Dec 152010

Ted Greene, Guitar Guru of Solo Playing

Ted Greene (1946 – 2005) was a guitarist of immense influence to other guitarists, although he was mostly unknown to the general public. He was known for his solo guitar playing. Everything, melody, harmony, and bass was played simultaneously. He knew at least 50 ka-jillion chords, and how to use them in any context. He only made one record album, “Solo Guitar“, that finally was made available in CD form a few years ago. He wrote a number of instructional books; “Chord Chemistry” is the first one to get. He also contributed to “Guitar Player” magazine. A number of books have been by him and about him. Some of the books and CDs are listed on the “Books & Media” page.
He mainly tutored private students and taught some at the Guitar Institute of Technology in Hollywood. He didn’t do many gigs; some solo, others as a duo with a singer. In the videos that exist, he often appears shy or nervous.
Here are three classic melodies he played at a wedding gig. Although there is crowd noise, the playing comes through pretty well.

In this video, he plays “Autumn Leaves”

This is a guitar lesson that was filmed by a student. This is Part 1; Part 2, not shown here, delves more into rock and blues.

Ted Greene played and recorded using the Fender Telecaster, which is not the “normal” guitar many jazz musicians use (He did play other types of guitars as well, and was somewhat of a collector). He would sometimes tune the guitar down to Eb, as Stevie Ray Vaughn did. In D-tuning, he sometime tuned it down to Db.

If you are a guitarist, and are interested in guitar setup arcana, you should watch this video where he explains how he sets up his guitar.

On his website, there is a radio interview where you can here a couple of tunes from the album “Solo Guitar”.
on the Ted Greene official website.

Ted Greene CDs and Books

Wikipedia – Ted Greene

Dec 152010

Lang Lang at Carnegie Hall

Lang Lang (1982 – ) classical pianist, seems to have been “on a roll” since birth. He is a superstar in the world of classical music. In China, much of the youth culture really loves classical music. I have seen the video where Lang Lang returns to Beijing triumphantly from the studying and touring in the U.S. It was reminiscent of the Beatles arriving in the U.S. at the height of their popularity.

Although some critics have panned him in various ways, audiences go wild over his often sold out performance. Major conductors such as Christof Eschenbach, Daniel Barenboim, Seijii Ozawa, and Zubin Mehta have either championed him or sought him out.

In the following video clip, he plays a Chopin etude in E Major. Towards the end, he plays so quietly and delicately that it seems to transcend possibility of how this can be done. Although he is quite unlike Glenn Gould, he seems to share the tendency to rotate his body in a clockwise motion.

This if from a DVD of his Carnegie Hall debut. Here he plays Liszt’s “Liebestraum” as one of the encore pieces.

Here is evidence of what he might do at a concert, not your father’s concert. He plays “Flight of the Bumblebee” on an iPad, just for fun.

Lang Lang’s website

Lang Lang on Wikipedia

Dec 132010

George Shearing, The Dean of MusicaUnderstatement

(The ingredients for a great performance are) a good audience, a good piano, and a good physical feeling, which is not available to every soul, every day of everyone’s life.

Your intent, then, is to speak to your audience in a language you know, to try to communicate in a way that will bring to them as good a feeling as you have yourself,” – George Shearing

George Shearing (1919 – 2011) pianist, composer, emigrated to the U.S. from England in 1947. At that time, his musicianship was fully developed, and he was quite accomplished. When people speak of the “Shearing Sound” they are referring to the sound of his quintet. The quintet lived from the late 1940’s for about a decade. It was a huge success. If you are unsure as to what that is, when you here it, you will recognize it. It was and continues to be copied seemingly ad infinitum. Unfortunately, “muzak” was provided with a lot of fodder for bad copycat sound.

This style of piano playing uses block chords, which he has attributed to pianist Milt Buckner. These block chords are 5-note chords where the melody is played in octaves, and the chord is formed with the 3 inner voices. The left hand plays the thumb on the lower octave of the melody, (when on the white notes).

The right hand thumb is directly next to the left hand, usually a half or whole step up. This “Shearing Voicing” has been called “locked hands”. The inner voices can be diatonic or every other chord diminished, as you traverse the scale. Since they are 5 note chords, they are usually the triad with major or minor 7th, or 2nd or 6th added.

A number of internet tutorials are incorrect, as far as the “pure” Shearing block chord. The following is not one of those. Dick Hyman has a number of tutorials on the internet. To see his tutorial on block chords, click here. When done, hit your browser’s Back button.

The “Shearing Sound” was the above described piano, along with vibraphone playing the melody in octaves, and the guitar playing usually the upper octave melody. The bass part was written out because the harmony was precise and complex, and the drums usually played brushes.

Here is the quintet playing “I’ll Be Around”

Shearing was known for his unusual, and very impressionist treatments of songs when playing solo piano. Here is an early example where he play’s Gershwin’s Summertime.

Here is a later example. This song, “I Cover the Waterfront” was done by Billie Holiday, and just about everyone else, usually in a jazz style. This video is unabashedly impressionistic. Influences of Debussy, Satie, and Ravel can be heard. He even quotes a bit from a Debussy piece at about 3:38. In other works, he has quoted Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky, and others. When he does, the quote fits in as if it were written that way.

He was a huge influence on jazz and jazz piano players.

