Friday, August 25, 2006

Up goes the flaps, down go the wheels...

RIP Maynard Ferguson (via Darcy). Doug Ramsay has a nice tribute here It's funny, on Cruise Ship X every week we have this daredevil balancing act, who does a big chunk of his routine to Maynard's version of Birdland. It's nice, if kind of painful, to be reminded of a time when hearing jazz in these kinds of settings was a normal thing. Also, Maynard was a presence on the scene of artists and thinkers involved in psychedelia in the 60s- there's a great scene in the Ram Dass video "Fierce Grace" where he is on the roof of Dass' house in New England, high on something, blowing his tail off. A larger than life presence who will be missed.

On a more personal note, I am taking a week or so off from ye old blog. As I may have mentioned once or twice, I sign off Cruise Ship X on Monday, and I'll head to Pittsburgh to visit my grandmother (great food, great people, no internet) for a few days before heading back to Boston. I plan to be back then with some final, and less guarded, commentary on cruise ships in general and cruise ship X in particular. Until then, please frequent the blogs to the right, and enjoy the last bit of summer!

Get down, dog

(NOTE: In wrapping up my side job as a yoga teacher on Cruise Ship X, I promised some of my students I would give them some follow-up. This is the easiest way to do it. If this is useful to anyone else, take it for what it's worth. Otherwise, go ahead and scroll down to the snarky stuff below...)

Dear fellow voyagers of the damned,

Thank you again for your time and work in our yoga classes. It was a great joy to teach you, and I can guarantee you that I got as much or more from the experience as you did. Some of you asked me "is it safe to do it on my own?", or "how can I keep going?" The answer is yes, and go. Most of you have enough knowledge to keep a basic practice- sun salutations, warriors, gentle backbends, shoulderstands, shavasana (ALWAYS shavasana, aka corpse pose)- going without help. There are also many great resources out there to help you along. I recommend:


Journey Into Power, by Baron Baptiste: The practice in this book it the closest to the one I taught in the classes. Baron is, I admit, a little full of himself a lot of the time, but this is an excellent breakdown of both the poses we learn, the flow we do them in, and the structure, both physical and philosophical, being the poses. He has several DVDs out, but I think the live ones are the best.

Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness, by Eric Schiffman. This is probably my favorite yoga book on the market, mostly for the first four chapters. Eric breaks down, without any fancy words or karmic mumbo-jumbo, the spiritual aspect of yoga, what doing asana (poses) with our body and breath transforms our whole being, if we let it. He has a fluid, approachable writing style, with many easy breathing and meditation exercises. The asana stuff is pretty good also, but if your interested in something beyond the poses, this is the best book I've seen.

Yoga: Poetry of the Body, by Rodney Yee. This was the first yoga book I bought. (and the price on Amazon is down to $7, a good deal) Rodney has a very playful way of explaining poses and a practice, which I try to incorporate into how I teach (and fail most of the time, frankly) The advantage of this book is it gives photos of several modifications for every pose; there's always one you can do.


Yoga Shakti, by Shiva Rea. The most complete DVD on the market, this video lets you customize a practice from over 4 hours of teaching materials, at a variety of levels. It also has several preset classes, which I'd recommend starting with. The photography is beautiful (it's filmed in India), and Shiva's explanations are for the most part very clear.

One WARNING: Shiva is one of the most physically gifted yogis I've ever seen. She is naturally athletic, she's spent twenty years or more studying with some of the great masters of yogasana, and she's both very strong and very bendy. (See the "Shiva flows" excerpt on disc two to see what I'm talking about.) This can be really inspiring for some people, or really deflating for others. More importantly, it can sometimes lead people to try to do to much, in trying to look the way she does on the video. Remember, always go slow and trust what your body says, no matter what you see on the screen or in a class.


The best way to learn yoga is in a class setting, with a good teacher. Yoga Journal online has a huge directory of yoga studios and teachers all over the world. I did a quick search, and found studios in every major cruise port city (except Mobile). If you're porting in Boston, New York, Miami or Vancouver there are some good studios nearby, very worth the $10 or $20 to check out. E-mail me if you want more details.

Monday, August 21, 2006

I deal in dreamers and telephone schemers

(Via Darcy) Fortune magazine asked, “Who needs record companies, anyway?” Well, most of us, according to one disgruntled reply, and another.

