Saturday, December 31, 2016

2017 Will Be The Year Of The Ear

In 2016 I had fun pursuing a unique assortment of melodies from sources including Camper Van Beethoven, Bill Frisell, Ween, Gillian Welch, Neym Rosauro and more. What these tunes all had in common is I learned them either from Fakebooks or from someone else’s transcriptions, and I was focused on just playing the head melody without regard for, knowledge of, or concern with the underlying chords or their structure.

Toward the end of this year I discovered that I did in fact have the ability to transcribe a vocal melody by ear. For a few weeks in Nov/Dec I would write out the lyrics to Phish songs, then just by listening to the song figure out the musical notes to each sung syllable so that I could play the melody line as an instrumental. I doubt I was 100% accurate but at least this broke the ice.

While that ear breakthrough was happening I was also discovering the New Orleans jazz banjoist Emanuel Sayles, who seemed to have an approachable comping and soloing style. For the first time I now had a home base for modeling a "jazz" banjo technique, should I choose to do so. I also started to dig the New Orleans jazz repertoire, especially on some select recordings that Manny Sayles appears on.

In 2017 I want to continue along this aural path by doing things such as improvising over chord changes and “transcribing” solos by artists that inspire me, such as Jerry Garcia or Manny Sayles. I don’t know if transcribing has to mean writing anything down. It might be completely by ear – a feel thing. I want to connect the ear and disconnect from the page. I also want to gain a greater understanding of harmony, chord structure and improvisation up and down the neck. A great, non-analytical way of doing this is by simply listening to the masters and then trying to mimic that sound on your instrument.

Instead of being a chore this activity can now be an opportunity for advancement and discovery.

A New Kind of Lead Sheet

I've been creating lead sheets that don't use sheet music notation or tab.  I simply write out the chords in Roman numerals and the melody notes based on their scale number.  For example, for a song in D every D chord is the I chord, every Eminor chord is the ii- chord, etc.  An F# note would be the number 3, an A note the number 5.  "Accidentals" and chords outside of the 7 chords from the scale are no problem.  An A# note in D would be a 5# note.  An F7 chord in D would be a III7 chord (capital letters because it's not minor).

This type of numbering system makes all keys universal. With this approach you can play any song in any key that you know the scale of and the chords for.  For songs that change keys, just choose the major scale that fits the best.

I've created a table containing boxes representing measures/bars to use as a template for writing out songs this way.  For songs where the melody comes straight from the vocal melody, I also write down the lyrics and apply a note number to each sung syllable.

Here's an example lead sheet for the song I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now.  I encourage others to try this.  It's also good ear training because it's less visual and less tied to a certain key or fingering.  It makes it easier to practice a song in all 12 keys and in various ways, which is good for building an aural connection.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

New Orleans Jazz Banjoist Emanuel "Manny" Sayles

A few weeks back I came across an article titled 10 Great Jazz Tenor Banjo Players To Listen To, written by David Bandrowski for the Deering banjos blog.  On that list was a musician I had never heard of named Emanuel "Manny" Sayles.  I checked out some of the records he played on and was instantly captivated by the music.  Manny is a superb rhythm player and an inspiring soloist.  Finding out about him has opened the door towards listening, appreciating and learning about traditional New Orleans jazz, and it has given me someone to focus on as a possible influence.
Emanuel "Manny" Sayles
Emanuel Sayles was born in Donaldsonville, Louisiana on January 31, 1905 (or 1907). His father George Sayles was a musician who played many instruments, including bass and viola.  Manny studied violin with a teacher in New Orleans named Dave Perkins and eventually taught himself to play banjo and guitar. He formed a neighborhood band with some of Perkins' other students and in 1924 they were hired to work in Pensacola, FL. The band became known as the Pensacola Jazzers and played all over the Gulf Coast.

In 1926 Manny returned to New Orleans where he was the banjoist in various groups for the next 12 years, including regular gigs at the New Orleans Country Club and on the Streckfus riverboats.  When electric guitars were invented Manny was required to get one for playing on the riverboat.  The electric guitar eventually took him to Chicago in 1938.  He would stay in Chicago for a decade, playing electric guitar and working as a sideman and band leader.

Manny returned to New Orleans in 1949 and by the mid 50's had taken up the banjo again and gotten back into the traditional New Orleans jazz music, which was starting to have a revival.  He subbed for the great George Guesnon at Preservation Hall and eventually replaced Lawrence Marrero on banjo in George Lewis' band after Marrero passed away.  

In the early 1960's Manny Sayles was featured on several classic GHB LPs, including Louis Nelson Big Four - Volumes One and Two, Kid Thomas/George Lewis - Ragtime Stompers, Sweet Emma Barrett and Her New Orleans Music, and Sayles' Silverleaf Ragtimers, to name a few.  These records are worth seeking out, not just for Manny's banjo playing but also for the intricate way the clarinet, trombone and/or trumpet interact in the New Orleans style of music.


I had always heard that Elmer Snowden's Harlem Banjo album was the holy grail of jazz banjo music, which it certainly is.  However, for some reason it never really captivated me.  Now, with the discovery of Manny Sayles, I have found a prime example of jazz banjo, as played in New Orleans.  Those Louis Nelson Big Four albums are doing it for me.

Sayles continued recording until the 1980's and had multiple opportunities to tour internationally in his later years.  He died on October 5, 1986.  Manny wasn't the flashiest of players or one of the most well known, but his musicianship is certainly among the best of the 20th century New Orleans jazzers.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Best Music of 2016 - Five Old and Five New

For me 2016 was as much about discovering or re-discovering older records as it was about keeping up with the latest releases.  Nevertheless, I was grooving to some new albums this year so I'll list my five favorite new albums first.

Nels Cline - Lovers
2016 was full of old vinyl findings and some of the ones I liked best are in the cheesy, mod, bachelor-pad category.  That's the very reason this Nels Cline record is so great.  It's brand new but approaches that vintage sound in a wise, refined way that is all meat, no cheese.  Lovers is strong all the way through but every time the Sonic Youth cover "Snare, Girl" would come on it would catch my ear as the standout track. Naturally I had to get this on vinyl.

American Babies - An Epic Battle Between Light and Dark
Rock and roll is a dying you know, but you'd never know it by this album which covers lots of ground from jamband to alt. country to arena rock, and more.  Tom Hamilton's American Babies has been around for a few years but this year their profile really elevated due in part from the strength of this work.  Go see them live.  Such a great band.

Holly Bowling - Better Left Unsung
Holly Bowling followed up her 2015 album of solo piano interpretations of Phish songs with, yep, an album of Grateful Dead songs re-imagined for solo piano.  A perfect choice as far as I'm concerned.  If anything, this album tops the previous one in terms of sheer beauty.  The song list is extremely strong: she picked top shelf Dead songs while still avoiding some of the more overdone, obvious choices.  Holly has a deep connection and reverence for this material and her thoughtful arrangements and interpretations makes this easily my favorite Grateful Dead tribute album of all time.  Holly's own skills as an improviser are becoming more and more evident, most notably in the 27-minute exploration of Dark Star.

Mary Halvorson Octet - Away With You
Mary Halvorson's sessions as band leader keep getting larger and larger.  This time she's up to 8 in the ensemble, thanks to the addition of steel guitarist Susan Alcorn.  Away With You is the most recent addition to the trajectory that began in 2008 with Dragon's Head, a trio recording.  Some day I want to do a listening marathon where I play Dragon's Head (2008), Saturn Sings (2010), Bending Bridges (2012), Illusionary Sea (2013), Reverse Blue (2014) and Away With You (2016) all in succession just to hear the progression taking place.  I guess I'll need to do this soon before Mary adds to that list.  Mary's guitar artistry is already well known, but her legacy as a composer and band leader is starting to take shape as well.  I also really liked her highly-improvised guitar duo album with Noël Akchoté that was quietly released this year.

