Q:When was Cannonball on Kung Fu?
A:In episode number 55.
Kung-Fu Jam Session
You don't go from being a serious Jazz musician to wearing nothing but white linen pants and playing nothing but minor pentatonics overnight. You soul takes a while to turn to mush, even if you're really trying hard to serve the dark lord.
No One Sets Out To Be A Smooth Jazz Musician
By Michael Langello
July 25, 2007 | Issue 43•30
Look, I'm not going to lie to you. Nobody ever just woke up one morning and thought, "Of all the things possible in the vastness that is life, what I'd really like to do is play smooth jazz 250 nights a year." It just doesn't work that way.
It's not something you can plan for—it's all circumstance, I swear: You want to play music for a living. You bust your ass paying your dues in tiny clubs with six people in the audience. You think about all the talented jazz musicians out there who can't make ends meet and you start to worry. The next thing you know, your agent has you filling out forms to legally change your name from Mel Jablonsky to Michael Langello, and it's seeming like a good idea. Then suddenly you're 40 years old and you open up your dresser drawer to find nothing but linen pants.
But it starts so innocently. When you sign up for band in the fifth grade, you're upset to learn that the only instrument left is the alto sax, but you decide to make the best of it. You tell yourself, "This sounds kind of cool, I guess, sort of." What you could never know is that at that moment you have taken the first step down the long path toward a highly lucrative spot in heavy rotation on every smooth jazz radio station in every dentist's office in the country.
S o you land a couple gigs at a hotel lobby sitting in for a buddy of yours, just to pay the rent. So what? Then you start picking up hours doing session work because you just found out your wife is pregnant. Big deal. Eventually, you're standing on the deck of some record executive's yacht saying, "I'd like you to meet my very good friend, Chuck Mangione." How did this ever happen?
I don't want to sound like I'm complaining. Smooth jazz has been very, very, very good to me. But I can't exactly say I spent 80 hours a week practicing at Julliard only to play watered-down instrumental versions of innocuous pop songs to audiences composed primarily of over-30 middle-class moms and their husbands. On the other hand, it does bring in $6,000 to $14,000 a night, and, no, Julliard was not free. I mean, honestly, if one day you're just sitting around sipping coffee on your back deck and you get a call from Windham Hill Records, what are you going to do, not take it? There's worse things that could happen.
Obviously, no one ever thought they'd get their chops playing with Miles Davis only so they could one day support Kenny G on the European leg of a world tour, but life is funny that way. Thousands of half-decisions add up over time. Eventually, you grow up a little and give up your dream of an experimental hardcore rock-jazz trio called "Orbit." You realize life is a series of compromises. You think, "Come on, what's wrong with a pleasant blend of jazz and soul that people might enjoy listening to at home, possibly for a night of romance? That never killed nobody."
Then you wake up from a daydream to find yourself sitting on top of a piano on a beach in the Caribbean, wearing a loose-fitting white shirt, with photographers all around you, and you don't have any idea how you got there. For a moment you're terrified, and then it all comes flooding back: the new album, the road trips, the lunch meetings, the Grammy for best children's album. And then, well, then you're just left with yourself.
But the truth is, I'm fine with the fact that 52 years of professional jazz experience boils down to a few secretaries typing a little faster when my song comes on the radio. Really. The one thing I can't get over is when people at my shows yell out requests for "Yah Mo Be There." That's Michael McDonald, for Christ's sake, and I happen to know even he hates that song. It's eating him alive to have to crank that one out night after night. But c'est la vie. You just give the booking agent your direct-deposit routing number, and you soldier on.
I promise you, there was never a single, defining moment when I realized there was a huge market of people out there who only own four records, and convinced myself that, dammit, mine could be one of those four. Why would I? Fact is, I can't think of even one musician currently on the circuit who intentionally chose to go into smooth jazz, except maybe David Sanborn. But even he got to play some rock and free jazz earlier in his career and get it out of his system.
But like I said, I'm not complaining. Nobody held a gun to my head when I recorded that album with George Benson last year. That was all me. Two and a half hours in the studio turned into a much-needed kitchen renovation and a new Prius. And it makes people happy.
