May News

It was an awesome school year with Arts in Action. I learned a ton about being a music director.

Starting this month, I’ll be focusing exclusively on jazz. Please come out and join us.

I’m especially excited about playing with John Palowitch for the last time before he moves to California. We will miss him!

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Acheive Your Goal (Jazz Organ Project 46/250)

Some people never get started on achieving their dreams in music. It’s frustrating to hear people talk about wanting to have a band, but they get around to starting it. Here’s a little motivation:

1. Start a band now. Go rent or borrow a cheap guitar or whatever, find three or four people that want to jam. Go on youtube and learn a few chords. If your band sounds terrible at first, then so be it. This is something you can do by tomorrow, and if you’re resourceful it may not even cost you a penny. Do it right now.

1a. You’re not too old to do this.

2. Come up with a big, huge dream for this band. Bands break up and musicians move in and out of bands, but your dream will endure all of these things.

3. Break this dream down into tiny, actionable components. If you want to be the next Eddie Van Halen, step one might be ‘Look on Craigslist for a guitar instructor.’ Step 125,000 might be ‘Buy a jumbo jet.’ Don’t forget about your goal, but always think about your very next step.

4. Surround yourself as much as possible with people that are successful. Another thing you can do is contact someone who is extremely successful and ask to pay them for an hour of their time. I’ve found that most successful people are eager to help others achieve their success.

5. Make a commitment to working a certain amount of time per day on your goal. If you don’t have time, wake up early. I’ve found it extremely helpful to wake up at 5am and work for 2 hours. It’s painful, but you get used to it.

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Practicing Random Things (Jazz Organ Project 45/250)

(Photo of me fixing my keyboard)

Since February, I’ve been trying to focus on one thing at a time. I practiced one thing until I could totally kill it. Now the pendulum is swinging the other direction and I feel like pulling bits from here and there, combining them and seeing how they sound. I have a random practice routine that keeps me mentally engaged.

Since I was a kid, I have been fascinated with random number generators. In MS BASIC, the programming language that came installed on my beloved Commodore 64 computer, there was a function called RND() that gave you a random number between 0 and 1, based on the machine’s internal clock. So to get a random integer between 1 and 100, you would say something like R=INT(RND()*100) or something like that, I forget the exact syntax.

Thankfully I have a cool random number generator on my phone, so I can retire the old C64.

I have a playlist of 30 songs with interesting chord changes, so I pick one at random, and I pick a random key (1-12). Then I pick one or two ideas to run over the chord changes.

So yesterday I picked the song “Voyage”. I included this song on my list because it’s minor, and it has ascending ii-V’s on the bridge. I randomly chose to play it in the key of D minor.

I decided to pull two bebop-ish devices out to play over the changes, and I randomly chose triads (Larry Lines) and double enclosures.

For me this is the challenge that keeps my mind fully engaged: I play the bebop ideas alternating from measure to measure, linking them together as elegantly as possible, over a challenging set of chord changes in an unfamiliar key. I begin with the metronome at a slow setting, and gradually work my way up. I concentrate on keeping things relaxed and accurate.

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I recently had a couple of keys on my Nord that were sounding a little funny. One note always sounded too loud, and the other was too quiet. After Googling the problem, I learned that I probably needed to clean out the key contacts. Some generous soul had published a PDF on how to take apart a Nord keyboard and solve this problem, so I bought a can of compressed air, and got my screwdriver.

After taking apart my keyboard and putting it back together 3 times, I fixed it!

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Kobiyashi Maru (Jazz Organ Project 44/250)

(Illustration: enterprisedavid)

The Kobiyashi Maru is the name of a training exercise from the movie Star Trek II where an officer trainee is put into a situation where they can’t win.  The point of the exercise is to find out how the person reacts when their ship is being destroyed and there’s no way out.

This happened to me on a gig a few days ago.  We were in a large high school gym with over 1000 students.  We were hooked into a huge PA system.  As soon as we started to play, one of the microphones started to feed back so loudly that we couldn’t hear anything.  About a minute later, all of our monitors began to feedback with a howling fury.  To make matters worse, we were playing a fast jazz song.  I couldn’t hear myself or anyone else.

That first song was a disaster, and I panicked that I might not be able to hear for the entire show.  But my panic disappeared when I saw that the rest of the band were acting like grown-ups and doing what they could to make our band sound better.  No attitude, no head-shaking or eye-rolling, no yelling at the sound man.

We corrected the problem little by little.  We turned off the stage monitors, adjusted our volume and tone, asked the sound man to adjust our microphones, and little by little we crafted our sound.  By the time we played the last song of our 40-minute set, we could finally hear well enough.

In the end I left the stage happy to be playing with true professionals, and satisfied knowing that we had made some great music.

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Let’s Compromise (Jazz Organ Project 43/250)

(Thanks to Jennifer Terrazi-Scully for helping with this post.)

I love playing the organ in a trio with electric guitar and drums. But organ trios often have sound issues when they perform live.

The Hammond organ (and digital clones) can be a subtle instrument. Melody and solo lines are warm and softly percussive. Bass lines have a subtle deep growl, but without the strong attack of an upright bass or the piano-like definition or an electric bass. There are times when the Hammond organ can really scream, but that’s not my style most of the time.

