Appreciating Jazz Part 1 – The Elements of Music

I’ve uploaded the first installment of my Appreciating Jazz podcast series.  This episode is geared to non-musicians and covers the elements of music, specifically melody, harmony, rhythm, texture, and form.  You can download it here.

I’m working on getting these and future podcasts to be accessible using iTunes or other “podcatching” software.  As I figure out how to best do this the above direct link may need to be changed and if it doesn’t work for you try downloading it instead from my Podcasts page.

New Pages Added

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.

The Hollywood Saxophone Quartet and Hello, Young Lovers

I’ve just finished another saxophone quartet arrangement for the Lenoir Saxophone Ensemble, one of a series I’ve been writing for them.  This arrangement is a tune from The King and I, Hello Young Lovers.  If you’re curious to hear how it came out you can use your imagination and listen to this MIDI realization I put together of it.

[audio:http://www.wilktone.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Hello-Young-Lovers.mp3|titles=Hello, Young Lovers]

For this arrangement the members of the Lenoir Saxophone Ensemble requested the dedication be “For Morrie Crawford & the Hollywood Saxophone Quartet.”  The Hollywood Saxophone Quartet was one of the inspirations for this project I’m collaborating with the Lenoir Saxophone Ensemble on.

I have to admit that prior to beginning work on these arrangements I was not familiar with the Hollywood Saxophone Quartet.  The HSQ was active around Los Angeles from about 1950 to 1970 and made up of four studio woodwind musicians, including Morrie Crawford, who played tenor sax with the group.  One of the composers/arrangers who wrote exclusively for the HSQ, Warren Barker, retired to nearby Greenville, SC before passing away in 2006.  The Lenoir Saxophone Ensemble has recorded some of the HSQ’s music.

If you want to hear one of my arrangements for the Lenoir Saxophone Ensemble actually performed by live saxophonists, go here and look in their media player for the recently added musical selections.  My arrangement of Body and Soul is up there now.

Guess the Embouchure Type: Martin Kretzer

It’s been a while since I played “Guess the Embouchure Type.”  Aulis sent me a link to a video he spotted of the Berlin Philharmoniker performing an excerpt from Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra with a good look at trumpet player Martin Kretzer’s embouchure.  Take a close look at around 2:07 and 2:14 and see which embouchure type you think Kretzer has.  My guess after the break.

Continue reading Guess the Embouchure Type: Martin Kretzer

Thoughts On Branding Practice Methods and Why It Does More Harm Than Good

One of my pet peeves these days is how often teachers and players brand their recommendations.  My interest in brass embouchures has led me to look closely at a lot of different method books and internet resources that offer good examples of branding in brass pedagogy – Pivot System, Balanced Embouchure, Superchops, Song & Wind, you get the idea.  Sometimes there isn’t a specific term used, but rather these methods are identified with a particular teacher (Claude Gordon, Carmine Caruso, Bill Adam, etc.).  On the one hand, it’s nice to be able to easily separate these methods with a short phrase or name that lets a reader familiar with these approaches know exactly what you’re talking about, but when I look at the big picture I think that the idea of partitioning off these ideas does more harm than good.

It’s certainly true that many of these different methods are mutually exclusive.  For example, Donald Reinhardt (Pivot System) instructed his trumpet students to never practice pedal tones while Claude Gordon’s method relies quite heavily on them.  In discussing these ideas it can be helpful to look at the contrast, but in separating them into brands it leads to an argument from authority, rather than a logical discussion.  We should be considering facts, not  individuals.  If we want to discuss pedal tone practice for trumpet players it’s best to simply discuss pedal tone practice, not argue which teacher was right.

One of my favorite online brass forums to read is the Trumpet Herald Forum, which has different sections devoted to different brands of playing.  While it is nice to be able to look for information about a particular approach and get what I hope is an accurate depiction, the effect this tends to have is to stifle any conversation about why an author or teacher recommended something and instead inhibits criticisms or modifications that may be valuable to consider.  As a regular reader of a few other brass forums and blogs too, I’m always a little amused at how many people go out of their way to inform the reader that they studied with teacher X for a certain number of years.  The implication is that we should pay close attention to what this person has to say because of that association, not because what they say is rational and fits the facts as we know them.  Sometimes these public debates seem to be more devoted to a cult of personality than a discussion of how and why a particular instructor taught.

