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The past couple of months have been busier than normal for me, but busy is good. When things slow down a bit, hopefully soon, I will be getting around to more regular updates again.
In the mean time, I will be performing at My Lindy Kraze in Huntsville, AL this weekend, Friday January 15 and Saturday January 16, 2016. If you’re a swing dancer come on out and dance along to the Low-Down Sires. If you are in the area and were looking for a lesson or just to hang out and grab coffee or a beer drop me a line. I will have some down time on Saturday afternoon.
In my business being too busy to do much blogging is a good thing. So in lieu of something more interesting today, here is a rundown of some of the various happenings around here.
The most exciting news for me is that I have taken on administrative duties with MusicWorks! Asheville, now serving both as a teaching artist and site administrator for the program. MusicWorks! is a El Sistema inspired program of the Asheville Symphony Orchestra. I like to describe El Sistema as social activism through music education. We are a free, after-school music program that specifically targets at-risk children. Our goal is to teach them important life skills through teaching them music.
Tonight, Monday August 31, 2015, is the final night of the weekly Speakeasy Mondays series that have been held at the Dirty South Lounge in Asheville, NC. I’ve been performing there with the Low-Down Sires from 9 to midnight almost every Monday for the past three months. It’s been neat to see the event get built up from just a handful of swing dancing friends of the band into a pretty well-attended party. Andrew, the bartender who has managed the night, is moving on to bigger and better things so the Speakeasy Mondays will end after tonight. That said, it looks like the whole party may be moving to another venue and when it becomes official I’ll try to announce it here.
Lastly, some of you may have noticed the recent comments section here have been frequently in Japanese. That’s because Basil, an American horn player living in Japan, came across Wilktone and asked if it would be OK with me to translate some of my embouchure posts into Japanese for his readers. I, of course, said yes and he has been translating a storm. I’m excited about this because my main goal has been to make the information I’ve come across more accessible to more brass players and having my articles available in another language is a great way to introduce this research to a whole new population. I’ve gotten requests over the years to translate my articles and videos into Spanish and Portuguese especially, so if you speak one of those languages, or another, please let me know if you’re interested in taking on some translation.
Things have been fairly “dark” here for a while since I have had so many other projects going on. One of those was completing a new big band composition for the Asheville Jazz Orchestra’s performance last month. Here’s a MIDI realization of it if you would like to listen to it.
As always, when you listen to acoustic music played by a computer you have to use your imagination. I didn’t bother putting in solos or other nuances that would have made that audio file sound better because I got to hear it played live.
The tune itself is based on the changes to There Will Never Be Another You. I wanted to have an open solo section with changes most players would already know, but do something different from a blues or rhythm changes tune. I also borrowed a few ideas from Bob Florence’s chart Bebop Charlie. Not only did I
steal borrow the opening riff, but also the road map of going from unison melodies into harmony followed by a sax soli then into solos.
I’ve already started a new big band project that I’m excited to be working on, since it is a commission for the Greenville Jazz Collective Big Band. With my self-imposed deadline looming, I need to get back to work.
It’s Friday and it’s been a couple of months since I posted a regular Weekend Picks. In lieu of writing about some fun and interesting links around the web for this one, I wanted to point out that this month, January 2015, marks the fifth year of Wilktone. To celebrate (or rather blow my own horn), I thought I’d post the most popular posts here, the posts that have generated the most comments, and list a few of my personal favorites that I’d like to see get more views.
A few stats first, for the curious. At the time that I write this post there have been 467,466 views (not all that many in the grand scheme of things) and 585 comments (some of those include links to other posts here). The number of views tends to fluctuate, but over the past five years has steadily grown. January 2015’s average so far is 392 views per day. Again, not a whole lot when compared to popular web sites as a whole, but maybe not too bad for a blog that is somewhat specialized in what it covers.
