Friday, March 8, 2013

Organisation of Rhythm and Swing

This is in response to George Colligan's post about swinging from his blog "jazztruth". Perhaps my blog could be called " Jazz BS " or something. A discussion ensued on George's facebook page involving other esteemed pianists Dave Berkman and Mike Ledonne. It's an interesting topic and to discuss "how to swing" within the confines of the internet is surely limited but it fascinates many very serious musicians so it's probably valid to try. George was mainly focused on the placement of the notes and transcribing which is surely very important. Ledonne is also keenly aware of controlling accents with your technique and he has spent a great time trying to analyse the technique of some of his favorite "swingin" pianists. Also a great idea well worth exploring. I have thought about this a lot too and experimented with both George's and Ledonne's approach. I spent a fair amount of time memorising solos and playing them along with the recordings trying to emulate the "swing". Most of the solos where Herbie Hancock's but there where a few Wynton Kelly and Kenny Kirkland ones too. It all happened years ago but I still suggest to students that the memorise and perform Wynton Kelly's Freddie Freeloader along with the recording. My teacher Roger Frampton suggested that and it surely was a valuable lesson for me. I don't think you ever get to "swing" it is more of a garden of eden that you can approach. Moving to New York and playing with a lot of musicians with good time helped especially playing Organ. That's probably one reason why George and Mike do such a great job rhythmically having had the experience of playing quarter notes on the bass with a great band and drummer. I have one thing to add which I often think about and that is that the shape/contour of your lines can make a huge difference. A piano is inherently "blurry" ( the instrument is still resonating even after you take your finger off the keys ) and at fast tempos it can be pretty hard to control articulation especially at the end of notes.  Even at very fast tempos you still have control over WHAT you play as opposed to how you play it. That's really the essence of the page of examples and questions above. Do some things inherently " swing" no matter where they are placed or accented / articulated ? I think so. I often think the mystery of the greatness in Charlie Parker is somewhere in the organisation of the contours and rhythms. His solos seem to swing even on paper. Ditto looking at John Coltrane's great Giant steps solo I often notes how he changes direction when the chords change at that generally the whole thing tends to move downwards through phrases. I suspect that some rhythms going upwards will never swing if continued for too long. Over and Out. Sean

Monday, December 17, 2012

A review of cultural content on the 730 report

A year of sport and culture on Australian government funded website/tv show : ABC :  730 report ( 2012 up until dec 17th ) 

2 stories about Australian non-aboriginal musicians, 5 about Australian Aboriginal musicians, 6 about international musicians, 10 stories about Australian non-sporting cultural activities, 5 stories about international cultural activities, 40 stories about mostly Australian sportsmen and women. A great deal of the sports stories involved Australians LOSING. A HORSE won something. 

Australian non-aboriginal music ( 2 stories )

Australian world famous pop star
Australian world famous pop star
Cabaret singer imitates American singers well 

Australian Aboriginal Music ( 5 stories ) 
Australian Aboriginal musician
Festival of Australian Aboriginal music and culture
Australian aborigial musician dies
Australian film about Australian aboriginal singers imitating African American music in the 1960's
Festival of Australian Aboriginal music and culture

International music ( 6 stories ) 
american pop songwriter
Japanese singer on a mission
American pop group
Dead British singer imitating African American music

Australian culture ( no sport ) ( 10 stories )
Exhibition of Australian art .
Australian Pole Dancer with one arm 
Australian play about a girl who was raped and murdered
Australian painters
Australian artists paint about climate change
Australian actor
Australian Aboriginal artist
Australian comedian remembers dead Australian painter
Australian comedian with human interest story

International culture ( no sport ) ( 5 stories ) 

hollywood film
19th century french painter
English comedian
Dead English writer 
American Actor

SPORT ( 40 stories and no-one actually won anything this year except a horse ) 
Australian cricket
Australian cricket
Australian cricket
Australian Horse race
Australian swimmer
Australian Football
South African paralympic athlete
Australian Sport
Australian SPort
Australian sport
Australian sport
Australian sport
Australian athlete
Australian Tennis
Australian women's basketball
Aboriginal football players from australia

Friday, December 7, 2012

It's nice to get some recognition in the jazz press. Thanks to downbeat and Jon Ross. For the record Mark Shim does not play a EWI solo on Belt Parkway nor does he play the melody. He is featured soloing on EWI on a different track " Ditty " .