For the rest of us, I think we need to modify the question somewhat. The question now becomes “Do I need a label?”

Five years ago I made a record with No Sale Value, called Nu Currency, in it collaboration with a small Boston label. It seemed like a pretty good deal- we both put up some money, I handled most of the production end (and kept the masters), the label was to handle the marketing, relying heavily on the internet, we split any profits. I still feel very good about the album- we made a quality, really interesting, well-produced (and, I think, pretty cool) album for less than $6,000, including duplication costs. (The guys in the band were very generous with their time, but even if they hadn’t been, the album would've come in under $10K.) The label, well, didn’t exactly come through. Most of the distribution didn’t happen, they didn’t help us land any gigs of note, or with much radio play or media. Plus, three members of the band moved, making touring a near impossibility. In other words, no buzz, no interest, no sales. Two years later, after some court proceedings, we split ways. (The label folded not long after.) I left the whole experience with (900 copies of) a good record, a bad taste in my mouth and a little more savvy about making records. (Note I haven’t made one since.)

The CD is still available, actually much more available than it was five years ago. In 2004 I put it on CDBaby, and through them it’s on ITunes and Rhapsody. Anyone anywhere with a computer and a modem can download my music, and I actually get a bigger cut than I would if they bought it at Virgin, and a helluva lot more than if the album were released through Sony, or even Fresh Sound or (insert indie label here). This is good, right?

Not so much. We’ve been downloaded exactly ten times in the past year, at a net profit of about $7. Which is one sandwich at Cosi, last time I checked. (Yup, even on ships I can get at that ridiculous bread.) Maybe if we were gigging more, it'd be different, maybe not. (The primary reason Ani DiFranco et al have been so successful as completely independant artists is the same reason the Bad Plus and MMW have been successful as first small, then big label artists- they gig their assess off. They got there by word of mouth.)

If I had it to do again, I know I wouldn't go with that particular label. But I'm honestly still not sure if I'd have tried to get a label to bite, or done it myself, hired a publicist, etc. I still think if I had been a little smarter, and everyone had been a little less busy, we could've made that album work.

What is/was the advantage of making music on a label? One, they have the equipment to record you. Two, they can get your music to where it can be sold. Three, they can promote you to a far larger audience than you could ever reach yourself. Until recently. Technology has almost completely nullified the first two advantages. And blogs and networking sites like MySpace call the advantage of using a label for the third into question.

The digital economy presents both an opportunity and a problem for any content provider, but especially musicians. The opportunity- you can reach anyone anywhere with your music, for a lot less money than ever before. The problem- so can everyone else. The sheer volume of information available is greater than at anytime in history, and the quality of available music is more uneven than ever before. It takes a lot to cut through the clutter in any meaningful way.

This is the effect of the Long Tail, a book I mentioned in a couple of recent posts, and finished last week. The subtitle of the book is “How the future of business is selling Less of More.” Basically, he says that with this new abundance of content of all sorts, digital and real, the future of financial success is in selling a little of many personalized things than there is in selling a lot of a few mass-market ones. (This essay distills much it better than I can) The author, Chris Anderson, spends most of his time and energy thinking about the implications of this phenomenon on businesses- Ebay, Amazon, KitchenAid, etc. And I think he’s spot on. But he spends no time examining the Long Tail from the point of view of the small content provider, especially one in the arts. But I think he offers us some clues. (All ideas from here on out are influenced by the Long Tail idea, but are entirely mine. Don’t blame Anderson; if he put his mind to this I’m sure he’d figure it out smarter than I will.)

Maybe I’m overly optimistic, but I think artists, not just big ones, need record companies less and less. Through the internet we can do all of the things that a record company can. Some- people who can’t or won’t handle the business end of their lives- still may need labels. But I think the labels, whose margins are already shrinking drastically, won’t hold that advantage forever there either. The time and planning commitments to DIY are daunting, but a lot less daunting than we thing. And the margins are so much better. Some things to consider. (Only because, between my work on Ran Blake’s forthcoming book and N$V’s run at a big resurgence, I’m pondering them myself):

1. I think most of us savvy music types think instinctively that digital networking is critical. If we didn’t, all we'd need is the story of the Arctic Monkeys, who went from garage band to blog and MySpace darlings to SNL guest artists in six months flat. But does that guarantee their album any success, or their career any footing, on a large scale? I for one doubt it. (But I never liked their music, so…)

One of the messages of the Long Tail is that it’s not the quantity of people you reach in the new economy, it’s the quality; the web allows you to more easily reach the people who may actually be interested in what you’re doing, and willing to support it in a meaningful way. For instance, Darcy’s success to date with his big band is based on 1. the obvious quality of his work, and 2. the visibility with a likely audience- musicians, thinkers, bloggers, critics, and fans- that his presence on the web has provided. And he only averages 130 hits per day on his blog- a number I’d kill for, but not that many in the grand scheme of things. Would hitting 300 a day allow him the visibility to sell an album, or tour? (Well, if it weren’t a big band?) 500? IObviously, every band has a tipping point, where word of mouth can translate into some measure of success for the band. (Measured, again, largely by a band creating realistic expectations.) The web makes that tipping point more easily attainable faster. Not easily, but more easily.

(Aside, is MySpace, for all it’s hype, that powerful a tool for content providers? Do MySpace friends translate into record sales, or asses in the seats at gigs? Maybe they do, I sure hope so, but I’m not sold.)

2. Define success for you. I agree with the statement that we’re all looking for the big hit- a gold record, a spot at Boneroo or Caramoor, or whatever. Often what we need to succeed, or at least subsist, is a lot smaller than that. Maria Schneider went to Artistshare for her last album not because she thought she could sell more records there- quite the contrary. But she knew the hurdles to a profit would be much easier to clear there than they ever would have been at a traditional label, and the business process much more transparent. I know Maria is something of a niche superstar who comes in with obvious advantages over band X, but I think the model can work, albeit on a smaller scale, for many more musicians who don’t share her notoriety. After all, if you can make and market a record for $10,000, if you do it yourself you break even at 1,000 or so sold. Not easy (especially for a jazz record) but not impossible either.

I think the answer to “who needs record companies” hinges on the more basic question of “What are you trying to do with your record?” Most jazz musicians, at least, don’t make the bulk of their money on CD royalties. The CDs serve as a foot in the door with clubs, festivals, schools, and other power brokers, which allow them to actually make money. (Well, occasionally.) Does being on a label significantly help that process along or not?

More soon- this post still needs some cleaning up, and a revision is coming. 'Til then, fire away...

Friday, August 18, 2006

10 Days left on Cruise Ship X (yippee!), which means it's time for the:

Top Ten signs you've been a Cruise Ship Musician for Too Damn Long:

(note: I did my damnedest to do a list that had the fewest possible cruise ship in-jokes. I failed.)

10. You see a comedian come on stage, and recite his routine along with him verbatim.
9. Mexico feels more like home than Manhattan.
8. "Greasy Rubbery Grade-C Steak Night" in the mess qualifies as an exciting event.
7. A room with a nine-foot ceiling feels really, really spacious.
6. Gorgeous half-naked dancers prancing around backstage have no effect on you whatsoever.
5. You sing your favorite song the way it appears in a production show.
4. You're accustomed to taking orders from someone who tells fart jokes for a living.
3. You devolve into a sputtering drunk who hates music.
2. You no longer order your drinks in English.
1. You walk down the street yelling "Ciao!" to random passersby.

By six of these measures, I've been on a cruise ship for way too damn long. But you knew that already.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Dead Sox?

Both the Boston Globe and the Boston Sports Guy spend ink writing off the Red Sox today- not a good sign. On the bright side, I get to see the Yanks/Sox game on Sunday, my first of the year. (I´m predicting they lose tonight, and lose 3 of 5 to the Yanks, whereby it´s officially over.)

Early returns: I bought Thom Yorke´s Eraser on ITunes this week. Still undecided, but as an album it´s not killing me. Too much of one thing, even if it´s a great thing, is still too much of one thing.

Both the Tipping Point and the Long Tail are recommended reading. I´m putting together a long post about this, in relation to all of the talk about record labels popping around the blogosphere.

And rock nostalgia is the order of the week- Bad Plus for videos, Darcy for sax solos. I never had MTV as a kid, so I abstain.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Hassle my Hoff

There's bad, there's truly bad, there's awsomely bad... and then there's David Hasslehoff. I don't know how else to put it. And now, thanks to the magic of YouTube, the Hoff's video library, in all its bluescreened glory, is online. Let me point you to to the, er, highlights.

