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The Jazz Guitar Almanac

February   2019

February 1, 2019 Friday

Happy Birthday, Gianfranco Continenza! [1968]

Happy Birthday,  Mark Stefani!!   [1951]

Tip of the day: I used to play a lot with a pianist who was older than me. I was in my twenties and he was in his sixties. He kept me humble to say the least. I used to tell him that he had forgotten more songs than I knew. It was true too!! Back in the day he played solo piano six hours a night, six nights a week in Manhattan. He got to play with a lot of the locals back then too, including Miles Davis. Anyway, the point is that I learned never to pass up an opportunity to play with someone who was older than me. It's a great chance to pick up on a tune or two or just to hear a little of the folklore about some of the heroic figures of music that they actually knew and performed with. The kind of wisdom that comes with the passing years is like nothing else. There is no substitute for it.  Even a chance offhand remark from one of these elder statesmen can be a revelation. 


February 2, 2019 Saturday

Happy Birthday,  Tony Gottuso !  [1917]

Happy Birthday, Blood Ulmer! [1942]

Happy Birthday, Louis Keppard! [1888]

Happy Birthday Bob DeVos!! [19??]

Tip of the day: Joe Pass was a great hero of mine from way back.The simplicity of his approach is not well understood these days, I fear. I agree that his sense of melody is, to this day, unsur*pass*ed; if you'll pardon my pun. He had an ironclad sense of form, too. I don't quibble with the harmonic simplification he preached. In practice this stuff works like a charm. He went straight to the *root* of things with his chords.


February 3, 2019   Sunday

Tip of the day: Let's not be too quick to look down our noses at a musician who is performing in an informal setting. It has been my good fortune to have heard various great [grammy winning] players at different restaurants, cafes, receptions, etc. I've played a reception or two myself with people whose names I'm sure you know. And even though they would not appreciate me naming them here; let me just say that it happens all the time. It's a performing art. Musicians play someplace every day: 365/7. The "day job" of a player is music. This is the terrain in which we find ourselves deployed.


February 4, 2019   Monday

Happy Birthday, Maurice J. Summerfield!!     [1940]

Tip of the day:  I'm in my 60's now so I didn't just start teaching guitar lessons last week. In fact I was teaching other kids beatles tunes when I was 12 or so.  As I'm fond of saying, I've had students that have gone on to earn advanced degrees and have careers in music; and I've had students who never came back for the second lesson. Go figure.  I have also had a handful of students who somehow came to believe that I was not the "right" teacher. That would make me the wrong guy, I guess. Be that as it may, none of these aspiring six stringers ever went forward with their musical endeavors, as far as I know. These days I almost feel like you've got to be born into it, or at least be born into a family where music is seen as a viable career path. Unfortunately music continues to be regarded as an extracurricular activity by some. This attitude is as widespread as it is firmly believed.  


February 5, 2019   Tuesday

Happy Birthday, Steve Cardenas! [1959]

Tip of the day: I used to think I knew most of the bossa nova chords. The voicings I used and that I heard most other North American jazz guitar players use sounded pretty good to me. Then a couple of years ago I got some Jobim recordings where you can here his guitar really well. He uses a lot of open strings, first inversion voicings, etc.  Listening to the way he plays really opened up my perspective.This is not to say that the voicings most jazz players use are somehow inadequate but there is a purity in the simplicity of an original, authentic player like Jobim. Certain things are bound to get lost in the translation; and there's nothin' like the real deal.  In this age of youtube it is worth having a look at some Jobim if you want to see the actual fingerings he likes to use.   


February 6, 2019   Wednesday

Happy Birthday,  John Pisano!  [1931]

Happy Birthday, Roy Smeck!   [1900]

Tip of the day: I set up a youth band a few years ago. It was fun. We ended up playing various festivals and established a scholarship fund too. My son was in the band when he was in high school. My student bands have all been of differing configurations. Consequently I had to create the arrangements myself. Stock arrangements were not applicable to our various oddball instrumentations. I included the students in the arranging process and this was very beneficial to them. Some later became conservatory students and I am proudly in possession of huge piles of worthless horn parts, etc. 


