Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Yamaha's cheapest classical

Chris Weinkopf of the Daily News opinion section brought in this Yamaha C45R classical guitar, shown at right, which I strung for him with D'Addario Pro Arte strings. It seems to be the same as the Yamaha C40, but perhaps a special model for Costco, where he bought it.

Anyway, it's pretty good for $99. Yamaha does a surprisingly good job with these inexpensive acoustic guitars, which are made in China. About a year or so ago, I picked up a Yamaha FG-403S from Guitar Center for $199 -- it's a steel-string flatttop guitar with a solid spruce top. Now the C45 (like the C40 before it) does not have a solid top (what do you expect for $99?) but it does have a Javanese rosewood bridge and fingerboard. It's interesting that Indonesia is a now source of rosewood (going from Brazil to India and now Java.) The back and sides are Indonesian mahogany (probably laminated, as is the top (of undertermined wood).

I didn't get a whole lot of time with it, but from stringing it, I noticed that the holes in the bridge and the tuners were a bit narrow -- not a problem, because they will hold the strings tighter as well as provide a cushion for wear -- those holes will only get bigger as strings are taken in and out over the years.

Still, you can get a whole lot of guitar for $99. Yamaha guitars seem to be very traditionally built -- these acoustics all have set necks and fairly standard construction. Nice guitars to learn on -- and to take just about anywhere without worrying too much.

Now I'm not a member of Costco (can't justify spending $40-something for the privilege of buying stuff I don't need in amounts I can't store), but if you know anybody who is, you just might want to ask them to order one or two for you. Also, Costco has one of the best return policies around -- they will usually take a return with no questions asked, although in this case I doubt you'e need or want to give the guitar back.

No doubt, a solid top will sound better, but I bought my Yamaha as a beater, and since it's so nice, I haven't been beating it around enough. It's probably better to buy the guitar used and already abused. I did that with my Goya classical, and now the back's coming loose. It's just not a good idea to leave guitars in the trunks of cars -- the dranatic temperature changes will really loosen things up. That's why everybody needs a beater or two. Gotta see what I can find out there for $free to $25.

For those looking at good, cheap acoustics, Yamaha has a new line out, the Acoustic FG series, at right, with a nice range of models starting at $279, including six- and 12-strings, plus acoustic-electric. Here's a Musician's Friend review of the new guitars (predictably positive, since they're selling them, but it's some information to consider nonetheless).

To my ears, the Yamahas don't sound like Martins, they certainly don't sound like Taylors. These are just good working guitars that sound ... like a guitar. And the necks are very comfortable. My friend Bruce just bought a Takamine steel string (can't remember the model) for $200, and it sounds and plays pretty well, but the neck is a bit chunky (not that I'm not used to that, coming from the substantial neck of my Fender Lead I solidbody). I just got used to the comfortable neck of the Yamaha, which is that much easier to play because of its matte finish (the rest of the guitar is glossy).

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Ted Greene and Cathy Segal Garcia

Cathy Segal Garcia, one of L.A. best-known jazz singers and probably its most popular vocal instructor, tells on the Ted Greene Tribute Page about how she met Ted when she was a waitress at the famous Donte's night club (the site of many great jazz performances, and where I saw George Van Eps and Grant Geissman as a teenager). The cool photo above, from the Ted Greene Flickr archive, is from the period when they gigged together in Studio City.

Here is what Cathy wrote:

I came to Los Angeles when I was 21. I had come from a jazz-musical background, I was mainly a singer, and had attended Berklee, where Ted's name floated around the guitarists...that was 72-75. When I got here I waitressed at Donte's, the main jazz club in LA at the time. Ted was there one nite...happened to faint because the music volume bothered him! (you guys know how Ted felt about music volume!) We became friends and when he found out I sang, he suggested getting together... We did, and started rehearsing; we modulated every song at the bridge! Then we were ready for a gig...I put up about 4 or 5 signs at some music stores. I convinced David Abhari from the Sound Room in Studio City to let us play, we were one of the first live bands to play there. I showed up to my first gig in L.A. that nite...to a packed house...no standing room left! We played that club once a week for a year...

One time we were hired for a private party in the Hollywood Hills. About 3/4 way through the party people stopped partying and sat down and listened to the rest of the gig.....That happened more than once!

