Higher and Higher

The LEFT HOOK gig at Burke’s Saturday night was a pretty darn good time. It’s larger and nicer venue than we’ve been playing, and we had a good turnout, with a whole a bunch of people coming to help our drummer Gus celebrate his birthday, and a few of my friends, including Nick, who came all the way from Long Island and took a bunch of pictures of the band, which I’ll post sometime soon. Woo-hoo and thanks alot!

Gus is back to playing his regular drums, which helps the sound alot. Also, last week I finally got my Mark VII sax in for a final adjustment. It took Virgil only a few minutes of fiddling with the various bits of cork around the keys of the upper stack. Now it’s playing totally great. It literally has never sounded better! I have all the tone and growl that I really love, plus a great clarity in the low end, even playing very softly. So now I have two world-class tenor saxes in great working order, the beauty and the beast. I’ve been enjoying hanging out with Virgil, he’s got lots of stories and lots of knowledge on musical instruments. It almost makes me sad my horn is all fixed up now.

We added a bunch of new songs for this show, including The Letter by Joe Cocker, Sledgehammer by Peter Gabriel, Beginnings by Chicago, and Cheap Sunglasses by ZZ Top. All went over really well. I think Beginnings in particular, which we used to end out first set, was a winner. We worked on that on for a while and made our own arrangement. I’m emulating a whole horn section on sax, and Mike and Gary are covering the vocal harmonies between them. We even have a percussion break toward the end.

The surprise hit was Cheap Sunglasses. This one was a bit of a late addition, after we’d tried out and discarded a bunch of other new songs for various reasons (vocals were to high, the groove too mellow, that kind of thing). We only rehearsed it twice. It’s a bit heavier than most of our material, but basically a boogie blues, and right in Gary’s zone on guitar. Ken and Gus and got a tight groove going on on the bass and drums. I sing lead on it, and it’s right in my zone vocally too, and I do an Abacab-like solo on the organ over the coda. Big crowd pleaser.

Since we’ve been working so much on new material, we only had a chance to run thru the whole set list once before the show. Overall it was still quite good, but there was the occasional tempo problem (mostly starting too fast) or missed or sloppy transition from one part to the next. Still, we know the songs well, and they’re great songs, and the energy and sound was always there. The vocals keep getting better and better too. I guess you can say the better we get the higher our standards get.

As usual, the second set was the tightest, had the best energy and the biggest crowd. There were a few time where Ken and Gus were really right together in the groove and it felt fantastic. One was Dance to the Music, which we really bombed in rehearsal. For the third set I used to joke that we should just do two or three long jam numbers like Dazed and Confused or Low Spark of High Heeled Boys. But now we finally have enough songs to have a full third set, and not just of the leftovers, but songs we know well. We even ended up doing a couple extra encores, including Foxy Lady, which someone shouted out as a request. Gary launched into it and Ken and Gus joined in, and sang. I think I remembered most of the lyrics. Good fun. And we even got paid more then we’ve been so far.


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’!

More on the Sax Situation

Last weekend we had a big ol’ snowstorm, over two feet in 24 hours. Clearing out was just fine. We went out Saturday just before dark, with about a foot on the ground, and cleared the front steps and a narrow path down the driveway to the street. Sunday morning it stopped snowing. The snowblower started on the first pull and took less than two hours to clear everything out. It immediately got warm after that, up above freezing every day, with some days in the 40’s or 50’s. Even though it’s been melting fast there’s still plenty of snow on the ground.

Toward the end of the week I finally had the chance to take my Mark VII tenor to my repair guy. His name is Virgil Scott and lives in Yonkers and works out of his house. He’s fixed everyone’s horn from Michael Brecker on down, and also runs one of the few remaining swing big bands on the scene. Been playing sax for over sixty years! So you know he knows what he’s doing.

My man replaced all the pads on the upper stack, plus a couple more on some side keys. Now pretty much the whole horn has new pads. He also replaced a few random bits of felt and cork, and made some adjustments. He even knocked out a couple of minor dents. I had thought he would need to take apart the horn at the bow to do this, but since the last time I visited him, he invented a special tool that goes in thru the neck.

After I got the horn home I took it pretty much all the way apart, cleaned and polished and oiled everything, and put it back together. Along the way I put on a few more bits of felt and cork, and got rid of the last of the clacking. It’s never looked nicer, shiny but well worn like C3PO. It plays much better too, especially in the low end of the range.

One or more of the new pads in the upper stack – I think it’s the B – may not be closing fully on all combinations of notes. Virgil says this is to be expected, as there’s lot of mutually interdependent things to adjust, and that I should bring it back in a couple weeks, after I’ve played on it a few times and it’s had a chance to break in, for him to give it a final once-over. Meanwhile, I clamped those keys shut before I put the horn away so as to give them a chance to seat better. I’ll bring the horn to jazz this week and see how it goes.