Snow Business

As a foreigner, and a fairly impractical one, who leads a largely sedentary existence, many things about American life fill me with dread and fear. The idea, for example, that I might one day have to return an American football that has absconded from a swarm of teenagers keeps me away from parks and sporting fields. I’ve seen muscular fellows on TV execute those weird spirally overarm propulsions but have never attempted one myself; I’d have to return it by hand with the excuse that I was “saving my arm for the big game.”  Likewise shoveling snow– a pursuit that instinctively repels me, but that men in these parts seem innately suited for. I see them standing around, leaning on their shiny shovels– I expect they apply some kind of special shovel wax to keep them in tip top condition– and calling out to their neighbours, Bob and Mike, with confident jocularisms; then on some unseen cue they all get back to effortlessly hoisting mountains of solid ice.

 A couple of days ago we had a good old-fashioned Northeast snowstorm– more than a foot of snow on the ground, and drifts halfway up the cars– it was brilliant. But I knew what was coming. It’s not technically my responsibility to clear the sidewalk, but if I don’t do it, my landlady has to, and her walking frame and oxygen tank make an awful racket while I’m trying to read. So I take care of it, and in return she doesn’t complain about the late rent, or the strange smells coming from my kitchen (I have gas in the new apartment), but I don’t have to like it.

 I delayed for as long as I could, but eventually, resigned, I stomped downstairs only to discover that our shovel had been stolen. This was hard to accept, because it’s a cheap, mangled little piece of crap which would struggle to flip John Candy’s giant pancake in Uncle Buck. Great movie by the way. I sighed and headed off on a shovel hunt. At the local supermarket, they were of course sold out, but much more upsetting was that the piped music at the moment I walked in was Olivia Newton-John’s “Let’s Get Physical,” an affront to my cultured sensibilities at the best of times, and now a mocking commentary of my dreaded upcoming exertions. That little two-bar ear worm crawled immediately into my cochlea, and proceeded to shake its booty around my brain– a performance that I can report is ongoing.

“Let’s get physical! Physical! I wanna get physicaaal…!” I sang to myself as I trudged the mile or so to Home Depot. Here we have another situation where I fail to live up to the standards of my blokey neighbours– I don’t feel at home in the Depot. My blood doesn’t race at the sight of power tools, lumber leaves me cold, the aisles and aisles of assorted spanners and sprockets render me confused and enervated. We artistic types stand out in a crowd of burly determined men comparing socket sets and angle grinders, and believe me, singing Olivia Newton-John songs to yourself doesn’t help.
Predictably in a snowstorm, there was not a shovel to be had. I was indescribably relieved. What more could I do? 

Of course I got home and the shovel had been miraculously returned, presumably by one of the neighbours who’d used it to dig out their car. Where before it had been lightly mangled, it was now a crippled wreck, the cheap aluminium blade bent up at the end like a curled shoe. I dragged it outside and spent a couple of hours developing new and ineffective techniques for subduing a foot of compacted ice with what was essentially a tinfoil dustpan. After an hour the cold had seeped through my many layers; the wind picked up and out of the swirling flakes, a snowy eddy appeared. “What’s up, Snowy Eddy?” I said. “Hey Nick,” he replied, snowy as ever. But despite the conditions and my many shortcomings, I was determined to carry off the operation with a degree of flair, clearly impressing Bob and Mike with my grunting and theatrical brow mopping. And when it finally came time to spread the salt, I wowed them all by distributing it off the elbow like Salt Bae.

 I have to admit it felt rather good to utilise muscles that had been in hiding since the last snowstorm, and buoyed by an unfamiliar wave of testosterone I puffed out my chest, set my jaw, leaned on my shovel and surveyed my handiwork with a steely measured gaze. I then headed to the shops to reward myself with a “Hungry Man” Heat-and Serve Breakfast (“Over 1lb of food!”), but changed my mind and had a cup of Earl Grey and a lovely slice of banana bread.

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A Mad Dash

When we left off last, the fate of tune #6 was in doubt. With no tune written, no band booked, and a much-hyped snow storm on the way, we were right in the poo. And sure enough, poo-bound we remained, as the deadly snowmageddon blew in, burying the city in almost half an inch of snow. The sidewalks were crunchy that day, my friends. We hunkered down under the onslaught, afraid to leave our homes in case our shoes got wet. Schools were closed to prevent learning, and our engineer was trapped in his fortress of solitude in the frosty Bronx. So we had to cancel the recording. Since then, our drummer, Dan, has jetted off to be successful in Eastern Europe, and now we’re nine days from our due date. But we’re not giving up just yet.