Charles Lloyd and the Marvels - I Long To See You
This laid-back jazz album plays heavily on country, folk and Americana themes.  78 year old Saxophonist Charles Lloyd is new to me, but I was really drawn to his sober readings of the head melodies to these tunes.  Don't get me wrong, he goes "out", but more importantly he also knows how to go "in".  There's a deep connection to tradition in every note he plays.  Bill Frisell is on here and anything with him is bound to be golden.  Plus, these types of songs are right in Frisell's wheelhouse.  The other musicians - Greg Leisz on pedal steel, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland - pretty much crush it as well.  Guest vocal turns by Willie Nelson and Norah Jones certainly don't hurt.  It's rare to hear music exuding this much love.

That's it for the new.  In with the old.  Here are the five older releases I most got into in 2016.

The Upsetters - Return of Django
I found this album via Jamaican guitarist Ernest Ranglin's recently re-released 1969 album Boss Reggae.  There's a track on Boss Reggae called Soulful I that I really took notice of, which I learned was a Lee Scratch Perry tune released earlier in 1969 under The Upsetters' name.  Return of Django is pretty awesome.  It sounds like a stoned version of a spaghetti western soundtrack, chock full of repetitive melodies that are brilliant because of their simplicity, not despite of it.  If you have a keyboard at home (or better yet, an organ) you need to start sounding out some of these tunes on it.

Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and Max Roach - Money Jungle
I took a chance on this 1963 album and bought a brand new vinyl copy at Deep Groove Records in Richmond without knowing anything about it.  The word "Essential" was hand-written on the plastic sleeve by store employee Chris Pittman.  That was enough of a testimonial.  There's some massive tension and power on display in this motherfucker.  I don't know what was going on in the studio that day, but Mingus plays his bass like his life depends on it, and Max Roach makes sure the drums have equal say.  Not to be outdone, the elder Ellington shows these two hipsters a thing or two about music before it's all said and done.  This is either a prime example of collective improvisation or collective chaos - sometimes they are having one musical conversation but more often three competing voices are shouting to be heard.  Very essential indeed.

Camper Van Beethoven - Telephone Free Landslide Victory
Telephone Free Landslide Victory was already known to me, but getting it on LP and diving back in has propelled it into the "desert island disc" category.  So much so that I learned how to play nearly all of its instrumental tracks on my tenor banjo this year, including Yanqui Go Home, Payed Vacation: Greece, Skinhead Stomp, Mao Reminisces About His Days in Southern China, Balalaika Gap, and Opi Rides Again.  In addition to those quasi-ethnic instrumentals, the song songs are some of the best examples of the snarky, freaky, acid-drenched Santa Cruz, CA attitude that defined CVB's early work.

Lucinda Williams - Car Wheel On A Gravel Road
Do you ever go through periods of your life where the portal between the real and the surreal, the natural and supernatural seems to be open wide?  The Third Eye, if you will?  Well, this album found me in a time earlier this year when that door was wide open and every song on Car Wheels On A Gravel Road took on a deeper but definitely out of context meaning that felt entirely apropos.  Because of the way this album oozed its way into my psyche it is lodged in there forever now, sitting right alongside John Prine.

Louis Nelson Big Four - Volume 1 and Volume 2
My exposure to New Orleans jazz is still in its infancy, but it's taken a recent boost upon the discovery of banjoist Emanuel “Manny” Sayles. After searching out some of the recordings he plays on, I’ve honed in on these Louis Nelson Big Four recordings (volumes 1 and 2) as overall favorites. These feature trombonist Louis Nelson, clarinetist George Lewis, pianist Joe Robichaux and Manny on banjo. I dig everything about these mostly instrumental cuts recorded on August 1, 1964: the cozy yet sonically clear recording quality, the lazy pace and relaxed vibe, the somewhat eccentric but non-flashy warts and all soloing, the small-band interaction full of homegrown non-intellectual contrapunal countermelodies, and the rough/unrehearsed jam session nature to it all. Most notably, you can really hear Manny’s staunch banjo strumming and craggy solo plucking.  This is ground zero in ear training for me at the moment.

That's this year's list!  Thanks for reading.





Friday, December 9, 2016

Jazz Age Phish

Last month I decided to see if I could transcribe the vocal melody line to some Phish songs on my tenor banjo just by listening and assigning a note to each sung syllable in the lyrics. To my surprise and delight, this came rather easy. Years of familiarity with Phish’s music probably helped.
I soon thought of the Ran Blake book Primacy of the Ear.  I’ve mentioned this book before. The main point of Primacy of the Ear is putting your ear, rather than the fingers (technique) or the brain (theory) at the center of your musical learning. In doing so you are encouraged to focus on a couple divergent musical interests and study them both in depth. For one person this might be the music of Eric Dolphy paired with Cretan traditional music, for somebody else maybe Arvo Pärt and Aretha Franklin.

It’s taken me years to develop the mindset to give learning anything by ear a legitimate shot but the fun I had transcribing Phish vocal melodies made me consider following the advice in Primacy of the Ear by using Phish’s songbook as a means for improving my aural skills. Then I remembered a 2012 album called The Jazz Age by The Bryan Ferry Orchestra, where Roxy Music/Bryan Ferry songs are re-imagined in a 1920’s big band style. A musician named Martin Wheatley plays what sounds like 4-string banjo on most of the tracks on that album.
I had never heard of or listened to Roxy Music before discovering The Jazz Age, but I created a playlist in Spotify, alternating the original song with the 1920’s jazz version to hear the comparison. These artsy pop/rock songs work incredibly well as 1920’s jazz numbers (or even standalone pieces) and it sounds like Martin Wheatley didn't really change anything about his banjo technique for that recording. He is using the usual 1920's style rhythm playing.

This helped me realize that I could pair the learning of Phish songs by ear and the learning of traditional New Orleans/Creole banjo playing by ear into one study.  One example might be figuring out the vocal melody and general chord structure to the song Lawn Boy and then strumming over those changes in the standard "straight fours" jazz banjo rhythm.  Freedom through limitation.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Travel Mandolin by Robert Collins (Tin Guitar)

4-string model in maple and spruce
The idea of a travel mandolin might seem unnecessary because mandolins are already small and can usually fit into the overhead bin of an airplane with no problem.  In my case I play GDAE-tuned "Irish" tenor banjo but no longer owned a mandolin.  Since it was going to be used primarily for travel, I wanted my next mandolin to be one specifically designed with that in mind.

After some research, I reached out to the English ukulele luthier Robert Collins of Tin Guitar in Hebden Bridge, United Kingdom because I liked the design of his travel mandolin. I placed my order in March of this year for a left-handed 4-string model in maple and spruce: maple for the integral neck/body and spruce for the top, with a walnut center stripe down the neck for both looks and reinforcement. The neck is carved into something of a "V" profile to give it more of a mandolin feel, compared to the flattened D profile of Rob's uke necks.

Tin Guitar 4-string Travel Mandolin Size Specs:
Overall length = 21.25"
Lower bout = 6"
Upper bout = 2.75"
Body depth = 68mm
Scale length = 14"
Nut width = 30mm

Sound Sample:

The strings it came with are light gauge, D'addario J62. Note: single course light gauge mandolin strings can be sharp to uncallused fingers. Playing it some more will help me with that. I chose the 4-string model mostly for minimalism (it shaves an inch or two off the length and cuts down on neck weight) but also because it mimics the number of strings on a tenor banjo. This mandolin will fit into a soprano uke gig bag. 

There’s no truss rod, but Rob says tension shouldn’t be a concern. Being a relatively short neck in hard maple and with the walnut skunk stripe as well, the neck is pretty strong and with 4-strings it's only handling 50% of the tension that a regular mandolin would take, so GDAE tuning is fine.

My overall impression is that it is an efficient, well-conceived, minimalist design...crafted with the same care and attention to detail that I imagine all of Robert Collins' instruments must receive. It's hard for me to find a flaw. As you can hopefully hear from the sample above it has a pleasant sound that exceeds expectations for such an instrument.
Neck and body sides are integral
Curly figure on back
Walnut skunk stripe on neck

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Saturday, November 5, 2016

Making Room for Mercury on Phish's Big Boat

Phish has several top-shelf songs that have never made it onto a proper studio album, including Harry Hood, Slave to the Traffic Light, Tube, The Curtain, Halley's Comet, Carini, Strange Design and more.  Now we can add Mercury to that list.

