Spring Into Action

It looks like winter is finally at an end and spring has emerged. It took a while but all the snow on the ground finally melted and we started having some nice days. A week ago on the weekend I started spending time outside to work on the yard, beginning with scraping up all the leaves and debris from the flowerbeds. Also, we finally admitted ski season is over and we wouldn’t get a second day skiing in this year, so we went for a hike instead. We went up to the Palisades in New Jersey, overlooking the Hudson River across from Hastings and Yonkers.

This last weekend on Saturday I took the Mustang out for a drive for the first time. Happy to say the engine turned over right away and everything seems in great shape. On Sunday I went for the first bike ride of the year, up to my local Nature Study Woods. Since I was tuning up my bike, Jeannie asked me if I’d get hers ready to ride too. It’s been a couple seasons since she did any biking, but she wants to get back into it. I’d like to get my rollerblades on sometime soon too, but the snowplows tore up our street so badly this winter I’ll have to find another place to go skate.

The yard work continued as well. Last fall after I expanded my patio, I had some leftover dirt that I used to fill in a few low spots in my yard. Once I got into it I realized there were quite a few lumpy areas and wouldn’t it be nice to have some more dirt. Well last fall my neighbor across the street put in a new swimming pool, and now he has a great big pile of dirt, that until recently looked like a sledding hill. He invited me to come over and take away as much as I wanted. So far I’ve take eight wheelbarrow loads, about a cubic yard. I’m probably about twenty percent done. So more next weekend. I’d like to get it down and covered with grass seed in time for things to really start growing.

In other news, I demoed the scheduling tool that I wrote for scheduling classes for conventions to the Origami USA convention committee today. It went over well. Still a few details before we can take it live, but it’s basically there. Thanks to Robert Lang for all his help.

Now I’m starting to think about designing and folding some new models for the convention in June. I have some ideas, but haven’t really been folding much since the pandemic began.

I’ve found some new and interesting stuff to practice on piano. One source was from out continuing movie nights on Saturdays. We recently watched a few classic scifi films including Start Trek IV and 2001: A Space Odyssey. I haven’t seen either in many years and 2001 was particularly inspiring. Among the composers whose works Kubric lifted when he put together the soundtrack, beyond the famous Also Sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss and Blue Danube Waltz by Johann Strauss, was Atmosphères, Lux Aeterna, and Requiem by the Hungarian modernist Gyögy Ligeti.

The Ligeti stuff was some intense, crazy music, and so I decided to check out more of it. This eventually led my to his Musica Ricercata, a series of pieces for piano that are mostly not crazy but express a variety of moods and styles and are notable for progressively building from simple to complex. The first one uses just one note. His approach to modernism reminds me a bit of how Monk approaches jazz, often unexpectedly humorous in the way it plays with conventions of form and genre, while remaining very self-consistent.

Another series of piano pieces in a similar vein is Mikrokosmos Béla Bartók, which starts with both hands doubling the same figure using the pentatonic scale and a limited range, and progresses to the complex and bizarre.

The third piece of sheet music came from my trying to find a chart for one of my songs I’m introducing to my jazz group. On the way I came across a cache of old sheet music someone gave me once that I didn’t even know I had. In there was a book of Art Tatum transcriptions. Art Tatum is one of my all-time favorite piano players with a unique and virtuosic stride-based swinging style that influence Keith Emerson and Eddie Van Halen, as well as countless jazz carts. I doubt I’ll be able to play these pieces at speed any time soon, but they’re worth studying for his approach to voicings and rhythm, particularly in the left hand, as well as where and how he inserts embellishments while maintaining the flow of the tune.

Fotoz 2020

It’s been a year of mainly sitting around the house waiting for the pandemic to end. As a consequence we didn’t take that many pictures, but at least we got out around the neighborhood a bit, and upstate a couple of times. As always, ping me if you need login creds. Enjoy!

Smarch Smadness

We’re coming up on a year under the pandemic. Last year on February 28 was my last live gig with a band. At least the first hopeful stirrings of spring are afoot. A week ago I was a-shoveling snow, and it seemed endless. Then we had a few days of warm weather and rain, and vast quantities melted away. Now only the rump ends of the biggest snow piles remain. Only downside is we didn’t go skiing this weekend as planned. Ah well, it’s supposed to turn cold and snow tonight. In fact it’s storming out right now. Hopefully we’ll get back on the slopes one more time next weekend.

I’ve been working on my Computer Jazz record this whole winter. I’ve been mainly focused on Lift Off, but it’s taking a long time because it’s a difficult song and I’m trying to capture some subtlety in the arrangement. I got the organ part done, including the solo, and made some changes to the piano part to make them fit together better. Also been working on the drum solo and the overall form. Even laid down a first take of the sax part, which was not too bad. But it was starting to feel like hard work. So I took a break from that to focus on Mo’bility instead.

I wrote Mo’bility for my last jazz group and it always went over really well live, with it’s danceable gypsy-jump vibe. For the studio it was shaping up okay, but didn’t really have the tone and character I wanted. It needed a bit of Raymond Scott cartoon vibe. The other night at rehearsal we working on a different original of mine, and somehow the the feel shifted to 3/4 time. It was pretty interesting, and got me thinking about different ideas for the meter and groove for Mo’bility. I changed it to 7/8, and it was just the thing the song needed. The arrangement fell together pretty quickly, and is very satisfying, just a little unbalanced. I quickly got up to the point where it was time to record the live instruments, soprano and tenor sax, and bass guitar. Unfortunately it’s much harder to solo on and groove on now, so I have to practice it a bit. Still this song should be in the can pretty soon.

As I’ve mentioned, it’s been a long pandemic. We’ve been watching alot of movies on the weekends, and seem to have fallen into a zone that includes a good amount action-adventure-scifi-fantasy. In addition to a number of family all-time favorites, there are lots of great movies that Michelle has never seen and I haven’t seen in along time, and lots of great movies out there that I’ve never seen. So we’ve started making lists of movies we want to watch.

I tried to make a list of my 100 favorite movies. It ended up more like 70 or 80 all-time favorites plus an equal number that might or might not make the cut. Still there are some definite trends. The oldest movie is from 1940 (Fantasia) and the newest from 2017 (Thor Ragnorok). By decade so far there’s 8 from the 1960s, 12 from the ’70s, 30 from the ’80s, 8 from the 90’s, 21 from the ’00s and 5 from the ’10s. The most movies in any single year is 5, for 2003 (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Kill Bill Vol. 1, Big Fish, Underworld). Favorite directors (appearing more than twice) include Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino, Peter Jackson, Terry Gilliam, Chris Nolan, James Cameron, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, and Robert Zemeckis. For directors I counted multiple movies in the same franchise if I like them (e.g. all the LotR movies but none of the Hobbit ones). For actors I didn’t count them again if they reprised the same role in a sequel, even if both movies are favorites. Favorite actors (in 3 or more movies) predictably include guys like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Harrison Ford, and Samuel L. Jackson. Perhaps more surprisingly it also includes Billy Crudup (Princess Mononoke, Almost Famous, Big Fish, Watchmen), Keith David (The Thing, They Live, Princess Mononoke), Frank Oz (Star Wars, The Muppet Movie, The Blues Brothers), and Ian Holm (Alien, Brazil, Lord of the Rings).

Our newest hobby these days it to re-imagine a favorite movie as done by the Muppets, and try and and fill out the cast. Go ahead and try it. it’s lots of fun! Like I said it’s been long pandemic.