The 'Zone'- shifting focus for performing

One of the most difficult things to do as a performing musician is to get in 'the zone'. Many classical musicians take small amounts of tranquilizer type drugs like Xanax to calm their nerves. One of my best friends, an accomplished jazz saxophonist, simply cannot perform without a small dose of Ambien before every gig.

Throughout the history of Jazz many of the greats felt that they needed some extra chemical 'help' to really play their best, this could be anything from a shot of espresso to one beer or a massive speed-ball. Even 'Pops' had to have his herbal remedy in order to feel truly creative. All of these chemicals have some degree of negative side effects (such as cotton-mouth or death). If you start to depend on any one of them to play music you lose control over your own creativity, becoming terminally dependant on a chemical to operate.

The creative mindset is almost an ecstatic state of consciousness. It's not like the state of mind that we are in while shopping for food in the grocery store or driving a car. We can't be distracted by thoughts of the past or future, or by what the audience is doing or thinking. We want to hyper-awake, yet relaxed and loose. We want to be able to tap into and react to deep emotional states as well as be able to remember theoretical considerations. We need to be highly receptive yet electrically active and energetically explosive. This is starting to sound like the qualities and states of the Buddha, a Zen master or a master Yogi, right? Maybe this also sounds like a stoner too?

Lately I've been playing a double header gig at a club every Wednesday. The first gig is a duo from 4:30-7pm and the second, a jam session goes from 8pm until 11pm. This is a recipe for burnout and I've been resorting to drinking a couple Red Bulls throughout the evening. If I drink one too late then sleep doesn't come for me until around 3:00a.m. I've got to stop doing this to my already whacked out sleeping patterns.

So before you hit the triple capp, spliff, Valium, speedball, or chocolatini here are some ideas to help get you into the 'zone' without breaking the bank, going to jail, the hospital, or just making an ass out of yourself.

  • Panayama breathing exercises are a fast, safe, easy and powerful way to reach non-ordinary states of consciousness. Check out my article called yogic breathing for musicians.

  • Meditate before the gig or on the break. The are many different methods, find one that works for you.

  • Stretching- endorphins are released and nerves calmed. Musicians can't afford to hold body tension.

  • Acupuncture- if you've never had a good accupuncture treatment you really don't know what you're missing. Acupuncture balances the energy currents in the body can have a drastic positive effect on your mental and emotional (as well as your physical) well being. Many insurance plans cover accupucture, if you live in Portland check out Working Class Acupuncture.

  • Blood Sugar- watch what and how much you eat before and at the gig. Eat too much and you'll get loagie, too little and your brain will starve and make your playing suck.

  • Go for a walk on the break. This is simple yet really makes a huge difference in your state of mind on the gig.


Bis key and saxophone hell

My homeboy Adam Beach just wrote me about a topic that always comes up with my students. Keep 'em coming Adam.
BTW, killer picture!

Since I've been practicing and gigging more and getting into bebop (picking up from where I left off soon after the end of high school) after a long hiatus where up to that point, in my post high school rock band career, I only played in about 4 guitar-friendly keys: E, G, A, D with no modulations to speak of... an old saxophone issue has resurfaced -- the bis key. What's the bottom line/final word? I
sorta think I remember being told that the bis key was a "cheap short-cut" and you should use the side key for b-flat almost always. I find it much more comfortable and that I'm much more dexterous by using the bis key when I'm in the key of a-flat or d-flat or e-flat on the saxophone, but when I switch to G, for example, I have to shift my finger up and it gets messy. Does that mean I should be disciplining myself in using the side bar? I'd really like to use the bis key predominately. Am I dooming myself to saxophone hell?

First, I need to come clean about something utterly terrible. I've got to get this off my chest once and for all.

O.K., Here it goes....................I never use the side Bb key.
THERE, I'VE SAID IT!!!! Now you know my dark secret. Shoot me now.

The only time I ever use the side Bb key is when I trill from A to Bb, that's it.

I know it's not 'proper' saxophone technique, but that's just the way I've done it since discovering the bis key about 25 years ago. I don't recommend that my students do the some thing , but I do have them get comfortable using the bis key. Many times they end up following in my footsteps and abandon the side Bb forever. To me it just feels strange to use my right hand in the middle of a left hand passage. The side Bb uses the palm of the right hand which pulls the fingers off the lower stack, besides being much clumsier than a finger. After years of using the bis key I can play a chromatic scale much faster and cleaner than with the side Bb. Another argument for the bis key is that the timbre of bis Bb is closer to A and B than side Bb. There is a noticeable difference between the two.

The real advantage of bis Bb is when you're playing in flat keys, then you can just le
ave your finger between B and bis Bb. Make sure you don't put too much of your index finger on the bis key, just enough of the lower tip to close the key down. It's really just a slight rolling motion, the finger doesn't lift or slide, it just rolls.

If you aren't used to using bis Bb at all start off by playing chromatically from G to C# and back down. Do this until you can really move fast.

If you do use side Bb then that you should check to make sure that the side Bb is perfectly in tune with bis Bb. All to often these are two fingering are wildly different. The cork will eventually wear down and side Bb will become sharper and sharper.

