The Jazz Programmer

It seems everyone these days wants to be famous. However the vast majority of them don’t want to do the work required to be famous for anything worthwhile. They want to be famous for, well, being famous. They want to be rock stars.

The programming world seems to have been taken over by this attitude, with an increasing number of job adverts looking for a “rock star” developers. But is that really what the web and business in general, needs? I’m not so sure.

Ron Evans at Dead Programmers Society compares rock stars to jazz musicians, and I think the parallels can be easily seen with developers. I like to think I have a bit of insight into this area, being both a developer and having a degree in jazz (yes, really).

There are three basic ways in which programming and being a jazz player are similar:

The great thing about being a jazz player is the more you know the more you know you have to learn. The tough thing about being a jazz player is the more you know the more you know you have to learn. It’s the same with programming – there is no end to learning because programming, like music, is not a static thing. It changes, evolves, continually and you have to keep up if you want to succeed.

The great thing about being a jazz player is there are few rules. The tough thing about being a jazz player is there are few rules. Just like programming, the rules you follow are reasonably simple at heart. In jazz if you break the rules it doesn’t sound right; in programming if you break the rules then the application doesn’t compile. But even within those rules there is huge freedom of expression, a thousand ways to say/do the same thing.

The great thing about being a jazz player is the fact you can play “off” other people. The tough thing about being a jazz player is the fact you can play “off” other people. I work in a team of 6 developers, we all have our own styles and experience. We all share the strengths we have, and we create good stuff. Just like a band who gig together regularly, there’s an appreciation there of each other – even if we sometimes disagree about some things.

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the many fantastically talented and graciously generous people around the web who have shared code, understanding and insight with the world. So too I owe a huge debt of gratitude to those people who through their music have shared much that is both tangible and ethereal with the world.

This entry is in memory of the late, great Oscar Peterson. Rest in peace, Oscar.

Pachelbel must die

You know what, I completely agree with this guy:

Rob Paravonian cuts to the heart of the Canon in D

I remember the days of struggling to school with a trombone case only slightly smaller than a coffin at the end of my trembling arm. Whereas the violin players got to pretend they were in the Mafia ("Hey, you got a gun in there") I just got picked on ("Hey, you got a bazooka in there? Or just your lunch?").

The flute players could pack away their instrument in seconds flat, then fit it in their bags. Even the trumpet players had cases small enough to sling into a rucksack. But not the trombonists, we were stuck with carrying something that would make worried mothers push their children across the road, out of our way.

Still, it wasn’t all bad. There aren’t many instruments that can sound as rude as the trombone does, and for it to be correct. Con farto, indeed.

Review: Radiohead – In Rainbows (Part 2)

Radiohead – In Rainbows

A few days ago I wrote a review of Radiohead’s new album In Rainbows. Since then I’ve listened to it at least half a dozen times, and much though it pains me to say it:

I was wrong.

This is a great album; a soothing, joyous, mellow-tinged collection of wondrousness. I’d stand by my initial diagnosis that it isn’t up there with OK Computer or The Bends, but it is in my opinion streets ahead of Kid A, which was far to esoteric for it’s own good.

On In Rainbows Radiohead seem to have come full circle, melding the solid straight-up rock of their earlier stuff (Bodysnatchers is such a tune) with their weird and wonderful noise-influenced recent period. Tracks such as Nude and Weird Fishes/Arpeggi wash over you in waves of melancholy the like we’ve not heard since the heady days of OK Computer.

In my previous review I was a little disparaging about Faust Arp, which I compared to Turin Brakes gone wrong. Well, I’m the one who is wrong (and it’s not often I say that). On repeated listenings I hear Bob Dylan, even echoes of Simon and Garfunkel. This is a modern folk song done in a way only Radiohead can.

The wonderful guitar on the opener 15 Step (would you believe, music buffs, it’s just 1-4-5 in Dorian mode? How come they make it sound so good?). The plaintive longing of All I Need. The rhythmic guitar counterpoint of Weird Fishes/Arpeggi. I could go on, but there’s no need.

This is a great album, in my opinion their best after the Big Two mentioned above. If you listened once and wrote it off, force yourself to listen again a few times (even just to Weird Fishes/Arpeggi and Bodysnatchers) to let it get into your head. You may find, like me, you’ll become addicted to the new Radiohead.

