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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.