Roy Okutani's thoughts on music

Roy Okutani is a great trumpet player that taught at Berklee during the time I was a student there. He now lives, teaches and performs in Sweden. He recently ran across this blog and sent me this paper that he gives to all of his new students. Roy has quite a mystical philosophy about playing music, you might even say that music is his religion. Enjoy!

Thoughts about music, expression and discovery of one’s personal voice/individuality.

I have so many thoughts and ways of looking at the same things that it’s often difficult to summarize everything. It’s also challenging to put on paper, thoughts that aren’t meant to be concrete. Perhaps I need to search my thoughts for the reason I’m trying to put together this paper. It is to share something with you. Sharing means to give without wanting or expecting anything in return. What I could want in return for this sharing could be admiration, thanks, appreciation, respect... But, to write this paper or do this presentation or to play a gig, or to practice or to session or to teach with that agenda would hinder me from giving or passing on to you knowledge that comes from beyond my brain.

If it doesn’t come from my brain, where does it come from? I think that love/God/nature/the force/consciousness is the source of this knowledge. I have a thought that what I would like to do in music, teaching and my life is to express and communicate this force. To do this means, I think, to realize my connection to it and to also realize what hinders my realization of this connection.

Music is an expression of you. Music is an expression of your greatness. You are great because you are love. It’s not about being great because you have great lines, great time, and got Coltrane changes together… Your music is great because you are love. How do we realize this?

To realize is to Listen. What is listening though? To hear sounds? To hear chords? To hear rhythms? To hear swing? To hear lines? To hear the other instruments... Yes, to some degree, that is listening but the listening that I’m referring to isn’t so concrete. It has to do with all of the above but also about listening to feelings that you hear in the music being played and also to be aware of your feelings that are being created or inspired in you as a result of the music you are listening to. It is listening with your heart. Your heart is not about hearing concepts. It is about feelings and intuition. Grow little ears on each side of your heart and experience the listening that occurs. When listening to oneself, it is to listen with the realization that you are listening to the greatness which is you, which is love.

The Gary Valente Story:
20 years ago, I was a graduate student at New England Conservatory of Music. A few of the graduate students got a gig doing a whole day clinic with a high school music program. We were also lucky enough to have the great trombonist/musician Gary Valente with us. At that time, Gary had already been playing with Charlie Haden, Carla Bley and Steve Swallow. Anyway, we got to the high school and upon hearing the students, I thought... oh, oh... this is going to be a long day. There was very little groove, very little lines, very little understanding of form and harmony. I thought that there was very little music. We did the morning session and it felt like a long morning session. During the break, I met with Gary and he forcefully grabbed my arms, shook me and said, “wow, don’t these kids play great!! I haven’t heard this much music in a long time!!” Needless to say, I was a little dumbfounded, as I had thought exactly the opposite. But this was Gary Valente so there must have been something to it... I didn’t get it that day though and I pretty much totally forgot about it until 20 years later. For some reason, I remembered the incident like it was yesterday, but unlike 20 years ago, I understood what Gary must have heard. He heard in these beginning improvisers, music, (unhindered by conceptual good/bad, swinging/unswinging, lines/no lines) and the expression of love. He heard their excitement, their expressions, their individuality... their connection to love. Gary could and does listen with his heart. To himself and to others.

Here are more thoughts about how you could approach practicing listening with your heart:

1. What does the music make you feel? Don’t talk; express it through your playing!

2. Listen to the melody and play it how it wants to be played. Listen to it’s own expression with your heart and express it through the playing.

3. Listen to the melody being played by you and express through your playing, the feelings that are being evoked by your playing of the melody.

4. Allow the melody play you instead of you playing the melody.

5. Let the music play you instead of you playing the music.

6. Be in the music.

7. Become the melody that you are playing.

8. Realize that you (love) are the melody that you are playing.

9. Learn the text as it can help and enhance your heart’s perception.

10. Play/Sing the text. The text can enhance your heart’s perception as the text deals with feelings. Sing the text and the feelings that it inspires through the instrument

11. Play Ballads and listen to each note, realizing that your greatness (love) is being expressed by you, through you.

12. Be aware of what you are saying by listening and being aware to meaning of what you are saying.

13. Improvise with space so that you can reflect and be aware of what you are saying.

14. Sing! Singing tends to be less intellectual and more from the heart.

15. Play what you sing…. Your instrument is an extension of your heart’s (love’s) expression. Try avoiding singing what you play.

Magic Stones:
Imagine a lake with a beautiful surface that is still and silent. Under the surface of this lake are magic stones, which are scattered just under the surface. You cannot see the stones but you will use them to “walk” across the lake. You don’t know where to take your first step, as you cannot see the stones. Nevertheless, you step and you find a stone under your foot. By being totally in the moment and aware of the stone, it magically tells you where you should place your foot for the next step. While being in the moment and aware, the stones tell you where to step as you “walk” across the lake. Over a blues, you will improvise and sing half notes. By being totally in the moment and aware of every half note, every half note will tell you what note to sing next. While being in the moment and aware, you allow yourself to be played by the music. You can do the same thing with quarter notes, limited improvisation and total freedom. This exercise is about being aware and in the moment. By being aware and in the moment, you are not ignoring the love/greatness that you are. Yet another benefit of this exercise is that it takes you out of your routines, which can lessen awareness and listening.

