Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Solo Transcription - Kenny Washington, "Put on a Happy Face"

The first half of 2016 has been pretty hectic.  In addition to the classes I already teach online for West Virginia University, I've been designing a new course in GarageBand, which has been taking up the bulk of my time.  Also, I've been doing the administrative work on my upcoming trio record, working with Joy Ellis on her new record, and editing our chapter for the 14th Darmstadt Jazzforum.  All this, bundled with my usual lessons and gigs has left me with essentially no time for blogging.  So to you, dear reader, I apologize.  But now, summer is here, and I have a little bit more time on my hands, so I'm going to see if I can't ease myself back into a steady posting routine.

So let's get started with a little Kenny Washington.  This comes from a great Bill Charlap record called All Through the Night.  Here he's trading with Bill on "Put on a Happy Face".  Lately I've started writing more in the Wilcoxon style notation.  I feel it fits the vibe of the playing more, especially with stuff like this.

E-mail me for a PDF

Thursday, May 26, 2016

14th Darmstadt Jazzforum

Back in October, Joy Ellis and I presented a paper at the 14th Darmstadt Jazzforum in Darmstadt, Germany, which has since been published.  The theme of this year's conference was Gender and Identity in Jazz which was broken down to three thematic blocks:

*Topics such as masculinity/gender/intersectionality/identity

*Analytical case studies, in which the art of specific musicians was to be approached without first looking at the gender aspect of their music

*The third block was to bring us into the lived-in reality both of days gone by and of today's world, allow for focused views into jazz history and for conversations with men and women active on today's jazz scene.

For our part, we wrote paper about the participation of women at jam sessions; the biases they face, the effects on their employment, etc.

Pick up a copy of the book here.  There was a wide range of fascinating topics presented by musicians, university lecturers, and journalists from all over the world.

Check out the video below which explains more about this year's conference, and also check out the Darmstadt Jazzinstitut, which houses the largest jazz archive in Europe.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Practice Loop - Milton Banana, "É Luxo Só"

As we're on the João Gilberto tip, here's a little practice loop for you to play around with.  It's comes from one of, if not the, first bossa nova album, Chega de Saudade, and features my man Milton Banana on the drums.

Again, grab the Jazz Samba Builder, and try mixing and matching some of the different combinations while playing along to this practice loop.

And if you don't already have it, pick up this album, why don't ya'.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

You Be the Drummer - João Gilberto, "João Gilberto"

It's been awhile since I've posted one of these drummer-less recordings, but I've been using this one a lot lately.  I suppose technically it's not entirely drummer-less, as it features Sonny Carr playing pretty much nothing but hi-hat.  Sonny certainly doesn't hurt, but João's guitar playing is so deep in the pocket and oozing vibe that it makes for a perfect "drummer-less" playalong.

Grab a copy of my Jazz Samba Builder and try out the various combinations as you play along with João and Sonny.

There's very little information out there about Sonny Carr.  Mostly just an obituary which says that he was a "renowned jazz drummer for twenty years" in New York, and died back in 2011.  Apparently he was a technical writer by day.  The usual internet suspects like Wikipedia, All Music, and All About Jazz didn't provide much help either.  If you know anything about Sonny drop me a comment.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Naná Vasconcelos (1944 - 2016)

When I was 24 I was lucky enough to travel to Recife, Brazil with two of my professors and a couple of classmates.  It was this trip that sparked my insatiable appetite for Brazilian music.  Prior to that I knew little about the music, but was very much interested.  I went on the trip armed with a wad of cash and a big empty spot in my suitcase to carry home the beginnings of my new library of Brazilian music.  Many of the albums I purchased on the trip have been mentioned on this blog and continue to amaze and inspire me today.

