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Friday, September 22, 2017

Retaining your style while playing in various musical situations.

I haven't been blogging as of late but I really missed it. I plan on getting back to a somewhat regular posting schedule.

I have however been really busy playing and recording. Played on a couple of CD's (Craig Thomson and Cod Gone Wild) and have been touring a bit. I had the opportunity to be part of a Canada 150 (non Canadians this is the 150 anniversary of us becoming a sovereign nation)  concert series collaboration with the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra and Ballet Kelowna. The choreographers were given the challenge of choreographing a ballet to some iconic Canadian music.
I played the famous Gordon Lightfoot song "The Canadian Railroad Trilogy" on my Martin D-18 with Neville Bowman singing along with the symphony orchestra.  The ballet dancers moved across the stage creating stunning imagery of the forging of the railroad across Canada as we played. I also played some spirituals with blues vocalist Shakura S'aida along with symphony and dancers. Great experience for sure. They had us set up on scaffolding as they needed space for the dancers. There was two rows, 6 feet and 10 feet up, and I was luckily in the middle on the 6 foot row. I'm a bit scared of heights so that was a bit of  a challenge at first. Amazing stage design.

I have also become a member of a modern Celtic rock band called Cod Gone Wild. This is a five piece band with a big following. We just released a new CD called "The Islander" which can be purchased at www.codgonewild or on i-Tunes. Great band and all new members with the exception of the leader vocalist and acoustic guitar player Andrew Mercer. The fiddle player Susan Aylard has been with the band for 2 yrs but the rest of us, bassist Martyn Jones and drummer David Mihal are all new since February. The nice thing about this new configuration is that we all bring different stylistic approaches to the band. I met Susan on the symphony shows I have played where she is in the violin section, so that was nice to see musical connections in action.
Here is a video of the band from this past March so the band is still new but sounding great. I am playing one of my PRS 408s through a Marshall JVM 215.

Here is a video featuring myself and my good friend bassist Bernie Addington shot at Frequency Wine and Sound in Kelowna. The song is an original of mine entitled "Cane". I am playing my PRS Custom 24 through a Fender Tweed Blues Jr.

That's all for now.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Country guitar, chord melodies etc.

It's been a while since I've last blogged. Love that word "blogged". I've been really busy playing which has been fantastic. I produced a soft seat theatre music production along with two of my musician friends Anna Jacyszyn (vocals) and Loni Moger (guitar). The production is called "Songs of the Southern Belles" and is a tribute to the female country stars of the 50's - 70's. Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Skeeter Davis, Connie Smith, Tammy Wynette, Kitty Wells etc were some of the singers we spotlighted. It was a lot of work but with the enormous help from Anna and Loni, we were able to put together a fantastic show. We are going to be touring it which will be a blast. Two singers which are Anna and Kinga Heming plus a four piece band with myself and Loni Moger on guitars plus bass and drums. We also had an MC who was Chris Walker from CBC and he did a fantastic job. We modelled the show after the Grand Ole Opry. Here is a TV interview for the show.

This show gave me the chance to play my telecasters for which I have 8 but also enabled me to really work on my country playing which I have been into for quite a while now. I know, "do I really need 8 telecasters?" but the answer is "of course".  Learning and practising Chicken Pickin' and pedal steel licks are so much much fun but they aren't easy to pull off which is a nice challenge.

Here are some shots from the show.

I will post some country guitar tips and videos soon.

In the video that I did today talks about how to start approaching a chord melody.

I give SKYPE lessons if you are interested in learning more about jazz harmony, improvising, chord melodies, recording tips and country approaches like chicken pickin' and pedal steel playing on guitar. Just email me a It's a great way to teach as the student doesn't have to live anywhere near you. You can also find me on Facebook.

That's all for now. Thanks for checking in.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Influences and inspirations Part 7 - (Ennio Morricone)

I couldn't imagine compiling a list of musicians who have influenced and inspired me without including the brilliantly original and unique film composer Ennio Morricone. No other composer in my opinion has put a more personal signature to movie scores as Morricone has. When I hear a score of his I automatically know it's him. That's pretty unusual. Usually the first rule of film scoring is that the music should not distract the audience from what's happening on screen. The music has to almost be ambiguous sometimes. It is meant to enhance and sometimes direct but never distract. Composers will put their own stamp on the music but not too much in fear of making it more about themselves as composers than the scene. We hear John Williams or Bernard Herrmann or Max Steiner or Howard Shore and we know it's them but not as obviously as we can pick out Ennio Morricone, but he makes it work. He's not afraid to add instruments and noises to his scores that have absolutely nothing to do with the scene or the time frame of the movie.

His score to Sergio Leone's "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" is full of chants, vocalizing themes, and even surf guitar. I know for a fact that Leo Fender hadn't created the Stratocaster back in the cowboy era of the 1850's to 1880's. It's a brilliant score and works so well with the film. The sound track to the movie was actually inducted into the Grammy hall of fame in 2009.

The score to Brian DePalma's "The Untouchables" is a brilliantly crafted score which portrays Prohibition era Chicago perfectly. The score also has the Ennio Morricone flute and haunting harmonica used in many of his movies which is definitely a personal signature and works so well.

The score to "The Mission", Roland Joffe's beautiful yet achingly painful look at the missionaries in South America during the Spanish Portuguese war of 1776/1777, is in my opinion one of the most beautiful crafted scores ever written. It is haunting, beautiful, sad, majestic, compassionate and definitely Morricone.

I have to include the score to a great film by Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore called "Cinema Paradiso". Again this score accompany's the dramatic arc of the film perfectly but after one note you know it's Ennio Morricone.

There are far too many films that have had the luxury of being scored by Ennio Morricone to include in this post but they are all worth watching and of course listening to.

Ennio Morricone was finally awarded an Oscar for Best Original Score for Quentin Tarantino's "The Hateful Eight"in 2016. Hard to believe that it's taken this long to award one of cinema's most original music craftsman. He did receive an Honorary Academy Award for his achievements in the field in 2007.

That's all for now,

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Influences and inspirations part 6 (Bill Frisell).

I'm enjoying this series of blog posts, presenting musicians who have helped me and continue to help me on my life long musical journey. Bill Frisell is one of those musicians who I always look to for inspiration and he never let's me down. He's not only a fantastic guitar player, who has such a unique and personal approach to the guitar, but is also a musical chemist of sorts. His inspirations and influences reach way beyond just jazz as do mine and he's influenced by movie scores to some degree like I am. His music has always been very cinematic in it's approach and arranging. My trio "Sean Bray's Peach Trio" is mostly original music that I approached writing the the compositions as I would a film score. Each song is based on a memory or feeling or observation so it's also cinematic it it's approach.

Bill Frisell grew up in Denver as did I (grades 5 - 8) plus he lived in New York for a number of years before relocating to Seattle. He also has a penchant for Americana music and Telecasters like I do. What's not to like?

One of the things I really like about his approach to the guitar and what I've certainly been very influenced by is his use of harmony notes more that chords. It's harmonizing the scale more than just playing chords which makes it very liquid and gives his music spontaneity and motion.

Here is a great example of Frisell's spontaneity and genius. Very cinematic. He also shows his love for all kinds of music.

Here is another beautiful example of the genius that is Bill Frisell. This is a full length concert from Bill Frisell's band at Lincoln Center's Dizzy's Club in New York, playing music from his new CD "When You Wish Upon a Star". This recording and concert features Charlie Haden's daughter vocalist Petra Haden. Watch the whole concert because it's worth it. Beautiful take on music from film and television through the mind of musical mad scientist Bill Frisell.

Hope you are enjoying this series "Influences and Inspirations" and I am having fun sharing a glimpse into those who are the partial architects of my music tapestry.

That's all for now.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Influences and inspirations part 5. (Brent Mason)

Continuing this series on musicians ( not all guitar players mind you), that have and continue to influence me. I'm presenting these in no particular order of importance.
Country great and studio musician Brent Mason has been a big influence on me for a long time now. I remember seeing Brent on an old television music show on The Nashville Network back in 1988 or so. He was in the house band and he was just ripping it up. I was living in Calgary Alberta and teaching at Red Deer College during the week. I was getting really interested in country music in addition to my life long jazz study and when I heard Brent, it was another level of country guitar playing. 

