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Monday, December 19, 2011

R.I.P. Hubert Sumlin

The music world lost a great musician earlier this month. Chicago blues guitar legend Hubert Sumlin passed away at age 80. Sumlin was an integral part of the Chess Records scene starting in the mid fifties and became Howlin' Wolf's right hand man. After Howlin Wolf passed away in 1976 Hubert Sumlin moved to Texas where he made a huge impression on Jimmy Vaughan and younger brother Stevie Ray Vaughan. He had a very economical approach to the guitar playing with his fingers and thumb which was a style that Jimmie Vaughan adopted. I think anyone who plays electric blues owes a small debt to Hubert Sumlin for sure. Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Keith Richards for sure.

Played a nice blues gig this past weekend with fellow guitar player Jake Chisholm which was a lot of fun. Great responsive audience too. I played my Gibson ES-339 with my new ZT Lunchbox amp which is just killing. Filled the room!

Listened to:

Brad Mehldau Trio "Art of the Trio" Volume 4 Back at the Vanguard.
Larry Grenadier on bass and Jorge Rossy on drums. Man what a great piano trio. They do a burning version of "All The Things You Are" in 7/4. These guys can really play odd time signatures with ease. No easy task. Well worth buying!!
Brad Mehldau has such amazing left hand right hand independence. It's quite astonishing really. He'll be doing a very rhythmic ostinato part with his left hand and a burning solo with the right and the SWITCH!! This guy is not of this world. It's also very musical so it's not a circus act at all.

Elvin Jones - Live at the Village Vanguard Vol. 1
This 1984 live recording of legendary drummer Elvin Jones and his two tenor lineup is full of fire and emotion.
Tenor saxophonists Pat Labarbera and Frank Foster rip it up and Pat especially shows his connection to the late John Coltrane. The bands long and fierce take on Trane's "A Love Supreme" is amazing and Elvin Jones sounds as great on this version as he did on the original. Fumio Karashima on piano and Chip Jackson round out the band nicely. Great record. If you can find it buy it. 

John Scofield's new record A Moments Peace
This is a recording of mostly ballads with a few mid tempo tunes and it's a nice record. Larry Goldings sounds great on organ and piano, Scott Colley is his usual great feel and time on bass and Brian Blade who can not only burn but on this recording his brush work and mallett playing is sublime. Sco sounds great as always and plays very economically on this recording. He's never been a chops with no taste player and is always in the moment but on this record he bends strings to great emotional effect. Buy it too!

I remember going to see Elvin Jones at the Blue Note when I was living in New York in the late 80's and Pat Labarbera was with him along with Chip Jackson on bass and a piano player who's name I can't remember but it didn't matter as he was sick and couldn't make the gig. To my delight , no offence to the ailing piano player, John Scofield came in as a sub on guitar.They just ripped it up. Elvin Jones, Pat Labarbera and Sco! Man what a great night of music.

That's all for now.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

"Can you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?" "Practise practise practise"

A serious musician can never practise too much. I try to practise daily and still I would love to be able to practise more but fortunately as a professional musician, you get to practise in a sense every time you play or teach. There is always something to work on or a new song to learn or compose. I try to practise sight reading daily as it is a skill that can get worse the longer you leave it. Guitar players are notoriously bad readers so I make it a point to make sure I don't fall into that category. There are amazing sight readers but I'm not one of them but I am a fairly good sight reader. I remember doing a session with saxophonist Pat Labarbera and I had a chance to look over my part for about 15 minutes before I had to record it but Pat came in, put in his mouth piece and looked at the chart and read it down flawlessly and with feeling first time through. I read my part well but it was a hard part and sweated a bit trying to get through it and that's after having a chance to look at it and figure it out a bit. Afterwards Pat was telling jokes and didn't seem the least bit ruffled by the part he had to read. I can't stress enough that reading is a very valuable and important skill to have as a professional musician. The old musician joke about guitar players.
How do you get a guitar player to turn down?
Put some music in front of them.

I've been listening to:

Guitarist Pat Metheny and pianist Brad Mehldau's "Metheny/Mehldau Quartet"
Nice record featuring compositions by both Metheny and Mehldau which really let the talent on this recording (Larry Grenadier on bass and Jeff Ballard on drums) sound like a real band which is sometimes hard when a group of musicians are thrown together for an all star session. I think it helps that it's really the Brad Mehldau trio with Pat Metheny. Well worth buying!

