Tim Cronin is one of the most genuinely funny people I’ve ever met. I regret the fact that I’ve never spent more than a few fleeting moments with him before now. And I regret even more that we probably won’t sit down and talk again for another ten years or so.
Though I’ve known Tim Cronin for over decade, our friendship mostly consisted of random visits to Jack’s Music in Red Bank, NJ where Tim doles out great swaths of musical knowledge to eager ears. I’d heard drips and drabs of his story as lead singer for Monster Magnet from mutual friends, but never had the opportunity to sit down with him and hear the whole tale. I’m glad we finally rectified that.
Tim is self effacing. That’s perhaps an understatement. He expertly effaces himself with deft efficacy. It starts the moment you first see him and ends as he’s walking out of sight. And you’re certain that, long after you’ve parted, he’s still out there effacing himself somewhere.
People like Tim hold a special place in my heart. My brother was a sound and lighting guy for hundreds of bands and I know how grueling and unglamorous life on the road can be for the guys behind the scenes. Tim manages it with comic brilliance and I hope one day he writes a book about his experiences. And if he doesn’t, I’m going to base a screenplay on his story and hope he doesn’t sue me. I’ll change his name to Ted Cronin in the script. He’ll be none the wiser.

Tim’s very interesting blog is

The Sound and The Honoshowsky

My favorite recording sessions are the ones where nobody in the room knows what’s going to happen. Steve Honoshowsky called me up recently with just such an opportunity. No guidelines. No vague adjectives to describe what he was looking for. Just plug in and play.
It was also the perfect opportunity to get Steve on camera for The Sideman Show. Win-win.
Halfway through the evening, I’d made a discovery. Any time I have to play a session AND work the camera, the filming generally suffers from inattention to things like focus, sound and generally being aimed in the direction of the subject.
It wasn’t one of my more visually stunning segments, but the music was an absolute joy to be a part of. John Noll, owner of Retromedia Studios and engineer for the session, got us up and rolling in seconds and before I knew it, Steve and I had recorded an album’s worth of material.
For all of his amazing technical ability on the drums, Steve is modest and soft spoken. Rather than forcing a bunch of answers, his interview consists of a few minutes of him playing drums. That speaks volumes and it’s a hell of a lot more interesting than me asking him what kind of drumsticks he uses.

Here, There, Chocolate Cake.

I’m a TO DO list idealist. I like to fill up a college ruled page early in the morning with things I hope to accomplish in the next twenty-four hours. This is usually followed up by an “Oh shit” around noon when I realize I’m nowhere close to getting past item number three.*

Today, number one on the list is COFFEE and number two is INTERVIEW MIKE NOORDZY.

Remember that movie Cocoon from the eighties where aliens wore human costumes and underneath the skin was this overpoweringly blinding light? A big burst of kinetic energy under a calm exterior: that’s Mike Noordzy. I’ve not asked if his dermal layer comes off and even broaching the subject might strain our relationship so I’ll just leave it there. (Damn it! Now I’m having Steve Guttenberg flashbacks.)

Mike doesn’t bullshit you about his plans for the future in music. He tells you about an eight hour wedding gig littered with Lady Gaga tunes the same way he tells you about a free jazz gig in Brooklyn. He plays music. And plays it. And plays it. And plays it well.

Mike has a perspective that more folks in the industry should have. I doubt he would turn down a high profile gig with fresh fruit in the green room, but it’s all about the music in the end. He wouldn’t live his life gig after gig after gig if that weren’t the case. Everything is in the moment and you can tell he loves it.

The whole shoot was flawless, but filming the bass segments were my favorite. Solid, adventurous and beautiful. We were talking about Charlie Haden a few minutes before recording and I could really hear it in Mike’s playing. He wasn’t forcing out something from The Shape of Jazz To Come, but hints of Haden were there in a most respectful way. Class act, that Mike Noordzy.

After grabbing tons of great footage, we went north to record his afternoon session with guitarist, Dave Ross. Maybe it was the excellent chocolate cake that Mike’s girlfriend Karen gave us. Maybe it was aged mead we drank. Whatever the muse, it was a stellar night of playing.

Dave Ross was superb.

Mike was astounding.

