A Looming Deadline!… Or… A Project In Peril!

It’s nothing to be alarmed about. Please don’t start burning everything or hoarding Snickers bars just yet. But we’ve got a little problem here at Catch and Release HQ. And I wanted to bring it to your attention now so you’ve got time to prepare.

A central premise of the project is the predetermined, timely release of each track, and for the first time since we started, a premise is in danger of being broken. Track four is due to drop Monday December 1, and as things stand, we have no tune, no band, no photographer and no recording date. And I’m running low on kitchen paper. Now some of this is my own fault (in fact, it would take a creative mind to apportion blame for any of it to anyone else. Fortunately I have one of those…), due to my preference for writing with a deadline. Usually I’ll book the band, the engineer, and the club, and then write desperately until some sort of tune emerges. But my ducks, far from obediently arranging themselves in a row, have skedaddled. They might have migrated south. And I definitely ate one of them.


It takes a lot of phone calls and emails to get four or five musicians, an engineer and a photographer together at the same time. And booking a few hours in one of the world’s busiest jazz clubs involves repeated visits (they won’t return my emails) and reminders (it’s a jazz club- they don’t write things down). Seriously, there are gigs, jam sessions, rehearsals, recordings, interventions, seances, happening at Smalls about 20 hours a day. In fact, last time we had to dress as exterminators and claim to be fumigating to get the place to ourselves.

But this time was supposed to be easier. Having put out three fairly energetic performances, it seems like time for a ballad; something quiet and sensitive. And to change things up a bit, I want to do it with just saxophone and piano. We’ve gone completely mad and slashed the band by a whopping 50%! But I can’t get everyone in the same room at the same time. They all claim to have things like careers and families, just like I’ve seen on TV. We could record the parts separately, then stick them together like they do on the pop records… And photograph ourselves individually and photoshop ourselves together… But that wouldn’t be fair to you, the listener, and I have no intention of doing that much work.

So that’s where we are right now. I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve yet; and I’ve been under bigger piles of poo than this and remained undeterred. There’s still hope. I’ll keep you posted.

Tools of the Trade

I just read an article in the Guardian about listening to music while reading. My dad, a voracious reader, has done this since I can remember. Bach, Brahms, Boccherini, Bocconcini, they all seemed to increase his enjoyment of his current mental fodder. But I could never do it. I tried for a long time, with various styles of music- jazz, classical, industrial screamo- at varying volumes, all to no avail. My mind would immediately focus on the music, and I’d find myself reading the same passage over and over. And I’d find myself reading the same passage over and over. I came to accept this shortcoming long ago, but the Guardian piece got me thinking about concentration and distraction, which led to something else, I don’t remember. Then I took a nap, which led to this blog about Aids To Productivity!

The work involved in the Catch and Release Experiment takes place mostly at the piano and the computer. Some composers (for the sake of this post, I’m a composer. Don’t look at me like that…) are quite finicky when it comes to their professional utensils: 2B, not 2B, quill, Nyquil… Tools at the Hempton piano consist of pencil swiped from the OTB, manuscript paper, and industrial-sized eraser. In the catastrophically chaotic corner of my hovel in which I occasionally find my desk, I employ a temperamental MacBook, and a music notation program called Sibelius. Occasionally I’ll also draw power from a giant, arid Martini. It’s a pretty simple business. But how to stay focussed?


Earlier this year I read a blog post by estimable Australian author John Birmingham. In it he not only earned my further respect by noting that he listens to Charlie Parker while working, but also introduced me to a productivity app called Coffitivity. This thing reproduces the muted hubbub of a bar or cafe, which is apparently an ideal aural aid to concentration. I downloaded it with alacrity (they came as a bundle), and prepared to produce. But instead I found it impossibly distracting. I kept trying to pick out conversations, while imagining what the waitresses looked like. Plus, what’s the point of writing in a cafe, if nobody can see you writing in a cafe? Surely that’s the point? So I ditched the app, along with the horn-rimmed glasses and corduroy jacket, and went back to my familiar cone of silence.

