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).