The Global Jukebox 3.1.0 is Live

The Global Jukebox 3.1.0 is now live at https://theglobaljukebox.org. The major feature this release is a tool for users to submit corrections to song cantometric coding data and song metadata, along with and admin workflow to accept changes and migrate them into the app database.  There’s also a new journey about The Roots of the Blues by Lamont Pearley. And of course numerous UI, UX and usability enhancements, bug fixes, etc.

Meanwhile at my day job at Consumer Reports Innovation Lab, we just launched a beta version of AskCR, a chatbot-style application to answer user question about product comparisons, backed by our extensive databases.  I’ve been enjoying taking part in testing sessions, and happy to reports so far it’s actually accurate and helpful, even if sometimes it’s just a more verbose way of finding information you could just use our search tool to find.  I’ve been asking it alot about hybrid luxury SUVs and high-performance sports cars recently.   I learned that there’s a hybrid Corvette out there now that has all-wheel drive with electric front wheels and can go from zero to sixty in two and a half seconds!  No information, however, on the storage capacity of the frunk.

The weather had been great, warm and sunny but not yet brutally hot.  I took my first longish bike ride of the season last week, going up into New Rochelle towards Larchmont. Pretty hilly, like most places around here, but still fun.  Just under ten miles, just under an hour.  I’ve also been having a run of good workouts, back up to nominal full weight on all my sets.  Although today was kind of rough; I was tired from being up and down a ladder and swinging a chainsaw around over my head to trim the neighbor’s willow tree that hands into my hard.  I ended up chopping of a pretty good branch landed my shrubbery and rolled off into my other neighbor’s yard.  Talk about a bustle in your hedgerow!  Unfortunately, I have not gotten around to taking the Mustang out for a drive in a few weeks.  By the time I was done the yardwork yesterday the Hutch was all backed up.

My friend Nick had a barbecue party Saturday, a most excellent time.  I ended up talking to his kids and Michelle at length about music, and what people are listening to these days, and how music continues to evolve.  Giovani, who is a musician, has weird and interesting tastes, including jazz, prog, metal and lots of stuff I’ve never heard. He’s gotten as far as appreciating Alan Holdsworth, which is super fun.

And finally, the Spacecats album cover is complete.  Now I can get on to getting CD’s made (which at this point is really just for vanity) and publishing it to the streaming services, which is more important.  I actually got a check last week from people streaming my music.  Less than I make in an hour of work writing software, but you know, it’s something.  I also got a check from royalties from my origami book, which was more than a day’s salary.  So anyway, watch this space.

May Happenings

Spring continues in fits of rain and storms amidst a nice day here and there.  I’ve been trying to shake off a cold for the last week.  It feels strange having a cold when it’s eighty-five degrees outside.  Now it seems I’m finally mostly better.  I had a good workout today and hope to get back on my bike tomorrow, and get caught up on the yardwork over the next few days.

Still been doing stuff.  Last weekend Jeannie and I took a fun day to go into the city.  We started with a stroll thru Central Park, and it was a lovely day for it, sunny if a bit brisk and breezy.  The main attraction of the afternoon was the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which I haven’t been to since before the pandemic.  Spent most of our time in the Ancient Greek and Roman collections, as well as the Middle East and Asia, the modern wing, and of course the musical instruments and arms and armor galleries.  Afterwards we crossed thru the park again and had dinner at a very nice Italian restaurant, in part to celebrate Jeannie’s recent promotion at her job!

That evening we saw Kamasi Washington at the Beacon Theater.  He put on a great show.  His sound continues to evolve, now incorporating a DJ and some dancers into his large, sci-fi band.  It’s a great sound with two drummers, a standup bass with effects, piano and synth, trombone, vocalist, and Kamasi’s tenor sax over everything.  Lots of big extended-jam pieces with great rises in energy.  Lots of fun.

Then I was back in the city Thursday and Friday for an onsite for my job, with a bunch of people coming in from out of town including my friend Annmarie from Chicago and Sukhi from D.C..  Thursday night we all went out to dinner and afterwards ended up at the rooftop bar of the Harvard Club (my boss Ginny is an alum) until closing time.  Lots of fun, much more open and enjoyable than your typical work social function.  Sincerely good people.  Or maybe it’s just that since we all mainly work remote, it just feels like a special occasion when we get together.  In any event Friday I gave a demo of my current R&D project, which integrating the Data Rights Protocol into Permission Slip, our privacy app.  Been making good progress and this is a key milestone for wider adoption of the protocol among industry partners.

Friday Lizzy came home for a visit with her boyfriend Josh.  They came up from Philly, where they did a little trip see a ball game and some museums and the zoo.  Saturday her grandparents came up for a visit and we had the first barbecue of the season.  Again it was a bit chilly our, so I made a fire in our firepit, which was very nice. 

