Friday, December 20, 2019

Chocolate, Cheese and General Inspiration

Hey all,

First the chocolate. Have you ever noticed that people tend to compare things to other things that are incomparable? They'll say something is "better than chocolate" but, if you like it, nothing is better than chocolate! For me, the same is true of cymbals. You'll hear a lot of people say something is "as good as an old K. Zildjian" but when you get a good one ( and they aren't all that way, believe me) there's nothing as good as an old K. Zildjian! I'm in the process of acquiring one more old K., and I believe my jazz set-up will be complete. I am very pleased about this!

Now the cheese! Anyone who has followed this blog knows I'm very interested in hybrid rudiments, and through social media I've been hipped to more of them. See below. As far as I can tell, a rudiment is labeled "cheese" if it has a double added to it somewhere. Is this nickname a punk Swiss rudiments ( Swiss cheese), or a reference to rudimental people in Wisconsin, or something else equally bizarre? No matter, here are the pages….


And, as if that wasn't enough material, I discovered  a hybrid rudiments section on the Vic Firth site. I am currently working on the "Choo-Choo" ( There is also one called "Horsey". If the American rudimental dudes are really trying to appeal to toddlers, then well done, my friends! )

Finally, here's some inspiration from the great Antonio Sanchez. First here's an interview he did for the "Sessions" series……

He communicates extremely well whether he's playing, talking, or discussing the current political situation on Twitter.

As well, here is talking about storytelling for the PAS society.

The Art of Storytelling

What did John F. Kennedy, Demosthenes, Martin Luther King and Maya Angelou have in common? Why were all the greatest orators throughout history so powerful? What makes a speech engaging?
All these speakers knew how to tell a story. They understood how to keep an audience engaged. Riveted. At the edge of their seats. Likewise, they all employed two indispensable tools: content and delivery.
You can have something enthralling to say but if you’re a boring public speaker you’ll soon see people yawning in the crowd. All the same, you could be a very charismatic orator but if your content is poor and not properly laid out, your audience will soon be checking their phones to see if anything more exciting is happening elsewhere.

Music is no different.
Performing and improvising are the equivalent of public speaking. Composing is the equivalent of speechwriting.

If we think of improvising as basically composing in realtime, we will come to the conclusion that great composers, improvisers and orators share a lot of the same qualities and employ the same techniques and methods: Establish a theme so that people know what you’re talking about. Develop the theme further. Leave space. Reaffirm the original idea. Use the correct punctuation in the right places and the exclamation and question marks with conviction and subtlety. Introduce and develop more ideas making smooth transitions from the previous ones. Use dynamics and nuance carefully.

Getting into a consistent rhythm where an audience is going to be so enthralled that it will have no other choice but to listen requires intention, pacing, repetition, tension and release, dynamics, surprise, drama.
If we think of any great speech, any great performance, any great composition or any great improvised solo we will soon realize that they all use the above mentioned process to build their masterpieces.
Mozart, Ella Fitzgerald, Cicero, Miles Davis, Churchill, and Stevie Wonder might have more in common than we ever thought.

In my experience, telling a story while improvising in front of an audience requires a combination of right brain and left brain. A sort of Ying and Yang of creativity and instinct as well as technique and discipline.
When I start an improvisation, my first rule is to always try to establish my initial idea in a very assertive and memorable way. One of the reasons I do this is for my own sake - I need to remember what I played so that I can build on it.
If I play an initial phrase and I’m not able to recall it correctly (either because of lack of concentration or because it was too complex to remember it accurately) it would be the equivalent of me starting to say something and immediately losing my train of thought, abruptly changing the subject and start babbling as a result.
That’s why I tend to favor shorter and simpler phrases in the beginning -so that I can establish my idea quickly and convincingly.
After I’ve played my initial idea my second rule is to leave space.
Space can be such a wonderful, powerful and terrifying thing for most improvising musicians. A second of it can feel like an eternity so we tend to want to fill it at all costs so that we don’t have to bear that uncomfortable void around us. But, when used well, it can be as dramatic and effective a force as you can create.
One of the marvelous qualities of space is that it provides us with time. Time to think.
One might believe that it’s a counterintuitive concept to perform and improvise without thinking but believe me, it’s very possible.
As someone who has played for most of my life, I can play endlessly by reflex. Mainly using the left side of my brain. The side that has practiced countless hours of technique, coordination and metronomic timekeeping. No real intention or expression. Just notes being played articulately and correctly with no emotional spine to back them up.
This would be the equivalent of reciting words that are expertly pronounced but are lacking emotion and meaning.
Now, going back to the space and thinking part...What is it that I need to think about when I improvise? How can I think that fast? How do I organize my thoughts and how is leaving this excruciating space helping me in any way?
For me the answer is simple: the space gives me time to think about what I just played and provides me with a breath so that I can decide what I’m going to play next.
One thing I like to do is repeat the original idea so that I reaffirm it and establish it for myself and for my audience. Leave a brief space again, embellish the idea, expand on it, leave more space, make a smooth transition and introduce another idea...etc.
This applies to performing solo or with a group: The phrases we play inform the other musicians about what we're "talking about" and the space gives them an opportunity to answer and interact. There’s nothing worse than a musician that never leaves space or a person who is constantly talking and not engaging in actual conversation.
This kind of approach requires discipline and lots of patience. Patience to establish the ideas and develop them without rushing ourselves into a bout of mindless musical ranting.
We do this with speech in a constant basis. When we converse with others we don’t know exactly what we’re going to say or how we're going to say it but somehow, we manage.
We use pauses and breaths to help us put our thoughts together. This happens in a matter of milliseconds and most of the time we don’t realize we’re doing it -and that’s because, throughout our life, we do it so much in so many different contexts that it becomes an automatic and natural action. Ideally, we should get to that point with our instruments as well.

Now, we have to make a distinction between merely putting words together and the art of telling a story. To me, that is the difference between craft and art.
I‘ve encountered so many musicians throughout my life that are extraordinary craftsmen and crafts women but are not artists -and the main distinction is usually storytelling. You can go on most of your musical life improvising without ever saying anything too deep or meaningful and to me, improvisational ranting is musical death -and it should be avoided at all cost.
When I've done masterclasses throughout the world, I've seen musicians discover the beauty and excitement of storytelling through their instruments in realtime. It can seem difficult at first but they soon realize that they had stories to tell all along. They just needed to give their thoughts and ideas a sense or organization.
You can too become one of the great musical orators. You just need to give it a shot and begin telling YOUR story.

Wise words Mr. Sanchez! Thank you.

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