Monday, February 13, 2012

Writing music

For the longest time I've thought of my musical identity as consisting of a bit of  "composer," but in all honesty I have done so little writing that I'm beginning to consider that I've been bullshitting myself.

I think it was around my second or third year of college that I first tried to write some music. This was while I was in the band Natch Beebee. I still have a few faded sheets of music paper from this time with a couple of melodies and chord progressions. One tune I remember writing on the tiny deck outside my college apartment in New Paltz, NY, around dusk one day in the early autumn, and feeling really thrilled about how good the tune felt to me and how readily it had been brought forth. Some months later, I remember writing one song with lyrics for the band and showing it to a couple of the guys. They were less than enthusiastic and we never did do it. I also remember being proud of a little two-bar-long segue that I came up with to tie two parts of a medley of Frank Zappa tunes together. I also started a song or two that were potentially going to be used in a theater piece that someone I met was working on, but that never went further than a couple of discussions.

Over the years after moving to California, I might have jotted down one or two ideas, but I don't remember much happening, until I started to get interested in the technology that started to become available in the eighties - specifically, "portastudios" (inexpensive multi-track cassette recorders) and sequencers, which gave you the capability to record musical information and play it back from a synthesizer or drum machine via MIDI. I met a kindred spirit in Kurt Kaupanger, and the two of us started to play around with the idea of doing a collaborative recording together. After a few years of working on this in short bursts of time, we came out with our self-produced cassette, on which I had contributed three original instrumental compositions (one of them, "Autumn Sunset," the tune I had written on that autumn day years earlier in New Paltz). It wasn't much, but I felt that there was something there, and in the years that followed I kept an active interest in trying to write and record, fiddling about whenever possible with my Yamaha cassette multitracker and my Alesis drum machine. After around 2000, my capabilities took a big step up when I started using Cakewalk Pro Audio recording software, which soon after morphed into SONAR, and ACID software, which allowed you to create music with loops, short, repeatable digital audio snippets.

But considering how much I could do now with the new toys, I did remarkably little. I had a brief spurt of creativity, creating a few short pieces of music, and taking a class in music for visual media for which I shot and scored a short video about my kids. What I was beginning to realize was that, with my day job and my young family, I simply could not do all the musical stuff that I wanted to do and get anywhere with it. I began to understand that if, for example, I focused on trying to improve my guitar playing, the little time I had would be spent on studying and practicing - which is exactly what I did starting around 2001 or so, for the next few years taking classes at the JazzSchool in Berkeley - and there would be no time for writing, nor for playing in a band. I did take one class at the JazzSchool on composing, which I found very helpful, and which brought forth a couple of new pieces, but then my focus shifted back to performing, which filled my time and left little time to work on writing.

So here it is, the winter of 2012, and on my website I claim that "I'm a jazz/blues/rock guitarist, and much-too-infrequent composer," and it's beginning to rankle me that I need to qualify the composer part like that. So, what to do?

Well, for one thing, I am going out and playing in local jams much less frequently now compared to the last two or three years, and I have few gigs and little to no rehearsals. So there's a little more time than might be available otherwise.

I've got a wonderfully rich environment in my computer with which I can perform wonders if I can just get some balls rolling and in play. Maybe now is the time. Maybe the planets and the stars will align, and new music will pour forth.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

ZT Lunchbox amp

The last couple of times I've played my archtop Cort guitar at one of these Turtle Bay jazz gigs, I've been really displeased with the sound I got plugged into my Reverend Hellhound amp. So this time I figured I would try the Lunchbox amp, which I've written about earlier. I was pleased to find that it sounded great and had just the right combination of warmth and clarity.

I've used this a few times now at some rehearsals for SNUG and while sitting in at Saloon in San Francisco with the Dave Workman Band and it's amazing how much sound this little demon puts out there. Finally, a truly portable amp that's suitable for more than just practice. Love this thing!