The trend to “certify” teachers pass on a particular method is this cult of personality run amok.   Continue reading Thoughts On Branding Practice Methods and Why It Does More Harm Than Good

Avoiding the Bunched Chin

Bunching Chin

I’ve recently had the chance to work with a couple of players with embouchure issues that are both in part related to a bunched chin.  Both of these players have their chin disengaged and moving around separate from their jaw as they play.  Both have trouble holding the pitch steady when this happens.  This is a common issue with many younger players and sometimes, as in the case of the above mentioned two players, sometimes musicians will play this way for decades.  For some reason this seems more common with the two basic downstream embouchure types and isn’t so frequent with the basic upstream type.  When it happens to very high placement type players there is frequently some type switching going on, so they may look like very high placement types in one register and medium high placement types in another.

Like some other embouchure problems (such as the smile embouchure), bunching the chin usually develops unconsciously because it works, to a certain degree.  What seems to be happening is that the player is compensating for a lack of lip compression while ascending by using the chin to push the lower lip up, rather than properly focusing the muscular effort at the mouth corners.  Sometimes there are other issues that accompany a bunched chin, such as holding the jaw in too open a position, allowing the jaw to recede too far (which then is followed by a loosening of the mouth corners, more pressure on the top lip, etc.).  You can see what a bunched chin looks like in the following video. Continue reading Avoiding the Bunched Chin

New Sound Big Band Performs David Wilken

It’s always neat to hear your music performed, but most of the music I compose is generally written for a specific ensemble, often one that I’m involved with as a performer or director.  It’s even cooler when a group that you aren’t familiar with plays your music.  Poking around on online I discovered the New Sound Big Band, a Belgian jazz orchestra based in Arendonk.  I was thrilled to see that they have performed two of my big band compositions, Snipe Hunt and A Kneezy Waltz.  Here are their YouTube videos of these charts.

The trombone soloist must have transcribed my solo from the demo recording of this tune.  Either that or we have some of the same licks.  He doesn’t play it note for note, but borrowed some of my ideas as branching off points for some of his own improvisation.

I always enjoy hearing different interpretations of my music.  On A Kneezy Waltz I wrote in a trombone solo (I think a lot of us trombonists got into composing and arranging to make sure that we get interesting solos to play).  The New Sound Big Band opted to give that solo to the soprano saxophonist.  While I’m partial to trombone solos I have to admit that I liked how a soprano sax sounded there.  Plus the soloist sounds good.

The New Sound Big Band has a bunch more videos up on their YouTube channel from different performances.  Go check them out there or on their official web site.

Tribute to Count Basie by the Asheville Jazz Orchestra

If you’re in western North Carolina tomorrow night (Friday, February 3, 2012) and a fan of the music of the Count Basie Orchestra the Asheville Jazz Orchestra will be performing our tribute to one of the hardest swinging big bands ever.  Starting at 8 PM at the White Horse Black Mountain we’ll play two sets featuring music associated with Count Basie, and a few other charts that are inspired by the Basie Band.

It should be a fun show.  One of our regular trumpet players, Gary Leming, has been out on a “world tour” (gigging on cruise ships) lately and hasn’t been able to play with us for months.  I’m excited he’s back in town and looking forward to hearing some of his great lead playing and making him take some solos too.  Welcome back, Gary!

Alternate Slide Postions For Trombone

When I was a high school and undergraduate student I always felt a little frustrated trying to keep up with the “fleet footed” trumpet and sax players I was jamming with.  Compared to those instruments, the trombone is such a difficult instrument to get around on in faster tempos.  There are a variety of techniques that I began practicing to help me with this, but one thing that has helped me quite a bit has been to become familiar with and comfortable using alternate slide positions.

Rather than go over what positions can be used for every individual note, I’m going to focus here more on why I use alternate positions and offer strategies for when to use them.  I’m also not going to cover intonation adjustments here, so keep in mind that when I suggest using a particular position for a certain passage you will want to know how that particular partial needs to be tuned.  Always listen carefully and adjust your slide to correct out of tune notes.

One of the simplest rules of thumb for using alternate slide positions is to strive to keep half steps in adjacent positions.  The Eb major scale is a good example. Continue reading Alternate Slide Postions For Trombone