Gigs can become a volume battle where everyone keeps turning up to be heard, and ultimately the music becomes way too loud, and I don’t like that.

Jazz musicians value their sound and individuality, and many drummers and guitar player feel the need to play at a loud volume to get their sound. But let me paraphrase a helpful piece of advice I received when I was in college: “Doug, you have a nice sound. Don’t fall in love with it.” So let’s not fall in love with our sounds, but rather work together so that we can all be heard clearly and at a reasonable volume level.

It’s helpful to have a rehearsal in a room with challenging acoustics. Be honest with yourselves: can you hear every note that everyone is playing? Is the volume level at a place where a typical club owner would be happy?

Here are some things I’ve found that help:
1. Each musician boost themselves up about 6 dB or so when they take a solo. Not hugely louder, but enough to cut through with clarity and confidence.

2. Organists can experiment with fuller, growlier sounds on the lower manual such as 848 or 8484.

3. Drummers can tune their bass drum so that the tone is short and doesn’t compete with organ bass. Ride cymbal often has to be played uber softly.

4. Guitar players can cut out a lot of the bass in their tone, and go for high-end clarity. (There is a reason that Grant Green played on so many organ trio records!)

5. Make a cell phone recording and honestly assess what you hear. Does the group sound warm and inviting, or harsh?

6. Do your ears ring after rehearsal?

I think we could do jazz as an art form a favor by making it sound great.

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April News

I expect to have blisters on my fingers at the end of this month.

I’m looking forward to playing with the North Carolina Jazz Repertory Orchestra for the first time. Also, doing the Saint-Saens Organ Symphony at Campbell University.

And double duty on organ and bass with J. Walter Hawkes in Amherst, Virginia.

Time to practice!

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New Routines (Jazz Organ Project 42/250)

(Photo credit: NourishingMeals.com)

I’ve found a good routine that I’m enjoying. I’ve stuck to it for a few months now and still look forward to doing it:

1. 5-minute journal every morning. Sometimes on a phone app, and sometimes in a book, I’ll make a list of things I’m thankful for, a list of things that would make my day great, and a daily personal affirmation. This has made my outlook a lot more positive.

2. 30 minutes of reading daily. This is perfect for me, because 30 minutes of reading seems to be a good amount of information that I can process for the rest of the day.

3. Write at least one sales email. I can’t tell you how easy it is to slack off on writing marketing emails. I’ll sometimes let months or even a year go by. I’m writing one per day, which often takes about two minutes. If you do this, I promise you will be more successful.

4. Three times a week, some rudimentary body weight workout. Currently, I just do three sets of push-ups and pull-ups, but that’s boring and I’m keen to find different stuff. I can do it in the morning while people are still asleep, and it makes me feel energized.

5. At least two times a week, go to the gym. I love cycling class because it reminds me of the feeling of when I used to run 4-7 miles per day. I can’t run that far anymore because my knees can’t handle it, so cycling class is great.

6. Practice one hour daily of stuff I’m working on for myself. If I only have one block of time during the day to practice, this will always take priority.

7. Practice one hour daily of stuff for other gigs, like learning music for gigs I accepted as a side musician.

8. Diet-wise, my body loves it when I drink green smoothies for two meals and snacks, and have one cooked meal per day. I have to be careful about what I eat.

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Four New Videos (Jazz Organ Project 41/250)

Thanks to Nic Beery of Beery Media for producing these awesome videos.

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Emotional Detachment (Jazz Organ Project 40/250)

I had a Skype lesson this week with a great organist Brian Charette http://www.briancharette.com/. He had many great ideas for me and I immediately feel much more confident about my music career.

One piece of advice that immediately helped me was “Sit up with good posture, relax, and detach yourself emotionally.”  Don’t worry about getting it right.

This is something I still need to practice for it to come naturally, but here’s what I’m beginning to be able to do.  I’ve always had moments while playing where I was able to let go and feel free, and music flows out of me naturally.  What I’m learning is that this state of mind is my natural state, and the only thing that throws me out of it is worrying about if I’m going to play the right thing or not.

Good stuff- can’t wait to try it out on tonight’s gig.

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Abundance/Scarcity (Jazz Organ Project 39/250)

“There just aren’t any gigs around here any more, and the ones that we have don’t pay anything.”

I’ve heard that line over and over to describe the music scene around the Triangle. Gigs and money are scarce. People ask me all the time about how to get gigs, and I find myself parroting the same idea.

I wanted to write this post to provide a different viewpoint, one of abundance.

What percentage of people living in your area are likely to become die-hard fans of your music, if they were to be exposed to it? I mean the type of fan who would show up to watch your band play once a month? I have no evidence-based way to estimate this, but for now suppose 1 out of every 1000 people, or .1%.

The Triangle area of N.C. has 2.2 million people, .1% of which could be a big fan of your band. That’s 2200 die-hard fans, all of whom are interested in buying your CD and coming to your shows. Do you realize how awesome that would be? Instead of trying to get a gig for tips at your local coffee shop, you would be worried about booking an auditorium large enough to fit everyone.

So with this abundant goal in mind, your task is to painstakingly weed through millions of people to find this strong group of fans. More on this in the future!

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