John Stowell's Jazz guitar mastery book is here!

Master guitarist and teacher John Stowell has just released his instructional book/DVD (Mel Bay publishing). Stowell's unique and highly advanced harmonic concept is fully explained by this book and DVD. The DVD allows you to watch and hear exactly what he's doing and the book has transcriptions in guitar tab and music notation. John is all about modes of the melodic minor scale, he uses them over just about everything. Over dominant seventh chords he teaches students that there are several melodic minor options depending on how many tensions you want to use.

For example over a C7 chord you can play:
  • G melodic minor- one tension (#11)
  • F melodic minor- one tension (b13)
  • Bb melodic minor- two tensions (b9, #9)
  • Eb melodic minor- three tensions (#9, #11, b13)
  • C# melodic minor- four tensions (b9, #9, #11, b13)
He arpegiates these scales to obtain his signature open, modern and often vertical sound. John also explains in his book/DVD how to use the melodic minor scale (a third down) over Major chords. This gives us the Augmented Major scale, which has a #11 and a #5. John also uses the Melodic Minor scale a whole step up to obtain a Major scale with a b9. These are obviously very spicy scale choices over a Major 7th chord but John really makes them work in a way that isn't jarring to the ears.

You can order John's book/DVD from Mel Bay.

I'm definately going to sit down with this and learn how John plays those sweeping modern lines of his. There is no one that sounds like John does, YET. Look out John, we're all going to cop your shit now! :-)

Look out soon for the Portland Jazz Jams TV episode on John that I directed and Darren produced. John demonstrates his improvisation techniques. It will be streaming on the PJJ site shortly.


Dan's Polyrhythmic Practice a la Warne Marsh

This is courtesy of PDX pianist Dan Gaynor. Over the last few years I've been playing with Dan quite a lot. If he really does leave for an East Coast grad school it will be a major blow for the PDX Jazz scene. Thanks Dan!

"I'm reading An Unsung Cat: The Life and Music of Warne Marsh, by Safford Chamberlain (thanks mom! merry christmas!), and it's really informative. There are a lot of interviews and perspectives on Warne Marsh, his music and also on the 'Tristano school' of improvisation. Tristano's thing was very conservative in many ways. For example, he believed that "the major innovators in jazz up to 1945" were Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines, Roy Eldrige, Lester Young, Charlie Christian, Charlie Parker and Bud Powell, with footnotes for Billie Holiday, Billy Kyle (as precursor to Bud Powell) and Art Tatum, but not Ellington, Jelly Roll Morton or Coleman Hawkins. So, he had a very conservative outlook, to say the least.

One of the more interesting things that developed within his method was a means of practicing rhythmic phrasing. Now, this method itself does not appear to be outlined in the book, and I don't personally know any of Tristano's students, but there are a few clues. It mentions "five beat phrases", meaning five eighth notes, and also mentions the last phrase of Tristano's "April," where an 11/8 figure (3-2-3-3) repeats three times. Now, I don't have access to Lennie's method, but I have made a list of uneven groupings of eighth notes that can be practiced over a 4/4 form (or just with a metronome). Accent the first of each group. They repeat in uneven ways compared with the other meter (4/4).

  • 3 notes, repeating.
  • 5 notes, grouped as 2-3 or 3-2
  • 6 notes, 3-3 or 2-2-2 (also 3-3-2-2-2 for a 12 note grouping)
  • 7 notes, 2-2-3, 2-3-2, 3-2-2
  • 9 notes, 3-2-2-2, 2-3-2-2, 2-2-3-2, 2-2-2-3
  • 10 notes, 3-2-2-3, 2-3-3-2
  • 11 notes 3-3-3-2, 3-3-2-3, 3-2-3-3, 2-3-3-3

These can be practiced in as many ways as you can conceive. Here are some ideas for pianists:

1. Major/minor scales, both hands, 4 octaves, 16th notes. Play the accents within the scale (either legato or detached with each group).

2. Improvise on a standard song (simpler changes are easier for this exercise), with a LH walking bass in quarter notes and RH playing an uninterrupted line. This has to be done slowly. The simpler the RH line, the better, for purposes of the exercise.

3. Improvise with the RH with an ostinato accompaniment in the LH, like a bossa nova bassline, or more pianistic things like a stride LH or a boogie-woogie line, even.

4. Make a stride/boogie/latin pattern which follows the polyrhythm and try to play the melody with the other hand. Or play chords with the RH and sing the melody.

These exercises are ways to practice how to juggle the polymeter and the meter of a rhythm section and not get lost. They're not limited to a eighth-note and 4/4 context by any means, though it is most useful there. One can imagine Bill Evans practicing this sort of thing with triplets in a jazz waltz. Anyway, I hope you like this stuff. Cheers!"


Rich Perry- eating standards for lunch

When I was in New York I played a few gigs a rehearsal big band that was run by a Russian composer/arranger/pianist. Like many bands of this type there was a rehearsal book and a gig book. The rehearsal book was all original and very challenging music written by the band leader and the gig book was all classic stock big band arrangements. The band leader got great NYC players to read through his original charts regularly by offering well paying black tie big band gigs once in a while. The second tenor player on this band was a sloppy forty-something guy named Rich Perry. Being fairly new on the NYC scene, I had no idea what kind of player Rich since he gave almost all of his solos away. When he did blow he sounded very abstract and loose. He really seemed not to give a shit about what he sounded (or looked) like, even though he sounded great. He just wasn't trying to impress anyone (like the rest of the was). I found out later that Rich was a mainstay in the Monday night Village Vanguard band (formerly the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis band). His playing really intrigued me at the time because he sounded so unique and advanced, but I never got to hear really stretch out. A friend turned me on to a few of his recordings recently; 'Live at Eastman' and 'What is This?'. I've been listening to them for days now. I haven't had my ears opened up so much by a player in quite a while. Rich swings like a madman and his sound is huge and dark, yet very controlled. One reviewer wrote that Rick was "lackadaisical and bohemian". He is loose and snaky, taking a while to build his solos to fever pitch. When he does get to full throttle he tears it up as hard as anyone alive. He is so incredibly natural sounding, by this I mean that he never sounds contrived or forced. Like his messy hair, his lines aren't sanitized for the amateur listener. Rich never plays down to the audience, never compromising his advanced harmonic and rhythmic concepts in favor of wide accesibility. In short he is the musicians musician. Even though he stays on the cutting edge Rich's sound is always musical and melodic. He just always approaches melodic phrases from an extremely oblique angle. I've really can't think of a badder cat that flies so low under the radar. Garzone is a pop star compared to Ritchie. I don't see this changing in the future since fame and fortune are obviously not motivating factors for Mr. Perry. For the moment at least, Rich Perry is my favorite tenor player alive. I just ordered his CD East of the Sun and West of 2nd Avenue and a trio recording called Beautiful Love. Check out these links to hear some short sound clips of Rich chewing up standards into tiny little pieces.


Reed update

I switched from Java reeds to WWBW Paris Jazz reeds a few months ago. I'm not quite as exited about the WWBW reeds as I was at first. They tend to be a bit edgy, still they are better cane and more consistant than Javas. The problem right now is that WWBW is running out of them. They're on back order right now so I'm waiting for my next fix, I mean shippment. In the meantime I got recieved some Riggotti Gold alto reeds and some Gonzalez. The Riggotti cane is similar French cane to Marca and Francois Louis. The Gonzalez reeds are made from Argentinian cane. I've been playing more tenor lately and trying different pieces so my reed consumption is out of control (for my my budget that is). If I was making over $10k playing with a hippie jam band (like some people I know) then I wouldn't have any more reed problems. I would just buy cases of reeds at a time and go through them until I found the perfect reed for every gig. Right I'm spending way too much bread on wood chips that would be more useful as toothpicks. A few days ago I went to the local music store and hand selected (at FULL retail box price) a bunch of reeds of different brands and strengths. Hey, guess what? Every SINGLE REED SUCKED ASS! Big surprise. Not one was even close. I felt like I just bought a big sack of oregeno at Washington Square park. I'll update this reed quest as soon as I get into these new boxes. I've also got some Rico Jazz selects and Marcas on the way so keeping checking back.


