The Haven Street Five

Happy Holidays everyone. I’ve been having a good break with lots of parties and travel, and two trips to the movies. I had a bit of downtime too and I’m finally getting around to a few random tasks. Today I put up a web page for my Saturday jazz group, now known as the Haven Street Quintet, or Haven Street Five. It includes an official band photo and a bunch of audio.

Most of the work was actually mastering the audio. The recording was actually quite good, done old-school style with a single microphone in the middle of the room. It came out well balanced, and I didn’t need any EQ, just a bit of dynamic boost, and trimming the beginnings and end, and converting it all to mp3s. Here’s our take on Giant Steps. Enjoy!

Living for Giving the Devil His Due

Lots and lots of music this time of year. The LEFT HOOK played at Fisherman’s Net last Saturday nite. We even learned a bunch of Christmas songs, including a nice jazzy duet of Chestnuts by Gary and me, but we ended up not playing them. It was our third gig there, and the place is starting to feel like a home base. It was a good crowd, including a bunch of familiar faces, including a few from Bryn Mawr. Looks like we’re starting to get a following. But despite everyone having a good time and mostly being cool, seem like there’s always one crazy and/or obnoxious drunk guy (or gal) at every show, who wants to get in your face, and act like he’s with the band. Usually mostly harmless, but I guess you never know.

My UPS guy was there again too, and I ran into him twice this week taking a morning walk. Makes it fun and cozy walking around the neighborhood.

Even though it was a really good show, the gig wasn’t even the music highlight of the day. We had jazz that morning. The Saturday jazz group is a quintet, and has Gary from LEFT HOOK On guitar. We’re trying to get some gigs with that group, so Gary brought in an audio recorder. We rehearsed six or so song, among them John Coltrane’s Giant Steps. For those of you who don’t know jazz, this song is considered like Mount Everest. It’s extremely hard to play, being very fast and having wicked chord changes, being the maximal expression of Coltrane’s sheets-of-sound phase. And it’s not enough to be able to negotiate it technically, you have to have something to say.

I’ve been studying Giant Steps for years, and was psyched when the piano player called the tune a few rehearsals back. We do our own arrangement, which is a bit slower and with a piano and bowed bass intro and outro, really laying on those harmonies. That means you can’t just slalom over the changes, you have to get in there. For the past few weeks I’ve been working toward an approach to the solo that’s less an imitation of Coltrane and more hard bop, more my own. But I was still in the zone of being focused on not loosing my place. Well over the course of the week I took out my horn a couple times and woodshedded the piece, which is something that I rarely do. So when the time came on Saturday I was much more free and relaxed, and more able to find and string together and develop ideas. We did two takes, each better than the last. Everyone in the band said I nailed the solo. I can hardly wait to hear the tapes.

Lizzy’s had a couple concerts as well. One night last week was her school’s Christmas concert. The new school has a much bigger music and arts program than her old one, so the lineup included a brass choir, a dance group, the chorus (in which Lizzy sings) a string ensemble and a concert band. Heavy emphasis on classical music including alot of Germans: Mozart, Handel, Bach, Hayden and those guys. A pretty high level of musicianship overall. The concert band did Leroy Anderson’s Fesitval of Carols, which I really enjoyed since I played that in my high school band.

Then last night was a vocal performance by the advanced singers in Lizzy singing and theatre group. Again a heavy emphasis on the classical, including some operetta and some legit heavy opera. The performance was in the church with the amazing reverb. I’d never heard Lizzy do a recital piece before, but she’s gotten really good. A high, strong soprano. A-level on a grade 6 NYSMA piece. Two of her friends in the group are senior and both are starting as music majors in college next fall. They did three songs each, very excellent. One more show to go, which is the Pageant at Michelle’s school.

LEFT HOOK is now on break for the holidays. We have a list of seven or so new tunes to get together for January. I’m amazed at how much audiences like Blue Oyster Cult, so I want to get another hard rock, proggish 80’s tune on the list. Look for us to start gigging out again in the New Year!

Picture Time

Here’s some pictures of some recent goings-on. First off, I put up a gallery from Lizzy’s sweet sixteen party. Drop me a line if you need the password.

Then there’s a some pictures from OrigaMIT and the AMNH Holiday tree. BTW today I learned the Tyrannosaurus Rex exhibit in the museum is now 100 years old. It was the first T-Rex ever discovered, the first ever mounted for public display and the only one out there for 50 years or so. The museum’s director at the time sponsored a research expedition (among many others) to go out and dig in Montana. The scientists actually brought back to two partial skeletons from the same site, put them together and mounted them, and gave the species its name. Apparently it was a huge hit at the time. And even though the bones were in the ground for 70 million years or more, 100 years seems like a really long time.

Caroling Caroling Near and Far

It was a busy weekend. Friday nite we continued on our quest to watch all the Lord of the Rings movies, which we began around Thanksgiving. I haven’t seen them in a couple of years, so they’re fresh again. Up to the middle of The Two Towers now. Jazz on Saturday had been moved to an earlier time slot, but is sounding better than ever after a few weeks off and a rusty start. We want to record our next practice to try and get some gigs. I’m gonna have to really learn how to play Giant Steps now. Yikes!

