Player's Journal


A few nights before Christmas, at the local mall, my wife and daughter were shopping in Gap, and I was leaning against the wall outside the store, waiting for them. A young couple walked by. The guy slowed, looking at me, then pointing and saying, "Jazz guitar player!? ... Sax Player!?"

I said "You were right the first time -- guitar." He was speechless for a few seconds and then said, "You...You're awesome!" Then he and the young woman continued on their way.

Using Sound Clips

In an earlier entry, I wrote about wanting to catalog my recordings from gigs. Since then I've added functionality to THoTH to do this. For each song, I have an Audio tab on the song page, where I can list any number of MP3 files, with a description of each. I've added fields for Start and End times, and the play button will observe these times. Here's a screen shot of the Audio page:

So when I want to play an audio clip for a student, I can use THoTH to go right to it. But for posting on my site, I need to extract short excerpts. Recently I'd played "Afternoon In Paris" with the PJ Donohue trio, and I got the phrasing right on the head, and I wanted to offer this as an audio example on the my lessons page. So I opened the MP3 file in n-Track Studio, and made a clip of about eight bars:

"Afternoon In Paris"

I added a link to this on my lessons page, for the "Afternoon In Paris - Phrasing" lesson.

topics: THoTH

Golden Mean

Last month John Melisi and I played Jazz Brunch at the New England Center, on the UNH campus. It was homecoming weekend, so the brunch was well-attended, mostly by parents and professors. The room is huge for a duo, with a high ceiling, and seating at various levels. We needed to play loud enough to be heard throughout the room, while not being too loud for the tables right in front of us.

During the last set, an older couple came up to us on their way out, to say they had enjoyed the music. The woman made some very interesting comments:

Wonderful interpreting....Not to're background, but you're not. The fact of the matter is, in so many instances, you have music that either is so much of a background, that it's like white sound--you know what I'm saying—and sometimes it is such a statement that you can't make a statement, at your table. Yours is an amazing...golden mean.

topics: Melisi, JohnDuo Playing

Studying Soundclips

For several months I've been recording all my gigs on my Zoom H2 recorder. At this point I have more than a hundred MP3 files, and I'm thinking about ways to use them as learning/teaching tools. For example, I've played "Afternoon in Paris" a couple of times on recent gigs. I've posted a lesson on phrasing based on that melody, and I'd like to be able to link that lesson to a soundclip excerpted from my live performance. So how do I catalog these recordings so that I can easily find things like this?

The simplest solution is a list. The recordings are filed in directories by date. So, for example, the recordings from last night's gig are hermanos_20081104_1.mp3 and hermanos_20081104_2.mp3, in the directory 20081104. As I listen to the recordings, I could make a list of songs, something like this:

  • "In a Mellow Tone" hermanos_20081104_1 1:33 6:20
  • "Satin Doll" hermanos_20081104_1 7:23 10:44
  • ...
  • "Afternoon in Paris" hermanos_20081104_1 52:11 56:12
  • ...

The numbers indicate start and end times within the track. I could use a text editor to search the list. But I want to be able to store comments, and maybe even a rating. For example, I played "Afternoon in Paris" on the last two gigs. I might want to be able to make a note on how well I phrased the melody in each case. So maybe the list belongs in a database, which would give me more powerful searching capabilities.

I also might want to focus on a few measures. For example, I might have phrased the melody better on the out chorus. So I want a way to indicate a full performance of a tune, or an excerpt. It would be nice if, once I've located an excerpt, I could play just that segment. THoTH includes a media player, but, currently, it only plays full MP3 files. Maybe I should expand the Audio capabilities in THoTH to store all this information, and to play the full track or the segment as appropriate. Hmmm...

topics: THoTH

Featured Artists Coalition

Znet has an interesting article today about artists' rights. You can read it here. The author, Alexander Billet, observes that "Most record contracts are specifically designed to give artists as little control over their own music as possible. In fact, artists will most commonly be given no legal ownership of their music at all. End result? Labels and distributors make bank, artists get screwed. Sound familiar?"

I may not be making much money from my music, but at least, thanks to my independent Frogstory Records label, and my ability to post my original music on my web site, I still own the music.


I'm enjoying updating my gig journals. I justed added an entry about "Autumn Leaves," and a sound clip, in the Jonathan's Gig Journal. I'm now setting the Zoom H2 recorder for 192kpbs VBR, and I find that the Variable Bit Rate records a noticeably better sound. The "Autumn Leaves" take I just posted was recorded at that bitrate. Not only does H2 pick up the instruments well, but he picks up the customers conversations, and even the squeak of the bathroom door near the stage. One of these nights I'm going to bring WD-40 to the gig!

topics: Player's Journal

Welcome Back, Old Friend!

