Monday, October 16, 2006

Ed Bickert with Rob McConnell

Just skip to the 4-minute mark for Ed soloing with Rob McConnell's quintet

Nobody can play like Ed.

Marc Sabatella to the rescue

One of the smartest people I've come in contact with on the Internet when it comes to jazz -- and playing music in general -- is Marc Sabatella.

Case in point, a discussion on bebop heds and the David Baker bebop books:

For one thing, it's not like these guys were "using" the bebop scale in
the way we might think about it today. They were using the major and
minors scale, and tossing in some passing tones when it felt necessary.
Baker just codified this practice by putting names on particular
combinations of major and minor scales with passing tones. So one
shouldn't expect to see anything that looks quite as pat as Baker makes
it sound. Sure, beboppers used passing tones all the time, but in a way
MUCH more varied than would appear from learning a small set of fixed
"bebop scales".

Second, I think you'll find more use of this particular devices in
*solos* than in heads, simply because the heads don't tend to have quite
the same types of long streams of eighth notes in which these passing
tones are most effective. Heads are still great to learn to get a
general feel for the language in terms of phrasing and so forth, but if
you really need to see a lot of examples of people using passing tones
in the way Baker describes, look at the solos in the Omnibook (or
transcribe a few yourself). Personally, I don't feel the concept of
adding passing tones to one's lines is so hard to grasp that it really
requires examples in order to be able to do so oneself. Sure you might
come up with something slightly *different* from the ways Bird et all
used passing tones. As far as I am concerned, that's a *good* thing.

Here's Marc's whole post. The entire thread.

What's funny, also, is that Marc is a pianist, not a guitarist, but he hangs out on RMMGJ because it's got about 20 times the activity of I highly recommend Marc's book, "The Harmonic Language of Jazz Standards," which offers a new way of understanding harmony in the context of playing the standards in a jazz context. Now it's all based on standard Western-style harmonic analysis, but with lots of creative ways to look at and understand that harmony, with the goal being the ability to play a standard tune from musical memory, on the spot, in any key, without ever having seen the lead sheet. It's a lofty goal that I'm pretty sure I'll never reach, but there's plenty to learn from the book nonetheless. And it applies equally to guitar and piano, if you're wondering.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Ted Greene update

First of all, the Ted Greene tribute Web site is back ... with lists of stuff instead of actual content -- but hey, it's a start.

And check out these videos on YouTube:

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" from a 2003 seminar (at California Vintage Guitar & Amp in Sherman Oaks, I believe)

"Autumn Leaves" from a seminar at the Musicians Institute (date uncertain to me, but I know it's MI because that's what's printed on the music stand -- note the Tele with single-coil neck pickup)

"Autumn Leaves" part 2

Mannnn. Ted is still the greatest.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Ed Bickert on "Pure Desmond"

"Pure Desmond," Ed Bickert's first album with the great alto saxophonist, is one of my Holy Grail discs. I think it has Bickert's best recorded sound ever, and I've heard all sorts of explanation as to why it sounds like it does (both pro and con).

One of the best sources is Canadian guitarist and teacher Joey Goldstein, who's very active on He's answered my questions on this before, but I believe this is the first time he says that Ed Bickert's Telecaster, on "Pure Desmond," could be equipped with the original single-coil neck pickup and not a Gibson humbucker (as seen in the 1980s at left). And Joey also thinks that Ed might have played at his bar mitzvah (whoa!) Also -- Ed had an ES-175:

Joey Goldstein
Date: Sun, Aug 20 2006 12:20 pm
Email: Joey Goldstein>

Dave M wrote:

> I recently got The Paul Desmond Quartet Live (from Toronto) album (the
> one w/ Desmond on the cover looking like Larry King). Bickert's tone is
> warm and clear, and sustaining, and there's something about it--a
> certain openness in the freq range that reminds me a hollowbody. This
> album was recorded in '75. Wasn't he playing the Tele by then? Anyone
> know for sure?

Yes. He was playing the Tele on Pure Desmond as well but I think he may have had the single coil pickup still on it.

I think he switched to the humbucker right after Pure Desmond, but I could be wrong.

Most of the recordings of Ed in existence will have him on the Tele. But I've got a jazz calendar with a pic of the CBC Orchestra, circa 1964 (or possibly earlier), and he's holding a 175.

I think, but I'm not sure, that Ed was in the band that my Dad hired to play at my bar mitzvah. He hired some CBC musicians and I think Moe Koffman was the leader. My friends were all..."That guy plays slow!"....But I said "Yeah, but look at those chords!". I was more into fast playing myself but at least I had the sense to recognize the chords.

