Spring Jazz

A few things going on on the music front.

Last Saturday I sat in with my friend Charlie’s band the other night at a place called The Green Growler. The joint has a hip and cozy vibe, laid back with couches and board games a million kinds of craft beer. This would be a good venue for a Haven Street gig. Good crowd that appreciates jazz.

Charlie has a trio with him on guitar, plus bass and drums. Another sax player on alto and myself on tenor were sitting in. Although I’ve playing alot of jazz, this was my first live gig in a while. Still it seems my soloing chops are hot; I got lots of cheers and applause for my solos. Gary’s right: I need to memorize more tunes. I had Footprints, All Blues, and Oleo down, as well as Tom Petty’s Breakdown. Did okay on Take Five and A Night in Tunisia, that is until we got to the bridge. Also learned a number called Beatrice.

Last Sunday Jay came over and we finally mastered the Haven Street CD. We’re really almost there now. Just need to listen back a few times, and do a few tweaks to the artwork, including making room for the barcode on the back if the album cover, and doing the the graphic for the disk itself.

Meanwhile we’re up to ten new originals since we finished the recording date. I have four, Gary has three, Jay two and our piano player Rich brought in one. It’s cool that we have this many tunes and they still all sound different. I could go into detail on all of them, but you’ll hear them eventually.

Two of my songs are particularly challenging. One of them, Lift Off, I wrote a couple months ago. It’s uptempo, with Coltrane-inspired changes that feature a half-step lift embedded in a ii-V progression. It also has an intro that uses a snatch of those changes, but with a different feel. I’m reusing the intro as the foundation for a drum feature later in the tune. We finally got the feel for the intro riff, and the contrast between that and main tune really makes the whole song work. We’ve also gotten comfortable with playing the head and soloing at full speed, which sounds really exciting and propulsive.

The other song is Son of the Sun, which I wrote way back in the late 1980s with Event Horizon, when I was 19 or 20 years old. Up until now with this group I’ve decided to bring in only new material, even though I have alot of stuff we could potentially do. The idea is to bring out what’s special in this group, and to let everybody write and improvise. Still Son of the Sun is one of my favorite things I’ve ever written, and one of things that’s special about this group is they can handle playing it.

The song is mainly in 5/8 time, with a B section in 7/8, and a middle section in 4/4 but in the Phrygian mode. It also has a few twists and turns along the way. Of course there’s no point in doing out time signatures unless they really groove. The feel of the Event Horizon version was synthesizer-laden rock-jazz fusion, but our new version is a hair slower and much more acoustic and latin sounding. It also became a sprawling, 20-minute epic, so I’m trying to pull it in a bit. I must say it’s coming together very nicely, and the band is enjoying tackling it and making it sound musical; they’re really into it. Tonight we got up to the drum solo.

Pedal Point

Another longstanding project got moved forward substantially last week. When I got my new piano a year and half ago I had them put the feet up on little risers. Being very tall I needed to raise the whole thing about two inches so I could fit my knees under the keyboard. Well this worked great except that pedals, which were high to begin with, ended up very high off the floor. I asked the piano people (who rebuild old pianos so they clearly have the expertise) if they could lower the pedals somehow. Obviously this would involve some custom work, and they said they’d have to think about how. So I looked at it and took some measurements and thought about and made some plans and eventually sent them some drawings.

They said it looked doable, but wanted to confirm my measurements. Last month the dude was out here to tune the piano, and agreed my plan was solid and my dimensions were correct. So he took the pedal assembly off the piano and back to his shop. He was delayed in bringing it back, mainly because he was in a car crash and it took a while before he could drive again. Also he handed the work off to one of the guys in the shop. Meanwhile I tried using a MIDI sustain pedal but there was no where to plug it in, so that didn’t work so well.

Last week dude came back with the modified pedal assembly. My drawings had a block at the top to act as a spacer. But they way built it the top was extended seamlessly with the spacer integrated. It looks beautiful but is no longer removable if I want to revert the pedals to their original height. And unfortunately the dude mis-measured, and the pedals now hang below the height added by the spacers. So if I ever want to roll the piano over to the other side of my living room I’d have to take the pedal assembly off first. Oy! The good news is pedal is now at a very playable height, much improved. And, dude came up with a pretty ingenious solution: it only needs to come up a half or three-quarters of an inch, so he can just swap out the wheels on the casters for slightly bigger ones. Unfortunately that means yet another follow-up visit. Ah well, we’ll get there.

Spring Loaded

Okay lots of topics today. First of the weather has finally gotten nice and spring is indeed here! Trees and flowers are starting to bud up and bloom, even a little sunshine. I spent a good part of the weekend outdoors, going for walks and working on the yard. I filled in some low spots in my yard and covered with grass seed. The last vestiges of stumpy are finally covered over. Next up, pulling out and re-laying some of the driveway stones where the tree used to be. Also both of our outdoor faucets are leaky, so I have to see if I can fix ‘em or else call a plumber.

I got the Mustang out on the highway too. It felt good. Last year at this time I was starting in on research to get it restored, but that fell by the wayside after I got sick/hurt. I guess it’s back in the realm of possibility again, but I have other projects I want to tackle this year, like getting some solar panels on my roof and expanding my patio. These also involve alot of upfront research. I’ll probably settle for getting an oil change on the Mustang for now.