A few weeks ago, I got my Ampeg B-15 back from the repair shop. (Click here for more on my guitar and amp.) (See also this entry.)

Dan McCue did a great job fixing this amp. It sounds better than ever. He had to replace the power transformer, which was no mean feat. The two black boxes that sit atop the amp house the two transformers: power and output. The power transformer had shorted out. It's what is called a "potted" transformer; the housing is filled with paraffin. Since they no longer make these assemblies, Dan had to get the paraffin out so he could replace the transformer. The only other option would have been to throw out the black box and mount a naked transformer on the top of the amp. I rejected that idea for aesthetic reasons; if I'm going to play a vintage amp, I want to look like a vintage amp. I won't go into the details, but it was a nasty task. He managed to get the old transformer out, replace it, and re-pot it. Dan is a master craftsman, and has great respect for vintage amps. Except for a tiny amount of the potting compound around the base of the housing, you can't tell that anything was changed.

The power tube I had in there were Fender tubes, and dated back to the only overhaul the Ampeg ever got, about 20 years ago. The old tubes worked fine, but we tried some new tubes, just to see if they'd make a difference. They did. The sound was a bit richer, fatter in the low base notes and sweeter in the highs. They also provided a bit more power. Dan also replaced all the capacitors and the diode (no idea what that does). So at this point, the amp is about as reliable as an old tube amp can be.

I've used the Ampeg on four gigs in three different restaurants, since the repair, and it's a delight. It's so much easier to play than the Peavey. The Ampeg just responds! I can play with a much lighter touch, and still get brilliance, punch, and sustain. In the months that I had to use the Peavey, I had worn down the fingernails on my right hand, because I was digging in so hard, trying to get the sound I wanted. I had a hiatus from playing, last week, while I went to Atlanta from my CMS presentation, so my nails had a chance to grow back. On these four gigs, the nails have worn only slightly. Since nails are so much a part of my sound, this is a great relief to me.

I just can't get over how delighted I am to have my old friend back! I've played through this amp for more than 40 years, and I'm looking forward to the next 40!

topics: Amplifier; Gig


CMS Conference

Last week I presented on THoTH at the CMS/ATMI Conference in Atlanta, GA. Here's the abstract on my presentation:

THoTH, Chord-scales and Improv Steve Carter (formerly at Berklee College of Music)

This demonstration will feature a computer-assisted approach to using chord-scales in teaching improvisation. Demonstration involves THoTH software, which performs chord-scale analysis on MusicXML exported from programs such as Sibelius and Finale displaying the analysis and storing the results in a database. The output of the analysis shows the correct mode for each chord, and information about how it relates to a major or minor scale. The THoTH database also includes many notated and audio examples demonstrating the musical application of these modes. The session will include a brief introduction to chord-scale theory, and a demonstration of using THoTH in teaching and learning.

About 25 people attended my presentation, and it was very well received. I met many interesting people at the conference, and attended several very interesting presentations.

topics: THoTH


MuseScore - click to visit MuseScore web site

I just discovered MuseScore, a free music notation program. It exports MusicXML, so it would be a good tool for teachers and students who use THoTH. I downloaded and install MuseScore, and in a few minutes I was able to create a lead sheet, export to MusicXML, load the MusicXML into THoTH, and run a chord-scale analysis. It worked very well. I'm going to start integrating MuseScore and THoTH.

topics: THoTH

Rhythmic Joy

Joshua Joes - click to enlarge

I ran across an amazing video of a young percussionist, Joshua Jones. You can view it here. What inspires me most is his evident joy in making music. He even talks about the rhythm of washing dishes!


Arnold Schoenberg in LA, 1948 - click to enlarge Arnold Schoenberg book - click to enlarge

I recently ordered Arnold Schoenberg's Fundamentals of Musical Composition. I had discovered this book while prowling about the Berklee library in my earliest days there. Over the years I incorporated some of Schoenberg's concepts on phrases, motifs, and development into my teaching of jazz. I never had time to pursue this as far as I would have liked. One example of applying Schoenberg's ideas is my Motivic Development Techniques. Now I plan to write some examples of jazz melodies applying Schoenberg's ideas, and add these examples to the Theory section of THoTH.

topics: THoTH; Berklee


I recently purchased a Zoom H2 portable digital recorder, and I've been recording my gigs. Mal says the recorder looks like R2D2, so we've dubbed it R2H2 -- or jsut H2 for short. John Melisi says R2H2's favorite song is "Recordame."