New Jason Dumars recording

My good friend Jason Dumars has just released a new solo recording on his web site. It's VERY cool. He plays all the instruments and was also the recording engineer. He got a great sound- I wish I could find an engineer that would record my sound that well. This material is pleasantly loose and energetic with indeterminate ethnic overtones. There is a lot of engaging full on action that keeps things interesting and highly unpredictable. It's hard to believe that he did this entire thing one track at a time. Bravo Jason! Link to the sound files.


NW Jazz profile interview with Robert Moore

Robert Moore is a trumpet player, vocalist, composer, and bandleader who recently relocated to Portland from Birmingham, Alabama. Every time I see him play I am impressed by his uncanny ability to connect with the audience and put them in the palm of his hand. His vocal style is somewhere between
King Pleasure, Mark Murphy and Ray Charles and his trumpet playing is lyrical and reflective like Chet Baker's. He always seems to know just when to break out his blues harp in order to make the room go nuts. Here is what he had to say about performing when I interviewed him at my studio recently:

DCV: How is the music scene here in the NW compared to the South?

Room: I miss some of the things about the South, there’s rawness in the
players there. They’re less concerned with playing correctly and more
concerned with the feel and energy of the music.

DCV: Do the audiences in the south have a different orientation towards hearing live music?

RoMo: I don’t think the audiences are different here. The players are more concerned with technique here than in the South. Southern players are more focused on the emotion and energy that they’re putting out. I feel more comfortable just letting things flow when I’m playing in the South. Here I sometimes find that I’m more self-critical when I play. A real player can connect with their source and express their emotions, AND be technically correct. This doesn’t happen often enough for me (laughs). My orientation as a front man is geared much more towards the house than a lot of other musicians. There seems to be a huge tendency in this business for self-indulgence. A lot of players go deep into self-explorations that they themselves may find fascinating- It doesn’t matter to them that their music is totally inaccessible to the audience. God bless so many audiences for enduring these endless solos that they can’t really understand or even appreciate.

DCV: Some people would say that you’re talking about ‘playing down’ to the audience. Others might also call this ‘showboating’ or ‘crowd pleasing’.

RoMo: I think you can play with taste, integrity, and unique interpretation and still be accessible and generally appreciable. That’s still valid. I lean toward simplicity but I don’t see that as ‘playing down’. It’s just speaking in an understandable, interpretable form. Things become more potent when they’re reduced. It’s like being given a blank canvas and being told
that you can only use two colors. The requirements artistically for that are challenging but are often rewarding.

DCV: Do you think someone like Bird operated with this same type of orientation?

RM: I think he probably did. Just look at the number of twelve bar blues he recorded. He started with recognizable phrases and developed them into complex melodies. You don’t need directionless chord changes to be interesting. (smiles)

DCV: How about late Trane then?

RoMo: Trane was seeking and reaching, but that’s a perfect example of a music that alienated a lot of people from Jazz. Don’t get me wrong, I love late Trane, but to most people it’s just honking and squeaking that they can’t understand. One of the reasons I was attracted to vocals was that it allows accessibility for the audience. You’re telling a story or acting out a part, this gives a grounding point for the listener. Combine that with a melody that’s compelling and…........(raises eyebrows with sly look)

You can catch Robert perform on January 13th at the Blue Monk from 9pm-midnight. (3341 se Belmont, Portland, Oregon 97214, ph: 503.595.0575)

I’m directing a new Jazz TV series called Portland Jazz Jams TV. PJJ-TV features performances and interviews with some of the Northwest’s premier musicians and Jazz personalities. For PDX area show times or to watch the programs in high-speed streaming format go to: www.portlandjazzjams.com

Now get out there and support live Jazz!


Jazz Standards.com

I just came across a great site called Jazz Standards.com

This site is a must read for any working Jazz musician. For every Jazz standard they give useful information such as; anecdotes and origins, CD Recommendations, musician comments, Jazz history notes, research guide, soundtracks, harmonic analysis, origin, ranking, which Real books the tune can be found, music & lyrics, and other tunes written by same composer.


PJJ-TV show and new esoteric music Podshow

I've been working on a few projects with my good friend Darren Littlejohn, founder of Portland Jazz Jams. We've done a few different podshows and I'm co-producing and directing his new PJJ-TV cable show. The show is now available to stream or download and features Jazz performances, interviews and instruction by some of the North West's top artists.Here is one of the first episodes. I directed this one, we'll be doing more soon. If you have Tivo you can now access these shows be searching podcasts!

PJJ has also just released a podshow that I did with local saxophonist/composer/bandleader/engraver/web pioneer/scholar Jason DuMars.
We talk about the esoterics of music and play some free saxophone duos. I'm in the right channel.

My Jason DuMars blog post
Jason's bio page
Jason's vintage saxophone buyers guide
Jason's articles on his saxophone.org site


Tree of Life

The Tree of Life is an ancient Hebrew diagram that maps the cosmos as well as the human psyche. Most esoteric scholars who study this system are unaware that it is also a map of the overtone series and of musical intervals. Every Hebrew letter represents a whole number ratio which is also a musical interval. This is a logical and rational system for classifying the fundamentals of musical acoustics as well as a mystical map of the subtle planes of the universe. In most ancient alphabets each letter represents a number.
In fact there aren't separate numbers and letters, only letter-numbers. This means that each word is a sum total of letter-numbers. This offers a way of understanding what each word means and what elements make it up. In English words do not have exact relationships with other words. With Hebrew (or Greek for that matter) each word has a very specific relationship with every other word.
Some words have the same total numeric value and are considered to be different aspects of the same energy. This study is called Gematria. Each word has it's place in a mathematical continuum. This type of esoteric study associated musical theory with astrology, geometry, cosmology and qualitative mathematics. Music bound the other esoteric sciences together into a coherent whole. Music has long since been disassociated from these other sciences to the detriment of them all. Musicians today aren't taught that musical harmony is also a system for mapping the innermost reaches of the human mind and for organizing abstract thought processes. The laws of harmony and acoustics are also the laws of vibrational interaction on every plane of experience. I've hardly begun on this subject and could fill many more pages were I to allow myself. Most musicians will not have the patience to delve deeply into this dry and esoteric subject and most esoteric scholars will not have the musical understanding to grasp the tonal significance of it as well.
Click on the graphics for a larger view of the diagrams.

Interactive Tree of Life

QBL as a spiritual path
Tree of Life article
QBL links
Letter as hand gestures
Role of the hand in evolution of language
Sonic theology


The controlled freak out- outside/inside playing

Improvising over changes takes many years of dedicated practice to master. It is a highly intellectually demanding act that requires knowledge of music theory as well as an excellent memory and quick thinking. Once players get a basic grasp of Jazz improvisation it is often hard for them to let go and play by ear again, as they did when they first started to improvise. Long before they were thinking about symmetrical scales or tri-tone subs they just followed their ears and let their fingers do the walking. Once they are blowing bebop lines through changes with some proficiency they find it hard to trust only their ears to navigate for them. I often try to get my students to move outside by disengaging their rational minds for just a moment at a time. It's almost harder to get an intellectual player to play by ear than it is to teach an ear player to learn Jazz harmony.

