Sunday, November 30, 2008

Music via the interwebs, Part 2: EMusic

Part two of my review of various online music sources, this one focused on EMusic. EMusic is a different sort of scheme than iTunes or Amazon, in that it is a flat-rate subscription service. The basic plan is $12 per month for 30 downloads, which works out to 40 cents per track if you use them all. The credits are use-em-or-lose-em, so you do have to poke around on the site every month if you actually want to get your money's worth.

Before I get to my comments, two shameless plugs:
1. If you are an EMusic member and a dj, let me know your user name! I'd like to be EMusic "friends" with you. Post a comment or email me. Here's my profile page, from which you can friend me.
2. If you are considering joining EMusic, just hold on a second. They've got an incentive scheme set up so that if I invite you to join, they give us both a bunch of free tracks. So email me if you are considering joining, and I'll send you an invite, and then we'll have extra tracks to play with. And I'll be your "friend."

Okay so that was me pimping for EMusic. Forgive me--read on, and I will give you an honest critique to make up for it.

Starting with what makes EMusic attractive. First and most obviously, the price is right. On a single track per download basis, it's less than half the price of iTunes. Of course, if you download a Best of Oscar Peterson album, you might blow your monthly allowance of tracks on a single album, which you could get for $10 from iTunes or probably less from Amazon. The price advantage comes if you want to poke around and grab a few tracks from an album here, one from that big old compilation, and a few more from somewhere else. If you are looking to build up your collection of danceable music, this is a good approach.

Second advantage: EMusic has an ever-growing collection of interesting music, lots of independent labels, and lots and lots of jazz and blues. I have yet to find anything that wasn't also on iTunes or Amazon, but considering that those services of gigantic international retailers, that's a bit of an unfair comparison--relative newbie EMusic really isn't doing too bad. Several times I have pissed off local djs by revealing that I've grabbed tracks off EMusic that they spent years and years looking for in record shops--stuff that's the prize of their collections. (Two examples: Clora Bryant, ...Gal with a Horn and many of the Definitive Black & Blue Sessions are on EMusic.)

But, EMusic is far from perfect. I would rank the most important drawback as the quality of the digital files you get when you download a track. Some are perfectly good quality, stuff that is fine to spin at a dance on a nice sound system. Other albums are really lacking, so you do have to be careful.

The other drawbacks to EMusic really have to do with the design of the website, so they are aspects of the service that could be improved, if EMusic has the programming talent to do so. Biggest complaint here is that the search interface is PATHETIC. There's no way to do advanced searches, so if you are browsing a particular artist and want to find a specific track, you have to browse through ALL of their albums. Hopefully EMusic is embarrassed by its lack of a respectable search feature, and is working as hard as it can to improve it. If not, shame on you EMusic, shame.

Along with the search interface, EMusic's social recommendation system leaves a lot to be desired. It's impossible to search for your friends (which is why y'all need to tell me your user names), you can't un-friend other users, and you have zero control over your "neighbors"--ostensibly the users whose download patterns are most similar to yours. C'mon, EMusic. Get with it.

As long as I'm griping, here's one graphic design suggestion (you listening, EMusic?): get rid of the pop-up album reviews. Put the full review somewhere on the page, so that I can read the whole thing, or go back and forth between reading the review and previewing the tracks. Thanks, EMusic ;). Also, it would be nice if the EMusic download manager had the option of loading your music directly into iTunes. The Amazon mp3 download manager does this--it couldn't be too hard to add that little feature, and it would save the trouble of having to copy the files from one folder to another, then delete the originals.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Music via the interwebs, Part 1: iTunes

I acquire by going to record stores like Jazz Record Mart (a wondrous place, but dangerous for the wallet--I can never get out of there without spending about $75), plus every once in a long while a treat from a specialty shop like Mosaic Records. Lately I've also been buying a lot more music online. Initially, I would look for mp3s when I knew of a particular track I wanted, but didn't want to buy the whole album (or couldn't find the album). For instance, if I heard a tune at a dance and asked the DJ what the title was, it's easy to go home and look it up. Lately I've spent more time just exploring online music, as oppose to only making specific, targeted acquisitions.

My three main sources, as you can tell from the links I list in my "One Track Mind"posts, are iTunes, EMusic, and Amazon mp3. Over the next couple posts, I offer my opinion on each of these sites.

Starting with iTunes...

iTunes seriously annoys me, in many ways, but chiefly for their online store. For a long while, the mp3 files sold in the iTunes Online Store had digital rights management (DRM) protection on them, so that you couldn't freely share the files with your friends. Piracy issues aside, it also means that I can't play those files in most other music players other than iTunes.

I've been gradually going through and getting rid of all the DRM'ed AAC files that I've accumulated through iTunes, replacing them with mp3's or whatever the current standard is. I think some (maybe most) of iTunes is now DRM-free, but still their whole scheme really annoys me.

The main attraction of iTunes is convenience (assuming that you too are deeply caught in Apple's web of personal music products). Since I use iTunes to organize my collection, it's easy to pop over into the store and grab a track, and it shows up in my library with no added fiddling. They also have a very large collection of music, and a good search interface. Since it's all integrated into iTunes, it feels more like you're browsing through a database than clicking through web pages. I like how the album reviews and user reviews are integrated into the page, so you can read them and browse through tracks at the same time.

The biggest drawback to iTunes is cost. It's the most expensive source out there, so it's easy to quickly run up a decent sized bill. Other drawbacks were the DRM and the low bit-rate on the files, but I think those are getting to be less of an issue.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Jazz profiles

Okay so here's one more clue that, yes indeed, I am a 20-something white guy who grew up in an affluent suburb: I'm about to recommend a podcast produced by National Public Radio, which I listen to regularly on my iPod. (Further evidence: #13, #23, #24, #28, #42, #61, #72, #80, #81, #90, #94, #110, #111, #112 from this list.)

Now that that's out of the way: check out Jazz Profiles, which is a series that NPR did a few years ago profiling many legendary jazz musicians. They're gradually posting all of the episodes on the web. I get the sense that they tried to focus on musicians who were still alive at the time but might not be for much longer, though they also cover the super-important figures in jazz like Armstrong, Ellington, and Basie that you couldn't get away with not saying something about. The shows are hosted by Nancy Wilson, a contemporary jazz singer, who has a very nice voice and every now and again interjects little personal comments.

I've found most of the shows to be interesting, and some exceptionally so. In particular, check out the episodes on pianist and band leader Jay McShann, bassist Milt Hinton, and trombone player Al Grey. You can download the shows from the website, or subscribe to the podcast and a new show will appear in your feed about once a week.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Playlist from Now You Has Jazz

Just back from my DJ/Music-lover's workshop. Most of the folks that came were really just curious to learn more about music, not necessarily specifically because they are interested in DJing. I promised to post the music I played, so here it is. I'll ask Dave if he can remember what he played, and if so I'll add that to this list.
  • Take It Easy Greasy - Lil Johnson - Lil Johnson & Barrelhouse Annie Vol. 3 1937 (This was an example of a song I really like that I don't spin due to recording quality.)
  • It's Only a Paper Moon - Oscar Peterson - With Respect to Nat (In contrast, this track has great fidelity.)
  • Shake That Thing - Preservation Hall Jazz Band - Shake That Thing (Example of music with a two-beat feel, good for teaching beginner's six count, but not so much for anything that involves triple-steps.)
  • Jersey Bounce - Benny Goodman - B.G. in Hi-Fi (Example of classic big-band sound, rhythm that makes you want to triple-step, and very good recording quality.)
  • Groove Juice Special - Slim Gaillard - Chronological, 1938-1946 (Example of a song I love that I don't play because of the tap-dancing solo in the middle.)
  • In the Mood - Glenn Miller - Ken Burns' Jazz (Example of stereotypical big band music.)
  • In the Mood - Glenn Miller - Best of the Lost Recordings (A slightly faster rendition, that I like more and would actually DJ.)
  • There's Rhythm in Harlem - Mills Blue Rhythm Band - Mills Blue Rhythm Band: 1933-1936 (Same riff as In the Mood, but this rendition kicks ass.)
  • Tar Paper Stomp - Mora's Modern Rhythmists - Call of the Freaks (I didn't play this during the workshop, but this is another track with the same riff as In the Mood. Mora's Modern Rhythmists is a great modern band that plays in the style of a 1930's big band. They're amazing to dance to live.)
  • Brown Derby Jump - Cherry Poppin' Daddies - Zoot Suit Riot (Neo-Swing, baby!)
  • I'm Gone - King Pleasure - King Pleasure Sings (First swish from our "wine-tasting." We decided that this is an interesting, challenging track for more advanced lindyhopper/blues dancers to play with, but not good for beginners.)
  • Everything is Jumpin' - Artie Shaw - The Very Best Of Artie Shaw (Great, really swingin' big band music. Good for dancing, no matter what your skill level.)
  • Fiddle Dee Dee - Lionel Hampton - Lionel Hampton Story 1: Hot Mallets (Interesting, mysterious introduction, followed by really swingin' small-group.)
  • Lazy River - Bobby Darin - The Ultimate Bobby Darin (This was used to illustrate transitioning between styles.)
  • Give My Regards to Broadway - Pete Fountain - The Dixieland Kings (Going right from Bobby Darin to this would be disconcerting, but with the right song in between, we made it work.)
If you were there this afternoon, thanks for coming out! And thanks for your participation and questions--it made for an interesting afternoon. And thanks for the rootbeer. If you have a comment or follow-up question, feel free to leave it as a comment to this blog post.

From the feedback I've gotten so far, it sounds like the stuff we covered this afternoon might have assumed too much prior knowledge of jazz. We didn't really talk explicitly about different genres or styles of jazz/swing dance music--and unfortunately we didn't get to my Old Testament/New Testament Basie band example. It's too bad, as I think it would have been really interesting and eye-opening for many people. So....just have to do another workshop, I guess. Maybe next time, it should focus just on introducing people to different styles of music. Title it "A Basic Primer in Music for Swing Dancing" or something like that. What do you think?

Friday, November 14, 2008

You will has jazz tomorrow!

My DJ/Jazz-Lover's workshop is coming up tomorrow at Big City Swing. See details in this earlier post. Lippy and I will be sharing our secrets, we'll be listening to a lot of great music and then getting nerdy about why it's awesome, and we'll probably end up arguing a fair amount about whether your music really swings. Plus: a "wine-tasting" (?!?!) and "the Flow Challenge."

I guarantee that you will leave thinking that I am an even bigger geek than you already suspected.

P.S. Bring rootbeer!

P.P.S. to Chris: Do you want to play music, or do you want to be a DJ?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Fizz setlist 11/10/2008

Monday night I had the late set again. I feel like I did quite a bit better than last time, though there are so many external factors that it is hard to really make much of the comparison. The DJ before me played a very wide variety of music, lots of which I would classify as West Coast music--blues and pop, mixed in with older big band music (e.g., the Henderson band doing Christopher Columbus). To balance out those selections, the first part of my set was geared heavily towards solid, safe music, relying on more swingin' piano jazz/bluesy-jazz than I usually play.
  1. Wade In The Water - Eva Cassidy - Eva By Heart - 4:04 (Birthday jam, by request. I know I gave y'all a heart attack when you heard me play this.)
  2. Easy Does It - Paul Tillotson the Love Trio - Lindy Hop Blues - 2:57 (New favorite safety song.)
    (After this track, I decided I wanted to work in Hold It Right There. To do that, I kept the styles similar but started to climb the tempo. )
  3. I'm Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A letter - Jay McShann - For Dancers Only! - 3:55
  4. They Raided The Joint - Helen Humes - Let The Good Times Roll - 3:19
  5. Hold It Right There - Joe Williams - Nothin' But the Blues - 2:44 (This thinned out the floor a little.)
  6. Blue Skies - Cootie Williams - Do Nothing 'Till You Hear From Me - 2:50 (Not the greatest follow-up track.)
  7. Summit Ridge Drive - Buddy DeFranco - Plays Artie Shaw - 4:35
  8. Tain't What You Do - Jimmie Lunceford - Jimmie Lunceford - 2:45 (The whole floor was covered in shim-shammers. To follow up, I decided to go out on a limb with a faster one.)
  9. Well Git It! - George Gee - Buddha Boogie - 2:45 (It took a minute, but eventually a moderately full floor was dancing to this one.)
  10. Hello, Dolly! - Louis Armstrong - Ken Burns Jazz - 2:24 (Recover.)
  11. Yes Indeed - Sy Oliver - Yes Indeed - 3:13
  12. Too Close For Comfort - Dianne Reeves - Good Night, And Good Luck - 3:50
  13. Keepin' Out A Mishif Now - Carling Family - 20th Jubilee - 3:32
  14. It's Only A Paper Moon - Oscar Peterson - With Respect To Nat - 2:32 (Boston throw-back.)
  15. Don't You Miss Your Baby - Jimmy Witherspoon - Jimmy Witherspoon & Panama Francis' Savoy Sultans - 3:55
    (I decide to play some big band sounds, start working out a transition...)
  16. Flat Foot Floogee - Ray Bryant - Swing Dance Special - 2:42
  17. Yacht Club Swing - Fats Waller - Yacht Club Swing 1938 - 3:51
  18. Mood Hollywood - Don Neely's Royal Society Jazz Orchestra - Radio Rhythm - 3:31
  19. Jersey Bounce - Benny Goodman - B.G. In Hi-Fi - 3:07
  20. Vine Street Boogie - Jay McShann - Jumpin' The Blues - 2:37
  21. Cole Slaw - Louis Jordan - Louis Jordan And His Tympani Five, Volume 1 - 2:44
  22. Mr. Gee - Tab Smith - Top 'n' Bottom - 2:49
  23. Ain't Doin' Too Bad - Bobby "Blue" Bland - The Bobby "Blue" Bland Anthology - 2:42 (For Sara. I got a request for some "balboa" music during this track.)
  24. You Upset Me Baby - B.B. King - Singin' The Blues - The Blues - 3:02
  25. Jump & Shout - Erline Harris - For Jumpers Only! - 2:19 (I think I may have satisfied the request with this track, though not sure.)
  26. Rock Me All Night Long - The Fabulous Treniers - The Hoss Allen Sessions - 2:41
  27. Give My Regards To Broadway - Pete Fountain - Dixieland's Kings - 2:37 (Or maybe with this one?)
  28. Pardon My Southern Accent - Jeff Healey - Among Friends - 3:45 (Or this one?)
  29. Comes Love - Miss Tess - When Tomorrow Comes - 3:54 (Tessa was standing next to me in the booth when I played this--she dug the artist. Folks were leaving at about 12:30, so there were only a few couples dancing to these last few songs.)
  30. Twisted Snake - Otis Spann - Otis Spann: Best Of The Vanguard Years - 3:02
  31. It's You Who Taught It To Me - Fats Waller - The Unique Mr. Waller - 2:42
  32. Madame Dynamite - Eddie Condon - Let's Swing It - 2:55
  33. Georgia Cake Walk - Eddie Condon - We Called It Music - 3:06

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Madison Invasion - setlist from Saturday night dance 11/8/2008

Our buddies up in Madison invited me to DJ for their Fall Invasion, which happened this weekend. John Kraniak, a dj on WORT in Madison, spun the Friday night dance, using nothing but original 78's from the 20's, 30's, and 40's. It was pretty cool to hear records that were actually physically created during the swing era, and a treat to get to dance to them. It put me in a good mood all weekend. Todd and Ronni from Denver taught a day of classes on Saturday, including classes focused on dancing to slow tempos and to faster tempos.

My setlist is below. A couple of things I was shooting for that evening: 1) playing mostly higher fidelity recordings, because the Friday night dance was (understandably) low-fi, 2) working in more blues & boogie material than I usually play, because on Friday I noticed that the Madison crowd seemed to really respond to those sorts of sounds, and 3) my usual goal of playing a wide variety of styles & tempos. The first two I think I did pretty well on, but on number three, I think I had some trouble managing tempos. I think I could have pushed the boundaries on tempo a bit further in either direction--the floor would have thinned a bit, but I could have played some 200+ bpm music and still had folks dancing. I guess my Fizz habits got the best of me there--I rarely break 200 on Monday nights. And I had a few fun songs in the 90-110 range that I just didn't work in, which is too bad (I know the crowd would have liked Toast My Bread). It also would have been better to transition with tempos a little bit more gradually.

Here's the distribution of tempos over the night:

And here's a graph of beats per minute over time:

The red dots are Todd and Ronni's demo, the three songs used for the Jack & Jill finals, and the demo of "Shortnin' Bread." Sorry about the thick black borders on these, and low resolution on the second image. I haven't figured out a good way to publish charts on this blog.

And finally, here's my set list. I list title - artist - album - time - beats per minute:
  1. Ain't Misbehavin' - Kermit Ruffins - Putumayo Presents: Kermit Ruffins - 4:36 - 140
  2. Blues for Stephanie - Paul Tillotson the Love Trio - Lindy Hop Blues - 4:29 - 130
  3. Yes Indeed - Slam Stewart - Slamboree - 3:35 - 150
  4. All Of Me - Helen O'Connell - Great Girl Singers, Sing 22 Original Hits - 2:09 - 145
  5. Strictly Instrumental - Jimmie Lunceford - Jimmie Lunceford - 2:39 - 170
  6. Birmingham Bounce - Tommy Dorsey - Greatest Hits: Tommy Dorsey - 2:57 - 160
  7. Come On Over To My House - Jay McShann - Jumpin' The Blues - 2:52 - 145
  8. Massachusetts - Maxine Sullivan And Her Jazz All-Stars - Memories Of You - 3:16 - 145
  9. Sent For You Yesterday And Here You Come Today - Benny Goodman - B.G. In Hi-Fi - 3:05 - 155
  10. Let's Misbehave - The Boilermaker Jazz Band - You Do Something To Me - 2:52 - 190
  11. Six-appeal - Charlie Christian - Six-appeal - 3:20 - 145
  12. Let The Good Times Roll - Linda Hopkins - Wild Women Blues - 3:26 - 140
  13. Twisted Snake - Otis Spann - Otis Spann: Best Of The Vanguard Years - 3:02 - 145
  14. Shout, Sister, Shout! - Sister Rosetta Tharpe - The Gospel of the Blues - 2:41 - 145
  15. Hello, Dolly! - Louis Armstrong - Ken Burns Jazz - 2:24 - 155
  16. Big John's Special - Don Neely's Royal Society Jazz Orchestra - Radio Rhythm - 3:18 - 170
  17. Sugarfoot Rag - Ella Fitzgerald - Ella Fitzgerald Story Vol. 2 - 3:06 - 190
  18. Corner Pocket - Count Basie - April In Paris - 5:07 - 140
  19. Easy Does It - Paul Tillotson the Love Trio - Lindy Hop Blues - 2:57 - 130
  20. Smack Dab In The Middle - The Deep River Boys - London Harmony - 2:59 - 130
  21. They Raided The Joint - Helen Humes - Let The Good Times Roll - 3:19 - 160
  22. The Darktown Strutters' Ball - Katherine Davis - Dream Shoes - 3:40 - 135
  23. Honeysuckle Rose - Twin Cities Hot Club - Twin Cities Hot Club - 4:47 - 140
  24. My Blue Heaven - Stuff Smith Quartet - Swingin' Stuff - 3:46 - 160
  25. Tutti Frutti - Slim Gaillard - 1938-46 - 2:38 - 170
  26. Hey! Stop Kissin' My Sister - Fats Waller - The Unique Mr. Waller - 2:50 - 190
  27. My Baby Just Cares for Me - Indigo Swing - Indigo Swing - 4:03 - 115 (Todd & Ronni's demo)
  28. Yacht Club Swing - Fats Waller - Yacht Club Swing 1938 - 3:51 - 160 (Jack & Jill warm-up all-skate)
  29. For Dancers Only - Jimmie Lunceford - Jimmie Lunceford - 2:41 - 150 (Jack & Jill phrase battle, 1st song)
  30. Jeep Jockey Jump - The Bill Elliott Swing Orchestra - Swingin' The Century - 2:51 - 210 (Jack & Jill phrase battle, 2nd song)
  31. Fiddle Dee Dee - Lionel Hampton - Lionel Hampton Story 1: Hot Mallets - 2:39 - 195
  32. Jive At Five - Count Basie - The Complete Decca Recordings - 2:51 - 175
  33. The Right Idea - Charlie Barnet & His Orchestra - Swing Street Strut - 3:13 - 185
  34. I May Be Wrong (Boogie Woogie) - Jimmy Witherspoon - Jimmy Witherspoon & Panama Francis' Savoy Sultans - 3:21 - 165
  35. Vine Street Boogie - Jay McShann - Jumpin' The Blues - 2:37 - 155
  36. Like It Is - Erroll Garner - That's My Kick & Gemini - 2:44 - 130
  37. A Man That Don't Want Me - Sippie Wallace - Sippie - 2:43 - 125
  38. On Revival Day - Lavern Baker - LaVern Sings Bessie Smith - 3:16 - 140
  39. Gang Busters - Cats & The Fiddle - We Cats Will Swing For You - 3:06 - 185
  40. Shortnin' Bread - Fats Waller - The Unique Mr. Waller - 2:41 - 170 (demo of the routine taught earlier that day)
  41. All Of Me/The Peanut Vendor - Dick Hyman Group Feat. Howard Alden - Sweet And Lowdown - 1:43 - 170
  42. Shine On Harvest Moon - Pete Fountain - Dixieland's Kings - 2:50 - 160
  43. Lindyhopper's Delight - Chick Webb - Strictly Jive - 2:45 - 195
  44. Tain't What You Do - Jimmie Lunceford - Jimmie Lunceford - 3:06 - 160 (Shim sham!)
  45. Home To Mississippi - Otis Spann - Otis Spann: Best Of The Vanguard Years - 3:29 - 130
  46. I'm A Bouncin' Mama - Tab Smith - Top 'n' Bottom - 2:30 - 165
  47. I Don't Care Who Knows - Catherine Russell - Sentimental Streak - 3:18 - 125
  48. Summit Ridge Drive - Buddy DeFranco - Plays Artie Shaw - 4:35 - 145
  49. Boys from Harlem - Randy Sandke And The Nagel Heyer Allstars - Uptown Lowdown - 3:33 - 160
  50. I'm Crazy 'Bout My Baby - Louis Armstrong - Satch Plays Fats (Remaster) - 4:28 - 160
  51. Keepin' Out A Mishif Now - Carling Family - 20th Jubilee - 3:32 - 120
  52. Sugar Blues - Clarence Williams - Boogie Woogie Blues - 3:40 - 135
  53. Rockin In Rhythm - Duke Ellington - An Anthology Of Big Band Swing 1930-1955 - 3:01 - 185
  54. Minor Swing - The Boilermaker Jazz Band - Give Me Your Telephone Number - 3:41 - 195

Friday, November 7, 2008

Joe Williams & Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson - Hold It Right There

Available on EMusic, Amazon, and iTunes.

This is an ear-catching tune pairing Joe Williams and saxophonist Eddie Vinson. I found it years ago at a local library, grabbed it because I like Joe Williams, and got hooked on it immediately. The whole album is really good. I think Joe Williams has one of the outstanding voices in all of jazz history--he sounds polished, dignified, and elegant--especially compared to his predecessor in the Basie band, Jimmie Rushing--but his voice is also time-worn and sometimes blue. Vinson, on the other hand, has a very rough voice, very bluesy, like his saxophone style.

The track is energetic in a groovy way. I don't play a lot of stuff from this style of jazz--my book is kind of short on it, and I'm less attuned to it than to other eras--but I enjoy this particular track and it has gotten a good response when I play it in a set. I know I should stock up my arsenal in this style, just so that I can be versatile. Anyone have a suggestion for similar tracks to check out?