Addin’ Down for Big Band and Pros and Cons of Music Software

One of the reasons I’ve been quiet here lately is because I’ve been spending a lot of time composing a new big band chart, called Addin’ Down.  Here is a MIDI realization of it.

In case anyone is curious, I use Finale 2010 to do my arranging and copy work, and the playback is also done in Finale, with a little help from an old version of Band-in-a-Box to create some of the rhythm section parts and improvised solos.  It’s sort of stiff sounding because of this, and I never bothered to get the drum playback to play more like the street beat feel I want on this one.

Of course, you have to use your imagination when listening to a computer play back your composition anyway.  It’s tempting to feel that just because somethings sounds cool on the computer that live musicians playing it are going to sound like it does on the computer. The opposite is also true, sometimes it’s easy to get frustrated and waste your time trying to get the computer playback to sound more natural.  When composing I try to strike a balance, but ultimately I’m writing for acoustic musicians, not a computer.  I frequently make minor (or sometimes even major) corrections to a piece of music after I hear it played by live musicians.

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Lip Vibration of Trombone Embouchures by Lloyd Leno

Lip Vibration of Trombone Embouchures is a documentary film made by Dr. H. Lloyd Leno sometime in the late 1980s, I think.  Leno was the trombone professor at Walla Walla College, in Walla Walla, Washington.  I’m not certain exactly when he passed away, but his son, Michael Leno, gave me permission to post his father’s film on YouTube.  Dr. Leno made this film after doing research on his dissertation, A Study of Lip Vibrations With High Speed Photography (he wrote an article for the International Trombone Association Journal based on it in 1987 and I think his dissertation was completed just a year or two earlier).

Dr. Leno’s dissertation research was designed to confirm that the lips actually vibrate at the same frequency the pitch oscillates.  It turns out that they do, which is what physics states must be happening but prior to Leno’s research no one had actually tested this.  What became so interesting about his study wasn’t the slow motion view of the lips vibrating but that out of his initial pool of 4 test subjects that three players were found to be blowing the air past the lips downstream and 1 was blowing upstream.  

Not having been familiar with Donald Reinhardt’s work, Leno was surprised to see this and went on to film a number of trombonists to see what he could find.  The result was this documentary film, Lip Vibration of Trombone Embouchures.

Michael Bowlus, a friend of Michael Leno’s, sent me the audio portion to a screening Dr. Leno gave of his film.  I dubbed in Leno’s comments at the screening into the film, as he clarifies a few things in there.

It’s long enough that I had to split it into three parts.  Part 1 deals mainly with the downstream embouchures and shows James Fulkerson, George Roberts, Stewart Dempster, and Bill Watrous.  Part 2 shows the embouchures of Drew Kaptur, Larry Kitzel, and Larry Wiehe as examples of upstream embouchures. Part 3 shows the differences of a free buzzing embouchure to a playing embouchure and multiphonics, using Stewart Dempster’s embouchure as an example.

While others had discovered the different embouchure types earlier, Leno’s work is important because it not only independently confirms what was already known, but also allows us to look at the functioning embouchure slowed down for the first time.  Since Leno’s study using high speed photography others have duplicated this by using strobe lights to simulate the high speed filming, with fairly decent success.  The pattern of vibrations is interesting to watch and may lead to improved insights into practice and pedagogy for the different embouchure types.

Palmetto’s Blues for Trombone Choir

A while back someone emailed me to ask about my composition Palmetto’s Blues, a trombone choir piece I wrote for Palmetto Posaunen.  Jim Martin, at PDF Jazz Music, has published it now and so it’s available for a downloadable purchase here.  You can also listen to a demo recording I made of it with me playing all 7 trombone parts.

Palmetto Posaunen is a trombone choir made up of amateur and professional trombonists based in Greenville, SC.  It’s a fun group to play with, since everyone takes it seriously and there some of the best trombone players in the region all drive from four different states to play.  Dr. Mark Britt, trombone professor at Furman University, is the director.

