Life in the Slow(er) Lane

General, Keyboard, People 4 Comments

(Re-)Connected up with a bunch of folks from the past over the preceding week – possibly going all the way back to third grade. Still waiting to hear if Fred Foote is THE Fred Foote with whom Michelle Becker and I went to school at Volta in the early 60s (she and I both moved to Skokie the same summer – unbeknownst to each other until we found ourselves standing side-by-side on the first day of 5th grade).  Had a couple of long phone conversations with Fred Crivlare (drummer from the H.S. band days). What a joy. He’s still playing, which was good to hear.

It’s been a bit of an exercise for memory cells that have been sleeping for years, if not decades. Fun, nonetheless. Scanned/posted a bunch of pix and, in the process, was made tangibly aware of how life has slowed down and sped up at the same time… I swear the last three years went by in about 6 mos. but it takes me twice as long to get upstairs these days as it did 40 years ago.

Speaking of sleeping brain cells, I’m slowly nudging some keyboard cells into action. We did end up getting the Yamaha portable grand (see previous post) and I’ve probably already racked up about 100 hours on the thing.



It’s quite fun, sounds great, and hooks up just the way I need it to for PianoMarvel and recording my Berklee stuff (Blues and Rock Keyboard Techniques, which started last week) for submission. After less than three months with PM, I’m now able to rip through the “student” (i.e., shorter, simplified left hand) version of The Entertainer, which is going to sound infinitely lame to the keyboard guys out there, but I’m pretty stoked about it nonetheless. As folks like Bob Bruning and my brother Tony know, I’ve had a weird mental block regarding written music for a long time, so reading and playing this stuff – especially on a new instrument – is an achievement. I’ll take it. (Click here if the player widget doesn’t appear below). The accompaniment you hear is the stuff one plays along with when doing the PianoMarvel lessons. Nice system.

Meanwhile, I’ve had the chance over the last week to work with Tony on some of his and Amy’s original stuff, which has been great fun. They’re churning out some really excellent tunes! I’ll wait until he thinks things are ready before posting anything.

Lots more here for those new to the site. Leave a comment if you come by!

Don’t they go by in a blink…

Keyboard, People, Performance Comments Off on Don’t they go by in a blink…

Trying to comprehend how over three years got past me since the last substantive post here, which was toward the end of the Berklee activity. That seems like mere weeks ago. Feel like I’ve been in something of a suspended state throughout most of that time, and am just waking up from it.

That post back in mid-’11 was also put up partway through a live performance experiment with some guys I connected with in late 2010, ultimately called The Brookhouse Band. For various reasons – the typical interpersonal adjustments and communication breakdowns that always seem to be part of such projects; a keyboardist who joined and quit, twice; family and relationship issues tending to interrupt our progress… – we never actually got far beyond the brook house. But we did have some moments during our year-plus of rehearsing toward a viable repertoire. The goal was to get out into some of the CT venues as a ‘classic rock’ band, maybe work up some original tunes… the usual aspirations. I exited at the end of January, ’12, after recognizing that our various priorities weren’t ultimately compatible. Ken & Chris have since gotten together with bassist Mark Hubble to form The Lone Wolf Trio – now playing out and about, as you’ll see at their FB page.

Haven’t done much of anything musically since early ’12, when the remainder of our game plan hit too many potholes to go any further and I started working on Plan B. Now we’re closing in on 2015 – a realization that was actually a tad frightening, i.e., how quickly that much time had passed – and the motivation to come up with an alternative way forward seems to be returning. Took a long, honest look at the past and decided that some of the most rewarding of all those experiences was while performing live, back in the G.C. days… and even way back in Berlin, with Matt, Doug, Jay & Darryl. Part of this examination included acknowledging the fact that the one instrument I’ve never really explored was the one I was first drawn to: keyboard.