I forgot to focus the camera.

At the end of the day with a sugar crash about to take hold, I sized up my TO DO list. I crossed out all items after two and penciled in: SLEEP. It was a full and perfect day.

*It’s important to note that I am not a lazy person.

Happy Accidents

I needed some downtime.

My plan was to go to Robert and Elisabeth McKay’s studio in Red Bank, NJ for the opening of AFTERTHOUGHTS, an exhibit of the late John Kochansky’s art.

I was looking forward to soaking my brain in John’s beautiful and provocative work, not to mention eating a bunch of those stuffed mushroom thingies and drinking too much wine.

To my delight, I ran into the always radiant Ruth Wright.  Ruth and her husband Alzo are alumni of the Sun Ra Arkestra and I had the pleasure of recording in a free form ensemble with them last year.  After brushing crumbs from the corners of my mouth, I had a great time catching up with her and hinted at the possibility of getting together soon to record again.  Her smile made me hopeful.

Over the course of the evening, I kept drifting over to the guitarist playing in the corner.  It wasn’t the typical soundtrack you’d expect at a gallery opening, but then Kochansky’s pieces require something a little left of center to make them come alive.

His solo playing landed somewhere between Sonny Sharrock and Adrian Belew: spacious yet technical…raw and sweetly melodic.  I asked Bob McKay who this guy was.

“That’s Phred Morris,” he said. “P-H-R-E-D.”

He parsed the letters in Phred’s name as if the spelling somehow explained the music and the person. Oddly enough, it did.

After a quick conversation, I knew I needed to interview him. Look for an upcoming segment on Phred.  He graciously excused himself and went back to filling the room with great arcs of sound and looping arrangements.

By the time I got back to the refreshments, the stuffed mushroom thingies were all gone, but the tiny cheesy puffy things had arrived. Great art, great music, great people and great snacks.  Every night should be like this.

Segment Two: Tommy Bendel

I don’t normally speed, but the light on Friday was gorgeous and I wanted to capture it on film before it sank into the streets of Fishtown. Say what you will about the show, the sun looks damn good when it’s setting.  Even if the interview flops, someone will at least say, “Oooh, that’s pretty!”

But it didn’t flop. It BOOMed and THWACKed, thanks to the subject of segment two: Tommy Bendel.

Tommy is one of those players whose musicality precedes his instrument.  You can tell he’s thinking about his approach before hitting anything. Cymbals and toms get a cursory stroke of the brush before the rhythm develops.  It’s like a pre-game huddle: pep talk, strategy, planning and suddenly the team becomes one.

Oh, and he’s also a hell of a drummer.

I hate to use words like “organic” when describing musicians or produce, but that’s just how Tommy’s playing sounds.  It’s not like he takes command of the drum and rolls out amazingly technically proficient fills for the benefit of the drummers in the audience (though I’m certain he’s left other players slackjawed). Rather, he lets the drum sound the way it would if it had its own set of arms. Organic. There, I said it again.

He set up a snare in the middle of the street and I did my best to gather remaining light. The moment Tommy started playing, the whole of Philly turned into his band. Sirens, passing trains, footsteps all built up around the foundation he laid down. I closed my eyes (which a cameraman isn’t supposed to do) and everything became music. I hope that little bit of magic comes through in this segment.

This was the hardest editing job I’ve ever done. We recorded so much music, but when Tommy plays, you want to hear the whole thing uncut. It would be terribly unfair not to give you everything so look for a video in the next post.

Tommy has been doing this for over two decades, yet he still has a boyish charm when he talks about making music. His fingers move through the air like he’s twirling invisible sticks. He sways to a spoken beat.  His eyes get Christmassy when he talks about the sessions he has coming up.

Somewhere between studios, Bendel finds the time to play with Philly phenoms, Buried Beds. I could go on and on about their new album, Tremble the Sails and how it’s one of the best things I’ve heard in years, but I’ll leave that to the Pitchforks of the world who are spitting out metaphors about the band faster than a…camel who…spits.

During the drive back home, a mile long row of safety cones on the Jersey Turnpike made a rhythmic whooshing sound as I passed them. Tommy could add some sick shit on top of this, I thought.