Friday, March 27, 2009

Jam Sessions in USA and Greater Helsinki Area

Soup Kitchens and Jam Sessions

The above is very interesting blog post by Alexei Zoubov, now an American jazz musician. In that Alexei writes:

"Nevertheless, the image of a soup kitchen (or bread line) pops out in my mind at jams more and more often lately.
I guess that has partially to do with the present bad economic situation. There are less and less gigs, especially jazz gigs, less and less jazz clubs. And the expansion of jazz education produces more and more young players that just can’t find any spots to play jazz.
Except for jam sessions. These are the places where hungry for playing jazz musicians can get their “bowl of jazz soup” for free, or “at a reasonably low price” (see the definition of a soup kitchen above).
They sign up on a list, sometimes pay $5 or so (nothing bad about that, the money goes to the house rhythm section) and thus form a line to play a few choruses in a couple of songs."

Tuukka (gt) and Harri (t-sax) in Bar Mendocino on Nov. 12, 2008
(picture by by Bluespekko)
I go to jam sessions quite often in Helsinki area. Never happened that I have to pay to play, although in one place there is a great pressure to buy raffle tickets (5 euros each) to cover the house band. In many places the jam players get free beer or beverages.
The jam places where I played recently are:
  1. Grillari in Soukka, Espoo
  2. Hemingway's in Tapiola, Espoo
  3. Henrik in Helsinki
  4. Bar Mendocino in Helsinki (Blues, roots music)
Alexei continues:
"I strongly believe that a really enjoyable and satisfying jam session, the one that expands music ideas and creates new music should have some threshold, the minimum level of musicianship accepted.
It is practically impossible when the musicians are required to pay to participate, then everyone that pays has the right to play. There are always people that abuse this right and subject other players and the audience to extreme suffering, sometimes raising to the level of torture - you know what I mean.
I guess Russians are rude compared to Americans. At the jams back in Russia you could often see a musician being taken of the stage by the sleeve and told to go home and practice. They did that to me when I just started and it sometimes made me cry, but in the end it did me a lot of good."

I guess the Finnish jam organizers are more polite or perhaps more tolerant. In any case both players and the organizers should read the Jam Session Etiquette by Grant Koeller.

Bob's Takeaway in Henrik, January 2009

Friday, March 20, 2009

Americans and the real Finnish Sauna

The warning sign above is not a joke. In many places in the United States there is no clear understanding how the Finnish Sauna works. The only way to get the room hot is to pour water on the heater's rocks. Isn't that what the lady is doing below?

I experienced the preconception personally when I used to frequent the Marlboro tennis club in Massachusetts. And the irony was that heater in club's sauna went bust, although it was built to stand the water pouring. I heard people saying that it was because of a crazy foreigner. He just could not read the sign.

Anyway the heating room was constructed totally wrong. The heater was installed too high: My head got the heat and toes were freezing. Secondly the real purpose of sauna escaped the other club members. They thought it was a reading room and place to dry sweaty sporting clothing. Somewhat disgusting, or what?

Can a Finn survive abroad without a sauna? Not for an extended period of time. When I was constructing a sauna to the end of my garage in Acton, Mass. my neighbor stopped by asking what was going on. When told he he winked saying: "Yeah, fun and games...".

Oh well, you cannot win it all!

This just in, October 13, 2009: 

 Tim Kopra has been denied the pleasures of a Finnish sauna bath

Tim Kopra in the space shuttle

When Astronaut Tim Kopra, born from Finnish ancestry, participated the recent space shuttle flight, there has been an initiative in Finland on foot donating a real Finnish sauna to him.

According to Finnish Broadcasting company (YLE), NASA has now informed Finpro, the Finnish Export association, that according to NASA rules, the astronauts cannot accept such a large-scale donations .

Tim Kopra, is a NASA civil servant, even though he is an astronaut. USA has strict rules. According to NASA,  such a large-scale donation as a sauna to an astronaut would have been considered as a bribe, said Director Antti-Jussi Heilala (Finpro) to YLE.

The idea began when the President of Finland, Ms.Tarja Halonen phoned the space shuttle, and asked Kopra if he is longing for a Finnish sauna. Tim said that he thinking in the future constructing a sauna in his house.

Update, December 9, 2009: 

Here is another reason why the sauna has got a bad reputation in North America:

Friday, March 13, 2009

Is Rock and Roll that harmful after all?