Reviewed by Chris Taylor, October 13th, 2007. This review is marked up using hReview, because I’m all Web 2.0, baby.

Review: Radiohead – In Rainbows

Radiohead – In Rainbows

Update: I’ve written a second review here that makes much of what I’ve written below null and void.

The latest album from legendary group (I would say “rock group” but they go way beyond mere rock) Radiohead has been released in MP3 download today. I’ll come on to the why’s and wherefore’s of the way they released it later, first a look at a few tracks:

15 Steps

The opener is exactly what you’d expect from Radiohead – angular and driven. But the overall effect, as so often happens in their music, is one of coherence and fluidity. The time signature of 5/4 unsettles, but the dreamy guitar lulls you back to safety.

Weird Fishes/Arpeggi

The first thing I thought when I heard this was “chill-out drum and bass with added guitar”, and I suppose Radiohead have a good line in that kind of sound. With lines like “I’d be crazy not to fall, to follow where you lead” the longing wistfulness of Thom’s voice really comes out. The track builds then is stripped away to the counterpointed arpeggi of the title before breaking out into a more sinister version of the original feel. Yes, you might have guessed it, weird noises abound.

Faust Arp

I think someone has been listening to Turin Brakes, judging by the opening of Faust Arp. But of course they’ve subverted what would otherwise be a pretty standard pop-folk tune with extra beats and unexpected chord twists, even if the accompanying strings are pretty pedestrian. All in all it sounds like Radiohead Unplugged.


Thom’s falsetto on this track seems, to me, a bit weak compared to the soaring vocals on their classic album OK Computer, but the track bounces along in a jolly (OK, make that dark) fashion until the half-way mark. Following a string interlude you get the feeling of a very strange gospel song, again with cyclic guitars underpinning the disjointed drums.

House Of Cards

Probably the “happiest” song on the album, House Of Cards sounds like it could have been recorded by the Stone Roses in an extremely mellow mood. With weird noises, of course. This is one of those tracks you could fall to sleep to without (much) risk of nightmares.

Jigsaw Falling Into Place

Most people will never have Radiohead playing in their living room, but turn this track up and you’ll be nearly there. The dry treatment and guitars threatening to break out of the speakers makes them as close as they are likely to be on a recording. Once again they’ve employed the use of a zombie choir to good effect.

Overall this is a good album, just as you’d expect from Radiohead. However it’s not up there with their best, as there isn’t really any ground-breaking production. It could be described as an impressive disappointment – some gorgeous, comforting sections but overall it leaves you much the same. It’s not that it’s bad, it isn’t, but I made the mistake of listening to both The Bends and OK Computer the other day and this just doesn’t stand up to those albums. Maybe that will

Now, about the release. Radiohead, rather than charge a fixed price for the album, have freed themselves from the shackles of a record company and you can choose what you want to pay. Yes, it’s really up to you, as their website says. I chose to pay the princely sum of £0.00 for the DRM-free download, and I’m ashamed of that. This album is worth money, and when the boxset comes out I’ll be parting with some of my hard-earned moolah to get a physical copy.

Reviewed by Chris Taylor, October 10th, 2007. This review is marked up using hReview, because I’m all Web 2.0, baby.

Round-up of the week

That sounds like I’m going to report on some successful cattle handling, doesn’t it? Sorry to disappoint you, it’s nothing so exotic.

This week has been a tough one. I’d rather not go into details (yes, all the problems were technological, and yes, they were my fault) but suffice to say I’d rather not have another week like this one any time soon. Still, there have been good points, too.

I’ve (finally) managed to install Ubuntu Studio on my main machine. It wasn’t as easy as I hoped, as the DVD I burned from their installation file didn’t work. So I ended up loading Ubuntu 7.04 (Feisty Fawn) then doing the package dance to upgrade.

So far it seems to work fine, although I admit I’ve done nothing yet except load a few extra packages I need and check JACK starts. It looks great, but I do think they need a few more desktop wallpapers as the default selection is a bit limited.

Anyway, I’m currently immersing myself in a large glass of whisky to help wash away the pain of earlier in the week. More regular entries may, or may not, be forthcoming.