When you listen to yourself with love, all parameters (time, lines, flow, harmony, melody, rhythm, imagination, spontaneity, creativity) work better without trying because you are aware and playing from the space of love/God/nature/force/consciousness. Instead of playing from your brain.

Living/Playing from love creates awareness and Living/Playing from fear creates separateness. Playing from separateness produces lots of parameters to be aware of: time, flow, motivic development, shape, drama, etc. Playing from love needs only awareness and all parameters take care of themselves.

When playing in an ensemble, focus on yourself. That seems contradictory to what we have been told about ensemble playing and relationships. What I mean though is to be focused lovingly on yourself. To be aware that you are an expression of your greatness which is love. To take care of and appreciate this greatness so that it is expressed. When we play and live from this space, we are open to ourselves (love), which makes us open to others, and all knowledge and skill that comes from our greatness, which is love.

This is very different from focusing on yourself because of fear. This is definitely not the kind of focusing on yourself that I’m talking about. To be into yourself trying to play good because you’re out to prove your greatness by demonstrating your knowledge, skill and expression is an example of fear based focusing. Fear is about learning to control something that doesn’t need to be controlled and/or about developing something that is already developed and/or about creating an understanding that is already understood. Fear means you should but love means you are. Realize who you are and take care of it. It is love.

Duo Exercise:
2 musicians, one “instrument”. One is the player of the instrument and the other is the receiver/instrument. The player improvises half notes with awareness. She is aware of the love that she is as the half notes are being sung. The receiver improvises with limited improvisation and expresses the feelings that the receiver feels from listening to the player’s half notes. The player, as she is open to the love that she is, is also open to the feelings expressed by the receiver. Her half notes are being played by the receiver. Both players become/are the player and the receiver because they are open and aware.

Our means to change the world or to play well in the ensemble situation is to realize the love that we are. With this realization come communication, openness and awareness, which are important elements in ensemble playing.

Express, not impress Share, not want Give, not take What’s it all about? Love Awareness of Now In the moment. Free from shoulds, what was, what ifs. Now.
Here are some thoughts about the distractions from realizing our connection to love:

Attachment to external worth things isn’t unusual in a society that promotes the measurement of worth through external measurements. Hip lines, hip rhythms, wide intervals, hip harmonic concepts, melodies, sound, hip car, money, success, power, knowledge, beauty, chops, respect, admiration, understanding.... are some of the things we attach ourselves to when we don’t realize our connection to love. If we realized our connection we wouldn’t need to attach ourselves to what we have, what we do or what we want. We would be what we are which is love. Concerning the external things, there is really nothing wrong with these things by themselves. They become problems when we attach ourselves to the concept that these things are a measure of our worth. It’s okay to have these things but to get attached to them contributes to the problem of not realizing our connection to love.

When I don’t feel self worth, I can work towards the collection of external worth things such as knowledge, hip lines, complicated rhythms, rhythmic feel, money, fame, respect, admiration, nice car, nice house, beauty, clothes.... or I can work towards realizing my self worth because I am connected to love.... because I am love. It’s strange with external worth things. No matter how much I might accumulate, I always fear that it’s not enough, as I always fear that I might lose them. My connection to love is what I already have and it is impossible to lose.

Conceptualizing and trying to understand the concepts surrounding the realization of love is yet another hindrance. I am often... very often tempted to conceptually understand the truth of love. Partly because it has become my existence to communicate with others but I also desire to understand because I’m afraid that if I don’t understand something, I won’t have it. The problem with this stuff is that one can’t hope to have the realization of one’s connection to love as a tangible entity to have. It exists outside of the conceptual realm. In fact, the conceptualization only takes one further away from the direct experience of love. Direct experience is now without the distractions of conceptual thinking. Being in the music is now. Being in the now is being in the music.

When external worth things start to matter to me. For example, when I am afraid of not being respected or not admired or not important or when I feel I need hipper lines and hipper rhythmic concepts, these are signals that I am not realizing my connection to love. These signals are to be appreciated as they point to the fundamental problem of not realizing my connection to love. From these signals, what I do and what I am proposing is to just be aware that I’m not realizing my connection. Just awareness, nothing more. No self-degrading, no happiness, no nothing, just awareness and back to realizing my connection.

When I start to get bored with music, or music is not fun, practice is not fun; these are also signals that I am not realizing my connection to love. Again, it’s just awareness that I’m not realizing my connection and then back to awareness of my connection. Awareness with music is about listening.

Creativity and Creative Musicianship
When we moved to Sweden 8 years ago, I had an idea for a course that dealt with how I worked with music. Learning tunes by ear and singing, working with the metronome, working with rhythms, piano, rytmik, improvisation were some of the topics covered with the idea of using these activities as a way towards awareness and connection to love. I needed a name for the class and since people tend to get attached to and limited by names, I searched for a name that wasn’t so specific. Creative Musicianship became the name for this class. The name wasn’t so specific and it implied that music would be dealt with in a creative way. It was a good name then but I’ve now realized that it’s actually even hipper than I thought. Meaning that creativity is about creating from the space of love/God/consciousness/the force/nature... the “real” creative force. What I’ve been proposing is that we learn about music and life from this force and in turn, it creates through us.

