Still in Motion

Lots going on these days. But somehow at the same time things seem to be moving slowly. That suits me fine these days. I’ve transitioned into a new day-to-day mode in the new year, working mainly from home as a consultant.

Right after the holidays Anna from the Global Jukebox asked me to help draw up a development roadmap for the next round of features. She has alot of things she wants to do and my plan was approved without hesitation. I had previously been doing the Jukebox as a side project, but now it’s my main thing. With luck it’ll keep on rolling and I can take on other consulting gigs here and there to round things out. I’d love to get back into doing more stuff with the arts, like a museum or cultural organization, or music software, or computational origami, or R&D, any of that kind of thing really. Just whatever looks fun. Meanwhile I have more time for music, origami and other worthwhile pursuits. Sure beats some banal VC backed blockchain bro startup

I’ve been establishing new patterns of time. I tend to alot of actual software development work at night, since it’s quiet and conducive to deep focus. That means I have a fair amount of unstructured time in the daytime. So I’m inventing a routine that works for me to keep things in balance and reduce the burden of figuring out what to do next all the time.

The first thing I did was to reboot my workout routine. I had been working out very early in the morning, usually rushing thru it to get out the door and on time to the office. In the wintertime that means before it gets light out. That’s a major drag. Now I’m working out in the mid to late morning and it feel so much better. I’ve been going up in weight, reps, and distance, and adding in more leg and core work, and taking more time. I feel much better overall. Winter is always the harshest season on my body and my health, but this year I’m doing pretty good so far, and the worst of it is probably over. The days are already getting longer. Spring is coming pretty soon.

Another thing I’ve been trying to do listen to more music, and by that I mean whole albums. For a little while I was shooting for an album a day, but that’s actually quite alot to absorb, so now I’m going for three new albums a week. Sometimes I like to listen to music when I work out, and sometimes I like it quiet. Then I’ll listen to a record first thing in the morning.

I tend to jump from genre to genre, spend a few weeks and move on. For a while it was 70’s smooth jazz (George Benson, Grover Washington Jr., that kind of thing). Before that it was 20th century modern like Holst and Aaron Copeland. Then I was listening to alot of old 70’s and 80’s heavy metal, because Michelle and I have been watching the anime Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, in which alot of the characters are names after classic hard rock and metal bands. I got really into Dio, Black Sabbath, Ozzy, Deep Purple and Rainbow (all interconnected), and most of all Iron Maiden, the best of that ilk. I was fan of all of that stuff back in the day, and it was fun to rediscover.

Most recently I’ve been trying to get thru the entire discography of Rush. But man, they have alot of albums. I started at Power Windows, since all the records before that I know really well. Power Windows, Hold Your Fire and Presto actually have 2 or 3 awesome songs each, and then a bunch sorta in the middle. That was their peak synth era, then Roll the Bones feels like they’re coming out of the woods, it’s maybe half great songs. All their records from that era are one or two songs too long.

I skipped ahead to Feedback, which is just great fun. Covers of The Yardbirds, Buffalo Springfield, The Who and Cream. Mr. Soul alone makes it worth it. Then I got to Counterparts. That album is pretty much wall-to-wall amazing. It’s the return to no synthesizers, so it’s petty metal sometimes, but also with prog and 90’s alternative. There’s alot in there. I can’t believe I never got into that album when it was new. The next album after that is Test for Echo, which has a similar tone and maybe half great songs. I’m in the middle of that one now.

I’ve been practicing sax and piano more. Generally I do this in the late afternoon, in lieu of an evening commute. I’m up to three times a week now for each, and at least one of those is a good long session with time to explore new or deep ideas. I’m trying to focus in and improve my actual playing at a technical level, phrasing, dynamics, all that.

I’m particularly trying to level up on sax these days. I’m continuing with Patterns for Jazz, going about ten times the rate it took me in high school (which ended up as two years). I’m doing about ten to twelve patterns a day, shifting ahead by 3 or 4 patterns every practice. These patterns are in all twelve keys (but only written out in C) and move around by different intervals: semitone, whole step, minor third and fourth, so you really get adept a moving thru different keys quickly. I’m also woodshedding more standards.

I think when I’m done on sax I’m gonna go thru the book on piano. For now on the piano I’m working on voicing and moving thru chords without playing melodies. Also learning some standards, and dusting off some of my originals, as it looks like the prog-funk originals project might be happening after all. I put an ad on Cragislist and got a hit, a guitarist who sings and writes. We’re trying to work out a time to get together. Hopefully more on that soon.

I’ve trying to devote more time to origami as well. However, this post is getting pretty long, so more on that next time.

Every Day I Write the Book

The jazz gig last weekend went quite nicely. We weren’t sure what to expect, never having played a library before. In fact I can’t remember the last time I played a gig in the daytime. But it was very cool. The space was great, with a high ceiling and good acoustics, set up with tables and chairs, and coffee and cake rather than the usual craft beer and whiskey.

