Monday, December 12, 2011

Dec 9 Gig

Band's starting to sound really solid now. We had a guitar player sitting in. My keyboard didn't sound good. The EQ was not right and maybe the wrong patch for this. But in spite of all that, we're starting to really gel as a group and it's amazing since we don't rehearse. Half the tunes we play are always new. Sometimes it's a wonder it works out.

Tenor Madness

My Favorite Things



So What

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bye Bye Blackbird #2

The first time I recorded this a week or so ago, I was seeing the changes for the first time. I didn't even know the melody (all I had was a leadsheet). So just to compare I recorded it again. The difference in the process here, aside from understanding the tune more and practicing, was to listen to Keith Jarrett's version a few times, seeing if I can pull something out of Jarret's style.

So here's the product. As usual, I only do a single recording.

Bye Bye Blackbird Take 2

I did it at Jarrett's tempo (180bpm) and I think my articulation was quite sloppy. Might have been better to slow it down initially. So that's something to focus on next. There are some lines here that are actually what I heard from Jarrett. The rest are just similar in structure.

Something that I have to listen more to is Jarret's dynamic phrasing of each line. It's not something I commonly hear in Jazz so I have to pay more attention. Normally I'm only thinking of offbeat/downbeat articulation and the dynamics and drag related to that.

I noticed a change in my playing here. I have no idea what other's critique might be at this point but I was suprised at how quickly I picked on things by ear, particularly if I play it right after hearing the Jarrett recording.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Quick Recording

Someone asked to me to record Bye Bye Blackbird -- which I didn't know. Well I know it from listening to Jarrett but I've never played it. So I looked at the changes, turned on the recorder and here you have it. I didn't have time to be smart and inventive, I was just making sure I made the changes. This would be akin to getting a Leadsheet at a jam session and then seconds later, someone calls ..1...2...1234.

(Happens a lot actually and it's amazing for developing focus).

Anyway the goal of recording this was to see if I was able to incorporate some bop elements into my playing. Was I successful? I don't know. Lines are longer than would be typical of me now.

Bye Bye Blackbird

It's pretty easy though.

PS I don't know how to play the melody. Just BSing my way through it...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

ATTYA and thoughts on Bebop

Not particularly proud of this but people say it's good. I have played better than this if I turn the recorder off. I just turned on the recorder and improvised a little bit with no particular plan in mind. Just one take. :)

All the Things You Are.

I was talking to my teacher and I asked him about my lack of use of the bebop idiom. He said this is neither good nor bad but just fact that I have not integrated it into my vocabulary at all. This makes me sound different from most jazz players.

He then said, that to widen my view, I should learn it. How much of it to use is up to me he says but I need to make sure I know how to play it. In the above recording there are hints of some chromatics which come from bebop, but the next task is to see if I can incorporate large chunks of it.

I'm not sure yet how much of it I'd like to be a permanent part of my voice. But certainly, some use of bebop is useful for me for connecting ideas since that style promotes continuous eighth lines with 'forward motion' concepts.

It's getting to a point where I'm needing to clarify what my voice is. I keep changing around as I search. But I'm groping right now and it is confusing me a bit as I play. I think it's coming though. I'll see how this integrates into my next performance in early December.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Solar - Again

So here's Solar at 210bpm

And at 200bpm

I did it at 220bpm too but with less time to think my lines became mechanical. With a bop tune, it's not easy for me because I'm not really a bop player.

Not happy with my articulation at this tempo. Just lots of little timing issues that really bug me. I think a practice strategy is to slow down the phrases where the articulation suffers and analyze it.

Beeboss also suggested I vary the left hand. Good thing because I wasn't paying attention to it at all. It all sounds good in practice but turn on the recorder and everything goes to pot.

Interesting comments from people. I didn't really think about this much but I don't actually play bop. My style is completely different and heavy on an intervallic approach. Teacher's influence I guess. Bop tends to be linear and he discourages that in me. However, there are times when I don't even go chromatic and this is one of them. I tend not to and I have consciously add chromaticism. Just some elements from the toolbox.

Now why I would try to do runs at 200bpm, I don't know. Seemed doable at the time but really, it's hit or miss at this tempo.