The mixing of the Spacecats record is nearly complete, and I must say it sounds quite good.  Gavin came by for a mixing session a couple weeks ago, so I got the benefits of his ears and skills.  Now I’m basically up to final mastering.  The next step is to come up with an album cover, and then I can get CD’s made and get it place on the streaming services.  The band wants to try and do a group picture, but unfortunately some of our our out of town the next few weeks, so it may be a while before we can get that together.  Ah well, I can work on an illustration and  rest of the text and graphics in the meantime.

Weekend Warrior

Spring continues to arrive.  Everything is turning green, sprouting and blooming.  Today we had our first actually hot day.  And it’s about time.  Did a ton of yardwork over the weekend.  Mowed the lawn for the first time, plus weeding and edging to get everything looking nice for hanging out outside.  Next step is put down the mulch under the hedges and trim a couple trees.

Been getting on my bike the last couple of weeks, five or six times now.  Nice to get back into that.  I still have yet to do a big long ride on the rail trail near my house, but that will come soon enough.

The big fun this weekend was I went into the city to see my old friend Jim Wynne from Buffalo, playing bass with the band Tripi and the Mother Truckers, who are touring around the northeast these days. Tony Tripi is a singer-songwriter with songs that are fun and earnest, and the group is a power trio with a backup singer for high harmony. Great sound and energy.

I haven’t seen Jim in many years, so it was great to catch up.  It brought back a bunch of memories.  We were in a bunch of bands together back in the day, including Automatic Man and The Purple Connection, and he was the bassist for the last incarnation of my jazz fusion group Event Horizon. Jim is a phenomenal talent on bass, with an imaginative and adventurous technique that he developed after someone lent him a chapman stick for a few months, but then he had to give it back, equally at home in jazz, rock, funk or dance music.  I’d compare him to Les Claypool, Billy Sheehan, or Tony Levin, with a bit of Joco thrown in, but he really has his own thing going.

Automatic Man used to play every Monday night at Broadway Joe’s for a year or two, except when the Bills were on Monday night football.  The group featured Jim on bass, Pete D. on guitar, Pat O. on drums and me on sax.  We did alot of Jeff Beck and Mike Stern, and adaptation of rock songs.  We used to end the set with the Beatle’s Abbey Road medley, with Pete and I playing most of the vocal parts on our instruments and Jim covering pretty much everything else in the arrangement on bass.  It was a great crowd pleaser, and people used to sing along to Carry that Weight and The End.

The Purple Connection also featured Jim and Pat and myself, and Craig H. on guitar.  We had a Sunday afternoon gig at a place called The Inn on the River, a bar where people would pull up to a dock in their boats.  The set leaned more toward smooth jazz, with things like George Benson and Steely in our repertoire.

Around that time I was in a different group making an album and the studio we used had a summer picnic with a raffle, and Jeannie won 10 hours of studio time.  I thought I could make a record in ten hours, so re-formed my group Event Horizon, with Jim on bass, and we went in and recorded an hour of music – four songs – after just one rehearsal.

So like I said, I haven’t seen my friend in many years.  Amazing props that he’s been making his living doing music this whole time and found success at it.  He told me I inspired him to get into digital audio production, and he also teaches now, and even tunes pianos!  His style of playing has evolved too.  A little less flamboyant but better integrated.  Jim now has a seven-string bass guitar, believe it or not, with a really broad neck and lots of room for higher and denser chord voicings and bigger excursions into the treble range.  And he plays it like a mother trucker!

Spacecats – The Recording Session

I’ve been pretty busy the last month or so, but it’s finally time to tell you about the new album my band Spacecats is making.  It’s far enough along now that you can listen to some rough mixes:

https://zingman.com/music/mp3/spacecats/recording_session_240316/edit_mixes_2

We recording the whole thing, ten songs, in a single day back in March.  The project grew out of a desire to have some samples of our music to use to try and get gigs.  We had been taping our rehearsals, but using just a portable audio recorder with a built-in stereo mic to capture the live sound of the room.  It sounded pretty good, but nothing like a professional record.  The inability to separate the instruments or control their tone and dynamics was limiting.

Our friend Gavin, who sets up our rehearsal space, heard us talking about this, and mentioned that he is trained as an audio engineer and we could use our rehearsal space as a recording studio.  A plan was hatched.

Meanwhile, we’d all be writing songs, and at some point last fall our drummer Rick started bring in more and more material.  Soon we realized we probably had enough songs for a full-length album of original material, if we focused on getting the songs tight.  This took a little time, because once we started, there was alot of work on the details of the arrangements.  Also, the guys in the band kept bringing in new tunes that upped the overall level of the project, so we added them in and dropped some others.  In particular Rick brought in a song that was replete with meter changes following a really interesting but complex pattern.  My kind of weird.

We had originally thought we might be ready to record right after then new year.  But between wanting to get the material tight, people in the group having to take a week off at various times, and the availability of the studio, we couldn’t book a date until mid-March.

Although the rehearsal space, the big room downstairs at Lagond, is not a professional studio in the sense that it lacks a control room, we like it because it’s big and has good acoustics, and most of all it has a really nice grand piano.  It also has a mixer and PA for doing live events, which can be hooked up to a computer easily enough.  The studio also has a deep bench of high-quality microphones.  So we really had everything we need.

