Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Ode to Altered Dominant Scales

My friend KMO has discovered the whole culture of jazz found in the Altered dominant scale. We were looking at triads superimposed over basic 7th chords specifically as extensions of the chord. Something that might be described as a 3rds 'ladder' emerges as in 135, 357, 794(11), 9 11 13, and perhaps 11 13 1. This sort of idea can be applied to Major and minor chords with interesting results. For example of particular interest is 579 which if one solos with that structure in mind, the motivic ideas using that, might be interesting.

For example: Cmi7 (dorian) CEbG, EbGBb, GBbD. This last one GBbD, might be an interesting point of departure for a motive of some sort. We were trying to apply this to a song like Sam River's "Beatrice" which is actually a fairly modal based song in that in the entire song there is 1(one) dominant chord and even that dominant is a secondary Dominant. We used lydian for Maj7 and usually Dorian or Aeolian in min7ths.

This is to just lead up to the discussion here on Altered dominants and specifically the altered dominant scale and it's facets as in 1b9#93b5b6b71 (or ABbCDbEbFGA)

Here's what KMO had to say about these new personal discoveries. I think they are worth noting.

KMO writes:

Another thing is I was trying to decide what 9-11-13 to put over a 7(b9), which is a diminished seventh. I'd been kind of degenerating the extensions to the basic diminished seventh notes, but that's no fun.

So I started with 7, then b9 (because it's in the chord), and then it's a major, so that normally means #11. But I wasn't very happy with how that sounded. Over an A7(b9) that's G-Bb-D#.

And then the 13, it would have to be F#, because of the E being a chord tone, so the 9-11-13 was Bb-D#-F#. I wasn't happy about that either. So I wrote C about it. His advice:

Here's a retry on A7(b9): EGBb....GBbC# (still in 3rds).... BbC#(Db) and F (for an altered scale sound) ... it gets to the point that a 9 isn't a '9' anymore etc...The C# (Db) is thought of as a lowered 11 :) altered.

Ooh.. I like that. I didn't think about the fact that 7(b9) is compatible with altered, and then b11 is legal, and b11 is a 3 so that solves all the problems, and also there is no E, so F natural is okay, and the whole thing sounds way better anyway.

(Austinato) Dear Reader this might be significant:

KMO continues:

I guess altered scales are the other thing I've been doing in the background all fall now, and I'm beginning to get a glimmer about them. So strange... At first seeming like a weird useless theoretical oddity, like the symmetrical augmented scale, but then actually in many ways they are the defining flavor and structure of this whole genre of music, if you take the whole constellation, the presence of all the altered extensions, the easy implementation of the tritone flip, the fact that every note goes wrong, but not a single one is an avoid, their intimate synergy with the blues scales, the coexistence of major and minor in a single chord, their synergy with harmonic minor despite being a melodic minor mode, their ability to combine all three flavors of minor, and in this case the conversion of the avoid tone 11 into the major third. There is no end to the weirdness and brilliance of this scale.

(Austinato) writes:

Well, I couldn't agree more. Altered scales are indeed not an oddity per say but the key to the door of a whole "constellation" of jazz culture sounds. The TriTone flip i.e. V7 Alt to bII lydian b7 — I.....They (the dominants) use the same source scale. Their synergy with Blues scales, the coexistence of major and minor all good descriptors of this wonderful sound.

Speaking of the 'Sound' the next blog will feature inversions of S1—S6 and voice leading ideas.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Sound 3, Sound 4: Sound 5, Sound 6: Flexibility and Limitations.

Sound 3, Sound 4, Sound 5, Sound 6: Flexibility and Limitations.

So these voicings have largely been used as a slash chord over bVII/I. There are 6 Sounds that fullfil this slash chord idea to produce extensions that start out as tonal and progress from S1 to S6 through to stronger colored extensions, or if you will: an increase in V7 harmonic pressure. There are possible implications of a system that I won't get into but it can be figured out with a look at how these 'Sounds' (S) become progressively colorful or urgent in their respective strength in terms of being compelling. There is a fundamental basis for this such as it is.

Using the example of G7, this is the proposed order from Tonal through Chromatic

S1: FS1 = FMa7(b5)............. so FS1/G = G13

S2: FS2 = FdimMa7............. so FS2/G = G13(b9)

S3: FS3 = F7(b5).................. so FS3/G = G9(b13)

S4: FS4 = Fmi7(b5).............. so FS4/G = G7(b9b13)

S5: FS5 = FMa7sus4(b5)...... so FS5 = G13(#9)

S6: FS6 = F7sus4(b5) FS6 + G7(#9#5) or (#9b13).

S1 through S6 in a comparative viewpoint of a tritone and the tritone slash/chord roots with information on similarities, inversion, scale/chord and other similarities or contrasts:

S6: S6 (7sus4[b5]) and S1(Ma7[b5])  in relation:

It can be seen that FS1 and BS6 have the same structure i.e the same notes respectively: (FABE) and (BEFA). The opposite view is also true: FS6 (FBbCbEb) i.e. (F7sus4[b5]) = BS1 (BD#FA#) i.e. (BMa7[b5]). They have a tritone relation. Notice that while G13 and Db7(#9b13) share the Same FS1 chord. The FS1 used in the Db chord (on the third above the Db root) makes it Db7(#9#5). If this 'F' Sound chord (FABE) is inverted to its 2nd inversion (BEFA) the 'root' position it can be seen as BS6/Db rather that FS1/Db. So there is a polarity going on there between tritone opposites. The FS6/BS1 line up the same way only with opposite roots.

S5: (Ma7sus4[b5]) when inverted to 2nd inversion, shares the same 7th chord quality with tritone opposite roots:

FS5 i.e. FMa7sus4(b5) when inverted to 2nd inversion creates the same quality, intervallic structure, and the same notes— a tritone away i.e. BMa7sus4(b5). On one hand we have a G13(#9) [FS5/G] and on the other we have a Db13(#9) [BS5/G]. It is significant to note that FS5 and BS5 share the same diminished scale (W—H) i.e F G Ab Bb Cb Db D E—B C# D E F G A A#....

S4: i.e. (mi7[b5]) is used on bVII to create a V7(b9b13):

Although FS4 and BS4 appear in the same Symmetrical DOMINANT (H—W) scale (over F7 or B7 [also Ab7 and D7]) but that doesn't apply here with S4 because when it is used as a bVII/I it creates chords that are consistent with the Symmetrical DIMINISHED scale but ARE consistent with the ALTERED Dominant scale, and the Harmonic Minor Dominant scale, i.e. this V7 chord will use a b13 and b9.

FS4 i.e. Fmi7(b5) shares a tritone with BS4. Both these sound chords have the same quality when placed over the appropriate root (bVIIS4/I) i.e. FS4/G = G7(b9b13) and BS4/Db = Db7(b9b13). In this case it's not particularly significant that Fmi7(b5) and Bmi7(b5) share the same Symmetrical Dominant scale as it doesn't apply in this case. The altered form of the scale is a chord scale that will respectively work well with each of these chords i.e. G7 Altered (mode VII of Ab Melodic minor) and Db altered as mode VII of D Melodic minor. In the graphic below note that FS4/Db = Db9 and that BS4/G = G9. So there are two opposites of color included in this case (as is S1 and S6).

