Check out this video of me scratching my head, and then playing St. Thomas by Sonny Rollins. TJ is rocking it out on drums.
Check out this article on the Triangle Jazz Scene! It mentions my trio, and my favorite local venue The Standard. Written by Mark Winston of RaleighMusic.com.
Brad and I always talk about what we need to work on to make our shows seem more fluid and professional. Some of the ideas are things I would not have thought of before I became leader/co-leader of my own trio (your mileage may vary):
Leave early to go to the gig in order to allow time for traffic or flat tire. Arrive early enough to set up and relax and become focused on the music before start time.
Keep breaks between sets to an agreed-upon length.
Minimum amount of time between songs: Finish a song, and count off the next one.
Come up with a set list in advance, and stick to it. Any problems with a set list can be discussed before the gig.
If a song is counted off at the wrong tempo, adjust immediately and play the song well at that tempo.
Lately I have been talking a lot about being ‘in the moment’ while performing. It sounds like a great idea, but I realized that in order to do it, I needed to define what it means.
To me, playing in the moment means not worrying about things that have happened in the past, or what you are dreading in the future. It means letting go of circumstances in your life, or on stage, which are beyond your control.
It means playing what you hear in your head, even if it is something that you are not sure if your fingers can execute. It also means that you have practiced and rehearsed to be prepared to play whatever might pop into your head. It also means forgiving yourself if you trip up or fall out of the groove momentarily- and finding humor in the mistakes.
Playing in the moment means being honest with an audience and giving them a glimpse of your musical soul.
Tonight, Brad and I were rehearsing Little Rootie Tootie, written by Thelonious Monk. We were phrasing the melody together nicely! When I tried to solo over the form, I was feeling boxed in by the chords of the A-sections. The song is Rhythm changes in Ab, but with a different bridge.
Brad gave me some great advice. Forget about the individual chord changes, and just play melodic phrases within the key of the song (Ab). Only allow yourself one embellishment: slip into the minor 4 chord for a different color (Db-), but usually only to introduce a new melodic idea. As an alternative to this embellishment, use the arpeggio of the relative major of the minor 4 chord (E major).
I tried this, and immediately I felt more free. The embellishment ideas sound very interesting and tasteful, and it’s fun to stick them in.
Our new regular hyper-local shows are going well. The Standard and Venable are both great, family-owned restaurants. Walk into The Standard, and at any moment you can socialize with one of the owners. At Venable, you will find the owner Drew working in the kitchen along with the other cooks, cooking and prepping food. It’s inspiring to see restauranteurs working so hard to succeed!
We will play at The Standard 6 times this month, and at Venable for brunch on our usual 3rd Saturday. Don’t forget to visit us every other Thursday at The Station, and if your plans are nimble enough, we’re appearing tonight at Company Shops Market in Burlington as an organ/guitar duo.
I’m playing with dotCombo and The Jim Ferris Trio at some nice venues this month as well. Also, check out our new videos on The Music page. See you all soon.
I read an internet post recently written by a piano teacher. He said that the biggest problem with his adult students is that when they begin taking lessons, they have no idea how much work is involved in learning to play. Often they become frustrated with their slow progress and quit their lessons.
I am relatively new to the jazz organ, having only played the instrument for three years now. But I have been a musician for long enough to realize that learning to play and improvise on a new instrument is a slow process for me. It’s a journey with long stretches of work which show little progress, plenty of wrong turns, and joyful moments of accomplishment.
I had a few years of piano lessons when I was in elementary school. Like most other adult musicians, I wish I had practiced a lot more back then when I had the time. Now that I have a family and a busy schedule, practice time is scarce and precious. And like those disillusioned adult piano students, I’m impatient to get better! The difference between them and me is that I know that it is going to take a ton of work.
Playing bass in the pit orchestra of Into The Woods, I was facing a bit of a challenge. The first musical cue in the score comes when a guy walks on stage slowly, and says “Once upon a time…”. While the actor says the line, the conductor is counting off two beats of a fast 6/8 tempo, where the bass plays a tricky double stop on the upbeat of the first measure, and there is a loud ‘crack’ from the percussionist on the downbeat immediately following. And if there’s one thing I hate, it’s loud abrupt noises.
