When The World is Running Down You Make the Best of What’s Still Around

A couple weeks ago I got word that friend Mike K., who was the singer and guitar player way back in my first band in high school, had died. He was right around my age. I haven’t seen him in many years.

Then Friday my friend Gus died. Gus was the drummer in several of the bands I’ve been in, going back to when I got back into playing music eight or nine years ago. First was The Relix, and then Left Hook, which we formed when The Relix folded. Gus was in his early sixties. I last saw him about a year ago.

So I’ve been thinking about how bands come and go, and more generally, relationships and situations in life. Everyone is in it for their own reasons, and you never know when things will end, even if everything seems fine. Then you stop seeing people you were close to because everyone is always busy with their lives and goes their separate ways, and one day it’s too late.

Then Saturday Eric, the drummer for my jazz group, abruptly quit. Apparently he got a job playing with a big band in Manhattan, and it’s a better gig for him. The next day Rich, the piano player, decided he’s leaving the group too. Jay, the bass player, looked at the situation and declared it to be the end of an era.

This all caught me by surprise. I guess there were signs the group had plateaued, even as I’ve been focused on continuing to improve my own playing. I think Gary and I, as the two main songwriters, were still keen on honing our songs. I thought we had another album in the offing, indeed we had a bunch of great songs; it was just a matter of lining up the studio session. But those guys were beginning to loose interest. Ever since I got back from Spain it felt like one or the other was missing rehearsal, and several times we had to cancel.

It was a good run for sure. We had a quite a few great gigs and recorded an excellent album. When we started playing together, I brought in a few of my songs, and this inspired everyone else in the group to start writing too. We were together about three years, and we came out of a jazz circle that went back a few years before that, also to the time I started playing again. It was probably the best of group of musicians I ever played with, and I improved alot in that time. So it’s really too bad.

Now it’s back to square one, starting over. Sometime a new group emerges from an old one, sometime not. I’m asking around. And this while I’m trying to get a new rock band off the ground too. Ah well, we’ll see how it goes.

Living in the Limelight

The gig Friday night at the Bean Runner Cafe went great. Nice to have a venue where they know and like you. The group sounded relaxed and comfortable. We played ten of seventeen songs we had prepared, mainly because we stretched out the solo sections on a few tunes. We had a few more standards than usual, including Stolen Moments, Bye-Ya, Jordu, Ornithology and Four on Six. After who knows how many years, I played a solo on All the Things You Are that I was really satisfied with, relaxed and flowing, spontaneous and in the moment. We also did a good number or our originals, and I was happy with my perfromance on Lift Off, my tribute to John Coltrane, which is very difficult to play. I guess all my practicing has been paying off.

In the home studio realm, my two current songs, The Story Lies and Who Speaks on Your Behalf are coming along. I got the bass part for the first song done a week or two ago, and the second one is there except for one riff. The Stories Lies is a groove number and I gave it a fun, funky bass line. Once I started practicing, I really wanted to nail the whole track in one take, to capture all the dynamics over the course of the song and really focus on the phrasing. I got pretty close. I ended up with a very usable take, and did only minor editing. In one section I was rushing a little so I pulled everything back a fraction of beat. You can’t push a click track like you can a human drummer.

Meanwhile I have most of Who Speaks on Your Behalf tracked, but there’s a riff at the beginning and again in the middle of the tune, a twisty run of 16th notes that just kicks my ass at that tempo. At first I couldn’t play it all; now the challenge is to do it cleanly. I don’t know how other bass players do this kind of thing, but I laid out the fingering to take advantage of open strings, and used a few hammer-ons and pull offs rather than striking every note with the right hand.

I’m still trying to get the new rock band off the ground. I put out an ad for a guitarist who sings and writes, and this dude Joe answered. He sent me some demoes of his songs. Good stuff, I like his lyrics and the way he creates drama in his songs, and he can certainly sing and play, although he doesn’t really know jazz harmony. We got together for a rehearsal a couple weeks ago with Ken on bass and Steve on drums. We did a couple of my songs and a couple of Joe’s, and some plain ol’ jamming. The vibe was pretty good. Ken and Steve definitely grok my songs, although Joe was hearing them for the first time and didn’t really get the chords, and we were all learning Joe’s songs new.

Tonight Joe came over to my house and we got alot deeper into learning each other’s songs and talking about our influences and what we want out of a band. It seems like a good fit. He learned my song Ghost in the Machine pretty readily once I broke it down and explained the chords. We were supposed to get together with the full band later this week and I was feeling pretty psyched about it.

But then our bass player Ken had to bow out out temporarily. He’s the director of crisis communications for a major international bank and so his day job has been crazy the last few weeks because of the caronavirus epidemic, and it looks like things may well get worse before it gets better. Ah well.

Back at the Bean Runner – Haven Street Live Jazz

!!! Correction – the date is Friday February 28 !!!

What with all the recent travel and excitement, I almost forgot to mention there’s a gig coming up, just over a week away!

