Surface meet Sonar

With the latest update, it’s quite amazing how well Sonar Platinum runs on my 2GB/64GB Microsoft Surface 3…really, after properly calibrating the pen (duh!), it’s just so cool to be able to draw in the “piano roll”. Fingers to move the canvas, pinch to zoom, pen draws notes, moves notes, eraser button works, even pressure sensitivity to determine velocity!

Listen, I bought this machine for $250, with a dock with ethernet, HDMI and extra USB ports, with the pen and the type cover. Used, but in excellent condition. After monkeying with some drivers I decided to do a fresh reinstall from a Windows 10 USB stick. It certainly made a difference, although there are still areas in which the system is noticeably slower than my i3 based XPS 13. Firefox is weirdly sluggish, sometimes in unexpected things like typing this blog. Pleasantly surprised!

Dosey Doe in the Woodlands, TX

Today I just want to give props to one of the very best places to play in these United States! When you travel with a band like the Rippingtons, you have what’s called a “rider”, a list of things you need/want ready at the venue. It usually contains stuff like batteries, food and drinks, catering during sound check, all kinds of amenities. Whether all of them are provided is certainly not a given, and the size of the place is not necessarily indicative of compliance. Some spots will even charge us half or full price just to have a beer or two, some stock the dressing room with a nice selection of beverages and food.

And then there is The Big Barn – Dosey Doe in The Woodlands, TX. Not only is it a wonderful venue acoustically and aesthetically (the took a 165 year old tobacco barn from Kentucky and rebuilt it outside of Houston!!) but it might just be the place that takes the best care of us. I mean, from the moment we get there every single person working is not only courteous and  happy to be there, but also goes way beyond what we need or deserve. The boss wants to order three dinners, two to go? No problem. Beer, top shelf whiskey, vodka, deserts….anything we want. They place is filled with genuinely great people, on a level that is beyond rare here in the city of Angels. And guess what: it results in a band that wants to do a great show! Dosey Doe started as a coffee roaster years ago and they still do it. At the end of the night they send us on our way with a pound of beans of our choice, each! Here’s a place that deserves to thrive and I’m glad to see they’re doing well.

So thank you Paul, Kevin, Barry and everyone at Dosey Doe for creating such an amazing place to keep live music alive and kicking! Hope to see you again soon!

Saxomofone

As I approach the 25th anniversary of my move to the United States of America, and I look back at what it has brought me, I can’t help but feel blessed and grateful. It’s been a hell of a ride, that’s for sure, many years as an illegal alien, seemingly endless doubt of whether I made the right decision, gigs gained and lost, great honors and even 15 minutes in the back of a cop car! After all though, I have now worked with some folks for more than 20 years, not only some of the finest musicians I know, but also some of my dearest friends. Through all the flakiness of this here big city, those friendships have carried me in a land so so far away from home, providing strength and inspiration. At my advanced age, I get to tour the world with two world-class acts, make wonderful records every year with artist of all kinds of plumage.

Let’s get one thing straight: the two albums I have made, would not have been the same had I stayed in Holland. Not only because I wouldn’t have half the musician I am now, but simply because a huge part of the music is who’s playing, isn’t it? And now, I find myself making a third album, and being able to call perhaps the three finest Sax players in L.A., and find them not just willing, but excited to play my tunes! So there it is, this little Dutch boy is about to put out an album with Eric Marienthal, Doug Webb and Brandon Fields on it! Coming soon!

Dell Inspiron 13 7000

Helped a good friend and his wife find a laptop today at Best Buy! He’s only really accustomed to Mac and she’s really used to Windows, which is what she uses at work. The time had come to get a laptop for the house and there were no preconceived notions, but budget was of course an issue. A Macbook starts at $1000, has a crappy screen with an i5, 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD; MacBook Pro 13 with 256GB, 16GB and a beautiful screen is $1500, and only USB-C ports BTW! The store had a giant sale going on, almost every Windows laptop on sale.

First item of interest was a Samsung ultra-thin. Everything is soldered on the motherboard thus can’t be replaced or upgraded, the keyboard had uncomfortably little travel, gorgeous display and under 3 pounds, for $1100 with 256GB SSD, 16GB of RAM for $1100. I talked them out of it, not in the least because such an irreparable machine should only be bought from a company with good warranty service; Samsung is not such a company! Besides, for a machine that’s gonna live in the house all the time, not be lugged from airport to airport, saving a pound is inconsequential. There was the Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1. Screen quality in between the Mac Air and Pro, 1920×1080, full 10 point touch(!), 360 degree hinges, pretty damn great keyboard, not as nice as the XPS 13 but way better than that $1100 Sammy. One with i5 12GB of Ram and 256GB SSD is $749, with an i3, 8GB, 128GB $649! We’re talking USB-C port AND two regular USB3 ports! It has SD card reader, HDMI out, metal body. I tell them “Let’s see if there’s an open box one….” and there it is! The i5 model, Geek Squad recertified, with full manufacturer warrant, for $550.

Let me tell you, this thing is GREAT! It’s under 4 pounds, well built, touch screen works great and all the different modes are awesome; Tent mode is just perfect for on the kitchen counter, where a wet finger won’t drip onto the guts of the machine, or for watching Netflix in bed. It might not have everything an XPS has, like a PCIe SSD, but guess what: this little computer FLIES, just a joy to use. In a couple of years when the 256GB is full, you pop in a 1TB! An extra 8GB costs $65 right now! The final bonus is a Windows Hello compatible camera; no really, it has an infrared camera, which means a face-unlock feature that’s actually secure, can’t be fooled by a picture. I had never seen it in action and it is mighty freaky to look at the damn thing and it acknowledging you by name……

As I sip on a nice French Roast on the Clover and write this post, I’m reading some reviews online, scratching my head. How in the world are you going to put a $750 machine up against something costing double and then complaining about the screen? The rating of 3.5 stars out of 5 is completely wrong in my opinion. This is as close to a five star machine as possible for that price. At $550 it’s a gift from the Gods!

Keiko Matsui

Something quite fascinating is how people have the tendency to categorize. In order to organize this mess of a world, to be able to deal with the chaos and unpredictability humans assign things to boxes: good and evil, healthy and unhealthy, Country music, Metal. Once something has been assigned a category, it rarely gets reclassified. Sometimes it’s quite beneficial, but it can be detrimental too, for instance when people start conforming to the box they’re in, whether they chose to be in there or were put in there by others.

And then there are people like Keiko Matsui. This woman, classical piano wunderkind, became a worldwide star in the world of New Age and later Smooth Jazz, touring the world for 30 years now. This woman made 26 albums before “Journey to the Heart” last year. She now sells 1500 tickets a night in Russia for two weeks straight, a beloved artist at Smooth Jazz nights from the Hollywood Bowl to Java Jazz in Jakarta, Indonesia. But guess what: she keeps growing and innovating, keeps pushing, instead of resting on her laurels and riding this wave into the sunset.

After years of others, mostly men of course, running her life, managers, record labels etc., she has taken control! That album she did last year? Her best one yet, and the most free of all. Produced by none other than Carlitos Del Puerto, son of Cuban bass legend Carlos Del Puerto of Irakere, it’s her first all acoustic project and it’s truly wonderful. She never really was a Smooth Jazz artist to begin with, very few 2 chord R&B jams in her repertoire, but here we have a proper Jazz album, awesome compositions, fantastic playing by a group of great musicians. I’m serious, this is music that would fit in at any real Jazz club in the world and she proved it last week in Napa.