Steve Swallow - "Deconstructed".
I love Steve Swallows writing even more than his playing although he's a unique bass player with a strong voice on the instrument. He plays electric bass with a pick which isn't my favourite sound usually but he always sounds great.
This record features saxophonist Chris Potter on tenor sax, Ryan Kisor on trumpet, and veterans Adam Nausbaum on drums and guitarist Mick Goodrick. Well worth buying!

Chris Potter's Underground band "Follow the Red Line - Live at the Village Vanguard".
The bands studio recording featured Wayne Krantz on guitar which really defined the groups unique sound but this live recording features guitarist Adam Rogers, along with Nate Smith on drums and Craig Taborn on Fender Rhodes keyboards. Adam Rogers adds his unique stamp on this group and really plays well. Great player. Both Krantz (who I studied with and is a friend) and Rogers are both really great guitar players and sound like themselves which is what every musician should strive for. Great record. Buy it!!

That's all for now.
Again if you are interested in lessons and are visiting or live in Toronto contact me at

Friday, December 9, 2011

Music first.

I play in an original roots/country/folk band called the Max Woolaver Band and we played last Saturday night. Max is an Anglican minister and writes really good music. The band is very good as well. The drummer in the band is Michelle Josef and she has been a player on the Canadian scene for years playing with everyone from Prairie Oyster to Amos Garrett. Michelle isn't nearly as busy as she used to be unfortunately and it certainly has nothing to do with her ability as a drummer. Michelle used to be Bohdan Hluszko. When she was a he named Bohdan, gigs and studio work were plentiful. Life changed in a huge way when he became a she both personally and professionally. The work as much dried up.

I met this fantastic drummer when she crossed over the gender line and was Michelle and not Bohdan. I had heard the stories about this drummer for Prairie Oyster that had a sex change and various jokes and slights against her but never really paid much attention but now that I have been in a band with her for over two years now I have become friends with Michelle. She is a great drummer with wide time, good ears and really likes Bill Stewart who is one of my favourite jazz drummers. Even beyond the musician part of Michelle, she is a rock solid human being who I believe would have my back. I can honestly say that when I first met her I didn't really understand the whole gender change thing and found it different to say the least. I now know that it takes a hell of a lot of guts to believe in something so fiercely that you are willing to turn your whole life upside down to achieve it.

I always look forward to playing with Michelle and I really wish people would put the prejudices and close minded ideas aside and see her for the musician and the rock solid human being that she is.

On a lighter note I have been listening to:

Stevie Wonder's "Original Musicquaruim" which is basically a greatest hits recording. Man Stevie Wonder is so amazing. Great songs, fantastic grooves, awesome singer and a really fine bass player (left hand piano). I love this stuff.

Chicago's "Greatest Hits 1". Another great jazz rock band with catchy pop tunes but real depth to their writing and nice horn section. They were great before David Foster got a hold of them in the 80's.

Viktor Krauss: "Far From Enough" featuring Bill Frisell on guitars, Jerry Douglas on dobro and Steve Jordan on drums along with Viktor on bass. Viktor's famous sister Alison appears on one track which is Robert Plant's "The Log". Curious choice of tune since the two went on to record "Raising Sand" together a few years later and had never met. Nice recording and a real blend of roots music with a jazz improv approach much like another favourite group of mine "Sean Bray's Peach Trio".   :)

That's all for now.
If anyone is interested in guitar lessons and are either visiting or living in the Toronto area I can try to fit you in.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Soloing over suspended chords

RIP Paul Motian: Veteran jazz drummer Paul Motian passed away Tuesday Nov. 29th at the age of 80. Unfortunately today's media seems to put big breaking news like "Justin Bieber buys a $160,000 automobile to impress his girl friend" ahead of or instead of reporting on the death of an important musician. Can Justin Bieber even drive? Is he old enough? I know Paul Motian certainly deserves a big article. Paul Motian played with the first famous Bill Evans Trio with Scott LaFaro, Keith Jarrett's American Quartet in the 70's along with Dewey Redman and Charlie Haden as well as his own groups which were all very original and musical. His recent ongoing group that I wished I had been able to see was a bass-less trio with guitarist Bill Frisell and saxophonist Joe Lovano.

Check out the lesson on soloing over suspended chords. I like to use the minor 7 arpeggios based on the 2nd and the 5th of the chord. The example I use in the video is a G7sus4 so I use an A-7 arpeggio and a D-7 arpeggio to improvise with. Both arpeggios don't have the 3rd of G which is B. Playing the 3rd of the chord resolves the suspended quality of the chord which you don't want.