The multi-part composition was recognized as an instant classic when it debuted in July 2015, so it seemed like a shoo-in for inclusion on Phish's new studio album, Big Boat.  However, producer Bob Ezrin cut the fan-favorite from the track-list, presumably due to time constraints.  This is a questionable decision, especially considering that there are much weaker songs on the finished product.  Mercury could have taken Big Boat from good to great.


If time really was an issue, then what other songs could have been cut to make room for Mercury?

Big Boat kicks off with Friends, a Fishman sung number that doesn't get any less bizarre the more you listen to it.  Maybe it's about alien conquistadors?  Although it's not a monumental song, the opening notes to Friends do start things off in a bold, distinctive fashion.  Songs with Fishman on lead vocals are rare, so this one earns its keep on that fact alone.

Breath and Burning is the first of many Trey Anastasio contributions.  It has a tropical vibe, which is a bit unusual for Phish.  The lyrics are strong and the TAB style horn part adds the right amount of hook.

Home is the first of three Page McConnell songs on Big Boat and it's the least compelling of those three.  Home might be catchy, but I don't know that there is a strong need for this song in the Phish oeuvre.  The experimental part at the end isn't enough to save it.  Although, cheers to Page for the burst of creativity.

Track 4 is Blaze On, which would not sound out of place on a 1970's Little Feat album.  This is a feel good, grooving song that borders on jamband 101 territory, but because this is Phish that rudimentary path has a lot of skill behind it.  Blaze On qualifies as one of the best new songs in Phish's repertoire.

Trey was obviously trying to write a Motown song with Tide Turns, and from what I can tell he succeeded.  For a song that may not always go over well in a live setting, it works well enough in the studio and adds diversity to the styles represented on Big Boat.

There's always room for a bluegrass song at a Phish show, so Page's Things People Do will easily fill that void.  The low-fi demo version that ended up on the album would have easily fit on 1992's Picture of Nectar.

Waking Up Dead is a total Mike Gordon song and you need at least one of those on every Phish record.  It has potential and the spicy sonority is appealing, but more time could have been spent fine tuning it.  Mike's other new song, Let's Go - which like Mercury was left off of Big Boat - might have been a better choice for him.

Running Out of Time is OK enough, if a little lightweight, but hasn't Trey already written other songs that sound like this and dwell on the same themes and emotions?  Apparently this song dates back to the Round Room writing sessions and finally found a home here.

For some reason I'm not a huge fan of No Men In No Man's Land, although a song with this type of improv potential is an asset.  The looseness of the studio cut captures some of its off-the-cuff versatility.

My appreciation of the ballad Miss You grew tremendously after hearing the live recording from 10/18/16 in Nashville with Bob Weir sitting in and tackling the lead vocals.  That interpretation took the song from insular to inclusive.  Phish has struggled to add crowd-pleasing ballads in recent years, but this one might do it.

Now that it's been played live, I Always Wanted It This Way has perhaps had the warmest fan reception of any of the songs from Big Boat.  Hopefully this synth-focused all-star burns its way into our collective consciousness with just as much merit as the decades old Phish classics.

It may always sound cheesy, but More, with its "gotta be something more than this" refrain, is a timely reflection on the current Phish worldview, in much the same way that "was it for this my life I sought" captured our emotions decades ago.  Even cynics occasionally need to vibrate with love and light.

Petrichor gets an A for effort.  It succeeds where Time Turns Elastic tried and failed.  This ambitious composition hearkens back to the Junta days when Trey studied with composer Ernie Stires to create complex masterworks that formed the foundation of all things Phish.  In Petrichor's case, the sophistication of the music is offset by the zen koan simplicity of the lyrics.

That's a rundown of all the songs on Phish's Big Boat.  So, which one(s) should get axed to make room for Mercury?  I think you could easily drop Home and still have two great Page songs in Things People Do and I Always Wanted It This Way.  Mike Gordon's flawed Waking Up Dead needs to stay because without it you wouldn't have a Mike Gordon song unless you replace it with Let's Go.  Of the Trey selections, Running Out of Time is the most expendable, although I still kinda like it.  If I had to give up two songs to make room for Mercury, it would be Home and Running Out of Time.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Pacific Coast Highway Vacation Highlights - Best Food, Lodging, Towns, and more

Having recently completed a thousand-mile coastal road trip from Lincoln City, OR to South Pasadena, CA, I thought I'd post about some of the highlights.  The Pacific Coast Highway, as it's sometimes called, is basically a combination of US-101 in Oregon and CA-1 in California.  (The two meet in Leggett, CA).  You're not constantly in view of the Pacific, but significant portions of it are the idyllic, winding, ocean-kissed wonderland that have given this roadway such a poetic place in American culture.  

Best Stretch of Highway
There are many contenders for this, but the best I saw has to be the 140 mile stretch from Port Orford, OR to Trinidad, CA.  It is quintessential West Coast.  In the Oregon portion you've got Battle Rock in Port Orford and the unbelievable Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor farther south.  Into California there's Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and Patrick's Point State Park, to name a few attractions.  (I'm leaving out a bunch in between).  It seems like this entire section is either impressive ocean vistas or redwood groves.  The 75 miles from Lincoln City to Florence was pretty striking as well.
Samuel H. Boarman State Scenic Corridor
Best Food
Small town West Coast dining is a notch or two above what you might expect.  Many communities have at least one exceptional restaurant ready to meet the needs of the foodie.  The most surprisingly stellar consumption happened at the Trinidad Bay Eatery and Gallery in the town of Trinidad, CA - a diner-like experience until the sumptuous food comes out!  Also great were Redfish in Port Orford (what a view), the North Coast Brewing Taproom in Fort Bragg (excellent beer too), River's End in Jenner, CA (out of the way gem) and The Raymond in Pasadena (world-class cocktails).
Conde B. McCullough bridge near Depoe Bay, OR
Best Lodging
The Inn at Arch Rock in Depoe Bay was the first place we stayed on this journey, and it was perfect!  Our cozy and comfortable room featured a panoramic view of the cove below - where whales could be seen out in the water.  The decanter of cherry waiting as we arrived at the room was a nice touch.  It's walking distance to town.  Equally deserving of the title of best lodging was Castaway By the Sea in Port Orford, OR, which has to be one of the better values on the whole Oregon coast.  Our room featured a kitchen, bedroom, living room and porch with a dramatic, unobstructed ocean-side view.  Our final spot, The Bissell House in South Pasadena, CA, was easily the best bed and breakfast I have ever stayed at.  This beautiful Victorian house wasn't too much of a splurge when you factor in the quality of the breakfast, the pool, and the overall ambiance.
View from inside room at Inn at Arch Rock
Best Town
My favorite place is still Trinidad, CA.  We stayed there 15 years ago, and again 13 years ago, so it was nice to return and see that it hadn't changed that much.  Of the places I've seen in California (and elsewhere in the world), nothing tops Trinidad in terms of visual charm.  I should also mention Yachats, OR.  We didn't stay overnight there, but it did look like a place to spend more time on a future visit.
Late evening view in Trinidad, CA
Best Hike
We tried to do some kind of hike every day but by no means even began to scratch the surface of the hiking opportunities along coastal Oregon and California. That said, the best walk we did was the St. Perpetua Trail at Cape Perpetua Scenic Area, just south of Yachats, OR. From the visitors’ center, it’s a winding and somewhat difficult 1.5 miles to the lookout shelter at the top. The views are spectacular and the walk back down was a piece of cake. That was one of many hikes in the area. Another very enjoyable hike was the Prairie Creek Trail through the redwood forest at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park near Orick, CA. Options abound there was well.
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
Can't wait to go back!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

After a One Year Break from "Traditional" Music

Mountain Thistle at Grelen Trails - Somerset, VA.  By Laura Fields.
Around this time last year I began to quickly lose interest in the traditional Irish and Appalachian tunes that had mostly been the foundation of my repertoire to that point.  Granted, I wasn't that good or anything near authentic, but I had been spending many hours per week (over 150+ consecutive weeks) on this obsession that involved familiarizing myself with dozens of tunes so that I could sit in at Irish sessions and old-time jams without feeling like too much of a poseur.

