March 14, 2016

Mixing the New Catherine Goldwyn - Phil Lewis Album at Studio City Sound


Tom and Phil at the Neve.

Been working with Tom Weir at Studio City Sound on the mixes for the new record and he's just killin' it. SCS recently installed a fantastic old Neve 8068 and I can't believe how great these mixes are sounding. Neither can Tom or the other engineers and clients at SCS who keep popping their heads into the room to ask, "What is that?!"


January 24, 2016

Remembering Jack "Trumpet" Feierman

1/24/2016

Now, on to a subject much dearer and closer to home for me. Last week I learned of the loss of the great Jack Feierman, a wonderful musician and fixture on stages and in studios around the world for the better part of seven decades. He died Tuesday at the venerable age of 91. I had the great honor and privilege of playing regularly with Jack for more than a decade and in that time imbibed an encyclopedic amount musical knowledge and lore. 

His career as trumpet player started back in the Big Band era. After a stint in the army during WWII, he settled in New York City, where he looked to take up acting. But the calls for a trumpeter kept coming and in 1960 he was lured to the West Coast, ostensibly to fill the first trumpet chair in Johnny Mathis' orchestra. Not long after, he began directing that ensemble and quickly became one of the top conductors in LA, directing orchestras for Mathis, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Andy Williams, and many other top acts of that era.

Although known mostly on the West Coast as a conductor, the trumpet was his first love, and Jack was a formidable first trumpet player. He continued to play that instrument -- that most physically demanding of instruments -- impeccably well into his 80s. 

He once turned down an offer to play first trumpet in Duke Ellington's band (he had just bought a house and the salary wasn't sufficient to cover the mortgage). So when Count Basie called he said to hell with it and went on the road with Basie for a year in 1976, a time when the band still included many of its key original members.

Jack was an unassuming and private man, even a little cagey; I once offered to buy him dinner in exchange for Basie band stories, he politely declined. Never one to make pronouncements, grandstand, or draw attention to himself, he was most often self-effacing with regard to his own playing (a rare quality among trumpet players, in my experience). But he was an absolute shark of a player, could read flyshit on paper as they say, was a fine jazz soloist, and could play a ballad with enough heart to make a statue of Stonewall Jackson weep.

When in the trumpet chair, he wasn't often heard to comment on matters of interpretation or a misplayed passage, but when he did so he was always spot-on. His hearing was uncanny. (Just because he didn't comment didn't mean he didn't hear that mistake. He was most likely just being polite. The man heard everything.)

And the stories! When his chops needed a break, he loved to entertain the band with hilarious music-biz anecdotes -- he had a seemingly endless supply, having been around for so long. (The Lawrence Welk stories alone could have filled a good-sized, side-splitting volume.)

I learned so much from this man though he never once directly instructed me. (Lord knows I played enough clams, so it wasn't for lack of opportunities.) What a fine illustration of the principle that sometimes we learn more by simple observation, and this is never more true than in music. Just watching Jack work -- his carriage, his professionalism, his musicality, his humanity -- was an education in itself and for this great gift I am eternally grateful.

Jack Feierman was a giant of music, and every musician who ever worked with him will agree. He was one of the last of his kind: those great players who settled in LA after the war, put their signatures on so many iconic recordings and performances, and made Los Angeles the music capital of the day. His passing is more than just a loss to the musical community, it is a loss to American culture. He was a national treasure and I will miss him. -PL

January 12, 2016

R.I.P. Bowie

1/11/2016

Bowie's dead. "I read the news today, oh boy..." Trying to figure out why I'm so affected by this -- I haven't thought about the man in years...

When I was about 12 one of the kids in our neighborhood gave away a few of his cherished LPs. Evidently his father in a drunken rage had smashed up most of his record collection. He managed to conserve a few, but fearing they might meet a similar fate, decided to pass these along to my older brother who, he knew, shared his passion for pop music. Among them was The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. This would have been 1972 and my brother, at 15, was solidly in what we would now term the "target demographic" for Bowie's magnum opus. That record changed my brother's life as it did teens across the Western world. I was a bit more circumspect being somewhat young for its themes of sexual abandon and decadent quasi-futurism, but thought it contained some pretty tight rock 'n' roll. 