S3: is a symmetrically inverted chord between root position and 2nd inversion:

For example, F7b5 when inverted to 2nd inversion results in a B7b5. At first look it looks like it might appear in the Symmetrical Dominant (H—W) and does, but it doesn't apply in this case. We are looking at G7 chords and Db7 chords. If S4 were to be used in a dominant scale/chord this way, the roots of the V7 chords would be F7, Ab7, B7, and D7. But, again as in S4, the chord created as a bVIIS3/I, using our examples: G9(b13) and if FS3 (F7(b5) is inverted to a B7(b5), as BS3/Db, the chord has the same quality on its tritone root (G): namely Db9(b13).

S2: has been laid out in the previous blog.

S2 is the most versatile 'Sound' chord in a way because it does reside in the Symmetrical Diminished scale at 4 evenly spaced minor 3rd intervals. FS2 then, can be over a G root = G13b9, a Bb root = Bb7(b9#11), a Db root = Db7#9, and an E root = E7b9. S2 also occurs in mode 4 of Harmonic Major (in C: CDEFGAbBC).

S1: Look at S6 and reverse the tritone opposites and the same situation occurs.

FS1 = BS6, and BS1 = FS6. When these are placed as a bVII/I, the resultant chords are the same.

FS1 (Fma7b5)/G = G13, BS6 (B7sus4(b5)/Db = Db(#9#5)....... the 'S' content of each chord contains the same notes: FS1 (FABE), and BS6 (BEFA). BS6 is the 2nd inversion of FS1.

FS6 (F7sus4[b5])/G = G7(#9#5), BS1 (BMa7b5)/Db = Db13.......The 'S' content of each chord contains the same notes: FS6 (FBbBEb), and BS1 (BD#FA#). FS6 is the 2nd inversion of BS1.

Here is an overview:

Friday, 2 November 2012

Sound 1 and Sound 2 (S1 and S2) in progression with bebop cliche

Sound 1 (S1) and Sound 2 (S2) in progression with an application of minor ii V's with the bebop cliche.

Now that 'The Sound' is established as to potential function and chord voicing in progression, a possible next step is to lay out Sound 2 (S2) more thoroughly using it along with S1 and also the bebop cliche in a minor ii V using S2. The symmetrical nature of S2 in minor 3rd sequences i.e. fitting into Symmetrical diminished (whole—half) scales that allow S2 to start on bVII, bII, III, and V notes of a given V7 chord.

The use of S2 with S1 in progression:

As indicated earlier, S2 is derived from S1 by lowering the '3rd' of S1 i.e using FMa7(b5) as an example. FMa7(b5) becomes FmiMa7(b5) [Let's call it a DimMa7)

When used as a bVIIS2/1 the chord created is G13(b9). So a first progression using S1 and S2 (or vice versa) results in a movement in the tension of the chord. Using FS1/G —FS2/G, the result is G13 G13(b9), an increase of vertical tension which may heighten the arrival of the next chord (the tonic).

One could also play: G13(b9)—G13, with movement towards less vertical tension in this chord voicing.

S1 — S2 is useful in a minor ii V as well and operates similarly  to the V13 — V13(b9) progression.

In this example FS1/B—FS2/E —CS1/A creates the minor ii V Imi progression: Bmi11(b5)—E7(b9)—Ami6/9. Note that in this progression there is no 7th in the E7 chord. The b7 is thought to be implied by the (b9) in that chord, as a b9 would not be harmonic with a Major 7th in this chord. Note that FS2 works over the Sub V (Bb) as well.

Since S2 is a resident chord in the Symmetrical whole—half Diminished scale, and indeed on it's own, can function as a Diminished 7th chord. This particular intervallic structure occurs a total of 4 times in this scale, and up a minor third for each one. These 4 different but related 'S2' chords can also be used as the S2 that is played on the bVII/I. This creates 4 varieties of extended dominant chords that all share the same scale and in this case, the same root. Using the example of FS2/G = G13(b9) [using a 'G' bass].

The other 3 S2s that share the same SymDim (whole-half) scale are a minor 3rd up or Major 6th down starting from FS2: They are: FS2, AbS2, BS2, DS2. NB these voicings can be voice-led as well. The illustrations below show that with all 4 S2 generated V7 chords, that the tritone substitute root can also be used to resolve to the tonic

Example 1) FS1/G—FS2/G—C [This one voice-leads naturally]

Chord Symbol——G13—————G13(b9)—C   
Function———— V13—————V13(b9)—C 
Sound/Root——— FMa7(b5)/G—FdimMa7/G—C 
S/Root————— FS1/G————FS2/G—C 
Numeral———— bVIIS1/I———bVIIS2/I—I
Example 2) FS1/G—AbS2/G—C
Chord Symbol——G13—————G7(b9)—C 
Function———— V13—————V7(b9)—C 
Sound/Root——— FMa7(b5)/G—AbdimMa7/G—C 
S/Root————— FS1/G————AbS2/G—C 
Numeral———— bVIIS1/I———bIIS2/I—I
Example 3) FS1/G—BS2/G—C
Chord Symbol——G13—————G7(#9)—C

Function———— V13—————V7(#9)—C

Sound/Root——— FMa7(b5)/G—BdimMa7/G—C

S/Root————— FS1/G————BS2/G—C

Numeral———— bVIIS1/I———IIIS2/I—I
Example 4) FS1/G—DS2/G—C
Chord Symbol——G13—————G7(b9#11)—C

Function———— V13—————V7(b9#11)—C

Sound/Root——— FMa7(b5)/G—DdimMa7/G—C

S/Root————— FS1/G————DS2/G—C

Numeral———— bVIIS1/I———bVS2/I—I
Example 5) S1 and S2 incorporated into a minor ii V Imi: FS1/B—FS2/E—CS1/A

Chord Symbol——Bmi11(b5)—— E7(b9)—Ami6/9

Function———— iimi11(b5)—— V13(b9)—Imi6/9

Sound/Root——— FMa7(b5)/B—FdimMa7/E—Ami6/9

S/Root————— FS1/B————FS2/E——Ami6/9

Numeral———— bVS1/I———bIIS2/I——Imi6/9
Example 6) S1 and S2 (all 4) incorporated into a minor iiV Imi. Each of these S2/V7 chord can be used individually but for demonstration purposes they are lumped into one minor ii V progression.
Chord Symbol——Bmi11(b5)—— E7(b9)—E7(#9)—E7(b9#11)—E13(b9)—A mi6/9 [or A major] 
Function———— iimi11(b5)—— V13(b9)—V7(#9)—V7(b9#11)—V13(b9—Imi6/9 [or I Major] 
S/Root————— FS1/B————FS2/E—G#S2/E—BS2/E—DS2/E———CS1/A [tonic] 
Numeral———— bVS1/I———bIIS2/I [V7etc]—IIIS2/I—VS2/I—bVIIS2/I—bIIIS1/I [tonic]

The Bebop Cliche with minor ii Vs:

Major ii Vs and the interpolation of the bebop cliche was outlined in the Sound in the first blog in this series. As a reminder:
Dmi9—DmiMa9—Dmi9—G13 (or G13[b9] or G7[#9#5] etc.)

FMa7/D—FMa7#5/D—FMa7/D— FMa7(b5)/G (or FdimMa7/G or BMa7[b5]/G etc.)

FPS1/D—FPPS1/D—FPS1/D——FS1/G ..... (or FS2/G or BS1/G etc. )
Minor ii Vs using iimi9(b5) and V13(b9)

Using FS2/G as the destination V7 chord a minor ii V (Dmi9[b5] — G13) can be treated similarly as in:
Dmi9(b5) (related iimi9/V7) called the Preparation of FS2.

