New Song – Sisyphus Blues

This is a reworking of an older song, with a new melody and updated lyric. Because life is like that. Enjoy:

Sisyphus Blues

(D minor, drop D tuning)

Just when you think that life’s looking up
And you might drink from that flowing cup
Then comes the day when it all turns around
Just then you think that life’s looking down
Climbin’ up that hill
Slidin’ down that hill

Life’s looking up then it’s looking down
Ramblin’ up that hill
Tumblin’ down that hill

You might drink from that silver cup one day yeah but now you’re
Holdin’ on to what you will
Ridin’ on up and down that hill

Then comes the day when it all turns around yeah
Holdin’ on to what you will
Ridin’ up and down that hill

New Lyric – Head Downtown

Almost finished my new song.  This will be the eighth of nine for my forthcoming album.  I’m in the mixing phase now, so look for the audio track coming soon.  Meanwhile, here’s the lyric.  One fun thing about it is that pretty much all the verbs are also names of body parts, except in the bridge where they’re names of different kinds of furniture.  Enjoy!

Head Downtown

Head downtown
Nose around
Eye the sights
Mouth the sounds
Mind the street
Face the heat
Woah, chin up bloodhound

You can arm all your friends
So they can shoulder the burdens
Yeah hand ’em a handle
Palm the trigger
Elbow your way in
Finger the big figure
It’s a backhanded deal
But don’t knuckle under
Just thumb a ride crosstown

Now, seat yourself
In the lap of luxury
Chair that meeting
But couch your greetings
Table the motion
Even bed that woman, yeah
There’s something ahead
And something afoot
So don’t stick your neck out just yet

You can hamstring the competition
Try an’ boot ’em off of your position
Yeah kneecap ’em all yeah
Well that’s just fine
But for now you better toe the line
Else you’re like to foot the bill
So whoa just heel, yeah
Leg it back uptown

Take heart droog
You can stomach some bad news
But you better back off that tack
Go tail some new rabbit jack
Yeah head downtown
Oh head downtown, yeah
Head downtown

– JFS 11/23

Head Downtown

After the epic effort to finish of my last song, A Plague of Frogs, my new studio album Plutonium Dirigible is nearing completion.  I’m up to thirty-seven minutes of music.  I have another song, called Sisyphus’s Blues, a reworking of a song I’d recorded previously but not released, which will bring it up to just over forty minutes.  I feel like an album should usually be between forty and forty-five minutes long, so that leaves room for one more song. 

So I’m working on a new song called Head Downtown.  It’s coming together really quickly, and is alot of fun.  I only started tracking a couple weeks ago and it’s already half done.  I’ve had the lyric for a while.  It started as a bit of wordplay based on the observation that the terms for many body parts can also be used as verbs. From there it evolved in to a story about a down-on-his-luck kind of character, perhaps some kind of petty gangster or hard-boiled gumshoe, trying navigate the give-and-take of life in the city.  The music started of kinda jazzoid, with parts of the chord progression lifted from Duke Jordan and Horace Silver.  But as I fleshed out the arrangement the shuffle groove took on a sort of ska/reggae feel. I just finished the guitar part, which was very Andy Summers inspired, with the main sections being a minimalist atmospheric riff and a big chunky rhythm groove on the backbeat. Hopefully I’ll get this one in the can by the end of the holidays, and the album will ready for release early in the new year.

Meanwhile my jazz group Spacecats may have a record in the offing too.  Since our new drummer Rick joined us a while back, it turns out he’s a great songwriter and we now how have ten or twelve originals written by various members of the band.  There’s a great variety of sounds and feels, from swing to samba to funk, even a couple ballads, and from tightly composed and arranged to more open and free.  We may toss in one two interpretations of tunes by Bird or Trane to round it out.  We have a friend who is a sound engineer and record producer with a sixteen-track mobile rig who has agreed to record and co-produce.  We’re thinking of a live, one-day recording session sometime in the new year, and we’re trying to decide it it would be better to do it at our rehearsal studio, or at my house.  

Only thing that remains is to woodshed the tunes so they’re tight enough to be assured of capturing a killer take or two of each.  We were well on the way, but then a few weeks ago Rick brought in a new song that plays with the the meter in a fascinating way, four versus three.  It’s not an easy one to play, but it’s my kind of weird, so we had to spend some time to get that one together.

