Remember A Day: Memories of life on the road with Joe Pascarell and The Machine

It was Thursday – January 20th, 2022. Nita and I had just returned a few days before from the country of Jordan, where we were assessing the condition of my mom (who has lived in the Wadi Rum desert for 26 years); and we had been invited by our dear friends Mary & Paul to have dinner, tell stories, and decompress. We were on our way – in the car – when I got the call from my old friend Ryan Ball. “I don’t know if you heard”, he said, “but Joe Pascarell has left the planet.”

At dinner I was kind of in a state of shock…although Joe P (Jeep as he was known by his friends) and I hadn’t spoken much in the last few years, I still considered him to be a great friend – built from working with him and the other members of The Machine, week in and week out, for the better part of a full 10 years.

Joe was an extraordinary human being, and I learned a lot from him, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. It was through Joe that I first understood the concept of “never take anything personally”, something that has saved me a lot of angst over the years, and the concept of “if it’s bothering you, you’re not ignoring it hard enough” – usually applied to medical conditions, and taken with a grain of salt and a chuckle.

We shared more than a few interests, discovered on long car rides home from gigs (for which Joe almost always drove). Physics was one – he knew a lot about current concepts in theoretical physics and we would discuss them at length on those car rides home, late at night. He introduced me to the famous “Feynman lectures”, and we talked a lot about the concepts of time and gravity.

Mozart was another. I had grown up in a house where classical music was played – on the stereo, and on the piano – by my father. But the focus was always on Beethoven, his contemporaries, and successors. Somehow, I missed Mozart entirely, except in the periphery. Joe corrected that for me, and in fact I went overboard in the other direction – I couldn’t listen to any other composers for many years. My obsession has subsided, but I now proudly add Mozart to my consciousness and repertoire. Joe would talk about Mozart’s music and his life (if you know about it, you know – otherwise I strongly suggest learning about him), and the fact that his music was simply ‘heard’, intact, in his head. Mozart’s scores have no corrections (with a few exceptions), and he wrote close to 600 pieces of music, dying at age 31. (To this day I listen to certain pieces of Mozart’s music to “prepare my mind” for improvising, especially for Dance Classes, where a fountain of simple melody is required.) My love of Mozart will be forever linked with my memories of Joe.

Probably the most important connection, and in retrospect the most obvious one, was Joe’s love of Synthesis – specifically Modular Synthesis, and not this teeny-tiny Eurorack stuff (as lovely as it is). Joe was into massive modular instruments – Serge, Moog, and his personal favorite, the Buchla. The first time I ever got to really work with a Buchla was sitting next to Joe at his house. I grew up with synths – the Modular Moog (Switched On Bach); keyboard-based analogs by Moog, Arp and Roland, the semi-modular ARP 2600, and others. But I never took to pure modular the way many people have, Joe among them. He could craft serious breathing vibrating sounds that were more than just interesting – they were electronic compositions. Joe showed me around the design and tech of the Buchla design, include circular sequences, optical gates (can you say “squelchy??’), voltage controlled LFOs and Envelope generators with cycles of up to 5 minutes (that’s WAY long – 15 seconds is considered long by most standards), and other goodies include a mysterious module called “the Source of Uncertainty”. Good times were had, and we even managed a performance or 2 of pure electronic music.


Joe with his twin Buchla 200s


Having spent 10 years touring together, there are a multitude of wild stories, most of which I will save for another time. Here are a few choice tidbits:

-At one show in Providence Rhode Island, Joe was feeling very much under the weather. In order to change his head and do the show, he stuck a piece of pizza into his pants. (This became known as the ‘Pizza in your pants’ incident.)

-As stated earlier, Joe would almost always drive us to and from shows, usually in a rented car. Sometimes we’d get out of these shows very late – 2, 3 am – and Joe would drive the 4 HOURS home after the gig. During one such drive, while the rest of us were literally asleep, I awoke to find we had pulled into a rest area on I95. Joe proceeded to get out of the car and RUN the circumference of the parking lot, in an effort to keep himself awake. I’ll never forget THAT image.

