Monday, April 28, 2008

Almost music

I've been keeping this a secret for a while, but I recently decided to learn how to play the cello. And how cool is this: the good people at the Berliner Philharmoniker are now providing free online lessons!

Below are the results of my first week of practice (apologies for the un-centered quality of the first half of this video):

What can I say? Those German music teachers are pretty strict. In case you couldn't read it, here's the text of my evaluation:

Almost music. You are holding the Cello with the right side up. And you don't try to blow into it. The rest will be a breeze. Follow your musical instincts. And try again.

Does that mean Camille Saint-Sa├źns won?

(Thanks to Music Is Not for Insects for the link.)

Whazza widget?

[UPDATE: I sorta hate the way this widget clings to the right side of the main blog column -- but I don't seem to be able to do anything about it. Hmmm... I bet it looks better in a reader.]


Wow. This intersection of music-on-the-web and social networking is expanding like a motherfucker.

We all know that the Internet is not analogous to TV (or a series of billboards). It's a set of environments. But it's also a marketplace. For musicians, MySpace and Facebook were only the beginning (actually, was the beginning, but in web time, that's ancient history). There are now oodles and scads of these "social music sites," or Music 2.0 sites, or whatever you want to call 'em -- here's one list, and it's certainly not complete or definitive. All are competing to be the (or at least a significant) place for web denizens to "hang out," share music, interact with other fans (or other musicians), etc.

Here are a few of the ones I've been fiddling with lately:

IJG on
IJG on
IJG on Amazing Tunes
IJG on mTraks
IJG on Virb

Some of these are kind of cool. Some are more "eh." Most are pretty easy to use. But all beg an important question: at this (still very early) point in the emergence of a digital music economy, is the most sensible game plan to disperse your work into as many of these new listening environments as is humanly possible?

Consider this (cryptic?) comment from Bruce Warila:

...the number of [online] places digital music consumers hang out already challenges your ability to REACH listeners; this challenge is also part of the solution (hint).

I think most artists have gotten over the paranoia that accompanies the act of giving away mp3s (then again, maybe not). But does that mean we go whole hog in the other direction, and just carpet-bomb the web with free music (as if it isn't already a jungle out there)? Such a strategy requires a significant time investment, after all. Who knows how long any of these sites are going to be around? Maybe it's better just to wait and see which of 'em grow legs...

On the other hand, if you do decide to disperse widely, how do you do it, exactly? Does it make more sense to simply replicate your Site A (e.g., MySpace) content onto Site B (e.g.,, and then Site C, and then... ad infinitum? Or is it better to vary things from site to site (i.e., different blogs, different freebie tracks, different videos)?

Certainly it's a hassle to have to maintain separate fan communities (if you're lucky enough to have them spring up) in different virtual locations. Plus, you don't want to make your fans work harder than necessary to follow you -- in this increasingly digitized world, many people are hungry for convenience just as much as they're hungry for new music (usually more). Doesn't it make sense to have everyone "gather" in one central place (whatever that place happens to be)?

Of course, what's convenient for one person (someone who loves MySpace will find your MySpace page convenient) is a pain in the ass for someone else (what about all the people who hate MySpace?). Let's face it: the indie musician's reality is that most of the time you are reaching out to other people instead of having them come to you -- a fact that argues for the widest dispersal possible. Additionally, why not "reward" early adopters of a given fledgling 2.0 site -- make 'em feel special somehow (while taking advantage of a potential big-fish-in-a-small-pond situation)? Besides, given the basic multi-tasking dynamic that I think accompanies most web browsing, I suspect there is an added value to keeping your fans constantly engaged -- even if that means asking them to travel to a new site once in a while.

I personally have no idea what's the best move here. In music as in life, things are typically much more complicated than they seem. But, as you know, I'm open to experimentation.

* * * * *

As I was saying...

So far, my favorite of the new music sites is ReverbNation. I found it through Steve Lawson, who, like Warila, has this whole Music 2.0 thing far more in the bag than me. (Would that make these guys Mu2Gurus? I'm assuming so, since neologisms seem to be the name of the game.)

Anyway, taking my cue (i.e., blatantly stealing this idea) from Steve (whose music you should check out, by the by), I'm gonna go ahead and offer the above "widget" player of our music as it is being cataloged over at RN. I've included samples from nearly every album; so, unlike our MySpace page, this playlist makes for a sort of "IJG greatest hits" experience -- if you can imagine such a thing -- and a nice documentation of how much the group has evolved over the last eight years.

I've been exploring this site for a few weeks now. Even before reading the current post, you may have noticed our little blog-sized Industrial Jazz Group ReverbNation player off to the right there (those of you who use a feed reader will have to click over to the blog to see what I mean). That little player, however, doesn't include the "fan exclusives," which the above widget, like our ReverbNation page itself, does. The musicians among you might appreciate the fact that "fan exclusives" are "special" tracks that people can access only in exchange for a mailing list sign-up. (After my recent bitching about bread, it is worth pointing out that "mailing list development" is one area I'm trying to focus on.)