-- Joey Goldstein joegold AT sympatico DOT ca

Keith Murch said Ed's favorite amp was a Standel. (But was it a solid state or tube model?) I have heard good things about the old solid-state Standels. Ed used a Roland Cube-60 for many years, but that amp was first made in the 1980s. For all we know, Ed could've used whatever amp the studio already had. Along the same thread (but not really), rumor is that Rudy Van Gelder's Englewood Cliffs, N.J., studio had a Fender Deluxe amp that all the guitar players used on his sessions. Even today, many guitarists just don't travel with amps. On the road, they use what the venue provides, usually a Fender Twin or Roland JC-120. When he toured as a solo artist, Joe Pass neither brought nor even used a guitar amplifier. He just went through a direct box straight to the board.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Get the box out

We've been furiously getting ready for Lulu's 3rd birthday party, and we did windows on Sunday. Not Windows (as in XP) but windows (as in glass). By the afternoon, we decided to have lunch outside since it's finally bearable under the trees in the back yard. After we ate, the girl went directly to playing in the dirt, and I pulled out the box -- the Goya classical -- to noodle around a bit. Nothing too heavy (although I did work on easy tunes just a bit), just tuning it up and playing around a bit -- right-hand fingers, no pick.

It reminds me just how much I love the sound of nylon strings.

Anyhow, the girl -- after hand-washing -- strummed a bit as I fingered some chords, and then we put the guitar away and both played in the dirt for awhile.

But I did get the box out. I've got to get my weekdays together and spend lunch at least a few of those days playing. That's my new goal.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

I have a confession to make

I haven't picked up the guitar for a couple of months now. Aside from things at the Daily News getting more and more hectic all the time (I'm blogging over there a ton, too), and the summer's searing heat screwing with my lunchtime practices, I find myself drawn to other pursuits, mostly all the computer-related stuff (as chronicled in This Old Mac and This Old PC).

I've been planning, in my mind, where I want to go with the guitar, and I've been collecting music that I want to incorporate into my solo repertoire. I can imagine, in my mind, how I want it to sound, the approach I want to take (it becomes more rock, less jazz), but none of this involves picking up the box and playing it. I lug around a laptop computer, not a guitar bag.

I think part of this is that I have some long-standing barriers in my playing that I have to break through, and while planning and collecting music for the tunes I want to play, actually getting one of those tunes under my fingers, the whole way through, is what I have to do. Even if it's one tune. I get frustrated: I can't sit down and play a half-hour set of tunes. But I've got to build them up, one at a time. And at this point, I can't really expect to come up with the arrangements on the fly. I'll have to either use a pre-written arrangement or (preferably) come up with my own and stick to it. And even knowing just one tune all the way through in some kind of solo rendition would be huge at this point. Of course that means really knowing that tune. The whole melody and all the chords, along with a good idea theoretically what's going on so I can take it into other keys. Hell, at this point one tune, one key is enough.

I'm thinking that if I make the goals small enough, they won't be so insurmountable that I never even try to achieve them.

Hell, if I can write 200 blog posts, I can learn a couple of tunes. (See, I'm already up to two.)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

New Jody Fisher album

Jody Fisher has a new album out of solo guitar, called "Wistful Thinking," this time entirely of original compositions. There are extensive samples here.

At $15 each for his most recent two albums, it's quite a bargain -- I think Jody is one of the best solo jazz guitarists out there. He manages to bring a whole host of influences together (Joe Pass, Ted Greene, Lenny Breau, George Van Eps) to create a very musical, flowing presentation. As I've said before, I consider him the heir to Ted Greene, as far as this kind of playing is concerned. I've got to take the plunge at some point and get his solo guitar instruction books/CDs, "The Art of Solo Guitar."

Ted Greene site controversy

I followed a link to the Ted Greene memorial site, and it seems that due to a dispute between Ted's siblings and those who run the Web site (including Ted's girlfriend Barbara), the site has been taken down. Only forums remain, where it's pretty easy to follow what happened. Leon White (producer of the "Solo Guitar" LP) and others say lawsuits were threatened, and that led to suspension of the fast-growing compendium of Ted's lesson materials, recordings, etc.

Go here to follow the thread.

If you go through the various parts of the forum, you'll stumble across gems like this. Blogger isn't cooperating when it comes to uploading photos, or I'd post one of the many on the forum here.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Irving Berlin and D# minor

I knew that Irving Berlin couldn't read or write music, but can't believe this from his Wikipedia entry:

In spite of his musical career, Berlin never learned how to play a piano or read music beyond a rudimentary level. He reportedly was unable to compose in any key other than F-sharp major (or, presumably, D-sharp minor, since he also wrote songs in minor keys) and owned a special piano that mechanically transposed keys while an assistant wrote out the music scores.

