WORK: Power & Gadgetry

As a drum teacher working in various schools, I’m frequently faced with the need to power gadgets of various kinds: from the guitar amps I use, to bring backing tracks, metronome etc, to a level that competes with the drums, to iPhones and iPads for the apps and music, and so on.

I‘ve gradually switched from ‘hard’ (paper!) copies to PDF files for a good deal of my teaching materials, over the last two or three years. It lightens the physical load. But it can be bad if devices conk out, and power can’t be sourced.

This latter point also raises the spectre of the online connectivity issues. Schools often make it harder for visiting music peri’s and the like to access online services than for their own full time staff, with changing visitor passwords, and sometimes blocking sites or apps that music lessons might benefit from access to.

My view from my off-kit teaching position.

Anyway, I very rarely post on’t blog about work. Indeed, this might be the first such occasion!? I thought I’d put on record, for my own benefit, an unofficial summary of how I’m doing such stuff at this point.

The accompanying pics are from a school that’s only recently been built, and as yet only has pupils from year groups 7, 8 and 9. So it’s a new and growing institution.

When I first started teaching here, I was in a tiny boxy music rehearsal room. Par for the course. But not the best space for drum lessons (far from the worst tho’, either). But as of Sept’ ‘21, I’ve been giving my lessons on the swanky stage of the shiny and pristine new theatre/auditorium. Nice!

I supplied a rug, to stop the kit sliding around.

It’s a bit echoey – big space, very high ceiling, reflective surfaces – but softened a little by hooooge curtains. And all black. So very ‘pro stagecraft’ in look and feel. Esp’ with the fancy lighting rigs over-head.

The little extension pictured above now travels with me to all my schools. It would be a bit better, if it had a rather longer lead. But it does bring three ordinary plugs and two USB type (?) connections closer to me, wherever I may be sat.

For amplification I have three options, of which I will generally always have two: first, a Bluetooth ‘boom-box. This is good for listening to stuff when not actually drumming. It’s not quite loud enough to compete with an acoustic kit, however.

I got this power supply hub type extension from Amazon.

The other of the essential pair is a guitar amp. I have a Fender 15W and a Roland Cube 15W. They both play up a bit here and there. And they also have different aux inputs: the Fender has a phono pair, L and R, whilst the Roland just has a 1/4” stereo jack socket. Both are fed audio via either an iPad or iPhone, via a (?) stereo jack.

Both amps can be unwontedly noisy, and both are, especially with loud music and heavy hitters, only just loud enough to work well when teaching drums on acoustic kits. All the kits are I teach on are beginner level quality acoustic sets. I’m soooo glad none of them are cheapo e-kits!

I far prefer acoustic drums and cymbals to electric gear. The only e-kits I’ve tried and liked are the very top of the range ones from Roland, in the £3-5,000 area.

FiLM REViEW: A Few Good Men, 1992

Essentially a court room drama, A Few Good Men is also a David vs Goliath type thing, and a reassuring sop on American idealism vs establishment corruption.

As entertainment it works pretty well: Cruise is as charismatic as ever, as cocky young US Navy lawyer, Daniel Kaffee. We want him to win, and he does. It’s well directed, by Rob Reiner, and it captures certain aspects of US martial and civic culture rather beautifully; from the precision choreography of the US Marines in the opening scenes, to various moody shots of beautiful locations.

As docu-drama it’s pure fantasy. Reassuring feel-good fantasy, in which arrogant corruption is humbled before the law. Demi Moore’s role is a bit weird, nearly but not quite Cruise’s love interest, and more the voice of his conscience. Kiefer Sutherland and Jack Nicholson are solid as the ‘villains’.

Kevin Bacon is Cruise’s legal adversary, for the prosecution. The heart of the film is about whether or not Cuba Gooding Jr and his accomplice are guilty of murder in the death of fellow (and unhappy/unsuccessful) Marine, Santiago, who dies during an unofficial but sanctioned ‘Code Red’.

Issues of pragmatism vs idealism, and loyalty vs independent thinking are part of the meat of the plot. But it’s such a prettily shot star-studded affair that any moral heft is rinsed out in a celebrity glare. And the denouement, whilst narratively satisfying, is total hokum.

Not a great film, but enjoyable Saturday evening fare…

MiSC: Blacking a Bottom!