For the moment, I have included an old tune of mine, "Bajaja," as one of the "fan exclusive" tracks on Reverb Nation. It's an out-take from the Industrial Jazz a Go Go! sessions, featuring Joe Berardi on drums, Aaron Kohen on bass, Cory Wright on bari, Damon Zick on soprano and tenor, Jason Mears on alto, Kris Tiner and Phil Rodriguez on trumpet, and Shaunte Palmer on bone. Blast-from-the-past alert... this was recorded in 2004. In style and mood, it's a far cry from all the YouTube videos I've been posting. And for the moment, ReverbNation is the only place you can get it.

We'll see what happens. Feel free to let me know what you think.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

How to wear earbuds

Found this helpful illustration (c/o thedodgyguy) over at a forum addressing one of the primary challenges of new listening technology: how to keep earbuds from falling out.

Deus ex machina

Those wacky Honda robots sure have been bitten by the music bug in a big way. You've seen them dancing...

...playing the trumpet...

... and playing the violin.

So I guess it was only a matter of time before one of them got to conduct a symphony orchestra.

And so's your mother

A little early for Mother's Day, but what the hell.

There's a tradition within a certain segment of the jazz world that you probably won't ever read about in the New Grove. It's an outgrowth of the kind of Mom jokes that can be found in the dozens and other language-based street games. Basically, you take the phrase "your Mom" and insert it into any well-known jazz standard. E.g., "Love for Sale" becomes "Your Mom for Sale," "Smoke Gets in your Eyes" becomes "Smoke Gets in Your Mom"... you get the idea.

This tune -- "You're in Love with My Mother" -- was something I initially drafted up some 15 years ago as a simple exploration (taken to an obvious extreme) of what porn afficionados have come to call the "MILF syndrome." In the context of the IJG, it has been repurposed (to dubious effect) to also address the above word game. (So at the end, while the band is vamping (after Tany asks "Do you want to know what was in their set?"), that's Mike Richardson yelling out a list of "Mom-ified" standards through a megaphone. Wish you could hear them in this recording, but ah well.)

Featuring the 21 Grand band (from our recent tour): Tany Ling (lead vox), Jill Knapp (vox, signs), Damon Zick (soprano sax), Gavin Templeton (soprano sax), Evan Francis (alto sax), Cory Wright (tenor sax), Kasey Knudsen (tenor sax), Tom Griesser (bari sax), Stephanie Richards (trumpet), Dan Rosenboom (trumpet), Darren Johnston (trumpet), Mike Richardson (bone), Ian Carroll (bone), Oliver Newell (bass), Dan Schnelle (drums), Andrew Durkin (conducting, composition).

Videography by Matt Lichtenwalner. It remains unedited except for the fades at the beginning and end.

And the lyric:

I met you in the month of June
and you said: "I cain't stand no more waitin'
Let's get married right now!"
so we went to my house
and you said: "Who's the chick with the apron?"

Now you're in love with my mother
You're in love with my mom
What a funky thing to discover:
you'll be my dad before long

You thought she looked cute in her PTA suit
with her Ladies' Home Journal beside her
And all of the while she would coyishly smile
How was I supposed to know
that when you came over I should hide her?

Now you're in love with my mother
You're in love with my mom
What a funky thing to discover:
you'll be my dad before long

Everyone thinks that my mother is sexy
And everyone thinks that my mother is cool
Now I think that I know why she sent me
away to the boarding school
Kiss, kiss, won't you kiss the bride?
Should I laugh or cry? I can't decide
Should I open the door, let the monster inside?

When they got married, down at the zoo
the web-camera captured it all for the Internets
She wrote his name in a purple tattoo
But when the band came in, that was the best moment yet
Do you want to know what was in their set?

Have I lost my mind? Probably.

Love your Moms, people!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Crazy She Calls Me

Censorship by definition -- You can't do that, it isn't Jazz -- has been the bane of innovative musicians from James P. Johnson to Anthony Braxton. But few can have suffered from its effects quite so comprehensively as Jimmy Giuffre.

Graham Lock, qtd. by Ted Gioia in West Coast Jazz

Rest in peace to a man who helped set the template for the modern composer / improviser / musician who unapologetically, beautifully, and with utmost integrity does his or her own thing.

Thanks, Jimmy.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Ugly details

This becomes even more annoying in the cold hard light of sobriety.

A depressing possibility, from Ezra Klein:

I've yet to hear a plausible scenario in which Clinton wins the superdelegates. Just about every serious path to the presidency requires Obama to utterly implode, to be rendered non-competitive for the nomination. In that scenario, the fact that Clinton remained in the race might make her a likelier nominee than Gore, but her continued campaigning doesn't have much of an impact. What she is doing by a mounting a basically hopeless but still quite furious campaign is exposing Obama's weaknesses. McCain's folks might have suspected that they target states like Pennsylvania and Ohio and Florida, but now they have a precinct-by-precinct map of where he underperforms, ready narratives to activate in their negative campaigning (they don't have to grope around to create a line of attack), and a media that's now convinced of his vulnerabilities.

