Mashed Potatoes

August 18th, 2014

Not many things are equally exciting the second time you do them, but playing at the Hollywood Bowl certainly is! Though not the biggest gig in town, it is just about the desirable place to play. The sound of 14 thousand people coming down at you in an amphitheater like that is crazy, everything is run impeccably and being able to drive right up to the back of the stage instead of doing the usual haul is just icing on the cake. Last night Keiko was kind enough to have me in her band over there; for the second time! I’m blessed beyond words….

JumbotronBowl

The cellist that played on Soul Quest, Cameron Stone, sat in with us and for him it was the first time on that iconic stage. What made it even more special for him was that he was “the only cello”, instead of being part of an orchestra! LOL! I just checked his Allmusic listing and this guy is no amateur: he’s played on many records, from Herbie Hancock to Hanson, but even this man was downright giddy being there. All in all it was a great evening. We went first, then came BWB, with Kirk Whalum, Norman Brown and Rick Braun, with Elliott Yamin as special guest. Then followed by none other than the Ohio Players, kicking the crowd into a freny, with Boney James as the closer, featuring Eric Benet as special guest. I still can hardly believe that I get to be a part of all this…….

John Maynard Keynes to Franklin Roosevelt

August 12th, 2014

“Businessmen have a different set of delusions from politicians, and need, therefore, different handling. They are, however, much milder than politicians, at the same time allured and terrified by the glare of publicity, easily persuaded to be “patriots”, perplexed, bemused, indeed terrified, yet only too anxious to take a cheerful view, vain perhaps but very unsure of themselves, pathetically responsive to a kind word. You could do anything you liked with them, if you would treat them (even the big ones), not as wolves or tigers, but as domestic animals by nature, even though they have been badly brought up and not trained as you would wish. It is a mistake to think that they are more immoral than politicians. If you work them into the surly, obstinate, terrified mood, of which domestic animals, wrongly handled, are so capable, the nation’s burdens will not get carried to market; and in the end public opinion will veer their way.”

Misinformation

August 11th, 2014

Right after I wrote the Sonny Rollins piece the other day, I experienced an example of misinformation so painful I must share it. Waiting in line for a refill of coffee, the woman in front of me, who had a boy with her probably not 10 years old, ordered her drink; immediately the kid said “caffeine free is bad for you!” For a second I thought he was joking, but he wasn’t! He said it at least three more times, before the lady said: “You mean caffeine is bad for you!” The sad part is of course that both statements are nonsense in a clusterfuck of bullshit that could probably tear a hole in the space-time continuum!

Considering the health benefits of caffeine and coffee amazingly the first statement holds more water than the latter amazingly; while there’s probably a an amount of the black gold that can be consumed that can be hazardous, the bottom line is that drinking it regularly is quite beneficial. If only for the fact that it promotes better bowel movements which are ESSENTIAL to good health. It’s one of the things that I wrote about before, something that Midas Dekkers so passionately explained in relation to all the talk about diet: it’s what comes out that needs to examined before we even talk about what goes in, because almost always it shows us what’s wrong.

Here’s another benefit that can be empirically measured: drinking coffee really helps with creating a good balance in your mouth. Most people know that you can tell a lot about that by looking at your tongue: ideally you want no white covering it. There’s a eternal battle going on in there, with good bacteria breaking down sugars and other stuff. The whiter your tongue, the further off from the ideal you are. Eat something sugary and watch it go. Now drink a cup or two of Starbucks drip and check again. Bet you didn’t realize how effective it is, did you? There’s a reason we have the old European tradition of finishing a meal with a cup of joe……

Add in the measured positive effect of staying awake when tired (think driving!) which is proven to save lives, directly and consistently and it’s going to be hard to make a case for caffeine being a net deficit to human health, isn’t it? We need to stop living in fear, of fat, coffee, the sun etc.

Neurosynaptic Chip

August 11th, 2014

“Holistic Computing Intelligence” they call it at IBM, the combination of traditional linear, analytical processing, combined with Neurosynaptic chips adressing senses and pattern recognition. You see, old-fashioned computers use an insane amount of power for tasks that the human brain for instance can do almost effortlessly, like recognizing someone’s face, even when it’s not exactly like you’ve seen it before. Our brains can instantly ‘connect the dots’ if you will, spot the parts that are recognizable, throw away the parts that aren’t and then draw the conclusion. Emulating that process, which takes place in what’s called a “Neural Network” in software has shown great promise, but now we’re moving into an era in which the actual structure, the framework, will be built in hardware.

