Sunday, July 31, 2011

Hey all (another post my Mom won't understand!)

Again, a lengthy lapse between posts. I won't make any excuses because they'd all be lame.

Here's a quick idea that I ripped off (most of it anyway) from Simon Phillips.
1. Play paradiddles in 8th notes, starting with your right foot.
2. While this is going on, play paradiddles in quarter notes with your hands.
3. Next play paradiddles in triplets against the 8th notes in your feet.
3. Finally keep the feet the same and play paradiddles in 16ths with your hands.

It's a nice challenge and gets your brain working.

Okay, back soon (I hope!)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Bomham (Again!)

Just a quick post of John Bonham playing with Led Zep at Knebworth shortly before his untimely death. When I was younger I liked some of the Zeppelin I heard, but really didn't appreciate many things about John Henry's playing. Things I ignored were 1) His awesome drum sound. It's interesting, you can find footage of him playing drums made of wood, fiberglass (Ludwig Vistalites), and even drums with a stainless steel outer shells, and it doesn't make any difference. He always has this great, big, bottomy, sound. It always sounded to me like his sticks and drum pedals were made of bricks or something. Killing! 2) His great back-of-the-beat, very majestic playing. The man is in no hurry, and it feels amazing.

No, this isn't Jazz, I guess. Just great music and great playing. The tune is "10 years Gone". Enjoy!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

1 brush pattern 4 ways and the exciting conclusion of PIZZATRON 2011

Hey everyone,
Here's a very simple brush pattern but I'm using it to illustrate my concept that we need to be able to circle in ( R.H. counter-clockwise, L.H. clockwise) or out (directions reversed) with the brushes. Here's video of me playing a pattern with the the hands circling out, and for me it sounds and feels the best when I'm pushing the sound out this way.

Now here's the same pattern but I'm pulling the sound in because the hand's directions are reversed.

Finally, here's me playing both hands going clockwise, and then both going counter-clockwise. I also threw in some "brush flams" because making matching circles lends itself to this technique.

I know some of you are asking, "Why work on that many ways to make circles?". For me, being able to do this really increases flexibility. If I could only stick 4 eighth notes as RLRL, I would be pretty limited. I view the brush circles the same way. Work on this, and I think you'll find your brush playing really opens up.

Okay, PIZZATRON 2011.
I'm afraid I didn't get to the Copper Kettle so I'll have to wait on it until next time I get to Regina. I did go to to the Western Pizza location that Kelly Jefferson recommends, but found this instead:

...So it's not even a Western anymore. No horsey on the pizza box, nothing! After I took a few deep breaths I reminded myself I was on a mission and had to stay strong for pizza fans everywhere.
The pizza was good, no doubt about it but for me the sauce was not boss. There was way too much of it and it was too sweet. It's also $3 more for a small than at Houston's. I also went to the Chimney (River Heights shopping Centre) and it was quite good, although not in the same league as Houston or Western.
So for me it was Houston 1st, Ex- Western-Tumblers-Sovereign-Whatever-No-Horsies a close 2nd, and the Chimney a more distant 3rd. I would also add that all these were very good examples of Regina style pizza, and kick the poop out of any product I've had in the rest of the country.

Don't hate me Kelly! (At least not forever!)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Musicians and ego

Hello folks!
The Oxford EnglishDictionary defines the word ego as "self" or "self esteem". Indeed, every musicians needs some ego to survive. Too much ego, however, can create a lot of problems for us.
Today, I'm going to look at ego and our relationship with it.

