Tag Archives: Recommended

The Ultimate Case

I think I have seen the best case ever.

And David Freeman has a modified one for EWI. Awesome.

I’d love to have a one of these that fit Alto, flute, piccolo, clarinet, curved soprano, and oboe. Or one that was just for curved soprano, flute, piccolo, clarinet and oboe. It would be great if they had build your own case combinations.

UPDATE: I inquired about getting a case for alto, flute, curved soprano, clarinet and piccolo. Sadly, they do not have such a combination. To get such a case made, it would be $150 per additional instrument. So an extra $450 on top of the $450. Plus shipping. Plus tax. Ouch. considering the cases only cost $250 apiece…..that is a lot. It looks like a great case, but…..that is a lot of money for a case.

Site Slow for the Next Few Days….Due To Crashplan

Sorry guys and gals, but the site might be a little slow for the next few days? Why? Well, Crashplan has a amazing sale this weekend. A whole year of the Family version of it for $17. Well, it started off free supposedly, but then it was going up in price every two hours and when I got word of it Friday, it was at $17. Right now it is about $60 for a year of the family plan (up to 10 computers, unlimited data backup).

If you DON’T backup your computers, you should. Crashplan is PERFECT for this. It’s unobtrusive, and gives you another layer of protection in keeping your stuff safe (I can’t imagine losing all my Finale files……) in addition to your TimeMachine or whatever else you backup to. And even at $60 for a family plan, it is still a steal.

Crashplan works on Mac, Windows and Linux. Since the Jazz-Sax server is a Linux box, I can now finally backup the server files to the cloud. Whew. So, until the initial backup is done (about 2 days according to the program…..since it doesn’t use ALL the bandwidth I have), we might be a little slow for a while. Plus, my MacPro is also sending stuff to the cloud.

Band in a Box 2012.5 for Mac

This week has been amazing. First, on Wednesday, we had Apple announce the iPhone 5. On Friday, PG Music unleashed Band in a Box 2012.5 for Mac. I shudder to think what next week will bring (other than actually receiving an iPhone 5 on Friday!).

Like the iPhone 5, Band in a Box 2012.5 is more tweaking of an already great product. I still am surprised that more musicians do not know of this amazing piece of software. Or maybe still dismiss it as this midi tool (which it was back in the 90s) that uses Quicktime to generate cheesy backgrounds. It is not that. These people also probably still believe we didn’t go to the moon.

Band in a Box, if you read this site, I always rave about. For anyone learning jazz, or just music in general, it is an invaluable tool. You simply type in a chord progression, tempo, key (if you want), and then pick a style. There are sooo many styles. There are quite a few midi only tracks that, depending on your setup, can sound very very good. But the program has really shines in it’s use of “RealTracks”. The software pretty much seemlessly takes real performances and will piece them into the song. So, if you wanted your masterpiece in the key of Db in the style of a Pop song with Electric keyboard, fretless bass, drums, and a Smooth sax soloing….it can do this. And it sounds damn good. Every version of the program, like every revision of the iPhone, tweaks and improves upon what they had before.

New things in this version of Band in a Box:

There were some other tweaks to the program to. There is a simplified saving to M4A or AIFF from the File Menu (though I did want this to be a pop up dialog in the beta test so you could easily select say a DropBox folder to save them to rather than the program just dumping it into folder where the source file exists. Last beta still did it that way :-(). The program does load a little faster than the 2012 as well.

There are still some annoyances. I swear every beta test I am involved with, I complain about the “Open Song By Title” thing, which will display the song title, file name, if it has a melody, and the style. Great tool. Except the Windows version will traverse folders in that folder (nested folders), and the Mac version just does the files in the folder. So the 10,000+ Band in a Box files I have would have to be all in ONE folder instead of sort of organized into subfolders.

Another annoyance, or rather, something they need to bring to the fore in the program is the “Woodshed Tempo” thing. It is buried in Preferences 2 in the program. Basically, what it does is that every time you end a loop of a song, say you get done with the 5 choruses of Giant Steps at 160, it will bump up the next loop of the song by a certain number of beats per minute. So you can practice changes to a song, and start it at say 140, and have it bump up every loop by 10 clicks every time. Amazing for practicing. I keep lobbying for them to make a button for this, or at least make it so it’s not buried in the program. It’s a great tool to use…..and few seem to know it’s there.

So, the verdict. Of course it is a BUY. If you are learning music, and specifically, Jazz (or soloing), you need this tool. And you need to splurge and get ALL the real tracks (or AT LEAST the styles you like). The BEST version to get is the Hard Drive version, which PG Music will send you a hard drive that has lots of extra space, and the program and all the styles and real tracks. And it’s portable, so you can take it between home and the studio, or use it on another computer. The program takes something like 65 gigs to install.

Yes, it is expensive to get the whole thing. But like any good tool, it is an investment. And PG Music’s upgrades are very reasonable (usually the upgrades to all the new real tracks and stuff is $129).

Get this program. Or put it on your Christmas list.

Band In A Box 2011.5

So, it seems I never spoke about the latest and greatest from up north. As in Canada. As in PG Music. The Wizards of the North released back in the fall an update to Band in a Box that tighten things up and brought some fixes for the newer OS X systems.

Hopefully you already know about Band in a Box. I’d rank it an essential piece of software. Sort of like owning a good horn, music stand, and metronome. Lately, the .5 releases of the program don’t add a lot of features but do add a bunch of new styles. Notable fixes and new features include:

  1. improved waltzes (which were good with one chord per bar, but sucked with 2 chords)
  2. Pedal Bass (Finally!)

The real value of the $129 upgrade though are the new styles. 70’s soul, Groovin’ Jazz Funk, Gypsy Jazz Latin, Jazz Guitar with Oliver Gannon and the awesome Mike LeDonne Organ styles are work the price alone. You also get some other styles (Country….not sure I’d ever use those) as well.

Gripes about the program? My long standing issue that the Open By Song Title only finds things at in the root of the folder and does not traverse the folders in the folder. I don’t know if they will ever fix that. Which sucks cause over the years I’ve collected maybe 13,000 band in a box files, and its a pain to find stuff. The Windows version, at least the version I last had on Windows, which I think was 2006, doesn’t have this problem. It finds all files in folders up to like 12,000. AND the interface desperately needs to be “modernized”. Modernized to what, not really sure, but if they made it look more like Garageband or Logic……that would be a start. Floating windows, etc.

In all, this is still an awesome program. The ability to “type” in a chord progression and get a very realistic sounding accompaniment track in pretty much any style (or styles…since you can use multiple styles in a song) with however many choruses in whatever key and tempo you chose…..it’s the best practice tool or play tool I know of. It is well worth the investment. I give it a 10 out of 10.

Seems a friend of mine is going to be involved in a recording session (engineering) involving a pianist and PG Music. Will be interesting to get his view of how they record the stuff.

Review: Just Joe’s Music Saxophone Gel Strap

A saxophonist can never have too many reeds, nor have too many neck straps. Over the years, I have had a plethora of neck straps, ranging from the Ray Hyman strap, to various no-name padded ones, to that newish Rico Strap, various Neotech Straps, and even the Oleg Ergonomic strap.

They all have their good and bad points (well, most of them). For instance, I love the micro-adjustments you can do on the Hyman strap. It’s a great strap for doing Pit work. The Rico strap is great for playing curved soprano (but sorta sucks for tenor), and the Oleg strap is nice, but it gets one’s neck hot and wet and…..that is just not a good thing. The Oleg strap also is a little funky to adjust, and sorta looks like one of those Texas cowboy tie things.

Gelstrap1

Enter the Saxophone Gel Strap. I first heard about it when David Valdez had his Neck Strap Smackdown. And paid a little more attention to it when David supposedly talked about it on SOTW (not a good idea usually) and getting so pissed off that he even did a scientific analysis of how the strap enhances the sound of a saxophone (read both the links to get some background on it) and quit SOTW (bravo sir) in disgust. I guess the arm chair philosophers there will have to find someone else to push around!

Anyhow, so, I finally obtained the fabled strap. Was it like the red sea parting? Rays of light piercing through the clouds? Choirs singing Beethoven’s 9th?

The jury is still out about it’s biblical abilities, but I will say these things so far. First, it is THE MOST COMFORTABLE STRAP EVER. It takes what I hated about the Oleg strap, the lack of padding/adjusting it, and fixed it. Fixed it big time. I mean, the Gel Strap looks nearly identical to the Oleg strap if you have them side by side. But the Gel Strap has an awesome level of padding on it. Plus, it is a lot easier to adjust the Gel Strap than the Oleg one. I think it is the thickness of the cords in the Oleg strap and maybe because mine has a lot of wear on it (it’s probably a decade or more old). But the Oleg Strap has never been a panacea for adjustment. I’ve always hated adjusting the height on it. It was just the most comfortable strap to play tenor with. Well, now the Gel Strap is the strap that is the most comfortable and I’m not bitching about the pain in the butt it is to adjust.

Now, the whole “does it make the saxophone sounds better thing”. I have tried it out for several days now (nearly a week), done a rehearsal on it, taught with it on, and did a gig with it. Did I notice a difference? Yes, I did. Though it is very subtle. For instance, the middle D on my alto seems to ring slightly more than if I played it with the Oleg strap. Or the Neotech strap. In fact, I did have the Oleg and the Gel Strap on at the same time, and switched between them. It is there, that little bit of difference. I think what I really need to do is a recording test of it, to see if it is actually something that is audible or if I am just hearing things.

So, verdict? If you want a really nice strap, and were looking at the Oleg strap (which is great), consider the Gel Strap. They are the same price basically. And get the brass hook version. Actually, if in general you are looking for a strap that is comfortable, won’t make your neck break out like it is in a sauna, then get the Gel Strap. It’s probably double the price of a typical Neotech strap, but it is going to last a long long time, and its way more comfortable. It’s worth the extra money.

Great design, love the padding. The cords and slider for adjusting the strap are vast improvements over the Oleg strap, and the cords are thinner and don’t seem to be made of the stuff like the Oleg one (so maybe they will wear better?). And the brass hook provides a solid, authoritative hold on your horn.

10 out of 10.

Mighty Bright Orchestra Light

MightyBright1

 

Inspired by David Valdez’s glowing review of it, I’ll put in my two cents on this light.

If you are looking for a portable, BRIGHT light for your music stand, get this. It is amazing. I’ve been using this for a few months, and I have nothing be good things to say about it. It comes with a case, AC Adapter, and 3 AA batteries. All for about $42 on Amazon.

100,000 hours of life in the LEDs. Comes with batteries, which last something like 20 hours, and a AC adapter with a really long cord. And it’s cheap?

Get it. Now. Click. Buy. Ship. Enjoy.

Band in a Box 2011

PG Music has updated their awesome program, Band in A Box to the 2011 version. The main new features are:

  • More natural sounding real tracks over various tempos (ie: better pitch stretching and compressing technology)
  • Takes up less space (I haven’t been brave enough yet to try this on my install of Band in a Box yet)
  • Multistyles and Change of individual RealTracks. So you can pick your favorite parts of RealTracks and put them all together or have the style change midstream.
  • Scales Wizard which is great for students of Jazz

The basic look and feel of the program is the same, which if you love it, then all is well in the universe, and if you think the circa 1991 look sucks then….well….it’s going to suck. I think PG Music really needs to hire an interface specialist and completely overhaul the look of the program. Functionality wise, it is amazing. But a LOT of things could be better, like the Preferences area (please PG Music, look at like Digital Performer or even FINALE on how to clean up the Preferences), or just navigating the program in general. I know the program’s roots are from the Atari ST days, but the whole concept of GUI is different now, and PG Music still doesn’t seem to get it.

Take for example the new Mixer. While it is very nice to have a mixer, it is completely backwards. And there are 5 tabs to access the features, where a smart design could have put them all in ONE spot. And left right for volume? The only program I use that has that is Garageband. A standard DAW type mixer where there are UP DOWN volume, knobs for panning and tone, a pop up level thing for reverb. And it always wants to be the top window. DAWs like Digital Performer or even ProTools let you the mixer behind other windows.

Things like this drive me mad. I mentioned the whole mixer thing several times in the Beta test, and nothing happened. *Sigh*

Band in a Box is still a program without equal though. The complaints about interface quirks don’t tarnish the program. As a musician, you’d be foolish NOT to own this program with ALL the RealTracks. Once you hear it, and use it, you won’t be going back to your Aebersold play-alongs.

I give it a 9.5 out of 10. More features, smaller footprint for the RealTracks, generally faster than the previous version, more RealTracks, more options. All great additions to an already great program. 0.5 deducted for PG Music still not fixing strange things in the interface or just cleaning it up. Though, this program still runs FINE on my 2006 iMac as well as my MacPro.

PS, I HIGHLY recommend getting the Hard Drive versions. Since downloading the program can take hours, and several 10s of gigabytes. A lot of ISPs are now capping your monthly allocation as well (Comcast, and now AT&T). PLUS, getting it on a hard drive means you can RUN it from there or have it as a backup.

The Real Book Play-Along – Volume 1

Hal Leonard is selling a CD set of backgrounds to ALL the songs in the Real Book Vol. 1. For about $100, you get 12 CDs of piano, bass and drums background that range in time from about 2 1/2 minutes to 6. Depends on the song. A couple of songs, like Wave, have guitar on them….sorta….it almost sounds like a synth patch. Or it was added as an afterthought. Some of the tracks could have been better with just guitar, bass and drums (like wave or Summer Samba). A couple of songs they took the piano out and replaced it with an electric keyboard type sound (like Sugar) which isn’t bad, but it isn’t as good as, say, a good B3 type of sound.

Is it worth the $100? Yes. Originally I thought this would be sort of a lame package, or something that wouldn’t really add anything to the songs one might already have the Aebersold versions of. Or maybe that my favorite program, Band in a Box could do what this offers and more. The backgrounds on these discs are accurate playings of the songs found in the Real Book that Hal Leonard publishes (or if you still have the “illegal” version that used to float around until Hal Leonard picked it up). The guys on the discs will give you whats on the page. I suppose that Band in a Box could do that too with some work, but it still couldn’t capture the drum hits on songs like Some Skunk Funk.

9/10. It’s a little costly, some of the songs aren’t as long as I would have liked, and I wish there was more variety than 90% if the tracks being Piano, Bass and Drums, but it still offers a lot of songs (240 according to my iTunes playlist after I imported all of them) to practice with.

Band in a Box 2010 for Macintosh

It has been really hard keeping the cat in the bag (I was a beta tester for the last 2 weeks or so), but tonight PG Music finally released Band in a Box 2010 for the Macintosh. As was the case in the previous version, this version is Intel only. So, you people with G5s or other PowerPC chipped computers….you are out of luck. Though the speed increases in this version (more on that in a sec) probably would have made Band in a Box 2010 tolerable for G5 Macintoshes.

There are quite a few new features, and I’ll list the ones that I think are the best.
1. “No more long waits for RealTracks to generate! RealTracks generate much faster, 4X faster on average. A typical song with RealTracks that took 20 seconds to generate will generate now in about 5 seconds. And if you freeze some or all tracks in the song (see below), playback of RealTracks is almost instantaneous.” In Band in a Box 2009.5, generating Real Tracks took FOREVER. Even on a MacPro, it took a while. On an iMac…..it could take nearly a minute in some cases. NOT ANYMORE. On my iMac from 2006 (a lowly 2 Gigahertz Core 2 Duo iMac), it was fast in generating real tracks. Most took maybe 5 seconds to do. I think the longest (like 10 choruses with 4 real tracks and a real soloist) took maybe 10 seconds. Ok, 12. But that was still totally fine. They are NOT kidding about the speed. It is way faster. Useable fast.

2. “Time for generation of MIDI arrangement is much faster – now ‘instantaneous (less than 1 second)!” Yup. Midi arrangements are nearly you press play and it goes. Even if you do 20 choruses with 5+ instruments.

3. “There is now a “Plug-in” mode for your favorite sequencer (GarageBand, ProTools, Logic, Nuendo, Reaper and more). With the new plug-in mode, BB is open as a small always-on-top window, and acts as a plug-in for your favorite DAW/sequencer, so that you can Drag-n-Drop MIDI and audio (AIFF) tracks from BB to your favorite sequencer. Work in your favorite sequencer, type a progression in Band-in-a-Box, and then simply drag the track from Band-in-a-Box to your sequencer’s track at the desired track and bar location.” This is actually really cool, though how it works is a little strange initially. You can, say, load up Garage Band, and say you have been working on a tune that is in 3/4 and is in the key of A and you need a guitar line. Or solo. You can fire up Band in a Box, type in some chords, select a style or soloist or real track, or real soloist (or whatever they call it), and switch Band in a Box into DAW mode, tell it you want to generate AIFF or m4a audio tracks or Midi tracks, and drag the track right into Garageband. Boom. (I did leave out one step, but I feel you need to SEE it to understand it)

4. “Freezing (locking) MIDI or Real tracks/RealDrums. Any track can now be frozen (MIDI or Real track). When frozen, it won’t get changed or re-generated. This saves time when replaying previous songs, and allows you to freeze an arrangement that you like. If you freeze the whole song, you don’t have to wait at all for the song to regenerate. Next time you play, it is ready to go. (Note: this new freeze feature is different than the previous limited freeze feature that renders the whole arrangement to the audio track)” Kinda cool, but since it is so much faster overall in generating tracks I didn’t really use it much. Though if you FREEZE all the RealTracks, it plays back the song instantly.

There are some other things like it will Normalize a rendered Audio file, Endings of songs work better, you can resize the window, things are saved with the song. All good stuff. But the 4 listed above I think are the bread and butter. Ok, so, there are still some things that are in the Windows version of Band in a Box that are not present in the Macintosh version. Most notable is the Ear Training part (which is really nice). It doesn’t detract from the overall amazingness that this program has. If you do music, you NEED to have this program on your computer. If you are a Jazz student, or someone who plays jazz, this program is something you need to have for working out that new chord progression at whatever tempo, for 30 choruses, in a Polka style. Or whatever.

Upgrade price from Band in a Box 2009 is $159. First time purchasers $399. You get something like nearly 70 gigs of stuff. Amazing sounds. Totally worth it. 10/10 (and I can’t remember the last time I gave something a 10 out of 10)

Jazz Phrasing For Beginners by Greg Fishman

jpfbGreg Fishman has a number of excellent books out. I’ve reviewed and highly recommend his Jazz Etudes Book Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 and his Saxophone Duets book. His latest book is Jazz Phrasing For Beginners, which is aimed at the beginning student. It contains 10 melodic tunes that great examples of idiomatic “classic” jazz tunes such as “C Jam Blues” and the like. The tunes are great studies in good voice leading and use of jazz rhythms. Also great motivic (or sequential) development. You get 2 CDs with the book. One CD that has Alto Sax demos and backgrounds, and one that has Tenor Sax demos and backgrounds.

As a book for someone who is just starting to play, this would be a good first book before diving into something like Jim Snidero’s Jazz Conception Easy. The etudes are short, and emphasize excellent idea development. However……
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Band in a Box 2009.5 – Mac

After YEARS of waiting, and PG Music saying it was coming…it is here. Band in a Box 2009 for Macintosh. I could hardly believe it myself. Yes, the languishing program that was 7 versions behind the Windows version (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2007.5, 2008, 2009) has been brought back to life. I wondered what happened to Dr. Frankenstein….seems he was hired to bring the Mac version of BinaB to life again.

I always thought it strange that PG Music made a HUGE effort to move Band in a Box to OS X with their version 12, but then promptly let it sit for years and years while the Windows version added more and more features. It was mentioned years ago they were planning on a new version but….nothing ever materialized. Well, no more. The 2009 version pretty much brings the Macintosh version up to the Windows version.

First off, the program is HUGE if you want to download it, you better have a high speed connection. A real FAST high speed connection. We are talking 20+ gigs of stuff to download if you purchased/upgraded the version with RealTracks (more on that in a minute). PG Music offers digital downloads in addition to physical media available on DVDs or an 80 gig hard drive (same price). As a previous owner of version 12 for the Mac, I opted for the “Everything PAK” and the 24 PAK upgrade that included some extra stuff. It was $184.

Ok, now……lets dive into the program, the features it has, what works, doesn’t work, and what is still missing in the Mac version that the Windows version has….
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Peterson Strobe Tuner For iPhone/iPod Touch

a7Have an iPhone or an iPod touch? Need a tuner? You NEED the Peterson Strobe Tuner for the iPhone/iPod Touch. I’ve tried many of the tuners available that are available for the iPhone/iTouch, free and paid. This one is worth the $10.

If you don’t know what a strobe tuner is, check out this wikipedia entry. I have had a Peterson Virtual Strobe tuner since 2001. It is annoying accurate, but not really something you can take out on a gig. It is large. And stuffing it into your gig bag isn’t really an option. I have mine mounted on my stand in my studio.

Back to the iTouch/iPhone version. Putting the two on a stand together, and trying to tune, both strobe tuners pretty much work the same. You try to get it to stop moving. The hardware version is a little more smooth in its motions, and iTouch/iPhone version is a tad jerky, but not really anything to complain about. In fact, the iTouch/iPhone version didn’t get confused as to what note I was playing. The hardware Strobe tuner sometimes things I’m tuning to an F when I’m really doing a concert D. I’ll see about making a little video showing them in action.

Bottom line. If you have an iTouch (second Generation) or an iPhone, the Strobe Tuner is well worth it.

10 out of 10. I’d say it is perfect.

UPDATE:My assistant Beaker (Matt) and I did a real simple little video of my original VS1 and the iPhone app. Enjoy

Tom Dowd and the Language Of Music

I finally got around to watching some of the things that had been piling up from Netflixs. One of them was Tom Dowd and the Language Of Music. The description is a little misleading:
“Rarely do we get a chance to see a feature-length documentary about a true unsung hero. Tom Dowd was an innovative music producer and recording engineer. Historical footage, photographs and classic music tracks underscore how Tom Dowd altered the course of contemporary music via his many technical achievements. Features appearances by Ray Charles, Eric Clapton, the Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Les Paul and Aretha Franklin.”

This video is WAY more than that. This is THE GUY who recorded Coltrane. He recorded just about every good jazz album out there. ON THE FLY (the way they did it back then). He also recorded a guy name Ray Charles as well. And a bunch of others, like Eric Clapton…..

Did I mention he was also part of the Manhattan Project and was involved in the Bikini Atoll nuclear weapons tests as well? This video is an amazing look into how recording were made, and how a true legend made them. Check out Tom Dowd’s Wikipedia entry as well.