The SyNAPSE chip which was introduced 08_07_2014 is a major step in that direction; it contains the equivalent of 1 million neurons and 256 million synapses, or as some say, about the complexity of the brain of a bee! That doesn’t sound like much, but as we all know, technology moves fast and increases in complexity exponentially. The craziest part is that at full operational speed it only consumes 70 mW. That’s milli-Watts or 1000th of a Watt! A typical Intel i3 chip can draw as much as 60W, or a thousand times as much, without getting close to being able to simulate that kind of complexity. A human brain contains about 100 billion neurons, so we’re a factor 100,000 away, but when you realize that in 2011 IBM was making chips with only 256 you can imagine where we’re going. A mouse has 71 million and that’s a reasonably complex animal, isn’t it?

There’s so much talk about Artificial Intelligence these days, and a lot of ‘information’ and opinion being spread by people who really have very little if any understanding of the matter. One of the biggest holes in the arguments I often hear is that a machine can never be as complex and unpredictable as a human because everything it does is ‘programmed’; this almost always comes from people who have never even programmed anything, yet they feel very confident in their opinion! The truth seems to be that what we see as such typical biological traits comes from sufficient complexity of just about any system. Think about your PC: does it do always exactly what you tell it to? No way! Sometimes it behaves unexpectedly, due to the synergy of its components, in ways that nobody who designed the individual parts planned, or even could have foreseen. And that’s with traditional linear machines! Imagine what happens if we start building them in electrical versions of the way we’re built. Then comes the question: “will those machines believe in God?” Most asking it will immediately answer it themselves with a resolute “of course not!”, but the answer is actually “quite possibly so!” We’ve already seen complex enough simulations of neural networks exhibiting emotional behavior, and that’s no lie. In addition, we must remember that such systems are not programmed in the traditional sense of the word; a much better description would be that they are taught just like children, which means that sometimes they will not do what they were ‘instructed’ to do.

I don’t think we can overestimate the importance of this development, as I promise it will change our world even more than we can imagine. It’s not simple material, and it requires a really open mind. We MUST hypothesize what will happen if we build a machine that is as complex and capable as a human, and then what happens when it’s 1000 as smart as the smartest human. We MUST speculate on the effects of a conscious machine. And no, Apple will not pre-chew the tech and make it so you can harness it without pondering existential questions!

 

 

Sonny Rollins

August 7th, 2014

Has anybody out there caught this controversy about the New Yorker Article in which Sonny Rollins supposedly discusses Jazz? In it, he says ‘the saxophone sounds horrible’ as do all other instruments, except maybe the drums because they drown out the others! He describes Miles Davis “staring at his horn” “as if it were a poisonous snake”…. it’s pretty funny stuff actually, labeled as humor in its URL (http://www.newyorker.com/humor/daily-shouts/sonny-rollins-words) and with an editor’s not calling it “a work of satire”. So how in the world did this become an issue?

I’ve written about it in these pages before: the spread of mis-information is accelerating, and people’s willingness to believe it fortified by the sheer speed at which it appears everywhere. How anyone in his or her right mind could ever believe that Rollins would write this and/or mean it is completely beyond me. But there it is, and even Sonny can be found describing worry that this piece might hurt young people’s dedication to the art form! This is an innocuous example, but it’s no different from the political nonsense that so many seem to grab on to. We are in danger of increasingly basing our opinions, and thus our actions on false information… and that helps NO ONE! Americans have, in my opinion, destroyed their relationship with food in such a way, and Europeans are not far behind.

Facebook is actually more dangerous than it seems in this story. Simply because of its nature, its members are most likely to see posts from people they already know, or perhaps their friends. That means, a feed of stuff you probably already agree with! Any challenge is met with a quick ‘unfollow’. There’s that feedback loop again! It’s making us even more sensitive to criticism than we already were and that’s very bad. If one piece of satire can sway you from dedicating your life to Jazz, you had no business planning that future in the first place!

