Thursday, April 02, 2015

Harmonicas - second impressions

Sometimes I like reading reviews on instruments by non specialists - i.e people that don't play a particular instrument full time. It often gives a perspective on the instrument a professional might not think about - or maybe felt not interesting enough to talk about.

So what does a saxophone player feel about certain standard Hohner harmonicas? Well a year on, I have quite a few in my collection. As before, I'm still a beginner, but I do enjoy playing as much as I can. 

Hohner Special 20

As I mentioned before any, pro or non pro can't go wrong with this instrument. It's got a beautiful sound and for me is one of the easiest of the harmonicas I have to play. The notes bend easily and it's got a great clear and smooth tone for any kind of music. Its a joy to play. 

Hohner Golden Melody

This is one I my newest buys. I haven't used it a lot, mainly because I find it more difficult to play than the others. The wholes on the comb seem to be spaced further apart, so for a beginner like me I tend to hit (even) more bad notes that I usually do. Having said that, it's a great instrument. It's got a very open, more penetrating sound than that of the special 20 and is perfect for the single melody lines it's designed for. The equal temperament tuning it comes in, also gives it a sound of it's own compared to the others. 

Hohner Blues Harp MS

I really like this harmonica. It's got a wooden comb which gives it a warmer sound than the others. It's not as loud as the others but the sound is very rich and bluesy. 

Hohner Big River

This is the cheapest of all four, but for the price it is definitely value for money. It has a dark earthy sound which I really like, though like the Blues Harp doesn't project quite as much as the other two. It's nice for playing ballads and slower tunes. 

At the end of the day, all of these harmonicas are good buys and can be played by begenners or seasoned performers alike. At this stage if I were to pick one, it would be the Special 20. It has such all round qualities that allow you to play any kind of music. I've even tried Indian classical and it sounds quite ok. Price wise it's less than the Golden Melody but only just more expensive than the other two, making it a very good deal. 

More to come as I move on!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sacred Music Festival in Thanjavur

The long hot summer is approaching. It's been hectic, with shows in Pune, Bangalore, Pondicherry,  Hyderabad, Thanjavur and Chennai. Here's a little montage/clip (thanks to My Thanjavur on Facebook) from the Sacred Music festival we played at in historical Thanjavur. It was a wonderful event, soaked in atmosphere, on the banks of the Cauvery river. Notice the fireworks in the background as we played. It was quite something for both ears and eyes.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015


After months of inactivity on this blog, I am happy to log in today and see that people are reading. It gives me heart, and I will try to update more in the nearest future. Till now work has been very hectic. The music season in India kicks of at around the end of October and lasts till April. I have traveled all over the country playing with different bands and musical styles and it has been very satisfying.

Still it is not over, concerts are still coming thick and fast and I will be happily performing both on saxophone and piano in various projects in months to come. Furthermore, in addition to my previous post on creating a musical, with the same team of people as before, we have commenced work on a new show that will be performed at the end of September. Exciting times - and it is again wonderful to be part of the birth of a completely new production such as this.

Summer, as always, will be hot and slow, but also the time I will update more frequently and get down to practicing and sharing more ideas. I will also give links to some of the great events that have taken place in Jazz and other forms of music around the country.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

I Real Pro - a review

Most users of modern devices have probably come across this app by now. It's like the old real book that you used to be able to buy under the counter - but way better.

Not only do you have literally thousands of charts available online, they can be downloaded in an instant, saved for offline use on the road. Furthermore they can be transposed and used as a practice tool BIAB style. 

So what's good and what's not?

The plus:

- thousands of charts in all styles available through the forum. Blues, Pop and Rock becoming more available as more people use. 

- when your in time trouble and need charts fast there is nothing better. 

- transposing is very easy. 

- the app can act as a traveling play-along tool. 

- easy to create playlists for gigs. Have all your songs in one place. 

The minus:

- many of the charts are wrong. Time saved transcribing is lost correcting errors. This is not the fault of the app. You rely on work done by others and naturally there will be mistakes. 

- as yet, the play along feature is weak. If you enjoy practicing with such things BIAB is much better. There are lots of styles to choose from but it's a little stiff.

- melodies are not shown in the score. This is a big disadvantage for me. Especially when it's a new tune, the melody is really needed. 

