Live Long and Prosper

spockLeonardGoodbye Mr. Spock, aka Leonard Nimoy. The New York Times sez,

Leonard Nimoy, the sonorous, gaunt-faced actor who won a worshipful global following as Mr. Spock, the resolutely logical human-alien first officer of the Starship Enterprise in the television and movie juggernaut “Star Trek,” died on Friday morning at his home in the Bel Air section of Los Angeles. He was 83.

So many of us baby boomers grew up in the Star Trek years. We watched the TV shows and the movies. We talked about the political and social meanings of some of the shows. Nimoy’s creation of the Live Long and Prosper greeting, now an iconic attribute of the show, was “fascinating”.

NimoyThere are so many good videos from our man Spock on YouTube, et. Al. One of my favorites was done in this decade and just makes me laugh was the Lazy Song.

Suzy and I were lucky enough to see Vincent. Leonard Nimoy stared in this critically lauded one-man performance that revealed Vincent van Gogh as few knew him. Based on more than 500 letters exchanged between van Gogh and his brother Theo, the play examines the passion and torment of the extraordinary artist’s life and death as seen through his brother’s eyes. As van Gogh’s paintings are projected in the background, Nimoy becomes both Theo van Gogh and Vincent in this compelling, touching portrayal. It was a stunningly moving play.

Interestingly enough, Mr. Nimoy did a number of poorly received music performances. I remember his song about the Hobbits. That said I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Star Trek portrayal of Spock’s Death. “Of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most … human.” ~ Captain Kirk. It is hard to watch right now without getting emotional. Live Long and Prosper.

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Guide to Late Bloomers ~ Returning to Music Performance

“If I were to begin life again, I would devote it to music. It is the only cheap and unpunished rapture upon earth.” ~ Sydney Smith

Baby boomers are retiring in very large numbers. They are selecting hobbies that are based on their experience and dreams. So where the jocks from high school won’t be playing tackle football, the bandees (not in any dictionary I know but it’s what kids in band called themselves) are returning back to music in a big way.

I played alto sax from 4th grade till my first year in college. Then I took a ~30 year break to spend more time on my career and family. When I returned to music performance, my kids were out on their own—Suzy and I were empty nesters.

CoufTwins2_smI bought my dream sax, a Couf Superba I alto sax from a friend of mine who ran the world famous Quinn the Eskimo Vintage Horns. He actually let me try it out for almost a year before I paid for it. I started on lessons for the first time in my life because I quickly discovered that even though I was a constant soloist in high school band, even a section leader, I really didn’t sight read music very well. Eventually I picked up a Couf tenor sax too.

After about five months of lessons, I researched community bands in the Seattle area. I selected one that had an adjunct jazz band and called for an audition. The conversation went like this:

Me: I’d like to audition for your band.

Membership coordinator: Do you have an instrument.

Me: Yes.

MC: We practice at …

WCBI was in! Nervous and yet still excited I showed up and found a row of 6 alto, 3 tenor, and no bari sax players. Many of the musicians were high school kids who really like the director. The group was fun and there were *lots* of people who played with other bands.

The jazz band was packed, but they let me in because I had my son’s bari sax from high school. After the first practice with them, the bari sax player who preceded me said that he was going to let me have the chair because he really had too much going on.

I met a lot of music instructors, semi-pro musicians, and other music industry types. Joining this community band put me on the fast track for networking. After two years with the band I started up what is now, eleven years later, the Microsoft Jumpin’ Jive Orchestra (MJJO). It is a vintage swing band with stellar musicians and some unique charts, some from the composers, Frank Foster’s own collection.

During my first 13+ years back with music I did a lot of things that I have never done before:

  • Learned to play soprillo, sopranino, soprano, F mezzo, C melody, tenor, bari, and bass sax. Voicing so many instruments was quite the challenge.
  • Learned to play soprano, alto, bass, contra-alto, and contrabass clarinet.
  • Dabbled with flutes
  • Transcribed solos, quartets, and merged different parts of music into one part.
  • Run a band.
  • Be a board member on a community band.
  • Play in a professional theater pit (three times)!
  • Play solos in front of a semi-pro concert band and big band.
  • Become the chief admin on the largest sax forum in the world: Sax on the Web.
  • Become an admin/co-founder of the Woodwind Forum.
  • Travel nation-wide three times (Vegas, New Orleans, & Boston) to perform with National Community Band on tenor, alto, and bari sax.
  • Visit the NAMM convention and blog about it here.

SaxPeepsAnd still I have more items on my bucket list like doing a cruise gig, playing with nationally famous people in front of my band, and more. I have given you some clues that will help you set up your play book based on your interests and talents.