I consider him one of the greatest musical minds I’ve ever been around. In the ’50s, George paved the way for me and the (Modern Jazz Quartet), and even today jazz players, especially pianists, are indebted to him. – Dave Brubeck

John Pizzarelli, who recorded 2002’s “The Rare Delight of You” with the George Shearing Quintet, said,

The Shearing sound is something that lives on ad infinitum. There’s definitely a George Shearing style on the piano that really is hard to copy but we do it all the time,” he said. “It’s still something that’s employed by groups when they’re arranging things. They’ll say, ‘Well wait a minute. We’ll do something like Shearing in the middle.”

In 2007, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth !!. George Shearing died on February 14, 2011, Here are two very informative obituaries:

The U.K. Guardian obituary

New York Times Tributes
George Shearing on Wikipedia

Dec 132010

Gypsy Jazz Guitarist, Homage to Django

Bireli Lagrene (1966 – ) is a guitar virtuoso, who could play Django Reinhardt‘s repertoire at the age of eight.

One of the things about the legendary jazz guitarists is that they believe the naked, unprocessed sound of the guitar is beautiful in and of itself. While they may go to great lengths to set up their guitars for just the right tone and action, for the most part, they tend to avoid electronic effects. Although In the studio, at least reverb would likely be used. Clean playing–every note fully articulated–is highly valued over fast licks or runs. You could say the same thing about really good pianists or other instrumentalists. The epitome of clean piano playing, in my opinion si Glenn Gould. In other genres, guitar effects are de riguer.

Here he plays a jazz standard, “Stella by Starlight”.

This is a clip of Bireli Lagrene and guitarist Sylvan Luc playing Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely”. Sylvan Luc is just as awesome a player as Legrene. These two guitarists have a wonderful CD of their playing as a duo. Isn’t She Lovely”, “Blackbird”, and even a good version of the ’80’s song, “Time After Time” are on it.

Here he is playing Chick Corea’s “Spain” along with bassist, and 2 other guitarists.

This guitarists gives a lesson on playing a “Gypsy” standard in the style of Django Reinhardt, “Minor Swing”. The way he names the fret numbers and talks about what he is playing is easy to follow and very helpful.

Bereli Legrene on Wikipedia

Dec 122010

Founder of the "Hot Club of France" With Django Reinhardt

Stephane Grapelli (1908 – 1997), violinist extraordinaire, played with Django Reinhardt from the 1030s through the ’50’s. Over the years, he has played with a who’s who list of musicians from George Shearing, Oscar Peterson, and a lot with guitarist Martin Taylor.

In the following video clip, he plays with the great classical violinist Yehudi Menuin on a BBC broadcast.

Here he plays Stevie Wonder’s “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” with Martin Taylor

Stephane Grapelli on WikiPedia

Dec 122010

Django Reinhardt, The Gypsy King

Django Reinhardt (1910-1953), was born to gypsies, and was a composer and guitar virtuoso. At 18, a fire severely damaged his left hand. He learned to play with just 2 fingers, and could do so at lightning speed.

His quintet, the “Hot Club of France”, featuredStephane Grapelli, Django, Bass, and two “D-Hole” acoustic guitarists. Martin Taylor has a tribute band, but with different instrumentation. There is a whole school of guitar virtuosi carrying on the tradition that also includes Bireli Lagrene, and Stochelo Rosenberg, and many others well-known and not so well-known. Continue reading »

Dec 122010

Martin Taylor, Guitar Virtuoso of Jazz Styles

Martin Taylor (1956 – ) was practically born with a guitar in his hand. The guitarist Pat Metheny has said he is “is one of the most awesome solo guitar players in the history of the instrument. He’s unbelievable”. His influences include Django Reinhardt, Wes Montgomery, Ted Greene and Art Tatum. He is equally comfortable with pick or fingers.

Below are videos of both “Stella By Starlight” and “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” which you can compare with Birelli Gegrene’z version. Continue reading »

Dec 092010

Diminished Scales

Diminished scales are 8-note scales and they are symmetrical. There are only 2 (enharmonically) diminished scales: One  is based on a hale/whole step formula; the other based on a whole/half formula.

Eight note scales are easy to practice with a metronome. I have found that the symmetrical nature of chords or scales makes fingering easier on guitar or piano, possibly other instruments.

The half/whole type of diminished scale goes well over a dominant 7th chord; the whole/half type fits well when played over a diminished or half-diminished chord, e.g., a  2-5-1 in a minor key.

In the chart below, the 1st 4 bars are simply the C diminished scale (half/whole) ascending and descending. Continue reading »

Dec 092010

Freddie Green played rhythm guitar for Count Basie’s various small and large bands.
If you are a Frank Sinatra fan, you probably heard either the Count Basie band, or the Nelson Riddle orchestra backing him up.

Basie played piano, and along with Freddie, the upright bassist and drummer they became an astounding rhythm section.< --more-->It was noted for its sparseness (Basie played a note here and a lick there-the opposite of Oscar Peterson and Art Tatum) yet it accomplished two things: It really did swing, and none of the rhythm players ever got in the way of each other or the rest of the band. Continue reading »

Dec 092010

We derive our scales from looking at the 12 chromatic tones, picking a note to start, or name the scale, and follow the pattern of whole/half step intervals for the subsequent notes as described above. For clarity, we switch to the numbering system (and we assume more than one octave to play with), to derive these simple permutations, by picking the starting note as the “next” note.

1 – 8 / 2-9 / 3-10 / 4-11 / 5-12 / 6-13 / 7-14 / and (8-15), or

C to C’ / d to d’ / e to e’ / F – F’ / G – G’ / a – a’ / b – b’

In the sheet music below you’ll see this illustrated.

Continue reading »