I have come to realize that a healthy lust for classic microphones is something to be proud of. It shows an appreciation for the quality of a time gone by. It indicates a romantic desire to hold a beautiful sound in one’s hand. It is one of the affinities that separates men from apes. When I was a teenager I used to enjoy listening to the crusty old local jazz pros debating the relative merits of various models of RCA ribbons like some would argue sports cars. I am afraid I was never the same. My favorite mic site:
Rudy Van Gelder is considered to be the vital ‘fifth Beetle’ on a zillion of the best jazz records ever made. Though he considers himself strictly a recording engineer, the Van Gelder sound is as signature as any great musician’s. Have you ever mucked about trying to get his sound or even kinda sorta his sound on a direct to 2 track session at home? I have and it has not been pretty. I have come to the conclusion that there are 3 main reasons for my failure:
- I don’t have his mikes and it is almost impossible to find out what his mikes are. He uses decoys in photos.
- I don’t have his room nor do I have his understanding of room acoustics.
- I am not Rudy Van Gelder.
If anyone can help me overcome any of the above please get in touch and I will try again.
Here is a 2008 NEA jazz interview of the man himself.
The subversive geniuses at Hobnox have just released one of the most musical browser based synths I have ever played. Nudge enables you to step-enter 8 sounds into a looping 4/4 grid. The grid is pentatonic instead of full chromatic but there is still a surprising amount of creative flexibility. It is as fun to just throw a lot of stuff in there and then reduce it down as it is to carefully build things up one piece as a time. You can adjust volume and pan for each sound and set the master volume and tempo. Once you are pleased with your little creation send it on to your friends with the included permalink or embed the player on your site like I have below. This thing is dangerously addictive if you have a synth problem.
Before American child rearing became neurotic and consumerist there was a time when we produced some really sophisticated, whimsical children’s television. Hoagy Carmichael’s Music Shop is one of these strange and charming experiments. Hoagy Carmichael shares the music with the excellent funk band The Stark Reality and there is some seriously trippy animated musical notation and melancholy photographs of children playing. I find the whole combination very reassuring.
Back when I was a wee lad my Dad used to bring me empty cigar boxes to play with. I had dozens of them. Some were converted into garages for matchbox cars, some became building materials, others were used to store priceless assets like string and wires. When I was about the same wee age, one of my favorite Christmas was one of those Science Fair 40 in 1 electronic science kits (bought at RadioShack of course). One of the coolest things you could build was a monophonic sine wave generator. I liked to hook it up to a telephone keypad. The mad scientists at Critter and Guitari have managed to combine these two seemingly disparate elements of my childhood into one working instrument : The Keypad Cigar Box Synthesizer. Brilliant.
I found a very good podcast of vinyl rips of out of print 60s bossa nova. There are some gems here but even when I am not blown away by a particular song, I love the way this stuff was recorded.
In the last couple of years I have managed to achieve a noticeable improvement in my overall piano technique by focusing on scale and arpeggio excersizes. One piece of sloppiness remains – octaves. I am often sloppy in RH and worse in LH and I have difficulty doing accurate boogie woogie LH broken octaves. I have managed to scrounge up some useful octave exercises to address this and they appear to be helping. (though I am just starting this) Octave practice is pretty exausting so be careful and do not overuse arm motion as it tends to tire you out faster and negatively impact accuracy.
1. Regular and slurred octave scales CD DE EF FG GA AB BC C
2. Octave arpeggios varying the accent points
3. Single note octaves toggling from eighth-triplet-sixteenth
If you are feeling brave there is also the czerny octave studies [pdf]. I have not made it far with these yet.
Anyone who knows me well knows that this is one of my favorite standards. I have been working on it since I was about the same age as Billy Strayhorn when he first started writing it – 16. It is a very subtle and difficult to play really well. I think I can finally do it pretty good justice now on a good day. One of my favorite straight instrumental performances is by Phineas Newborn Jr. A tragic genius of jazz piano plays a tragic song written by a tragic genius songwriter. What could be better?
For vocal versions it is Johnny Hartman with the John Coltrane Quartet. Of course.
The brilliant and prolific Maurice Jarre passed away on Sunday. He wrote and recorded the entire score to Lawrence of Arabia in an astonishing 6 weeks – in reverse order. He achieved this by sleeping for 10 minutes every three hours for days at a time. One has to wonder if the crazed schedule and sleep deprivation added some useful DNA to the score. I have always loved the romantic, epic hugeness of this music. His aggressive use of timpani seems to perfectly convey the sudden release of trapped energy that one feels must lurk below the surface in vast, quiet spaces. The melody to the main theme is simple and instantly memorable yet it retains a fresh mystery throughout the film. Sadly, I have still only ever seen it on a wheezing 12 inch TV but I have listened to the score many times. It is definitely time to experience the real deal soon.
I’ve been listening to a lot of Blossom Dearie since learning of her death. What a loss.
I had the good fortune to do a recording with her a few years back. I was doing the sound and incidental music for a Children’s TV pilot for my friends Bob and Anniken. They had managed to convince Blossom to record I Wanna Be Loved by You for the theme song. I had been playing a lot of gigs with an excellent bass player (Nick Walker) and drummer (Matt Jorgenson) that year so I offered their services and my studio. On the afternoon of the session, the three of us rehearsed and recorded several instrumental versions of the song. My intention was to run the board when Blossom showed up and let my colleagues be her backing musicians. I was nervous and excited to have Blossom coming over to my humble home studio and found myself neurotically triple checking levels and taping down anything that could rattle. We had been warned that she could be somewhat quirky and demanding. Bill Read makes good mention of this aspect of Blossom in his excellent Blossom post. It was an extremely hot August day and I was going to be forced to turn off my clunking old A/C once we started recording in order to get a reasonable sound quality. Recording in 100 degrees is a lot ask of someone who isn’t quirky and demanding!
Blossom arrived and we ran through the song for her a couple of times with the air still on. She had never performed the song before and decided that she would prefer not playing piano and instead concentrate on the vocal. Yikes – I had not thought of that! Blossom has a refined and inimitable piano style that is perfectly matched to her voice and the idea of me accompanying her filled me with dread. Fortunately, the rumors about Blossom were false that day. She was kind, friendly and professional and she put us all at ease. She sat at the piano with me and showed me a some chord voicings that she felt would work and she came up with a charming arrangement on the spot. She seemed to get a kick out my jerry rigged studio and we all had a good laugh when I stumbled around trying to run from hitting record on the tape machine in the bedroom and playing the piano in the main room. We recorded three takes of the song and she was back in an air conditioned car before the room got too hot. It was just a throwaway session for Blossom but it was a real thrill for me and my mates. This was the result of our efforts: