The Life of Guitars

I am staring at my guitars tonight. They are here beside me in the studio, waiting as always like patient cats for me to approach them and play with them. Each represents something special to me, in a way, again like my various and varied cats, each with a look, a feel and character.

But in another sense each is a time capsule of sorts, a window into my past and perhaps my future. Guitars have stories to tell, about their acquisition, the gigs they have done, the insanity they have witnessed, the hits they made. They are old friends and sometimes I find myself pining for ones that I sold or traded or were stolen…it’s a guitarist’s lament, “if I only had every guitar I ever owned…”

It’s true really…my 53 Les Paul Junior was stolen from my apartment in NJ over 40 years ago and I still think about it–they took my leather jacket as well. And there was my Gibson 335 that I sold because I felt “over it” and really wanted the funds towards something new–talk about stupid mistakes–it would be worth a minor fortune and today I do not even own a Gibson–I am basically a Fender man, but it would be nice to have an ax with humbuckings.

But tech talk doesn’t get to the heart of my guitars–their real stories, most of which relate to how they came into my life. I cannot tell them all here–so, I think I will begin a
new category with this blog…let’s say–guitar stories. And let’s start from the beginning with my first real acoustic guitar(I did have an electric earlier–but we can talk about that another day).

Guitars are mostly about people, at least in my experience. And this one is about my Uncle
Harold, my Mom’s youngest brother. In a nutshell, Hal was a great guy–a school teacher with a Pete Seeger/Arlo Guthrie folk bent who also was a camp councilor. In the tradition of my family, he would bring his guitar to Thanksgiving as we all did, and we would play songs that came from our various generations. It was always a yearly high point for me and in later years, when I became a session guitarist, it became a regular annual event at my folks apartment in the Village in NYC. In my earlier years, I was a bass player in a local band in my hometown with my buddies and my brother called “Spring Plowing.”

We were pretty darn good and eventually became the house band at the Village Gate and toured the college coffee house circuit playing original stuff. As a bassist, I dabbled at guitar, developing a real love for James Taylor’s playing, but I did not own a guitar and so would borrow one from my brother or sister to play. It happens that Uncle Hal and family were visiting us in NJ one day when I was about 16 and he heard me playing a bunch of songs from the Fire and Rain era–which I had learned pretty faithfully. Hal must have been impressed and he asked me about the guitar I was playing, which was my sisters $35 Stella. He was shocked to learn that I had no guitar of my own and being the amazing, giving, caring mensch that he was, he told me to go down to his car and open the trunk and take one of the three guitars there for my own.

He would not entertain my protest, so I went down to the car. In the truck were three guitars as he said. A pretty nice looking nylon string, a shiny steel string the make of which which may have been a Yamaha, and an old beaten up Martin–a mahogany 0015 with school paste on it, a loose bridge, a broken string and no case. It was absolutely in the worst shape of the three but it was a Martin and I knew what a Martin was. So I lifted it almost religiously from the trunk and brought it inside where the brief look on Hals face made we want to put it back, but he then smiled and said sincerely, I want you to have it. I protested but he insisted and thus the Martin (1946) became mine, and it’s story unfolded. That Martin toured with Spring Plowing. It came with me to Texas and Colorado to college. I learned to love Doc Watson, Ry Cooder and Charlie Christian on that ax. I studied jazz on it and held it as a treasure. It was perhaps twelve years later and my recording career was in full swing both as a session player and a rocker with Robert Palmer. I had recently purchased a beautiful Guild acoustic, a small one, not that different in size from the Martin… and I knew it was time. It was as though the Martin spoke to me. So, I brought it to a very fine luthier and had it restored to look and play like new and with a proper case. Thanksgiving was days away when I got it back. And so we assembled at my folks house for our yearly feast and then it was pickin’ time. I pulled Hal aside and said I had something for him to see. He opened the shiny case to find his old guitar–now looking reborn. “I want you to have it back,” I said, “I have my own guitars now. I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing today if I did not have this guitar with me, if you had not shown the confidence and support …” There were tears and hugs and a little protest, which this time I would not accept. And a smile worth all of it.

Hal has passed now and the guitar is with my cousin and his children where I am sure it is cherished. I hope the next chapter in its life will be written by them someday.
Thank you, Hal.

About the Sequel

As a busy composer, it is often difficult to find the time to work on my books, blog here or even play my guitar for pleasure. Sometimes one needs a kick start to get moving again or force the issue and make the time. My first legit review of The Zxap Jacket has just given me a firm shove in a good direction. Troy Rodgers from has posted the first review of the book and I was humbled and stunned by his comments.

Read from May 29 to June 17, 2013

Do you like Philip K. Dick or William Gibson? Ken Mazur does, and it’s these authors of our dystopian future that inspired this book. I tend to grade new authors on a curve, but in this case it’s not really necessary. Mazur’s debut novel doesn’t break any new ground in this genre, but it does reintroduce an element of fun that’s often not found in the dystopian works. What he’s done is essentially transplant the classic gumshoe detective (think Sam Spade) into this future and put him up against a Lex Luthor styled villain. What separates this from the herd is his writing style, which as I said before, is just fun. He clearly enjoyed writing it, and that translates to the read. The result is a fast-paced tale that’ll be finished before you know it. Want more? Mazur says he’s already working on a sequel, which I’m looking forward to.

Thank you Troy for this endorsement and for driving me back to chapter 7 of Psiclone, which has languished for some time now. I am excited to get back to writing and hope I can find a wider audience that will also enjoy and look forward to my work.

For those of you who follow my composing career, I am now also scoring a PBS show called Rhythm Abroad, which will debut in January of 2014. I am still hard at work with Travelscope and recently completed a really fine episode about Bhutan.

Back To the Ripperton

Tomorrow morning, bright and early my son Jamie and I head out for our annual summer camping trip. This year is a special initiation of sorts–I will be teaching him to fly fish. No, it’s not the Ripperton River from the Zxap Jacket. Indeed, Jamie’s home waters will be as far from mine as possible in the 48 states. I learned to fish in NY State on the Esopus River and Schoharie Creek, both tributaries of the Hudson flowing from the Catskill Mountains. Jamie will learn to fish on the Kings River and its feeder streams in California. How different they feel and appear yet how similar will be the feelings each evokes in the initiate. Sometimes I pause to reflect that my third child, my younger son, is a Californian. His mountains are the Santa Monicas and the Sierras. Mine were the Catskills and more generally, the Appalachians. The western world is bold and dramatic with towering peaks and snow covered rocky faces that feed icy water into swift and steep falling rivers. My mountains–those which are so sorely abused in the Zxap Jacket, are older, softer, tree covered autumn carpets with gentler waters feeding into occasional falls and cascades. One can walk the eastern streams in waders most of the year if willing to face the cold. Not so out here where the rivers pull with a vengeance and the waters remain cold most of the time. Of course, dam flow is always dangerous anywhere.

It will be a challenge to fit my Catskill experience to these waters, let alone teach my 11 year old. Fly fishing is a form of mediation in a way. He may not be ready for it, or may simply find it out of sync with his i pod driven universe. But he is an open minded lad and the mountains of Sequoia Park and Kings Canyon are wonderful with or without a rod. We will certainly have fun. His older brother caught his first fish on Schoharie Creek. Some of my fondest memories are playing in the creek with my little girl in one of the local ponds, the mayflies rising, the shadows dancing under the
heavily leafed trees across the shining riffles.

It cannot help but bring me to the Ripperton, though, and its sparkling clear, acid dead waters. I hope that my children’s children will not have to experience the fiction I have anticipated. The gentle valleys of the Catskills are so beautiful and steeped in American history and lore. Whenever I pick up my reel, tie on a leader or change a fly,
I find those fondest images of my home waters there to greet me. I hope this is the beginning of many for Jamie, but either way, he is sure to connect with the water as he has never done before.

Location, location, location

During my interview taping of the Authors Show, Don McAuly asked me about my choice of NYC and State for the location of the Zxap Jacket.
Having grown up in the NY area, and having spent my first 14 years as a professional musician in the Metropolitan area, NY is a place I know fairly well. It is also the place where I developed my deep love of sci fi, discovering Phillip K Dick, William Gibson and Stanislaw Lem in particular. New York in the 70s and 80s was quite different from what it is today. It was shabbier and seedier. Crime was worse and neighborhoods were in decline all over the city. Having been back to NY recently and witnessing the ‘revival,’ if one will accept that tag, it is obvious that the City does go through major and perhaps cyclical changes. It is thus not a fantastic stretch to assume that things will turn down again at some point–whether within my time frame or not is really not important. It is the idea of a changing an dangerous landscape that is important, give or take a decade or two if need be. The emergence of powerful nationally ranging gangs is really just an extension of the gang culture of the 90s into the present. The Zxap technology is also just an extension of what we are already living with, in many ways.

I would also add that NY is a most fascinating environment physically and culturally. Its age, and the contrasts created by its age serve a story teller. My personal experiences as a young musician took me all over the city, through the neighborhoods both beautiful and terrifying, in the transit system, out in the night life and on the streets. Especially when I was hungry and starting out, the images burned hard into my memory–the harsh and the gentle, the beautiful and the vulgar.

The Authors Show Interview

I just finished an interview on The Authors Show: with host, Don McCauley.
It was fascinating. We delved into the essence of The Zxap Jacket, my feelings about it’s message, the locations and the origins of the characters. Our discussion helped me to pinpoint some of my less obvious influences. As a sci fi fan and now a novelist, the impact of Isaac Asimov, Phillip K Dick, William Gibson, Frank Herbert and the like is to be expected, but it is perhaps less obvious that an author like Michael Shaara could impact my writing. As a composer, my scores often take a POV, whether to shadow a character, play the action, create general tension or sweeten the mood. In all these circumstances, the music is “viewing” the picture from a specific
perspective, often that of a character–or the audience. In the Zxap Jacket, my experiences scoring behind the picture impacted my
decisions concerning POVs. I chose to follow multiple points of view–Detective Zinski, Max Zxap, his scientist DR Clofsted and Zinski’s girl friend. Although the major thread follows Zinski, I deleiberately turned the ‘camera’ and the ‘score’ on the others at times. Reality is relative. One man’s challenge is another’s opportunity.

