Thursday, January 25, 2007

I'd have to say my two passions are playing jazz and distance running. My brother and I have been comparing notes on Google Gmaps Pedometer, a web based route mapping and measuring utility that incorporates detailed streetmaps, USGS topographic data, and satellite imagery.

Paul is using it to map hiking routes near Steamboat Springs, Colorado. I'm using it for running routes in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This route is my standard training run, which they say is 7.047 miles. The route goes through city park land in the Huron River valley, and the satellite imagery revealed many of the foot trails I follow. The map also gives a linear graph of elevation change, which looks pretty accurate except at one point out in the middle of the woods it seems to show me falling into and climbing out of a 110 foot vertical pit.

If that had happened I'd remember.

Nob Hill/Pioneer High CC/Eberwhite Woods route

Nichols Arboretum Hill

The API for this utility is apparently publicly available because the Houston Area Road Runners Association has hosted a version of it since August of 2005. Kudos to the HARRA and to Google!

p.s. I'm probably going to map more routes for my own reference but posting a route from your doorstep might not be a good idea. I thought of placing the start and stop points at a nearby intersection, but since I live in a cul-de-sac the map would still provide a big clue about where I live. Just something to think about.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Michael Brecker (born March 29, 1949 in Philadelphia - died January 13, 2007 in NYC)

Alice Coltrane (born August 27, 1937 in Detroit - died January 12, 2007 in Los Angeles)

I confess my ignorance of the work of Alice Coltrane. She was a respected woman in jazz, a pioneer in the expansion of the jazz spirit, from Detroit. I personally lost interest in John Coltrane's work after the quartet, pretty much. I guess I'm due to go back and listen to her - friends say her fall concert in Ann Arbor was excellent.

The New York Times called Michael Brecker the most influential tenor saxophonist since Wayne Shorter. I can go with that - I'll say, "Michael Brecker created a seamless jazz/rock/pop saxophone style of optimistic, powerful tone and unsurpassed virtuosity".

I saw his quartet performance November 12, 1998 at the Ark in Ann Arbor. Pianist Joey Calderazzo was playing over a cold, Jeff "Tain" Watts was on drums and probably James Genus on bass though I don't remember. The crowd was a little sparse but it was a very good humored set, in a great setting - the Ark hardly does jazz anymore and it's a shame because the sound and atmosphere are everything you could want. It can be overpowering to witness that kind of virtuosity but with the mood Brecker's group brought it was elating. I think that is key to Brecker's appeal - he made outrageously difficult playing fun to listen to.

Here is an example, the Thad Jones slow blues "Sho' Nuff Did" from the 1976 A&M album "Mel Lewis & Friends". The band is Brecker, Greg Herbert on alto, Cecil Bridgewater (1st solo) and Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Hank Jones, Ron Carter and leader Mel Lewis. Here is Brecker's solo as transcribed in the LP notes

From the concert video "Shadows and Light", Joni Mitchell performs "Free Man in Paris" with a backup band of Brecker, Pat Metheny, Lyle Mays, Jaco Pastorius and Don Alias, recorded September 1979 at the County Bowl Bowl in Santa Barbara CA. Brecker solos.

In my own lo-fi rip from LP to cassette and thence to MP3, from the December 1976 concert recording "Zappa in New York", Frank Zappa performs "the Purple Lagoon", a solo feature for Mike, Frank, Ronnie Cuber on bari, Patrick O'Hearn on bass and Mike's older brother Randy on ring modulated trumpet.

Finally, from his eponymous December 1986 debut LP, here is "Original Rays". Michael begins the tune on the EWI, a reed instrument / synthesizer interface.

Anyway, Michael was one of the great instrumentalists of my generation and I'm sad to see him go. There is a Michael Brecker home page with statements from the family but it has this big honking high bandwidth introduction that didn't work too well on my doggy old P3. Anyway, the family has requested that donations in Michael Brecker's memory be made to The Marrow Foundation's TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE FUND.

Monday, January 08, 2007

The "Jingle Bells" project is turning into a BIG production. I should have known. Most recently I read on WikiPedia that Gemini astronauts Wally Schirra and Tom
Stafford performed "Jingle Bells" during the Gemini 6 spaceflight, the first known musical broadcast from space. That has to be recorded somewhere. Anybody know where to find a recording of that?

Here is the original sheetmusic from the American Memory Project. Four verses!

"Many Jingle Bells", an 8 meg MP3, as it currently stands, with more than 120 versions of "Jingle Bells" incorporated.

Here are links to RAR archives of my "Jingle Bells" collection as of 20070107.


  • Lee at Music You (Probably) Won't Hear Anyplace Else for his 5 part Jingle Bells spectacular. I got more versions from him than anywhere else and they were interesting ones too because Lee is a record collector and rips at least most of these himself, I think.
  • is about the best all around Xmas music source on the web.
  • Senses Working Overtime is another amazing blog come Christmas time.
  • Echo Nest features a really good Jingle Bells MegaMix, and have laid a bunch more versions of Jingle Bells on me that I haven't even got to yet! I finally posted my collection to pay them off in return.
  • Recycle Ann Arbor's ReUse Center, where I get a lot of the LP's I rip for cheap.
  • Ann Arbor Kiwanis Sale, the best source for cheap classical LPs.

Here is a good forum thread about the lyrics to "Jingle Bells". The verse about the bob-tailed nag raises a lot of questions. They seem to be describing a very fast racing horse, and there is even speculation that the song was considered risque at one time because it basically dealt with horseracing. Well, I don't know, if sleigh riding was good enough for Laura Ingalls Wilder it's good enough for me.

Only problem with the Jingle Bells project is I didn't think that much about how to do it when I started and now I think I'm going to have to do it over again. A fairly random pastiche was the idea but I'm not satisfied. I think we should hear all four verses fairly coherently, and I think styles, tempos, and keys should be coordinated, and I think transitional material from some of the arrangements would be good, too, not to mention that funny little tag the French version has.

I'm certainly open to advice. I'm going to pick this up and continue it next Christmas season.