Words are just words...what they signify is important. To say that Ted was kind and full of humor brings to my mind and body the warmth that Ted, the spirit, is. Ted, the spirit, is not dead and will never die. He has and continues to affect thousands of people because of the quality of livingness that he put out into the world. To not be able to hug him or see the whole package, body and all, is so very sad. But I can visit Ted whenever I want to. He has affected me. Beautifully. What more in this lifetime could anyone want?
Love, Cathy Segal-Garcia

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Ted Greene's "Jazz Guitar: Single Note Soloing -- Volume 1"

There's always an argument in methods of jazz improvisation over how much of a role learning, using and thinking in terms of the modes of the major and minor scales should play in figuring out how to hit the right notes when soloing over jazz chord changes.

The whole thing is very Zen: You're supposed to do all this theoretical work on scales and modes, master it and then "not think about it" while you're playing and let the music spontaneously flow.

Some people think it's about learning a language: When you speak English (if it's your first language), you don't think about grammar when you converse, and there aren't even that many pauses between words. You just convey your thoughts in a continuous stream of sound. And that's the same principle in jazz improvisation. You've gotta learn the language of jazz. And just as phonics competes with "whole language" in the teaching of reading, there are a ton of ways to skin the cat in jazz music.

Anyhow, back to Ted Greene's "Jazz Guitar: Single Note Soloing." Ted's focus is on arpeggios, scales and written-out examples, or licks, using that primary material. For him, playing over standard changes is all about chord tones, hence the primary importance of arpeggios (chords broken up into their single notes).

To make your music "sound like jazz," and to learn the musical language, there are several theoretical constructs that will help you wrap your brain (and fingers) around it, and while Ted mentions modes at various points, as well as situations where you could theoretically be using modal thinking to play over diatonic (major and minor) harmony, he doesn't recommend it. Even if you are playing the same notes over two different chords, it's best to think of the harmony you are in, as opposed to some modal construct that requires too much mental work and provides no clue as to which notes are more important than others.

I was looking at Vol. 1 of Ted's book, and as far as scales go, he wants you to directly think of a scale or two that directly relates to the chord you will be playing it over (here related to the major scales for purposes of figuring out the notes):

Major 7th chords

Major (as in C D E F G A B C) scale
Lydian (major with #4) scale

Minor 7th chords

Minor 7th scale (major with b3 and b7)

Dominant 7th chords

Dominant 7th scale (major with b7)
Overtone dominant (major with #4 and b7, also known as lydian dominant)
Two flavors of "altered dominant," which I don't quite have MY head wrapped around.

Along with the many, many arpeggio grids, these scales, with the accompanying "jazzy" examples, will get you playing over just about all the chords you will encounter in jazz. Not that I'm anywhere near being able to do this, at least (in my own mind) I understand what's required.

Also introduced in Vol. 2, along with how to play over fast changes, plus work on the harmony in standard tunes, are many more scales (including diminished, whole tone and harmonic and melodic minor) and arpeggios. It's very interesting to see the order in which Ted introduces each piece of the jazz puzzle and compare it with the rest of the improvisation method books I have on my shelf.

Somewhere in the two "Single Note Soloing" books, Ted writes about converting the material for other instruments, something I wish he had done in his lifetime, because his way of thinking about music transcends the guitar itself in deep and profound ways.

A Ted Greene encounter

Here's a great story about one guitarist's encounter with Ted Greene:

"Ted Greene," by Scott Detweiler
Photo by Pete Huggins from a seminar at California Vintage Guitar and Amp in Sherman Oaks.

Scott really captures the feel of what it was like to see Ted play after years of knowing him only through his books and sole CD. There's an added dimension to meeting a legend when the person you're in front of is not known to anybody else in the room, somebody who most guitar players knew about and were in awe of, yet who was humble about his importance and impact.

In this anecdote, Ted is playing at a gallery opening. From what I read, he liked the kind of gigs where the music could be construed as background. He could pull out an extremely diverse selection of tunes and weave them together in creative ways, all the while REALLY connecting with a few in the room who had never heard a guitar played like that before. Playing solo guitar at that level, with such command of the fingerboard and the harmonic and melodic language of jazz (and music in general) is rare indeed -- and definitely something to aspire to.