Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Blue Eternity (Oster-Manring-Weingarten-Alberti) Live @ Yoshi's 12/14/15 "Silent Night"

It was a privilege being on stage at Yoshi’s in Oakland last week Monday with Blue Eternity. Humbling it is, every time I play with these gentleman. Jeff, Michael, Celso, and guests Frank Martin and Jeff Taboloff really killed it good. One of the things that makes this group so much fun are our four distinct voices and how we each support and play off each other. In this video, the guys gave me a solo moment to present a new looping piece I’ve been working on “Evening Sun”, before we slide into a rendition of “Silent Night”.

Thanks to everyone who came to see us! Please enjoy and share. --Carl

The Banjo Player | My Grandfather and Art Hickman during the Birth of Jazz



My grandfather, George Eveleth, was eight years old when he and his family survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Their house was also spared, and on that day, George sat on the front steps watching the parade of refugee’s stream by on their way to the tent city in Golden Gate Park. His father left that morning and when he returned, he brought with him two items - an antique clock and a banjo. George took up the banjo and by the time he was in high school, he was playing professionally. Along the way he met and was mentored by a local percussionist and bandleader named Art Hickman.


My mother has spoken of my grandfather many times over the years, but the significance of George’s connection to Art Hickman never occurred to me until recently. Hickman was a historic figure in the early days of jazz. San Francisco based, he helped not only pioneer jazz orchestras, but incorporated the use of multiple saxophones, having them play in harmony, and above the trumpets - a signature jazz arrangement. Hickman’s music is difficult to label, though perhaps described as a mix of Ragtime and Dixieland. Hickman didn’t consider his compositions to be so much jazz as it was primarily dance music. In 1913 The Art Hickman Orchestra was an established regional act, and became the first jazz band to play the prestigious Mural Room at The St. Francis Hotel. The run lasted for a decade. In 1919 Art Hickman’s band was invited to New York, where Hickman signed a contract with Columbia Records. National success quickly followed and lasted until Hickman’s death in 1930.


For a time during this period, my grandfather was in Hickman's circle of musicians. Whether George was ever an official band member, we don't know, but he did perform with Hickman at The St. Francis on a number of occasions. During the First World War George served in the Merchant Marines, and upon his release, he returned to playing music for a living. But as much as George loved being a performer, and the nightlife that came with it, music would soon become his lifestyle rather than his profession. “The only musicians earning a good living are session musicians” he told once my mother. George wanted to have a family and to play music locally. He entered college in 1923 and graduated from UCSF Medical School.


I was too young to really know my grandfather. He died in 1964. Our family lived in the Midwest and rarely visited. I do have a few memories, including watching George play banjo and sing at a Christmas party. After he died, George’s second wife changed his will to exclude my mother and aunt. Also against my grandfather’s wishes, she sold his instruments and otherwise liquidated his estate. Recently my mother showed me one of my grandfather’s few remaining possessions – an album of family photographs from roughly 1900 through the 1950s. Among them are several photos of my grandfather playing banjo or guitar, nearly all taken later in life with family and friends. However three photographs placed on the opening page, stand out as special. The first is a studio portrait of a smiling, youthful and smartly dressed George Eveleth. The second photo is also a portrait, that of another man, slightly older than George. The identical lighting and background of these two photos suggests they were taken at the same location. My mother pointed to the second photo and said, “My father always insisted that was Art Hickman”. Hickman was ten years older than my grandfather, and I’ve tried to verify this image, but photos of Art Hickman are rare. Assuming the man in the portrait photo is Hickman, as my grandfather had said, he appears very young as compared to the man in official publicity photos and record sleeves.


The third photo shows a vintage jazz orchestra posing for the camera against a backdrop. There are eight musicians; two banjos, one violin, bass, saxophone, trombone and accordion players. A ninth man stands in the back row with his hands at his side. The photo is only a few inches wide, is creased and unevenly cut, perhaps trimmed from a larger print. Fortunately as an original photo, it's sharp enough that a digital scan revealed more detail. Seated in the middle, posing with his banjo and with an uncharacteristically serious expression is my grandfather. He appears to be in his late teens. The other musicians are a mystery. At some point I hope to ID some of their faces, and perhaps verify if any or all were part of Hickman’s Orchestra. If so it would confirm my grandfather’s place and time during the early days of jazz.