I recently visited our pal Patrick, who’s having his bottom blacked. The marina he’s at is on my route to work. So I’ve popped in to see him a couple of times.

I can’t recall exactly what day this first visit was. But it shows his boat, Impulse, out of the water, prior to the work. Or more accurately as the work gets started.

Pat’s living on the boat whilst the work is carried out. You can see the guv’nor of the marina at work to the bottom left of this photo.

Here’s a view of the business end, prop, rudder, etc. You can see the circular pattern of the cleaning pads in the upper band of the hill.

This looks rather pretty. But it’s not how it should look. As we’ll see later.

Another view of the waterline wear. Interesting abstract patterns. But degradation of the metal looming. Re-blacking the bottom will protect and extend the life of both the metal and the boat.

Visit number two was on Friday 1st October.

This mighty beast must’ve hoisted Pat’s boat out of the water.
This shot shows the before and after change.
Pat’s access to his home.
The lifting beast, and Pat’s shiny new derrière.
An underwater anode!

I didn’t know what these doodads were. Pat told me they’re sacrificial anodes. He explained what they’re for. But I still wasn’t 100% clear on what they did, how, and why, etc. I found this:

By definition an anode is an ingot of sacrificial metal attached to the underwater hull of a narrowboat or canal boat which corrodes due to electrolysis more readily than the hull and propeller. Magnesium anodes are used for boats in fresh water. Aluminium anodes are used for boats in brackish water. Zinc anodes are used exclusively in salt water. (Found here.)

Pat, aboard Impulse.

As a jazz-bo, I think Pat should repaint his boat, and change the name to look like the Impulse jazz record label design. So his boat would still have the same name, but would also proclaim Pat’s live of jazz to those in the know.

Something drawn from or combining various aspects of the above logo variants might be pretty cool!

MUSiC: Inedito, Jobim, 1987/95

Well, this is the end of my Jobim solo album series, for now. I don’t currently have Passarim (‘87), Antonio Brasileiro (‘95) or Minha Alma Canta (‘97). So there are a few gaps to be filled at some future date. But I’ve written up brief pieces on 11 of his 14 solo albums, plus a number of others from his collaborations (I’ll be filling in the remainder of those blanks as well, in time). It’s been fun listening to all these great recordings again.

An absolutely stunning collection of twenty-four pieces by Tom Jobim, ranging from richly orchestrated band renditions, to incredibly minimal arrangements. From the familiar bossas (albeit often heavily reworked) to his less familiar ‘chanson’ style piano ballads.

This was for years a limited private pressing. Only ‘going public’ after Jobim’s passing. There are parallels with his fantastic 1980 recording, Terra Brasilis, for which Claus Ogerman supplied arrangements. On this later recording – 1987 – Jobim uses the same musicians (friends and family!) that recorded his official ‘87 release, Passarim, with Jacques Morelenbaum supplying arrangements (and cello!).

Jobim and Banda Nova.

Another notable feature is how, more than on any other Jobim album (at least that I’m aware of) he steps back from the mic’, sharing lead vocal duties with Paulo Jobim, Danilo Caymmi, and several female vocalists (including Paula Morelenbaum, Jacques’ wife, and his own wife and daughter!), and even occasionally rendering the vocals as richly harmonised chorales.

An utterly sublime recording. Essential for any real Jobim aficionado.

FiLM REViEW: Affliction, 1997

Egads! So bleak and dark, it could’ve been made in the ‘70s. Teresa wasn’t keen. In fact we bailed, first time round. So this was my second go. Affliction is a slow burner. And, like the snowbound New Hampshire hamlet it’s set in, it’s cold and bleak.

I’ve always loved Nick Nolte, from everything like his most mainstream stuff, 48 Hours or Prince of Tides, to his role as Neal Cassady, in Heartbeat, or artist Lionel Dobie, in Martin Scorsese’s segment of New York Stories, Life Lessons. And the rest of the cast includes heavyweights like Willem Defoe, James Coburn and Sissy Spacek.

Wade is not in a good place, in any sense.

Nolte plays jaded policeman Wade Whitehouse, who’s worsening toothache turns out to be the least of his troubles. When a visiting businessman is shot in a hunting accident, Wade’s paranoid reaction, compounded by his abusive upbringing, at the hands of his alcoholic father (Coburn), begins an unravelling.