I've been listening to:

Guitarist Bill Frisell's "Gone Like A Train" with Victor Krauss on bass and Jim Keltner on drums. Great Americana/rootsy trio recording following Frisell's fantastic "Nashville" record. Fantastic trio!

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss "Raising Sand". T-Bone Burnett produced it and it is great. Rock royalty like Plant singing with top drawer buegrass and roots players is intriguing enough but adding bluegrass star Alison Krauss makes this recording very special. Plant doesn't play rock star here but rather blends and harmonizes with Krauss beautifully and is just one of the band. Greg Leisz plays pedal steel, Marc Ribot plays guitar, dobro and banjo , Jay Bellerose on drums, Norman Blake plays acoustic guitar and Dennis Crouch on bass. I saw them live at the Molson Ampitheatre a couple of summers ago and it was a great show.

Bill Evans Trio Live at The Village Vanguard 1961 with Paul Motian on drums and Scott LaFaro on bass. What can I say that hasn't been said before about this recording and this group. Famous New York jazz club which is still very much a player on the world stage plus a pianist who had totally found his voice on the instrument and was at the top of his game. A must have recording.

That's all for now.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Playing in a duo with a vocalist

I've been in my studio mixing and preparing a session for mastering tomorrow. We are going to be using a new method for mastering which is called Separation Mastering. Instead of mastering the 2-mix or final stereo mix we are separating tracks into stems. We will have a stem  mix for drums, bass, vocals and all other instruments including background vocals. We will also have a stereo mix of my final mix which we will reference as we are mastering the stems we have created. Looking forward to it. I've never prepared a session for this kind of mastering and it's very time consuming as you have to basically bounce or make a print track for every stem group (4) in real time plus the final mix track. If the song is 5mins you will have to spend 25 minutes making these tracks. Oh well, it gives me a chance to update my blog!

I work with lots of vocalists and have had the chance to work with some really great ones. One thing that has helped my guitar playing is working as a duo with a vocalist. Having to cover bass lines as well as harmony and rhythmic shots can be very challenging but has really taught me a lot about bass function. I listened to bass players like Paul Chambers, Ray Brown, Ron Carter etc. to try to get a better grip on what they are doing. It not only helped my guitar playing in these sort of naked, exposed playing situations but also my composing.

Here is a video of me playing in a duo format with Vincent Wolfe on a television show from about seven years ago. The song is the jazz standard "Indian Summer".

I've been listening to the Keith Jarrett Trio "At The Blue Note" in New York CDs recorded in 2000. They recorded six sets of music on this box set and it's amazing. The usual trio mates Jack DeJohnette and Gary Peacock and they sound inspired and inventive as always. I listened to disc three and four. Standards like "How Deep is The Ocean", "Autumn Leaves", "Things Ain't The Way They Used To Be" and "When I Fall In Love" etc.

I also listened to:

Vocalist Nancy Wilson's "But Beautiful" from 1969 featuring Hank Jones on piano, Ron Carter on bass, Grady Tate on drums and Gene Bertoncini on guitar. Nice record.

Guitarist Peter Bernstein's 1995 recording "Signs of Life" with Brad Mehldau om piano, Christian McBride on bass and Gregory Hutchinson on drums. I really like Peter Bernstein's playing. He's a younger guy with a modern sensibility but embraces an older guitar sound and style.

Joni Mitchell - "Shine" (2007) featuring ex-husband Larry Klein on bass, Greg Leisz on pedal steel, Brian Blade on drums, Bob Sheppard on tenor and soprano sax, Paulinho Da Costa on percussion and
James Taylor on accostic guitar on "Shine". Beautifully composed and recorded album. I love Joni Mitchell. Makes me proud to be a Canadian!

Mark Knopfler / Emmylou Harris - "All The Road Running" (2006). Great recording featuring ex-Dire Straits guitarist, composer and singer Mark Knopfler and country songstress Emmylou Harris. I love Knopfler's guitar playing singing and writing. Very talented guy and his solo career has been fruitful to say the least. He seems to put out a record every year and a half. His solo recordings are fantastic, filled with rich storied lyrics, great guitar playing and well crafted tunes with a strong country/folk influence. I've always been a fan of Emmylou Harris.

That's all for now. Back to Pro Tools for me.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Composing, creativity and counterpoint.

Composing is one of the most invigorating, fulfilling and stimulating endeavours one can do in my opinion. It's much like writing a fictional story. The canvas is empty, so to speak, and is begging you to fill it with your imagination. Some of my instrumental compositions have come out of practice sessions where I will be trying something like playing over different time signatures or different harmony combinations and a song germ will emerge which I will try to make into a composition.