I would like to share two things jump out at me about my adventure. One, after a normal 90 minute practice session with an ensemble, it still feels like it was only 5 minutes and I can’t believe how fast time went. The people you meet for the most part are so wonderful, talented and life affirming that it is hard to imagine my life without them. Here’s hoping that this blog post will give you some idea to get you closer to your musical goals. Remember, it never about the destination, it’s all about the journey.

Posted in Band, Guides, MJJO, Music, My World, WCB | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Giraffes and Sunglasses

Found this on Facebook and would love to find out who took the photo.


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Retirement Tales ~ Year One

“You know Jim, I’ve discovered that the more time one has, the more time one wastes.” ~ Byron Roberts (Suzy’s Dad) after hearing me talk about only having one job after retiring from the Army Reserves.

th (1)Last year at this time I retired from Amazon after two years of exploring that world, 20 years at Microsoft, and 20 years in the military. I started by loving the Amazon environment but a with a change in top bosses in my org and in no small part to some strategic mistakes on my part, I decide life was too short to try to make a bad situation better. So I said good by to my writing team I’d help build, a team that was amazing by anyone’s standards.

Financially I have a *lot* of things going for me, but I had thought I’d wait until my social security benefits were matured before I retired. When I retired last year I wrote this post: Retiring in Style for the Average Family. For me, retiring was not as much as a financial decision as it was a quality of life thang. My wife Suzy felt the same way so she and I reviewed the numbers:

  • House paid for: Yes
  • Credit cards paid off: Almost, we’ve been working on that for the last 5 years
  • Cars paid for: Yes
  • Saving in good order: Yes
  • Army pension: Kicks in full rate in 2015
  • Social Security: See below
  • Medical Insurance: Obama Care

She retired a month after I did. Here is a calculator that you might find interesting if you are thinking about retirement.

The Social Security Retirement Planner

This planner provides detailed information about your Social Security retirement benefits under current law. It also points out things you may want to consider as you prepare for the future. If you are:

Read more:

Life after retiring

So with the financial analysis and decisions behind us we set about deciding how to spend our newly earned free time. I immediately got a part time job that parlayed my interest in music and social media into a monthly paycheck. As a contractor, my commute consists of padding my sock-clad feet down the hall from the bedroom to my office. With the music jamming, a cup o’ joe, and my two screen, two computer setup I spend 2 to 4 hours a day participating in musical forums, sharing my research, and writing blogs.


Suzy had started an Etsy store that allowed her maximize her hobbies. She now creates custom child and doll clothing. She also runs two shops including one that creates that perfect preemie outfit and is based on her years as a neo-natal nurse.


I also am in the 11th year of running the Microsoft Jumpin’ Jive Orchestra under the umbrella of a Washington State non-profit designed to provide adult music educational opportunities. Surrounded by stellar musicians who love the big band genre, the band is led by a music professional and friend who has been in the music business for 55+ years.


Suzy and I still perform with the Woodinville Community Band and my Professor Gadget Sax Quartet. Music plays a big part in our lives and we hope it will for a long, long time to come.

Creating a life for yourself that allow time for some of the things you are really passionate about is possible. In our example I haven’t even touched upon our volunteer activities, exercise program, or how we use our increased time with family. But I think I’ve shared enough that you might get some ideas how you can structure your life so that you can spend 30 to 40 years of joyous retirement.

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MuseScore: Free Music Notation Software ~ AAA+ Rating

“As a musician I tell you that if you were to suppress adultery, fanaticism, crime, evil, the supernatural, there would no longer be the means for writing one note.” ~ Georges Bizet

I just signed up for a gig to play some original music for a friend of one of my now departed music instructors. A composer, this fellow only has Finale as his editor. (For the uninitiated think of “Microsoft Word” for the writer, “Finale” for the composer.) He didn’t know how to use his software to convert a composition to PDF, my normal means of getting charts. I had Sibelius, but lost it in a recent move.

MuseScoreSo I went online and discovered the free and highly rated MuseScore once again. Sibelius and Finale are so dang expensive that I decided to use MuseScore again. Wow, it really delivers.

I rarely have to gen up a composition. The work I do is usually a xtet part for kids in school competitions where they want to play with their friends who play disparate instruments. Think of a quartet with flute, clarinet, trombone, and sax.

On occasion I’ll create a transcription of a solo or a reduction of a six-page chart when it could be two if properly laid out. So here’s hoping musicians can find this excellent and free product before they shell out money, money that they should be using to feed themselves with.