It’s a dark and sad story, and relentlessly negative, which is hard going. But as a character study, it is powerful and engaging. The plot arc is kind of predictable, but strong nevertheless. Nolte and Coburn are both truly horrible, frankly. But we still feel for them, especially Nolte, as he descends ever deeper into his own lowering circles of hell.

It’s kind of like pulling teeth… literally.

Nolte has had some odd roles, from sending his own machismo up, as Four Leaf Tayback in Tropic Thunder, or Harry LeSabre in the bonkers adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions, also starring Bruce Willis. In this movie he’s stuck in the cul-de-sac of what might now be called toxic masculinity.

Hardly uplifting, but I still thought this was a really strong film.

MUSiC: Urubu, Jobim, 1976

Starting with Jobim (1972/3*), Tom’s music takes a turn for the more grandiose, or towards what we might term ‘art-music’, and concurrently is somewhat less mainstream or immediately accessible. It’s not, initially, a massive change, more several forms of tweakage. Although having said this, by the tone of Urubu, the change is markedly more pronounced

Echoing Jobim, this is a record of two halves/sides: side one is vocal, side two instrumental. The songs are the more obvious descendants of his former phase as a maker of popular tunes/songs. But even these feel as if they’re becoming more European and chamber music styled.

Side two might be film or TV music, and is more orchestral, albeit with some splashes of chorale, and some wider instrumentation than is usually found in Jobim’s music up to this point.

Both the vocal and instrumental sides are four pieces apiece: Boto, Ligia, Correntzo and Angela are all songs; Saudade do Brazil, Valse, Architetur de Morar and O Homem are all instrumentals.

As a great admirer of Jobim’s work I like this expansion of his range. But I can also understand the viewpoint of those who love his prior work more, and start to lose interest in this material.

The truth is I’m most likely to teach for Wave, Tide and Stone Flower, or a collaboration like Eli’s e Tom than I am either Jobim (even with its two tecirdibgs of Aguas de Marco!) or Urubu, or even later masterpieces, Like Terra Brasilis and Inedito, although these later recordings come much closer to achieving a synthesis of Jobim’s broader reach.

This makes scoring this hard! As I’m typing this a rather John Barry/James Bond-ish passage is playing, part of track seven (whose English title is rendered as Architecture to Live), and it’s terrific! And album closer O Homem (OMan) is bolder brassier and even fanfare-like in places, unlike any other Jobim heretofore.

Not the place for the uninitiated to start. And only really essential to the Jobimophile, like me. I toyed with scoring this four and a half stars. But I love it. So it’s getting five.

* It says ‘72 on my vinyl copy. But some webpages say it was released in ‘73… !?

MUSiC: Sinatra/Jobim, The Complete Reprise Recordings, 2010.

NB Jobim’s frequent collaborations are something I was going to get to later, after posting on all his solo stuff. But I got this, to fill some gaps, and listening to it, felt compelled to write something up and post it. I’ll be covering other ‘Jobim plus’ type recordings in due course.

I recently acquired Sinatra/Jobim, The Complete Reprise Recordings on CD. And I did so despite already owning the two previous official collaborations between these two legendary figures of 20th century popular music.

Why? Well, partly cause I’m a collecto-maniac, but chiefly because there have been two or three tracks they recorded together that have long been hard to get hold of. The reason was that Ol’ Blue Eyes wasn’t happy with his performances. They were Sabia, Bonita, and Off-Key (aka Desafinado).

1967’s first joint venture.

This has the weird consequence of resulting in one ‘proper’ or fully collaborative album, Francis Albert Sinatra & Antônio Carlos Jobim, (1967), and one that was more an affair of two distinct halves, Sinatra & Company, (released in 1971). Both are very good. But I always preferred the earlier and more fully Jobim-ised disc, and felt a little cheated by the more pop than ‘great American songbook’ side of & Company.

One of the oddest songs, to my ears, on this listening, is Sabia, rendered here as Song Of The Sabia, and almost unrecognisable as the song Jobim performs elsewhere. This is thanks not only to the quite different lyrics, but even more so Sinatra’s very Vegas delivery.

Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this was one of the tracks that prompted Sinatra himself to quash the release of the intended follow up to Francis Albert Sinatra & Antônio Carlos Jobim, which was to be called Sinatra-Jobim.

The cover for the follow up that was pulled.

On the whole Sinatra does a very commendable job, across both albums, of adjusting his performances to the much mellower more laid back stylings of the bossa nova. But one senses it was something of a stretch for ‘The Voice’.

