Life in the Slow(er) Lane

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(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.

 

DGX-650

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…

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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.

DGX650B

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…

 

Kickstarter – Musical about the Life and Songs of Myra Taylor

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Check out my cousin’s new Kickstarter project – a musical about the life of Jazz Songwriter/Singer Myra Taylor.

Tommy – Live!

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We met with some friends to (finally) catch Tommy Emmanuel in person at the Patriot Place Showcase Live venue last night. Tommy was in superb form. It was quite an experience to be sitting only about 40′ from the world’s greatest living guitarist.

Some highlights were And So It Goes, which brought tears to my eyes; Somewhere Over the Rainbow, ditto; the low end in Initiation (the one point where the P.A. volume was appropriate) literally shook me in my seat; and the Rick’n’Tommy duet to close the main show was great fun with some classics like Wake Up Little Suzy and Love Me Tender. Tommy did an extended encore, which included his awesome Beatles medley, and he even received a $1 tip from one of the waitresses! Yeah, that (read: she) was a little weird.
 


What. A. SHOW!!!

Only three minor disappointments: the house system was cranked up WAY too loud (I was sitting right next to the sound guy, so there really was no excuse – except that he must be partly deaf), Those Who Wait was MIA, and Guitar Boogie was played on an ancient 1934 Kalamazoo into a flat condenser dynamic-looking mic (fun, but the tune literally loses ALL its punch that way).

Everything else was an absolute delight – including Rick Price who has a great voice and an excellent stage presence. We all liked his music and his performance a lot.

BIG THANKS to Brian for spotting the tickets for this when the tour was added!

Links to additional pics below. Here’s hoping he was able to get that shirt back to Wal-Mart before heading on to Norfolk-Norfolk-Norfolk. 😉

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Star Trek Music

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We went to see Star Trek last week (twice). I was impressed and completely enjoyed it (hence the second viewing) and expect lots of other folks did too – it’s grossed almost $200M in only 8 days – but I’ll save a real review for another time.

Although I’m not awestruck by Giacchino’s new Star Trek theme – maybe it’ll grow on me – I was fascinated to hear how he worked Alexander Courage’s original into his new one for the end credits.

Here’s Courage discussing the concept, composition and production of the original T.V. theme, with a little surprise near the end.

 
The underlying “train” feel, with an overlaid, lyrical melody that Courage describes here is exactly the sort of thing I was shooting for in the little T.V. theme I did with SONAR and the JV-1080 years ago.

Mystery… solved?

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It’s been bugging me for a while – partly because I miss what little I remember of Austin and partly because this site has a regular readership of, like, 12, so I recognize pretty much all of the regulars’ IP addresses – but I think I finally figured this one mystery out.

The person hitting the site from Zymurgy has got to be… PHIL!

Am I right? 🙂

If so, are you still ‘tooning?

Who were those guys?

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Some pics from the old days… CLICK TO ENLARGE

  • A promo band shot (by… Jay Silverman, I think… back when he first started?)

Ron, Bob, Tony, Brian M., Brian A., Jay

  • Another promo from that same shoot. Yes, Virginia, we were a show band. (duh)

clockwise from bottom: Ron, my old bass(!), Jay, Tony, Bob M., Brian A.
Brian M. in the middle

  • Mugging on the job

Brian A., Bob (above), Brian M., Ron (squatting), John, Jay, Tony (above), Dave

  • Giant City Brunch ’06

John, Brian M., Tony, Bob B., Bob M.

  • Ron + Years = …?

The Kamen Conundrum

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While working on a new site today I had Michael Kamen‘s score from Band of Brothers playing in the background. Track 17 (Why We Fight- Discovery of the Camp) is the portion of the score that accompanies what is, to me, easily the most compelling and devastating scene in the entire series. If you’ve seen it then you know what I’m referring to. If you haven’t, then you should simply rent it, as any attempt I might make to describe it would pale to insignificance by comparison – especially if you watch that episode in context with the rest of the series. Anyway, the music triggered a distraction I had to follow up on.

A phrase in that track at about 10:22 reminded me of something I received via email from Michael long ago, which became all the more dear to me after his passing in 2003. I thought I’d lost it, but thankfully I had not. It was sitting alone on a 3-1/2” floppy disk (among several hundred I keep in boxes under the desk here).

About thirteen years ago – back around the time that the Mosaic Netscape browser became Netscape Navigator; long before every company on the planet had a ‘.com’ internet address – one of the very first web “sites” I created was something called The Kamen Conundrum. In fact, the entire 4-or-5-page ‘site’ was just a sub-section of my personal site at Connix back then. I’ve had no luck finding it via the Wayback Machine, although I imagine I have the pages and audio files archived away somewhere on one of my old IOmega ZIP disks, which are not readily accessible at the moment, as I’ve retired the system that contained the drive for those.