My jazz group Haven Street returns to The Bean Runner Cafe in Peekskill, Friday February 28 at 8 o’clock start time, $10 cover. This is one of our favorite places to play, and we always have a good time and get good crowd. Should be lots of fun, so come check it out!

Every Day I Write the Book

The jazz gig last weekend went quite nicely. We weren’t sure what to expect, never having played a library before. In fact I can’t remember the last time I played a gig in the daytime. But it was very cool. The space was great, with a high ceiling and good acoustics, set up with tables and chairs, and coffee and cake rather than the usual craft beer and whiskey.

The show was well attended, sixty people or more. I guess a big suburban library is a happening place on a Sunday afternoon in the wintertime. And I saw some familiar faces from some of our other gigs, so thank you all. Musically things went well, and the crowd dug us. After the show some members of the audience came up to and suggested libraries in other towns nearby where they’d like to see us play. Whuda thunk?

The day of the gig was an unusually warm for January, up in the 60’s; it reminded me of California. However the warm spell was not destined to last, and a couple days later it got solidly below freezing and stayed there. Today we get the first real snowfall of the winter.

This week’s jazz rehearsal had to be cancelled, so I’m putting some time into new recordings in the home studio. I’ve completed the piano part — the spine of the track — for both new tunes TSL and WSoYB, and I’m on to programming the drum parts.

On sax I’m working my thru the book Patterns for Jazz by Lenny Neihaus et al., which I last studied in high school. Getting command of all those figures at my fingertips is helping my improvisation immensely.

In other news, I got pretty close to getting a new rock group off the ground before the holidays. I answered an ad in Craigslist from a guitar player with originals looking for a keyboard player to collaborate with. He listed King Crimson and the Del Phonics among his influences, so I said yeah, my kind of weird. I went over to his house to jam and he also had a bass player, and he said he a drummer but the drummer couldn’t make it that night. He had a bunch of riffs and we jammed them out, seemed promising.

A few weeks went by trying to line up another session. Since he couldn’t get his rhythm section together I invited my friends Ken and Steve on bass drums. The idea was we’d do one of my originals and one of his, and spend the rest of the time jamming on new ideas. I dusted off one of my old songs “Ghost in the Machine”. It went over well and we had a fun time with it. Guitar dude declined to bring in one of his old songs, so we spent the rest of the time jamming on some riffs, got maybe halfway there.

I kinda get that. I have about an albums worth of half-written rock/pop songs, and I’d love to develop them in a group context like I do with my jazz songs in the jazz group. In fact at this point I’m kinda saving them for that situation. But bringing a song that’s already written and that you know works lets you focus on playing together and seeing how everyone responds to the sound and finds their place in a musical context. It’s a good way to get things off the ground and into flight.

So despite a fun rehearsal guitar dude bowed out, citing writer’s block. The good news is now Ken is really jazzed about doing an originals band, and he and Steve really groove as a rhythm section. Ken wants to get together and jam as a power trio while we look for a guitarist.

This to me is an interesting idea, but probably too much to sustain on my side as the lead singer and main writer. I can only think of two keyboard-oriented power trios in the history of rock. The first of course is Emerson Lake and Palmer. However I’m no Keith Emerson, and there will never be another. In any event Greg Lake was the singer, and wrote most of the lyrics and melodies, and played guitar as well as bass. A lesser known power trio from the 80’s was Gowen, featuring Larry Gowen on keyboards and vocals, and his brother on Chapman Stick. Great stuff, very underrated. Unfortunately Ken doesn’t play the stick, only the regular bass. I guess a third example is Rush in their peak synthesizer era, and indeed they’re one of my big influences, but Geddy was a bass player first and doubled on keyboards, kinda like John Paul Jones, and the whole band did lots of triggering of samples to make the sound happen live.

For me the model is more Donald Fagen or Billy Joel, Gregg Allman, Stevie Wonder or Paul McCartney. A keyboard player who sings. Having a guitar to round out the group, fill in the rhythm, take solos, and play parts in other sections is critical. And someone who can sing harmonies! In fact my ideal band would be more of a co-lead situation like Pink Floyd, Supertramp, They Might Be Giants, Claypool Lennon Delirium or the Cheshire Cat.

So if you play guitar and sing and are into originals, drop me a line!

Meanwhile back in jazzland here’s a couple clips from the library gig. Don’t let the old people in audience fool you with their lack of perceptible motion, they were digging it. Enjoy!

Ms. Jones . Mobility

Jazz at the Library

Well the new year is off to a mild and mellow start after a very busy holiday season. I’m a little late in making this announcement, since it’s less than a week away, but here you go, our first gig of the new year.

Haven Street Jazz plays Hendrick Hudson Free Library
Sunday January 12, 2pm
185 Kings Ferry Rd, Montrose, New York 10548

We’ve been having fun learning a bunch of standards for this gig, to mix in with our originals and expand our repertoire. New songs include A Foggy Day, All of Me, Have You Met Ms. Jones?, Stolen Moments, Sugar and more. Hope to see you there.