A composition of mine where I did just that was a song I entitled Cane. I was playing around with some counterpoint writing where one melodic line fits over another melodic line. Both work well together but also work well independently. This particular type of counterpoint is called 1st species counterpoint where it's single line to another single line. 2nd species is single line to two lines etc. In this case I wrote a bass line that was strong melodically and then wrote the melody line to fit into the bass line. The melody fits over the bass line being played twice. I play the bass line with the bass player first to establish the groove and then play the melody while the bass player is playing the contrapuntal bass line if you will. It works great and the two lines sound great together. I applied a reggae groove; hence the name Cane, one of Jamaica's major exports sugar cane. I thought of naming it after it's other big export but thought Cane was a better choice. I have kids.

Check out this video of my trio playing this song in London. Ted Warren on drums and Mark Dunn on bass. See what I mean about the counterpoint melodies.

I been listening to Pat Metheny Group's First Circle CD which came out in 1984. It's a beautifully composed recording and the individual playing as well as the ensemble playing on it is stellar. Pat Metheny plays several different guitars, Lyle Mays on piano and keyboards, Steve Rodby on bass, Paul Wertico on drums and Pedro Aznar on percussion and vocals. The song First Circle is a desert island pick for me. 6/8 time signature can emulate flying above the clouds like no other time signature.
Also listened to vibraphonist Mike Mainieri The American Diaries Vol. 2 The Dreamings CD. Deep ensemble playing and rich arrangements. New York tenor and soprano saxman George Garzone also plays clarinet with Marc Johnson on bass, Peter Erskine on drums, Dave Tronzo on guitar and slide guitar and others. If you haven't heard this recording or the first American Diaries with Joe Lovano instead of Garzone you must buy them.

That's all for now. Busy week teaching, some studio mixing and a gig on Saturday.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Crazy session

I really enjoy studio work and thoroughly love playing different styles of music. It's funny, although I'm playing different styles of music I still sound like myself. I always strive to bring myself into the song instead of just copping a style rendition. Usually the producer or artist is totally happy with that and will actually ask me to "do some of that jazz thing of yours", even if it's a country or blues or pop session. I guess you get known for a certain thing and mine is being a jazz guitar player even though I play a lot of different styles of music. I always approach improvising as just that and even though I might be playing a country tune, my resources that I'm drawing from are predominantly jazz oriented.

I have played on some pretty diverse projects and jingles. I have played on commercials for Toyota, FAN 590, CHAY FM, Dunkin Donuts, CTV Sports etc. I have also played on a lot of records as as sideman but one of the weirdest sessions I played on was for a guy who sang "The Stalker Song" for Paula Abdul on American Idol. The wacky song received such huge press that the singer Paul Marcurano, who also wrote the song, contacted Nelly Furtado's management company in Los Angeles to produce a studio version of this song. My friend Darryl Moen has worked with Nelly as a recording engineer and recommended me to play guitar on it along with other members of Nelly's band.
Check it out. It's a strange world sometimes. I just found this on the net. Check out the harmonics at the beginning. They were harder that they sound. Played my Strat on this session.

Listened to:

Steely Dan's "Aja"  which is one of my top ten recordings of all time. Walter Becker and Donald Fagen are geniuses if you ask me. They not only write amazing music but also have a real vision in the studio. They pick just the right guy for each tune. This album features the New York and LA A-list session guys from drummers Steve Gadd, Rick Marotta, Ed Greene, Bernard Purdie, Jim Keltner and Paul Humphrey to guitarists Larry Carlton, Lee Ritenour, Dean Parks, Steve Khan, Jay Graydon (who plays one of my favourite guitar solos on Peg) and Denny Dias. Saxophonists Wayne Shorter and Tom Scott as well as bassist Chuck Rainey also play on the recording.

Pat Metheny's "Still Life Talking" which is an amazing record. Pat is one of my favourite guitarists and composers. This record mixes Brazilian influences with Americana and it is stunning. Lyle Mays on piano. Came out in 1987 and I must have listened to it about 100 times over the years.

That's all for now.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Scales in intervals

Busy week of teaching and practising as well as writing my music book. The book will be focusing on the intermediate to advanced guitar student. The market is flooded with beginner books. Still wrestling with Sibelius but I think I'm finally winning I think.

