Stealing Like An Artist

Steal Like An Artist is a book by Austin Kleon.  I haven’t read it (yet), but I did enjoy looking through Kleon’s blog post covering ideas he wrote about in that book.  While Kleon is writing from the point of view of an author and visual artist, I find much of his advice to be helpful for composers and musical improvisers too.

Number 1 on his list, look at other works closely, take what you like and leave behind the rest. Continue reading Stealing Like An Artist

Ben Folds on Being a Musical Artist

I’ve enjoyed Ben Folds’ music for a while.  While I enjoy his piano playing and singing, I personally find his song writing to be particularly interesting.  I think he’s developed pretty original original style.

Recently I found an essay Folds wrote and posted on his Facebook page.  His post has a lot of great advice for aspiring artists on topics of finding your own voice, hard work, dealing with criticism, and developing technique.  He starts off by quoting Neal Young:

“Take my advice – Don’t Listen To Me” – Neil Young

Whether or not your a fan of Ben Folds it’s a good read for any creative artist.  I recommend you check out the full post.

Western Carolina University Jazz Festival Featuring Joel Frahm April 14-15, 2012

Another jazz event for those of you in western North Carolina this weekend.  Remember, tonight you can come listen to the Asheville Jazz Orchestra.  If you still haven’t had enough live jazz (who can have too much?), come on out to Western Carolina University and check out the WCU Jazz Ensemble performing with guest artist Joel Frahm on saxophone tonight, April 14, 2012.  Also on the performance, which starts at 7:30 at the Bardo Fine Arts Center, will be Pavel Wlosok’s trio.  Pavel is the Director of Jazz Studies at WCU and an excellent pianist and composer.  The A.C. Reynolds High School Jazz Ensemble will also perform, under the direction of Bill Bryant.

If you can’t get out to this concert but still want to check out some of the jazz events going on in conjunction with the WCU Jazz Festival there are some open rehearsals and workshops going on all the way through Sunday April 15, 2012.  Go here for more details or contact Pavel at 828-227-3261.

Blackhawk Blues for North Buncombe Middle School Jazz Ensemble

A couple of weeks ago Mary Jo Sparrow, director of bands at North Buncombe Middle School, invited me to visit her students and give them a workshop on improvisation.  She specifically asked me to run them through an introduction to blues in the key of E flat, since they were working on a piece that included an improv section in those changes.  That afternoon, after finishing the clinic, I wrote out a simple blues head in E flat that I though would be playable by middle school music students.  Today I finally got around to scoring out that head for a middle school jazz band.  I call it Blackhawk Blues, after the North Buncombe Middle School mascot.  Here’s a MIDI realization.

[audio:|titles=Blackhawk Blues]

As always, you have to use your imagination when listening to a computer play back music written for live musicians.  Usually I like to stick a Band-in-a-Box generated solo as a placeholder for solo improv sections, but for this MIDI realization I intentionally left it out so that students could use it as a practice track.  If you want to download this MIDI realization right click here and select “download linked file” or whatever similar option you get.

Jazz Improvisation Workshop with Jack Wilkins March 27, 2012

Saxophonist and Director of Jazz Studies at the University of South Florida, Jack Wilkins, will be giving a free masterclass on jazz improvisation this Tuesday, March 27, 2012, at 7:30 on the campus of Davidson College.  If you’re near Davidson, NC this Tuesday night you should try to get out an check out this workshop.

Thanks to Patrick Brown, who teaches jazz and saxophone at Davidson, for hipping me to this masterclass.  It’s unfortunately too long a drive for me to make when I have to teach at 8 AM the next morning, but I’m sorry to miss it.  Jack (no relation to me, our last names are different, even though my name sometimes gets misspelled like his) is a great player and I’m sure he’ll have some great stuff to talk about.  Keep your eyes posted in case he plays nearby while he’s traveling through.