How Rock n' Roll is perceived by the general public has certainly changed over decades. I still remember my school science class in late fifties when were supposed to listen to a recording of bird sounds. A rascal slipped a record of Bill Haley's "Rock around the Clock" to the player instead. The poor female teacher was about to get a heart attack. The advent of Rock n'Roll served as a great weapon in hands of the younger generation to rebel against the parents and authorities. Some examples of rock related Censorship Incidents in the USA in 1950s.

How was jazz introduced to Finland? The legend has it that American-Finnish musicians brought it to Finland with M/S Andania arriving in Helsinki harbor 1926. The new musical genre was immediately anathematized by the clergy. Especially they viewed syncopation as an invention by the devil.

In today's view the rebelling young generation needs more powerful tools for aggravating elders. Heavy metal and Hard Rock has certainly taken that position, because the "classic" Rock n' Roll and performed e.g. by Elvis is really "lame". I have tried a few times my hand in Rock&Blues jam nights in Bar Mendocino and enjoyed myself a lot. My thanks go to Neil Sharpe for assembling and editing the Blues, R&B, Rock Saxophone teaching resource to Sax on the Web. I have learned a lot and Rock n' Roll did not hurt my soul.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The evolution of Sax on the Web logos

The Sax on the Web site has been around for more than twelve years now, and the Discussion Forum turned ten years old last fall.

The first logos portrayed on the site were pretty rough, produced with rough tools and with minimal graphic design talent (mine). Please, do not use any "way back when" searches, I am not too proud of my renditions.

Then I turned to some people with more talent. Here is the first outcome.

After that I contacted my ex-colleague Heikki Luhtala. The logo he designed (on the left) was around for a long time. A T-shirt and a Messenger bag sporting that logo are still available from SOTW Gift Shop as "nostalgia items".

Canadian graphic artist Kim Pelletier, who is also a saxophonist, has been around Sax on the Web as long as the SOTW Forum existed. her contributions to the graphic image of the SOTW site has been significant. Besides designing cartoons for the SOTW front page she came up with a logo design that has been around since then. The SOTW Gift Shop has many items with the SOTW logo that Kim designed.

Last fall when the SOTW Forum celebrated ten years anniversary, Kim designed a new logo to commemorate that significant milestone. She started from sketch sporting the saxophone characters which have become her signature.

And the final result is below, thanks Kim.

Added later:

The latest development

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Portable inside heater for air-cooled cars

My son is driving his 1970's Porsche 911 first time in the Finnish winter. He soon realized the short-comings in inside heating of a air-cooled car.

So he ventured out to build a battery-driven portable heater. The loaded batteries will power the heater for 20 minutes at 1000W and 30 minutes at 600W. Makes the winter-driving more comfortable and more safe.

I haven't taken my Karmann Ghia for a winter drive, yet. But if I need a heater, now I know from where to get drawings and instructions.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Sweet Blues in New Orleans

Lionel Prevost

Sax on the Web is proud in cooperating with The New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund in providing a benefit program to help out Musicians who suffered from Hurricane Katrina.

Sax On The Web (SOTW) has curated this amazing selection of 17 tracks from early rock and roll saxophone masterpieces to acoustic folk songs about the effects of Hurricane Katrina. All proceeds from these donated tracks will help musicians displaced by the storm.

Says Neil Sharpe, the SOTW chief editor:
"An international tribute to The City That Changed The World. Jazz, blues, funk, early rock n’ roll, Cajun, Creole, Zydeco, and Swamp Pop, all found their inspiration here. These 17 great MP3s celebrate the rich, vibrant, musical heritage of The City Lights - New Orleans. (SOTW), founded by Harri Rautiainen, is the ultimate saxophone resource, featuring the world’s largest, interactive Discussion Forum and marketplace, utilizing state of the art software and technology. Lessons, tips on technique, articles, and interviews on every aspect of playing, equipment and repair (e.g. jazz, classical, blues, rhythm and blues, sacred, and rock n’ roll) are provided, free of charge, by leading professionals and technical/trade specialists. is proud to support the wonderful activities of The New Orleans Musicians’ Relief Fund."

Lionel Prevost playing "Closer walk with thee"

New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund: Jazzfest in New Orleans: Showing Up for the Party