I have always been an avid listener of music. I feel it is an education for me as well as pleasure and I really don't like genres or categories even though I still use them sometimes to describe a band or song style. I like all kinds of music and categorize my music collection by the alphabet instead of genre. John Coltrane lives next door to Eric Clapton with Johnny Cash and Chopin on either side of them. I never understood people who categorically shut out a music genre. I've heard people say "I love all music except country and opera". Really? I've heard opera that brings you to your knees with it's beauty and country music can be so straight to the heart. I must say I usually don't like rap music and I find the vulgarity of a lot of rap insulting and disgusting but I have heard some rap that is quite amazing. Keep your mind open and your horizons wide.

On that topic, I listened to:

Sarah Vaughan "The Gershwin Songbook Vol. 1 and 2" which was initially released under the name "Sings George Gershwin" in 1957 but was later renamed upon re-release as "The Gershwin Song Book". I guess they realized poor brother Ira had a lot to do with it as well. I love Sarah Vaughan. What a big, beautiful voice and amazing phrasing.

Bass Desires "Bass Desires" which is bassist Marc Johnson's band in the '80's with two guitars (John Scofield and Bill Frisell) and drummer Peter Erskine. Amazing music. These musicians were a huge influence on me when I was younger and still are today.

Toronto band of internationally known jazz players called JMOG which stands for Jazz Men On the Go. Terrible name but great band. Tenor sax man Pat LaBarbera, pianist Don Thompson (who also plays bass and vibes but not on this record), Neil Swainson on bass and Pat's brother Joe LaBarbera on drums. If you can find this CD get it. It's on the Sackville label which is a Toronto label.

Marty Stuart's "Soul Chapel. Great country music recorded the old style way in a Nashville studio with a big recording floor. Marty Stuart is a great vocalist plus a really good guitar and fiddle player. He was the guitarist in Johnny Cash's band for a number of years. Kenny Vaughan is also on guitar and he's fantastic along with Glenn Worf on bass and Chad Cromwell and Paul Griffith on drums. Nice record.

Check out the following lesson on practising scales with intervals to make them sound like melodies when using them to improvise with. Nothing worse than a scale sounding like a scale when soloing. It's all about playing melodies when soloing.

Bye for now!

Friday, November 11, 2011

11 11 11

A very fitting day for such a rare grouping of dates. Remembrance Day is a very important day and should always be recognized.

Took my Gibson ES 339 into the Twelfth Fret to get a neck tweek and now it plays even better. Change of season can be unfriendly to guitars. Any guitar player who hasn't been to the Twelfth Fret is missing out!! I love this store and lucky me, it's at the end of my street.

Finished mixing singer-songwriter Tracey Dey's record and it's now ready for mastering. Should be out soon. The recording sounds amazing. Great songs ( Tracey wrote 4 and co-wrote one with me plus a Sade tune), amazing musicians (Mark Kelso, Chris banks, Kevin Turcotte and Jake Chisholm on lap steel) plus Tracey sounds great. I produced the record plus played guitars, mandolin and back up vocals and mixed it. I really enjoy producing, especially when the artist allows me lots of artistic freedom. It gives me a chance to play different styles of music which I might not get the chance to play live.

Listened to:

Donald Fagen's Nightfly. Great guitar playing from Larry Carlton and a beautiful tenor solo from Mike Brecker on Maxine. I'm a huge Steely Dan fan and Donald Fagen's first solo album is fantastic. Great writing! Listened to Wynton Marsalis' Thick in the south - Soul Gestures vol.1  with Jeff "Tain" Watts on drums, who always sounds great, Robert Hurst on bass and Marcus Roberts on piano. Drummer Elvin Jones and tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson appear on one tune. Really like this record and Wynton sounds great. What a trumpet player.

Country singer Alan Jackson's Freight Train with the scary Brent Mason on guitar along with the Nashville A team. Man, Brent Mason can really play.

Buck Owens and the Buckeroos. I loved that Bakersfield sound made famous by Merle Haggard, Buck Owens and later by Dwight Yoakam. This style of country music started in Bakersfield California in the mid to late '50s and was a stripped down sound with electric guitar (usually a tele), an acoustic guitar, bass, drums and pedal steel as well as harmonized vocals. It was quite different than the more lush, string laden sound coming out of Nashville at the time. The Bakersfield sound has produced some great guitarists like Don Rich (Buck Owens), Roy Nichols (Merle Haggard and his band The Strangers) and Pete Anderson (Dwight Yoakam).

That's it for now.
Have a nice weekend.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Rootless Pentatonic Scale

A nice Fall day here in Toronto. The weather has been very nice so far this Fall but I know Winter will be coming down the pike at some point. I guess there's not much I can do about it.

