Monday, February 19, 2018

Band Update: We're a death metal band called Wolves to the Slaughter, playing a show soon!

Hey, just wanted to do a short update on the band's status. For a short while I was just practicing and performing at the weekly open jam as a duo, two piece band with my drummer friend Martin but now we're working with a metal (screamer) vocalist, we're playing death metal with a little bit of black metal influence, mostly in the drumming. My guitar playing is more straight death metal with 80s shred guitar and progressive rock (jazzy distorted chords) bits here and there, a bit of black metal influence there as well. But I digress...

What happened with Martin's other group was that they decided their guitar player was holding them back so they kicked him out and recruited me to join. I reluctantly joined because at first I left that band (some months ago) because I didn't want to play death metal. But I changed my mind and I've been working with Alex (vocals) and Martin (drums) for a while now. So far we've only been practicing two hours a week but I think we're already ready to gig. We need a bass player but I think I've already found one, one of my friends.

We've got four songs down already that are originals, more if we count covers but we're not sure if we're going to perform covers, you see we've already got a gig lined up. We're going to be playing a backyard show at Martin's friends' house downtown LA (more information available as I find out more) on March 2nd. 

So yeah we're playing a show on March 2nd on a Friday. Unfortunately we aren't getting paid but it will be my first real official gig in California (not counting the open jams). I haven't played a gig since 2013 so this is quite a musical milestone for me and I'm quite pleased with the band, even if we ain't playing jazz (I wish I could be in a gigging jazz band). These guys couldn't play jazz anyways but they are pretty good rock and roll musicians.

It's all quite exciting and cool. Oh, and by the way the band is called Wolves to the Slaughter, I thought of the name and everybody agreed on it that it was cool. Hurrah for democracy! 

I'm using my 7-string Jackson for the band, I'll bring my Marshall amp for the gig, straight through the amp, no effects. The drummer plays a small jazz kit (even though he's a metal drummer), he likes the sound of small snares. And the singer has this whole vocal effects setup with his own personal microphone. The gig will probably go great. I'll post more information once I learn more about the gig. 

Another thing I'm gonna prioritize for the band is recording. I think we're ready for it, I could even record the bass parts if need be. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music



Mozart in the Jungle is a cool book. Its a personal narrative written by oboist turned journalist Blair Tindall. Its full of sex, drugs, and classical music for sure as well as gossip and tons of talk about funding for the arts, which she advocates strongly and goes on at length about. As informative and exciting as Tindall's book is I have to mention Mozart in the Jungle the show on Amazon Prime. This is one of those rare instances where the tv show is better than the book. The book is great but after a while there's a sense of meandering gossip, not something I find fun. However I learned a lot from the book about what its like to be a classical musician. And its probably one of the best classical music narratives I can find at the library right now. 

For me the most interesting aspect of the book is how she talks about originally being a classical purist, and trying so hard to join a symphony orchestra, it was her life's goal. And then after she failed some eighteen auditions she realizes that she has to turn to Broadway musicals and such to survive. In a way I can relate. I want to play jazz music but because not many young people like or are interested in jazz (unless they're university types) I have to settle in playing rock and roll to be in a gigging band. Somewhat similar. 

So she realizes she has to lower her artistic integrity in order to make a paycheck. That sort of makes me realize that I have to do the same. I work a retail job but my passion is music and I pursue the music in all my free time but it isn't paying the bills yet. Interesting things to consider and think about. 

Tindall goes on and on about funding for the arts and paychecks for these classical musicians. The thing that hit home with me was when she said there are thousands of musicians graduating from universities every year but the music scene only has some hundreds of jobs for them, and that most of them will have to work retail, office jobs, or menial labor in order to get by in addition with their music performances. All of this hit home really hard, especially when she said a little girl in a dress playing violin is cute but that a sixty year old female violinist with little to no health benefits is just scary. She tells it like it is. 

If your son or daughter is accepted at a music conservatory is it truly because they are a Heifetz or is it because they need more students to fill their empty classrooms? It makes me think of myself. I once auditioned at a University in northern Wisconsin playing two trumpet etudes and I'd only been playing trumpet for about six months. After making a lot of mistakes through the pieces I was surprised that I had been accepted. Really makes you think about the classical tradition and the musical tradition in general. 

In the past (1960s and before) Americans used to be musicians in their spare time. They might not have been as great as symphony orchestra musicians but they loved music and loved playing it. Fast forward to today and for lots of people classical music is a dead genre and they probably wouldn't want to invest time into learning an instrument. Music has been hit hard but Tindall ends the book on a positive note. Classical music performance attendance has gone up slightly within the last twenty years and good music will always find an audience. The future looks bright. 

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Last week's jam tracks V

Here's the live tracks from last week's open jam we played. Here we started the show off with Paranoid by Black Sabbath. Then we segued into Steve Vai's Bad Horsie and ended everything with my original black metal style tune called Spirits of the Dead. We've been playing these songs a lot at the bar and there's a couple different variations of these tunes on my soundcloud page. However, this stands apart from all those because I think the vocals were especially well done on this night. You'll see what I mean when you hear it. Enjoy!

https://soundcloud.com/orlando-figueroa-17/paranoid-best-vocals
https://soundcloud.com/orlando-figueroa-17/bad-horsie-most-recent-version
https://soundcloud.com/orlando-figueroa-17/spirits-of-the-dead-best-vocals

In addition, good news everyone! So my two man band (this music is me, my friends, and house band musicians at the bar) but now we've decided to work with this metal vocalist named Alex. Its going to be a while before we have some good arrangements and until I get used to his screaming vocals (haha) but we had a practice yesterday and it went really well. I liked the whole two man White Stripes/Black Keys thing but its better off if I only sing the songs I write, and mostly focus on the guitar chords. Really excited to be working in a 'real' band now and hopefully soon we'll get some songs arranged, and be able to play our first gig really soon.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Fascinating Rhythm Reading Jazz in American Writing


I finally read and finished a book again. Its been a while, this book is called Fascinating Rhythm Reading Jazz in American Writing, its written by David Yaffe.  

"David Yaffe's writings have appeared in many publications, including the New Republic, The Nation, the New York Times, New York Magazine, the Boston Globe, the Village Voice, Slate, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. He is Assistant Professor of English at Syracuse University."

Basically he's an academic who likes jazz, like most jazz writers and critics. In this book Yaffe explores the relationship between jazz and literature, talking a lot about Ralph Ellison, Norman Mailer, Stanley Crouch, Cornel West, Henry Louis Gates, Langston Hughs, LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), Fitzgerald, and J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye (there's jazz references in that novel), and goes into the aspect of the pimp over the artist when it comes to autobiographies (Lady Day, Miles, and Mingus get the work over). I would say the book credits Ralph Ellison more so than the others, and for good reason, because he was an important writer in the jazz idiom.

The book explores jazz and race quite spectacularly, going into the idea of the White Negro, and showing and explaining the close relationship between blacks and Jews going back to the early 1900s before bands were integrated, it wasn't until 1922 that Benny Goodman recorded the first integrated jazz band. Blacks and Jews were quite simpatico you could say. It wasn't until later that Blacks started to write and describe their art, poetry, and music in their own words without needing the white man to describe it in order to sell to the intellectual elite, which was mostly Leftist Jews. 

The book taught me a lot about jazz, not really the musical side (as Yaffe says pimping sells more than selling practicing scales) but the book focuses more on the cultural and literary aspects of jazz. As much as I love the literary side of jazz as Charlie Parker said in his only live television performance (and only recorded live performance with sound), "the music speaks much more than words ever could." I go with that tact, although I do believe that jazz needs writers and the literate elite to keep it alive without it getting deformed and mashed into fusion and smooth jazz. The neoclassical movement in jazz should always be strong, and should be informed by an educated elite, just like how it was in the 50's. If we keep things like that then I think jazz will be on a good track to staying relevant in an increasingly pop and rap dominated American society. Got that? Good. 