DmiMa9(b5) (implies V7/related iimi9) called the Preparation of the Preparation of FS2.
As used in the above progression: ii V is expanded with the application of the Bebop Cliche.
Chord Symbol: ......Dmi9(b5)—DmiMa9(b5)—Dmi9(b5)—G13(b9) [or ?] — C minor or C major. 
Sound/1 (S)............FmiMa9/D—FmiMa9(#5)/D— FmiMa9/D—FdimMa7/G —EbMa7(b5)/C

S/Root.....................FPS2/D——FPPS2/D——— FPS2/D——FS2/G——— EbS1/C

Function.................bIIIPS2/I (ii)—bIIIPPS2/I (ii)— bIIIPS2/I (ii)—bVIIS2/I (V7)—bIIIS1/C..

Thursday, 1 November 2012

The 'Sound' One (S1) voicing used in progression

The Sound One (S1) in chord progressions, used exclusively to create that jazz piano (or guitar, or arpeggiated for horns) sound:

I once ran a showcase band at MacEwan, and was getting into some arrangements that called for this S1 sound. I was working with a very interesting go-to-kind of guy on guitar in the band. He didn't know how to voice a G7(#9#5) chord per say, but he knew how to voice dominant 13 chords. So I asked him on the spot to play a Db13 chord / G bass and low and behold we had the asked for G7(#9#5) chord voicing. He was surprised but realized that basically, he already had voicings for altered dominant chords which were virtually the same as V13 chords a tritone away. I was prompted to tell him this, because I had been working this 'Sound' thing and that was an action that came out of that study. So why do this and not stick exclusively to the 'normal' extension replacement of 7th chord tones (9 for 1, 13 for 5 etc.)? Answer: Because with the 'Sound' there is a built in system for adding color and urgency in a 7th chord in an incremental way.

This blog will deal with S1 in progression in a parallel motion with not much voice leading. Inversions and voice leading will be an open topic in future blogs on this 'Sound' Topic. The change in color from V13 to V7(#5#9) represents the most radical change in color and vertical tension change possible in a V7. Future blogs on this topic will deal with the graduations of vertical (chord) tension between these two essentials. Primarily these voicings are thought of as Left Hand Comping (rootless) chord voicings, but they can be played as in the right hand too as part of a comping framework and, they can even be a point of departure/arrival in improvised soloing.

Just using the S1 chord (Ma7[b5]) for convenience, these C major and related A minor progressions emerge and are used here as a set of examples. These examples are played in the right hand with the appropriate root in the left hand.

Sample 1) V13 —V7(#9—I

Chord symbol  G13————G7(#9#5)——  I

Function           V13————V7(#9#5)——  I

Sound/Root      FMa7(b5)/G—BMa7(b5)/G—I

S1/Root            FS1/G———  BS1/G——     I

Numeral           bVIIS1/I——   IIIS1/(1)——  I

Sample 2) V13 —bII13 — I

Chord symbol  G13———— Db13———    I

Function           V13———— bII13———    I

Sound/Root      FMa7(b5)/G—BMa7(b5)/Db—I

S1/Root            FS1/G———  BS1/Db——   I

Numeral           bVIIS1/I——   bVIIS1/(1)—   I

Sample 3) V7(#9#5) — bII13 —I

Chord symbol   G7(#9#5) —— Db13 ——— I

Function           V7(#5#9)——   bII13———  I

Sound/Root     BMa7(b5)/G—BMa7(b5)/Db—I

S1/Root            BS1/G———    BS1/Db——  I

Numeral           IIIS1/I———— bVIIS1/(1)—  I

Sample 4)  iimi11(b5) — V7(#5#9)— Imi6/9 (NB The Sound is used in all three of these voicings.

Chord symbol   Bmi11(b5)———E7(#9#5) —Ami6/9

Function           iimi11(b5)———V7(#9#5) —Imi6/9

Sound/Root     FMa7(b5)/B—G#Ma7(b5)/E—Cma7(b5)/A

S1/Root            FS1/B———    G#S1/E——  CS1/A

Numeral           bVS1/I———— IIIS1/(1)—  bIIIS1/I

Sample 5)    iimi11(b5) — bII13— Imi6/9 (NB The Sound is used in all three of these voicings.

Chord symbol   Bmi11(b5)———Bb13— — Ami6/9

Function            iimi11(b5)———bII13 ——  Imi6/9

Sound/Root     FMa7(b5)/B—AbMa7(b5)/Bb—Cma7(b5)/A

S1/Root            FS1/B———    AbS1/Bb——  CS1/A

Numeral           bVS1/I———— bVIIS1/(1)—  bIIIS1/I

I like to learn these in all keys keeping track of voice-leading line movement and inversion to inversion through these progressions.

I experimented with these progressions by sometimes reversing the V7(#5#9) with bII7(#5#9) it does make a difference. I hope you'll try it 

Monday, 29 October 2012

The Sound

The Sound: I'm putting together a series of blogs on a voicing idea that has some connected but divergent paths that create transformations of chord quality and chord progression.

The Sound heard in jazz piano for over half a century now and we all know it so much it is often referred to as the 'stock 13" chord. I first learned it from the guys I was playing with in the 1960's and heard more about it from a jazz piano book series by John Mehegan, who featured this voicing in essentially what he called 'A' and 'B' voicings which using Fma7(b5) as an example of a G13 chord: The A version was this closed voiced chord in root position and the B version was the second inversion of that. This particular voicing was described by my friend Mike Nock, as 'The Sound' ...heard all over the world where and when jazz was played. Mike is an Australian (originally from New Zealand) jazz pianist who was visiting Grant MacEwan College's music program in the 80's I think. Mike was giving a talk about it. Of course it was already being taught in our courses there and it was affirming to hear Mike speak of this voicing in this way. There was a 2nd sound Mike mentioned where the 'A' note in this sample voicing FMa7(b5) was lowered to become (with a G bass) a G13(b9) or as a stand alone voicing for FDimMa7.

That did get me thinking: Oh yeah: Sound 1 (Fma7(b5) and Sound 2 (FDimMa7). I did have some conversations with a local brilliant pianist (who will be nameless for now) about this and over a period of time I was able to piece together a strategy to help to explore Tonality through to Chromaticism. This was a method of adding more color to a V13 chord in an incremental fashion, with some linear considerations like the bebop cliche.

First of all the voicing itself: using FMa7(b5) as an example, is used to create the familiar but still enchanting V13 chord as in:
FMa7(b5)/G = G13 (expressed here as a slash chord) N.B. GUITARISTS USE DROP 2s.
Here are other commonly played chord qualities using
FMa7(b5) (with these roots): 
FMa7(b5)/Db = Db7(#5#9) 
FMa7(b5)/D = Dmi6/9 
FMa7(b5)/B = Bmi11(b5) 
FMa7(b5)/E = E7sus4(b9)
In functional analysis:
bVIIS1/I = I13 ... (V13) 
IIIS1/I = I7(#9#5) ... (V7(#9#5) 
bIIIS1/I = Imi6/9 ...  (Imi6/9) 
bVS1/I = Imi11(b5) ... iimi11(b5) 
bIIS1/I = I7sus(b9) ... V7sus(b9)
This system mostly visits V7 chord quality and color along with  ii—V's and the integration with the Bebop cliche.

The bebop cliche could be described as a moving chromatic line between chord tones—specifically in V7: 5—b5—4—3 and variations but it is essentially that.