-Joe was also a huge fan of Comedy – he could quote comedians, knew quite a few good jokes and would say things that could have come straight from a standup routine. We would so often just fall out laughing.

-Star Trek was another connection we shared – I knew a ‘little too much’ about The Original Series and we would discuss it at length, partly how ridiculous it was – another well of laughter both at the world, and at ourselves.

-As mentioned earlier, Joe taught me the essence of “never take anything personally” – something I discovered in a book called “The 4 Directions” years later. Joe also introduced me to Bjork (through her album “Vespertine”) – something else that was to change the course of my musical life yet again.


It’s hard to quantify just how much of an influence and effect Joe had on my life. Suffice to say that I am a better person for having known and worked with him, and I shall always keep the memory of his warm smile and commanding presence alive in my heart. Goodspeed, Jeep.


  • Nail



When the Voyage of self discovery leads you…where, exactly?

I don’t remember exactly when, but at some point in the last decade or so I made a conscious decision to walk away from “progressive rock” as a composer and performer. So it was not without some trepidation when much to my surprise I suddenly found myself neck deep in the goings on at ProgStock 22.

Let me clarify things by starting off with the fact that Prog Rock was a HUGE part of my life and musical upbringing. I never did care for “regular rock and roll” when I was a teenager – boring, repetitive and “focused on guitars” (which as a keyboard player I just couldn’t get with).

Let’s back up a bit: As a young musician (age 11) in training, certian classical works were already wired in: Beethoven, Bach, Chopin, Stravinsky. In addition I listened to and readily absorbed whatever was on the radio. Some of the tracks that caught my ear were “Space “Race” (Billy Preston), “Crimson and Clover”, 2001: A space Odyssey”, and anything that had a synthesizer in it, a sound I fell in love with after hearing “Switched On Bach” at age 10. The Deodato arrangement of 2001 firmly fixed some of the foundations of jazz in my mind while simultaneously giving me the desire to try my hand at arranging. Those influences stuck – records like “White Rabbit” (George Benson) which was my introduction to the playing of Herbie Hancock, had made a big impression on me. Around this time someone gave me a copy of “Birds of Fire” but it was too advanced for me at the time and I didn’t understand what I was hearing. And although I had been introduced to Bird and Diz and Miles from a friend who was a big bebop fan, I couldn’t connect the dots just yet. A copy of LiveEvil (Miles Davis) also made it into my hands and was similarly dismissed. I just couldn’t dig it…yet.

2 years later (or so, you know how memory works): 1972/73 proved to be a big turning point. Someone gave me a copy of ELP’s record ‘Trilogy”. Now here was something that lit me up – it had serious jazz harmony, burning synthesizers and it ROCKED. Then at a party in South Nyack I saw the inside picture from the record jacket of “6 Wives of Henry the 8th” by Rick Wakeman. As I gazed at that picture I suddenly knew where my destiny lie. I needed to be doing THAT. Surrounded by keyboards. To be honest, I didn’t really care for the 6 Wives record…. (I loved Rick’s work on “Journey to the Center of the Earth” and “Tales From Topographic Oceans”, but I heard those later.)

The idea of being a keyboardist with multiple instruments checked a lot of boxes for me even in my 13 year old brain. The idea of keyboard orchestration established the keyboardist as an orchestral component. Crafting parts and arrangements was part of the game, and I could hear it being done on what I was listening to. Then the records started showing up en Masse: Tales from Topographic Oceans” was discovered in my mother’s record collection; “Headhunters” in my father’s. Tarkus, Sextant, Foxtrot, Spectrum and more made it into my personal regular rotation. Birds of Fire was finally appreciated for the masterpiece it was. Records like Abercrombie’s “Timeless”, Jarret’s Survivor’s Suite and Towner’s Solstice and others grafted themselves to my musical DNA expanding my musical palette and interests beyond reasonable limits.