Monday, October 15, 2012

Matt Finish and the golden age of Australian content on Australian TV

Matt finish drummer John Prior et al set up a great Facebook group to discuss how Australian musicians would like to reform the business ...

I am Matt Finish fan! One of my favorite Australian groups of the golden era of Australian Rock when there was much more Australian music on the TV and radio. Among other things John is pushing for 50 percent local content on the local media. Here is a clip of the group in their prime in the 80's 

I wrote a long post today for this group which I thought would be worth sharing. In the modern world a decent Australian music database and portal for new Aussie music would be a great thing if it was done right. Here is my post on the forum .... 

With it's funding the government should provide infrastructure that every Australian musician ( someone that earns their living from music ) can access. 

Australian musicians and the industry could have accommodation, travel ,venue , recording , video , distribution costs subsidized.

I imagine a venue at least in each capital city that has a van to pick up musicians from the airport. The venue has an apartment attached for the musicians to sleep in. The government could subsidize music related travel on buses, trains and airplanes. The venue could have recording and video equipment provided by the government for every musician to use. A website would be set up on the ABC that would allow users to search for Australian content by genre and location and would have audio and video footage from the venues in each state. Musicians could use the venues to rehearse and teach and could also use the recording/video facilities to interview each other to be put on the website. New venues don't probably need to be built as there are already teaching institutions in each state that are government funded and could be revamped for this purpose.
If the teaching institutions isn't the perfect place the ABC could make venues in its many locations more cheaply available to local musicians. 

It's important to discuss local content on the radio/TV etc but if a really GREAT website and venue was set up in each city it could become THE place for people internationally and in Australia to hear Australian music. A good website which allows users to search easily would be critical as would be the ability for well-known local musicians to create "playlists" of their favorite Australian content. It's important that the punter be given the opportunity to find out things like " What is happening in their favorite style of Australian music " … " What Aussie Jazz CDs came out this week ? " … "What are Peter Garrett's favorite Aussie Blues Bands" … " What is Paul Keating's favorite Australian Classical Cds released in the last month " …. " Which original band from Sydney sold the most Cds in the last year " . A new website doesn't need to be created probably the ABC website can be revamped at minimal cost and access needs to be given to Australian musicians ( again I mean people who make a living from music not anyone) to post their own content to it. Australian music history also needs to be better archived . I would like to see an interview with James Morrison discussing his 20 favorite Australian Jazz compositions with links to each one. 

I think the infrastructure could be set up at minimal cost compared what it is costing already to pay large orchestras. I think that tradition should continue but that it would be possible for musicians to ask for a new digital "countdown" or something to be set up that works in the interests of all Australian musicians regardless of their genre or popularity. Protectionist legislation may be a good thing and some sort of minimum wage for musicians is also good. The danger with the minimum wage is that if it is set to high the end result may be that the only gig in town is something like an ABBA covers band. Jam sessions and experimental music need to be able to happen too but not in a situation where venues are expecting musicians to play for tips or a ridiculously low fee. 

My years of time spent overseas has only deepened my appreciation for Australian music of all genres. The best Australian musicians have something very valuable to say it just needs to be presented to the world properly in an interface that allows people to find it. A better presentation of the great music that is happening and also reference to Australia's rich cultural history is what is needed to make music a more viable business in Australia. Local content on the TV and radio may help but in the future I believe it is all going to be on the internet . I don't watch anything on my TV anymore except the nightly TV bulletin. I don't listen to music radio any more either I have Pandora for that. Imagine an Aussie Pandora where you stuck the Divynils or Peter Sculthorpe in and it only played related Australian music or videos. That's what Australian music need most in my not so humble opinion.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

David Glyde and Ricky May

As long as I play music in New York city my years of performing and absorbing music in Australia continue to haunt me. I still love listening to Australian music of all genres. Living in Sydney I spent a lot of time listening to jazz music recorded in New York. Being on the other side of the world the reverse is the norm. It makes sense. Why would I put on a Fabian Almazan Cd when I can see him perform down the road? 

Looking back from afar I am most impressed by music of the great cultural awakening in Australia from 1975-1985. This is the period that spawned jazz musicians like Dale Barlow, Andrew Gander, Paul Grabowsky etc . " The Bar Raisers" in the estimation of James Muller . As he says " The generation of Australian jazz musicians that elevated the virtuosity and serious pursuit of the art form to a new level which compared favorably with the international standard " . " The Wizards of Oz " is my favorite of that era of Australian jazz. 