Just Friends For Saxophone Quartet and the Minor Plagal Cadence

I’ve just completed another arrangement for the Lenoir Saxophone Ensemble (Robert George, David Kirby, Patrick Brown, and Mike Myers).  I heard them perform last November and was really impressed with the group.  Having worked with a couple of them in the past, I knew they were excellent musicians, but their playing was incredibly tight.  They certainly don’t slap their music together, they take a lot of time and effort into rehearsing and getting their music to sound good.  That means I can write what I think will sound cool and not worry so much about how challenging it will be to play.

Here’s my take on the jazz standard Just Friends for them.  It’s a MIDI realization, so you will need to pretend you’re hearing four saxophonists playing with expression and style, rather than a computer.  Brownie points to anyone who can name all the quotes that ended up in this arrangement.

[audio:|titles=Just Friends]

While Just Friends is a tune that most jazz musicians are probably already familiar with, it is very interesting harmonically.  Most notably, the tonic chord of the tune really doesn’t get strongly cadenced until almost the very end of the tune.  It does, however, show up in the 5th measure, but approaches it from an interesting direction.  Since my arrangement is in the key of C major, my example is in that key.

Notice that the first chord is the IV, which then becomes a minor iv, leading to what would be a ii-V in a different key.  Instead of resolving to Eb major, this chord pattern resolves to the I chord.  So what does this progression have to do with a plagal cadence? Continue reading Just Friends For Saxophone Quartet and the Minor Plagal Cadence

Diatonic and Chromatic Chords: The Blues

Last Friday I tried to answer a couple of improvisation questions I was emailed by Michael.  He also asked some other very good questions about my Jazz Improvisation For Beginners article on the blues form.

In your “Part 3 – the Blues Form” – something seems off.  You say: “Let’s look at a 12 bar blues in the key of C.”  You then go on to give the chords C7, F7, Dm7, G7, and the note Bb.   I have not heard of a B7 or C7 in the key of C.  Nor have I ever seen a flat or sharp in the key of C.  But there is a Bb, of course, in the key of F.  And the 12 bars you give clearly resolve to the F chord, not the C chord, at least to my ear, which is pitch-perfect.  Isn’t this really the key of F?  Or am I not understanding something here?

As I was putting together a response for Michael I found my answers relied heavily on being able to hear the musical examples, so I decided that a podcast format would be the best way to follow up.  It went a little long, almost 17 minutes, but I started with a brief summary to make sure that most listeners could follow along.

Here’s a link that should give you a direct download so you can listen to it on an MP3 player.  Transcript after the break. Continue reading Diatonic and Chromatic Chords: The Blues

Improvisation Questions, Part 1

I got emailed some great questions from a Michael a bit ago.  He had questions on two separate topics, so I’m going to answer them in two posts.  Here’s the first.

I really enjoy your “Jazz Improvisation for Beginners.”  And, though I write songs that have been produced and played worldwide, I am really a beginner to playing music.  I usually  just make up tunes and sing them into GarageBand, using the I, IV, V structure.  They come out good, are produced, and many are sung by bands worldwide and some are on their CDs.

No question there, but I wanted to remind everyone that some of the greatest songwriters ever (at least in my opinion) were self taught like Michael.  A lot can be done with your ear alone, as long as you keep working on it and forcing yourself to try new things.  One way to do that, of course, is to learn how different things sound by music theory.

But I want to make more imaginative tunes and I want to be able to create tracks so I can sing them to my arrangers the way I hear them.  Continue reading Improvisation Questions, Part 1

Is it normal to spend an hour learning a lick?

Here’s another great post from David Valdez at Casa Valdez Studios.  One of his students emailed him a tough question.

Is it normal to spend an hour or more trying to learn a lick? I was learning the last four bars of Chris Potter’s RC solo but it felt like it took forever just to get the fingers to work through the notes in every key.

David begins his response by saying that learning licks in all twelve keys is a total waste of time.  It sounds sort of crazy at first, but you should go read his whole explanation.  He has some good suggestions about learning to play in all keys comfortably and some interesting food for thought.