But what happens when the neighbours start fighting? Or your children start rattling their cages, claiming to be hungry again? I turn to Rain, Rain. I’ve got it on the iPhone, and it provides the sound of various types of rainstorm, as well as a range of other ambient hums. It works kind of like white noise, and blocks out most of what’s going on around you. Give me the sound of a clothes dryer through my headphones, and I’m pretending to work like nobody’s business.

Got any tips or tricks for staying focussed/motivated/awake?

The Third Degree in moving pictures!

Our third little bundle of jazz is out in the world, and seems to be making friends. It’s quickly become our most popular tune on iTunes, thanks, probably entirely, to the participation of our man Peter Bernstein. Not just one of my favourite musicians, Peter is also a generous, modest, supportive dude. The session was great fun, and Bernstein tore it up take after take. If you haven’t heard The Third Degree, here’s a snippet, with video from the studio. If you dig it, please pick it up from iTunes or Amazon- it’ll only cost you a buck- and tell your friends about it!

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/third-degree-feat.-peter-bernstein/id928690451

Amazon: http://amzn.com/B00OEEZRBU

I’ll start the lead up to tune #4 in November- I’m thinking a scaled-back sound for this next one, maybe duo? I’ll have more for you soon. In the meantime, let me know what you think of the Third Degree, and what kind of thing you’d like to hear next! Cheers, Nick

The Third Degree (feat. Peter Bernstein)

Track #3 is up on the grid! Entitled “The Third Degree”, it features the sterling talents of not only Jeremy Manasia (p), Dave Baron (b), and Dan Aran (d); but also our special guest- guitarist Peter Bernstein!

The groove is sort of a Blue Note-style Bossa Nova- I think you’ll find it groovy and swinging. Have a listen, and if you dig it, buy it- it’ll only cost you one dollar! Enjoy!

Buy it on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/third-degree-feat.-peter-bernstein/id928690451

Amazon: http://amzn.com/B00OEEZRBU

GooglePlay: http://bit.ly/1oaU4nk

Watch: video outtakes from Recording #3!

As you may know, tune #3 of Catch and Release is done and dusted, and once again we were lucky to have talented photographer/videographer Una Stade on hand at the session. Here are a couple of clips of the band in the studio (Smalls Jazz Club), wasting our energy on what ended up being outtakes…

The tune is called “The Third Degree”, and comes out this Wednesday (Oct 15). Dig!

Session #3 in pics, and our secret guest revealed!

Tune #3 is called “The Third Degree”, and it comes out a week from today! Here are some shots from the recording session, featuring our special guest, guitarist Peter Bernstein! Dig:

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As always, thanks Una Stade for the great pictures!

A Terrifying Encounter with the Undead, and Some Light Piano Music.

I took my life in my hands and went to Mezzrow after dark for this video. Mezzrow is the new piano room in Greenwich Village, sister club to Smalls, and may or may not be haunted. I should warn you that something horrifying happens in this clip. And then I stop playing the piano and something even worse happens. Here’s tune #3:

If you’d like to know more about Mezzrow, you can check it out here: https://www.mezzrow.com

New video for track #2, “Hanging for Dear Life”

If you missed track #2, here’s a little snippet! With some footage from the recording session…

Tadataka Unno on piano, Dave Baron at the bass, Dan Aran on drums.

Hope you dig!

(Thumbnail looks very ’80s, doesn’t it?)

Buy it for a buck at iTunes: http://bit.ly/CANDR2

or Amazon: http://amzn.com/B00N9ZYGDK

The U2/iTunes fiasco; and Nick gets a bit shirty.

Last week I had to send a rather snippy email to a journalist. The writer and editor of a foreign jazz newsletter, he was on my press list to receive a free download of each Catch and Release track, for the purposes of review and criticism. He informed me that the project would get a mention in the next issue, and I opened it with interest. I was dismayed to find that, instead of critiquing the project, he’d printed the internet links to the tunes, meaning that any of his readers who felt like it could download the music free. He seemed like a decent bloke, he responded to my email with an apology, and it was clear that the incident was the result of a genuine misunderstanding. But it’s interesting that, without a word of suggestion from me, he assumed that music on the internet was free.