A spot-on complaint from Hunter, at Daily (and nightly) Kos:

Listening to Clinton campaign surrogates on television, before the PA votes ever started to trickle in, was truly painful. Suddenly one state was the only state that mattered. All those other states were merely prelude: if Clinton could eke out a victory in this state, trailing in the delegate count would no longer be significant, and it would be a brand new race, and Obama would be on the ropes, and Clinton would suddenly win a billion dollars, a pony, and the moon; attention must be paid. It is not enough for Obama to simply be winning the nomination according to the rules laid out in advance: no, he must win the "right" way, according to the Clinton campaign and surrogates, or it doesn't count. He has to win the "right" states. And he has to win primaries, not caucuses. And he has to "close the deal", shutting Clinton out of remaining wins entirely, or it proves something ominous (the fact that Clinton has not been able to "close the deal" against him, and is instead trailing him badly and irreparably, barring superdelegate do-over, somehow does not count against her own merits.) And he not only has to win the "popular vote", but he has to win that, too, the right way, which is to say by counting only certain states and not counting others. And he has to win small towns, not just big population centers, because winning big population centers is elitist. Except that if he wins small towns in the West and Midwest, that doesn't count, because it's more important to win the big population centers. And all of this somehow proves that Clinton is a better candidate against McCain than Obama is, even though the polls to date have consistently shown Obama is a better candidate against McCain than Clinton is.


More irritating is that the negative attacks presented are, well, stupid, and seem increasingly to be predicated on the notion that voters, the press, the pundits, and we political hangers-on are all idiots seeking to cling to the most shallow of accusations. The press and the pundits? OK, I'll give you that one. The rest of us, however, weren't born yesterday.

An explanation from Sara Smith at Wonkette:

This morning, millions of sad, youthful Obama voters are waking up and wondering what the hell happened in Pennsylvania. Here's the scoop, little ones: Pennsylvania's elderly are so old that they make John McCain look young, and they're so numerous that you'd think they were still capable of reproduction. In fact, the only state with more elderly residents is Florida, and at least those old people moved there. They want to be in Florida. Meanwhile, old people in Pennsylvania resemble the humble sea cucumber: sessile, rooted, a prisoner of the very earth that nourishes them. Naturally, these people vote for Hillary Clinton.

Dick Morris, former Clinton advisor and current Clinton foe, puts it this way:

"Pennsylvania Democrats, in other words, suffer from future shock. They welcome old, established ways and embrace dynasties happily because they are so familiar. (Look at the Bob Caseys - dad was governor, the son is senator.) [...] But don't expect the open primaries of Indiana and North Carolina to behave like Pennsylvania's geriatrics. Both states are younger, especially North Carolina, and independents can vote in each primary. (North Carolina is where a lot of the young people who fled Pennsylvania winters and job losses ended up)."

Poor, poor Pennsylvania. Even when it wins, it loses. We look forward to youthful, vibrant Indiana and North Carolina finding a new and different reason to avoid voting for Obama.

Well, that last one made me laugh, anyway. Thanks, Sara!

Early AM addenda

DrumsnWhistles: Not this time.

And lo and behold, she's right. Minutes after finishing her post (with its predictions about the media response), I found this on the AP.

Related (in a stream-of-consciousness way): a few months back, I happened to believe Oregon wasn't going to matter much in this primary process.

Now it appears things might be otherwise.

You don't need me to tell you this, but what the hell: Oregonians, please be sure you've registered to vote.

Cuz you know:

UNLESS someone like you
cares a whole awful lot
nothing is going to get better.
It's not.

(You know the source, right?)

Oh, bloody hell

Screw Mellencamp. The above should've been the theme song in Indiana tonight. "Torn all apart / All in the name of democracy," indeed.

I actually spent the evening at an Obama fundraiser here in Portland. Watched the election coverage on the big screen, amidst good beer, decent music, interesting people, and lovely, heavy rain. And I still had a shitty time. (MSNBC and CNN are even more surreal in a public context like that.)

While at Aura, I spent some time holed up in my own head (as is my wont at such gatherings), attempting to understand the turn of events from the point of view of a Clinton supporter. I have to keep remembering: to them, I'm the idiot who just doesn't get it. To them, I'm the one who is being lulled into blind faith.

Funny, that. Especially given that I've never been comfortable with "movements." And that I'm not a particularly religious person. And that I have a hard time with ritual. And that, like Noam Chomsky, I'm not "a joiner."

But I can get past all these (admittedly paranoid) tendencies, and still be compelled by the idea of a government that is (finally) transparent and accountable. And by a political style that eschews bullshit. And by a sense of openness to reason, and rationality, and the sort of intelligent coalition-building that we are going to need to, well, survive.

And I don't see those things in Clinton. At all.

Though some might disagree, I side with Publius on this: it's a political Bataan Death March we're engaged in here. It doesn't bode well. We need to end it, and soon.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Just when you thought it couldn't get dumber

This might not have time to evolve into another pseudo-story before Tuesday, but here's the latest taste of idjit from our ever-more idiotic press corps.


Democrat Barack Obama, who often argues that John McCain is the same as President Bush, said Sunday that the Republican presidential candidate would be an improvement over Bush's eight-year reign.

"You have a real choice in this election. Either Democrat would be better than John McCain. And all three of us would be better than George Bush," Obama said.

This via the AP.

The headline? "Obama says McCain would be better president than Bush."

Thing is, a cup of 3-day old moldy lime jello would be a better president than Bush.

So what the fuck is the story here?

Does anybody really think Barack Obama wants you to vote for John McCain?

Why yes, of course someone does. According to the same story, HRC quickly responded:

"We need a nominee who will take on John McCain, not cheer on John McCain."

Oh, that's rich.


Maybe we're in luck: it looks like this story was more or less DOA.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

RIP Bebe Barron

Making good "electronic music" is a bit like writing good iambic pentamenter: it seems like it would be the easiest thing in the world... until you actually try it. (I speak from experience.)

Bebe Barron only made it look easy. The shining example of this, of course: with her husband Louis Barron, she was the co-composer (in itself quite an accomplishment -- I mean, a functional marriage is hard enough to come by, let alone a functional husband-and-wife creative team) of the soundtrack (er, "electronic tonalities") of one of my absolute favorite films of all time: Forbidden Planet.

I'm no expert on "electronic music," but it's pretty obvious that the process of making it back in the forties and fifties was light years away from what it is today. Back then, folks like the Barrons were, first, creating new textures from scratch (in the Barrons' case, they built their own circuits). Not to belabor this point, but that meant that they could not simply go down to the local Guitar Center and buy the appropriate synth module for the scene they were scoring. (A world without Guitar Center? Hard to believe, I know.)

Once the sounds were created and recorded on tape, they had to be organized compositionally, a painstaking process that involved comparatively rudimentary cut-and-splice techniques (apparently, this was Bebe's job). Again, the difficulty here is something that has to be experienced directly (or at least seen on YouTube) to be appreciated:

Clearly, with the advent of digital cut-and-paste technologies in recent years, this sort of thing has become much, much easier (the single edit in the preceding video, which took around four minutes, can now be done in a few seconds). But one wonders if the digital methods of cut-and-paste would have evolved so efficiently had it not been for the pioneers who spent most of their lives doing it the hard way in order to demonstrate what the possibilities were.


The 1948 book Cybernetics: Or, Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine, by mathematician Norbert Wiener from MIT played an important role in the development of the Barrons' composition. The science of cybernetics proposes that certain natural laws of behavior apply to both animals and more complex electronic machines.

By following the equations presented in the book, Louis was able to build electronic circuits which he manipulated to generate sounds. Most of the tonalities were generated with a circuit called a ring modulator. The sounds and patterns that came out of the circuits were unique and unpredictable because they were actually overloading the circuits until they burned out to create the sounds. The Barrons could never recreate the same sounds again, though they later tried very hard to recreate their 'ID' sound from Forbidden Planet. Because of the unforeseen life span of the circuitry, the Barrons made a habit of recording everything.

Barry Schrader:

The music for Forbidden Planet is truly a landmark in electro-acoustic music. This was the first commercial film to use only electronic music, and the score for the movie displays an attitude towards film scoring that was different from anything that had happened before. In Forbidden Planet, while there are themes for characters and events in the film, as was traditional in the scoring of that day, the themes are composed and perceived as gestalts, rather than as melodies in traditional movie music. Even more important is the fact that the scoring of Forbidden Planet breaks down the traditional line between music and sound effects since the Barrons' electronic material is used for both. This not only creates a new type of unity in the film sound world, but also allows for a continuum between these two areas that the Barrons exploit in various ways. At some points it's actually impossible to say whether or not what you're hearing is music, sound effect, or both. In doing this, they foreshadowed by decades the now common role of the sound designer in modern film and video.

Music, various artists

I just uploaded my first "muxtape" here.

Of course I had to sneak in a few IJG tunes, given that I'm in promotional mode. Apologies in advance.

But there's a lot of other (and better) stuff there too. F'r'instance: a truly stunning version of Reid Anderson's "Silence is the Question," featuring Andrew D'Angelo on alto. And two short pieces from what may be my new favorite band: Shibusa Shirazu (thanks to Tatsuya Nakatani for hipping me to these guys). And let's not forget the "Leaping Nuns' Chorus," by Dudley Moore (yes, the very same), from the seminal sixties film Bedazzled...

In other words, a veritable potpourri. Or whatever.

Muxtape has a very simple, responsive interface -- if only all music sharing sites could be this way.

Enjoy! Or whatever.

* * * * *

In other news, it is currently snowing in Portland. A week or two ago, it felt like summer had arrived.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I want one of those

Those of you who have been enjoying my half-baked attempts at filmmaking really ought to get a gander at this bitchen video for IJG member Kris Tiner's group, Empty Cage Quartet (which also features IJG alum Jason Mears). This, my friends, is how it is done:

The filmmaker is Tony Datillo, and the tune is Kris's. A match made in heaven, methinks.

Be sure to stick around all the way until the end for a totally incongruous (and thus delicious) audio clip of Mikey J.

Atlas flagged

Digby points to something I also noticed on Tom Hull's website last night, and which was initially noted by Paul Krugman (the quote is from Bloomberg News):

Ayn Rand's novels of headstrong entrepreneurs' battles against convention enjoy a devoted following in business circles. While academia has failed to embrace Rand, calling her philosophy simplistic, schools have agreed to teach her works in exchange for a donation.

The charitable arm of BB&T Corp., a banking company, pledged $1 million to the University of North Carolina Charlotte in 2005 and obtained an agreement that Rand's novel "Atlas Shrugged'' would become required reading for students. Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, and Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina, say they also took grants and agreed to teach Rand.


Digby adds some context (for those of you who have been fortunate enough to escape Ms. Rand's, uh, "oeuvre"):

Corporations, which have very good reasons to train young people into an ethos that extols the alleged virtues of heroic captains of industry and their lonely fight to retain freedom in the face of left wing collectivism, should not be buying academic curriculum of any kind. The very idea of academic freedom is that the academics decide what to teach, not the government or the community or especially some company who wants to promulgate a puerile political philosophy designed to make people believe that selfishness is a virtue. That it's in the form of a very bad romance novel makes it even worse. (To those romance novel aficionados out there, please note that I said "bad" romance novel. It's not a slam at the whole genre.)

True, true.

Unfortunately, as Jennifer Washburn pointed out in a great book a few years back, this intersection of money and academia is by no means a new phenomenon.

Still, Ayn fucking Rand? What's next: music appreciation courses in which Rush is required listening? (That was a joke, Rush fans.)

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The road report: March tour, 2008

That there is two thirds of the Industrial Jazz Group, circa March 29, at around 8:30 PM, high in the hills of Berkeley, a few hours before the final gig of our CD release tour for LEEF.

Back row, L-R: Dan Schnelle (drums), Mike Richardson (bone), Damon Zick (soprano sax), Oliver Newell (bass), Dan Rosenboom (trumpet), yours truly (beer), Gavin Templeton (soprano sax). Front row, L-R: Stephanie Richards (trumpet), Tany Ling (vocals), Jill Knapp (vocals). (House and hospitality for this pic c/o Leila Ruyan.)

Not pictured: Ian Carroll (bone), Kris Tiner... at last! (trumpet), Darren Johnston (trumpet), Evan Francis (alto), Kasey Knudsen (tenor sax), Tom Griesser (bari sax), Gabriel Sundy (bari sax), Paul Perez (bari sax), Brian Walsh (tenor sax), Adam Schroeder (bari).

My deepest thanks to everyone involved in this adventure, onstage and off. In the latter category are Matt Lichtenwalner and Tristan (sorry Tristan I don't know your last name) -- boyfriends of bandmembers who both picked up the slack wherever they saw it lying around -- as well as the folks who helped us get gigs: Jim Romeo (San Diego), Kris Tiner (Bake-town), Phillip Greenlief (Oakland), and Ross Hammond (Sacramento). And big thanks to everyone who loaned us gear (Doug Davis, Greenlief again, Romeo again, Tiner again, the members of Joaquin's Night Train). And more and more thanks to those who housed us, fed us, came to our shows, and bought our CDs.

Yes, I'm talking to you. The IJG loves you.

Leaves on a table

You know things couldn't have gone off without a hitch, though, right?

Here was one of my initial challenges: the delivery date for the packaging of the album -- the neat little Arigato Pak solution to the plastic problem that I have been obsessing about for months -- was, as I should have anticipated, delayed by a few days, which meant that I had to order a rush delivery of 100 pcs. to be shipped to me on the road (they arrived on the second day of the tour).

Still, what would otherwise have been a fairly time-intensive task (folding the damned things into the appropriate shape) was made easier by the willing help of the aforementioned Matt and Tristan, and a few other folks as well. (Thanks, everyone.)

Note 1: Something I noticed only after-the-fact about the white-against-yellow writing on the back of the packaging: it is only truly visible in natural light. Initially, that sort of freaked me out, but now I think it's kind of cool.

Note 2: we have yet to develop out LEEF's little "liner notes and extras" page -- hopefully in the next week or two.

Anyway, LEEF is here! Welcome, LEEF.

Near-nudity at 21 Grand

We crossed a few more thresholds of taste with this tour (but who's keeping score, really?). The anticipated (and long-overdue) return of provocative trombonist Mike Richardson (owner of the fleshy thighs in the above pic, snapped at our Oakland gig) may have sparked a pattern of obscenity in some of my newer pieces... but wherever the impulse came from, we now have a song in which two enormously gifted and classically-trained singers (that would be Jill and Tany) are forced to proclaim, "Dinner at Applebee's / fuck all night / dinner at Applebee's / f-f-f-f-fuck all night."

(And that bit happens shortly after the same singers waggle their middle fingers at the audience, in a spoof of the greatest dance-music cliche of all time, which we render thusly: "Raise your finger in the air / wave it like you just don't care.")

(Oh, yeah. And if you were "lucky," you got to hear the above-referenced new tune -- ridiculously titled "Il Ponderoso / Apropos of Nothing" -- on one of the nights that Mr. Richardson's entire performance costume consisted of a single silver thong.)

