You Zombie. Be born again my friend. See you here on February 20th!
And so our Mizar6 universe managed to reach the Ojay Valley in SunnyCal, which invited a singer-songwriter to share with us a tune he figured would fit here perfectly.
And he’s right.
Now before you go and listen, please take a few minutes to read the story attached because after all, it’s the stories that make it all worth our while!
Aron Van Alstine is an independent singer/songwriter from Calisota (California and Minnesota) currently living in Ojai. He wrote a song that all his friends say is “steelydanesque”: Make Up Your Mind.
We had to ask the inevitable questions. Are you a Steely Dan fan? Is there a story to go with Make Up Your Mind?
Aron: “I have vague childhood memories of Steely Dan. I was really young, maybe 4 or 5. I was visiting at my uncle’s apartment in Minneapolis where I used to watch the waveforms on his oscilloscope for hours at a time. I loved the patterns they made. And I can remember hearing Peg in the background. I also remember he liked Jeff Lorber. I’m surprised I even remember that name.
I probably went decades without listening to Steely Dan. I got deep into classic rock and blues in high school, and by college I was on to classic jazz. Finally, years later, it kept coming up in the process of making my first album. My engineer would be like,
“Let’s take a break and listen to some Steely Dan.”
Because mix-wise, it’s so perfect. Everything in its right place.
I can even remember a time when I thought what I really wanted to do was to create a blend of jazz and rock music. Now when I go back and listen to Steely Dan, I’m like, “Duh. They did it perfectly 30 years ago already!”
What I’ve created wasn’t intentionally derivative in any way. I’d like to think that my writing and my playing are unique even if they are “Steelydanesque.” I’m glad to know that I’m not alone in my pursuit of eclectic rock ‘n’ roll.
I wrote and rewrote “Make Up Your Mind” so many times I can hardly remember where it comes from any more. It was originally intended for this killer R&B singer, April Hendrix. But that project dissolved and I was left with all these demos. Eventually I was able to rework some of them for my own voice. I intended to record this one for my first record, “Here Comes a Train,” but I wasn’t happy with it.
Most songs I would just forget after that much trouble, but there was something about this one that kept it on the back burner. Finally, I got some great basic tracks when I was doing sessions for my “A Kind of Silence” EP. The overdubs turned out really great, so I went to mix it. All that time spent dissecting Steely Dan came in handy, because the instrumentation was very similar. Muchos kudos to Tony Humecke and Rory Anton for their guidance in this department.”
Thanks so much Aron, for sharing your music and story with us here at Mizar6! We want to wish you loads of luck and fun in all your musical endeavors! http://aronvanalstine.com/
(Update February 2, 2016: Owen plays another Steely tune! and an article in Jambase.com: http://www.jambase.com/article/12-year-old-pianist-plays-impromptu-show-for-umphreys-fans )
Last week, we received an email which included a link to the video above. Owen’s dad, Harlan York, figured his son’s piano version of this classic Steely Dan tune belonged on Mizar6 -formerly known as Mizar5-. We couldn’t agree more! Of course we were curious and asked Harlan a few questions he was happy to answer:
M6: Owen most likely has been introduced to the music of Steely Dan by you, his father?
HY: I started playing everything from Dylan to Miles for him at a young age. When his aptitude for piano began to present itself, I wanted him to hear music that had a great deal of emphasis on that instrument. Steely Dan just made sense. He learned the whole catalog quickly.
M6: Can you share some of your own history with SD music, perhaps?
HY: I have been to about 600 live shows in more than 30 years. Started listening to Steely (not counting hearing Peg on the radio as a child, when it was a big hit) at some point in my teens. Really got into Dan in college. I’m an avid fan of jambands – Dead, Phish, Radiators, Umphrey’s McGee, but also everything from jazz to punk to hip hop, really most genres as long as I enjoy the artists. But I can’t play a note. My first SD show was about 20 years ago in NYC. I also saw a Beacon show with my wife and kids in 2013 and we already have tickets for Royal Scam in Oct at Beacon.
M6: I found this info about the video channel https://www.youtube.com/user/pianopanther1/about and there’s a lot of videos in there already. I also saw something about a medley combining the music of Frank Zappa among others?
