Funk Nouveau

We had a great long weekend for the holiday, and summer has arrived in full force with the weather up in the 90’s the last few days. Got a bunch of stuff done including working out, skating, sleeping in, some yardwork, finishing the diagrams for my Narwhal, and good progress on the songs Now and Black Swan. Plus we had a great barbecue and I watched the whole first season of Game of Thrones.

Last week a saw an amazing horn section funk band called Funk Nouveau at the Bitter End on Bleeker Street. I went with Erik and Glen, who had recently hired two of the horn players to do some sessions. Here’s a except from their flyer:

“Live Funk Nouveau and pals will be performing classic (and a few unusual) Tower Of Power tunes all re-arranged for 6 horns! Watch us all magically fit onto the deceptively large stage at the Bitter End and knock you into summer properly! This will NOT be youtube-grade cover band non-grooving. This. Will. Be. FUNKY. Personal guarantee. There will be pocket. There will be grease. There will be E9th chords. There will be….. lots of dudes in the audience probably. (Ladies hip to the horn-funk more than welcome, of course.)”

Which is sort of funny, because back when I lived in San Francisco I played sax in a horn section funk band, and it was a much more chick-friendly genre than the prog-rock I’d been doing before then, and we always got lots of ladies turn out to dance. But as predicted, with Funk Nouveau it was mainly dudes, and everyone was there to listen.

And they made good on their guarantee. The players were all top-notch, and six horns (two trumpets, a trombone, two tenors and a bari) deliver a huge amount of power in a smallish club. The music was mainly Tower of Power, along with some James Brown and other stuff. The keyboard player did all the arrangements. One particular highlight was a version of What Is Hip (a tune they claimed to be sick of) re-arranged at a slower tempo, somewhat in the spirit of Clapton’s remake of After Midnight, but, uh, much better done. They were all very impressive, I but found myself listening to the bass player and bari player in particular. To give you an idea of the level these guys were at, when I got to talking to the guitar player after the show I learned I’d seen him back in February, opening of Van Halen in the Garden as part of Kool and the Gang.

Very inspiring. Someday I’m gonna have a horn section like that for Buzzy Tonic.

The Song Remains the Same

It’s coming up a year now that I played a gig with Erik, sparking me to rekindle my interest in playing live music. I just got off the phone with the coffeehouse where we played last summer and they want to have us back, so it’s down to picking a date.

Meanwhile, we’ve been able to get together a few times to jam the last few weeks. We’re continuing to work out new material. We’re up to eight originals, and some of the covers we’ve recently learned include Cinnamon Girl by Neil Young, Karma Police by Radiohead, and Don’t Know Why by Norah Jones. These last two were chosen because of the piano/guitar arrangements. I chose Don’t Know Why because we finally have Heat Wave worked out to the point where it’s playable and musical. I said to Erik half-jokingly “If I was a better songwriter I’d have written a simpler tune. Maybe I should learn some Norah Jones songs to play simpler.” It turns out, however, Don’t Know Why is not a simple song at all, but full of subtle jazz chords. Thing I want to be able to do, however, is carry a song with that light, minimal touch. Old country songs are great for that, and she has a heavy country influence.

Learning new songs is an ongoing process. Before I got my digital stage piano last summer I mainly practiced on an upright piano I got when Lizzy was a baby. Songs would go in and out of rotation, and over time I tended to be more interested in instrumentals that pop songs with vocals. I seemed to collect songs that were interesting enough to make my own. I arrived at a point where I had a set of songs that were my standard set. And while they were all great songs, I felt I had plateaued. But now I can see it’s a really good foundation and covers a variety of styles including stride, modern jazz, and prog rock. Some of them have gone down from playing the full song to just a run thru of the parts, skipping send and third verses, and I’ve joined them into medleys. For the jazz numbers I’ll often play thru the head and not improvise, but sometimes I do. Some are hard enough (mainly the Keith Emerson numbers) that I can only really nail them when my fingers are in good shape. I still try and play thru this set last week. It takes about an hour. I played last night – first time I’d played my piano in a while – and it sounded better than ever.

East St. Louis Toodle-Loo – Duke Ellington
Powerhouse – Raymond Scott
Pannonica / ‘Round Midnight / Epistrophy – Monk
When I’m 64 / Lady Madonna / Martha My Dear – Beatles
Because / I Want You (She’s So Heavy) – Beatles
Simon Smith and His Amazing Dancing Bear – Randy Newman
You Got a Friend In Me – Randy Newman
Got A Match? – Chick Corea
Cantaloupe Island – Herbie Hancock
Josie / Hey Nineteen – Steely Dan
I Wish / Sir Duke – Stevie Wonder
Miami 2017 – Billy Joel (intro) / Take A Pebble – ELP
Karn Evil 9, 2nd Impression – ELP
Digital Man – Rush (intro) / The Endless Enigma – ELP (intro)
Letter From Home – Pat Metheny


It’s been a busy few weeks with real life. It’s been a very rainy month of May. Seems like rain every Mon thru Thurs the last three or more weeks. I haven’t been able to take the Mustang out on any day I’ve worked at home all month. At least the last couple weekends have been warm and sunny, and teasing that summer is right around the corner. I haven’t been able to skate much either, but I put new wheels on my rollerblades last weekend, which makes a big difference, and finally had the chance Sunday. This Friday is the start of summer Fridays at my office, so I get a much-needed break. If the weather’s good I might get the mustang down to the body shop for an estimate.

