Issue 171

The Meanings of Life

The Meanings of Life

Frank Doris

For though your ship be sturdy
No mercy has the sea
Will you survive on the ocean of being?

– Genesis, “Watcher of the Skies”

As long as I gaze on
Waterloo sunset
I am in paradise

– The Kinks, “Waterloo Sunset”

In this issue: Rich Isaacs finds audio nirvana. B. Jan Montana has time to ponder on his epic journey. Anne E. Johnson finds the essence of bossa nova in Astrud Gilberto and looks at the all-too-brief but remarkable career of Amy Winehouse. Our Mindful Melophile Don Kaplan enjoys more jazz. Ray Chelstowski talks with unstoppable rockers Collective Soul. Alón Sagee concludes his interview with synesthetic artist Melissa McCracken. Stuart Marvin examines audiophilia. We have two reports on the new Sphere Immersive Sound (SIS) live-audio system, from Tom Methans and Jay Jay French.

Russ Welton recognizes excellent customer service. Andrew Daly asks Sophia Marie what it’s like to start out as a young artist. I have a conversation with Dan Mackta of high-res audio provider Qobuz. J.I. Agnew takes a close look at more Japanese record cutting lathes. Ken Kessler says noodge and ye shall receive when it comes to reel-to-reel hardware. Rudy Radelic gets to the finish line of the Rust Belt Ramble lemons rally, and remembers the late jazz producer Creed Taylor. The Copper A/V department gets tapped out, analytical, tries to connect, and goes to the movies.

Staff Writers:

J.I. Agnew, Ray Chelstowski, Cliff Chenfeld, Jay Jay French, Tom Gibbs, Roy Hall, Rich Isaacs, Anne E. Johnson, Don Kaplan, Ken Kessler, Don Lindich, Stuart Marvin, Tom Methans, B. Jan Montana, Rudy Radelic, Tim Riley, Wayne Robins, Alón Sagee, Ken Sander, John Seetoo, Dan Schwartz, Russ Welton, Adrian Wu

Contributing Editors:
Ivan Berger, Steven Bryan Bieler, Andrew Daly, Jack Flory, Harris Fogel, Steve Kindig, Ed Kwok, David Snyder, Bob Wood

“Cartoon Bob” D’Amico

James Whitworth, Peter Xeni

Parting Shots:
James Schrimpf, B. Jan Montana, Rich Isaacs (and others)

Audio Anthropology Photos:
Howard Kneller, Steve Rowell

Frank Doris

Paul McGowan

Advertising Sales:
No one. We are free from advertising and subscribing to Copper is free.

 – FD

Long Live Excellent Customer Service

Long Live Excellent Customer Service

Long Live Excellent Customer Service

Russ Welton

In my humble experience, I think it’s true to say that people like to buy from, yes, you guessed it…people. Particularly if the commodity is something that is as inspirational as an electric guitar.

I guess this may sound like stating the obvious, and yet I am still amazed by the wide-ranging difference in shopping experiences and services rendered from independent retailers on the high street. Pretty quickly, one is able to gauge how enthusiastic or lackluster the individual behind the counter is. But perhaps one of the more humorous experiences you may relate to is when you are patiently waiting to be served, ready to bite the bullet on your chosen item(s), and you see the retailer continue to chat merrily away to their current customer about how bleak the future of retail is. “It sounds like we are heading for a bit of a major downturn, what with all the increases in utility costs and inflation,” was the most recent complaint I heard from one store manager in his shop full of people (including my brother and myself), just waiting to be acknowledged of their physical presence, let alone get anything resembling customer service. Or the opportunity to actually buy something.

Just as my brother and I had decided we would leave this particular store, we heard a rather hapless-sounding query: “Did you need any help?” I was actually quite surprised that after the lengthy waiting and listening to all the protracted retailer’s woes being heaped upon the previous customer, along with what the salesperson’s plans were that week, and how busy they had and hadn’t been, that it eventually came to a juncture in their conversation that meant waiting customers could actually spend some money!

I understand the importance of good customer relations, but other less-patient customers were leaving. I also get it, that you need to look after your “regulars” and give them the time they need, but there is a balance between the “social club” mentality and serving people. And, I entirely sympathize with the ever-tightening restraints put upon the retailer’s operational costs of rent, staffing, lighting, heating, insurances, taxes, stock, losses, and more. The list does seem to be almost endless.

Yet I have to say that if it isn’t in fact an uncommon trend that retailers are letting customers slip through their fingers, then that truly is a shame for our high streets. Never more so than now, is it critical to provide good customer service when having to compete with the global shop window of the internet. In a modern society where it’s possible to browse the world, purchase, receive fast delivery, and even benefit from a 30-day-plus return window, then ensuring that each customer is at least seen to is surely a minimum prerequisite. The client has taken the time and effort to physically come to the store, so what can the retailer do, to help?

This presents its own challenges for small businesses with limited numbers of staff, but just a simple “Can I help you today?” or, “I’ll be right with you” can make a huge difference to the confidence customers may begin to place in your business. Just to know that they are going to be seen and treated politely is a big deal. I have even seen a sticky-badge dispenser in one popular high street hi-fi vendor, to which you may avail yourself of and choose the appropriate message printed on it; for example, “I need help,” or “I’m here to buy a TV.”


Courtesy of Pxhere.com.

Courtesy of Pxhere.com.


I mention these observations because there seems to be an increasing trend in some retailers at least to almost enjoy the “keep-you-hanging-on” vibe. For me this hasn’t been an isolated experience. Offering exclusivity of products and services is one thing, but then again, as mentioned before, we are in a quick-serving global marketplace. It’s so easy to buy and return online these days that if you don’t at least acknowledge your customer, can you rightly expect to stay in business when there are so many online options? Perhaps the answer is a resounding “no.”

As a brick-and-mortar store, if the demand is there, one has to try their hardest to accommodate it. The beauty of this is that here lies a genuine opportunity to make a difference in the sales experience. As stated at the outset, people do like to buy from people, but perhaps it could be more accurate to say that people prefer to buy from informative, friendly and helpful people that offer reasonable deals.

Believe me, I know what it’s like as a retailer. You spend all your time, effort and money investing in stock, and become incredibly knowledgeable about the product, only to have your brains tapped for all the valuable information you have garnered from product brochures, trade shows, reps, and hands-on experience, and then find out that your potential customer goes away and buys online for $50 less, safe in the knowledge of having tried out the product in your store. It’s a real challenge to compete, and increasingly so. What can you do?

Become a good people person and improve on closing the sale. My favorite experiences from buying from physical stores have always been because of the human element (along with enjoying the product). That’s one of the reasons why smart distributors invest in sales representatives to press the flesh of their retailers, not least of all to encourage some opportune orders as a result of an unexpected or unscheduled store visit. The reps I enjoyed purchasing from were good people-persons, and the same should be at least equally true of the retailer. Put another way, if the store manager or staff are not good people-persons, why would you want to buy from them in the first place?

Great interpersonal skills are not necessarily commonplace, but boy don’t you notice a difference between restaurants when the table service is professional compared to being provided begrudgingly – and accordingly, which ones you come back to? How much more important may this be if you are selling something that’s an infrequent or even a once in a lifetime purchase, such as a guitar or high-end audio gear? I suppose the better question could be, how many items are they going to buy because of you. Your input, enthusiasm, knowledge and professionalism can make a more than significant difference.



In the same way that buying with confidence is important to a customer, so too it is important for the shop assistant or apprentice to develop a personal confidence in their knowledge and in their customer service skills.

When I was running the Music Instrument Retail Training Apprenticeship Scheme in the UK, I would say that one of the most rewarding experiences I gained from the whole process was seeing the young apprentices develop from shy and introverted individuals, hiding behind their long fringe hair and avoiding eye contact, into bright, punctual and communicative persons with something to offer – with confidence. Seeing young people grow in their confidence as they benefit from increasing their own self-worth as they assist others is really quite special. I think that today, people appreciate this more and more, and are looking to find that refreshing experience of being served by a human being who can help them make informed buying decisions.

You might have heard it said that if you have a good shopping experience, you will probably tell up to five people, but if you suffer through a lousy experience, you may tell 20 people about it. Nobody enjoys bad service! But, even then, if a bad experience is had, the opportunity for the salesperson to rectify it and resolve a matter can make for a better and more meaningful customer relationship than if there had been no issue in the first place. Why is that? Being able to demonstrate a helpful attitude to make things right, along with increased positive communication, builds bigger bridges, and that too becomes a great talking point to share. A problem resolved is sometimes better than a straight sale. It’s all about not neglecting people and their needs, and taking time out for them.

What have been your best and worst retail experiences?


Header image courtesy of Pexels.com/cottonbro.

The Beacon Theatre’s Sphere Immersive Sound in Action

The Beacon Theatre’s Sphere Immersive Sound in Action

The Beacon Theatre’s Sphere Immersive Sound in Action

Tom Methans

The last show I had seen at the Beacon Theatre was either Lita Ford or Joe Jackson back in the 1980s, likely viewed from the only seat I could afford in the upper or lower balconies. I generally avoid theatres because of the seating and sound constraints – some people consider theatres to be intimate, but I always found them claustrophobic, especially for the bands I liked. Ever since my first concert at Madison Square Garden, my preferred venues have always been arenas because they have spacious loudness no matter where I end up, and all the imperfections are charming at this point. Lately, I’ve been watching shows from corporate suites around New York and New Jersey (all venues shall remain nameless), where the sound is also quite poor due to peripheral locations and glass partitions. If there really is a “sweet spot” in any live venue, I have never heard it and had given up trying to find it. That’s why I was so excited to attend Phish lead guitarist/vocalist Trey Anastasio’s performance as he previewed the Beacon Theatre’s new Sphere Immersive Sound PA system.

Before the show on August 19, 2022, I met with Stuart Elby, senior vice president of advanced engineering of MSG Entertainment, who gave me a quick rundown of Sphere Immersive Sound (SIS) and the 3D beamforming technology that targets every seat with the perfect mix of music whether it’s in the upper balcony, front row, or extreme corners of the venue. That’s an enormous advancement because 2,894 seats are now in the elusive sweet spot created by 52 active speakers. This new digital system that was surely going to be a far cry from the gear I remember at the Beacon in the 1980s. (Copper’s Jay Jay French was able to attend a pre-concert demo; see his article in this issue. (Here’s a link to an Instagram video featuring Anastasio and SIS.)

MSG Entertainment provided me a ticket in the left orchestra, about eight rows from the stage and in front of the left array of six MD96 speakers and six MD80S subwoofers, plus another two MD80S subs on the stage in front of me. At first, it was hard to adjust psychologically to facing that array head-on. I understood that my ears were receiving information from 38 other speakers along the center and right arrays, but I was fixated on what I could see. My row mates went to dance in the aisles so I moved out there as well and stood inside a crevice between the pedestals of a statue and pillar – just to keep out of everyone’s way. The new position allowed me to refocus my attention on the crystal-clear tones of Trey’s voice and acoustic guitars. I am not familiar with Anastasio’s repertoire or that of his band Phish, and intended to stay only for a few songs, but it was a testament to SIS and Anastasio that I stayed for an hour. I realized how much I liked the sound from my completely awkward vantage point in a crevice underneath the left speaker array. I was immersed. The room was alive, and the music had space, depth, and definition. If everyone was enjoying the same sonics as me, then SIS was already a triumph.


The Sphere Immersive Sound (SIS) system at the Beacon Theatre. Courtesy of MSG Entertainment.

The Sphere Immersive Sound (SIS) system at the Beacon Theatre. Courtesy of MSG Entertainment.


Although my ticket did not allow me to meander around the entire theatre, I made the most of my aisle and walked back and forth from the left emergency exit to the last row of the orchestra, listening for variations.

As I stood by the door leading to the lobby, I found myself under the loge overhang, a section of about 10 rows with 10 feet of headspace. I’ve been in these seats before! Not at the Beacon, but beneath other overhangs in other theaters, and they are some of the worst sections of the house. I once watched a Megadeth show from one of those seats and it was like being locked in the back of a van with a homemade car stereo blasting at me. I would rather have a worse view of the band than sit in that bucket of muddy sound waves. No matter the adjustments any venue makes with conventional fill speakers, there is no recreating the superior aural experience from the center front rows. However, it’s worth reminding ourselves that the original theatre was not built with audiophile PA sound in mind.


Detail shot of the SIS system. Courtesy of Tom Methans.

Detail shot of the SIS system. Courtesy of Tom Methans.


The Beacon started life as movie palace back in 1929 when it was more important for attendees to be able to see films, plays, and vaudeville acts rather than hear high-quality sound in the extreme rear of the orchestra sections. In 1982, the theatre was renovated and added to the National Register of Historic Places, so there was only so much architects and sound designers could do to make improvements without disturbing the integrity of the landmark building. Fortunately, a revolutionary sound system came along, taking the Beacon into the 21st Century as a cutting-edge live venue nearly 100 years after opening its doors.

As it turns out, the most auspicious part of my visit took place in the back rows and not my premium floor seat. The true accomplishment and merit of the system was most evident beneath the loge, where the sound was up to the same standard as the rest of the room. The only thing I missed was a bit of airiness given the low ceilings, but that’s a function of architecture and not Sphere Immersive Sound which absolutely sparkled with clarity and precision. Furthermore, no one else is going to spend 30 minutes walking from the stage to the back row looking for subtle variances, but that’s what we critical listeners do. Besides, after a few minutes in Row Y, I only noticed the great music.


Trey Anastasio at the Beacon Theatre. Courtesy of MSG Entertainment.

Trey Anastasio at the Beacon Theatre. Courtesy of MSG Entertainment.


I enjoyed getting acquainted with the work of Trey Anastasio, but if the Beacon ever features a heavy metal act, I would love to see what Sphere Immersive Sound can do with double kick drums, two electric guitars, and heavy bass. That is my benchmark and reference point for any PA system. As for future permanent installations in other venues, Radio City Music Hall (5,960 seats) and even my beloved Madison Square Garden (20,000 seats) might be candidates. According to Rich Claffey, Executive Vice President and Chief Operations Officer of MSG Sphere, “…anything’s possible at this point.” And that is certainly true as Sphere Immersive Sound is being scaled to a full-size arena. When it opens in late 2023, MSG Sphere in Las Vegas will have 164,000 speakers beaming to 20,000 people. I only hope that will be a stop on the next Megadeth tour.


Header image: Trey Anastasio, courtesy of MSG Entertainment.

Jazz Producer Creed Taylor: In Memoriam

Jazz Producer Creed Taylor: In Memoriam

Jazz Producer Creed Taylor: In Memoriam

Rudy Radelic

August 22, 2022 marked the passing of legendary jazz producer Creed Taylor. Active in the music industry for decades, he left a lasting impression on the world of jazz. He passed away in Germany, while visiting family, from heart failure following a stroke. He was 93 years old.

Taylor was born Creed Bane Taylor V on May 13, 1929 in Lynchburg, Virginia, gaining an affinity for jazz at a young age through hearing remote radio broadcasts from Birdland (the New York City jazz club) on his local radio. Creed played trumpet in his high school’s marching band and orchestra. He attended Duke University, performing with the university’s renowned jazz ensembles and graduating with a degree in psychology. It was, in fact, the jazz history of Duke’s music program that led Taylor to attend the university.

Taylor then relocated to New York City with the intention of becoming a record producer. A fellow Duke alumnus was running Bethlehem Records at the time, and that was Taylor’s foot in the door to the music industry. After producing a successful record by vocalist Chris Connor, Taylor became head of the label’s A&R (artists and repertoire) department. During his stint at the label, he recorded such artists as Charles Mingus, Oscar Pettiford, Herbie Mann, the J.J. Johnson-Kai Winding Quintet, Milt Hinton, Urbie Green, Ruby Braff, and others.

Here is “Out of this World,” from Bethlehem album K + J.J. by Kai Winding and J.J. Johnson:


Leaving Bethlehem Records in 1956, Taylor joined ABC-Paramount, eventually forming the subsidiary label Impulse! and recording such classic jazz albums as Oliver Nelson’s Blues and the Abstract Truth, Ray Charles’ Genius + Soul = Jazz, Gil Evans’ Out of the Cool, and John Coltrane’s Africa/Brass, Coltrane having been signed to Impulse! by Taylor in 1960. Other artists that Taylor produced were Quincy Jones, Zoot Sims, Don Elliott, Jackie and Roy, Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, and Oscar Pettiford. Taylor also recorded a handful of novelty instrumental albums as The Creed Taylor Orchestra.