It wasn't until much later that I realized Ziggy had done more than simply introduce the mullet to America -- it positively pronounced the end of the 60s, and properly christened the 70s: the "Me Decade," the decade of excess and self-obsession.

Personally, I never particularly took to glam, but was later quite taken with Mr. Bowie's Berlin-period output. Heroes, Low, and Lodger were remarkable records and I kept those platters spinning in continuous succession for a few years in my early 20s. I had never heard anything like them: dark and brooding, electronic and heavily processed, they captured the spirit of that time, when the world seemed at the brink of collapsing into industrial ruination (in much the same way Ziggy had effectively summarized the new-found sexual and social liberation of the early 70s). It goes without saying that Bowie's Berlin recordings became the template for much of the pop music of the 1980s; for better or worse, I'll let you be the judge. 

Irrespective of how I may now view Bowie's work through the lens of the intervening decades, I suppose his greatest accomplishment was his refusal to be pinned down (though not necessarily "pinned up"*). He was the first (perhaps the only) pop star to avoid the primary trap of popular success: i.e., how to escape the prison of one's own past. By deliberately discarding his previous incarnations, he repeatedly attempted to forge ahead and free himself of the shackles of his foregoing creations. Notwithstanding the debatable efficacy to which such an approach may succeed (after all, when you get out there on the stage the kids still want to hear "Suffragette City"), I imbibed from the man an important lesson: history is not destiny. It's my hope that I may have made good use of that lesson. And for that, and for opening my ears to new horizons, I feel an abiding gratitude.

It's quite pointless to remark that his demise slams the lid on a more innocent time -- but there, I've said it. I suppose what I'm feeling now is the transit of that time, and the need to mark it in some small way.

January 3, 2015

Shootout at Guitar Cab Corral

Here's the mic shootout article I did for RecordingHacks.com:
"Shootout at Guitar Cab Corral"

October 1, 2014

Shooting Out Dynamic Mics

The recording session for my new mic shootout happened last week. If you're not familiar with the term, a "mic shootout" is a comparison of microphones which have in common either functionality or application. So it could be a test mics of a particular type, such as ribbon microphones, or mics intended for recording a particular instrument, such as piano. (See this excellent example.) The idea is to answer a question -- in the most objective manner possible -- such as "What are the sonic differences between ribbon mics?" or "How do these different mics sound on acoustic piano?"

In this case, I wanted to explore the sonic differences between dynamic microphones when used on electric guitar amplifiers. Paul Tavenner and I ran the tests at his studio, Big City Recording, which consisted of recording the same guitar track over and over, each time with a different mic. It's a fairly arduous process. The next step will be gathering together a few seasoned pairs of ears together to give all the tests a listen and see who likes what. After that, I'll write up the results and send it off. Matt McGlynn from my all-time favorite website, RecordingHacks.com, has agreed to publish the results, so look for it in about a month. I'll post a link when it's ready.

July 1, 2014

The Goldwyn-Lewis Project

For about a year I've been writing and arranging material for a new project in collaboration with the love of my life, my light, my inspiration, and one of my all-time favorite musicians, pianist and composer Catherine Goldwyn. The expected outcome will be a new recording of instrumental music featuring the interplay of Catherine's piano and the guitar stylings of yours truly (with rhythm section accompaniment and who-knows-what-else). 

For the moment I'll resist the temptation to expound with too much specificity as one never knows exactly which tunes will make the final cut, but suffice to say we've got a lot of great new material -- mostly original, and a few covers as well. I'm particularly excited about some of Catherine's tunes which I think you'll find are quite unlike anything else, and very easy on the ears. 