At long last our bug fixing marathon at work has come to end, and I can let go of a huge amount of buggy code I’ve been holding in my head. At first it was a month, then six weeks, and kept getting extended and extended again. It’s pretty much all every engineer in the company has been doing for three months. By the end it seemed like every second bug was caused by some other bug fix. That’s a helluva way to run a company. I can understand that we have to deliver features to our customers, but we pay a very high price in code quality and technical debt rushing to do everything as fast as possible. We especially waste time doing things over rather than thinking it thru and getting it right the first time. It’s actually a known problem with our executives, and they keep saying they’ll address it next time around. Maybe this time they really mean it. We’re at the top end of a reorganization of the engineering department, moving to more flexible, cross-functional teams. Sounds good on paper but has a good chance of making things even more chaotic. We’ll see how it goes.

Stormy Monday

We’re still waiting for spring to arrive in earnest. The weather has been mainly cold and windy. I did get the Mustang out and on the road last weekend, but I didn’t take it on the highway yet cuz once I was out a realized I ought to check the tires before I get it up to high speed. Last Friday it was actually warm and sunny in the afternoon, and I went out to lunch in the neighborhood with friends at work. But then Saturday it turned cold and windy again, and Sunday was gusty and ominous the whole day.

Yesterday I went into the city to teach origami at the Museum of Natural History. I hadn’t done it in a while and it was alot of fun. A kid in my class brought a copy of my book, and after we folded my Flying Fish, we went on to do the Giant Squid, one of the more complicated models in the book. Kid is only in fourth grade and is already a very advanced folder, with great technique. I haven’t folded much of anything the last couple months, so it’s good to start thinking about getting something new together for the convention in June.

Michelle came with me and took a class in the morning, doing crystal/snowflakes, and we toured the museum in the afternoon. I always love the dinosaur halls on the top floor. This time there was a special exhibit of a cast/reconstruction of some gigantic sauropod a hundred and twenty-two feet long! Unbelievable.

Today we awoke to a tempestuous downpour with widespread flooding, making the morning commute a cold, wet mess. You couldn’t drive faster than 20 mph and lot of local roads were closed, so there were detours and traffic jams. Everyone was like an hour late. The pond is in effect in our neighbor’s backyard.

Work continues on completing the Haven Street record and getting CD’s made. I created artwork for the album cover. After rehearsal last week we decided to get some photos of the neighborhood around our rehearsal studio, since it’s a funky industrial zone with some character. I got a shot of a street sign, which turned out to be a great cover image. Then for the back and inside I got some more shots, mainly of sky, but it was a cloudy day with a moody tone, and over that a crazy crisscross of telephone poles and wires, and some treetops still clinging to last winter. Perfect backdrop for text and images. On the inside I dropped in some of the pictures of us from the recording session, and on the back all the song names and other info. The whole thing hangs together nicely. All that remains is to finalize it in the format to deliver to the CD dup house. I think I may need to put a barcode on there too.

In any event, the whole thing will be available soon. Meanwhile you can get a preview on SoundCloud at:


Intrepid Adventure

It’s April already and still the winter wont let go. Believe it or now we had a good six or eight inches of snow today!

The bug fix marathon continues at work. It went from a month to six weeks, to two months, and now ten weeks. I took a couple days off for spring break; hopefully we’re wrapping it all up this week.

If we’re not traveling on spring break we usually like to go a museum. New York has lots of them. I’ve been living here over 25 years and still haven’t seen many of them. So last Thursday we went to the Intrepid. This was Michelle’s idea but I’ve never been and always wanted to go.

The Intrepid is a WWII aircraft carrier that’s docked on the West side of Manhattan, on a pier along with a submarine, a bunch of historic aircraft and spaceships and other attractions. The carrier itself is very intersting, although you have to watch your head if you’re tall (the sub is even worse). It has alot of history; in addition to fighting in WWII it participated in the space program, pick up at least one Gemini capsule after splashdown.

The airplane collection is really cool too. Many of them are navy planes intended for use on the carrier. A few helicopters too, a Harrier jet, and a Gemini capsule (a replica I think). There’s an A-12 Blackbird, and that’s only the third coolest plane.

They have a Space Shuttle. This one is Enterprise, which was the prototype that mostly rode on the back of a 747 and detached to test its flying and landing capability. It never actually went into orbit. Unfortunately you can’t go in inside. At this point we’ve seen three of the four existing shuttles: Enterprise, Endeavor and Discovery. Only Atlantis remains.

But the coolest was they have a Concorde! Sixties vintage jet setting for the rich and famous to the extreme at Mach 2 and 60,000 feet! Apparently there were only twenty ever made, fourteen operational as passenger jets, about a dozen still in existence, and only three or four in North America. You can take an in-depth tour where they let you go inside and sit in the passenger cabin, and even up in the cockpit. Somehow I ended up debating the musical merits of Phil Collins, who famously flew the Concorde in 1985 to open both the UK and American portions of the Live Aid concert, with our tour guide, who was not a big Genesis fan, and not aware that Phil also played behind a reunited Led Zeppelin that night.

Last Friday Jay and I finished mixing our jazz record. And it sounds really great if I say so myself. Now it’s on the mastering and getting CD’s made. I don’t really have a concept for the cover art yet, but I’m turning over a few ideas. We do have a handful of photos of the group in the recording session we can use.

Saturday the weather was actually nice and we raked up the yard and started getting ready for spring. I even started up the Mustang and let it run in the driveway for a few minutes. The plan was to take it out for a ride today, but as I mentioned, it snowed.