MUSICIAN’S CONCERT ONLINE PROGRAM

So – I’ve moved this post to it’s own PAGE, in order to maintian some semblance of organization (whatever THAT is). And now we can get on with other more blog-y posts, like part 2 of the Tribute Band thing, or tech notes, or… you get the idea.

– Neil

My Experiences in a Tribute Band, Part 1: All the way ‘Round

(For a more detailed history of the Tribute Band phenomenon, visit the Wikepedia site here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tribute_bands)

Neil with The Machine in NY CIty

Once upon a time, there were bands. Bands that broke BIG – we’re talking tremendously, phenomenomly big. Huger than huge. Bands like…. Led Zepplin… The Beatles… Pink Floyd… Van Halen…. The Police… (insert favorite GIANT rockstar band name here). As time went on, concert ticket prices for these groups reached astronomical levels – assuming you could get a ticket at all. It didn’t happen in all cases; and there was certainly a time in every band’s life when it could be seen for cheap, before they broke really really big.
But then, the unthinkable happened: the group broke up (curse them…)!, or simply stopped touring, or (as previously mentioned) became prohibitively epensive. And this created a vacuum, a “hole in space” (one of my favorite phrases).

Now during the time these bands were producing their primary body of work, young musicians (like…myself!) were learning how to play. Although some of these newbies focused on their originality, hordes and hordes of us learned by imitation: by learning the songs, licks, and the playing styles of the folks we listened to.

I remember clearly when “Dark Side of the Moon” came out – I learned the whole record, learned about echo tricks used, about arranging… it was the moment in which I said ‘THIS is what I want to do with my life – to be a musician, make records, etc’ “

In my own musical coming of age, I was devoted to performing original music and have since I started my first group “A. Animal” in 1978. But I had learned – and still know – many hundreds of songs by other bands – and not limited to rock (the Pat Metheny Group album is one in particular).

Playing songs we knew was always great fun, especially if everyone knew them. You could play lots of music with little or no rehearsal, or effort of any kind. Mostly we played this stuff for ourselves; I have plenty of old cassettes of us playing tunes like “Larks Tounges part 2” (King Crimson), “Arriving UFO” (Yes),”Dogs” (Pink Floyd), or even things like Stratus (Billy Cobham) or “Timeless” (John Abercrombie). We knew these songs and would play them for fun at parties, and work some of them into our setlists on gigs.

Meanwhile I had to earn a living: I started playing dance classes (which I continue to this day), and eventually got into a wedding band in 1990 (I left the wedding band in 95 before I got truly sick at heart). A. Animal finally disbanded in 1994… Around the same time I responded to an ad – for a keyboard player – in a (hmmm…) Pink Floyd Tribute Band called “The Machine”. Well, I needed work, plus I knew I could do that gig with my eyes closed. So I answered the ad. They asked me one question: “Do you have a sampler?” At the time, I did not. They didn’t pay very much (less then the wedding band, by more than 1/2), so I let it go and started to look for other things. (I also started working on my 1st solo CD “Alone At Last”, but that’s another story…)

Then, about a year after that I got a phone call from the Machine, wanting to know if I was still interested. I said yes, a session was arranged, and I spent the next 10 years touring with these gentlemen, and learning more about the music biz then I think you could ever learn elsewhere.

PART 2: A 10 year tour and more…

My 1st Audio upload to WordPress: A Midnight Xmas Rendering

Well, had to figure this out at some point. If I wanted to upload an audio file, and not into my standard site player; not on myspace or facebook etc., can I do it here? Let’s find out….

….a passage of time…..

OK – it’s 4 days later. I have poked and peeked; found sensitive areas on my server site where delicate adjustments needed to be made, and Presto! I can now post reasonably sized MP3 audio clips within my blog posts. To this end, I will now post my first offering: “God Bless Ye Merry Gentleman”, recorded at midnight Christmas night. I am not religous (at least not that way) but I have always enjoyed this traditional song. Besides, several of my friends – notably Paul Mitchell and Dan Johanson – posted lovely “audio e-cards”, and inspired me to do the same.

SNAFU, it always takes me days what it seems to take minutes for others. So, 4 days late, here is my midnight rendition of “God Bless Ye Merry Gentleman”. Please enjoy. Comments ALWAYS welcome. Happy Holidaze.

