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.  http://www.donsickler.com/blue-bossa-what-you-dont-know/ 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.

http://rollingstoneindia.com/qa-kamal-sagar/

http://rollingstoneindia.com/jazz-legend-ahmad-jamal-play-bengaluru-july/

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Entertainment/Kannada/Music/Music-legend-Ahmad-Jamal-to-perform-in-Bangalore/articleshow/37507253.cms

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 audio-convert.com. You can convert books, images videos and more. A wonderful tool.

http://www.online-convert.com/

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. 




https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMJump1VzEw

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bmxPwuCuoQM

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.

http://jazztruth.blogspot.in/2010/09/jazz-melodica-why-didnt-anybody-tell-me.html

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 melodica.com and melodicaworld.com


Friday, June 20, 2014

Examples

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

Update

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:


http://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/hyderabad/The-Musical-Refuge/2014/06/11/article2274590.ece1


http://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/events/take-refuge-this-weekend/article6104624.ece


http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/entertainment/kannada/music/Refuge-is-on-a-south-India-tour/articleshow/36244311.cms





Sunday, June 08, 2014

apassion4jazz.net

Another great site. Full of useful tools and resources for students of Jazz, as well as many humorous things too. Here's a good one:

How to play Jazz Sax:


First things first. If you're a white guy, you'll need a stupid hat, the more stupid the better and preferably a beret. Sunglasses are optional, but all the really, really good players wear them, especially indoors. You'll also need some gig shirts. Hawaiians are good, but in a pinch anything with a loud floral pattern is acceptable, as are T shirts from various Jazz clubs and festivals. The good thing about the latter is that you can get them by mail order, so you don't have to go to all the trouble of actually seeing live music. And sandals are an absolute must, even in winter.
Once you've assembled the proper attire you can begin practicing....

If your on Twitter, you can also subscribe to their Tweets. Lots of interesting quotes, tips and information tweeted throughout the day. It's probably my favourite read on Twitter.




A Passion for Jazz! History of Jazz music, styles and musicians
featuring photo gallery, timeline, festivals, webcasts,
piano & guitar chords, scales and online lessons.

Jazz Quotes - BrainyQuote.com

Sometimes some of the best players have a way of summing up music and jazz in a way that really hits home. It's like a good solo - a message that tells you all that you need to hear. I love Jazz Quotes and follow all kinds of sites on Twitter and the Web. There is something about hearing from the greats that I really enjoy, because often enough the characteristics of their words mirror the way you hear them play.

www.BrainyQuote.com is a fantastic site. Type in Jazz and you have 28 odd full pages of quotes by all kinds of people on the subject. In fact you can type Saxophone or anything else and lots of interesting things come up. It's a really nice resource.

Here are some of the gems:

One chord is fine. Two chords are pushing it. Three chords and you're into jazz.

By and large, jazz has always been like the kind of a man you wouldn't want your daughter to associate with.

Comedy is the ultimate truth. Jazz is hitting the notes that that no one else would hit, and comedy is saying words that no one else would say.

The cool thing is that jazz is really a wonderful example of the great characteristics of Buddhism and great characteristics of the human spirit. Because in jazz we share, we listen to each other, we respect each other, we are creating in the moment. At our best, we're non-judgmental.

I'd like to point out to people the divine in a musical language that transcends words. I want to speak to their souls.

There are countless more. Check out www.BrainyQuote.com

Tunes that got me listening to Jazz #4 Moanin - Art Blakey

This was another tune I heard somewhere or other as a teenager and as soon as I heard it, I had to buy the album. Like "So What" this is another recording that doesn't get any better. I've heard those solos so many times now, when ever I hear someone else play the same song, it will always come second best. Even the alternate take that comes with the CD doesn't come close. They are that good.




As with Miles' iconic improvisation on "So What", for any student or listener of Jazz, Lee Morgan's trumpet solo ranks up there as one of the best in modern times. Google 'best ever trumpet solos' and you can be pretty sure it's going to appear on most lists. Not only that, he was only 20 at the time.

Sadly I liked the opening track so much, initially I had a hard time with the rest of the album. This is really a testament to the brilliance of the opening title, because the whole album is outstanding, and one of the most important recordings of that era and of the Hard Bop genre. It contains further great solos particularly by Lee Morgan and Saxophonist Benny Golson, as well  as excellent compositions, all of which bar one are composed by Golson.




Thursday, June 05, 2014

Away from the sax - Visualization

Back in 2007 I had written this post:

Some time ago I started to notice a discrepancy between my ability to formulate harmonic ideas on the piano and that of the saxophone. I began to realise that one of the difficulties on sax was that unlike the piano or guitar, it is not a very visual instrument. By this a mean that due to the nature of keys or fret board, these instruments are very "colour coded" which aid in visualizing harmonies. 

Discussing this with a friend of mine recently, he suggested trying to get the same principle from the sax by working without the instrument. He suggested working several times a day on visualizing with the mind only, the things being worked on in practice. So far I have tried it only with scales and patterns, but already I've noticed a big difference. If I practice a particular scale or pattern in my head several minutes before practice, I'm clearly able to work on it with a better feel and understanding, and achieve results much faster. Just as the fingers and lungs need warming up as does the brain. My next step will be to work this idea on particular tunes, as I feel my improvising on the sax would benefit from this "visual" aspect as well as the aural and mental side.

