Jazz Guitar Almanac

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The Jazz Guitar Almanac

April 2019

April 1, 2017 Saturday

Tip of the day:  When you study the playing of another guitarist closely, your own identity cannot help but reveal itself. Your transcriptions are not something you do in order to imitate anyone; they are a way to discover something on a conceptual level that you can then apply to your own playing. People have tried without success to imitate various jazz icons. You can always tell its not the real deal though.

P.S. Earl Klugh’s wonderful solo rendition of the under appreciated Burt Bacharach tune “The April Fools” is certainly worth a listen today.


April 2, 2017  Sunday

Happy Birthday , Larry Coryell! [1943]

Tip of the day: The eclectic Mr. Coryell recorded and performed jazz, rock, fusion, classical, and even vocals. His discography is a study in contrast.


April 3, 2017  Monday

Happy Birthday, Paul Abler!!   [1957]

Tip of the day: A lot of music is easier to learn by reading than by listening or by rote memorization; so reading opens up a range of opportunities to better learn and understand music. Don't get caught in the trap of thinking that because some legendary player like Wes Montgomery was not supposed to have been a great reader that you don't have to read. Musical literacy is crucial. And learning to read is one of life's lesser agonies. Your instructor will get you started. Its no big deal.


April 4, 2017  Tuesday

Tip of the day: Practicing scales is important for beginners and intermediate players; just don't make a career out of it! The last thing you want is for your improvisation to sound like somebody playing scales.


April 5, 2017  Wednesday

Happy Birthday, Jerome Harris! [1953]

Tip of the day: The jazz tradition has continued to grow and evolve over the last century. Jazz has become a significant and important musical style. Some of the greatest figures of this history have built on what came before and even departed from its tradition and broken its rules. People like this are sometimes called innovators. There are inevitably other people who break the rules without knowing what they are. People like this are known as beginners.


April 6, 2017  Thursday

Happy Birthday, Gene Bertoncini! [1937]

   [Bertoncini is seen here with Joe Finn.]

Happy Birthday, John Pizzarelli! [1960]

Tip of the day: Learning 500 hot guitar licks does not an improviser make. The best improvisation goes way beyond all the scale/chord stuff, all the licks and all the rest of the formulaic approaches that are the antithesis of spontaneity. The best improvisation is dealing directly with the origination of fresh thematic material and developing it in context.


April 7, 2017  Friday

Tip of the day: When I was still in my teens I met some Caribbean musicians and for some reason they allowed me to play with them. I loved their music so much, but at times it made me feel like I didn't know how to count to four anymore. The rhythms were beautiful and exotic to me and I tried hard to fit in with their grooves, but it really wasn't happening and they eventually fired me. That was an important lesson, too. I realized that even if I practiced for an eternity I would never play their music as well as they did. They grew up within a certain culture and what was second nature to them would never be something I would play very well. I would have always been a musical outsider; competent at times, but never quite "stylistically convincing".


April 8, 2017  Saturday

Happy Birthday, Phil Lee!! [1943]

Tip of the day:  I think it's a good idea to play new material all the time. I have regular gigs on my calendar. They are solo, duo, trio, quartet, etc. and are scheduled weekly, every other week, once a month, etc. I have come to the conclusion that it's a good idea to play at least one new tune on every gig. As a result I am constantly developing new repertoire as a soloist and as a player in various ensemble settings.


April 9, 2017  Sunday

Happy Birthday, Al Gafa!   [1941]

Tip of the day: When you are recording you'll often just have a part in front of you and maybe have a chance to talk through it for a moment. Sometimes you'll even get to rehearse it but then you've got to lay it down. Other rehearsal/performance situations present similar circumstances. I think the expectation is that the musicians should "know" the music well enough after a quick look at it or a rehearsal to then go ahead and perform or record it. In many cases a musician may never again have a reason to remember what he just rehearsed and recorded.


April 10, 2017 Monday

Happy Birthday, George Freeman!  [1927]

Happy Birthday, Tom Giacabetti! [?]

Tip of the day:  It's natural to engage in a certain amount of hero worship during your formative years. There is certainly a lot to be learned from those who paved the way in any given endeavor. The greater lesson is to learn to be the person only you can be. Finding one's own voice is the ultimate in personal expression and is at the very center of the process of maturation. In music a very high premium is attached to this sort of individuality but one of the stepping stones towards this destination is copying what came before. As Clark Terry put it, "imitate, assimilate, innovate".


April 11, 2017   Tuesday

Happy Birthday, Ralph Blaze! [1922]

   [Blaze is seen here Curtis Counce. They were members of the Kenton orchestra.]

Happy Birthday,  Dave Wilborn! [1904]

   [Wilborn was a member of McKinney’s Cotton Pickers.]

Tip of the day: Taking things off the record is a great tradition in jazz. They  say Jackie McLean used to follow Bird around with a wire recorder so he could cop his licks. Technology has advanced but the principle and the benefits of transcription and ear training are as vital as ever.

P.S. Carry spares in your case: strings, picks, chords, fuses, batteries, etc. It’s better to have them and not need them than the other way around.


April 12, 2017   Wednesday

Happy Birthday, Dave Mosick!!    [1967]

Tip of the day: There was a comment attributed to Buddy Rich at one point to the effect that all jazz musicians are self taught. The woodshedding process is clearly something that must be faced alone. This isn't going to change based on the current status of jazz being taught in a conservatory setting. Jazz is a voyage of personal discovery.


April 13, 2017   Thursday

Happy Birthday, Thom Rotella!    [1951]

Tip of the day:  My friend attended a Ray Brown masterclass years ago. Maestro Brown spoke about the importance of listening and the development of the ear as it relates to performing and developing repertoire. To illustrate his point, Ray put a $20 bill on the table. He said that if anyone could name a song he couldn't play they could have the twenty. His knowledge of the repertoire was comprehensive and legendary. Brown grew up in the pre-Real Book era; and he kept the twenty that day too. 


April 14, 2017   Friday

Happy Birthday,  Bill Harris! [1925]

Tip of the day:  I was arriving at a recent gig at the same time as the bass player and we walked into the venue together with our instruments. As we passed the bar a woman gestured towards the bass and blurted out, "What is that?". Without missing a beat the bassist quipped, "You know you're among aficionados when they look at a bass and don't know what it is.


April 15, 2017   Saturday

Happy Birthday,  Bernard Addison!  [1905]

Happy Birthday, Joe Sodja!   [1911]

Tip of the day: By the time Wynton Marsalis came along things were ripe for a kind of neo-classical revival movement. When he began playing with Art Blakey in 1980 jazz was quickly becoming an endangered species. The issue of stylistic purity was a hot topic because avant garde and fusion had begun to overshadow straight ahead jazz. Someone with a more traditional outlook was bound to re-establish the style sooner or later. Wynton was in the right place at the right moment.


April 16, 2017   Sunday

Happy Birthday , Tony Rizzi! [1923]

Happy Birthday , Ulf Wakenius! [1958]

Tip of the day: The whole debate about popularity has been beaten to death. The concern we have as people who love jazz is to take responsibility somehow for what is good for the music and perhaps by extension what is good for culture in general. Sometimes popularity is not the answer. Sometimes this results in the dilution of the meaning of the message.


April 17, 2017   Monday

Happy Birthday, Johnny St. Cyr! [1890]

       [St.Cyr is seen here with Louis Armstrong and Kid Ory.]

Tip of the day:  There was a time when jazz was dance music and or entertainment. Rock became popular about the same time television broadcasting came along. By then jazz was already into a post bop style. It's avant garde phase was well underway by the mid 1960's too. Jazz was becoming less of an entertainment and more like an increasingly sophisticated art form. Some lament this development but what's done is done. My personal view is that jazz became more compelling, richer and more satisfying.