I mentioned that we all need a certain amount of ego as musicians, especially when it's defined as self esteem. Musicians (especially improvising ones) put themselves in a place involving a lot of uncertainty when performing in a live situation. Think of all the variables that we don't have control over. The sound of the room, the listening and playing abilities of the people we're performing with, sometimes we're playing on instruments we haven't played before etc. We can practise, get to know the music we're performing really well and check out the sound of the room (in fact these are very good ways to feel more comfortable) but there will always be unknown factors. That's one of the great, eternal challenges of live performance. Our ego, our sense of self helps us make the leap of faith to know that whatever happens, the performance will occur. If we make a mistake (and there can be a lot of debate as to what a mistake is) our careers won't be over and the sun will rise the next day. In other words, our ego helps us put ourselves out there and be commited to our performance. In fact, I find the least successful improvisers are the ones who let their fear of failure keep them from playing confidently. If we play like we believe in ourselves, the audience will hear that belief, much more than specific notes or patterns.
One way to work on this belief and healthy use of ego (besides knowing music and your instrument as well as you can) is through affirmations. Affirmations can be thought of as ideas that are on their way to becoming true. You can work on saying these affirmations to yourself and, like anything you practise, you'll get better at it the more you do it. They can be any sort of positive message but I can give you 3 examples to get you started.

1. I (your name here) am a great musician.
2. You (your name here) are a great musician.
3. He/She (your name here) is a great musician.
You can write these to yourself, and also trying saying them, both out loud and in your mind.I like putting the affirmations in first, second, and third person becuase it's a way of receiving the message at a distance and sometimes works through the disbelief we feel when we first hear the message. This is an important point. Most people are so used to sending themselves negative messages (guilty as charged!) that they don't believe the affirmations at first. That's okay because our mind works in a funny way. Our mind will eventually believe what we tell it the most and steer ourselves in directions that will prove what we've told it. So, if I keep telling myself that I suck I will eventually believe it to be true and will probably look for ways of proving it. Any opinion about our abilities as musicians (including our own) are just that. Opinions, not facts. So why not work on the opinion that will benefit ourselves the most? Affirmations are free, can be used anywhere, and apart from maybe making us feel a little silly when we start, definitely won't hurt us. So give them a shot and you might be surprised at the result.
So we've established that as musicians, we need a certain amount of ego. Not enough and we won't have the confidence to perform. Too much ego, however, and we'll have difficulty as well.
We need to be constantly honestly assessing our abilities if we want to improve. Some ways of doing this are:
1) Recording ourselves and listening in a critical but objective way. Listen to yourself and pretend it's someone else. What do you like and want to hear more of? What do you not like and want to hear less of? Don't get judgmental and negative about it. That's unhealthy ego stuff. Be honest and dispassionate about it and you'll improve your playing quickly.
2) Don't take criticism from other musicians personally. If they say they'd like a tune to have a feel like a famous drummer, try and incorporate some of that player's good qualities without getting defensive. If the other players are accomplished instrumentalists and decent human beings, they are trying to help you.
Anyway, throughtout our careers we will all run into the issues of too much or not enough ego. it's just another part of the long journey any musician goes through. As always, put everything you can into the music and go from there.
To conclude: Go and check out any Peter Donald, especially when he's playing drums with John Abercrombie's quartet (I'm writing this on my Mom's computer and can't seem to post any videos). You won't hear any negative ego stuff, just a lot of great music!

Monday, July 4, 2011


Hey everybody,

I didn't eat any Regina pizza today so we'll leave that for a minute.

People that have been following the blog know of my current struggles to work on my piano and harmonica playing. That said, I think it's done wonders for my drumming and musicality as a whole.

With that in mind I've asked some questions to a great musician on several instruments, George Colligan. That's him up at the top, and here's just a few of the things he's done...