Over in the right hand side bar you can see a section for popular posts. These posts have been fairly consistent for a while, but the software that measures it weighs more recent views more than hits from a while ago. Over the past five years here are the posts that have gotten the most views.
1. A Brief History of Brass Instruments (21,999 views) – I actually wrote this short article sometime in 2000 or 2001. If I recall correctly, I was teaching a brass pedagogy class that semester and had put together a short lecture on the history of brass instruments. I had researched more information that I wanted to include in the class, so I wrote this article to explore this topic in more detail. In retrospect I wish I had saved the references I used, but I mainly just wanted to get some original content up on the web page I had at the time.
This article has been popular enough that it was plagiarized at scribd.com. The powers-that-be over there were very quick to take it down when I contacted them about that, by the way.
2. The Tongue Controlled Embouchure (15,705 views) – In retrospect I find it curious that my post about this topic has been so popular. I speculate in part that it’s because the tongue controlled embouchure has enough buzz on the internet that brass players are exposed enough to the idea that they want to learn more about it. Since there’s not a whole lot of info available about it, this post shows up on a lot of web searches.
My review of the technique there is not positive (I haven’t changed my mind at this point), but I think it’s neat how many advocates have left their thoughts in the comments there. Even though the discussion has been heated at times, I like how everyone has been civil.
3. Tips for the New Jazz Ensemble Director (13,570 views) – Someone posted a link to this page on the Jazz Education Network’s Facebook page in September, 2104 and in a couple of days hits to Wilktone more than tripled. It’s died down since then, but daily views since then have been slightly up from prior to that month. Either some of the folks who read it have come back to check out more or maybe it just helped boost my search engine presence. At any rate, I liked how this post came out and am happy that so many people find it helpful and interesting.
4. A Stylistic Analysis of Jazz Trombone Through Transcribed Solos (12,171 views) – This is another article that existed before this blog did. As I mentioned there, it is a web based presentation of a lecture recital I gave at Ball State University as part of my doctoral requirements. The lecture recital had a bit less historical and theoretical information than the article includes because I performed each transcription.
5. Brass Embouchures and Air Stream Direction (11,753 views) – I had created my YouTube video on this topic a couple of years before creating Wilktone. This post was my first ever here. Regular readers know the topic of brass embouchures is my favorite to write about.
The most commented pages up to this date are the following posts. So far I have yet to delete any comment (on purpose), other than the spam that sneaks past. Many of these highly commented posts have discussions that debate some of the points I tried to make.
1. The Tongue Controlled Embouchure (71 comments) – As I mentioned above, I have enjoyed the ensuing discussion.
2. Brass Embouchures: Playing On the Red Is Fine (as long as it fits your anatomy) (32 comments) – Since posting on this topic I have put together what I feel are better treatments of this subject, but this was the first post I had that was completely devoted to whether or not placing the mouthpiece rim contacting the red of your lips is OK or not. One of the authors I quoted in my blog post, Frank Gabriel Campos, even stopped by to leave his rebuttal.
3. On Metronome Practice and Logic Based Teaching Methods (21 comments) and Practicing With a Metronome (18 comments) – I’m including these two posts together since the topics and comments are outgrowths of each other. Practicing With a Metronome was a summary of my thoughts about Mike Longo’s post arguing that metronome practice would mess up your jazz playing. In the process I was inspired to explore how a lot of what gets passed on as good music teaching isn’t based on evidence, but personal beliefs or expectations.
4. The Balanced Embouchure: A Review (20 comments) – Not my best written post, to be honest, but as of today I still stand by my opinion of Jeff Smiley’s somewhat controversial book. The ensuing discussion got heated at times, but I always like to carefully consider what supporters have to say about this book.
5. The Pencil Trick Exercise (18 comments) – This post is about Donald Reinhardt’s away-from-the-horn strength building exercise. A lot of people think it’s a waste of time, but not many people really follow Reinhardt’s instructions well enough to do it the way he intended. It’s sort of hard to pick it up through reading a description.