You may need to sand down bis key if it has too much of an edge on it. Do this with very fine grit sandpaper until the key is very smooth. Oleg has developed a bis key attachment (for the low low price of fifty dollars) to make the slide from B to bis smoother. If your older horn that has too large a gap between keys this may be the solution.

What about one and one Bb (the B key and the F key)???? What, are you a flute player or something?!?! This fingering is for wusses, end of story. Actually this fingering usually sucks because it's very hard to adjust for this one. Usually it's better to opt for a better adjustment on your F key mechanism than for one and one Bb.

I'm glad I finally got this off my chest. Next is the side C story.......


Giant Robot Steps!

You won't believe this video that Dan Gaynor just turned me on to. I've heard tons of guys play Giant Steps like this at Berklee but this guy takes the cake. Here is the next generation of young unswinging tenor players. Things are looking pretty grim for the future, but at least we'll have live Jazz in space.

Giant Robot Steps


On Rich Perry's concept

Here's an e-mail I received from Paul Harper, a former student of Rich Perry. This should be in the comments section of my 'Rich Perry- Eating standards for lunch', but I felt it warranted it's own post.

In my post 'Innovation or Emulation' I described a similar exercise as Rich has his students do-

"The chord/scale approach has a tendency to lock you into playing only the scale notes over a chord. The scale should only be thought of as consonant notes. All twelve notes should be available to you over any given chord. The non-scale notes each have their own 'tonal-gravity'. They only sound wrong if you don't know where they want to resolve to and you don't deal with them correctly. It's a good exercise to sit down at a piano and play chords while experimenting with every note over each chord. Listen to where each 'avoid' note wants to resolve. Try things like a major third over a minor seventh, a natural 11th over an altered dominant chord, a natural fifth over a half-diminished chord. Be thorough about this process and take notes as you go. Once you realize that you can play anything over anything you will be able to relax a little. You won't be so worried about playing wrong notes because you will have the skills to adapt to any possibility."

Here is what Paul had to say about studying with Rich Perry:

"I just noticed your comment referring to my posting about Rich Perry. I took some lessons with him about 8-10 years ago. He really emphasized just a couple of things:
Learn the 'classic' bop resolutions (#9, b9, 1; etc, etc, etc). There are a number of Parker oriented resolutions that drive an immense amount of this music. Rich was really big on knowing them in every key, and really making sure you heard them.
Then, be able to hear any note against any harmony. He would put on one of the Abersold 2-5-1 exercise discs, and play interesting notes against the progressions. It was really about hearing novel ways to resolve. My comment about resolving to the #11 stems from this. Rich has such big ears, he hears, I believe, the resolution to #11 and other more exotic resolves as perfectly good options. Most important perhaps is 'not resolving'. You hear Rich hang over the resolution point a lot, creating and elongating the harmonic tension. He's someone who makes this work better than most anyone. What we didn't talk about (not sure if you can) is his uncanny way of making all this work in, to my ears, his uniquely lyrical way. We also didn't discuss phrasing all that much. His phrases and rhythmic placement are another reason he sounds so unique.


Do it yourself Saxophone repair kit

Ever realized that your horn had something wrong with it right before a gig of recording session? Did you scramble to get to the repair shop only to find that they were backed up with school horns? Did you then try to make your repair using layers of scotch tape, rubber bands, plastic wrap and a lighter? There is definately a better way to get out this type of dilemma, why not fix your horn the right way? MusicMedic.com has put together an affordable and complete do it yourself sax repair kit for only nintey-nine bucks. The kit comes with a leak light, pads, tools, corks, felts, springs, manual and on-line support to fix most problems. It's the perfect solution if you're at sea or on the road. I could have really used this kit many times myself.

Music Medic Sax repair kit
Guide to Repairing Woodwinds


Ellery Esklelin videos

I've got to say that Ellery Eskelin has got to be one of my all-time favorite free players on any instrument. Kenny Brooks described him well when he said that Ellery was like 'Archie Shepp, but with chops'. He has a great sound, and not just a for an 'Avant-garde' player. His compositions are unique and interesting and his band is always smoking. Jim Black, who I was lucky enough to have play on my senior recital, is one of the most talented younger drummers on the scene today. He's like a class five hurricane ripping around the drums and Andrea Parker makes the Avant-garde accordion seem like the most natural thing.

William Mithoefer sent me these links from Ellery's newsletter. These are some great streaming videos of Ellery's band on You-Tube.

  • Eskelin w/Parkins & Black Concert Videos on-line...

Just posted a number of concert videos of the band from our 2001 European tour appearance in Barcelona, Spain. They are available for free streaming at google video.

Included are:

1. One Great Day...

2. T64K37B

3. Paris Swallowtail / Nymphaliadae

4. India

5. Mediation

Also included are a couple of 1999 out-takes of Eskelin & Parkins from
the film "Off the Charts - The Song Poem Story" by Jamie Meltzer.

6. "Yummy Yummy Dum Dum" (version one)

7. "Yummy Yummy Dum Dum" (version two)

Lastly is a trailer from the band's 2004 DVD "On the Road..." narrated
by my son Rami Eskelin. I probably should have made this trailer at
the time of the DVD release but better late than never, eh?

8. DVD trailer

The web site is always updated with upcoming appearances and tours.