Instruments

Posts about a specific instrument or voice, or a musician associated with the instrument

Mar 252011
 
Chet Baker

Chet Baker

Chet Baker Lives!

Chet Baker lived a hard life. But he was without peer as a singer and trumpet player. There are two recorded versions of him singing “My Funny Valentine”; one when he was very young, and one when he was at an age late in his life. What the latter lacks in freshness is compensated by the life-experiences of an older person. That is, it seems to have a deeper level of profundity than the former.

Feb 282011
 

Guitar Harmonics

This is just a brief into/example. To really learn this, look for alternative resources. (See the “Links to Other Music Sites” in the sidebar).

The basic pattern for making a guitar sound harp-like is to alternate notes “chimed” at (usually) 12 frets higher than fretted with notes played in the normal fashion. Some guitarists use pick and 4th finger; some use thumb pick and fingers; some use just fingers. Each harmonic, though, requires at least 2 fingers of your picking hand to execute it.

As a starting point, play at the 12th fret, and do not make chord with your left hand (we will get to that). The openly played strings will be D, G, B, and E, low to high; the harmonics will be played on E (6th string), A, D, G, B. Then there is a role-reversal of sorts (this is just one way of doing it). You can see this in the following sketch in the 2nd bar.

harmonics.mp3

Some of the great jazz practitioners of this technique that I am familiar with are Ted Greene, Martin Taylor, Lenny Breau, Phillip DeGruy, and many others. Most classical guitarists are use this technique as well, when appropriate. For example, a perfect use of this technique is used by Lagoya & Presti in their recording of Debussy’s Claire de Lune.

MusiciansMissions.com:

Ted Greene
Martin Taylor
Lagoya & Ida Presti

Wikipedia:

Ted GreeneMartin TaylorLenny BreauAlexandre Lagoya and Ida Presti

Play
Feb 112011
 

ffAlexandre Lagoya (1929 – 1999) and Ida Presti (1924 – 1967)

Lagoya was already established as an A-list classical guitarist when he met and subsequently married Ida Presti. They became one of the most remarkable duos ever. The English critic and musicologist Tony Cornwall gives some insight into their particular magic in following quote:

In these tawdry times where great emphasis is given by the media to celebration of the purely physical side of humanity—sport, models, etc.—questions of the mind and heart are often given short shrift. At a time when intimacy between adults is most often identified with the sexual act, it is refreshing and invigorating to hear proof of the narrowness of this view and the possibilities that exist. If you listen to any of Lagoya-Presti’s playing—not just hearing, but actively engaging with the music—you will hear conversations of such intimacy that one at first feels embarrassed at being privy to them. It is hard at times to believe that two people could communicate so intricately. Given that both are playing classical guitars makes it all the more extraordinary– Tony Cornwall

Cicking the mp3 link below, you’ll haer their own arrangement for two guitars of Debussy’s Clair De Lune. The original piano piece is in Db Major. However, they have moved it up to D Major. One guitar is tuned to D (or Drop-D); the other in standard tuning. This allows a rich bass for the home key, when the ‘D’ guiter plays its lowest note. One of the signature parts of the song is a ii minor (here it is an ‘E’) that occurs early on, when the melody moves from a minor 9th, then root, then minor-major 7th, a minor 7th,all the while over a sustained E note. On a piano, the low note is sounded using the sostenuto pedal; on the guitar, the bass note is allowed to sustain. Here the note is played as low E on the standard tuned guitar. You will hear this at 1:10 (open E); then at 2:03. An open D (D also played in many other places in the song). Also notice the creative use of harmonics from 3:00-3:24. This technique effectively extends the sustainable range of the guitar.

Clair-De-Lune.mp3
Feb 042011
 
Renee Fleming

Renee Fleming (1959 - )

Renee Fleming (1959 – ) is primarily a classical musician, although her interests in music and singing span a wide field. Her resume of opera appearances and roles is exhausting, reflecting a busy career of many years.

Her musical pedigree is stellar. Both of her parents were music teachers. She studied at both the Eastman School of Music and at Julliard. It is no wonder that a talented and dedicated singer such as her got to be an A-List opera singer.

However, unlike most of the “old-school” classical musicians, she has always applied her musical interests towards the performance of all kinds of music. While at the Eastman School of Music, she sang in a jazz trio, and later, at Julliard, played gigs to help pay for her schooling. It is not surprising that she has expressed an increasing desire and preference for performing concerts, rather than operas. From a recent Wall Street Journal interview, she said

It’s unlikely I will learn any more operas than I already do”.f
Commenting on the classical music “traditionalists” vs. those who reinterpret the opera standards. “I’m not a reactionary. I’ve loved some of [these productions] when they’ve been well thought out. I have no problem with edgy, as long as it’s not vulgar or disrespectful of the piece.