Smalls is booked for Monday. Jeremy and Dave are booked for piano and bass respectively. I tried to convince a certain older, fairly famous drummer to play with us, but according to his manager, the meagre fee I was offering wasn’t sufficient. The sad thing is, he’s a super-nice cat- I’ve chatted with him several times, and played with him once- and I’m sure if I’d caught him in person, he would have said yes. But it wasn’t to be. So I’m trying something different. Piano, bass, saxophone, no drums, and special guest Bruce Harris on the trumpet! Bruce is a killer young trumpeter with whom we’ve played several times in the past- he’s done Smalls gigs with us, and was a guest on our old Smithfield Sunday Session, but we’ve never got him into the studio. So this is going to be brilliant! All I’ve got to do is write a tune…

So, recording Monday, mixing Tuesday, send the tune to press and radio on Wednesday, and up online for you on Monday March 2! The pre-release sizzle- videos, photos, etc.- will all be crammed into the space of a week, but considering the whole thing nearly fell in a heap, I hope you’ll understand.

I should mention that the Catch and Release material is getting a great response when we play it live. We play every other Thursday at Smalls (the adults-only midnight slot. I work blue…), and we’ve been trotting out all five tunes, in various orders, to enthusiastic crowds.  If you’re in the NYC area, come down and hang with us, or if not, watch us on the Smalls live web stream. I’ll talk more about this in a future post, but if you go to the Smalls website and sign up, you can watch everything that happens, live! It’s also a great opportunity to hear jazz musicians, who’ve forgotten about the cameras, engage in some fairly egregious slander. Enjoy!

Righto, that’s it for now. I’ll put up a vid of the new tune as soon as I’ve written it, and photos from the session will be up early next week. Cheers!

Analogue Jammin’

My birthday was a few weeks ago. No, it’s ok, really. I wouldn’t have wanted you to make a fuss anyway. I’m fine. Really. But I long ago reached the age where a birthday present is more important for the thought than the item itself. I never really believed my Dad when he’d tell me that all he wanted was a bottle of booze or a book voucher, but that’s me now. If I really want something, I’ll just go and get it myself. And this year, because no one was thoughtful enough to get it for me, I got myself something I’ve been wanting for ages.

Last night, here in the New York area, we were trapped in our homes due to what was being advertised as the blizzard to end all blizzards. Feet of snow and deadly gales were promised. Public transportation was shut down, vehicles were banned from the streets, panicked suckers emptied supermarket shelves, and I got an unexpected night off work. At some point during the evening I decided I should try to be productive with these bonus hours, and set about fiddling with one of the online aids to productivity on which I waste so much time. After a lengthy period of grinding my teeth and shaking my fist threateningly at the screen, I I threw my hands up in theatrical disgust, and gently slammed the computer shut. I needed respite from this maddening technology. It was too snowy to take the penny-farthing out for a spin, so I turned to the next best thing: my new record player.

I couldn’t be happier with this new addition to the Hemmo homestead. And it’s not just sound quality- everything about the experience is enjoyable and satisfying. Shopping for records, pretending I know anything about “vinyl grading”, prissily removing every trace of deadly dust from the disc while wearing the full-body rubber suit the guy at the record store told me I needed. But mostly the fact that listening to an album is now an event: now when I put on music, I sit down and listen to it!

Not me. Yet.

 However, at some point last night (during Bird with Strings, I believe), I was struck by the irony (or possibly, hypocrisy) of my situation. Here I am, making a big fuss about my fancy digital releases, bemoaning the fact that American jazz radio stations haven’t moved with the times, espousing the virtues of single-track online music distribution, while at home I’m listening to music in almost the oldest way possible. Next year I might upgrade to piano rolls. But really, I don’t think there’s much of a contradiction. Vinyl is fantastic, and I highly recommend it, but I don’t suppose it’s really the way forward. I’ve always thought that digital files and vinyl should be the major players- nothing against CD, but it’s neither the best sounding nor the most portable. Nor is it nerdy enough for me. Anyway I’ve got to run if I want to post this blog before the telegraph office closes.

Who else is getting their vinyl on?