New Recording – A Plague of Frogs

I had a very nice Thanksgiving weekend.  Michelle came home for a visit, and we all went out to Long Island Thanksgiving day, and the rest of the time played some games and watched some movies and slept in every day day caught up on a bunch of random tasks. Among them…

I finally finished the song that could not be finished is finished.  A Plague of Frogs is probably to most complicated song I’ve attempted to record, arrange and produce, in the terms of number of interlocking themes, changes in sound and tone, overall length, and sheer number of tracks and layers.  In the end I made it a battle between sax vs. synth rather than sax vs. guitar, and I really leaned in to the bloopy, buzzy sound of the synthesizer to create an alien vibe.  After I did the synth solo I had to put it aside for a while.  I was in a phase of listening to heavily layered 80’s records like So, Synchronicity and Power Windows and had a bunch more ideas to further develop the arrangement.  But then I got to a place where the build up in the middle section was satisfying, and after that there was nowhere else to go.  I found myself sculpting the sound by taking things away rather than continuing to add more parts, and once that realization hit it was pretty quick to finish up the song and get to a good mixdown.  The rest of the kitchen sink will have to wait for other songs.  

So here it is.

I hope you enjoy!

The Global Jukebox 3.0 is Live!

With all the craziness going on around these days, I’m very happy to announce The Global Jukebox 3.0 is live. You can see it at:

It’s a big release with alot of new stuff. One is that the whole map interface has changed. This we necessitated by mapbox, whose map software we use, sunsetting their old api and introducing an all-new, completely different one. Our map is very complex with lot of data, lots of layers, and different kinds of visualizations, animations and styles on top of it, so this involved a pretty deep restructuring of the code. The original goal was feature parity, but as we got into it, we realized the new api offered affordances with should take advantage of. First was the the map tile load much quicker, and panning and zooming around the map are much smoother, so a bunch of tricks we had to compensate for the shortcomings of the old map could just be thrown out. Another is the new map api supports 3-D projection, with one possible mode being a globe instead of a flat map. We redesigned the visual experience to take advantage of that. The fully zoomed back view allows you to model an atmosphere and background starfield, and even make the Earth turn, so that was fun. Zoomed in, it resembles the previous flat map, but with a great, seamless zoom-in transition. At the end we redesigned the app’s landing page to show off the globe and freshen up the design style.

The other big new feature the introduction of routes, that allow for a unique url for every app state. This in turn allows for sharing links, moving and forward back thru the app, generating a spiderable sitemap so all our songs, cultures, journeys, etc., will show up when google for those things. It turns out the app states are numerous, and sometimes deep and complicated, with lots of edge cases and corner cases. Previously this had been a single page app, so this work required us the think thru all the various states and how they can stack and compound and transition from one to the another. Additionally, the whole app is basically built out of bespoke javascript, so we couldn’t just drop in a framework and retrofit around it. We built our own, of course following best practices for good design patterns.

Martin and I have working the last six month or so on this, with Martin mainly doing the routes and me mainly doing the map. It was a big lift, and I must say he is a great partner to work with. Compared to a lot of software engineers I’ve worked with, I care alot about code quality, not just for it’s own sake, but for extensibility, readability, correct logic, names and abstractions, and very low bug rate. And Martin was right there with me, reasoning things thru, puzzling out thorny problems as the arose, and being patient and meticulous with quality control and attention to detail. I guess it helps that we learned to program computers together as kids, and have similar attitudes and sensibilities as to what make good software and what make a software project worth doing.

And of course I must acknowledge our project director Anna Lomax Wood, without whom none of this would be possible. Her deep knowledge of world folk music and cultural anthropology, her intelligence and positive attitude are all big guiding lights. It’s an honor and a privilege to work her. Kudos too to Kiki who, although has been pretty light-touch on this project recently, has contributed in numerous way including project management, organization, visual and UX design, devops, creating and formatting content, metadata, audio assets, and generally running things over at the Association of Cultural Equity.

Next up, The Global Jukebox 3.1. Stay tuned!