Brent moved to Nashville from his home town of Van Wert, Ohio after high school and his first big break came when Chet Atkins heard him in a club and asked him to play on his album "Stayed Tune" with Earl Klugh, George Benson and Mark Knopfler. Not bad company to be with. After that musical introduction Brent started doing sessions and never looked back. He has played on hundreds of records with the likes of Alan Jackson,Randy Travis, Ricky Skaggs, Clint Black, George Jones, George Strait, Martina McBride, Dolly Parton, Neil Diamond, Brooks and Dunn, Faith Hill, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Vince Gill, Shania Twain.......

Brent Mason has taken what they call "Chicken Pickin'" to another level. Chicken picking came out of electric players wanting to incorporate bends like steel guitar players. Roy Nichols (Merle Haggard), Don Rich (Buck Owens and the Buckeroos) and Jerry Reed all played a part in his guitar style along with jazz guys like George Benson and Pat Martino, but he has made it all his own. 

Check out Brent in action playing his very well worn Tele.

I have been lifting Brent Mason solos for quite a while now and have found that they actually have become part of my overall guitar playing whether it's jazz or otherwise. I have always used hybrid picking (pick plus the other fingers and will quite often use my middle finger to pick some notes to a give them an accent. Brent uses a thumb pick and fingers so similar.

I had the chance to go down to Nashville and take an intense two hour plus lesson with Brent at his home. That was fantastic! Picking his brain about how he'd approach a dominant chord for instance. In doing so I got to know Brent and hung out with him a bit while I was there. Great guy and we still are in touch. 

Check out this interview with Brent. 
Brent also has a PRS signature model which is fantastic. This is that guitar in this interview.

Here he is demoing his sig PRS model and of course his awesome chops.

Some records to check out with Brent on them are George Jones "Cold Hard Truth", Any Alan Jackson record, Randy Travis "Always and Forever" and Ricky Skaggs "Life is a Journey". That's just a very small sampling of his brilliant guitar playing.

On a different note, I also had the chance to play with the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra for three concerts doing "Music of the Night". Songs from "Les Miserables", "Cats", "Phantom of the Opera", Jesus Christ Superstar" etc. Fantastic experience. 

Here is a picture of my rig setup. I played acoustic (Martin D-18) and electric (PRS Custom 24) and was so much fun. Hope to do it again.

That's all for now.


Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Influences and inspirations part 4. (Bernard Herrmann)

Continuing my blog series on musicians who have and continue to influence and inspire me. There is no particular order in my presentation of these and they all are ranked number one for me.

Bernard Herrmann is one of those film composers who broke all rules of instrumentation, instrument groupings, harmony and the "proper way" to compose for moving picture. The Golden Age of Hollywood standard was big, lush film scores. The "Hollywood Sound" they called it.  Brilliant composers like Max Steiner, Alfred Newman, Dimitri Tiomken, Franz Waxman and Erich Korngold wrote in that style with a lot of Leitmotifs (character based themes or instrumentations) borrowed from Opera composers like Richard Strauss and Richard Wagner. When you see an English battleship for instance,  Max Steiner wrote a leitmotif to tell you that an English battleship was coming. Bernard Herrmann on the other hand wrote a lot more in colours and textures I found. Very influenced by Tchaikovsky and Rimsky Korsakov.

The opening Main Titles for Orson Wells' 1941 "Citizen Kane" is brilliant and the combination of instruments he chose really made it dark and brooding. Lots of dissonance and clashing harmonic overtones really set the score apart from anything up to that point. It's still one of the best Main Title music to this day. He used four alto flutes along with low, bowed double basses. The brilliant opening five note motif ends with a tri-tone interval.

His score to Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 "Psycho" was all strings. No woodwind, no percussion and no brass, just strings. He wanted that sonority and feel for the black and white film because he wanted to reflect the starkness of the film's look and storyline. Wow it certainly worked.

Listen at the 2:00 mark because that is when the theme comes in. Again nothing but strings. Brilliant.

Herrmann also wrote one of the scariest and most influential music cues of all time. It is also one of the most copied and parodied. He uses the most dissonant harmonic intervals ( a minor 2nd) and has the violin section play them. In this cue it's a D and an Eb.

