Some Choice Toussaint

allen toussaint at the piano

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.

My Old Used Record Store Rat Run

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.

fantastic-records-rochester

 

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.

House-of-Guitars-Logo

 

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.

record-archive-rochester[commercial from the 80s]

 

 

Inspiration:
THE QUEST, THE HUNT, THE SEARCH.

Mancini on Piano Jazz

 

Henry Mancini
Henry Mancini

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.

 

TV theme music – newly important

Are Netflix and HBO are rescuing the TV theme song from sad decline? A few years ago it was widely reported that the TV theme song was likely to disappear altogether as hunger for ad slots encroached on once sacred 30-60 second intro/outro time real estate. Today, the theme song is once again a critical storytelling and mood setting piece of creative on many of the most critically acclaimed small screen productions. One of the new greats who has been part of this transformation is Bear McCreary. Battlestar Galactica, Walking Dead and other awesomeness including the S.H.I.E.L.D work here:

Inspiration:
The new age of TV theme music – CNN.com

 

It is April but this Ain’t Paris

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:

Instrumental:

Count Basie

 

Monk:

 

Erroll Garner:

 

Vocal:

Frank Sinatra:

Sarah Vaughan:

Inspiration:
A Tune as Parisian as Tin Pan Alley – NYTimes.com

Checking Out Soundslice

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
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.

Soundslice Screenshot
Soundslice Screenshot

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/

Sonny Stitt, WordPress 3.3 and Getting out of the Way

sonny stitt - what's newJazz Wax just posted a timely piece on Sonny Stitt on his interesting use of the experimental Varitone or Electric Sax. The goal of this 1965 instrument was to integrate the organic reed vibration sound generation process and electric manipulation and amplification of the sound. The instrument would provide a suite of on-board tools and would “get out of its own way” during performance – no tripping over microphone stands, fiddling with outboard effect patching or trying to double lines with a synthesizer to make a custom “modern” sound. Instead, the musician would have these options built into the instrument itself and these processes would be integrated into act of playing. Sonny Stitt was a daring experimenter and a believer in this idea. He was able to make some interesting music with this instrument despite its many technical limitations.

The overarching goals of the WordPress admin has seemed to me to be similar – integrate the content creation process with the web publishing and layout process such that the tools “get out of the way” and creative workflow is not only not compromised but at times enhanced. These are lofty goals and they are never achieved in one iteration. Many of the problems that were so difficult to solve for the Varitone would be trivial to solve now but others are still persist. I own a digital piano that is in many ways a superior instrument to most analog pianos, yet at times it still is not a real piano and then it fails badly. Technology is not cool in and of itself but only if it improves something. Sometimes complex technology goes largely unnoticed because it is so well integrated into something that someone already does. WordPress 3.3 is an important release because it smooths out a lot of rough admin usability edges, gets out of the publisher’s way more than ever, and makes it more fun to publish stuff.  Sonny would enjoy playing with his release namesake I am sure.