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

The Grand Diversity

Another Startling year in music comes to a close (nearly). A quick overview of 2008…
In the Big theater at the PAC for the SUNY Purchase nutcracker warmup class

In the Big theater at the PAC for the SUNY Purchase nutcracker warmup class

What an amazing year it’s been, fer sure. Started with some of my compositions selected for a dance being performed in Singapore, choreographed by one of our Conservatory faculty, Stephanie Tooman. She chose 3 pieces from my back catalog; I edited the tracks together and the piece was performed in May. Around the same time I was called in to do a last minute editing job for another faculty choreographer, the wonderful Kevin Wynn. He was working with music by composer Tania Leon for the Purchase Dance Corps Spring Show, and needed editing. It ended up as a killer 20 minute remix. Tania was thrilled and hired me to do live vocal remixing on an upcoming project (currently on hold due to finances).

In March I also performed in something called “Downtown Cabaret”, which is a live performance/art festival featuring folks from all parts of SUNY Purchase. I wrote music for 2 choreographers, one of which was perfomed live by myself on computer and synth.

Neil's computer rig

Neil's computer rig

The trend of working with choreography students continues – I’ve done quite a few this year alone, probably more than I’ve done in the 17 years I’ve ben there. One of those pieces was a Steve Reich-style composition for 4 marimbas, piano and percussion. I performed it live with a piano, syntheszer and prerecorded tracks.

In July I was hired by Lane Gifford to write and produce original music and remixes for a piece in the Fringe Festival in NYC, which recieved rave reviews. I also got a chance to collaborate with my longtime partner Nita Rae on some punk rock-ish music that she wrote for another choreographer, Ofelia Loret de Mola. This piece (Available Space) was performed in NYC for an entire week, outdoors in City Hall Park across the street from the Brooklyn Bridge. Some very strange coincedental things happened around that performance, to numerous to go into here.

We decided to call it "Kildoza"...

We decided to call it "Kildoza"...

The Dance portion of the program wraps with me being hired again to make music for the Singapore exchange project. This time it’s original music for Piano, Cello, and prerecorded sounds.

In another universe closely intersecting with the one just described, I’ve been doing a ton of jazz gigs. That’s right, the all acoustic “straight ahead” variety, culminating with my being in the house band for the Peekskill Jazz Jam session hosted by Bob Meyer, for 11 weeks in a row. I’ve been playing jazz for a long time, but over 11 weeks I’ve personally reached new and fantastic musical heights I had only dreamed of before, never having the right circumstances to “go the distance” as I knew I could. It’s been extraordinarily wonderful. Bob and bassist John “X” Ray are the real deal, having played with everyone from Woody Herman and Buddy Rich to Joe Lovano and John Abercrombie (to name a few). We’re talking serious shit here, folks.

Also back in March I joined the Mahavishnu Project. I’ve only done 4 shows with them so far, but all tremendously fun, exciting and challenging. Great music & musicians; I”ve written about them in previous posts. There will be more shows in the future.

And of course, NAIL continues. We played fewer shows in 2008, but they were BETTER. The band continues to exceed my expectations. Now with the addition of Markus Payne Management, we’re putting our energies into breaking into the international Jazz Festival Circuit for 09. I’m putting 110% of my energy into this – it will happen.

Current Press Pic by George Dubose
Current Press Pic by George Dubose

Many other things have happened along the way, and continue to happen. Since leaving The Machine, it’s been a slow ramp up and a long time coming – but the flood gates have been opened. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I Love you all – take care of yourselves.

– Neil

Ask Me Again, I’ll tell you the same

From our 9/28/08 show at Keegan Ales in Kingston NY, it’s the first of 3 clips I’ve gotten up on YouTube. This is “Ask Me Again”, a relatively new tune (last 6 months). It crosses the line between rock and jazz in what is to me a very appealing way; the backbeat is strong, even with the many time signature changes, and the harmony is all “post-bop”. In my mind it walks the line between Joe Zawinul and Alan Holdsworth, showing what those two giants have in common. Steller performances from Charlie & Nadav make this a standout. We also had fun hooking up the s-video output of the laptop into the bar’s projector, and viola! Instant light show.

Thanks for watching. I will post some “serious” stuff soon, for real. Lots going on, the big thing of which was spending a month looking for a car (which we found, yesterday). Enjoy, and thanks!

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4tHi_RHoW8M

The stage at last night’s show: 9/27, Benji & Jakes

The stage from Benji & Jakes. I suppose someone should actually take a picture of us PLAYING. That would be novel.

A Moment, With Rain

A moment, with rain. Cue Music: “Story From A Stranger”, by Pat Metheny. I’m home… it’s raining. My cat is curled up by my side, next to the laptop on my desk. Very different then the day that was supposed to be. But, we all know (or should) – that change is the way.