**Notice the flushing of a toilet before she gets into the shower. A first for a movie up to that point. There was never a toilet in any scene of a movie let alone it being flushed before "Psycho" plus a naked woman gets stabbed to death in a shower. That film really pushed the envelope. I feel the only reason the film board let it be released was because Hitchcock decided to film in black and white. Colour would have been too realistic for the time.

The things I loved about Bernard Herrmann and what has influenced me a lot, was his composing music for the task at hand and entering into that with no preconceived rules or concepts. The music is the most important thing and if it breaks rules, so be it. I try to write and improvise with that in mind. Usually my best compositions and my best playing happen when I try to be free of any preconceived approach. I also loved his use of dissonance and that is another thing I've definitely been influenced by. I try to boil down a chord to it's barest form to create space, so I quite often will use intervals that are dissonant. They fatten up the chord and make it sound bigger than it is as I am only using two notes sometimes. Herman also used a lot of space in his music. Watch "Gone With The Wind" 1939 with Max Steiner's beautiful score then watch "Citizen Kane". Both great movies and great scores but Steiner composed music for every single scene. It sometimes even segues from one scene to another. Herrmann's score has so much space. The use of space is another thing that has influenced me.

That's all for now.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Influences and inspirations part 3. (Eric Clapton)

This is another post on the topic of musicians who have and continue to influence and inspire me.
Again this list is in no specific order of importance or self discovery.

Since high school, Eric Clapton has been one of those guys for me. I even played and sang "After Midnight" at my Mount Royal College final jazz recital. It was the only non-jazz piece in my recital. I felt that excluding Eric Clapton in my final recital in a post secondary music setting, would not fully represent me as a musician.

Eric Clapton has done a bunch of things for my musical growth.

1. For starters, he introduced me to the blues. He is still one of my favourite blues guitarists and through him I discovered a whole world unknown to me. Through Clapton I was introduced to Buddy Guy, B.B. King ( who I had heard), Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Howling' Wolf, Hubert Sumlin, Robert Cray, Elmore James and the list goes on. Wow, what a discovery! Thanks Eric! I know I'm not alone because he along with Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and  Keith Richards helped a whole generation of kids discover their idols and these blues men got a second career in some cases. His sound and playing on John Mayall and the Blues Breakers "Beano" record is some of the best blues guitar playing I've ever heard. He also sounds fantastic playing on the two Howlin' Wolf recordings made in London in the early 70's.

2. He is the ultimate rock star in my opinion. Cool, collected and is extremely talented. He never jumped around on stage and did windmills or anything like that (sorry Pete) and because of that, he still looks cool playing on stage at age 70. I think one of the greatest rock songs ever is "Layla"( the original version). When that opening riff starts, the hair still stands up on the back of my neck. I also love Duane Allman's slide work on that record (Derek and the Dominoes - "Layla and other Love Songs"). He and Clapton played very well together. Clapton has always had such a great tone whether it was his Les Paul through a Marshall sound which he demonstrated from his early years with John Mayall's Blues Breakers through his years with Cream, to the great Strat tone he still has. You can always tell it's him.

3. Clapton always has a fantastic band on recordings and on tour. I remember hearing Jamie Oldaker on "461 Ocean Boulevard" and "Slowhand". Wow, what a great drummer! His feel was great and even though the band played pretty loose, he grooved hard. I've always been a big fan of the drums and find myself really listening to the drummer on recordings and of course when I am playing as well.
Clapton had world class drummers like Steve Gadd, Steve Jordan, Steve Ferrone (likes Steves for some reason) Jim Keltner and of course his association with the great Ginger Baker in Cream and Blind Faith.

4. Clapton is not only a fabulous guitarist but has a great voice. I love Clapton's voice. So soulful and his phrasing is great. He is one of my favourite singers as well.

Here is Clapton singing and playing Ray Charles' "Hard Times" on the David Sanborn Show in the late 80's called "Night Music". Great show and great band. Not only Clapton, but David Sanborn on alto sax, Omar Hakim on drums, Hiram Bullock on guitar, Tom Barney on bass, Don Alias on percussion etc.
Here he is playing "Layla" with Nathan East on bass, Steve Gadd on drums, David Sanborn on alto sax, Greg Phillinganes on keyboards etc.

That's all for now.