Super Blue

Lest all y’all think life these days is all going to see bands and fun trips to beaches and mountains, I’ve actually been busy with the software thing this whole time too.  A couple of big project milestones in my day job.  Firstly one of my projects, the Data Rights Protocol, has reached version 0.9 and we’re entering the initial deployment phase, which involves passing live data end-to-end among consortium members to implement actionable consumer data rights requests. Meanwhile, we also put up a new web site where you can learn all about it at:

Second, another project of mine, Permission Slip, is going live with version 2.0 of our this week, including an all-new android version of the app. And there’s a new web site for this one too:

Finally, we’re getting very close to releasing version 3.0 of the Global Jukebox.  This is a major rev I’ve been working on for months with Martin.  One big new features is an all-new map visualization that starts with a spinning globe, and is much more powerful, flexible and performant than the old one.  The other big thing is the app now has routes to express the app state as a unique url.  Each of these was a big lift, and we’re now in the final phases of QA and tweaking the styles and messaging on the landing page.  So watch this space for an announcement sometime soon.  But for now you can get a sneak peak on our staging site at:

In the world outside of work, it’s been one of the rainiest Septembers I’ve ever experienced. Three out of the last four weeks it’s rained some or most or even all of the weekend, were’ talking epic, heavy, ark-building rains here, to the point where I’ve only gotten out on my bike one Sunday the whole month for a big ride, and not at all for a weekday evening in the last two weeks.  The days are getting shorter faster, so soon the opportunity for a ride after work will be gone.  

As luck would have it, we did go out to see another concert last weekend.  It was Superblue, a funk-fueled collaboration between Kurt Elling and Charlie Hunter, at Poisson Rouge in Greenwich Village.  Poisson Rouge turned out to be a pretty nice club, although the waiters were kinda disorganized and incredibly slow.  The band itself was great.  The opening act was the horn section from the main group, backed by a different rhythm section.  They were really fun, funky and entertaining.  At one point the trumpet player switched to tuba and the trombone player to beatboxing, leaving just the sax player.  They did a Stevie Wonder medley which was just mind blowing.

The main act was most excellent too.  Charlie Hunter plays a guitar with extra strings and an octave effect so it functions as both the bass and the guitar for the group.  Needless to say his technique is innovative and incredible, but he spent most of his time in the pocket, just groovin’ and grinnin’.  Kurt himself was great, picking diverse source material such as “Naughty Number Nine” from Schoolhouse Rock, delivering them with powerful, soulful phrasing, and interjecting philosophical soliloquies a la Elwood Blues. 

Just yesterday we were supposed to see yet another shoe, Tuck and Patti at the Irridium, but it got cancelled due to the weather.  There were such heavy rains and flooding in New York City that the seals in the Central Park Zoo escaped their enclosure and were were freely swimming/sliding around the whole zoo.  I guess they went back on their own without having to be rounded up.

Three for the Show

Sometimes things come in waves, and it seems everyone is on tour at once right now.  I’ve been the three concerts in the last week, with more coming up, and even more I’d like to see but don’t have the time for.

First off was Sting, a week ago at Jones Beach Theater in Long Island.  Jones Beach is a great place to see a show, a semicircular amphitheater right on the edge of the bay.  We had seats in the lower deck, just a few rows up from the floor, so a great view.  We went with Jeannie’s sister Mary, and before we went in, we had a little tailgate party with sandwiches and a bottle of wine.  It said there was no opening act, and when we got inside there was a guy who looked and sounded alot like Sting singing and strumming and acoustic guitar, accompanied only by a drummer.  I thought, wow, Sting looks great for a guy in his seventies, and he’s been working out, his neck is alot thicker.  But it turns out it was his son.  Sting Jr. had some great songs and a great voice, and looks alot like his dad. 

After that the real Sting came on with his band.  He actually does looks great for a guy in his seventies, and sang and played with lots of energy.  He played a fender P-bass with very little treble in the tone.  The band of course was great.  There were enough musicians to cover all the different sounds from his solo hits and a good smattering of Police songs.  The featured jamming instrument was a harmonica, and the dude was great.   Also some backup singers, keys, guitar; everyone in the band had a feature section, which was fun.  I saw Sting once in the 1990’s and the vibe of that show was musically excellent but down, with predominately dark, slow, introspective songs.  This time he still did his share of moody ballads about losing his faith in a used up world, but kept it balanced with upbeat and uptempo numbers.  As a special bonus Branford Marsalis on the saxophone came out and sat in with the group, and lifted things to a whole nuzzer level.  He was one of my saxophone heroes back in the day, and the way his playing complements Sting’s songs is just perfect.  We also discovered the right parking lot get out of there quickly without getting stuck in traffic.

