Uppity youngsters, a sentimental Journey, and a belt rings a Belltown

Back on the tour bus, with a whole new entourage. Glad I didn’t learn the names of the last one. So confusing- I don’t know how Willie Nelson does it! And these groupies really seem to have no idea what the job entails. Very poor.

 I’m headed down to Portland, Oregon from      the lovely Seattle, and I’m kind of sorry to be leaving. It’s one of my favourite towns to visit, and I look forward one day to seeing some of it… My sightseeing this time consisted of hauling my gear a mile or so through impenetrable fog from the bus station to the hotel. By pure luck, I’d chosen the charming Belltown neighbourhood in which to base myself- it’s a quirky spot with a nice mix of hipsterish bars and very picturesque homeless people. I fed and watered at the Belltown Pub, and got dolled up for the gig.

 Friday’s gig was at a joint callled Boxleys in North Bend, a half-hour drive from the city. A musician-run club, it’s heavily involved in jazz education, and is part of a developing cooperative with a few other clubs in the area, the idea being that eventually touring players will be able to do a circuit of the region, instead of playing just one club. We had a very enthusiastic crowd in attendance, including a lot of kiddies, which meant I had to tone down some of the intense, X-rated portions of my patter; and the goat got the night off. After the show, one of the kids came and asked if my album was available on iTunes, because he doesn’t own a CD player. I took my dentures out and threw them at him.

  
After I got back to the hotel, I thought a wander through the neighbourhood was in order. The first bar I went into looked strangely familiar. Bars two through seven rang a bell too. I eventually realised that I’d stumbled into the same neighbourhood my mate Dan and I had bar-crawled through two years earlier. I figured that made me a local and breezily told the bartender to “put ’em on my tab” as I sauntered out the door. At least, that’s how I remember it. It would also explain the bruises. 

  
Saturday night found us in a town called Renton, just south of the city. A pretty new club, Shuga is a sprawling pile with bar, restaurant and music room all separate from eachother. The owner had sent me panicky emails for weeks prior, concerned that we wouldn’t have an audience. I didn’t tell him that the time spent writing me these emails could have been spent promoting the show. He also hired a singer to sit in with us, to increase our allure. Normally if a club owner did this, I would tell him to sit on it, but I’m the out-of-towner here, so I took it. Turned out she was very nice and a good singer; and the crowd was fine, and all stayed to the end, so everyone was happy. On a break, I took a stroll through Renton’s deserted streets to get some cash. Suddenly I tripped, and found myself in a neighbourhood bar where I ran into every resident of Renton. Packed it was. And for karaoke. As I walked in, someone in the corner was dismembering Frank Sinatra, while the crowd ignored him enthusiastically. Then the next tune started and my ears pricked up to the opening strain of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”. With a cheer, 100 or so Rentonites raised their Budweisers and started singing along. I joined in, and for a minute, the good people of Renton and I were one. I went back and finished out the gig, playing my part as a sophisticated, jet setting jazz musician. But deep down, I knew I was just a small town girl, living in a lonely world. 

Next up: homemade clothes, craft beer, strip clubs, and the mustiest hotel room this side of the Mustiville! Cheers, Nick

Swinging a Canadian Club; and a Bucket Full of Poutine 

On the tour bus like a rockstar! I don’t recognize anyone in my entourage, and I’m surprised so many groupies dress in sweat pants and Ugg boots,  but whatever. It’s been a pretty huge couple of days; I’m beat, and I’m glad they’re all pretending to ignore me.

Caught the 6AM flight from NY yesterday, having come straight from work. The only person crankier than me on the flight was the two year old sitting next to me. It was an impressive seven hour marathon of screaming and flailing, and the kid made a fair racket too. I arrived gritty-eyed and dishevelled in charming Vancouver, but happy to be free. To the hotel for a quick lie down, then a 30-second stroll to Frankie’s Italian Kitchen. 