Make of it what you will. I certainly wasn't expecting any of this to, uh, go down easily. But I'll be damned if I wasn't drawn into post-show pleasantries by more than one seemingly-conservative soccer Mom type. Did they not hear the lyrics, perhaps? Ah, who cares. Music should be the great unifier, n'est-ce pas?

(We even had one night where Jill apologized to a middle school (?) kid named Josh, who was in the audience -- with his parents (?) -- as she introduced "Fuck the Muck." Josh's smart rejoinder -- "Don't you think I say worse things than that at school?" -- produced an excited chant from the band and the audience ("Josh! Josh! Josh! Josh!"), and the kid was summarily invited to the stage (by Jill) to formally introduce the tune, which he did with remarkable gusto. Thanks, Josh!)

I'm still a great believer in the power of obscenity. Despite the remarkable way jazz has, in some circles, become a signifier of politeness and urbanity (nothing wrong with either of those, mind you), most jazz musicians I know are profoundly, gorgeously foul-mouthed. I suspect that's the norm in the community, in fact. Why not celebrate it?

Or use it as a tool? In a world steeped in deception, layered in mask after mask after mask (so that even the phrase "keeping it real" means anything but), the greatest value may be in the stuff that can actually cut through -- whether sound, or text, or image, or idea. (I'm not saying that we've accomplished anything truly incisive yet in this group. But we're trying, and that's partly where the fun lies, for me.)

Off-stage / Ob-scene. Rear guard / avant-garde. Apollo / Dionysus. These are probably the central tensions (and inspirations) of my artistic life. (Are you surprised that the working title for the next album is The Ballad of In and Out?)

Keeping with the animal theme

"Animal songs. Nothing but animal songs."

Well, not entirely. But close. Lately I've tried to keep my writing "grounded" around a one-page list of "keywords" -- concepts, issues, characters (etc.) that help to give our show some kind of coherence and identity (even if that identity is only fleetingly expressed in lyrics). Yes, one of the keywords is "fuck" (you probably guessed that, right?), but there is also a whole cluster of animal keywords -- "frogs," "bees," "wolves," "goats," "crabs," "chickens," "pigs," and "fish" are all on the list. I don't know what sense to make of this (if there is any). But on some level I'm sure the animal keywords have to do with the fact that I spend my days with a three-and-a-half-year-old, who of course is also fascinated with animals, as most children are.

What was it that Stravinsky said about his music being best understood by children and animals? (And what is it that I wonder from time to time about people losing their fascination with both animals and music as they age?)

Of course, on the negative side of this equation, there is also the underlying theme of every California trip we make -- the inevitable passage through the sprawling expanse of "Cowschwitz" (thanks to Evan Francis for introducing me to that term). I'm not exactly a PETA person, and this surreal hamburger factory is really only about ten minutes out of a six hour journey between LA and the Bay area. Still, the whole thing is not only depressing, but disgusting -- can it be normal to stand around in your own shit all day? -- and its continued existence seems somehow like further evidence of a general decline in western civilization.

Or something like that.

A near-miss in Bakersfield

One of the other challenges this go-round was when one of my guys -- let's call him "Slick" -- nearly disappeared into the wilds of Bakersfield, lured by the siren song of two of the city's native daughters. It made for a little bit of a stressful afternoon the next day, when he was a no-show as we were trying to leave town with enough time to get up to Oakland for another gig. But it also made for a comical comeback when he arrived shortly before downbeat (roughly five hours later) in a rented silver Mustang (I guess silver was one of the official colors for this tour).

You might think I'd be pissed off by this sort of thing, cuz it does happen from time to time when we're on the road. But here's my take: as long as, in the end, everything makes for good music (and without a doubt, "Slick" knows how to make good music), and nobody gets hurt, I'm cool. As Zappa said:

I respect musicians' idiosyncrasies -- they add "texture" to a performance. Musicians tend to generate better "texture" when they get "The Blow Job." Yes, I want them to find that elusive cross between a waitress and an industrial vacuum cleaner.

That about sums it up -- except that I'd use "Blow Job" as a metaphor (cuz different musicians want different things).

Six facts about me

1. I have been (consciously) writing music since I was seven or eight.

2. This year I will be forty.

3. I now have a kid of my own, and a mortgage.

4. I have a lovely wife who "gets" me, and who puts up with my artistic delusions / ambitions. (So the fact that this band is still around is partly her fault.)

5. I have never felt saner in my life, but I have never had more people openly questioning my sanity.

6. If being a musician -- and especially a composer for an original big band -- is an abnormal career aspiration, then as I get older, I get farther and farther away from being able to return to life as a "normal." In some ways, I feel like I am living out this (hackneyed) artist-fantasy in the most bass-ackwards way possible. Instead of having committed myself to music as a vocation in college -- which probably would have been more sensible, but, given my personality, might have burned me out by the time I was thirty -- I actually tried for a while to get into a more "respectable" career (a "real job," if you will), always doing music passionately but surreptitiously, and splitting myself into two incompatible identities. In a way, that was a useful experience, because it engendered, over a period of about ten years, a sense of longing (and resistance-to-normalcy) that simply had to spill over at some point. I guess that's what's happening now.

Getting paid

Wow, these tour blog posts are becoming a little redundant -- there are only so many ways you can say "Hey, that was a great tour, I love the folks in this band, I love the audiences, I can't wait to do it again." All that was true this time too. But my sense is that we've reached a certain plateau of "success": more often than not, we have great crowds, great responses... and lukewarm-to-shitty bread. Once in a while, the bread is better than lukewarm -- but not often enough. If I could only afford to hire a business manager, I might be breaking even (how's that for irony?).

Still, that's fine. For a while. But how wide is this plateau? How long do we have to stay at this level before we can move up to the next one? (And what is the next one, exactly?) Those are really the big questions. Cuz this is very cool, to be sure, but it's still an ever-so-delicate balancing act, made possible only by an absurd dance of nonexistent budgets and overstretched credit cards and less-than-optimal traveling conditions (and so on). That part of it may not always be obvious from the outside. Or at least it seems that way whenever someone finds out what I do, and asks the same initial question: "How do you make it work? You know, like, financially?"

As if! Please, everybody, listen carefully. I do not make this work financially. Maybe I make it work in most other ways. But financially? No sir, not yet.

And there's the rub. Truthfully, one of the things that has kept the group going for so long is the participation of ridiculously talented musicians who also happen to be willing to play in the group for ridiculously low sums of money. Because they like the music, they like the people, and they like the experience. Many of them have told me explicitly that, if it came down to it, they would do IJG gigs for free. Some have even refused to take any money on the nights when we have clearly bombed (thankfully we are bombing a lot less these days).

All of which is flattering beyond belief. Trouble is, it's not enough. The guilt that accompanies dragging these folks from the comfort of their warm beds (or wherever) to head out on an adventure that may or may not help them pay their bills -- well, it's becoming excruciating. That guilt is not going to stop me (at least in part because I'm addicted), but my compulsion to tour doesn't sit well with the fact that the tours aren't producing the kind of cashflow that the project needs (and deserves).

So boy oh boy am I obsessing about the question of "payoff." I need to speed up the slow burn. (And to that end I have some new schemes which I'll be revealing soon...)

Don't get me wrong -- I'm not kvetching. Ah, hell, let's end this with some levity:

And now a series of random shots

Ever wonder what kick-ass percussionists look like while eating breakfast? That's Dan Schnelle and Tatsuya Nakatani (who double-billed with us at Bakersfield, and pretty much floored everybody).

Chalk graffiti at the Fox and Goose. Not sure which list Gavin is at the top of, but I always listen to what the chalk says.

Ian C. catching Z's by the fire. (Didn't I say something about less-than-optimal traveling conditions? That's right, here's one of my guys sleeping on the fucking floor.)

Thank you, thank you, thank you, and goodnight. See you again real soon.

Friday, April 11, 2008

That's right, cling to it. Cling, cling, cling.

The tour post is still in the queue, but in the meantime, I needed to vent about this, which I have watched evolve into a miserable excuse for a "story" over the last hour or so.

Is it "looking down on someone" to acknowledge their frustrations or unhappiness?

Or is the issue even deeper than that? Are Clinton and McCain suggesting that the working class in this country is not bitter?

Exactly how self-deceptive are we willing to be? Doesn't it become, you know, exhausting after awhile?

UPDATE (Saturday)

Wow, watching this play out has been like watching manic, parched drunks fighting over an ounce of Miller Lite.

Or, as Ezra Klein put it:

[I]t's one of the depressing realities of our media landscape that it is both a) totally predictable that they will devote hundreds of hours to this story in the next few days and b) utterly unimaginable that they will give the candidate 3 minutes and 44 seconds to clarify his comments. And why would they? That might kill the story!

And in a later post (this is even better):

This may sound odd, but man am I disappointed that stuff is happening again in the presidential campaign. These last few weeks of relative quiet have been terrific. All the older reporters tell me that this is supposedly the greatest campaign of my lifetime and the thing that makes political journalism worthwhile, but seriously, look where we are today: Discussing an off-the-cuff comment in which one of the Democrats suggested that economic anxiety manifests in cultural conservatism.


It's worth saying that I'm not defending Obama here. I see nothing that he needs defense from. There's no actual attack being levied that anyone can rebut, or ideas being tossed out that anyone can argue. Instead, Obama has said something Politically Damaging. And it will Damage him. And we'll all watch to see how badly.

But let's be clear: It's not damaging because we think it foretells him doing something harmful to the country. It's not damaging because it suggests his policy agenda is poorly conceived, or his priorities are awry. If you think of policy and politics as two circles in a Venn diagram, this is damage that only exists in the politics circle, and doesn't even come close to the area of intersection. We reporters have to cover it, of course, because it's Really Important, and matters more than the housing plans of all the candidates put together. But it matters in a completely self-referential way, it matters only because it matters, not because it means anything about Obama, or illuminates anything about his potential presidency. It's a hollow scandal. Those housing plans, by contrast, don't "matter" in a way that convinces the media to cover them, or to relentlessly hound McCain about the inadequacy of his proposal. They don't "matter," but they are meaningful. And this is why I don't like writing about the campaign. It's full of hollow scandals and ignored travesties. But you have to cover the hollow scandals, because they're are blown up until they're definitional in the campaign. And that leaves me writing about high-profile non-events in a way that helps cement their importance, even if I'm writing to deride their legitimacy.

That doesn't sound odd to me at all. It sounds spot-the-fuck-on.

If you haven't seen it, here's Obama's initial response, which I thought was pretty good:

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Because I'm addicted... making these stupid little videos, here's one for "Bongo non Troppo." The audio is the album track (that's right, this tune is featured on LEEF), but the video is (mostly) from the recent tour... plus a few shots from a public domain film on the beatnik scene in Greenwich Village (circa, oh, a few decades ago)...

At various times, I have introduced this tune as being dedicated to the proposition that disco does not, in fact, suck.

Videography by the usual suspects (ML, JK, AD, the Internet Archive)...

Text-based posts to return soon...

[My closing comment in the video: "Thank you to all our dancers."]

Friday, April 04, 2008

The Frog

Another video (this time a bit more, uh, constructed). Another new tune.

Audio recorded live in Sacramento, at the Fox and Goose. It's raw and unedited, for those of you who care about such things.

Band cinematography by Matt Lichtenwalner and yours truly. Newsreel footage of the frog-jumping contest, and other footage of random animals, taken from the Internet Archive.

The Sac band: Zick, Templeton, Francis, Wright, Knudsen, Griesser (saxes); Rosenboom, Richards, Johnston, Richardson, Carroll (brass); Newell, Schnelle, Ling, Knapp, me (rhythm).

I'll be damned if Schnelle wasn't channeling his inner John Bonham on this tour. Amazing.

Other explanations and commentary to follow in the "big tour post."

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Because I have no words yet...

...I must continue to rely on videos to tell the story of our recent tour.

This is unedited footage of (most of) our performance of "Boozey McBombalot," recorded by Matt Lichtenwalner at Dizzy's in San Diego. (The last minute or so got cut off.)

We debuted "Boozey" in Ohio last September, but this is a revised version.

Piccolo trumpet by Dan Rosenboom (the guy in the hot dog hat). That bit he is shouting at the beginning (it's hard to hear without a microphone, I know), is "major combat / operations" -- which eventually morphs into "diarrhea / diarrhea." Cuz, you know, that's what it starts to sound like after a while.

The rest of the San Diego band: Damon Zick, Gavin Templeton (soprano sax); Evan Francis (alto sax); Cory Wright, Brian Walsh (tenor sax); Gabriel Sundy (bari sax); Steph Richards, Kris Tiner (trumpet); Mike Richardson, Ian Carroll (bone); Oliver Newell (bass); Dan Schnelle (drums); Jill Knapp, Tany Ling (vox).

Dizzy's is always a blast for us, and this show was no exception (even though we set up in probably the most inefficient way possible -- one long line of horns, good gawd).

Note the perfectly-timed train hit at around the 1:18 mark.


Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Incident at Umbria

A full-on tour post is coming soon, but in the meantime I wanted to lay this new video on you.

You all remember the hubbub last July, yes? (If the words "Jarrett," "Umbria," and "2007" don't ring a bell, you'll need to click that link for the appropriate background.)

I'll probably never be able to convince anyone that our version of this "performance" (i.e., my setting-to-music of the controversial comments) is not meant to be disrespectful of Mr. Jarrett -- even though that's the case. I mean, sure we're having a little fun at his expense, but the larger issue for me is the way in which a mega-jazz-event like Umbria exemplifies a frightening (and counterproductive) divide in the jazz world. Let's face it: the superstars and the scrappy up-and-comers are inhabiting different universes. There is no clear relationship or implied trajectory between them. And speaking from the perspective of the scrappies, Keith J.'s outburst couldn't have been stranger or more incomprehensible to me had he been from, say, Mars. (You mean they're actually paying you to play at Umbria and you're going to fucking complain?!)

Anyway, this is one of the better renditions (it was recorded in Bakersfield) of the piece with which we opened our shows last week. For handy reference, here are the lyrics in question:

I do not speak Italian
so someone who speaks English can tell
all these assholes with cameras
to turn them fucking off
right now
no more photographs, including that red light right

If we see any more lights
I reserve the right and I think
the privilege is yours to hear us
but I reserve the right
and Jack and Gary reserve the right
to stop playing and leave the goddammed city

I see a red light there and that means you, you you

The text is verbatim (and I guess typical) Jarrett, except for the repeated line at the end, which I borrowed from Daniel Brio's All About Jazz piece on the incident.

And here's Kris Tiner's writeup on the Bakersfield show.

Like I said, more soon. I'm just getting my head back together.

[cinematography by Matt Lichtenwalner -- thanks, Matt!]

[vox: Tany Ling (soprano), Jill Knapp (alto)]