September News

Dot Combo rides again at Hot Tin Roof in Hillsborough! This is the very same group that played every Monday night for four years at the old Blue Note Grill in Durham.

My trio plays this month at Irregardless Cafe, and at the 2017 Carrboro Music Festival.

I’m going to be dusting off the old stand-up bass to play with some of my favorite musicians this month: Noah Powell, Peter Lamb, Jay Wright. I’m also sitting in on bass with a touring band called the Blue Crescent Syncopations. Looking forward to meeting those guys.

I’m looking forward to accompanying the awesome Jo Gore at Arcana Lounge, a new venue for me.

My trio has just finished recording a new record! The manufacturing process will probably take several months because of the Christmas rush, but I’ll be proud to let everyone hear it in a few short months.

See you soon.

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Keep Doing The Reps (Jazz Organ Project 62/250)

After a while, you will get tired of doing ‘reps’ on your instrument. You will get sick of it. You’ll feel like you would rather take a nap. People will tell you that you are wasting your time practicing the fundamentals of your instrument. You might skip a day, then one day turns into two, and that turns into a week.

You might get impatient and wonder why your progress is so slow.

Don’t fall off the wagon, keep practicing the fundamentals:
1. Turn on your metronome and practice all scales and arpeggios, slowly at first and then increasing the tempo.
2. Practice finger strength and independence exercises.
3. Practice classical repertoire written for your instrument. Carefully practice the left hand, then the right hand, then practice the hands together.
4. Practice sight reading.
5. Practice the fundamentals of bebop soloing.
6. Practice along with recordings.
7. Practice the songs you had a hard time with at your last gig.
8. Get up super early and practice 2 hours in the morning before the sun comes up.
9. Be as specific as possible about your long-term goals.

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Organ Bass Lines – Learn Jazz Organ Part 4 (Jazz Organ Project 61/250)

Here are a few rules for constructing strong logical walking bass lines that you will play with your left hand.

First, a few Hammond organ basics:

1. Your left hand will play bass on the lower manual (keyboard) of the organ. Use a bassy drawbar setting such as 808000000 or 848000000. Sometimes if I need to cut through a little more I’ll go with something a little fuller sounding such as 8484000000.
2. Leave a little space between each note. This will make the bass line sound more crisp and articulate, and help drive the rhythm section like a double bass would.
3. If you have pedals, set their drawbars to 80 and tap a staccato B (middle of the pedal board) on each quarter note. The tap should be short enough that you hear a woody ‘thud’ but you won’t hear the actual tone of the note. This will give you a nice attack at the beginning of each bass note you play with your left hand.

Very basic rules for constructing a bass line:
1. Be very familiar with your scales and arpeggios. Piano method books are a good place to start.
2. Play the root of the chord at the beginning of each chord change.
3. Use a combination of notes from the scale, arpeggio, and chromatic leading tones to get to the next root note.
4. Make sure that this line is simple and clear.
5. Find a bass line that is easy for you to play, and play it many times until it becomes second nature. Only then will you be ready to add chords or melody.
6. Nobody is going to give you a trophy for bass line creativity. If the bass line is good, it’s fine to use it over and over.
7. Listen to jazz bass players such as Paul Chambers, Ron Carter, or Ray Brown for good bass line ideas.

Your bass line lets everyone know where they are in the form of a song. A good bass line will also fix or prevent many problems on the bandstand, so pay attention to your bass line and play strong.a

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Finger Independence – Learn Jazz Organ Part 3 (Jazz Organ Project 60/250)

If you come to the jazz organ from a non-keyboard background (I came from playing bass), you will likely need to work on finger independence. I’ll recommend four great books for you. As you work through these books, realize that there are no shortcuts to finger independence – hard work IS the shortcut. Also, work your wall all the way through each book, even if it seems like there are easy or redundant parts.

Ernst von Donanyi – Essential Finger Exercises – This is the granddaddy of all of the books I have studied from. The first 10 exercises from the book are brutal, and indespensible for playing the jazz organ.

Hanon – The Virtuoso Pianist in 60 Exercises – Every piano student (and teacher) probably has nightmares about this ubiquitous, boring technical book. Legend has it that Herbie Hancock practiced this entire book, transposing it to every possible key. I recommend you do the same.

Willard A. Palmer – The Complete Book of Scales, Chords, Arpeggios and Cadences – You will probably look at this book and think that you probably don’t need it. Yes, you do need it, and you need to practice it until you have mastered every page.

Schmitt, Op. 16 – Preperatory Exercises For the Piano – Again, not a very sexy book. PRACTICE IT.

