I’m thrilled to be playing with the Todd Proctor Trio and the Tim Smith Trio this month, and collaborating with other great musicians such as Noah Powell, Dr. Stephen Anderson, and Kobie Watkins.
I hope you’ll take the chance to come and check out some great musicians.
Have a good month.
The need to fill up more space-
I have always tried to play the organ percussively and sparingly, mainly so I don’t get in the way of the guitarist or soloist, and maybe so I don’t burn out on long chords.
Recently, I played a trio gig with no guitar player, and it sounded like there was something huge missing in our sound. On the second set, I played longer chords and bass notes, and it filled in nicely. It felt strange to play that way, but it really filled in that hole.
I’ve been working on legato 2-handed block chords. The basic theory is that your right hand plays the melody note with the 5th finger, and voices 3 notes beneath. Then the left hand plays the same note as the fifth finger of the right hand. So the melody note is doubled in an octave, while the right hand plays three harmonizing notes between.
The left hand is always legato. This often requires finger substitution. Then the right hand is as legato as possible. The legato technique from my pipe organ textbook was extremely helpful in figuring out how to accomplish this.
It takes a lot of practice.
So I finally practiced 1000 repetitions of a bebop exercise over the chord changes of a song. After sticking with it for 10 days, I finally got the job done.
How did it go? It was great! It was a complicated exercise over the chord changes of Stella in the unusual key of A (very sharpy) and my goal was to play it at 240 BPM. Rough going at first, but by the last two days, roughly the last 250 reps, I was cruising at 240 and pushing it up to about 270.
Its funny how 240BPM seemed impossibly fast at first. Anything is possible if I just park my butt on the organ bench for long enough.
When I first started out, one of my goals was to be able to play a jazz solo smoothly at 240BPM. I feel like I hit a milestone.
My friend Tim Smith is turning a year older this month! Come help us celebrate on the eve of his birthday at 2nd Wind this weekend. I’m thrilled to be playing with him several times this month.
I’ll be having a pluckin’ great time with Todd Proctor at C Grace, and backing up Carolyn Mitchell at her Irregardless outing.
If any of you are interested in musical theater, I’ll be playing in the micro-orchestra of Light in the Piazza at NCMA this month as well – details online.
This is post number 25 out of 250. That means I’m ten percent finished with this series of weekly blog posts.
When I first started blogging this six months ago, I wasn’t exactly sure what these five years would represent in my life. Now I realize that these five years are an incubation period for me as a musician.
When I first got serious about the organ in 2010, I was an accomplished bass player, but a complete beginner at the Jazz organ. In retrospect, I’d wanted to play the organ ever since I was a kid, and I had been haunting Jazz organ websites on the Internet for years, learning what I could and being extremely intimidated. On New Year’s Eve 2009, I had a fantastic gig which paid me a ton of money, so I decided to buy a used Korg BX-3 (not a great instrument, in my opinion)
Six years later, I was at a strange place where I was kinda good at the bass, and kinda okay at playing the organ. This is a frustrating place to be as someone who has been a professional musician for 25 years.
What I realized now is that I needed to hit the gas pedal and make a concerted effort to become a great organist. I wanted it to be a time period of 5 years with a definite beginning and ending, and with results I could measure and evaluate after five years.
There’s an episode of Futurama where Frye gets a $300 coffee gift card. After drinking one cup of coffee after another, he gets more and more jittery. Then, on his 100th cup of coffee, he attains enlightenment. He is calm and in control, and the world slows down around him as he saves his friends from a burning building.
In practicing my exercises 1000 times, I am trying to gain a similar enlightenment – thinking in larger phrases, hands moving smoothly from one measure to the next without jerky movements. Thinking only in the moment. Steady tempo with no rushing.
For me, the only way to get this is through massive number of repetitions. Although 100 cups of coffee would probably help.
Recently I went into the studio and helped a singer record some songs. It was a fun recording session for me because I got to hire a bunch of musicians that I love to work with.
Recording music in the studio is it’s own special thing, completely different than performing music live at a club. It’s a sterile environment where you have the opportunity to hear everything that you play in great detail – both the good and the bad.
One thing that I learned from my years of recording bass in the studio, and now the Hammond organ, is to let go of all judgments and expectations. You might think that what you played sounds a certain way, but usually what you hear on playback is totally different than what you thought. Never judge your own playing as good or bad in the moment.
Similarly, when listening to a take that you recorded, concentrate on the good things that happened during that take. It’s not productive to pick out the things that went wrong – let your subconscious take note of those things and they won’t happen again.
Have a sense of humor. Laugh a little bit and enjoy the experience.
I’ve discovered that I have a weakness in the area of practicing music. I will practice something until I get it about 85%, then I’ll lose interest and stop.
I’ll set a specific goal, such as to play a song at a tempo of 240BPM. I’ll work on that for maybe 4 days, until I can play it at 240BPM but very sloppily. Then I’ll immediately lose interest and move on.
Right now I’m trying to figure out what it actually means to set a goal and thoroughly accomplish it and check it off my list. I need to learn how to work through that phase where I lose interest, and accomplish the goal with authority and confidence.
I had been practicing bebop exercises over 8-bar sections of jazz standards. It was going great, and I was working things up to my target tempo.
8-bar practice segments are good for me, because I’m an impatient person by nature, and I want something that I can accomplish within a single practice session.
A couple of weeks ago, I realized that I needed to take the next step. I needed to practice bebop over the entire form of jazz standards, rather than small excerpts. I had been avoiding doing this, because this seemed like an impossible task. Keep in mind, I’m not talking about improvising a solo, but rather playing bebop exercises that I come up with in order to really challenge myself.
Finally I decided: just practice it 1000 times. So far I’ve done this for two songs. The first one, I’m ashamed to say, I only got through about 500 repetitions over 4 or 5 days, and I couldn’t stand to continue practicing it.
The second time, I’m going to go more steadily to avoid burning out. A good daily program for me seems to be to practice it 10 times or so just to get the exercise under my fingers at first, and then push the tempo to my breaking point. Then, slow it back down at the end of the practice session and play it about 10 more times very relaxed. I think that’s important, because after I play something for a while at the breaking point, I feel really frustrated. If I slow it down and play it a few times, the frustration is alleviated and I walk away from the practice session a bit happier.