How Music Got Free: the end of an industry, the turn of the century, and the patient zero of piracy

I recently finished reading How Music Got Free: the end of an industry, the turn of the century, and the patient zero of piracy by Stephen Witt (Penguin Random House).

It is a compelling account of the end of the era of major label largess told through the concurrent tales of a label executive, technology innovator, and early pirate. It doesn’t offer answers to the industry’s current problems, but it does help explain how we ended up where we are. Witt is a skilled story teller and it is an enjoyable read. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the inner workings of the music industry, and related technology.


Tour recap and shout outs

I just got back from a lovely two weeks in Europe. The main purpose pf the trip was for a tour in Italy with Marcello Benetti’s Shuffled Quartet, but I worked in a trip to Switzerland for the International Society for Improvised Music 2015 Conference.

Our regular woodwind collaborator, Rex Gregory, could not make the trip because he is busy being a new father, so we had Dan Kinzleman on clarinet, flute, and tenor sax. Dan is an American musician who has lived in Italy for the last ten years or so. He is a wonderful musician, a fun hang, and a great road comrade. We were happy to have him with us. It was also nice to have two people who spoke the language of Italian sound engineers at sound checks.

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We did most of the touring in Marcello’s Toyota Yaris Versa. Somehow we all fit, with the stuff.

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Setting up for soundcheck in Udine, for our performance at Udin&Jazz. The concert space was lovely and the sound was very good. The festival also had great hospitality.

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Sound check selfie.

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The last gig of the tour was in Rovigo for the summer jazz series presented by the conservatory there. We shared the concert with the quartet of Massimo Morganti, who teaches at the conservatory. This pic is Massimo’s band at sound check.

After the gig in Rovigo, Marcello and I drove overnight to Chateau-D’Oex, Switzerland for the ISIM Conference. The over night drive was crazy, but when you arrive to this view from your hotel room, it feels less stupid.

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This tiny alpine village seemed like an odd choice for the location of this year’s conference, but the setting was lovely, and the hosts were great. There were some good conversations about diversity, and community building. I presented on improvisational structures I use with my student laptop orchestra, and I really enjoyed Jeff Morris’s presentation on his project.

I also got the chance to hear a great house concert before I came back home. The band was led by Filippo Vignato, and they did his arrangements of Albert Manglesdorf’s music. The band included Piero Bittolo Bon, who has performed at Open Ears, and a great young bass player named Rosa Brunello.

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It was a great trip. We made some good music, and I met or reconnected with a bunch of great people. I am happy to be home, but a touch sad that I left before I could experience Mirano Baseball Day.

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Breakfast for Dinner Records

I have a new record label called Breakfast for Dinner Records. The music is available in most of the usual digital places and CDs are available from the label’s band camp page.

You can also buy the downloads on Amazon ( Staffa, Duets 2014 ), or iTunes ( Staffa, Duets 2014 ), or listen on Spotify ( Staffa, Duets 2014 ).


Yesterday on the radio, I heard an inspiring conversation about local news coverage, journalism, and democracy. Newspapers were a big part of the conversation.

A little backstory: After Hurricane Katrina, our neighborhood lost our curbside recycling service. Not long after that, I cancelled my newspaper subscription. I was not reading it very often, and since we couldn’t recycle it, I had some tree guilt.

The radio show yesterday made me rethink my newspaper situation. We have curbside recycling again, and I feel like I should aim to be a better informed citizen, so I decided to investigate getting a newspaper subscription. In the time since I cancelled my Times-Picayune subscription, the T-P has gone from a daily to publishing a hard copy only three days a week, and The Advocate has come into the New Orleans market.

I went to the T-P site first. Apparently you have to give all of your personal info and start a website account to find out how much a subscription costs. If the information is there otherwise, it was not easy to find. So I went to The Advocate’s website. They had a page with links to “See Prices.” That link opened a popup in which you enter your zip code, and click the “See Prices” button, and…nothing happens.

I possibly would have subscribed to both papers this morning, ended up with neither. Have they given up on this side of their business? Should I give up too and just commit to paying more attention to local web news?

My thoughts on Cutting Louisiana higher education by $300 million

A note to the apparent morons who run the state in which I live: I WILL PAY MORE TAXES TO SUPPORT HIGHER EDUCATION!!!!!!!!!

The nature of Louisiana’s backwards legal system makes much of the state’s budget protected and very hard to adjust, except for higher education, which is easy for the legislature to cut. Our governor, who pays lip service to a religion that is supposed to be based on helping the poor and caring for our fellow humans, refuses to allow taxes to be raised for any productive reason. I think he (and his fellow lawmakers of similar political ideology) does this not out of a sense that it is really the right thing to do, but out of a loyalty to a political party that places money above all else, and even then, really just the money of people who already have a lot of it. The lawmakers of Louisiana, led by our governor, are cowards, who are afraid of the dogmatists of their own party, to the point that they will do nothing to help the people of our state in any way.