Lastly, here are some posts I’ve written that are some of my personal favorites and not already mentioned above.
1. How To Transcribe: Some Advice for the Beginning Jazz Improviser – This post is another that existed on a previous personal web site that got moved over. In it I describe the process that I personally used to get started transcribing jazz solos. Many of my students have found it a helpful way to get started too.
2. Embouchure Dysfunction: An examination of brass embouchure troubleshooting – This is another post that is mainly about the YouTube video I put together. While my personal research in brass embouchures has been about how they function, over the course of study I became familiar with a lot of the ways in which brass embouchures malfunction. In this video and post I describe 5 different cases (of various degrees of difficulty) and discuss some of the ways in which making corrections to embouchure function can help players who are having these difficulties. One of my main goals in this post was to raise some awareness in the field of brass teachers and players as a whole about the physical results of brass embouchure dysfunction, instead of addressing problems through breathing, psychology, or working to make the embouchure work better with the technique that is potentially causing the issue.
3. Donald Reinhardt and the Pivot System – A Criticism – I wish I had the chance to take lessons from Reinhardt before he died, but one possible advantage to learning his teachings through lessons with a former student of his and his writings is that I don’t feel the emotional attachment that many of his students do. Many of the ones I know are quite vocal that passing on his ideas require a strict adherence to using the same language and terminology that Reinhardt happened to use (or more accurately, how he happened to be describing it at whatever time the student was with him). In this post I discuss the confusion that results when we try to communicate an already complicated topic using terms and descriptions that are unnecessarily inconsistent to most other brass players.
4. Arnold Jacobs on Embouchure: A Criticism – Like my criticism of the Pivot System, this post is about another brass pedagogue that has been very influential in my playing and teaching. Jacobs made a lot of very important contributions to brass pedagogy, but he also made a few statements about embouchure that I find demonstrably inaccurate.
5. An Examination of the Anatomical and Technical Arguments Against Placing the Mouthpiece on the Vermillion – I mentioned above that since writing the Playing on the Red Is Fine post I have done a better analysis and writeup of this topic. This is what I was referring to. The post itself is just an abstract of the formal academic paper. To my knowledge, no one else has done as extensive a review of the musical and medical review to attempt to settle this debate. It also includes a discussion of a pilot study designed to help answer the question of whether someone can tell through sound alone that a brass player places the mouthpiece rim on the red of the lips (my results strongly suggested that you can’t).
Do you have a favorite topic or discussion here that got left out? Any disagreements with the inclusion of the ones above? Please leave your thoughts in the comments here.
Happy 2015 to everyone. I had a very busy last couple of months. It’s typical for me to have a lot of rehearsals and performances during December, but this last month was busier than I usually have. The good news is that for the most part everything I performed was very fun.
One of the recent highlights was conducting the Land of the Sky Symphonic Band in concert at the Diana Wortham Theater at the very end of November. We always perform a varied program. This one included Aegean Festival Overture by Andreas Makris. If you’re not familiar with this piece, it is probably the most challenging piece of music I’ve ever conducted due to the mixed meters that change almost constantly throughout. Everyone in the band worked really hard on that music (and the rest of the concert).
The Asheville Jazz Orchestra performed our annual Stan Kenton Christmas Concert just before Christmas, as usual. This year we performed two concerts, instead of the typical one. It was successful enough that I think we’ll be doing the second performance again next year. This show is always fun. If you’re not familiar with Stan Kenton’s Merry Christmas album, the charts, all written by Ralph Carmichael, are really a lot of fun to play and quite difficult. The Twelve Days of Christmas is one of the ones that I always look forward to playing for the challenge.