February 7, 2019   Thursday

Happy Birthday,  Ray Crawford!   [1924]

Happy Birthday, Barry Zweig!   [1942]

“Everybody has to learn certain things, but when you play, the intellectual process no longer has anything to do with it.”  [Bill Evans]

Tip of the day: You can probably play a 12 bar blues in any key, right? You can probably play variations on a I-vi-ii-V pattern in any key too, I would guess. Getting from this stage to being able to play standard tunes in various keys is not that big a deal on the guitar. Listening and experience are important. Standard tunes have progressions that fall into certain patterns and after a while you'll become more comfortable with this; it will become second nature. Chick singers who don't know what keys to sing in are not uncommon. This is a result of inexperience so for a first rehearsal my advice is to keep it simple. This way everybody can hear a little bit of what everybody else has to offer without trying to address any great musical challenges. If things go well and you decide to get together again you can begin to address specifics about repertoire, keys, styles, tempos, etc. When I get a call from a singer I just ask them to email me a song list with keys. This facilitates the process greatly.  


February 8, 2019   Friday

Happy Birthday, Lonnie Johnson!  [1889]

Happy Birthday, Gene Lees! [1928]

Tip of the day: As part of our local Jazz Appreciation Month activities, I presided over an open jam session in front of an audience of 100 or so. Usually this means serving as gate keeper, traffic cop, conduit, emcee, etc.; but this event went so smoothly that it never became necessary to step into the role of  "jam bastard" . We had a terrific 20 something alto player stop by and it was great to hear him wail. The really amazing thing though was the blind trumpet player. He played really well and knew all the tunes we called like he'd written them himself. I was truly humbled to be on the stand with someone like that. It's also the sort of thing that helps you to put your own puny little concerns back in their proper perspective.


February 9, 2019   Saturday

Tip of the day: At times it can actually be important to have  a tip jar of some kind. I was playing this little cafe gig recently with a bass player friend of mine. He's a good player and everything but he likes to read everything; and I do mean everything. Anyhow, in the middle of a tune this guy walks by with a twenty on his way out the door. Since he doesn't see a tip jar he puts the bill on the bass player's music stand and says "thanks..." etc. The twenty landed sideways and is now covering most of the last four bars [coda figure] of the chart so I started getting a little silly in anticipation of how the bassist would manage to move the bill so he could read the coda. Since it was a fairly bright tempo he didn't have time to do this and fluffed his way through to the end. I got a good laugh out of that one. 


February 10, 2016  Sunday

Happy Birthday, Perry Lopez!     [1924]

Happy Birthday, Frank Potenza! [1950]

Happy Birthday,Leroy Kirkland! [1906]

Tip of the day:  I was in a rehearsal band a couple of years ago where I sat next to the bassist. He always brought cross sums to the rehearsal. As the director was rehearsing a horn soli or something he would work on his little puzzles. Nobody seemed to mind much, or even notice. These days one of the first things the director says is, "Turn off your phones!". Personally I like to stay engaged during a rehearsal. If the focus is elsewhere I can look over my part or even practice it with the volume down. At the very least it's a good idea to keep listening and paying attention. When I preside over a rehearsal this is what I insist on. Rehearsal is neither practicing nor playing. It's the preparation of a specific program. It's a time to blend all the parts and to point out where the cues, dynamics, accents, and other colorations ought to be. It's a time to really focus on the character of the ensemble sound and it's expression. 