I actually voted for Jindal. I thought he was a smart man, and he made me believe that he would use that intelligence to run our state well. I did not realize at the time that his political aspirations would out weigh all other considerations to the point that he would be incapable of straying one millimeter from republican dogma, even if it is the best thing for our state.

I got both of my graduate degrees from state schools (the University of New Orleans for my M.M., and Louisiana State University for my Ph.D.). The system worked well for me. These degrees helped me learn many things, and led to me getting a great teaching job and staying in our state. I can now afford to pay more in taxes, and I would love to do that if that is what is needed to keep our higher education system alive.


This article offers a good perspective on the amount of the cuts that are being envisioned.

Cutting Louisiana higher education by $300 million, putting it into perspective |

Al Belletto

I just received news that Al Belletto, the great saxophonist from New Orleans, passed away on Friday. Al had been living in Dallas with family for the last few years, but when I first moved to New Orleans, Al was a fixture on the scene. He had a great influence on many young musicians, some of whom aren’t that young any more (myself included). His nickname was Coach, but as the joke goes, that doesn’t make sense, because he was first class all the way.

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Cover baggage

This recent post on DTM (a great blog by Ethan Iverson of The Bad Plus) got me thinking again about the baggage that comes with covering well known material. I think it is almost impossible to judge a radical reworking of a very well known song solely on the merits of the new arrangement. There is simply too much baggage for the listener, unless the listener is unfamiliar with the original. In that latter case, the lack of inherent meaning also diminishes the appreciation of the new arrangement.

Ethan’s post mentioned that one of the detrimental comments sometimes laid on Jason Moran’s ALL RISE: A Joyful Elegy For Fats Waller was that it was too close to smooth jazz at times. I wonder if some of that is about the material. Does the presence of such well known songs as “Ain’t Misbehavin'” or “Honeysuckle Rose” cause us to hear those tracks as more in the smooth jazz/muzak vein than we would if they were originals with similar grooves, arrangements and instrumentations?

Another accusation is that this music is a sellout or commercial grab. I don’t buy that. Jason Moran has enough artist cred that I trust this as a legitimate expression on his part…although the big Fats Waller head does freak me out a little.

Wide listening

One of my go to recordings recently has been Return the Tides by Rob Mazurek and Black Cube SP. I have also recently been on a kick to try to expand my listening to and appreciation of music that is more mainstream or popular than what I usually listen to. This has led me to spend some time with the new D’Angelo record and even check out some Iggy Azalea, in efforts to better understand some of the recent discussions on these topics. I have found that there is more musical commonality across those spaces than I might care to admit.

Growing up musically in a space that was largely influenced by jazz culture, I have some completist tendencies. I like to dig deeply into the music of my favorites. I guess that could be more of a me thing than a jazz thing, because I did that as a kid with my favorite rock bands too. Once I decided I really liked a band, I had to get all of their albums. This habit has made it hard for me to “skim” the music of someone who is new to me, but my recent decision to broaden my horizons has forced me to do just that.

What I have discovered is that even cursory exposure to new music is rewarding and offers insight into old favorites as well. Maybe that has always been obvious to most of you. It just hit me in a new way today.

A Shocking Exchange on Facebook about Music and Hard Work | The Art of Freedom

How we frame what we do matters.

A Shocking Exchange on Facebook about Music and Hard Work | The Art of Freedom:

“Where is the love of the everyday music-making that we give to ourselves? Yes, music-making can be rewarding, but not just when the performance goes well and as planned! Where is the joy of learning, of experimentation? The spark of curiosity? The excitement of discovery? Where is the delight in making sound for the sake of making sound? Why take the fun out of what we do 90% of the time, which is in the practice room, not onstage? Why make such a harsh division between play and the studied attention we pay to detail in the practice room or in a lesson?”

A beautiful sound…

In 1999 I was fortunate to fall in with some musicians who were doing things that I wanted to do, but wasn’t sure that I could. These were people who I had been hearing play for some time, and I was getting to play with them. I didn’t know if I belonged there.

After my first gig with the Naked Orchestra (which was only the band’s second gig), Tim Green walked up to me and said something nice about what I had played. I don’t remember his exact words, I just remember that the guy who made the most music in this group of (close to 20) great musicians went out of his way to say something encouraging to me. He made me think that maybe I could make some music that mattered. Those few words from him really did change my life.


Tim Green passed away this week. He was a beautiful person who made beautiful, deep, soulful sounds. To hear him play was to peer into his soul, and it was beautiful. Tim went out of his way to help create peace for those around him, I hope he has found the peace that sometimes eluded him in life. Rest well brother.