Why are these thoughts important to me? We live in a world of fear and through my music, my teaching and living; I hope to inspire a loving outlook. It is all too easy to live in fear but I am experiencing more and more the awareness of living in love. This awareness is what I want to share.

Final Thoughts:
These thoughts are about discovering your personal voice, your individuality (Although it really isn’t you that you are discovering and expressing. It is love.). There are thousands of very skilled and good musicians who communicate their craft but are lacking in communicating love. While they are good, they aren’t fully expressing their specialness. When you fully express your specialness, you are an artist. An artist expresses Love. An artist, by the way doesn’t have to play and instrument, hold a paintbrush or spin a ceramics wheel. An artist is simply one who fully expresses love. We have artists who clean the floor, install fireplaces and straighten teeth. It’s not what we do that separates the artist from a non-artist. It is the non-ignoring of the love that we already are that makes us an artist. If the world were full of artists, there would be no fear. Without fear, we have peace. We as artists have the power to inspire the world to live in Love. Through our expression of love, others will be inspired to not ignore our greatness. While we are blessed with an opportunity to share our greatness however, it is important that we realize that these thoughts be not used for personal or egotistic gain. For, the use of these thoughts for gain only increases the suffering that we seek to escape.

Everything in this paper can be debated and everything can be misunderstood. The truth though is not debatable and not misunderstood. It does not however exist in this paper. The truth exists in you and I... love.

These thoughts are not my thoughts. They come from all of us.... love. Sometimes, I say that I don’t really know what I’m talking about and it is true because what I talk about comes from beyond my brain... it’s from love.

Roy Okutani
02 11 27
Åkarp, Sweden
Copyright © 2003 OkutaniMusik

Roy Okutani was born and raised in Hilo, Hawaii but currently, he finds himself in Östersund, Sweden. At Birka, Roy teaches Creative Musicianship, Ensembles, Improvisation, Reflections and is the leader of the jazz department. Roy has been very active as a teacher and musician since arriving to Sweden in 1994. He has taught at the music university in Trondheim, Norway, Skurups Folkhögskolo, Fridhems Folkhhögskola and at the music academy in Malmö. In addition, he was a key element which created and developed the jazzprofil at Birka. Before coming to Sweden, Roy was a professor at Berklee College of Music from 1983-1994. Roy´s performing experience includes playing and recording with Orange Then Blue, Gunther Schuller, George Garzone, Tim Hagans and many others. Roy´s teaching focuses on developing and encouraging the artist´s relationship with music and their true selves. He encourages students to experience the music, instead of a mental identification of the music. By encouraging students to experience their true selves, Roy hopes that musicians can inspire listeners and other musicians to realize their true selves.

Roy Okutani's MySpace page


Free Jazz lessons: Matt Otto's new web site

Matt Otto has a new web site and he's posted some very good lessons on there.

He has lessons on topics like: reverse 13th arpeggios, augmented scales over dominant chords, spread triads, minor ii-V7s, and rhythm changes.

Nice stuff Otto.

Matt Otto.org


Joe Henderson talks with Charlie Rose

A conversation with jazz musician Joe Henderson

Reply to Josh from the comments of the previous post

I started to reply to Jazz pianist/educator Josh Rager comment from the previous post and I just got kind of carried away. He does make some good points and my reply is wildly rambling and not even totally directed in response to his comment. I think this deserves a post of it's own though.

Josh Rager said...
"I totally agree with your advice on juicing the "city" for its inspiration. However I disagree with your prediction that the music business is on the verge of collapse based on a gluttony of young jazz school graduates. Personally I have only observed that institutionalized jazz education has served more to train teachers and audience members than jazz musicians. Degrees are a pretty poor indicator of career success in this field. Jazz education and being a jazz musician will always be separate (but perhaps slightly overlapping) fields."

My reply:

I don't know what city you live in Josh, but in all the major cities that I've spent time in over the last two decades I can say with utter certainty that there are a lot less Jazz rooms today than twenty years ago. Even up here in PDX in the last 10 years since I've been here there has only been a steady decline, no 'cycles' as half-full types like to say. Just a downward trend, it must be a good 75% decline in the last ten years here.

The schools keep churning these kids out every year. Now, I'm not saying that Jazz education is a bad thing, in theory at least, but are the school really preparing these newly minted graduates for the economic realities that they're going to find waiting for them? How about a double major in Jazz performance and catering, or maybe a Jazz comp/barista degree? That would be a bit more realistic.

Since you seem to have found teaching gigs at some of these Jazz schools you probably have a different perspective about the scene than the kids who you are graduating. What would your life be like if you had to survive solely on gigs? It used to be possible to raise a family playing music, not so much these days.

Maybe being a Jazz professor is the only stable Jazz career that there is right now? Just look back thirty years ago. There were tons of touring band gigs out on the road all year long for young players to cut their teeth on. There were house bands in hotels and clubs all across the country that had steady incomes, sometimes for many years at a time.