Maybe I'll post this at the ABF Recital in a couple of days. Or maybe I come up with something better.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Keith Jarret's Touch

Something that really got me thinking after seeing Keith Jarrett's trio play was observing KJ's touch. Now I have the records so I've heard it before. But when listening to it on a record, I turn up the volume and the piano is mic'ed. In a live performance, where you can really judge the true volume of the piano, I was suprised to hear how gentle his touch is on EVERY note. Every note is rounded tonally. This would mean such control over the dynamics at all times.

Incredible to me when playing jazz since while improvising, you often don't know where you'll be going next until the moment. So there's always akwardness in hand and finger position and resulting in unevenness common to most jazz pianists. But not with KJ.

Since this is obviously a lifetime of training to develop, (and I'm past having that kind of time), at least being conscious about it is better than nothing.

The other thing that I learned was to distinguish "harmonic embellishment" in KJ''s playing and the "melodic phrases". I didn't observe till now that there's a tension and release between these two approaches and that this gives one, your "voice". Lots of practice involved here to balance these two with deliberate control. There's a difference in phrasing between the two as well. I find that the melody making side is like a singer and there's a lot of rubato phrasing. Such a contrast to just bebop blowing.

This KJ concert was like a major jazz lesson.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Recording in My Teacher's Style

I gave a try of 'Body and Soul' -- another difficult jazz standard

I made this in the style of my teacher, to show his influence. I did this in one take and my time was a little off as I tried to adjust to the backing track. As my friend Chris Bell advised me, I need to lay back just a little.

The advanced goal my teacher has set was to not be playing scales and develop better melodic concepts while I play. I have no idea if I achieved that but that at least was what I tried to do.

I suppose I should post an update to my progress in jazz. Over the last year, I've gone from practicing at home to regular jam sessions. I have a regular professional gig with my own band and as the recordings show, there's a large audience and plenty of regular fans that return each time.

Wow -- I've come a long way. It's been seven years since I started playing piano and jazz. I remember chatting with my teacher (5 years now with the same teacher) and I asked him why he took me since 5 years ago, I had all the theory but I could hardly play. He said he sensed it was all in me and I just didn't have the confidence to let it out.

Jazz is a very difficult genre to learn because progress is slow and improvisation is something that has to come from inside you.  Add to that the difficult of learning piano and it seemed an impossible goal at the beginning.

Now I'm setting a new goal. This is more aggressive. I actually want to be good at this. I realize that I've succeeded in reaching some level of mediocrity in jazz playing. It would take quite a bit of effort to sound like a 'better' player. We'll see how long that takes.

Monday, July 25, 2011

July 23 Gig

Here are a few samples from one my gigs this weekend.
This was my 8 piece band (Piano, Bass, Drums, Sax, Trumpet, Guitar, Percussion, Vocals) which I lead. I've been assembling many musicians from jam sessions to join me and I have this ever changing ensemble.
Forgive the loud background noise. There was a lot of people and some chose to hang out near the Zoom H4.

There Will Be Another You

All Blues

Canteloupe Island


Friday, July 1, 2011


Here's a try at Naima in Solo piano

It's a little hard to make heads of tails of this and make something strong but it's such a beautiful tune so I'm giving it a shot. I played this at my last gig and it is much easier with a rhythm section and the horns playing the head.

Recorded on my Steinway.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Jam Snippets (June)

Jam Session tonight -- Here's a couple of recordings

This is a jam so we have a mix here, like a newbie trumpet player who we allow to play the head so he can participate. I have played neither of these tunes in a group before so it's interesting to see the dynamics that developed. You can hear the discussions.

This is RAW STUFF. Messy but fun at the same time.

Look of Love (Burt Bacarach)

Pardon the guitar player plugged into my monitor and basically confusing me. So some of those wrong notes you hear are actually the guitar. He wasn't supposed to be playing.

Mr PC (John Coltrane)

This made me panic a little during the solo since it's the first time I've played at 200bpm live. It made me tense up and I repeated ideas and I was off the pocket there for a bit. Will do better next time. But listen to what happens with the rhythm section as everyone just let loose. Completely unplanned. It was great!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

My First Major Gig

I did a show recently, my first major gig with a jazz group and I was also the leader. There was a huge crowd and I had Vocals, Sax, Guitar, Keyboard, Bass and Drums. What an experience! Prior to this was mostly solo piano gigs and many jam sessions. We were a hit with the crowd and they asked to play on a regular basis. I played with experienced musicians here and it was a great feeling to get through a tune with very little discussion. I had never played with most of these people. I played with the bass player a couple of times at a jam but that was it. There's mistakes everywhere, but this is jazz so I thought it went well for the first try.





