Stolen Moments

Growing up near Buffalo, NY, and being a musician and budding jazz fan, I of course stumbled upon Jazz FM 91, out of Toronto.  The local NPR station did (and still does) have jazz on at certain times, but the Canadian station had music on almost constantly.  There was the occasional BBC news break, and there were morning shows and other programs with on-air personalities you would get to know, but you could almost always tune in and get music.

The music mix on this station is interesting.  They of course play what you’d expect, including the likes of Miles Davis and John Coltrane, and other artists throughout the history of jazz.  There was also a fair helping of newer music, both from established artists as well as up-and-comers.  And of course, they played a fair amount of Canadian jazz, including musicians based out of Toronto area.  In fact, being a local station to that area and including so much of the associated goings-on, just by listening I actually felt closer to that fair city.  Over the years I had traveled there to visit on different occasions, but thanks to their local jazz station I actually started to feel like I knew it on another level.

The 2000s saw me based around the Buffalo area in some capacity, high school for the first half, then back now and then from college in Rochester.  I tuned to the station when I could, primarily over the air when in range but over the Internet when away.  My listening waned some due in part to Rochester having a great jazz station itself, but it didn’t stop completely.  Sometime in the later part of that decade I stumbled upon Stolen Moments, a show on Friday nights from 10 PM to 1 AM.  It consisted of three hours of music (in half-hour sets) selected by the host, David Basskin, and began and ended with Oliver Nelson’s Stolen Moments, its theme and namesake.  I don’t remember when it was that I first discovered this show, but I found myself making an effort to seek it out each week.  I wouldn’t say I never missed one, but I almost always made an effort to tune in.

The premise of the show was to play what might be considered lesser-known or obscure tracks, maybe not necessarily outside the mainstream of jazz, but certainly ones more within the domain of someone approaching jazz buff status.  Listening was a useful way to discover new artists; for instance, I first heard Hampton Hawes through this program.  Often times David would play a track that was previously unreleased, or that had been released decades ago but faded into obscurity.  Sometimes he had a piece with unusual instrumentation, and once in a while he’d even play a classical piece.

This isn’t to say that the whole show consisted of music never heard before.  In fact, artists such as Oscar Peterson, Chick Corea, and Pat Metheny came up frequently, as did Joey DeFrancesco.  David would even play Steely Dan now and then, being a self-professed fan.  It was this mixture that kept me listening – the show was curated.  You could discover new music by listening to it, yet in a familiar setting.  You got to know the host, and you knew that by listening there was a good chance you’d come upon something you liked.

This past Friday, June 15th, I tuned in as I usually did.  This time, I caught the first part in my car on my way back to Buffalo for Father’s Day weekend.  I didn’t catch the beginning of the show, but listened for an hour or so.  At home, I caught the final hour online.  To my surprise, David announced that this was in fact the last time that the show would air, before signing off by letting the theme play in its entirety.

I was a little shocked.  I checked the station’s website, only to find that the block had been changed to a normal music block in the schedule.  I poked around some more and found out that the station had apparently been going through some trouble, and had let several of its hosts go, including David Basskin.

I can’t really speak for what happened over there, but I am sad to see this show go off the air.  I can still point Rhythmbox to their stream and hear a lot of great music, but I could get this through one of the popular streaming services, or I could just put together a playlist from my own music collection.  It’s even worth searching Youtube now and then.  But the show itself gave me a personal connection, one that I will miss.

Of course, it had to come to an end, and again, the station is still there.  And the truth is, there are other stations out there, and other interesting shows – I hadn’t really bothered looking for an alternate.  Not because I thought I’d never need one, just because it hadn’t occurred to me to listen for one.  I suppose I’ll start looking, but Friday nights will never be the same.

Jazz Camp 2011

Last night I returned home from a week in Louisville, KY.  I posted before about attending the Jamey Aebersold Summer Jazz Workshop, and having attended a second time it’s worth mentioning again that it is an amazing experience.  The faculty is amazing, and perform for you every night of the workshop as well as during lunch.  The theory classes are very helpful, as are the master classes.  The best part, of course, is playing in a combo for a week, which is led by one of the faculty.  Overall I highly recommend it if you are a musician and want to learn Jazz, or just improve your skills.

Anyway, I did of course take pictures.  They’re not great, but here are a few:

Fun With Jack and Pulseaudio

So, recently my Focusrite Saffire Pro 10 came in the mail.  It’s a decent firewire interface, with 8 mic preamps.  And, it’s supported by FFADO in Linux.  This, along with Ardour and Jack will make a nice little studio whether for just me by myself or with a band.  Not to mention that with a laptop it’s great for recording shows.  Getting it to work in Linux was a little interesting at first, and may be the subject of a future post.  Long story short, I used the old firewire stack, made sure I could write to the /dev/raw1394 device, and then basically turned the interface on and off and I could start using it.  Well, it works well now…

Anyway, now a new adventure was beginning as I started messing with Jack.  (There’s a lot of dirt on Linux audio floating around, so don’t be afraid to Google and/or comment.)  Now, I usually have at least two sound cards in my main computer: the normal, somewhat-crappy onboard card, and something a little better for recording with.  Previous to the Saffire this second card was an M Audio Delta 44 (also a nice interface, with good Linux support).  The Saffire doesn’t connect  through ALSA (unlike the Delta 44; it uses FFADO), but nonetheless it is my designated “recording” interface, for when I want to make something that kind of sounds nice.  The nifty thing about this is that it allows two systems, the crappy onboard card (for normal desktop stuff like listening to music or watching crap on YouTube), and the Saffire+Jack+Ardour+whatever tangle to be used for recording.  In fact, I can use these two at the same time without problems.  However, when you have multiple things on your computer that can input and output sound, after a while it becomes tempting to route between things.

For desktop stuff I, like most Linux users, use the Pulseaudio daemon.  (Lots of people have complained about this, especially when it was first being introduced.  However, it is very nice for desktop audio.)  This works with the onboard card fine.  But, what if I want to use the Saffire for my desktop audio?  Or, what if I want to do something like play the output of Ardour into Skype (which uses Pulseaudio)?  Or, even just play something from Jack out my main computer speakers (crappy onboard)?  In my case, this started when I wanted to play with NetJack (an awesome feature of Jack, I might add), and stream music from my desktop to another Jack daemon on my laptop – which only has one sound card.  Which is also used by Pulseaudio.

Just so we’re clear, here’ s a picture of what I spent a good portion of the other night trying to make work:

Basically, I wanted to set up the Ethernet transport for Jack, but to do this I also wanted to be able to send audio from Jack to Pulse on the laptop.  I could stop Pulseaudio and let Jack take over, but I’d rather not.  So, I will say this right now, for anyone Googling: What I want to do is route Jack through Pulseaudio.  NOT route Pulseaudio through Jack.  IE, Jack is a secondary function on the laptop.  There are tons of guides for having pulse not use a physical sound device but play through Jack; this was not the intent – though you can achieve much of the same functionality.  In fact, the setup is almost the same.

Basically, the key lies in setting Jack up as a source and/or sink for Pulseaudio.  The best way to do this, it seems, is to use the aptly-named module-jack-source and module-jack-sink modules in Pulseaudio.  I was able to load them like this ($ being the prompt):

$ pactl load-module module-jack-source

$ pactl load-module module-jack-sink

Actually, for my setup I only did the first line.  I just wanted to have Jack appear as a source to Pulseaudio, as I just wanted to play music.  Now, to just pass through Pulseaudio, you’ll want another module, which will let you connect a source and a sink…  In this case, we are going to connect the Jack source to our normal ALSA sink, the laptop’s sound card:

$ pactl load-module module-loopback

With this loaded, in Ubuntu I opened pavucontrol (Applications -> Sound & Video -> Pulseaudio Volume Control).  Under the Recording tab, I set Show: to All Streams, and then the loopback device presented itself.  with an option to pick a source to loopback from.  Just pick the Jack source.  Then, under Playback, again you would pick All Streams, and now you can control the volume of the loopback.  And that’s that.

Using this, you can route audio from Jack applications into Pulseaudio, and vice-versa.  With Netjack, you can even go across hosts.  (On a side note, if you just want to say play back from Rhythmbox on a different computer, Pulseaudio does have networking built in, so you don’t need Jack.  But if you’re using Jack, this is nice.)  You can even go between sound cards, or between hosts as we saw here.  There is more latency with what I described, of course (mostly from the networking, I think, but combining two audio servers probably contributes too), but it’s a handy setup to be able to have.

Fever Dreams Back Up

But I don’t like to visit the fan sites because there’s something creepy about the whole thing to me. I remember when I was a kid I was a big jazz fan and later on there were a few popular singers and groups I liked but I was always interested in the music; I never made a fetish out of their personal lives. I never really got that, you know? I appreciate whatever they do to keep the interest in the band and all that sort of thing but it’s really not part of my world.

–Donald Fagen, found here somewhere.

If you’re a fan of Steely Dan, it’s fairly likely that at some point you’ve pondered over the subject matter of their lyrics.  Well, at one point sometime back in the 90s someone created a Website for doing just that.  Called Fever Dreams (, I think, now defunct), its collection of mailing list posts and odd essays from various sources was interesting, to say the least.  Sometime in the last couple of years, however, it went down.

Actually, that hadn’t been the first time.  I had located a mirror at another URL (hosted somewhere at domain), which was actually the incarnation of the site I was familiar with.  However this too went down eventually.  But anyway, I recently decided to pull the site off the Wayback Machine (which was kind of slow, and didn’t really turn up in any searches thus making it harder to find) and mirror it.  So, here it is:

Now, I had to rearrange some of the links and pull some stuff out of the pages (Perl can be very helpful), and here and there there may be some broken links and missing bits and whatnot, but mostly it is intact.  I should also point out that I was never involved in the original creation of the site; it is not my work originally.  I am happy to host this for the time being, maybe until the site resurfaces again.  However, I do not really plan to add much to it (aside from fixing up the HTML and whatnot).

So, if the original maintainer comes upon this and would like me to alter it or take it down, please let me know (I can be reached at ben at whatsmykarma dot com).  Otherwise, enjoy.

It’s Warm Out and other thoughts

Well, it was kind of warm today.  I’m not one to blame climate change, as this is a normal January thaw (so it would seem to me).  But it’s a lot like spring outside, and that’s something.  I mean, it’s certainly T-shirt weather, and almost shorts weather (depending on your definition of shorts weather).  Not a lot of snow is left, and it was raining last night.

This is weird, and short-lived, of course.  I mean, next week we could just as easily have a foot of snow here in the swamp.  But I will say it’s kind of enlightening.  I don’t like the overcast days but I do like feeling like spring is close.  In the midst of worrying about school and work and all that other stuff, I can now say The Future Looks Bright.

And that brings me to my next point.  While not one to pick favorites as far as the subject of music goes, if pushed I would say that Steely Dan is probably one of my favorite bands (or duos, or however you want to describe their operation).  By extension, I do enjoy Donald Fagen’s solo works as well (his earlier two in particular).  Recently I was listening to the song IGY from his album The Nightfly, and was reminded of the sophisticated lyrics of this piece.  The theme behind the album centers around the perspective of a teenager in the 1950’s, dealing with the fears and dreams of people at the time, including optimistic visions of the future.  Getting back to IGY, take a look at this lyric:

A just machine to make big decisions
Programmed by fellows with compassion and vision
We’ll be clean when their work is done
We’ll be eternally free yes and eternally young

I love this quote because it shows the optimism people had as technology progressed.  I mean, I guess nowadays we have computers that “make big decisions,” but then the idea of a big thing that did calculations was quite different.  It should be obvious, but as I sit at my laptop, which makes any room-sized computer from back then look like the crappy little calculator on a clipboard I can’t help but find it fascinating.  And to boot, it’s an ironic warning against Skynet!  (If it was a warning against Windows, Mr. Fagen has failed.)

Of course there are other references in the song too, like to Spandex and an underwater, transatlantic railroad.  I have to wonder how different the future will be than what my generation perceives…

End of August

Finally, it’s getting colder out at night.  A month ago I needed to have the AC on in order to sleep – it’s much easier for me to when it’s colder out.  Now it’s comfortable, and not too humid.

