Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Arugula-Cilantro-Lime Pesto Pasta Salad


For the Pesto:

2.5 cups baby arugula
1 cup cilantro
3 TBSP lime juice
a small chunk of parm (2-3 TBSP worth)
1/2 cup of a nut (i used walnuts)
1/3 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic
  1. Put all ingredients into a food processor (or device equivalent).  Blend.  Add more olive oil as needed to reach desired consistency.  Salt & Pepper to taste.
You can use salted nuts, if that's all you have, but make sure you adjust the added salt to compensate.

For the Pasta:
  1.  Cook a half pound of orzo as directed.  Drain and let cool.
  2.  Add pesto to cover.
  3. Clean out the fridge/cabinets.  This is the fun part; use your imagination!  For mine I added: 2 julienne carrots, 1 julienne zucchini, sliced olives, crumbled Gorgonzola, half of an onion (diced), half a red bell pepper (diced), some chopped sun-dried tomatoes, half a jalapeno (diced), chopped marinated artichoke hearts and a little extra Olive Oil and lime juice.  Add more pesto as needed.  
  4. Let sit in fridge for at least 3 hours before serving for flavors to blend.
  5. Top with roasted chick peas before serving.
Roasted chick peas should not be stored in the fridge.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Cover Up, Cause I Ain't Playing No Covers...

I'm about at my wits end with being expected to be content playing non-original music.  Don't get me wrong: I love the cover band concept.  It brings together people and genres and all that great feel-good party time stuff.  I play in a great bar band that does mostly covers and people love it.  But, guess what: When the leader breaks out his half dozen originals people like those songs just as much, if not more, then the cover material.  The problem is that no one wants to write anymore.  The creativity is gone from music.

I lead my own group that does a lot of originals and some covers.  Mostly swing and New Orleans covers.  When I say "Lets do this song" the general reaction is "Send me a YouTube link".  I refuse to.  If we, as talented musicians, want to perform non-original material it sure as hell better not sound anything like the original version.  The horn part better be different.  The bridge should have different chords.  The phrasing of the vocals better be unique to the band performing.   

But, my God, if I come across another college age "j***" group who is performing Radiohead or Sound Garden I'm gonna slash their tires.  Just because the songs got  your through your teenage years without successfully killing yourself doesn't mean they are good.

If I see one more set-list that has a great song by Hoagy Carmichael or Cole Porter, but after the title it says "Norah Jones" or "Rod Stewart" within parentheticals I will walk out of the rehearsal.

Those versions belong to that artist.  I do not want someone else recording my reharm of "Days of Wine and Roses" just as I assume Herbie doesn't want someone to release an album of his reworking of "Round Midnight".  They are great learning tools but they have no place in a live set.  What I think is okay is referencing a feel or timbre when working on something new or an interpretation of something old.  Telling the drummer to "Think of a Chuck Brown beat" or describing the attack of Basie's brass section are totally fine.  But don't you dare hand me a chart that says "As recorded by..." at the top.  A good friend of mine is a killer piano-bar type musician and he loves it.  I could never sit doing what he does and I have the utmost respect for his talent, because unlike most others who do the same thing, he refuses to completely bow to the Billy Joel requests all night.  What he does do is creatively arranges.  I once heard him sing a beautiful ballad that I thought was a standard I had never heard of.  But this guy (who is a decade+ older than me) had reworked a Katie Perry song.  A song that was a two chord vamp now had enough changes to make Chick Corea blush.  Hats off to him, because he made a not great song great.

Now there are countless musicians out in the world and I wish all of them success.  But when I'm ask to join a new group I will let it be known that I will not be interested in performing already established material.  I want to be a part in establishing the material.

The world would be a better place with less rehashing and more creating.

Lets do something new.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Slow Cooker Vegetarian Baked Beans

Simple and easy...  Grilled Cheese on pumpernickel featuring both pepper jack and Munster cheese, plus diced scallions and a pinch of Tony's Creole seasoning plus a cider vinegar dressed arugula/baby kale/avocado salad.  But what stole the show was the homemade baked beans I did in the slow cooker.  After looking around the internet for recipes I wasn't happy.  Most only offered bottled BBQ sauce as seasoning.  I am avoiding stuff like that because of the high fructose corn syrup and other crazy chemicals.  You can substitute another brand of natural ketchup, I have switched myself, but when I first came up with this recipe the Hunts was the only "all natural" brand that was carried by the chain grocery store that I can walk to.