As for the interview, keep tabs on the site. They will post the air date after the editors trim a bit and add the bumpers. I will
post it here for sure and on facebook and twitter.

A Comparison

May 28, 2013
I was recently asked what book I think The Zxap Jacket most closely resembles and I had a hard time finding an answer. More so than the book, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” The Zxap Jacket resembles the movie Blade Runner in some ways. It is hard to be clear about this sort of thing because getting distance from one’s own work takes time and experience. As in Dick’s work, my Detective Zinski is a cop who finds himself dealing with a seedier side of civilization, a cop with some ethical dilemmas and personal issues. Detective Zinski has seen a lot in his years as a detective. He carries a personal grudge that threatens to obscure his objectivity and to damage his credibility and his effectiveness. He is also in a direct conflict with intelligent entities, like the replicants in Dick’s work, who’s agendas are both unknown and potentially devastating. There is also a corporate element that plays a role in both books, although that role is vastly different.

Stylistically, I will say that I try to keep my prose direct and spare. The motivations of the characters are what I find most interesting to deal with. This becomes especially fascinating for me where AIs interact with human beings as they are throughout The Zxap Jacket. Of course the actions of the human players concern me as well. It is in the re writes that I found myself pulling out the fat and keeping to the essence of each scene and relationship. My success in this endeavor will be judged by the response to the book itself. I am most curious to find out and look forward to reactions from readers.

Writing As a Composer

May 25, 2013

On guitar with the Fotons in 1982 at the Savoy.

On guitar with the Fotons in 1982 at the Savoy.

Crazy as it sounds, it’s hard to imagine making it through my years in New York without Phillip K. Dick. Like a companion on the late night F train, his wit and humor, his philosophical and prophetic vision kept me company, bringing a smile after a tough gig, absorbing my attention to such an extent that I missed my stop on more than one occasion. I can only remember those moments with a smile, now. What a gift to enter the world of another person’s imagination–fringe and absurd as that imagination may be at times.

I have long envisioned myself someday attempting to create a novel. In part because of my deep love and respect for Dick, Asimov, Heinlein, Herbert,
Gibson and a host of others…but also because of the challenge as an artist to leap into another art form. I have had a very interesting and satisfying career as a musician from my rock n roll childhood, through my years as a NYC studio musician, then jingle writer, record company exec and then TV and film composer. And I am still very much a composer and guitarist. It’s not that I have moved away from these amazing journeys. I think I just wanted to try expression in a language other than music.

Writing a novel as a professional musician is an exercise in crossing artistic disciplines. The perspective of a film and TV composer such as myself is unique in that we ad our touches at the end of the creation. Music is addressed in post production for the most part, with the rare exceptions of musicals, theme songs and an occasional source cue made to order. Thus,the composer finesses what is already there, adding colors to a work of art that already has a rhythm, a look a story and a emotional curve. Not that our impact is any less intense. Just turn off the music in Star Wars or Star Trek and it becomes very obvious. But music accompanies the story, it paints emotional colors behind and through, it pushes the action but it doesn’t tell the story.

Like the author of a book, a composer faces a blank page and must create. But in film and TV that composer’s page already has lines on it, time limits, cultural and stylistic determinates. The novelist’s blank page is completely blank–scarily blank. The novelist’s power is almost god-like, creating lives and taking them away, making worlds from a personal pov, evolving characters and their private voyages into literary existence.

It was an immense challenge to begin this quest, to screw up the courage and energy to move ahead. I have stopped and started again numerous times due
to life situations, lack of inspiration or other pursuits. But I kept finding myself drawn back to the page–to an unfinished story, a unrealized idea.

I’d like to discuss this more on this blog, but for now, I welcome you to the Zxap Jacket Blog and encourage you to leave comments or ask questions.
Ken Mazur

The Zxap Jacket

When gumshoe New York City detective Joe Zinski hunts his partner’s killers, he finds his 2047 acid rain world has more dangers than even a top of the line, rain neutralizing Mark IV Zxap Jacket can fend off. As gangs gather in the Toxic Box across the Hudson, Zinski follows his one piece of evidence, an orange Mark IV decorated in ODDS gang graffiti. The trail drags him north into the acid snow, into the complex and dangerous world of mega industrialist Maxwell Zxap and his artificial intelligence empire. Supremely powerful and ambitious, not even Zxap is prepared for the  horrific revelation awaiting an unsuspecting world.

The first in a series of sci fi novels by Ken Mazur featuring NYPD Detective, Joe Zinski, The Zxap Jacket reveals a future world of new challenges and brave discoveries.

The Zxap Jacket is now available at in paperback and as a Kindle Book.  for the Kindle download.  for the paperback.

Coming soon: Detective Joe Zinski returns in  Psiclone.