Then over the weekend we went to the Outlaw Music Festival, again with Mary.  This was in the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, a really cool venue that I had no idea existed.  When I heard about the show I thought it was going to be in the tennis stadium at the north end of Flushing Meadow Park, but it was actually at the old stadium at the south end, part of the original tennis club.  It hasn’t been used the for the U.S. Open since the 1970’s but they still put on concerts there.  

Mary and Lou used to live in Forest Hills, and Jeannie and I not to far away in Woodside, Queens, so we before the show we got together for brunch with some old Queens friends, John and Mary and Larry.  That was lots of fun.  The show was a festival so by the time we got in it was already underway.  There were five bands. The main one I wanted to see was Bob Weir.  It’s been so long since I’ve seen the Grateful Dead I’d almost forgotten they existed, although at one time they were my second-most-seen band after Rush.  Bobby of course did mainly Dead songs, maybe not as stretched out as they used to back in the day and with a little more focus on the songs, but still with a few extended jams.  The band included a combination horn and string section.  One thing I liked was when he segued into What’s Going On? in the middle of Eyes of the World.

The headliner of the night was Willie Nelson.  For whatever reason Mary, who grew up in Brooklyn, is a big Willie Nelson fan (as is my cousin Peter from Ontario).  To me Willie is one of those guys who was always on the radio when I was a kid, and since then transcended his own long career to achieve living legend status, so I though it was pretty cool.  The surprise special guest in his band was Norah Jones on piano and vocals, a legend in her own right, who I guess wanted to tour with one of her idols.  There was also an excellent harmonica player.  Now in his 90’s, Willie can still play and sing.  Alot of his style is rooted in the great American songbook, and he threw in a good handful of standards as well as his own hits.  His set was pretty short because in contrast to the deadheads, Willie’s songs were all basically three minutes and out.  He might’ve skipped an encore cuz it was starting to rain.  

Then finally last night we saw Peter Gabriel at Madison Square Garden.  He and Sting are kind of next door neighbors in terms of their career arcs, with huge solo popularity and critical acclaim in the 80’s after leaving successful band to explore new sonic ideas, and then a long trajectory of more personal, artistic songwriting. Unlike Sting, Peter Gabriel now looks like an old man, bald and overweight compared to the smirking face on MTV back in the day.  He did two sets, the first being mainly new material, with a predominately dark, slow, introspective feel.  The second set was mainly his hits from throughout his career.  The band was great, and featured the inimitable Tony Levin on bass, as well as a combination horn and string section and backing vocalists, and other members joining in from time to time on flutes and pipes.  It occurred to me that he’s been perfecting the same ideas since Genesis in a sense, and the band was perfectly suited to replicate those mellotron sounds using natural instruments.  The show was great, and visual presentation too, with lighting and projected artwork and animation as well as the music.  And like Sting, Peter Gabriel has alot of great songs and really made the most of them.  I was a bit disappointed but not too surprised he didn’t play anything by Genesis.  I mean maybe not Supper’s Ready but at least a bit of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway would be nice.

Truth and Soul

We saw Fishbone open for Parliament Funkadelic at the Capital Theater in Port Chester just the other day.  I’ve been a big Fishbone fan since the 1980’s and seen them a few times before, most notably at the Lollapalooza Festival of 1993, when I was working at MTV’s Electronic Carnival.  Their sound is a bit hard to describe, but I guess they came up as part of that L.A. ska punk scene, combined with deep funk and melodic vocals with great harmony.  And of course great songwriting that shows of all their strengths.  It looks like they still have their original bassist, singers and horn players, but the guitarist, keyboardist and drummer were younger looking guys.  They put on a fantastic show.  The lead singer also played a variety or saxophones, including an impressive black and gold baritone. He seemed to suffer some kind of wardrobe malfunction while crowd surfing; I’m not sure if it was part of the act or not.

Parliament Funkadelic were great too.  George Clinton is still out there doing his thing in his eighties, although he mostly sat in his chair, sang now and then, and conducted the band from time to time.  I could mention that I met George Clinton once in the ’90s when I was working at MTV doing music video games, and he wanted license his whole catalog to us to sample and use in a game. I thought that was a great idea, and worked on a bunch treatments and prototypes for a game in which you go around doing funk jams, and set up different beacons on different levels to ultimately call the mothership, and at the end a bug UFO comes down and the P Funk band jams with you. It would’ve been amazing! But alas, that game never got made.

