I have been listening to a lot of Allen Toussaint this week to honor his huge contribution as a musician, composer, producer and one of the great New Orleans pianists. Here are some of the highlights:
Life Love and Faith
This entire album is “desert island” Toussaint
Cast Your Fate to the Wind
I love the understated simplicity of this track.
Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky
Toussaint was the last surviving pianist featured on the great 1982 documentary “Piano Players Rarely Play Together“. If you have never seen it, this is New Orleans Piano 101.
I still buy a lot of used vinyl online, mostly out of print jazz, soul and funk online but sometimes I wish I lived nearer to more used record stores. One thing that was great about growing up in Rochester, NY in the 80s was the record stores. These were the cathedrals of my youth. I would spend an entire day making the rounds and come home with several records for less than a tank of gas. The itinerary was something like this:
1. Fantastic Records, Pittsford NY [Now Closed]
A small-ish store in a nondescript plaza but a great well-curated collection. The staff were all musicians or music aficionados and they hand wrote reviews on 3×5 cards throughout the store. It was particularly gratifying when Steve at the counter said “Good Choice” as he checked me out.
2. House of Guitars, Greece NY [Still Open!]
An absolutely crazy tangled mess of used and new vinyl, often still in shipping boxes and usually organized by label. You could literally dig around here for truffles all day.
3. Record Archive, Rochester NY [Still Open!]
A terrific record store with a vast used collection. They are still in business so if you are ever up in Rochester – go there. Record Archive were also cult famous for airing so-awful-it’s-awesome local TV commercials.
[commercial from the 80s]
THE QUEST, THE HUNT, THE SEARCH.
NPR has posted an archive of a 1985 Piano Jazz episode to commemorate his 91st birthday. It is definitely worth listening to. Marion McPartland plays some particularly tasteful solo renditions of Mancini tunes and there are some interesting facts revealed in the hour-long interview:
- Mancini always believed that The Pink Panther theme painted a complete “picture without words” and he never permitted lyrics to be set to the song despite many requests. He does mention that if he were to change his mind, it would have been Johnny Mercer he would have wanted but Mercer never asked and Mancini never brought it up.
- TV theme writing always appealed to Mancini because of the constraints imposed. You had to “say what you needed to say” in under a minute or you failed.
- In 1958 Victor Feldman had recently emigrated from the UK to LA was originally hired to be a side-line musician for the Peter Gunn nightclub scenes at Mother’s. Essentially he was part of a combo being paid to “mime” the music so the nightclub scenes looked authentic. Mancini heard him playing and offered him a slot in the scoring orchestra. The Feldman vibes sound became a signature part of the Mancini sound.
There is a useful review on Jazz Wax of various Mancini Compilations.
You can also watch her talk at React.js Conf here:
I have always thought Vernon Duke / Yip Harburg’s April in Paris is particularly evocative of a time and place and a fantastic marriage of melody to lyric but I never really gave it’s origin much thought. It turns out Yip Harburg had never been to Paris. He wrote the lyrics at Lindy’s while looking out at the Winter Garden marquis. Here lies further proof that in songwriting “write what you feel” trumps “write what you know”. The song was composed for a 1932 musical revue called Walk a Little Faster that closed quickly. The show closed but the song survived.
Some of my favorite versions:
A Tune as Parisian as Tin Pan Alley – NYTimes.com
Bryan Cantrill (VP of Engineering at Joyent) gave an excellent and entertaining presentation about Debugging Production Systems. It is well worth an hour of your time if you work on large distributed cloud stacks in production. Some of the key things I took from the video:
- Every failure is sacred. Seek to build a system that properly stores and formats stack traces for future analysis.
- Cloud architectures are full of abstraction layers where “ungentlemanly” failures occur. Instead of crashing, things stay up, but performance is degraded.
- It is these non-fatal pathologies that are particularly difficult to debug. They often lead to cascading levels of system instability and throw the system into untested states. It is this spiral that is often behind most airline disasters – a recoverable, non critical failure occurs then various failover/automatic systems either over-react or under-react then the airplane becomes difficult to control and systems no longer make sense so serious human error occurs.
- When looking at a core dump, you are acting as a scientist and you are testing hypotheses and proving theories with data. When looking at non-fatal pathologies, you are acting as a physician and treating symptoms. Debugging this way makes it very difficult to determine root cause.
The talk ends with a small demo into the capabilities of DTrace. Amazing core level magic is going on there that can get static snapshots, enable transient failures to manifest as hard failures and generally reduce the effort required to gather failure data in dynamic systems.
Adrian Holovaty of Django project fame has launched an HTML5 interactive music notation app that works really well. Back when I was learning how to play, everyone owned a Marantz tape deck that you could slow down to “half-speed” (optimally an octave lower) in order to transcribe solos.
Marantz PMD 201
These were durable machines but they were expensive and they tended to make great music sound like it has been run through a Freddy Krueger varispeed filter. This sonic alteration made the transcribing experience somewhat of an uninspiring slog that only the most tenacious could endure on a regular basis. You also still had to fumble around with the physical sheet music and try to keep up with the recording. Soundslice actually ‘plays’ the sheet music in front of you where you can watch the printed notes scroll along and become sound. When you slow it down, you do not lower the pitch.
Music notation at its best should offer a concise map that describes what you should be playing or hearing. More often than not, especially with jazz solos, notation can become its own cryptic puzzle that seems to lose critical meaning disconnected from the nuances of the original recording. Soundslice seems to solve many parts of this issue. One feature I would like to see is the ability to loop over a selected subset of bars as this is something I constantly need when figuring out a tricky part but this is a very strong start and an impressive web UI.
Soundslice | Living sheet music and guitar tablature.
see also: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/03/an-amazing-app-for-learning-music/284471/
It is often said that great start-ups are born when the founders are the users and the problem to be solved is going to make that founder/user person happy. You get some important related things for free with that setup:
- A very tight and inexpensive user-product feedback loop
- Version dogfooding by the same highly invested people during critical early iterations.
- The state of mind of an ‘imagined unicorn user’ does not have to be imagined at all but is instead the direct feedback of a real person in the room building the product.
How do large companies create this loop? Is it even possible? It seems to require support for internal skunksworks projects (as opposed to hiring consultants and outside agencies) that is tasked to solve real problems that the company is experiencing. One shining example of such a project becoming a product is the internal Amazon project that is now AWS.
Inspiration: Amazon Turned a Flaw into Gold with Advanced Problem-Solving – HBR.
I may love geeking out and working on big complex systems but I also appreciate business simplicity and good content. I have found Scott Allen’s AngularJS courses to be very useful and it turns so do a lot of other people. Scott has found success paring his considerable teaching talent with simple onscreen videos and distributing them on platforms that enable wide on-demand distribution. This is a profitable solo business that does not require running complex propriety stacks – just a laptop, a good microphone and some talent.
Striking It Rich on No-Budget Instructional Videos – Businessweek.
Happier than web developers
I was interested to see that “Senior Web Developer” is the forth unhappiest job in the world according to Forbes. I have had this job several times in several industries. Indeed, these were often dirty, frustrating jobs – especially back when web standards were non existent and IE ruled supreme. But fourth unhappiest of all – really? Have you ever cleaned a deep frier at a chain restaurant or worked nights at a call center? Surely those must be unhappier jobs. Web development is pretty fun these days unless you work at a place that has no soul, no budget or no sense of what the internet is for. ..or is that just me?