Thursday, April 28, 2011

Guess who I played with today?

I didn't have much time to practice today and wasn't feeling super motivated so I decided to play along to the first 6 tunes that came up with my BB set on random.
They were:
"Softly As In A Morning Sunrise"- Art Pepper
"Where Is the Next One Coming From"- Buddy Guy
"Strange Waters"- Bruce Cockburn
"There is Something On Your Mind"- Buddy Guy
"Bug In a Rug'- Steve Swallow
"Clamptown" - The Clash

I find this is a great way to work on making quick decisions (I would count only the first and last tune as ones I know particularly well) as well as being stylistically appropriate on each tune. I don't want to sound like Jazz drummer playing with the Clash anymore than I want to sound like a Blues drummer playing with Art Pepper. I like to think of it like acting. If someone's in a Tarantino film it's unlikely they would be speaking Shakespearian English. Play the gig, even if it's only you listening.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Reason #846 that DeJohnette is so heavy!

Hey y'all,
I'm just posting about a theory of mine regarding Jack DeJohnette's playing.

I think he approaches the drums like it's not his main instrument. Now before you scream blasphemy ( I would too ) give me a second to explain myself. Firstly, Jack can play the drums like no other. He has a brilliant command of the instrument, coordination, sound, styles. you name it. He's incredibly creative yet consistent and I feel his playing is nothing short of visionary. What is especially consistent is ability to get straight to the music and not get hung up on mundane details about the drums. This "drums as opposed to music" vibe is a mode of thinking many drummers (myself included) often get caught up in. That's what I mean about Jack DeJohnette playing like drums isn't his main instrument. Do you think he worries if his floor tom is 2" further away from him one night on the road? Do you think he cares who the latest flavour of the month in the drum magazines is? The man is completely free. Free to let the music flow through him without a bunch of nonsense getting in the way.

Now let's dig Gateway. A great trio featuring Dave Holland, John Abercrombie, and Jack DeJohnette. In this clip Jack's conduit to the music is the drums but I feel as great a drummer as he is, he's a musician first. Definitely something for all of us to strive toward.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Inside the drummer's studio, Installment 5!

Wow, I'm becoming a regular Jazz Barbara Walters here.
I'm very excited today to post my interview with none other than Steve Swallow!

Here's just a short summary of some of the music he's responsible for!

Steve Swallow was born in New York City in 1940, and spent his childhood in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. Before turning to the acoustic bass at age 14, he studied piano (with Howard Kasschau, who also taught Nelson Riddle) and trumpet. His otherwise miserable adolescence was brightened by his discovery of jazz. He took many of his first stabs at improvisation with Ian Underwood (who subsequently became a Mother Of Invention and an L.A. studio ace), with whom he attended a swank New England private school.

During his years at Yale University he studied composition with Donald Martino, and played dixieland with many of the greats, among them Pee Wee Russell, Buck Clayton and Vic Dickenson. In 1960 he met Paul and Carla Bley, left Yale in a hurry, moved to New York City, and began to tour and record with Paul Bley, The Jimmy Giuffre Trio and George Russell’s sextet, which featured Eric Dolphy and Thad Jones. He also performed in the early ‘60s with Joao Gilberto, Sheila Jordan, and bands led by Benny Goodman, Marian McPartland, Chico Hamilton, Al Cohn and Zoot Sims, Clark Terry and Bob Brookmeyer, and Chick Corea.

In 1964 he joined the Art Farmer Quartet featuring Jim Hall, and began writing music. Many of his songs have been recorded by prominent jazz artists, including Bill Evans, Chick Corea, Stan Getz, Gary Burton, Art Farmer, Phil Woods, Jack DeJohnette, Steve Kuhn, Lyle Mays, Jim Hall and Pat Metheny. And he was sampled by A Tribe Called Quest.

He toured from late 1965 through 1967 with the Stan Getz Quartet, which also included Gary Burton (replaced in 1967 by Chick Corea) and Roy Haynes. In 1968 he left Getz to join Gary Burton’s quartet, an association he maintained, with occasional time off for good behavior, for 20 years. He has performed on more than 20 of Burton’s recordings, the most recent being Six Pack, released in 1992.

In 1970 he switched from acoustic to electric bass and moved to Bolinas, California, where he wrote music for Hotel Hello, a duet album for ECM with Gary Burton. Returning to the East Coast in 1974, he taught for two long years at the Berklee College of Music. In 1976 he was awarded a National Endowment For The Arts grant to set poems by Robert Creeley to music, which resulted in another ECM album, Home. He performed with such diverse artists as Dizzy Gillespie, Michael Brecker, George Benson and Herbie Hancock, and recorded with Stan Getz (on an album featuring Joao Gilberto), Bob Moses, Steve Lacy, Michael Mantler and Kip Hanrahan. He also played on recordings produced by Hal Willner, on tracks featuring, among others, Carla Bley, Dr. John and James Taylor.

In 1978 he joined the Carla Bley Band. He continues to perform and record with her extensively, in various contexts.

He toured and recorded often with John Scofield from 1980 to 1984, first in trio with drummer Adam Nussbaum, and then in duet. He has since toured often with Scofield, and has also produced several of his recordings.

He has also co-produced many albums with Carla Bley for her record companies WATT and XtraWATT, including Night-Glo (1985), which she wrote to feature him, and Carla (1987), a collection of his songs featuring her. In 1987 he also produced the first of four albums for the British saxophonist Andy Sheppard. In the ensuing years he produced recordings for Karen Mantler, Lew Soloff and Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, and recorded and/or toured with, among others, Joe Lovano, Motohiko Hino, Ernie Watts, Michael Gibbs, Rabih Abou-Khalil, Paul Bley, Henri Texier and Allen Ginsberg.

In 1988 he and Carla Bley began performing duet concerts in Europe, the United States, South America and Japan. Duets, an album of their songs arranged for piano and bass, was released in 1988, and a second recording, Go Together, in 1993.

In December of 1989 he reunited, after 27 years, with Jimmy Giuffre and Paul Bley to record two discs for Owl Records entitled The Life Of A Trio. This trio toured frequently until Spring of 1995, and recorded for Owl and Soul Note Records.

In 1991 he composed and produced Swallow, an XtraWATT recording featuring his five-string bass and several of his longtime associates, including Gary Burton, John Scofield and Steve Kuhn.

He recorded often in the nineties. John Scofield and Pat Metheny’s I Can See Your House From Here, on which he played with drummer Bill Stewart, was released on Blue Note Records; this quartet toured in the summer of 1994. Real Book, his third XtraWATT disc, was recorded in December of 1993 and released in 1994; its cast included Tom Harrell, Joe Lovano, Mulgrew Miller and Jack DeJohnette.

In Spring of 1994 he was featured at the London Jazz Festival in a concert of his compositions with lyrics written and sung by Norma Winstone. 1994 also contained concert appearances in Japan with Steve Kuhn and in Europe with The Very Big Carla Bley Band, Jimmy Giuffre and Paul Bley, The Paul Motian Electric BeBop Band, Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, and Carla Bley and Andy Sheppard. A live recording of this trio, Songs With Legs, was released on WATT in early 1995, at which time they again toured Europe. He also recorded in Spring of 1995 with Steve Kuhn, Michael Franks, John Taylor, Pierre Favre and Julian Arguelles. In July he and Carla Bley performed duets in Brazil, and in the fall returned to Europe for a lengthy tour.

In Spring of 1996 he found himself again touring Europe, first with Bley and Sheppard and then with John Scofield and Bill Stewart. He subsequently co-produced and played on Scofield’s first album for Verve Records, Quiet. He also co-produced and played on The Carla Bley Big Band Goes To Church, recorded live at Umbria Jazz in Perugia, Italy, and toured and recorded with Paul Motian.

In November of ‘96 he introduced the Steve Swallow Quintet, with Chris Potter, Ryan Kisor (subsequently replaced by Barry Ries), Mick Goodrick and Adam Nussbaum, to audiences in Europe, and recorded with this group after its tour. The resulting album, Deconstructed, features his compositions based on classic Tin Pan Alley song structures; it was released in early 1997.

He toured relentlessly in 1997 with Trio 2000 (with Paul Motian and Chris Potter), Carla Bley, John Scofield and several others, and recorded with several diverse artists, including Henri Texier (with Lee Konitz and Bob Brookmeyer), Glen Moore, Ettore Fioravanti and Michel Portal. He also produced the first of two recording by French drummer/composer Christophe Marguet.

In the Spring of 1998 he toured and recorded with Lee Konitz and Paul Motian, and toured with Brazilian guitarist Paulo Bellinati. He also participated with Carla Bley in the Copenhagen Jazzvisits program, and was nominated for the 1999 Danish Jazzpar. In April he directed and performed his music for big band with the Harvard University Jazz Band, and in June recorded with pianist Christian Jacob. In July he participated in a tour presenting the concert version of Carla Bley’s Escalator Over The Hill, and toured in trio with Lee Konitz and Paul Bley. He toured in the Fall with Paul Motian’s Electric BeBop Band, and with John Scofield and Bill Stewart. He also performed in duo with Carla Bley, which resulted in a third Duets CD entitled Are We There Yet?

In March and April of 1999 he toured again with his quintet. Reviewing the band’s performance at Ronnie Scott’s Club in the Times of London, Chris Parker wrote “...this was as near a perfect display of small-group jazz - robust yet exquisitely poised, cogent but surprisingly delicate - as has been heard in London in recent years.” An XtraWATT CD entitled Always Pack Your Uniform On Top, recorded live at Ronnie’s, was released shortly thereafter.

2000 proceeded apace. After a return to Tokyo with Carla Bley, this time performing Fancy Chamber Music, and to Sao Paulo performing Duets, he roamed Europe again with Paulo Bellinati. European festival-goers found him with Bobby Previte in July, and with John Scofield in August. In September he reunited with Lee Konitz and Paul Bley for appearances in the USA, and then returned to Europe for further tours with Bobby Previte and Carla Bley.

2001 proved adventurous. After a Spring Trios tour with Carla Bley and Andy Sheppard, he toured and recorded with Gerard Marais in France, recorded with Michael Gibbs (with a band of elite studio sharks) in New York City, with Bobby Previte (with Ray Anderson, Wayne Horvitz and Marty Ehrlich) in rustic Pennsylvania, and with Wolfi Puschnig (with Victor Lewis and Don Alias) in industrial Hoboken. In the Fall he also recorded with Akira Ishii, Arrigo Cappilletti, Maria Pia DeVito and Giovanni Mazzarino, and toured with Scofield, Bley and Previte. The year thundered to a conclusion with a triumphant tour and live recording by Damaged In Transit, Swallow’s trio featuring Chris Potter and Adam Nussbaum. An XtraWATT CD followed soon after.

2002 yielded further excitement. After the customary Spring Trios tour, Swallow directed the Bohuslan Big Band, based in Goteborg, Sweden, in performances of his compositions and arrangements, and then toured Scandinavia with Jonas Johansen and Hans Ulrik. After another Bobby Previte tour and work with Maria Pia DeVito, he barnstormed the summer festival circuit with Carla Bley’s big band. In the waning days of summer he participated in the recording of L’Histoire Du Clochard, a Palmetto Records CD featuring arrangements by Ohad Talmor of his music. He then returned to Europe for performances with John Taylor and with Wolfi Puschnig, and toured the USA with Bobby Previte. After a quick trip to Korea for a one-nighter with Carla Bley and Andy Sheppard, he returned to Europe for the year’s breathless finish, with singer Antonio Placer and Paulo Bellinati.

The pace hardly slackened in 2003, which began with Eurotours with Bobby Previte, Gerard Marais, Antonio Placer and in duo with Paulo Bellinati. Swallow returned home in June to do his laundry and to pick up Carla, with whom he ventured to Porto, Portugal, for a memorable big band concert in a magnificent Rem Koolhaas concert hall, at the time still under construction. Carla’s big band then toured briefly in the USA. Swallow worked often during the second half of the year with John Scofield and Bill Stewart, detouring in September to play with Ulrik and Johansen. The Fall also saw the birth of Carla Bley’s new quartet, The Lost Chords; drummer Billy Drummond joined Bley, Sheppard and Swallow. The band toured and recorded an eponymous album in November. A December engagement at the Blue Note in New York City with Scofield and Stewart also yielded a live album, En Route.

A trio tour with We Three, a cooperative band with Dave Liebman and Adam Nussbaum, began the 2004 season. Yet another tour with Bobby Previte followed, and gave way to work with Nussbaum and pianist Giovanni Mazzerino. This summer’s traditional European festival dance was performed with Scofield and Stewart. Kip Hanrahan called, and Swallow found himself in a trendy SoHo studio in August with a roomful of great drummers and percussionists. September was spent in the company of Scofield and Stewart. After yet another round with Ulrik and Johansen (this trio had come to be called Tin Pan Aliens), and a brief stint with Puschnig, a Lost Chords tour wrapped up the year.

Spring of 2005 was spent once again in the company of Scofield and Stewart, and in May We Three repaired to a studio in upstate New York to record their debut CD, Three For All. In August Swallow, his old friend Steve Kuhn and the Cikada Quartet recorded music written by the bassist to poems written and read by Robert Creeley. The album, titled So There, was released in November 2006. In a review of it in the New York Times, Ben Ratliff said “It’s a record with a soul, remarkably curious and thoughtful…” September of 2005 was spent with the Lost Chords, October with Antonio Placer and Ohad Talmor, and November with Scofield. He also recorded in duet with pianist Deidre Rodman for Sunnyside Records.

2006 began with a We Three tour, and proceeded to projects with Scofield and with Bley. In June Swallow reunited with Gary Burton and Pat Metheny (with drummer Antonio Sanchez) for concerts in Japan and the USA, which were recorded for future release. He spent the summer happily with Carla Bley in a variety of contexts, which included a big band tour of the European festivals. He also flew to Ludwigsburg, Germany to record with Kenny Wheeler and John Taylor. September was spent touring and recording with the Scofield trio, October with Tin Pan Aliens and again with Scofield, and November with Ohad Talmor. He also recorded in Brooklyn with Pietro Tonolo, in the company of Gil Goldstein and Paul Motian. The year ended with a joyous concert of Christmas carols directed by Carla Bley.

In spring 2007 our intrepid bassist toured first with Scofield, then with Bley (with The Lost Chords and Paolo Fresu). A recording made in France at the end of their tour produced a WATT CD, which was released later that year. While in France he also recorded with Jean-Sebastien Simonoviez. After an appearance at Zankel Hall in New York City with Lee Konitz, Swallow galloped across Europe with Liebman and Nussbaum in July and played duets with Pat Metheny in August. The fall began with a trip to Sweden, to record an album of his music with the Bohuslan Big Band. This album, called Swallow Songs, was released in early 2008. Tin Pan Aliens also recorded again, with guests Bobo Stenson and Ulf Wakenius. After a tour of the UK with Michael Gibbs’ band, he polished off the year with further tours with Bley and Scofield.

Carla Bley beckoned again in early 2008; Swallow gladly signed onto a trio tour with her and Andy Sheppard. This was followed by lots of work with Scofield, in the company of Bill Stewart and a motley horn section. The usual summer European frolic was accomplished first with Bley, and then with Burton/Metheny. The fall promises work in trio with Talmor and Nussbaum, and with Enrico Pieranunzi and Paul Motian. Will it never end?

Steve Swallow has placed first (electric bass) in the Downbeat International Critics Poll since 1983, and in the Downbeat Readers Poll since 1985. He has also won the Jazz Times poll (electric bass) for the past several years, and has been voted the Jazz Journalists Association's electric bassist of the year since 2001, when that category was instituted. He lives now in contented isolation with Carla Bley, in the mountains of upstate New York.

Mr. Swallow was kind enough to answer my questions while touring through the wilds of Montana. He responded with great insight, thoughtfulness, and humour.

1. You're a very prolific composer. Do you have any specific techniques for getting started if you're not feeling particularly inspired to write?

I wish I did. The initial hours, or in my case often days or even weeks, of the songwriting process are the most agonizing for me. Early in my composing career I sat at the piano and noodled until I hit upon something I liked, but I've stopped that practice; I found that when I did that I was cycling through all the most banal material I knew. Now I try to sit at the piano as still and alert as I can, with my hands folded neatly in my lap, until a germ of an idea appears. This often takes days. But once I have an idea that interests me the process becomes much more engaging. It's time then to put on the crisply starched lab coat, to analyze what I've got, how it sounds backwards, upside down, and backwards and upside down, to examine its rhythmic possibilities, to wonder where it's going. At the end of that procedure, there's usually a finished tune.

I do have one trick I've used successfully a couple of times to thwart writer's block. That is to paste a bunch of Robert Creeley's poems onto the piano's music stand, and to stare at them until they yield a musical phrase. He's been my saviour on several occasions.

2. You were a very early adopter of forming your own label and also having your sheet music available for download on your website. Was this inspired by the changes you saw in the music industry over the course of your career?

I've never had my own label, but I've helped Carla Bley administer hers, and it's a lot of work. But the advantages are enormous; you control the pace at which you release your work, and exercise absolute control over its content. Pressure from a label to produce a certain kind of music can be insidious; I feel particularly fortunate to be free to record what I like. Fortunately too, it's become easier over the years to record and manufacture CDs, and the internet has provided a means of distribution that used to be monopolized by a few powerful record companies.

I've made it a point to make print versions of my songs freely available to anyone who might have use for them. My attitudes on this issue were formed at the time the Real Book appeared. I knew the guys who made that book; they came to me to ask if they could include some of my tunes in it. It was clear they were unable to maintain a structure to pay copyright royalties, but in the end I felt the over-riding issue was to make my music available to as many players as possible. I've seen this attitude vindicated over the years, and I've decided to make my songs available for free download on My hope is that those songs will sustain a life of their own in the hands of players who have visited that site. I wrote those songs to be played, and I feel obliged to do what I can to further that aim.

3. When you were making the transition to full time electric bass playing, was if difficult to go from plucking the acoustic bass with your fingers to electric bass with a pick?

When I first switched to electric bass I played it with my fingers, but I was unhappy with the sound and articulation I was getting. I'd had the good fortune to play with a succession of excellent electric guitar players, and I looked to them for inspiration. I was particularly moved by Jim Hall's sound and phrasing; I'd played with him for a couple of years with Art Farmer. I came to realize that, paradoxically, I could get a more singing sound and phrasing with the pick than I could with my fingers, so I set about learning to play with one. It took a while; I dropped a lot of picks on the gig and caused a fair amount of consternation within the front line, but I persisted anyway, and I'm glad I did.

4. You have worked with most of the great drummers out there. (Roy Haynes, Pete LaRoca, Jack DeJohnette, Adam Nussbaum, to name a few). Do you have any favorites to work with and/or people you think you have an especially
deep musical connection with?

I'm reluctant to name names, for fear of leaving someone out. Clearly, the drummer I'm next to on the bandstand is the guy I'm most focused on; it's a very intimate and intense relationship. If things don't go well with the drummer I'm left with an incredibly sore lower back by the end of the gig, the product I suppose of trying to force the music into a smooth, relaxed flow. Of course, this can't be done. Either you find a groove with a drummer or you don't, and sometimes I'm surprised that it's not there with a highly regarded drummer, or that it's magically there with a drummer of less renown. I like that you refer to a "deep musical connection." Really connecting with a drummer involves so much more than the placement of beats; touch, dynamics, the drums' tuning, the drummer's response to what's going on elsewhere on the bandstand and many other factors are equally crucial.

5. Do you have a favorite composition of yours, or do you have more of a "They're all my children, I love them equally" attitude toward them?

They're all my children. At the time of its conception, each one was my favorite.

6. Finally, according to Wikipedia, your classic composition "Eiderdown" was the first tune you wrote. True, or could the internet actually have gotten something wrong? :)

The internet is more or less correct on this one. I had written many student exercises, and several failed attempts at tunes, prior to Eiderdown, but I'd discarded them all. I wrote Eiderdown in Berlin, at the instigation of Pete LaRoca. We were rooming together at the time, in 1964, on the road with Art Farmer and Jim Hall. Pete remarked one night that I'd been talking a great game about songwriting but had no actual songs to show for all the talk, and challenged me to write one. I took him up on it. Luckily, the song came out well enough that Art began playing it. Flush with success, I figured song writing was a piece of cake, and set about to write hundreds more. I often wish I'd failed, come to my senses and stuck to playing the bass, but here I am, still whacking away at songwriting, for better or worse.

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm feeling unbelievably inspired! Speaking of which, here's a couple of clips that demonstrate (despite being on 2 different instruments and separated by 40 years) Steve Swallow's passion and musicality no matter the situation. The first is Jim Hall's trio with Pete LaRoca (from the Art Farmer band mentioned in the interview) playing "I'm Getting Sentimental over You" and the second is John Scofield's trio with Bill Stewart playing "Green Tea".
2 guitar trios, two different basses, pure music.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Are you a drummer or a cymbaler?

Hey people,
I wanted to mention a couple of things I've been thinking about.
One of the things that makes drum set such a fascinating instrument is that is actually 2 instruments in 1. Drums and cymbals. Now I view the drum kit as one instrument (see my earlier rant on "don't call it a kick drum") but drums and cymbals can also function as instruments by themselves too. How we balance these 2 groups of instruments can really change the sound of the music we are making. It's sometimes good to visualize the different parts of the drum set and what they imply to us. I see the cymbals as sky bound, airy, sorts of sounds, whereas the drums are very earthy and on the ground. Also they can be seen as the long (cymbals) and short (drums) sounds of the instrument, with hi-hat functioning both ways, depending on the application.

Let's look at some ways great drummers have applied these concepts.

Here's a great recording of Jack DeJohnette playing with Keith Jarrett and Gary Peacock on "When I Fall in Love'. Notice how Jack creates a whole sonic universe with only cymbals. He uses tons of space, extreme dynamics, playing tempo but creating very freely within it, and even switches to mallets for the very end. Beautiful! Drums? Who needs 'em?!!!!

...And now for something completely different.
This is a tune from Peter Gabriel's 4th solo release "Security'. The song is "Shock the Monkey' and it has no cymbals on it. It features some very interesting drum machine programming (despite what I mentioned several blogs ago about the dearth of innovative drum machine programming in the 80s, Gabriel was always pushing the envelope). Notice how the lack of long sounds from the drum set adds to the creepy, claustrophobic feeling of the tune. Brilliant! Let's throw all our cymbals away!

Finally, some players split the drumset in 2 parts even in their physical set-up. Check out Terry Bozzio in this clip and notice how he tends to spend time either playing mainly drums or cymbals, I think partially because of where they're physically placed. It's like he's the conductor and is pitting different parts of the orchestra against each other.

There's lots of ways to orchestrate this instrument and sometimes the most exciting creative music comes from what parts of the drum set we don't play.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Inside the Drummer's Studio Installment 4, or "Say it IS so, Joe."

Hey everyone,
Today I'm very excited to be posting some questions I posed to the great Joe La Barbera.

...and for those of you not familiar with his work (for shame!), here's a recent bio...

Joe La Barbera enjoys a rewarding and varied career in music which takes him all over the world with some of the finest names in jazz. He is regarded by his peers as a musical drummer and a supportive accompanist. Jazz great Bill Evans summed it up best when he said that “Joe is very dedicated to playing quality music, and he’s willing to make the concessions of dues toward that end. He’s a top soloist and he does the right thing at the right time.”

Born in Mt. Morris, New York, his first musical experiences began at home as part of the family band with his parents and two older brothers, saxophonist Pat and trumpeter and arranger/composer John La Barbera. From his father he received a solid foundation in drumming as well as lessons on clarinet and saxophone. His education continued at the Berklee College of Music in Boston where his teachers included John LaPorta, Charlie Mariano, Herb Pomeroy and the great Alan Dawson.

After Berklee and two years with the U.S. Army band at Fort Dix, New Jersey, Joe began his professional career with Woody Herman and the Thundering Herd. The Chuck Mangione Quartet followed with gigs ranging from jazz clubs with the small group to symphony halls with full orchestra. Then it was onto New York and a fruitful two-year period of freelancing with Jim Hall, Phil Woods, Art Farmer, Gary Burton, Art Pepper, John Scofield, Bob Brookmeyer and Toots Thielmans to name just a few.

In 1978 Joe was asked to join Bill Evans in what was to become a landmark trio, widely regarded as one of Evan’s finest. After Bill Evans untimely death in 1980, Joe joined singing great Tony Bennett, touring internationally for over a decade.

Since settling in Los Angeles in 1987, Joe has worked with many well known jazz artists over the years, including Lee Konitz, Bill Mays, Eddie Daniels, Toots Thielemans, Larry Goldings, Dave Liebman, Bill Cunliffe, Alan Pasqua, brother Pat La Barbera, Bud Shank, Conte Candoli and Teddy Edwards. Recently Joe was reunited with Bob Brookmeyer for memorable performances of Bob’s New Arts Ensemble in Los Angeles. The Joe La Barbera Quintet remains active with concerts at the Rochester International Jazz Festival and dates in Seattle, San Diego and the Los Angeles area. Joe’s latest CD, Native Land, received unanimous praises from reviewers and fans alike.

On the international scene, Joe has toured Europe with Eddie Gomez, Rosario Giuliani, Joe Locke, Don Friedman, John Proulx, Philip Catherine, Kenny Wheeler, Bassline (with Hein Van De Geyn and John Abercrombie) and the renowned WDR Radio Orchestra. This year Joe toured Europe with performances at the Umbria Jazz Festival, Fribourg Jazz Festival and Dinant Jazz Festival.

Joe has also toured Japan extensively with artists such as Lee Konitz, Karrin Allyson, Roberta Gamberini and the prestigious 100 Golden Fingers tour featuring piano greats Junior Mance, Cedar Walton, Kenny Baron and Don Friedman among others. This year, he will tour Japan with with his own Quartet including brother Pat La Barbera and Grammy Award winning pianist and composer Bill Cunliffe.
Joe’s discography continues to grow with the latest CDs from Enrico Pieranunzi, Ken Peplowski, Eddie Daniels, Joe Locke, Rosario Giuliani, Eden Atwood, Don Friedman, Bill Mays and the Grammy Award winning Resonance Big Band.

Since 1993, Joe has been on the faculty of California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California. He has served on the National Endowment for the Arts council in Washington D.C. and has been a guest clinician and lecturer at many universities and colleges including The Eastman School of Music, North Texas State, University of Nevada in Las Vegas, McGill University in Montreal, Humber College in Toronto, University of Louisville, Cornish College, Mannes College and Arizona State University. In 2010, Joe was again on the faculty of the 19th annual Festival Ren Contres de Contrabasse in Cap Breton, France. In 2011 he will be touring extensivley in Europe, Japan and New Zealand and will be in residence at the Jazz Cool Roma and the Cap Breton Jazz School and Festival in France.

Phew! The man is in demand. Joe graciously agreed to answer my questions and his responses (like his drumming itself) were thoughtful and sensitive.

1. You come from a very musical family (Joe's brother John, is a accomplished and well known Composer/Arranger and his other sibling Pat is one of the leading Jazz Saxophonists in the world today) and were surrounded by music from en early age, I imagine. Do you think there's any way for a young player to artificially create an environment like that for him/herself?

I don’t think that it would be possible to recreate that particular environment without the support of your family. Certainly a person on his or her own can immerse themselves fully and single-mindedly into music but it would not be the same thing. My father had studied music (on his own) and led bands from the 1920’s until my brothers and I came along, so he was well prepared to continue this legacy with his own family. Try to imagine being born into a home where music was a primary part of life. Now add to this a house full of instruments: 3 pianos (no waiting) all the brass and woodwind, 2 string basses and of course, drums. There was even a violin that Pat started to learn but it wasn’t his axe. We each received personal instruction from my father daily. I studied drums, clarinet and alto sax from Pop. John had trumpet and piano and Pat got clarinet and sax lessons. My mother learned bass from Pop and joined the band when I was able to keep a decent beat. We did everything together as a family from Boy Scouts (3 Eagle Scouts thanks to our parents) vacations and of course, the music.

2. From your teaching experiences (at Cal Arts, among others) do you find there are things that young musicians, particularly drummers, might be missing from their playing currently?

I feel that there is a noticeable lack of melodic phrasing from many younger players not just drummers, even some who are highly regarded in the jazz world. By this I don’t mean quoting or playing the melody, but having a melodic flow to improvisation in general. When I was a student listening to this music, everyone from Miles to Blue Mitchell had the quality I am referring to. At his most abstract, Coltrane always possessed a melodic sense. My students are required to listen to a list of recordings that include artists from Lester Young to Tony Williams. Through this listening process, my goal is that some of the melodic lines that other instrumentalists use will hopefully sink in. I know that in my own development this was a crucial element.

3. The area of Rochester NY has produced many fine musicians ( you and your brothers, Steve Gadd, to name a few). Was there a particularly fertile environment for a young musician when you were growing up there?

There always seemed to be good music happening in the western New York area, either in Rochester, Buffalo or Syracuse so we were able to see and hear many greats when we were still in high school. People like John Coltrane, Dave Brubeck and Stan Getz are three that I can remember experiencing live that had a huge impact. The local players were equally impressive including Chuck and Gap Mangione (where I first heard Steve Gadd at 18!) Joe Romano, Roy McCurdy and Vinnie Ruggiero. Also, the Buffalo players were important to us. Sam Noto, Larry Covelli and Don Menza were heroes whom we always went to hear. The first name drummer I ever heard live was Gene Krupa, who played a week gig in my home town of Mt. Morris in 1957. The scene would fluctuate from time to time and from city to city but for the most part, we enjoyed a lot of great music nearby.

4. In some of your clinics, you've mentioned your fascination with the piano. Did this result from your association with Bill Evans or did it start earlier than that?

It started a lot earlier. My father wanted to give me piano lessons but I foolishly rebelled because I already was practicing 3 instruments. How I wish I had listened. In any event, I was drawn to the piano because of hearing Bill Evans on records. His sound just captivated me. I would try to recreate some of his harmonies on the piano and learn tunes by ear.

5. Did Bill Evans ever show you anything specific on the piano ( or mention anything specific about he preferred his music to be played) or was everything worked out by playing?

I used to stay at Bill’s apartment whenever I worked a gig in the city, even if it was for someone else. Bill would lay in bed most of the day so I would play the piano and he would comment and occasionally come out and show me some things. Most real piano players would kill for an opportunity like that.

6. If you ever get time to, what sort of things do you work on as a drummer these days?

I am fascinated by metric relationships these days and work on that a lot. Being able to feel 5 and 7 over 2 makes it so much easier to deal in those time signatures and allows you to bring ideas in those meters back to 4/4.

7. Can you name a live performance/recording that had a particularly profound affect on you?

I would have to say hearing Coltrane in Rochester when I was 14 was very important. Pat was the driving force behind all of these events for me. What impressed me was the dedication Coltrane showed to his performance that evening. We arrived at the beginning of the first set while they were playing “My Favorite Things” and of course it was amazing. Roy Haynes was on drums, subbing for Elvin and he was killing. When the set ended, Coltrane went into the dressing room and practiced for the entire break after which the second set started. This process was repeated 3 times during the evening which meant that Coltrane never stopped playing all night. From what I have read about him during this period, he was following this routine daily. My brothers and I cornered McCoy out front and talked his ears off for the first break and he was a total groove.

Thanks so much Joe.

here's a couple of videos of Joe in action. One with Bill Evans and Marc Johnson in '79 and the other from 2008 with Joe Locke's group. Note that even at Joe LaBarbera"s level of playing, he keeps improving and refining his art. Very inspiring.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Metronome fun(?)

Why you, I oughta................

Just thought I'd share with you a couple of things I've been working on. The first thing is from Victor Wooten's great book The Music Lesson. Buy it here.
This exercise involves playing any simple groove along with the metronome assigning the click to any of the four 16th notes of the bar. Playing along with the click on the +s wasn't so challenging, but the e and ah was definitely creating some colourful language in the practise space today! To create more of a challenge (and because I'm a masochist) I did the same idea with swing rhythms and had the metronome playing on the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd beats of the triplet. Oh, btw, all of these were done with the metronome at quarter note = 50 bpm. Plenty of margin for error there if you aren't really feeling that tempo. A couple of things I like about these exercises are that when you're playing to a click that's on the beat, if your time is reasonably accurate, it gets easy to disengage and not really listen to the metronome. With putting the machine on upbeats, there's no way to do that. You have to really play with this device. Also, it gets us as drummers more acclimatized to having things thrown at us. (Which isn't usually the case. As far as rhythmic trickery usually goes, most drummers have the adage "Tis better to give than receive"). If you can play strongly and effectively while the click is on the middle beat of the triplet, you are definitely holding your own.

I would warn, however, that this is just one way to work on the accuracy of your time. With the swing rhythm especially, there is quite a bit of leeway in the swing feel and some great grooves may not be even close to being mechanically "perfect". Make sure you're playing along to people like Tony Williams, Billy Higgins, Elvin, etc. No machine will ever be able to create time like that! The click is an important tool, but if it moves from being a partner to a master that has to be worshipped, we end up with music like the stuff that was popular in the 80s and a lot of that is, frankly, unlistenable.

So click and then don't click!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Music and parenthood

I've just gotten some very good news from great musician and blogger Jon McCaslin that he's going to be a Dad. That reminded me of a couple of truisms I've discovered about musicianship and parenting. The first thing is that every musician who is a parent to be is always worried that they're are going to becoming a worse musician after they have their child. The second thing is that all of them become better musicians after they have kids. I have seen both these things occur time and time again, as well as experiencing it firsthand.
I think everyone thinks that after the baby is born they won't have time to practice, their attention will be divided, etc. etc. but as I mentioned time and time again, from Renee Rosnes to Jim Vivian, to David Occhipinti and countless others, I have seen a new maturity, fire, and completeness to their playing than before they had children. Yet when you ask any of them if they practiced more during the first 5 years or so of their child's life than before that, they'd ask you if someone dropped you on your head in your first 5 years of life. So, how did they all get better? Well, I have a few theories.

1. It is impossible to obsess about yourself when you're a young parent.
At least to the same degree that people without kids do. When I was younger and didn't have my daughter, I spent an unhealthy amount of time thinking about me. My career, my chops, my gear, etc. After I became a father (and with a lot of help from my wife) I started being mainly concerned with the well-being of my family. I literally didn't have time to "sweat the small stuff". What that translated to on the bandstand was less focus on myself musically and a lot less fear. If you're responsible for the life or death of a young human, how hard can it be to play music by comparison?

2. People with very little time to spare learn how to make very good use of it.
After my daughter was born, I was amazed when I realized how much time I wasted before I was a father. Not just watching T.V. and goofing off in general either. Even when I practiced, I rushed through things, let my mind wander and wasn't engaged etc. When a new parent only gets to see their instrument for 1/2 an hour once a week, you better believe they'll use the time effectively, and enjoy it too!

3. Being exhausted makes it very hard to be tense and over think things
The first 18 months I was a parent I lived (like all new parents) in a fatigue induced fog. It was like I was on some really powerful hallucinogen that I knew how to come down from (by getting some sleep) but never got a chance to. They do this to people in cults too. Why? So they don't spend any time reasoning through things. What that translates to in playing is a directness and stripping away of artifice. I was also literally too tired to keep my body and mind tense and judgmental the way I used to. Finally, I found that suddenly I could nap whenever I had a chance and also could manage a certain professional level of playing no matter how little sleep I'd had. (Both are very helpful when on the road.)

4. The little human at your house doesn't care how well or bad you play.
You played well tonight, your kid needs you to feed him/her, change him/her, hold him/her, and love him/her.
You played poorly tonight, same deal. Kids teach us there are a lot more important things in life than our own egos.

In closing I'd like to say that there are a lot of great wonderful, and caring musicians that don't have children. There are a lot of ways to develop a more worldly view besides having kids. I just think that when you become a parent, a more profound view of the world just can't be avoided. So if you or your partner is expecting, dive into it with all your heart and soul.

...It's the longest gig you'll ever'll do it for the rest of your life, in fact.

....It's also the best gig you'll ever do. Enjoy it!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Get Writing!

Hi everyone,
There's some very exciting news as far as interviews go, so stay tuned....

Now on to our regularly scheduled trap'd.....
I always encourage drummers to not shy away from composition. I feel drummers have a unique perspective and often create unusual and original tunes. We can often feel intimidated by possibly knowing less about melody (and harmony) than some of our determinate pitch counterparts but I recently read an interview with Jack DeJohnette where he equates improvising beats and fills to composition. All we have to do as drummers is to apply the same principles to actual pitches. As usual, Mr. DeJohnette has linked everything together in his brilliant and Zen-like way. So using this free and open attitude, I'd like to share a few ideas about writing that have helped me a lot.

1. Just get started.
Don't worry that you have to write some glorious symphony, just write anything. At any instrument you choose (piano, guitar, voice, or even the drums) start playing with pitches.
When you get any sort of fragment that you like, write it down or record it.

2. Don't worry if you've heard the melody before.
If you find your melody is too close to something that's already done you can a) reverse the order of pitches, b) add pitches, c) subtract pitches, d) change the time signature, etc. You can try these techniques even if you don't think you're borrowing too much from another tune and they might set your melody off in a new direction. Don't be afraid to be playful and irreverent with your melodies.

3. Fool around with bass notes underneath your melody and voila, harmony is born.
If you find a top note (usually melody) and a bottom note (usually the root) the rest of the chord can usually be filled in from there. If you have trouble figuring this out, piano players guitarists you know can help you with this. Don't be shy! If a fellow musician wanted to ask you about rhythm, wouldn't you be happy to help him/her out?

4. You don't have to write your own set of chord changes.
A tried and true technique in jazz composition is the contrafact. That's just a fancy way of saying a new melody over an existing set of chords.
Try putting a melody on a simple blues.
The chords would be (each chord is one bar of 4/4 long)
F7 F7 F7 F7
B flat7 B flat7 F7 F7
C7 C7 F7 F7

(If you need help figuring out the notes in these chords, ask a piano playing friend, or you can look it up online).
The cool thing about a blues is it's usually grouped in 3 groups of 4 bars (like the way I have it set up above). Any even cooler thing about the blues is that if you write a nice catchy 4 bar riff, it will fit over the other 8 bars as well.
So all you have to write is 4 bars, and the harmony is provided for you. That's not so hard, is it?

I'll close with a great example of a "riff style" composition like I was describing above.
This is "C Jam Blues". (Note that the little solo breaks the musicians take are an extra 4 bars, and the form starts on the solos once the rhythm section kicks in.)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Good News.... and Daniel Humair

Hey all,
Just posting an article about the new club in KW which I'm artistic director for. The people at The Grand River Jazz Society are very committed, enthusiastic, yet realistic at the same time. I'm very excited to have this opportunity to have a hand in presenting music in Southwestern Ontario and it's a responsibility I'm going to take very seriously.

WATERLOO REGION — Stephen Preece is talking jazz.

“It’s a dynamite space,” Preece says of the Jazz Room.

The Jazz Room is the venue for the recently formed Grand River Jazz Society. It is located in the historic Huether Hotel at King and Princess streets in Waterloo.

The stage is under construction. The society is buying a Yamaha grand piano for the club. From this September to next June the society plans to stage 80 shows.

“It’s an ambitious program, that is a lot of music,” says Preece, the executive director of the Grand River Jazz Society.

Saturday night shows will feature out-of-town artists. Friday nights will feature local acts.

“I think this is the sweet spot right here,” Preece says, standing where a couple of custom-built tables will be located in front of the stage.

The Grand River Jazz Society is a not-for-profit group so it can apply for grants.

“I just talked to the Ontario Arts Council. They see the potential for a network of jazz clubs in Ontario in different cities,” Preece says.

“This is a musician-centred thing. That is why we are not-for-profit,” Preece says. “We are going to treat the musicians well and pay them well.”

The Huether Hotel will make money on the sale of alcohol and food. The jazz society will rely on memberships, which will cost about $300, and cover charges at the door. If you buy a membership you don’t pay the covers. Local bands will be paid a base plus 75 per cent of the door.

“It is a total win-win,” Preece says. “The room was not being used much.”

Preece, a Wilfrid Laurier University business professor who specializes in arts management, says the Grand River Jazz Society will soon launch a website and will be selling memberships at the Uptown Jazz Festival.

The jazz society wants to sell 160 memberships before the Jazz Room opens in September.

“That will get us close to covering our artists’ fees for the Saturday night shows,” Preece says.

The society is also looking for corporate sponsorships in addition to grants.

For more than 10 years, the base of jazz fans in Kitchener and Waterloo has increased steadily thanks to Jazz at the Registry, the Uptown Jazz Festival and the Jazz in the Black Hole Bistro at the Perimeter Institute.

Ted Warren, a Guelph-based jazz drummer, is the artistic director of the Grand River Jazz Society. Warren signs the acts and several are already committed, including Rich Brown and Rinse the Algorithm, Archie Alleyne and Kollage, the Pat Collins Trio and the David Occhipinti Quartet.

“My job is the easiest part,” Warren says. “There are lots of great people doing lots of great things.”

But there is a shortage of venues that pay.

Warren says jazz societies have thrived in Edmonton and Saskatoon for decades. With volunteers and memberships, those societies have accomplished what a commercial club struggling to pay the bills could never achieve.

“It’s tough, especially if it is a completely commercial venture,” Warren says. “The jazz society model works better. I think it is something that has been needed for a long time.”

The jazz societies in Saskatoon and Edmonton are good role models, and Warren has played in their clubs.

“The only reason they are doing it is they are into the music, it’s very cool that way,” Warren says.

Pam Josey is on the board of the Edmonton Jazz Society. Since 1957, the Edmonton society has owned and operated Yardbird Suite, a licensed venue for the thrice-weekly jazz shows. The City of Edmonton sold the building to the jazz society for a dollar 55 years ago, making it one of the longest-running jazz clubs in North America.

“We have artists from all over the world who come to the Yardbird Suite,” Josey says. “There is no place like the Yardbird Suite, they tell us that all the time.”

Volunteers wait on tables, work the bar and staff the box office. Other volunteers pick up musicians at the airport and bring them into the city. It is a not-for-profit group. If you by an annual membership you do not pay cover charges, which range from $14 to $30.

“We do apply for various grants that are out there,” Josey says. “You would be surprised how much money really is out there for the taking if you know where to look for it.”

The Edmonton Jazz Society has about 500 members. Every Tuesday night is a jam session. Jazz acts from New York, Toronto, Vancouver and elsewhere appear every Friday and Saturday night. Sometimes there are shows on Thursdays or Sundays as well.

“For sure there are three shows a week and sometimes four shows a week,” Josey says in a phone interview from Edmonton.

The Saskatoon Jazz Society started around 1979 and about two years ago moved into its own venue called the Basement. The 600-member society has a single employee, Richard Haubrich, a jazz guitarist, who manages the Basement.

“We have stumbled upon a great model, at least a model that is working well in Saskatoon,” Haubrich says. “And people come to our shows, that’s the bottom line.”

Saskatoon, with a population of 225,000, supports live jazz shows in the Basement every Friday and Saturday night. Covers range from $8 to $40 for the Saturday night shows. The space is often rented out on other nights for private parties, CD releases or corporate events. The society owns and runs the Basement so it gets the bar and kitchen profits.

“If I ever need anything done there is a volunteer to help out with it,” Haubrich says.

The society renovated the space for the Basement in an old post office. The board of directors, through fundraising and sponsorships, secured $250,000 in work for $80,000. The landlord gave the jazz society six months of free rent.

“It was a whole community effort that got behind us,” Haubrich says. “We got a hell of a deal here.”

The board recently bought a $90,000 Yamaha grand piano for the Basement, too. Most of the funds were donated.

“David Braid was one of the first guys to play our new Yamaha grand in January and he said it is the best piano in any jazz club in Canada,” Haubrich says.

...and here's some great footage of the great European Drummer Daniel Humair playing with Dexter Gordon.
Dig it!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Brush doubles, kids these days, and Mr. Wooten's book

A while ago a fellow teacher asked me which way I make circles when I play brushes, circling in (R.H. clockwise, L.H. counter clockwise) or circling out (hands opposite) and I realized by this point I did this both ways. I think if you want to be a serious brush player, this is worth pursuing.
Circling out sort of pushes the sound out whereas the other way pulls the sound in and they feel quite different. Also, and I've mentioned this before but it bears repeating, the more repertoire of motion we have on the brushes, the more flexibility we will have to create. I've enclosed a couple of exercises to help us work on going between the two directions.

I recently heard some younger people play and has a couple of impressions I'd like to share.
I think sometimes we are led to believe that it's very important to be different. Being original is very important but that has to be leavened with taste and judgment. I remember often trying to do things to show how hip I was (no H.H. on 2 &4 ever, unusual sound source choices, going against the grain of forms, never playing downbeats, etc.). That's all well and good but often when I listened back, it sounded like crap. Why? Because I often had no reason to do these things, other than my own ego, I hadn't done the listening research to know when to do these things and how to do them effectively, and finally many basic elements (my own sound, time, sense of taste) were not strong enough. Keeping these things in mind is an important part of maturing as a musician.

I got a great book by Victor Wooten on the recommendation of George Colligan. It's called The Music Lesson.

I'm only halfway through it but I already feel like a better musician (and person) for having done so. It's really brilliant. Definitely worth checking out.

Thanks. That's it for today. Ta!

Great advice from George

This is a great post from Pianist/Melodicaist/Drummer/Killer Musician reposted from his great blog jazztruth.

"What Should I Practice Over The Summer?"

April 14th: As the school semester is drawing to a close here in sunny Manitoba(yes, it was snowing yesterday, HA!), I have been making sure my students get their last lessons in. Many of my students have asked an intriguing question: "Professor Colligan, what should I practice over the summer?" (Intriguing because I still can't believe that anyone would call me Professor Colligan. My beloved late father used to call me "beanhead," "neversweat", and "bud", albeit endearingly. Nevertheless, the fact that I have attained any position of authority is still a surprise to me.)

Of course, I nostalgically look back on when I was really practicing in great quantities: between 1991 and 1994, when I diligently practiced the piano 4 to 8 hours a day. Luckily, I was also playing a lot of gigs, so I always had a way to apply the concepts I was practicing. I worked on a lot of different things: technique, sight reading, transcribing, rhythm, composing, and trying to learn tunes; hopefully, I could play the tunes I was learning in all keys. I was sure to keep my practicing focused, and to be conscious of the time I was spending on making my weak areas stronger, as opposed to glorifying my strengths(a common habit among young players). However, I always left time to play for fun, and especially tried to throw all the discipline to the wind when I played trio gigs: whatever happened, happened and let's just try to make music. That's pretty much what I do now.

My advice to any musician trying to make the most of his or her summer is as follows: First of all, the temptation to "take a break from music" is probably pretty strong. However, if you don't touch your instrument at all for two weeks straight(or more, God forbid), then you risk actually losing the ground that you've hopefully spent all year trying to gain. So I propose that you at least play every day, but only for very small sessions. Sure, enjoy the spring weather (or if you are in Winnipeg, get out your sled and mittens.....HA!). But just play enough to get a taste of what it feels like to play your respective instrument, and then go off and enjoy yourself. At a certain point, you'll be ready to get back into it.

What's the flat 9 on Ab7?
Also, keep in mind, you may have been one of the people complaining that "I would be practicing my instrument more, but I had so much other work to turn in for my other classes!" OK, well, now you don't have any classes, so no excuses! Get in the shed! That's why the summer vacation is actually great for practicing: so much free time! Bring an instrument to the beach if you can. At least, bring an ipod with some solos or tunes you want to learn.

The idea of breaking up your practice sessions is good because you don't want to practice tired for too long: you can actually end up doing more harm than good-physically and mentally. I find this especially if you are practicing something which requires more than one new concept. When something is really technically challenging, the best thing to do is slow it down, maybe so slow that it sounds nothing like music. If you really practice slow and focused, it gives your mind a chance to digest the information. Also, it always your body to choreograph the motions you are using.(I always give as an example of how I was trying to get my piano fingerings together. I practiced Bach Two Part Inventions slower than humanly possible. It started to really annoy anyone within earshot: "What are you doing? Can't you play some music?" Keeping the Inventions slow helped my technique tremendously. But it took a lot of concentration.)

I find oftentimes with students, and myself, that when we think we have learned a tune, or a lick, or a solo, we really haven't. We might be able to sort of play it, with a lot of slop and hesitation amongst some flashes of competency. This is because we are in a rush to play something well, and we don't give whatever it is a chance to sink in. I compare it to taking a cake out of the oven before it's done: you are so eager to eat it, but it's not fully cooked, so it doesn't taste quite right. Let your practice sit in the oven a little longer.

I've heard that as a rule, you can't play something perfectly unless you can play it 10 times in a row without mistakes. So here's my advice: whatever you are trying to play, slow it down, play it perfectly 10 times in a row, and then speed it up a few notches. Then play it 10 more times perfectly. Keep this up until it's right. Obviously, this could take time and concentration, and if you get to the 8th time and mess up, you have to go back and start all over again! Ouch! This type of practice will do wonders, but I think you can see why you wouldn't want to do that for 5 hours straight.

Another thing that helped me tremendously was keeping a practice journal. I gave all my students this year an old fashioned paper organizer so that they could write down what they practiced every day. I also made sure there was enough room for a tune list. The tune list was divided into three parts: Tunes that they knew well and were continuing to improve on, tunes that were "works in progress", and tunes that they wanted to learn. I would urge students to continue to do this throughout the summer. Learning tunes is always a great answer to the question,"What should I practice?" because there are always more tunes to learn. (See my article about Harold Mabern-he's forgotten more tunes than most of us know!)

So my advice here is not so much what to practice as it is how to practice. Practice smart, be patient, and don't overdo it. Enjoy your summer, but you can still enjoy it and get to your instrument every day.
And of course, if you are young, single, childless, and living with your parents, then realize that you'll never have this much free time again, so use it wisely. That is, if you are serious about improving....

I just had a GREAT time playing with George last week, and believe me, he's practiced what he preaches! I'm going to try to follow this advice this summer myself, on drums, harmonica, and piano.

Thanks, see you soon.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Just a quick post today.
You know, there are a lot of musicians out there and I think that a lot of performers aren't aware of some of the talent in Canada. I have, therefore benefited from people and institutions hiring American musicians for gigs and recordings. A while ago, I felt strange about this, feeling I was playing with great musicians that were being "bought' for the occasion. After doing some of these gigs however, I started to see that many of these well known and experienced players enjoyed the experience, and in some cases this has led to some long term and very profound musical collaborations. I have learned a lot from some of these people and I think in 90% of the cases, the musicians wanted to play. Even in the few examples where the decision was purely monetary, so what? Everyone has to make a living and even if we think a great musician is playing with people for the money, that may help fund their next great project.
I guess I'm mentioning this because I finally bit the bullet and contacted someone who has been a musical hero of mine for some time. Even though he ultimately couldn't do it ( he was booked solid for the next few years, and not being a young man, couldn't commit that far ahead) we had a very positive exchange and he wanted to hear more of my music, which I sent out this week.

I guess what I'm taking from this is; if any of us want to work with someone, try and get a hold of them and see if you can make it happen. Most musicians want to play and unless they're too busy or expensive, go for it. I have learned so much from some of the people I've gotten to work with and I plan to contact more of my heroes in the future to see if we can work together.

Look out Justin Bieber, the duo tour is coming and because you're Canadian, I can probably get a grant!

Monday, April 11, 2011

5 Beat Idea 2 ways

This is a simple idea I stumbled upon today.
It's a little lick around the drums that's 5 notes long.
Like so:


As you can see, I put the idea into 4/4 to make it a bit more user friendly.
Here's a video of me playing it while (sort of) singing "A Train".

I also tried making the lick into a 15 note grouping so instead of it being a 5 note grouping that goes over the bar, in the bridge of the next example (again I'm thinking of A Train as I play) I'm playing 15 notes that are equidistant in the space of two bars of 4/4. Check it out, it has a feeling of slowing down in the bridge.

Whew! This is going to be another post that my Mom tells me she doesn't understand. Sorry!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Inside the Drummer's Studio Installment 3

Hey everybody,
Today I'm interviewing Pianist/Composer/Journalist Peter Hum.
Here's a picture of him:

...and here's some bio information.....

Based in Ottawa, Peter has played with the leading jazz artists in Canada's capital, including John Geggie, Rob Frayne, Mike Essoudry, Roddy Ellias, Vince Rimbach and Mike Tremblay. He considers himself very fortunate to have performed with some of Canada's leading jazz artists, including Sonny Greenwich, Pat LaBarbera, Phil Nimmons, Reg Schwager, Kelly Jefferson, Johnny Scott, Mike Allen and Mike Rud.

As I mentioned before, Peter also is a journalist with the Ottawa citizen and writes an excellent blog for them. You can check it out here.

Considering Peter's range of experience as a musician, blogger, etc., I thought it would be instructive to ask him a few questions. I found his answers to be very illuminating and I hope you do too.

1. You're a journalist, musician, blogger, as well as a husband and father. How do you juggle the many roles you have in your busy life?

The short answer is that I don't need that much sleep and I don't watch much TV.

During my 9-to-5 life, about 80 per cent of my time is devoted to journalistic chores – reporting and writing, editing, choosing what stories and pictures go where for certain sections and pages, and very lightly managing some colleagues. But unless I'm working on a big story, none of the chores takes up a big chunk of time. So each work day usually consists of many small chores, and in between themI find time to blog.

That said, I listen to a ton of music at home, in the car, before I go to bed, while on vacation, while I'm doing those journalism chores, and so on. So the listening kind of blurs in with everything else. For example, I was at my boy's bedside at the hospital last month while he recovered from eye surgery. He was sleeping off the anesthetic, and my wife was getting a bite to eat in the hospital cafeteria. So I pulled out my iPod and listened to some of the new CD from Nordic Connect, the band that includes the Jensen sisters. There's a Christine Jensen song, a slow lyrical waltz called Yew, that hit me – its vibe was right in line with the relief I was feeling that my son's operation was over. I gave the CD a good review – but for other reasons too.

The blog, which I volunteered to do back in early 2008, has added a lot of work to my life. But my job satisfaction has also increased. No one's forcing me to, but I blog like crazy, because it's in line with my daily newspaper grounding. I also get a small, subversive pleasure from blogging each day -- it would be unthinkable to have so many words about jazz in the newspaper, but there I am, banging off all that jazz-related copy under the radar of all my colleagues.

Being a musician, unfortunately, comes after being a newspaper guy and a blogger, and after being a husband and father. Upcoming gigs and projects dictate how much time I spend at the keyboard in the basement, which is usually in the morning or at night. These days, I'm happy to say that I have some new tunes in the works.

It sometimes crosses my mind – when various deadlines come together -- that I've got too much on the go, but I'd be unsatisfied if I did less. I'm sure that everyone else also grapples with balancing work and everything else, anyway.

2. Has your role as a music reviewer had an effect on your own music? How?

On the plus side, I've been inundated with new jazz CDs – free! -- for at least the last decade and a half. So I can never complain about a shortage of stuff to check out. Trying to make sense of all the discs and concerts has definitely helped to focus my own musical priorities.

Of course, reviewing is not the same as transcribing or really delving into someone else's music. All I need to do is to come up with something that I think is accurate and reasonable in assessing the CD for readers – two or three listens will do, more if I'm not so keen on the music. In exceptional cases, certain discs have prompted me to listen in a more technical way, usually with an ear open for compositional and arranging details.

Apart from the reviewing, I've found interviews I've done with musicians have been motivating or left strong impressions – almost like lessons, perhaps. Conversations and even e-mail exchanges I've had with Herbie Hancock, Jon Cowherd, Marc Copland, David Braid, Aaron Parks and Frank Kimbrough were pretty rewarding.

On the minus side, I've been inundated with new jazz CDs – free! -- and despite all the pleasures and stimulation from that music, I do wish it didn't keep me away from the piano quite so much.

3. What can young musicians learn from journalists in terms of how to deal with the press?

What press? After he won his Juno last month, John MacLeod kidded: “No one covers jazz right now.” Since Mark Miller and Geoff Chapman retired, there's been less jazz coverage in the Toronto papers, I think. Paul Wells doesn't write about jazz much anymore. Marke Andrews left the Vancouver Sun. Len Dobbin's left us. My impression is that the Canadian newspaper folks who regularly write about jazz are me, Chris Smith at the Winnipeg Free Press, Roger Levesque for the Edmonton Journal, Irwin Block at the Gazette, and Adrian Chamberlain at the Victoria Times-Colonist. And generally, we're only writing about musicians if they're coming to town. I guess there is the alternative press, and magazines like The Whole Note and CODA, and of course, the blogosphere, for better or for worse.

For musicians who contact journalists – rather than hire a pro to do that -- I have a few tips. The first, which perhaps applies more to dealing with newspapers, is to directly contact the writer on the jazz or music beat if possible, rather than the arts editor or assignment editor or any more general point of contact. In my experience, reporters want to pitch and work on their own ideas, rather than stories that are assigned. Also, it helps if you're as familiar as possible with the ways in which the newspaper (or magazine or website) packages its information, so that you can suggest what can written or reported, be it a recommendation for the gig on a “critics' picks page,” an advance feature leading up to a gig, or a review of the gig or of your CD. If you can pitch in a concrete way, or raise a range of possibilities, then you've done some of the thinking for the poor, overworked journalist. Finally, I'll mention that it's a good idea to build in a lot of lead time when you pitch – contact the media early, say three weeks or a month in advance, at least, of a gig or CD release.

And then there's a musician's Internet presence. I can recommend having a nice simple website that prioritizes what the press needs (a clean bio, downloadable photos in high and low res, music samples), in addition to what fans and potential customers would want. Of course, everyone is using Facebook, Twitter and their own blogs to establish their Internet presences and network too. That kind of stuff is a must these days, although I am mindful of a few musicians who are considerably heavier at their Net-based self-promotion than they are when it comes to playing, and I think that's a danger.

4. As a piano player, you never seem to have a problem with what I would categorize as "boisterous" drumming. How have you reconciled this with the fact that piano often has trouble competing with the volume of the drums?

Well, I've always viewed boisterous drumming very positively!

I was very fortunate that in my early days of playing, my key experiences were with Chris McCann in Kingston, and then with you and Dave Laing and Dave Robbins in Montreal. You were all very influential in terms of what I enjoy hearing from the drums – great, personal time feels, that going-for-it vibe, lots of interaction, and lots of boisterousness. At the same time, the music that I loved most usually featured Elvin Jones, Tony Williams or Art Blakey – very overt, play-it-like-you-mean-it musicians. More recently, I've driven great distances to see gigs featuring Bill Stewart and Brian Blade.

OK, in some instances boisterous drumming has made it harder for listeners to hear the piano – I do feel sorry for McCoy having to project with Elvin and Rashied Ali. But me, I can't recall asking a drummer to play less or play more quietly. Crucially, the drummers were good, musical ones, and that intensity from the drums felt good to me and was warranted. The soloist was usually generating the pull that elicited an intense reaction from not just the drums, but from everybody playing. By consensus, the music wanted to go where it did.

As much as I love playing ballads and quiet but intense stuff, I want the music to reach the point where it makes a visceral, urgent bond between the band and the listeners... and boisterous drumming certainly helps.

5. Can you name a live performance and recording that has had a profound effect on you?

The most recent show that hit me really hard was when I saw the Brian Blade Fellowship for the first time. Four of us drove from Ottawa to see the band at the Village Vanguard in 2008, and I was so impressed (all of us were, I think) for a number of reasons. The group's vibe, which takes its lead from Brian, was so deep and positive. Not surprisingly, the crowd was totally enthralled, reacting to the music with whoops and exhortations – the concert was a communal experience that really united the musicians and the listeners. I was paying attention to musical details too – how songs were arranged, how certain pieces were structured to create longer journeys. I wrote at length about the concert here:

I think some of the shows that affected me most profoundly were the ones that I saw early on in my jazz-fan days. I have more sentimental memories of concerts that I saw when I was in high school and university: Sonny Rollins and Jack DeJohnette at the Astrolabe in Ottawa, Red Rodney and Ira Sullivan at the Cock and Lion in Ottawa, Keith Jarrett with Jack and Gary in Toronto, Quest in Toronto, maybe on the very next night. I'm also happy that I got to see some great musicians before they passed, like Woody Shaw a few times, Jaco Pastorius with his Word of Mouth band, Joe Farrell and Zoot Sims.

As for recordings, I'm similarly sentimental when it comes to the big jazz-fusion and ECM albums from the late 1970s: Herbie Hancock's Headhunters, Keith Jarrett's Koln Concert, My Song and Survivors Suite, the Pat Metheny Group white album, Weather Report's Heavy Weather, Chick Corea's My Spanish Heart. They're deeply embedded in my memory. When I was a little older, Miles Davis' My Funny Valentine and Wayne Shorter's Blue Note CDs – Speak No Evil especially – were very big for me. I'm one of those guys for whom Herbie can do almost no wrong.

But to pick music that might not be everyone else's lists, l'll name two that made a big impression on me when I in high school. I took them out of the Nepean Public Library, which is to say almost at random. I really liked the Dexter Gordon album Bouncin' With Dex. I remember thinking that Dexter's sound was special, and that Tete Monteliu was so energetic and playful. Another album that really cast a spell was Kenny Wheeler's Gnu High, which I surely latched on to because Keith Jarrett was on it. But even back then, Kenny's writing and playing really caught my interest. I thought then Smatter was just the coolest thing, and I still do.

6. Should I have used affect in that last question? (Peter was an English major even before he was a journalism student.)


Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Hey all,
Just a brief post today. I'm a bit mired but will post more stuff soon.
I discovered this tune today (Lawns) and this gorgeous performance by Carla Bley and Steve Swallow.
.....There's a lot of music out there, Some of it technically proficient, some of it groovy, burning, swinging etc. That's all great but then sometimes music reaches you deeply and reminds you that there are things much greater than musicians as individuals and our sometimes petty concerns.
This would fall into that last category for me.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Brief Broadview Commercial

Just came back from a very fun CD release for Broadview's Debut, Two Of Clubs on Addo records. Thanks to everyone who came out and if you missed it, you can order it here.