Back in 2000 I did one summer with Keiko and her manager ran the show back then, she would hardly talk to the band. When I joined again in 2013 the situation was much different already. I replaced Eric Baines who was the musical director, so it really was the first time she took on that role, and slowly but surely she realized that she could easily do it! I mean, after almost 30 years of doing your music, you know what you want! Communication across languages can be hard, and explaining feeling in music even harder, but between a group of excellent musicians (JP Mourao, Jackiem Joyner, Dave Karasony) who truly repected her and my above average language skills, we got there. She still had a “Pop”/Classical concept of her show, with strict arrangements and solos that were almost verbatim every night. Doing “Journey to the Heart”, and then touring on it with the Carlitos and Jimmy Branly forced her to adopt more of a true Jazz flow: those guys are UNSTOPPABLE, they cannot be put in a box. They will never play the same thing twice. I heard some of the live recordings and they went for it every time, actually a little too much for Keiko’s fans I’m afraid. Of course Carlitos is the hottest bass player in the world right now, so when Chick Corea called, and Barbra Streisand and Bob James, he moved on and combined with the preference of promoters and fans for the electric band, we got the call again.

Fast forward to last week, when we did 4 nights, two shows a night, at the brand new Blue Note in Napa, CA. I’m not exaggerating when I say all 8 shows where in my top 25 favorite gigs of my life. Keiko was simply outstanding and we played like a real band; I get tears in my eyes again thinking about it, as happened literally every night at some point. The stage is small there, and with the incredible CF6 that Yamaha brought especially for Keiko, we were set up super tight, which is ideal actually for playing Jazz. Keiko played some truly amazing solos, really blew my mind how free and creative, how beautiful, playful and exciting. She improvised stuff on songs I had never heard even a slight variation on. And we were right with her, at all times; it’s incredible what happens when a band trusts itself, when a soloist feels so comfortable. JP went from beautiful whisper quiet Brazilian flavors to screaming rock, rhythmical explorations to surf…. our dynamics as band were incredible, we played so softly a few times, without losing any intensity it shocked me.

Honestly, Keiko became a true Jazz pianist this week. She’s been trying to book shows in Western Europe, but her association with Smooth Jazz has held her back, even though she was always more of a New Age/Pop/Classical pianist. Now, in my opinion, she could and should get booked at any real Jazz club in the world, even with the electric band. It’s beyond inspiring to see a woman of her stature make such a bold and dramatic move, to refuse to stay in a box and boldly go…….. feeling beyond blessed to be able to witness it……

Google Customer Service

For the first however many years, regular folks like you and me were not customers of Google’s; we certainly used their products, Maps, Gmail, Search, but like in any situation where advertising pays the bills, we were the product, lured in by good stuff, which was then sold to the advertisers. More precisely, our ‘attention’ was and is being sold, the chance to put something in our minds, for however short a period of time. Even Android was in effect free for consumers.

These days the Big G actually sells directly to us, from Cloud storage to music and movies, but even cellular service with Project Fi, which I subscribed to almost a year ago. Last Wednesday, my beloved Nexus 5X started acting up: fingerprint reader stopped working and it started rebooting on its own. I tried a factory reset which failed the first time, but completed the second. Once everything was back up it mostly worked, but once in a while would reboot. Clearly, it needed to be replaced and was still under warranty so I started a support chat with Google at 2AM. The customer service rep was quick, asked me about my problems, made sure I had d0ne a full reset (she knew what she was talking about!) and did not make me repeat all the steps because it’s on the script (!*&!*&*@&), and then told me a replacement would be shipped out Fedex NextDay at no cost to me! “You deserve a working device” was the line she used. This morning, less than 36 hours after initiating the chat, I got it! It said refurbished, but this is a brand new looking Nexus 5X!

So there it is: as good an experience as one can expect, with a carrier that’s perhaps the most inexpensive of all by the way! My monthly bill has gone from $70 with T-Mobile (albeit with more data) to $35 or $40, with better reception, a free second Data SIM for my backup phone, ability to text, call and check voicemail from my computer or any browser for that matter. Plus, I can now call my friends in Holland on their cell phones for 4 cents a minute, from my mobile! I can make calls from just about anywhere in the world for 20 cents a minute, texting from and to anywhere is free. That’s right, I can be in Ukraine texting someone in South Africa for free.

About that second free SIM card: I have it in my Honor 5X, an inexpensive Huawei (I paid $170, 5.5″ screen, 2GB RAM, uSD slot) with dual SIM capabilities that I use to hold my old landline number that I ported to H2O wireless on a $9 every 3 months plan (that’s right, I can keep my number for $36 per year). It means that I can tap into the same $10/GB supply on my Project Fi account to keep that phone online, and since Hangouts doesn’t care which device it’s on, texts and voicemails to my main number show up on the Huawei as well! In this case I was still able to use my Nexus, but if I ever lost it or it would stop working altogether, I’d never be without being reachable on my main phone number, or without the ability to use maps, airline apps etc. etc. It’s simply brilliant!

Of strength and vulnerability

All this renewed talk about the ‘alt-right’ and fascism has had me thinking about strength and where it is found in this universe. The biggest fallacy of Nazis and the like is that a genetically pure people is a strong people, and that just doesn’t mesh with the way the universe works. Just look at the difference between pure-bred dogs and mutts: genetic diseases are more common in the former. Similarly, in the world of finance, the most robust investment portfolio is a diversified one. We don’t have the saying “Don’t Put All Your Eggs In One Basket” for nothing, do we? In my opinion it resonates in just about all situations and I have made redundancy one of my main objectives regarding everything that matters: I’d rather have 2 computers than one, even if that means getting less fancy ones perhaps, I have accounts with multiple banks, bought 2 of just about everything that my life depends on. What it means is that half the stuff I own could get stolen and I would hardly be affected! The peace of mind that comes from that position, especially put against the increasing fear I see in others concerning the possessions, is truly priceless. What’s strange is how few people seem to understand it at all…..

Looking forward, digital security and strength is becoming more and more important. In my opinion, trusting one company with your entire digital life is beyond foolish, especially in such a fast-changing world. We’re seeing more and more hacking of digital systems and it’s probably only a matter of time before a major bank will have its systems so compromised that it will become inoperable, at least temporarily. Think about that for a moment, if your checking account is unusable, what does that mean for your day to day life? Do you really want to be late on your mortgage due to no fault of your own? It might sound dramatic, but really we have no way of predicting what’s gonna happen. What we do know is that as everything gets more and more connected, bigger and bigger damage could be inflicted by smaller and smaller groups of people. Just this last weekend hackers broke into a California transit system and allowed everyone to travel for free, demanding a ransom to undo the hack. In this case the IT department was able to fix the system, but in others, notably a hospital here, huge ransoms have been paid. The bottom line is we don’t even know how vulnerable we are! As we move away from cash, multiple credit cards, and even a couple of checking accounts, in SEPARATE banks are the best hedge.

Another example is cellphones! We’ve all seen how people freak out at even just the thought of losing their iPhone or Galaxy; it’s about the $800 they paid for it, but also at the thought of being unable to communicate. Project Fi is just awesome in that regard, as they will give you a second data-only SIM for free, you just pay for the data you actually use. It’s allowed me to get a secondary phone, a Honor 5X I picked up for $170 BTW, which has my business number in it and a slot for a second SIM! Now I can get my texts, voice-mail and data access from my main account on a second device. I can even make and receive calls from my main number on it through Hangouts. Losing two phones is so much more unlikely than losing just one, isn’t it? Result: peace of mind.

The final example I want to bring up is food. Imagine a world in which every single person ate rice from the same patty; and now imagine there’s some kind of deadly contamination of said patty. You get the idea, everybody would die! Diversification is especially important when it comes to nourishment, on ALL levels. When you think about nutrition, the most effective way to make sure you get all the various nutrients you need is to eat a wildly diverse diet. Conversely, the best way to make sure you get deficient in something is to limit your diet to a few sources. We live in times where we have access to more different foods than ever before; for goodness’ sake, ENJOY IT! Because not only is a varied diet the healthiest, it’s the most exciting and interesting, isn’t it? It pains me when I see so many around here, the capital of eating disorders, consuming nothing but salads and chicken breast, while under the impression that they’re being ‘healthy’. And yes, even McDonald’s can be part of a healthy diet.