Our goal is to create interesting new instrumental and improvisational music that can be enjoyed on multiple levels and by a wide range of listeners, not just your traditional jazz fans. To that end we're dispensing with a lot of the traditional jazz idioms and going for a sound that is accessible and yet multi-layered. We've got the material mostly together and have been cutting demos and exploring various production approaches. No title (hence Project X) and no specific release target yet, but I'll keep you posted on the progress. So much fun!

June 1, 2014

Archtop Guitars: A Player's Perspective

My recent piece considering various archtop guitar design approaches has been published! Pick up the May issue of Just Jazz Guitar to check it out (or read the article online here). I'm very honored that it appears in the Jim Hall tribute edition (sadly he passed away in Dec 2013). Jim was long one of the principals in my personal Pantheon of Guitar Gods.

March 3, 2014

Hopkins Marquis Update -- It's Here, It's Gorgeous


After 28 months and uncounted hours of anxiety and stress, my Hopkins Marquis has finally arrived and it's spectacular. Peter really hit it out of the park on this one. It's perfect, there's absolutely no indication that the instrument was ever damaged. I don't know how he did it -- the man is a genius. It plays and sounds wonderful, so responsive and focused, and I couldn't be happier with it. This is one hell of an instrument and the best part is that, like fine wine, it will only improve with age. Thank you, Peter Hopkins!

Just get a look at this beauty....






February 18, 2014

Jim Hall, Guitar Pioneer (1930-2013)

As most everyone has heard by now modern jazz guitar pioneer Jim Hall left this life to join the big jam session in the sky on Dec 10 of last year (2013). Jim had long been been a principal of my personal Pantheon of Guitar Gods. I first heard his playing on Sonny Rollins' The Bridge, one of the seminal jazz recordings of the early 1960s, an experience which has never left me. The tautness of his lines, the judiciousness of his comping, the understated melodic genius, the fierce rhythmic vehemence, just knocked me flat. He was the perfect foil to Rollins' ebullient and lush tenor saxophone. Rollins' decision to record without a piano was, at the time, an unconventional one, leaving Jim's guitar solely to anchor the harmony in the group (which also included Bob Cranshaw and Ben Riley). For good reason, that record made history. It is a landmark of late 20th century jazz.

But The Bridge is far from the only monumental recording to have featured Jim's singular genius. The very next year (1963), he followed up with an album of duets with pianist Bill Evans, UndercurrentUndercurrent has since become the pinnacle, the gold standard of latter-day guitar-piano duets.

To say that Jim's recording credits read like a who's-who of modern jazz would be a gross understatement. Among the luminaries who chose him for the guitar chair are Paul Desmond, Tommy Flanagan, Stan Getz, Art Farmer, Tony Bennett, Ron Carter, Gary Burton, and on and on. Suffice to say that from the late 50s through the late 90s, Jim Hall was the go-to guitarist for tasteful, imaginative, modern guitar. The list of essential recordings featuring his playing is far too long to enumerate here. However a short list of recordings that should absolutely not be missed will be appended below. His best-known recording may well be the 1999 set with fellow guitarist Pat Metheny. Metheny has publicly acknowledged his debt to Hall, calling that recording a tribute to him.

Hall was hardly known only as a sideman though. In addition to supporting the greatest names in late 20th century jazz, he cut many recordings under his own name, often with his "standard" trio of himself, keyboardist/bassist Don Thompson and drummer Terry Clarke. In addition, over the course of his long career he was constantly in demand for performances, and even did a stint in the house band for the Merv Griffin Show. As if that weren't enough, Jim was a prolific composer, his output including pieces for jazz and string quartets, as well as a concerto for guitar and orchestra.

As if all this weren't enough, Hall was also an educator, teaching at New York's New School, for example. I know that Pete Bernstein (another pillar of my Pantheon) had studied with Jim there for a time.