Then another turning point, this one in 76 at the original laserium show: a tune I had never heard before had hands down the coolest synth solo I ever heard – Wakeman, Emerson, Banks, Moraz – great synth players all, no denying it – but to me in this moment, this was a profound revelation. The song was “I Remember Me” and the soloist was Jan Hammer. The combination of the sound of the synthesizer (including all the pitch bending and incredible articulation Hammer is known for) against the backdrop of truly modern harmony was next level shit. Have a listen:

“I Remember Me” [YouTube Link]

These and other influences (Pink Floyd, Bill Evans, Weather Report, Steve Reich, Herbie Hancock etc.) helped create my musical mindset. It should be noted however that absent from this list are the works of John Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix, Ornette Coleman, Duke Ellington, the Stones, the Beatles, and many other artists considered foundational by most people I talk to. I went back and rediscovered their work much later, but my own personal foundation was already cemented in. 

I remember being at a party in Queens NY when I was about 14 or 15. It was the first time I had ever seen a Hammond organ up close. Naturally I asked for a chance to play it; however I had no clue and no access to one on any kind of regular basis. At this same party someone insisted I listen to Jimi Hendrix. At the time it did nothing for me. How foolish that seems now…

I started my first official band in 1978 (or so, again that memory thing) and started writing music – really writing. Those early tunes of mine had all the influences – elements of Mahavishnu-esque uptempo odd time things, crunchy Crimson style rock, modern jazz and avant- garde free jazz. A little keyboard pyrotechnics thrown in for good measure a la ELP and I thought we couldn’t lose. The band evolved into what would be called “A. Animal”, and would run, with time off here and there, from 1981 thru 1994.

OF COURSE That’s when life happens, and those best laid plans get scrambled to bits. In the mid 80’s in NYC no one was remotely interested in what I was trying to do musically – ‘jazz fusion’ had become a dirty word, and besides our music started leaning towards more rock based stuff. When we finally made our one album “Overhaul” in 1990 we had included a cover of Jeff Beck’s “Freeway Jam” and a few originals that were decidedly in 4/4. We also had a couple of epics (“Reality in Check” was one such piece) and a series of pieces (Overhaul pts 1 & 2) that were an homage to Crimson’s ‘Larks Tongues in Aspic”. We had more planned for that series but we didn’t make it. That’s not the focus of this story, however.

I was at Progstock 2022 at the behest of my friend, the drummer/composer/bandleader and Mahavishnu Project founder Gregg Bendian. Gregg had been tapped to act as musical director for Rachel Flowers, a young woman of extraordinary talent. Rachel was slated to perform 3 of her original works. 1 was a piano trio in which she also played flute (she plays flute incredibly well), the 2nd was a rocker with lots of guest musicians (quite a lot of them, including myself on auxiliary keyboards) and the third an amazing piece for Piano, band and orchestra. Rachel created all the parts on the recording herself; I was tasked with transcribing the orchestral parts and rendering them into playable keyboard parts. (I should pause her to mention that Rachel is completely blind.)

Rachel was also going to perform “Tarkus” (ELP) complete and I was also responsible for setting up her synth rig – selecting gear for her to use, (a Moog Voyager was all that was available); programming the synth and it’s associated controller keyboard (the Voyger keyboard isn’t long enough to accomadate Keith Emerson’s parts, since they were originally played on a 6 octave modular keyboard), setting up a 2nd synth for sound effects (in place of a ribbon controller) and trigger all her patch changes in real time during the performance. As I said at the beginning, “Neck Deep”. I worked quite a bit – essentially 10 hours a day for 4 days – but it was extremely rewarding and exciting, especially working with the amazing Rachel Flowers who is even more amazing then I have words to convey. 