  
 A few months ago, Frankie’s was just a classy Italian restaurant with a faintly Mafia-esque name. Then Jazz impresario Cory Weeds moved in. For 13 years, Cory ran the esteemed Jazz Cellar in Vancouver: a top notch jazz club that hosted countless jazz legends; and even Hempton made an appearance shortly before it shut down. Coincidentally. Cory has now turned Frankies into a comfortable, welcoming jazz room, with great sound, piano, drums, ambience- everything one wants in a club. 

 Joining me on the stage were three fabulous local players: Jodi Proznick at the bass, Miles Black on piano, and Jesse Cahill at the drums. Time didn’t allow for a rehearsal, so a talk-through was all they got- and they nailed everything. I couldn’t have asked for a more swinging group. The crowd was smiley and receptive, and the beer was cold and restorative. I also got to spend a bit of time with the Canadian wing of the Hempton clan, and talk cricket with Jesse. 

 After the show, I retreated to my hotel bar for a nightcap, and ended up with a bucket-sized bowl of Poutine. This is a Candian specialty (actually a Montreal thing, I think), and I’d never tried it. It’s essentially french fries and gravy, with some kind of cheese curd splattered about. I was underwhelmed. I think one might have to be a lot drunker than I was to fully appreciate Poutine’s singular depth and complexity. 

  
 Then it was bed, and now it’s bus. I’ll be in Seattle in an hour or so- tonight I’m at a joint called Boxley’s in North Bend, with a whole new band. I’ll tell you all about it…
Cheers, Nick

Hempton Hits the Road

We’re taking Catch and Release to the West Coast! If you’ve got friends or enemies in Vancouver, Seattle or Portland, please spread the word! Ticket info below.

And please follow along on FacebookTwitter, and now Instagram!

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Thurs Nov 26 @ Frankie’s, Vancouver: Tickets

Fri Nov 27 @ Boxley’s, North Bend WA: Tickets

Sat Nov 28 @ Shuga, Renton WA: Tickets

Sun Nov 29 @ ACV, Aurora OR: Tickets

Tues Dec 1 @ The Dahlia Theatre, Canby OR: Tickets

 

 Don’t Knock the Knob Jockey

The other day I spent several hours in a tiny windowless closet. Don’t judge me- sometimes we all need a quiet place to contemplate life while lying in a shivering ball, wide-eyed and whimpering. But in this case, I was in an engineer’s studio in Midtown Manhattan, remastering the Catch and Release tracks for the upcoming CD release. And it occurred to me that we’ve never really talked about the post-recording process. Not that that’s any reason to start now. But someone’s got to cater to your insatiable appetite for sizzling new content. Begin.

 The first step after recording a tune is picking a take. Usually when recording an album, we’ll play each tune two or three times, then move on. But because we had all afternoon for each tune, we usually did five or six. Then I had to pick the best one. Now I don’t have children, but I imagine this process is akin to picking which one of your offspring you dislike the least. Actually, I find the whole listening-back process to be pretty unpleasant- it’s kind of like rubbing your dog’s nose in its own poo. But it’s got to be done, and eventually you settle on your favourite pooey child.   

 Then comes mixing. This is fairly mystifying to me, but it seems to involve manipulating the sound of each instrument within the recording, to try to recreate a real live performance. A saxophone played directly into a microphone doesn’t really sound anything like a saxophone aimed at your head from the stage of a jazz club. So we have to fiddle with it. Different frequencies are toyed with, and effects are added to mimic the sound bouncing off walls and people. Then we fix the levels: bass softer here, drums a bit lower here, saxophone louder here. And here. And in this bit. And I think that’s mixing: getting the instrument sounds, the “room” sounds, and making sure the saxophone is loud enough. 

  

 The mastering process is even more mysterious to me, and I have to confess I’ve dropped off in more than one mastering session. But basically, this is the last step in the process before the album goes to print. Some jiggling is done with overall sound, beginnings and ends of the tracks are tidied up, appropriate spaces are wedged between tunes, and the whole mess is sent to the printers. 

 I have great respect for the folks who devote themselves to this discipline. They sit for hours on end in an airless box, with an intensity of focus which I can’t maintain for more than a few minutes. I try. Really I do. I talk in really abstract terms involving colours and depths and weights. I watch for when the engineer twiddles a knob, and I say Hm or Yeah. I even invested in a pair of those glasses with the open eyes painted on the lenses so they can’t tell I’ve drifted off. That’s how much I care. And when people ask me who did the mixing, I tell them, and then add that I was there. I was involved. I was putting in. A lot of people snore when they’re concentrating.

 Anyway, next time you’re listening to an album, take a second to notice the “sound”. Somebody made that. 

 Righto, more soon. Cheers, Nick

Afternoon Has Broken, Also Brain: The Price of the Jazz Life

Firstly let me apologise if this post descends into indecipherable drivel. But that’s my writing style, and it’s got me where I am today. Aside from that, I just read a disturbing article informing me that my late-night lifestyle is making me sick and stupid; my ability to form coherent sentences is diminishing, and my days of comprehending simple arithmetic may be numbered. I don’t even understand that last bit!

I spend most of my nights in jazz clubs, and have done so since I was in my late teens. Back in Australia, this wasn’t so bad, as the action would generally wind up by midnight or 1AM (we all had to be up early to feed the wombats). Then I came to New York. On my first trip here in 1996, Smalls Jazz Club was open until 8AM, and often later. I’d get my arse handed to me at the jam session, go to a diner to berate myself over breakfast, and be in bed by noon. These days, I’m older and wiser, and am tucked up by 6AM.

Inaccurate band T-shirt from my youth

Conventional wisdom says that we eventually adapt to a change in sleep patterns; that if we keep our hours regular, and turn in at the same time every day, the sleep will be just as beneficial. I even dimly recall reading articles that claimed our most creative work is done after midnight. But recent studies refute all this, and moreover, suggest that staying up all night and sleeping all day, while undeniably awesome, has some pretty serious downsides, namely type-two diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and a “significantly shorter lifespan”. Additionally, these studies show that, “the brains of workers who’d done 10 years of night shifts had aged by an extra 6 1/2 years- they couldn’t remember as much or think so quickly.” And at 4AM, apparently my ability to think is the same as if I was drunk. Of course, I wouldn’t know what that’s like, but it sounds serious and fun.

Anyway, I thought I’d prove all these so-called experts wrong by doing a bit of investigative googling and coming up with some brainy achievers who share my habits. Unfortunately, many people known as “night owls” (Freud, Churchill, Tolstoy, Mozart, Nabokov, Obama, etc) are nodding off at a relatively respectable 1AM. For real day-sleepers, here’s what I came up with: pianist and hypochondriac fusspot Glenn Gould; gloomy ponderers Franz Kafka and Marcel Proust; literary lunatic Hunter S Thompson (check out his insane daily routine), and maniacal dingbats Josef Stalin and Adolf Hitler. The only glimmer of hope is Rolling Stones madman Keith Richards, and it’s looking more and more like he’s not actually human. I’m not in healthy, well-adjusted company.

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The most frustrating part of these reports is that they offer no solution other than doing what every minuscule fibre of my body is desperately pleading with me to do. I want to hear that I can reverse the negative effects of my boogie-loving lifestyle by, I don’t know, eating carrots? Finishing the occasional cryptic crossword? Curbing my consumption of the blood of comely young virgins? But no. It seems I’ll have to resign myself to incremental idiocy and an early demise.

Are you an all-nighter? Someone you know? Want to cheer me up with tales of healthy, alert, intelligent, productive, long-living nocturnalists? Use the comments box below, but not too many big words please. Anyway, got to go- it’s nearly midnight and lunch isn’t going to make itself.

Righto, more soon. Cheers, Nick

What Now?? (Or, Breathing New Life into a Dead Horse)

The Catch and Release Experiment, as it was originally envisioned, has limped over the finish line, exhausted and disoriented, and is now curled up and panting in the nearest bar. It’s finished, and not a moment too soon. And depending on your perspective, it was either a roaring success, or a dismal, soul-crushing failure. Personally, I prefer not to dwell on the more than seven billion people who didn’t download the tracks; or the resounding lack of interest shown by jazz radio stations (aside from a few standout exceptions); and I really try not to think about how much hard-earned coin I’ve thrown at it… Instead, the Hempton Band’s Department of Selective Memory is insisting I focus on eight tracks of good music, some exciting musical collaborations, loads of great press, a devoted handful of satisfied customers, and a bold attempt at something new.

