Grant Osborne – harmonica
Doug Largent – organ
Grant Osborne – harmonica
I bought a used set of Hammond portable bass pedals. Come out to one of our organ trio shows to check out the new rig!
I must be feeling rich, because I also upgraded the strings and pickup on my acoustic bass. Come out to Irregardless Cafe tonight and watch me play bass with Dr. Stephen Anderson at the piano.
I’m excited to be playing with guitarists Casey Overton, Kevin Van Sant, and Paul Bomar this month. And drummers Zsolt David and Todd Proctor.
Have a nice June, and I hope to see you.
Thanks to Jennifer Terrazi-Scully for filming us play Latona by Big John Patton!
When I was a freshman in college, I bought jazz albums on vinyl. Not because vinyl was trendy, but because it was the least expensive way to get music. Jamey Aebersold published a pulp mail-order catalog, and I’d get records for $5 (CDs cost $18 and up at the time).
I had very few albums, but they were all great. I recorded them on cassette tapes and listened to them as I walked around from one class to another. At this point, I barely remember the classes at all, but I can remember in detail almost every note of Relaxin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet, Joe Henderson’s Page One, or Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage, among others. Back then I listened to complete albums from beginning to end, over and over, hundreds of times.
Eventually, vinyl and cassettes gave way to iTunes. As music became cheaper and easier to download, the good stuff got lost in a digital sea made up mostly of tons of music I don’t even care about.
I wanted to recreate the way I listened to music in the ’80s and ’90s. iTunes doesn’t make it very easy, but I found a way to listen to albums from start to finish. I started with McCoy Tyner’s The Real McCoy, and the result was incredible- I remained engaged for the entire record. I noticed all types of stuff that I hadn’t noticed before. I ended up listening to the entire album again immediately, and noticed even more great moments.
If you haven’t already, I’d urge you to listen to classic jazz albums uninterrupted from beginning to end, just like I did back in the day. If you have a turntable and listen to jazz on vinyl, you probably already know what I’m talking about!
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.
(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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
(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.
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!