I’m gonna keep this short, because I’ve enough to do with emails, etc – and an unexpected free day.

I was supposed to get on an 8:30 am train to NYC this morning, to do a performance called “Available Space”. This show is up all this week (expect thursday) at 12:30, and next week (sat-sun-mon) at 8 pm. Choreographed by Ofelia Loret de Mola, it is a fantastic conglomeration of dance, live music, spoken word, and more. It’s a little hard to describe; check out the Danscores website for more info. We spent about a month making the music, after the original musicians had to cancel last minute.

It gets more complicated….

This is about the spider web – the “web of connections”, remarkable and otherwise, in which we are all entangled to some degree. The amount of connections that have shown up in my life recently borders on staggering. I’m still reeling a little from the last few weeks of people coming together, people from radically different points/times of my life, some of whom are connected in other surprising ways. It spirals around and around, a veritable vortex of people and events. Perhaps I should assemble a time line, to track just how convoluted and interesting this has become. I ‘ll work on that. But for now….

The “Available Space” performance is all consuming; it’s long hours, but great work; no money, but great satisfaction and “visibility”. In addition, when I got the call I was busy with another project. The opportunity arose for Nita Rae, my wonderful wife, to write the music (I was asked for punk/alternative – something Nita does quite naturally, have played in the NY scene for years prior to when we first met in 1985). She would write the music, and I would put the band together to perform it live with the dancers.

Even with the lack of pay, the opportunity was a good one, for both of us. It’s a well publicized event, covered by the NY Times, Village Voice, etc. Cool. I called our old friend and guitarist Jesse Martin, whom I used to jam with all the freakin’ time and whom I have not played with in years at this point, to play guitar. Our drummer is Emily Willis, the 21 year old daughter of Mary Stark, who also has a daughter named Sharon – one of my daughter Rebecca’s best friends.

This is where it starts to get interesting…. because Sharon (and her twin brother Michael) went to a school run by Barbara Sarbin, the wife of my long long longtime former bass player, Conrad De La Cruz (from my first and longest running band, “A. Animal”).

From here it begins to spiral out of control. Available Space is part of a festival called “Celebrate Mexico Now“. It so happens that the director of this festival is someone else I used to know – Claudia Nicolau, the wife of Carlo Nicolau, an incredible violinist and composer I used to hang out with 12 years ago – and haven’t seen in at least a decade. She showed up yesterday to see if the Neil Alexander in the program was the person she used to know.

Why are all these things coming together now?

Why ask why?

At a recent dinner at Mary’s house, with Nita, myself, Conrad and Barbara, a spider began building a web on my head (we were eating outside). Mary referenced this to an animal totem, and found this quote:

Spiders are very delicate creatures that play an important role in the myths and lore of many peoples as the teacher of balance between the past and future, the physical and spiritual. To the Native Americans, Spider is Grandmother, the link to the past and future. In India it’s associated with Maya, the weaver of illusions.

With its gentle strength, Spider spins together the threads of life with intricate webs. Spider knows that the past affects the future and vise versa. It calls us to make use of our creativity and weave our dreams into our destiny.

For many Native Americans, “spider woman” stories are important creation mythologies. One of the common feature of those are wisdom symbolized with spiders’ webs (for example, she taught the human how to weave). Also generally accepted are the ideas that her “thread” connects the human world and the world of spirits or the “above world” and the “below world”. Spider Woman also weaves the “relationship” of the Web of Life and all beings.

“In the beginning, there was the dark purple light at the dawn of being. Spider Woman spun a line to form the east, west, north, and south. Breath entered man at the time of the yellow light. At the time of the red light, man proudly faced his creator. Spider Woman used the clay of the earth, red, yellow, white, and black, to create people. To each she attached a thread of her web which came from the doorway at the top of her head. This thread was the gift of creative wisdom. Three times she sent a great flood to destroy those who had forgotten the gift of her thread. Those who remembered floated to the new world and climbed to safety through the Sipapu Pole the womb of Mother Earth.”

Um, ok.

Perhaps related, or perhaps not, I am going to take a moment to commemorate the 20th anniversary of my father’s death. I get the feeling he’s had a hand in all this, or is at least enjoying it. I miss you, dad. I’d like to think you’d be proud of me.

Love ya all –

the NAIL

  • Available Space flyer front
  • Available Space flyer front
  • Mahavishnu Project at Trinumeral Festival

    Just a quickie post – here’s a vid clip I came across on YouTube of the Mahavishnu Project – with yours truly on keys – at the Trinumeral Festival out of Ashville NC, on 8/8/08. Crazy scene, but big fun! It’s a short clip, but ties in to the whirlwind life I’ve been living for the past few months. So much going on – here’s a little glimpse into the madness….

    Gregg Bendian – drums;

    Jonathan Kreisberg – guitar;

    Brad Jones, Bass;

    Zach Brock – violin;

    Neil Alexander – keys

    Enjoy –

    Love ya!

    httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VUeelB2e-N0

    Goodbye to a dear friend

    This is about someone I knew. Someone I cared about, someone who sometimes drove me crazy, made me mad, made me feel compassion, made me laugh, who loved me no matter what, who just wanted to always be with me; someone who helped make me whole.
    This is about our dog.
    Her name was Missy. Not our choice – she came that way. She was a rescue.
    We live in the City if Newburgh, NY. This city has a problem (to be saved for another post, for sure). The result is, a lot of displaced people, pain, poverty. We happen to live next door to a couple of apartment buildings, one right next to us (smaller) and one on the corner. There are some good families there, and some transient folk – some more trouble than others. Most of the ones know are in the closer, smaller building.
    One of the transients was a woman (who’s name I can’t even remember). She was sent to jail; Missy, as a puppy, was abandoned in her apartment.
    Finally, one of the other families in the building broke her out. That same day, the whole building next door (the smaller one) was having one of their many summer barbecue parties in the front yard of the building. (We’ve always been invited, though we’ve never attended.) I think my daughter was 3 or 4 at the time.
    Anyway, story goes (I was actually out of town at the time) she leans over the fence and says to the neighbors “we’re going to get a dog someday!” and the neighbors, in their infinite wisdom, said – pointing at Missy – “take this one. She’s free.” They handed her over the fence to my wife.
    And so began our 8 year relationship.
  • Our dog as a youngin' -
  • Our dog as a youngin’ –
  • At First she was so scared, she would stand behind us, so that as we turned around she would shuffle around so as to be invisible. Over the years, she proved to be a LOT to handle. I tried to train her to walk off the leash, and got pretty far, too. But this was my first dog, and I had (and probably still have) no clue.

    Super high energy, “high maintenance” as was said. But a fierce protector – heaven help the poor soul who tried to open my front door, or even the front gate!

    At First she was so scared, she would stand behind us, so that as we turned around she would shuffle around so as to be invisible. Over the years, she proved to be a LOT to handle. I tried to train her to walk off the leash, and got pretty far, too. But this was my first dog, and I had (and probably still have) no clue.

    Super high energy, “high maintenance” as was said. But a fierce protector – heaven help the poor soul who tried to open my front door, or even the front gate!

    Becky & Missy

    Becky & Missy

    One of her favorite things to do was to tear around the yard at what had to be 50 miles per hour, challenging me to catch her. She would play in the snow till she couldn’t stand any more, paws freezing, and still she was ready for more. She lived life to the fullest possible for her…

    We tried, and for the most part unless it was too hot or cold, took her everywhere with us. We found dog friendly camp grounds, hotels. Even my sister in law’s place, where she was not welcome at first…. but surely as eggs is eggs, she worked her way into your heart.

    She would bark at visitors for what seemed like hours. When people were here, she had to be on the couch, along with everyone.

    She had a tremendous vocabulary and could recognize what seemed like 200 words. She would vocalize, making sounds that sounded like “walk:, out”, “baseball”, and more.

    I could go on and on….. but I’ll stop here.

    She will be missed.

    Dog|God – coincidence? I don’t think so. Not any more.

    -NAIL

    Wonder Wheel

    Whirlwind! Working day and night; tons of gigs, etc. Fried. Can’t stop.

    Meanwhile…..

    Posted an old video…. “Wonder Wheel” from 2005. Seeing as how our old friend and drummer Mike “Leroy” Bram has sorta hit the big time with Jason Mraz, I thought I’d post this clip of him playing…with us.

    Here it is:

    httpv://youtube.com/watch?v=N5C89mUxw38

    Also in this band are Joe Pelletier (bass), Steve Sacco (percussion); and Chris Hanson (turntables). A funk extravaganza. Just picture the giant Ferris Wheel in London. I think there used to be one in Coney Island actually called the “Wonder Wheel”.

    More posts soon…really.

    Love ya –

    – NAIL