Dec 312007
 

I recently returned from a business trip to Texas where I was hired to produce and engineer the long-awaited new record of blues singer-songwriter Michael Hardie.

Lucky Run StudioThe recording took place in the outskirts of Houston, in a beautiful studio on a gorgeous ranch called Lucky Run. Lucky Run Studio was thoughtfully designed and built by LA-native engineer/producer Michael Mikulka and is equipped with a great collection of pre-amps and microphones. The Digidesign Icon-centered room has two large booths on the sides and a window in the front that provides natural light, beautiful sunsets and views of the green plains of Richmond/Fullshear with horses and cattle roaming around. Quite a change from the studios I have been to until now.

the bandMichael Hardie‘s band was comprised of himself on vocals and guitar, his NY-based talented daughter and singer/songwriter Myla Hardie on piano, her Brazilian percussionist husband and published book author Eduardo “Duda” Guedes on drums, the revered Texas bluesman Milton Hopkins on guitar (previously with B.B. King and related to the late and legendary Lighting Hopkins) and the accomplished hired gun Chuck Rainey on bass. In the picture from left to right you see Milton, myself, Michael, Myla, Duda and Chuck.

Michael & MiltonThe sessions went smooth and in three days we recorded 12 songs at 24bit/88.2k with everyone playing at the same time (old school, baby!) and, except for the drums, pretty much in the same room too. We’ll be doing more production, overdubs and mixing in my studio EastSide Sound in NYC.

After this great experience Myla, Duda and I drove to Austin for a few days to research and soak in some of the blues/country/western/folk roots of the town and the surrounding areas. I stayed at the pretty and mexican-styled Austin Motel on South Congress, right across the street from the Continental Club, a staple of the local music scene since 1957, which pretty much became the last stop for me every single night before hitting the sack. During my time there I lived by the Austin Chronicle music listings (which coincidentally that week happened to feature my friend Steve Bilich on the front cover, who directed the award winning documentary “Native New Yorker”) so we hit as many concerts as we could (up to 4 per night! the way I dig it!), including but not limited to Warren Hood (talented and young country/blues fiddle player and singer) @ Momo’s, Dale Watson (oh shit, wait, did I just see Elvis walk by?) @ Continental, Lou Ann Barton (blues singer) @ Antone’s (which is the other legendary joint in town), Chicken Strut (fusion/rock band) @ Antone’s, Alan Haynes (great blues guitar soloist) @ Momo’s, James McMurtry (awesome singer/songwriter with a powerhouse-band behind him) @ Continental, Michael Hardie himself @ Gene’s (just a few blocks east of the Texas Music Museum)… and the list goes on…

Milton & MarcI had a great time in Austin, a beautiful little city and an oasis of individualism, weirdness and liberal thinking in an otherwise conservative cowboy-land neighboring territory. You can feel the love, people seem to know how to have fun and love to dance (there are a lot of great dancers there, somewhat of a lost art in NYC)… However after 4 nights there I realized that it seems to be a closed community and a closed circle of musicians… I kept seeing the same faces on the dance-floor and I saw some of the same musicians sitting in as guests in multiple places. Yes there is an unusually high concentration of venues for live music (which is awesome!) but what good does that do to the local musicians if it is an excuse for them never to venture outside of Austin? And if there are no great studios, not too many labels, no producers/publishers/music supervisors and industry personnel in general, how are all these great bands going to be discovered? Austin is great for live music and for people who love it and play, but that same greatness can become a self-restraining limitation for those musicians who get too comfortable and fail to realize that there are bigger ponds to swim (and hustle) in…

Michael & MarcXmas week might not have been the best time of the year to be there: not too many shows that weekend and a lot of places were closed, so I didn’t get to see some other clubs I wanted to check out (Emo’s, the Alamo Drafthouse, the Waterloo Ice House etc). However, with Xmas around the corner, all the cool stores were open for customers, so I got to check out the coolest record store in town (Waterloo Records) and the coolest music souvenir shop in town (Wild About Music), both on historic 6th Street. Also we missed some cool shows (Pinetop Perkin, to mention one) because everything starts so early and ends so early, at least when I compare it to my night-owl-ish life in NYC. But that’s Texas for you… people are relaxed, always late and go to bed early… drives me crazy but what can I do?

Either way, with all the music I ingurgitated and all the Mexican food I savored, I feel like I’ve had a pretty good Texas experience after all… I think the only things I wanted to do and didn’t get to were riding a horse, riding a bull (even a fake one at a Rodeo bar!) and shooting some beer bottles on a white fence with a rifle!

