The Two Hal’s: Hal Galper and Hal Crook on Practicing Improvisation

Jazz pianist Hal Galper talks in this masterclass about the illusion of the piano (or any other instrument) being the “instrument.”  Galper talks about the real instrument is the musician himself/herself.  Check out what he says in this video.

In this video Galper asks the audience, “How many of you think you have trouble playing what you hear?”  He responds to the audience members who agree with that by telling them, “Well, you’re all wrong.  You are playing exactly the way you hear.” Continue reading The Two Hal’s: Hal Galper and Hal Crook on Practicing Improvisation

Chick Corea Solo Analysis by Don Glanden

Check out the below video created by Don Glanden, who teaches at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, PA.  It’s an detailed analysis of Chick Corea’s improvised solo on his composition 500 Miles High.  It’s an excellent discussion of an amazing solo.

The University of the Arts currently has 73 videos uploaded on their YouTube page.  I’m going to have to look through them carefully for more gems like this one.

Thanks to the Ottowa Citizen Jazz Blog for spotting this one!

Online Ear Trainer

I’ve been poking around I Was Doing All Right for a couple of weeks or so.  Rick posts about jazz trumpet, ear training, and the jazz scene in Atlanta.  Somehow I’ve been completely overlooking an excellent resource he put together, an Online Ear Trainer.

Here’s a screen shot of it, to tempt you to go check it out for real.  Notice that it is highly customizable.  You can restrict it to certain intervals, have it display in different transpositions, play the intervals in different ranges, select ascending, descending, or random, play both pitches simultaneously, play melodies, set up a rhythm section accompaniment with call and response patterns, etc.

An outstanding resource, Rick.  Thanks for making that available!

Be sure to check out some of Rick’s other resources on his web site.

Trombonist Anders Larson on Triads

Swedish trombonist Anders Larson has a blog called Digital Trombone about, as you might imagine, trombone playing.  He’s got a lot of exercises on scales and chords that would be particularly useful for jazz players.

His latest post contains pages of triad exercises.  I’ve been thinking about triads for improvisation lately (see this recent post of mine) and Larson’s exercises are good for practicing different triad patterns.

One of the sounds I like the most utilizing triads is superimposing a triad that doesn’t contain the root of the chord.  Here are four examples.

Continue reading Trombonist Anders Larson on Triads

Wes Funderburk – A look at his chops and his podcast

I’ve been checking out trombonist Wes Funderburk for a while now.  He has a really neat podcast called Blog Sounds full of great trombone playing and composing.  He also posts sometimes over at the Trombone Forum.

The other day I came across one of his YouTube videos that provides a pretty good close-up look at his chops.  Embouchure geek that I am, I thought I’d play one of my favorite games – guessing a brass players embouchure type.  Check out his “Pavilion Improvisation” and see what you think.

What a great player!

Because of the camera angle, it’s a little hard to get a good look at the ratio of upper to lower lip inside the mouthpiece, but I think it’s a pretty good guess to say his embouchure is one of the downstream types because there is more upper lip inside.

The real clue in this case is the apparent direction of his embouchure motion.  It’s especially noticeable when he jumps from the middle or upper register down to low notes (usually in conjunction with the multiphonics in his video) and back up again.  It appears he’s pulling his mouthpiece and lips down to descend and pushing them up to ascend.  There’s only one basic embouchure type that does this, the Very High Placement embouchure type.

Continue reading Wes Funderburk – A look at his chops and his podcast

Jazz Improvisation and the Brain

This link (embedded player didn’t want to work) is from NPR’s Weekend Edition, originally aired back in 2008.  The host interviews Dr. Charles Limb about his research studying the brain activity of jazz pianists while improvising using an fMRI.  Probably unsurprising, they discovered that there was a characteristic pattern of brain activity, what Dr. Limb calls a dissociated frontal activity state.

You know, there’s this notion that, and a musician like Coltrane when he’s playing “Giant Steps” there, he’s in the zone. I mean, he is far away from, you know, the concerns of everyday life, and he is in some other place where all of these novel ideas are flowing and pouring out of him. You know, how does he do that? Continue reading Jazz Improvisation and the Brain

A Look at Triad Pairs at Casa Valdez

Jazz saxophonist and blogger David Valdez has recently posted some thoughts about using triad pairs to select note choices for improvisation.  I’ve explored this a bit, using Walt Weiskopf’s book Intervalic Improvisation.  The basic idea is that instead of using a scale or chord arpeggio, you can improvise over two different triads that relate in a particular way to the chord.  For example, over a Cmaj7 chord you might use a C major triad and a D major triad.

This can produce some interesting sounds.  While stepwise motion between pitches can happen while switching between the different triads, there is a tendency to avoid them and the line has a more “angular” sound to it.  There is also a bitonal implication to the sound, even though all the tones played can be thought of as extensions of the 7th chord (D is the 9th, F# the raised 11th, and A the 13th).

The distinctive sound that this approach has is also its drawback.   Continue reading A Look at Triad Pairs at Casa Valdez

Carl Fontana’s Solo on “Showcase”

One of the most influential trombonists in jazz was Carl Fontana.  While not as well known as some of his peers, Fontana’s easy swing feel, tuneful lines, and flawless technique has inspired and influenced most jazz trombonists since the 1950s.

Fontana spent most of his career since 1958 playing shows in Las Vegas and not being much of a self-promotor, we don’t have many recordings around.  One of my favorites of Fontana as a leader is his 1985 album, The Great Fontana.  Fontana’s stop-time chorus on the tune It Might As Well Be Spring is alone worth getting this album.

I transcribed a couple of solos from this album back when I was an undergrad, including Fontana’s solo on the blues tune, Showcase.  Since this was almost 20 years ago, I won’t make any guarantees about accuracy, but skimming though it looks like I got pretty close.  Click here to get the whole solo.

I’d recommend that if you’re a jazz musician interested in this solo you should transcribe it yourself and then let me know where I got it wrong.

The Modes Part 2

Yesterday I wrote about the modern modes and explained how to work out the pitches for any given mode by finding the parent major scale.  For example, a D dorian is the same thing as a C major scale beginning on D, but it’s also like a D major scale with a lowered 3rd and 7th.  If this stuff is new to you you’ll want to go back and read through that article before you read this one.

Today I’m going to show the relationship between the modes and certain chords.  For this post I’ll use the modes in the key of B flat major.

Continue reading The Modes Part 2

The Modes Part 1

In preparing for any business, trade or science, we generally need a great deal of preparation and study.  In painting, literature and music, we also need to learn the tools of our trade.  The artist needs paints to express himself, while the jazz musician uses tonal resources.

The above quote is how George Russell starts his book, The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization for Improvisation.  I’m currently rereading it and plan to post on a few of the concepts he describes.  Before one can follow Russell’s book, though, you need to have a good grasp of the modes.  Many jazz musicians are familiar with modes and use them to derive note choices for particular chords.  They are useful tools for not just coming up with good note choices, but they also can help demonstrate harmonic concepts as well. Continue reading The Modes Part 1