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.



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.

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




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.


6 Music Degrees Stress Test

Six Degrees of Music

I have been having a good time wasting time trying to find the most obscure and/or ridiculous links between musicians using this handy tool. The examples provided Kanye-Tayor Swift, for example seem like easy lobs for a social graphing system.  Here are some far more interesting tidbits of commonality that I have unearthed for your next cocktail party:

Did you know:

  1. Liberace and Guns N Roses are 2-degree linked through their shared connection with songs produced by George Martin.
  2. Justin Bieber and T. Rex are 3-degree linked through producer Tony Visconti via David Guetta and David Bowie
  3. Johnny Mathis and Jewel are actually the same person – amazing! OK that is not true. Or is it?


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:


Count Basie




Erroll Garner:



Frank Sinatra:

Sarah Vaughan:

A Tune as Parisian as Tin Pan Alley –

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:

A Fun Musical Ride from Ireland

My friend Daragh from Cork recently spun a tasty set that I have listened to 3 times now. Daragh has a visual artist’s sense of sonic texture and is fearless about allowing a song out of its genre box to make new trouble. Check it out here.