I’ve restored this photo as a Christmas gift to my mother. Here is the before and after.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Submergings



For my friends who’ve been following my music from the beginning, I wanted to note a milestone:  it’s been 31 years since the release of my first record, Submergings, on glorious vinyl in December 1981.  Produced more than two years after I graduated from film school, Submergings was a low-tech cinematic sci-fi-inspired home-studio brew of tape delay, analog synthesizers, cassette loops, found sounds, and guitars.  Dark Ambient might be the contemporary genre to classify the music in today’s market.

The Record Geek 

My interest in record production came out of my teenage passion for music and record collecting.  The role that albums played in popular culture was unprecedented for many years and often generated headlines.  Miles Davis or The Beatles, for example, could trigger a shift in both social and music landscapes from a given album release.  It’s hard to imagine this today.   I was also drawn to the narrative of an artist’s life as documented in their output of recordings, and especially the mythology surrounding the behind-the-scenes world of studio production.

When I began to explore making a record of my own music, I knew very little about studio production, let alone the production chain required to get pressed vinyl into a jacket and record store. St. Louis had a vibrant music scene in 1980, as it does today, but there was no recording industry there at that time.  The only media professionals in town were old-school industrial audio and film houses where LP production was rare and often limited to vanity pressing for churches and schools.  Making a record, like any media production, is not one thing; it’s music, performance, recording, graphics, writing and printing all brought together.  I understood this from film school, but I had to teach myself both a new art and its industry.

 
In the meantime, I saw a wave coming in.  In major cities around the country, independent music was taking off.  Young artists and bands were making vibrant new recordings in small and home studios, and selling their records through a growing network of independent distributors.  College radio was exploding with this new indie sound and major labels found themselves pushed aside on the airwaves.  I wanted to be part of this new scene. 

How Not To Do Business

There was a promising start when I was recruited by an old family friend to open a record store.  With little more than a few crates of used LPs and a booth in a local farmer’s market, my friend, his business partner, and I soldiered through a year of street vendor sales, slowly buying and building an inventory of LPs. They were the core of the operation, but I was the associate and provided, on call, whatever labor and support they needed.  Other friends came and went through the year, but I was the only one who believed in the prospect to stick it out all the way.  I learned a lot that year, and they learned a few things from me as well.  In return for my loyalty, the owner promised me a job.

One day, I overheard a shop owner in our neighborhood mention that his business was closing.  The location was next to a movie theater, near a university campus in the heart of a resurging business district.  We couldn’t have asked for a better location.  I passed this information on to my friend who called the city, and was able to secure this prized storefront before it went up for bid. 

Within weeks, the record store was open and running.  I was thrilled at the prospect of working in the record store.  As business heated up, I proposed starting a record label, and envisioned the store becoming a hub for local bands, record distribution, and music marketing.  The owner was enthusiastic and his intentions were genuine, but he had his hands full, understandably.  Cash flow was his first priority, followed by carrying his dysfunctional business partner, a former college running buddy, who by his own admission, had been a petty drug dealer and believed this to be a worthy business model.  He dragged this concept through the operation, and no matter how much personal baggage the partner unloaded on me or our customers, the owner always covered for him.  At one point, when money was particularly low, I persuaded my father to invest in the business, and he loaned the partners a thousand dollars.  Later, in private, the partners expressed not their gratitude, but their resentment at having to pay it back.

Once the doors opened, a gap began to open up between what I was promised and my actual place in the business.  The owner, who for a year couldn’t keep me busy enough as his future employee, now had no imagination when it came to what my job actually was, even after both partners began taking salaries.  My time, labor, connections and inventory were always welcomed with open arms, but ultimately regarded as donations rather than business transactions.  I went from associate, to budget contractor, to resident volunteer.  By this point partners no longer included me in meetings, and when I asked the owner to discuss regular hours and a salary, he waved me off as being unreasonable. 