Today I discovered this excellent article on Jazz Advice that takes this principle further. According to Forrest, who also quotes from Jerry Bergonzi, a small amount of work in this area can be equivalent to hours of physical practice especially if it's done in a concentrated way, and at the right time. Have a read of this article. It really breaks down the concept I had written about, and suggests methods to go about working on it.

http://jazzadvice.com/visualization-for-jazz-improvisation/

A few months later I also wrote this:

Due to a cyclone in our area that put off the power for a week I was forced to find alternate ways of practicing in the evening as playing in the dark was getting quiet difficult. Since I couldn't afford time off, as some gigs were approaching I decided to spend some time reviewing pieces and applying some of the visualization techniques I had mentioned before. Although I was not able to do for long periods of time because my concentration wouldn't allow it, I was really very happy with the results. Using a metronome to avoid 'cheating' I went through scale choices in my head in various combinations and speeds. Once I got back to the sax the results were quite noticeable and I already felt more comfortable particularly in tricky spots of certain pieces. Working this way highlights those weaknesses very quickly. Now I just have to apply this more often even when the laptop is available for practice!

#Jazz #Sax - Some of the best resources on the Web

Looking back at previous posts it's been quite a while since I updated links to resource sites for both Saxophone and Jazz. Here are some of the best that I know of at the moment.

www.jazzadvice.com

I love this site and it follows a kind of thinking that I try to apply here. Good old fashioned advice on topics that concern practicing musicians, by musicians themselves. There is so much good stuff here.

www.davidvaldez.blogspot.in/

Still the best Jazz blog around in my opinion. Updated regularly it's got articles on pretty much anything in Jazz. This blog is geared more to advanced players.

www.bestsaxophonewebsiteever.com/

Yes it probably is. A dream come true for saxophone players. Articles on anything sax related by a multitude of great players and teachers.

www.saxontheweb.net/

Founded by Harri Rautianen this has been THE leading resource for saxophone for a long time. It has the worlds largest and best discussion forum.

www.charlesmcneal.com/

Solo transcriptions, pdf books. It's all there. Updated recently there is alot of good material here.

www.learnjazzstandards.com/

I only came across this recently and I prefer it to it's similarly named counterpart. Pick a standard. Play along with the backing track. Watch the greats play the same tune on Youtube. I can't believe it's all in one place.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Tunes that got me listening to Jazz #3 Art Pepper - Softly as in a morning Sunrise

It's been a long time since I thought about this recording, but then I came across it recently as I wanted to go over the changes of this fabulous standard. Art Pepper was one of my first influences on saxophone. I was introduced to him by a friend on a visit to India, and was instantly drawn to his cool soft tone and rhythmic phrasing. Quite unlike some of the alto players I was used to. I had heard him described as a 'man walking on eggshells' and his sound is exactly that. Not a heavy sound, but one that seamlessly weaves his way through the music.



I must admit, though he is one of my favourite saxophonists, I have not enjoyed all of his albums. In his later ones, though his ballads were as good as they ever were, (maybe even better) he had lost some of the edge and freshness in his phrasing, and we were not hearing the abundance of ideas like before. Here though with the famous Miles Davis rhythm section of Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb he really is at his best. They provide him the perfect platform and his solos are some of the best you will hear.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EQ8WsVX6QZs

Sunday, June 01, 2014

The History of the Saxophone in 10 minutes

I saw this on Twitter and found it very good. Made by New York based CDZA, this is a video of the history of the saxophone. It's a bit of fun, but also very well done by Saxophonist Ben Flocks, who takes us from the earliest years through, swing and be-bop till now.

There are other 'history of' videos which are also good, but this one I found the best.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Du0XUOEIQ7Y


Friday, May 30, 2014

29 things Micheal Brecker wants you to know - www.bobreynoldsmusic.com

Saxophonist Bob Reynolds http://bobreynoldsmusic.com/ has done us a big favour here and written a nice article on advice Micheal Brecker has given through his 1984 series of interviews at the University of North Texas. I have already posted on these youtube videos before, but this is the first time I'm seeing such a comprehensive and well written guide to the things he had said.

Bob mentions at the end - 'If you know another musician who would benefit from this please pass it along' - well, these are extremely valuable for saxophonists or any student of Jazz. Like the Sonny Rollins videos I posted recently, it is rare to see the greats talk so openly and well about their art, and the practice that goes on privately. These really are a must see.

http://bobreynoldsmusic.com/michael-brecker-on-guitars-drums-transcribing-and-dancing/

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Tunes that got me listening to Jazz #2 So What - Miles Davis

Prince of darkness or not, Miles recorded some of the the most stunningly beautiful solos in Jazz history. My first encounter came at around the age of 14 when I bought the cassette 'A Kind of Blue'. I've no idea why I chose it, as I had very little knowledge at that time, but its strange to think that more than 23 years on it remains the album I've listened to most.



It has already been said by countless people, but these are pieces that you can never get tired of. Every time you put it on, something new will come to your ear - and I've listened alot of times! I had this as a permanent fixture in my Walkman for the long walks to and from school until the cassette was finally damaged, and then replaced by a prized limited edition CD.

Though I have probably loved Miles' famous solo on 'So What' more than any other, amusingly it wasn't the trumpet that initially brought me to the tune. It was the Saxophone. The long flowing lines of Coltrane and Cannonball -  to the point that as kids we actually asked ourselves; 'can this other guy really play?'

I'll never tire of this tune or album. later on I listened alot to the 'My Funny Valentine Four and More' concert too but it never got quite the same hold of me as this.