“Little Pony” is taken from the album Sing a Song of Basie by Lambert, Hendricks & Ross:


1961 found Taylor on the move again, this time to Verve Records, where he would not only produce dozens of the label’s records, he would help introduce the newest music from Brazil, bossa nova, to American audiences, beginning with the Stan Getz/Charlie Byrd album Jazz Samba. The single from the iconic Getz/Gilberto album, “The Girl from Ipanema” (sung by Astrud Gilberto) became a worldwide hit, reaching the Top 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Taylor also produced records by Wes Montgomery, Jimmy Smith, Cal Tjader, Lalo Schifrin, Bill Evans, Johnny Hodges, Wynton Kelly (including the legendary Smokin’ at the Half Note with Wes Montgomery), Antonio Carlos Jobim, Willie Bobo, and (Rahsaan) Roland Kirk.

This is “Samba Dees Days” from the Jazz Samba album:


Creed Taylor’s style of jazz could, at times, be polarizing. Jazz purists often scoffed at his pop/jazz instincts. Despite that, his commercial leanings brought jazz to a wider audience, a trend that grew during his time at Verve. When A&M Records offered Taylor his own CTI (Creed Taylor, Inc.) jazz imprint in 1967, he took that concept further, and floundered somewhat at the label until he found his footing. His experiments with soul music (with albums by Tamiko Jones and Richard Barbary) were not all that convincing, and his tendency to overproduce records resulted in some of the albums being awash in strings (most often arranged by Don Sebesky).

Yet there were stellar albums by Antonio Carlos Jobim, Tamba 4, Nat Adderley, Paul Desmond, Quincy Jones, and George Benson, among others, that proved his point. Taylor was also instrumental in presenting the next wave in Brazilian music to American audiences: Milton Nascimento. The sidemen on these recordings were a who’s who of musicians from the era – Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Ron Carter, Hubert Laws, Urbie Green, and plenty of other musicians who have become household names in jazz.

Taylor’s need for a unique visual identity led to unique album packaging utilizing elaborate gatefolds, with jackets featuring the color photography of Pete Turner on the covers, in a bold design language created by graphic designer Sam Antupit.


Deodato, Prelude, album cover.

Deodato, Prelude, album cover.


“Bridges” (“Travessia”) by Milton Nascimento leads off the Courage album, only his second album, but his first for the American market.


When his association as an A&M Records imprint ended, Taylor finally got the chance to launch his own independent label, CTI Records. Financial woes, bankruptcy, and a sale to Columbia Records aside, his new label ran with the ideas he had been developing since leaving Verve. As was typical with his earlier label moves, many artists he worked with in the past followed him to CTI. In addition, his productions included records by up-and-coming Brazilian musicians Airto Moreira and Eumir Deodato, as well as jazz artists Freddie Hubbard, Stanley Turrentine, Kenny Burrell, Joe Farrell, Ron Carter, Hubert Laws, Milt Jackson, Chet Baker, Bob James, Jim Hall, Allan Holdsworth, Ray Barretto, and others. CTI’s soul jazz subsidiary Kudu Records featured Grant Green, Joe Beck, Dr. Lonnie Smith and Grover Washington Jr. As with his records under A&M’s wing, many of the cover photos were provided by Pete Turner.

This is the title track from Stanley Turrentine’s album Sugar:


CTI Records would also bring hits to Taylor’s résumé. Deodato’s remake of “Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001)” would reach No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 (and also win a Grammy award), and the album it came from, Prelude, would reach No. 3 on the Billboard album chart. Other hit singles include Bob James’ “Westchester Lady,” Esther Phillips’ “What a Diff’rence a Day Makes,” and Idris Muhammed’s “Could Heaven Ever Be Like This.” Hit albums include Grover Washington Jr.’s Mister Magic and Bob James’ BJ4.

Here is Grover Washington Jr.’s “Mister Magic”:


The label remained active until 1984, and Taylor revived the label in 1989 for a handful of new releases. In more recent times, Taylor took a CTI All Stars band on the road in 2009 and 2010, the former resulting in a video release CTI All Stars at Montreux 2009. Taylor also supervised the reissue of his CDs starting in 2009, with later batches being released in 2013 and 2017 (for CTI’s 50th anniversary).

Creed Taylor’s legacy of several decades in the music business lives on. The thousands of recordings he produced are in the libraries of many jazz fans and music collectors. He discovered and nurtured talent, featuring younger players in his ensembles who would go on to be big names in jazz, many still active today (Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Chick Corea, Hubert Laws, and Bob James, among many others, appeared as sidemen on his recordings). Taylor’s productions also live on through the many times his records have been sampled over the years.


Header image: A&M Records promo photo.

Audio Nirvana (I Found It!)

Audio Nirvana (I Found It!)

Audio Nirvana (I Found It!)

Rich Isaacs

A little background: the first article I wrote for Copper back in 2019 was about a speaker demonstration at the home of the late designer and engineer Siegfried Linkwitz (“A Visit to a Linkwitz Open House,” Issue 92). Years before, I had the privilege of paying a visit while Siegfried was still alive. He was a gracious and unpretentious man who gave freely of his time, although he did not know me before I requested an audition. After he passed away in 2018, Dr. Frank Brenner, under the company name of EarFood GmbH took over the manufacture and promotion of Siegfried’s speaker designs as well as presenting demos at the Linkwitz home and other locations. Prior to that, Siegfried had sold only plans for DIY builders, and the Madisound company sold the SEAS driver complement along with a flat pack of cabinet materials for the adventurous to build themselves. Siegfried never got into manufacturing. The Madisound driver kits are still available, but the flat pack is currently out of stock.

I had contributed a number of photos to the “Parting Shot” feature, but hadn’t written anything for the magazine. Former editor Bill Leebens was going to be in my neck of the woods to cover the California Audio Show. I was looking forward to meeting him, and I let him know about a demonstration of the Linkwitz LX521.4 speakers that was occurring the same weekend. I asked if he would like to attend, but he said he would be too busy covering the show. When I proposed writing a report on the event myself, he thought that would be fine.

I didn’t consider becoming a regular contributor until Frank Doris took over as editor. One of his first actions was to reach out to all who had written for the magazine, to get acquainted and find out what topics we wanted to write about. I suggested doing some articles on progressive rock and that started the ball rolling.

Some time later, I wrote about babysitting a pair of very large $90K speakers that belonged to a friend who needed to downsize temporarily (“Once in a Lifetime,” Issue 129). I ended up having them for over a year, during which time I enjoyed them immensely and became convinced that I needed to bite the bullet and buy what would be my ultimate speakers. My friend finally took the big boys back a couple of months ago, and it was back to my MartinLogan Aeon-I electrostatics (w/subwoofer). They sounded pretty good, but it just wasn’t the same…

It was time to make good on my plan to upgrade. Based on reviews that had intrigued me, I made a list of the speakers that I hoped to be able to audition at home (in addition to the Linkwitz LX521):

Eikon Audio Image 1 (includes amplification)
Gershman Acoustics Grande Avant Garde
GoldenEar Triton Reference
MBL 120 or 126
Muraudio SP 1
PS Audio aspen FR30
Von Schweikert Audio Endeavor SE
Wilson Audio SabrinaX
YG Acoustics Carmel 2

I have no doubt that they are all worthy contenders, although some (such as the PS Audio) were probably too big for my room. I never got around to trying any of them because I ended up buying the very Linkwitz demo system that our editor had heard (and been impressed with) at the AXPONA show earlier this year!

I had to order longer speaker cables and pay for insurance and shipping from the Midwest, but they arrived well packed on a 200-pound pallet about a month ago.


The system delivered, minus the outer box.

The system delivered, minus the outer box.


The LX521s are an open-baffle, dipole design that comes with a pair of five-channel amps (with analog signal processing) and dedicated SpeakON cable connections. The woofer cabinet is completely separate from the upper driver baffle, which straddles it with a “bridge.” A very clever element of the design is that all wiring is concealed, save for the last inch or two at the drivers themselves. The cable connections are at the bottom back of the two parts.



Image of speaker in parts prior to assembly.


Pardon the mess – this is a real-world living space (that’s my cat’s bed in front of the chair).

Pardon the mess – this is a real-world living space (that’s my cat’s bed in front of the chair).


I had to do some assembly, and I have a “Confessions of a Setup Man” story of my own. After I connected the driver baffle to the bridge and had gotten everything connected in place (amps, speaker cables, etc.), it was time to fire them up. I cued up an album, but nothing came out. Panic time! I looked at the amps and thought, “Aren’t there pilot lights that should be lit?” I knew I had flipped the power switches. Well, it turned out that while I was running the rather bulky speaker cables behind the equipment racks, I had somehow dislodged the AC plug for the power strip that fed the amps. Relief! I plugged it back in again and anticipated beautiful music. This time, all I heard was the bass. In checking the connections to the bridge, I eventually realized that these unfamiliar SpeakON connectors needed to be pushed in and turned to lock in place. This time I heard what I was hoping for – incredible sound.


Given the layout of my living room, I don’t have a lot of flexibility in determining speaker placement. Hardcore audiophiles may quibble with the big-screen TV and the coffee table as reflective surfaces, but the LX521s don’t seem to notice them.

Given the layout of my living room, I don’t have a lot of flexibility in determining speaker placement. Hardcore audiophiles may quibble with the big-screen TV and the coffee table as reflective surfaces, but the LX521s don’t seem to notice them.


Photo of the front of the speaker.


Note the cable connections at the bottom and the relative lack of exposed wiring.

Note the cable connections at the bottom and the relative lack of exposed wiring.


I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but these speakers truly disappear. They present a soundstage that is slightly behind the plane of the speakers, but perfectly integrated with the room. Every friend that I have played them for has had the same impression. Even my girlfriend, whose hearing is a bit compromised (and who had never really appreciated the sound I was getting before), agreed that the LX521s were a big step up. Siegfried Linkwitz felt that the speaker design parameters that contributed most to realistic sound were (in order of importance) dispersion pattern, frequency response and power handling. He held a number of views that went counter to accepted audiophile tenets – among them, that room correction was not needed if the speaker was properly designed. He was also not a believer in premium cabling or power conditioners (except in areas prone to lightning strikes).

Good recordings sound amazing on the LX521s, and lesser recordings still manage to generate a level of interest that wasn’t there with my other speakers. These speakers unravel the most densely arranged elements of a recording. The spatial presentation and delineation of instruments is on another level. My direct-to-disc LP of the LA4 (Just Friends) on the Concord Jazz label sounds incredibly live and present. Bud Shank’s saxophone is in the room.




Another area in which the LX521s excel involves the reproduction of acoustic (standup) bass. A great demo track for that is Patricia Barber’s slow and sensual cover of Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe,” from the album Café Blue. The arrangement consists solely of voice, bass, and finger snaps. The bass tone and attack are startlingly realistic.




Elaborate productions, such as the recordings by Sade, showcase the speakers’ ability to separate every instrument. The complexity of the arrangement of “Smooth Operator” is in sharp contrast to the minimal nature of the Patricia Barber track. A wide array of percussion instruments shares the stage with keyboards, guitar, bass, and drums.




I’m having a ball introducing true high-end sound to my friends who had never experienced it.

There may be systems out there with greater resolution (and heftier price tags), but I am one happy camper with these speakers. I feel no need to consider any further changes to my setup unless a piece fails. I might even drop my subscriptions to Stereophile and The Absolute Sound, although I still enjoy reading about stratospherically priced audio equipment.

For more information, visit the Linkwitz website.

The Linkwitz Lab website also has a lot of information on a wide variety of topics.


Header image: Rich is now the proud owner of these puppies. Photo courtesy of Frank Brenner.

First Look (and Listen): A Hi-Def Live Concert Audio Experience for the 21st Century

First Look (and Listen): A Hi-Def Live Concert Audio Experience for the 21st Century

First Look (and Listen): A Hi-Def Live Concert Audio Experience for the 21st Century

Jay Jay French

I recently attended a press showing (and listening) session at the Beacon Theatre in New York of their new, recently-installed sound system, called Sphere Immersive Sound. It was touted as “the world’s most advanced concert audio system,” and utilizes 3D audio beamforming technology.

The stated purpose of this system is to guarantee that listeners in every seat in the house hears exactly the same thing no matter where they’re sitting.


Read on…

Before I get into the stats on how this experience has been created and how well it works, here’s a bit of a back story.

When Twisted Sister was playing in the bars on Long Island and New Jersey, the pecking order of the bands was directly related to how sophisticated a band’s sound and light systems were. When you walked into a bar where we (or the Good Rats, Rat Race Choir, Zebra, Crystal Ship, White Tiger, or the Stanton Anderson Band or others) were playing, you saw huge sound systems and big light shows. This was seriously expensive gear designed to give you a concert experience in a bar.

Thinking back on it, it was insane to have to carry ever-larger lights and PAs that had to be set up and broken down every night.

The systems (remember, we were playing in bars and clubs that held anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000-plus fans) had to increase in size and cost, not to mention the trucks that we had to buy or lease and the extra crews we had to hire to carry this stuff around.  If only the club owners had installed permanent light and sound systems tailored to each room, we could have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars. The club owners never thought about this stuff. Why should they? They were as shocked as we were that the bar scene grew so big so fast and no one, not the bands nor our agents ever broached the subject.

Fast forward to the present time. Most small rooms around the country have PAs and lights so new artists only have to bring their stage gear. That stops when artists get to the level of arenas, festivals, and some larger theaters. At that point, it’s every man and woman for himself!

Why do I bring this up?

Because if what I saw and heard at the Beacon becomes a standard, then, at least in theaters and arenas that are strictly designed for live performances, the cost savings to artists will be huge and maybe reflective, as a byproduct, of lower production costs and lower ticket prices…well, one can dream…


The Sphere Immersive Sound (SIS) system at the Beacon Theatre.

The Sphere Immersive Sound (SIS) system at the Beacon Theatre.


None of this was brought up at the listening session but was acknowledged by the creators of Sphere Immersive Sound when I asked about it.

Regarding what I heard at the morning demo, which lasted about 30 minutes, I was impressed.

Many readers of Copper, who have been in the high-end audio game for years, are aware of the many attempts to create a larger “sweet spot” to enjoy the audio systems that we have spent lots of hard-earned dollars to build. Sadly, this sweet spot, no matter how much we spend, winds up being about 30 inches wide. After you move out of that zone, many things about the sound – the imaging, the presence of a soundstage, and other aspects – start to change and the illusion of a real performance starts to collapse. Ironic, ain’t it. The more you spend, the greater the illusion, until you go off-axis. The sweet spot should get wider, the more you spend!

The result of this quandary has been the attempt to digitally create, through multichannel surround speakers and DSP (digital signal processing), a more immersive sound experience. Oh no!  Not digital. That’s cheating. That’s fake! DSP (digital signal processing) is a dirty reference in our purist high-end world.

Actually, for the record, I have heard some amazing DSP-based playback systems and given the right sources, the experience is fantastic. I must add, however, that I remain a committed 2-channel audiophile at the moment in my listening room

I bring this up because, in a live concert experience, where you sit determines, for the most part, how much you enjoyed the show.

The closer to the mixing console the better the sound, as that is where the sound mixer sits.

Pink Floyd has always led the way when it comes to immersive audio. Even back in the late 1960s in the Fillmore days, they brought a quad sound system.

Floyd knew what they were after. Their albums, especially The Dark Side of the Moon, have always been audiophile favorites.

When they performed The Wall in 1980, they outfitted the Nassau Coliseum with speakers all around the floor mounted under seats.

“Stanley Screamers,” I was told by the promoter. I was there for two of the shows and it was an awesome sonic experience. [According to the Lansing Heritage website, Stanley Screamers were made by Stanal Sound from the late 1970s through early 1980s, and marketed by Altec Lansing – Ed.]

Those who have seen the Beatles Love show by Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas also know what incredible surround sound can do. In this show, there are speakers behind every seat. It has consistently led to raves about how the music has never sounded better. This has to do with a special mix that allows all the channels of audio to provide enveloping multichannel sound.

This is where this new SIS (Sphere Immersive Sound) technology comes into play. (Click here for an Instagram video about SIS.)