I really want you to succeed. Music is not a competition. The more excellent jazz organists are out there, the better it is for all of us as a community. So get serious and practice your technical skills- your helping yourself and the musical world.

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Blues Comping – Learn Jazz Organ Part 2 (Jazz Organ Project 59/250)

Here’s a blues comping pattern vaguely in the style of 1950’s Jimmy Smith. Be able play this pattern at a medium tempo over a I-IV-V blues, in every key.

It’s a great pattern for a jazz or blues jam session. It is also introduces the idea of using 2nd inversion triads, which are very useful in jazz organ.

Swing it!!

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Tim Luntzel

Musician Tim Luntzel passed away this week.

He was a phenomenal bass player who chose to serve music rather than showcase his virtuosity.

I remember seeing him play at Rockwood Music Hall in NYC. It was the release party for his solo CD. He had arranged ‘Funky Town’ for solo acoustic bass. He played all of the different parts of the song on the bass perfectly, sweating profusely.

I bought a copy of the CD. The cover art featured an old picture of him, with a cartoonish picture of a dragon drawn by his mom.

For all of the years that I knew him, Tim played an inexpensive acoustic bass. The kind which you could probably find on CraigsList for $600 or so. His electric bass was a Fender Bullet – the model usually wielded by high school students with no budget.

Tim told me a story about taking lessons with bass player Ron Carter. When struggling with an assignment, he commented to his teacher that he thought it was impossible to play on his bass. Ron took the bass, played the song perfectly, and said, “Mr. Luntzel, there’s nothing wrong with this bass.”

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Five Ways To Stay Happy (Jazz Organ Project 58/250)

Jazz careers can be emotionally tough, for many obvious reasons. There are a few simple things I do to help myself stay happy.

I’ll start with the easiest and least expensive things:

1. Exercise – vigorous exercise for about 1 hour four times a week.

2. Diet – plant-based diet. Lately I’ve added ‘intermittent fasting’ which is a fancy word for only eating food between noon and 8pm.

3. Gratitude – I write in a journal about five minutes a day about anything and everything that pops into my head that I’m thankful for. Also, write people thank-you notes.

4. Vitamin D and Turmeric – A big help for me. I do about 4000iu of Vitamin D and about 2 grams of Turmeric powder with black pepper added.

5. Sauna and ice bath – I do 30 minutes in a 170degree sauna, then immediately jump into a bathtub filled with ice water. You have to trust me on this. We have a sauna at home, but I think many gyms have them.

I also have messed around with meditation, and it’s great too, but I haven’t found my stride with it yet.

Good luck fighting the blues!

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Learn Jazz Organ Part 1 (Jazz Organ Project 57/250)

My first jazz organ lesson was with Ondrej Pivec in Brooklyn. I learned stock chord voicings, which are your basic no-frill keyboard chords. It’s essential that you know these as you begin jazz organ.

Print out the graphic below, and learn the major and minor 2-5-1 cadences in every key. Be able to play every inversion. Practice this for as long as it takes to memorize them and play them by touch without looking at the keyboard. If it takes you a year, then so be it – don’t rush or cut corners.

Write out cadences in random order on a sheet of paper, mixing major and minor, and try to jump from one voicing to the next with minimal movement. Use your ear to determine which inversions sound good, and which sound too ‘crunchy’, and figure out which octaves on the keyboard sound best when you play them.

These chords are just the tip of the iceberg of beautiful Hammond organ voicings. If you know them inside out, you will be able to participate in a jam session with other musicians.

Congratulations, you’re officially on your way!

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Grove Winery Jazz Fest 2017

Thanks to Max Lloyd for this picture, and thanks to Grant Osborne, Andy Trexler, and Chris Hankins for playing with me.

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Do The Reps(Jazz Organ Project 56/250)

I did a very nice studio session today where I laid down piano tracks for two songs, and also recorded an acoustic bass track. It was relaxed, and I’m proud to say I played really well. My creative juices were flowing and I felt relaxed and connected to my instruments.

I feel comfortable in a recording studio environment, but that was not always the case. Recording studios used to make me super neurotic: every tiny mistake felt like a huge deal, even if nobody else noticed it.

Over the course of hundreds of sessions over many years, finally my sweaty palms and neuroticism gradually faded away.

Musicians, record yourself every day. If you don’t have a smart phone, pick up a cassette recorder at the thrift store and use that. In a way, the worse the sound quality of the recording media the better, because you won’t waste any energy falling in love with the sound of the recording, you’ll just be checking out the playing.

When you listen back to the recording, try to let go and enjoy it. Notice all of the great things about your playing. Let your subconscious mind note all of the things that bug you about how you played- no need to dwell on them. You’ll be happy you did the reps.

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