I like hearing bebop players who are able to step outside without using set harmonic formulas. There are many post-bop players who use harmonic devices in order to take it outside, fewer who are able to play freely by ear and then drop right back inside. It can be hard to convince a student who has worked hard to play over changes to ignore them, even if it is just for short periods of time. I may cross out a few chord changes and tell them to just blow whatever they hear over those bars. I tell them not to play anything that is directly harmonically related to the changes that the rhythm section is playing. They should land on the next written chord change with a strong chord tone. I try to get them to feel comfortable with playing totally outside by ear for just a bar at a time. This is like popping the clutch in a stick shift vehicle. The rational mind is forced to disengage from its calculations and computations while the ears and the fingers momentarily take the reigns. When the 'clutch' is re-engaged the rational mind takes over again without losing it's place in the tune. After the student is comfortable with one bar of cosmic freak out I'll have them try for a few more bars at a time.

It's also nice to work your way outside and then work your way back inside using chord substitutions. For example let's take the first five bars of the bridge of 'What is this thing called love?'

The written changes are:
C-7 /F7 /Bbmaj7 / /Ab7 (b9) /

Let's try playing the first chord of the bridge and then work our way out using strong resolutions, then right before the Ab7(b9) we'll play a few changes to get us back inside. So.....

C-7 B7 /E7 A7/FREAK /OUT! E-7Eb7/Ab7 (b9) /

By beat three we are starting to head outside, culminating in a six beat cosmic freak out in the third bar and the first half of the fourth bar. Beats three and four steps us back inside where we land on terra firma in bar five. Unscathed!

This example shows how we can gradually move outside using standard diatonic harmony, play free for a few moments and then step back inside without anyone knowing what hit them. This way the psychedelic freak out is woven into the tonal harmony seamlessly. It doesn't come as so much of a shock (which isn't always bad) to the listener and the transition outside and back will be much smoother. You'll be able to play like Archie Shepp even at a Bar Mitzvah or your hotel lobby gig!

Listen to George Garzone or Ellery Eskelin for their ability to step across the line between inside and outside playing with ease. Free playing doesn't always have to drive the grandmothers out of the room (my grandmother used to ask me when she came to my gigs if I was going to play any of that 'drive the grandmothers out of the room music'). Grandma won't even know that anything's wrong before you're back from your full fledged FREAK OUT.


Reply to a researcher on New Orleans music

Hi all, I got your email addresses from the Portland Jazz Jams website. I'm a senior at Portland State University and I'm doing a project about the musical history of New Orleans and the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina. I'm hoping you have time to answer some questions. Anything you have to say would be helpful. If you could briefly tell me if/how the hurricane has affected you, your music or anyone you know? Also, what do you think has been the greatest musical loss caused by the hurricane? Any other thoughts? I'm going to be compiling these interviews within the next week. Thanks in advance for anything you have to say; it is very much appreciated, Erica Reininger.

My reply:

I'm not from N.O. You may want to talk to Devin Phillips. He can refer you to the other refugees in town from New Orleans.

I know a few folks down there. They have had to relocate, mostly to Texas. I think the greatest loss is all the long term musical projects that were ended because of relocation. I am affected in a positive way, in that I get to play with these refugees here in PDX. The hurricane has affected my music by introducing the New Orleans scene here in in PDX. It has made me more focused on the blues, on swinging, trying to tell more of a story, and playing to the audience more. These are elements that the New Orleans players have brought with them. I'm sure the dispersion has had this same effect on musicians everywhere the refugees have settled. This is bad for the city of New Orleans, butprobably good for the musicians of the host cities.

I always viewed New Orleans as a musical backwater, kind of stunted. Great players lived there and came from there, but I didn't think much of the Jazz world felt like New Orleans was still a great scene. The biggest thing there was Dixieland and that was for the tourists sake. There was also a strange blend of old bebop, brass band music and blues. The thing that really put it on the modern musical map was the Marsalis family and they were never very forward thinking (except for Branford). So I didn't really have much respect for New Orleans. To me it was a dirty, racist, straw hat and suspender wearing, drug addled, poor, hot, humid, boozer's Disneyland. I thought all the really great shit was happening in NYC and that Wynton was a throwback that had hurt the industry.

After being exposed to these players I have come to appreciate the New Orleans style much more. I can see just how NYC has strayed from real swing in favor of freaked out chord changes and odd-time signatures. In NYC psuedo-hipsters stroke their goatees in high-brow martini bars while listening to slide trumpet players playing avant-garde Jazz over world-beat techo-jungle grooves. In New Orleans they always try to connect with the audience with hard swinging and bluesy Jazz. They usually aren't hipper-than-thou, like so many NYC bands. One of the New Orleans musicians told me," I just want to play some jazz, drinks some drinks, and talk to some ladies. All night, all the time." That sums it up right there! In New Orleans they're not so worried about getting written up in the Village Voice, or scanning the audience for Blue Note A&R reps. They aren't trying to take the Jazz world by storm. They just want to play good music and have some fun. There is always the possibility of getting called by Wynton. Devin told me that you don't go audition for Wynton or try to get on his band. Wynton will hear about you if you're happening and then he'll call for you. No one counts on that there.

In the end, I think the elements from an earlier era of Jazz that New Orleans has preserved will re-invigorate the greater Jazz scene. We don't necessarily need a resurgence of Dixieland :-) , but we always could use more swing, more wailing blues and more gravy.

I guess Katrina has profoundly affected my musical outlook. I'm starting to let go more of my need to always play the most harmonically advanced lines that I can possibly come up with. I'm also trying to make my lines swing more and I don't feel as self conscious about playing simple (and sometimes cliché) bluesy phrases.

More modern isn't always better. Usually more modern means less swinging. Less swinging is never good. I hope enough New Orleans musicians relocated to NYC to effect players there the same way that I have been affected.


Gary Campbell's Triad Pairs for Jazz

I just picked up Gary Campbell's book called Triad Pairs. Mr. Campbell is and Associate Professor at Florida International University in Miami since 1993. His book thoroughly details how to use pairs of triads in Jazz improvisation.

In his introduction Mr. Campbell explains the importance of triad pairs in improvisation:

"Why Practice Triad Pairs?

1. By limiting note selection to six tones (each triad consisting of three), a more concise sonority is created. For example, the conventional chords used in the Jazz idiom are oftentimes associated with parent chord-scales of seven or more tones (melodic minor, major, minor, harmonic minor, and so on). Rendering these scales in the form of triad pairs yields more variety in tone color and suggests novel melodic possibilities.

2. Each of the triads expresses a tonality. By using two triads, bi-tonal effects are created. This effect is multiplied when the triad pair is used over a root tone that is not present in either triad.

3. The structure and "tensile strength" of triads give the melodic line an independent internal logic. The "stand alone" sound is oftentimes enough to make a strong, effective melodic statement regardless of how it is (or isn't) relating to the harmony over which it is being used. It sounds "right". {see my Thursday, August 18, 2005 post- Bob Reynolds on Garzone's Theory of Major Triads}

4. The triads offer a skeleton structure to base lines on. This can be very helpful in modal settings where there are no diatonic, cycle-forth root movements or resolutions and where each chord change may last a long time (for instance, four, eight, or sixteen measures)"

The applications of this concept are covered in great detail in this highly informative book.

Here is an example of the concept applied to a C melodic minor tonality:

A C melodic minor scale contains the following triads-

Cmin Dmin Eb+ Fmaj Gmaj Adim Bdim

The possible triad pairs are:

Cmin/Dmin__Dmin/Eb+__ Eb+/Fmaj__ Fmaj/Gmaj__ Gmaj/Adim__ Adim/Bdim Bdim/Cmaj

Of these the preferred selections are:

Cmin/Dmin_ Eb+/Fmaj_ Fmaj/Gmaj

These are the chords that a C melodic minor scale can effectively be applied to:

Cmi(maj7) Dsus(b9) Ebmaj7(#5) F7(#11) G7(b13) A-7b5 B7alt

  • One of the most basic triad pairs is Major triads a Whole step apart. This one triad pair is explored exhaustively in Walt Weiskopf's book Intervallic Improvisation (Abersold press). I f you have ever heard Walt play you will hear him use this A LOT! It can be used over ANY Major chord and any Dominant chord with a natural 9th and 13th. These two triad triads contain the following:
1st triad- root, 3rd, 5th

2nd triad- 9th, #11th, 13th

Other triad pairs covered are:
  • Major Triads a Half-Step apart
  • Major Triads a Tritone apart (works well over dominant seventh b9 chords from the root)
  • Minor triads a Half-Step apart
  • Minor Triads a Tritone apart

And on and on.........