There were probably twenty musicians on stage including horns, multiple singers, two bass players, several guitarists and just one guy on keys.  The whole thing was one continuous stream of songs, jams, segues and solos.  At one point, when they just finished playing Give Up the Funk, it looked as if they might end the set, but instead they moved into a slow, sparse bass pattern.  The one by one half the guys in the band took an extended solo: trombone, synthesizer, bass, alto sax, guitar, it went on for like a half an hour on the same minimalist groove, and it was amazing.  The alto player in particular had that searing wailing altissimo sound, and cut above everyone else.  The band brought it up after that and did two more songs, another half hour at least.  

Last week was the one and only five-day work week in August for me.  Over the weekend I took the Mustang out, caught up on the yardwork again, this time mainly the north side of the house, plus the neighbor’s willow tree and weeding under the hedges.  We got back into going on bike rides on Sunday morning.  I did fifteen miles this time.  Went out to Long Island for a visit before Michelle goes back to school.  That’s it.

Summer Time

And the livin’ is easy.  Moving right on from the OUSA convention to the next adventure, with barely time to put down our bags.  We just got back from a trip up to Buffalo to visit family and friends.  Drank some beer, grilled some steaks and dogs and burgers, took some walks in the park, watched some fireworks.  Very languid, very relaxing.  I feel like it’s been one continuous spell of focus and getting things done since the new year, so it was a welcome stretching out of time.

On the trip up we stopped by Watkins Glen and hiked the trail up the canyon overlooking the river and rapids and waterfalls.  Very scenic, very impressive.  The next day we got together for a fancy dinner at a restaurant downtown with Lizzy, and with Larry and Jackie and three of their kids and Timothy’s girlfriend.  A great time, lots of catching up and storytelling.  After dinner we went to the bar around the corner where Lizzy plays trivia, and continued, and after that even lingered in the parking lot as everyone tried to get in one last story about camping and bears.  On the third Martin and his family came down and stayed for the fourth.  Beers, birthday cake, hanging out, rollerblading, fireworks.  Did I mention it was languid and relaxing?

On the way up there my car started having problems with the air conditioner.  This seemed to fix itself, but then there was a leak in the power steering.  On top of this, the car seems to have mysteriously acquired some scratches sometime in the last few weeks.  Ah well, I guess it’s getting to be kind of old.

Saturday we went to the Pleasantville Music Festival, a local outdoor rock show a few towns up from us.  We’ve been meaning to go and check it out for years.  It was a fun time, and the venue was very well run.  The festival featured a beer tent and food and a bunch of pretty good if rather low-imagination pop-punk bands on the secondary stage.  On the main stage we saw the Allman-Betts band, an Allman Brothers tribute band by two of the sons of members of the original group.  They played about half originals and half Allman Brothers classics, all very good.  There were some old guys in the band on Hammond organ and slide guitar, that were probably the glue holding the thing together.

The headliner was They Might Be Giants.  I haven’t seen them live in probably twenty years, last time being at a bandshell in Prospect Park in Brooklyn.  They put on a great show, having fun and mixing it up.  Their new songs sound great, and there’s always a twist on their classic hits.  The current touring lineup has a horn section of a trombone, tenor sax and trumpet, all also doubling on other horns such as the euphonium, bari sax and pocket trumpet.  Each of the them had an excellent featured solo.  The trumpet player in particular was amazing, and used to be part of Conon O’Brien’s TV show band.

Also this weekend we got back to doing bike rides.  Sunday I went for sixteen miles, and the girls for ten along the local trail.  On the return half of the ride, suddenly the sky opened up and we got drenched in the pouring rain.  Nothing for it but to keep on riding.  By the end of the trip the sun was coming out again.  We got home, only a ten-minute car ride away, and it hadn’t rained here at all.

While I was upstate, I came up with an album cover for my upcoming record Plutonium Dirigible, and a new web page to go with it, with the latest links to all the songs, as well as the lyrics and stories about writing and recording the various songs.  This led to an update of my whole music site, which will be finished soon.   Enjoy.