We had a really fun and interesting weekend full of music and visiting the old neighborhood. First off, my jazz group Haven Street played a gig a club called Shapeshifter Lab in Brooklyn. The gig was on a Friday evening, so getting into the area took about two hours for a trip of fifteen or twenty miles, going thru, as Jeannie put it “all three boros”. We took the route down the FDR drive which was at least fun and scenic since I rarely go that way.

It turns out the club was only a few blocks away from where we used to live in Park Slope in the year 2000. Fun and intersting to see how the neighborhood has changed. It still seems lively as ever. We found a great pizza place right around the corner form the club.

Shapeshifter is a very nice place to play, with a big stage, grand piano, drums and PA already set up, and even a professional soundman. You can tell they care about the music and the musicians. It’s run byt the son of the bassist Jimmy Garrison, who is famous for playing the classic John Coltrane quartet among many others.

Our set went well. As mentioned previosuly, the band has been sounding better and better, and the songs getting freer and more interactive. Everyone’s playing was in top form and the set was all originals, wide-ranginng and expressive. We had only and hour and we focused on getting more songs in rather than stretching out. We played eight songs, four from our first record, and four from our upcoming future record.

The second band that night was a big band doing avant-garde material. They were very good musicains, and intersting music. But when the main idea is to eschew traditional melody, harmony and song structure, there’s only so much one can take. Still I’m happy they kept alive my streak: the eighth band in a row I’ve seen with a trombone player.

After the show Jeannie and I decided to drive past our old apartment in Brooklyn to see how the neighborhood had changed. Driving home we went across the new Kosciuszko bridge, which was pretty neat. Then we decided we might as well drive past our old apartment in Queens from the mid 90’s since it was pretty much on the way.

Saturday it rained all day. In the evening we went out to see Ravi Coltrane at the Village Vanguard. Wow, what a sax player! A very high level of vrituousity, and very expressive. He has alot of his father in his sound, but is doing his own thing, very modern and up to date. The thing that impressed me probably the most of anything is his tone on the soprano sax is so full and fierce it’s actually baddass! He also had a great group with him: piano bass and drums.

We hadn’t been in the Village for a while, and it was just a few blocks away from where I used to live in the early 90’s. It was Saturday night of Halloween weekend when we got out of the show, so it was extra fun to watch the people all dressed up and going out to party.

There’ll Be Spandex Jackets One for Everybody

It’s been another busy week. Last Friday my piano guy finally came by with my adjusted pedal board. If you recall, way back when I bought my piano I had them make some casters to raise the height of the keyboard 2″. This is because I’m tall and me knees need to fit underneath. However the pedals were quite high. Close inspection revealed it looked like they had been raised previously. So had them extend the pedals again to be lower. But they didn’t follow my directions and they made them too low, so that I would never be able to take the piano off the casters. I had to have them raise them back up again partway. This is all custom work and it took a long time, and I’ve been without my pedals the last few weeks. Now at last it’s at the right height and all is well. Ah happiness.

I’ve been trying to get out to see more live music. Jeannie and I saw Steely Dan at the Beacon in NYC last weekend. It was a great show. They do complete albums nowadays, a different one each night, and for us it was The Nightly. Technically it was a Donald Fagen solo record, produced by Walter Becker, but I guess now it’s part of the Dan cannon. Of course it’s a great record, opening with the retrofuturistic classic I.G.Y., and naturally the band played the heck out of it. It was a big group, with Donald on vocals, piano and melodica, two guitars, another keyboardist, bass and drums, three backup singers and four horns. When I’ve seen the Dan in the past the horn section was all saxophones, but this time they added a trumpet and trombone, extending my streak to seven of the last seven bands I’ve seen have had a trombone player.

The second set was a bunch of hits and deep tracks from throughout their career, all great stuff. In a group of top-notch musicians doing complex arrangements, the drummer really stood out over all the rest, with Neil Peart level chops applied to nonstop funk and soul grooves. At the end of the set he did a drum solo. Just wow.

The opening act was an unexpected treat: the Peter Bernstein trio with Jimmy Cobb on drums and some old guy whose name I didn’t catch on organ, just amazing.

As mentioned a few posts ago we had to get rid of the guitar player in my rock band cuz he was always too loud, wouldn’t stop playing between songs, was generally unprofessional and just didn’t get along with the others in the group. But we have a whole string of gigs coming up between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so we need a new guitar player fast. This week we got a new guy Vinny who came in. He seems like a nice guy, learned a bunch of the tunes, and he’s a good player. So it looks like we can move ahead again. Looking forward to the new lineup coming together.

I had to go the music store this week to get a box of reeds. We have a jazz gig coming up Friday in Brooklyn and I was down to my last one. While I was there, they had for sale the Real Book, Sixth Edition in Bb. So I finally replaced my old 5th edition which I bought out of the trunk of some dude’s car my freshman year of college, before they were legal, and is so deteriorated it can longer properly even be called a book.