Food and music

In the end it comes down to matters of taste…. or does it? Clearly just about everyone has an opinion about various kinds of music/food, everyone has a favorite, and a “worthless” kind….. but clearly there’s food of higher quality and of lower quality, at least when we talk about the ingredients……there simply are tomatoes that are not ripe…so…..what is better, or is there such a thing?

In order for someone to pick a preference, I think there has to be a minimum range of quality, and definitely a sustainable amount of ‘delivery’, sustenance for the rest of your life if you could have nothing else. No person would ‘love’ only unripe tomatoes because it would not allow her to live very long. On the other hand I truly believe a human could eat only foods from McDonald’s and live for many years. The thought of eating only their food for my entire life sickens me, but there’s enough range there to support life: milk, potatoes, tomatoes, lettuce, orange juice, meats, “cheese” and cheese. We can argue about the quality of the ingredients, but it would be hard to argue that it couldn’t support ANY human for 50 years. So….. some people might think the Big Mac is the perfect burger….. if you don’t like grass fed quality ground beef, nice and rare in the middle, seared hot and fast on the outside, it just might be, because it does have a taste and is very ‘eatable’.

Music is much the same, and it has always been strange to me how much people voluntarily limit the dynamic range if you will of their musical interest. “I hate Jazz” humans say more often than makes sense, assigning danger to something as simple as a particular chord outside of the approved list of harmony. Jimi Hendrix single-handedly made the 7#9 chord acceptable in Pop, but we have a long way to go before everybody is at least open to ‘whatever’. You see, if we bring it back to food, there are those who will say “I’ll eat anything”; that doesn’t mean they love the taste of everything, it merely means they’ll try anything. It means giving something another try if someone you care about thinks highly of it. It means being willing to learn to love something. When you wake up and realize that nothing is perfect and will never be, it’s the most powerful ability to have, but I digress.

When it comes to food, dynamic range means various ingredients, fishes, plants, minerals, animals, it means cooking methods, raw, boiled, roasted, it means combinations, preparations. The range is incredible on this planet of ours, one of the greatest, most easily attainable sources of satisfaction on earth. We’ve turned our source of energy into a force of love, pleasure and art. To limit its possibilities, to “rule out” some of its wells categorically seems crazy to me. And it’s the same with music! Why would you limit the dynamic range of something so essential and so rich?

All of this because I was thinking of seeing Doug Webb and Brandon Fields together at the Baked Potato. They are two absolute giants of the saxophone, there’s no doubt about it. The most striking thing was, they are so different! It made the music that much more enjoyable! It’s why Kind Of Blue is still the best selling Jazz album: the three sax players could hardly be any more different! It makes me consider the typical Smooth Jazz situation when there are multiple horns: they’re all running in the same direction, just like the Olympics. To me, it’s not as interesting, no matter how ‘fast the winner’. Listening to only one style of music, is as limiting as eating only at diners………………isn’t it?

Project Fi Part Deux

Got my Nexus 5X and Project Fi Sim yesterday! Set up was easy as pie, charge the device, pop in SIM card and follow the on-screen instructions. I had put in all pertinent information during the ordering process, including my T-Mobile PIN which was required to port my number over to Google. It took about 4 hours for the porting to be completed and then I was able to use my new device. So far I’m quite happy actually. Reception is excellent at my house and the phone itself is just super. Beautiful screen, snappy performance, and my favorite part: the fingerprint scanner! Boy this thing is fast! Surprisingly the Bank Of America app showed an option for it instead of using a password and it works GREAT!

Grossenhausen!

Shout out to Johnny G, you know how it be, for sporting a 2014 Moto G and paying his friends for recording on his tracks! Cool tunes, nice sounds! Power to the peopl!