One album that I clearly remember standing out to me was Chegada, one of the last albums the great percussionist Naná Vasconcelos released as a leader.  This record sounded like nothing I had ever heard before.  It was only after listening to it over and over and over and over again that I began digging deeper into Vasconcelos' history and discography and discovered all of the amazing players he had worked with - Egberto Gismonti, Milton Nascimento, Jan Garbarek, Pat Metheny, Paul Motian, Ralph Towner, Don Cherry, Danny Gottlieb, amongst others - and all of the wonderful albums he had recorded and appeared on.  I even realized that he was on Eliane Elias Plays Jobim, which was the record that first introduced me to Jack DeJohnette.

The ECM record label posted a wonderful obituary on their facebook page:

Nana Vasconcelos (1944-2016)
Naná Vasconcelos, the unique Brazilian percussionist, singer and berimbau master has died in his hometown of Recife, aged 71. His vivid playing conjured echoes of the rainforest, scurryings in the undergrowth, the sudden flap of bird-wings, animal calls, the crackle of flames, cloudbursts and more. He busked on street corners, played with symphony orchestras, breakdancers, and with all manner of improvisers. In Brazil he first gained a reputation as a member of Milton Nascimento’s group, and he arrived in Europe in early 1970s as a member of Gato Barbieri’s band, basing himself initially in Paris. His highly productive association with Egberto Gismonti was begun on the often thrilling ECM recording Dança das Cabeças in 1976 and continued on albums including Sol do meio Dia, Duas Vozes and Nana’s 1979 leader date Saudades, for which Gismonti wrote the orchestral arrangements. (Egberto and Nana were due to revive their musical association this year, and a tour of the Far East had been booked for April) 
Vasconcelos was one third of the magical Codona group with Don Cherry and Collin Walcott whose ECM recordings are reprised in the box set The Codona Trilogy. “Codona was the best collaboration in my life because it was a really unpredictable situation,” Vasconcelos told writer N. Scott Robinson in 2000. “Codona was true improvisation; freedom. Because it was true collaboration, three different persons, three different backgrounds put together.” 
Nana Vasconcelos also appears on ECM albums with Pat Metheny, Jan Garbarek, Pierre Favre and Arild Andersen.

Here is the album that introduced me to the music of this incredible percussionists.  I highly recommend picking up a copy.

Obrigado pela música e inspiração, Nana.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Transcription - Sergio Machado, "Horizonte"

One of my favorite Brazilian musicians, harmonica player Gabriel Grossi, released a trio album a few years back with just harmonica, keys and drums.  The drummer, Sergio Machado (I don't think there's any relation to Edison), is phenomenal; chops for days and supreme subtlety.  There's very little information on the web about him, at least that I've been able to find, but I'm a big fan of his playing. You can find quite a few good quality videos of the group playing on YouTube.

Transcribing some of his really creative samba grooves will be a future project, but to get started with his work I've done part of the title track, Horizonte.  The majority of the tune is played with brushes, but during the keys solo Sergio switches to Hot Rods or something similar and plays a very nice modern sounding bossa/ECM feel.

E-mail me for a PDF

The video below is a live version, so the transcription won't line up, but you can get a feel for the tune.  The album version of the song isn't available on YouTube, but you should  absolutely drop a few dollars/pounds/whatever to get the album.  It's worth every penny.  Gabriel Grossi does, however, give away two of his other albums completely free on his website, so go snatch them up. Diz Que Fui Por Aí features Marcio Bahia, and Arapuca has no drum set, but some great percussion played by Amoy Ribas and Durval Pereira.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Triplet Independence

If you're a "jazz" drummer, chances are you already have a sheet that looks something like this, or have worked on these patterns without a sheet.  As I've been into a lot of Bill Stewart lately, who plays many triplety ideas such as these, I figured I'd whip up an exhaustive work sheet.

If you're new to jazz drumming and four-way independence, this sheet is a must do as these phrases can be the building blocks to bigger things.  Play time on your ride cymbal (don't alter the sticking just yet) and, where applicable, play the hi-hat on 2 and 4.  You can also play around around with feathering the bass drum in the examples that don't have a written bass part.  Use a metronome sounding only on 2 and 4, or better yet, play along to a recording of your favorite drummer.