Who's the biggest employer of musicians in the country (or at least in Las Vegas) now? Probably Circ Soleil! Even Cruise ship musicians are getting the axe right and left.

How much were musicians making for gigs thirty years ago? Same as they do today! Things have changed in a big way over time, and not for the better.

Personally, I am having a great time playing exciting gigs and feel that my teaching is highly rewarding. I'm making more bread with music than I ever did in the past and I haven't had a day gig in years. It is possible to be a professional musician/teacher, but it also doesn't hurt to marry a white-collar wife. :-)

So kids, don't marry a painter, dancer, writer, actor or another musician- unless they also happen to have a teaching gig at a nice Jazz conservatory. Then you just might be able to actually afford to go to a doctor when you need to.

I think that Greg Sinibaldi is right on when he notes that Jazz schools don't teach students to become artists. Shedding won't get you there. You need to actually be able to play and listen to true masters of the art of Jazz night after night in order to learn the ART of Jazz. Those are the opportunities that are getting scarcer as each year passes. Some schools are lucky enough to have masters teaching at them, but players still need a chance to play with bands that are on a high level. Chops are easy to come by these days, but profound musical ideas are usually not nurtured in the woodshed.

The most difficult thing for me about the current situation in my city is that ever though there are some world-class players around, it is really hard to develop a project and keep a band together in order to really work out material over time. I can get younger players to commit to putting in time to rehearse enough to work out difficult shit, but the final result is never as good as using seasoned pros. The guys that I want to work with are too busy hustling their asses off to support families. I can't ask them to rehearse a bunch without some nice paying gigs on the horizon, and even then...

Back in the 70's in a place like NYC you could make your rent by playing just one gig a month. This gave cats the luxury of playing sessions all the time in the thriving loft scene. Now, if you're paying $1,000 for a share in NYC it'll take you 20 gigs at $50 a pop.

All that I ask is that we just be frank with our young students about how much the financial realities of a Jazz career have changed, and are changing. I just don't think that these kids are getting much straight advice about what they're getting themselves into by majoring in Jazz performance and taking on a massive amount of debt to pay for it.

Berklee now costs as much as Harvard. Holy shit! How do you think a Harvard grad's earning power compares to a Berklee grad? WTF is that about?! $40k a year and four years later you can play Countdown changes like a champ, but you now make about $12k a year (if you're lucky). Hey, if you go on and get a doctorate in Jazz (at a good school) to the tune of about $220k all told, then you can make a fairly decent salary and think about maybe retiring one day.

OR...You can go to a two year community college to study nursing and as soon as you graduate get a gig starting at $45k/year and never worry about being out of work again for the rest of your life…AND in two or three years you'll be bumped up to$6k!

I know that if I had kids I would think twice about putting out $160k to send my artistic brat to Berklee.

"You get a FULL RIDE to Berklee like I did or else you're going to be learning to check blood pressure and empty bed pans at the local community college. On your off nights you can play your $50 Ska gigs and try to sneak in some bop licks on your solos."

If I had kids, oh, how they would hate me.

Josh, I don’t think that a glut of Jazz grads are the sole reason for the bleak situation we’re all in right now, but it can’t be helping things much. It's simple supply and demand, the kids are messing up the supply and the old Jazz fans who are taking their dirt naps are messing with the demand. The Jazz audience is aging too fast and even the legions of failed Jazz saxophonist turned Bop loving file clerks can’t replace the old fans fast enough. If degrees are poor indicators of career success then those students in Jazz schools are sure wasting a shitload of cash getting degrees. Even if these failed careers never get off the ground, the graduates certainly still flood the labor pool of working Jazz musicians for a few years (which helps to keep wages low) until the time comes that they have to get real jobs in order to pay off their mountain of debt.

When Jazz schools fail to inform students about the quickly changing realities of the music bussiness it is called Strategic misrepresentation, or good old fashioned lying. Would you pay $120k to get a four year degree in typesetting? How would you feel when you graduated and then realized that typesetting is obsolete? More realistically- if you could only made $50-$75 a night and you could work two or three nights a week as a typesetter if you were lucky? Hey, but you get a couple of free drinks on the job and 20% off the happy hour menu. Am I starting to sound jaded now?

You know that it’s a bad situation if Eastern Europe is starting to look like a better place to make a living as a Jazz musician than here in the States. Kids, you’d better start appreciating goulash and peirogis!

I wouldn't trade careers with anyone though. I still love being a Jazz musician and I have a better attitude and outlook than I ever did when I was younger (though you wouldn't know it from reading this post).

Josh, please just encourage your students to switch majors....to something in the medical field maybe?

Now I just sit back wait for the blogosphere to erupt and look forward to the deluge of comments .


A letter to a student at a Jazz Conservatory

Here is part of a letter that I sent one of my students who recently moved out east to study at a major Jazz school in the New York area. I thought that it was worth reprinting because it contains a lot of advice that I wish that someone had given me when I was a student at Berklee.