My gig journals now include photos and sound clips from the gig. See for example, the new Powow River gig journal and the the new Jonathan's gig journal.

Travelin' Light Duo

I created a web page for the new Travelin' Light duo. We finished the demo, and sound clips are available on that web page.

In the studio, last Monday, we recorded 22 tunes; that's enough for two CDs. We plan to make just a few copies of each CD and sell them at our gigs.

topics: Melisi, John; Duo Playing

Work in Progress

Today John Melisi and I go back into the studio to mix the takes from yesterday's marathon recording session. We recorded 22 tunes in about 5 hours. We'll be making a short demo CD to use for looking for gigs, and then we'll make a CD to sell at gigs, and, eventually, another CD. We did only one take of each tune (except for "Triste," which I thought might require a re-take). When I have some time, I'll write more about the session. For now, I just want to make a note that it was one of the most enjoyable musical experiences in my long career -- the kind of day that makes all the hard work worthwhile.

The Course of Watercourse Reflections

The mystery of yesterday's thousands of hits to my site has been solved. I had hoped it was thousands of downloads of my tune, but not so. I had given a link to the image for the cover of the CD, along with a link to the MP3 file. Every time the Featured Download page at AllAboutJazz was viewed, there was a hit to my site to load the cover image. So over 40,000 viewed the image yesterday, and over 11,000 so far today; but yesterday there were only 356 downloads of the MP3 file. Interesting.

topics: Touching Light

Watercourse Reflections Featured

"Watercourse Reflections," from my latest CD, Touching Light, is the featured free download on today. It seems to be pretty popular -- over 20,000 downloads so far today!

Old Friend

My old Ampeg B-15 got quite a workout last week. I had five jazz duo gigs. I used the Ampeg Wednesday at Powow River Grille, Thursday at Christopher's, Friday and Saturday at Jonathan's. I had planned to use it Sunday for the jazz brunch at Powow. But at the end of the night on Saturday, when I hit the standby switch the amp just shut down and wouldn't start up. The next day I checked it out, and saw that the fuse was blown. I tried a new fuse, but that blew instantly. Something is shorted out. This is only the third time this amp has failed in 42 years of heavy use. The first time was in about 1967, at the Boston Tea Party, when I blew the original speaker. Fortunately, that, too, happened at the end of the night.

Last summer, on a gig where I was set up near a window and the sun was beating on the amp, I heard some distortion and the amp shut down. I fiddled with it and it came back to life enough for me to finish the gig. I later tested it and heard some distortion.

I asked Ralph (of Ralph's House of Tone) if he could recommend an amp repairman, and he told put me in touch with Dan McCue. Dan builds high-end tube amps for rock players, and he loves working on the classic old amps. Dan tested my Ampeg, off and on, for a few days, and could not find anything wrong. Since then I've played over 100 gigs with it, and it's been fine -- until last weekend. I called Dan on Monday, and he said to bring it in to his shop; he thinks it's probably something he can fix in an hour or so. So I have an appointment tomorrow.

On Sunday, I used my Peavey Studio Pro 112 for the duo gig at Powow. It's OK, but it's just not the same. I've got another gig at Powow tonight, and I'll use the Peavey. I hope that for tomorrow night's gig, I'll have my old friend back on the gig.

topics: Amplifier

Ogunquit Summer

The gig at Jonathan's went very well. They've hired us for every Friday and Saturday through the summer starting in mid-June.

Travelin' Light to Jonathan's

I've been playing duo gigs for over a month now with tenor saxophonist John Melisi. We've been playing every Thursday night at Christopher's Third Street Grille here in Dover, NH, and we played one night at the Powow River Grille in Amesbury, MA. John has been out recently trying to dig up some more gigs for us, and it looks like we might have Fridays and Saturdays through the summer at Jonathan's Restaurant in Ogunquit, Maine. John had played there many years ago, and when he called Jonathan, the owner, Jonathan offer him a gig on the spot, without having heard the duo. I'm not surprised; John's that good a player. They have a big group of customers coming into the lounge tonight, and Jonathan asked if, on short notice, we could come in and play. So we're on for tonight, and if it goes well we could have a nice weekend gig for the summer.