The chord shapes used are named to be descriptive as to their function. It's the drill that many have practised but in order to facillitate a hierarchy of tension/color, I'll reiterated a few basics:

G13—I6/9 using the 'Sound' as notated above would be:
FMa7(b5)/G—Emi11/C or in functional terms: bVIIS1/1 (V13) — iiimi11/1 (I6/9)
Interpolating the related iimi7 of V13 or Dmi9—G13 using this 'Sound' method of description we call
the iimi9 chord using a description that elides with the 'Sound' method calling it 'PS1' or "the Preparation of 'Sound' I, i.e. FMa7/D = Dmi9.

FMa7/D—FMa7(b5)/G—Emi11/C and in functional terms: bIIISPS1/I (iimi9) —bVIIS1/I (V13) —I

For an increase in harmonic rhythm the bebop cliche is introduced into this progression as another interpolation (which means basically: all the additional changes occur in the same amount of time as the original V—I). The purpose of this extra harmony added, creates some additional tension and release element in the progression. The iimiMa9 implies the V7/ii and spins out some extra energy to the iimi9 chord before it resolves to the V13 chord (The bridge to 'Confirmation' [Charlie Parker] is a good example). The bebop cliche in the progression example goes something like this:

Dmi9—DmiMa9—Dmi9—G13—C. Using the PS1 designation as the preparation of S1, it is logical that the 'Preparation' OF the 'Preparation' of S1 (PPS1), could look like this in the progression. Using this 'slash chord' method in this progression this is the result:
FMa7/D—FMa7(+5)/D—FMa7/D—FMa7(b5)/G—[Emi11/C] ... or in functional terms:
bIIIPS/I (/ii)—bIIIPPS1/I (/ii)—bIIIPS1/I (-ii)—bVIIS1/1 (/V) —I

Sometimes this cliche is expressed melodically over a ii—V as well. Check out John 'Dizzy' Gillespie's 'Groovin' High' for an example.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Latin insiders

So I follow up with Timbao Vibe. 'We' have a new bass player Daniel from CUBA !! He has helped me with the whole process and I gave him some help with the reading of charts in a rehearsal. It turns out that it's really a lot about dancing. I've thought about the timbao being in 2 but Daniel explained that
dancers essentially dance in 4 and the montunos reflect that. Things (8ths) seem to be pushed to the beginning and the middle of the bar. The other thing Daniel mentioned that I should listen very carefully to the Timbales and flow and follow their figures and fills. My biggest concern apart from that is just following the form and repeats etc. in the charts. But that is something I should be able to address with the mp3s.

Timbao Vibe had a gig last Saturday again at AZUKARS. The volume didn't quite bother me as much. I felt more prepared and actually was I thought :) laying it down and did get some encouragement from some of the rhythm section guys. The band played much better as a result of tightening up the figures. There was far less conflict than the first time. I was nervous but really was able to smack that beat and it was huge fun. Compliments came from the audience as well. So this is fun.... I may take up the Salsa Dancing and I'll have to play standing up if I get it right :). This is powerful stuff. It's just like the old days (real old) when I played in a (rock type) band for local dances. Here there is this Latin Intensity that is very elating and in spite of the 4-ness of the rhythm, when it's done correctly and with attention, that beat can broaden up and be felt in 2 and in 1. So I'm getting this even though there is room for improvement.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Latin Beats

Latin transcribed from professional international bands is tough. I'm spending quite a bit of time practising figures and montunos. Montunos are fairly specified as to 2 - 3 or 3 - 2. In many of the charts there are no indication of 3 - 2 or 2 - 3. I'm trying to learn them from the mp3s. All I have to say is that the latin music I'm playing is definitely worth spending the time. When I've been practising to the tracks, I'm finding it really intense but the more I do it the clearer it becomes of course and it's starting to get that wonderful broad sweep with rhythm units falling in place.

We have an upcoming rehearsal after the first where I played new charts with just three percussion players with no bass. I was quite unprepared and figured I could manage if the bass player was there laying down the Timbao; but no... I was on my own and playing on the tinker toy of electric pianos—I'm taking my own keyboard tonight. It should go better. I feel really connected to a few of their tunes.

The piano's role is really central what with montunos getting quite creative and beautiful on the tracks that I've heard. I'm doing more practise today. The big thing is to be able to synchronize with the complexity and magic of that groove. It's very specific and presents a narrow door into the paradise awaiting once the feel is truly achieved. One of the most common features is the '2' feel in most of the songs. You're either playing on the beat—quite often just one on-beat note in a 2 bar pattern, or, you're anticipating the down beat in 2. Either anticipating beat 1 or beat 2 (n the 2 feel) or, there is an 8th just after the beat. As long as it's felt in 2 it will be easier to play it just right. Most of the time it's pushed 8ths in montunos all the way. Sometimes 2 pushed 8ths and commonly variations on supper-imposed dotted quarters.

The thing I find so encouraging is the overlap that the salza feel, timbao, and montunos bring to other songs an pieces I've been playing. It's quite a revelation.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

The Beginning of a Moment

The very beginning of a moment is such a continually eluding thing to conceive. Music appears to 'travel' through time and is somehow preconceived by the intention of the musician. The flow of the beat-'space' (groove?) gives us the expectation that a succession of beats will be on time and from that impetus, a larger and still accurate conception of the beat-space can be felt and deduced through multiplication/reduction. One beat, One bar, One section, One chorus and beyond—all eventually can be strongly felt in 'ONE'. How can I say this:? by working with extreme slow tempos. Slow drag ballads are not heard so much and I remember playing a gig with Big Miller and someone from out of the province sat in on drums.

This man (he was a veteran player from Winnipeg) could really really lay down a slow drag ballad. He played brushes and was very at ease with it and was only slightly disturbed by my panicky vibe which didn't throw him but reminded me to buck up and try to get to his space. Big M. had noooo problem singing to that long but palpably strong broad beat. That was beat-space I'll tell you! and of course a lesson in humility for me—but essentially a most important event in my playing history. I'd never played with that kind of a beat—so hard to grab hold of but so at ease.  I felt a little like a ghost who was trying to touch (grab more like) the 'real' physical world realized in that broad playing of that ballad. Yeah it was peace and yet such a challenge to relax to it and most of all trust it !! I was obviously in the presence of a Master player and I hadn't played with someone with that particular kind of depth and subtle conviction. I guess I got through it but I felt then, like I had hardly started to play jazz. Maybe I haven't yet! Getting good at something requires you to do it. We all lament the lack of playing-paying gigs that are such a mainstay for the development of this musical art form.

During my UBC years in the BMUS program (a long time ago) I often practised dead-slow, at times with a metronome and, also, played many adagio/lento movements in Beethoven and Mozart sonatas, so I wasn't unfamiliar with those long slow beats. Practising slowly and accurately with dynamics, even tone, and nimble and precise fingers, playing all the notes of a chord precisely together are a part of the regimen of all serious players—in both classical and jazz. Does this help us with faster tempos? Karl Berger once stated to a class of MacEwanites, the now obvious fact that rhythm and meter are in a matrix or part of a matrix in which double time, half time etc. are laid out. Even if you're playing an uptempo jazz feel, behind that, is the subdivision or multiplication or meter (slow 'under'-beat) that helps one keep the form even though the main meter/rhythm element may be going at breakneck speed.

I've been checking out Charlie Parker recordings listening to the ease with which a tune like "Dizzy" Gillespie's tune, "Bebop" is handled by those players. It definitely has both elements: back breaking speed and a relaxed confidence that could be interpreted as being a broader beat. It's intense and in the moment but almost elusive. The first time I heard Charlie Parker was in 1957 in junior high. There was this interesting teacher (known as Mr. Kennedy) who formed a discussion/art/music club and he played Charlie Parker material for us even though he said he didn't know much about it—can you imagine that happening today except perhaps by a music teacher—this guy wasn't— he was just interested! Very cool, looking back on that. Around that time, I bought a 45 record of Charlie Parker "At the record store" (along with Elvis et al). One side was 'Kim' a 'Rhythm' tune and 'Cheryl' on the other side. I gotta say, I was mystified—Charlie Parker's playing was So fast to me, that I couldn't really make it out, in spite of listening to it many times. I'm not sure if I eventually understood it. It was ELUSIVELY fast !! It has taken all this time for things like that to 'slow down' a little.