This re-immersion into the world of Prog Rock set me on a path of some serious soul searching and inward looking examination: I had moved away from Prog to align myself with Jazz Centric circles, but I couldn’t deny my prog roots, as they were inextricably linked to my classical music upbringing. It is worth noting that I spent a good 10 years in “The Machine“, that well known Pink Floyd Tribute, starting in 96 – long before I made my decision to turn definitively towards Jazz and away from Prog. Floyd was accepted in prog circles but was never really considered “true Prog” by official definitions, and I had many conversations with folks about this. It seems the term “Art-Rock” best described the Floydian genre. Of course Prog is actually a type of Art Rock, so the lines tend to get blurred….but again, while relevant, it is not the focus of this story. The focus of this story is a recent more thorough examination of my influences and how I am attempting to synthesize them into my own personal musical dialect.

So where am I now? Well, as I said my Progstock experience led me to re-examine my roots and my choices. In taking a closer look at what I tend to align myself with (and here I’m not even mentioning the giant catalog of ‘required listening” and historically significant artists and/or recordings) I find a lot of what my friend Dean Sharp calls the “Muscular” stuff; what I consider  “hardcore” fusion: Mahavishnu, RTF, The Jan Hammer Group, The Tony Williams Lifetime, Weather Report, Allen Holdsworth, The Headhunters, Shakti, and McLaughlin, plus certain records by Jeff Beck, Cobham, Herbie, etc etc. This is not a large body of work, and rarely do I come across “new entries”, but also there’s plenty that I love that fits outside this self imposed categorical limitation – pianist Bill Evans, guitarists Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell, John Abercrombie and Ralph Towner, Brian Eno, Keith Jarret, minimalism a la Steve Reich, Phillip Glass, Terry Riley and others; more modern artists like Squarepusher & Bjork, and too many other artists in multiple genres to mention. What I have found is that there are certain elements in common across artists whose work really speaks to me. Among these elements are contemporary harmony (both modern classical and post bop jazz), flexible time signatures (5/4, 7/8, etc, drawing a lot from indian classical music), a combination of acoustic and electronic sounds (including use of loops and other devices), soundscapes, synthesizers and a demonstration of craft and an understanding of how a sonic “space” can trigger an altered state of consciousness (for me Zawinul and Wayne Shorter accomplish this by combining electronic keyboards with deliberate playing). All of these elements, consciously or unconsciously, inform my own personal musical direction – whether it be with NAIL, solo as Nail Jung or when composing for the X Ensemble

But it is only when confronted with my past obsessions and prior choices does a clearer picture of my trajectory, often obscurred, come into some focus. I’m always at work trying to sort things out for myself, and my recent experience at Progstock was an opportunity to really step back and observe: What do I define as my personal musical language? As 2022 comes to a close, with the craziness of the last 2 years (pandemic, insurrection, #metoo, #blm, etc) and the global uncertianly caused by the growing climate crisis, the humanitarian crises in many parts of the world and now the war in Ukraine, this quesion I ask of myself is more urgent than ever. 

Art & life, if nothing else, are profound voyages of self discovery. And as journeys go, “one foot in front of the other”.


If you’ve made it this far then many thanks for listening, and best wishes for 2023. 

  • NAIL

Solve for “X”

So here we are: 2016 almost gone, but it feels a little like spring….

First off, I haven’t written a serious blog post in quite some time. Because, you know, I’m “busy” – doing “things“. Like writing and performing music. Or programming synthesizers. Or driving. (I do a lot of driving, for those who are wondering.) Pretty much constantly. Write? Words???

But in actuality I’ve got quite a lot I’ve been wanting to write about. In fact, my wordpress dashboard is littered with drafts – those “wait, I’ve got an idea…!” , fits and starts that don’t get finished but sit on a digital shelf somewhere….and then I’m off. But the ideas are waiting. In fact I’ve got actual notebooks full of ideas. Too many for one lifetime, it seems… but I digress. I’m here, and I’m writing this now. 

When my pops told me at age 7 that Mozart wrote his first symphony at age 7, I thought “I can do that!”. And of course at age 7 I fully believed it, putting pen to manuscript paper and writing…something. I remember that at least. I tried my hand at writing a few things here and there. Piano solos mostly, some guitar, and not on paper. Just things I’d make up & remember.