"I'm glad you're enjoying school. It sounds pretty exciting. In fact I just had a dream last night that I was back at Berklee. In the dream I told myself- "this time I'm not going to get distracted with a girlfriend". What a huge distraction that was. :-)

Mr.X (major tenor player) sounds like a teacher that you need to be more pro-active with. There are a lot of great players out there that aren't as organized as teachers. You can still get a lot out of lessons with them if you as a student take more initiative. This means being more prepared for your lessons and not being so passive. Transcribe your teacher's solos and then ask them what they were doing, or you can ask them how they approach specific tunes or types of changes. If I were studying with X I would try to find out the what his approach to reharms is. He has some very cool harmonic devices that he uses.

In general you just need need to be more self directed and self motivated when you get to college. There just usually isn't anyone there to ride you and to make sure that you're being productive. You need to take more initiative and research things on your own with the help of what I'm sure is a great music library. I regret not copying as many arrangement as I possibly could when I was in school. Start copying or scanning whatever interesting stuff you can get your hands on- tunes, charts, transcriptions, harmony books. You'll be so glad you did after you get out of school.

It's all the things that you took the initiative to learn and weren't assigned that you'll really appreciate after you graduate. Don't make the mistake of just accepting the curriculum the school gives you as being your only option. You could go into the city and take classes with Barry Harris (only something like $15 a class at School of the Streets), or you could save up and go take a private lesson with about anyone that you may like, or you could find out when good master classes are happening at the New School, MSM or NYU, or you could go watch an open rehearsal of the Vanguard band. But whatever you do- MAKE SURE YOU GO SEE THE FRINGE WHENEVER POSSIBLE!!!! There's no better Jazz group than the Fringe and you'll regret not seeing them as much as you could once you leave NY.

Jazz isn't about grades, so don't let that mentality keep you from doing whatever is possible to get better as a player. You're not there to get good grades or even graduate ( which are of course nice things to do, but not the reason you're going to school). You are there to become BURNING. All night practice sessions should be the way you spend most nights. Try to listen to everything on that hard drive. Fall asleep with headphones and listen to X all night long every night!!

You are there to try to prepare for a music career and it's a brutal world out there right now and it's only getting worse. You simply cannot just sit back and accept that the school is going to teach you everything you'll need to have a successful career. You need to work harder than all of your peers and when they're partying you should be shedding. What you're doing there (going to college for Jazz) is a fairly insane proposition to begin with and the percentage of students there that will actually end up as full-time professional musicians is abysmally low. You seriously do not want to get out of school and have to take a shit job because you don't have a gig and absolutely no marketable skills.

"Would you like fries with that?"

The music business is on the verge of a total collapse. This is something that they probably don't tell you in school. The colleges are churning out more and more young players with Jazz degrees every year and the number of gigs is drastically declining. This formula is not promising to say the least. If you want to make this happen then you're going to have to work harder than 99% of your peers, because only the top 1% achieve any measure of success at this thing. Even if you end up having a good Jazz career you will most likely end up working at something other than performing, so you've got to make yourself marketable in other areas as well.

Working as a musician is rewarding, but you need to understand the reality of the situation that you're going to find yourself when you get out of school. Don't fall into the trap of assuming that everything will just work itself out once you get out of school. You have four (or more) years to start working on your career before you'll have to support yourself. Don't wait until you get out before you start working on your website, putting your book together, making connections, thinking about making a CD, writing original music, and presenting yourself as a professional. Hit the ground running or you stand a good chance of falling flat on your face and into a job in the wonderful field of food service.

I hope this letter has motivated you and not discouraged you. You just need to make yourself better than everybody else and you will be fine. This is completely possible, but it will take discipline, motivation, focus, and a little luck.

Good luck! DCV"


WTF: Pops sings Pharaoh's 'The Creator Has A Master Plan'

Yes, it's no joke.

This is from the great Avant-Garde Jazz site Destination: Out

"We tend to think of Armstrong and Sanders as inhabiting entirely different universes, but one of the interesting things about the late 60s and early 70s was the generational overlap of so many key jazz figures. But rarely have worlds collided in more unexpected and almost hallucinatory ways.

The mere concept of this track smacks of the most clueless sort of commercial pandering. For some reason, it brings to mind Jackie Gleason’s LSD trip in Skidoo (check out the Youtube clip here). Did Louis really need this so late in his career? Initially, we wondered if producer Bob Thiele didn’t foist this track on Armstrong at gunpoint.

But… but… but… the surprising thing is that the music isn’t so bad. In fact, it’s an interesting concoction. There’s a solid arrangement by Oliver Nelson and check out the list of stellar musicians above. And to his credit, Louis doesn’t seem nearly as out of place as you might imagine

LA, vocals; Leon Thomas, vocals, percussion; James Spaulding, flute; Kenny Burrell, guitar; Sam Brown, guitar; Frank Owens, piano; Richard Davis, bass; George Duvivier, bass; Gene Golden, congas; Bernard Purdie, drums, plus strings."

The Creator Has A Master Plan


Master Class videos on Banddirector.com

There are quite a few interesting videos on Banddirector.com, including a bunch of Bergonzi improvisation workshops.