The Kamen Conundrum was a friendly jab at Michael’s apparent penchant for a particular musical phrase (do-re-me-re in solfege), which I dubbed “Doodle-Dee-Doo”. At the time I owned a number of Michael’s scores on CD, and one day I happened to notice that this phrase appeared somewhere on pretty much every one I had: The Three Musketeers, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Don Juan DeMarco, Lethal Weapon II, and several others I can’t recall at the moment. At the time, this ‘discovery’ seemed worthy of Internet publication (uhm… remember, this was back when The Spot was popular…), so I crafted a few pages with audio clips of the passages and put them up on my site.

After the site had been up for quite some months, I received a blank email with a single WAV file attachment. The From address was not recognizable to me and I actually almost just deleted it. Thankfully, I did not. As it began to play, at first I thought it was my cousin, who is named Michael, who’d been trotting the globe and who I understood to be in London at the time. His voice and speech patterns had a striking resemblance to MK’s. It wasn’t until I restarted it after getting halfway through, completely confused, that I heard “…this is Michael Kamen, in London…”. I think I stopped breathing for a moment just then. Here’s what he said:

…this is Michael Kamen in London, having finally accessed your… interesting message to the world. Uhm… you’re not entirely wrong. You’ve got one doodle-dee-doo. Uhm… there’s something you’re really missing, man, and you really have to go back over everything – I’m really sorry to tell you this. Ah, I’ll give you a hint in my own inimitable singing voice. It is possible to describe it as “doodle-dee-doo”, but you need an extra “doo-doo”. And it’s [singing] “doodle-dee-doo-doo-doo”, not just simply [singing] “doodle-dee-doo… vuh-vuh-vuh-voom”. And as, uh, John McClane would say, “Doodle-dee-doo, mutherfucker”.

Although I actually did go back over everything, I never did figure out what the reference was that Michael was trying to describe. We subsequently exchanged several emails on the subject, and I did get him to admit that “my” version appeared in many of the scores – he adding that it was simply a very ‘satisfying’ phrase. But both he and, later, Chris Brooks his (often) producer stated that there was indeed a musical phrase / homage running through almost all of Michael’s work, and that it was something different from the one I’d “discovered”.

To this day, it remains – to me – a happy mystery and welcome memory of a guy who left us far, far too early.

Months go by… each one much like the last

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Wish I had more to write about, musically, but I’ve just spent the last month – plus – working 12-to-14-hour days, 7-days-per-week, helping to build a sales and marketing infrastructure where I work.

The company’s well over five years old at this point, so it’s sane to ask why this might have been necessary. The answer is that we were originally a technology company that was created and bred to be sold for its intellectual property. That didn’t happen. So we recently got yet another new CEO (the 4th or 5th, depending on how one counts), were re-classified back to “startup” status, and are now going to be selling a product based on the IP we’ve developed over the last 5 years. This transition took place over the last 6 months and entailed enormous effort on the part of almost everyone in the company. Yes, almost.

Anyway, selling a product in volume requires something more than the half-assed CRM system we were using to track the (relatively few) customers we had. That had to be rebuilt and integrated with a new, internet-based public face. Thankfully, we have a guy on-site who thoroughly understands the CRM side of this equation. He was able to do some amazing stuff in that area during the time we had. My focus was elsewhere, and included:

  • an entire commercial-grade, PHP-driven web site – reclaimed from a SaaS/CMS company (eMagine) who was charging us by the hour for making changes to things as simple as a web form field;
  • a separate staging site;
  • two different customer support forums – one of which has a complex access control scheme that will eventually be integrated with customer data from our CRM system;
  • policies and procedures for migrating customers over from the ‘old’ system to the new, as well as for site content maintenance (using Dreamweaver and CVS);
  • a PHP-based, content-driven document delivery system that requires no changes to the actual listing pages when documents in the listing itself are added, deleted or changed;
  • a multi-tiered, access-controlled education center for customers who’ve purchased different levels of support, also based on the above document delivery system;
  • dynamic product download pages that automatically update themselves with file sizes, MD5 checksum values, etc;
  • auto-regenerating sitemap, automated page redirection (from our old, dead links), interactive Google maps, ‘smart’ menu highlighting, floating navigation menus and lots of other stuff that’s pretty much just a blur, now.

Thankfully, others were responsible for writing the volumes of actual page content of the site. And the web design firm did a very nice job, for their part. They did most of the interactive Javascript and cross-browser compatibility stuff, and were exceptionally responsive given the timeframe we had (weeks, not months). Even so, they originally wanted to maintain each page of the site as an individual file – with all the duplication of HTML and Javascript that would have entailed (er… “want to move that ad banner to the right 3 pixels? sorry – you gotta edit 60 files – arrrrgh!!”).