George Colligan (born December 29, 1969) is a New York-based jazz pianist, organist, drummer, trumpet player, educator, composer and bandleader. He was born in New Jersey, and raised in a suburb of Baltimore, Maryland. He attended the Peabody Institute, majoring in classical trumpet and music education. In high school he learned to play the drums and later switched to piano.
An in-demand sideman, Colligan has worked with Phil Woods, Gary Bartz, Robin Eubanks, Billy Higgins, Lee Konitz, Nicholas Payton, Steve Wilson, Richard Bona, Cassandra Wilson, Christian McBride, Buster Williams, Al Foster, Don Byron, Benny Golson, Lonnie Plaxico, Vanessa Rubin, and many others. He counts Chick Corea, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Thelonious Monk, Wayne Shorter, and McCoy Tyner as influences. Colligan is a recipient of the Chamber Music America award for composition and a winner of the award. He has released 18 albums as a leader and is featured on over 100 albums as a sideman. Colligan's style is extremely eclectic; it incorporates everything from show tunes to funk, from free improvisation to modern classical music. Colligan has performed at festivals all over the world, including the North Sea Jazz Festival, the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival, Vancouver International Jazz Festival, and the Cancun Jazz Festival. In 2007, for the first time, he played trumpet with the trio Mr. Trumpet at the Festival of New Trumpet Music, which is held annually in New York City. Colligan taught at the Juilliard School.
In September 2009, Colligan moved to Winnipeg, MB in Canada to teach at the Marcel A. Desautels faculty of music. He teaches jazz history, piano, drums, trumpet, and leads many different master classes. He will be the songwriter-in-residence at Aqua Books from February to March 2011.

He is also currently playing in a band led by another great multi-instrumentalist, Jack DeJohnette. I believe I showed great restraint in not asking him what DeJohnette eats for breakfast!

1. What instrument did you begin with?

I officially started on piano, but here's the thing: I was in 2nd grade, and I only took lessons for about one month , and I hated it, so I quit. Then in 4th grade, I took up trumpet in the school band. I played trumpet all through middles school, high school, and college, so I usually consider trumpet to be my first instrument. I also played drums in high school, and I might have ended up as a drummer, if I hadn't gotten serious about the piano.. I didn't really start with piano again until 11th grade in high school. I took a piano class, which dealt with simple chords and such. And then when I entered Peabody Conservatory, I actually got more serious about Jazz music, and consequently, the piano. Around 1988 or '89, I lucked into a steady gig on piano in a hotel in Baltimore, and I've been a jazz pianist ever since.

2. What led you to take up more than one instrument?

It's interesting because I don't believe multi-instumentalism is encouraged in the U.S.A. I think the vibe is, especially in the classical world, that you must be very serious about one instrument so you can compete. However, one of my big influences was a classmate at Peabody named Alex Norris, and he played trumpet, electric bass, guitar, and some piano as well. And he was great on all of them!I would say that I probably should have been a drummer, because I think rhythm is what attracts me most when I hear music. But I had played trumpet in the school bands, and I was thought of as a trumpeter. The problem was, I developed a certain amount of skill on the trumpet, but my range and endurance was limited; I had developed some bad habits during a summer of practicing and not taking lessons. I was placing the mouthpiece of the trumpet off to one side of my lips, causing my embouchure to be inefficient. I could play very well for about 10 minutes, and after that, I would use a lot of pressure against the lips, which would make my sound fall apart. So my teacher, Lee Stevens, told me that I had to change my embouchure in order to re-develop the proper musculature. I had to start from scratch and it was very frustrating; this was 10th grade. I couldn't play any high notes at all; they moved me from Principal Trumpet in the Wind Ensemble to somewhere in the 3rd trumpets. It was kind of embarrassing, I had to constantly explain to people why I couldn't play: "Yeah, I'm changing my embouchure." I did improve, and in the long run, it was worth it, but I don't think I ever had the same confidence again. So I would play drums a bit in high school, although it wasn't so encouraged, because the idea was, "you play trumpet, what are you doing on the drums?" Honestly, I think it's a miracle that I ended up as a musician, because I have no musicians in my family, and I knew almost no professional musicians when I was growing up. And when I started playing piano in high school, I had even less guidance. I mentioned that I had a piano class, but this was very limited; the instructor didn't know much past the basics, and in terms of technique or proper fingerings, she knew nothing. So I just tried to learn on my own. And when I started to actually work as a pianist, I had to do a similar "re-start" with the piano, because I had some tendonitis, and I needed to figure out the proper technique. I was able to take 30 minute lessons every week for a semester with a grad student named Fred Karpoff, who showed me the Taubman techniques, and that helped tremendously. But I never had "jazz piano lessons" on a weekly basis.

3. I'm assuming piano is the axe you spend the most time playing. How do the other instruments affect your approach to piano?

My initial concept as a pianist was playing trumpet licks in the right hand and snare rhythms in the left hand, with the few limited voicings that I knew. So that's a direct influence of trumpet and drums. I think jazz musicians, whether they feel as though they should venture down the path of "multi-instumentalism" or not(I make it sound like some sort of illicit activity:"Hey man, we're playing different instruments in here. Are you down?"), should be familiar with how all the instruments function within a jazz group. I think it makes one listen better on the bandstand. For example, I try to listen to the ideas that the drummer is playing, as opposed to counting. I find I'm more in sync with what's going on. I hear many young bands play as if they are all only listening to themselves and happen to be playing simultaneously. I try to listen more to others than myself, frankly. Furthermore, it has been argued that much of jazz piano is actually a pianist trying to make the piano sound like another instrument. We try to phrase like a singer, or play lines like a trumpeter, or play rhythms like a drummer. Jazz is not necessarily a "pianistic" sort of music. In this sense, I don't really consider myself a pianist, I'm just a jazz musician who keeps getting called to play piano.

4. On a recent gig we played, you played melodica, piano, trumpet, and drums. Do you find physical and mental challenges to doing this, and how do you adjust?

The biggest physical challenge is still the trumpet, because I'm not naturally talented as a trumpeter; I still struggle with range and endurance. And now that I am teaching college and raising an 18 month old boy, I have little time for the required maintenance that goes into playing the trumpet. I try to play a little every day, so I'm good for one, maybe two songs. After that, my chops give out pretty quickly. Other than that, it's more about the music. On the bandstand, I just try to play the best I can. I don't think about technique on the gig. But when I do get a chance to practice, I do try to think about the basics, and try to refine what I'm doing. I wouldn't say there is an adjustment. Whether you are playing piano, drums, trumpet, bass saxophone, whatever, time is still the same, rhythm is still the same, form is still the same. It's all the same after a while.

5. How do you divide your time practicing between instruments?

Like I said, it's hard to find the time to practice at all. I usually end up practicing more keyboard because I tend to practice for work related things, like a recording session or a tour. But I do try to play trumpet every day, at least for a few minutes. When I was teaching at the University of Manitoba, I would try to get to school early to practice the acoustic bass for 10 or 15 minutes before my classes. And if I had some spare time, I would kind of work my way around the room-one minute at the drums, pick up the trumpet for a while, etc…. But ultimately, the goal is to not worry about the technique and just play in the moment. It's been a real education working with Jack DeJohnette because I think that his uniqueness comes from his musicality. He doesn't play the drums, he plays music. I think if you compared his technique with some of the more "chopsy" clinician type players, he might fall short, however, nobody on the planet can play like DeJohnette. His feel and interpretation is unbelievable. And he also happens to be a multi-instrumentalist!

So there you have it. I've got a lot of practicing to do on several instruments. Thanks for the inspiration George!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

PIZZATRON 2011 Day 1


I got to Regina to do some auditions at jazz camp and this is what greeted me.

After crying tears of joy, I got down to business I had a piece of all dressed, ham and pineapple, and even veggie,all were excellent.

Watch out Western, you've got some stiff competition!

Saturday, July 2, 2011


Hey everyone,
Sorry there have been so few posts lately.

I'm heading back to my hometown, Regina, and teaching at the Prairielands Jazz Camp subbing for Jon (daddy) McCaslin. While I'm back in the land of the greatest pizza in the world I plan to do a blind taste test to see who rules in the land of 'Za. ( Well not completely blind, I still have to drive there without getting pulled over.) I will be filing reports over the next 10 days, so stay tuned!

P.S. I decided on Pizzatron 2011 as the title for my taste test because it sounds very futuristic in a '70s kind of way. (Sort of a "Space-Age Plastic" vibe). Imagine some guy who sounds like a steroided wrestler saying it with lots of reverb!