Everything You Did

Summertime is going by fast. We had wanted to go the the beach this weekend, but Saturday when we woke up Jeannie and were both really tired from the work week, and decided to bag it. I ended up doing a ton a yardwork on Saturday, trimming hedges and my neighbor’s willow tree that hangs into my yard. Then Sunday we woke up and we were all ready but it was cold and rainy. Last night we had a fairly epic torrential downpour. So yesterday I had some found time, and I decided to get on my skates for the first time this season. My street used to be really bumpy and then one day the paved it and it was really smooth, perfect for rollerblading. But that was many years ago now it’s all bumpy again, as are many streets in the ‘hood. Plus there are alot of hills, and the busy streets with traffic lights all tend to be at the bottom of the hills. So the quest has been on for some time to find better skating territory nearby.

Last summer I found a local street, a dead-end behind the fire station and local playground, which is nice and smooth. It’s only a block a way, but to get there you have to cross a busy street with traffic, a pretty good downward slope, and some rough pavement, all in all not great for skating. This time I decided just to walk down to the playground and put on my skates there. Turned out to be a great move. The street itself is a good long block, about a half a kilometer long, smooth pavement and a gentle grade down the way out and up on the way back. You can go as slow or fast as you want in the downward direction and stay in control, and back up is not too steep but long enough to make it a good climb. I did four round trips, which is just about four kilometers. Next time I’ll see if I can go five.

One of my little projects during the pandemic was to organize the lead sheets for hundreds of songs I’ve printed out to learn, mainly to play in rock bands, over the last few years. I compiled them all into a tree-ring binder and began working my thru them around Xmastime, practicing three to five every time I played piano. Mostly these are songs I can sing and accompany myself on piano, and they sound good like that. The idea is to work up a large repertoire, and keep the songs in rotation enough to get to know them, kinda like your knowledge of jazz standards builds up over years of playing out of the real book.

Of course the songbook is somewhat idiosyncratic to my taste, but hopefully with broad appeal. Some songs were more interesting to play and I got into it a little deeper, working on voicings and arrangements, coming back to them for several practices. Others I played once and moved on, or skipped entirely, and some I ripped out of the book because if I never play them again it will still be too soon. And, some it turns out, are better suited for guitar. And along the way I noted a bunch of songs I know and want to add to the book.

So I just hit then end of the book and started again at the top. It took a little over six months. This time thru I’ll be pulling out the guitar songs and put them in a different notebook, and add in the missing songs as I get to them (alphabetically by group, although maybe I should alphabetically by song to break up big blocks of songs by groups like The Beatles or Steely Dan.) Hopefully the thing will evolve of time to be better and better.

I had a fun little side project at work this week. My company makes a little electric musical instrument called the Orba, and we’re putting together a “vinyl” (apparently that’s what the kids these are calling a record album) featuring songs played on the Orba and using tones from the Orba. One side is music from fans and customers, and the other is form people at the company. So they asked anyone who wanted to to contribute a piece, with a focus on an ambient vibe. I must it was fun and interesting. The Orba is a flexible and powerful instrument, with drum, bass, lead, chord and looping capability, but it’s pretty different from anything else you might have played. I’ve fooled around with mine a bunch but never really got deep in trying to express anything specific or master much technique. So this was a good opportunity for that. I came up with something called Orba Jam Five, mainly because it’s in 5/8 time and made up of five-bar phrases. I copped this idea from a song I’m currently recording called Bluezebub (The Devil You Don’t Know). But other than sharing a click track the Orba Jam is completely different. Anyway, here it is, enjoy!

The Man with the Horn

I had to put my old horn in the shop. It got knocked over at a gig a while back and the main tube was bent. It’s an old Selmer Mark VII tenor from the early 1970’s, a pure classic and in excellent shape, the damage notwithstanding. Around that time I acquired a used (but much, much newer) Selmer Reference 54, and that became my main horn. But the time had come to get the old horn back in shape.

My new repair guy is Chuck Pomeroy and he’s out in New Milford, Connecticut, famous for it’s new milfs. Chuck was recommended to me by Rich, the alto player in my Wednesday group, and Charlie Lagond, the owner of the studio where we rehearse. Charlie has on old Selmer Balanced Action tenor from the 1930’s, the first modern designed horn, almost ninety years old, virtually priceless. He got it completely rebuilt, and Chuck did the work. New silver plating and everything. It’s totally beautiful, totally amazing. So I was inspired to get off my lazy ass and get my own vintage Selmer fixed up.

Chuck, as it turns out, is a really nice guy, and not too surprisingly really into saxophones. He’s also an excellent guitar player in the Joe Pass style. We, uh, talked shop for a little while, after I told him used to work repairing saxes and other band instruments when I was a teenager. I learned the basics and turned around the school rentals at my local music store. I can spot a leak, replace a pad or cork or piece of felt, and that kind of thing, and have generally maintained my own horns. But there’s lots more advanced work I never touched. Like, for example, straightening out a bent body.

So Chuck showed me some amazing vintage horns he was working on, including a very old curved soprano. And he had pics of Charlie’s horn all taken apart. He told me an amazing thing, that this is the second time he’s rebuilt that horn. The first time was in the 1970’s almost 50 years ago!

Anyway, a few days went by and I drove back to New Milford to pick up my horn. In addition to straightening it out, he put new pads and corks on pretty much the whole upper stack, and replaced a few choice pads on the big low notes around the bow too. I gave the horn a quick toot, thanked him and was on my way. I must say, he gave me a great price for all that work. In fact, it was so low he asked me not the tell anyone how much he charged me!

After that I drove upstate to visit my brother Martin. I hadn’t been up to his place in almost a year, and it was great to see him. He has a new pool but right around the time we started talking about taking a swim, the weather turned cloudy and soon it was pouring rain. Anyway it was a great hang. We talked music and played a really fun board game called Labyrinth. His kids are all very smart and good-natured, with a sharp sense of humor. Lots of fun. Drove home in a rainstorm, which was … let’s say it was an adventure.

So this week I played my horn at the rehearsal band Wednesday and with my own group on Thursday. And, wow! Not only did Chuck fix it, but it plays better than ever. The action is adjusted, and everything is tight, and it’s literally faster. You can blow softly and easily and get a huge sound, and especially on the low notes. And the tone! The sound is a bit less edgy than my 54, especially in the upper register, but overall more focused, with a particular warmth in the lower register. One of the songs we did Wednesday was ‘Round Midnight, and well, let’s just say I’m gonna use this as my main horn for a little while.

Now that I have two excellent working tenor saxes, I think I should get a second mouthpiece so I can have one for each horn. My current main mouthpiece is a Dukoff D9, a big bore metal for a huge, edgy tone good for rock or jazz. Think Clarence Clemons meets John Coltrane. I’ve also played am Otto Link, Berg Larson and some others. I wonder what the cool kids are playing these days. Someone at my studio mentioned a Jodi Jazz. Might check that one out.

Meanwhile my Thursday quartet continues to improve, both expanding and focusing our sound. I’ve started to reach out to some local jazz joints to try and get a gig, although we’re probably too late for the summer, and once the weather gets cold it’s not clear if these places will be able to continue doing music indoors. In any event, we’re working up some of our set to the point where we can record a rehearsal and have a really good performance. Tonight I was fooling around on some blues riffs between songs, and this led to a spontaneous rendition of Led Zeppelin’s Moby Dick, played in a funk jazz style reminiscent of The Dream of the Blue Turtles. It was really cool, and instantly became part of our repertoire.

Cruisin’ In Brooklyn

Well the fireflies and tiger lilies are pretty much done and we’re sliding into the long, languid second half of summer. Things have been going pretty well. I’ve been having an excellent run of workouts, and I’m about to go up in weight again, and I’ve been continuing to get out on my bike, and continuing to get out for some sunshine on my patio in the afternoons.

Work continues to be fun and interesting, modulo the usual ongoing fragility of the situation that comes with working for a startup. One day last week the fraction of the company in the greater New York City area, which is seven of us, or about a quarter, met for a one-day onsite at a co-lo space in Brooklyn called the New Lab, in the former Brooklyn Navy Yard, in which our company rents a couple desks. When I lived in Brooklyn 20 years ago, before it was cool, the area was pretty much disused, full of graffiti and stray dogs. So it’s nice to see it fixed up and home to a bunch of tech incubators and startups.

And it’s a really nice space too. The facility is a converted shipbuilding factory, with single giant room flowing thru the whole building, and various balconies and smaller spaces around the edges. The seating is mainly open, broken up into work spaces, lounge spaces, and meeting spaces set off by arrays of potted plants and trees. Among the other denizens we met is a group making make electronic musical instruments based on physically vibrating metal plates, kind of like taking a piezo-electric pickup and reversing it to become a speaker. Also an outfit making very cool looking (and wicked fast) electric motorcycles. I learned that being a sound designer for electric vehicles, since they don’t have engine noise, is a job nowadays. Nice work if you can get it I’d say, but hey, I’m a “Cloud Architect”.

It was good to meet my team face to face. This is the first time since I stared working there, since the company is fully remote and anyway there’s been a pandemic. So they went from being video talking heads on a zoom call to real people. So there was just alot social hanging out and everyone geeking out on music technology, telling stories of people they’ve met, vintage gear they own, and memorable gigs they’ve played or seen. I don’t know why I’m always surprised, but they were all much shorter than I expected.

The trip into Brooklyn and home again was about and hour each way, and there was parking in the Navy Yard. Fun once, but not something I’d want to do every day anymore.

And today I’m finally ready to submit a pull request for my JUCE/C++ Google Analytics reusable shared code module and accompanying one-off demo front-end app. Woo-hoo! That was a long row to hoe.

This week I took a drive the opposite way, up into Connecticut. I found a new saxophone repair guy, recommended by the alto player in my Wednesday group (unfortunately my old sax repair guy died during the pandemic). He’s about an hour’s drive in the opposite direction from Brooklyn. More on that next post.

Firecracker on the Fourth of July

Someone once told me the 4th of July is the best holiday because there are no expectations. If you want to spend it with family, you can. If you want to spend it with friends, you can. If you want go off on vacation, you can. If you want to just do your own thing you can. We often go upstate around the 4th but this year we stayed close to home, and it was a mellow family party vibe. Jeannie’s brother and his family came to town, so we when out Long Island for a party on Saturday and her sister’s house, and next day everyone came up here for a barbecue. Oh, and it was my father-in-law’s 80th birthday. Woo-hoo!

I decided to make a playlist of 80 favorite songs from the 80s for the party. The idea originated a few weeks ago with a conversation I had with Ken, the bass player in my jazz group, in which I put forth the proposition that Purple Rain was one of the all-time great albums of the 80’s, and he said he was never particularly into Prince. Josh, the piano player chimed in saying saw Prince on the Purple Rain tour, and it was one of the best shows he ever saw, and I related that I saw Prince a decade and a half later, and it was one of the best shows I ever saw. Santana even sat in.

One reason I really dug Prince’s early stuff was his approach to drum machines and synthesizers. I was really fascinated with synthesizers back then, and in the early 80’s suddenly you didn’t have to play like Keith Emerson to do something the would work in a band and sound cool.

Anyway, this led me to try and make a list of the 80 best albums of the 80s. I got off to a good start but once I got past 40 or 50 there was a long tail of maybes, and it started to feel kinda arbitrary. I went so far as google Rolling Stone magazine’s list of top 80’s, and let’s just say it’s … idiosyncratic.

To me a great album has to have more than a few great songs. It has to have two great sides that flow from one song to the next without a clunker or weak spot in the mood and story that record is telling. So for example Ghost in the Machine is clearer a better record than Synchronicity. Even though Synchronicity had some great songs, it also had a few that you kinds wanna skip on repeated listening. Whereas GITM is a great journey from start to finish. Plus it has a great album cover.

Maybe 80 songs would be easier. There were lots of great songs on the radio, and some came from great albums, some not, but it wouldn’t matter.

The songs are a mix of genres including classic rock, prog rock, heavy metal, synth pop, jazz, Canadian content, early MTV, and others. I didn’t put much planning into it, but I made a rule not to repeat the same artist, and I put the songs in chronological order. There was also a bias toward summertime party vibe. The list contains some are one-hit wonders, some huge smash hits, some deep tracks that have stuck with me over the years. Many I’ve learned to play and sing of the years, and have done in bands. All made an impression on me of kind or another at the time.

As you can see, things kinda started as a continuation of the 70’s, then seemed to to really heat up and get creative in ’81-’84, and maybe jumped the shark a little around ’85. After that the center moved over toward jazz, and when it swung back in the late 80’s the sound was pretty different. Or maybe my tastes just changed. I was only 11 years old when the 80’s began.

There’s a few songs I wanted to add there were not on spottily such as Electric Avenue by Eddy Grant, High Speed on Ice by Talas, and Got a Match? by Chick Corea Elecktric Band. Ah well. Of course there’s lots of other great songs I left out; once you start you realize 80 is not that many for a whole decade. If I were to put more time into this, I’d probably drop a few and add a few others. So if you don’t agree, go ahead and make your own list. Anyway with out further ado, here’s my playlist of …

80 Favorite Songs from the 80s


1. Gaucho – Steely Dan (1980)
2. (Just Like) Starting Over – John Lennon
3. It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me – Billy Joel
4. Turn It On Again – Genesis
5. Back in Black – AC/DC
6. Battle Scar – Max Webster
7. Mr. Crowley – Ozzy Osbourne
8. The Electric Co. – U2

9. Once in a Lifetime – Talking Heads (1981)
10. Three Views of a Secret – Jaco Pastorius
11. Stone In Love – Journey
12. The Voice – The Moody Blues
13. Burnin’ for You – Blue Öyster Cult
14. Fight the Good Fight – Triumph
15. On the Loose – Saga
16. I Can’t Go for That – Hall and Oates
17. Lunatic Fringe – Red Ryder
18. Elephant Talk – King Crimson
19. Waiting on a Friend – The Rolling Stones

20. Run to The Hills – Iron Maiden (1982)
21. Rio – Duran Duran
22. Steppin’ Out – Joe Jackson
23. Take It Away – Paul McCartney
24. Dance Hall Days – Huang Chung
25. Africa – Toto
26. Rock The Casbah – The Clash
27. Somebody’s Baby – Jackson Browne
28. Sirius / Eye in the Sky – Alan Parsons Project
29. Subdivisions – Rush
30. She Blinded Me With Science – Thomas Dolby
31. Always Something There to Remind Me – Naked Eyes
32. Sole Survivor – Asia
33. Eminence Front – The Who

34. Billy Jean – Micheal Jackson (1983)
35. Photograph – Def Leppard
36. Gimme All Your Lovin’ – ZZ Top
37. Let’s Dance – David Bowie
38. Pride and Joy – Stevie Ray Vaughan
39. In a Big Country – Big Country
40. Other Arms – Robert Plant
41. One Thing Leads to Another – The Fixx
42. Synchronicity I – The Police
43. Road Games – Allan Holdsworth
44. Rockit – Herbie Hancock
45. Relax – Frankie Goes to Hollywood
46. City of Love – Yes

47. Hot for Teacher – Van Halen (1984)
48. I Want a New Drug – Huey Lewis & the News
49. New Girl Now – Honeymoon Suite
50. I Would Die 4 U – Prince
51. The Last In Line – DIO
52. Magic – The Cars
53. She Bop – Cyndi Lauper
54. One Night in Bangkok – Murray Head
55. Take On Me – A-ha
56. Perfect Strangers – Deep Purple
57. Boys of Summer – Don Henley
58. Just a Gigolo / I Ain’t Got Nobody – David Lee Roth

59. We Are the World (1985)
60. Walk of Life – Dire Straits
61. Guerilla Soldier – Gowen
62. Something About You – Level 42
63. Dream of the Blue Turtles – Sting
64. Freeway of Love – Aretha Franklin
65. Miami Vice – Jan Hammer
66. Human Nature – Miles Davis

67. Big Time – Peter Gabriel (1986)
68. Song X – Ornette Coleman
69. Trains – Steps Ahead
70. Billy’s Saloon – Gamalon
71. Master of Puppets – Metallica

72. Never Gonna Give You Up – Rick Astley (1987)
73. My Heart Declares a Holiday – Bill Bruford’s Earthworks
74. Minuano (Six Eight) – Pat Metheny

75. When We Was Fab – George Harrison (1988)
76. In the New Age – King’s X
77. Bonin’ in the Boneyard – Fishbone

78. Fight the Power – Public Enemy (1989)
79. Subway to Venus – Red Hot Chili Peppers
80. Wicked Game – Chris Isaak

81. Epic – Faith No More (1990, bonus track)