Weekend Picks

I’m a little late today posting my weekend picks. I’ll make it up to you by posting one more than usual today.

VictrolaHave you ever wondered Why Nerdy White Guys Who Love the Blues Are Obsessed With a Wisconsin Chair Factory?

Paramount is this incredible label that was born from a company called the Wisconsin Chair Company, which was making chairs, obviously. The company had started building phonograph cabinets to contain turntables, which they also were licensing. And they developed, like many furniture companies, an arm that was a record label so that they could make records to sell with the cabinets. This was before a time in which record stores existed. People bought their records at the furniture store, because they were things you needed to make your furniture work.

Transcribing music is one of the best things you can do for all around musicianship. It helps train your ear, writing it down improves your sight reading, you develop expressive nuances in your own playing, and it helps you develop a vocabulary for improvisation.

Kathy Jensen’s signature laugh with transcription. She has endless licks and can laugh in any key. She’s also a killer sax player.

Her laughter is infectious. You can check out more about Kathy Jensen at www.hornheads.com.

If you’re a jazz musician or a fan of jazz jam sessions you’ll recognize what Bill Anschell has to say about jam sessions. Consider, for example, the vocalists you run into at jam sessions.

Vocalists are whimsical creations of the all-powerful jazz gods. They are placed in sessions to test musicians’ capacity for suffering. They are not of the jazz world, but enter it surrepticiously. Example: A young woman is playing minor roles in college musical theater. One day, a misguided campus newspaper critic describes her singing as …”jazzy.” Voila! A star is born! Quickly she learns “My Funny Valentine,” “Summertime,” and “Route 66.” Her training complete, she embarks on a campaign of session terrorism. Musicians flee from the bandstand as she approaches. Those who must remain feel the full fury of the jazz universe (see “The Vocalist” below). IH: The vocalist will try to seduce you—and the rest of the audience—by making eye contact, acknowledging your presence, even talking to you between tunes. DO NOT FALL INTO THIS TRAP! Look away, your distaste obvious. Otherwise the musicians will avoid you during their breaks. Incidentally, if you talk to a vocalist during a break, she will introduce you to her “manager.”

Read a whole lot more at Bill Anschell’s Jazz Jam Sessions: A First-Timer’s Guide.

On a more serious note, I found Bob Gillis’s discussion on trumpet embouchures to be fascinating. I have some minor quibbles with a couple of his points, but those are based on the perspective of an upstream embouchure player. I’m guessing that Bob must be a downstream embouchure type (not a wild guess, the majority of brass players are). Here’s a sample.

By then stopping the incoming mouthpiece weight when it first contacts this ideal preset of the embouchure, the player will have taken all of the steps to create the best possible seal before involving any action of the embouchure musculature. This extremely close proximity of the mouthpiece serves as a great reference…meaning it will clearly reveal what specific gaps still remain, and what exact shape the embouchure must assume to complete its interface with the mouthpiece. This embouchure “sandwich” (like the filling of the Oreo cookie) between the mouthpiece rim and teeth (with their irregularities) must fulfill much more than a role of a seal or gasket though, for it also functions as the instrument’s reed and facing (the top and bottom lips, respectively). That means the act of sealing the interface between mouthpiece and teeth formation must be done in a way that does not disrupt the vibration of the top lip, but that instead increases the efficiency of its vibration. This efficiency is achieved by also simultaneously focusing the size and shape of the lip aperture, all the while making sure the top lip is as relaxed as possible.

Read more on his post, The Landing: The Final Focus and Seal. It looks like he has a lot more interesting stuff there which I will need to look through more carefully later.

And lastly, the Mnozil Brass will be touring not too far from me in February. If you’re not familiar with them, they are incredible musicians and also very entertaining performers. Here is their performance of Lonely Boy.

Joe “Tricky Sam” Nanton’s Solo on East St. Louis Toodle-Oo

When performing with the Low-Down Sires, a traditional jazz group, we frequently decide (either collectively or individually) to perform the solos off of recordings rather than to improvise our own. We recently added Duke Ellington’s composition East St. Louis Toodle-Oo (Harlem Twist) to our repertoire and I really enjoyed the trombone solo on the recording. We all thought this would be a good one for me to play the recorded solo on, so I transcribed “Tricky Sam” Nanton’s solo from it.

It’s got a couple of interesting things on it. The opening lick is cool for the motive he played with a three note melodic idea superimposed over different parts of the first couple of measures.

Nanton Lick 1

Nanton also plays around with some chromatic passing tones on his solo break, specifically a passing tone between the 5th and 6th notes of the major scale and then the 2nd and 3rd notes. This chromatic passing tone usage would become pretty common with bebop musicians and sometimes is called a “bebop scale” today. For example, a major scale with the passing tone between the 5th and 6th notes is frequently called a “major bebop scale” and a major scale with a passing tone between the 6th and 7th notes is sometimes called the “dominant bebop scale.” Here is Nanton’s solo break.

Nanton Lick 2

It’s a short, but very tasty solo. Click here to download a PDF of the whole thing. As always, I recommend you at least double check my accuracy here and let me know if you spot any errors. It’s best to do your own transcribing, since you’ll learn the whole stylistic language (articulation, vibrato, swing feeling, etc.) as well as develop your own ear much better that way.

Bill Harris (?) Solo on “Blues on Parade”

I just finished a quick solo transcription of a trombonist soloing on “Blues on Parade.” I was helping Tad out with this transcription and he thinks it must be Bill Harris from Woody Herman’s Live, Volume 2 album (which seems plausible to me, but I don’t have the entire album and the album credits). Here’s the transcription I did (pdf here).

