Sunday and could fix it. Not too bad.

This last weekend we went camping with Nick’s. It was another really excellent time. The weather was great, and Martin’s came out to spend Saturday. I went on a long, hilly, rocky hike, which is something I haven’t done in a few years cuz of my ankle, but this year it felt good, strong and healthy. So I went and had no problems. Great views down both sides of the mountain, out over the escarpment into the Hudson Valley and back onto the lakes. Afterwards we went to the beach on the lake, jammed on guitars and had an excellent barbeque. All in all a mellow and peaceful time. This could be the end of an era. We’ve been camping together since before Michelle and Marco were born. Next year both families will have a kid graduating high school and entering college. We’re thinking of maybe shifting gears and renting a house on Lake George next year.

To top it all off last night I played a fantastic jazz gig. More on that soon.