Here are is a triad pair idea for a /ii-7 /V7 /Imaj:

Over a- / D-7 /G7alt / Cmaj /

Play- / G triad F triad / Eb triad Db triad / C triad D triad /

  • Here is the same concept applied to a diminished scale (also see my Monday,June 27th post-Slonimsky's Symmetrical Scales-Diminished, Wholetone):

Over a C7b9 chord you can play a- C# diminished 7th chord, a D# diminished 7th chord, AND A, F#, Eb, and C major triads.

All these ideas will open your playing up and break you out of the linear rut that Jazz players often fall into. If you start with some of these ideas and then start adding more outside triads to the mix you can come up with some very modern and interesting lines. Try adding some passing tones between the triads to smooth things out.

I would highly recommend Gary Cambell's Book Triad Pairs to any player looking for new improvisational material. This book will really open up your lines and give you some new ideas for playing over chord changes. It is also good for improving sight reading and technique.

Here is a link to order Triad Pairs for Jazz


Special Function Dominant Chords

Special function dominants are dominant seventh chords that do not resolve down a fifth or down a half step. These dominants have reasonably strong resolutions to tonic Imaj7 chords and can be used by the improviser or arranger as substitutes for V7 chords. Though these special function dominant chords do not have as strong resolutions as V7s or subV7s, they are strong enough to be used as subs for these chords. SFD chords can be used to create a more desired bass line or to harmonize hard to voice melody notes. They can also be used by the improviser to create interesting reharmonized lines over existing chord changes. One thing to keep in mind when you are creating reharmonized lines or chord changes is that you may always precede these SFDs with their related ii-7s.

Here are the Special Function Dominants:

  • I7 this is used in blues progressions as a tonic dominant. It also sometimes resolves to the Imaj7 tonic.
  • II7 this chord is closely related to the bVI7 and the #IV-7b5 (they all share the same tritones). It is normally analyzed as V7/V (secondary dominant function), except when it resolves directly to I when it acts as a SFD.
  • IV7~ used in blues progressions, resolves to a I7. IV7 is diatonic to melodic minor, and has a subdominant function in that context.

Blues context: /C7 /F7 /C7 F7 /C7
Minor context: /C-6 G7(b13)/ C-6 F7/ C-6 /

  • bVI7 ~ usually analyzed as a sub V7/V. When resolved directly to I it creates a special function cadence. This chord is derived from the chromatic harmony of the 19th century. This chord is closely related to the IV- chord, although it is not diatonic to the minor key. This chord is said to have an altered subdominant minor function.
  • VII7 ~this is usually analyzed as a V7/III, except when it resolves directly to I. Since VII7 is not associated with any particular area within the key, its function is simply cadential.
  • bVII7 ~this chord is derived from natural minor and has a subdominant minor function. This is an example of modal interchange. The IV-7 is often used with the bVII7 in a subdominant minor pattern like so: /C- /F-7 Bb7/C- //

How do we apply this knowledge?
As improvisers, we need to be able to create valid and functional chord progressions on the fly. Special function dominants can help us do this.

  • We can add SFDs after V7s, before resolving to I:
/D-7 G7/Ab7 Cmaj7/
This creates a delayed resolution, which is always interesting.
  • We can use them at the very end of a tune for a candenza, right before the last chord of the tune.
  • We can add the SFD's related ii-7 and substitute or add to an existing ii-7/V7/I:

/D-7 / G7 /Cmaj7 / (original)
/F-7 /Bb7 /Cmaj7 / (substitute)
/D-7 G7/F-7 Bb7/Cmaj7 /

  • We can also use them as passing chords to break up a bland Imaj7 section in a tune:

/G7 / Cmaj7 /Cmaj7 / Cmaj6 / (original)
/G7 / Cmaj7 Ab7 /Cmaj7 D7 /Cmaj6 / (with SFDs)
/G7 /Cmaj7 Eb-7 Ab7/Cmaj7 A-7 D7 /Cmaj6 / (with added related ii-7s)

The best way to get used to the sound of the SFD chords is to sit down at a piano or with a guitar and play through all of them. Try playing them one at a time and resolving to Imaj7 after each one.

For example:
Cmaj7 /C7 /Cmaj7 /D7 /Cmaj7 /F7 /C7 /Ab7 /Cmaj7 /Bb7 /Cmaj7 /B7 /Cmaj7 //


Francisco Mela w/ George Garzone

Francisco Mela is a young cuban drummer who is currently living in Boston. Here is a link to his web site, there are some good MP3s of him playing with George Garzone and John Lockwood.


David Valdez w/ Pere Soto & Dan Schulte

Here is the first audio file of my playing on this blog. This is a podcast from my gig last week with Spanish guitarist Pere Soto and bassist Dan Schulte. My personal favorite is the very last tune called Oasis.

All the tunes are written Pere Soto or Lee Konitz.

MP3 file of Red and Black gig


Die Vandoren! See you in hell.

I have been struggling with Vandoren Java reeds for many years now. It's not uncommon for me to go through two or three entire boxes and not find a single good reed. I may find a great reed every ten or so boxes. I have heard that Vandoren has been putting their good cane into the newer brands like V16. Over the year I have tried many different brands of reeds but have never found anything that works as well as Java (when I can actually find one). Recently after getting about three boxes of Javas that were actually green and played like toenails, I decided to keep searching. I ordered some Woodwind Paris Jazz Alto Sax Reeds. These are the Woodwind & Brasswind's generic French cane brand. They cost $7.55 (+shipping) for a box of five reeds. The first reed I took out of the box played like a dream. I hadn't played a reed that good since Javas used to come in those purple plastic boxes in the late 70's. I thought that it might just be a freak occurrence until I tried the second one. It was smoking too!!! Out of five reeds, four were really great and one was just good. INCREDIBLE! Life is good again. The creator loves me. Music is enjoyable again. My voice is back, and there is hope for the human race again. It's amazing how much a bad reed can mess up your life. Good reed=good sound=good music=fulfilling creative expression=good self image=good career=good life. If you don't play a reed instrument you can't understand how this can be true.

I ordered a bunch of these new reeds. I'll going to make a door mat out of all the bad Java reeds I have sitting around my house. I would have a small fortune if I could get money back for every bad Vandoren reed I've ever bought. Die Vandoren!! Don't act all innocent when we write you about green, poorly cut, and stuffy reeds. You know what you're doing. I know you do. You'll pay in the end.


Promoting your gigs

To be a working Jazz musician requires one to constantly be booking and promoting gigs. It's getting less and less common to have steady gigs anymore. The player is usually responsible for doing much of the promotion that the club owner used to do. The club may have an ad in a weekly paper or a listing in the entertainment section, but many times this isn't enough to
ensure a decent crowd. When I was younger I didn't take promoting my gigs very seriously. I just cared about making the music good and pinning down the next gig. If you don't draw many listeners to your gig it doesn't really matter how good you play. You probably won't get many more gigs there in the future. Besides, how much fun is it to play to an empty house?

I've found that posters are not always the best way to advertise your gigs. Postering is expensive and time consuming. If it's a big show that needs promotion, consider having a professional postering company put up 100 or 150 posters. These companies usually charge around 50-60 cents per poster. They have well established routes and know where all the high traffic spots are. They blanket the city in a way that is impossible for an individual to do. If you are going to take the trouble to do this, make sure you have a great eye-catching poster. You should be able to find an inexpensive struggling professional graphic artist at a reasonable price (try Craig's list) if you aren't artistically inclined.