Recently picked up a great little amp called the Lunchbox Amp made by a company called ZT out of Berkley California. This thing is stunning! It weighs 9lbs and is the size of a lunch box hence the name. It's solid state which was a deterrent at first as I always use tube amps but I though that the portability counted for a lot. I must say that this amp is just great. 200 watts believe it or not and it sounds like a much bigger amp than it is. I thought I would say "this thing is so light and portable and it sounds pretty good" but ended up saying "this thing sounds fantastic and it's so portable". I've used it on a country gig at the Gladstone Hotel's Melody Bar which is a really big room and it filled the room with much to spare. I just placed a SM57 in front of it and ran it through the house PA. I used it on a few jazz gigs and it gets a beautiful warm jazz tone, again with lots of head room if needed and I used it on a blues gig and the overdrive on this thing sounds great. Buy one now!!!!!!!

I been listening to Ed Bickert's Trio on a recording called "Out of the Past" which is certainly does not sound like. Don Thompson on bass and Terry Clarke on drums. This is a great guitar trio record. All three are masters and to hear Bickert's tasteful, expressive, inventive comping and soloing is always a lesson for me. I love Ed Bickert and he is definitely one of my favourite guitar players. Also listened to Patsy Cline. What a great voice and such an important figure in the history of country music. Being a big country music fan there is always some country mixed in to my weekly listening. Must be my Calgary roots.
Also listened to Miles Davis' "Cookin" which was with John Coltrane on tenor sax, Paul Chambers on bass, Red Garland on piano and Philly Joe Jones on drums. Miles just signed with Columbia Records but still owed Prestige 4 records. Before anything could be released on Columbia Miles had to fulfill his contractual obligation to Prestige which he did in typical Miles fashion. He went into the studio and cut four records in just two days. These were Relaxin', "Cookin', Steamin',  and Workin' with the Miles Davis Quintet. These four recordings are probably my favourite jazz recordings ever. They are first or second takes, no rehearsals and just pure improvisation genius. Great tunes as well like "Surrey With the Fringe on Top" from "Oklahoma"plus "My Funny Valentine", Old Devil Moon etc.

Check out the lesson video. I talk about using the rootless major pentatonic scale (at least that's what I call it) over a blues. Works great over a soul/RandB,Ray Charles sort of blues. The scale replaces the root with the b7 resulting in 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th and b7.

That's all for now.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Soloing over Diminished Chords

Tuesday Nov.1/11

Other than getting over a cold and surviving Halloween (not my favourite holiday by any stretch), I have been practising and teaching as usual. I 'm looking forward to a gig I have this Thursday with my old friend and great vocalist Vincent Wolfe. I haven't played with Vince for quite a long time so this should be a good time. We always mix in a lot of laughter in with good music. Bassist Mark Dunn is also on the gig which is nice. Great player and good friend.

Been listening to more Keith Jarrett Trio as well as the Brad Mehldau Trio "Art of the Trio II Live at the Village Vanguard".  I was actually there in the audience when they recorded this record. I was down in New York with a friend of mine John Pucic and we had no idea that the gig was being recorded until we got there. Great night of music. I remember waiting for the band to get on stage as the club was packed plus the added energy of a recording crew ready to capture some incredible music and onto the stage walks this guy with messy hair and a plaid shirt and jeans. I thought he might be either the janitor or maybe the piano tuner as he touched a few keys. He then sits down and starts playing and wow, that is no regular piano technician. He played solo for a couple of minutes before being joined, in the same manner, by bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jorge Rossy. The trio is smoking and has that high level improvising but moving as a group thing as the Jarrett trio. Brad Mehldau is one of my favourite pianists and this group is definitely one of my favourite piano trios as well. Brad joins the ranks of Bill Evans, Jarrett, Chick Corea, Lyle Mays and Herbie Hancock in my books for sure.

Here's a lesson tip that I show my more advanced jazz students. Improvising over diminished chords can be problematic as they can be quite predictable when using either the arpeggio of the chord or the diminished scale (half step/whole step).  An approach that works for me is using the fairly uncommon major pentatonic b2 scale which is made up of the Root, b2, 3rd, 5th and 6th. Notice the 2nd has been lowered a semitone from the original major pentatonic scale. You can then use this scale a semi-tone down from the root of the chord as well as it's other three sister notes. The diminished chord is symmetrical which means it's made up of min. 3rd intervals which start again after you have reached the fourth note. Since there are 12 notes in the western major scale and four of the notes are really from the same chord, there are only three different diminished chords essentially. (G, Bb, Db, E) (Ab, B, D, F) and (A, C, Eb Gb). In the video I am using a Imaj7 iidim7th ii-7 V7 progression in G. The diminished chord is Ab diminished 7th and the major pentatonic b2 scales that you can use to improvise over that chord are G ( a semi-tone down from the root), Bb, Db and E.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Chord Extensions

Hard to believe we are almost into November. Just seems like last week we were just entering September.
Busy week of practicing, teaching and mixing a recording.