Thanks to DSP, the fixed-array sound system does (or tries to do) what multiple speakers do without the need for actual physical surround (rear and height-channel) speakers. It’s all done through DSP with state-of-the-art loudspeakers and amplifiers. The SIS system uses five speaker arrays with built-in subwoofers, arranged in a left-center-right configuration. Using beamforming, the arrays are tailored to aim their sound to the four sections of the Beacon Theatre – the orchestra, loge, lower balcony and upper balcony.

Here’s more information provided by MSG Entertainment: instead of an ever-expanding wave as produced by conventional PA systems, the SIS process causes the sound to travel as thousands of beams – the “beamforming” part of the technology. (More on this below.) This enables audio to be directed at the listener so that it sounds close, even though the source is far away.

I only heard a taped demo, as I couldn’t make the show in the evening. Trey Anastasio of Phish was going to do an acoustic set to debut the system that night. (Copper’s Tom Methans was able to go, and has a report in this issue.)


Trey Anastasio of Phish at the Beacon Theatre, August 19, 2022.

Trey Anastasio of Phish at the Beacon Theatre, August 19, 2022.


The sound pressure level, as played back while I was there, was impressive. Several blues tracks were also played. There were a number of other journalists there, and we were encouraged to walk around the theater as the demo sound was playing. I walked around, from one side to the other, from front to back, and basically heard the same mix, which did envelop me.

I must note, however that this was in an empty theater, so I don’t know how the system, or equalization, compensates once people fill in the seats. I also did not walk up to the balcony.

The SIS system is now permanently installed in the Beacon Theatre. Another SIS system is being installed at the MSG Sphere in Las Vegas at the Venetian. It will be a 20,000-seat venue when it’s finished in 2023.

The Madison Square Garden Entertainment Company has a lot invested in the Beacon and the upcoming MSG Sphere. The size and complexity of the latter is huge and I’m sure the cost of development (the Sphere will cost $1.8 billion) is commensurate with the size and scope of this creation.


A rendering of the MSG Sphere in Las Vegas, to be completed in 2023.

A rendering of the MSG Sphere in Las Vegas, to be completed in 2023.


What I can say is, after my short exposure, is that the system appears to do what is claimed, but when I hear it in real-world use, I’ll be able to give a more educated opinion. Needless to say, the idea of a properly set up sound system in any given room is always a plus, and if this new design performs as advertised, live sound has truly entered the 21st century.

Editor’s Notes: Beamforming works by controlling the phase, relative amplitude, and timing of different [sources] to create patterns of constructive and destructive interference (from Wikipedia). Put another way, beamforming relies on different speakers responding to the input signal in different ways. The different speaker settings allow the system to control the size, shape and direction of the acoustic wave (from MathWorks).

The SIS system is modular in design. The Beacon Theatre system uses 52 total speaker modules, both flown and ground-stacked.


All images and video links courtesy of MSG Entertainment.

Talking With Dan Mackta of Qobuz

Talking With Dan Mackta of Qobuz

Talking With Dan Mackta of Qobuz

Frank Doris

Streaming and downloading audio service Qobuz specializes in delivering high-resolution audio up to 24-bit/192 kHz. Founded in 2007 in France, Qobuz launched in the US in February, 2019 and now operates in 25 countries throughout Europe and Latin America.

We interviewed Dan Mackta, Qobuz managing director, US (photo above), about Qobuz’s origins, philosophy, recent developments, and more.

Frank Doris: Could you give a brief outline of Qobuz and how it got started?

Dan Mackta: Qobuz is a French company based in Paris, started by classical musicians almost 15 years ago. It was originally a high-res download store, and evolved to open up the first high-res streaming service in the world. We finally opened up in the US in February of 2019, on Valentine’s Day.

We had time to establish ourselves before Amazon launched Music HD and Apple launched Lossless Audio, not a moment too soon.



FD: When did the light bulb go off when Qobuz decided, hey now’s the time for a high-res streaming service!

DM: I don’t know, but God bless them.

The current owners are not the founders. The guys who started the company were classical musicians dedicated to quality, but they weren’t great at other things, which is why the current ownership took over about five years ago.

FD: All your stuff is high-res.

DM: We’ve got one tier [of high-res audio only]; that makes us unique. The differences are that you can go monthly [subscription] or annual; you can do a family plan, or a duo plan, two subscriptions for a package price. We’ve got the high-res download store also. We’re not just a streaming service. And there are not that many places to buy high-res downloads; major services, streaming services don’t offer it.

For those for whom these things matter, we have as much 24-bit high-res as we can get from the labels, suppliers and creators. Everything that we have is at a minimum CD-quality, 16/44 – 80 million tracks or something like that. Also, there’s so much new stuff being released every single week. But last time I checked, [we had] about 3 million high-res tracks. It’s comparable with what the other guys should have.

FD: You don’t actually get master tapes and put them through some kind of machine that converts it all to high-res, correct? You’re getting the files from the record labels.

DM: Yes. We don’t do anything to them.

FD: And I guess some record labels care more about high-res than others.

DM: Well, they make more money from [offering high-res versions], at least with us. And there’s consumer demand. It’s not huge, but it’s enough. Otherwise, Apple and Amazon wouldn’t be offering it.


Qobuz people: David Solomon, Dan Mackta, Emmaline McCourt, and Nitha Viraporn.

Qobuz people: David Solomon, Dan Mackta, Emmaline McCourt, and Nitha Viraporn.


FD: You hear so much talk about the fact that the average consumer doesn’t care about high-end audio and they’re happy listening through phones and crappy earbuds. I’ve never believed that.

DM: When it comes to music listening, there’s really no such thing as a [typical] consumer. Everybody has their own way that they listen. Most people, if they knew they could easily get better sound quality, would want it. It’s just that they haven’t heard of it. That’s part of [our] challenge.

FD: How do you make people aware?

DM: Well, it’s a big challenge because our marketing budgets are insubstantial. (laughter) I feel like I’m 12 years old again going door to door, selling magazine subscriptions to try and win a clock radio or something.

Selling subscriptions but also trying to establish a brand. Also, just trying to educate consumers in general about what’s available. Because we’re small, it’s been about knowing the audience; we’ve definitely focused on people who already know what high-res is. It’s a lot easier to convince someone who already knows…

FD: …what good sound is all about.

DM: And then I think it’s been about finding and featuring cool, unusual music, and being able to market mainly through stuff that doesn’t cost a lot of money: social media, YouTube and stuff like that. With artists that have a platform or constituency, recommending us [is] meaningful. It’s about just letting people know there’s a [high-quality] alternative. Some people like that we’re a smaller company, not a multibillion-dollar international juggernaut that also [happens to offer] streaming.

Our new-releases programming and our playlists are driven by more of an old-school record store vibe. Hey, here are a couple dozen of the coolest new albums out this week; we’re putting ’em up “in front of the store.” We’re like a very cool record store that doesn’t necessarily care what the flavor of the month is. We’re not trying to be exactly the same thing as all these super-mainstream players.

FD: There’s so much music out there that people need to have a filter.

DM: Thousands of new releases are pitched every week. There’s huge amount of material coming in. We listen to it all, [but] rock, jazz and classical are our biggest genres for our audience.

FD: So, who picks that stuff? Is it you, or is it a staff of one hundred? (laughter)

DM: It’s a staff of about a dozen across the world. It’s not a lot of people. We look for a certain vibe or certain focus; we just know what our audience is looking for. It’s not a workout playlist!

FD: What kind of efforts do you have to make to get the best-possible high-res masters?

DM: A lot of stuff comes in like a fire hose every week from our distributors and partners. {Sorting through it] is a huge job.

We’re at the mercy of the record labels for the most part. [On the other hand], A&R people are constantly looking at what they have and figuring out how to make more money from it, which means how to reissue it in a way that’s gonna get people to care about it again. And there’s certainly an effort; everybody is remastering or doing 24-bit transfers. We generally know when stuff is coming, and we work with the [labels] to plan out marketing and promotion. For example, knowing when a big drop of Frank Zappa is coming.

We get the [high-res] files and apply no volume normalization. We do no digital signal processing. Nothing. We may offer a volume-normalization option later.

FD: Qobuz just made an announcement regarding a partnership where you will be offering some songs with THX Spatial Audio encoding. Tell us about that, and why you decided to get into it.

DM: THX is obviously a respected brand that’s done a lot of different things over the years. They brought this THX Spatial Audio format to my attention. It’s big in gaming. Up until now its primary use case has been in gaming. But they’ve been trying to get more artists to try it and we decided it would be fun to work with them. It was easy to do because THX Spatial Audio is delivered as regular 2-channel audio, so no decoder is required.

It’s designed to be used with headphones and to get the sound “out of” your head. It’s not as extreme-sounding as some of the other sound-processing headphone formats. It allows the engineer to create a more 3D sound space. We were able to get some very cool eclectic artists.


Here are links where you can listen to THX Spatial Audio:

“Double Dare” by Circuit des Yeux
“Calling Vic Juris” by Anat Cohen
“Whenever You’re Ready” by Dinosaur Jr.


FD: The one question I have to ask everybody is: how has the pandemic affected you?

DM: Thankfully, nobody on our team or anybody’s families were had any serious health impacts. Qobuz had a huge boost at the beginning of the pandemic. A massive explosion. It calmed down in 2021 but overall, I think it poured gasoline on our growth in the US.

FD: In a recent interview I said that it’s sobering to know that there’s much more music out there than you can listen to in a lifetime.

DM: It’s probably [more like] more music is released in a month than you could listen to in a lifetime.

The most fun part of Qobuz for me, as a music person, is being able to be involved in the delivery chain in a way that feels really respectful of the artists.

FD: Are there any technological advancements you foresee for streaming or digital audio, or where might things be going?

DM: Well, you keep hearing about advancements in Bluetooth and higher-bit-rate Bluetooth. [I also think] we’ll see more and more lifestyle products that sound good and are designed to work with high-res audio.



All images courtesy of Qobuz/Shore Fire Media.

Analyze This

Analyze This

Analyze This

Frank Doris


Not much is known about this early M&K three-piece satellite/subwoofer system (pictured above and below) found at Audio Classics, but it looks and sounds very cool.


Here’s a side view of the system’s simple, elegant lines.


And here’s the system’s V-1B subwoofer. Photos by Howard Kneller, from The Audio Classics Collection.


A magic mirror television, 20 super-powered tubes, an FM/AM radio and the ability to play the sensational new long-play records? Admiral offered quite the audio trifecta in 1948.


It’s not a prop from The Outer Limits (or maybe it is)…it’s the mighty Antennalyzer! Radio Craft magazine, May 1946.


We’ve seen this Calypso portable phonograph before in Audio Anthropology in a different 1950s Motorola ad, but who can resist hi-fi in fiber glass?


Howard Kneller’s audiophile adventures are documented on YouTube (The Listening Chair with Howard Kneller) and Instagram (@howardkneller). His art and photography can be found on Instagram (@howardkneller). He also posts a bit of everything on Facebook (@howardkneller).

Around the World In 80 Lathes, Part 21

Around the World In 80 Lathes, Part 21

Around the World In 80 Lathes, Part 21

J.I. Agnew

In the previous episode (Issue 170), we looked at the Hara disk recording lathes, manufactured in Japan in the 1970s.

The Vanrock E-101 and the Atom A-101 came a bit later, in the early 1980s. Although similar in terms of portability, the Vanrock and Atom machines were very different to the Hara products. The Vanrock and Atom are essentially the same machine, manufactured by the same factory and having identical manuals, but branded differently, for reasons beyond my comprehension. The Vanrock/Atom has a belt-driven platter that could record on 7-inch blanks. The head was stationary, and the platter would move under the head, in a manner similar to the disk recording lathes of the early acoustical recording era (although in more recent times, the concept has been revived, first by Phonocut and later by Thorsten Scheffner of Organic Music in Germany, who made a few custom lathes based on this principle).

The only similarity to the Hara machines was that the Vanrock/Atom was also built into a briefcase and had built-in electronics, including a microphone preamplifier. Designed with a notably modern approach to aesthetics, perhaps more so than any other disk recording lathe ever made, it resembled some kind of space-technology gadget right out of a science fiction movie. As with the Hara lathes, its sound quality left a lot to be desired, but it did contain everything you would need to cut a record in a fairly lightweight, portable package! The built-in audio electronics even included a simple compressor, to keep the dynamics under control even when the level was incorrectly set, or to accommodate difficult recordings with no need for dedicated studio equipment. In a sense, these machines were to a professional disk mastering lathe what a Swiss Army knife is to a fully-equipped machine shop.


Atom A-101 disk recorder. Courtesy of Dylan Beattie, Sussex, England, https://furrowedsound.co.uk.

Atom A-101 disk recorder. Courtesy of Dylan Beattie, Sussex, England, https://furrowedsound.co.uk.


Another view of the Atom A-101. Courtesy of Dylan Beattie.

Another view of the Atom A-101. Courtesy of Dylan Beattie.


Fast forward to the late 1990s and early aughts: the vinyl record is no longer king, sales were plummeting, the major record labels didn’t want anything to do with it, record stores didn’t want to stock records, pressing plants were either going bankrupt or sending all their equipment to the scrapyard to make space for optical disk manufacturing equipment, and consumers around the world had started throwing entire record collections in the trash, convinced by clever marketing that they were now worthless, having been rendered obsolete by the promise of “perfect sound forever” in the form of digital media.

Just when pretty much the entire rest of the world was getting rid of everything related to vinyl records, a company in Japan decided to introduce yet another consumer-oriented disk recording lathe! This time it was a fairly large, export-oriented company, with a strong foothold in the DJ market, internationally. It was an ambitious move and the result was even capable of cutting stereophonic records! We are talking about Vestax, which introduced the VRX-2000 lathe in 2001! It retailed for around $10,000 in US dollars, and was not exactly successful. It was aimed at the consumer market, or perhaps the “prosumer” market, and lacked many of the essential features of a professional disk mastering system. It was the only stereophonic recording lathe at the time that was not aimed at professional mastering facilities, and at the same time, the only lathe in active production, with an international network of dealers. However, the price was perhaps higher than what the consumer market would accept, and came at the lowest point in history for vinyl record sales and appreciation. Although it did look quite impressive, compared to pretty much all other attempts at consumer disk recording equipment, it was still a beefed-up version of a DJ turntable with a cutting attachment on top and built-in audio electronics of questionable performance. It had a fixed-pitch system, giving a recording time of approximately 14 minutes per side of a 12-inch record.


Vestax VRX-2000 record cutting machine.

Vestax VRX-2000 record cutting machine.


Macrophotography of a Vestax VRX-2000 cutter head, repaired and modified by the author to accept a Neumann-type stylus. Courtesy of Agnew Analog Reference Instruments.

Macrophotography of a Vestax VRX-2000 cutter head, repaired and modified by the author to accept a Neumann-type stylus. Courtesy of Agnew Analog Reference Instruments.


Close-up of the Neumann-type stylus, seated on a modified Vestax VRX-2000 cutter head. Courtesy of Agnew Analog Reference Instruments.

Close-up of the Neumann-type stylus, seated on a modified Vestax VRX-2000 cutter head. Courtesy of Agnew Analog Reference Instruments.


The stereophonic cutter head borrowed heavily in design from the established professional cutter heads, but with all the difficult-to-implement features trimmed out. It did not have motional feedback, relying entirely on mechanical damping instead. The idea was actually quite good, but rather poorly executed. The materials and configuration chosen in its design did not age well, and users of these machines complained of poor reliability. Despite this, there are still a few in operation nowadays, but they have been repaired and often modified, to be kept running. Very few of these were ever made, and Vestax went bankrupt in 2014.


The Vestax VRX-299 cutter head and J.I. Agnew's macrophotography setup, with a Nikon bellows attachment, as a symbolic gesture in honor of Japanese engineering. Courtesy of Agnew Analog Reference Instruments.

The Vestax VRX-299 cutter head and J.I. Agnew’s macrophotography setup, with a Nikon bellows attachment, as a symbolic gesture in honor of Japanese engineering. Courtesy of Agnew Analog Reference Instruments.


While a few Japanese companies have been quite industrious in (repeatedly) trying to establish the notion of a consumer-grade disk recording lathe over the years (starting in the 1960’s, but information is difficult to find), there was never a professional disk mastering lathe made in Japan. However, Japan does currently hold the global monopoly in the manufacture of lacquer master disks, disk-mastering sapphire cutting styli, and perhaps also the mass-manufacture of diamond playback styli for phono cartridge manufacturers.