Fourths Practice Template

Nat Kline wrote some very helpful exercises to practice fourths after he saw Dan Gaynor's Fourths Exercise. Nat designed a template that covers the entire range of the saxophone (or flute depending on where you start). He calls it a 'template' because he meant for the player to play through it while adding different key signatures each time. If you're ever tried to practice fourths you'll know that it is sometimes confusing when you come to the bottom or top of your range, because it can be hard to determine how to turn around smoothly. By adding your own key signatures you are also forced to think rather than just reading through the exercise on autopilot. Often improvisers get stuck in the rut of playing either horizontally or in thirds, ignoring wider intervals like fourths, fifths and sixths.

Fourths Practice Template


IMAGINE THE SOUND-Tim Price's Improv. Workshop

(From Rico's Facebook with Rico artist Tim Price)

In this lesson, I’ve taken an in-depth approach to give you all some information, new ideas, ear training, and fresh approaches to this form.


Pick out a few licks that you like and that lay well for you that you can hear. Now, think of how your favorite player such as Sonny Rollins might play this lick articulation-wise or how Lester Young might play one of these licks very legato and behind the beat, or from a rock frame of mind, how someone like King Curtis, Gene Ammons or Cannonball might play these.

There are infinite ways to take all these licks and patterns and make them your own and, as I always say, get an ACTIVE MENTAL IMAGE of the sound you want this phrase to have and start to shape it. Also, another technique is called... IMAGINE THE SOUND.

Imagine how one of these dominant 7th blues licks might fit somewhere else. Hear the sound in your head, then try to apply it. This can be a very subliminal approach that will come out in your playing when you least expect it.

These are just a few little ideas that everybody can start to get a personal technique on these blues licks with. Last but not least, try to play them by ear in other keys. The possibilities are endless.

A lot of lines are self-evident..."I just played the blues scale..." but a lot of them aren't. As an example (a very simple lick and line, but interesting to analyze) is #17 of my Blues Phrases & Licks. While it appears to be a simple chromatic climb from the root to the 9th and then a b9 to contrast against, there are more possibilities for the improviser to think about:

a) This is a G blues scale over a C7 -- so you can borrow blues scales from a 5th above. This helps connect lines through blues changes. Once you get used to this, you can even use the blues scale from the b3 (Eb in this case)

b) The "interior" line here is D-Db-C -- so when you think about playing a line, you can aim at each of these notes in succession and you'll get a coherent blues line. This means you can jump away from each of these note, play around, and come back to the altered (chromatic) note, and continue along. You get intervallic lines, but with a nice chromatic, linear signpost for the listener to grab.

c) Displacement of the accented note; the Db (flat 5 in the g blues scale) appears on the 3rd beat, but you can experiment with putting the unaltered note on the beat and the flatted note off the beat. You get interesting contrasts as you go back & forth (similar to what happens when you play consecutive triplets using the same 2 notes).

This next study, is a fun and "hands on" study in making the ii-v sound bluesy and funky.


#1. ON Dmi7 ... Blues scale off the root.

#2 ON G7...Blues scale off the 5th ( same as Dmi )

Just check the scale degree, and listen.Many times there's some built off the 6th of the chord. Everyone from the old blues guitar players to Keith Jarrett have used this.I've heard Gene Ammons use things like this on pop tunes or Jimmy Forrest lay stuff like this down behind singers.All the r&b and rock guys use this as well.

It's universal, and...a nice way to add your touch to the chord via some inflections from the blues scale. Cannonball, had this going on big time.

Check them while jamming with a friend,or against various Aebersold tracks, and put them to use.At first keep it simple.Listen,make motifs you hear, and make the music FEEL good. Play these...and keep the sound in your mind and ear. Good luck!


Music should inspire, also uplift the soul. Keep this in mind as you perfect your music.

Till next week, thanks. I hope your path is filled with untold vistas and knowledge as you practice this week!



Musician Wages.com- The website for working musicians

I ran across and interesting site called Musician Wages.com. It's all about the business side of making music, from ideas for hustling new gigs to motivating musicians as a bandleader. It's worth checking out.

Musician Wages.com


Tom Garcia's neck mod

A while back I wrote about my buddy Tom Garcia's neck modification. Right about the time I wrote about this Tom left town to spend the summer in New Orleans and touring Europe, so he wasn't able to make neck mods for anyone. Tom wanted me to let my readers know that he's back home and ready to bust out some of his special neck mods. He charges $100, but if you don't like how the modification sounds he'll give you back $50 (since each neck ring is custom fit).
Tom says:
I did one on this guy's horn last week and it worked great. He had a Yamaha Custom and a Springer mpc and he wanted to play in bands with electric guitars. I know his setup isn't great, but it was the exact setup we were talking about. A darker mpc that didn't project. When I put the piece on, the horn got ballsier and louder. He was very happy. I think tenor might be the best horn for this mod."

Contact Tom Garcia at: garcia.thomasb@gmail.com


Allard/Dempsey Overtone exercises

Regular reader David Wells, a smoking tenor player who teaches at the University of Maine at Augusta, sent me some overtone exercises that Dave Dempsey adapted from Joe Allard's overtone routine. You can hear Michael Brecker demonstrating some of these exercises in the Berklee master class that I posted a while back.
These exercises really force you to play with no pressure, and make you deal with forward/back jaw position ("covered" and "uncovered" as Allard called it).

