Wednesday, August 16, 2017

San Jose Jazz Summer Fest 2017

This is an annual event I try to attend if I am in town and free 'coz I'm all for supporting local artists and performances. I paid $40 on Sunday for the "2nd tier" ticket that allowed me to go to not just the main stage but also the other indoor stages, like Cafe Stritch and Hammer Theater. (The former has become my "home" club these days. ) This was the list of musicians I saw that day:

  • SJZ Summer Camper (main stage): these were our next generation (high school students?) of jazz musicians! Gotta show some support (hey, the main stage was right next to the ticket booth!)
  • Dmitri Matheny (Cafe Stritch): anyone that enjoy Art Farmer's flugelhorn playing would certainly like his performance. The theme of his latest project was about 70s 80s movie and show music. To be honest, I don't really care for too much. However, he also paid tribute to the late Chris Cornell by covering Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun"
  • California Guitar Trio + Montreal Guitar Trio (Hammer theater): the two trio first play by themselves starting with the latter. And they began the show with some Spanish/Flamenco music, which I have always been a big fan of. Then they played a tune influenced by Indian music. I appreciated the complexity a lot. Compared to the other group, the California Guitar Trio certainly sounded more "West Coast" (actually, Pacific ocean) since one member came from Japan. In fact, their tune that I enjoyed the most was named "Komorebi" According to them, the Japanese word means the sun ray one sees when walking though a dark forest (or something more "poetic" than that!)  Then both trio joined force to play as a sextet. Their fusion of Tango and minimalism (think Philip Glass!) was certainly very interesting. Among all shows on Sunday this is the only one I listened from start to finish! (Even bought MG3's latest CD "Danzas - Spanish Guitar")
  • Jazz by 5 (main stage): This super group features the biggest name of this festival with Javon Jackson (sax), Randy Brecker (trumpet), Eddie Gomez (bass), George Cable (piano) and Jimmy Cobb (drums)  Really an all-star lineup! Too bad the main stage was not the ideal venue: it's outdoor and many people were talking so there's lots of noise. I could barely hear Gomez's fantastic bass solo through the speakers. I think that was a Miles Davis modal tune. 
  • Taimane (Jade Leaf): I gotta admit I went because of the picture of an attractive lady holding a ukulele. It turned out she and her guitarist were very talented musicians. What a dynamic duo! (Think Rodrigo y Gabriella) Their Michael Jackson cover was particularly impressive.    
  • Anton Schwartz Sextet (Fairmont Hotel): Schwartz is a very active local sax player (both performing and teaching) and a regular of the festival. I enjoyed their cover of Pink Floyd's Money very much. 
  • Kurt Ribak Quartet (Forager): this is one of the completely-free-admission stages. This group led by bassist Ribak played very diverse music. And that place is huge and seems to feature live music regularly! The bar serves craft beers, coffee and bar food. (This place used to be South First Billiards, I wanted to play there for a long time but never did and never will!)  
  • San Francisco String Trio (Fairmont Hotel): I have been to concerts of 2/3 of this trio several times before: Mimi Fox (guitar) and Mads Tolling (violin) are two musicians that I respect a lot. They have technical chops and also not afraid to experiment. This format, with Jeff Denson on bass, is a prime example. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Beatle's Sgt. Pepper, they came up with refreshing arrangements of several tunes for their trio. 

That's probably the best way to spend a weekend afternoon!