A Tubist’s Embouchure: A Case Study

I put together the above video to show an unusual embouchure I happened to document for my embouchure research.  This case is particularly interesting for a couple of features.  First, since it’s more challenging to get clear video footage of embouchure characteristics on a smaller mouthpiece, the tuba embouchure makes i very easy to see examples of certain embouchure characteristics.  Secondly, this tubist plays very well, in spite of some embouchure idiosyncrasies that make for noticeable flaws in his technique.

First, a little background about the subject.  At the time I recorded this video he was a college music student, actually majoring in piano.  He had played tuba for quite a while, though, and was continuing to perform and study tuba as a secondary instrument.  While a fine player, this subject complained of some difficulties playing in tune at a couple of points while taking this video footage.  He had some difficulties with his high range and at a particular point in his range chipped a lot of notes.

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Armed Forces Medley for Big Band

Back in 2006 I was commissioned to write an arrangement of all the U.S. armed forces themes into a medley for the San Luis Valley Big Band.  I always enjoy doing things like this, taking non-jazz tunes and putting them into a jazz context.  I had also done this with the Adams State College alma mater back when I taught music there (2000-2003).  ASC is located in the San Luis Valley, which is my connection with this group.

Watch the above YouTube video to hear the San Luis Valley Big Band play through my arrangement.  The SLV Big Band started up after I moved from the area, so I never was personally involved with them.  If you’ve never been to this part of southern Colorado, it’s a beautiful part of the country, but pretty rural and towns are relatively far away from each other.  I’m very impressed that the SLV Big Band has gotten 17 jazz musicians in the area to commit to getting together frequently enough to put together a big band like this.  Kudos to the SLV Big Band!

I’ve gotten a couple of inquiries from band leaders looking for an arrangement like this and wondering how they can get it.  While I’m always willing to do business personally, what I need to do is get a high quality recording done of this arrangement so I can get it published.

Michael Brecker’s solo on Some Skunk Funk played on recorder by Benoît Sauvé

Benoît Sauvé is one bad recorder player!  Watch that video to see and hear him play along with Michael Brecker’s solo improvisation on Some Skunk Funk note for note.  I’m sure that was an extremely challenging solo to transcribe and to learn to play on recorder.

Here’s what that Sauvé has to say about transcribing:

“Although studying the various scales and chords,and the relations between them,is essential in learning to improve, putting these theoretical notions into practise can be very laborious.

This is why making transcriptions of actual solos can be so useful for training aural perception and instrumental technique, as well as allowing us to analyse the styles of great jazzmen, enrich our musical vocabulary, and thus help develop our own musical ideas.”

I see he has several other videos up, so I’m going to go check out his YouTube channel.

You See What You Look For

The above video by magician, author, and blogger Richard Wiseman demonstrates a principle of human nature that I try to keep in mind when teaching and practicing.  Our expectations have a profound effect on our perceptions.  We tend to see or hear what we expect (whether or not they are there) and often miss what should be obvious.

Many of you already know of my personal interest in brass embouchures.  My experience studying brass embouchures gives me an insight that many other brass teachers don’t have, and often I spot things in players that other teachers completely miss.  This is a double edged sword, however.  My interest in embouchures sometimes leads me to look for an embouchure problem with a student and miss the problem with the student’s tonguing or breathing.  I have to constantly remind myself to look at the whole picture and make sure I don’t miss the proverbial forest for the trees.

I see this principle at work in similar ways all the time with other teachers.  One of the most influential brass teachers of all time was Arnold Jacobs.  Jacobs was very interested in breathing and became quite an expert not just in the application of breathing to playing a musical instrument, but also in the anatomical and medical areas of breathing.  He also was convinced that there was really no such thing as an embouchure problem, only breathing problems.  Jacobs was a very observant and insightful teacher, but his interest in breathing led him to miss some factors related to the embouchure that are separate from breathing issues.

It’s important for music teachers to learn and understand how our backgrounds and interests bias our expectations and perceptions.  As Wiseman demonstrates, inattentional blindness and change blindness are part of being human.  It allows us to focus on what’s important while ignoring superfluous distractions, but it also can result in us missing what might literally be just under our nose.