Even if you're an experienced player, work your way through this sheet and see what happens.  If you're human like the rest of us, there will almost certainly be a few of these that feel a little more awkward that the others.

The examples are intentionally not numbered.  If you read downward the rhythm stays the same while the voicing changes.  Read across, and the voicing remains while the rhythm shifts.  Or, of course, you can always just choose at random, or choose the ones that work best (or worst) for you.

E-mail me for a PDF.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Weekly Wisdom

In 1966 Bill Evans sat down for an interview with his older brother, Harry.  The result was “The Universal Mind of Bill Evans”, an educational video in which Evans talks about, amongst other things, his creative process, and how he built himself into the player he was.  There are a number of lessons in this video that we all, regardless of instrument, can benefit from.  

Some of my favorite excerpts...

“I think the problem is that [people]...tend to approximate the product rather than attacking it in a realistic, true way at any elementary level - regardless of how elementary - but it must be entirely true and entirely real and entirely accurate.  They would rather approximate the entire problem than to take a small part of it and be real and true about it.  And I think this is a very important thing that you must be satisfied to be very clear and very real and to be very analytical at any level.  You can’t take the whole thing, and to approximate the whole thing in a vague way gives one a feeling that they...more or less touched the thing.  But in this way you just lead yourself toward confusion.  You know, and ultimately you’re going to get so confused that you’ll never find your way out.”

I couldn’t have said it any better myself.  We’ve all seen musicians trying to play far beyond their ability.  To me, this is a disservice to both themselves and the music.  Sure, we’ve all been guilty of this at times - and I’m also not suggesting that we shouldn’t take risks - but in general I feel it’s better to play something that is simpler, or more basic, really, really well, than to try ramming some poorly played “advanced” material down an audiences throat.

Bill continues:

“It is true of any subject that the person that succeeds in anything has the realistic viewpoint at the beginning in knowing that the problem is large and that he has to take it a step at a time and he has to enjoy the step by step learning procedure.”

He goes on to give an example at the piano, playing a note-y improvisation on “How About You?”, discussing players who, for lack of a better term, fake their way through a chopsy solo rather than playing something “honestly and real-ly”, i.e. confidently.

Bill's brother, Harry, who is leading the interview, suggests that the average player has to overplay simply because they don’t have the hours to put in on the instrument.  Bill responds perfectly:

“The point is, what are you satisfied with?  In other words, it’s better to do something simple which is can still be satisfactory, but it’s something that you can build on because you know what you’re doing. ...  Whereas if you try to approximate something which is very advanced and don’t know what you’re doing then you can’t advance and build on it.”

I love that idea of having something to build on.  We as musicians, have to have a foundation.  We must walk before we can run, or anything other very true cliché that you can think of.  As Bill puts it:

“The whole process of learning the facility of being able to play jazz is to take these problems from the outer level in, one by one, and to stay with it at a very intense conscious concentration level until that process becomes secondary and subconscious.  Now, when that becomes subconscious then you can begin concentrating on that next problem which is to allow you to do a little bit more.

The aforementioned foundation must be absolute second nature.  When you’re reading a book, or looking at a computer screen and want to take a sip of coffee you don’t need a mirror.  You don’t stop reading so that you can focus your attention on making sure you don’t miss your mouth.  It’s second nature, or as Bill puts it, it’s subconscious.  The more music and facility we have in our subconscious, the more we can then do with our conscious.

“I would certainly say it’s more than worth it, but I think most people just don’t realize the immensity of the problem and either because they can’t conquer [it] immediately think that they haven’t gotten the ability or they’re so impatient to conquer it that they never do see it through.  But, if you do understand the problem I think then you can enjoy your whole trip through.

Here is the video in it's entirety.  It's definitely worth 45 minutes of your time.