Dec 142007
 

ASCAP Toastmasters ClubIt was with great pleasure that I recently accepted an invitation to be a guest at the ASCAP Toastmasters Club for an interview conducted by the cheerful club president Jo “Laurie King Live” Liu.

Toastmasters is a worldwide nonprofit organization whose goal is to improve communication skills by teaching its members how to speak more effectively in public and improve presentation skills; and they do so in a horizontal and team-work based environment. The conundrum (word of the day, that day) of speaking well in public without speaking as if you were speaking to the public, lead me to Toastmasters. After reading about it somewhere, in an attempt to improve my own public speaking skills to offer a better service at all the conferences I am speaking at, I had sought out what seems to be the only music-related Toastmasters club in NYC: the ASCAP one.

I was greeted by a very receptive and attentive group who welcomed me and was extremely cheerful and enjoyable to be around. One could tell that they are a very close team who probably works well together and tries to have fun while doing so.

In the picture you see (from left to right) Grammarian Adrian Ross (whom I asked for mercy, based on the fact that I am not a native English-speaker), General Evaluator Todd McKinney, Joy Wynter, Jokemaster and talented singer Nikki Blair (whose joke about a nerd in a strip club asking for a laptop I loved!), myself, Table Topics master Dana Thorpe, Greeter/Moderator/Toastmaster Lance Pope, Speaker Marshall Tarley (who gave a beautiful speech about change, touching on science, music and more), Richard Fairfax, Timekeeper Christopher Dobbins and Speech Evaluator Andrew Shreeves (who got me good with a trick question about Louis Armstrong playing his flugel trumpet). The lovable Jo Liu is not in the picture because she was busy pressing the shutter.

Indeed I had a great time at ASCAP and I hope to be invited back soon.

Before and after my “toasty” experience, I met with Senior Vice President Seth Saltzman (whose music I am looking forward to hear), Loretta Munoz (who every year does a tremendous job organizing the ASCAP Music Lounge at the Tribeca Film Festival as well as other Film Festival related music happenings) and Jim Steinblatt who does an amazing job at organizing special events such as the Deems Taylor Awards.

The 40th annual ASCAP Deems Taylor Awards took place yesterday at Jazz at Lincoln Center and was a great (albeit a touch lengthy) show to celebrate book, article and liner notes authors and publishers as well as radio and TV broadcasters: a very important award, given its nature and the fact that a lot of these formats are at risk of extinction in the current state of industry.

The ceremony included some peculiar performances, most notably a throat singer utilizing a singing technique described in the Béla Bartók Award winning book Where Rivers and Mountains Sing: Sound, Music and Nomadism in Tuva and Beyond by Theodore Craig Levin and Valentina Sϋzϋkei (Indiana University Press) and a violin duet performance of a piece illustrating microtonality, written by one of John Cage’s students, Ben Johnston who wrote the honored book Maximum Clarity and Other Writings on Music (University of Illinois Press).

Personally, this morning I Amazoned (yes I am indeed pioneering the use of this verb, just as other people say “googled” or “fedexed”) three books that were honored at yesterday’s ceremony: Joe Boyd‘s White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960s (Serpent’s Tail), Steven Mithen‘s The Singing Neanderthals: the Origins of Music, Language, Mind and Body (Harvard University Press) and Lorraine Gordon & Barry Singer‘s Alive at the Village Vanguard: My Life In and Out of Jazz Time (Hal Leonard Trade Books). I am a slow reader (too busy, what can I tell you) but when I get through with these I plan to amazon myself (that’s right!) at least two more awarded book: the Debra DeSalvo book about the etymology of the blues lingo The Language of the Blues: From Alcorub to Zuzu, published (Billboard Books) and John Gennari‘s book about jazz critics Blowin’ Hot and Cool: Jazz and Its Critics (The University of Chicago Press).

Also honored were several articles and liner notes. Amongst the articles, a few that caught my attention where Francis Davis‘s “The Singing Epidemic” (The Atlantic Monthly) and Ted Panken‘s “Smalls Universe” (DownBeat), the latter of which unfortunately I couldn’t find online (if there is a link I don’t know of please add it to the comments of this article).

Last but certainly not least (indeed it is the very why I attended in the first place), in the Television Broadcast category ASCAP honored American Masters – Les Paul: Chasing Sound, which aired on PBS and contains one or two scenes in which you can actually see my ugly mug, mixing with the much prettier Les in my studio, EastSide Sound. John Paulson, the capable director, accepted the award and to the delight and surprise of everyone introduced the unique Les himself, who told another one of his amazing stories (about how he came to New York) and even refrained from dirty jokes (strange indeed!).

A great event I was pleased to attend and that I hope will see many more editions.