Hooked on a Feeling
- The king of all Hasslehoff videos, by far. He flies, he walks on water, and he has a male chorus singing "ooga chaka". What more could anyone ask for.

Jump in My Car- note the one spot where he's wearing a T-shirt that says "Don't Hassle the Hoff." That will be making an appearance at a No Sale Value gig this fall- you better believe it.

Secret Agent Man. James Bond via Pokemon, if you ask me.

Wings of Tenderness
- this one is just straight cheese, I'm afraid. Who writes this crap?

If NBC weren't quite so tight-assed about liscencing (another post is due on this topic) the capper would be the Hoff's cameo appearance on the West Wing, where Donna Moss drools all over him at a cocktail party. Can anyone help me here?

(via Latitude 44.2)

calling all frogs

In my inbox this morning, from Andrew DiMola, booker at the Lily Pad, the anything goes music venue in Cambridge:


the lily pad - boston's beloved forum for original, creative music - has been forced to cancel all shows until further notice. due to noise complaints, the cambridge licensing board is obligated to follow the letter of the law in serving the lily pad with a 'cease and desist' order. the lily pad needs YOUR help urgently to survive. we need to show the city that the lily pad is a vital cultural center that serves a valuable function by providing a forum for creative musical expression. by showing our overwhelming support we can help overturn the order.

what you can do to help RIGHT NOW:

1. write a letter of support for the lily pad, stating that the venue is a vital asset that is necessary to the community, and that it does no harm. letters can be sent by mail to the following address:

Richard V. Scali, Chairman
Cambridge License Commission
831 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139-3068

or via email:

I am looking forward to both hearing and playing music at the Lily Pad in the future- it's the last place in Boston that gives artists the freedom to pretty much do what they want. (Mind you, we pay up front, which doesn't thrill me, but...) Andrew and Gill, the owner, are two striaght up good guys in a business that discourages any decency, and my letter goes in the mail tomorrow.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Wagging the dog

Links o'the day:

(via Darcy)- Who needs record companies?, and a depressed response.

See also The Long Tail, (via Dave Douglas). I'm getting the book version from the library, and will have more to say on Monday.

Vaguely related- Lach's Antifolk Festival hits the East Village (again). Like literally thousands of musicians, I've met Lach a few times, because he booked me at the Sidewalk Cafe in the East Village. Site of some of the best, and worst, singer-songwriter performances I ever heard in NYC. Nice to see he's still doing it, probably grating everyone in the room as he does it.

Completely unrealted: Destination Out has a cut from the remarkable, out of print Dogon A.D., mentioned recently in my 70's post. Fan-bleepin-tastic. I almost feel silly mentioning them every week, bt the posts are that good, consistently.

Finally, I am a bit of a MySpace junkie, I'm embarrased to admit. (more on this in Monday's post) Highlight of the day- a friend comment from one pretty 20-something girl to another. (I don't know either one):

"hey babycakes!!!!!!!!!!!!!! get ready to be stalked by men named DA BOMB and EL GUAPO. "

For the non-Bostonians, El Guapo is a reference to a Red Sox relief pitcher of about five years ago, real name Rich Garces, who was 5'8" and at least 270 pounds. And at his prime, a half-decent pitcher, but nobody really cared about that. He became something of a folk hero in these parts (his nickname loosely translates as 'the handsome one'). So to a Boston townie, this is high comedy.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Lo Joe

We interrupt this blog to talk politics for a moment. My sincere apologies.

It was interesting to follow the Lieberman-Lamont Senate campaign from a distance. (If I were in Boston I'd be getting more of the local angle) Instead, I got most of my information from CNN and Salon, which almost balanced each other out. My impression of Lamont is none too positive- like Corzine with better hair- but I'm glad he won. If you're a progressive Democrat, this now becomes THE most important race of the year- if Lamont loses, I think it shows that the left is nothing but a political niche capable of being stomped by the Republicans anytime they want.