“This economy….”

August 3rd, 2014

What a difference a year makes! After what turned out to be perhaps the busiest July of my life, it’s time to share with you the tale of a very successful first half of a year: in the first six months of 2014, I made $26,000, or almost as much as in all of 2012! I did 63 public gigs, went to Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, the East Coast a couple of times….. it’s been really good, and just as importantly, fun! For perhaps the first time in my life, I’m consistently making more than I’m spending and the future looks great. Anytime I’m in town, I have a steady Friday night gig with the one and only Jeff Robinson and a steady three Sundays a month with the wonderful Peter Torsiello; Russ Freeman is starting to book gigs again and Keiko is working more than ever!

Now if we can only get the doomsday thinkers to stop saying our economy is worse than it really is: it’s growing at an excellent pace, adding more jobs than it has in a long time; GDP is higher than it’s ever been, and corporate earnings are higher than they’ve ever been. I’m not saying there aren’t problems, but in my opinion they really are in the distribution of these record profits, with too much going to the folks at the top and not enough going to the regular guy, but that’s for another blog post…

Reviews: part deux

July 30th, 2014

Yesterday, I wrote about them from the perspective of an artist, but reviews’ true value is in what they provide for the customer! That is, their potential to have value! In the future, as content creation explodes, they will be even more important to separate the wheat from the chaff so to speak. That’s why it’s of utmost importance that we don’t muddy the waters with meaningless critiques, with analyses by folks who don’t ‘understand’ the matter at heart.

So what’s important? First of, the willingness to truly unleash opinions, to express feelings. That means, sometimes it will not be positive, because nothing is perfect. Secondly, we need informed critics, ones who have wide experience and knowledge. Finally, it’s important to escape potential bias of commerce: reviews of products that also have a paid advertisement in the same magazine for instance are inherently suspect! We all know the power of marketing and we need to minimize the potential power it has on us as much as we can.

In the end, an other person’s opinion can be invaluable; when I first started really studying music, my ears were opened that much further by friends, musicians who I greatly admired, literally showing me the great parts of “Heavy Weather“, pointing out licks, harmonic movement etc. We are herd animals and we are nothing without each other. Customer reviews on Newegg or Amazon have helped me tremendously, although these days there are more and more that are actually so wrong it’s hard to comprehend. Like always, keep that grain of salt handy….

Reviews

July 29th, 2014

So what about reviews? In a world where everybody has an opinion about everything, where even the someone who has proven not to be able to manage his or her own finances feels confident in expressing what we must do with our country’s tax money, what kind of value do we put on what a critic thinks of a CD? Unfortunately, we also now live in a world where we have many folks who ‘belong’ to that category who refuse to write anything negative! How can an analysis be accurate if only positives are highlighted? Add in the fact that many, MANY of them have no clue what they’re talking about, and one realizes that a grain of salt is not nearly enough!

Interestingly, reviews of customers, on Amazon for instance, have become quite important; even though many of them could be accused of not being knowledgeable, in this case it doesn’t actually matter! Enjoyment of music is purely a matter of taste and tastes are limited. One of my big goals in life is to learn to truly appreciate and maybe love as many different kinds of music. It takes an open mind, a lot of effort and time. But, if you’re making a product, and any music you publish becomes just that, it’s important what the customers think, even if they’re ‘wrong’.

A special award goes to ‘reviewers’ who basically just write down a description of all the tunes on a record, without any judgment whatsoever. With everybody throwing out the ubiquitous nonsensical advice to ‘not judge anyone’, it seems to make sense, except, it doesn’t help anyone either. Some of my biggest moments of growth have come out of painful critiques from others. No pain no gain! The perspective of others can be invaluable to artists. It’s a beautiful thing when a reviewer does get it of course, and the inspiration that results can be of great help to keep going in this often lonely journey.

Finally and most importantly though, a true artist goes it alone. She doesn’t care what anybody thinks: the music is what it needs to be, what it always was, even before it existed. It’s nice when someone likes it, but it’s technically irrelevant, because there’s always a chance that no one in the whole world has developed the ability yet to comprehend the magnificence of the work!