Route 66

Autumn Leaves

God Bless

Someday My Prince


Indian Summer

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Letting Some Notes Ring

Just to track where I am, here are two recordings from practice today.

Giant Steps - 200bpm

All the Things You Are

My goal here was to avoid playing continuous streams of eighth notes and really think of the melody. I've been learning to be aware of this the last few weeks from my lessons. When I listen to the masters play, I only perceive the fast eighth note lines. But if I listen closer, there's more breaks in there than I thought, even at faster tempos.

So the lesson I learned was to "Let the Notes Ring". I realize now that this makes for better melodies and delineates ideas.

When I was playing, my teacher would stop me and say "HOLD THAT NOTE!". This is because I just keep streaming notes like scales and there's no time for an idea to catch up.

Hopefully a little bit of this is coming in to my playing. There's more of this to be done, but I think it's happening

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Swing Thoughts Part 3

Some of this discussion on swing can get very technical. This is because I'm at a point now where I'm becoming conscious of what it takes to play jazz at a pro level.

This is a continuation of the journey to improve articulation and swing and part 3 of the thought process.

The more I think about the "swung eighth" position that I illustrated rhythmically in part 1, the more ideas are popping into my head.

How exactly do the masters line up their eighth notes so it fits that position of landing the offbeat on the 3 of the triplet (what I've been calling the sweet spot)? I discussed the Erskine vocalized "Uh" as the subdivision mechanism but's really hard to apply at a fast tempo, especially on the first note.

So on to further analysis. Here in this recording, I was playing with my teacher on two pianos. I just extracted his portion of the solo so I can analyze his groove. Very relaxed feel here. This is a very simple version of ATTYA so it's easy to understand. Rhythm section is iRealBook from an Iphone.

I know that I'm right that of the offbeat eighth lands on the 3 of a triplet (a triplet representing two eighths), it will swing even if the eighths are played straight. That was already proven by the sequenced recordings in part 2. But now here is a real player playing straight eighths and it swings.

I think I figured it out. He's playing the first eighth as a dotted eighth (so slightly longer) and then the rest of the eighths are played straight. That's how you make straight eighths swing. I was playing with one of the phrases over and over and I can feel the difference in each note length.

That's my theory at the moment. Listen to the recording. I sense that the first eighth, especially starting from a rest is longer. A dotted eighth would be an exact match rhythmically.

This is a mind boggling discovery if true because it give a precise way of getting a groove. So the rest is just how even you can play your eighths (like Classical).

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Analyzing Swing in Modern Jazz - Part 2

This is part 2 of Swing Analysis. It's probably better to start with Part 1 if you are interested in this topic.

Scott, from our jazz threads took my concept of subdividing pairs of eighths in 6 (24 to a bar), and seeing what it sounds like when played against a rhythm section. He used a sequencer to make the minute adjustments necessary. And the results are below.

And I was shocked to discover that apparently my theory is correct. Now this is uptempo (220 bpm) so you'll have to just get the feel of it.

The theory of this is explained in Part 1. The "Triplet Feel" playing is how beginners typically perceive jazz. The typical swing explanation is called "Long-Short Long-Short ...". Or in notation it will be seen as a Dotted Eighth + Sixteenth. It is in fact true that this rhythm is very important in jazz because this is the rhythm of the drummer's Ride Cymbal.

However, it is UNTRUE that this extends to how jazz is played on the piano or any other instrument. As you will hear in the examples below, you can play Straight (even) eighth pairs and still swing, as long as the offbeat eighth lands in the sweet spot of the swing groove. In this is done by DRAGGING/DELAYING the beat.

Triplet Feel
This feel is the exaggerated Jazz rhythm that you don't actually hear anywhere other than from beginners and non-jazz players. This what my teacher discouraged me from playing as it is not authentic.

Straight Eighths
This is an example of a playing style of some pianists where you play even eighths but you make it swing by dragging it a particular amount. See the Part 1 Thread for how much it is dragged in this example.