I think Cornel West sums up the book really well.

"This is a fascinating and formidable response to Ralph Ellison's famous call for a 'jazz-shaped' reading of American literature. Yaffe's bold and often brilliant treatments of black-Jewish relations in twentieth-century U.S. culture, Ellison's own seminal works, poetry and jazz influences, and the autobiographies of Mingus, Holiday, and Miles Davis are major contributions to American and Afro-American studies."--Cornel West, Princeton University


Now I feel a lot more informed on the cultural side of the jazz universe. Feels good to be a gangsta (kisses his gold chain) 

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Bird the Saxophone Playing Robot

Hello, what's up everybody? This is a new idea I'm trying out, instead of writing so much about certain subject matters I'm going to start writing short stories and eventually write an entire novel if I can get something interesting enough to keep writing for long periods of time (lol). Anyways, this is the first short story and its called Bird the Saxophone Playing Robot. Its a light-hearted yet serious story about a robot who gets backlash by humans because people can only see robots as creatures of labor, much to the robot's chagrin. I'm going to work on it in installments. Thank you. 

Bird was at the end of a set at the Jazz Estate, a top notch jazz club in New York. His 1960's Selmer saxophone glistening in the shadows of the dim performance hall. His solo was quite something. Sheets of sound, as they called Coltrane's sound in the early 60's, but with melodic, fast, and improvisational lines more akin to Charlie Bird Parker. This was Bird, a robot designed by US Robotics Corporation in the year 2077. Bird was of course named after Charlie Parker, however no matter how hard Bird swings, he can't get any slack. He ended his solo, played the head to All The Things You Are and ended the tune over a major sixth chord. 

He walked to the backstage room and sat down, thinking about the music, how certain parts sounded great, others were just okay, and other similar thoughts. He heard someone tapping at the door and speaking to get his attention. 

"Hey, whats up Bird! May I come in?" 
"Come on in. I'm just chilling", Birdbot's voice a low melodic whisper. 
They talked about the performance. Bird's friend was a human named Varian who was a close and longtime friend, music collaborator, and quasi promoter and manager. He was a young white man, with long brown hair, and he often wore sunglasses even indoors at night. They talked more about the music. 

"Really cool set out there man", Varian said, his voice a Californian tenor. 
"Thanks dude, yeah I was really trying to channel my inner self, my soul. I'm getting ready to record an album of all original compositions, I wanted you to go over my arrangements and see if anything needed changes." 
"Sure, I can do that. Would you like me to play (piano, Varian is a pianist) piano on the album?" 
"That sounds great!", Bird's voice as gay as an actual songbird. 

They laughed and were as happy as ever. Bird was a young robot, just freshly built off the assembly line some five years ago. Varian was in his late twenties, and although his best friend was a robot, he made a living out of playing jazz, arranging, and composing. He helped Bird find gigs, and oftentimes they would play together in the same bill, either in the same band, or in different groups. They were quite simpatico you would say. With his help, Bird would release his own album as a leader and composer, and he would help arrange and even perform on it. Times were good. However there was one issue to contend with. 

Humans couldn't stand Bird's playing. Although this was the world of tomorrow, people weren't used to the idea of robots as artists, especially talented robots that had genius attached to their positronic circuits. I'm speaking metaphorically of course. Humans still only saw robots as vehicles of labor, not of art or performance. Such was the fate of our virtuoso saxophone playing robot, nicknamed Bird because he loves Charlie Parker but whose actual name was Sigma IV, a robot originally designed as a family robot. Eventually, Sigma IV got tired of the family robot gig and found out that he wanted to be an artist. 

He had been listening to Charlie Parker for a long time. His first family had tons of jazz records and they would play them often. He learned to love the sound of the saxophone and the bebop era in general. He also loved free jazz era Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, Monk, Dizzy, Bird (his favorite), Miles, all the cats. Eventually he figured out that he had to be a jazz musician, it became his goal. He bought a sax and started practicing all the time. Eventually, he became really good, and he pulled a LeRoi Jones and changed his name to Bird. 

Nobody had ever heard of a robot playing jazz before, so Bird was in for some major backlash. He was the first of what would become a societal norm. But that's far down the line from when this story takes place...

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Last Week's Jam Tracks IV

Here's the tracks from last week's jam tracks from the local pub. 

The first track we played was Sunshine of Your Love (a staple of ours-me and martin my drummer friend), but this time it was performed with Jim, the house drummer at the open jam and an unknown bassist to me. The bass player is very good, as is Jim, which makes the guitar playing and singing very easy to do. I'm pretty proud of the solo I did here on Sunshine, a mix of straight up blues rock Hendrix-esque licks with a bit of shred. I like how when we ended the song I played the riff to Day Tripper retardando haha. That cowbell though! 

The next tune we played was Steve Vai's Bad Horsie. I still haven't gotten the hang of playing this so off the cuff and never practicing it with the musicians I play it with but I tried it again. Here it sounded pretty good with Jim's drumming and Bassist X's bass sound. I went for a super fast shred solo here. I really dig that melody and that metal riff. Steve Vai is a pretty big influence.

This week my drummer friend Martin couldn't make it so I played with the ace drummer Jim and this mysterious Bassist X dude with long hair and glasses, it turned out pretty well. My guitar sounded really great here, it sounds really in tune!  

https://soundcloud.com/orlando-figueroa-17/sunshine-of-your-love-cool-bass-and-drums
https://soundcloud.com/orlando-figueroa-17/bad-horsie

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Last Week's Jam Tracks III

Here are the live tracks from last week's open jam at Petie's Place, this bar I frequent a lot.

The first tune we played was Black Sabbath's Paranoid, pretty easy song right? Well, I did kind of mess up the song last week because I forgot to come in w/ some verses and instead just went into a guitar solo, then found my place back within the song. That's how you cover up a mistake folks, go into impromptu guitar solo mode! I'm still working on bringing more emotion into the singing.

Next, we played Sunshine of Your Love by the Cream. This has been like our swansong so to speak. Sometimes hearing my voice makes me cringe hard but when I hear the guitar playing I think again (lols). My vocals are definitely getting better but its still hard to get past that speaking voice to singing voice transition. Ken, the percussionist playing tambourine (and records everything for me, thank you) is really on point with his rhythm here. With him and my friend Martin on drums its like playing with two drummers. Martin takes care of fills and colour and Ken takes care of timing with precision.

The last tune we played was an improvised version of Steve Vai's Bad Horsie. I have a habit of doing impromptu versions of guitar instrumentals by shredders (check out this version of Buckethead's Soothsayer here). The melody from Bad Horsie is pretty strong here, a bluesy funky sort of melody that runs into some metal riffing. The way we did it this time I stopped playing and motioned Martin to do a drum solo. As you can hear it sounded pretty damn good. My friend Martin is really coming into his own as a rock and roll drummer. At the end I did some tapping and held a note for what seemed like eons while Martin played some crazy rolls. That's pretty cool.

Here are all the tracks, enjoy!

https://soundcloud.com/orlando-figueroa-17/paranoid-forget-the-verse-ha
https://soundcloud.com/orlando-figueroa-17/sunshine-of-your-love-latest-version
https://soundcloud.com/orlando-figueroa-17/steve-vai-bad-horsie-impromtu-jam-version

Band Update: We're a death metal band called Wolves to the Slaughter, playing a show soon!

Hey, just wanted to do a short update on the band's status. For a short while I was just practicing and performing at the weekly open ja...