Rather intriguingly, one of the numbers where both this accommodation, and the lush orchestral arrangements, fuse into something really surprisingly powerful, is Someone To Light Up My Life. Some of Sinatra’s bombast or bravura leaks into his vocal performance, in a way that gives it a quality more authentically Brazilian renderings I’ve heard don’t have.

The half’n’half (baked) Sinatra & Co, 1971.

Actually, it seems to me that Sinatra feels more relaxed and better able, in the second set of recordings – actually recorded in 1969, just two years after their first collaborative sessions – to integrate his own usual mannerisms into the bossa nova setting. So it’s somewhat ironic that it was performances from the second batch that were binned.

Sinatra takes the vocal lead throughout, but Jobim is allowed to play the second fiddle in numerous duets, including The Girl From Ipanema (the first track), and Off-Key/Desafinado, the latter being one of the three tracks here that has a more chequered past.

It’s surprising how consistent all the bossa material is, across both albums, in terms of feel and quality. The only obvious major difference is that frequent Jobim collaborator Claus Ogerman arranged for Francis Albert Sinatra & Antônio Carlos Jobim, whereas the still very young Eumir Deodato handles arrangements on the later Sinatra-Jobim/Sinatra & Company material.

What a fabulous photograph!

It’s worth mentioning, even if only briefly, the non-Jobim tracks, Change Partners (Irving Berlin), I Concentrate On You (Cole Porter), and Baubles, Bangles and Beads (from the popular musical Kismet). These were part of the Sinatra/Jobim sessions, and you can hear Jobim scatting in them. In contrast, the second side of & Company was neither by Jobim, nor has him on any of it, either. Those selections, inc. tracks such as (They Long To Be) Close To You and Leavin’ On A Jet Plane, are not included on this release. (Thankfully!)

Listening to all these tracks now, including the lost sheep – Sabia, Bonita, Off-Key – it’s hard to understand why Sinatra got cold feet. It’s definitely great to have all this terrific music gathered together in a Jobim-fan-friendly format. I’m much more a Jobim fan than a Sinatra one. Although Tom plays lower on the billing than Sinatra, it’s largely his music, and that’s why I’m here!

So, not part of my survey of solo Jobim, but still essential for both the lover of great music, and especially so the lover of Jobimalia!

Sinatra also had Jobim guest on a TV special.

MUSiC: Jobim, Jobim, 1972

After a run of recordings made at the Rudy Van Gelder studios, whilst this allegedly shares many of the same performers, it sounds and feels quite different.

The Brazilian version started with the sublime Jobim classic Aguas de Marco, in its original Portuguese. The US and other markets started likewise, but had an extra version of the same track, sung in English, appended to the close of side two. I’d say this is a five star album simply for having this track, or rather tracks, on it alone.

The rest of the disc is rather more varied than previous albums. Whilst tracks two and three, Ana Luiza and Matita Pere are very much the Jobim we’d grown to know and love, from Tempo do Mar onwards things shift to a more TV/movie soundtrack type territory.

Personally I love a lot of this music, albeit that it is quite different from the ‘standard’ Jobim stuff we may have grown accustomed to. Tempo do Mar, Mantequiera Range, Themes From the Films Cronica Da Casa Assassinada/Trem Para Cordisburgo, Um Rancho Nas Nuvens and Nuvens Douradas are all more ‘compositional’ (a kind of classical influence?); except for a brief interlude in the longer Themes From the Films track, they are all instrumental, and more orchestral and thematic, less song like than usual.

This makes this recording significantly different from all his previous discs. And some don’t like that. score it a paltry three stars! I find that shocking. It’s like the reaction many had to Alice Coltrane’s Infinity. Close-minded. This said, as much as I love and admire Jobim’s work when he veers off his own beaten track, I do listen to this stuff less frequently.

According to online info, Claus Ogerman is once again working with Jobim. And he has a lot more to do here, as a great many pieces are essentially Jobim at the piano, plus an orchestra, predominantly consisting, by the sounds of it, of strings, plus some flutes, and the occasional trombone. So there’s a lot less of the US jazzmen blowing their horns.

They do crop up, here and there, notably Urbie Green’s sinuously laconic ‘bone can be enjoyed in several places. Likewise Ron Carter and Joao Palma are credited. But have a lot less to do than in previous recordings. Making a ‘slight return’ on side two, with the two Nuvens tracks, and the added English language version of Aguas de Marcos.