February 11, 2016  Monday

Happy Birthday, Russ Freeman!    [1960]

Tip of the day: I was scheduled to play a little one hour quartet concert at a local school as part of our AFM Jazz Appreciation Month series. We set up in the gym, got everything plugged in and began our little sound check when the room suddenly went dark. One of the faculty came in and started joking about the band blowing the fuse but as it turned out it wasn't just the school; the whole area was out.This was one of those "the show must go on" sort of moments. So we moved out to the gym lobby which was all glassed in with plenty of light and enough room for a crowd of about 200 students who sat on the floor. We got a piano from the music room down the hall, set up the drums and began playing. The bassist and I were sans amps but the balance was surprisingly good.  The drummer was to blame for this predicament. I pretty much [make that totally] abandoned the program I had put together because it featured all prominent guitar heads. I just called standards that the pianist knew, made like Freddie Greene and smiled a lot. I sang a couple of things too. The kids loved it. Naturally, the power came back on [to tumultuous applause] in the middle of the last tune.


February 12, 2019  Tuesday

Tip of the day: Music requires a certain presentation to be properly appreciated. When music is played in subways, shopping malls, office building lobbies, etc., people are surprised because these are not performance spaces. I've played in all of these settings and the really funny thing is the many quizzical reactions you tend to get from shoppers, commuters and office workers. They really don't know what to make of the situation and they certainly can't take the time to react much one way or another.


February 13, 2019  Wednesday

Happy Birthday, Joe Carter!  [??????]

Happy Birthday, Brad Shepik!!  [1966]

Tip of the day:  I've had extensive experience in group improvisation instruction. My improv students have been mostly teenagers. They play all instruments, not just guitar. Improvisation is easy and even a beginner can have some fun blowing over an easy tune like So What or Sugar, Cantaloupe Island, etc. The instructor just needs to select material that is in keeping with the students level of development. My instructional philosophy is that improv means blowing. This means improv class is mostly playing and a bare minimum of talking. Everybody gets a chorus or two on every tune for an hour or hour and a half. While the music is going on what generally happens is that the more clueless students are seeking advice from their clued-in peers and the instructor; but this is fine, it's part of the learning process. The listening that occurs in class is very beneficial too and it's even good for their ensemble skills. Students are encouraged to take up technical/theoretical questions during private lessons. There is a ton of worthwhile teaching material on this subject. The Aebersold stuff has always been popular because it's concise and focused. It's a good way for kids to begin to get a handle on chords and scale relationships. 


February 14, 2019  Thursday

Tip of the day: Along with the obvious My Funny Valentine, I Love You and I’ve Got a Crush on You should go over well tonight.


February 15, 2019  Friday

Tip of the day:  Some self taught players fall into the trap of learning strictly by ear and in their own terms. Some even invent their own idiosyncratic nomenclature with unconventional names for chords and notes. The cure for this disease is to do what everybody else does: learn to relate the instrument to the treble Clef.


February 16, 2019  Saturday

Tip of the day: I really don't think a lot of top performers in jazz are thinking about various theoretical twists and turns while they are actually improvising. That kind of thing takes time and improvisation is an "in the moment" kind of thing. There's no time to be processing all the permutations and to still be fresh and spontaneous. Of course it's still a good idea to have a theoretical basis for analyzing music. I would even say it's essential, but truly inspired improvisation comes from someplace else. Jazz players are more likely to refer to the first time they learned a Charlie Parker solo or the first tunes they learned than when the first mastered the "D dorian to G diminished-whole tone to C ionion" concept. This is because an overly theoretical approach can result in improvisation that is formulaic, stiff and predictable; not to mention the fact that theory does not address the element of time. I continue to emphasize listening, transcription and repertoire in my teaching. 


February 17, 2019  Sunday

Tip of the day: Video is demonstration only. The interactivity in the private lesson and the student/teacher relationship can never be duplicated or replaced. I've never had a student forgo a lesson in favor of working alone with a video. I've had them bring video to the lesson to have me explain it to them though. 


February 18, 2019  Monday

Tip of the day: Internalizing the symmetry of a typical song form is just something that happens as you continue to play and perform. I'm not sure I ever worked at developing this particular skill; a lot of experienced players would probably agree that it just sort of happens all by itself. I try to keep the song in my head when I'm soloing. This is another suggestion that works wonders. Not only does keeping the melody in mind force you to adhere to the form but it gives you a nice set of guideposts for developing solo ideas in a theme and variation sense. If all else fails keep your eyes on the lead sheet. I did some sessions and gigs this past summer that were all original compositions with asymmetrical forms, atypical progressions, intros, codas, DS, DC, etc. At one point the drummer who had been in the band for years said, "You didn't take your eyes off the page all night!" He was right, too; but if that's what it takes, that's what you do.