Slow Cooker Vegetarian Baked Beans

2 cans pinto beans, rinsed (or 2/3 cup dried pinto beans, soaked overnight)
1 medium onion, diced
1 rib celery, diced
1 TBSP tomato paste
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (I like Penzy's Aleppo Flakes)
6 cumin seeds
pinch of cayenne pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup katsup (I like the Hunts "All Natural", no corn syrup or preservatives)
3 TBSP molasses*
3 TBSP cup packed brown sugar
1 TBSP raw honey
1 tsp ground mustard
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 1/2 tsp sriracha
dash of liquid smoke (optional... it adds a little "bacony-ness")
Veg stock

  1. If using canned beans: rinse beans until the water runs clean.
  2. Heat 1 TBSP vegetable oil over medium high heat. Add the onion and celery and saute about 7 minutes.  While onions cook add beans to slow cooker. Add tomato paste and stir it in and cook about 2 minutes.  Add pepper flakes, cumin seeds and cayenne.  Bloom for about 30 seconds, add garlic and cook another 30 seconds.
  3. Add onion/celery mixture to the beans in the slow cooker.  Add the rest of the ingredients, except the stock, and stir to combine.  Add just enough stock to moisten the mixture; it should not be watery AT ALL.  If you are using dried beans instead of canned I find that a little extra stock is needed.
  4. If using canned beans: Set slow cooker to LOW and cook for about 5 hours. 
    If using dried beans: Set slow cooker to HIGH and cook for about 5 hours.

Makes about 4 or 5 side servings.


Friday, April 17, 2015


Recently someone asked me how I am able to book enough gigs to be a truly full-time musician.  Have a half dozen piano students doesn't hurt the bank account, but that income is only about one third of my (always fluctuating) monthly income.  This got me thinking and I realized that I have developed an actual business method and mentality.  At this point it is only a skeleton, but the potential to expand and evolve this concept is high and I will eventually write a longer volume to explain it in full.

First of all, most full-time musicians do not work normal nine-to-five hours.  This breeds an almost reverse lifestyle that is comparable to people in the service industry.  The difference is: most servers and bartenders know they will be working at the same business tomorrow/next week/next month and are able to be "off" when not at work.  (None of us are truly OFF when not working.  I want to be clear: I'm not saying that.)  A few lucky musicians have secured three nights a week at a restaurant/venue but for the rest of us: this does not work for us, so let's start with...


In November of 2011 I started "office hours".  I began with two days a week, 10am until 3pm I forced myself to do "paper work".  I eventually added a third and have enough work to keep it up, although some weeks it is shortened.  A lot of items fall onto the "office to-do" list.  I forced these desk work days on myself so I had to think outside the box and find something more than Netflix and Minesweeper.

After six months I found a rhythm that can be explained as "ONE, SIX, TWENTY-FOUR".

One week.  Seven Days. 

The immediate future.  What are my gigs?  I need to remember to eat! 

It's Tuesday morning (my Office Hours are on Tuesday, and Wednesday).  It's 10:00am. I open my calendar for the first time this week and see:

Thurs.  Duo with sax at retirement home / 7pm
Fri.  Solo piano at the Tavern / 6pm
Sat.  Duo with bassist / wedding reception cocktail / 2pm
Sat.  High Rollers at the Green Dragon / 9pm
Sun.  Jazz brunch with bassist and sax / 11:30am-3pm.
Mon.  Piano students at 11am, 1pm, 3:45pm, 4:30pm, 5:30pm

The first thing I do I send an e-mail, or phone call if e-mail is not an option - I like e-mail because then you have a hard copy if you were given a bad address, phone number, or even paid incorrectly.  In this email I list every detail known to the gig.  (Details explained in the SIX section.)  Make sure you either bring a printed copy of this email or have it easily accessible on a phone or tablet device at your gig.

Next I confirm everything with any musicians involved with gigs that week.  If it's my gig I e-mail/call each musician I hired.  If I am a sideman I confirm the details with who hired me.  Also confirm what you paying/getting paid so the end of the night is smooth.  Sometimes I hand out check when the musicians are setting up.  I date the check a few days later to ensure that the check I am given has cleared.  It's your call.
Always look at how your schedule affects your family and your body.  If my wife is working late I note that I need to feed the cats before I leave the house at 6pm.  If you have kids: look at the baby-sitting arrangements, if you haven't already.  If I have two or more gigs in the same day I need to make the proper arrangements to eat lunch and/or dinner.  Always remember to eat.  Performing is a very physical activity and alcohol is usually poured liberally if you are "in the band".  The combination of all that plus skipping a meal (or two) can be dangerous.

Six weeks.  A month-and-a-half.  Forty-five days.

I should already have about 70% of my gigs already booked at this point. 

The higher paying and/or high profile gigs (weddings, parties, corporate, festivals, etc) are booked months in advance and these gigs usually have the most to deal with.  Look at everything you need for the gig.  This includes: band members, sound system, monitors, special equipment/rentals, special requested material from the client, is there a back line (this is when something is provided for you, ie: drum set, piano, PA system, etc), does the band need charts, do horn parts need writing/altering, are the songs in the right key for the singer, does it make sense to car-pool, do you need to provide a sound-man (something I suggest for weddings or any gig is larger rooms), is the gig/travel time long enough that the leader should provide food for band, what are parking arrangements, lodging, tolls, load-in time, sound check, load-out time (if out of state: can you leave equipment in club until next morning, ensuring more sleep/rest/down time?), sharing equipment with another band on the bill.  And the most important: Do I need to obtain and special permit for my performance.  Many places require submission up to four weeks ahead of time.  Remember to confirm what you are getting paid.

This is an important subcategory of  SIX.  If you are not graphically savvy… learn something or email me (  You will want to have posters made for any shows that need them. Take all these things and create a document on your computer.  One for each gig.  Put them in folders by year and sort them with an extensive naming system beginning with the date.  For example a wedding on June 23, 2013 would be found in 2013 labeled: 06232013.doc.  Sometimes I will add the word WEDDING after the number, or a band name if it's a specific group.  Something to make at-a-glace searching easy to do.

Twenty-four weeks.  Six months.
It's January and my June calendar is empty, save for that one wedding I have known about since October.  I need to find work!

Talk to any place you already play, or have played recently.  Ask them if they have looked at their June calendar.  Even if their answer is NO they can respond with, "Actually, while I have you on the phone: I had a cancellation for the second Saturday next month.  Is your band free?" Once you get a feel for the places you already know about It's time to find possible new venues.  Search the calendars of similar bands/musicians.  Also look at the calendars of the venues you already gig at.  Look at the other bands that play there and find their websites.  Does a similar act play at a place you've never heard of?  I spend hours every month trolling these other sites. 

Remember this: you will only hear back from one third of places you send press kits/inquiries to.  Of the ones that respond only one third will express interest and only half of those end up in gigs. 

In other words: If I reach out to 30 places regarding potential gigs only 10 will respond.  Of that, 6 or 7 will decline or "keep you on file for the future" (which some actually do and will surprise you one day with a call).  You will get three responses saying "We love you", "You would fit perfectly here".  You will reply and only hear back with dates from one of those three.  Remind the other two interested venues a few weeks later with a "Just following up" email.

Don't get frustrated.  The booking process is the hardest part of being a working musician (besides the obligatory "band drama").  This is also the part when you get the chance to look the most professional.  Once you establish yourself at a level of professionalism that is above and beyond other musicians you will get more calls.  You will be able to charge more.  You will be able to pay your band more.  You will be able to get a professional recording/demo instead of the one you made at home using Garage Band.  In short: you will be an actual step closer to being a successful independent musician.

Always remember to share what you know with other musicians.  I have gotten some great gigs with the help of someone else, a little more well known, sending an email introducing me to the booking agent of a venue.  One time I played a gig and I could tell I wasn't the right fit for.  I suggested a friend of mine and he was immediately at home.  Was I upset I aided in loosing my own gig?  Hell no!  Another restaurant is more likely to add live music if they experience it working somewhere else.  In the long-term: His success can only help me!