Here's a somewhat relevant quote from the 'Gospel' of St. Thomas—attributed to Yeshua who said: "Blessed are those that abide in the beginning" which was preceded by "Where the beginning is, the end will also be." All this was about that, I trust.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Two kinds of music: Latin and .....

'Hear' I go again. I had the privilege of being asked to play in a salsa band: Timbao Vibe. I have less than three weeks to prepare to become an authentic latino-montuno-eating-timbao-feeling-getting-with-the -complexity of the charts and the groove. I'm going to practise the style and learn these charts: yes-sir!
More than anything, its the brotherhood of intensity. Intensity and absolute drive and conviction and this group will settle for nothing less. I'm hoping the lead singer will be happy and not say: "this is not right." My contact person with the band has sent me a book full of montunos and clave exercises that now, I'd wished I'd been practising for a couple of years. Happily, I have mp3's of the entire show.

I had played with them before and kind of handled the gig and even contributed to the energy and that felt good. So maybe (just Maybe) there is a growing future for this music. If I could only speak Spanish a little, that would help a little! I love the way the singers just seem to spit out the lyrics with such a remarkable emphasis. It's very stirring really. It gets to the 'nub,' i.e. where you live.

Jazz is definitely incorporated into this music and that is fun. To be able to play jazzy chords and reflect the jazz chords in the horn arrangements is a challenge but is also kind of a requirement. OK so here's the thing, I know there are lots of aspects to music and people expressing themselves in each individual way, but if I have a vision (not a tragic one), it will be that there might be '2' kinds of music (I'm  kidding a little here). I'm borrowing from the famous Alberta joke, that for some there is only 2 kinds of music: Country AND Western:). So I'm thinking what with all the great latino players in the city (for which I call for a 'Hallelujah'), that there will be roughly 2 kinds of music that might sustain both instrumentalists, and, singers: Latin/salsa definitely, and, Country/folk musics of all dimensions. Of course there is classical and all kinds of jazz and those are often my first choice in listening (There is something called Rock that is popular too [I like that too]). But people of all walks of life will dance to that mighty committed, 'celebrational,' groove that Latin/Timbao brings to the table. So it is on one hand a sophisticated and complex music and on the other it is (keyword here) Accessable.

Truthfully, as I'm struggling to go through this assignment, I'm finding the Timbao so irrepressible that it merges into the jazzier standards I've been playing. It is just so strong. The Clave, Timbao bass-line, and the ever present montuno create a really joyous and powerful rhythmic urgency that at its best, keeps the players/singers/dancers involvement close to a trance-like state. So is this good! (?), of course it is. Adding to this is the icing on the cake: horns/band shots, and lines, and soloist, and vocals, contribute to this unstoppable beat and ecstatic melody—phrasing, that creates music that truly has a life of its own. Now if I could only play it !!!

I'm always impressed by the horn players in the band. They play shots and lines but also on occasion, play these impressive sounding arpeggio patterns that really move with individual parts that really lays down the chords and the rhythm all at once—it blew my mind when I first heard it.

One of the trepidations I had apart from the sheer challenge of the music, is the volume that this group plays on stage. It's got to be hard-driving but this is a band that plays pretty Loud. Little did I think when I was young, that I could lose my hearing, but it has definitely been damaged over 30 years of ensembles at MacEwan (this is documented). I loved to play drums and rim shots were my 'weapon' :) of choice when trying to get a class full of piano players to play with some authority, but now I don't. The hearing damage was noticeable when I was 50 and now 19 years later it's not getting any better if you know what I mean. So 'hear' I go again. Believe me, I wear custom ear plugs (25% reduction) which save my hearing every time I use them but they are not quite a match for these high decibels. We're playing Teddies in Edmonton on Sunday July 21 @10.00 PM and off to Calgary the next day for some sort of festival. It's going to be intense and I'm going to stick my head (and heart) into the roaring flame emitted by this great Salsa band.

One of these days I will write and seriously advocate that we all play softer. The range of expression that is available takes a quantum leap when we play softer. Each note can be an expression of individuality in a line. Playing softer can bring one's playing to life. So that's a topic for another time, but I am very happy to participate with this group because they really sizzle. Thank you one and all for reading this.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Is there enough Music out there?

Well, thanks to my team of partners, I have managed to get an album on itunes, of songs I had recorded in 2003. I wanted to praise the engineer, Pat Strain, and our dearly departed friend, Colin Lay who redesigned the sound of this solo piano recording and in effect 'Mastered' these tracks. I have been blessed by the time and effort invested in this project and others, by my friend—and now pretty much a mentor in many areas, CKM, who continues to amaze.

It's a marvelous feeling to arrive at this point. For years I could not get it together to record myself what with the responsibilities that MacEwan U. demanded (rightly so). Once a recording is on 'tape' it's a question of getting the 'mechanicals' and licensing as most of the songs on this particular album were well known standards, save one, an original: Song For Bill Evans.

Someone (local player of high repute) who has quite a number of CDs in his discography, spoke to me on this subject, that every musician should record, basically, because it's a soul building experience and every new album, even if it costs a lot to produce, is worth it. It's worth it even if the venture doesn't break even. I think this has to be true. I guess one has to have a plan—I confess that I didn't really have a plan for this project but thought I should do it regardless, even if off the cuff (that was the feeling 9 years ago). One of the pluses for me was to be able to play on a good quality grand piano. So I was fortunate to have the opportunity to play on the Con Hall Steinway. That was such a gift. I'm looking forward to playing on the fine quality grands in the various studios in Edmonton if and when I can.

"All" one needs (apart from practising preparation), is mental(/emotional) and spiritual preparation (being responsibile)—there has to be something a lot more that notes. How about a single impetus, a beat, that becomes a 'subdividable' wave of feeling, thought, that floats with an assurance and any beat or melody that is emphasized or, led to by a dynamic, comes from that original impetus and only fuels the surge of this wave. Maybe it's the big beat, but what ever it is, it's a necessary element and it's ultimately a release even though the mind should truly be more involved in the process. Perhaps it could be called an engaged release or as David Liebman called it: 'a relaxed tension.' I once had a 5 minute conversation with Mr. Liebman (in Boston 1992) about a (100 pp) book that I had put together. I outlined the book (The Sound) I had sent him. He's a nice guy and he let me talk him through it.

Timing was everything too—having to fit it in with family duties and teaching.
With this solo piano album, I was kind of living in a dream world and mostly just enjoyed the experience. I wasn't exactly prepared, but did find glimpses of inspiration from the sound of the piano and the fun accrued by my normal on-going piano time—something learned or learned-better every time one sits down to play is a good thing. Which is one good reason why we all need (good) gigs! I'll take a background 'jazz' gig any day if they are to be had. Something interesting always happens.

Costs would be a major factor if I were to record with a trio but I would definitely love to do that—it's a soul building experience after all. Is there enough music out there? There certainly is a lot that is worth listening to and worthy of support. Bill Emes once said to me (sarcastically) when I told him he should record: "Oh sure, just what the world needs, another jazz record." How I would have dearly loved to have heard more from him—an original thinker and profound talent that he was. I'm hearing gifted jazz players who have astounding talent and abilities so that is always inspiring. I guess we've got to like what we do on a deeper level, and that seems to create the feeling that enables the mind to be creative. I find I can get inspired by any music or thought that has some deeper meaning. Music art or any art can be all-consuming and as younger musicians struggle to make a living in music, many still manage to come up with original poetic thoughts and find their voices in the expression of music, besides it's fun and "Soul Building." P.S. check out the next blog up, it features a video of Dave Liebman.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Playing in Keys. The headache is worth it.

It's summer time (so they say). The piano goes more out of tune than at any other time of the year. I could do a quick unison tuning and that might help but I've been taking to putting in my ear inserts to tone down the sound in this small room I have with my lovely little 'Steigerman' grand piano. For some reason that helps to bare the out-of-phasing of the unison-piano-strings.  It would be nice to have it in tune because I've convinced myself that I need to play even complex songs in 12 keys.

I've been using some precious time to do this. I'm finding it helps in many areas:

1. It gives me a better understanding of the harmony because the new keys are harder to figure out without this understanding.
2. It definitely helps with hearing intervals, especially leaps.
3. It creates a better understanding of all keys.
4. It helps to play in keys that don't always get played in and breaks the tactile memory and makes the player work harder to overcome this.
5. It's great for technique and fingering issues.
6. It is good for the understanding of voice leading.
7. It helps with hearing and the understanding of tonality and all 12 tonal centers.
8. It helps in the development of piano texture-creation in the new keys which will influence the texture and understanding upon the return to the original key. I always come back to the original key refreshed.
9. It helps tremendously with improvisation and line creation. Now I can better improvise in these keys and others (I say to myself).
10. It mainly benefits the inner ear and solidifies the sense of a particular tonality.

The thing is that the songs might be played slower in unfamiliar keys but one rule of thumb is to play musically. Have articulations, dynamics and beautiful tone uppermost in the mind as the struggle to  play in unfamiliar territory proceeds. I find myself often more 'transported' playing in this way through these keys. In a way the sounds of these keys or at least 'piano keys' will sound new and are worth lingering on in a lyrical manner. In the jazz world (of old and even now) the keys of E, A, B, F# are played much less than the 'flat' keys so there is much territory to be explored. Its nice to be able to play Charlie Parker heads in keys as well and extrapolate phrases and run them through sequential root motion patterns.

I'll follow this article with another featuring one of my favorite and most useful aspects of 7th chord-tones substitution and the pathways that are present when one or more of the chord tone leads to an adjacent chord extension tone—it can contribute to the solo line concept as well.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Cross - Connecting

Hi all. Once again my friend CKM has come up with some thoughtful responses to a piano lesson with me. In the lessons we are gradually getting to work on techniques and dynamics/articulations in bebop heads, a great resource for building jazz language skills. These particular thoughts to my mind, essentially deal with the 'Macro and Micro' dynamics and articulation choices in piano jazz. There truly is no 'one' way to play lines and figures (unless agreed upon in an ensemble situation). So I humbly submit the following thoughts from one who brings many insightful thoughts and perspectives. What else would you expect from a math/computer/engineer/genius-nice person ? !! (I'm "C". in this monologue).

Cross-connecting (by CKM).


I liked that lesson today.   We just went over most the of the songs, working on dynamics and articulation and swing and all that stuff.   I'm kind of feeling for the first time that I'm generalizing correctly about all kinds of things in that domain.  The expression markings I'd written in on several of the songs were good for the most part.   Some of those were based on listening to how C played them on the recording last week, but some of them were just that I thought it sounded right a certain way because it instantiated a certain pattern that I recognized from another song.

It's a neural net training problem really.  When you design software neural nets to solve a problem (neural nets simulate the brain directly in a simple sense, in terms of the neuron connections and strengthening connections that are used and building associations) you have to train the net on the problem domain.  A typical application of a neural net might be facial recognition, and you would train the software by showing it a number of pictures of the subject it was being taught to recognize.   It's a little tricky, because it's important to get the size of the training set right.  If you show too few pictures of the subject, the net won't have enough information to generalize, and won't recognize other similar pictures.  But, perhaps surprisingly, if you show too many pictures of the subject, the net will become "over-trained" and will think it has a perfect and complete understanding of the subject, and nothing can be added to it, so it won't recognize new pictures of the subject very well either, because they are different from the pictures it knows about.   Its understanding is over-specific and normal variation messes it up.

Anyway, I think broadly speaking I've been suffering from too few items in the training set, largely because of not having spent decades listening to this music, and although I have worked on lots of songs, because I've worked on them sequentially, there has been limited carry-over of pattern recognition from one song to the next.  Each one has been a whole new adventure.  Which has been fun, but it's certainly being useful in a different way to have the patterns from a dozen songs all in my mind at once, because there are cross-connections every which way, and it makes it easy to see them.

Sometimes, in another sense, I get too many items in the training set, like when I want C to specify every microscopic dynamic in a line, but it just doesn't matter all that much.  There are situations where there is some essential characteristic that needs to be kept, but the tiny details can be done many different ways, but I don't distinguish those two categories.   From a neural net perspective, it's desirable for the net to identify the essential characteristic, and be flexible about the rest of it, but is overtraining when the net perceives the non-essential characteristics as part of the essential identity.  But how to tell the difference?  That's the tricky training set size and content thing, and even with software, de facto it gets worked out on a trial and error basis until you come up with the right approach for the problem domain.

I wasn't thinking about any of this, this morning though.  I was thinking lift & drop, putting weight into keys, using the weight of my arm to roll into notes and phrases, and keeping relaxed, and trying to always make phrases be going somewhere dynamically, never just sitting there, and just trying to be totally focused on whatever we were working on.   That kind kind of focus just makes me so happy, both at the time, and thinking about it later.

Austinato: We had a further dialogue to kind of tie things together—Thank you dear reader:

  1. austinatoJune 21, 2012 11:54 PM
    Uh huh !!

    I love this... It would benefit others to hear about this... because in my limited scope here, what your saying here is correct. It's akin to balance when playing: don't try too hard and conversely don't try to little. Balance of the musical forces. It would be hard to phrase the exact same way every time but if you are in the groove and in the moment, one can balance the dynamics as you proceed. It's processual !!

    1. CKM: This: "It would be hard to phrase the exact same way every time but if you are in the groove and in the moment, one can balance the dynamics as you proceed."

      It has to end up like that.
    2. austinatoJune 22, 2012 10:03 AM
      I think it becomes what is called by many: intuitive.
    3. austinatoJune 22, 2012 4:49 PM
      This is a key:" Its understanding is over-specific and normal variation messes it up".

      Heavy duty is this: There are situations where there is some essential characteristic that needs to be kept, but the tiny details can be done many different ways,

      and this: it's desirable for the net to identify the essential characteristic, and be flexible about the rest of it, but is overtraining when the net perceives the non-essential characteristics as part of the essential identity....Oh Yeah !!

  2. austinatoJune 22, 2012 5:05 PM
    That's not to say that the plethora of detail infinitudes, should be ignored. They 'play' a big part in the shape and vitality of a line

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Animating Principle

Animating Principle: Dynamics and Articulation in swing music.

I’ve always been taught and have been teaching the triplet 8th nature of swing at least at slow to mid tempos. When swing gets quite fast, say over MM = 200, the swing 8ths definitely straighten out somewhat and the swing component is more implied with shots and accents than the actual triplet 8ths. But as long as a tempo is such that continuous triplet 8ths can be played say, in a solo, the 8ths written in duple can be swung, again, depending on the tempo.