He could only play in one key? Since a lot of show tunes modulate like crazy, how did he handle that? Did the "special piano" transpose on the fly somehow?

Here's what Wikipedia says:

A Transposing piano is a special piano which can be adjusted by the player (e.g. with a lever or pedal) to transpose. There are not many in existence, but they have been used, for example, by people whose skills are restricted to playing in certain keys, or by those who need to transpose music, but lack the necessary skill in so doing.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Joe Pass -- "For Django"

I finally ordered this -- got a gift certificate for Tower, and it is on "special order," which means it might come someday. Some say Pacific Jazz Joe Pass is the holy grail, and I have to agree that the character of his work for the label in the early '60s is much different from what came later for Pablo in the early '70s and beyond. I already have "Joy Spring," which was recorded live for Pacific Jazz in 1964, I believe, and is pretty much a master class in bebop guitar. Both of these records aren't easily available, though both are part of the Mosiac box set, "The Complete Pacific Jazz Joe Pass Quartet Sessions," which costs $80 and is only available direct. For those who may be wondering, neither of these two photos is from the time at which the records were recorded -- '63 and '64. Why can't they use the original artwork, or at least find period-appropriate photos of Joe? I figure the "For Django" shot is from the early '70s, and the "Joy Spring" one is from the '90s. Either way, these are two must-haves for Joe fans, and I'm glad to finally get "For Django."

As far as "Joy Spring" goes, Joe plays a lot slower and more deliberately than he does during the Pablo years. That's one of the reasons I think more players relate to the Pacific Jazz Joe that to the Pablo one -- you can really get a grip (literally, figuratively) on the bebop language for the instrument from "Joy Spring," and it's easy to steal licks off the record. There's some wonderful comping by Joe, too. "Joy Spring" should still be available as a single disc, and it's pretty much a crime that the Joe discs on the label, including "Catch Me" are so often out of print and hard to obtain.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Joe Pass and Roy Clark

Google has an hour-long video of Joe Pass and Roy Clark playing together in the studio. I could watch Joe play rhythm all day.

I haven't had the chance to watch the whole thing, but it's a documentary with interviews of both players. Just like Joe said, I always liked Roy's playing -- it was hard to miss him on "Hee Haw" in the '70s and '80s. A very good player, as are many in the country field.

I remember reading somewhere that this was Joe's last session before his death in 1994. If so, it's a nice way to go out -- some very good music here.

Gear notes: Roy is playing a Heritage thin-bodied guitar, probably built custom for him. Joe is playing the special ES-175 that Gibson made for him in the years before his death. It has a slightly thinner body, a rosewood bridge, trapeze tailpiece and only one pickup, which is mounted flush with the neck like on an L4 CES (closer than a tradional 175), and the original Kluson tuners (not replacement Grovers).

Found via the Joe Pass Memorial Hall, where all things Joe can be learned.

It takes GIANT STONES to trade eights with OP

Check out this video of Joe Pass playing with Oscar Peterson. NHOP on bass.

Joe is standing up, playing the Ibanez, and cooking like crazy, which is what you pretty much had to do to keep up with Oscar Peterson.

Joe plays the head of "The Cakewalk" in unison with Peterson -- and check out the section when piano and guitar trade eight-bar phrases.

Another example of Joe Pass, the complete player -- masterful rhythm guitarist, ensemble player and soloist.

Friday, March 17, 2006

John Stowell podcast

For my 40th birthday, (yep, I'm 40 -- FORTY), Ilene got me a video iPod, so I downloaded the John Stowell video podcast from Portland Jazz Jams.

I haven't had a chance to really watch it, but first impressions are that the video and audio are both excellent. They could sell this thing for $24.95 through Mel Bay, and it would hold up very well.

John is playing his Doolin nylon string in front of a black background, and the performance was captured by two cameras -- there are plenty of close-ups of his hands (watching his left hand is a master class in itself), and a few "dissolves" with the views of two cameras at once.

Sound is great. Probably the best thing is that he is playing the nylon string and not an electric with a bunch of effects, which make some of his earlier recordings less than ideal.

I'll have to spend some time watching the whole thing, but this is a definite must for those who love solo jazz guitar. John Stowell is truly an original player who shouldn't be missed, and he does, in fact, sound better than ever.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Christopher Woitach

Update: Christopher e-mailed me to clarify the speaker cabinet used on the audio podcast I talk about below.