One other thing they had for sale in wind section – a melodica! I picked one up, inspired by the Dan, and also Michelle has been asking for one. I brought it to jazz rehearsal, thinking i might try it out. I told Jay about it, and he asked “Is the the instrument with the little keyboard that you blow into? I hate those!”

So that was that. Nevertheless the jazz group continues to sound better and better, tighter and more free each rehearsal. We’re starting to plan our next record. I’m totally psyched for our gig on Friday.

Haven Street in Brooklyn

Here’s announcing my jazz group Haven Street will be playing at Shapeshifters Lab in Brooklyn, Friday October 26 at 7 pm. Should be a good show, featuring half originals of our debut record, half new stuff, and maybe a standard or two.

Spoiler alert: I’ve been getting deep into All the Things You Are. It was Gary’s idea to do an original arrangement. It’s a song I’ve played a million times, but recently I realized I was just kind of riding my way along the changes without having much to say, so I decided to really learn it. With a song like that the melody and the harmonies are so strong it’s kinda hard to go a fresh new way when you solo, but the material is so rich it’s really worth it to explore. I found a really cool version by Paul Desmond and Gerry Mulligan that I’m kind of using to influence my approach.

Also I should mention that Eric Puente is now our full time drummer. He brings a great energy and swing to the group, and it’s great having him on board.

What Keeps the Planet Spinning

Been busy. A week ago we went upstate to visit my parents, and also Lizzy at college. It was a fun trip, and Lizzy is doing well and having a good semester. While we were up there we took a trip to my uncle Ron in Welland and celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving along with that side of the family, including my cousin Tom, whom I haven’t seen in years.

We all caught Lizzy’s cold on the trip and been trying to shake it off ever since. Meanwhile back home Gina caught cold too, so we had to cancel our gig last weekend. We also had to kick out our guitarist, so now we’re looking for a new guitar player again. We don’t have any gigs for about six weeks, then it’s a run of four gigs in a row in late November thru mid December. Hopefully we’ll find someone.

The weather is turning cooler and it’s dark in the morning when we get up and in the evening by suppertime. We finally took out the air conditioners and had to start running the heat in the morning. And there’s been a ton or rain. At least Sunday was nice and clear. I took the Mustang out and Jeannie and went for a hike, first up around Kensico Dam and then a woods nearby called Cranberry Preserve, which has a stone quarry that looks to be where they got the stones to make the dam.

OrigamMIT is fast approaching. I’ve been diagramming my new Blimp, which I’m going to teach there and contribute to their collection, and is going to go in a future book.

The Debut of G! Force

Last Saturday night was the debut of my new rock pop dance party band, G! Force. It was a fun and successful night. The venue was Victor’s of Hawthorne. I’d played there a couple times before, but never got a huge crowd (once was a snowstorm, the other the day before Thanksgiving). But this night the place was packed. The music went over well, and the band was reasonably together, considering we learned 40 tunes in about six weeks. The bar even invited us back for another gig in November.

We played two long sets, about an hour and a half each. We do a mix of tunes from the 80s up to the present, with a few reaching back to the 60’s and 70’s. To give you an idea, the first few sung by Gina were Exes and Ohs by Elle King, Mercy by Duffy, Domino by Jessie J, Valerie by Amy Winehouse, and No Roots by Alice Merton. Gina has a powerful voice and pulls off that kind of stuff of really well. She also sang lead on a number of rock numbers like Any Way You Want It, Working for the Weekend, and Hit Me With Your Best Shot, as well as some disco tunes like I Will Survive, Boogie Oogie, and Hot Stuff. I sang lead on a bunch of numbers including You Can’t Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want) by Joe Jackson, I Want a New Drug, Cheap Sunglasses, Drops of Jupiter, Closing Time, Vehicle, and I Just Want to Celebrate. I’ve really been working on my singing and it’s definitely been been improving. Some of the best songs we do are duets: Stop Dragging My Heart Around, Get Lucky by Daft Punk, and Tub Thumping by Chumbawumba.

There were a handful of good sax tunes in there as well. And unlike in previous bands, I’m playing a bunch of synthesizer sounds in addition to the usual piano and organ. It’s fun and a throwback to the 80’s when these songs were new. Right now I’m just calling up various presets but I’d like to put some time into crafting the sounds on some of the tunes.

Gina of course is polished and professional, has a fantastic voice and uses it well. Ken on bass is awesome, especially on the funk and disco numbers. He even had a few solos. Andy on drums is not the steadiest drummer I ever played with, but his playing earnest and powerful. Walter on guitar is versatile and can pull of all the parts in a variety of styles, and had some really good solos. He was the last to join and got it together very quickly. He seems most at home with the hard rock numbers. Unfortunately he tends to turn up his amplifier too loud, and he and Gina don’t seem to get along very well. Ah well, we’ll see how everything plays out.

Now that we have the basics together we’re gonna work on refining things and getting tight. Our next show is in two weeks. After that we have a few weeks to maybe learn a few more songs, then a run of shows from mid November thru mid December.

Come check us our at:

Barney McNabbs on Tuckahoe Rd in Yonkers, Saturday October 13.