Perhaps if things change yet again and the vinyl record resurgence comes to an end, some company in Japan will decide that the timing is wrong enough to introduce a professional disk mastering system, or even yet another consumer-oriented disk recording lathe. For the time being, their focus is on the consumables side of the market.

Regardless of what lathe is being used and where it was manufactured, all currently-manufactured records mastered on lacquer are cut on Japanese lacquer disks with Japanese styli. DMM (direct metal mastering) remains an exception, with both the blanks and the styli for the process still being manufactured in Germany. As for the consumer market for disk recording equipment, it is presently bigger than ever, with a supply of vintage and usually fairly primitive machines serving it, along with an increasingly growing scene of people attempting (with varying degrees of success) to build their own disk recording lathes from scratch.


A page from the Japanese Vestax VRX-2000 manual.

A page from the Japanese Vestax VRX-2000 manual.


Header image: Atom A-101 disk recorder being used in live performance. Courtesy of Dylan Beattie.

Pilgrimage to Sturgis, Part 29

Pilgrimage to Sturgis, Part 29

Pilgrimage to Sturgis, Part 29

B. Jan Montana


[Editor’s Note: this part of the story took place in the mid-1980s.]

A blast of superheated wind hit me in the face as I walked out of that air-conditioned restaurant in Mitchell, South Dakota. The fieriness of the tarmac transferred instantly to my feet, even through my heavy boots. It took only a few minutes for my clothes to become clingy. The sun’s radiation would have burned through my shirt had it not been for the leather jacket. I couldn’t touch the paint on my helmet without scalding my hands, so I donned it by the straps.

While mounting my bike, I wondered if the grain on the Mitchell Corn Palace had popped, so I drove the short distance to check it out. “Is that a concern?” I asked the security guard.

“I hear that a lot,” he smiled, “No, the wall never gets to the 400 degrees necessary to pop the corn, that’s not really a threat. We experience a far more serious threat in the wintertime.”

“Let me guess?” I responded. “It turns into cornsicles and the kids eat them off the wall.”

“No, but you’re close,” he answered. “The squirrels eat them. They get real hungry when the ground is covered with snow and become very aggressive. They can even reach the corn at the top of the walls.”


Mitchell Corn Palace. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/brx0.

Mitchell Corn Palace. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/brx0.


“No kidding!” I laughed. “What a great resource for them. In San Diego, the termites eat the buildings.”

“I’ve got a nephew in San Diego,” he responded, “he’s in the Navy.”

“I hear that a lot,” I smiled.

By now, my black jacket was so hot, it threatened to scorch my skin. I did a U-turn and headed for the cooling breeze of the highway.

When I heard a police siren behind me, I pulled over to let him pass. He didn’t, and parked behind me. Barney Fife got out and asked, “Don’t you know it’s illegal to pull a U-turn on Main Street?”

“Actually, I don’t. I’m not from…”

“Ignorance of the law is no excuse, fella, you broke it and now you’re going to get a ticket.”

“But there’s not more than a dozen cars on this big wide street, and they’re all parked. Who was I endangering?”

“What if there was an emergency vehicle rushing to the hospital, you woulda turned right in front of it.”

“Don’t they have sirens?”

“Are you being a smartass?”

“Is there a ticket for that too?”

“Look Buster, keep it up and you’ll be kept overnight for disorderly conduct.”

“No I won’t, officer; I have a recording of this encounter and you won’t be able to make the case.” I pulled a microcassette recorder out of my pocket and revealed it to him. I only used it in the evenings to keep a record of the day’s events, but he didn’t know that.

“Look, I’m not trying to cause any trouble here, but I feel like I’m getting a ticket for nothing.”

“You have 30 days to pay it. If you don’t, your name will be entered into the National Register of Delinquent Traffic Offenders.”

“I’ve never heard of the DTO register, but I don’t want to be on it, so just give me the ticket.”

(It was only $20. When I got home, I appealed to the clerk of the court, stating that I probably wouldn’t visit Mitchell again due to overzealous policing. I got a letter back a few weeks later stating that the ticket had been rescinded. That was worth the price of a stamp.)

At 85 MPH, a wind tornado swept through the zippered vents of my jacket, sopping up the sweat, but the helmet stayed hot to the touch. I worried that I’d pass out once the milkshake I’d just consumed reached helmet temperature.

When the highway crossed the Missouri River in Chamberlain, I found river access near the marina, shed my jacket and helmet, and dove into the water — boots and all. The water instantly restored my faculties. Then I walked back to my bike, donned the jacket and helmet, and rode out dripping like an Oakland garbage truck. The engine sizzled and steam rose off the cylinders. The people in the parking lot looked like they’d seen an alien visitor.

The clothes dried in a few miles, but my boots acted like radiators for the next couple of hours and kept me comfortable.



No longer preoccupied with the heat, I found my wandering mind pondering the words of the cranky farmer. [See Part 28 in Issue 170 – Ed.] If he’s right and the pharmaceutical companies are buying clinical trials and ghost-writing fake peer reviews to distort science, then how can we trust their claims? And if we can’t trust their claims, what can we trust, their list of warnings? They are usually 10 times longer than the list of benefits. Is that a risk worth taking?

Seems like every year, we hear of some drug which turned out to be more harmful than helpful. Vioxx and several other dangerous drugs were even approved by the FDA. Is no-one bound by the Hippocratic Oath anymore?

What if university medical departments are financed by the drug companies? Is the public getting the best healthcare from their university-trained doctors; are they just pushing Big Pharma sales? As the solution to most problems seems to be some sort of pill, maybe we should be a little more discerning about taking what we are prescribed?

“Don’t worry, it’s covered by insurance,” we’re told, as if it’s free. Insurance funds are always sourced from the public, even if it’s government insurance. So, one way or another, we’re paying for it. Who’s monitoring the costs, the Pharma-sponsored politicians?

What about food — the other industry under the FDA’s jurisdiction? Seems the people who manage the FDA always hail from the food or pharmaceutical industries, or they work for them afterwards. Are they acting in our best interests? Are those granola-munching hippies right to protest the food supply? Is it really full of pesticides and hormones? Is that why we need so many pills? Why do we suffer from so many illnesses that were virtually nonexistent at the turn of the last century? Is our food supply tainted, or are we overmedicated? Where are the studies to research these issues, or will nobody finance them? Shouldn’t the FDA be financing them?

Why are there no studies of psychosomatic illnesses? Some research indicates that 80 percent of doctor visits are a product of stress and anxiety. If we continually treat the symptoms with pills, we benefit Big Pharma. Shouldn’t we be treating the origin of the anxiety? Maybe we can start by telling these patients to stop watching the news? That has to be one of the biggest stress producers extant. Is the news crafted to instill stress?

Hallucinogenic drugs got a bad reputation in the ’60s because a few people jumped off buildings thinking they could fly. Others, like myself, who were under careful supervision, experienced life-changing revelations which eliminated our fear of mortality. Since then, I’ve treated life like a vacation — in search of its joys rather than dreading its termination. It’s been said that all anxiety is based in a fear of death. Perhaps hallucinogenic drugs like LSD or Ayahuasca deserve more investigation.

Why isn’t more research being done on the placebo effect? It’s been proven to be as effective as drugs for about a third of study participants. Is the FDA is not interested because there’s no money in it? Why aren’t our politicians stepping in? Is it more profitable for them to keep quiet? How concerned are they for the people they represent?

What about the energy companies, the insurance industry, the bankers and credit card companies, the consumer product manufacturers, the military-industrial complex, the environmental lobby, the media; are they also buying politicians? Most of these companies are owned by large conglomerates, but who owns them, Asia, OPEC, some other foreign entity? Who’s representing the interests of the American people? Who really runs America? Is our democracy a sham? Is this what’s politicians mean by the New World Order?

Why does so much news reporting make no sense? Some things are amplified to ridiculous proportions and others, which hurt us much more, are virtually ignored. For example, they’ll go on for months about illegal drugs, AIDS, car safety, and gun violence, but ignore for decades the tobacco industry — which is responsible for more deaths than all those causes combined?

You know what your problem is, Montana, I said to myself, you’ve got way too much time to think on a boring highway like this.

Thankfully, the Sturgis sign appeared before I was overwhelmed by this cacophony of skepticism. The town was radically different from the week before. Pickup trucks now outnumbered motorcycles on Main Street. The banners were down and all the motorcycle swag shops were back to being the barber shop, the hardware store, the pharmacy, the gift store, and so on. One of the patrons at the bar said these shops derived 50 percent of their annual income from bike week. That explained why they were willing to tolerate the chaos. Another said he loved bike week because it was the most exciting thing to happen all year in his sleepy town. Still another suggested with a smirk that it was also the most titillating. I got the feeling it would be on again next year.

I finally reached the Bhagwan’s compound near Belle Fourche past dinnertime. Melody beamed from ear to ear when she saw me.

“I didn’t think you were coming,” she said as we kissed, “But you’re not too late to have something to eat. What would you like?”

“Whatever you fetch me will be fine Melody, but first, I’m taking a dip in the river.”

I ran down to the shore, stripped, and jumped in. This is what heaven must feel like, I thought to myself as I washed away my sins.

Cooled, refreshed, and wide awake, I joined Melody and the rest of the group. It was much larger than the week before, perhaps because this was the Bhagwan’s last gathering of the season. He was seated cross-legged on a picnic table. We thought he was about to make an address, but he stayed silent. He looked over and I wondered if he was waiting for me to finish eating. I nodded. He smiled.

Surprisingly, he didn’t say a word for another 20 minutes. As the crowd grew restless, he continued to look around with a smile on his face. Someone asked if he planned to offer a lecture. “When we’re ready,” he responded, then stayed silent. Some of the crowd left, then some more. After sitting in one spot for almost 40 minutes, the crowd was as quiet as the river and the trees.

“I think we’re ready to proceed,” he announced.


Header image: Sturgis, South Dakota. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Jerry Huddleston.

Previous installments appeared in Issues 143144145146147148149150151152153154155156157158, 159, 160,  161, 162, 163164165, 166, 167, 168, 169 and 170.

Lemons Rally: Rust Belt Ramble, Part Three

Lemons Rally: Rust Belt Ramble, Part Three

Lemons Rally: Rust Belt Ramble, Part Three

Rudy Radelic

Day Three: “Steel City, Oil City, Silo City”

Good morning! It’s the last day of the Rust Belt Ramble. This is the day of mixed emotions. On one hand, you’re glad today is the final day of the rally, as you’re getting mentally exhausted from all the navigating. But on the other hand, you’ll miss the exploring, the driving, and all of the friends you’ve spent time with.

Little did I know that I would stumble across a part of Detroit history near the very end of the rally.

The first checkpoint summoned us to Butler, Pennsylvania to find a historical plaque that marked the invention of the Jeep. The day’s “Find It” mystery was to find another historical marker for an eccentric Hall of Fame baseball pitcher who chased fire trucks during games, wrestled alligators, and grew up north of Pittsburgh. Located at the entrance to a school parking lot, I found this plaque for American League pitcher George “Rube” Waddell in Prospect, PA.


Historic marker for George "Rube" Waddell.

Historic marker for George “Rube” Waddell.


Following that, our next checkpoint was to find Pithole City. The “city” no longer exists, but Pithole City was a boomtown that rose up briefly around the activity of oil prospectors. Oil was struck nearby and as many as 15,000 people came to the hillside to strike it rich. But as the price of oil dropped and the suspected “ocean” of oil turned out to be nothing more than a puddle, everyone left town and the buildings were scrapped. A few remnants were left behind, and a visitors center and museum was eventually built at the top of the hill.

The pithole, by the way, was a crack in the ground that emitted a strange odor, which people of the day thought was a portal to Hell. The crack still exists but is located on private property.


A remnant of Pithole City.

A remnant of Pithole City.


This occasionally underwater bridge near Tionesta, PA, was our next checkpoint. The Nebraska Bridge was built over Tionesta Creek. Due to a nearby dam, the deck of the bridge is often well underwater, making it a seasonal bridge. At the time of the rally, the water level was but a couple of feet away from the bottom of the bridge.


The Nebraska Bridge.

The Nebraska Bridge.


The next section of the day in our rally book was entitled “Get your kicks on…” as we turned onto Pennsylvania’s Route 666. After locating the town of Endeavor, our next checkpoint would be a disappointing modern bridge along Blue Jay Creek Road. I had looked it up the previous night and found that the historic bridge, known as the Lynch Bridge and built in 1905, was replaced in 2019 with the current bridge. After a stop at the Shaw House in Sheffield, PA to complete our Route 666 checkpoints, we headed north on US 6 and US 62 to locate the marker for the 42nd Parallel, also known as the New York/Pennsylvania state line.


Marker for the 42nd Parallel.

Marker for the 42nd Parallel.


Our first New York destination was Jamestown, where we had to locate the historic Jamestown Furniture Exposition building. A database for historical markers sent most of us to the wrong location a few blocks away, but the building wound up being visible from the street we parked on. I managed to find my way over to it through the streets of downtown Jamestown, but not before coming across an amusing mural painted on the side of a parking structure.



"Lucy! I'm home!"

“Lucy! I’m home!”


I am not one to follow celebrities or their backgrounds, but as I’m sure many of you already know, Jamestown is the birthplace of comedienne Lucille Ball, and the Lucille Ball/Desi Arnaz Museum is located here. And not too far away, my destination – the Jamestown Furniture Exposition Building.



The Jamestown Furniture Exposition Building.

The Jamestown Furniture Exposition Building.


We departed Jamestown to seek out the location of the first national gas well in the USA, which was denoted by a marker located in Fredonia, NY. In 1821, William Hart dug a well at this location, and the Fredonia Gas Light Company was the first company in the country to distribute natural gas.

Our next checkpoint in Silver Creek, New York was a skew arch, which is a part of a bridge which crosses the obstruction beneath it at an angle.


Skew arch at Silver Creek, New York.

Skew arch at Silver Creek, New York.


This is the point in the rally where you realize you’re almost done! Our final three checkpoints, and the finish line, were located in Buffalo. A few of us stopped at a park adjacent to the skew arch to take in the views of Lake Erie, and then shuffled off to Buffalo.

It was this next stop that sent me headfirst into an encounter of a piece of Detroit/Windsor history. Silo City is a campus of grain silos located strategically on the Buffalo River and near the railroad. Now unused, the area is being redeveloped as a destination for tours and events, and a pub, Duende, is operating out of a former office building on the site. Here is one of the silo buildings on the property. Behind the lower left corner of this silo building and stairways was my confirmation of what I had seen from a nearby bridge.


Silo City.

Silo City.


To back up a few moments, I spotted this from a bridge as I approached Silo City. I was thinking to myself, “What are the chances?” After my visit to the silos, I returned to the bridge and grabbed this picture through a chain link fence. (Sorry it’s a bit grainy – one might say I was not quite legally parked on the bridge!)


The SS Columbia.

The SS Columbia.


That steamship behind the silos is the SS Columbia. One never forgets a familiar face…or I should say, a familiar bow and stern! I was able to read the stern tucked behind the building pictured above and confirmed it was the Columbia.

This steamship and its sister, the SS Ste. Claire, traveled daily up and down the Detroit River until the early 1990s. In the middle of the Detroit River was Bob-Lo Island (formally Bois Blanc Island), a Canadian amusement park reachable only by watercraft. The Ste. Claire (launched 1910) and Columbia (launched 1902) made daily excursions to and from the dock in Detroit, an 18-mile, 90-minute boat ride each way.  The boats were also available for evening cruises, featuring food, drink, and live bands. Ferries also reached the island from Amherstburg, Ontario and Gibraltar, Michigan.

With the Cedar Point amusement park located 120 miles from Detroit, attendance dwindled and Bob-Lo Island stopped running its steamships in 1991. In 1992, they were both declared US National Historic Landmarks. By 1993 the amusement park had shut down, and the island was partially redeveloped for residential use.

The ships were docked in Ecorse, Michigan at the Great Lakes Steel facility after they were retired, and left exposed to the elements. In 2004, the ships were finally shrink-wrapped to help prevent further damage and rot. 2006 saw the Columbia transferred to a New York-based non-profit group for eventual use on the Hudson River. Since arriving in Buffalo, the SS Columbia has been moored in the river behind Silo City.

The Ste. Claire fared worse, suffering a fire from a wayward welding spark in 2018 that destroyed its wooden mahogany upper decks. The steel framework and hull of the ship remain intact, but little progress has been made in raising the funds for its continued restoration. The ship remains moored on the Rouge River near the Dix Highway bridge.