Here is Dale Barlow , Carl Orr, Andrew Gander and Adam Armstrong performing my favorite piece from it "Visby" 
 Fueled I expect by Countdown and the Irish tradition of pub music the period also produced a plethora of great popular songs which I suspect one day will be an integral part of Australian culture and identity. The gentrification of the inner city and MTV was the beginning of a slow process which made it a lot harder for Australia pop musicians to perform and find an audience but this era was certainly a "golden-age". 

. Purely by chance or destiny my father was the accountant for a 1981 video that was produced entitled "Southern Crossing". The video was footage of various Australian and international artists performing at the "Peter Stuyvesent international Jazz Festival" in Sydney. My father used to have a poster on the wall of his office which was a Smirnoff Vodka advertisement "Accountancy was my life ... until I discovered Smirnoff ". My father grew up in the era of prior to the fringe benefit's tax when a free lunch and a glass of wine was one of the "perks" of doing business. He also thoroughly enjoyed working as an accountant for various movie makers , artists etc, when the opportunity arose to say do tax returns of my jazz musician friends he was happy to oblige for a reasonable rate. He wasn't great at mathematics according to himself but his great interpersonal skills (which sometimes I wish I had inherited !) and love of talking to different people I think made it fairly easy for him to find work helping people with their business. His motto was " 9 out of ten businesses go broke " . He enjoyed helping others taking risks but was generally reluctant to take them himself. The typical accountant I guess. He was very fond of being involved in the risky business of showbiz during the making of Southern Crossing. He also had fond memories of doing bookkeeping/accounting for the film about Hang-Gliding " The Birdmen of Kilimanjaro "

Mt. Kilimanjaro - it's here that World Hang Gliding Champions Bill Moyes and his son Steve defy freezing temperatures and lack of oxygen to break the World Descent Record by flying their hang gliders from the 3 mile-high peak." 

I remember him recounting stories of watching that jazz movie being filmed behind the scenes at the Peter Stuyvesent jazz festival. This was perhaps towards the end of the first "wave" of American jazz musicians touring down under before a promoter lost his shirt and a bunch of guys didn't get paid. Now with Australia's booming economy and currency and the fact that most of those old jazzers are dead or don't remember the first wave we are seeing a second wave of inundation of Australia by traveling New York jazz musicians, particularly to the Melbourne International Festival. The Southern Corssing film features many wonderful Australian musicians like the Roger Frampton, Phil Trelour and Howie Smith in what must be one of the few surviving pieces of video footage of " the co-op " a band that many musicians who heard it in the 70's where "blown away by" . Also featured are Judy Bailey ( with Ron Philpott , John Sangster , Col Laughnan etc ), Galapagos Duck with Col Nolan and the young Northside Big band with Dale Barlow , Andrew Gander , Tim Rollins etc . Unfortunately the video's producer managed to stick an interview with the American's over what looks like a very early Dale Barlow solo but at least Andrew Gander manages to show his prodigious talent at the end of the clip. I remember rewinding that last drum fill a few times as a teenager.  I loved Judy Bailey's " The colors of my dreams " 

I loved this footage so much that I hunted Judy down and convinced her to perform at my 21st birthday party. At the time I was studying Electrical Engineering but the lure of the jazz music was threatening to derail my studies. ( Well actually I probably did more surfing and playing piano than studying ! ) . With my parents in earshot I told Judy that I was considering quitting my bachelor degree in pursuit of jazz excellence ! To her credit Judy looked at my parents and said " Whatever you do don't let him do it ... being a musician gets worse and worse year after year ! ". That's some Australian honesty right there.

I also loved hearing Ricky May perform with a big band which featured David Glyde as a soloist and arranger. I remember looking for the original sheet music for the piece but didn't get much a kick out of playing the tune at the time. In retrospect I can see what I enjoyed about it was the magnificent reharmonisation of the tune by David Glyde. My dad remembers seeing him perform at the festival remarking to me " He was a short guy and he used to wear high heels and gel his hair up really high and play a lot of notes to compensate" ( sorry Dad and Dave if mentioning this offends ! ). I played with Dave once at an RSL club on a weekend. That's another era of music history in Sydney that is passed. Many of those older guys where probably pretty burnt out from playing music in clubs to disinterested folks falling asleep into their schooner but for me it was actually a wonderful opportunity to perform with older guys like Dave, Alan Turnbull, Darcy Wright, Col Laughnan etc. I particularly enjoyed hearing their anecdotes. David Glyde probably had the best stories considering he had toured around Australia with the Beatles in 1964. If my memory serves me correctly he had photographs ( at least in his mind ) of himself and George Harrison in the shower with a bunch of young naked Beatles groupies. Honestly I used to feel like a groupie myself perform with musicians that I had seen on the Southern Crossing video. 

