Lefts and Rights of Passage

I’m happy to say that the show at Michelle’s school was a smashing success. The theme this year was Give My Regards to Broadway, and it was basically a revue of show tunes. There were alot of talented kids in this year’s graduating class. Some years there’s just one or two eighth graders, but this year there were more than thirty, including a good handful of soloists. They did the same Phantom/Les Mis medley that we did in the Cabaret show a few years ago, and I’d say they did a better job. This is the fifth year or so I played in the band in its various permutations, maybe the seventh show. It gets easier and more fun every year as I’ve gotten to feel familiar with this group of musicians, and at this point I’ve played with everyone in the group. My playing is at a level now where I can read thru the songs once and pretty much be good. I only learned Friend Like Me when we were setting up for the first show.

Another highlight: Michelle had a ukulele solo in We Are Made of Stars. We practiced that one together a few times. She nailed it.

Today I gave Lizzy her first lesson in driving a car. I gave her a basic safety primer then took her to an empty parking lot and had her practice driving around slowly, doing circuits of the lot, mainly just lifting her foot off the brake and letting the car roll. Once she got comfortable with starting and stopping and steering and shifting between park and drive, I let her give it a bit of gas. She got up to 11 mph (17kph) one time! Then on the way home I had her drive the last block to our house and park in the driveway. She did very well and was quite thrilled. Next time I’ll have her go in reverse and learn to park with a bit of precision, and maybe even try some neighborhood streets, get up to 15 or 20!

Keith Emerson

I am shocked and saddened today to learn of the death of Keith Emerson, mastermind of the accounting firm, no make that rock band, Emerson Lake and Palmer. Piano virtuoso, organ rocker extraordinaire, synthesizer and electronics pioneer, imaginative epic songwriter, and all around wildly adventurous musician, Keith Emerson was a singular talent and force in music. ELP was the definitive prog rock band, one of the first stadium acts, and the original supergroup, with their elaborate compositions, extended jams, sci-fi themes, deep forays into classical and jazz, out meters, innovative sound palette, monstrous musicianship, and over-the-top stage presentation, yet all held together by some intangible essence. Who could ask for more? Well then, they even had a ballad or two.

Keith ranks up there on my list off all-time favorite musician heroes and influences, right up there with John Coltrane. A sort of weird fusion of Aaron Copeland, Dave Brubeck and Jerry Lee Lewis who took it all too far, but boy could he play anything with a keyboard: left handed, upside down, rotating in the air, stab it with the steely knives, you name it. In a year that’s already seen the passing of many great rock stars, this one is the saddest for me. I’d heard he was sick for a long time, but sadder still it appears that he took his own life. He’d suffered never damage in right hand that pretty much ended his ability to play the keyboards. Just wow.

I was lucky enough to see Keith Emerson live a few times, in a few different contexts, including the full-on Emerson Lake and Palmer rock spectacle on their Black Moon tour. They did a three-hour-plus show that included Tarkus (only slightly abridged but actually tighter and less plodding than the original) and all of Karn Evil Nine, and everything else you’d hope for. The level of playing was superb, but apparently by that time Keith was already having trouble with his hands. One other time was with the Keith Emerson Band. They had alot of great new material and teased us with the promise of a new album that never materialized. Last time I saw him was in an unplugged format with Greg Lake, which was really enlightening in many ways, including several extended improvisations.

In any event, Keith’s legend loomed large. He will be missed, but his music lives on in his fans. Here’s a cover of Karn Evil 9, 2nd Impression I did a while back.

There’s no end to my life
No beginning to my death
Death is life


Spring is creeping closer. Days are getting longer and warmer. No flowers yet, but I’m thinking of taking the Mustang out already! Lots of music events happening these days with the kids. Lots of running around.

Lizzy just finished with her school play yesterday. They did a production of Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. It was very well done. Lizzy was in the chorus and had one line (she did great!). The fact that she’s new at the school notwithstanding I was a bit surprised she didn’t get a bigger part, being and experienced singer and all. But it turns out there’s alot of talent at that school. All the leads were superb, as was the orchestra. I guess it’s a high school after all, and I’m more used to the K-8 or K-12 performances. They did four shows in four days and it was a huge amount of work and she had a great time, and a bonding experience for the kids. But on to the next thing.

This coming weekend is honor band. Both Lizzy and Michelle are in it. Michelle still plays clarinet regularly in her school band, but Lizzy is dusting off her flute for the first time in a while. Still, they’re both very excited as always.

Then the week after that is the musical at Michelle’s school. The eight graders are the big kids in this production, and this year they have some good talent too. I’ll be playing in the orchestra for this one, and so last week I got a couple CD’s and a big packet of sheet music. I’ve listened thru a couple times and read thru it once, so I’m set for joining them in rehearsal next week. I’m doing ukulele on one song, We’re All Made of Stars. Michelle learned the uke part too, so she’s gonna do it on stage while I double her from the pit. So we’re practicing that song together every day.

Gig Announcement: LEFT HOOK at Victors in Hawthorne

Hi everyone, okay our next gig is the first weekend of April. Hope to see you there. I don’t think we’ll be adding very many new tunes for this, but mainly tightening up what we got to take it to the next level.

If you google Victors you’ll see the first review says it’s an awful place, like some guy got in an altercation with one of the regulars and blamed it on the establishment. Who knows? I gotta tell you I’ve played gigs there before and it’s just fine. It’s a good size room with a great big bar and good veiws from most everywhere. They have live bands an open mics up there alot.

Music with a punch!
Westchester’s classic rock Funk & soul party band

Saturday April 2, 9 pm
Victors Bar & Grill
500 Commerce St. Hawthorne

Jazz Demos — Dark Skies

Here’s a new song of mine:

Work on the last couple tracks for the third Buzzy Tonic record, Elixr continues apace, with the epic and angular Plague of Frogs, the new and funky Leave the City Behind, and the poignant Ballad of Galadriel in the offing. But meanwhile I’ve taken on another recording project, albeit of a much lighter nature.

My Saturday jazz group, the Haven Street Quintet, is advanced enough that I figure it’s worth trying to do some originals. It’s kind of amazing to me how few musicians actually write, but to me it’s always been part of the deal, even if only aspiratiionally in the days before I figured out how. Alot if my earliest songs were jazz compositions, and in fact I wrote quite a few before I took on the added challenge of writing lyrics and singing.

In a way writing jazz song is much easier than writing a rock or pop song, because all you really need is a sketch: a melody, some chords, a feel, and maybe an overarching concept. Then you leave it to the musicians to fill in the details and bring it to life.

The first couple of songs I brought to the group we already fully composed, first played by my 80’s fusion group Event Horizon – (I Miss My) Baby in Bb and Solstice. And although the sounded pretty good, they weren’t really right for the direction of the group. Baby in Bb in particular is an uptempo funk, and doesn’t translate on an upright bass. Also I wrote it on alto sax, and it lays just terribly on the tenor. So we’d have to change the key as well as the groove to make it work. Solstice doesn’t have any of those problems, but it’s through-composed enough that learning the structure is non-trivial. Might as well move on!

I have about a half-dozen ideas I can use as the basis for songs for the HSQ. The first of these I’ve named Dark Skies. It’s based on a fragment I’ve had in my head for a long time, but always needed something to complete. I was humming it on the way home from jazz last Saturday and came up with a bridge that was perfect. Came home and banged it out on piano.

There’s no point in trying to track a jazz song on the computer, because the performance is where it’s at. So I had the idea to make a quick demo just to get across the sound. It came out quite well, and was a amazingly fast to record. I tracked the piano on MIDI, and then just repeated the head a second time to provide a backing for the first solo. The bass and drums are MIDI also, just an outline of the rhythm and harmony. The drums are little more than a click track with some pauses and accents. But then I put a sax track over it and that really brought the whole thing to life. I nailed it on the first take. The effects are all well-known presets I just dialed in, some reverb on the horn and some compression on the master out. It only took a couple hours from start to finish.

Hopefully we’ll do it at practice next week and it’ll light up with the band. If all goes well I’m gonna try to knock off a jazz demo every week or two while I finish the last couple tracks of my rock album, a sort of side project within a project. Best case scenario we’ll have some fun and unique new material for the group, and it’ll push us toward the next level. Worst case I’ll have a nice little collection of jazz demos.

Global Jukebox Update

The Global Jukebox project is far enough along that I can share some screen grabs. The basic features are in place and I’ve completed a pretty comprehensive first pass at applying styles to everything. Behind the scenes the song play tracking is largely in place, which is a prereq for go-live. There’s still some UI details to attend to, as well as some ongoing refactoring, but now the focus is transitioning to building out the next round of features, including Choreomterics and Journeys. You can learn more here: