Winter Wonderland

It’s been a fun few weeks. A week ago we went skiing, me Jeannie and Michelle, at Catamount up in the Berkshires. It was a great time and we got in ten runs, most of them on Walther’s Way, a nice curvy blue trail with a long, strait run out at the bottom. Last year we hadn’t been skiing in seven years or so, and it was great to get back into it. We went once and it was amazing. Definitely a blessing to still be skiing in our 50’s.

Last season I bought new boots and demoed new skis. This year Jeannie got new boots too, and we both did a full-season demo/rental, where we can keep our skis if we like them instead of getting back our deposit. Skis have changed since we got our last generation of gear, getting on twenty years ago. The fashion now is for shorter, wider skis with a narrow waist. They’re better for carving, and better with some powder on the mountain, but don’t seem to hold a strait line as well, and don’t have much control on ice or scraped-off slope. I got used to mine and like them pretty well, although I can’t seem to go as fast. This fits okay with my current skiing style, which is more about cruising than hot-dogging. Jeannie isn’t digging her new slats. I’m still not sure if I’m gonna keep mine or try something else. I like the ones I demoed last year better than the ones I have now.

We went for the late session, starting in the afternoon and going into the night. On the was home we stopped by a restaurant called Four Brothers Pizza. They actually have four locations between our home and the ski slope, this was the third one. I must say it was great, better than I expected. The food was great, hot cappuccino and soup most welcome. Deep-dish Chicago style pizza; I guess we’re far enough out of the New York City Area. The decor was murals of ancient Greek and Roman temples, landmarks, seascapes and scenes out of mythology, very well done, over-the-top but nevertheless appropriate to the ambience.

During the week we went to Hades Town, a Broadway show. It was the first Broadway show for me in many years, although Lizzy and Michelle have been to a few the last several years. We met Jeannie at her office, a major book publisher, and they had some of their all-time best books on display in the lobby, including The Call of Cthulhu, and D’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths. We went to dinner and went to Yum Yum, a Thai food place in Hell’s Kitchen, one of our favorite lunch places back in the day when Jeannie and I both used to work in midtown. Good to know they’re still there and the food is as good as ever.

One thing that struck me about walking around midtown is how empty the place was. I’ve been in that neighborhood when it was wall-to-wall pedestrians and you had to practically elbow your way thru the crowd to move at all. This night you could move around with ease. Maybe five percent or less of the usual level of foot traffic.

The show itself was great. Hades Town is a retelling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, set to the music of old time Appalachian folk, blues, country and jazz. The songs were great, clever and moving, and the performers were fantastic too, especially the actor who played Hades, but the trombone player stole the show.

Then this last weekend we went up to Buffalo to take Michelle back to school for her next semester, and we brought our skis with us. In the past we’ve been up there around Xmastime and brought our skis, but it’s early in the season and there’s a good chance it’ll be too warm or there won’t be enough show. I haven’t been to Buffalo at the end of January for many years, and I gotta tell you, neither of those things were a problem. There were two feet of snow on the ground all around, and the temperature was below 20 degrees the whole time. I grew up in Buffalo, but I’ve almost forgotten what a real winter feels like. Nevertheless, I was quick to adapt.

We went to Holiday Valley, which is the mountain where I learned to ski. Lizzy joined us as well as Michelle. It’s not particularly high compared to the Catskills, let alone Vermont or the Sierras, but it’s enough to be fun. I haven’t been there in thirty years. They’ve made some improvements with more and faster lifts and more lodges. The day we went the high was 12 degrees, so we were hoping the cold would keep people away, but no such luck. We had to circle the parking lot three times to find a spot, and when we got to the base lodge the lift lines were pretty long. But once we got up on the mountain it was fine. Our friend Larry joined us, and he’s been skiing there alot and knew his way around. We went to the back side, to a lift called Tamarack or Tannenbaum. The trails there were beautiful, winding and woodsy with lots of good powder. Perfect soul skiing. We did run after run and went in for hot cocoa after a couple hours. Then we did one more session, up and down the Mardi Gras lift and trail, which was long and strait, mainly going for all-out speed. I think we did twelve or thrirteen runs in all. By the time we got off the mountain it was twelve degrees below zero.

Afterwards we went out to dinner at Ellicotville Brew Club, one of a growing number of craft beer places in the Buffalo area. While we were gone, there was a major snowstorm back at home. Jeannie set up a a little web cam so we could watch our yard fill up with snow. To our surprise, our neighbor Kevin across the street came over and cleared our driveway. He has a giant snowblower and I guess he doesn’t have a chance to use it that often. He’s done a bunch other kind things for us (remember project dirt last year), and the bar happened to be selling variety packs of their beers, so we picked one up for him as a thank-you.

Bluezebub by Buzzy Tonic is Released

Check it out, my new studio album of jazz/jam instrumentals is now out in the world for sale, streaming and download.

On Spotify:

On the iTunes store:

I even got a batch of CD’s printed up, although at this point that’s mostly just for fun and promotional purposes.

It’s kinda pathetic the state of album distribution these days. Big tech is making harder for artist than ever. There are no record stores any more for physical media, not even online. CD Baby seems to have gotten out of that business. iTunes charges on 99 cents for a song, regardless of length. Even though there are only six songs, it’s a full length album and should be priced accordingly. But those basterds make the rules, not me. And Spotify pays virtually nil as well, unless millions of you turn on to it. Ah well, at least y’all can stream or it download it into your music library, and listen again and again. Hope these become some of your favorite songs.

And of course, Go Bills!

Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World

It’s post-holidays deep winter. We finally snow got some snow, followed by a pretty good cold spell, solidly below freezing the last few days. Gonna get down in the teens tomorrow. At least the snow makes the sunshine alot brighter. We’re starting to think about when we can go skiing.

There has been no jazz rehearsal in a month. The studio has been closed due to the pandemic surge. This week they’re reopening, with new distancing and mask protocols. But now our drummer has covid and needs to isolate for a week. On the upside, I’ve gone from practicing piano twice a week to four times a week. It’s a amazing what extra boost that gives to the finger dexterity and muscle memory, not to mention being able to explore different material and ideas.

I’m still waiting for my new record Bluezebub to come back from the CD manufacturing and to work it’s way thru the system to appear on iTunes and Spotify. I’ve played the record for a few friends and the all like the songs and the playing, but have commented in particular at how good the mixes sound. At first I was thinking maybe this was a left-handed compliment, even if well intentioned. After all an album is supposed to sound good, that’s just table stakes. But I did put a good deal of care into the dynamic compression as well as the mix itself. The mastering FX chain is different than my previous records. I sought to make it much more dynamic than a modern pop record, but much hotter and more saturated than a classic jazz record without loosing any of the tone. I guess I pulled it off.

Meanwhile I dusted off my in-progress rock record. I have three completed songs from before I switched my focus to Bluezebub. One, The Story Lies sounds great as-is, but I’ve made updates to the other two.

Why Not Zed? has a new bari sax part to replace the tenor sax, since I liked the bari so much on Bluezebub. Now it sounds way hipper, darker and heavier, sort of a Morphine vibe.

Who Speaks on Your Behalf sounded a bit to sweet, even though I had some buzzy synths and fuzztone bass in there. So I added an electric guitar part with lots of thick distortion (preset #18 on my Vox box). Just the right touch. I was inspired after meeting Mike, the guitar player on the original Cheshire Cat track, at a King Crimson concert last fall. I had originally eschewed guitars on my arrangement, bringing in synths and saxes to fill out the sound. But then thought of an approach to guitar that I could play and would work with the song, focusing on contrasting staccato and sustained rhythmic figures.

I’m getting more confident writing and arranging guitar parts, exploring different sounds and feels. So in contrast the the jazz record, which has no guitar at all, I’m gonna try and get guitar on every track of the new rock album. The next couple songs I’m putting down are gonna be based on rhythm guitar rather than piano as the spine. One thing watching Get Back made me realize is I can do pretty much anything on guitar that John can. It’s not so hard if you don’t try and get too complicated.

Anyway, here are the new mixes. Enjoy!

New Year State of Mind

It’s been a little while since I last posted. Took some time off for the Christmas holidays. Both kids came home the week before Christmas for a whole week, which very nice. Lots of baking and gaming and listening to music and watching movies, and of course visiting with family. Lizzy’s boyfriend Tim came down too and spent a couple days with us. Mary’s came over on Christmas day and we had a great big feast. On boxing day we went up to Buffalo and visited with my parents and Martin for a few days. It’s been a while since I’ve seen them, and Martin’s kids are getting big fast. Charlie is thirteen now. Martin and I stayed up late talking, alot about music and software and things, but there’s never enough time to get into everything there is to say. We saw our friends Steve and Scott up there. Haven’t seen Steve in some time, so it was good to catch up. Both have been going thru difficult times. We did not see my friend John due to the the threat of heavy weather, nor Larry and Jackie due to the threat of covid. Nor did we see any of the extended family from Canada. Ah well, we’ll be back in a month, hopefully with our skis.

Over the break I read C. S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet and the rest of his planet trilogy, regarded as one of the groundbreaking classics of science fiction. (Earlier in the pandemic I tried to read Jack Vance’s Dying Earth saga, but I had to put it down because, you know, dying Earth and all that.) The planet trilogy is fascinating and very well written, but not what I expected. The first book is about a journey to Mars, in which the protagonist meets some wise aliens, including ones made of energy. The second takes place on Venus, and goes deeper into similar themes. The third book takes a sharp left turn and is set on Earth, in postwar England, and involves sinister research institutes, strange conspiracies, Arthurian legends, the Numinor, reanimated talking heads, and a pet bear, among other things. A surprisingly well executed combination of science, mysticism, philosophy, mythology, action and adventure and even terror. Still mulling it over.

Before the kids came home I wound down and wrapped up the year’s work. The last half of November into the first half of December was super busy. There was a big push of new work for the Global Jukebox, to support a talk Anna gave at a conference. Improved playlist and lots of other stuff.

I’ve also been looking for other consulting and software gigs, with an eye toward getting into web 3D, three.js, and Unity, with the long term goal of developing my own independent games. I’ve been working on my own but there’s alot to learn, so I’d like someone to pay me to get deeper into it while leveraging my existing skill set.

A while back I applied to a place that makes casual card and board games, looking to get into the online gaming space via Steam and Jackbox. It seemed like a perfect gig for me. However, between the time I made first contact and the time they set up the main interview, the job morphed from full stack engineer to Unity dev. The company wanted me to do an all-day Unity coding challenge. Normally I’d tell them to get lost, but this looked like a good opportunity to get up the learning curve faster than I otherwise would. In the end they didn’t want me for the Unity role, but the full stack role is still in the offing.

Meanwhile I’ve been working on my own little game, called Rock-Tac-Toe, so I plan to finish that up, both as a Unity application and as a web/mobile app, so I can compare the pros and cons of each approach.

Another area I’ve been trying to get deeper into is music software. Out of the blue I got a call from these guys from Switzerland. They’re academic researchers in computational musicology, and fans of the Global Jukebox. They have a database of 20,000 classical music compositions as midi files, and some kind of software tool to do statistical analysis on the corpus, and they’re looking to build a web application to publicly showcase their work. They seemed really eager to work together. I submitted a scope of work proposal, but unfortunately they were not clear about their budget, so it came in high. I submitted another, scaled back proposal, and am waiting to hear back.

In music, I finished my fourth Buzzy Tonic studio album. Unlike previous records, this one is all jazz instrumentals. I titled the record Bluezebub [Pandimensional Jazz Tesseract], after the song Bluezebub, the Devil You Don’t Know. It should be on Spotify, iTunes and Amazon any day now. I even got a small batch of CD’s printed up.

Now it’s on to the new rock record. More on that soon. For the moment I’ll remind you that I had three songs in the can before I switched my focus to the Jazz Tesseract, and several more in various stages of writing and recording. I started by dusting off the completed songs, and decided to add some new overdubs to two of them.

One of my goals for 2021 was to increase the amount of weight I lift when I work out. For bench press I went up 15 lbs., and am back up above 200 lbs. for the first time since six years ago, when I suffered a rather severe injury to my left shoulder and pec. For curls and most everything else that uses dumbbells I went up a similar amount, from 100 lbs. to 115, and from 50 lbs. to 90 for the light weight exercises. For 2022 I aim to add another ten pounds to every set.

The global pandemic looks to be entering its third year, with still no end in sight. We keep making and cancelling plans. We were supposed to go out to California last fall, then were thinking of going to Arizona this winter break. Now we’re thinking of going on a ski trip instead, somewhere more local were we can drive instead of fly, and spend most of our time outdoors.

And lastly, Go Bills!