Books by Musicans about Creating

David Bowie Diamond Dogs

Fold Out from Bowie Diamond Dogs LP

The creative process is often a solitary, tortured and somewhat mysterious act. I am always interested in learning how great artists (and great software developers for that matter) find a way to stimulate their creative mind, focus and produce their work. Aside from David Bowie’s new book ‘Bowie: Object’, there are a few other books by musicians on my list that interest me because of their promise to reveal parts of this puzzle.

Check out Thunder Soul

Anyone who knows me knows that I am often talking about how important it was for me that I had the opportunity to participate in a great high school music program. You can understand then how excited I am to see Thunder Soul – Mark Landsman’s documentary about the great Kashmere Stage Band from Texas and it’s innovative leader Conrad Johnson. This is the tightest, funkiest highschool band I have ever heard. I can’t imagine anyone not coming out of this film and demanding better support for the arts in ALL of our public schools.


Tim Perlich has written a great post on the back story of the project at  The Perlich Post: Thunder Soul takes over Hot Docs.

Marvin Isley

One of the funk bass greats has left us today. Marvin Isley was responsible for laying down the law for the crossover hits that kept the Isley Brothers on the radio for much of the 70s. Here are some great live Soul Train performances from 73-4.




RIP Herb Ellis


I can almost always pick Ellis even when he is doing ‘strictly rythym’ percussive accompaniment as he does in the lead off here.  We will miss his clean, hard driving swing and unpretentious playfulness but we have lots of great records to listen to and I am sure OP is glad to see him up there in Jazz Heaven.

Mary Kaye Trio

I stumbled across this post on boing boing about the Mary Kaye Trio. I have heard this excellent singing group in various compilations but did not realize that she was the founder of the Vegas lounge show itself. These late night shows were credited with greatly expanding the success of the nascent casino industry by creating the party atmosphere that kept people awake and gambling the night away.  I had no idea. I am once again humbled by the interweb. Mary Kaye was one impressive lounge singer:

  • She was a Spanish guitar virtuoso and played the first fender Stratocaster. The 1954 Mary Kaye model is one of the most valuable models in existence.
  • She is descended from Hawaiian royalty in the line of Queen Liliuokalani, Hawaii’s last reigning monarch.
  • In 1961, the trio were paid the $250,000 for a 22-week gig at the Sahara – that is $1,7M in modern dollars.

Still feeling like we have evolved to a higher plain of consciousness now that Celine rules the City of Lights? Then there is no hope for you.

Microphone Love

RCA 77 ribbon mic

RCA 77 ribbon mic

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:

The Many Mysteries of Rudy Van Gelder

analog tweaking

magna tweaking until the cows come home

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:

  1. I don’t have his mikes and it is almost impossible to find out what his mikes are. He uses decoys in photos.
  2. I don’t have his room nor do I have his understanding of room acoustics.
  3. 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.

Nudge – a seriously fun browser synth

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.

The Stark Reality and Hoagy Carmichael

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.

The Cigar Box Synth

Critter and Guitari keypad cigar box synthesizer

Critter and Guitari keypad cigar box synthesizer

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.