Monday, March 28, 2011

Days 82 and 83 – Saturday and Sunday, March 26 and 27 – Strings are strung

Goals: Finish the strings

Music: Tony Bennett’s “MTV Unplugged”; Lars Gullin’s “Danny’s Dream".

I decided it was high time I quit making excuses and started making some progress on the piano. I was helped by the fact that I largely didn’t feel like practicing the piano this weekend (as much as I do need that). So on Saturday, I completed the rough tuning of the piano, tuning everything down a half tone, so middle A on the piano sounds like G#. My tuner is actually pretty handy, but as I got higher into the upper register, it became less and less reliable. By the time I reached the last few notes, I was tuning by ear alone, but as I got the tones to where I thought I was close, I was able to use the tuner to check them and they all were fine. At the lower end of the double strings, there were about a half dozen pins that needed shimming, including one that I had used a sandpaper shim on. Although I’ve gotten quite skilled at that, it took a little more time than I would have liked, due to having to replace two strings, one that was too short to begin with and one that was kind of short and broke off at the end. Again, due to having gained some skill and plenty of practice in this area, it didn’t take me long to do.

On Sunday, there was nothing left but the 33 wound bass strings, all singles. Not being in the mood to fuss and knowing that when I did the reaming I started at this end and wasn’t tired so the holes were probably all over-reamed, I went straight to the oversized pins. Even at that, I had to shim quite a few, say one of every three, so towards the end, I just went with putting a shim in automatically without bothering to check fit.

Because all these strings were custom made, I took my time handling the actual strings. I made sure every one had plenty of wire to wind on the pins, I started the pins up high to allow me to wind them well, and I made sure every one was seated properly before winding. I only had one or two give me fits, mostly towards the end when my eyes were getting tired and I couldn’t tell if the coils were seating correctly or not. But in about three hours, I had completely attached and tuned the 33 single bass string strings. The strings are now complete: 

The big advantage of finishing this part of the project is it allows me to clean up a good bit. I can put away all the boxes of pins (3 of them), the sandpaper and metal shims, the aluminum bushings (never used) the coils of wire, plus all the tools that go with this part of the project – hammer, pin driver, pin turner, tin snips, stamp tongs (for inserting shims), calipers (for measuring strings and pins), and tuning wrench and tuner (which I’ll need again later). I can now also throw out all the old strings and put into storage my string size chart, marking flags and all the miscellaneous stuff that accumulated during this phase of the project. I’m sure I won’t know what to do with all the space.

Next up is the hammer assembly and the damper arms. I still don’t know what I’m going to do about the missing damper arm, but as I do have replacement hammers for the broken and missing ones, I guess that’s where I’ll start. Although I have a lot of little jobs left, I’m thinking I’ll be able to steamroll through them. I very well may be catching my second wind for the fourth or fifth time. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Day 81 – Sunday, March 13 – Not sure where to go

Goals: Shim loose pins and continue rough tuning piano

Music: None

Thinking I was going to rough tune the piano down a half tone, I started at middle A and was shooting for G#. The first string I was able to tune down, no problem. The second one was at F# and the pin was too loose to tune it higher than that. I was neither mentally nor physically willing to wrestle with the tuning pins, having worked outside most of the morning including running one mile in my Five Finger shoes, so I decided to just stick to tuning what I could. Rather than go up and find all my hard work undone by loose pins, I decided to work down and just stick with finding what was tunable and what was not and tuning as much as possible. Long story short, almost all the pins on the short side of the piano will have to be redone. Ten minutes and I was done. There was nothing left but hard work. And I left it.

Listening to Chris Botti in Boston while cooking dinner and sipping rum made me feel better. His version of Miles Davis’s Flamenco Sketches is stunning, with the Boston Pops swinging hard and some guy doing a guitar solo that is nothing short of mesmerizing. That’s the kind of music that makes people want to make their own music, not work on pianos.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Q&A with the late George Russell

You may be a jazz heavyweight. You may be a jazz lightweight. You may be late to jazz, or you may be steeped in jazz from before you could walk. So some of you may relate to my latest jazz learning experience, but some of you may not. But from out of nowhere, I’ve found out about this guy who’s name was George Russell. I’d only heard of him in passing for the first time a few months ago, as I noticed one of his recordings on the core collection list, my own collection of which was nearing completion and conspicuously missing his recording.

And I couldn’t find it anywhere, or at least, not anywhere for less than $75 or so. But when I started to read and learn about George Russell, like so many things jazz before this, I wondered how I’d missed him this whole time. I won’t go on about George. You can go to Wikipedia or his eponymous website to learn all you want about him.  As for me, a student in my last semester of jazz class, second straight semester of jazz improvisation, I’m a little aggravated to have all this awareness of George and his contributions to jazz sideswipe me this late in my education. So much so, I had dreams of George’s face talking to me from the psychedelic purple cover of his complete Bluebird recordings (the long version of the CD that is really hard to get).

So, to be honest, I don’t know very much about Mr. Russell, yet, but I plan to learn everything I can about him as quickly as possible. In the meantime, the little exercise below is merely for entertainment and to hopefully clear my dream state of Mr. Russell’s all-knowing, ghostly-yet-serious face. If you know about George Russell, you may even get a couple of my puns/jokes/inferences. To obtain the maximum visual effect, imagine the interview being conducted by Connie Chung in a dark suit from Chanel. (George is in black and white tweed, just like on the cover of “Jazz Workshop”, which is same as the picture above. Also, if you notice, George is not resting his head on his chin, but is, in fact, showing you his fist a good ten inches away from his body..."Watch it, buddy!")

Connie: Thank you for agreeing to talk with us, and thank God for allowing us into heaven to interview you, Mr. Russell.
George: George.
Connie: George.
George: Hmph.
Connie: So, tell us about the afterlife.
George: It sucks. Wrong kind of music, everywhere. It’s like I’m trapped in an ethereal universe above the clouds with a bunch of singing angels and every song is the Oratorio from “The Messiah”…oh, … wait…
Connie:  What’s different about the music?
George: Everything’s Ionian and straight up. I keep begging for somebody to play something in Lydian, or even Dorian, or to at least swing a little bit, but no.
Connie: It sounds positively heavenly here. What’s wrong with that?
George: Nothing, really, but I’m going to throw up if I hear the four chord resolve to the one chord one more time.
Connie: Would you explain that for the beginning jazz musicians in our audience?
George: No.
Connie: Maybe God would let you arrange an angelic choir sometime?
George: Meh! Who’s got time for that?
Connie: Don’t you have an eternity?
George: Yeah, but I’m busy working on another edition of my book.
Connie: Let’s talk about your book. I’ve noticed that on Amazon, first editions of the spiral bound, Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization, are going for anywhere from well north of a hundred dollars, all the way up to $500.
George: Really? Damn. I could’ve used some of that scratch while I was alive. But what’s my book doing in Brazil? I didn’t know they sold books in the rain forest.
Connie: Yes, … but don’t you feel that the title of your book might be a little off-putting to the average jazz musician?
George: I hope not. The editor scrapped my title for it.
Connie: What was it originally called?
George: Conceptualization of Asynchronous Harmony from Chromatic Permutations of Lydian and Mixolydian Flat-6 Tonalities Derived Using Tonal Organization of Synchronous Patterns and Sonic Causations of Melodic Structures.
Connie: That’s quite a mouthful.
George: Please, don’t say “mouthful”, Connie. Anyway, it had a subtitle.
Connie: Which was…?
George: Cool Sounding Jazz Music.
Connie: Yes, um, er, okay. So, on another subject, is Bill Evans up in heaven with you?
George: I thought this was a serious interview.
Connie: Sorry. Why do you think your CD’s are so hard to find back on earth?
George: “Kind of Blue” is hard to find? I heard it’s the most popular jazz recording ever.
Connie: It is, but that’s a Miles Davis record.
George: Yeah, right. Good one.
Connie: Okay, why do you think jazz recordings – with your name on them – are so hard to find at reasonable prices back on earth?
George: My recordings are selling at a premium, too? Goddammit! Oops. Anyway, I’m going to talk to the land Lord when this interview is over about getting a few minutes back downstairs. Got to be a few royalty checks bouncing around with my name, somewhere.
Connie: Do you need money in heaven?
George: I wouldn’t if Jesus would stop cheating at cards. He deals off the bottom, that Son of a …ah, um, God.
Connie: Do you think the average man on the street will ever be made aware of all your contributions to the field of music in general and specifically, jazz theory?
George: No.
Connie: Why not?
George: Well, how many people alive today do you think know about my work?
Connie: Well, a precious, but lucky, few.
George: Hmph. And how many people read this “Blog” magazine you’re interviewing me for?
Connie: Um, it’s a website, and well, not many.
George: Whatever. How many readers, exactly?
Connie: Well, um, basically, one. The author’s parents and siblings don’t even read it.
George: Really? Wow. Must be crap!
Connie: Well, we are interviewing you.
George: Point taken.
Connie: Well then, what would it take for people to become more aware of your contributions to jazz?
George: Let’s see... Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber doing a duet of my “Ezz-Thetics” arranged by Ozzy Osbourne on the first ever joint Grammy/Academy Awards show. Hosted by Charlie Sheen, of course.
Connie: I thought you wanted this to be a serious interview?
George: Pink and that other Justin then. I’ll do my own arranging. We can do without Charlie, too. I don’t think the folks up here are going to let him work for a while, anyway.
Connie: Ahem. Any special message for our readers?
George: Well, always remember: Don’t confuse chromatic Lydian with Lydian augmented or Lydian flat-7. The dominant chord functions as a five, but it sounds like a one, whereas in the augmented, you have the case where…
Connie: Ahhh, thank you, George, I think that’s all we have time for.
George: All you have time for, Connie. I’ve got an eternity.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Day 80 – Saturday, March 5 – This is getting serious

Goals: Shim loose pins and continue rough tuning piano

Music: None – I’m tuning a piano here

Things have once again gone from bad to worse. A number of the pins that I shimmed and tune have slipped out of tune and, of course, they are no longer tunable. The shim solution worked, only to a degree. Now I’m not sure if I can use two shims per hole, or if I want to use the bushings that I bought, or if I just want to keep using larger size pins (I still have two more sizes to go before that is no longer an option). Again, I’m not sure what the best route is, so I’m going to call one of my consultants today. Depending on his answer, I may either

-Tune to a half tone or more below concert pitch to lessen the pull of the strings on the pins
-Double up shims with larger pins
-Use bushings
-Make a desk out of the sucker

This is not looking good.