There is another range of playing which is in between the triplet feel and the straight eighth feel. My theory is that a harder swing is done by moving the downbeat closer to the top of the beat (from the straight eighth) while the offbeat always stays in place.

When we get another recording example, this point will be proven too. So the conclusion is that when playing jazz, don't think so much of Long-Short, but "lay back" and sense the groove that is the swing eighth in the offbeat. The 'A' in the Drummer's Jazz 'Ding-A-Ding rhythm', the 3 in a triplet.

This is not easy to do. Part 1 showed some examples of how to practice that using sounds to subdivide.

Now what's not discussed here is the accents. The way jazz works is that we focus on the offbeat. So in addition to landing on the sweet spot 3 in the triplet (the swing eighth), we also accent that eighth. How much you accent is an articulation choice and tends to happen more on the medium tempos.

Wynton Kelly, who I consider THE swing master, used a lot of accents. Kelly played in a harder swing closer to the triplet feel and mixed it with the straight eighths laid back and oftentimes in the same tune.

It's only now that I studied these rhythms in a finer subdivision that I understand what he's really doing now.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Analyzing Swing in Modern Jazz - Part 1

I was trying to solve a problem for myself. How do I keep a swing feel at a faster tempo when I'm playing straight eighths? This discovery is the result of that thought process. Below is an analysis of a typical jazz beat and I'm showing two bars in each example. The analysis of swing for me starts with understanding the beat subdivisions.

The result of this little process was very illuminating. I've tried to explain this in words before but it never came out clearly because I didn't really think it out. Thanks to our drummer friends on the Jazz Advanced Thread, I finally got to thinking about this like a drummer. Step 1 was to watch a lot of Peter Erskine instructional videos on Jazz drumming on Youtube. And that got me thinking.

So here's the progression of the thought process...

A. Quarter Note Pulse
|x x x x |x x x x |

B. Eighth Notes - if played Straight
|x x x x x x x   |x x x x x x x   |

C. Straight Eighths - Translated to 24/8
I'm translating this to 24/8 - so I can demonstrate a point. So shown below, the 8th notes played straight starts on 1 of each triplet

|Xxx Xxx Xxx Xxx Xxx Xxx Xxx Xxx |Xxx Xxx Xxx Xxx Xxx Xxx Xxx Xxx |

D. Triplet Feel - Shown in 24/8The drummer plays a ride cymbal pattern which sets the swing groove and often heard as 'Ding-a-Ding'. This is the pattern shown below. Beginning pianists make the mistake of playing this same rhythm as the drummer and the swing doesn't breath. It sounds mechanical and hokey. Many pianists will play a less extreme version of this with the offbeat 8th note being played in between the 1st and 2nd note of the triplet.

|Xxx xXx Xxx xXx Xxx xXx Xxx xXx |Xxx xXx Xxx xXx Xxx xXx Xxx xXx |

This pattern of 8th note pairs is also shown in music notation as Dotted Eighth + 16th (instead of a pair of Eighths). When jazz is notated, this swing is not notated and is instead just stated as 'Swing'.

In case you're wondering, the 24/8 may not visually make sense since swing is often thought of as 12/8 as in this format.
|Xx X Xx X Xx X Xx X |Xx X Xx X Xx X Xx X |
E. Alternate Drag the Beat Feel Playing Straight Eighths
Modern jazz pianists take more from the horn players when doing swing. I was taught this by feel but didn't know why it worked. I can hear it everywhere. This style of playing is the modern interpretation of swing. Eighths are played fairly straight (even lengths). But the beat is dragged slightly.

|xXx xXx xXx xXx xXx xXx xXx xXx |xXx xXx xXx xXx xXx xXx xXx xXx |

Now look at section E above. Observe that the offbeat 8th matches the swing eighth of the Triplet feel swing in D. In other words, the offbeat 8th is played on the '-A-' of the Ding-A-Ding ride cymbal pattern.

Observe also that the downbeat eighths are dragged. They don't start on 1 of the triplet. You might think this is called 'swung' as well but it isn't. That's because swing occurs on the offbeat.

So the effect of dragging the beat while playing straight eighths is that you in effect cause a swing feel. I hear this playing of the drag a lot when I listen to Herbie Hancock. He's my best piano example of this since I can hear him adjust the drag so there's a little more to the placement than the exact Ding-A-Ding.

Practically every Horn Bebop player drags straight eighths like this from what my ear tells me. Dizzy, Bird, Coltrane, Rollins but it's hard to explain on the piano since we have a more percussive attack.

Now here's why this analysis come about. I was listening to my jam recordings and whenever the tune gets a little more uptempo, I start sounding more and more mechanical. Now you can't really do a shuffle beat at a fast tempo. At 200bpm for example, it's classical music evenness.

So how do I fix my swing? At a higher tempo, one has to accept that the eighths will be even as very few have the technique to maintain a hard swing and keep a groove. Besides it doesn't sound good.

I was taught swing by accenting the downbeats. But even accenting downbeats is not possible at 200bpm.

The answer apparently, is to drag the beat. As shown above, without further thought, dragging the beat will swing.

How to do this in practice, especially since I'm supposed to play a tune at 200bpm on Monday? I played a drum track on my iRealBook app at 200bpm and thought about it. It's pretty hard to synchronize to the offbeat 8th (the 'A' in Ding-A-Ding on ride cymbal). As it is it's going so fast that I can only sync to the quarter notes.

The solution: think of each note I play as Uh-Gah Uh-Gah Uh-Gah. Two sounds but very close together. I got this idea from Erskine since he made this sound as his internal subdivision guide. Then I think of the Gah as the top of the beat. But I hit the key on the Uh. This seems to give me a good practice point for maintaining a drag at a higher tempo.

Now there's a point where I can possibly hear this (250bpm and above?). But I think this is highly applicable in the 150-200bpm range where I typically play straight eighths.

BTW - typical of the straight eighth playing style is to accent the offbeats. But as you go past 170bpm, even that is pretty hard to do. Also, you can't really play straight eighths below 140bpm. You'll have to get closer to triplet feel.

But the secret to understanding this is in using a finer subdivision.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Roland FP7FSamples

Here's some improv postings I made to see if the Roland FP7F sounds good in a Trio mix

Stella by Starligh
This one had a higher reverb and touch was set to "Light"

Blue Bossa
Touch was set to medium and reverb was very minimal. Just one value up from completely dry.

Very Early
This was head only and solo piano. Just to compare the difference between solo piano and combo.

All the Things You Are

Thursday, January 6, 2011

My Struggle at Evenness and Time Control

When I listen to a pro jazz player play, I'm frustrated to not be able to play with the control and evenness in time that they can do. As I listen to my own recordings, it's fraught with technical flaws.

I realize that this is the difficulty with jazz. I think I've gotten to a point now where I can play mostly with my ears and less with my fingers. And this means that sometimes the fingers end up in a position not conducive to a good tone. Or sometimes I get too excited thinking about the melodies coming out that I'm over-accenting. Or it gets out of time a little as I try to recover from some position to go to the next note.

It's the next big hurdle for me that makes me sound amateurish. I think that hearing these flaws is the beginning stages of my improvement here. I probably couldn't hear these much before.

I was asking my teacher this question and I actually had him listen to my jam session performance. To him it was all good. He said I could hear when I was going out of time and then I readjust. But when I hear a professional play, I don't hear this. So maybe they're just adjusting their time at a more frequent rate than me. This is jazz after all and we don't exactly know what we're going to play until we do it.

In the meantime I've realized that part of the culprit is my LH. Due to less technical development, it will tend to waver in time more and it affects the RH. Lately, I've been more focused on improving LH scales and listen more closely at a finer level. Also by practicing Walking bass I can pay more attention to the LH.

The other solution is to make my phrases shorter. Trying to play long lines like Keith Jarrett isn't going to help. I've known this for awhile. Frequent spaces in playing is not just "breathing" and syncopation. It's a chance to listen to reestablish the groove. I've been told this a zillion times. But maybe it's just sinking in now that the "listening" part has been missing.

Another thing I just recently discovered, and related to listening, is that to check my overall sound, I'm typically paying attention to the strike points in my playing. What I mean here is that I'm focused on the sound of my notes beginning. I'm noticing an improvement in my evenness if I listen to the length of the whole note playing. It changes my perception quite a bit. There's a masterclass on Youtube by Hal Galper here At about 12:00 in, this is what I'm talking about.
Hopefully, my strong awareness of these problems will lead to a shorter term solution. The technique unfortunately takes time but maybe by listening and more frequently readjusting, it will be less obvious.