Bill Harris solo Blues on Parade

It’s a simple solo, but swings hard and was played with a lot of energy and excitement (just like Bill Harris usually played). There are some elements of tailgate trombone style in there with some of the bends and glisses. Note the use of a lot of rhythmically simple quarter notes and lots of silence throughout.

Does anyone out there have this album and can confirm that this solo was played by Bill Harris?

Lou McGarity’s Solo On “King Porter Stomp”

I’ve recently begun playing with the Low-Down Sires, a dixieland group based out of Asheville, NC. I have always enjoyed playing dixieland, although I hadn’t been playing a whole lot of it lately, so it’s a lot of fun to be playing it again regularly. One of the things I really appreciate about this group is that everyone makes a serious effort to play in the style. There’s nothing worse than listening to players who don’t play stylistically correct, regardless of what genre of music they’re performing.

One of the tunes we’ve been playing that’s been giving me some trouble is Jelly Roll Morton’s King Porter Stomp. This tune is challenging for me to solo over, in part because of the changes (it starts on the IV chord, not rare but somewhat unusual), key (Ab major, not too hairy, but a little tricky if I’m not focused), and bright tempo. Taken together, it’s not usually a big deal for me to adjust to these changes and tempo, but I keep finding myself wanting to bop over it. In order to give me some ideas for a more stylistically correct approach I decided to transcribe Lou McGarity’s solo over this tune and get inside it a bit.

There’s a couple of things in it I find interesting. McGarity uses a lot of Ab major pentatonic over it, but with some added passing tones between the 5th (Eb) and 6th (F) as well as a lower neighbor passing tone to the 3rd (C). Here’s an example from the first 4 measures of his solo.

McGarity 1

The Ab major pentatonic scale (Ab, Bb, C, Eb, and F) provides a nice sound to blanket over this chord sequence (which makes up most of the solo changes). The chromatic passing tones (E/Fb and B/Cb) give it a little more color without sounding to bopish in the dixieland style.

McGarity recorded this solo in 1951, quite a while after the tailgate trombone style evolved, but he plays some of the typical glisses and long notes in this solo. Somewhat unusually, he also shows off his solid upper register by screaming a high Eb in this solo. Here’s an example from last 8 measures of the second chorus.

McGarity 2

If you’d like to see the whole transcription, you can use this link. As I always like to recommend, you shouldn’t trust my transcription for complete accuracy. For one thing, I’ve only approximated some of the glisses and smears McGarity plays. If you don’t really listen closely to the sound you’re going and try to learn this solo you’re going to miss a huge part of the style. Here’s a YouTube video I found of this recording, but be aware that the sound was sped up so that it is playing back a half step higher. You can buy this track here.

Hard Days Night Chord Solved

The opening chord from the Beatles’ tune A Hard Days Night has been infamously difficult to transcribe by fans wanting to recreate the sound. I have a book of complete Beatles transcriptions that lists this chord as a Gsus4/D. In 2008 a mathematician, Jason Brown, used a Fourier analysis to accurately transcribe the opening chord.

What he found was interesting: the frequencies he found didn’t match the instruments on the song. George played a 12-string Rickenbacker, John Lennon played his 6 string, Paul had his bass – none of them quite fit what he found. He then realized what was missing – the 5th Beatle. George Martin was also on the record, playing a piano in the opening chord, which accounted for the problematic frequencies.

What did he find the chord to be?

George Harrison was playing the following notes on his 12 string guitar: a2, a3, d3, d4, g3, g4, c4, and another c4; Paul McCartney played a d3 on his bass; producer George Martin was playing d3, f3, d5, g5, and e6 on the piano, while Lennon played a loud c5 on his six-string guitar.

 

Hard Days Night Chord

For fun I took the pitches in this chord and used them to compose a melody and then wrote a short fugue using that melody as a subject (because composing fugues are what I do for fun). It’s in the style of Hindemith, not a baroque style fugue, so I had some fun with dissonance. Here’s a MIDI realization of it. Listen for the Beatles quote near the end.

Jazz Transcription Hub

I recently learned about a cool site put together by Varun Singh with a number of jazz solo transcriptions of a bunch of different instrumentalists.  Jazz Transcription Hub  has 38 different solos available for download.  Most so far are trombone transcriptions, but it looks like there’s a lot of potential for more to be added in the future.  Go over and check it out and if you’ve got a transcription or three available, consider uploading it and adding it to the mix.

Jazz Trombone Transcriptions by “bobilleg74”

My friend Alan Greene, who plays with me in the Asheville Jazz Orchestra, told me about a great YouTube channel by “bobilleg74.” Bob has has 29 uploads of jazz trombone solos and his transcriptions of them.  There are a handful of solos I’ve already done and several I’ve not heard before.  There are also a few he’s done that were solos I’ve been thinking about transcribing myself.

While it’s tempting to just learn the solos from Bob’s transcriptions (and I’m sure I’ll end up just stealing a lick or three this way), I’m still planning on working on some of those transcriptions myself at a later date.  The benefit from transcribing isn’t just learning what notes and rhythms a great soloist improvised, but training your ear and learning the style through focused and repeated listening.  It’s neat to then compare what you came up with to someone else’s transcription.

Check out this great resource here.

Chick Corea Solo Analysis by Don Glanden

Check out the below video created by Don Glanden, who teaches at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, PA.  It’s an detailed analysis of Chick Corea’s improvised solo on his composition 500 Miles High.  It’s an excellent discussion of an amazing solo.

The University of the Arts currently has 73 videos uploaded on their YouTube page.  I’m going to have to look through them carefully for more gems like this one.

Thanks to the Ottowa Citizen Jazz Blog for spotting this one!