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Jazz Radio and Sco

This week's "Jazz Night in America", broadcasted on KCSM Jazz 91.1 8/1 9PM PDT, features John Scofield. Well, that's a time slot I usually not listening to the radio :( Even though Radio Free America hosts archives of the station's radio program up to 2 weeks back, this is not included because it's not KCSM's original. Fortunately, I am able to find it on NPR:

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Music industry in the digital age

As a big music fan and amateur musician who doesn't make a living from the music business (also a tech guy who makes a living in the tech biz) I have always been interested in how tech affected the music industry. For example, everyone must have heard that illegal download was killing the record companies. Most people know about musicians got signed by record companies or work as session musicians and made money from record sales. It seems that illegal download or even legal streaming broke this model completely: musicians earn much less from streaming or downloads. Record companies became more "conservative" and only willing to promote artists that are deemed "safe bets" Even the "frugal" (i.e, not paying musicians enough) streaming service providers were not making a profit! (Well, at least the last one was no longer true for Napster, rebranded from Rhapsody, the service I used for years and just dropped in 2016 when they became profitable!) Some in the industry think high resolution downloads might save the day. It does have a niche market of audiophiles as potential buyers. Check out this article to see if this is for you.

So, what type of music company/service looked promising and profitable in the digital age? Here is an example: Bandcamps, which allows musicians to upload their music for free. They make money by taking a cut when fans buy downloads from musicians they enjoy. I guess it's really a win-win-win situation, isn't it? Not using traditional record companies as a middleman is definitely a trend. Jazz guitar master Martin Taylor has gone this route. In fact, this "route" is century-old, the same one used by Mozart! Basically his music was funded by his patrons: who got to watch Taylor's video and listen to his tracks.

Another jazz musician has also found his way to make money as a multi-faceted performer, recording artist (running his own label) and educator. That is trumpeter Dave Douglas. Bloomberg wrote an article about him (available to professional subscriber only)

I guess if you are savvy and good at music, you could still make a good living. 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Happy International Jazz Day

Today is the International Jazz Day and I had a sort-of International Jazz month of April as I had a family vacation/cruise in Australia. I visited Cafe Stritch the night before I flew to see the Essiet Essiet Quartet featuring the fabulous Sylvia Cuenca on drums. And as the cruise (Royal Caribbean International's Radiance of the Seas - 8 day Queensland) was mainly geared towards old folks, I got to hear a lot of jazz by ways of oldies/easy-listening music. Of course there won't be any "pure"/free jazz (borrowing the terms from "La La Land") as it's opposite to the relaxing atmosphere. I am amazed by how versatile these cruiseship musicians are! Almost all of them could play some jazz standards and improvise over the changes. I could hear them relying on a few "cliche" licks but that's par for the course. (I would consider myself graduated from the Jazz High School if I play anywhere near that!) Over that week I hear almost every tunes I practices: Blue Bossa, Summertime, Autumn Leaves, Fly Me to the Moon, Satin Doll...... performed by:
- a guitar/violin duo: they handled the "easy listening department." For the first few days the guitarist strictly accompany the violinist who would take improvised solo. However, one night the violinist was MIA (I guess he went to rehearse with the Radiance of the Seas orchestra at that time for the Tango show later that night) and the guitarist played over accompaniment from his phone and I finally heard him soloing. It was very enjoyable.
- a guitar/singer duo: they sang oldies, country and standards
- a 4 man band: they could easily be a Eagles cover band but they play everything from the Rolling Stones to jazz.

After the cruise ended I stayed at Sydney for that Tuesday night and I visited Australia's most famous jazz club: 505. Even though its website mentioned it's Old School Funk Band's night, I figure I should just give it a try and the band was way more than OK! Everyone was playing with a ton of energy. The bass player surely knew secret of laying down a good funky groove. And everyone launched off from there. It was not "pure" but definitely "jazz", and high-quality one.

Gotta praise Air New Zealand for playing local jazz cats on their in-flight entertainment, including Ron Samsom's Ace Tone, The Rodger Fox Big Band Plays New Zealand's X and Phil Broadhurst Quintet's Panacea. I enjoy them a lot on my way home.