Haven Street – An Evening of Jazz at Hayfields

My jazz group Haven Street is returning to Hayfields in North Salem, Friday December 20. It’s a very cool venue. Last couple times played there it was a summertime gig, outdoors on the patio. This time we’ll be inside. Should be great, festive fun. We’ll even learn a couple Christmas carols.

Hope to see you there!

Haven Street Live – Jazz at the Bean Runner

My jazz group Haven Street is playing Saturday November 2 at The Bean Runner Cafe in Peekskill, 8 o’clock start time, $10 cover. This an excellent place to see a show, and last time we played there we had a great crowd and the music was really on. This time ought to be even better. Should be lots of fun, so come check it out!

Memorizing Jazz

My jazz group Haven Street played a most excellent gig a few days ago at The Barn at Quaker Hill Country Club, up in Pawling NY. It’s a very nice place, reeks of old money, with pictures of F.D.R. and Babe Ruth on the wall, and a grand fireplace with cultural and historical artifacts from around the world, going back to ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, embedded in the facade. The venue was a large restaurant and lounge adjacent to the bar. The hall had a nice stage and a high ceiling and the acoustics were superb.

We started playing at a moderate volume because right in front of us was a large party of diners including a few little kids, and we didn’t want to blow them away. Musically the band was really good, and the crowd was digging it. The kids got up and danced and people came out from the bar to hear and see us better. Man I swear the group keeps sounding better and better.

One thing I’ve been doing recently is memorizing all our material, our originals and a good bunch of standards we have in heavy rotation (All The Things You Are is still a real M.F.). I feel like people in general used to memorize things alot more, now it’s a dying art cuz everyone always just looks stuff up on their phone. But it’s a skill worth cultivating.

I’ve always memorized songs in the rock group, where I sing and play keys. One reason is the songs tend to be simpler. Another is that I’ve never been able to sight read piano music unless it’s a single melody line or a just a chord progression; if there’s complicated parts written out for both hands, I usually have to read thru at least once and break it down and put it back together before I can play it at speed. And of course when you’re singing it’s a drag to have to look at the words. At this point I know hundreds and hundreds of songs, although not all of them are sharpened up to perform on any given day.

In the jazz group I only play sax. It’s a melody instrument and it’s easy to read a single line. The downside is that you come to rely on the chart and never really REALLY get to know the song. Now that I’ve undertaken the task, I can’t believe it took my this long get around to it; I memorized everything for Event Horizon back in the day. Of course I do know much of the material, and I’m familiar with lots of standards, but we have are some intricate passages (especially in some my own tunes like Lift Off), and I don’t always know what note a song starts on, or maybe some of the chords in the bridge, or whatever. Now it’s all being pulled up into the conscious level. Since jazz tends to modulate alot I’m thinking about the songs much more in terms of their structure and harmonies, and how the melody note relates to the chord. This is natural on piano but easy to skip over on sax. As a bonus suddenly my soloing has gotten more 3-D.

We’re pretty much taking August off because all of us are taking vacation in that time. We have a couple gigs lined up in September and October at two of our favorite venues, The Bean Runner Cafe in Peekskill and the Green Growler in Croton. More details on that coming soon. Meanwhile the push is on to find more gigs, and it’s time to start thinking about heading back into the studio to record a second album. We have an ample amount of material that’s now been road tested in front of a live audience.

July Gigs

July is gonna be a busy month for gigging out.

Haven Street, the jazz group is playing at:

Thursday July 18 – The Barn at Quaker Hill Country Club, Pawling

I must say the last few jazz gigs have been really good and they keep getting better. My new song Wolf Whisper is coming along, and Gary brought in a really cool new song last week. The venues and audiences have been really warm and receptive too.

Meanwhile the rock group G-Force has three gigs coming up:

Saturday July 13 – Barney McNabbs, Tucakahoe
Friday Jul 19 – Boulevard Bar, Queens
Saturday Jul 27 – Man Overboard, City Island

Barney Mcnabbs is a place we know and is fun to play. For this gig we’re having my friend Steve sit in on drums since our regular drummer can’t make it. For the gig in Queens we have Jay sitting in on bass since our regular bassist Ken can’t make it. Steve and Jay are both excellent musicians. For Man Overboard we’re back to our regular line up. We played that place a while back and they liked us even thought that gig we weren’t at our our best musically, with two sub players and a brand new drummer.

I’m hoping for some good gigs; it’ll give us all a positive energy boost. Our last few gigs have been spotty, with a couple rained out and a couple playing to mostly empty rooms, the aforementioned disaster, and a couple decent gigs including the last one at Victors, which is one of our favorite places to play and always has a good crowd.

Why aren’t we winning over crowds everywhere we go? That’s a good question. Having sub players slows down our ability to to work new songs into the set. Maybe our choice of material has something to do with it. It also hinders us in drilling down to focus and get the songs really tight. If you’re gonna do tunes everyone knows you really gotta kick ass at it. Ah well. Kenny and Vinny remain excellent and lift up the level of the whole thing.

In any event we’ve been working hard and it’s bound to come together at some point. So as I say I’m hoping for some magic and it just might happen one of these nights.