Saturday, December 1, 2012

Nov 30 Gig

Gig recordings with Vocals.

Soul Eyes

Killer Joe
There Will Never Be Another You

How High the Moon

In Walked Bud

Blue in Green

Look of Love

Manha de Carnaval

Night in Tunisia

I'm mixing in more R&B/Funk since the audience can relate. But other than the change in groove it's really all the same. I need to play simply when I go do funk. Sometimes my brain doesn't switch properly. Also, I'm a little confused on whether to swing in funk or not and it exhibits as hesitations in the feel. Darn.

Other issues are just in not developing ideas. I do it at practice but I can't focus on it on a gig. On this performance, I played a lot of linear lines and just didn't feel like going intervallic which would have opened up more melodic options. I'm sure this was from panic.

My tone was awful. Legato was lost. Everything sounded detached. This was because I was focused on eighth note rhythms.

The recordings may have too loud of a piano sometimes but that's just from where the recorder was located (monitor was pointed at it). So it's more balanced in real life. I've been recently aware that my piano sound had low volume so I made sure that wasn't the case here.

Swing issues exist with the band. Partly it's because the bass player does not play legato and the drummer doesn't have a good ding-ding-a-ding rhythm. It's slightly too long IMO. So he does  better when the rhythm focuses on 2 & 4. We discussed it. Hopefully it will improve next time.

In spite of all my self-critique, the good news is that we do draw a regular audience and our music appeals to them and everyone keeps coming back. It's amazing in a way. We sound a LOT better than a year ago. And maybe by next year, the musicianship level will be commensurate to the audience appreciation. Musicianship still has a ways to go (being critical).

Friday, November 23, 2012

Swing Issues

I was listening to some recent recordings and I noticed an inconsistency in my swing. And more pronounced when I shift to playing Rock, Funk, Latin and then back to swing. So clearly, there was something that was making me lose the swing feel.

I had to go back to my original lessons to analyze what I was hearing which seemed like timing issues or stiffness in the sound. A friend on the Piano Forum said I didn't sound "pro". He's right of course and some of it can be attributed to rushing.

Anyway, I figured it out in the last couple of weeks, I've been practicing and I'm beginning to feel that I can maintain the swing consistently now. The issue seems to be a misunderstanding I had about some of my old lessons.

As originally explained to me by several of my recent jazz teachers (and consistently), swing (at least the more modern variety), is about accenting offbeats and not about long-short-long-short. OK I got that. So I play straight and it was not sounding right. It sounds ok in Latin but not in swing.

In some prior blog, I noted that I took my teacher's recording and studied the waveforms. And I saw that the offbeat landed 100% EXACTLY on the 3 of the triplet feel. Always. Without fail. I was so focused on where the downbeat eighth landed that I neglected to pay attention to the fixed location of the offbeat. This is the only way it can swing, I realized.

I listen to Brad Mehldau and even when playing straight, he perfectly times his phrases so that things landed on the 3 of the triplet. This is the absolute secret to swing that no one has ever explained. In case there was doubt, I went back to my teacher before to verify this. And upon deep thought, he realized what I was saying was true though he does it by feel. At least I managed to find a way to articulate the technique. Now I might remind readers that my teacher is a world class jazz musician. He's a real player. The perfection of where his eighths land is truly amazing to see on a waveform. This is why most average players don't sound as clean.

I realized that it doesn't matter where my downbeat lands (as long as I stay fairly consistent). The downbeat position is dependent on whether you want to play straight or hard swing and this is a taste preference as well as a tempo thing. For example YOU HAVE TO have a hard swing (long-short) at slow tempos like 100bpm. At 150bpm, you are not obliged to have any lilt in the eighths as long as you land that offbeat on the proper part of the beat.

In practice, I found that all I have to do is start all my offbeats just a hair before the quarter note (3 of the triplet eighth). I just have to feel that, The marker is the quarter note beat. That's what was missing, which was where to anchor the offbeat to. It's the quarter note.

Once I figured this out, my playing became more consistent. Then I can stretch or shorten the downbeat eighth to either land on the downbeat (very hard swing) or slightly delayed (straight). In practice, no one really plays to land an eighth on a downbeat. It's always slightly delayed. So when listening to good swing, there ought to be no notes landing exactly on a beat.

Thus to summarize:

I had to play an accented off beat EXACTLY at the 3 of the triplet eighth position.
I had to drag the downbeat slightly but this is more flexible and changes the mood.

In contrast, when playing Latin, I have to play EXACTLY on the straight subdivisions. Perfectly straight like classical. This is one of the most difficult things to perfect in jazz is to know how to control your articulation.  This is a recent realization so we'll see how I sound in the next few gigs coming up. At least in practice recordings, it's really sounding better.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Less Rushing! (Whew!)

Some gig recordings from tonight. I was very conscious about keeping my rhythm good and avoiding rushing. I was pretty disgusted with myself last time. These are a little better.

Side story -- a guy walks up and says, "I'm a musician, can I sit in with the bongos? I play with Ramsey Lewis...". Well that was quite intimidating and I made sure to set his expectations but he was a nice guy and you can hear him playing bongos.

Recordame (still a little rushing at the beginning of my solo but I fixed it).

Blue Monk

Blue in Green (Funk)

So What (Funk)

Night in Tunisia

What I noticed is that I'm beginning to recognize when I rush and then I naturally take a pause and relax and listen. And it seems to work.

Now the other thing new is playing several tunes in Jazz Funk style. After listening to the recordings, clearly I need to be more percussive when using EP. It sounds like I'm banging it. And I set the Key weight to Light for it. It's not good since it kills the dynamic range. Well, next time.

One thing that's different from this gig was that I got a lot of claps on my solos which was more than I ever got before. Also, the drummer said "You sound good...did you practice?"

The answer to "practice" was not really much. I spent a couple of hours one day recording myself and then listening to my articulation and time. It must have helped. Not bad for a single day of work I guess.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

New Stuff

Here's a recording from a Live gig a couple of weeks ago.


I was rushing a bit.  Just have to relax a bit.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Intimate Gig Recordings

This venue is small and intimate. Last time we played here it was packed to the gills. But this time it wasn't filled and it was nice and quiet for recording. The audience was intent on listening so it was more like a concert. Anyway, this is a Quartet format with a guitar player being added to the trio.

Days of Wine and Roses
A Night in Tunisia

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Today's Home Recording

New recording at home. Zoom H4 was busted (mono channel only). I couldn't dial in the volume (didn't have the time to tweak) of the Nord Piano against the BIAB backing track.


Self-critique: LH needs to lighten up. Some timing issues. Still too busy. Can't sustain the idea. Now this was a one shot recording (as usual), so I just played didn't think about it.

I'm noticing some changes in my approach though that seem to be sticking. And I just have to firm up my style for the longer term.
This is good though. For the gig on Monday, I have an approach (similar to this). Just maybe less and more space.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

First Big Time Gig?

I arrived at our regular venue and then the person in charge said, "Oh, BTW, you're playing for a crowd of 200+ --it's the wrap-party for the movie Raging Bull II".

OMG -- so while we were playing, all these movie stars were around us. I had a picture taken with Paul Sorvino (Sopranos) after the gig, but the rest were around in the middle of the sets.
And they asked me if the Director could sit in on a couple of tunes. I guess he's a jazz pianist. But he didn't actually approach us though.

Anyway, it was so noisy we couldn't hear ourselves so we pumped up the volume and dropped all the soft tunes. Played everything uptempo. We had to stay longer since the crowd was still heavy (and quickly negotiated extra pay).
I made sure to hand out my cards to the production company people. Too bad I wasn't prepared for this. The good news was we got really good compliments on our music so I guess we're good enough for Hollywood :)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Jam Stuff June 2012

Here's some new jam recordings. I sense I'm not just pounding the keys randomly now on solos. There's more shape and purpose to what I do. Time was good too. All that metronome and uptempo practice helped.

Red Clay (Freddie Hubbard) - I never played this before. I was still looking for the Leadsheet when the tune started. Sounded great. This is what's great about interacting at the moment. You'll never know what will happen.

Mr PC - Always difficult for me before when the drummer plays it with a rock beat. But no problem this time.

Invitation - I called it as swing but it barely had a swing section. LOL.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Faults - I Heard it! And Other Rhythmic Issues

So I said in my previous post that I need to hear my faults. And darn, I heard it too well!

My main problem right now is rhythmic and is called "rushing". At my last gig, each time my solo started, I started to push the beat. Sounded awful. I was off sync with the rest of the band. It showed up in the recording.

I then compared this recording to other recent recordings and I noticed it's not consistent. Usually I rush only for short phrases and then I'm back in sync. I'm not good enough to maintain an even rhythm perfectly for a whole tune and it's usually difficult for most until you get to the uppermost echelons of jazz.

I noticed that there was something different though at the last gig. Normally, my bass player will establish a walking bass (quarter note pulse). This is the typical swing pulse in 4/4. In modern jazz though, the rhythm section plays in an "open style". Typical of the interaction between Scot La Faro and Bill Evans back in the Vanguard album, each instrument is soloing at the same time. This cacophony of rhythms is very difficult to follow. So each person needs a strong pulse internally to not get lost. The bass will typically mix in 8th notes instead of just quarters and may have gaps with no beat. It can be really confusing.

In my case, I don't think I expected it because my bass player just came back from a Bassist Camp and learned some new stuff (from Victor Wooten). And this is an advanced style of playing that I am not used to yet.

Anyway, I practiced at home and my time is actually getting solid normally. So if I'm aware of it, I can stop the rushing. Sometimes you really see that awareness of a problem means another phase is developing. Today I was comfortably soloing at 230bpm with streams of eighth notes. It wasn't until I got to 240bpm that I had to break it up and do more syncopation because it was getting too much for me.

Looks like 230bpm for me was the old 200.

To get to a comfort level, I had to really focus on on upbeats. If my accents on the upbeat fails, I seem to lose control. Somehow, the upbeats ( 'and' in 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 ), grounds the pace and relaxes the rhythm. It's where you can drag by slightly increasing the length of the upbeats. If I focus on the downbeats, there's a seeming sync problem with the swing.

Beeboss at PW gave me a link to practice my rhythm that was really good. I can practice this away from the piano.

Try it out. It is best to set "Measures Off" to 4. So 4 measures on and 4 measures off. Then you have to supply your own beat. The metronome only clicks on 2 & 4 so you have to subdivide your own 1 & 2.

This is really hard to get accurately at 80bpm and below (at the moment). Feeling a slow pulse requires a different way of sensing time. Maybe I'll blog on this as I watch my progress. But I'm starting to feel a difference in my perception.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Hearing Your Faults

As I read comments by new piano students on the internet, I realized that most people cannot hear the faults in their playing. It can be about unneveness, lack of legato, articulation issues, lack of good tone and good sustain, or balance between the voices, or lack of good time.

I can hear these problems in other people's playing. I can hear it in myself. Well, now I can. Then it made me think of the years when I couldn't hear it. Just to prove the point, I listen to some old recordings and just as I thought, I was flabbergasted at how bad I sounded. It sounded ok at the time.

So this is the biggest challenge to any new player. You must try to listen to those faults. If you don't find any, then clearly your development is at a standstill. I'm sure now that there's a whole lot I can't hear yet and I have to work at finding those faults. I'm sure they'll be tied to exactness in time as that's really hardest to hear. Yet I know that when a pro player plays, that tightness in the time is really noticeable.

The good news is that ONCE you hear your faults, you will now be equipped to dispose of those faults so you can't hear them anymore again. This is a neverending process and this is actually the guide on how to practice. It is about making a list of faults and cleaning it off the list.

Until I figure I sound like Keith Jarrett then there is absolutely no chance that I'm doing anything well. It may be good to pat the ego but it does nothing to developing our skills.

Sometimes we can't hear the faults until our teacher brings it up. That's the essential part about a teacher. I think it is often misconstrued what a teacher's role is. I remember my teacher always identifying some fault to work on. He doesn't bring more than 1 or 2 up (though he hears 100 problems). This is good. It keeps one focused.

I'm not actively getting lessons right now so I have to act honest with myself to find my faults. I always post my music on the internet and invite comments of all kinds. If I can't hear a fault, someone can and if they do, I've just made progress. It's foolish to involve the ego.

Then again, I really want to be good. So I'm driven to search for perfection. Anyway, this kind of information would have really been important when I was just starting. No one told me this. So early on my focus was to "sound good". Instead, I should have been actively looking for problems since it has to be there.

Recently, people have posted that I sound "pro". Well, I can hear that that is not the case. So that's good. I will be on my way to improving then.

If you can't hear your faults, you need to worry.

But if you hear TOO MANY faults, then you ought to back up a bit. LOL. You're out of your range.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

My Practice Routine (First Year)

This is a bit hard to remember now. It's been 7.5 years since I started. But I recall how daunting it was to know NOTHING. How do you even start?

I remember my first frustration was the lack of hand independence. So I figured that the way to solve this was hours upon hours of scale practice HT. HS first to get the pattern, then putting it together. In retrospect, I may have overdone this. I easily did 3-4 hours of scales a day the first few months.

But the secondary benefit of scales was understanding theory. I understood a little bit of the diatonic cycle of fifths (degrees of the scale) and worked out on paper all the relationships between each scale and chords. This was my first intro into theory. I started seeing mathematical connections between scales and it really helped me see some of the logic that exists in music.

Since the ii-V-I was the most fundamental concept in playing jazz, I figured I would just stick to one tune as a Pedagogic device and learn how to improvise on that. So just like I did in the Jazz Thread on Pianoworld, I played Autumn Leaves constantly since it's a major ii-V-I and a relative minor ii-V-i in one tune.

With such limited knowledge, I just learned (memorized) a rootless voicing on the LH and did the melody on the RH. Part of this was the challenge of hand independence.

I didn't have good instruction the first year since my first teacher was just a student himself so my direction was haphazard.

I remember playing a fixed pattern of Walking Bass on the LH. I just did this over and over without thought and then would insert a few notes on the RH to see if I didn't lose the beat. After a year, I could semi do this. But maybe it was too early for it.

I memorized the rootless voicings and then practiced ii-V-I's in all keys. This was tedious and at the beginning, I had no real understanding of the notes my hands were on. I just memorized. I would later have to undo this by actually understanding what was in the voicing and not just doing it blindly.

Most of all, even from day 1, I just improvised. I pretty much played diatonically since that's all I know and tried to do it more by ear. I'm sure it sounded awful but as I later learned, the first thing that has to happen is to "Let Go". Apparently improvising is tied to a part of the brain the releases inhibitions and you have to let go. Many people start playing jazz by going to method books and practicing etudes. I wonder though how much they they spent just letting go. I think withholding this step will prevent development. I realize now that it doesn't matter what you play. Play from the heart and that'll train the brain.

Now if I'm to do this again, I'd probably give a limitation of playing only 1-2-3-5 of the chord. That probably give more structure and follow vocabulary.

If I had to go back, I need to have mastered voicings more clearly and to get an early start on identifying each of the 12 tones in relation to the root of the chord.

I should have practiced visualizing:
Comes pretty easy now but it took years and it would have been important that first year.

Visualizing the layout of the keyboard quickly is essential in two handed voicings. This is probably why teachers always start out with shell voicings on the LH (1-7). this really gives a good base for a good hand shape. Again this was not something I did the first year. Wasted time.

Practicing rhythms slowly was not something I did. The most important thing to a musician is to have good time/rhythm and one has to build this pulse in the body. I didn't practice with a metronome early on. I tried to play things as fast as I can rather than slow it down. It's harder to play slowly. There was some years in the middle that I had to focus on this. Big issue that's under-discussed.

Swing - I didn't really learn this properly until I got to my third and long term teacher. I wished I understood this from the beginning. My tip to new students, FORGET ABOUT LONG-SHORT-LONG-SHORT eighths or "Triplet Feel".  Just play it Straight and accent the upbeats. The swing feel will develop from that. I can't believe the amount of research I did on this, including slowing down recordings to understand what was going on. At a Bill Cunliffe Master Class recently, this was one of the first things he said too. It is NOT COOL to play with triplet feel with real jazz players.

Jazz Vocabulary - this eludes me to this day because it's supposed to be something that early jazzers are supposed to learn but my teacher did not teach me this at all. He taught me the correct notes, the phrasing, the feel, but left the actual choice of notes to me. At first, people commented that my playing was stilted because it was unrecognizable from traditional jazz. I'm listening to traditional jazz now and mixing it more in but in a way, I'm glad I didn't get too influenced because my "voice" is unique though rough on the edges. So the way to get jazz vocabulary is to transcribe. In retrospect, transcribing Freddie the Freeloader and So What would have been a good thing.

Reading  Music - I played some classical pieces the first year like Fur Elise and Chopin's Raindrop Prelude but I was a poor sight reader. I had to memorize. I could have spent more time reading but I just hated it. But in jazz, this isn't so much of a problem when learned later. I read a little better now. I still avoid it though. What was important was learning Classical music. I think playing a few Classical pieces well is essential. I learned quite a bit from Chopin's Raindrop Prelude and also Em Prelude.

In my 3rd year, I went to a Classical Teacher to learn technique. Again in retrospect, I should have done this in the first year. I got tendonitis from lack of understanding of technique. Reading about technique from books only makes sense in retrospect. When you don't know what the right way is, you can misinterpret. My classical teacher spent months on finger-drops. Hands collapse on the keys. Relaxation. Then you eventually realize that the hand structure itself will provide the force. But then it was later in my playing that I realized even this instruction wasn't sufficient. Fingers have to be involved too at times. One answer is never that simple.

So what was UNimportant to practice back then (which appears to be true in retrospect)? First, I didn't do much Hanon the first year. Scales yes. Hanon no. In retrospect, good deal. I realized later on that without proper technique, I would have to unlearn everything I did with Hanon.  I did Hanon later (maybe 3-4 years in) but only for a few months at a time.

Learning a zillion tunes. I did not do this. This was good. At first it was Autumn Leaves. My longer term teacher focused on All the Things You Are. At first, I thought I was not getting a good grounding in tunes because we only hit the most difficult tunes and some I worked on for a year. In retrospect, not a big deal. When you learn to improvise, learning a new tune is the least of your concerns. Chord progressions are so repetitive. Looking back, even playing Autumn Leaves in many keys would have worked too. I know hundreds of tunes now. I learned them all in one year. Maybe I don't have them completely memorized yet but I don't doubt it will happen normally. Good thing I didn't waste my time on this.

My Practice Routine (Today)

I keep getting asked this question a lot so I figure I'll just answer here and then not have to retype it.

Obviously, there's a different practice strategy when I was just starting out vs. today so the specifics are never fixed. First there's the time element. I've maintained the discipline of practicing 2 hours a day and this even increases on weekends. This does not include time listening to Jazz (or Classical) nor does it include talking about music with anyone on the internet.

The hard part about practicing is to build a list of what to practice. This really takes some thinking and planning but without it, the whole idea of practice becomes a waste. So what I do is maintain a list of weaknesses that I'm aware of and then I hit those at each practice session.

This is a recent list:

1. Two handed scales at 160bpm Quarters played in perfect unison - I may hit 2-4 scales a day, targetting the worst ones. This week I did D, F#, Db, E, F. My weakness here was the LH. My RH is very fast but my unisons are slightly out of sync. Maybe 15 minutes.
2. Playing two handed Quartal voicings moving up diatonically in steps (stack of 4ths with a 3rd on top). I've been doing this on every key. Everyone knows this in Dm and Ebm because of So What, but fries my brain in Dbm, or Bbm.
3. Uptempo practice - I put up Mr. PC as a backing track and then I push the tempo higher and higher. Usually I start on 200bpm and then work my way up to 250bpm.
4. I've got gigs every week so I have to learn new tunes constantly. Or review tunes I haven't played in awhile, particularly the head. So this week, I was working on Wave, I've Got You Under My Skin, and Softly as in the Morning Sunrise.
5. Next I always work on some aspect of improvising. So I play the tunes on my set list for the week and then see if I can make a coherent solo out of it. I'm typically addressing a specific problem, like space, repetition of ideas, connectivity of ideas, and phrasing issues. I try to make a regular assessment of the content of my solos so that I'm not just banging away without thought.
6. I'll do a little Walking Bass since this is something I've neglected for years. On a new tune, I'll just do 1-3-5-3 as a starting point and then slowly vary it. One tune only per practice session. This one I've skipped frequently. So I'm not consistently practicing it.
7. Playing Unison Melodies. This is sort of related to #1. Because the two hands have to be perfectly timed. So any lack of technique or discomfort in fingering can be heard. But something has changed recently. I can play a lot of unisons now. This week I was practicing Solar in unison.

Now this specific practice regimen is to help me with my gigs. At different times I may be focused on completely different issues. For awhile there, I thought I was playing unevenly and I identified the problem to weaknesses in Finger 4. So I record myself constantly and problems I didn't hear a year ago, I may hear now. I fixed this with Hanon for a couple of months.

So what's the pattern to what I'm doing here? Well first, like I said, I have to make a list of weaknesses. And part of this is developing the critical ear to listen for weaknesses. I realized that if you can't hear the problem then you can't solve it. One must never be cocky thinking that one is now "good". I know I'm not good. To a beginner I may sound good but I know better.

Second part of the pattern here is I always work on multiple issues at once. Usually a set of problems will stay with me for a couple of months and I will hit on the set and see tiny amounts of progress every day.

Third, there's always a mix of technical, vs. musical challenge.

BTW sometimes I think I know how to do certain things but when put to a test by a teacher, I forget (like 2 handed voicings -- sometimes too slow). So certain things have to rotated back. One of the reasons I put scales back on the list was that I looked at the requirements to do a Jazz Camp at Port Townsend (audition required), and part of the requirements was to do scales at 160bpm. At first that scared me but then it was just 160bpm in quarters (I practice in sixteenths). The issue though was unison scales. My LH sucked and at 160bpm my LH was not even. My RH can do 160bpm in sixteenths so they are far apart.

Anyway, specifics aside, the whole point was a constant search for problem areas and to keep searching for them, with the goal being to get up to the next level.

Someone asked me what I practiced during my first year so I'll discuss that separately.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

What I got from Brad Mehldau

I was watching Brad Mehldau last night, the first time as a trio. I've seen him in his orchestral performance on Highway Rider and I was disappointed in that because so little of it was piano. This time, it was focused on piano and drum solos and bass solos only occurred on  a couple of tunes.

Each time I watch these World Class performers, I look for something to learn. First of all, even with Chick's performance last week, I noticed that I was playing longer phrases than these two greats. Even when Chick played his fast lines, he still kept each phrase short and varied them a lot rhythmically. So once again, I tell myself "KEEP YOUR PHRASES SHORT".

Now there are players that have long phrases (Keith Jarrett for one), but he knows what he's doing. I don't so I better stick to the program.

I made a statement before my last gig that I would leave more space. Well it was one of the worst days for space yet. Playing jazz requires such deep concentration while playing and at my last gig a few days ago, it was very hard to hear the bass and the drums from the audience noise. So I was distracted.

Comparing Brad and Chick for a moment,  Brad was more definitive about connecting each phrase. In a majority of his phrases, it would always link to the one before. Seldom would a single idea stand out without a connection to something else.

This to me is something I've strived to do in practice. I even do a frequent practice strategy of creating  a phrase from a prior one. Brad Mehldau specifically stated this as his approach (the building of ideas as a prior one unfolds) in the program notes.

So I don't know why this always fails for me a gig. After listening to the sax soloist in my band, by the time its my turn to play, I'm trying to sound similar and I realize now that I'm playing too busily. I know this after the fact since I listen to the recordings of all my gigs. This last gig I did was one of the worst. I was filling in with a bunch of crap, to be honest.

In addition to Brad's melodic structures (of connecting phrases), he is also very recognizable with his syncopated rhythm and his is very specific. Some of it I hear in Fred Hersch (his teacher), and some clearly developed further to something recognizable as his. I clearly copy these little things he does, at least in practice.

Some of the things that I do I pick up subtley from influences from Brad, Herbie and Bill Evans. Those are probably the top three. I haven't seen Herbie yet in a Trio playing straight ahead though I've seen many of his concerts on DVD.

There's something different about seeing these guys live. Maybe because I know I'm paying a dollar a minute to watch them so it makes me really try to pick out something useful from each performance.

Even when I go back to listening to the records, I seem to get a better sense of what's happening from having watched their fingers.

Suprisingly, a lot of Brad and Chick's fast lines are two handed. Just seems awfully fast but would seem like moderate work for each hand. Looks like I've been working too hard.

Now that I've got a chance to really watch him play, I realize that Brad has a lot of jazz vocabulary that guides what he plays. I would have thought that because he's such a unique voice that nothing pulls from the past. I was wrong. I can hear the bebop structures that he can pull out at will (though he rarely is that predictable).

Clearly his source for his improvisation is way big. It's rare to find him with something cliche.  The good news is that Brad is only 42. There will be many years still to watch him grow even further.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Chick Corea!

I've been trying to see Chick Corea for years and it just hasn't worked out. He likes to play at Catalina Bar and Grill which is just inconvenient to drive to. Anyway, it was like a piano lesson to watch him play. It's just not the same listening to records. Watching his fingers, I get a better sense of what he's doing. Just unbelievable chops and musicality. Concert was too short.

Jam Stuff

Spring can really hang you up the most
This was a neat tune. It had the most complex effing leadsheet and we couldn't understand the form. Anyway, one of the guys acted as the conductor and we did it a second time. Still wobbly much improved. It's really a challenge to be thrown these tunes. First it was presented to me in the key of A and I said NO WAY. Half step up or down! So we played it in Bb (whew!).

Giant Steps
There was a dare to do Giant Steps and we stepped up to the plate and did it. Though it is easy enough to play this at home, for whatever reason, I just stiffened up in the middle of it. I guess because I'm trying to hear myself over the guitar comping. The tempo was reasonable.

Some other stuff.

Black Coffee
Blue Bossa

Body and Soul

Monday, April 30, 2012

Finally Recordings on my Steinway!

This is one of the times I've recorded on my Steinway. Really hard to get quiet time. I got one shot and no more tries due to noise.
I know, Piano needs to be tuned.

I really liked recording on the Steinway. I used a BIAB backing track I made and amplified it in the room via a PA and recorded using the Zoom H4. It sounds live. No special microphones. I just put the Zoom H4 on the middle of the music desk and pointed into the strings and that's it. I did add post recording reverb on Audacity.

This second one I was reluctant to post since I was just doing a test run and I lost myself in the form a couple of times. It's in Cm which I got used to from accompanying a singer.

Fun Gig!

Had a really fun gig last night. We did a couple of jazzy happy birthdays and let a singer sit in (who was amazingly good and sang Frank Sinatra style-- maybe some unemployed LA actor/singer) -- listen below. A trumpet player sat in too from the audience. So after all that, I find a huge stack of bills in the tip jar with so many $20's!

Anyway, I've never played the tune before so my eyes were just glued to the changes. I couldn't afford to get lost.

The only irritating thing was the guitar player comping over me and rhythmically off.

I've Got You Under My Skin (called by singer from the audience)

Anyway, a little of this audience catering and we get so popular. This is our second time to play in this venue. The word spread from our first visit and it was really crowded. Small place.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Recordings, and Comping in Modes

Here's Ceora -- we've never played this before and in fact the Sax player was so scared of screwing up the head. Turned out nice though.

I haven't posted in a bit but that's because my musical activity has grown exponentially. I've been playing out at least once a week and lots of preparation is often required because I always want to do new songs. I also have to accompany a singer in the band (different ones) so I have to constantly do something different. This is what the audience expects so I give it to them. The problem of course is that I can't a new tune with the same relaxed and comfortable style as a new tune.

At this stage of the game, I noticed an improvement in comping. I took some lessons from a different teacher lately just to get some different comping approaches and it showed that theory is a little different from practice.

Specifically, I'm talking about naturally playing modes. It's of course easy to play a 7 stacked triad two handed with 7 fingers and moving it around diatonically up the scale as long as you're on all the white keys. But then of course, a teacher will not do the simple thing, so I was asked to demonstrate playing it in the keys Db, F#, D, Eb, etc. and wham! My failures are placed right smack in front of my face.

Then the teacher, asks me to do the same with So What voicings (Quartal voicing) and moving it diatonically. Easy enough in D Dorian. Somewhat doable in Eb Dorian (yeah- like the first 3 steps...). But everything else, I had to think about slowly.

Then there was the rhythmic aspect to comping. Maybe I'm hearing it differently now. The old Charleston rhythm is too repetitive so I had to listen for comping variations, particularly with waltzes. I started paying attention not just to when to hit the chord but when to cut out and timing that to swing. Also I started to do quicker stabs and quick chord changes. Diatonic movements, chromatic chords, octave hits (ala Garland), on and on.

Well months of practicing this on Footprints appear to be yielding some improved facility. This was a major weakness of mine that I heard in all the old recordings. The mechanical sound to my comping is fading to the past now. Whew...

On to the next problem.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

My Masterclass Performance

Now this was a special experience for me. Normally, I'm playing to a crowd of non-jazz experts so I get away with a lot of things that wouldn't pass muster.

So today was different because I played in front of Jazz master Bill Cunliffe. He was critiquing everyone all night and then when it came to my turn, the group got very positive comments and nothing negative at all. Sure he had advice for me after the session but it was obviously more advanced level stuff (like more rhythmic variations in comping).

The good news is that it confirms my self-assessment of my level. Sometime ago, I was glad to reach some level of mediocrity in jazz playing. I figure that as long as I gig, then it is OK. Being passable was my goal. Based on comments I got from Bill, he was telling me things that would he says would make me sound like I was his contemporary. Wow. I didn't think that was even possible.  I think he's telling me I can shoot higher.

I know this because he critiqued the two other pianists before me very heavily. So he must have judged me to be at a higher level.

Anyway, here's one of the two tunes I played. The other tune was Stella. Unfortunately the recorder ran out of space so it didn't record that tune.

One of the other guys in the ensemble (an actively gigging player) actually invited me to play with him. He said I've really gone far since he last heard me (a little over a year ago).


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Jan 20 Gig

Here's some recordings from Jan 20, 2012 using the Nord Piano 88.

All the Things You Are

Song For My Father


Blue in Green - Lots of mistakes here by all -- really hard to get this right.

Manha de Carnaval (Black Orpheus)
Sugar (great group sound here. I didn't really know the tune so I didn't do much)