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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.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Influences and inspirations part 2. (Ed Bickert)

In my last post I talked about Pat Metheny being an influence and an inspiration musically for me. He is just one of many. I will be doing a series of these posts in the coming weeks and again in no particular order of importance or personal discovery.

Ed Bickert is an influence and a musical inspiration and I first discovered him when I was enrolled in my first year of post secondary music study at Mount Royal College in Calgary. First of all, Ed Bickert played a Telecaster rather than the usual hollow body, which fascinated me as I was still a teenager and heavily influenced by rock guitar players.
I was playing a Strat and had just bought a Tele, so I was a fan already. Once I heard his comping chordal ideas, he became a lifelong inspiration to learn more chord voicings!
Ed Bickert has such a beautiful way of playing chords and melody and he is definitely one of the hippest players I have ever heard. His rounded tone and soft touch can sometimes be deceiving and mask his inventiveness on the initial listen. However, with a closer listen, you will be blown away by the complexity of his approach. The same thing happens with pianist Bill Evans. Ed also plays with a combination of fingers and pick which I definitely stole from him and I have been playing that way ever since.

Ed didn't get the same international recognition as Jim Hall, Herb Ellis, Tal Farlow, Joe Pass or Barney Kessell, but he was satisfied to play mostly in Canada. People in the know, certainly rank Ed Bickert up alongside everyone of the previously mentioned guys.

Here is Ed Bickert with Dave Young on bass and Terry Clarke on drums playing "Street of Dreams".
Marvelous trio.

Funny story about Ed regarding his music set up. Most players are pretty savvy at describing what amp they are using and what guitars they play and basically how they get their sound, but not Ed. When asked about how he gets his sound from his amp he responded "I just look for the sounds like shit knob and turn it down". Awesome response!

Ed Bickert is from Toronto and I have had the pleasure of talking to him on many occasions over the years and even hanging out at his house while my daughters swam in his pool. Great guy and fantastic guitarist.

That's all for now.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Influences and inspirations part 1. (Pat Metheny)

Influences and inspirations part 1.

We all have people in your lives that inspire us and help us along our path of discovery and as a musician, there are other musicians that influence our musical knowledge. We listen, transcribe and emulate until it seeps into our musical DNA and hopefully comes out of us as original content. As Tony Bennett says "if you take from one musician it's stealing but if you take from a bunch of musicians it's research". Wise words. I am going to be talking about the players that have influenced and inspired me to date and hopefully explain why. I will be presenting them in no particular order of personal discovery.

Guitarist Pat Metheny has been one of those players for a long time and continues to be an influence. Pat's a guy who never rests. He is always writing, recording, collaborating with other musicians and touring but his playing and his music never gets old or worn out for me. He's one of those players that when he improvises it just flows out of him and in such a musical way. His sense of melody when he improvises has been a huge influence on me. I try to always play melodies when I improvise and not have it sound like a scale and arpeggio exercise. Pat can play over any changes and make it sound melodious and story telling. Listen to "Lakes" from "Water Colors" on ECM for an example of what I'm talking about. "Lakes" is a tough tune but he just soars beautifully through the changes and makes it sound like an easy tune. This record came out in 1977 and had Danny Gottleib on drums, Eberhart Weber on bass and longtime associate Lyle Mays on piano.

Another thing that attracts me to Pat's playing and writing is that his mid west influences come out in his music. The duo record he did with the late bassist Charlie Haden called "Beyond the Missouri Skies" (1997) for instance really imagines that part of the world in both of their playing. They are both from that part of the United States. Charlie Haden was born in Shenandoah, Iowa and Pat was born in Lee's Summit, Missouri.

The music of the southern States has had a huge impact on me and has for a number of years. That music educates and instructs my playing and writing in a big way. Even though I'm known as a jazz guy, I love Country music, Bluegrass, Blues etc., all of which came from that part of the United States. I grew up in Calgary, Alberta for a big part of my informative years (grade 9 through college) and that part of Canada has very strong roots in country music. The Calgary Stampede is the biggest Rodeo in the world and the city is filled with country music for 10 or so days. That definitely seeped into my DNA.

Here is a solo guitar arrangement of "Shenandoah", which is an old folk tune originally credited to "Traditional", played on my PRS 408 through a Fender Tweed Blues Deluxe 40 watt tube amp.

That's all for now.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Moving to a smaller music centre.

Moving to a smaller music centre.

It's been a while since I've blogged (great word) and I look forward to getting back at it regularly.
My wife, youngest daughter and I moved from Toronto to Kelowna BC which is in the Okanagan Valley of interior British Columbia. It's absolutely gorgeous here. My parents live here and I haven't lived anywhere near them for over 27 yrs, so my wife and I thought it would be a nice place to relocate. My wife Marilla took an early retirement from teaching and is now taking wine courses to get into the wine industry out here. Great place for that. I am obviously continuing being a working musician.

It is a bit of an adjustment moving to a smaller music centre from a large music centre like Toronto, where I was based for 25 yrs, but I am surprised how much of a scene there is here. There are some really good players and there are cities of varying sizes near to Kelowna where there are opportunities to play as well. There are over 200 wineries in the Okanangan so there are lots of performing opportunities there. There is also Big White Ski Resort which is just basically up the highway from my house where I have been able to play twice since moving here at the beginning of October. Just played there this past Saturday for The International Wine Summit with a five piece band. I hired a fabulous singer named Kinga Heming, who also moved to Kelowna from Toronto about two yrs ago. Craig Thomson on tenor, who is an important part of the scene here. He is not only a very fine tenor player but he nurtures the young high school students to whom he teaches band and he co-hosts a weekly jam downtown which encourages young players to come up and play with some pros. I also hired Bernie Addington on bass, who is the first call bassist in the Okanagan and a young drummer named Chris Collier, who not only plays well but is getting his PHD in Electrical Engineering at UBCO here in Kelowna.

I have put together a west coast Sean Bray's Peach Trio since moving here and both Bernie Addington and Chris Collier make up the trio. We just played for the Salmon Arm Jazz Society this past Thursday and what a fantastic listening audience. We even received a standing ovation. Salmon Arm is about an hour and a half north of Kelowna in the Shuswap lakes area. We are also playing here in Kelowna on Wednesday at The Minstrel Cafe and Bar which is a great venue. I had played there a couple of years ago with an old friend and fantastic guitarist Loni Moger, who also happens to live in Kelowna. We knew each other years ago in Calgary but hadn't seen each other since I moved to New York and then to Toronto years ago. We ran into each other at Wentworth Music here in Kelowna while I was visiting my parents one summer.

I am proud to announce that I just signed an endorsement deal with PRS Guitars. I am very pleased as they are the best guitars I have played bar none. Brent Mason was a big help in getting the deal as he referred me to the director of artist relations at PRS. I have three PRS guitars. I have a 408 which is such a beautiful and versatile guitar, an SC-245 which is a fantastic guitar as well and uses the Gibson Les Paul as an influence but still very much a Paul Read Smith design and innovation and a Custom 24 which is also very versatile. It has 24 frets instead of the usual 22 for modern guitars and 21 for older designs. A whole two octaves on every string!

I have been listening to:

John Patitucci- "Brooklyn" which is a new recording for the bassist. It's a two guitar, bass and drums quartet. What's not to like right? Adam Rogers and Steve Cardenas on guitars, Patitucci on electric bass and Brian Blade on drums. Nice band!

Rogers and Binney - "R and B". The Rogers is Adam Rogers on guitar and the Binney is David Binney on also sax. Great record! Reuben Rogers (no relation) on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums.
It diverts from their usual original material, which is great, and includes bebop, ballads and standards by Thelonious Monk, Wayne Shorter, Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard and Gershwin.

John Scofield "Past Present" reuniting the guitarist's famous and fantastic quartet of the late 80's and early 90's. Joe Lovano on tenor, Bill Stewart on drums and Larry Grenadier replacing the late Dennis Irwin on bass. Fantastic band and such great interplay between Lovano and Scofield with their weaving in and out of each others lines.

That's all for now.