When my focus shifted, I think it was due to a realization that traditional music is like a big wheel that is already spinning and continues to spin.  As an outsider, if you want to join in that hobby, you have to jump on that wheel and hang on for dear life until it becomes natural.  For me it was a constant struggle, like I was trying to steer a ship that couldn't be controlled.  You either conform to its predetermined structure or jump off.  I jumped off.

After years of grappling with frustration and disappointment I finally realized that there's a different amateur musical track that could be a lot more fulfilling based on my personal interests and goals as an introvert who treats the playing of his instrument as the equivalent of watching TV, gardening, or doing a crossword puzzle.  When the road forked I took an alternate one that that is severely crooked, but not in the Southwest Virginia type of way.

I needed music that I could play my own way, at my own pace, free from over-the-shoulder judgment (real or imagined); without regard for which key you're supposed to play it in, what instrument you choose to play it on, what speed you're supposed to play it at, how many times through you're supposed to play it, what type of tune or music it's supposed to be, how you're supposed to play it, where it comes from, what fingerboard position to play it in, what fingering to use, to what degree you can safely improvise, and so on.  I cleared all that away and then searched out for a personal repertoire that allowed me to play freely without any hindrances beyond ones that I choose to impose.  That list, as it stands today, is below.

Amarillo Barbados - A Caribbean sounding tune by Bill Frisell, learned out of his An Anthology book.

A Moda da tal Anquinha - From Neym Rosauro's Seven Brazilian Children's Songs for Solo Marimba.  I only play 2 of the 3 parts.

Aurore Bradaire - A Creole song from the Etcetera String Band's Bonne Humeur CD.

Back Down to the Tropics - From the 1944 booklet Calypso Rhythm Songs: Authentic Tropical Novelty Melodies by Lionel Belasco and Leighla Whipper.

Bad Woman - From the Etcetera String Band's Bonne Humeur CD.  Written by Venezuelan/Trinidadian composer Lionel Belasco.

Balalaika Gap - From the Camper Van Beethoven album Telephone Free Landslide Victory.

Bananas and Blow (intro) - By Ween.  Learned this by ear(!) by listening to Ween's Long Beach Island Tapes where a demo version of Bananas and Blow features an intro melody with an extra little B-part which makes all the difference.  The fact that I learned it by ear means that I'll never be sure if I'm playing the "correct" notes but it sounds OK for what I'm looking to get from it.

Belle Layotte - A Creole song from the Etcetera String Band's Bonne Humeur CD.

Billy Gray - By Norman Blake.  I just play it as an instrumental single-note melody, as I do for all of these that might otherwise have words.

Bonne Humeur - By Haitian composer Arthur Duroseau.  From the Etcetera String Band's Bonne Humeur CD.

Brasilia - From the Baja Marimba Band Rides Again album.

Bruca Manigua - A Cuban song that I got from Irish fiddler Yvonne Casey's CD.

Calinda - A Louisiana Creole song from the Etcetera String Band's Bonne Humeur CD.

Carnaval En Margarita - By Lionel Belasco.  From the Etcetera String Band's Bonne Humeur CD.

Cha Bai - A tune from Cape Verde that was was included in John Philip Sousa’s 1890 book National Patriotic and Typical Airs of All Lands, but I got it from The Rhythmia.

Chinita - By Lionel Belasco.  From the Etcetera String Band's Bonne Humeur CD.

Dessan Mouillage - A Martinique folk melody from the Etcetera String Band's Bonne Humeur CD.

Dupree's Diamond Blues - By the Grateful Dead (Garcia/Hunter).  Even though I love the Grateful Dead, this is currently the only song of theirs that I am trying to play as a single-note melody line.  A work in progress for sure.

Dodo Li Pitite - Haitian folk tune.  From the Etcetera String Band's Bonne Humeur CD.

Friday - By Phish.  I have seen Phish live more than any other band (57 times as of this writing), but there are only a couple Phish songs that I enjoy trying to play portions of.  This song, from Round Room, is one of them.  I just play the main vocal melody line, "I crashed, I burned, but then I learned to keep my eye on you...".

Gandzia Polka - This fantastic 3-part Eastern European sounding tune came to me by way of the Irish CD Barr Trá by Mary Custy and Quentin Cooper where they mistakenly titled it Costumi Siciliani (track 2).  Special Ed and the Shortbus used to play this one.

Gordjieff's - This is purported to be a Russian tune, but it also comes from that same Barr Trá CD by Mary Custy & Quentin Cooper.

Guyute - I don't even begin to do this Phish song justice, but the vocal melody line "Guyute was the ugly pig..." passes for an excellent folk tune and actually could be a jig, in the Irish sense.  The rest of the composition...forget about it!  I'll leave that to Holly Bowling.

Haiti Cherie - A Haitian popular song written by Othello Bayard.  I, of course, got it from the Etcetera String Band's Bonne Humeur CD where they called it Souvenir d' Haiti.

I Am Not A Farmer - An ambiguously homespun piece that is the signature recurring theme on Bill Frisell's Disfarmer project.

I Dream A Highway - This is arguably Gillian Welch's greatest song and the album version on Time (The Revelator) is a prime example of how a simple melodic idea can be stretched out over 14 minutes without getting old.  It didn't occur to me to try playing it until I heard Sarah Manning's brilliant exploratory jazz version of I Dream A Highway on her album Harmonious Creature.

Katyusha - A Russian tune I learned directly out of the 2016 book International Mandolin Method by Philip John Berthoud.  I wish he included details on the history of and sources for the tunes included in that book.

Korobochka - Another Russian tune from Philip John Berthoud's International Mandolin Method book.  It pairs well with Katyusha.

La Douceur - By Haitian composer Arthur L. Duroseau, who also wrote Bonne Humeur (see above). As with about a dozen other numbers on this list, I got it from the Etcetera String Band's Bonne Humeur CD. More recently, it was recorded by BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet on From Bamako to Carencro.

Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream - An anti-war folk song written by Ed McCurdy in 1950.  I was inspired to try and learn the melody after hearing this song on Charles Lloyd and the Marvels' new release I Long to See You with Willie Nelson singing it.

Lisette - By Haitian composer and pianist Ludovic Lamothe.  From the Etcetera String Band's Bonne Humeur CD.

Mao Reminisces About His Days in Southern China - From the Camper Van Beethoven album Telephone Free Landslide Victory.

Mosaico Tradicional - A tricky melody from Venezuela that I got from Philip John Berthoud's International Mandolin Method book. 

My Little Suede Shoes - This is attributed to Charlie Parker but it may actually be a French-Caribbean tune called "Mes Souliers De Daim" that Bird picked up in Paris during the early 1950's.  Instead of the AA/B/A > improv structure common to jazz, I instead like to play this as a repeated AA/BB head melody in the key of E-minor.

Opening Theme - The first track on Camper Van Beethoven's Key Lime Pie CD.  One of the weirdest tunes I am trying to play.  It sort of reminds me of Frisell's Amarillo Barbados.

Opi Rides Again - This is the instrumental portion of the Opi Rides Again / Club Med Sucks medley from the Camper Van Beethoven album Telephone Free Landslide Victory.  It almost sounds like cartoon music when they play it.

Paloma Blanca - This comes from the repertoire of Southwestern fiddler Cleoffes Ortiz, but I heard it on Little River Stomp by The Buckhannon Brothers.

Payed Vacation: Greece - From the Camper Van Beethoven album Telephone Free Landslide Victory.

Pirulito que Bate Bate - From Neym Rosauro's Seven Brazilian Children's Songs for Solo Marimba.  I only play 2 of the 3 parts and I modified the mallet arrangement of a few bars to work better on tenor banjo.

Pretty Stars Were Made to Shine - A verdant miniature bluegrass composition found on Bill Frisell's Blues Dream CD.  To add interest I alternate between playing this in major and minor, and also add a snippet from its sister piece "Pretty Flowers Were Made for Blooming" at the end.

Sam Polo - A piece from the Virgin Islands that was played by the U.S. Navy Band of St. Thomas.  I got it from the Etcetera String Band's Bonne Humeur CD.

Skinhead Stomp - From the Camper Van Beethoven album Telephone Free Landslide Victory.  

Song for Sidiki - By Jenny Scheinman from her album Crossing the Field.