HY: Yup. I have played FZ for Owen as well as so many other acts. That video was featured on a jambands site when he was 9. Owen figured out how to arrange the segues himself after making a list of songs he knew both from his teacher and by ear. The 21 songs in 17 minutes medley was a nice example of how Owen has certain understanding of piano.
M6: When did you notice he was good on the piano, it’s described he started at age 6? Did he spontaneously started to play songs he heard when they were being played from CD or album?
HY: His older sister was taking piano lessons. She eventually moved to violin and now sings in Chorus. Owen immediately showed aptitude. He sight reads, has perfect pitch, can identify what key a piece is in, and so he can play anything he hears. He also benefitted greatly from the last 3 and a half years working with the incredible John Lampkin. A lot about John is noted in the new Chick Corea Spain video that I posted on June 7. You can read the full description to learn more about it and watch the 4 minute video.
M6: Does Owen transcribe the music by himself, by ear?
HY: He has songbooks, but as his teacher told him, the transcriptions are often wrong. So with SD he typically plays by ear. He has plenty of sheet music that his teacher gave him to learn many of the jazz standards and classical in his repertoire.
M6: You must be a very proud parent!
HY: Indeed. My wife and I are proud of both of our kids!! The band Umphrey’s McGee has been so nice to Owen – they posted a number of his videos – ironically they have a series of Dan covers that they play from time to time – if you haven’t heard those yet, you will enjoy them.
M6: How about Owen’s near future, is he going to play music or perform at school?
HY: Owen is supposed to join a county jazz ensemble in the fall in which he will be significantly younger than most if not all of the musicians.
M6: Thank you once again for sharing Owen’s talent with the world, and encouraging him to keep real music alive, that’s quite an accomplishment these days.
WALTER BECKER: Eleven Tracks Of Whack
OK, this isn’t that obscure – in this context, I almost feel like I’ve gone all Top Twenty. But it is underrated. I can’t believe how many people I’ve met who profess to be Steely Dan nuts like myself, but don’t know that Walter Becker has made two solo albums. Becker’s solo efforts seem to be overshadowed by Donald Fagen’s, but in my opinion this 1994 album (my God, has it really been that long?) is not only better than Becker’s second but better than any of Fagen’s, and better than a lot of Steely Dan’s post-‘comeback’ work.
I still play this album often, but part of its appeal when it was released was that it was just so damn unexpected. No one ever thought Becker could deliver a whole album’s worth of lead vocals, for one thing, but he does a pretty good job. His voice is difficult to assess: it has a laconic, amateurish, not-really-trying quality which is less intense and distinctive than Fagen’s, but somehow a bit easier to live with. The album is full of great songs, too: Down In The Bottom, Junkie Girl, Book Of Liars, Girlfriend, Lucky Henry, the magnificently-titled This Moody Bastard. Of course it sounds very much like Steely Dan, which might, I suppose, only be mildly surprising to someone who always assumed Fagen to be the ‘main man’. Though I should probably mention that he is credited here as co-producer.
Anyway, the other refreshing surprise for me, when I first heard this album, was its slightly rough-edged, homemade sound. Whereas later Steely Dan is sometimes criticized for being too ‘slick’, this sometimes sounds almost like a demo tape. It’s more rhythmically varied and interesting than a lot of Late Dan, too.
Don’t get me wrong, these guys are heroes of mine. I’m delighted they’re still around, and there were moments in the New York show I saw a couple of years ago that sent shivers down my spine. I can’t believe I have the nerve to be even hesitantly and ever-so-politely critical, but I do think their sound of late has become a bit set-in-stone. Maybe they should go back and give this album another listen. And maybe Pretzel Logic, too.
We’re headed for the end of yet another year, and we completely forgot to celebrate the 10th year anniversary of Mizar5!! I know, I know, we changed it into Mizar6 to make a difference or a point rather, still, we should have brought out the hats and… ha, see? We haven’t forgotten how to talk Steely!