I found out about Christopher Woitach when looking up John Stowell. They did a duo album, and I am really knocked out by Christopher's playing. There are some full tracks here on his Web site, but I came across this great Portland, Ore.-based jazz podcasting site. They have an unwieldy video podcast of John Stowell -- the thing's something like 150 MB.

But well in the realm of downloadable ability is this audio podcast of a Christopher Woitach live date. He sounds so good and is very creative in his lines.

(Normal people, stop reading here.)

For the geeks, he's playing a new D'Angelico NYL-2, which I think has a solid pressed spruce top. He could be playing the model with a carved top -- who knows? -- but the thing sounds like an L5, and he has been known to useused a Clarus amp and Raezer's Edge Stealth 10 cabinet a cabinet made by Daedalus (in Ferndale, Wash.) that has two 8-inch and two 5-inch speakers. I think it's this one. His sound is very natural and almost a bit acoustic. And he can really play, which always helps.

More update: Christopher also reports that he is now recording a new CD, to be titled "Dead Men (Are Heavier Than Broken Hearts)," which he calls "a Raymond Chandler tribute, of sorts." I'll be looking forward to it because I think that mood and theme can really add to the enjoyability of a recording.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

A John Stowell lesson

Everybody always talks about how great John Stowell is, and I agree. What's great about John is that when he does a duo or group record, everybody else on the project is at the same high level, and I've discovered quite a few good players by listening to his records.

I've also heard greate things about his teaching methods, and he had a hard-to-find series of three videos out years ago, but no books. But now Mel Bay is bringing out this material on DVD (Yes! I can watch it on my Mac!), and they posted an eye-opening lesson on their site, which includes a 15-minute video clip.

The lesson is on substitutions using triads, and it shows how, over a C Major 7 chord, you can play a C, D, E, F or G major triad over the chord, detailing what you will get. For me, it illustrates both the freedom and the possibilities of jazz improvisation. If you know where you are in the tune, you have MANY places to go.

I'll have to try this out. I understand how the D major triad gives you the 9th (D), the #4 (F#) and the 6th (A); but I'm a little fuzzy on why you'd play the E major triad, since you get the 3rd (E), then the #5 (G#) and the 7th (B). I didn't think that the #5 was all that common or desirable over a major chord, and since the iii chord in the key (in C, that's E minor) is such a good choice, why you'd want to play the III (E major) anyway?

"It's just nice to have the variety," Stowell says in the video, and it helps to have some extra "colors in your palette" to play over the Maj 7 chord if it comes up a lot in a tune.

Anyway, the video looks really good, John is VERY clear and methodical, and at $19.95 for the DVD and 40-page book, this is another one on my list to check out.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Jake Hanlon, another jazz guitar master's degree student

In the comments for Improvisations on a Theme, I came across Jake Hanlon (there's a blog there, among other things), another guitarist pursuing a master's degree, in this case at the mighty University of North Texas. He earned his undergraduate degree at Saint Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, and he now studies and plays at UNT with his brother Josh, a pianist (yes, they both attend UNT and have a group together as well).

What seems immediately good about Jake's situation is that he gigs a whole lot, both with UNT ensembles and his own groups.

His web site also offers lessons, which I see as another good sign because graduate school, even for music, is not all about performance but equally and often more concerned with pedagogy (i.e. teaching) and research so these guys have the option/chance of a career in academia in addition to performing (and composing, etc.).

I won't go in detail at this point about what I think of studying jazz at the undergraduate and graduate levels because I really don't know enough about it. My own experience with university-level music study was one and a half years in the classical guitar BM program at California State University Northridge. I certainly learned a lot in that time about music, the nature of working hard, and about life in general. One of the things I learned was that I didn't want to pursue a career in music. After a year in, I didn't think I was good enough, and I didn't have enough desire to really commit to music as a career. I also had other interests I couldn't pursue under the crush of music studies.

I considered going into science, but humbling grades in calculus made me think twice about that, and at that point I knew I wanted to study literature and writing, and at the end of my second year at CSUN, I transferred to UC Santa Cruz, eventually graduating with a BA in comparative literature. I've spent time since then at various distances from playing music and have returned somewhat stronger in recent years, more writing about it than doing it, but that's just where I'm at right now. In the early '80s, before CSUN, I played big-band jazz in high school, but my abilities and knowledge regarding improvisation were rudimentary at best. I'm getting there slowly -- make that very slowly -- as a hobbyist now, with my goal to be getting to a level where I'm able to play out a little, whether it's jazz or some other kind of music that fits where I'm at.

But back to graduate school. I do admire these guys, and especially when they supplement their studies with playing gigs, I have a feeling they're headed in the right direction. But jazz in particular is a difficult area of music to pursue. It helps to be really, really good on your instrument, and it doesn't hurt to be able to play all styles and be ready to gig with just about any kind of performer at a moment's notice (I think that's the focus of USC's Studio/Jazz Guitar program).