Soulful I - A perfect example of exactly the type of tune I am looking for and would have loved to have written myself.  Oddly, it is by Lee "Scratch" Perry and comes from his classic 1969 The Upsetters Return of Django album, although I first heard it on Jamaican guitarist Ernest Ranglin's album Boss Reggae (also recorded in 1969) which has recently resurfaced.  Having now heard both, I prefer the original Upsetters version.

South of the Border - Somehow I don't think I was familiar with this well known song until I heard Greg Cohen and Bill Frisell play it on the Greg Cohen record Golden State. The entire Golden State CD is worth checking out, as it features Cohen on acoustic upright bass and Frisell playing an unusually clean, non-distorted electric guitar.  No other musicians, instruments, overdubbing or production - just stripped down, straight-ahead tunes recorded in one studio session on December 3, 2012 in Brooklyn, NY.

Uele - An African (Congolese) children's song. The full title might be Uele Moliba Makasi. There's a video of a Bill Frisell concert from the Barbican Theater in London 2/29/2004 featuring Djelimady Tounkara, Greg Leisz, Jenny Scheinman and Sidiki Camara where they play this tune. That's where I heard it. I don't think it's on any officially released Frisell recordings. I treat this as a loose, evolving interpretation that comes out different every time.

We All Love Neil Young - Probably my favorite Bill Frisell composition.  So basic and yet so beautiful.  It's from Frisell's Big Sur project where it shows up in multiple incarnations ("Song for Lana Weeks").  Check it out.

Yanqui Go Home - From the Camper Van Beethoven album Telephone Free Landslide Victory

Mountain Thistle at Grelen Trails - Somerset, VA.  By Laura Fields.
Even though I didn't write any of these they very much feel like my tunes.  I continue to add a tune or two per month to this list, and some occasionally drop off, but I try to play through at least 5 or 6 each evening and also try to get to all of them within every two weeks or so.  I also use these as launching pads toward exercises in improvisation, transposition, scale theory, and more.  Even if I stopped here and never added a new melody to the list, I would probably have enough for an endless pursuit of music. 

I'm sad to report that I have tried to play the occasional one-off Irish tune over the last 6 months and each time it feels increasingly ill-fitted, like a pair of shoes or jacket that is not for me.  I'm very fickle and prone to phases and stages, so it would not be surprising if all of that changed at some point in the future.  For now I'm riding this wave.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Ten Takeaways from the 2016 LOCKN' Festival

Photo by @jtolg
My Morning Jacket Crushed It
The best set of the weekend belonged to My Morning Jacket.  It was all about love, sweet love.  That Steam Engine was maybe the best thing I have ever heard.  All that set was lacking was a cover of "Love TKO" by Teddy Pendergrass.  Next time, Yim Yames, next time.

My Love for Ween was Rekindled!
To the surprise of Ween fans nowhere, Ween's Thursday headlining slot quickly went deep and dark.  The elemental notes coming out of Deaner's guitar that night were the work of a master.  Friday's set contained even more Ween songs.  Behold...the Boognish.

Phish Was Disappointing
The king of jambands was not a personal highlight of the Lockn' festival.  I loved every minute of My Morning Jacket and Ween, but Phish just didn't hit me in the same way.  Phish could have sprinkled their sets with more weird songs like Weigh, Guy Forget, Glide, Manteca, Mock Song, Lengthwise, Fikus, et cetera.  Phish might have also been better off conforming to the standard festival formula of one long set that starts immediately after the previous band.

Is Vulfpeck Some Kind of Joke...Band?
I only saw Vulfpeck's Thursday set but it was awful, right?  Two thumbs down.  I will say, that upon the 10th listen, it does start to be less awful.  Wait, why do I keep listening to their stupid set!!!???

Twiddle Rhymes with Did Ill
OK I get it.  You sound like a jamband heavily influenced by Phish who also likes to throw in the occasional reggae groove into every single one of your songs.  Your lyrics are uplifting in a way that should be more ironic than it is.  You've got a cool looking guitar (not a Languedoc) and a cool hat and Page hangs out in your trailor (note: trailer is spelled trailer).  Mr. Twiddle, you've been around for ten years so none of these observations are new, I'm sure.  Yeah I'd probably go see you guys again if you came through town on tour, but I might also double dip and go see Vulfpeck too.  That's your competition right now.

JRAD is the Best Thing Going in the Grateful Dead World
Aside from whatever Phil Lesh continues to do, which is bound to be good, JRAD is the best thing happening in Grateful Dead music right now.  Maybe Brown-Eyed Women doesn't always need to go Type II, but I'll take that over a manlike sexpot playing generic blues licks in a nostalgia act or a post John K DSO.  The way that JRAD toys with these songs through fearless full band improvisation is what makes it so endlessly entertaining.

Bringing Water, Food and a Pop-Up Shower Saved The Day
Our campsite was literally a mile walk to the stage.  No joke.  It was probably almost a half-mile to the nearest porta-potty and still farther to the closest water spigot.  Not exactly convenient.  Friday was the hottest day I have ever spent entirely outside.  The mission that day was to stay alive.  My drink of choice was a Coors Light - on ice!  Fortunately we had plenty of water and food and I had brought a pop-up shower for, well, showering by virtue of a DIY pump sprayer.  The shower proved to have at least 1 other important use.
Photo by Vickey Higgins Goff
Some People Can Dance For Hours In the Hot Sun and Still Rage Late Night (Not Me)
The intense heat crippled my interest in making more than one trip per day back and forth to the stage.  This meant that I missed a lot of the bands that played before Ween on Friday, including Turkuaz and Charles Bradley, but energy had to be conserved.  On Saturday I finally made it down for the whole day of music and found a shady spot to take it all in.  There, from the comfort of a low-profile chair, I could witness crazies dancing in the mid-day sun for hours on end.  My apologies to those mofos if they were still on their feet for MMJ. I had saved my energy so I could let loose a little bit by the end of the day on Saturday.

How You Feeling Out There?
Thanks for asking Michael Franti, I mean Galactic.  If you really want to know...I feel like I have a dangerously high core body temperature and an altered mental state or behavior.  I've been sweating excessively for days, have flushed skin, a rapid heart rate, a headache, and I feel kind of dizzy, as if I'm car sick but I haven't been in a car for over 48 hours.  It's 3:30 in the afternoon in August in Virginia and the heat index is above one hundred degrees.  If you really want me to get up and dance right now then you don't have my best interest at heart.  I feel bad for you Galactic for even being on that stage.  It's the best I can do to put my hands together.  I suppose I could make some noise.

That's Only Nine
Go listen to 12 Golden Country Greats.  Actually there is a ten.  I made a LOCKN' music mix for listening at the campsite and for some reason it called for vintage rhythm and blues and soul, such as the Staple Singers, Aretha Franklin, Allen Toussaint and more.  So it's had an unexpected impact on my future music listening.  Hitting the record stores tomorrow to search out more of this.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Ney Rosauro - Seven Brazilian Children's Songs for solo marimba

I was listening to the first hour of the public radio show Performance Today on July 15 when I heard some really cool sounding music that turned out to be "Brazilian Fantasy: Bach in Brazil" by Ney Rosauro.  It was an in-studio live recording of the Seattle Marimba Quartet performing this nine minute piece.  I loved the melodies and rhythms and it immediately occurred to me that I could maybe adapt parts of this for tenor banjo.

I learned that Ney Rosauro is a Brazilian composer, percussionist and vibes/marimba player.  His Brazilian Fantasy is a duet for two marimbas that mixes original music, traditional Brazilian folk tunes, Bach melodies/chord structures, and melodies by Brazilian composer Carlos Gomes.

Further research on Ney Rosauro uncovered a project he did about twenty years ago called "Seven Brazilian Children's Songs for solo marimba".  These are kind of like études he wrote based on melodies and rhythms from Brazilian folklore, for the purposes of developing basic four-mallet (marimba) technique and increasing the musicality of the person practicing them.  Despite (or because of) this, they sound like the kind of melodies I like to play.

These Children's Songs are numbered 1 through 7 (there are seven of them) and you can buy the sheet music from Lone Star Percussion.  Upon listening, my instant favorites are No. 3 Pirulito que Bate Bate and No. 6 A Moda da tal Anquinha.  The music for Pirulito que Bate Bate is available for free download on Ney Rosauro's website.  Here are some YouTube videos of a young woman playing these songs very well.