I guess I might as well throw out a few random things here.  First of all, for his entry in the Buffalo 48 Hour Film Project this year, my brother has won the award for best use of prop.  The prop is a head of cabbage, and the genre is mockumentary.  (Check out their site for details.)  Four of the six currently active members of Jack Swift (myself included) recorded a five-song sound track on Saturday the 15th of August for the film (which was due the 16th).  Here is the film, titled Cabbage in Common:

It was quite a time.  They may have one in your area, check it out.

Here is an interesting picture I took a little while ago, but never uploaded.  It’s the moon in Endicott, NY.  I was having trouble sleeping, so I grabbed the camera:

Endicott Moon

So let’s see, what else…  Well, last fall I talked about my light flicker circuit, and how I would put up something resembling a schematic.  And then I never did.  Well I’ve been thinking about it again, and now I will try to get something going.  It’s a little convoluted, but it’s not a terribly complex thing and I think people would get a kick out of it.  I would also like to make a PCB layout for it too, and clean it up.  But schematic first.

Well, that’s it for now.  It’s the last day of August (right now there are 15 minutes left), and while we’ve still got a few weeks of summer left fall is on the horizon.  So until next time, whenever that is, have fun.

Jazz Camp

It’s been a few weeks since I posted, and a lot has happened.  I started working, and recently had to go until 2:30 am…  Saturday morning.  And then after seven hours of sleep, into the evening as well.  But that happens.  More importantly, the week between when I started working and when I got off tour with Jack Swift I attended the Jamey Aebersold Summer Jazz Workshop.  There are two weeks (two different sessions), and during that time you get to play in a small ensemble of people who are about at your own skill level, attend master classes for you instrument, and hear some great – that is to say, amazing – Jazz every night.  And during lunch.  (The food was pretty good too.  Not great, but pretty good.)

It was an incredible experience, and if you are a Jazz musician you owe it to yourself to go.  They accept people of all skill levels and ages, so you can be sure there will be people who are not miles ahead of you, along with more experienced people you can learn from.  I would highly recommend it.

I have here some pictures I took.  I am not a photographer, and unfortunately happen to be horrible with names, so I do not remember some (okay, maybe half) of the subjects of the given pictures.  If you were there and are willing to name someone I missed, feel free to drop me a line.  You can do so either by leaving a comment or, if you’d prefer, by mailing me at ben <at> whatsmykarma <dot> com, adding the period and @ accordingly.  (If you appear in a photo and do not want to, let me know, but it would probably be better to Email me.)

4th of July Pics

Well, only a few of these are from the 4th (firworks), but the rest are from this past weekend.  After seeing the fireworks at UB we went to the mountains Saturday and Sunday, and did a little hiking.  It was a good time.

There are a few shots of the fireworks at UB.  They were nice, although I would have liked it if they hadn’t played music during the show.  Due to our spot, I couldn’t really avoid the pillars.

The pic above is a view off of our cabin porch.  The water is the Allegheny Reservoir.  On Saturday me and a couple friends went on a hike up the hill the cabin is on via an old logging road.

A spring at the top of our hill (the cabin is about midway up).  This hill has a lot of springs on it, which is neat.  You can see a black PVC pipe someone used to try to get water to a different cabin years ago.  (The guy made the mistake of using electrical conduit, which isn’t drinking water safe.)  Our cabin gets its water from a different spring.

How this old refrigerator got to the top of the hill maybe thirty years ago is a long story.  But, it’s there, and it remains a monument to human stupidity.  This fridge is further up the path than the spring from the last pic.

A picture from the top of the hill, beyond the refrigerator.  I had never actually explored it this far before; someday I’m going to keep following the old logging road and head to the other side of the mountain.  It won’t be a long walk, but it will be interesting.  At this point in our hike, though, we turned back.

Well, I’ll probably add more pics later (yet again), but here’s a little flash and a little greenery.  I hope you all had a good weekend.


It turned spring last week, but now it’s starting to feel like it more.  It’s raining now a bit, but you can feel it in the air.  It’s changing.  And I can’t wait.

I love this time of year.  Spring and fall may very well be my two favorite seasons.  Especially now, since more starts to happen with me music-wise.  My band’s got a bunch of gigs coming up in April, and we might even hit the studio for the first time and get a CD going.  Well, just a demo-tape at first.  But it’ll be cool, as it will hopefully lead to many more gigs.  Stay tuned.