[Dixielandjazz] How do you you do it?

John Farrell stridepiano@tesco.net
Mon, 16 Sep 2002 06:46:37 +0100

Hi Art,

In answer to your question, my business is producing jazz piano rolls - an
industry which has come a long way since the days of people sitting at a
bench punching holes in blank paper with a hammer and chisel.

The MIDI files I make act as templates for my rolls, they are emailed to a
factory (in Reno NV) where they activate roll cutting machinery which churns
out mirror copies in sufficient quantity to meet demand.

For many years I used the old "hammer and chisel" technique but when I got
into computers I realised that I could do the same thing electronically. I
use no specialised equipment, just my PC and my ears.

My process employs three computer programs - Encore (a music notation
program), Wind (which displays a piano roll image of the Encore file on the
screen. This excellent program was written by Richard Brandle of Texas and
is not commercially available) and Cakewalk Pro Audio (a music sequencing
program where dynamics can be added to MIDI files).

At first, using a MIDI keyboard I started by playing music directly into
Encore. Encore converts everything you play into music notation, however a
huge problem emerged with that method - the program generates an audible,
relentless metronome beat which the keyboard player must obey precisely. The
slightest variance from this beat causes Encore's notation to go haywire and
I used to spend hours manually correcting the music on the screen.

Consequently I decided to dispense with the keyboard altogether and write
the notation by hand, less satisfying for me musically but because no
correction was required this method proved to be a great time saver.

Very briefly, I listen to jazz piano recordings and write the notes I hear
on to Encore's music staff (it took me years to learn how to transcribe this
stuff, there are no teachers or short cuts!!). When I have finished the
piece I save it as a MIDI file (just one keystroke achieves that) which I
then export to Wind.

Wind displays the file on the screen as a virtual reality piano roll which I
can edit as much as I like - make holes longer or shorter, add or remove
notes etc. etc.

When that is done I export the file once again, this time to Cakewalk where
I can add all the light and shade required (this process is known as
sequencing). I do not do much sequencing because it is impossible to
transfer to a production piano roll.

Finally I upload the finished MIDI file to my website for you all to enjoy
and, hopefully, to tempt piano roll collectors into making purchases.

The roll market is not huge but I seem to have captured most of the jazz
section of it. A welcome spin-off has been my Cakewalk sheet music (which
notates the MIDI files exactly) - I am glad to say that it sells like hot

Sorry about the length of this post listmates, but Art did ask the question
.  .   .   .

John Farrell

----- Original Message -----
From: <Artwoo@aol.com>
To: <stridepiano@tesco.net>
Cc: <dixielandjazz@ml.islandnet.com>
Sent: Monday, September 16, 2002 5:12 AM
Subject: [Dixielandjazz] How do you you do it? Re: Virginia midi

> Hi John:
> I was wondering what equipment and software do you use to produce such
> authentic and inspiring midi files?
> I agree with you that Fats Waller is at the top of the list for piano
> from the 30's. While Art Tatum has more intricate technique and harmonic
> surprises; Fats plays fluidly and with emotion.
> By the way, lately I've taken an interest in Willie the Lion Smith...he
> seemed like a pleasant guy. A CD I own entitled "Pork and Beans" produced
> 1201 has Willie paying homage to some of his contemporaries: Luckey
> James P. Johnson, Eubie Blake, Fats Waller and Geo Gershwin. The
> and Willie's commentary are very reverent. It seemed like Willie was
> reminiscing and reflecting on the memories of his great friends.
> Thanks again for sharing your talents with us.
> Sincerely,
> Art Wood
> SF Bay Area