For me, it is a very stressful 2 seconds! I found myself cringing in anticipation of the moment, and the tension made my bass sound scratchy and awful.
Then, one night last week I decided to try to remain perfectly calm and not worry about the timing of the cue or the tone my bass would produce. I simply prepared by visualizing the sequence in slow motion, and then just trusted that my musical instincts would take over. I think I played the cue pretty well that night. Certainly no worse than when I was worried and tense.
The next day, I was eager to create that feeling of ease and relaxation in my jazz organ playing. As I began with practicing scales and arpeggios, I asked myself over and over “Is it possible to play this with less tension?” and I usually found that I could decrease the amount of tension more and more. Eventually, it felt like my fingers were doing nothing but flopping around loosely, but my articulation sounded much better than before.
Then when I practiced tunes, I told myself to forget any agenda and play freely, trusting my musical instincts to guide my fingers rather than my analytical mind. The results were interesting: I saw myself playing sweeping, encompassing lines rather than timid fragments.
I think that when people go to see a jazz group perform, they don’t want to see someone on stage being analytical and timid. They would probably rather see someone communicating their emotion in grand, free gestures. That’s what I’m working on being able to do.
I’m playing acoustic bass in the pit orchestra for Into The Woods at William Peace University this month. Although I’m not a big fan of musical theatre, it is always fascinating to be a part of such an intricate stage production.
I have so much respect for the musical director Jay Wright. He has to know the entire show inside and out in order to cue the actors on stage. He has every instrument’s part memorized, and if a musician misses a cue, he immediately notices it and corrects it. And on top of it all, he flawlessly plays the notoriously difficult keyboard part: hats off.
The 7-piece orchestra is arranged to sound like a much larger orchestra. Many instruments cover multiple parts- a cellist has violin parts included in her music, the French horn player plays trumpet cues, and the bass part is beefed up with thick sounding double stops. There is barely enough space to play. I’m always poking one of the cellists with the tip of my bow, or worse yet, hitting the bass microphone or music stand loudly!
The fluid nature of the music presents a challenge. The musicians have to follow the actors during lengthy dialogue or missed cues. It adds excitement and drama to the cramped orchestra pit.
Sometimes people wonder how Broadway musicians can play the same show night after night. I think the answer to that is that each night is an adventure, and there is always room for improvement. And with a Sondheim score, there seems to always be something new to discover.
A Leslie is a brand of amplifier designed to be used with the Hammond Organ. It has a rotating horn inside the cabinet, which causes the sound of the organ to be swirly and warbly. The horn speed can be switched from fast to slow to give musical passages varying degrees of excitement.
In November of 2010, I decided that I needed to buy a Leslie to bring to my organ gigs. I had bought a Motion Sound Pro 145, but I was not happy at all with the way it sounded. Then after reading some favorable reviews, I settled on the Leslie 3300.
When UPS dropped off the Leslie 3300 and I plugged it in, I knew I had made a great choice. It was compact, rugged, and very powerful. Immediately I started to have an issue with the high-frequency driver, which I read had a tendency to fail. After I had that replaced under warranty, I have not had a problem since.
Getting ‘my’ sound out of the Leslie has been a long process- there are EQ controls and tube preamp settings. One issue has been how to get the tube preamp to sound good without getting harsh and distorted. I’ve found that the best thing to do is to put the Tube Drive control on no more than about 10 percent. This adds clarity to the organ tone and seems to move the sound forward a bit: instead of coming from inside the speaker cabinet, the sound sounds like it originates from a few inches outside the cabinet. I guess this is what people mean when they refer to ’3D Tube Sound’.
The other huge thing I learned from Gary Versace when he used my organ and Leslie for a show. He turned the bass knob on the Leslie almost all the way off. All of the sudden, the sound was clean and defined, but still had plenty of bass. The bass cut seemed to get rid of the low, boomy bass which doesn’t sound good, but overloads the power amp causing it to distort.
I’ve used the Leslie 3300 on probably over 300 gigs now, and it sounds good as new!