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Jason, a jazz guitarist in graduate school

Found this on -- a graduate student in jazz guitar is blogging on his experiences at Improvisations on a Theme. It's in the extremely early stages but just might offer some valuable insight into what's going on at the university level in jazz studies.

I plan to keep an eye on it, and it's going on the blogroll here in case you (or I) need to find it.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Jody Fisher and "The Art of Solo Guitar"

On my to-buy list is Jody Fisher's "Impromptu," samples of which are available here. Jody has quite a career writing instruction books for Alfred Publishing, and his jazz methods are some of the best around (and I make that claim about very few of the books I see).

While Jody is a prolific teacher and author, he also sounds fantastic. He lives somewhere in Southern California's desert and gigs a lot in the Palm Springs and Lake Arrowhead area. He's the closest player out there to the sound of Ted Greene in terms of great chordal voice leading, strong melody and use of artificial harmonics (which Ted took from Chet Atkins, Tal Farlow and Lenny Breau and refined).

I've never worked out of Jody's books before, but he has a new two-volume series, available from his Web site as well as Jamey Aebersold's site, called "The Art of Solo Guitar," which aims to teach the skills to IMPROVISE as solo guitarist, creating arrangements and playing over changes on the fly (as opposed to performing a previously written-out, unchanging version).

While there are hundreds of books devoted to teaching single-line improvisation, both specific to the guitar and for other (or all) instruments and perhaps a dozen on how to play solo guitar, there are very few that bring solo guitar and improvisation together. It's like the old analogy about giving a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, but give him a fishing pole (and a supply of hooks, bait and fishing line) and he'll eat for a lifetime. I think there's value in both the fish and the pole. You can still get a lot out of an arrangement of a standard tune and derive ideas and approaches that will work with other songs, and that way at least you have something to play for people.

But building the nuts and bolts of a technique that can be applied to every tune you see, man that is one hell of a fishing pole.

Monday, January 16, 2006

How badly do you want to play that tune?

That's the question I'm asking myself regarding the two posts below on chord-melody arrangements. I'm at the point where I don't want to put time into learning tunes that I'm not excited about. So that makes me less than excited about putting work into the pre-written arrangements I mentioned earlier. Forgetting transposition into other keys, I want to at least begin by playing in the songs' original keys. So I need to keep working on "How High the Moon," and think of some modern tunes that could be done solo on the guitar. I'm looking through a fake book now for candidates and trying to pick things that don't modulate so much.

In other news, I pulled all the guitars out last night to see how they're doing physically. Is anything falling apart more now than before? The Goya classical's back is still coming off near the bottom, but that's pretty much status quo. Everything else checks out. The ES-175 bridge is still tilting slightly (turns out that string pull can do that with a floating rosewood archtop bridge), so I'll have to loosen the strings and straighten it out. I want to measure first so I have a snowball's chance of getting the intonation set right, since that guitar is surprisingly flawless in that regard (unusual for a fixed, compensated bridge).

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Chord melody by Van Moretti

I believe an arrangement by Van Moretti has appeared in every issue of Just Jazz Guitar I have ever received. My philosophy has been that it is better to make up my own arrangements from the lead sheet of a tune because then it will perfectly suit the skill level I'm at and will make the most sense to me, both harmonically and technically. And as I get a bigger chordal vocabulary, the renditions of the tunes get better. The other thing I've been trying to do is play the tunes in their original keys.

It hasn't been working out so good. I don't spend nearly enough time, and I've been looking for a style of arranging for the guitar that fits where I'm at and how I want to play.

Some of the most intriguing arrangements are those of Robert Conti, who also has a tune in just about every issue of JJG. He does it all with chord grids above the staff, with melody notes below for reference (and with little rhythmic notation, as he encourages players to call upon their own interpretation in that regard). I especially like his reharmonizations, and he does have two books that focus on that subject. He no longer offers books of chord-melody arrangements, but the old JJGs are a good source.

Still, the Conti arrangements are not working so well for me at the moment. I can't say I won't go back to them. They have the aformentioned quality in their reharmonization, and they can also help with voice leading. But I just tried Moretti's "More Than You Know," and that sounds very nice. It's in the key of C, which is a very easy key for guitar (right up there with A, G and D). The original is in Eb. Hmmm ... don't know what I think of that, but it is a very nice arrangement, and I can make the melody pop out of it right away. Sometimes it's hard to make the melody come out of these chordal arrangements, especially if I'm not very familiar with the tune, but it was no trouble at all in this case.