The first big thing I remember trying to write was when I was 14. Inspired by a paperback copy of Clifford D. Simak’s Sci-Fi collection “City”, and thoroughly influenced by prog rock concept albums (this was 1974, after all) I began work – once again, in memory only – on a 20 minute epic entitled – you guessed it – “City”, about a band of intergalactic travelers who on some world or other come upon an enormous abandoned city, many thousands of years old, and their adventures exploring it. Needles to say it was never finished, and I can remember not one note of it.

It’s also important to note at this time that in addition to “Prog” and it’s rich fantasy life I also grew up with classical music and listened to the radio. One of the things that influenced me from the radio around 1972 was Deodato’s jazzy funky arrangement of “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” (more commonly known as the music to Kubrick’s 2001: a space odyssey). I was stricken by the desire to write horn parts, and indeed I did – writing and arranging material for my high school jazz big band in 9th grade, at age 13. Special thanks most be given of course to my incredible HS Music Teacher Burt Hughes, a Nyack NY fixture for many years. When people say the fondly remember or loved a teacher who profoundly influenced their lives, this is what they’re talking about.

So against this backdrop, with many other musical things going on – too many to mention, and way more than I can remember – when I turned 18 I figured it was time to start my own band. And we were gonna need some music. This time I did use manuscript paper, and wrote a whole slew of tunes, some of which are still performed today. At the time I was fascinated by the Mahavishnu Orchestra and free Jazz as played by Ornette and others, and still very much in the grip of Prog rock and classical. The band became known as “A. Animal” in the coming years. The challenge was finding cats who could shift between all the different styles. FYI: That’s STILL the challenge.

The thing is although I never formally studied composition I listened to compositions – a sort of informal study – and tried to understand things from my skewed and fiercely independent perspective. And I kept writing. And writing. All manner of things. Music for Dance (since 1982); Avant Garde Theater (since 1983); and ensembles of various sizes. And in many different styles: Trying to reconcile my diverse influences was sometimes as confusing to me as it undoubtedly appears to those who don’t know me that well. It’s difficult to see the whole picture at once.

Influenced almost in equal parts by Classical, Minimalism, Post-Bop Jazz, Punk Rock, Prog rock, Jazz Fusion, Pop (I credit my lovely wife Nita with hipping me to the art of the Popular song, and because of her have developed a sincere appreciation for “certain things”), Ambient and Electronica as well as the avant grade (Stockhausen? Subotnick? Autechre?), I have chosen to try and squeeze all these things together into something new, something which is my own. And while all these things don’t fit into everything I write, if you scratch below the surface you might hear something unexpected…

What’s the point of all this? October 15th I have a unique opportunity. I’ll be presenting some work in a show at the Ritz Theater in Newburgh NY (where my family & I have been residing for the last 17+ years). Some of these compositions have never made it to the stage. Things that I wrote for projects, or choreographers, or friends, or because I damn well felt like it. It feels sometimes like not too many people know the full breadth of what I actually do. I flip back and forth between original groups (like NAIL), or traditional jazz quartets, or funk outfits or music for dance, and those audiences generally do not overlap. So I’m truly excited and thrilled to have a place to put this diverse concert up. With me will be some amazing players, some old friends, some new – but all open minded, ready to embrace the diversity of music as a whole. They are:

  • Peter Furlan (sax)
  • Peter Brendler (bass)
  • Nadav Snir-Zelniker (drums)
  • Mark Frankel (percussion, marimba)
  • Daniel Frankhuizen (cello)
  • Rachel Evans (viola)
  • Cynthia Ligenza (violin)
  • Fung Chern Hwei (violin)

With special guests Tom Reese (flute & pennywhistle) and Mona Toscano (spoken word).

As the music varies in style and texture, so does the orchestration. Some pieces will be performed by a traditional Jazz quartet; others, by strings and percussion; others still with electronic instruments. The ensemble is variable – and thus represented as “X”.  It  seemed only fitting to christen this new collection of musicians & music the “X Ensemble”. (also the name jumped out at me because I keep the scores in a folder called “extended ensemble”).