A Moda da tal Anquinha

Pirulito que Bate Bate

Although these pieces were written for marimba, for the most part they can be played as tunes on tenor banjo or any chromatic instrument.  Sometimes what I hear as the melody is actually written as the bass-line, but to me it still serves as the melody whenever there isn't a simultaneous treble clef sound happening.  This is especially true for A Moda da tal Anquinha.  

For Pirulito que Bate Bate there is a sequence of double stops at the end of one section that doesn't quite translate in an interesting way when played on the tenor banjo.  I've been experimenting with playing a little melodic run in its place.  At least part of this melodic run is based on a transposition of something that is happening elsewhere in the piece, so that may be why it seems to fit.

Eventually I would like to learn more of these Brazilian Children's Songs, or go back to the Brazilian Fantasy: Bach in Brazil piece that sparked this interest in the first place.  For now I'm enjoying making two-part fiddle tunes out of Pirulito and Anquinha.  Here are my takes on them as of this morning.

Anquinha

Pirulito

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Saturday, July 30, 2016

Six Bill Frisell Tunes on Tenor Banjo

Bill Frisell with Lucy (photo by Monica Frisell)
Over the last two months I've started to play a half dozen new tunes that are either Bill Frisell compositions or closely related to him.  I'm always looking for unusual new tunes to play - simple, distinctive melodic pieces that would be enjoyable to interpret on tenor banjo.  The selections below were all recorded on the couch in my living room in a span of about 30 minutes starting at about 8:30 this morning (July 30, 2016).  I love to get up early on a Saturday morning and start playing banjo.  This is what I would have been doing anyway. I just happened to have a recorder going this time so that these could be documented.

The tune that really got me interested in attempting some Bill Frisell stuff is We All Love Neil Young from Bill's Big Sur album.  I was instantly drawn to the melody and it seemed like I was almost able to play the notes the first time I ever tried.  I later had some help figuring out a couple of the pesky bits.  I don't have good, consistent timing here because I'm just playing it solo and I'd rather just play it than pause for the beats that are supposed to be there.  This melody shows up in other places on the Big Sur album.  Song for Lana Weeks for example.


Next is I Am Not A Farmer from the Disfarmer album.  This is another great example of a very simple - very Frisell like - melody.  It's actually quite similar to We All Love Neil Young.  If you listen to the Disfarmer album all the way through, this melody shows up multiple times under different names.  I struggle with what to do with the B-part since it's so sparse.  On the actual recording there's what amounts to a 3rd part that is just an E-minor chord for a few measures.  I don't really know how to make that work in a solo arrangement, so I just skip that sequence and make it an AA/BB tune.


The 3rd tune I recorded this morning is Uele, which I think is an African (Congolese) children's song.  The full title might be Uele Moliba Makasi.  There's a video of a Bill Frisell concert from the Barbican Theater in London 2/29/2004 featuring Djelimady Tounkara, Greg Leisz, Jenny Scheinman and Sidiki Camara where they play this tune. That's where I heard it. I don't think it's on any officially released Frisell recordings.  What I play is a loose, evolving interpretation of it that comes out different every time.


Speaking of Jenny Scheinman and Sidiki Camara -- Jenny Scheinman has a tune she wrote called Song for Sidiki which I'm assuming must be for djembe player Sidiki Camara.  Scheinman is a frequent collaborator with Bill Frisell and Song for Sidiki is one they often play together.  All of these tunes so far, and especially Song for Sidiki, are exactly what I'm looking for right now.  Relatively simple in structure, with a cool A part and (sometimes) a weird but even cooler B-part.


Bill Frisell has a tune on his Blues Dream album called Pretty Stars Were Made to Shine that is so traditional in its melody and chords that when played as a fiddle tune it sounds just like an old folk song that you can't quite place. Almost too standard. It sorta reminds me of Sweet Sunny South or maybe Uncloudy Day. I was fooling around with it, trying to decide if I liked it enough to add it to my repertoire, and as part of this experimentation played it in A-minor instead of A-major.  I instantly liked it better in A-minor.  It all of a sudden sounds more Middle-Eastern or something.  It's basically just a one-part tune. I would love to find a B-part for it but I haven't yet.  In this recording I toggle between major and minor (which gives it the impression of a two-part tune), and then I add an ending tag inspired by the end of Pretty Flowers Were Made for Blooming, its sister-song from the Blues Dream album.


Perhaps the most difficult Bill Frisell tune I've attempted so far is one of his earlier compositions - Amarillo Barbados.  I like it because it's got a funky Caribbean feel to the A-part, paired with an odd, almost Camper Van Beethoven-ish B-part.  I changed the key for this to make the notes easier to reach.  I wasn't expecting to be able to record this today.  Usually I make too many flubs to get all the way through, but I managed to somewhat capture it one take despite being constantly on the verge of collapse the whole time!


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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Road Trip: Coastal Oregon to Coastal California (Depoe Bay to Big Sur)

I'm planning an ambitious, six day coastal road trip (US-101 to CA-1) that starts in Portland, OR and ends in the Los Angeles area.  I've been to sporadic places along the California coast but never to Oregon so this should be quite an adventure.  Departing from the Portland airport (about 90 miles inland) and then taking the most coastal route via Depoe Bay, OR, the journey is about 1,100 miles, not including side trips.

Below are my notes regarding many places of interest along the way - mostly scenic, recreational attractions that are not that far off the Pacific Coast Highway.  Because of time constraints, we are not going to start as far north as Astoria, OR so this itinerary omits Oregon's North Coast (Astoria, Cannon Beach, Manzanita, Tillamook).  The places of interest listed below begin just north of Depoe Bay, OR near the top of Oregon's Central coast and run through Big Sur, CA.  The 300 miles from Big Sur to Los Angeles haven't been covered in any detail because we'll mostly be driving that day without much time for stopping.
Depoe Bay, OR
Day One - Portland Airport (PDX) to Depoe Bay, OR via OR-18 W.
The point of this day is simply about getting from the airport to the coast!  Google Maps say it's approximately 115 miles (2.5 hours) via OR-18 West.  The coastal places of interest begin around US-101 mile 125 (about 12 miles south of Lincoln City).  Of special note - I was able to include mile markers for all of the sites in Oregon because that information is provided in the Oregon Coastal Access Guide by Kenn Oberrecht - a book I highly recommend.

U.S. 101 mile 124.8 - Fogarty Creek Recreation Area
Trail with wooden bridges along creek and under highway to scenic cove and beach with tide pools.
A spouting horn south of the beach shoots jets of water skyward during incoming tides.

U.S. 101 mile 126.1 - Boiler Bay Scenic Viewpoint
If low tide, descend short rough trail to see tide pools.
During high tide waves crash into shore creating salty mist.

U.S. 101 mile 127.2 to 127.5 - Depoe Bay Promenade
Stone seawall and sidewalk with spouting horns that can shoot water 60 feet high.
Depoe Bay - world's smallest navigable harbor; whale watching capital of Oregon.

Cape Perpetua Lookout Station
Day Two - Depoe Bay, OR to Port Orford, OR (160+ miles)
This day is all about getting acquainted with the wild Oregon coastline and perhaps getting in a short hike or two.  Towns along the way include Yachats, Florence and Bandon.

U.S. 101 mile 129.5 - Rocky Creek State Scenic Viewpoint
Overlook with views of ocean waves and Whale Cove to the north.

U.S. 101 mile 131.2 - Cape Foulweather and Otter Crest State Scenic Viewpoint
Viewpoint 500 feet above the ocean.
Views (south) of Otter Crest, Devils Punch Bowl and Yaquina Head.
The Lookout gift shop.

U.S. 101 mile 132.4 - Otter Rock, north junction (Devils Punch Bowl)
Hollow rock formation that resembles a giant punch bowl.
Stairway to Beverly Beach south of the Punch Bowl.

U.S. 101 mile 137.6 - Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area
Turn west off highway on Lighthouse Drive (1-mile drive off Highway 101).
Some of the best views and photo opportunities on the central coast.
Tallest lighthouse in Oregon at the tip of the promontory.