I first learned ‘Swing’ playing in a 1958 ‘Rock’ band (The [Vancouver] Shades). We started every gig with a shuffle called ‘Honky Tonk’ by Bill Doggett. It was a slow blues shuffle and I remember instinctively accenting every ‘back’ 8th because it was essentially in a walking 12/8 time. i.e.

  >   >   >   >
1+a 2+a 3+a 4+a
    <       <

Of course 2 and 4 backbeats are being pounded out as well. It could really groove this way. The ‘back’ 8th (the ‘a’) being accented creates a power vacuum which is filled by the oncoming downbeat (any on-beat 8th etc.) which itself creates a propelling force. I think (I’m not the only one—if it’s good enough for ‘Dizzy’ Gillespie it certainly is good enough for me), that it definitely animates the time feel. I love it when drummers do an 8th triplet fill into a downbeat playing with this dynamic as it really pushes things along. As Duke Ellington said more than once when an audience of the 'unhip' would ‘clap’ in time on beats 1 and 3: “Please clap on 2 and 4 as clapping ON the beat is considered ‘Aggressive’.” That’s a bit of a joke but his point is well taken. This backbeat accent principle is also applied to the ‘back’ 8th (‘a’). It creates a lively momentum and is great to play on. Back to drummers doing triplet 8th fills—when they dooo accent the down beats "continuously" during a fill to the downbeat, they are creating this same ‘aggressive’ (ie. mostly unhip) ‘slogging’ of the beat. When that happens I think the player is begging the question! Of course there is a time and place for everything (just a little pet peeve of mine).

When applying this accenting back 8th rule of thumb, in creating 8th note lines, similar respect can be given to the swing-animation principle.

Here are some thoughts by a friend of mine, (CKM) a student of jazz piano who has the presence of mind to analyze the articulation and dynamics of a swing jazz 8th note line. This person is learning Bebop Jazz lines, style, and tunes such as T. Monk’s Straight No Chaser and has these observations about dynamics and articulations in a vibrant 8th note-type line. To this person this is a new phenomenon. I have highlighted some important words with capitals and have written the occasional aside. N.B.

I am ‘C’ in this monologue/dialogue.

It's been really different practicing recently. I am not preparing anything for lessons -- I am just trying to work on the rhythm and articulation and dynamics of all these little songs. For most of them I feel like I have got a clear idea, and even manage to play in accordance, at least on occasion, but it's very easy to slip out of it and just play it without it being ALIVE properly. When it works right it's like it's animated from within, and dances itself, But if it's not working, it's all awkward like a marionette and I have to move all the parts on purpose and they often don't coordinate perfectly.
After the last lesson I took out the left hand completely, because it distracted me from doing the right hand how I wanted to. The last couple days I've been working on putting it back, just roots, very minimal. Even that is usually too much and kills the melody. Not giving up though. Some of them are coming together a little bit. When it works right the left hand interacts with and supports the melody. A common pattern, for example, is to hit the downbeat with the left hand followed by a pick-up on the second eighth in the melody.
Another thing I'm thinking about a lot is the patterns of eighth note accenting. It's by no means just back-eighths, and I'm beginning to understand what is going on with that I think. C was marking in which eighth-notes were to be brought out, and at first it seemed kind of arbitrary, but with so many songs, I can see the same patterns over and over again in different contexts. These are the most common accent patterns I've noticed:
CKM: Back-eighths -- when nothing more important is happening to override this default. 
(C: Over-riding factors like intervallic leaps on downbeats might needed to be accented and this overrides the back 8th accent idea)
CKM: Drop-landing notes -- often the back-eighth, but not necessarily.
(C: Like the drums, accents on a piano keyboard come out best if they are ‘dropped’ on with a true release, surrendering to gravity which creates the best accented sound).
CKM: Melodic sequence -- sometimes there is an ascending or descending line that needs to be brought out, and it's not all back-eighths.
(C: An ascending or descending line might need an accent on a downbeat just to establish the meter and create a jumping off point for the next push or anticipation).
CKM: Four eighth-note series alone -- really this is just a special case of #2, with a drop-landing note 1, and then a back-eighth note 4, but it's such a common pattern I think about it by itself.
(C: The '4th' 8th-note may be held in a tie in which case there is a natural accent at work. If the 4th note is short, it can be bounced off by literally bouncing the hand off the note creating an effective accent—further to that, notes that are accented in a legato swing line should be, if possible, accented by (subtly?) flinging the weight of the arm down and catching it at the bed of the keyboard. There is another technique such as a wrist-arm relaxed twist which will create an effective accent at the end of a 4 – 8th note line.)
CKM: Destination note -- seems like the arrival point of the preceding few notes or phrase, and gets an accent regardless of what kind of eighth it is.
(C: Yes!)
CKM: I am trying to think in terms of medium-long phrases when playing, like always having something be happening dynamically. It's that aspect specifically that falls apart when I introduce the left hand. But eventually it won't. I've never really thought about Dynamics as an Inherent and Animating quality to the line before. In the olden days that I don't like to remember, dynamics were treated as cosmetic improvements that needed to be "added" once the notes were under control ("musicianship" -- worth 20% of the mark!). But That is Completely Wrong. The Dynamics and Associated Aspects are the LIFE of it.
(C. Again, thank you my friend [CKM], for your insight and clarity on the grossly underestimated area of dynamics and articulation).

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Music life stories !!

Stories I have a plenty if and when I remember them. They had it pretty tough during the depression. The Johnsons (my Mom's maiden name) had only One knife for cutting anything and buttering etc. 'Pass the knife please' was commonly heard at the dinner table. 

What did we Austins do before TV.... ? Radio plays, music, kid's shows, news. Even some live shows CKWX had a vocal trio that made quite a name for themselves. I remember one announcer had an unusual news voice. It had a high edge and he spoke very plainly and specifically—it was a voice I remembered—more later. 


When I was about 27 in 1969-70 I got a gig at this 'Mobster' Club— The "Penthouse" Mafiasoish etc. —we played for the acts there. Singers, but mostly 'dancers' (ie. they weren't Paint 'strippers'). I was lucky to have it. It was a low point in general for me but it was interesting. I made some good friends there who really helped me. So this was a low place —gangsters, WGs (working girls), and pimp type people, gamblers thieves too I think and I pretty sure I rubbed (if you'll pardon the expression) shoulders with a dedicated hit man or 2. I think the head chef was also administrating some of the girls—I got to know some of them. There were a few sad cases and occasional bright lights in the mix though.

I played for Big Miller there and also actually met Duke Ellington (shook hands) through Big Miller and also Cannonball Adderly. Why do I mention this (it was 6 nights a week)? Because after 20 years or so I finally saw the man behind the radio voice I mentioned earlier, at this very club. He looked like he was right into the whole underworld life style—perhaps a gambler not obviously shady but comfortable looking in this club. It just seemed an odd juxtaposition !! 

I stayed there for a year and went through quite a bit (what me with me BMus in performance piano, playing half a Hammond organ and an electric keyboard on top for bass). The saxophone guy hired me—he was a pretty nice guy who ended up quite wealthy as a kind of front man for the Philiponies, who owned the club (the oldest brother Joe was later murdered by a robber which was made into a CBC radio play: imagine !! and I knew that guy). The drummer Lou was laid back but a nice enough guy. What did we play: apart from our resident Italian tenor named Tony (sweet guy really) we played every style, lots of blues, jazz: I was constantly being mentored by one of the best jazz singers there ever will be. How do I know this? by working with him every night. "Big" Clarence Miller was quite a profound influence in the swinging/creative/hard driving/hip changes department. It was often tough to know what he was talking about but there was a great deal that came through. He really had a voice and could out scat just about anybody: save Ella (who may have been a little hipper). He swung so easy and so hard !!