February 19, 2019  Tuesday

Tip of the day:  I think playing in school jazz bands is a great experience and that students should make the most of it. It will help you to improve your skills in several areas like listening and reading; and will also add to your general sense of musicality and repertoire. I began playing in bands like this in high school and since then have had the chance to play in similar big band settings off and on. I've also directed, written, arranged and even sung for big bands. I have served as a adjudicator at high school jazz band festivals too and I can tell you that the state of the art is certainly in great shape at that level. The number and quality of these bands is greater than ever so I'd simply encourage you to get involved and enjoy a great musical experience. It's also something that you can continue to remain involved with as the years go on. 


February 20, 2019  Wednesday

Happy Birthday, Oscar Aleman!  [1909]

Tip of the day: Melody is thematic. Scales, modes, tonal centers, chord tones, arpeggios and guide tones are technical and theoretical things. It's good that you know something about them, but if you want to improvise in a melodic way you need to adopt a different approach.

1. What have you transcribed? This improves your listening skills and will help you acquire new improvisational concepts and vocabulary. There are a range of other benefits too.

2. Great melodies have a certain quality that I call "singability". This means there is a certain contour or rhythm figure that infuses the melodic line with meaning. Great improvisation has this quality too.

3. Melody has been broadly defined as "a meaningful sequence of notes". For this reason modal, or scalar patterns and arpeggios are inherently unmelodic. Stay away from this when you improvise. Don't get caught just "running scales". Forget that stuff and try to play in a more musically satisfying way.

4. Learn to use the melody of the song you are playing as a basis for your improvisation. Lift intervals, contours, figures and other thematic content and develop these ideas. Embellishments and ornamentation of known melodies can make a musically satisfying statement.

5. Learn to improvise thematically. Take a melody fragment or even a rhythm figure and use this as a theme. Develop this theme in the different harmonic settings. This gives your improvised statement conceptual continuity.

6. Improvisation can and should be practiced. Find some practice partners or at least play along with Aebersold, accompaniment software or your favorite recordings. You should practice improvisation at least as much as you practice scales, arpeggios and other technical exercises. More would be better.

7. You should be able to sing along with an improvised jazz solo. Do this in conjunction with your various transcription projects. If you can't sing along with your own solos something is wrong. This may mean that they are too technical or overly complex. Sometimes simplicity is called for. Less can be more in this instance.

8. Improvisation is very much the art of the practitioner. If you are willing to put in the time, your own concepts will eventually emerge. This is a very idiosyncratic thing and part of the reason that no two jazz players sound or play exactly alike. Keep working at this and your own voice will reveal itself in time.


February 21, 2019  Thursday

Happy Birthday, Eddie De Haas! [1930]

Tip of the day: I like the sports analogies up to a point. I used to play a lot of tennis so I saw many parallels between my musical life and my tennis life. In both cases though I emphasize commitment over "talent". In music another important factor is the willingness to stick with it. I noticed that most of my high school classmates who were promising musicians gave it up before I got out of college. Many college music students found themselves in other endeavors by the time I was thirty or so. I've even known a few mature musicians who have moved on to other things too. It happens. For my part I still enjoy practicing, learning new material, performing, teaching etc. Fortunately music is the sort of thing you can continue to develop over your entire lifespan. Tennis careers on the other hand flash by like they were on fast forward.  


February 22, 2019  Friday

Happy Birthday, Claude Williams! [1908]

Happy Birthday, Napoleon "Snags" Allen!          [1915]

     [Allen is seen here with Dizzy Gillespie.]