U.S. 101 mile 138.3 - Northwest Ocean View Drive
Residential street that parallels highway along the ocean.
Rejoins Highway 101 at mile 141.3.
Good way to avoid Highway 101 traffic through Newport town center.
Leads to Agate Beach, Nye Beach, and Donald A. Davis City Park.

U.S. 101 mile 148.9 - Ona Beach State Park
Short trail to beach.

U.S. 101 mile 163.3 to 165.6 - Yachats
Village of Yachats (pronounced YAH-hahts) with a beach like surface of the moon.

U.S. 101 mile 166.9 - Cape Perpetua Scenic Area (Devils Churn Viewpoint)
Hike trail down to water's edge to 800 overlook to see incoming waves.

U.S. 101 mile 167 - Cape Perpetua Day Use (800 foot high overlook)
Turn east on Klickitat Ridge Road, go .8 mile, then north (left) on Forest Service Road 5553, which leads to the day use parking lot. An overlook stands 803 feet above sea level with view of 65 miles of coastline.
A short trail leads west from the overlook to a stone lookout called the West Shelter.

U.S. 101 mile 168.4 - Neptune State Scenic Viewpoint
Day-use area with benches overlooking ocean and access to beach and tide pools.

U.S. 101 mile 175.6 - Carl G. Washburn Memorial State Park
Hobbit Trail - winds 0.4 mile through dense forest to three-mile long beach.

U.S. 101 mile 178.8 to 179.1 - Heceta Head Viewpoint
Three small turnouts lean west off the highway.
One of the best viewpoints on the entire West Coast.

U.S. 101 mile 190.7 - Florence Old Town
Riverside town of Florence.  Waterfront Depot restaurant.

U.S. 101 mile 222.3 - John Dellenback Dunes Trailhead
One-mile interpretive loop trail through forest to dunes.
Five-mile beach route marked with blue-banded posts.

U.S. 101 mile 232.3 - Viewpoint
Small parking area with views of North Slough, Haynes Inlet, and Coos Bay.

U.S. 101 mile 233.2 - Conde B. McCullough Memorial Bridge
5,305 foot masterpiece by Oregon's premier bridge builder, completed in 1936.
Sidewalks on both sides of bridge provide platform to see and photograph from.
Highest point of bridge is said to have great view of Coos Bay.

U.S. 101 mile 259.2 - Bullards Beach State Park
The park road skirts the north bank of the lower Coquille River and ends 2.8 miles from Highway 101 at the Coquille River Lighthouse.

U.S. 101 mile 262 - Bandon
Old Town Bandon - shops, galleries, restaurants, including Winter River Books and Gallery.

U.S. 101 mile 262.5 - Beach Loop Road (Face Rock)
Scenic road that leads to beaches, trails, park and Face Rock, a basalt monolith that resembles the face of a woman gazing skyward.
The Beach Loop Road rejoins 101 at mile 277.6.

U.S. 101 mile 296.4 - Cape Blanco
Westernmost point on the Oregon coast. 5 mile drive off Highway 101 to Cape Blanco State Park and Cape Blanco Lighthouse.

Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor
Day Three - Port Orford, OR to Trinidad, CA (140+ miles)
The fifty mile stretch from Port Orford to Brookings is said to be the most scenic portion of the Oregon Coast.  This day's drive also enters into the Redwood Forests across the border into California.  I don't have mile marker info for California, but I believe everything is still listed in a North to South order.

U.S. 101 mile 299.8 to 301.8 - Port Orford (Battle Rock)
One of the most beautiful natural harbors on the West Coast.
Port Orford Heads State Park - view of Port Orford's natural harbor, rocky shoreline and 1,756 foot high Humbug Mountain.
Mile 301.4 - Battle Rock Wayfinding Point.

U.S. 101 mile 334.8 - Cape Sebastian State Scenic Corridor
Parking lot and viewpoint more than 200 feet above the ocean.  On clear days visibility extends north to Humbug Mountain.

U.S. 101 mile 337.3 - Myers Creek Beach at Pistol River State Park
Mile-long beach at Myers Creek with sea stacks and monoliths.

U.S. 101 mile 344.1 to 353.3 - Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor
Twelve mile stretch of Highway 101 along forested coastline overlooking pocket beaches, cliffs, islands, sea stacks and rock formations.  The most scenic part of Highway 101.
Mile 344.6 or 344.8 - Arch Rock Viewpoint.
Mile 345 - Spruce Island Viewpoint.
Mile 345.9 - Natural Bridges Cove Viewpoint.
Mile 347.8 - Thomas Creek Bridge - highest bridge in Oregon.
Mile 348.4 - Indian Sands Viewpoint.
Mile 349.2 - Whaleshead Beach.
Mile 351.2 - House Rock Viewpoint.
Mile 351.9 - Cape Ferrelo Viewpoint.

U.S. 101 mile 355.7 - Harris Beach State Recreation Area
Craggy rock formations and evergreen forest with views of Bird Island (AKA Goat Island) off shore.

CALIFORNIA!

Clifford Kamph Memorial Park - 2 miles South of Oregon border.
On a bluff overlooking beach.

Crescent City
Brother Jonathan Park and Vista Point  at Pebble Beach Drive and 9th Street.
Point St. George - end of Washington Blvd. Cliffs and steep trail to beach.
Battery Point Lighthouse - located on an island just north of Crescent City Harbor.

Crescent Beach Overlook
Cliffside platform at South end of Enderts Beach road with trail to Enderts Beach.

Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway - Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
(About 5 miles south of Klamath.)
5-mile alternative to 101 with roadside pullouts and paths into the forest.
Big Tree Wayside - walk up to the 304 feet tall "Big Tree" on a short loop trail.

Gold Bluffs Beach - Access via Davison Road, three miles north of Orick.
Fern Canyon Trail - end of Davison Road near Gold Bluffs Beach.  Water streams down 50 foot walls draped in ferns.

Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail - South end of Redwoods National Park.
1.4 mile loop where redwoods and fir create cathedral like canopy.

Patrick's Point State Park
The Rim Trail follows a route along the ocean bluff.
Wedding Rock.

Trinidad State Beach College Cove Parking Area - one mile North of Trinidad town.

Avenue of the Giants
Day Four - Trinidad, CA to Jenner, CA (250+ miles)
By now dramatic coastlines, beautiful beaches, craggy rocks and massive trees should be old hat so I'm hoping we can cover more ground this day - hence this challenging 250 mile leg of the journey.

Avenue of the Giants - 20 mile alternative to 101 between Scotia and Garberville
Founders Grove Nature Loop Trail (mile 20.5 on Avenue of the Giants) - easy half-mile trail, big trees up close.

Garberville
Benbow Inn restaurant with patio overlooking water.

Legget - Junction of US-101 and CA-1.  Leave 101 to get on CA-1.
Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree

South Kibesillch Gulch View Area - overlook at mile post 71.95, south of Westport.

Mackerricher Park - pristine stretch of coastline just north of Fort Bragg.

Fort Bragg - Windsong Used Books and The Bookstore Vinyl Cafe

Pomo Bluffs Park - just south of Noyo River Bridge
Views of Noyo River mouth from atop bluff.

Jug Handle State Park Natural Reserve
Sandy cove beach and short hike to unusual pygmy forest trail.

Point Cabrillo Light Station State Historic Park - 300 acre nature preserve 2 miles North of Mendocino.

Mendocino
Picturesque artsy village.
Mendocino Headlands State Park - Cypress Grove and Portuguese Beach.

Mendocino Bay Overlook - views from South of Mendocino town from grassy bluff.

Van Damme State Park - 3 miles south of Mendocino
Pygmy Forest - .25 mile loop trail of stunted cypress and pine off Little River Road.

Point Arena Cove - end of Iversen Ave./Port Rd., 1 mile west of CA-1.

Jenner, CA - where Russian River meets the Pacific.

Bixby Bridge - Big Sur
Day Five - Jenner, CA to Big Sur, CA (220+ miles)
Unfortunately we don't have time to include an overnight in San Francisco, but thankfully I've been there a couple times before.  This day's mission is to get through the congestion of the Bay Area and stay on the coast through idyllic Santa Cruz, Monterey and Carmel-By-the-Sea to finally arrive at the grand destination that is Big Sur!