During the stint with BHB, the biggest problem was finding and keeping a good keyboardist, preferably one with vocal ability. There are tons of guitarists, drummers, bassists and vocalists out there. But many of the working keyboard players seem to be splitting their time between two or more projects because of the demand. It may or may not be realistic, but the 18-month plan going forward is aimed, in part, at leveraging that situation. For various reasons, it’s long past time for some formal keyboard study. Outside of live performance, keyboard facility is critical in the context of composition, orchestration and arranging, and of course it’s never a bad thing to be able to sit down at a piano and be able to play more than Heart & Soul.

To this end, I cast around for some online keyboard training and ultimately found PianoMarvel, which has led to some pretty quick progress. I’m partway through Level 3 (of 6) at day 24 of a 30-day trial. I’ll probably subscribe, as the method seems to be working for me. The Berklee coursework and the year or so I spent studying ‘cello cured me of the mental block I’d always had regarding music notation. That was pretty serious: my brain would literally lock up. Now I’m finding that while not necessarily easy, things are coming reasonably quickly. No doubt this is at least tangentially related to my 100+wpm typing ability (haven’t written anything more than a birthday card longhand in a decade or more). It will take some work to get back to hands that work independently again (guitar, bass and cello all force them to work in tandem). But I credit the time I spent working through the various theory and ear training courses with just having a better feel for what I’m doing. At this age, it’s a big help.

Of course, a plan like this would be less fun without a wish list for gear. Patty has expressed a renewed interest in keyboard – she studied organ for years in her teens (at Pop’s insistence – she really wanted to learn piano). So I’ve decided that a Yamaha DGX650 is in our immediate future – probably before Christmas. It seems to get glowing reviews everywhere, has standard (GHS) weighted keys, a piano sound based on the sampled Yamaha CFIIIS (9′ Grand) and lots of options for rhythm accompaniment as well as education.


That’ll be our “home” piano, which could conceivably go on the road.

For performance, I’m looking at the Roland V-Combo VR-09 and, later, the Jupiter-80.

vr-09_angle_1_gal jupiter-80_angle_gal
The former isn’t terribly expensive, and appears to have a reasonably decent array of basic EP, SP and modifiable organ sounds (including highly tweakable, stereo Leslie simulation), as well as plenty of synth voices; the latter looks like pretty much the top-end of performance synths, and has the sort of split, layering, preset and other capability that seems necessary. As I learn more, this wishlist may change. I looked at Workstations and Arranger/Backing keyboards, but unless there’s a need for sequencing or a digital rhythm section for live performances, I’m not sure all those bells and whistles would ever get used. I already have both SONAR and Reaper audio workstations here in the studio, which are just fine for sequencing, music production, etc. Beyond this we’ll need a volume pedal and, once a second axe is added, a small (2 or 4-chan) mixer.

Since keyboards probably go best through the P.A. during live performance, I’ll probably also invest in a 16-channel, stereo-amped P.A. system with two sets of speakers – one for just the keyboard rig, which can double as monitors when used with the other set, i.e., for a full band P.A.

On the surface this seems like a pretty big shift, having been mostly some sort of guitarist since the age of 15, but I think it’s a natural one for a number of reasons. And I’m always about multple reasons. I feel like a lack of basic keyboard skill really held back progress I could have made during my abbreviated attempt to complete Ben’s Composition for Film & TV course, which I started after completing the two Master Certs, but never actually finished (part of the slow ’11 meltdown, I’m thinking), as well as during other coursework. Mike was right when he recommended pursuing some basic keyboard training prior to any attempt to interact with Conrad re: film score production. Any (even semi-) serious musician needs basic keyboard ability – I wish someone had been able to impress that upon me back when I dropped it in Jr. High, because playing guitar was “cooler”. And frankly the prospect of playing keyboards live is more attractive – at this point – than going back to bass (which is up for sale again, BTW – shoot me a note if you or anyone you know is looking for a Fender American Deluxe Jazz Bass V in the beautiful and now-discontinued rosewood neck / Transparent Wine color).

I suppose we’ll revisit all this in 6 months and a year and see how it holds up. I’m optimistic…