However, I think one can overstate Lieberman's loss. Glenn Greenwald is filling in at War Room this week, and I think he nailed it:

"It cannot be argued in good faith that Democrats are intolerant of any elected official who supported the war in Iraq or that such support is some sort of "litmus test." There are scores of pro-war Democrats who are not being ejected from the party or even being challenged electorally. Lieberman went far beyond mere support for the war, and repeatedly adopted the most demonizing and extremist rhetoric used by Bush's supporters to equate opposition to the Bush administration's foreign policies with anti-Americanism and support for America's enemies. It should surprise nobody if the people whom Lieberman has been attacking and demonizing in this manner decide that they would like to have a different senator. "

I think the Dems need to be mch more raucous, and much more creative, in their efforts to push Bush and cronies fully onto the defensive this fall. Lamont could be a step in the right direction. In my mind the jury's still out.

And, to attempt fair and balanced, there is now a politically conservative jazz blog on the web,

Monday, August 07, 2006

I would sail away home...

21 more days on the voyage of the damned...

David Ryshpien, former voyager and pianist/composer, has a nice piece on his blog about the ongoing post-'73 jazz conversation. Highly recommended. Also, I now have a cameo on Dave Douglas' blog. Validation is always nice.

One thing that strikes me there, I can't get over the fact that in the early 70's Braxton was signed to Arista, a huge label. I guess it just goes to show exactly how much the game has changed. And Braxton himself is an interesting case, one I hope to talk about more soon. Destination Out has some really cool big band stuff he did in the 70's at present.

The unfairer festival

(Via Darcy) Jazz @ Lincoln Center presents the Second Annual Diet Coke Women in Jazz Festival.

Put aside the annoying product placement for a second, and assume that festival this is a good idea. Look at the bills. C'mon, people, this is why so many musicians and more forward looking fans get so pissed at Wynton et al so often, even as their rhetoric cools. The booking shows a general failure of imagination. There's an overabundance of mainstream singers (is it a requirement of jazz singers to do a set at least once a week with "very special friends"?), and with the exception of the "Europe night" (I plead ignorance on these artists), the artists they present do okay on their own. Why not pair Elaine Elias with Ingrid Jentsen's group (to name one), or Marian McPartland with the IAJE's Sisters in Jazz group? Why not expiriment with presentation, invite someone like Nancy Ostrovsky or dancers? If you're going to take a chance beyond your usual booking policy, why not, you know, take a chance?

And I know this is a LOT to ask of Lincoln Center, how about representing some of the stylistic diversity in the music today? We're far past the point where just having a latin group (and Spirits of Havana is a damn good one) shows the breadth of the music. Off the top of my head, where are Susie Iberra, Mary Halverson, Patricia Barber, etc? Anyone, anyone?

I should hold off, I know- the late night sets are TBA, and surprisingly affordable for J@LC. But as other "art music" organizations, up to and including many symphony orchestras, find new and interesting ways to present and promote music, the few jazz organizations that do exist, especially J@LC, seem to be stuck in a time warp.

(Oh, the sponsorship. Darcy clubs it, and justly. But maybe I'm just cynical at this point, but if Coke wants to throw money at the arts, they can call it the jolt cola edible undergarments festival for all I care. The music still gets played.)

Friday, August 04, 2006

buzz beep buzz

24 days until Cruise Ship X starts to fade into memory... Help me start reintegrating into musical life again, please.

Seriously, I'm trying to reorient my ears to what's going on in the ambient/electronica/bleep, blurp and groove scene. (Okay, I don't know if there is such a scene, but there ought to be.) I know Squarepusher drops an album next month, (preview track here) My last few purchases in this realm were old Sigur Ros (love it), and old We (mixed bag, mostly good) Assume I know nothing about it, except that I'm interested- I used to know something, but that was when I was in NYC. For a college town, Boston is a surprisingly thin scene.

Any advice? I'll follow up with reviews of the best and worst. Thanks in advance.

Meantime, having nothing to do with the above. Song of the day is "War" by Jonatha Brooke. That about says it all. The original version with Joe Cocker is nice too (link doesn't work, sorry).

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

No Sale Value

My long dormant almost-pop project No Sale Value is making plans to come out of hibernation and start playing in New York this fall. Baby steps to start, beginning with our own MySpace page. There´s some photos and sounds up, and I´ll try to get it pretty on Friday. As always, advice and feedback are most welcome...

Meanwhile, after some torrential rains, the sun in shining in Playa Del Carmen. And since the weather says we´re wading into a hurricane this weekend, I´d better go enjoy it while I can...