Short in stature he may be but Dave is clearly an excellent musician and arranger. 20 years later I was so devastated rehearing this arrangement of "Surry with a fringe" and Ricky May's incredible sense of pitch that I had to transcribe the arrangement. My rough chord chart is below. It's worth a look I reckon. Fair Dinkum. I also contacted the pianist Jamie Rigg (Ricky's MD for many years). If he can find the chart I will post that as well. 

intro : Emaj7  | Emaj7 |  D7sus | Dsus | 

vocal : 
( A)        | G         | G      | G/F       | G/F       | E-        | E-      | Ebmaj7    | Ebmaj7    |

              | G         | G       | G/F      | G/F       | E-        | E-      | Ebmaj7    | Ebmaj7    |

(B)   | G-        | G-     | F7       | F7          | G-       | G-       | F7            | F7              | 

        |   E 1/2dim | E 1/2dim | F7    | F7   | E7sus      | E7 sus     |  E7sus      | E7 sus    
       ( ? E D E | Bb Ab)  |

(C)    | G         | G      | G/F       | G/F       | Emaj7  | Emaj7 |  D7sus | Dsus | ( coda )

         | G         | G      | G/F       | G/F       | E-        | E-      | Ebmaj7    | Ebmaj7    |

D7sus ( passing chords followed by D7 vamp for David Glyde solo ) back to intro then C section 

coda :
| G         | G      | G/F       | G/F               | E-        | E-      | Ebmaj7    | Ebmaj7    |  

| G         | G      | G/F       | G/F       | E7sus       | E7      |   |  (? E D E | Bb Ab)  |

| G         | G      | G/F       | G/F       | E7sus       | E7      |   |  (? E D E | Bb Ab)  |

| G         | G      | G/F       | G/F               | E-        | E-      | Ebmaj7    | Ebmaj7    |

Ebmaj7    | Ebmaj7    |  Ebmaj7    | Ebmaj7    |  3/4   | D     | Bb  | B  | C  | F

Monday, July 16, 2012

Great moments in the use of a Synthesizer as an improvising tool :

Great moments in the use of a Synthesizer as an improvising tool :
These are some of the few pieces of serious improvised music where are synthesizer is played in a manner which approaches "virtuoso" performance.
Allan Holdsworth : "Flat Tyre" ( entire album) 2001
This was the album that made me think that it was possible to play great improvised music with synthesizers . My favorite track is "eeny meeny" especially the final solo sound . I believe all the lead sounds are DX7s . This album arrived when I got to Tokyo straight after the terrorist attacks and had a very profound influence on me.
Since then I have made various attempts to utilize those instruments and make them work. It's pretty hard to get an instrument with a synthesized attack to "groove" but I have pursued it for the last 10 years or so.
Since then I have discovered or rediscovered a few other pieces of recorded work on the instrument which are particularly outstanding and noteworthy:
Jim Beard : "Fever" from the album Advocate.
Joe Zawinul: "Update" from "This is This" ( Weather Report) and
"D-flat Waltz" from "Domino Theory" ( Weather Report )

Rolf Langlans sounds great in this clip
Scott Kinsey is also a very serious musician very much in the Zawinul vein. I have heard some live bootlegs of his playing which are really great. Hopefully I will hear him play live soon. The last time was over ten years ago.
I also heard a bootleg of an unreleased Kurt Rosenwinkle album with him playing guitar synthesizer on it. Unfortunately the record companies and the jazz world at large are against the idea and refused to release the record.

It's a dark art often frowned upon by "serious" musicians and critics. Considering it is only 10 to 15 years old it will be interesting to see what the future holds. I expect with the continued expansion of computing power some really amazing instruments will be possible which may well make acoustic instruments out of date. Unfortunately Synths are often only as good as the speakers at the venue which in Jazz clubs isn't always really great. Keep the faith.