San Francisco
CA-1 does not run along coast in San Francisco.  To stay along the coast take the Great Highway to CA-35 (Skyline Boulevard).  The Great Highway starts at the western end of Geary Avenue (Point Lobos Ave.) and follows beach past the San Francisco Zoo.  When it hits Skyline Blvd. (CA-35) take CA-35 for five miles where it meets CA-1.

Monterey - old fisherman's wharf.

17-Mile Drive - Enter at Pacific Grove Gate and exit at Carmel Gate.
Famous scenic drive. Toll is charged for entry.
Lone Cypress, beaches at Spanish Bay, many turnouts, Pebble Beach golf course, Bird Rock and Seal Rock (seals and sea lions).

Rocky Creek Bridge - half mile north of Bixby Creek Bridge
Similar but smaller than Bixby Bridge.

Bixby Creek Bridge - 11 miles north of Big Sur Village
713 foot long bridge built in 1932.  There's a pull off on the North side.
260 foot high bridge.

Big Sur - Rugged coast between Carmel and San Simeon.  CA-1 twists around mountains and clings to rocky cliffs.

Morro Rock
Day Six - Big Sur, CA to South Pasadena, CA (300+ miles)
Due to the long, demanding drive from Big Sur to the Los Angeles area (not recommended to do in one day) I've only listed a couple sights along the way.  I'm not making it a plan to seek out and stop at the typical tourist attractions along this route - I know I am leaving out a lot of interesting places during this stretch -  but may explore random sites more spontaneously this day if time and interest allows.  Although, I have listed the Morro Rock because that sounds interesting.

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (11 mi. S. of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park)
Overlook trail leads to observation deck with views of McWay Falls.
Park east of CA-1 and cross under the roadway on the Waterfall Trail.

Morro Bay (110 miles south of Big Sur)
Morro Rock - W. end of Coleman Drive.
580 foot high "Gibraltar of the Pacific".

There you have it.  These notes are mostly so that I have a customized online place that I can refer to along the way, but it may be of interest to others as well.  In addition to the Oregon Coastal Access Guide mentioned above, I also used the books Coastal California Access Guide, Moon Coastal Oregon and Moon Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip to gather the notes for this trip.  If you're looking for one book that covers it all, that may be Moon Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip by Victoriah Arsenian.


Monday, July 18, 2016

Five Favorite Instruments of Mine (That Aren't Tenor Banjo)

I play music for fun as a hobby. The instrument I use to do so is the 4-string tenor banjo. In my case I tune it GDAE (low to high) which is one octave lower than a mandolin/violin. The tenor banjo allows me to pluck instrumental melodies to songs or tunes, similar to what someone is doing when they are whistling. Each evening around the house, during the same free time that someone else might choose to watch TV or play Pokemon, I play my musical instrument of choice: the tenor banjo.

Despite being my favorite instrument to play (and the only instrument I play), I wouldn't necessarily say that tenor banjo is my favorite instrument. In fact, I can think of at least 5 other instruments that I would place ahead of it, even though I don't play any of them. These include...

Marimba
The marimba is a tuned percussion instrument with wooden bars laid out in a similar way to a piano keyboard. The wooden bars are struck with mallets to produce musical tones. Resonators suspended underneath the bars amplify their sound. The marimba was developed in Central America and is the national instrument of Guatemala. It is like a xylophone although it is pitched an octave lower and produces a richer sound.

Why I Haven't Played the Marimba Yet: Cost, size and playing style. I haven't done a whole lot of research but beginner/student level marimbas seem to start at over $1,000. That's a pretty steep investment. Also, marimbas are pretty big and would take up a lot of room in the house. I don't really have the space for one. My last excuse is that the proper playing style involves holding more than one mallet in each hand and I don't really see myself wanting to do that. I'd probably just want to hold one mallet per hand and try to bang out single-line melodies. I might still get one in the next year or two.



Melodica
The melodica is a free-reed instrument similar to the pump organ and harmonica. It has a musical keyboard on top and is played by blowing air through a mouthpiece that fits into a hole in the side of the instrument. Pressing a key opens a hole, allowing air to flow through a reed. It produces sound only exhaling into not inhaling. Melodicas have a rectangular shape and they are held with one hand (a handle is located underneath most of the instruments) while the keyboard is played with the other hand. The keyboard is usually two or three octaves long. Melodicas are small, light, and portable, and inexpensive. The modern form of the instrument was invented by Hohner in the 1950s.

Why I Haven't Played Melodica Yet: This is simple...spit! Although I like the sound of a melodica I don't want to play any instrument that you have to use your mouth to play because the idea that moisture gathers into the instrument is just unappealing to me. This probably also rules out another favorite of mine, the clarinet.



Appalachian Dulcimer
The Appalachian dulcimer (or mountain dulcimer) is a member of the zither family. The dulcimer has a drone similar to the bagpipe, reminiscent of the early settlers of the Appalachians whose music helped shaped the beginnings of bluegrass and early country music. The hourglass shaped body extends the length of the fingerboard and its fretting is generally diatonic. It was originally used as an instrument to accompany ballad singing. Traditional players use a wooden noter, or dowel, to fret single melody notes, while others prefer the more modern approach of chording as both accompaniment and lead. It is unrelated to the hammered dulcimer.

Why I Haven't Played Dulcimer Yet: Tuning limitations. Due to the diatonic fret pattern and various tunings the dulcimer isn't versatile enough to cover every possible melody or scale. From what I understand the most common tuning facilitates playing in the Ionian mode, and then you have to re-tune and/or use a capo to play in other modes. I don't want to play any instrument that you have to re-tune for certain keys, etc.


The Upright Bass (AKA "Double Bass")
The acoustic upright bass is the largest and lowest-pitched instrument in the violin (or viol?) family, but it is tuned in 4ths rather than 5ths like the violin, viola and cello. The bass is used in a range of genres, such as classical, jazz, rock, blues, tango, bluegrass. You're probably familiar with it already so I don't need to go into much detail. When I think of upright bass players I think of people like Charles Mingus, Chris Wood, Mark Schatz and Stephan Crump.

Why I Haven't Played Upright Bass Yet: Well, they take up a lot of room and I suspect that they are expensive. But the main reason is that the bass is an accompaniment instrument and I simply like playing lead melodies. I would like to perhaps get a bass some day to learn more about harmony and chord theory, but I probably wouldn't choose an upright bass simply because of its size. I would probably go with a shorter scaled electric bass just to learn the concept of bass playing.



The Electric Guitar
Do I even need to describe the electric guitar? We all know what it is. It's a guitar that uses a magnetic pickup to convert the vibration of the plucked strings into electrical impulses that can be heard when the guitar is plugged into an amplifier. The electric guitar was invented invented in the early 1930s and quickly adopted by jazz guitarists who sought to be able to be heard in big band ensembles. During the 1950s and 1960s, the electric guitar became the most important instrument in pop music, serving as a major component in the development of electric blues, rock and more. I was going to make the last instrument on this list the accordion, but most of my favorite musicians are electric guitar players (Jerry Garcia, Trey Anastasio, Bill Frisell, Mary Halvorson, Dean Ween, Derek Bailey) so it would be disingenuous not to include electric guitar in the top five.

Why I Have't Played Electric Guitar Yet: I dunno, too common? (I actually did have a left-handed electric guitar once). The guitar checks all the boxes in terms of versatility and repertoire but for some reason I'm not drawn to it as an instrument I want to play for my own enjoyment. Any melody I can whistle can be played on the guitar in any key. However, I can also do that same thing on my chosen instrument, the tenor banjo, and still feel like I'm doing something fairly original (AKA self-indulgent). There are just too many awesome guitar players. I would feel like a poser if trying to play it. The bar has been set too high. If you played guitar there would be constant reminders of how you're not ever going to be as good as Hendrix or Zappa or Jerry. Whereas with tenor banjo I can play whatever I want on it and feel like I'm the only person in the world doing it. I've never once questioned the decision to play tenor banjo even though I'm always wondering what to play on it.



Honorable mention instruments: accordion, clarinet and steel guitar.