- click back on an Android tablet and it exits! Hard to get used to that. 

- you spend less time getting better at transcribing songs!!

On the whole this is a superb application.  It has already saved me countless hours and I love having all my charts in one place. Furthermore it's updated regularly so I can only see it getting better. I hope that sometime there will be the possibility to see the melody on the chart but for now this is a wonderful tool. 

Sunday, October 05, 2014

The modern Jazz musician - What is it really like?

Rarely have I read an article that hit home more. Musician or not, this makes for a thought provoking read. For those who are, it will strike a chord, and for those who are not, it might give an insight into this fascinating and unique life that we lead. The article is written by Jeremy Gantz for

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Writing a musical - Sorcery at Sea

Last year I had the great pleasure of being part of a team of people in Auroville that put together an original musical. As a collaborative musical effort this was probably one of the most enjoyable and satisfying things I've been a part of. The Video posted below gives a good idea of the work behind the scenes that went into the production. It includes interviews with myself, Paul Blanchflower, who wrote the script and co wrote the music, and Clare Stewart who co wrote the lyrics and was involved in pretty much everything in the project.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Practicing Slowly - When you havn't much time

Alot has been written on this subject on the internet by excellent writers and knowledgeable teachers of music, but I felt I had to post something on this subject because it is so important. In fact I would say that if there was one thing I would recommend to any student this would be it. If you want to become better faster - even in a short space of time - practice slowly.

Some weeks ago I was practicing the piano for a concert in which I had to play tunes at a faster tempo than I'm usually able to handle. In the short space of time I had, there wasn't alot of hope for me to achieve the desired technique, but with several concentrated sessions of slow practice, I was at least able to get to a point where I was relaxed while playing at these faster speeds. I may not having been ripping around all over the piano, but I could play, and I was playing comfortable solos within my limitations. The results were undeniably better than the fumbling, tense improvisations of my previous attempts.

When you are short on time the natural thing to do when you need to improvise on a fast tune would be to crank up the metronome and hope by brute force you'd hit the mark. But does it work? I don't think so. The best you can hope for using this technique are very short term results. Try playing the same solo a few days later and most probably you are back to where you started.

So what happened when I gave those hours to slowly building up the tempo? Starting at a cool medium pace and notching the metronome up every 15 minutes or so. Suddenly everything was different. I was relaxed, I could see the notes in front of me, I was aware, conscious of the movement of my fingers, my brain had time to make musical decisions, my brain had time to cope with those unexpected twists and lines that come when you improvise, I was rhythmically solid, and I was enjoying the moment... I was making good music!

And when I came back several days later and had to play the same solo again cold? Well... it was ok. It took me time to reach where I was, but I know that it was alot better than if I had done all that practice at speed. I wasn't starting afresh each time I reached the piano. Body and mind knew it was going in the right direction and with a couple more similar sessions I probably would hit that mark.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Piano voicings - 7th chords made easy

Ive been having to do a bit of a refresher these last weeks. I get by reasonably well on piano but since I don't play as much as Saxophone some things slip. Playing through the changes of "All of Me" for a recording I realised that the conventional 7th rootless voicings were not coming out as I would have liked. They were missing some of the fuller, darker quality I usually enjoy in other chords.

I gave it some time and this is what works for me. Here are two simple voicings that work very well. As with most of the things I study, I try to keep things as simple as possible to remember:

1. In the left hand all you need to play is the third and seventh in either inversion. 
2. In the right hand play a stack of three 4ths starting on either the 6th or the 9th.
3. Take a look at the score below to see how.

The score was made with

Later on this week I'll post on how to make these voicings sound even richer by altering the notes in the left hand.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Jazz Hero TV - Jazztutorial on Youtube

I came across this today, a very useful channel on YouTube by pianist Julian Bradley. The videos cover a wide variety of topics and are very well explained. From what I've looked at so far its geared towards beginner and intermediate players and is an excellent and comprehensive resource for students of Jazz piano as well as Jazz theory in general. I will definately be recommending this to my students.

For more information have a look at this trailer:

Sunday, July 13, 2014

How much do we know about the standards we play?

How much do we know about the standards we play? I grew up at the time when the "holy" real book was the only thing you thought you really needed. Find a dodgy music shop with this mysterious hand written book of charts, and you were off. You knew every tune you ever needed. Get together with a bunch of like minded friends and the only question was how to find the first gig.