I believe that overtone exercises are the fastest way to develop full control of your sound. They isolate jaw and upper oral tract positioning like nothing else can. They pay off by giving you a bigger sound, more control of intonation and timbre, and a more centered altissimo register.


John Nastos & Clay Giberson's Duo Chronicles

Portland saxophonist John Nastos is doing something quite interesting with pianist Clay Giberson. They'll be recording one tune a week (mostly originals) in HD video for an entire year and posting everything on the web. This is a novel and resourceful way to get their music heard in an era when decent Jazz venues are but a distant memory.

Duo Chronicles web site

You can subscribe to the Duo Chronicles here.


Quotes about Jazz

My buddy Joel Frahm posted a bunch of great quotes about Jazz on his MySpace blog.

Quotes about Jazz


You GOTTA BE ORIGINAL Part 2- by Tim Price


The point here is to emphasize what Rilling calls the "architecture" of the music. For example, the way Pablo Casals varied the tempo according to what he was trying to convey. Indian music and jazz are much in the same.

Hopefully, what's going to be remembered, I hope, is going to be the intertwining of the present living person whoever it is, whether it's Casals or Tim Price, YOU ,Ray Pizzi, Claire Daly or Lester Young in the context of the art form, its tradition, its future, its present, and that whole mixture together. I have great respect for the "tradition," the rules, and playing it within context and everything, I think it's great, but…what are YOU creating as an offering.

Try to think the term "syntax" , which means a vernacular, a way of speaking. This music is speech and dialect. And there is a way of speaking. A common form and feeling. The vibe of a sax player who walks the bar and a guy cross legged in India in a trance blowing –It’s all the same- they BOTH are after the same thing. It’s…that THANG…that place the music goes.

Like that groove that exists in R &B AND Jazz and Indian ragas.In essence, we really have something called the language, the syntax, the vernacular, and it's immediately transferable to personal creation anyway. So in jazz, the art form itself says you're supposed to individualize it , that's the point . All that's understood, but your goal is not to repeat or to objectify this thing. It's to take it and have it be a living thing that you put your personality on. The goal sould be- to try to bring a spiritual dimension to the music.Be it some booty shaking funky jazz, a swinging standard or your agenda.

I feel that the music speaks absolutely louder than any dogma, any words can speak at all. And in the end, the music is connected- there's a great book by Hazrat Inayat Khan of the Sufis. <> It's about how music ties into the "realms" and everything like that. It's just an understood, it's a given.

In my thinking it is an artist's duty is to try to get in touch with that vibe through his work. It's the work and it's the art that will do. SO.. it's freedom, individual creativity !! Not button pushing nor trying to sound like the flavor of the month or the guy on a DownBeat cover.Nobody can be a better YOU than YOU. It is obviously possible, as many do, to improvise within certain stylistic or other constraints.<> While this is perfectly valid, and while it transcends such constraints, such as simplicity vs complexity, tonal vs atonal, intellectual vs intuitive, and so on. A step towards music-making where all possibilities can be genuinely embraced.There is a strong sense in which this really is playing music. Approached like this, it unlocks the natural, spontaneous creativity within each participant who lets the process flow deep and operates simultaneously on many levels. This is a very liberating experience and is often found to be therapeutic as well. It feels good to start from zero, or just be you.

So this is what's going on now, what I'm thinking about, kind of a PART 2, to last weeks rico blog;

I hope you enjoy it-

Peace and goodwill to you all, Tim Price
( Forum Admin for RICO REEDS )


Bill Anschell's Treatise on Careers in Jazz

Seattle pianist/humorist Bill Anschell just send me his newest treatise on Jazz. This one perfectly details every possible career path of a Jazz musician. Bill is painfully spot on and always hilarious. The world of the Jazz musician has never been more meticulously and accurately portrayed. You'll be laughing when you read this thing, but you'll really feel like crying.

Which one are you???

Career's in Jazz

Bill Anschell's web site


Intuition and Imagination- Tim Price blogs for Rico

Tim Price has been blogging for Rico Reeds on MySpace and Facebook for a while now. He has written some very interesting stuff that is well worth a read. The article below is his most recent post about the higher states of consciousness reached by improvisers.

"Tim Price here for RICO REEDS, This is what is on my mind as we go into the end of August.

Using your intuition and feelings when improvising is most important be it at the most advanced level or just a basic beginner. To thoroughly approach this as an art form and something that has deep meaning is most important. The masters when they played, be it Johnny Dodds or Sidney Bechet or Bud Powell on through the greats like Wayne Shorter or Charlie Mariano all came from a very deep place. At times, this place is something that you must go to in a natural way. Nothing cosmic about it, it's almost like a trance. It's almost like when your telling someone a story and you close your eyes and you're taking them somewhere with you. Art Pepper wrote a song about this called "The Trip." Stan Getz called this frame of mind the "alpha state."