Mass media is the musician's best friend. Make sure you send out your press releases for your gigs about two weeks before they happen. Don't send out promo for a few days before your gig and expect to get media coverage. Make an effort to put together email AND fax lists for every paper and radio station in town. Get promo material to all of them. Make sure your press releases are interesting and short enough so they can be printed or read without needing any editing. Take the time and read some good press releases to learn how to write a good one.

Writing music press releases article

  • Make sure you send a note to the music calendar editors. These are usually different folks than the journalists.
  • You should try to develop personal relationships with the writers and DJs that cover Jazz. Call the papers or radio stations and find out who they are and get their contact information if you can. Don't just send them CDs and promo material randomly. Call them when they're working or write them and let them know that you'll be sending them something. Always follow up after sending promo material. Say that you're calling just to see if they received your package/CD/press release. Make friends with these people, they are invaluable! Send them free tickets to your shows, flowers, chocolate. Try inviting them to recording sessions or rehearsals.
  • Try to get on the radio as a guest before your gig. People's memories are short so do this right before your gig. Many radio stations have web sites and live music listings. If there is a Jazz society in your town, they usually have some kind of newsletter or calendar you can submit to. Craig's List is also free and has high traffic.
  • Get your demo CDs to the DJs to play on their shows. Again, follow up. CDs are expensive.
  • Find out when the outdoor fairs and festivals happen and start working on them six months before they happen. Many times these will be booked by a professional booking agency.
  • Contact every booking agency, caterer, and party planner in the phone book. These are the real money gigs.
  • Work on an email list. Bring a notebook to every gig and make sure to ask the audience to put their email info in it. Trade email lists with other similar bands to expand your contacts. Remember to always put your addresses in the Bcc: section when you do your mailings. This way other people can't get your addresses without your permission. In the past, bands sent out postcards to fans about their upcoming gigs, emails are FREE. Take advantage of this techonology. You also may want to upload your high quality music mp3s to a free streaming server like Music for Dozens.com. Then put a link to the site in your e-mail gig announcements.
  • Get on the phone and personally invite people to your gig. This is much more effective than any other promotion method. People will respond to a call much more to a call than an email.
  • Talk the club owner into offering some kind of food or drink special just for your gig. Use this as a draw in your promo materials.
  • Save every review, blurb and ad about your band for your promo package. If no one is writing about you, ask some established musicians to write a few sentences about your music.
  • People are always more interested in musicians and bands from out of town. Bring in a player from out of town for a few gigs to generate more buzz. You'll be more likely to get more media coverage this way. Set up some private students or a master class to make it worthwhile for them to travel to your town. Many great players are looking to get out of the big cities and have their expenses covered.

If you become a good promoter you can make decent money playing even door gigs. Always give yourself plenty of time to promote gigs. No musician can afford to ignore this important element of the music business. As you start putting some effort into promotion it will get easier. Your mailing list will grow, your relationships with the media will develop and you will begin to draw the types of crowds to your gigs that want to hear what YOU are going to play.


Innovation or Emulation?

I've been slacking off on my Blog for the past week. My arms and hands were starting to bother me from Blogging too much. I've also been formulating a new trajectory for this blog. It is easier to write about the more concrete components of music than the abstract elements. People tend to write more about the 'rules' of theory than about breaking out of the box. I'm going to focus more on the intangible elements of playing jazz.

If you learn all the 'rules' and study what you're told to study, you will end up sounding like someone else. The thing to do is start developing a personal way of playing from the start. This is true innovation. You don't need to develop a new system of reharmonizing two-fives or break out free of time signatures to be an innovator.

When I was young, my drean was to become the next major innovator. I wanted my contributions to reorganize the world of Jazz. My name would be spoken along with Bird, Trane, and Ornette. I wanted to be recognized by musicians hundreds of years from now as a pivotal figure. It's amusing for me to look back on that young aspiring Jazz musician. I still do want to innovate, but that has a different meaning to me now.

Innovation is playing music in a unique way. It's having your own individual voice. You can incorporate elements from other musicians and still be innovative. I think you're an innovator when listeners can tell it's you after hearing just a few notes.

There are many young players today coming out of music institutions with high levels of musicianship and technique. They rarely come out as unique stylists. They usually sound like several of the Jazz greats. Their influences can even be counted on one hand. Sometimes a style can even be traced to a single record by a favorite musician (I heard a tenor player once who had based his entire style on Brecker's 'Cityscapes' album). One of the reasons this happens is that students are encouraged to transcribe and learn licks. This is positively reinforced when they are praised for sounding like Trane, Benson, or Brecker. Audiences usually respond well to this type of playing because it's already familiar to them. Some people say that lick playing is just crowd pleasing and some think that it's respecting our rich Jazz heritage.

American audiences, in general, are focused on the final result rather than the creative process. To me, the creative process is much more important. I would rather listen to sloppy exploration that contains a few gems than to a clean, but derivative, performance. I can accept a fair amount scuffling and kacking if I think the player is trying to go somewhere new. Unfortunately the masses aren't really conditioned to accept this type of musician.

The new crop of younger Jazz players are clean to a fault. They don't usually push for the impossible and they remain content with the possible.

When I was younger I often played out of Joe Pass's Guitar Styles book. Joe's lines were woven through the changes like a fine oriental silk rug. This book got me thinking about longer lines, but I didn't want to play the exact same lines as Joe. My solution was to take a pencil and write crazy alterations right in the book. The original lines were straight-ahead vanilla bop lines. By the time I was done with them no one would ever suspect they came from Joe Pass.

Don't be afraid to learn from musicians who play different instruments than you. This will broaden your style and your sources will be harder to trace. Keep your influences broad. Don't focus too much on any one player.

One of the topics I have written about in this blog is chord/scale theory. This is about finding the correct scale to fit any given chord. If you take this theory as fact you will find yourself limited to a linear and 'un-chunky' way of playing. You will end up sounding clean, but not very personal. One of the 'theories' that we accept in school is that scales can all be defined in one octave and that every octave is the same as every other octave. Music theory is taught this way because it's convenient and simple. In actuality, scales don't have to be limited to one octave at all. They may have a range of five octaves or just a tritone. A flat nine sounds very different when played in another octave and an A=440 is not really an A=880 at all. It's just the note that sounds the most similar out of all the other notes. It has a completely different personality and resonant quality.

Jazz improvisation theory needs to be adjusted for the range of the individual instruments. A baritone saxophone playing upper extensions over chord changes will be dealing with a totally different harmonic environment than a piccolo. Consider the fact that an altered dominant scale may be played differently in different octaves. You might want to try using a Lydian dominant scale in a lower octave and a altered dominant in a higher octave. It also depends on the range of the comping instrument.

Slonimky's book deals with symmetrical scales. The first of these is a tri-tone scale (C-F#-C2-F#2-ect). Eventually he gets into symmetrical scales that span several octaves. The symmetrical scale of 2:3 is a two octave scale that is divided equally into three parts, by minor sixths (C-Ab-E-C2). This is related to the 1:3 scale (c-E-Ab-C2) but it is also very different. Try writing some of your own scales that are not limited to just one octave. Try composing some of your own licks. Playing your own licks is always better than playing someone else's.

The chord/scale approach has a tendency to lock you into playing only the scale notes over a chord. The scale should only be thought of as consonant notes. All twelve notes should be available to you over any given chord. The non-scale notes each have their own 'tonal-gravity'.
They only sound wrong if you don't know where they want to resolve to and you don't deal with them correctly. It's a good exercise to sit down at a piano and play chords while experimenting with every note over each chord. Listen to where each 'avoid' note wants to resolve. Try things like a major third over a minor seventh, a natural 11th over an altered dominant chord, a natural fifth over a half-diminished chord. Be thorough about this process and take notes as you go. Once you realize that you can play anything over anything you will be able to relax a little. You won't be so worried about playing wrong notes because you will have the skills to adapt to any possibility.