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Bucket List #3 ~ Attend NAMM ~ check

If you have a music bucket list, attending NAMM at least once should be on it. NAMM 2015 was held in Anaheim this year and hosted over 75,000 attendees. Opening day included a visit by the Disneyland band. The best concert at this year’s NAMM was by Yamaha even featuring Toto, James Blunt, and Tom Scott amongst so many more excellent musicians.

Tip of the conference: Don’t forget to bring your mouthpieces, reeds, neck strap, and camera. They don’t sell stuff at NAMM. But if they ever let someone sell this kind of thing, that company will probably make a killing.

NammEntranceMy adventure as the Quinn the Eskimo Vintage Horns social media and woodwind guy was to try as many wind instruments as I could. I started with the offerings of the big three, Yamaha, Selmer-Conn and Buffet-Crampon. Then I sampled some of the lessor known brands. Here are my personal favs this year:

Clarinet: The Yamaha’s new CVSR clarinets were a standout with such a controlled sound and keyworks that were as smooth as butter. I don’t play clarinet enough to switch from my Buffet R-13 Festival, but if I were considering, this would be a strong candidate. The Selmer Privilège bass clarinet still was my favorite, again for the keywords and for the low C sound.

YamahaZSax: The Selmer Paris Ref 54s still have the sound and feel that I endorse for alto sax. There were many styles and flavors but the sound was uniformly wonderful and the feel perfect to my hands. The Selmer Paris Ref 36 for tenor sax had the kind of sound and feel that I was looking for. So don’t forget to try it out too if you are looking for a modern tenor sax.

I really liked the Yamaha Custom EX and Z too. They were very nice rides, both having great intonation across the registers with very little effort on my part.

Reed: I have taken to trying synthetics a lot more because I have so many gigs with multiple instruments to play. I like the Légère Signature reeds the best, which wasn’t always true for my alto sax or sop clarinet. Benedikt Eppelsheim recommended them to me 8 years ago for my bass sax and bass clarinet (mostly used in the pit) but I didn’t like the sound for my main stay instruments. Now the sound is the same, the sizes match what I get in reeds that are not synthetic (thank you!) so I don’t have to guess what size is correct for me.

SepiaVImMouthpiece: I didn’t expect to find a mouthpiece that was better than what I already have in my collection. But the Gottsu handcrafted mouthpieces were so sweet, that I almost broke my promise to my wife not to buy anything. Uniformly high quality, some interesting marble looks, and such a lovely sound, these are worth looking at if you can find a dealer carrying them.

Teaching media: I ran into Greg Fishman trying out Yamaha’s new line of instruments. I have so many Jazz method books by him, that all my instructors have played my dog-eared copies at lessons. This year he came out with his new book, The Lobster Theory, which is available in paperback or digital (through Amazon and iTunes). As Jeff Coffin sez about this reference:

What Greg Fishman has accomplished in this book is to explain, and then show through the use of awesome drawings and complete musical examples different concepts and ideas that are essential to our development development as musicians. The Lobster Theory is a really fun read and I enjoy Greg s sense of humor and wit. The ideas he presents here are effective, long lasting and inviting for students and educators alike.

SaxStandSaxRax: For those hobbyists like me who are over 50 years old, some gigs that we’d love to have done are now off the list. For me that is sitting in with a Tower of Power style band with my bari sax. But standing with that weight hanging around my next would put me in a world of pain.

Well SaxRax is introducing the Sax Stand for your consideration. You can move with this adjustable stand, play your heart out and still be able to walk tomorrow.

Fav Musician: I actually got to talk too: Mindi Abair let me take a picture with her. She is so busy with her Grammy nomination and new CD called Wild Heart. She MC’d one of the Yamaha concerts and played a song off her new CD.

MindiPlays  MindiAbair  MindiSings2015

She also sang which was a nice treat.

ChateauSurprise Music Manufacturer: Chateau is a company working out of Vietnam (need to confirm this). Not only did they introduce me to the Gottsu mouthpiece (see above) I got to play their top of the line saxes. The overtones just popped, the ergonomics were just right, and the price of these instruments were surprisingly affordable. I liked some of their other accessories too like the leather neck strap. I expect to hear a lot more from this company.

So the question is, will I ever go to NAMM again? Well, I’ll have to think about that because I’m hard-pressed to think it ever could be as good as my first time. But if going to NAMM is not on your bucket list, maybe you might want to rethink that.

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Can You Name that Saxophonist? ~ Take One

I see pictures of so many people who played sax that are surprising, at least to me. So here is the game today, can you name these musicians?

DavidBowie  GeorgeHarrison  SonnyRollins

SigurdRascher  10393981_378833405622821_8198067694434694699_n  RayCharlesSax

Good Luck! 

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