The show was well attended, sixty people or more. I guess a big suburban library is a happening place on a Sunday afternoon in the wintertime. And I saw some familiar faces from some of our other gigs, so thank you all. Musically things went well, and the crowd dug us. After the show some members of the audience came up to and suggested libraries in other towns nearby where they’d like to see us play. Whuda thunk?

The day of the gig was an unusually warm for January, up in the 60’s; it reminded me of California. However the warm spell was not destined to last, and a couple days later it got solidly below freezing and stayed there. Today we get the first real snowfall of the winter.

This week’s jazz rehearsal had to be cancelled, so I’m putting some time into new recordings in the home studio. I’ve completed the piano part — the spine of the track — for both new tunes TSL and WSoYB, and I’m on to programming the drum parts.

On sax I’m working my thru the book Patterns for Jazz by Lenny Neihaus et al., which I last studied in high school. Getting command of all those figures at my fingertips is helping my improvisation immensely.

In other news, I got pretty close to getting a new rock group off the ground before the holidays. I answered an ad in Craigslist from a guitar player with originals looking for a keyboard player to collaborate with. He listed King Crimson and the Del Phonics among his influences, so I said yeah, my kind of weird. I went over to his house to jam and he also had a bass player, and he said he a drummer but the drummer couldn’t make it that night. He had a bunch of riffs and we jammed them out, seemed promising.

A few weeks went by trying to line up another session. Since he couldn’t get his rhythm section together I invited my friends Ken and Steve on bass drums. The idea was we’d do one of my originals and one of his, and spend the rest of the time jamming on new ideas. I dusted off one of my old songs “Ghost in the Machine”. It went over well and we had a fun time with it. Guitar dude declined to bring in one of his old songs, so we spent the rest of the time jamming on some riffs, got maybe halfway there.

I kinda get that. I have about an albums worth of half-written rock/pop songs, and I’d love to develop them in a group context like I do with my jazz songs in the jazz group. In fact at this point I’m kinda saving them for that situation. But bringing a song that’s already written and that you know works lets you focus on playing together and seeing how everyone responds to the sound and finds their place in a musical context. It’s a good way to get things off the ground and into flight.

So despite a fun rehearsal guitar dude bowed out, citing writer’s block. The good news is now Ken is really jazzed about doing an originals band, and he and Steve really groove as a rhythm section. Ken wants to get together and jam as a power trio while we look for a guitarist.

This to me is an interesting idea, but probably too much to sustain on my side as the lead singer and main writer. I can only think of two keyboard-oriented power trios in the history of rock. The first of course is Emerson Lake and Palmer. However I’m no Keith Emerson, and there will never be another. In any event Greg Lake was the singer, and wrote most of the lyrics and melodies, and played guitar as well as bass. A lesser known power trio from the 80’s was Gowen, featuring Larry Gowen on keyboards and vocals, and his brother on Chapman Stick. Great stuff, very underrated. Unfortunately Ken doesn’t play the stick, only the regular bass. I guess a third example is Rush in their peak synthesizer era, and indeed they’re one of my big influences, but Geddy was a bass player first and doubled on keyboards, kinda like John Paul Jones, and the whole band did lots of triggering of samples to make the sound happen live.

For me the model is more Donald Fagen or Billy Joel, Gregg Allman, Stevie Wonder or Paul McCartney. A keyboard player who sings. Having a guitar to round out the group, fill in the rhythm, take solos, and play parts in other sections is critical. And someone who can sing harmonies! In fact my ideal band would be more of a co-lead situation like Pink Floyd, Supertramp, They Might Be Giants, Claypool Lennon Delirium or the Cheshire Cat.

So if you play guitar and sing and are into originals, drop me a line!

Meanwhile back in jazzland here’s a couple clips from the library gig. Don’t let the old people in audience fool you with their lack of perceptible motion, they were digging it. Enjoy!

Ms. Jones . Mobility

Neil Peart

Neil Peart, the greatest rock drummer of all time, and one of the all-time great lyricists too, the brains and the beat of the Canadian power trio Rush, recently passed away. I’ve seen Rush at least ten times, more than any other band, beginning in the mid-1980’s, and they got better and better every time. Hard to separate Neil’s contribution from the rest, but overall Rush was a huge influence on my songwriting. I remember learning La Villa Strangiato in high school, and couple years later doing several Rush songs in the prog-party band Infinigon.

Begin the day with a friendly voice
A companion unobtrusive
Plays that song that’s so elusive
And the magic music makes your morning mood

Jazz at the Library

Well the new year is off to a mild and mellow start after a very busy holiday season. I’m a little late in making this announcement, since it’s less than a week away, but here you go, our first gig of the new year.

Haven Street Jazz plays Hendrick Hudson Free Library
Sunday January 12, 2pm
185 Kings Ferry Rd, Montrose, New York 10548

We’ve been having fun learning a bunch of standards for this gig, to mix in with our originals and expand our repertoire. New songs include A Foggy Day, All of Me, Have You Met Ms. Jones?, Stolen Moments, Sugar and more. Hope to see you there.