Twenty years on, that same trusty book is ragged and tattered. It's seen hundreds of gigs and rehearsals and it's served me well. Maybe by now I don't even have to take it around with me, as alot of the tunes are ingrained in my memory. What a fabulous tool this has been.

So how many of these 600 odd tunes do I really know well?

The honest answer is hardly any. Yes, I can play a number of them. At one point or other I may have even played most of the book. Some are even recorded. But do I really know them? The truth is no.

I've known this for a long time. Admittedly the gigs in which I have to play these tunes now, are very few and far between but this is not an excuse. How can something that I thought so useful as a teenager really be quite the opposite? I did something wrong.

The clincher came when I read this article about Blue Bossa by Rachel Bronstein on Don Sickler's website. It reminded me of something I was telling myself for a long time. Every song, tune, composition has a story behind it. In order to do it justice, to play it well, we must surely really know these things. This wonderful article illustrates just how far I was from this, and how sad it is that even the most famous of standards, I know almost nothing about.


Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Miles Davis Biopic - Miles Ahead

I've been seeing this for sometime now and it looks like it's finally happening. The long anticipated movie on the life of Miles Davis  - now entitled 'Miles Ahead' will start filming this summer. The movie stars, and is directed by Don Cheadle who has been working on this project for years. It looks like no stone has been left unturned as he has been learning the trumpet for over 3 years and has the services of Herbie Hancock on the production team.

Personally I'm following this with anticipation yet at the same time with some reticence. Like alot of movies that are on topics close to our hearts, it can either turn out to be what we were hoping for, or not hit the mark at all. It's a very big ask of Cheadle and his team to portray such a leading figure in music in a way that will touch all of us in the way we are looking for.

Still it has been done. For me Ray, Walk the Line, and Cadillac Records are good examples of successful portrayals of iconic musicians. I enjoyed Forest Whitaker's portrayal of Bird, and as a fan of formula one I also immensely enjoyed Senna  - another huge figure to put onto film.

It remains to be seen. I will follow this with interest.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Ahmad Jamal in India

This is not something we will see everyday. Legendary Jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal will be performing on July 5th in Bangalore at the Chowdiah memorial hall. Have a look at his official website and you can see that he is breaking up dates in France and Belgium with a hop over here. Definitely something not to be missed.

Here are various press links for the event including a nice interview with Kamal Sagar in Rolling stone Magazine on how this concert came about.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Marc Berthoumieux

Incredible! I came across this today. What a fabulous version of Pat Metheny's composition "Have you heard". Who would have thought this instrument would suite so well.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Recording with your phone - converting files to Mp3

I use my phone alot to record. Actually I record almost everything. When I practice, rehearsals, compositions, bits and pieces here and there. Unfortunately the 3ga format that comes with Android phones is not so useful if you want to edit or store your files for later use. Luckily I found this great site that allows you to convert online to pretty much anything you please. You can even modify the bitrate and other settings. Check out You can convert books, images videos and more. A wonderful tool.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Jazz Melodica

For those who are still doubters of this wonderful instrument, here are a few links regarding the melodica in jazz and music today. In the first video, pianist Jon Batiste talks about his love of the instrument, and the tonal possibilities that it has. The second video is an extraordinary rendition of Astor Piazzolla's Libertango by Masa Matsuda. It has to be see to be believed.

As far as tone is concerned this is my favourite. Mario Duenas has a quite beautiful and expressive sound. There are other several good videos to be seen on his Channel.

To wrap it all up have a look at this article from the Jazztruth blog. A humorous and insightful discovery of the melodica in jazz today.

How to tune a melodica

Going to music stores can be very dangerous on the wallet. Time spent in three nice music shops in Bangalore on Sunday and I find myself with a new instrument. This time it's another melodica. A 37 key one opposed to the 26 key one I already have.

It is not unusual for even a brand new melodica to have notes that are out of tune. It's sad but unfortunately the case. Luckily however this is not something too difficult to fix. A screwdriver, a tuner and some sand paper and one hour later mine was playing like a dream.