Bob-Lo Island itself is part of local history as well. Due to its location, and how it was accessed from both Canada and the US, anyone who visited the island did not have to go through Customs. For people who wanted to travel between the two countries, either illegally or to avoid being drafted (especially for the Vietnam War), they arrived as “visitors” to the island, and swapped their return tickets with others who were looking to travel in the opposite direction. This allowed them to skirt their way around the US/Canada border crossings undetected.

Back to the rally! Our final two checkpoints were to locate the convergence of the three Olmsted parkways, meaning we had to find Soldier’s Circle. The final checkpoint was to find Shark Girl (see this article’s header image), who was located across the street from the Pearl Street Grill & Brewery, our finish line and the location of the awards ceremony.


We all piled into the lower level of the Pearl Street Grill and awaited the final point tallies for the rally. This was the first rally since early 2020 to include Canadians, as the borders had finally opened enough for the Canadian teams to join us. Two of the awarded teams were from Canada (Canucks on the Loose, and Team Smurf).


First row, left to right (photo above):

First Place: Lemons Little Yikes, Smart ForTwo
Second Place: The Egg Beaters, Toyota Previa

Second row, left to right:

Third Place: (tie, L to R) Nice Reliant Automobile (Plymouth Reliant), Escape From Buffalo (Plymouth Turismo), Scrapyard Refugees (Plymouth Acclaim)
Random Acts of Stupidity: Smokey and the Vandits, Chevy G20

Third row, left to right:

Judges Choice: Canucks on the Loose, Ford Fairmont
Organizer’s Choice: Team Smurf Car, Geo Metro

My future rally plans?

Two rallies remain for 2022. First is the Fall Fail-iage Tour, which circles from Boston to Albany, NY, Burlington, Vermont, and back to Boston. The last, in November, is the Great River Road Rally, a five-day slog up the Mississippi River from New Orleans to St. Paul, Minnesota. Time and funds permitting, I may decide to take part in the latter rally, as I would again be traveling a route I have never experienced before. The oldest running car in the hooptie fleet needs a redemption tour, and this might be the opportunity I’ve been looking for.

Back to My Reel-to-Reel Roots, Part 22: Reel-to-Real, or, Noodge and Ye Shall Receive

Back to My Reel-to-Reel Roots, Part 22: Reel-to-Real, or, Noodge and Ye Shall Receive

Back to My Reel-to-Reel Roots, Part 22: Reel-to-Real, or, Noodge and Ye Shall Receive

Ken Kessler

To noodge is Yiddish for “to pester,” but with a vengeance. It isn’t just whining and nagging. It’s full-blown, incessant, won’t-take-no-for-an-answer annoyance. That’s how I managed to drive RX Reels’ Kevin Root into producing a 7-inch tape spool for those of us who spend more time using the smaller size than the hey-look-at-me 10-inch sort. Therefore, this issue’s installment demands full disclosure, because this is something of a self-back-patting-fest for me. I must take the blame or the credit for the arrival of a brand-new open-reel tape accessory.

Along with precious few other new concerns dealing with the niche that is the open-reel tape revival, e.g., the firms refurbishing old machines, Root’s RX Reels (www.rxreels.com) arose because Kevin is a tape devotee, recently returned to the fold, who decided that spools needed updating to 21st century specifications. He responded with his now-established carbon-fiber 10.5-inch of peerless precision and undeniable beauty, if you are the sort who finds esthetic splendor in mechanical devices. As I do of Robot Royal cameras, Crown 800-series tape decks, and anything automotive that says “Bugatti” pre-1957.

At $239 a pop, the spool certainly qualifies as a “luxury” purchase, and I am aware that RX Reels is not the only purveyor of new spools circa 2022. Indeed, the custom spools made for STS Digital are also things of beauty, available as empty reels, and I am aware of others from Germany. Now that I have gotten that bit of journalistic balance out of the way, first, I must say that I have never seen any spools built like the RX spools, nor did I expect to see performance gains of the level which both the 10.5-inch and now the 7-inch delivered.

Yes, I did say performance gains. I always thought that spooling evenness and consistency were the by-product of the tape deck, and the nine machines in my possession do vary one from the other. As examples, the Pioneer RT-707 is better than the TEAC X-3, the Nagra IV-S is smoother than the Technics RS-1500, and so on, while the aged Revox G36 continues to astound me for its tape handling after 60 years. But it wasn’t until Kevin visited me with the prototypes of the 7-inch spool that he and I and a colleague witnessed the miracle which their precision afforded.

Backing up to the “why” of my pleas, I nagged Root for two reasons, one of which is wholly solipsistic: I listen almost exclusively to tape on 7-inch spools, which outnumber my 10-inch tapes by 40-to-1. That’s because my only interest is in commercial, pre-recorded tapes from the format’s original span – circa-1953-to-circa-1985 – whereas I appreciate that most current hard-core reel-to-reel enthusiasts prefer to run 15 ips 2-track tapes which demand the real estate of a 10-inch spool if you want to play anything for more than 15 minutes.


Kevin Root (left) with Ken Kessler and both sizes of RX Reels carbon fiber spools.

Kevin Root (left) with Ken Kessler and both sizes of RX Reels carbon fiber spools.


As for the second reason, I thought 7-inch spools were a natural follow-up to his 10-inch spools (of which hundreds have been sold), I suspect that, for newcomers to tape, and judging by what I see selling on eBay and at flea markets, 7-inch-only machines probably outnumber the larger decks. There are thousands of salvageable Sony TC-377s and Akai 4000Ds out there, as well as Nagra IV-S machines unless you’re lucky enough to own the 10-inch spool adaptor. Also pertinent is that a spool of 7-inch blank tape costs substantially less than a 10-inch blank. Above all, for pre-recorded tapes, those used tapes from the era cited above are a lot cheaper than the current 10-inch, 15ips, 2-track offerings from the specialist labels.

It was with this logic that I browbeat Kevin into designing a 7-inch version of his existing spool – literally a scaling down in size, including the shape of the apertures in the flanges. Unfortunately, costs do not scale down, and his 10-inch spools are not inexpensive at $239, so he made wise compromises to add some affordability to a 7-inch version: there will not be a range of colors nor custom finishes, and the logo will be a sticker rather than an engraving. If he succeeds in keeping costs down, it is hoped that the 7-inch spools will be offered for $179 – $189, but don’t hold me to that.

After some months discussing the design with me and others, Kevin agreed that they should look exactly like the gray-finished 10-inch spool. He chose to dispense with any notch near the hub to accept leader or tail to make threading easier because he wanted the balance (evenness of weight distribution) to be unaffected, even by that small amount. He insisted on all-aluminum hubs, with three screws per side (six total) holding the flange to the hub.

Unfortunately, I threw him a curveball when I pointed out that decks of a certain vintage – including my cherished Denon DH-710F – employed a locating peg that requires a hole that is approximately 1/2-inch from the primary spindle. This is not necessary with the NAB hubs of the 10-inch spools because every NAB hub adaptor I’ve seen has the requisite aperture on its back to accept a locating peg.

This is accounted for, too, on every plastic spool I have ever seen, usually with a series of equidistant holes, or the positioning of the aperture for the tape threading. Kevin opted instead, in order to maintain ultimate balance, to design a hub with three equidistant holes.

He arrived with two prototype spools and a hub on its own, and the workmanship was as fine as anything I have seen in machined metal. And cynics please note: the RX spools are made entirely in the US. Even the carbon fiber has a tale to tell: it is truly aviation-grade, as well as enjoying green credentials because Root has found a source for offcuts from an airplane manufacturer, so recycling is part of the process.


The machined hub.

The machined hub.


As “offcuts” suggest to me scraps on the floor of a tailoring establishment, or odd-sized chunks of wood as might be created by a carpenter, Kevin had to laugh. “Ken,’” he said, “these are remnants from carbon fiber sheets needed to cover whole wings. You could hide behind them.”

Alas, I didn’t bother to measure the thickness of the flanges on the prototype 7-inch spools, but I suspect they are slightly thinner than the 2.3mm thick flanges of the 10-inch spools. Other than that, the new spools actually do resemble a scaled-down version of the larger reel in every way, aside from the obvious replacement of an aperture for a NAB hub with the smaller “Mercedes-Benz” three-prong standard to suit all spindles.

We played a variety of tapes on three completely different machines, including the Technics RS-1500, Denon DH-710F and a recently-acquired and completely refurbished Revox A77 Mk IV Dolby. Whether played in real-time at different speeds, fast-forwarded or rewound, the spooling was improved over that of the metal reels I had been using before. And we only paid attention to the spooling on metal, not onto plastic spools, though some of those are superb, e.g., Ampex’s reels.


RX Reels' prototype 7-inch carbon fiber reel on the Revox A77 Mk IV.

RX Reels’ prototype 7-inch carbon fiber reel on the Revox A77 Mk IV.


This is not the place to savage the thin-aluminum-flange junk which was branded for tape decks back in the day. In many cases, they were worse than the plastic spools which came with either pre-recorded tapes or blanks from Maxell, TDK, etc. The only ones I care to praise are the 7-inch spools provided with the Pioneer RT-707, and an obscure but incredibly robust Ferrograph spool. Alas, this has screw heads near the center which are not flush with the flanges, so they only work on tape decks with undersized hub plates. Unless you’re handy with metalworking.

We were staggered. Running a finger over the spooled tape reveals no unevenness, no ridges. It made me think of (and I compared them to) fresh blank tape as it arrived from the factory. For this alone, anyone who uses 7-inch spools on a regular basis should purchase at least one for critical playback of treasured tapes. As for improvements to the sound? Hard to tell, as the sound was so amazing from the start.

Lastly, and this will appeal to all of you who surreptitiously switch off the lights in your listening room from time to time just to see how your system looks when fired up in the dark: the RX Reels look fantastic. Given the number of overdressed, pimped, decorated-within-an-inch-of-their-lives luxury open-reel tape decks that appear on Instagram and Pinterest, I am also prepared to disclose that, yes, looks do matter. Even with the lights out.


Copper's Jay Jay French at KK's with not one but two copies of the tape that got Kessler hooked on open reel.

Copper’s Jay Jay French at KK’s with not one but two copies of the tape that got Kessler hooked on open reel.


Header image RX Reels’ prototype 7-inch carbon fiber reel.

Amy Winehouse: Soulful Supernova

Amy Winehouse: Soulful Supernova

Amy Winehouse: Soulful Supernova

Anne E. Johnson

Once when R&B legend Ronnie Spector was shown a picture of Amy Winehouse, for a moment she thought she was looking at a picture of herself as a young woman. Winehouse so thoroughly embodied the girl-group look and sound of the 1960s that she became a true extension of it, not just a latter-day copycat. Yet she also imbued that retro style with a distinctly modern sensibility, an emotional transparency that expressed the singer’s own troubled life. Sadly, the trouble overwhelmed the talent just as it was blossoming.

Winehouse died of alcohol poisoning in 2011 at the age of 27, having made only two albums. But her impact was so great that she might as well have had a decades-long career. She influenced fashion with her beehive hairdo, slinky sheath dresses, and thick eyeliner. She brought attention back to those Motown and jazz women she emulated. But mostly, Winehouse stunned the world with the honesty of her lyrics and the mesmerizing and devastating effect of her singing. As Ella Alexander of Harper’s Bazaar put it, Winehouse’s voice was “a ragged contralto perfect for conveying heartbreak, sass, and pain.”

Born in a northern London suburb in 1983, Winehouse grew up around jazz, having a special love of Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan. Her grandmother and an aunt and uncle were all professional jazz musicians, and as a child Winehouse sang with the British National Jazz Orchestra. She started writing her own songs when she was 14. At age 18 she signed with management; at 19 she signed a recording contract with Island Records; at 20 she became a star. Along the way, she met the ideal producer in Salaam Remi. She also became addicted to heroin and alcohol.

The album Frank was Winehouse’s first. It came out in 2003, doing very well in the British market and making some serious inroads in Europe and Australia. It would not be released in the U.S. until 2007, after the wild success of her second album made it look profitable to EMI, which handled Island’s releases stateside.

Among the album’s tracks is “(There Is) No Greater Love,” a 1936 jazz standard that’s been recorded many times. For Winehouse, it’s likely that the most significant recording was Dinah Washington’s from 1954. Winehouse pays homage to Washington’s tight vibrato and pensive phrasing. One gets the sense that this young woman is visiting from the past.


The majority of Frank was composed by Winehouse. The result won her the prestigious Ivor Novello Award, which honors outstanding British songwriting. While these original tracks all draw unabashedly from the jazz tradition, they are unquestionably 21st century. This is especially obvious on “October Song.” Its drum sound owes more to hip-hop than to anything older. Winehouse wrote this as a memorial to her pet bird, Ava, and she manages to name-drop Sarah Vaughan in the chorus.


Instead of continuing in the jazzy vein of Frank, Winehouse took off in another direction for her second album. She embraced the R&B girl-group sound, even hiring an American soul band, the Dap-Kings, to back her up both in the studio and onstage. This choice opened not only an artistic floodgate, but also a commercial one: EMI was convinced to release the album in America. When Back to Black came out in 2006, the music industry seemed primed for it. It quickly became the highest-charting US debut by a female British artist. (Adele surpassed that claim soon afterwards, largely thanks to the influence of Amy Winehouse.)

The single “Rehab” was a monster hit, a black-humored look at drug addiction and family disfunction. Audiences were fascinated by the song itself and the suffering that must have led Winehouse to compose it. That public obsession with her life traumas never died down until her life ended. The album’s other singles included “You Know I’m No Good” (a duet with Ghostface Killah, of the Wu-Tang Clan), “Back to Black” (co-written with Mark Ronson), and “Tears Dry on Their Own” (using melodic phrases from Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough). That list alone shows Winehouse’s impressive range.

Among the album-only tracks was “Me and Mr. Jones.” It’s a direct answer to the Billy Paul soul hit “Me and Mrs. Jones.” Winehouse’s version tells the story from the woman’s point of view. While there’s a classic soul sound to the melody and the horns, the tempo is much faster than the way a similar tune would have been performed in the 1960s. There’s also brighter-textured instrumentation, giving the song a very different energy from Paul’s original.


As Winehouse’s fame grew, so did her problems with alcohol and drugs. Her struggles were intense and public; fans wondered when and if she would pull herself together enough to record another album. Tragically, she never did. There are, however, a number of tracks that either didn’t make it onto her two records or were recorded after Back to Black.

Lioness: Hidden Treasures (2011) is a posthumous compilation containing some of Winehouse’s unreleased material chosen by Ronson, Remi, and others who had worked with her. It’s not entirely treasures, of course, but there are some excellent tracks. One of the best is Winehouse’s haunting version of Carole King’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” arranged as if it were a girl-group song and expressed as if it were a torch song. The roughness in Winehouse’s voice, the result of her poor health, only enhances the pain in her delivery, and there certainly isn’t anything wrong with her range or dexterity.


Winehouse also recorded a lot of duets over her short career, most famously with Tony Bennett. Their version of “Body and Soul” was released as a single and included on Hidden Treasures. But she partnered with musicians of her own generation as well. One of her closest personal and musical pals was the American rapper Nas. Their song “Cherry Wine” features a rap layered against Winehouse’s neo-soul backdrop (warning: explicit lyrics):


It makes one wonder how she would have developed her hybrid style further, had she gotten the chance. So much promise. So much music we’ll never get to hear.


Header image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Rama.

The Colors of Music: Synesthetic Artist Sees and Paints What She Hears, Part Two

The Colors of Music: Synesthetic Artist Sees and Paints What She Hears, Part Two

The Colors of Music: Synesthetic Artist Sees and Paints What She Hears, Part Two

Alón Sagee

In Issue 170, Melissa McCracken shared with our readership the fascinating experience of creating her artwork as a synesthetic. Here’s an excerpt from Part One of our interview:

Melissa McCracken: Synesthesia is a neurological condition in which the brain’s senses are cross-wired. So, in my case, whenever I hear music, the color faculty of my brain is triggered at the same time. it’s involuntary and simultaneous – an automatic response to music. Synesthesia can occur in a number of different ways. Any of the senses can be cross-wired. I have a form called grapheme synesthesia, in which, if I’m reading a book, all the letters and numbers are color coded as well. Spatial synesthesia is another [type that I have], where days of the week and numbers or anything that’s sequential is mapped out around my physical body or in my mind in specific places. It’s basically just my senses overlapping in a way they wouldn’t normally in a neuro-typical brain.

Our interview continues here.

Alón Sagee: This question may be a bit from left field, but, have you ever heard a favorite and familiar song played back on a high-end stereo system?

MM: My brother is big into audio gear – he’s an audiophile for sure. He’s really into music and he introduces me to new artists and lets me listen on his really good noise-canceling headphones. I don’t know what exact model they are, [and] I’m not very familiar with all of the different brands of stereo equipment. I would say, though, that I have developed a little bit of an ear for those differences in audio quality. It’s not as fine-tuned as I imagine someone like you would have, but I can definitely tell the differences.


Melissa McCracken.

Melissa McCracken.


AS: What kind of equipment do you listen to when you’re painting?

MM: Typically? I love, I mean, I choose headphones over having a stereo system or home theater in the room because there can be other distractions with that. I love the immersive process. I was reading the article that you had sent me [“Sublime Moments,” Issue 101] about the BBC [Symphony] Orchestra that played Ralph Von Williams’ Fantasy on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, [and] the clip showed how immersed the conductor and individual musicians were. You had mentioned that you usually have heightened experiences with music by closing your eyes while listening. I feel like the experience of listening [with] headphones is the closest that I can get to closing my eyes and shutting out something else without actually closing my eyes while I’m painting. You know what I mean? (laughs) Listening through good, noise-cancelling headphones is the most immersive way that I can be connected to the music while still being able to see what I’m doing! (laughs).

AS: How many times do you think you usually come back to a painting and listen to the song, until it’s finished?

MM: I have no idea. I’ve noticed that on my Spotify wrap-up report at the end of the year, the songs that I’m working on for a painting are usually the most-played songs, so I know that I go back to them pretty frequently. I will [first] listen to a song for maybe 30 minutes to an hour, just kind of getting familiar with it in the beginning stages of the painting, just to kind of map it out. And then after that maybe I’ll switch to something else, just to disconnect my brain a little bit and not be so caught up in what I was listening to. Then I’ll just periodically go back and forth. Some of my paintings I’ll complete in one session. That obviously [means I’m] listening to the music a little less, but [with] some of the [paintings], I’ll be working on [them] for months to really get right. Sometimes, I might restart a painting, so it can be a lot of the same song over and over until it’s complete.


Lenny (2016).

Lenny (2016).


AS: Is all of your work inspired by synesthesia in one way or another, or can you just start painting? As a reference, one of my favorite paintings of yours is called “Attentive Recognition…” Is it related to any song, or did it just emerge into your brushstrokes?

MM: A little of both.

AS: So beautiful…it’s almost painful.

MM: Oh, thank you. Thank you. That one specifically was [done] during a period when I was pulling away from directly painting music as much, but it was still inspired by music.

A lot of [my] works might be named a little bit more cryptically – usually [from] a few lyrics from random songs that I might have listened to at that time, just bits and pieces of tunes that I had accumulated as I was somewhat disconnected from [being] more immersed and meditative. I always have music on whenever I’m painting, so music is always involved, but it might just be a little more nuanced [of an influence]. Some of my work emerges from my personal feelings as I’m painting, rather than just trying to translate a musical piece.

AS: Were you trained in art in your school years?

MM: Yeah. In school I ended up being out of town at my senior art show and (laughs) missed [getting] the last credit [I needed] to graduate with a minor in art – but I did take a lot of art classes nonetheless.

AS: I think back to my love of art, especially artists that moved me with color. Do you know of any other artists, possibly someone well-known, who have or had synesthesia and used it in their work?

MM: Wassily Kandinsky is one of the big ones. He’s known as one of the fathers of abstract art and a lot of his work was related to his experiences of music, but I don’t believe it’s as outright [as what I experience]. I’m not even sure if they knew what synesthesia was at that time [Kandinsky lived from 1866 to 1944 – Ed.], but I have a book he authored and he writes about the idea of sacred connections between color, sound and shape – like a sacred geometry and color connection between everything in existence. There have been other synesthetic artists, but I think that synesthesia inspires their work rather than being a direct translation of music, which is what I experience.

AS: Yes, now it seems obvious. I remember being thrilled by Kandinsky’s use of color and shape in my college art class. It seems likely that he was a synesthete before the world’s neuroscientists knew what to call this gift you both seem to share.


Two Drifters (2018).

Two Drifters (2018).


Do you have a favorite genre of music that you listen to, that you like to paint to?

MM: Artists that I gravitate to are soulful in a lot of ways. I don’t [prefer] one specific genre, but in general, music that has a lot of dimension to it and a lot of feeling behind it. Stevie Wonder is one of my favorite artists. I feel like there’s a lot of honest emotionality behind what he creates. I feel the same way about Radiohead – those musical pieces with emotional dynamics alongside a lot of interesting noises and soundscapes can produce a [much] clearer image for me than something like classical music, which I don’t quite have the ear for – it’s hard to illustrate that much musicality in one song.

AS: When you meet someone new and you strike up a conversation with them, would you see colors when you heard them speak for the first time?

MM: Not necessarily. I have observed that people’s voices have a different kind of look to them, they’re not quite as vivid [as the] colors as I find in music. There’s definitely a different texture and shape to voices. But I don’t think about that as much because, since the visual is in front of me interacting with the person, there’s not as much of an auditory connection like I feel with music. There’s a little bit of something there; it’s just not very pronounced.

AS: Your painting of Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 is really beautiful to me; “Imagine” by John Lennon is wonderful; David Bowie’s “Life on Mars?” is great; “Little Wing” by Jimi Hendrix is so good. “Karma Police” by Radiohead… the way you transform these into light and color is remarkable.


Bach Cello Suite No. 1 (2016).

Bach Cello Suite No. 1 (2016).


Imagine (2016).

Imagine (2016).


MM: Thank you. I appreciate that.

AS: What else do you think our audiophiles would want to know about your work?

MM: I’ve been thinking about that. I will say the cool thing about my experiences with synesthesia is knowing the connection that music can have just across the board into other things. Like how it informs so much of what we experience, like the power of soundtracks in movies. I feel like the thing that I’ve appreciated about what I do is that it just might bring music lovers into experiencing a little more of the visual art side of things.

I also enjoy seeing the subjective experiences that people have with music or visual art. It’s been a really interesting journey to see how sentimental and emotional and just how vital music can be in people’s lives, and I think that it’s great for all of us to reflect on the breadth and width of our own musical interests. I feel like I’ve done that a lot since starting [to] paint and seeing how I connect to music in that way.

AS: I just had a thought. I would love to see two synesthetic painters with identical blank canvasses and easels face each other so they can’t see each other’s work, and both put on high-quality headphones, play a mutually agreed upon piece of music, and see what comes up for each artist.

MM: I did something like that on the Jimi Hendrix painting of “Little Wing.” I met a woman, Poppy Porter, online, [who has] synesthesia. [She’s] based in England and would do sketches of things just to get ideas for her paintings. So, I asked her if she would sketch out “Little Wing.” What she came up with [had] an entirely different look. The shapes, the textures, everything. And that kind of goes back to what I was saying, that it shows that there are such strong personal connections to art because synesthesia is also subjective. No one will have the same sort of interpretation. it’s really cool to see the differences between peoples’ visual interpretations of music.


Little Wing (2014).

Little Wing (2014).


AS: Which are your all-time favorite or most important pieces?

MM: I feel very connected to “Little Wing.” I remember listening to my brother learn how to play the guitar growing up. He started playing really young and he’s quite a bit older than me. I’d go into his room and he’d be playing Jimi Hendrix or Stevie Ray Vaughn, so all of those early associations with those visuals are connected to very sentimental moments in my life with people that I love. I think a lot of that connects me to some pieces more, because of those experiences in life.

I also did a piece called “Two of Us On the Run,” [based on the song by Lucius] another favorite of mine. My dad was battling cancer years ago. He passed away in 2019, but there were some lyrics in that song that felt very hopeful, very oriented towards pushing through and persevering. So, I created that piece in connection to him and that feels very special to me.


Two Of Us On the Run (2018).

Two Of Us On the Run (2018).


I think that music is the soundtrack of our lives. Whenever something really hits me, relative to what I’m experiencing, or just something that’s just beautiful and [that] I really connect to, those are always the paintings that I feel closest to, almost even regardless of how they turn out or what they look like.

AS: Do you ever paint without experiencing the synesthesia? Can you do that?

MM: Yeah; I’ve painted my entire life and I’ve always been really interested in art, even before knowing that I had synesthesia. I’ve done portraits random sketches, watercolors, all different modalities. That is inspiration for my musical work, because I can see the connection between what I’m creating and my mind, like, “Oh, that reminds me of something that I heard in this song.” And these connections can go from one to another. I do like [to] just play with color and texture just to see where a foundation might come up, and maybe later connect that to something else or incorporate it with a new piece later.

AS: Melissa, It’s been a pleasure getting to know you and your wonderful art.

MM: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

Here’s the full list of Melissa’s paintings inspired by music: https://www.melissasmccracken.com/song-list


Copper Community Engagement:

Has one or more of the paintings inspired by a piece of music touched you in some way? Please share your experience by submitting a comment.

Alón Sagee is Chairman and Chief Troublemaker of the San Francisco Audiophile Society. Alón’s writings for Copper can be found in the following issues:

Also, please note: Alón’s biography for the San Francisco Audiophile Society.


Header image: La Mer (2018).

Finding Balance Between Artistry and Academia: New Artist Sophia Marie

Finding Balance Between Artistry and Academia: New Artist Sophia Marie

Finding Balance Between Artistry and Academia: New Artist Sophia Marie

Andrew Daly

For young troubadour Sophia Marie, life can be hectic, but through that frenzy, the West Coast native often recoils into a gentle creative balance. Sophia Marie is a new, young singer/songwriter who recently relocated from her native L.A. to Washington, D.C. to attend Georgetown University. Online magazine Rock ‘N’ Load called “Venice Beach to D.C.,” her recent single, “the year’s first great pop-punk anthem.”

For Marie, the COVID-19 pandemic, while stark and frightening at times, proved productive, as an influx of torrid creativity manifested itself in her writing around 70 songs. With those tracks in hand, and burning a hole in her proverbial musical pocket, the ambitious young songstress set a course to lay the songs to tape.

Be it fortune or felicity, Marie crossed paths with producer Steve Ornest, and just as she was to embark on a trek to Ireland, three of Marie’s best and perhaps most reflective tracks took shape. With her music officially in the can, the young globetrotter embarked on a journey through Ireland, emboldened with confidence. While taking in the country’s emerald splendor, Marie once again felt the musical itch, and it wasn’t long before producer Cian Sweeney entered the picture, aiding her in laying down “What a Waste,” and “Menace in Venice” to tape, which would eventually become her first singles.

In the present day, back in the States, Marie continues to work diligently on her academic studies, but with an eye toward her future as an artist. While she still seeks balance, the controlled chaos gives her the motivation to push forward.

I recently had the chance to dig in with the aspiring artist, where among other things, she ran through her origins in music, how she balances coursework with a budding musical career, and a whole lot more.



Andrew Daly: As a young musician, what was the moment which first sparked your interest in music?

Sophia Marie: I can’t really recall a time exactly when I began to be interested in the broad subject of “music.” I just remembered I always loved singing. I was nicknamed “stereo” in school by my classmates because I’d sing all the time. I always tried out for the school musicals and did choir throughout middle and high school.

Around fourth grade, I started writing lyrics to my own songs, but [had] no instrumental backing. They were just kind of random bad melodies. I didn’t really start to make songs with actual chord progressions until quarantine came along, and I told myself I must force myself to learn the guitar. I thought that to be taken seriously as an artist, I couldn’t just be a singer, but that I also had to learn an instrument in order to create my own original songs.

When lockdown started in spring 2020 and I was just finishing up my freshman year of college, I stole my sister’s guitar teacher and started to take lessons via Zoom. Once I learned how to do chord progressions on the guitar, I started writing songs, and once I did, I couldn’t stop. It was a constant obsession. Now I can’t go anywhere without my guitar.

AD: Take me through the development of your style.

SM: Like most all young girls, Taylor Swift was a huge influence on my life. I loved her old country stuff where she’d just destroy people with words, who totally deserved it. I have a special place in my heart for country music [that’s] raw and savage. I also grew up liking a lot of emo ’80s bands, in particular, The Smiths, the Psychedelic Furs, and The Cure – I loved their really depressing lyrics that were rooted in desire for human intimacy and romance.

AD: How would you say those initial impressions are reflected in your music?

SM: As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned more into where I’m from [in California]. I have taken inspiration from musicians like Lana Del Rey and TV Girl, who speak of Los Angeles, the West Coast, and old Hollywood. I also think Sidney Gish is the best lyricist ever, and I love her quirkiness; I think it is a lot like my own music that is very specific and niche. I have been obsessed with Lana Del Rey ever since August 2020, and it hasn’t phased out. She is by far my favorite artist of all time.

I don’t think we make similar music, though. I am still trying to delve into my more tragic side with [my more recent] songs, but the turnaround for making songs is a longer process. “What a Waste” was the first to [reveal] that side.

AD: Can you recall your first gig?

SM: I have only had one gig in my entire life! I just started making music [during] quarantine and had my first music out earlier this year, so live shows [haven’t] really [been] on my radar yet, but definitely are on my agenda.

When I released (debut single) “Venice Beach to D.C.,” I performed my first live show at the Sand Bar 66 in Manhattan Beach. But all last semester at Georgetown, I was working at my internship at the French Embassy and scrambling to do all my classes for my international politics major, [and] didn’t really have the time to play live shows. [I was able to do] interviews and focus on release dates and filming my first music video.

I recently got back from Italy from a study abroad in Florence, so I am super excited to be back in LA [and] pursue performing live. I am a really energetic soul, and my music reflects that, so I really think performing live is important.

AD: “What a Waste” has proven to be a solid debut single. Tell us about its inception.

SM: “What a Waste” is the saddest song I’d ever written. I wrote it in summer 2021 when I had just returned from a trip to London [and] braved a five-day hotel quarantine just to see the man I loved for a mere two hours. It was a stupid, impulsive decision, but that’s me. I’m sometimes spontaneous without thinking about how I’m going to feel later on. But I loved him so much and felt like I wasn’t really existing unless he was in my life. I was a really dumb teenager who latched onto men and him specifically and couldn’t get him out of my mind.

So, I wrote “What a Waste” about wanting to return to a time period that doesn’t exist in my life anymore. It’s about wanting to retrace steps until I realized that I just kept hurting myself because nothing I could do could ever bring him back. I was just stuck in London, there in this annoyingly romantic ambiance, thinking about how much of a waste this entire experience was. “What a Waste” is for any person who has ever looked out at a view so beautiful, with absolutely no one to be romantic with. To be in a place where you can see all its potential, but know you can’t do anything but fall short of it.


AD: How have your experiences affected you as a songwriter?

SM: In every way. I can’t write about anyone else, unless they’re [a] fictional [character]. But even when I write about fictional characters, I oftentimes think about my own life in relationship to them. So, I can really only write about myself.

AD: Would you say that characteristic is what defines you? Or at this stage, have you yet to be defined?

SM: Sometimes I think about collaborating with someone on lyrics specifically, but then I’m concerned my words are not going to fit [their] style, [or they’re] not going to like the lyrics I give them, or I probably won’t relate to the ones [they] want to give me. I don’t know. I just feel like I can only write about myself, so all my songs come from experience. They’re sometimes a little delusional, sometimes a little satirical, but all founded in truth.

AD: Break down the production side of your music.

SM: Okay, this is where it got really fun. In the summer of 2021, I had all these songs I had been making since August 2020, when I had finally gotten comfortable enough with enough chord progressions and could put words to them. Over 70 songs. My Voice Memos are overwhelming; I can’t even grow through them anymore. And I wanted to get my favorites produced. In Southbay Magazine I found a feature on producer Steve Ornest and his Total Access recording studio in Redondo Beach, and reached out to him. He asked me for demos of my favorite songs that I had recorded with my newly-bought electric guitar. [Those demos were] the first time I ever tried to make my songs sound really good on my own.

After I sent them, we talked, selected the best songs, and went from there. The crazy part was, we had to do it all in two weeks before I was leaving for study abroad at Trinity College in Dublin, so we really had to work hard and effectively. We [got] the songs between three to four minutes and changed some specific chords so that the verses and choruses sounded different enough. I did the scratch vocals so that Steve could send them to some musicians because I wanted a bassist and drummer on the three tracks and didn’t know how to play the bass or the drums.

AD: With this being your first in-studio experience, what moment stood out the most?

SM: The day the other musicians came, because I got to be in the studio listening to these incredible musicians make something more of my song. After they finished the drums and bass, I did my lead vocals, harmonies, and doubles, and then, the last day, literally the day before I left for Ireland, [added] acoustic guitar to three tracks. And then off to Ireland! Steve and I were in contact via e-mail and Instagram as he worked on the mixing and mastering in LA, and he sent them over to me. It was the best start to [being in] the music industry I could have asked for.

When I left for Ireland for my junior year fall semester, I was surrounded by this romantic, beautiful European ambiance and Irish musical surroundings, and I knew I had to get more songs produced. Music is such a big part of Irish history and culture, and it just made me more obsessed with the fact that I now considered myself a “musician.”

So, I found Cian Sweeney, an Irish producer based in Cork. He asked for some demos, and two of these were “What a Waste” and “Menace in Venice.” About a month later, I took a two-hour train from Dublin to Cork, recorded with him all day for about eight solid hours, then took a train back to Dublin the next morning to make it in time for a 9:30 class at Trinity.

AD: Was Cian able to provide something different look than Steve Ornest had?

SM: Cian added the talents of a really great musician who played electric guitar, since we only had that one day to do vocals on both tracks.

Since I don’t have a record label, I pay per song to the producer to mix and master. So instead of getting charged hourly for studio time, I pay in full once the record is completed. Since I don’t have a record label, all of this is self-funded, so that’s why I’m really trying hard to market my stuff this [year]. Especially because I have so many songs that I want to put out in a way that showcases them the best they can be.

AD: You’re the type of songwriter who writes from a more personal perspective.

SM: My lyrics are so personal it’s embarrassing. They basically just tell my entire life story. Sometimes I’ll put on a persona, like with “Menace in Venice,” but it’s all rooted in my vulnerability, delusions, and sometimes arrogance that I poke fun at. I’m not hiding anything. I’m just really open, for better or for worse. Sometimes, it really hurts, but the return, knowing that every heartbreak can be turned into art, is far greater.

AD: What about playing live?

SM: Definitely soon, now that I have music out and am done with my junior spring semester. I’m also doing edits on a book I’m writing, and working at the French Embassy, and doing all my classes at Georgetown and also acting in a bunch of short films. But my top priority is getting back to Los Angeles.

It has been really hard balancing being a college student and an artist, especially a college student who is studying something that has nothing to do with music. As an International Politics major, my courses this past semester were titled “Nuclear Weapons,” “Europe in Crisis,” and “Military Strategy,” among others, not a course list that screams, “I’m a musician!”

AD: Would you say academia leaches into your music?

SM: I think so. For example, I wrote a song about comparing nuclear deterrence theory to the kind of games we play in love, where we act indifferent, but are brimming with desire on the inside. I also just finished this song about Niccolò Machiavelli because I was in Florence for a study abroad where we talked about Machiavellian political philosophy and how it is relevant to current foreign policy issues of today.

The difficulty I find in balancing school and art is outweighed by the fact that I am able to really find myself in music. It’s also super nice to not be surrounded only by people who do music. Most of my friends want to go into politics or consulting or international organizations, and I am still leaving options for myself.

AD: As far as promoting your music, it sounds like a grass roots approach will lend itself best to your proverbial balancing act.

SM: I’m trying to connect with record labels based in Los Angeles. So far, I’ve been doing everything on my own – making the videos, getting in contact with photographers and graphic designers, posting on social media sites…luckily, being a Georgetown student allows me to collaborate with other students who will help. It’s a balancing act. I want to connect with a record label for more direction and help with marketing. I also have to work on making an artist website; I just haven’t had the time yet. It’s a never-ending process, but I love it.

AD: Last one. What’s next?

SM: I have more songs to get produced, and look forward to playing live. I will be entering my senior year at Georgetown in the School of Foreign Service, with a concentration in international security with a certificate in European studies and a minor in history. I’m teaching myself piano. It’s such a different way of creating songs. Learning a new instrument brings excitement. It’s [all] very hectic but I feel like I can’t really operate as a human without being the chaotic person I am.


Header image courtesy of Kate Lawlor/EarShot Media.

Silent Movie Fan

Silent Movie Fan

Silent Movie Fan

James Schrimpf
Ticket booth at the historic Silco Theater in Silver City, New Mexico. Silco is an anagram of silver and copper, the economic foundations of the community.

Tapped Out

Tapped Out

Tapped Out

Peter Xeni
"It was a sell-out but the last band made the promoter broke."

Astrud Gilberto: The Essence of Bossa Nova

Astrud Gilberto: The Essence of Bossa Nova

Astrud Gilberto: The Essence of Bossa Nova

Anne E. Johnson

She was hardly a powerhouse singer. In fact, her voice was thin, barely more than a whisper. But Astrud Gilberto’s low-key vocal style captured the essence of bossa nova at exactly the right time, connecting the Latin jazz craze with mainstream jazz and pop.

The daughter of a German émigré to Brazil, she was born Astrud Weinert in 1940. At age 19 she married guitarist, singer, and composer João Gilberto. Although the marriage lasted only a few years, singing with her husband launched her career.

In 1962, pianist Antônio Carlos Jobim wrote a song called “The Girl from Ipanema.” He and Astrud Gilberto recorded it together in 1963 for her husband’s album Getz/Gilberto, with Jobim singing in Portuguese and Astrud singing in English. The song did well in Brazil. But when the Portuguese verses were cut out in a 1964 edited single, it became a worldwide hit. From that moment, Astrud Gilberto was a star.

She left her marriage to be with her husband’s colleague, American saxophonist Stan Getz, following him to the US. The affair was brief, but she still calls America home 60 years later. Her career, however, was global and unstoppable, aided by the fact that she had a knack for learning new languages. This not only helped her diplomatically and socially as she traveled, but it allowed her to record songs in many different languages, including German, French, and Japanese.

The 82-year-old Gilberto hasn’t performed or made a new record in a couple of decades, but she remains active as a painter and an animal rights activist.

Enjoy these eight great tracks by Astrud Gilberto.

  1. Track: “Corcovado”
    Album: Getz/Gilberto
    Label: Verve
    Year: 1963

The “Gilberto” in the album title refers to Astrud’s first husband, guitarist João. Its opening track was “The Girl from Ipanema.” Stan Getz, who was determined that his fellow Americans should fall in love with bossa nova, gives a sinewy performance on the saxophone. Even if this weren’t Astrud’s debut album, it would be among the most influential records in jazz history.

Astrud sang on only one other track, “Corcovado (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars).” As with the album version of “Ipanema,” she alternates verses with Jobim, singing an English translation of the original lyrics. Jobim’s voice is as laid-back and delicate as hers, making them the ideal vocal pairing.


  1. Track: “How Insensitive”
    Album: The Astrud Gilberto Album
    Label: Verve
    Year: 1965

By 1965, Gilberto was living in California and ready to launch a solo career. Verve released her debut, The Astrud Gilberto Album, on which she is accompanied by Jobim (this time on guitar) and a mix of excellent musicians from both America and her native Brazil. Jobim also wrote most of the album.

Norman Gimbel, who had done the English translation of “The Girl from Ipanema,” wrote lyrics to Jobim’s music for “How Insensitive.” The string arrangement envelops Gilberto’s hesitant but earnest vocal delivery. Bud Shank’s flute helps define the style. Typical of the times, the percussionist, so essential to bossa nova, is uncredited.


  1. Track: “O Ganso”
    Album: The Shadow of Your Smile
    Label: Verve
    Year: 1965

Given the success of Gilberto’s first solo album, Verve released a second one less than a year later. The arrangements this time are more focused on brass than strings (none of the players is credited). They are the work of two Jobim collaborators – Claus Ogerman and João Donato – as well as American jazz producer/arranger Don Sebesky.

One of the album’s particular pleasures is the unusual scat singing that Gilberto does on “O Ganso.” The wordless song is by Brazilian guitarist Luiz Bonfá, best known as the composer of the soundtrack to the film Black Orpheus. Gilberto applies her quiet, serious style to the bouncy melody, using Portuguese-based nonsense syllables that would never have occurred to most of America’s premiere scat singers like Ella Fitzgerald.


  1. Track: “Berimbau”
    Album: Look to the Rainbow
    Label: Verve
    Year: 1966

Gilberto’s album Look to the Rainbow features Gil Evans, the Canadian pianist who helped develop and popularize several styles of jazz after bebop, including cool jazz and free jazz.

Although the track list includes some standards like the title song, a favorite from the show Finian’s Rainbow, there’s also some interesting Brazilian music. The opening song, “Berimbau,” is named after the pitched percussion instrument made of a single string taut on a wooden bow.


  1. Track: “Você Já Foi à Bahia”
    Album: A Certain Smile, a Certain Sadness
    Label: Verve
    Year: 1967

A Certain Smile, a Certain Sadness is a duo album with jazz organist Walter Wanderley. A native of Brazil and specialist in bossa nova-flavored lounge music, Wanderley was a huge success at the time, largely thanks to his massively popular instrumental single, “Summer Samba.” He and Gilberto were an obvious musical couple to team up, and the result is a cultural snapshot of the late 1960s, when bossa nova took over the listening habits of a large segment of the population.

“Você Já Foi à Bahia” means “Have you been to Bahia?” It was written by Dorival Caymmi (1914 – 2008), considered one of the forefathers of bossa nova. The melody is extremely difficult, clearly written for an instrument, not voice. Gilberto tackles its fast jumps without stress. Claudio Slon, brought to the US by Tony Bennett, provides the samba rhythm on percussion.


  1. Track: “The Face I Love”
    Album: Beach Samba
    Label: Verve
    Year: 1967

Releasing bossa nova records in the late 1960s was a sure path to fortune, but only if the artists were willing to expand their idea of the style. Beach Samba is a case in point, more pop than jazz and leaning heavily toward the sentimental. One track even features Gilberto’s little son singing with her.

While it’s easy to dismiss this record as having too little substance, it represents an important element of Gilberto’s career. And while the arrangements by Sebesky and Eumir Deodato have a sugary glaze, listen carefully to “The Face I Love” and you’ll hear great craftsmanship and top-notch players. For example, that’s Ron Carter on bass, Grady Tate on drums, and Marcos Valle on guitar.


  1. Track: “Chup, Chup, I Got Away”
    Album: Windy
    Label: Verve
    Year: 1968

The same arrangers returned to work on Windy, another pop-leaning album. As is true of several of Gilberto’s Verve albums, it was engineered by Phil Ramone.

“Chup, Chup, I Got Away,” composed by guitarist Marcos Valle, is another song that does not lie naturally on the voice. But Gilberto is undaunted: before our very ears, she seems to become a rhythmic instrument. Her precise syncopation sounds effortless.

  1. Track: “I’m Nothing Without You”
    Album: Plus
    Label: Polydor
    Year: 1986

After bossa nova’s heyday in the1960s, Gilberto made very few albums. One that she decided was worth doing is Plus, a collaboration with German bandleader James Last. This project was clearly focused on the European market, where Last’s light style, known as “Happy Music,” was a big seller.

The song “I’m Nothing Without You” shows a more mature, philosophical Gilberto, with a stronger sound than her timid 1960s persona allowed. Her unadorned vocal is the perfect foil against the intricate trumpet line. (Last’s trumpet section at the time included Derek Watkins, Bob Coassin, Bob Lanese, and Håkan Nykvist. This exquisite, uncredited solo could have been by any one of them.)


Header image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Kroon, Ron/Anefo.

Diagnosing Audiophilia

Diagnosing Audiophilia

Diagnosing Audiophilia

Stuart Marvin

Patient: Dr. Krebs, I think I have acute audiophilia.

Dr. Krebs: Sounds serious. What are your symptoms?

Patient: A lack of sound clarity with some distortion. Both my audio system and my body seem, well, a bit off lately. It’s like they’re inextricably linked.

Dr. Krebs: Take two aspirin, upgrade your DAC, and call me in the morning.

If only audio diagnostics were that simple.

“Philias” are associated with individuals exhibiting an unusually high fondness, arousal or outright love of something to an extreme. Conversely, “phobias” are when individuals have an irrationally strong hate, fear or dislike for something. Either can be associated with mundane or bizarre behavior. Of course, if an individual exhibits considerably milder levels of interest towards something, it’s then more aptly described as a “passion,” a “devotion” or a “hobby.”

A hobby is a hobby when “an activity is done regularly in one’s leisure time for pleasure,” as defined by Oxford Languages, though any behavior has the potential of becoming an obsession or an addiction. According to the American Association of Addiction Medicine, “Addiction is a disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry.” One theory is that people become physically addicted to the beta-endorphins their brains produce when experiencing pleasure. They either use that “high” to maintain a constant sense of euphoria or to counteract negative feelings, including depression or anxiety.

Most hobbies are fairly benign, though certainly far from all. Some folks just don’t know when to stop when it comes to satiating their internal (or eternal) curiosity. Roughly ten years ago, a highly “curious” Swedish man named Richard Handl decided to create a nuclear reaction in his kitchen. Handl said he wanted “to see if it was possible to split atoms at home,” and called this pursuit a “hobby.”  He gathered small amounts of radioactive material from old clocks and smoke detectors. “I tried to cook americium, radium and beryllium in 96 percent sulphuric acid, to get them easily blended. But the whole thing exploded up in the air,” Handl shared at the time.

In a moment of rational thought, Handl called the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority to see if his home-brew project was illegal. Shortly after Handl hung up the phone, the police arrived and arrested him.

So what exactly is audiophilia? For simplification (and plain old kicks), let’s define audiophilia as a condition where individuals exhibit an exceedingly high fondness for high-fidelity sound reproduction and recordings, and are willing to go to considerable length and expense (relatively speaking) to optimize each.

Yep, many of us Copperheads are on the audiophilia spectrum (and are glad to be)! We all seemingly enjoy the hunt for better sound, a multidimensional puzzle that can make Rubik’s Cube seem like checkers.

Many audio enthusiasts have distinct thoughts and opinions on a range of subjects, including: how to set up a dedicated listening room, integrated vs. component systems, amplification requirements, speaker and subwoofer placement, expensive versus inexpensive interconnects, speaker cable length, power conditioners vs. power regenerators, USB vs. Ethernet cables, reflective vs. absorptive acoustic panels, tube systems vs. solid-state, streaming vs. CDs and vinyl, and the remixing and/or remastering of classic LPs, to name just a few.

In sum, there are many different constructs to consider in an individual’s quest for aural fulfillment. The hunt can be frustrating, quite subjective and expensive, but once found, audio nirvana is quite fulfilling.

So, in my desire to better understand audiophilia, I decided to research different types of philias with an eye towards identifying a few commonalities and differences.

To my astonishment, I counted in excess of 175 different philia-related conditions. You may be familiar with some, though the vast majority are quite obscure. For example, a brontophile is someone who is fond of thunder and lightning. An odontophile is someone who is fond of teeth or dental surgery, while a rupophile is deeply attracted to dirt. My mother would say I was quite the rupophile in my formative years.


Dirt in the garden is better than dirt in the grooves. Courtesy of Pexels.com/Greta Hoffman.

Dirt in the garden is better than dirt in the grooves. Courtesy of Pexels.com/Greta Hoffman.


I also wondered if my detailed counting of philias suggested a tendency towards the counting of things, a condition the medical profession refers to as, what else, arithmophilia. Now that I mention it, I also obsessively count off 30-second time intervals each morning while doing stretches for my chronically sore back. I’m also prone to counting my heart rate both before and after exercising. Heck, maybe I should be concerned?

However, one thing I positively refuse to count is the loose change I keep in a bowl atop my living room credenza. To fulfill that task, I drag several pounds of US currency every few months to a local Coinstar machine and swap the coins for an Amazon gift card, ultimately leading to the purchase of some new vinyl. Somehow in my head, even though I’m the one pouring coins into the Coinstar machine (not the other way around), the printed Amazon gift card I receive provides me with immediate gratification and a sensation similar to winning the slots in Vegas, even though there’s no monetary gain in the transaction.

So here’s what I discovered from my research:

Melophobia – if there is one condition that’s seemingly the antithesis of audiophilia, this is it. Melophobiacs, dare I say, have a fear or hatred of music. I know, I know, I can feel your blood pressure rise just from reading those words. Pure blasphemy. It’s a concept that’s as unfathomable to our core as virtually any other.

Metallophilia – a condition where an individual has a very strong fondness for metal. In assessing the relevancy of metallophilia to audiophilia, context clearly matters. If we’re talking about gold, silver or copper’s ability to deliver audio conductivity and/or limit corrosion, then having a “fondness for metals” may indeed be applicable. However, if we’re talking about a “fondness for metal” in the context of metal bands, such as Iron Maiden, Slayer, Pantera or groups of a similar ilk, then I’m an outlier by choice, and definitely not a metallophile.

Amychophilia – a condition where a person develops a strong fondness for scratching or being scratched. This clearly is an absolutely heinous affliction, though nothing irks an audio enthusiast more than a scratch (or two) on a vinyl recording. I can, therefore, say with confidence this likely is not a relatable condition for audiophiles. Let’s just say, scratches of any kind are persona non grata.

Allodoxaphilia – perhaps you know someone who seemingly always has an opinion contrary to your own, regardless of topic. Someone who loves verbal sparring, and actively seeks out alternative or contradictory opinions to their own, while exhibiting immense pleasure in being “that guy (or girl).” Look no further than various audio forums to conclude that allodoxaphilia is widely prevalent among audio enthusiasts. Lots and lots of opinions!

Autophilia – a fondness for being alone or by oneself. When it comes to listening to music, it’s a hobby I strongly prefer doing alone. That way I can change tracks on a whim, crank my music at will, all without alienating or confusing anyone else in the room. Listening to music for me needs to be a totally immersive experience, and devoid of any causal banter. I want to unabatedly hear the nuances and surprises that a good recording and system can bring, without any outside distractions.

Acousticophilia – a condition where an individual has a fondness for noise. Well, one person’s noise is another person’s music. It’s all in the ear of the beholder. I’m sure given my choices in music some of my neighbors likely think I’m a “noise enthusiast,” though I do limit my system playing to reasonable hours. Acousticophilia can also be defined as being sexually aroused by a particular sound. Perhaps Masters and Johnson, the famed duo who pioneered research on human sexual behavior, addressed sonic arousal in their findings, but I’m gonna smartly take a pass in providing any commentary here.

Chorophilia – a condition where an individual exhibits an extreme fondness for dancing. I’ll readily admit to having really poor dance rhythm. My dancing skills are not as bad as Seinfeld’s Elaine Benes, but they’re a far cry from Dancing With The Stars. Whenever someone drags me out on the dance floor at a wedding, a Bar Mitzvah, etc., I call that the “walk of shame.” However, when it comes to dancing solo in the comfort of my sound room, with no observers and my system cranked to Apollo’s delight, I turn into Fred Astaire.

Symmetrophilia – an indication of a strong fondness for symmetry. Come on, who doesn’t crave symmetry, especially when it comes to speaker setup?

Tropophilia – a fondness for moving or making changes. This condition is a slippery slope for audiophiles, as it cuts to the very bane of our existence. Making changes to our audio systems is something we grapple with most frequently. For example, when should we tweak or upgrade our components, cables and interconnects in search of better sound? Or when do we conclude that a system-wide overhaul is needed? Tropophilia is a condition that hits home for any serious audio enthusiast. In fact, I’m inspired to coin a new and far more explicit condition called Audio-Tropophilia. Hey, is there a pill for that?

I’ll let you decide where you stand on the audiophilia spectrum, and whether any other philias (or phobias) are disconcerting to you. Of course, if you seek a medical opinion, and your personal physician also happens to be an audiophile, then he (or she) will likely diagnose your condition as benign, with no need for a second opinion.

Just go with it!

Editor’s Note: This article is presented in a lighthearted vein. It is meant to find humor in our quest for audio perfection. It is not intended to poke fun at anyone suffering from a behavioral malady or disorder, including those listed or any other. 


Header image (for the few in the galaxy who may not know): DeForest Kelley as Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy of Star Trek. Courtesy of PxHere.com/public domain.

Trying to Connect

Trying to Connect

Trying to Connect

James Whitworth
"What am I looking for in a partner? Someone to hold the end of the cable as I pass it from behind my hifi rack."

All That Jazz, Part Two

All That Jazz, Part Two

All That Jazz, Part Two

Don Kaplan

When I was studying music in college, I thought about learning how to play the double bass. On second thought it seemed impractical: I would have to carry an instrument that was large, fairly heavy, and taller than I was from home to college and back on a crowded New York City subway car during rush hour. My compact (aka “skinny”) build would have a hard time being encumbered like that, so I decided to study musical composition instead. All I needed to carry on the train was a spiral-bound book of music paper to jot down my compositions, a pencil with an eraser, and a book filled with rhythm exercises to practice along the way. As a bonus, when I started rehearsing those exercises where both hands had to tap different rhythms simultaneously, other riders stayed away from me and I almost always got a seat.

Which leads me to:

Christian McBride, bass/Out Here/Christian McBride Trio (Mack Avenue CD) A stand-up (double) bass is almost always part of a jazz combo. It functions as the bridge between rhythm and harmony by providing a strong beat and the root notes of chords as well as by improvising bass lines and solos. According to double bassist and bass guitarist Christian McBride:

“I think that a lot of bass players are impressed by players who can play fast, because they think that’s what good bass playing is about. The truth is, the bass players who are getting a lot of work, who are doing a lot of sessions, or working a lot with different live bands, understand what [their role] is – and that role is to accompany [and support the others….] You are a traffic cop, or a navigator; you’re there to underpin things, and to make people dance. Playing bass…  is not about you, it’s about your role in the band, and if you remember that, you’ll get work and be a player people want to have around. When people don’t notice you, that means you’re doing your job right.” [Guitar World, December 10, 2020]

The tracks on Out Here include compositions by McBride (e.g., “Ham Hocks and Cabbage”), a couple of Rogers and Hammerstein tunes, and pieces written by several other composers. Outstanding sound quality is a major attraction on this Mack Avenue disc: on good equipment the wood of the bass resonates realistically, you can hear the detailed sound of fingers plucking and strings snapping, and all of the instruments have great presence. Excellent imaging completes the picture.




Tierney Sutton, vocals/Blue in Green/“Old Devil Moon”/Tierney Sutton Band (Telarc CD) Tierney Sutton has been described by critics as a “musician’s singer” who uses her voice like an instrument. Sutton is an “acclaimed jazz vocalist…recognized for her pure, glowing vocals and lyrical approach to modern jazz and standards. Stylistically, she straddles the line between the cool approach of classic West Coast singers…[and] more progressive contemporary artistry. Following her 1998 debut, Sutton earned accolades for her standards-based albums on the Telarc label, including 2001’s Blue in Green, 2004’s Dancing in the Dark, and 2005’s I’m with the Band, the latter of which brought Sutton her first Grammy nomination. She is also no stranger to the charts with four Top 20 Billboard Jazz Albums to her credit, including 2014’s intimate Paris Sessions with French guitarist Serge Merlaud. In 2016, she earned her eighth Grammy nomination with her unique interpretation of Sting’s music, The Sting Variations.” [Allmusic.com]

Listen especially for Sutton’s unusual phrasing, the ways she emphasizes the lyrics, and how she uses offbeat rhythms in the following songs:










John Coltrane, saxophone/Coltrane/“The Inch Worm”/John Coltrane Quartet (Impulse LP) John Coltrane helped transform American jazz, first when he became part of the bebop scene and later when he performed modal cool jazz and avant-garde music.

I’ve always liked “The Inch Worm” (not to be confused with an earworm although the inch worm could easily become one – see “The Mindful Melophile” in Issue 167). The title of the piece is descriptive without actually describing anything specific. The melody starts and stops in a herky-jerky manner, moves along into unfamiliar musical territory, comes back, goes someplace else…what I imagine an inch worm might do. It’s my favorite track on an LP many critics feel is one of Coltrane’s best albums.

The Ranting Recluse, the misanthropic AllMusic.com reader we heard from in Part One of “All That Jazz,” is back with another rave:

“Although often overshadowed today by better-known titles like A Love Supreme and My Favorite Things, John Coltrane’s 1962 Impulse! album Coltrane (not to be confused with the Prestige label release of the same name from 1957) is probably the one that best summarizes everything that made him arguably the greatest jazz saxophonist of all time. Falling chronologically between his more accessible early work and his later avant-garde excursions, the music on this set manages to walk the precise middle ground between these two major phases of his career, capturing a near-perfect stage in his evolution where all his ideas and identities managed to be at play, and perfectly in balance with each other, all at once. If someone told me I could only have one Coltrane album in my collection, this would be the one I’d pick, because literally everything one thinks of when they think of John Coltrane – the trademark sheets of sound, the raga-like modality, the masterful balladry, the fiery, free blowing that borders on the frenetic, the yearning spirituality – it’s all here in one sublime package.”

Writer Michael G. Nastos, in his review for the same magazine, agrees that Coltrane is considered to be one of the saxophonist’s finest collections:

Coltrane finds John Coltrane displaying all of the exciting elements that sparked brilliance and allowed his fully-formed instrumental voice to shine through in the most illuminating manner. On tenor saxophone, he’s simply masterful, offering the burgeoning sheets of sound philosophy into endless weavings of melodic and tuneful displays of inventive, thoughtful, driven phrases. Coltrane also plays a bit of soprano saxophone as a primer for his more exploratory work to follow. Meanwhile, bassist Jimmy Garrison, drummer Elvin Jones, and especially the stellar [pianist] McCoy Tyner have integrated their passionate dynamics into the inner whole of the quartet. The result is a most focused effort, a relatively popular session to both his fans or latecomers, with five selections that are brilliantly conceived and rendered….Even more than any platitudes one can heap on this extraordinary recording, it historically falls between the albums Olé Coltrane and Impressions – completing a triad of studio efforts that are as definitive as anything Coltrane ever produced, and highly representative of him in his prime.”




Milt Jackson, vibraphone/Django/“Django”/The Modern Jazz Quartet/with John Lewis, piano, Percy Heath, bass, and Kenny Clarke, drums (Prestige LP) The MJQ was formed in 1952 and had an unusually diverse style incorporating elements of bebop, blues, classical/third stream music, and cool jazz. Issued in 1956, Django was the MJQ’s first full-length album. All of the original material was written by pianist/music director John Lewis, and his piece “Django” became the MJQ’s biggest hit. George and Ira Gershwin, Dizzy Gillespie, and Vernon Duke’s “Autumn in New York” are also represented on this famous LP.

“Django” is one of jazz’s enduring staples. Douglas Payne, writing for All About Jazz, described the piece as “classic jazz in construction and execution” and “the place to begin appreciating the many and great virtues of one of jazz’s finest aggregates.” AllMusic‘s Lindsay Planer wrote, “In terms of seminal Modern Jazz Quartet entries, it is hard to exceed the variety of styles and performances gathered on Django.”







Bill Cunliffe, piano/Bill Cunliffe Trio Live at Bernie’s/with Darek Oleszkiewicz, bass and Joe La Barbera, drums (Groove Note SACD) Grammy-nominated composer, arranger, and jazz pianist Bill Cunliffe has received nationwide attention with his innovative and swinging recordings and compositions. He was first influenced by jazz when he studied with the great pianist Mary Lou Williams, and has subsequently won several Down Beat awards for his big band and orchestral pieces.

Cunliffe’s CDs generally focus on standards and original works, so grab a table at Bernie’s to hear his jaunty version of Duke Ellington’s “Satin Doll” and a beautiful “Ireland” written by Cunliffe – a piece not named for the country (although the music reflects what the writer imagines it looks like) but for the English composer John Ireland who, in Cunliffe’s words, “is a beautiful composer out of the Romantic tradition but attuned to modern sounds.”

Cunliffe’s music reflects his jazz and classical influences: “I still listen to more classical music than jazz; that’s where I get harmonic ideas and inspiration. I love music that is a complete thought, that has development from beginning to end rather than a series of solos. If there’s no story being told, it’s not really that interesting.”







Holly Hofmann, flute/Minor Miracle (Capri CD) With the exception of well-known musicians like Herbie Mann and Jean-Pierre Rampal, listeners aren’t very familiar with flutists, especially female flutists, who perform jazz. This set highlights the artistry of Holly Hofmann with Ray Brown, Bill Cunliffe (see above), and Victor Lewis. There’s next to no information about the artists or the music in the thin CD pamphlet, which won’t help make Holly any more familiar. But it doesn’t matter: the music is fine and performances are enjoyable.

Of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Samba,” Hoffman explains: “Jobim’s music is so loose and nonrestrictive, perfect for flute and piano.” And of Matt Dennis’ “Will You Still Be Mine?” she simply says: “I hope so.”







Mary Stallings, vocals/Live at the Village Vanguard/“I Love being Here With You” (Mack Avenue CD) When critics write about Mary Stallings, it’s often with the highest of praise and with a kind of surprise that she isn’t better known. The New York Times said “Perhaps the best jazz singer alive today is a woman almost everybody seems to have missed. Her name is Mary Stallings.”

I searched every Stallings album I have (always a pleasure) for a song that would introduce her to new listeners as well as entertain her fans. No single selection displays all of her various talents but the album Live at the Village Vanguard demonstrates her ability to sing in a variety of styles, shows off her personality and the ways she interacts with audiences. “I Love being Here with You” is a good choice to start with. If you get hooked, you might want to listen to every song performed at this iconic club before Ms. Stallings has left the building.










Bill Evans, piano/California Here I Come/with Eddie Gomez, bass and Philly Joe Jones, drums (Verve CD) Evans’ expressive work was very influential. He inspired a generation of players who appreciated his unique harmonic approach, introspective lyricism, and unhurried improvisation guided by an analytical mind.

California was recorded live at New York’s Village Vanguard in 1967 but not released for 15 years (“it just never seemed the right time to release it,” according to Helen Keane, Evans’ producer and manager), making it a forgotten treasure. Play the album and you’ll get to ponder life sometime “Round Midnight,” contemplate “Polka Dots and Moonbeams,” then take a walk “On Green Dolphin Street.” “Alfie,” “Emily,” and “Stella (by Starlight)” will accompany you as they’re re-created by one of Evans’ most outstanding trios.







Johnny Frigo, violin/Live From Studio A in New York City/with Bucky and John Pizzarelli, guitar, Ron Carter and Michael Moore, bass, and Butch Miles, drums (Chesky CD) This audiophile album was recorded in RCA’s famous Studio A so the engineers could capture the nuances of the two acoustic guitars. Bucky Pizzarelli recollects: “[The quintet] made the album in the old-fashioned way. We sat around the mike…and we just played. There was no splicing. No earphones. It put everybody on a sharp edge to get it done right.” In addition to Jerome Kern’s “Pick Yourself Up…” the program includes music by Duke Ellington, Johnny Mercer, Benny Goodman, Oscar Hammerstein, and Michel LeGrand. Although guitars are commonly used as jazz instruments, hearing a violin play a prominent role in a jazz combo is a relatively rare treat.




Wynton Marsalis, trumpet/Wynton Marsalis Quartet Live at Blues Alley/with Marcus Roberts, piano, Robert Leslie Hurst III, bass, and Jeff “Tain” Watts, drums (Columbia CD) Faster than a speeding semihemidemisemiquaver (128th) note! More powerful than an explosive fortississimo! Able to leap large intervals in a single bound! The talented Wynton Marsalis is certainly live at Blues Alley: His performance starts with a flurry of notes, grabs your attention, and holds it for two CDs’ worth of astounding music making. Versatile and energetic, this remarkable quartet makes even the slow music sound upbeat, too.










Ella Fitzgerald, vocals/Ella in Hollywood/The ‘A’ Train (Verve LP) Here’s an LP that includes wonderful classic songs, performances, and sound, and the excitement of being in a live venue… a definite desert island disc. Ella is in fine form, interacting with the audience and sounding relaxed. If you need some air after your ride on the underground “A” Train, be sure to climb the “Stairway to the Stars” on the next track.

Following your journey, sit back, relax, and check out two performances based on that fascinating element of music: rhythm. If you follow the program below, Gershwin’s “Fascinating Rhythm” is first performed by Ella in a video accompanied by vintage photos, then sung with a different approach by a very young Mel Tormé in a clip from The Judy Garland Show.







“Fascinating Rhythm”/Mel Tormé (Video from a live appearance on The Judy Garland Show)




Header image: Ella Fitzgerald, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/public domain.