It used to be the case that many (most?) developers I ran into were also musicians or at least musically inclined. Something about being comfortable with things In The Abstract, I think. Most places I’ve worked in the past, if you tossed a whiteboard eraser into a cubicle farm, it’d bounce off of three bass players and a drummer before it hit the ground. Is that not the case any more? Or have they just forgotten about things like D.S. al Coda or al Fine?

Duplication of effort has always bothered me. I have this visceral, negative neuro-associative reaction to making the same change to a system in more than one place. That carries over to having to verbally explain to people multiple times how a system works – especially after it’s been documented with step-by-step instructions that are way simpler even than the “getting started” documents we expect our customers to follow when they install and configure our product. But it seems like I’ve been doing a lot of that lately. Part of the job, I suppose.

Anyway, here we are starting over on a “new” venture with a five-year-old enterprise. Those of use who’ve been there from the beginning are effectively duplicating a lot of the effort we’ve already expended. Maybe it’s one of those “if at first you don’t succeed” things, I don’t know. Experience makes me skeptical. After 30 years of doing this, it’s been the all-too-rare occurrence that people (read: management) ever learn from past mistakes. As such, “try, try again” is starting to sound a lot less like tenacity and a lot more like the endless repetition that some folks use to define the term insanity.

Tommy, un-Taylors, Tenacity and Turnabout

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First I want to post a thank-you to Charles Johnson at lgf, whose recent entry introduced me to Tommy Emmanuel, C.G.P. – an absolutely amazing guitarist and performer who is just a supreme joy to listen to and watch. I’ve since picked up his new album The Mystery, which is stunning, and ordered a couple of his instructional DVDs, as I really must know how he does some of the magical things he does.

As I’ve been ramping up on the music thing, and replenishing my tools, the last major item on the list is a 6-string acoustic. A quality 6-string acoustic. I’ve been looking at Taylors. Yes, they’re expensive. Yes, they are worth it. I played a few at Guitar Center a couple weeks ago, comparing them to the Martins, Gibsons and others on hand. No contest. I’ve also done a considerable amount of ‘forum research’, reading numerous posts by serious players on the Acoustic Guitar Forum and elsewhere. I’d pretty much had my sights set on their acoustic-electric 614CE, but really wanted something like that in spruce/rosewood. GC had a 914CE, which strays beyond my budget, and some other more expensive ones when I was there.

Hoping Sam Ash might have some to try – plus I needed to pick up a wide strap for the B-Bender – I stopped in there. Didn’t see what I was looking for. So I tried a few Takamines, which were kinda O-K but not what I’m looking for. As I was getting up to leave I spotted this Larrivee on the counter. Never heard of ’em. I noticed a very impressive-looking premium sibling inside the display case and thought, heck, I’d give the counter model a try. It was a D-03. Even though I wasn’t interested in a Dread’, I loved this guitar immediately. It played effortlessly and had an exceptionally bright-plus-deep sound (the one I miss from my Lyle 12-string) – easily on par in sound and playability with the Taylors. What’s more, they’re considerably less expensive. I started investigating these and have found that I can get their LV-09E from Trinity Guitars or Notable Guitars for about $1000 less than the best price I can find on a comparable Taylor. At this point it looks like the toughest part of the decision will be whether to go with Trinity or Notable.

In the tenacity department, the current score is: Patty – 1; Bureaucrats – 0. As of yesterday, the interminable controversy initiated by the ADS Coordinator at Patty’s school back in May (previously discussed here) has at least been temporarily resolved. It took getting a number of organizations involved and a lot of hours coming up with the documentation to make the school an offer they basically couldn’t refuse, but in the end they did a complete, 180-degree turnabout on their previous, “non-negotiable” positions. She WILL be allowed to continue her coursework there and she WILL be supported in pursuing this upcoming residency session remotely, which means she won’t have to deal with another Survivor experience (summer version). The executive director of the Vermont Human Rights Commission indicated that our long (but effective) proposal to the school included all the documentation needed to “state a prima facie complaint of disability based discrimination“. Apparently the school recognized this as well, as it took less than 24 hours for them to completely change their previously dissonant tune. A formal complaint to the State of Vermont is still an option, but to be honest, even after the incredible amount of emotional stress they put her through this past summer, neither of us is interested in pursuing legal avenues as long as Patty’s able to continue her academic progress unfettered by idiots who don’t know the law. As long as the stress doesn’t result in another MS exacerbation, we probably won’t take this further. Frankly, we’re both drained by the experience and don’t want to have to think about any of it ever again.

So – time to get back to doing some music!!

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