The last time I saw Jim was back in the mid-2000s, at the now-defunct Jazz Bakery where he was performing with his trio. Before the gig he was surrounded by a throng of loyal fans and students. The trio played a wonderful set though I can no longer recall the exact material. Afterward I spoke to him briefly. As always he was witty, irascible, and profound. Last year I heard through the grapevine that he wasn't well, though apparently he was still playing great. His loss was therefore not a surprise, but it is a great one and saddens me deeply.

Jim had an approach to the instrument that was truly unique and yet immensely versatile. He never sounded like anyone else, although echoes of his style can be heard in many of today's younger players. His impeccable harmonic sense, his delicate articulation, his intelligence, his taste and restraint, all contributed to his inimitable sound. He was not afraid to plug his ax into outboard effects, or to include synthesizers in his group. He was a true pioneer of the instrument, an eminent musician, a good man, a national treasure, and he will be sorely missed.

October 29, 2013

Farewell Rock 'n' Roll Animal

I was saddened to read this morning of the death of songwriter and singer Lou Reed, one of the great rock poets. He was 71. Reed was one of the most influential and important precursors of punk. As youngsters in the 70s we were great fans of his music, especially the Transformer and Rock 'n' Roll Animal records. Later, through my studies of punk history, I became quite familiar with his early work and the milieu from which it sprang.

The watershed Velvet Underground "banana" album in 1967 was a harbinger of the direction rock music would take in the coming decades. Reed was one of the first of his generation to frankly address in song subject matter such as drug addiction, gay culture, and sexual deviance, but he always did so shamelessly, directly, and with a wry smile. Although Andy Warhol backed the group initially, I particularly admire Reed's resistance to the cult of personality around Warhol and his refusal to submit to Warhol's attempts to play him as just another Factory puppet.

He was a complex, combative, and difficult man about whom many unflattering things have been said. But I don't think it's an exaggeration to call Reed one of the most important songwriters of his generation who probably will -- or should be -- remembered with the likes of Dylan, Lennon-McCartney, and Jagger-Richards. He was a singular artist.

Here's CBS's surprisingly flattering obit:
http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-207_162-57609498/lou-reed-longtime-influential-rock-star-dead-at-71/

And another, perhaps more realistic, one from the Guardian UK:
http://www.theguardian.com/music/2013/oct/27/lou-reed-velvet-underground-dies

September 26, 2013

Farewell to Kofi Awoonor

I was just just reading this sad story,

Ghana mourns loss of celebrated poet Kofi Awoonor slain in Kenya mall attack

about Ghanain poet, Kofi Awoonor, one of the unfortunates murdered in the latest round of senseless butchery in Nairobi, Kenya. I find it somehow life-affirming that Ghanaian heads of state actually made time to greet his casket at the airport. Americans persist in the comic delusion that we are some kind of "advanced" society. In Ghana they actually pay attention when a poet dies....


Across A New Dawn (excerpt from one of Awoonor's last poems)
...
But who says our time is up
that the box maker and the digger
are in conference
or that the preachers have aired their robes
and the choir and the drummers
are in rehearsal?

No; where the worm eats
a grain grows.
the consultant deities
have measured the time
with long winded
arguments of eternity

And death, when he comes
to the door with his own
inimitable calling card
shall find a homestead
resurrected with laughter and dance
and the festival of the meat
of the young lamb and the red porridge
of the new corn
...

Brings to mind the African proverb, "When death finds you, let it find you alive."

Read the full poem here.

January 21, 2013

Hopkins Marquis Update -- UPS Screws the Pooch

So, after UPS held my beautiful, handmade, one-of-a-kind, $8500 Hopkins Marquis guitar hostage for 12 days* and failed to deliver it on 3 occasions, I finally managed to pick it up from their Downtown LA facility (not without more strife of course). And guess what? It is severely damaged! Hooray for UPS!!!

See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8i9Yrhm-wwM

I will never do business of any kind again with UPS and I strongly caution anyone shipping anything from Canada to USE A DIFFERENT CARRIER. I have never experienced anything like the utterly idiotic, totally unnecessary contortions that they forced upon me. I only hope that I live long enough to see the demise of this useless institution.