Listened to the fantastic record "Cannonball and Coltrane" originally released as "The Cannonball Adderley Quintet in Chicago" in 1959 but later re-released with a new co-leader bill adding tenor saxophonist John Coltrane. It's basically Miles' band of the era without the leader. Paul Chambers on bass, Jimmy Cobb on drums and Wynton Kelly on piano. Beautiful renditions of "Stars Fell On Alabama" and "Weaver of Dreams".

Also listened to more Keith Jarret trio. "At the Deer Head Inn" which has Paul Motian on drums (filling in for the usual trio mate Jack DeJohnette) as well as Gary Peacock on bass. Great recording. Also listened to the trio's "Standards 1" which has probably the finest rendition of "All the Things You Are". John Scofield's version from "Flat Out" is also on the same level!

Here is a lesson that I give to my students about understanding chord extensions. How to hear and be able to use them while improvising. Chord extensions are basically any note beyond the 7th as we are building the chord. As the chord is built we use the root, 3rd, 5th and 7th but while doing so we are skipping a note every time as we ascend. The remaining notes are called extensions. Since we are building the chord (think of a building) the remaining notes are now referred to by another number. Instead of the 2nd, it is now the 9th etc. Just add 7 to the original number of the note. 4th is 11th and so forth. We are left with the 9th, 11th and 13th.

This exercise places the chord extension between two chord tones. By playing the chord tones on 4 and the and of 4
the extension lands on the beat which allows it to stand out but also gives it relevance to the chord because of the proceeding chord tones. When comfortable with the exercise, play the chord tones on 4 and the and of 4 plus 2 and the and of 2 which places the extensions on 1 and 3.
Check out the video. Watch for the cameo at the end courtesy of my dog Stu!

Enjoy and keep listening, going to see and buying music!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Thursday Oct. 20/11

Rainy day here in Toronto. Big storm last night which I got a taste of as I was loading my car after my gig. Fun gig with my other band Echo and Twang. Jake Chisholm is very at home with the blues and it's history which makes it a lot of fun to do a blues gig with him.

Having a busy week. Had a nice jazz corporate gig on Tuesday for the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario. The gig was from 5-6 at a downtown hotel so it was one of those in and out gigs but was a lot of fun. Tenor sax player Alex Dean and bassist Jim Vivian were on the trio gig which was a blast. Haven't played with either of those two for quite a while. They both play really well. Odd thing though, as we were playing some people walking through the hotel decided to play, or should I say run their fingers up and down the keys of the piano that was about 50 feet from the band. People never cease to to surprise me with their lack of common sense or consideration. Oh well.

Been listening to Keith Jarrett Standards Trio "At the Blue Note" from their 1994 box set. The way those three guys play together has always been an inspiration for me. I remember the trio's first Standards recording came out while I was at music College in Calgary in the mid 80's. It has since become the bench mark for everything I listen to jazz wise. Keith Jarrett is one of the best improvising pianists of his generation or of any generation for that matter. No licks or cliche resolutions. Just full out in the moment improvisation. The trio is rounded out by Jack DeJohnette who has been one of the most in demand drummers on the scene since playing on Mile's Davis' Bitches Brew in 1969 and bassist Gary Peacock who has an inane sense of interaction when playing with piano players. Bill Evans and Paul Bley come to mind as well as Jarrett for the last 25 or so years.

Also listed to pianist Steve Kuhn's Mostly Coltrane recording on ECM. Beautiful record. Tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano is on it along with Joey Baron on drums and David Finck on bass.

Teaching my Music to Film class and Pro Tools class tomorrow at the Toronto Film School. Crazy location. Right at Dundas and Yonge. Anyone who knows Toronto knows that intersection is right downtown and downright hectic and crazy to say the least.

That's all for now.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Harmonic Minor Scale

Happy Thanksgiving to all my fellow Canadians.
Had a fun gig on Saturday with my old friend George Grosman who sings and
plays guitar. The two guitar thing can work well.