Last night was the spring band concert at my kids’ school. Both Lizzy and Michelle played, on flute and clarinet. Michelle was thrilled, as it was her first concert. It was a big band, about sixty kids. At the old school it was a dozen or maybe twenty. The week before that was the art show at the school. This was a cool thing that I’d never seen a school do before. Basically they turned to cafeteria into an art gallery and put up all the best stuff from the year’s art classes. Some really nice stuff. Got to mingle with the other parents and listen to the kids beg to go out for ice cream.

I’ve been making progress on music and recording. Last weekend I laid down the lead vocals for Black Swan as well as Michelle’s new song “Now”. It’s a sweet and simple song, yet at the same time deep, in a Lydian mode.. For this one Michelle wrote the music on piano and came up with most of the arrangement. There’s going to be a clarinet solo on it. I told her if she has a third song we could make it into a suite for my next record.

by Michelle Szinger

Now is now
Now is the present time
Now is everything
Now is here
Now is not the future or the past
Now is now

Now is now
Now is here
Now is new
Now is not old
Now is not the future or the past
Now is now
Now is now

Manic Mechanic

Michelle’s Birthday was last week, so we had a party for Friday nite, with lots of her friends from school. All the parents were amazingly prompt, dropping the kids off at 6:00 sharp and picking them up at 9:00 exactly. It was a fun time and Michelle was thrilled. Plus she got a betta fish, her first pet. On Sunday was a party for Ella’s confirmation, with all the Blick people. My friend Bob is getting heavy into photography, and agreed to help me take pictures for my book. In between we finished up the spring cycle of yardwork. Garden planted, hedges and edges trimmed, and everything. So it’s good to have that done with. And, Jeannie’s started working out again after a long hiatus. She’s been at it a few weeks now.

But the main news is: every springtime I say to myself this is the year I’m gonna restore the Mustang. But then every year something big and/or expensive comes up that takes priority. For example, last spring I had to replace the Jeep, and find a new school for the kids. Well this year it looks like it’s happening. I sometimes feel hesitant about doing this, but Jeannie calls the car a national treasure. It still runs great, but the main thing is it needs a new paint job. Before I make that investment, however, I want to make sure it’s mechanically sound. I took it to the garage last week to get new shocks and a general inspection. I haven’t gotten shocks on it in the 15 years I’ve had the car, and figured it was time. The car checked out and all major systems are sound. The only thing is there was a rattle when the car was idling low. It turns out one of the hood bumpers was loose, and after I tightened it the car has never been quieter (at low RPM).

The only other thing is the car tends to hesitate when you stomp on the gas from a dead stop when the engine is cold, rather than instantly deliver that iconic roar of power. I’m not sure if there’s anything I can do about this other than let the engine warm up, but I’ll be I can adjust the carburetor to improve things. Once that’s dealt with, it’s off to the body shop to get an estimate. We found a good local body shop last year after Jeannie got in a fender bender (or a bumper thumper?) In addition to getting the body painted, I’m gonna see about getting and undercoating, and getting the air filter painted too. Plus I’m gonna replace the horn button in the center of the steering wheel.

New Lyrics: Black Swan

Now that I have the bass part down and the song is falling into place, here are the lyrics to Black Swan. This song is almost of a type for me, with a sort or Steely-ELP groove and pre-postapocalyptic sentiment. But with that territory there’s a lot of room for interesting and create stuff. This one has been in the works for a long while and is shaping up to be one of my favorites. In any event, every album should have one or two big, heavy numbers, so this is one.

I was working on it on the piano today, and Michelle, who continues to hang out in the studio when she can, said, “These are the weirdest lyrics ever and they make no sense.” Jeannie, who usually pretty much ignores my creative efforts, was in earshot and said “Those are awesome lyrics. What is that?” So I guess you love it or you hate it.

Black Swan
John Szinger

Black swan – out of the blue sky
Snowblind the morning sun
Black swan – makes a big wave
Permanent change oh yeah it’s come

You know it killed the dinosaurs
You know it started World War Three
You know it messed up my computer
And took away my MTV
Over the event horizon
Lies a future you can’t see
Get ready – for the singularity

Black swan – no red light flashing
The needle runs right off the chart
Black swan – the damage done now
Too late to run too late to start

Today’s the day the wall comes down
Tonight’s the rise of the machine
Move me to a window seat
I’ll show you what I mean
Imagine no imagining
How bright the brave new world will be
Get ready – for the singularity

And as you learn the waves you ride
They carry you to the other side
But nothing ever really ends
Look out! Here come that change again

Black swan – the circle closing
Watching the watchmen watching you
Black swan – not fade away now
The other side is breaking thru

Today’s the day the wall comes down
Tonight’s the rise of the machine
Move me to a window seat
I’ll show you what I mean
Imagine no imagining
How white my shirts could be
Get ready – for the singularity