Gavin came in early that morning to set everything up.  We decided to do it like a traditional jazz record, everything live in the studio.  The instruments were close-mic’d but not completely isolated, which meant limited options for overdubs later because there’s be some bleed-thru.  So what you hear is the real thing!

The setup was: six mics on the drum (kick, snare, rack tom, floor tom, and left and right overheads for the cymbals and hihat); two mics in the piano for left and right, plus a third just outside for ambiance; direct inject plus a mic on the amp for the bass; and two different mics on the sax, one a large diaphragm condenser and the other a ribbon mic, to capture different tones.  That’s thirteen channels total.  

The session went smoothly.  Everyone was relaxed and playing well, and Gavin was able to capture a good sound without difficulty. Once we got set up and soundchecked, we started running down the set list.  The goal was to get two complete takes of each song.  Sometimes we had a false start or broke down in the middle, so we ended up with some partial takes, or even three complete takes sometimes.  After five songs in about three hours we were getting tired so we took a break for lunch.  We front-loaded the more difficult songs, so after lunch we jammed thru the rest in about two hours.  All in all it couldn’t have gone better.

I brought the tracks home and imported them into protools, and set up a project for each song.  I put each instrument on its own bus since we had multiple channels for all of them, then did a basic setup with some light compression, EQ, reverb and dynamic compression on the master out.

The next step was to go thru and listen closely to everything and decide which takes to use, in some cases editing together the song from several different takes.  Also in this phase I tightened up the timing where it was needed, and pasted over the occasional clam.  I must say overall the group has a really good sense of time and the tempos were very consistent between takes and within a song.  For one song, I dropped in a minute-and-a-half sax solo from another take and did not have to adjust the time at all.  I discovered we sometimes to a slight ritard at the end of someone’s solo or anther turning point in the tune for dramatic effect.

Now I’m at the point where I’m listening again for the mix, to try and get that as good as can be.  In particular I’m paying attention to how the bass sits in the mix, and how to make it present but not to overbearing. 

Here’s the list of songs in the order we recorded them, which is probably not the order they’ll appear on the record.

Kamala – written by Rick our drummer, features a 4-against-6 latin groove that breaks into swing in the bridge, and a thru-composed structure with a break after the piano solo that I call the Zappa section.  I play soprano sax on this one (and tenor on most of the others).

There’s Snow Tomorrow – written by Josh our piano player, a light mid-tempo number in a minor key, with a sort of wistful feel.  When we were coming up with the arrangement, I thought it would be cool to have the sax in a supporting role and the piano mainly carry the melody, since Josh has such a great feel for it and we don’t have any other tunes that do that.

Los Gatos del Cosmos – one of mine.  An uptempo samba in the Hungarian minor mode.  Starts with an atmospheric section inspired by the Police, which reprises in the middle as the foundation for a drum feature section.  Lots of fun to play, lots of dynamic ups and downs.

Paris on the Hudson – written by Rick, this is the one that features lots of shifting time signatures, and a tricky melody and chord progression to match.  I guess you’d call it a swing feel, sometimes waltzing, sometimes in four, sometimes in double time.

Lift Off – another by me, this is an uptempo swing number inspired by John Coltrane’s Countdown, and features a tricky 2-5-lift-inside-a-2-5 as the main motivic idea for both the harmony and the melody.  Also has a drum solo.

Lance’s Guitar – a power ballad by Rick with a beautiful melody and a striking chord progression. 

Pour Me a Fifth – another light mid-tempo number by Josh, this one is 3/4 time and has a minor-key chord progression that moves around the cycle of 5ths alot, and a melody that reinforces that idea.  Ken’s bass playing gets really abstract and melodic on this.  I play soprano.

Autumn Eyes – a ballad of mine, very open and atmospheric sounding.  Features a bass solo.  I play soprano. We later did the one and only overdub on this song, some piano comping behind the bass solo. It’s amazing how well my synthesizer piano patch matched the sound of the grand piano from the studio.

Dr. Pluto – a funk jam, my composition.  We had a few funk and R&B kind of numbers we were rehearsing (indeed our tagline was Jazz and Funk, or maybe it was Jank and Fuzz), but this was the only one that made into the set for the session.  I wrote it with the bass having the melody line, and the sax doing a response.  The title comes from a cool-looking sparkly bass Ken brought to rehearsal once. It said Di Pinto on the headstock, but from a distance I misread it.  Josh plays electric piano on this one.

At a Laundromat in Pamplona – Josh’s composition, basically a samba jam.  This is one of our looser songs, with the whole middle section being just two chords.  Toward the end I do this rising thing that Ken calls the Kamasi section.  Josh plays electric piano on this one too.  A perfect way to end the set.

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. 

https://zingman.com/music/mp3/plutoniumDirigible/PlagueOfFrogs54k.mp3

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:

https://theglobaljukebox.org

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!