On Saturday nite we got our Xmas tree and all of the decorations up. This was complicated by the fact that our old tree stand was kaput, and after an hour of trying we had to face the fact it would not hold up the tree no matter what we did. So we had to run out and get another tree stand Saturday night, and even then it was hard to get the tree up straight. But we muddled through somehow. Sunday evening Jeannie and Michelle put up a lego train around it. Choo-choo!

Sunday morning I was in the city, teaching an origami session at the Museum of Natural History. It was more airplanes and spaceships, pretty much the same stuff I taught at MIT a few weeks ago. But in the meanwhile I diagrammed two more models: my Astronaut and my Space Probe. Both came in right around 25 steps.

This session was also webcast. It was my first time doing that and it went well. They provided a camera on a stand pointing down at the table, coupled to a computer running a group video chat so I could easily teach both the people in the room and the ones on the internet at the same time.

The level of folders, at least the local ones, was not at the MIT level. They were low intermediate at best, and some didn’t know alot of the basics. So a few of my models were actually pretty challenging for them. Still, we got thru four: the Astronaut, Rocketship III, UFO II and Space Pod, and all the students did well. It was a good learning experience as an author and teacher. I was wondering if these models might be too hard for a book targeted at non-expert folders. My conclusion is that some may be tough for a raw beginner, but with just a little experience most folders should not alot of fun and have much trouble.

Michelle came with me and took a class. She never misses a chance to do an origami event these days. She folded a really cool mouse, and then made about a dozen of them in rainbow colors. People are telling me now what a good folder she’s become.

This evening Lizzy and Michelle sang at a Lessons and Carols service at the church in Bronxville. It was a large group, anchored by the church choir Lizzy recently joined, and augmented by the children’s chorus from YAA, a really good organist on a great pipe organ, and a brass and timpani ensemble. Apparently today before the show was the only time all three sub-groups rehearsed together.

This is the first time I heard the choir, and I must say there are excellent, truly at a professional level. Lizzy is one of four first sopranos, and the youngest person in the choir. There are two other girls from her youth group but most are adults. They were doing very advanced and complex arrangements with all kinds of counterpoint and harmonies, lots of suspended and other non-triadic intervals, call-and-response things, interleaving voices, and they pulled it all off beautifully. Covered alot of emotional territory too, from haunting to joyous. I only know about three of the songs, but it was the best thing I’ve heard in a while. Also today I learn that unlike the Catholics, the Episcopalians still dress nicely to go to church.

The Devil You Know

Not too long ago I took a job with an ad agency as a consulting software developer. This was not the first time I worked in advertising. Many years ago, I co-founded Radical Media’s interactive division back in the 1990’s. (Technically they were a media production company, but alot of their clients were ad agencies, including the one I took a job with, and there’s alot of overlap) and I did all sorts of fun and exciting and groundbreaking stuff there. Since then I’ve done freelance ad jobs here and there. It’s actually surprising how little the ad business has changed in twenty years, the corporate culture and all. Stuff that was innovative back then is just business as usual now.

Being a temp position, so there’s no telling how long it’d last. In orientation they gave us alot of feel-good propaganda about how great advertising is, a lovely coffee table book and all, and really who would expect anything less. Good that they really cares about visual design, and to be able to use my design skills, and nice that they’re small enough so you can talk to people on your own floor if there’s some kind of tech problem. The place was totally chaotic however, in a sort of sleepy, hurry-up-and-wait kinda way. I spent three days waiting around for a computer, using various loaners. The computer they finally gave me was messed up, so I spent two more days trying to get it working before giving up and getting another one.

When I got on a project, they threw two other new hires onto the same piece of work. It was not deep but it was wide, and they really wanted to get it done fast as possible. Must’ve been money at stake with the client, so from their perspective this was a sensible way to do it.

The entirety of the work was tweaking CSS to make the site match the comps. Problem was the CSS, which was supposed to be hierarchical in an OO sense, was really a tangled mess. On top of that, there were hundreds and hundreds of auto-generated files that were not under .gitignore, so every time you checked in code there was a shitstorm of conflicts to wade thru. So with six people working in parallel, we all kept overwriting each other’s changes. I never lost any of my work, but most of the others weren’t as careful. Fixing any of this was out of the question cuz it would’ve blown the deadline.

On the third day our git repo exploded and work ground to a halt. The devops guys restored by the next morning. Fun fun fun.

So we worked thru the weekend. By this time we were completely off the script, so I literally spent a whole day with creative director, with him going “move that 10 pixels down” and me making the change in the code, and then him going “hmm, no, move it 5 pixels up.” He seemed a little put off by me questioning why their process wasn’t better. Like I said, the industry hasn’t learned anything in twenty years.

Then Monday the deadline came. I spent another day doing some minor fixes, and that was that. We spent a couple days chilling waiting on a new project. I spent my time reading up on git to see if I could avoid another gitpocolypse in the future, and on responsive frameworks for CSS.

Then we got a new project, a web site for some investment bank portfolio services. Again very CSS-heavy, with some animated charts’n’graphs and things. They gave us access to the git repo, but told us not to start work just yet, as the account people were still working things out with the client. A couple days after that they the deal fell thru and at was that. Of course they thanked us profusely and sincerely hope they can work with us again. And so it goes.