Remember that you make the decision to innovate or emulate every single time you sit down to practice.


Jof Lee's Polychord overview

(click on the above graphic to enlarge)

Jof Lee, one of Portland's top pianists, sent me this overview of polychords. I was never sure of how to find scales for polychords. This overview is highly illuminating. Thanks Jof!

Just to clarify exactly which modes of Melodic and Harmonic minor:

~For a polychord with the upper chord a minor second below the lower triad:
F# triad over G triad
*you would play a melodic minor from the third of the bottom triad (B melodic minor)

~If the upper triad is a minor second above the lower triad:
Ab triad over G triad
*play a harmonic minor from the 3rd of the upper triad (C harmonic minor)

~If the upper triad is a Major 2nd above the lower triad:
triad over D triad
*Play a Harmonic Minor scale from the fifth of the lower-triad (A Harmonic Minor)


Communicating with the audience

I wrote about master drummer and composer Lawrence Williams in my July 12th post.
This video was shot a few years ago while he was living in Portland. In this clip Lawrence talks about how a musician should relate to the audience, whether in a club, concert hall or studio. He also talks about his experiences working with Marcus Belgrave and Nancy King.

(click the 256Kb MPEG4 link on the left under Download. Try updating to the latest verion of Quick Time if you have problems watching the video)


Writing sets- the bigger picture

Tim Price just sent me a link to a good article he wrote on his Blog about writing sets. As a bandleader this is very important. Players usually don't learn to do this well until they have had many years of experience. A well thought out set can really engage an audience and a poorly planned set can turn an entire room cold as ice. As Tim says- PRACTICE WRITING SETS. There are some guidelines for set writing that are good to be aware of.
  • Vary the styles and tempos of the tunes- Mix it up! There are times when it is nice to do a set of different styles of Latin tunes, then a swing set, then Blues and groove set (for when the crowd is drunk). This is the format of most club date or wedding bands.
  • Don't play tunes in the same key back to back. This is sometimes cool if the styles or tempos are different enough. Of course Blues or Rock bands do not follow this guideline. I sometimes play with a Blues singer who does EVERY tune in F. If possible have each key move down in fifths or stepwise (this is perceived by the audience at almost a subconscious level).
  • Start out the set with something that is comfortable for the musicians, so things lock in. Save your really hard material for when the band is warmed up.
  • Sometimes it's alright to start or end the set with a ballad. You might end the set with a Ballad if the second to last tune was a scorcher and you want to cool the audience down.
  • Be ready to change up your set on the fly depending how the crowd reacts. You may need to wake them up if they're getting too chatty.
  • If you're playing a gig for wealthy older caucasions, play every tune at 160bpm (businessman's bounce tempo) and segue between every tune with a 3-6-2-5 vamp into the next key. Just kidding. This is exactly what many NYC high society bands do.
  • Write sets that feature different instruments in the band and vary the solo order. Start with a bass solo or a bass melody once in a while.
  • Take the time to work on your set lists before you get to the gig and try to think them through in your head. Try to think about how you will feel after each tune. Keep old set lists that worked well for future reference.
  • Ask your players if they have any tunes they want to play before the gig so you can work them into the set seamlessly. Otherwise you'll have a harder time working them in on the fly.
  • Pick a few alternate tunes before hand.
  • Pick tunes that you sound good playing on. This seems obvious, but I often make the mistake of putting hard tunes that I don't know as well as I should in the set for the sake of novelty. I often overlook tunes that I know very well and sound good playing on for these newer, harder tunes. Don't overlook great tunes just because everyone else plays them.
  • Consider changing the style or meter of an overplayed standard. You might try something like playing 'All the Things' as a waltz or the 'Nearness of You' as a double-time feel Samba.


John Stowell- the Ultimate Road Warrior

John Stowell is one of the last true stylists. No one else on the planet sounds like he does. He is also a modern traveling minstrel. Over several of decades he has developed a network of clubs, coffeehouses, and colleges extending over most of the continental United States. He is no stranger to Canada and Europe either. John books everything himself and he travels alone in his little Toyota. He is on the road more than half the year.

Stowell likes playing music as much as anyone I've ever met. He is always up for playing, always. If he's in town and he's not working, he'll play. He was one of the first musicians that I hooked up with when I moved to Portland. We played many gigs and sessions together. He often calls me to come sit in when he has one of his in town gigs. I love playing with John because his ears are huge and his sound is so beautiful.

He hears everything you play and reacts to it. His melodic and harmonic concept is so heavy and he adapts to any situation perfectly . It's hard to describe John's playing because it is so unique that there's just no one to compare him to. He even holds his guitar differently than most guitar players.

Like his playing, his personality is also highly refined. I've never heard him say a bad thing about anyone. He is a strict vegan and he never drinks or smokes. You really couldn't be more of a gentleman than John is.

I figured that this post was in order because of the comments by one of his students about Stowell's harmonic approach. His concept is so advanced and I've always wondered how he thought about harmony. All of his lines sound so rarified, and etherial. They swoop gracefully from the top of his axe to the bottom. His time seems to float like a hummingbird.

Once we were playing a duo gig at a supper club and I started complaining about the meager pay. He said to me,"Well, we're not in this for the money are we?"
This comment perfectly describes Stowell's attitude about music.

"In the age of mediocrity and clones, John Stowell's uniqueness and originality is a breath of fresh air. I love playing with him."- Paul Horn

"John Stowell plays jazz, but the doesn't use any of the cliches; he has an incredible originality. John is a master creator" - Larry Coryell

"...can make an electric guitar sound like a singing voice." - Nat Hentoff

"More guitarists would play like John Stowell if they knew how" - Herb Ellis

"He plays his amplified guitar as if he were surrounded by fine crystal...the type of slow burning, sustained energy that you hear in players that practice all the time." - Down Beat

"Stowell played beautifully, combining his trademark creamy chord voicings with long, sinewy phrases." - Seattle Times

"...darkly singing understatements..." - Down Beat (record review)

"Stowell made his electric guitar sing beautifully, displaying all the virtosity that has brought him to the jazz world's attention in recent years." - Coda Magazine, Toronto

John's homepage
Doolin Guitars
Origin records
Stowell's instructional videos
MP3 interview
PDF transcription of Stowell's solo on 'Prelude to a Kiss'
CD baby MP3s of Stowell and Chris Woitach's Live CD
CD Baby MP3s of his 3 guitars live at the Jazz Bakery CD
CD Baby MP3s of Cheryl Fischer w/Stowell

Harmonic Theory and Just intonation

Here are a few more esoteric music theory links.

This stuff is dense, but give it a chance. It will open up your entire musical perspective. Musicians used to be taught the philosophic and mathematical foundations of music as part of their education. Music wasn't always just for cocktail enhancement and booty stimulation.

Harmonic Theory and Just intonation
Syndex:A synergetic perspective on number dynamics -written by my close friend Iona Miller
Ancient concepts of number
Islamic musical theory
The Just Intonation network
Just Intonation Explained

Rudresh Mahanthappa- Hindustani Jazz

I met Rudy in NYC and played a few times with him. I had never heard anyone quite like him. His sound was reminiscent of an India Nagaswaram (the double reed oboe like instrument). He is influenced by Grossman and Steve Coleman. Add to that mix a Hindustani flavor, mixed meters and blistering tempos and you have a different sound. His playing is interesting and fiery. I don't think I would ever go in that direction but you can't deny that Rudy is burning.