And I conclude the month of jazz with another visit to Cafe Stritch for the SJZ Camp Faculty Sextet. (This is the San Jose Jazz camp, not the Stanford Jazz Workshop camp that I attended before) The show started with a sad announcement though: local jazz bassist and SJSU professor John Shifflett has just passed away. The members of the sextet were all local musicians who were close to Professor Shifflett and we had a moment of silence before they played a set dedicated to him. I finally get a chance to see Brian Ho on piano/organ. (Saw his name listed on many local gigs before, including one at the Casino, but never get to see his performance) Trumpeter John Worley is a staple of the local jazz scene. So is guitarist Hristo Vitchev. It's a wonderful thing that we have so many world-class jazz musicians living, teaching and playing right in the (figurative) neighborhood!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Audacity and Mac OS X

I have used Audacity on PC for a long time so it's among the first batch of software I installed when I bought my Mac. I noticed a couple of functionality I used often is missing from the Mac version though. It turns out it has to do with file permission. Glad that I found the solution from this forum post.

files in the Audacity app have the xattribute "xattr" set. This means that Gatekeeper blocks them. To fix it, open a Terminal (Applications > Utilities : then type or paste:
sudo xattr -r -d /Applications/Audacity/

and hit ENTER on your keyboard. Type your admin password (you won't see it on the screen) then hit ENTER again. 

Monday, April 03, 2017

我的爵士雜記:Jazz tunes to learn (revisited)

Three years ago I posted this about my first tunes played at the Stanford Jazz Workshop Guided Jam. From simply improv with the blues, we moved on to modal, major ii-V-I, minor ii-v-i and finally rhythm changes. I recommend checking out this article on Guitar Player by one of my favorite online guitar teacher Matt Warnock about 5 tunes beginner should learn (with great video examples from YouTube too!):
  • Summertime: improv with A minor pentatonic (yeah, every guitar player knows) 
  • Maiden Voyage: with dorian mode
  • Cantaloupe Island: dorian and mixolydian
  • Autumn Leaves: major ii-V-I
  • Sunny: minor ii-v-i
This set (and in this order) pretty much mirrors what we did at SJW (add your choice for a rhythm change tune: Oleo or Anthropology!) 

And if you check out this list from my other fav Jamie Holroyd, you would find similar tunes:

  • Summertime: same as above
  • So What: dorian
  • Tune Up: This is actually my go-to tune for practicing ii-V-I changes

Yes, you really should learn to play Summertime: the melody, improv and comping. Matt Warnock taught several commonly seen jazz voicing for Summertime here.

Speaking of comping and voicing, I do have a counter example. Another online teacher put up this video and was promoted by GuitarPlayer: 3 Easy Jazz Songs - For People Who Don't Play Jazz! Don't get me wrong: I really appreciated his effort in getting more people to play jazz. However, jazz players simply don't play that! First of all, his video taught the chords of the songs (without the melody) so I'd say it's a bit misleading. Second, it's one thing to know and learn to play those chords (Drop-2 and Drop-3 chords in Berklee's terminology) In a real jazz jam situation you won't play those chords like that though. When you jam with a piano and/or bass, you won't play the low notes on your guitar since it would clash with them. Guitar players should stick with those "upper voicing" when comping.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Ripping CD to FLAC on a Mac

I have rejoined the Mac family for some time already and enjoyed the machine a lot. However, I found it lacks free music-related tools when compared to PC. My go-to music file player on PC is foobar2000, which is very versatile (support many formats) I like to simply drag some files from my drives to it and have it start playing. No import/library BS like iTunes. I could also rip CDs into my preferred format (FLAC at this time) Sadly it's not available on Mac. After Googling for a while, it seems to me that I could still use 2 pieces of free software as "replacement" of foobar2000:
  • VLC can play many formats and I can drag-and-drop
  • XLD can rip to various formats
However, probably for licensing reason, the "default" installation for XLD does not include FLAC as an output format (which is chosen under "Preference") To add FLAC as a format, one needs to download the plugin, unzip it and mv the whole "bundle" (a dir) under ~/Library/Application Support/XLD/PlugIns/ For other XLD tips, please read this. (I changed the file naming convention to my favorite one: %T_%n_%t)