April 18, 2017   Tuesday

Happy Birthday,  Tony Mottola! [1918]

Tip of the day:  A long time ago I transcribed a Basie arrangement. The writing was very sophisticated and it was an intellectually demanding exercise. I have heard more "modern" writing in the many years that have passed since then. Writing with polytonality, odd meters, exotic coloration, extended forms, etc. that was not present in the Basie style might be heard in the style of the Vanguard Orchestra, Maria Schneider, etc. Times have changed and things are different. I love the new music but that doesn't mean I love the old stuff any less.The ongoing development of the jazz style is one of gradual refinement. Part of what makes new music compelling and irresistible is the incremental introduction of something a little more sophisticated in the context of the familiar tradition of the music's history. This places new demands on the listener and invites them to think about what they are hearing. The riches that unfold during new listening experiences are, to me at least, compelling and irresistible. I'll continue to seek out new music on that basis. It satisfies the lust for new sounds.


April 19, 2017   Wednesday

“To play great music you must keep your eyes on a distant star” [Yehudi Mennhin]

Tip of the day: As Mennhin metaphorically observes, music is a lifetime endeavor in which it is vital to become centered and stay focused.


April 20, 2017   Thursday

Happy Birthday, Issi Rozen!    [1971]

Tip of the day: If you stick with music long enough you will someday have to learn to successfully cope with the audition process. You will have to practice hard to get your playing to a high level. The emotional challenge is also considerable as the process is very stressful.


April 21, 2017   Friday

Happy Birthday,  Mundell Lowe! [1922]

Tip of the day: Next year or the year after that a wonderful new jazz player will emerge. He'll be a great virtuoso but he knows that virtuosity alone will not win him an audience. The thing that will cause all of us to give him a listen is that he will be doing something different with his improvisational/compositional concept that will be fresh, new and his alone. It will be informed by the jazz tradition but will also be highly individualistic.  Innovation is a big part of the dynamic that propels the jazz style forward and this guy will have it in spades. We'll all be compelled to listen to an irresistible new creative force.  


April 22, 2017   Saturday

Tip of the day: I grew up listening to my Father’s record collection. In the years before Elvis the line between pop music and jazz was quite different. The great tradition of American popular music including Berlin, the Gershwins, Porter, etc. was closely related to jazz due to extensive borrowing by jazz players. My Dad was a big band fanatic. He loved Kenton, Billy May, Les Brown and all the old swing era stuff too. He was somewhat less enthusiastic about Ellington and Basie but then he grew up in the era of segregation. When I got into the Gill Evans/Miles Davis stuff he seemed to like it.


April 23, 2017   Sunday

Tip of the day: Phrasing is what I think people mean when they use terms like "groove" or "playing time". I'm not sure they are exactly the same things. The ability to play a specific tempo without speeding up or slowing down is what I mean by "playing time" but the term "groove" is commonly used also. Phrasing has more to do with the various combinations of rhythm figures, accents, inflections, etc. that a player uses to animate the melodic line. Phrasing is a big part of a jazz player's identity. It's also very idiosyncratic. Guys like Ellis, Farlow, Hall, all had highly evolved ways of improvising and subdividing.


April 24, 2017   Monday

Tip of the day: Jazz was well established and coexisted with the American popular style for a long time before the rock era emerged. The popular tunes of Cole Porter, Jimmy Van Heusen, the Gershwins, Irving Berlin, Oscar Hammerstein, Harold Arlen, Jerome Kern, Frank Loesser, Johnny Mercer, Harry Warren, Vincent Youmans, et al,  have been reinterpreted by jazz players for decades. Rock era material is a little tricky in the jazz idiom because it doesn't swing but Herbie Hancock's “Joni Mitchell” album and his previous "New Standard" album contained excellent examples of rock material in a jazz setting


April 25, 2017   Tuesday

Tip of the day: As the Great American Popular tradition [Porter, Gershwin, Berlin, etc.] gave way to the popular culture of rock music, the "standard tune" began to coexist with the "jazz standard". In the case of Coltrane's discography for example we see that he recorded "standards" for years while gradually gravitating towards his own compositions. He wrote some great material and many of his songs eventually became "jazz standards". Others of that era like Hancock, Shorter, and Mingus continued the trend and these days it's common for a jazz performance or recording to feature more original music than anything else. Standards and jazz standards are still included but original compositions seem to be the dominant trend. So in terms of addressing the issue of staying "current and hip" I think a lot of performers are simply putting their own compositions forward since there is very little material from the rock genre that jazz players have shown much interest in.