Uber-X

July 28th, 2014

My neighbor Brian took me to a beer brewery/tasting room in Van Nuys a couple of weeks ago. Instead of driving, because another of our neighbors was there already, he decided to take me on my first uberX ride. I have to say, it was an excellent experience: the car was clean, the driver calm and collected. Last Saturday I did first solo ride and it too was excellent. I wanted to go see a friend play at the Oyster House, perhaps three miles from my house. Been working my butt off and I didn’t feel like riding my bike, and my friend John was gonna meet me there. Surely we’d end up going somewhere else later, so I fired up the app and waiting time was stated as 4 minutes! I could see the car on a map as it was coming my way on Ventura, then turning onto Hazeltine. A Belgian guy in a Prius showed up, and 5 minutes later, for the amazing price of $4.90 I was at my destination!

The best part is that you don’t need to deal with the paying part, it’s fully automatic. No tipping, everything is handled by the app. No need to explain where you are to the driver, the app let’s you put a ‘push pin’ on a map exactly where you are! It’s highly efficient and truly a perfect example of how we can become a much more efficient world. Recommended!

The Choir: Military Wives (Updated!)

July 27th, 2014

It’s summer so in Holland it’s time for “Zomergasten” an iconic yearly TV show, which is perhaps my favorite thing on this medium anywhere. Presented by a different host every year, it has only one guest who, for the three hours the program lasts, has total freedom to discuss any topic, tell any story or share any observation, while showing video clips from any movie/TV show/documentary he wants. Mind you, there are no commercial interruptions! This years presenter is Wilfried de Jong, a very smart and truly interested person, and the first guest was none other than Freek de Jonge, a living legend in the Netherlands. A true artist, de Jonge discusses many many interesting topics and makes it clear that he’s as free as a human can be in this day and age: his one-man theater shows are completely and utterly uncompromised,  not by commerce, or by the desire to be liked by everyone which plagues so many these days.

In this 180 minute journey, we see a young Charlie Chaplin, discovering his talents in a time where close-up shots had not even been considered yet! We witness the most unbelievable put by Tiger Woods: the movement of the ball includes what looks like about a 90 degree turn, and then a teetering on the edge of the hole for literally seconds before it seems like the growing roar of the crowd provides the last little push it needs to go in! There are many more very interesting parts, but where it really got me was when Freek showed us a few minutes of a British program called The Choir: Military Wives.

It’s the fourth season of a show in which conductor Gareth Malone rounds up groups of people to form a singing group. This is no populist BS though, he works them, but more importantly, literally makes them better people. I’ve said many times the we westerners don’t sing together enough! I haven’t seen the whole show, but in the 5 minutes we got to witness on Zomergasten, at first we see a few dozen women whose husbands are away at war; these are ladies who know each other, but in England there’s not much socializing between folks of different ranks so they don’t know each other well. Also, most are not singers and visibly uncomfortable with the whole situation. In addition, military wives are probably in a similarly rigid system as their husbands, not used to the ‘cutting loose and letting go’ that music begs for.

By the time that they perform in front of prince Charles at Royal Albert Hall (!!!!) their faces have completely changed; I get tears in my eyes writing this, I can see the unity, the peace, the togetherness, the confidence. It’s like they were girls and now they are women. Freek makes some very fascinating observations: “when their husbands come back from the war, they’re going to have a problem!” The women have now far surpassed their partners in this journey of discovery we call life, as the latter have probably regressed in their understanding of balance and happiness. Wives who acted like they had never been listened to have now learned to wield the power of their voices, in the best, most selfless way possible.

One final interesting thing: even though most Dutch public TV shows are watchable online these days, for free by the way, most of the time Zomergasten is not, but this episode was! You know why? Because the restrictions always come due to ‘geographic’ license issues in this over-commercialized world; but true art is not run by money managers! There were no Disney clips, no major network Amercian TV…….. and the result was another perfect example of the potential of this Medium!

UPDATE: found out that the entire three part series can be watched on Youtube in perfectly fine quality! I watched it last night and was so moved……. Choir Director Gareth Malone is quite an interesting character, and at points all his judgements of these women (“they literally have no voice!”) seem quite pretentious and almost vulgar, but then the faces don’t lie and the incredible joy and thankfulness they experience moved me to tears. Wow!