Tip of the day:  Two of the most important ensemble skills are the ability to listen and blend. This applies to coloration and more to the point: dynamic balance. The best players are all good listeners. They do their level best to get a good blend with the rest of the band and not drown anybody out or over balance anything.That's not to say that certain of our "colleagues" seem to be oblivious to the dynamic mix issue even though this would tend to exclude them from the "best players" category. I think we all have a little list in the back of our minds of people we don't want to play with again. One easy way to make the list is playing an amplified instrument too loud.  


February 23, 2019  Saturday

Tip of the day: "Copying" other players should not be underestimated. This is how you acquire the vocabulary and it's context. Almost everybody has done this at some stage. It might seem pointless at times but if you stick with it I believe your own voice will eventually emerge. Lots of top players greatly enjoy the transcription process and will go on with great enthusiasm about things they learned from various recordings. It's really not the drudgery it may seem to be. To me it's all about enlightenment and discovery.


February 24, 2019  Sunday

Tip of the day:  America pop culture continues to cast it's long shadow over us. It's impossible to ignore pop music because it's in the store where you buy food for your family to eat, and it's in the doctor's office where take your kids in for a checkup. It's in the bank when you drop off your deposit and it's in the car next to you at the stop light on your way home. There is no avoiding it's insipid and corrosive presence. So in terms of the general population it may not be much of a stretch therefore to say that the level of musicality is down; but that seems to me to be something like saying most bowlers can't drive a golf ball straight down the fairway. Pop culture and pop music have created a void that real culture fills. The backlash against angry monotone chanting over primitive drum beats is real. I can't help but look at the  ascension of music education in this context. The many opportunities to study jazz in the world today are greater than ever and today's students are simply amazing. It's a very uplifting thing to consider!


February 25, 2019  Monday

Happy Birthday,  Ryo Kawasaki!     [1947]

Happy Birthday, Rene Thomas!       [1927]

Tip of the day:  I accepted a date from a female singer at a little coffee shop in a suburban strip mall a while back. I had never been to the place but I knew the general area pretty well. I drove into the parking lot and found it to be pretty much deserted but since it was a weeknight I didn't let that bother me too much. What did bother me was the irish singer guy setting up his pa system and getting ready to play what I thought was our date. When the girl singer arrived she was equally miffed. Two or three angry phone calls later we agreed to let the irish guy play in return for later dates and the complimentary meals we'd been promised.The funny thing was that the room was empty. And I do mean empty. It was me, the girl singer and one employee behind the counter. No paying customers at all. Undaunted, the irish guy went ahead with his act anyway. What an egomaniac. He was bellowing these over amplified songs of his through a pa system out into an empty room. He poured his heart out. In between songs he told stories and jokes. It was so loud that the two of us could literally not hear one another as we sat trying to talk and eat our dinners. So we basically ate as fast as possible and left. Outside in the deserted parking lot with the irish tunes still blaring out of the coffee shop, it was a little like an episode from the Twilight Zone.   I'm not sure Rod Serling could have set it up any better. 


February 26, 2019  Tuesday

Tip of the day: I think it all begins and ends with the listening. Kind of Blue is a very accessible entry level album that most people agree is a modern classic. There are a few others like A Love Supreme, Saxophone Colossus, etc. Try playing along as you listen. A lot of the melodies can be picked up easily by ear. As a guitarist you'll want to listen closely to some Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, Kenny Burrell, etc. I would recommend learning some of their solos note for note and writing them down from scratch off the recording. This will improve your reading, harmonic knowledge, and time concepts.    It's also great ear training and will help you to discover that some of the things you once considered intimidating and complex are actually quite straightforward.    


February 27, 2019  Wednesday

Happy Birthday, Chuck Wayne! [1923]

Tip of the day: The dilettante practices until he gets it right. The maestro practices until he can’t get it wrong.


February 28, 2019  Thursday

Happy Birthday, Pierre Dorge!    [1946]

Happy Birthday, Marty Grosz!     [1930]

Tip of the day: Listen to a favorite classical piece as recorded by two or three different groups and note the range of variety present in the interpretations. In an improvisational style like jazz these differences will be more pronounced and even more dramatic.


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