The cover artwork is a bit strange. A rather naive modernist painting. Poss’ by a member of the Jobim clan? It’s kind of suited to an album that’s a bit of a departure into what might be termed a more personal or ‘art music’ type direction.

So, whilst I personally love this album, being a major Jobim fan, I wouldn’t recommend it as a starting point, as it’s quite atypical. But, again, for me personally, on account of the two versions of Waters of March, if nothing else, this remains utterly essential.

MUSiC: Aguas de Marco (Disco do Bolso), Jobim, 1972

This is a little oddity!

Today’s post concerns a wee 7” single – or Disco do Bolso (pocket record!) – which was given away in a Brazilian supplement to the Pasquim newspaper. On one side the debut recording of Joao Bosco, on the other, another debut. But this time from the venerable old master, Tom Jobim… read on.

Regarding the Jobim track, it’s the first recorded iteration of a Tom classic that’s gone on to become a signature song both for the composer himself, and Brazilian art music/culture, of the 20th century. Covered many times by many artists. A favourite amongst musicians worldwide, it’s less widely or popularly known – compared with numbers like The Girl From Ipanema or How Insensitive – outside Brazil.

Funky font on the 7” label.

This particular version is certainly not the best; it’s a bit fast, and the production values are fairly poor. But this earliest recording does capture the joy and energy of creation itself. The excitement Jobim’s performance conveys is both palpable and infectious.

It’s a quite rough and ready recording, like a demo, really. Not the sort of finessed kind of mix or production of most Jobim commercial recordings. But it has extra charm for just those reasons.

I initially supposed the guitar, vocals and layered flutes, and poss even vocalised ‘cabasa’ style percussion, were all by Jobim. Leaving me wondering who played bass and drums. But a little online digging led here, where I discovered it was otherwise than I supposed.

Tom is credited as arranger and vocalist, with guitar played by Eduardo Athayde, bass by Novelli, drums by João Palma, and Bebeto, Paulo Jobim (family!), Franklin, Paulo (another one; a family friend, apparently!), and Ratto, all playing flute!

Image from an online ad for the mag/disc.

If I had the money, I’d love to track down a copy of the magazine with the disc. I did find one – pictured above – on eBay, asking price circa $180! Interestingly both the lyrics and Jobim’s handwritten musical score are printed.

Oh, and I adore the artwork! Jobim squatting by a tree (or rock?), with his flute at the ready, apparently reading some music off a sexy bikini clad lady’s very fine posterior!

NB – Google Translate renders the info on the Brazilian wiki-link about this release thus:

Antônio Carlos Jobim's Tom eo Tal de João Bosco is a simple 1972 compact made for the Disco de Bolso d'O Pasquim collection, released by Tom Jobim and João Bosco. Side A of the single brings the first recording and release of "Águas de Março" and side B brings the song "Agnus Sei" by João Bosco (his first recording). Despite recording and tuning problems, the single is seen today as of great historical importance.

FiLM REViEW: October Sky, 1999

What a terrific movie. Based on a true story, as they say. I’ve subsequently learned that, as is pretty near always the case, the moviemakers play fast and loose with historical facts. But nevertheless, this is a very engaging story well told.

Central to the story – in which a group of kids in a coal mining town get interested in building rockets, after seeing the Soviet Sputnik satellite pass overhead – are numerous strands of relationships.

Pa wants Homer Jr not just ‘down to earth’, but literally underground.

Perhaps the most foregrounded is that of central character Homer Hickam (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his coal miner father (Chris Cooper). Also key is Homer’s teacher, Miss Reilly (Laura Dern). Then there’s his family, his ‘Rocket Boy’ friends, and the community of Coalwood, a town literally built (and owned) by the mining company.

Set in the ‘50s, and depicting a very particular geographical and working culture, the film has a lot of nostalgic appeal. It’s a corking feel-good watch. Certain aspects of the story, and even certain characters, are ‘jazzed up’ a bit. Personally I think it’s a shame moviemakers seem to feel obliged to do such things. But maybe it does make for more compelling viewing?

But for the Rocket Boys, things are looking up.

Watching the movie made me feel I ought to read Hickam’s autobiographical Rocket Boys memoir. But, for now, the feel-good fun of the movie will suffice.