One thing has become clear over the past year. When we started this harebrained scheme, the race for supremacy in the music delivery business was between downloading and streaming; and they seemed about neck-and-neck. And it would seem, to persist with an overused metaphor, that my horse has taken a somewhat philosophical view of the race. Download numbers have dropped dramatically across the board, in all genres, while streaming services are gathering speed (and money) every day. And in just the last few months we’ve seen the launch of two big new streamers: Apple Music and Tidal (hahahahahaha!). And it makes sense: almost unlimited music for a small monthly fee. As soon as they sort out a way to compensate artists in a decent fashion, I’ll probably sign up myself.

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But all this aside, I’m now left with the questions of what to do with this music, and what to do with this blog. Firstly, I’ve decided to take a second run at the wall, and put the music out on CD. As I’ve mentioned before, a lot of radio stations are resistant to playing digital tracks, so if they won’t play the Catch and Release CD, it just means they don’t like the music. Fair enough too, but I reckon we’ll get some airplay- it’s all pretty radio-friendly stuff. Still the best place to sell music is at live shows, so this will give me a chance to hand over some of the new gear to folks who’ve enjoyed a gig (there are all sorts of gimmicky ways of selling digital tracks in person- download cards, little USB drives- but I’ve never seen anyone buy one.) And let’s not forget there are some weirdos who just like CDs.

So the plan is to remaster all the tracks (because they were recorded/mixed/mastered separately, they all sound a bit different, so we need to get a uniform tone for a CD), get some artwork done, write some liner notes, and have a release in November. This brings me to the blog.

This site was set up to have a finite existence (one year) but I’ve enjoyed scribbling my nonsense here, and don’t really feel like giving it up. So here’s the plan: I’ll describe goings-on related to, and leading up to, the release of the Catch and Release CD; but I’m also going to cast the net a bit wider, and have a natter about matters not directly related to the project- gigs, venues, musicians, etc.- all music-related and hopefully interesting.

So that’s it. I hope you’ll stay with me on this thing, and let me know- what kinds of things would you like to read about here?

More soon. Cheers, Nick

Change for a Dollar!

In all the excitement and relief of putting this part of the Catch and Release project to bed, I forgot to put the final installment up on the blog! So here it is- Change for a Dollar, featuring the great Jerry Weldon on tenor. Have a listen, and if you like it, buy it for a buck! iTunes and Amazon links are below, as well as a review from our friends at Something Else Reviews. Hope you dig!

Review at Something Else

Change for a Dollar at iTunes

Change for a Dollar at Amazon

Shifting the Blame

It’s iTunes fault! I swear! Tune #8, the final installment in the, erm, octiligy (?) is due out today, but no sign of it on iTunes or Amazon. I’m sure it’s coming… In the meantime, here’s a video of an outtake from the session- it’s pretty groovy! The tune is called “Change for a Dollar”and our special guest is tenor legend Jerry Weldon! Hope you dig…

A Big Finish: Tune #8 in Pictures

We made it! The last tune in the Catch and Release series is in the can! It’ll be up online next week, and I’ll put up a video outlining the tune tomorrow. But in the meantime, check out some pics from the session (as always, thanks to the brilliant and talented Una)! And we can reveal our special guest for the big finale: the great Jerry Weldon!!

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Hempton Band in Arty Noir Masterpiece!

It’s been action central here at Catch and Release HQ, which should really mean lots of posts on this blog. Unfortunately most of the goings-on are unsuitable for broadcast. So instead we bring you BY FAR the coolest video we’ve ever been a part of.

Our resident videographer, the all-around awesome Una, growing tired of my ham-fisted attempts at music videos, took the tune and her footage from the session, and whipped up this arty little ripper. Thanks Una! Hope you dig it…

Like the tune? Buy it for a buck on iTunes: Catch Up

or Amazon: Catch Up