I must say I’m completely thrilled to premiere these works and this new group. It’s been a long road the “here” – to unity & integration. I suspect there’s a ways to go yet, but this certainly feels like a milestone. I hope you can join us.


P.S. Here’s a great preview of the show written by our good friend and incredible songwriter John Burdick. John leads the New Paltz based “Sweet Clementines“, who I consider to be one of the best local bands out there. See them when you can.


Deke – Part 1

Jim Decrescenzo, "Deke" - 1958- 2014

Jim Decrescenzo, “Deke” – 1958- 2014

A Long Overdue Concert for an Old Friend Gone Too Soon 

Hi folks –

I’m starting a series of posts here chronicling the preparation for and performance of a memorial concert for my friend Jim Decrescenzo, who passed away Sept 5th of this year at the age of 56.

I’ve known Jim since I was 19 or so (actually, it’s a bit hazy), and he, Lou Magliente & I formed the basis of what was to become my first and longest running band, “A. Animal“.

Deke was a brilliant cat, and a real down to earth guy. The kind of guy who’d give you the shirt off his back if he thought you needed it. For the last 18 years or so he’s been living in Woodstock NY, making a name for himself as an expert woodworker and craftsman. But what most of hinds friends don’t know (or at least I don’t think they know – I can’t actually say because I haven’t met most his current friends) was that Jim was an AMAZING composer & musician. In or around 1981, Jim chose to give up music. His wonderful compositions were never performed. Now with his his passing and the blessing of his family, I have undertaken the task of performing Jim’s music in concert. This concert is happening in Woodstock NY on Wednesday November 19th – a memorial concert, if you will. The stellar band (handpicked by me – yes, I’m blowing my own horn here) includes musicians I know Jim would have appreciated – Brian Mooney (bass); Jason Furman (drums), Chad McLoughlin (guitar). Some of Jim’s tunes require more than 4 musicians, and for those pieces we’ll be joined by Ted Orr (guitar) and longtime friend Steve Rust (bass). Plus there’s 2 vocal tunes which I will be singing. All together there are 7 tunes – 5 instrumental and 2 vocal – and including such old favs as “The Sorcerer’s Ranch”, “Box 555”, “Trainride” and “Pines”. (If you low these tunes, believe me – you’ll want to hear them live.)

First rehearsal of Jimmy Deke's music, with Jason Furman, Brian Mooney, Chad McLoughlin and Neil Alexander

First rehearsal of Jimmy Deke’s music, with Jason Furman, Brian Mooney, Chad McLoughlin and Neil Alexander

When Jim gave up music he handed me a folder of his handwritten scores – they were exact & beautiful, s Jim was also learning music copying.  I kept these scores safe until I saw Jim again in 2005, almost 25 years later. I did see Jim once in the 1990’s – before our daughter was born – and knew then he had become a woodworker and had a child of his own. But it was very brief, and we lost touch again. In the interim, around 2001, I decided to produce one of Jim’s tunes, because 1) I loved his music and 2) it’s a great tune. Here’s a rough mix on Soundcloud:

When I finally did reconnect with Jim, we rekindled our friendship and although I tried to help him get back into music, he wasn’t able to find his way back…

In addition to his scores, there were the tapes: All of his tunes he had recorded and a Tascam 3440 4 track reel to reel. I had mix downs of his tracks on cassette tapes, which I’ve been holding on to for decades.  When I got in touch with Jim’s family, they expressed to me that they wanted to be able to distribute CD’s of Jim’s music to give out at the memorial concert. I agreed to take the tapes, have them transferred to digital, mix master & produce the, That’s still in progress as I write this.

In part 2 I will talk about the completion of the process. When the CD’s are done I will make them available for download via Bandcamp. Stay tuned for that.

Part 2 coming soon. As Always, thanks for reading. 🙂