I got to play one of the dances at this year’s Lindy Focus swing dance camp again this year with the Jonathan Stout Orchestra. I was fortunate that the dance I played on was the Duke Ellington tribute night. I’ve played a lot of Ellington music before, and of course I love to listen to his recordings, but this was probably the first time I’ve played three sets of nothing but Ellington charts. Jonathan had us performing the actual Ellington/Strayhorn arrangements, not stock charts. I ended up playing mostly the Juan Tizol parts the whole night. Since I played slide trombone, not valve trombone, a few of the lines were pretty tricky to handle. There were only a couple of us from the local area in the band, everyone else was from out of town as far away as L.A., New York, or New Orleans. It was a very fine band and one of the most enjoyable gigs I’ve played in quite a long time.
Last weekend the Low-Down Sires played a dance for the Triangle Swing Dance Society near Durham, NC. Jason Krekel played with us on banjo and guitar for this show. Jason is an excellent musician and I hope to get to play with him a lot more in the future. It was also fun to talk with Jeffry at this dance, who read this blog and had some embouchure questions we talked about during one of my set breaks. It’s always fun to meet readers of this blog in person, especially at my out of town shows.
I plan on catching up on some blogging this month and especially getting to the pile of emails I’ve gotten with questions and suggestions for topics. If you’ve sent me a question and not heard back from me please feel free to drop me another line and remind me. I’ll try to get to each of those in the order they came in, so look for your response in the next couple of weeks or so, either as a private reply or here as a blog post (and I’ll email you if I post an answer here). Please remember that if you’re looking for embouchure advice that I really need to see your playing to help and this page here will let you know what you can do to help me help you better.
It’s the end of the school year wrap-up time. On top of that, I’ve been booked for lots of gigs and some commissioned arrangements, keeping me too busy to be able to do that much blogging lately. Things should hopefully open up a bit after this week and I’ll return to a more normal schedule here.
In the mean time, I’m doing some public performances this weekend. If you are in the area and can come out, please do.
Friday night, June 13, 2014, the Low-Down Sires are performing at the Mothlight in west Asheville, NC. We just got back last weekend from playing Stompology, a huge swing dance festival held in Rochester, NY (I didn’t get to go to any of the ITF being held up there the same weekend). The show starts at 9:30 and there’s a $5 cover charge. The very next day, June 14, 2014, I’ll be playing again with the Low-Down Sires at the Virginia Beach Lindy Exchange. The “Great Gatsby Gala” we’re performing at starts at 7 pm at Danceport VA in Virginia Beach.
Then on Sunday, June 15, 2014, I’m back in western North Carolina playing and directing the Asheville Jazz Orchestra for a special Father’s Day show at the White Horse Black Mountain. Ron Whitmore will be our special guest on vocals for this show.
I hope to see some of you at one of this weekend’s shows. Please be sure to come say hello to me if you do make it out.
This site will be down this Friday, July 12th, 2013 at 10:00pm EST for scheduled server maintenance that will last for approximately 7 hours. Hopefully it will fix recent connectivity issues.
Some of you (well, one of you) had been asking for examples of my music. I finally got around to uploading more sound files and complied them into my Audio page. I’ve also put together a single page for my YouTube video casts on my Vods page. You can always access those pages, and others, in the menu above the site header. As I get around to uploading new content I will add them to those new pages.
You might also notice a page set up for listing Podcasts. I will be soon adding a series of podcasts about appreciating and understanding jazz specifically geared to casual musicians and non-musicians interested in learning more about jazz and its history. As I get everything set up these podcasts should be available to download either on that page or through iTunes.
You may have noticed the new look. After changing the WordPress theme I noticed that it created some issues with the paragraph spacing and block quotes. Please be patient while I try to figure out how to correct those issues. If you notice something else that needs fixing, please let me know.
Update – I’ve worked out a solution for the paragraph spacing, but the block quotes fix is still eluding me. Anyone know how to write CSS? And is it just me or are the pages loading very slowly for you too?
Update 2 – Block quotes are now showing up properly. I think everything should be fine now, but please let me know if you spot something that needs fixing.