We've been looking for a name for the duo. For many years I've used the name Travelin' Light for various groups I've led, including a GB band and the duo with Skye Hurlburt. I also used the name for a while for my independent contracting business. I suggested to John that we use that name, at least for now, and he agreed.

I'm really looking forward to tonight's gig, and whatever may follow.

Duo Playing

The challenge of duo playing is trying to create a swinging background. In a setting where there's a rhythm section, that responsibility is distributed among a few players, but in a duo setting, if the time is not right, it's my fault – or the soloist's. If the soloist is not comfortable, I take it as an indication that I was not laying it down well. It's a really hard job, playing duo. I know I do it well, but if I want to get better at it, I need to continue asking myself what I might have done wrong, at certain moments, or what I might have done better. It's a delicate balance between taking delight in laying down a groove, and feeling that the groove was not the right one, at the moment, for the soloist. I try to keep redirecting my attention to the soloist. But if the soloist is, for the moment, off a little, I have to make a split-second decision. Was I off, or was the soloist? Do I keep going as I've been going, or do I adjust to what I hear at the moment? Usually I keep going. When working with topnotch players, as I've had the good fortune to do lately, I know that, between us, we will settle the issue within a few beats. But there's still the split-second decision to make, and that's part of the fun of playing jazz.

topics: Duo Playing

THoTH, Real Book, and Foxit

Version 2.3 of Foxit Reader just came out, and I was pleased to see that it restored the "-n" command line switch. This feature allows opening a PDF file to a given page. In version 2.1 of Foxit, this worked, and I incorporated this functionality into THoTH. However, in version 2.2 of Foxit, this was broken, so the THoTH functionality did not work. Now it's back. So, for example, on the Lessons tab of the song form for "Lady Bird,"" I can enter something like "C:\RealBook\RealBook.pdf -n 269," then when I click the Open button, THoTH will call Foxit, which will open my Real Book PDF to page 269, "Lady Bird." (In the PDF version of the Real Book, the PDF page number does not line up with the page number on the printed page, so I have to open the PDF and go look for the PDF page number for a given tune -- but that's only a minor nuisance.) Being able to quickly open a lead sheet in this way comes in very handy when I writing lessons, say, in a coffee shop, and I want to check the lead sheet. I don't need to carry the Real Book, since I have the PDF on the hard drive of my laptop. This feature will be enabled in version 2.4 of THoTH, which is due out in a week or so. I'll include a note in the help file on getting Foxit Reader, which is free, and the Real Book PDF, which is pretty cheap, and how to implement the functionality in THoTH. Teachers should find this very helpful, especially in classes, where they might want to refer to a particular aspect of a tune and they want to quickly display the lead sheet.

topics: THoTH

More Mass Music


Tomorrow I have two gigs in Massachusetts. In the afternoon I'll be playing at the UMass Boston Alternative & Complementary Health & Wellness Fair. UMass is my alma mater; I was in the charter class, in 1969, when the school was in Park Square, Boston (now it's out on Columbia Point.) Mal will be giving Reiki sessions at the fair, and I'll be playing some of my pieces from Touching Light during her sessions. We've done this many times, and people find it very relaxing. I'll use my Guild acoustic; this will be the first time in years I've played completely acoustic. I composed a new piece for the occassion. In fact, it's so new, I don't have a name for it yet.

Tomorrow night I'll play in Amesbury, MA, at the Powow River Grille. Since February, I've been playing the Wednesday Night Jazz Series there with Danny Harrington. Danny's away on vacation, so tomorrow I've asked John Melisi to join me. I should be pretty well warmed up, at least.

topics: Harrington, Danny; Melisi,  John; Duo Playing

Mass Music

Last week I presented a session on THoTH at the Massachusetts Music Educators Association (MMEA) conference at the Park Plaza in Boston. My session was sponsored by the Technology In Music Education (TIME) organization. As I finished my presentation, the presider presented my with a certificate of appreciation. A nice touch.

topics: THoTH

Colored Light

Click for larger image of Touching Light Spreadsheet

When I'm making a solo CD, I make a spreadsheet listing all the tunes, with title, key, playing time, style, and mood. I represent the mood by a color. When all the tracks are done, the spreadsheet helps me decide on the order the tunes, giving me an idea of the flow of the CD, not only in musical terms (contrast of keys, tempos, textures), but also in emotional terms. You can click the image above to see the spreadsheet for Touching Light. For jazz pieces I also include tempo, style, texture, and so forth in the spreadsheet. For Touching Light, my main concern was to balance the solo and orchestral pieces, and to create a mild crescendo and diminuendo of emotion.

Baba Does AllAboutJazz

The "Baba Ghanosh" track from Act One is the featured free MP3 download on AllAboutJazz today. The hits on my site are about five times the average today, so I guess people are downloading it. Nice to know that Baba's a hit -- at least for a day.

Valentine's Day Gig

I have a solo gig at Christopher's Third Street Grille this Valentine's Day. I prepared a song list sheet that I'll put out on the counter, near my CD display, listing some of the songs with Valentine's Day themes that I'll be playing. Click here to see the list.

Pass It On

Last night, after a great gig at the Barley Pub, I was sitting around after the last set, enjoying a pint of Smuttynose Robust Porter with the band members and the local musicians who had come to catch our gig. Steve Roy, my bass player for the gig, was commenting that he had just heard the "Chops" album by Joe Pass and Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, and he was blow away. Of course, Pass was a great influence on my playing, and I told a couple of anecdotes about Joe's visits to Berklee while I was there.

The Pass theme continued when I got home and checked my email. I had sent an email to a former student of mine, Rod Goelz, complimenting him on his web site and thanking him for including a link to my site. His response was quite heartwarming:

Gladly, You were a teacher of mine at Berklee... I've learned much from you.... for one, you opened the door for my love of Joe Pass.... piano style bass line/chord comping. Also the world of bass, which I initially studied because of my interest in the Joe Pass style.... bass is now my main gig. Thank you so very much, Rod Goelz

topics: Berklee

Three Stories of Music

We live in a 3-floor town house. Tomorrow night we're having company for dinner, so today I'm doing a top-to-bottom cleaning. On each floor I have a stereo system. On the top floor and bottom floor I have Onkyo components with Advent speakers, and on the middle floor I have a Sonic Impact T-amp, Minimax sub-woofer, and Advent speakers. Each system has it's own personality. I decided I'd select a CD to play on each floor as I cleaned that floor.

For the top floor I chose Johnny Hartman's For Trane. Hartman is great at ballads. This is the only album where I've heard "Violets For Your Firs." There are some nice images in the lyrics, and, of course, Hartman renders them beautifully. "'Cause I bought you violets for your furs, and it was spring for a while."..."The snow drifted down on the flowers, and melted where it lay. The snow looked like dew on the blossoms, as on a summer day." Harman does a swinging version of "Nature Boy." Another lyric he can grab on to: "The greatest thing you'll ever learn is to love and be loved in return."

The stereo on the middle floor has great realism and crisp highs, so to accompany my middle floor cleaning, I chose Johanna Blouin's "Everything Must Change." Johanna is my favorite living jazz vocalist. She opens with "Angel Eyes," and get to the emotion of the lyric better than anyone I've ever heard. In addition to a beautiful, clear voice, she has absolutely superb technique, but it is always the emotion of the tune that is foremost for her. For "You Don't Know What Love Is," I had to put down my broom, and just sit and listen. Her version always brings tears to my eyes.

The system on the bottom floor has tremendous bass response. Advent Legacy speakers, with 12" woofers. So my choice for this room was Marian McPartland's "Live at Shanghai," with Rufus Reid on bass. As far as bass sounds go, it doesn't get much bigger than Rufus's sound. His lines are melodic, rhythmic, and supportive. It's clear that he loves the sound of the instrument, and delights in the deep low notes, and the occasional bright harmonic.

After all my cleaning, and Mal's cooking for tomorrow's dessert, she prepared a great dinner. For dinner music I chose Kate Schutt's "No Love Lost." Kate was a student of mine many years ago at Berklee, and after she released this album, we reconnected. She's an incredibly talented musician. The most unique musical conception I've heard in many years. Her music is rich in emotion, is with Hartman and Blouin. In fact, it's really too intense for dinner music. Much as I enjoyed hearing it, I had to turn it off after awhile; too intense. Later in the evening I'll put on a cut or two and sit there in the dark, listening, giving it the attention it deserves. I do have to mention, though, that Mark Shilansky plays some beautiful and sensitive lines on this CD.

topics: Berklee

THoTH Activity

Lyle Robinson wrote a very perceptive review of THoTH and posted it on his excellent web site, You can read the review here.

I'm going to be presenting a workshop on THoTH at the 2008 Northeast Regional Conferecne with Mass MEA, March 27-29, 2008, at the Park Plaza Hotel, Boston, MA. I'll post more details as the date approaches.