In addition to numerous Classical and Operatic recording, she has also recorded with many well-know popular and jazz artists including Elton John, John Bolton, lee Ritenour, Dave Grusin, and others. In the movie, “Lord of the Rings” she sang a song in an imaginary language. She has recorded albums in her name covering songs by Leonard Cohen, Jefferson Airplane, and others. She sings on Yo Yo Ma’s CD/DVD on 2009. (Yo Yo Ma is another classical musician unafraid to venture into other genres). On this album, she sang “Touch the Hand of Lover”, written by jazz singer, pianist and composer Blossom Dearie.

On that particular DVD, Yo Yo Ma also collaborated with Diana Krall on one song, James Taylor on another, and so on. In 2009, Renee sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, from Rogers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel”, at the Presidential Inauguration, where Yo Yo Ma and many other popular and classical musicians also played.

Renee Fleming (Wikipedia)

Jan 162011
 

Ihe sheet music excerpt below is the first few bars of the tune “On Green Dolphin Street”. Take a look at the last two measures before the final C chord (measures 9 and 10). The chord symbols say Dm7 and G7, or ii7-V7. Usually, in fake or real books, these are the chords you play (not what I put in the bass clef). In an actual playing situation, you certainly wouldn’t want to play the bridge the way I’ve suggested each time–it would get old very fast. Like spoken language, the more ways you can say the same thing, the more fluent you are with your vocabulary. In many cases, the dm7/G7  is just a subdivision of on what could be G7 for 2 measures. Here, those 2 measures are functioning as Dominant harmony. For a moment, leave the bass line out of the analysis, as it is just walking up from D to G. The inner 3 voices in the bass clef, have a similar pattern as the whole-note walk down in the post Alternative Voicing for Piano (1). The difference is that here they are moving up in minor thirds every other beat. They are, again, simple major triads in 2nd inversion, falling on the downbeats. On the offbeats, the chords follow the same pattern again as in the post Alternative Voicing for Piano (1). If you care to analyze deeper, beat 3 of measure 9 is an implied G7#9. Beat 1 of measure 10 is a G7b9+11 (aka Db/G7). Beat 3, measure 10 is a G13b9 (easy to do on a guitar, as well)..

The song is usually played with latin beat through the A section, and swing for the bridge (at the Dm7). Also, the bridge continues with a parallel section in the key of Eb (not shown).

OnGreenDolphiStreet.mp3

Play
Jan 142011
 
One of the top swing-based pianists of the past 25 years

One of the top swing-based pianists of the past 25 years

Dave McKenna (1930 – 2008) is the undisputed master of left hand bass for jazz pianists. What he did with his left hand was much deeper than just that. He changed the function of the left hand often in his playing. His right hand was also exceptionally fluid and had a beautiful tone as if he were playing Chopin.

In the following video clip, he plays “Lulu’s Back in Town”. You can observe how he changes the function of his left hand. Towards the end of the clip, he modulates six times through increasingly ascending keys.

Here he plays “Serenade in Blue”. The camera is always on his hands. You’ll see that he has incredible economy of motion. He plays block chords, left hand bass, left hand “strumming” chords and so on. The secret to his “feel” is when he phrases the melody behind the beat, as singers often do, and plays bass on the beat and chords slightly ahead of the beat.

McKenna knew by heart something like a kabillion songs, and he could play them in any key. He often played medleys, with song-to-song connections ranging from the obvious to the somewhat obscure, but based around a theme. Here he is playing a Rodgers and Hart medley.

Dave McKenna on Wikipedia

Jan 132011
 
Jackie King, Virtuoso Jazz Guitarist

Jackie King, Virtuoso Jazz Guitarist

I was fortunate to be able to share a house for several months with Jackie and his family in San Francisco. I had known him previously from his San Antonio days. There were a lot of  Texan musicians who were in San Francisco or Hollywood at that time, and we all tried to stick together. Many of them breezed in and out of Jackie’s house for impromptu jams, where I watched with dropped jaw.

One of Jackie’s gigs I went to was with legendary blues artist “Lightnin’ Hopkins”. Doug Sahm, another San Antonio man, also dropped by that night. Through my association with Jackie, he introduced me to a lot of great musicians. This gig was right at the time when Governor Reagan called out the natural guard because of the so-called “student unrest”.

Jackie is a left-handed guitarist virtuoso. I think that part of why he is so good is that he can take a “normal” right-handed guitar, turn it upside down and play just fine. Also, he got put on the spot (gigs) at an early age.

Country music was and is a big part of the San Antonio culture. He was enlisted at a very early age to do gigs, often with people associated with the older legends of the time, such as Bob Wills. On these “Country” gigs, a jazz feel and jazz playing was welcomed. This continues today, as many Nashville studio musicians and players are very accomplished with jazz. When George Strait is not on tour, some of his group play a regular jazz gig in Austin, TX.

Jackie has also played with Tony Bennett, The Boston Pops, Ray Charles, Bill Evans,  Jerry Garcia, George Jones, Willie Nelson, Doug Sahm, and many others.

Having known Jackie for many years, I know first hand that Jackie is unpretentious, humble, and always pleasant. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him without a smile on his face. When playing, he often bursts out laughing, looking at the other players, when a song ends, as if an obscure inside-joke just occurred. In his own words:

The first (thing to know) is to always try to be around at least one person who is either a better musician than you or at least as good. The second is to remember you can always learn something from everyone, regardless of how well or poorly you think they play. Through the years I have found this to be consistently true…Somebody will say or play something that you think he or she really should not be able to say or do according to the level of player you think he or she is. Wow! I have learned a lot of licks, etcetera, that way…Control of energy is absolutely necessary to a great technique.

He once had a guitar school in San Antonio located in the historic Majestic Theatre building. In more recent times, he is or has been based in the San Francisco/Mill Valley area for years, but still does tour some, and makes it back to the San Antonio Jazz Festival most every year. He did have some instructional videos, but now, I think they are out of print. He has CD’s that are available on the Books & Media page on this website.

In the following clip, he plays solo, then with the band, his rendition of the song, “If”. Later in the clip, they play “There Will Never Be Another You” with Willie singing.

Jackie King and Legendary Sax Player Richie Cole

Here he plays some Charlie Parker tunes.

Willie and Jackie have an album of standards named “Angel Eyes” only available on Vinyl or cassette. Here is a video clip with Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, and Jackie King. I believe this is from the DVD of their HBO special, which is available for purchase on Amazon. They do a blues, then the song “Angel Eyes”.

Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, and Jackie King


In this clip they play Bach and Improvise over it. I saw this concert at the La Villita church in San Antonio sometime in the ’80’s.

Jackie King and Classical Guitarist David Underwood

This next clip was filmed at the Travis County Exposition Center in in Austin, TX. Jackie played a solid year of concerts (300+) with Willie that year. Here he holds back and lets Willie shine. After the concert, my family and I got to go backstage and then get on Willie’s bus and meet him–a very sweet man.

Willie Nelson, with Jackie King – On The Road Again (2000)

Willie Nelson on Wikipedia

Jan 112011
 
The Young Glen Gould

The Young Glen Gould

“The justification of art is the internal combustion it ignites in the hearts of men and not its shallow, externalized, public manifestations.The purpose of art is not the release of a momentary ejection of adrenaline but is, rather, the gradual, lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity.” – Glenn Gould

Glenn Gould (1932 – 1982) Genius, articulate, reclusive, asperger’s syndrome/OCD, 4-time Grammy winner, writer, documentarian, iconoclast, alchemist, and revolutionary. He is, or has been called all of those things. He used to stay up all night and play piano and then call friends on the phone. He enthusiastically embraced recording technology. Continue reading »

Jan 042011
 

Marcus Roberts, Assistant Professor of Jazz Studies, Florida State University

Marcus Roberts (1963 – ) was born blind and studied music and piano at the Florida School For the Deaf and Blind, the same school Ray Charles attended. He later was discovered by Wynton Marsalis, and they went on to do a number of collaborative projects. He has recorded many albums, both solo and in other varieties of musical settings.

Most of these pay homage to the great American composers of the past such as Ellington, Gershwin, Monk, Porter, etc. [button]Read More…[button]His recording of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” is unlike any other recording I’ve ever heard of the same piece.

Gershwin wrote the piece for piano and small jazz band. He enlisted Ferde Grofe to orchestrate it, and it is written for full orchestra. Of course, the piano part is fully written out, and most all performances and recordings are of this version. That is, played in the “classical” vein where you do not change the score, you only interpret it. However, Gershwin’s roots were informed by the music of  jazz, pop, and stage. Gershwin’s mission was to write music that would fuze jazz and classical music together.

Unlike these other recordings, Marcus Roberts’ version takes many liberties with the score. He will include his jazz trio (with bass and drums) along with the orchestra. During piano solos, he will take extended flights of fancy, acknowledging the written themes, and extending or modifying them. He ad-libs; The version you’ll hear in the clip below is certainly not a note for note replay of the Robert’s recording. The orchestra has been silent during these interludes, and the cues for them to re-enter are both dramatic and pleasing.

In this video, the expressions you see on Seigii Ozawa’s face are well worth the price of admission.

Marcus Roberts Plays Rhapsody in Blue With Seijii Ozawa

This next part picks up where the first part left off, at the beginning of the E major “pretty part” (that’s a technical term). During his improv, you can see the members of the orchestra and band smiling, probably because it’s not known what he’s going to do next. For example, he quotes an extensive passage of Gershwin’s “An American in Paris”; later, he goes into a quasi stride piano part during part of his solo. The fact that there are quotes and improvisation is not the interesting thing. It’s how well he makes it work, blending in an out of what’s written, or hinting at it.

Marcus Roberts on Wikipedia

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