April 26, 2017   Wednesday

Tip of the day: Most of my students are high school age and a lot of these kids are looking forward to going away to college. I've had a lot of them that have done really well and a few that have crashed and burned. In my case, when I was a freshman in college the dorm director brought us all together for a little speech early that first semester. We were in an all male dorm with about 400 residents, three to a room. "I'd like each of you gentlemen to look at the man on your left and the man on your right," the dorm director said, "because one of the three of you won't be here next year." I'm not sure if he was trying to be discouraging but it turned out to be roughly true. Both of my roommates dropped out. A lot of young men seem to make a poor adjustment to academic life. Some chase girls and drink beer, some do drugs, some are homesick, some just hate to study; there are lots of specific individual circumstances, but the attrition is real. I knew a guy who quit without ever having visited the library. I think a lot of young men are lacking the emotional maturity to be honest with themselves about who they are. It takes a certain commitment to succeed in an academic setting. In music the foundation for college level success must be put in place years earlier. Students will have a better chance at making a good adjustment to the extent they can be honest with themselves about the serious commitments they will have to make regarding academic discipline. Part of what teachers and other responsible adults need to do is to provide some guidance in this regard in encouraging students to be realistic in understanding what it may take to flourish in the college setting. 


April 27, 2017   Thursday

Happy Birthday, Calvin Newborn ! [1933]

Happy Birthday,  Lionel Loueke !!  [1973]

Tip of the day: I had a kid come to me as a high school senior and tell me that he wanted to go to college as a music major. He couldn't find C on a guitar or any other instrument. I asked him, "Where were you six years ago?" but he didn't catch my drift. I showed him some undergrad theory texts but he still didn't get it. How do you tell somebody that they don't have a snowball's chance in hell? I told his parents that he had none of the prerequisites and that his future as a music student was doubtful. He was accepted at a college that had a music department but dropped out before Christmas. It doesn't make me feel any better to know that he's thirty now and has yet to complete college or accomplish much of anything else. This kid isn't exactly stupid either. Sometimes problems with discipline and commitment will stop an otherwise intelligent kid dead in his tracks.


April 28, 2017   Friday

Happy Birthday, Everett Barksdale! [1910]

Happy Birthday, Leni Stern ! [1952]

Happy Birthday, Steve Kahn!  [1947]

Tip of the day: One of the things about a solo gig is that you tend to take liberties with the tempo, meter, key signatures, arrangements, etc., that you just can't do in an ensemble setting. As a soloist you can be really free with the music and you can take it to places where bassists and drummers fear to tread. It's true that if you did the same thing with a bassist it wouldn't work too well. Playing solo gigs is good practice for duo and trio work because of the command of the material the soloist must have. Playing a regular solo gig will give the player a very confident and comfortable working knowledge of his repertoire. Gene Bertoncini's advice was that a student ought to get a little weekly solo gig where they pay you $20 and a sandwich in order to work up a real confident command over the material. 


April 29, 2017   Saturday

Happy Birthday, Toots Thielemans!  [1922]

Happy  Birthday, Will Matthews!  [1957]

Tip of the day: I like to use different rhythm treatments to define the form; the A section, bridge, interlude, coda, etc. I also play in different registers to achieve the same effect. In fact you can use an entire range of textures, harmonies, etc. to reinforce the definition of the form. On a typical song form you might play the first 16 with the fingers and an alternating bass. For the B section you could go with a block chord approach using downstrokes with the thumb. Good drummers use contrast all the time. The way they vary the groove from one section to the next is what creates a kind of tension and release that is consistent with the form. You'll also find it's a good idea to create a little setting to introduce the next section in the same way that a drummer might play a fill to bring in the bridge or the top of the form, etc. So the idea is to use  musicality to emphasize and humanize the compositional form. If you play the same groove all the way through the form you'll be doing what a drum machine does.


April 30, 2017   Sunday

“To study music, we must learn the rules. To create music, we must break them.”

Nadia Boulanger

Tip of the day: I don't see how it would be possible to "learn the fretboard" without the treble clef. I know folk and rock players do this all the time but they end up reinventing the the wheel. This is very time consuming and results in idiosyncratic approaches that are hard to explain to others.

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