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 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 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 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 022010
 

Art Tatum, Unchallenged Virtuoso of Jazz Piano

Art Tatum (1909 – 1956), partially blind from childhood, was active in recording from the 1930’s through the about 1956, when he passed. His virtuosity has been compared to Franz List and Paganinni. All the well known classical pianists of the times, such as Artur Rubenstein and Vladimir Horowitz, as well as Bernstein, Gershwin, and Godowsky  came out to hear him. Horowitz even did a transcription of Tea For Two. Continue reading »

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Dec 022010
 

Dick Hyman, Educator and Master of All Jazz Styles

Dick Hyman (1927 – ) is at the top of the food chain for working New York Pianists. He has had a very long recording career, including TV and movies (You hear him playing piano or directing music in a lot of Woody Allen movies). He can play just about anything in any style, and has recorded tributes to a lot of the great pianists of the past, e.g., Art Tatum, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, and so on. He may be under-rated because he didn’t compose a lot, didn’t invent a new way of playing that was influential to other pianists, and was not an iconoclast like say, Miles Davis, or McCoy Tyner. Continue reading »

Nov 212010
 

This example show’s some interesting consonant/dissonant harmonies between the vocal and the accompaniment. The melody is simply a downward-arpeggiated A minor chord, with the added “B” note, functioning first as a 9, then as a 2. This note has a built-in dissonance in this context because it is one half-step from the defining minor third note (“C”). A good vocalist will clearly hear in advance, in his/her imagination, the A and C that surround it, and fit the vocal note in at the right pitch and volume. The resultant sound being perfectly on pitch, and exploiting that dissonance. The singer has to nail it right off. Sliding up or down to the note, or too much vibrato will spoil the effect. For example, listen to how Chet Baker does this so well.

Notice that the first note, “Now…”, has an easy, powerful, and great sounding vowel for a vocalist. As the note is held out, the crescendo sells the song. The rest of the line becomes a very natural-sounding decrescendo.

Cry-Me-a-River_1.mp3
Continue reading »

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