Have a busy week ahead. I'm mixing Tracey Dey's CD, teaching both at home and the Toronto Film School and have a gig Saturday with my jazz alternative Echo and Twang which I co-lead with guitarist/singer Jake Chisholm. Old country stuff with a bit of blues as well. Lots of fun.

I'll also be working on my jazz guitar method book which I started about a month or so ago. I'm thinking of calling it "Bray's Way or the Highway" :-). What do you think?
It's a lot of work but fun. Still learning Sibelius which has it's challenges or should I say I have my challenges with it.
The book is about thinking about music in numbers which allows you to play things in all keys easily and basically see music in a different way. I feel a clearer way. I am also discussing improvisation in depth and hopefully teaching it in a way that a lot of other books seem to miss. For example, the use of the harmonic scale and how it works over a dominant seventh chord if you use the harmonic minor scale based on the fourth of the chord. Over a G7 for instance, you can use the C harmonic minor scale. Unfortunately a lot of books just stop there with their explanation. By using the C harmonic minor scale from the root it doesn't fit. Simple as that. The scale needs to start from the 7th of the scale in order for the strong chord tones to line up with downbeats and essentially make the scale fit with the harmony. You can use the root of the harmonic minor as a pickup into the bar but the scale needs to start on the 7th if it's going to work. Also the Dominant seventh chord has to be in motion for the harmonic minor to work. If the 7th chord is a V or VI chord in a progression like (iii-7  IV7  ii-7  V7) it will work but if the 7th chord is not in motion like a 7th chord in a I  IV V blues progression, it won't work. The harmonic minor scale acts like a spring board into a resolving chord if the 7th is in motion.

Listened to Ed Bickert and Bill Mays "Concord Duo Series number 7" which is live from California. Beautiful collaboration. Ed Bickert is still one of my all time favourite guitarists on the planet and he lives in Toronto! My daughters have swam in his pool but of course I think that's cooler than they do. Youth today.....Unfortunately he doesn't perform anymore much to the disappointment to many fans.
Ed has such a command of chord voicings and sounds like a pianist but still has great single note lines.
Also listened to another favourite guitarist of mine Jim Hall with Ron Carter "Live at the Village West". Too bad about the clanging of cutlery etc in the background, a bit disrespectful, but the interplay between the two is amazing. So much space but full in the same sense. Great version of Sonny Rollin's "St. Thomas" and Gershwin's "Embraceable You".

Well that's all for now.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Weds. Oct. 5th/11

Good week of practising so far. Worked on "You Stepped Out of a Dream", "Peace" by Horace Silver and my tune "Triplicate" which is tricky. Working on soloing better over 5/4 and trying to make it sound natural.

Listened to:

Lee Morgan - "The Procrastinator" with Lee on trumpet, Herbie Hancock on piano, Bobby Hutcherson on vibes, Billy Higgins on drums and Wayne Shorter on tenor sax. Great recording with an amazing band. 1967 Blue Note recording.

John Patitucci's "Line By Line" with Adam Rogers on guitar, Brian Blade on drums and Patitucci playing beautiful bass. The CD came out a few years ago and is great. The writing and the interplay between the players is inspiring to say the least.

Wes Montgomery's "Smokin' at the Half Note" with Miles' rhythm section at that time which was Wynton Kelly on piano, bassist Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb on drums. Wes playing so musically and effortlessly. He had such a natural warm sound. Playing with his thumb I'm sure contributed to that but also his touch and time is beyond compare. . Wes really shines and I think is spurred on by such a heavy band. This is definitely a desert island pick for me.

Just got a Gibson ES-339 a few weeks ago and am thoroughly loving it. Great semi-hollow guitar modelled after the famous ES-335 but with a smaller body shape.

Well that's it for now.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Thursday June 9th/11

Actually had a day off from teaching which is rare these days although I'm not complaining. Had a chance to practise today. Worked on some jazz standards ("How Deep Is The Ocean?", The Night Has A Thousand Eyes" and "Falling Grace". Man that 's a tough tune. Did a bit of mixing today in my studio. Just finishing up a recording project with a great singer/songwriter Tracey Dey. The project is sounding fantastic. Great band too. Mark Kelso on drums, Kevin Turcotte on trumpet, Chris Banks on bass, Jake Chisholm on lap steel and myself on various guitars and mandolin. Look out for Tracey Dey as she will be making some waves when this record comes out. We are doing a 6 song EP.

Listened to Chick Corea's "Now He Sings, Now He Sobs". Man what a killin' record. Roy Haynes on drums and Miroslav Vitous on bass. 1968 and it still sounds current.