Having watched some YouTube videos on the same topic this is what I did:

  1. Take your tuner and identify the notes that are out of tune. Note how many cents they are sharp or flat. I would tackle only the very worst ones first. It is unlikely that you will notice notes that are slightly out of tune. I dealt with the ones that were 10 cents or more off.
  2. Unscrew the melodica. Be careful to keep the same screws in the same wholes. The last time I took a melodica apart, I didn't quite put it properly back together, and it was leaking air making it almost impossible to play.
  3. Identify the reeds that correspond to the out of tune notes, either by gently plucking with a pocket knife or lining up the corresponding key. 
  4. Take a small piece of sandpaper and sand a small amount at either the tip or the base of the reed to correct it.
  5. If the note is flat, you need to sand near the tip. Support the tip from under with a pocket knife or something like that to protect it.
  6. If the note is sharp you sand the base near where the reed is attached.
  7. Put the melodica back together without the screws, and test the notes. You will need to blow fairly hard.
  8. Adjust as needed and put the melodica back together.
  9. It is very important that the screws are tightly put back or the melodica will not be airtight.

This is what worked for me. A feel good fix for someone that had spent money on an instrument, and was disappointed when it was out of tune. The melodicas I have are not expensive and I was prepared to take the risk. I would advise anyone wishing to do this, to research it properly first. For a more thorough explanation read these article from and

Friday, June 20, 2014


I've spent the last days playing through the scales talked about in the previous two posts. If anyone is interested in recorded examples - (basic recording) just to hear what they sound like, do mail me and I'll send you something your way. All my contacts are under the links tab. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Modes of the melodic minor - Improvising on alt Chords

In my last post I took a look at an alternate way of soloing on a m7b5 using the 5th mode of the melodic minor. In this next post I want to look a possibility for improvising on the vth degree of a minor ii v i.

If we take the progression Am7b5 D7alt for example, two nice possibilities are there.

In traditional theory we are often proposed to play the melodic minor a half step above:
  • D7alt = Eb melodic minor = Eb F Gb Ab Bb C D Eb

One further possibility would be to use the 6th mode or Locrian #2:
  • Eb melodic minor = Eb F Gb Ab Bb C D Eb
  • 6th mode of Eb = C D Eb F Gb Ab Bb C
An even nicer one in my opinion which has a very modern sound is the 4th mode or Lydian b7:
  • Eb melodic minor = Eb F Gb Ab Bb C D Eb
  • 4th mode of Eb = Ab Bb C D Eb F Gb Ab
Like my proposition for the m7b5 chord, these are very much subject to taste and style. One would really need to play though each mode carefully and with time in order to find the best personal choice. One could even use the mixolydian b6 (charukesi) proposed in the previous post starting on Bb. Each one has it's unique sound.

Improvising on m7b5 chords

About a year ago in my journal I had written that improvising on m7b5 (half diminished) chords was a weakness of mine, especially when they didn't resolve to something obvious that the ear would help out with.

I did quite some study on this and with the help of pianist Aman Mahajan we came to a scale choice that offers a sound alternative to the standard teaching.

Firstly I was always taught that the best scale to play here was the melodic minor a minor third above. For example:

Am7b5 = C melodic minor = C D Eb F G A B C

I had used this for years but it never gave me quite the feel I was looking for. Then at one point I sat at the piano and looked for an alternative. I started by going through, and experimenting with the different modes of the melodic minor.

After some time I found that the 5th mode offered the best sound for me:

 C melodic minor = C D Eb F G A B C

 5th mode of C melodic minor = G A B C D Eb F G

At this point I can see some people asking me yes, but these are exactly the same notes. Yes, they are but the fact that you base your improvisation around a different key center offers you an entirely different sound. You must try it to see the difference. Improvise over an Am7b5 chord alternating the different modes of the C melodic minor, and there is a big difference, though the notes remain the same. Oddly enough this scale which is known as the Mixolydian b6 is also a scale used in Indian music called Charukesi.

This works for me and may not work for others. I still have a long way to go with this and next I will post I relate this to a minor ii v i progression.  I would be interested to have feedback from anyone who gives this a go.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


I'm just back from a short tour with Refuge lead by Aman Mahajan. We had fantastic concerts at Shisha Cafe Pune, Vidyaranya school in Hyderabad and B Flat bar in Bangalore. The music continues to be very well received and I will post recordings and write ups as and when they come.

For now, here is something from the Indian Express, The Hindu and the Times of India: