Monday, June 14, 2010

Blah, blah, blog.

I opened up Jim Snidero's Jazz Conception today and played through a simple blues etude. It was 6 AM and the sunlight wouldn't let me rest so I gave in to the impulse to play guitar and it has been a long time since I've looked at that book. It reminded me that simple is almost always better. I soon tired of reading the notes on the page and set off to improvising, developing themes that I'd read. Here's the thing: they were good notes on the page. Good for reasons that would seem obvious to experienced musicians and perhaps less so to beginners but they'd sound good to practically everybody. It got me thinking, as I was improvising, about the vocabulary I choose and the challenges I'm willing to tackle in order to express something of worth. Music has always been about communication for me. If I have to utilize advanced concepts and cover new ground in order to satisfy a curiosity or be hired or just be relevant to my audience I will, but I am more often called upon to just play the music honestly, clearly and with some measure of joy. I can only do that if I start with simple materials.

Here's a story. When I was in high school we attended the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival and I took part in a soloist competition for guitar players. I took second place out of 15 or so players. This surprised me at the time but not as much as hearing the guy after me. He played perfectly even bop eighth notes and had a superior harmonic grasp. He had it all over me with his vocabulary and his phrasing and I was inspired by this fact. I remember that for the rest of the day, I walked around listening to a mental muzak of even eighths over all kinds of changes played on the guitar of course. The sound of the guitar and the articulation of the pick was an important facet of that exercise in imagination. It was the beginning of an ongoing process. I had an ideal to aspire to. The ideal was this epiphany of what he and others had that I wanted. A sound. It got me asking all kinds of questions about the minutia of tone production and picking technique and chord scales. The simple stuff I needed work it out! The idea that I had a lot to learn was solidified when later that same day I took part (played a blues) in a jam session with Russell Malone and John Stowell. Russell was unbelievably fluid playing over Giant Steps at a fast clip and it made me aware that something I had never known was possible, was both possible and very, very compelling to me. Beautiful is the word for what I heard. His technique was seemingly flawless, the guitar was a hand-crafted Buscarino Monarch (featured on the cover of his album Black Butterfly), and his attitude toward the music and the musicians was humble yet assertive. John Stowell was less accessible to me at the age of 16 but no less compelling and I have been a fan of his music ever since and consider him an important friend and mentor. I was not prepared to understand it just yet but I was old enough to be inspired by it.  He got me studying close interval voicings and harmony more carefully. I also learned the ins and outs of melodic minor thanks to John. John's influence led me to places of musical introspection and Russell's influence led me to ambitious musical extroversion. I have since thanked John for that Jam session which took place in his hotel room in Moscow, Idaho, many years ago. Thankfully there is still much I don't know and new facets of my ideal emerge daily. I do my best to chase the sound I'm after and make it mine. What I hope to do is make it relevant to the community of aging jazz musicians as well as the younger generation of innovators and basically play real nicely. I simply want to enjoy the music.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Email with Tyler Lieb

Date: Sun, 21 Feb 2010 11:11:55 -0800
Subject: Hi Tyler,

Hi Tyler, I am writing you from the Amsterdam near the coast of Namibia where we are making land fall tomorrow morning. This will be the end of 8 productive sea days and I wondered if you wouldn’t offer me some encouragement by letting this email act as my next blog post. I haven’t done much to the blog and I have a feeling that giving it a personal touch would do a lot for my motivation. I am basically really enjoying all this free time and wanted to share some of what I am learning/trying to learn. So here’s the first thing... Slash chords are pretty cool and useful. I’m enjoying D/Bb and C/Bb as voicings of Em7b5. It was also a sort of “aha” moment when I realized that moving that up a minor third would make it a suitable V chord in a minor ii-V-i, and that moving it up again this time by a major third would likely make it a great i chord. I don’t know if you’ve ever read the Mel Bay Complete Book of Harmony Theory and Voicing by Bret Willmott but, it is really ear opening and just too comprehensive. It is a tome which offers a really amazing education in its pages. Just playing through it has given me some really fresh ideas. I use band in a box and mute the chord instruments so I can have free reign over the middle voices and play thorough the examples that way. Good times. There aren’t any jazz musicians per se on the ship and I am certain that the level of repetition that I embrace in practice would drive any of them mad. So computers are good. On the other hand, I would never perform with one in place of a real band. In my experience tracks suck! I play shows sometimes where the act uses one or two and we just stand there. The second thing I am working on is reading and executing pentuplets with grace and precision. I have started by just alternating them with sixteenth notes using a metronome and playing combinations of 5 notes on different strings, using different articulations. Thirdly, I am working on 4 note licks to play in the various spots of Rhythm Changes where the harmony is briefly different from the norm. Specific licks to plug into those trouble spots where a tritone sub needs your specific attention. By practicing these licks you gain an awareness of what is really different about them (aurally and mechanically) and can proceed more intuitively. I don’t advocate lick based playing but it is a way to learn.

So how is Victoria treating you? What’s new? Don’t worry, your response won’t go on my blog unless you want some of it to. Thanks for letting me bend your ear or whatever the email equivalent is.

All the best,

On 2/22/10 9:50 PM, "Tyler Lieb" wrote:

Great to hear from you!

You can use this reply as a blog post if you want, although I don't know how much you'll find in it!

Really neat insight on using slash chords... Whether as looking at them as "true" slash chords or inversions, they certainly open up neat doors. In terms of chords, voicings, and the like, lately I have been spending time at, an amazing harmony resource.

Try moving your JM based voicings up a half step from the altered V to make your I chords nifty maj7+5 chords. I love that trick.

Have been studying with Mike Moreno over skype. Has been amazing. We have been talking a lot about phrasing, leading me to check out Hal Crook's How to Improvise book... Amazing. Having been spending a lot of time with his play/rest approach, and I think it's been doing good things for me.

Pentuplets are scary. :)

When are you back near this landmass?