Here's his bio from his web site-

Named a Rising Star of the alto saxophone by the 2003 and 2004 Downbeat International Critics Poll, Rudresh Mahanthappa is one of the most innovative young musicians in jazz today. By incorporating the culture of his Indian ancestry, Rudresh has fused myriad influences to create a truly groundbreaking artistic vision. As a performer, he leads/co-leads five groups to critical acclaim. His most recent quartet recording Mother Tongue on Pi Recordings has been named one of Top Ten Jazz CDs of 2004 by the Chicago Tribune, All About Jazz, and Jazzmatazz to name a few and also received 4 stars in DOWNBEAT. This CD reached #8 on US jazz radio charts and reached #1 on Canadian jazz radio charts. As a performer, Mahanthappa has achieved international recognition performing regularly at jazz festivals and clubs worldwide. He has also worked as a sideman with such jazz luminaries as David Murray, Steve Coleman, Jack DeJohnette, Samir Chatterjee, Von Freeman, Tim Hagans, Fareed Haque, Vijay Iyer, Howard Levy, David Liebman, Greg Osby, and Dr. Lonnie Smith. As a composer, Rudresh has received commission grants from the Rockefeller Foundation MAP Fund, American Composers Forum, and the New York State Council on the Arts to develop new work. Mahanthappa has his Bachelors of Music Degree in jazz performance from Berklee College of Music and his Masters of Music degree in jazz composition from Chicago's DePaul University. He now teaches at The New School University. Rudresh Mahanthappa currently lives in New York where he is clearly regarded as an important and influential voice in the jazz world."

Reviews and MP3s
Jazz Times article


Reed Adjusdment Chart- Sax lessons.com

Reeds have the power of life or death over me. They determine whether I will be joyous or desperate. In short, they control my life. If I added up all the money that I have wasted on bad reeds, it would probably be enough to buy a medium sized yacht. Many times I have written reed companies after a particularly bad period of reeds. They always act surprised, like they don't know that their quality control sucks and that all their reeds are so green that they would grow leaves again if you left them in water too long. Die Vandoren!!!! I haven't found any other reeds that work for me other than Vandoren Java 3 1/2s. I just ordered some different reeds today from Woodwind and Brasswind because I have spent sixty dollars since I last found a good reed.
It's time to break down and get out the ol' reed knife, reed rush and sandpaper again.

Here is a good reed adjustment chart. I think it's from Larry Teal's book.

Tim Price on the LCCOTO

Tim Price has been a Blogster lately. Here is what he had to say on his Blog about the Lydian Chromatic concept and slash chords (great stuff Tim!):

Speaking of George, here's some food for thought.In George Russell's "Lydian Chromatic" you get this same scale sound by playing the "Lydian Augmented" scale built on the THIRD of the
dominant 7th chord (in other words, play an E Lydian Augmented on your C7). It gives you the same pitches as the "Altered Scale" described above.The thinking is a bit more focused with the Russell- via modern stuff. I feel. BTW, I find the Lydian Chromatic way of looking at things extremely useful, particularly when looking at chord voicings. Most extended chords can be
boiled down to some kind of Ma7 chord over a bass note. Sometimes the chord is a Ma7b5, sometimes a Ma7#5, sometimes a oMa7, but it can almost always be seen as some kind of Ma7. Once you figure out what chord you're really dealing with, the Lydian Chromatic thing becomes really easy. It also gives you a way to pivot into a whole bunch of nice substitutions.

Without referencing the LCC it's a very good idea to look at the ways that the various chord types can be voiced as one of the maj7 family of chords.
1 3 5 7
1 b3 5 7
1 3 b5 7
1 3 #5 7
1 b3 b5 7
1 b3 #5 7
1 4 5 7
All of these intervallic structures share the characteristic of the maj 7th interval which becomes a min 2nd interval. Players like Bill Evans and writers like Oliver Nelson and Gil Evans owe their style in no small way to voicings that lots of tension in them often achieved by selecting chords that have min 2nds on the inside voices and or maj7 intervals
somewhere in the chord. Just imagine how any one of those maj7-type chords would function with a different note in the bass.

Cmaj7/Db: sort of Dbdim-ish but not a commonly used sound
Cmaj7/D: D13sus4
Cmaj7/Eb: sort of Eb7#5(b9,13)-ish
Cmaj7/E: just an inversion of Cmaj7
Cmaj7/F: Fmaj7(9,#11)(no3rd)
Cmaj7/F#: D7(11,13)
Cmaj7/G: just an inversion of Cmaj7
Cmaj7/Ab: Abmaj7#5#9
Cmaj7/A: Am9
Cmaj7/Bb: Bb9(b9,13)-ish
Cmaj7/B: just an inversion of Cmaj7 or B7sus4(b9,b13)
Cm(maj7)/D: D13sus4b9
Cm(maj7)/E: Cmaj7#9/E

Donny McCaslin- a very big shadow

The entire time I was in school studying music I was always in the shadow of Donny McCaslin, from seventh grade until my junior year at Berklee. Sometimes it was a little hard on the ol' ego, but mostly it was inspiring and motivating. If I would have gone to almost any other school in the country I would have had a bit more glory. Donny kept me humble and always pushed me to be a better musician. He is still one of the most humble and down to earth musicians that you could ever meet.

Every time our high school band would go to a Jazz festival competition our last tune would be Cottontail, an up-tempo Ellington rhythm changes. Donny would rip up about twenty choruses at 320 bpm and the entire house would go nuts. I mean they would jump to their feet, start screaming at the top of their lungs and wouldn't stop for about ten minutes.

No one had ever heard a high-school kid who sounded like Donny. He blew away most professionals by the time he was about seventeen years old.

How did he do this?!
Was he born ripping Trane lines at 350bpm?
Were his ears and reflexes just superior to the average human being's?

NO, he just practiced like a madman. For many years he put in as many hours a day in the woodshed as was humanly possible, and he still does to this day!

Donny's been paying his dues in NYC since about 1989 or 1990. His first gig out of college was Gary Burton's band, then he took Brecker's place when he left Steps Ahead (this was Donny's dream band). He is now one of the top call sidemen in New York and has recorded several CDs as a leader as well.

He's worked with Flora Purim and Airto Moreira, Monday Michuru, George Schuller's "Circle Wide" with Ingrid Jensen, Pat Metheny, Dave Douglas, Brian Blade, Tom Harrell, John Pattitucci, Billy Hart, Bebel Gilberto, Eddie Gomez, Alexander Sipiagin, William Cepeda and Afrorican Jazz, Santi Debriano's Circle Chant, George Gruntz, Luis Bonilla, Hector Martignon, Willie Colon, Roberta Pickett, Eric Mingus, Jason Linder Big Band, New York Voices, Gil Evans Orchestra, Mingus Big Band, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Ben Monder, Adam Rogers, Antonio Sanchez, Gene Jackson, Clarence Penn, Dan Weiss, Eric Mcpherson, Ben Street, Hans Glawisnig and James Genus, Jon Cowherd, and George Colligan.

Donny has some of the most amazing technique that you will ever hear on the saxophone. He also puts a lot of time into figuring out new ways to play over changes. He draws from contemporary saxophone etudes, figuring out how to apply them to Jazz improvisation. You can tell that he's trying that he's trying to develop his own original style. He has a very distinctive sound and approach to improvising.

I was lucky to have Donny play with my Latin-Jazz quintet when I was in New York. I miss hearing the latest things he's working on. He always has some wild ideas that he's developing.

His lastest release as a leader is really great. It has many different styles of music. He wrote some very interesting material for it.

Here is a transcription of Donny's solo on 'Along Came Betty'
Page 2 of 'Along Came Betty (this was transcribed by Kenny Brooks)
All ABout Jazz Article
Vermont Review interview

Free music software- Shareware Music Machine

A great web site for free music software is:

Shareware Music Machine site

Music tuition
Ear training
Music Calculators

F-R-E-E is for me!