I realize that I’ve come across this quite a lot recently. When I explain our project to people, they often come back with “so you’re just giving it away?” It seems we’re getting used to the idea of not paying for music.

This brings us neatly to U2. By now most of you will have realized you have the new U2 album in your iTunes collection, whether you wanted it or not (you probably didn’t), and some of you have probably taken the steps necessary to remove it. (If you didn’t know, here’s the story.) Now, it’s clear that Apple paid U2 for this album (a shitload, presumably), and it’s their choice what they do with it, but to the average consumer, it looks like one of the world’s most popular bands has made an album and is giving it away; and if U2′s music is free, everyone else’s should be too. (The online backlash to this “gift” from Apple has been hilarious- worth looking into if you’ve got some time to kill…)

Apple CEO Tim Cook stands with Irish rock band U2 as he speaks during an Apple event announcing the iPhone 6 and the Apple Watch at the Flint Center in Cupertino As I explained to my journalist friend, recording music is expensive. Even with a label or a cashed-up producer, the money has to come from somewhere. Each of these tracks costs me upwards of five hundred bucks to make, and the only way I’m going to see any of that back is by selling the stuff. And if I don’t recoup the money, I can’t afford to make more recordings. That’s the practical reason for charging money, but I also think that giving music away reduces the value we attach to it.

I don’t have a solution to this. I think we’re all assuming that in the coming years, an industry-wide model for music distribution will reveal itself, and hopefully this will involve payment to the artists. But for the time being, I’m making a bit of an effort to buy music. Just a dollar here and there for an independent release, or a classic missing from my library. Just to keep my hand in.

Did you download the U2 thing? Delete it? Is it really that damaging, or just a misjudged marketing attempt? Is there a way we can all send our home recordings to Bono’s iTunes? Let me know!

Cheers, Nick

Inscrutable, impenetrable iTunes

Of all the people and organizations I deal with, iTunes is the most mysterious. And I work with some freaking oddballs. Somehow my music ends up for sale there, but I have no clue how or why.

Like many independents, I use an outfit called CD Baby to handle digital distribution; their system is easy to use, the prices seem fair, and customer service is excellent. When a tune is ready, I upload it to their site, along with recording and track details, artwork, my family history and physical measurements. They approve all this, list the tune on their site, and send me an email saying they’ve sent it to iTunes. Then we wait. CD Baby suggests that it will take 2 days to appear on iTunes. I’ve seen it happen in hours, weeks, and in the case of my old podcast, never.

In my mind, iTunes HQ is a bit like the Wonka Chocolate factory. It’s giant and old, with imposing fences and signs all around. Nobody ever goes in, and nobody ever comes out. Decisions are made in a theatrically arbitrary fashion by a weirdo in a top hat, and the grunt work is done by underpaid iLoompas. They have golden tickets too, but they don’t really want anyone to find them, so they’re packaged with Nick Hempton Band albums.


In the case of my podcast, I tried for a year to get that bloody thing up. Every idiot and his dog has a podcast on iTunes, and the process seems fairly simple. But if one link in the chain is missed, if one iLoompa is asleep on the job, it seems you’re screwed. Countless emails and phone calls to heads of various departments led nowhere- they all scratched their heads and said everything was in order, and they’d leave a post-it note for Jason in podcasts, but no dice. Eventually I gave up. And really, the world is no worse off for lacking that particular series.

These experiences have given me a sort of awed respect for iTunes; the kind of respect one might have for something that is entirely unfathomable- like, I don’t know, the ocean… Or women. In any case, somehow, magically, all the Hempton Band gear is currently available on iTunes. For now. But tomorrow? It’ll probably still be there tomorrow. But after that? “You should never never doubt what nobody is sure about…”