Then I met G. after I moved out of my parents place after being there for a year, and into a house with multiple tenants, one of which was indeed G. I had long hair down to my shoulders which would be the envy of any girl... it had this big wave in it... I had a beard too. I did look good from the back !! :)...  Later I went on the road with this trio (Arni May drums: who ran Rossinis' in Vancouver for many years) from a phone call from my dear friend Stu Millman who taught me a lot in his own way— he had a great ear and a great memory for tunes. Later we came to and through Edmonton just having been married to G.

The upshot of it is I made friends through this Penthouse club who I hung out with and slowly recovered from my 'hermit' band experience that we had tried to put together in the summer of 69 (nobly called "The Infinite Family"). I started to play piano a lot more but was spinning my wheels for a while. G and I moved in together in November of 1970 and I bought an upright and played all day (Beethoven, Chopin and Bill Evans) while she went to work... I worked too... some gigs and some teaching. The rent was cheap. Things miraculously have been going well ever since with a few major and minor discords but we're still here (touch wood). Moved to Edmonton, Grant MacEwan music.... this was serious stuff—I now had a family. It was a dream job but I did  also play 6 nights a week... sooooo tired. It was cruel and unusual punishment but I could've said no (no way)...I did stop doing that after a few years and had a lot of other cool gigs thanks to a well known senator (T.B): 2nd city TV shows, theatre shows, Telethones etc. it was in retrospect, totally awesome. 

Thirty + years at MacEwan Music. Intuitive dynamotion (rhythm, articulation and dynamics) , The Sound, 450 pieces in 15 keys, The MEd degree at 49 years, The Jazz Improv System, Blues tunes demonstrating the system, countless arrangements for showcase bands, An Approach to Jazz Piano (from a sabatical in 2000), and now some playing. Analyzing Bach Preludes and Fugues, watching former students blow by me !! Learning from everybody these days with 'retirement.' I really respect the professors and instructors working at MacEwan Music these days. It's really going somewhere. I've had quite a few people to thank and be eternally grateful to. I might do something useful yet — I pray !!


My Mom:

Both my younger sister and myself were born war babies. My Dad was in the army in Nova Scotia (he [we] lucked out when they found he could type and do short hand so ended up as a supply Sergeant).  I didn't see very much of him until mid-1947 when he came back to stay (we lived in Vancouver). So it was life with my Mother and later my sister.

I think I have memories of being a baby naked and being weighed at some health center. One time as a toddler I had a needle given to prevent something or other. I was quite shaken by that and was turning blue when we got home where my Mom put me in a tub of water on the wood stove to warm me up. I did survive that, but we never never did go back to that health center. Mom was on her own in a little house on Gravely St. in Vancouver. Considering she had a very serious bone infection for over 12 years and was always treating it. It was mostly in her knees and she was constantly draining this infection through running sores with nothing but cotton baton and I think she received sulfa drugs. It was finally whipped in 1952 when she stayed in hospital after my brother was born, and had some surgery which finally defeated this life threatening disease (or rather a life-long remission).

During the war, Mom always kept us aware of our Dad but we were raised for the most part by our virtual single parent. We did have plenty of attention from our grandparents and aunts and uncles. My Mom was the eldest of 7 and my Dad had 2 sisters so we had lots of relatives. The maternal grandparents lived down a couple of blocks and I would toddle off at the age of 3 down to see them on Charles St. My Mom came after me in hot pursuit with my baby sister under her arm!—I was pretty fast and perhaps a little too fearless but I adored both grandmothers but my Mom's mom lived right there. She was very generous and happy, smart, and formidable in her own right.

My Mom's many many stories focused around the development of a large family during the depression and we heard plenty about how they got by. Mom used to go out fishing with her dad in the Burrard Inlet with a homemade boat he had put together. They caught crabs and fish and they somehow did OK. Mom tells the story about finding a huge cabbage that had fallen of a truck into the roadside and how this was the prized vegetable which meant a lot to them. Wouldn't you know it the whole family was involved with music—singing and playing. My Granddad could really make a piano speak—he  played rag-style stompin' stuff. I've never heard anything quite like it since. I grew up on that very good quality piano which was purchased sometime in the early thirties—quite an extravagant luxury given the scarcity of work at that time.

Being the eldest of 7 meant that she got a lot of practise at being a mom. She had a special pal in my Uncle Lance but was important to all her brothers and sisters. She was born in England in 1916 and came over to Canada at about age 5 or 6. It's interesting that her mom wanted to live in Vancouver and not Toronto where my granddad had a job but, to Vancouver they went.

The world revolved around Mom in my Dad's eyes. She was not knick-named "Dolly" for nothing. As a young girl she had big blue eyes and long thick hair. I've played Hello Dolly quite a few times for her. She was always very encouraging with music and performing. My sister got to dance and I got the piano (happily) but I always like the idea of dancing and singing. Did I mention we all sang a lot. My Dad was an especially good singer and although not trained, had a deep appreciation for music — and quality music, especially singing. He was a very enthusiastic no holds barred conductor of the kiddy  choir in Sunday School—like I say, I was almost embarrassed by his involvement — he thought is was important though.

So I never had a very good hand at penmanship and when I first started school she made me print stuff for about 1/2 an hour or more, which didn't go well while everybody else was out playing baseball on the street. I think I was among the last ones in my grade four class to get to write with a pen-nib with ink. Ball point was just around the corner though. It was kind of grating on my little ego at the time.

We went to a church and both Mom and Dad were in the choir and involved. Mom sang soprano and really had a soloists voice and she played the piano and could chord along with her singing. She was also a featured vocalist in the choir services as well. The church provided a nice (even) fun sense of community in North Burnaby. Did I mention singing. I sang in a boy soprano and could sing as high as my Mom. I did enjoy singing a lot. I didn't start piano 'till I was 11 so I sang until my voice broke—brutally as it turned out: I got hit in the top of the head with a huge snow ball (ice more like) and my voice changed on the spot. I became a donkey in a matter of seconds. It was rather odd. Kids can be malicious even in those days. What did we know?

Mom occasionally got pretty upset with me when I joined a "rock" band when I was 15. It was those late nights rehearsing— but we actually got gigs and it was a real hoot except that I had no power and pounded the crap out of the pianos that were in the hall and of course being drowned out all night with guitar, bass, 2 saxes and drums. Occasionally there was a Hammond B3 at the gig (imagine !!). There were a few tense moments when the band rehearsed at my parents house when they weren't home—The neighbor complained to Dad and had apparently complained about it the week before — Dad had told the neighbor that it wouldn't happen again (he never told me !!). So— he informed me of his embarrassing position that I had put him in. What could I do? I apologized profusely to our neighbor and I think we only rehearsed in the afternoons after that.

Of course I had to have the car when I finally got a license. Mom was too kind to me there I think.

She supported all 3 of her children through our adult lives and even our children and grand kids. She was the best Mom anyone could have. I know that's a cliche and that most of us feel that way but when she's gone it's a game changer. It leaves a pretty empty spot. She would be thee person that you've known the longest and arguably, the most intense presence in one's life.

Dolly past away at 2.35 AM May 29, 2012 (the day before my Dad's birthday). She was almost 96 years old and was predeceased by my Dad by 5 years.