Yogic breathing for musicians

Playing a wind instrument requires serious breath control. Anything you can do to help you develop this control is worth investigating.
While living in Santa Cruz I spent some time studying Yoga and Vedanta with master Yogi Baba Hari Dass. Hari Dass has been practicing Yoga since he was eight years old and he hasn't spoken a word for fifty-three years. Yoga isn't for everyone, but there are some simple breathing exercises that anyone can benefit from. If you happen to play a wind instrument they can be of immense value. These breathing exercises (or Pranayama) can help increase both control and capacity. They also calm the mind and balance the bodily functions. If you try these four exercises you will immediately notice some positive results. A calm mind is highly desireable for all musicians. So even if you don't play a wind instrument these Pranayam are worth checking out. They are entirely safe.

The Four Purifications
These can be found in Baba Hari Dass' book the Ashtanga Yoga Primer

1. Nadishodhana (alternate nostril breathing) - Gently exhale all air. Close the nostril with the thumb of the right hand, and inhale slowly and deeply through the left nostril. Close the left nostril with the ring finger, releasing the thumb, and exhale through the right. Inhale through the right, then close it with the thumb and exhale through the left. This makes one round. Begin with ten rounds and gradually increase to forty.

2. Kapala Bhati (skull shining) - Exhale and inhale quickly and lightly through both nostrils. Emphasize the exhale, letting the inhalation come as a natural reflex. After one series of exhalations, which should last no longer than one minute, rest and breathe naturally. Then repeat. Begin with three rounds of thirty exhalations each and gradually increase to ten rounds of sixty exhalations.

3. Agnisara Dhauti (fire wash) -Inhale, then exhale all air. While holding the breath out, pull the diaphragm up and toward the backbone; release it suddenly. Repeat this in-and-out movement rapidly as long as the breath can be held out without strain. Then inhale gently. Start with three rounds and increase gradually to ten, begining with thirty pulls and increasing to sixty in each breath retention.

4. Ashvini Mudra (horse mudra) - Inhale completely and hold the breath. Contract and release the anal sphincter rapidly and repeatedly. Hold the breath only so long as the following exhalation can be slow and controlled. Begin with three rounds of thirty pulls each, and increase to ten rounds of sixty each. (note: I call this the 'loaf pinch' mudra. It sounds freaky, but it is very powerful)

More about Pranayama
About Ashtanga (8 limbed) Yoga
Talks with Hari Dass (blackboard conversations really)
19 Rules for Self-development


Bob Reynolds-From Smooth Jazz to the Fringe

I must admit that for me Smooth-Jazz is right below Country&Western if I had to rate my favorite types of music. I usually call it 'Weiner-Jazz' of 'Fuzak'. It always seems like the players think that the closer to Kenny G they sound, the more money they'll make. It just doesn't usually seem authentic to me, like the musicians are 'dumbing down' their playing to sell records. I obviously have a very strong prejudice against this style of music. Then Bob Reynolds read my post about NYC Jazz musicians to say that it was spot on. Bob is a young saxophonist carving his mark in the Big Apple. He sent me a link to his web site where I listened to his MP3s. There were a few Jazzy tunes on there but most were 'Smooth Jazz', or to be more respectful 'Jazz Funk'. Bob sounded great. Big fat sound, great technique, perfect intonation, and great time. As I was listening to one of the tracks Bob broke into some double-time lines. He sounded like Garzone playing Smooth-Jazz!!!! Crazy. Even when Bob is blowing over typical Smooth-Jazz grooves he's always creative and fresh. He doesn't ever stoop to playing stock R&B saxophone licks. He sounds like he is really hearing whatever he plays. He just put up some new MP3s on his site yesterday and one of those was a live trio recording of him playing Trane's 26-2. It was SLAMMING!

Bob sounds a lot like Chris Potter and George Garzone. He also reminded me of John Ellis and Kenny Brooks (probably because of the Garzone connection). I could tell immediately that Bob had studied with George. Bob told me that he took lessons from him for four years at Berklee.

Here's what Bob wrote me about his studies with Garzone:

"So, Garzone....by the time I got to him, I was a strong player highly influenced by Potter — and Lovano was creeping in, but George blew away all my preconceptions. I was never a ‘lick’ and ‘pattern’ player, but I was always looking for the perfect stuff to play over changes, and Garzone starts coming at me with all this “You can play major triads connected by steps over anything...” stuff, and I’m like, “No. You can’t do that!” But I stuck with him for four years and forgot how to articulate and play swung eighth notes (instead playing them straight but behind the beat). Then there was Hal Crook who introduced me to the world of thematic/rhythmic development and stretching the time.. So by senior year I’m wide open as a player (sort of) and playing all the “baddest” shit ...but I’m also in the inaugural edition of Walter Beasley’s “Smooth Jazz Ensemble” !!! What a ride, man. But that’s me. Much as I enjoyed various “smooth” artists early on, I now find 99% revolting (got a soft spot for some Kirk records) and never actually listen to any of them. But, there is an element of r&b/funk that’s deeply ingrained in my musical sensibility

So, now, after 5 years of marinating in NYC, it’s all just turned into different parts of me. I could never really imagine cutting one part out forever. I enjoy trying to bring a bit of each to any musical setting I’m in. Garzone gave my mind the freedom to let go, but the foundation came from all the other guys."

I just might start checking out that adult-contempory station again...........


The amazing Pere Soto!

I ran first into Pere Soto at a jam session at Clyde's Prime Rib here in Portland. He was in town for a few weeks before going back home to Barcelona. He blew me away. Besides having massive chops he was astoundingly creative. Pere would sound bluesy one second then boppish, then he would sound like he was playing contemporary classical. His Brazilian playing was even happening! The were no boundaries for Pere Soto, it was all improvisation. When I browsed his web site I found that he does a Django project in Europe called Django's Castle. He has some interesting digital art on his site too. I sometimes feel trapped out on the west coast. It seems like all anyone wants to play is very inside traditional Bop. Then there is the other extreme here with the totally free players. I like both, but miss the more modern eclectic approach of the East Coast and Europe. Pere is back in town for a little while and is a refreshing addition to the PDX Jazz scene. Let's hope he decides to stay. His site has some great videos that will blow the minds of Django fans. He even does the two finger Django thing on a few of the videos.

Pere Soto, Dan Schulte and I will be playing a trio gig Thursday, September 1st at the Red and Black Cafe (2138 SE Division St., 231-3899), from 8-10pm.

Pere will be teaching a master class :
The Seven Secrets of Jazz Improvisation
Saturday, August 27th at Day Music Company
Recital at 12:30 (Recital only - $5)

Humdrum, daylight things most musicians think when they play

My buddy Robert Moore was going through boxes while unpacking and he came across this clipping from the New Yorker somewhere around 1980 - one of their "Profile" series, but unfortunately he didn't have the info to ID who is speaking, exact date, etc. Nonetheless, here's an interesting tidbit.

"Last evening wasn't bad at all," he said as he worked on his hands. "I played well, and somewhere around eight a whole bunch of jazz fans came in, so I played for them until after nine. The only trouble was that the hammer of the G above middle C broke, but I doubt whether anybody noticed. Once, the English pianist Harold Bauer gave a concert in San Francisco, and an F-sharp got stuck just after he'd begun his last piece. He struggled with the note, trying to disguise that from the audience, trying to keep it from ruining the piece, trying to get through. When he came offstage, his manager said to him, 'Harold, I've listened to you up and down the world for twenty years, and that last piece was the most moving performance I have ever heard.' Which means that audiences are rarely on the same wavelength as performers. In fact, two very different things are going on at once. The musician is wondering how to get from the second eight bars into the bridge, and the audience is in pursuit of emotional energy. The musician is struggling, and the audience is making up dreamlike opinions about the music that may have nothing at all to do with what the musician is thinking or doing musically. If audiences knew what humdrum, daylight things most musicians think when they play, they'd probably never come."