Ironically, I was still valuable enough that the owner called me behind his partner’s back to offer work under the table, but the nickel and diming was endless.  A week after I left, there were three new employees behind the counter.  Looking back now, things worked out as they probably should have, though we could have done a lot of good work together.  In the end, they got what they wanted and I got what I wanted.

DIY

On my own, I began making fresh connections around town to start my record label.  I had production and management experience, but I needed to teach myself to run a label from one end to the other.  Mentoring is often described as a single person passing on knowledge, but one can also be mentored by a group of people, with specific skills offered by each.  To accomplish this summation of knowledge, I gathered a team of specialists.

The first was Greg Glazier, a professional recording engineer, who produced local media ads.  Music wasn’t his thing, but he was willing to work with me in his “state-of-the-art” 8-track commercial recording studio.  Greg was generous with his knowledge and showed me the ropes of studio production and multi-track recording.

The second partner was St. Louis rock guitar hero David Udell.  David and his band mates called Earwacks (aka Wax Theatrix) had been veterans of the local music scene since they were teenagers.  David also worked in my neighborhood and we became friends.  We enjoyed much of the same music and I told him about the record project. After some cajoling; he agreed to play on it.  A week later, on a rainy morning, David and his friend Danny Fojammi arrived at Greg’s studio with his gear and a ready supply of Coke-a-Cola and cigarettes.  David set up his amp in the sound booth and listened to the tracks I had prepared.  The music was little more than a sound collage at that point, but David plugged in and played beautifully against all the electronic incomprehensibleness.  I was more than satisfied, but David, I discovered was a perfectionist and skeptical about the results.  So skeptical in fact, that he insisted on being credited on the album under the name Phil Neon.

The third and vital collaborator was the artist Gale Ormiston.  Gale was a professional modern dancer and educator who had been a member of The Alwin Nikolais Dance Company in New York.  The Nikolai Dance Company had been pioneers in modern dance since the 1950s, and also in producing electronic music scores.  I had met Gale several years earlier during his residency at the college I attended and he had recently moved to St. Louis to teach at Washington University.  Gale understood what I was attempting to do with the project, and he became a co-producer.  He also provided the keyboard for the recording, the legendary Korg MS-20 synthesizer.  The MS-20 was one of the most amazing, yet completely user-unfriendly, analog synthesizers ever made.  Its array of knobs and plugs resembled a time-bomb more than a musical instrument.  But Gale was never intimidated, and he never failed to deliver sounds that were out of this world.  Cigarette in one hand, knob twisting with the other, he worked the dials, as if tuning in a distant alien radio signal.


Two other partners contributed to the project as well.  They were graphic artist Jane Clanton and photographer Mike Bono.   They not only created the album cover, but both were generous with their time and knowledge of print production.
 

The Long Home Stretch

Over several months I did various temp jobs to pay for production and studio time.  The music took shape as Greg and I mixed the five tracks for the album. A local record plant pressed the LPs and Submergings became the first release on Multiphase Records, December 1981.  The success was beyond my expectations.  By the following spring, print reviews appeared nationally and the album was charting on college radio.  Picked up by several distributors, the LP was placed the record in stores across the U.S.

Over the next few years, more LP releases followed with an expanding circle of musicians.  The momentum continued with reviews in magazines like Musician, Billboard, Keyboard and a signing proposal from Vanguard Records.  By the mid-1980s, the independent music scene was booming, but the emphasis was on indie rock.  Our niche label of instrumental music struggled in a rapidly crowding market.  I was working for Streetside Records in 1986 when compact discs arrived like locusts, blowing vinyl off the record store shelves in a matter of weeks. This was happening everywhere. My label suffered as LP sales fell off and many indie distributors went out of business without paying their bills or returning our inventory.