Whether its experienced in dreams, altered states, or simply sitting in solitude, the artist must be aware of the visionary realm. In Buddhist culture and other forms of spiritual thought, this is called the "third eye." It is the sixth in the series of energy centers in the body known as Charka. The sixth Charka contains and controls knowledge, intuition, and perception. Inherent to any of these philosophies of the "third eye" is recognition and attention paid to the source of human creativity. This human creativity can be one of the deepest subconscious forms of communication in the world. Opening your thoughts to the unknown realms of your own imagination. Many times musicians inquest to unlock the force behind this theory of the eye has shadowed their colleagues throughout ancient history. In my humble opinion, the subconscious travel that one can take studying Buddhism or any of those particular forms runs a very strong parallel to the stunning body of work of many jazz saxophone players.

How many times have we witnessed a player deep in a trance way beyond the environment he is in, whether it's a club, or a concert or just in a corner practicing? He's in another space for sure! What I have experienced is a kind of network between the people improvising (a mental network you could say) where many are connected and there is a kind of dialogue going on without any words being spoken.Like the great bands of Miles Davis or Wayne Shorter or John Coltrane.

I'm pretty sure that many times, a person sitting cross-legged in deep meditation is in the same spiritual space as a tenor sax player behind a bar with a screaming organ trio and his eyes closed...playing from the deepest spot in his soul. What I'm getting at here is nothing cosmic or nothing too whacked out...what I'm trying to bring your attention is music needs all the imagination from an individual it can get. When unconscious-unspoken communication, traveling at the speed of thought, becomes the only or at least the truest form of communication, you just know everything is clicking just like it should ... the energy is like a ball and bounces around through glances and body comunication.It is awesome, it's the inner spirit of your mind in it's highest form.

At this point in time in jazz, everything seems to be published and everything seems to almost be written down. We are in a great educational state. But where are the people who are really reaching within and trusting themselves to their own creative muse? This is the element that I am addressing here. As a student of music, take some time to think about using your intuition. As Bird said, "First you master the music, then you master your horn, then you forget all that shit and just play!"

We need to keep that in the front part of our minds and make that a slogan similar to the many people who look to their "third eye." As you see, I'm trying to point out a parallel in creative paths. It's not easy. But it is easy when you bring it into your own consciousness and try to practice these aspects. Sure, licks, lines, inversions, and all that good stuff is of paramount importance. But let us not forget to keep the magic in the music.
Give all that you have and you shall receive more than you can imagine experiencing when playing jazz!

Your gratitude empowers others to play even better. Remember fear destroys the souls ability to create. So start now and use the power of love to encompass all your decisions so fear has no room to exist in your life. Remove fear from your thoughts and you remove and limitations. All is illusion and all illusion is yours to control. So be connected. Everything happens for a reason. Chance is limited to a coin. Decision is limited to free will. We are limited to our decisions.

So decide to burn and get down with the music you love. Decide to bring something to the music.

The word is ~ imagination !!

See you next week- and thanks."

Tim Price

Rico Reed Facebook page


Telling a Story- Joel Frahm Master Class

Last week I was in the Czech Republic teaching at the Prague International Summer Jazz Workshop. It was an amazing experience all the way around- teachers staff, students, the city; everything was fantastic. The two other saxophone teachers just happened to be two of my favorite saxophonists on the planet. The first, Joel Frahm, is a rising tenor star on the NYC scene. The first thing that attracted me about Joel's playing was his sound, which to me is the ideal tenor sound. The recordings that I'd heard of Joel before the workshop sounded very good, though a little tame. I wasn't prepared for the monstrous saxophonist that I head in person. Joel really has it all; huge warm sound, ridiculous technique, hard swinging feel, total awareness of tradition, melodic sense, expressive ability, and modern post-bop facility. He's also warm, generous and entertaining guy. Hanging with Joel, and the other teachers, for a week had quite an effect on my teaching style and on my musical concept in general.

The other saxophonist was a Hungarian alto saxophonist from Budapest named Kristof Basco. I had run across Kristof's MySpace page about a year or two ago. After listening to the pages of literally hundreds saxophonists from all over the world I found Kristof to be one of the most interesting alto players I had ever heard, easily my favorite cat in all of Europe. Kristof studied at Berklee about 10 years after I did, spent some time in NYC and then moved back home to Budapest. He thinks like a composer when constructing his solos, building them thoughtfully and slowly. He's one of the few players to really have a complete awareness of motivic development. His tone is dark and rich, one of the few guys with what I consider to be a real alto sound.

I plan on doing interviews in the future for this blog with both of these saxophonists, so keep checking back.

Joel gave a very inspiring master class during the workshop called Telling a Story. I think it was definitely one of the most interesting master classes I have ever attended. Angus Grundy, one of the students in my combo class, recorded it and then made detailed notes on time markings and topics.

Telling a Story- Joel Frahm's Master Class
Notes to Joel Frahm's Master Class

Joel Frahm's home page

Czech Jazz Society
Paval Wlosok photography.


The Minutes Go Like Hours When You SIng

Here's a very funny song about that singer who always wants to sit in on the gig. This is a classic.

The Minutes Go Like Hours When You Sing