Either way, we just wanted to share some stuff with you, such as the release of this stellar new album! The Breithaupt Brothers, Don and Jeff, they teamed up for yet another fine set of compositions guaranteed to make you bow down in awe. They did it again and delivered a masterpiece. Just Passing Through is its title and the cast of musicians and vocalists is stunning: Marc Jordan, Paul Shaffer, Sophie Milman and Ron Sexsmith to name just a few.
“When I go to the movies I am invariably one of the last people to leave the theatre. That’s because I stay behind to read the credits. There is much to be learned from that rolling script if you take the time to read it. I feel the same way about music. I devour studio credits and liner notes in hopes of garnering little pieces of information about the music I’ve just listened to, in the event there’s something worth passing on. That’s how I first learned about Jeff and Don Breithaupt.”
“I can’t remember the name of the song or even the record it appeared on but it impressed me enough at that time to look up the songwriters and read their story. I was more than a little impressed by what they’d accomplished to that point. So when Just Passing Through: The Breithaupt Brothers Songbook Vol. II landed in my digital mailbox I wasted no time downloading the tracks and cycling through them. My initial response was simply “wow.” Further listening confirmed my initial response was an accurate assessment of what I’d heard.”
You do know that Don Breithaupt wrote a must-have pocketbook about Aja? And that the Breithaupt Brothers collaborate with the Leonhart siblings (Carolyn and Michael) when in New York? Okay, just checking so you needn’t be wondering what the Steely connection is here. We’re still not done listening to Just Passing Through, and as soon as we find a moment, we’ll try to give you a little more than just superlatives!
Which brings us straight to Georg Wadenius, renowned Swedish guitarist/composer/arranger who toured and recorded with numerous artists. We interviewed him for Mizar5 once, and have kept up to speed since. He released Cleo 2, as you can see, a follow-up to his 1987 album with the same name. We can recommend watching this documentary, which even though it’s in Swedish, isn’t hard to understand when the language is music. Enjoy!
And last, but not least, we’d like to ask your attention for a blog that touches on legalities that can really ruin one’s chances to move forward in life. Or in the United States of America. We first heard of this artist when listening to Dandom Radio, an initiative of Hoops who also distributes the incomparable and essential on anything ‘Dan’, namely the Dandom Digest. The tune that made us drop what we were doing cleverly mixed Steely Dan with Frank Zappa. Brain Tap Shuffle. Yeah that’s exactly what it did! Nigey Lennon, as a musician and published author who also runs her own e-book publishing company called Airstream Books, is working on a new album, but she’s brutally hindered by the stickiness known as red tape, courtesy of the rigid apparatus called bureaucracy. Read all about it on Bedford and Bowery.
Nigey’s first album was re-released by Muffin Records. “Classification has always been anathema to Lennon. Equally at home writing a risqué blues tune, a string quartet, a big band free-for-all, a sea shanty, a hauntingly melodic Lieder-like song — or more likely a combination of all of them — Lennon’s self-confessed musical purpose is to express what she feels at the moment. “Sometimes the moments all collide like a train wreck,” she admits, “but that’s the way it goes.” Born in Los Angeles to a philologist mother and “a house painter-drifter-philosopher” father, who died in an accident shortly before she was born, Lennon suffered from a hip defect at birth and as a result of limited mobility spent her early childhood in her bedroom, listening to 78 RPM records and reading. She began playing guitar when she was ten and moved on to electric guitar at 11. An early influence on her music was her great-uncle, old-time fiddler James B. Gordon, whom she often accompanied on guitar when he played dances and rodeos in the Southwest. At age 12 she accidentally got hold of a copy of “Freak Out!”, the first album by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. Heavily influenced by the recording, Lennon decided she wanted to be a professional musician. Three years later she recorded a demo tape of songs she had written and sent it to Frank Zappa’s record company, Bizarre Records. This led to a meeting with Zappa which didn’t result in a record deal, but he did tell her he thought she might be a good guitarist someday if she kept practicing.” Continue reading.
Hey guys, if I’d say it’s been a while, that would be the understatement of the year. And the reason we’re back here isn’t because we stumbled upon something new… nope. We stumbled upon some good stuff turned into great stuff. Found it via our Canadian friend Blazer Rouge, Red Blazer 😉
So, let’s not dilly-dally and get into this: Enjoy!