RIP 33RPM
As a small label, Multiphase was vulnerable, but resilient enough to bounce back.  It took another three years, but I was able to re-launch Multiphase with our first CD release, Primitive Earth in 1989 - the first music CD released by an independent artist in St. Louis.  Today, the partial comeback of vinyl LPs has been profitable for some, but ironic as far as I’m concerned.  I see references to Submergings on music blogs, and used copies selling for collector’s prices.  I can only think of a certain box in my garage, covered in dust and containing my few remaining LPs.  Thirty years is a long time to break even.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

1987


When my Delay Tactics bandmates told me they didn’t want to tour, I decided to hit the road on my own. This was at the end of 1986. We had been together for five years and our two albums had reached a peak in radio play. Touring was never part of our plan, but since the band had reached that crucial step in the ladder of success, this was an opportunity I knew would not last long and did not want to miss. 

At first I was nervous about playing shows by myself, assuming the audiences had been listening to the group albums. I spent weeks writing a set of guitar music that I could not only perform solo, but was still in the tradition of the Delay Tactics sound. The technology to create a one-man-band experience was available at the time, and a few music pioneers had already led the way, but the gear was bulky, buggy, and expensive. I needed a rig that was lean, flexible, and could be packed into a suitcase. Making the most of the pedals I had, including a technical innovation called the Electro-Harmonix16-Second Delay, I assembled at my feet what was essentially a mini digital recording studio. With just my guitar and drum machine as the instruments, I could play, record, loop and layer tracks into a live performance. I played in cafes, theaters, student centers, and night clubs at a time when very few artists were touring this kind of music. 

The cross-country road trips I took were sometimes more eventful than the gigs themselves, but I’m glad I did it while I was naive enough to risk everything and young enough to recover from it. The drives were long and tedious, often lasting late into the night as I tried to cover as many miles as possible. I could never bring enough music to listen to, and ran my cassette player without mercy until it would eat tapes in rebellion. But I got to see a lot of country and experience being on my own in a way I had never done before. Exhausted after many hours of driving and unable to find a motel, I’d park at a rest stop, lie across the front seats and sleep for a few hours before starting again. 

Of the shows I did that year, the highest profile venue was opening for Bill Bruford’s Earthworks band at Night Stage in Boston. Bill Bruford was a very successful rock and jazz drummer whose most famous work was with the groups Yes and King Crimson. Earthworks was his own band and this concert was the second show of their first U.S. tour. I was brought in as the opening act under the wing and heavy airplay of radio station WZBC-FM. 

On this occasion I could afford to fly rather than drive, and when I arrived at the club to set up, the soundcheck for Earthworks was still going on. Mr. Bruford, a tall and imposing figure, was very professional. After barking orders from the stage to the sound man, he offered me his thanks for waiting. Later I spoke with him backstage. As he warmed up by rapidly drumming on a stack of beer cases, I mentioned his recent Cloud About Mercury record with guitarist David Torn and how much I liked the album. Bill had seen my soundcheck and he was gracious. “Oh yes,” he said, smiling, “he’s (Torn) your kind of guitarist!” 

It was a packed house and the performance flew by in a blur. In a rare gesture of humanity, the club sound engineer actually recorded my performance and gave me the tape. In that pre-Internet world, cassettes were king and could be sent to radio stations for broadcast later. Recently, I pulled the tape from storage and discovered that we had actually played two sets that night, a day before my birthday July 16, 1987. The only camera I had at the time was a Polaroid, which I rarely had time to use. Thankfully, however, my friend Susanne May was living in Boston when I did this show. A professional photographer, she came to the concert and covered the event. I’m really grateful to have these images. Aside from a box of tapes, a few letters, and newspaper clippings, this is the only evidence I have of that year on the road.  --CW

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

"The Radio" by Carl Weingarten




The first piece of music gear I ever owned I won in a sack race.  I was around seven years old.  It was during a neighborhood picnic held at Lewis Park in St. Louis, a small but elegant early 20th century park at the bottom of a hill descending from Delmar Ave.  Built with playing fields, walkways, a man-made pond and fountain, Lewis Park was trafficked in the summer by moms with strollers, softball games and necking teenagers.  In the winter, the pond became a skating and hockey rink, and the hillside terrain provided plenty of steep, if brief, downhill sledding.

Up until about the 5th grade, I was the fastest kid in my class.  This was no small achievement.  Our school system was among the first in St. Louis to be integrated, and the city wide diversity included students of all shapes and sizes.  My status reached its peak during a gym class in the 4th grade.  The coach held a 50-yard dash runoff.  The contest came down to me and a tall African-American girl.  She was timed at 7.2 seconds, but I came in at 7 flat.  Not bad for a steroid-free 4th grader running in street clothes.  By the next year however the kids who were destined to be bigger and taller began sprouting up and my edge began to fade like Olympic glory.  Still, I remained a good sprinter and for many years after, my self-image came through athletics.

During this time, Lewis Park hosted an annual summer picnic, organized by a neighborhood association and attended by the families living nearby.  There was food, games, races, and at the end, a teenage rock band.  The sack race I was in was close, as I vaguely remember, and I was delighted to have won.  No sooner had I finished, still catching my breath, an adult came over to me and presented the winning prize.  A prize, really?  I opened the small box and was overcome to receive a genuine Panasonic AM transistor radio.  For an eight-year-old in the mid-1960s, this was mind-blowing technology.  About the size of a cigarette pack, the radio was every kid’s 24/7 access to popular culture. In St. Louis this meant DJ Johnny Rabbit, The Beatles, Motown, Sunday preachers, twangy stuff, and of course, Cardinal baseball.

In the months that followed, the radio remained my prized possession.  Many a nine-volt battery died in my service, at school during the day, under my pillow at night or against my ear during our family road trips - the stations along the highway emerging from and then disappearing back into static.

At one point during this period of obsession, I expressed to my Mom how I couldn’t imagine my life had I not won the radio.  “You almost lost, Carl,” she said, a little exasperated.  I was shocked.  “There was a girl catching up with you but she fell down.”  This girl, I suspect, was the one who lived two blocks away, and who I usually saw only at our grade school.  The neighborhood kids tended to cluster from street to street, and our stretch of territory were all boys, and often a bit too Lord of The Flies for most girls in our vicinity.  On one occasion however we were out riding bikes and ended up on the street where the girl lived.  She was playing with friends and we all hung out for a while.  The kid talk got around to who was a fast runner.  She said she was fast, too.  So we decided to race uphill to a set of cars at the end of the block.  We raced twice, as I remember, and we were basically even both times.  I had met my running rival.  She was cute, she was fast, and she was a girl. Sadly, I was not yet old enough to appreciate the sum of those qualities. 

Since her family lived across from the park, she would likely have been at the picnic on that day, and I may have seen her at one point.  So when my mother broke the news about my close call, it was this girl who flashed before my eyes.  This shattering of my prowess fueled a certain guilt about winning the radio, and opened a dark door to an alternative universe without the radio. I had won, but perhaps I was not meant to win.  I hadn’t yet learned that it’s okay to get lucky, and it’s no biggie if you don’t.  In a competitive world, there’s always someone a step ahead and someone else at your heels.  Just stay on your feet and things will work out.

In time my radio was replaced by a record player.  My taste in music began to change, and as a teenager, socializing was about the LPs you owned, and not the stations you listened to.  AM was no longer cool.  Fortunately I kept the radio, where it lay quietly in one box or another, for the next 40 years.  Most of the gadgets I had as a kid eventually quit working, and were usually subjected to a screwdriver autopsy before the plastic and wire remains were interned to the trash.  But this radio was special.  It never quit working, and so I kept it. 

Looking at the radio now, it’s a classic of period style and design.  Sleek, small, and elegant.  Most striking to me is the cluster of transistors in the back side, the circuits compressed into an urban grid of beautiful Mad Men era technology.