After all, that's what it's all about, isn't it? Right? Isn't it?
When the box with the book finally came I thought that the distributor got my order wrong because it came in a big and very heavy box. The book is big and just shy of 300 pages.
I was interested in what Jerry had to say about hexatonic scales since I was so intrigued by Gary Campbell's Triad Pairs For Jazz book. Triad pair are basically the same thing as hexatonic scales.
A hexatonic scale is simply a scale of six notes, though these six notes are usually derived from two different mutually exclusive triads. Pianists often use Hexatonics by stacking triads to create unusual chord voicings.
Gary Campbell has a very good explanation of why triad pairs are useful.
I fully describe Mr.Campbell's approach in my Triad Pairs post.
Here is Mr.Campbell's explanation:
1. By limiting note selection to six tones (each triad consisting of three), a more concise sonority is created. For example, the conventional chords used in the Jazz idiom are oftentimes associated with parent chord-scales of seven or more tones (melodic minor, major, minor, harmonic minor, and so on). Rendering these scales in the form of triad pairs yields more variety in tone color and suggests novel melodic possibilities.2. Each of the triads expresses a tonality. By using two triads, bi-tonal effects are created. This effect is multiplied when the triad pair is used over a root tone that is not present in either triad.
3. The structure and "tensile strength" of triads give the melodic line an independent internal logic. The "stand alone" sound is oftentimes enough to make a strong, effective melodic statement regardless of how it is (or isn't) relating to the harmony over which it is being used. It sounds "right".
4. The triads offer a skeleton structure to base lines on. This can be very helpful in modal settings where there are no diatonic, cycle-forth root movements or resolutions and where each chord change may last a long time (for instance, four, eight, or sixteen measures)"
Bergonzi's book is very well thought out and structured to be very useful as a practice tool. It comes with a CD with several rhythm section tracks of tunes like Blues, Caravan, Maiden Voyage, and Trane's Crescent. The book starts out with a chapter dealing with a Major triad over a Major triad a whole step apart. There is a full page of lines for each triad pair and a page for every key. After playing through a bunch of different keys and permutations of each pair you are able to apply each over a few different tunes. Jerry has the triad pair written above the staff and the actual chord change written below it.
Here are the different chords that you can use with a D/C triad pair:
D/C= D7sus, Cmaj7#11, C7#11, D7, G-69, F#7 alt, A-7
The next pair is Minor over Major a half-step apart:
B-/C= D7 sus, D7, A-/D
Next is Major over Major a half-step up:
B/C= F#-7b5, C#7b9, A-7, D7
The book continues like this, each chapter introducing a new set of triads and then giving you the chords that they may be applied to and finally letting you try to play along with th CD.
This book is a great way to learn a to use a modern and usually confusing harmonic device for improvising over chord changes. This book will keep me busy for a long time, it's really the most useful music book that I've run across in a long time. I have already been able to start applying some of the principles I've learned in just the first four chapters.
Triad Pairs for Jazz: Practice and Application for the Jazz Improvisor
Hexatonics (Inside Improvisation Series, 7)
The first example was about Tony Cioria, an orthopedic surgeon who was hit by lightning. Dr.Cioria had an out of body experience, watching from above as a woman performed CPR to revive his lifeless body.
After the accident Tony felt a little sluggish and had some problems remembering words and names, though his surgical skills remained unimpaired. An EEG and MRI found nothing amiss and soon he was back to his old self, almost. Over the course of about three days Tony developed and intense and insatiable desire to listen to classical piano music. Tony had taken a couple of piano lessons as a young boy, but had no real interest in classical music. What little music he did listen to tended to be Rock-n-Roll. He began to buy piano music and became especially enamoured with Chopin. His strong desire to play was facilitated when a babysitter asked to store her piano at his house. He slowly began to teach himself to play the piano and soon he began to hear piano music in his head, first in a dream, then all day long. A powerful presence would overtake Tony and he would struggle to notate on paper what he heard streaming into his head. His neurologist had no idea what to make of the music that would intrude upon and overwhelm Tony.
- "The music was there, deep inside him- or somewhere- all he had to do was let it come to him."It's like a frequency or radio band. If I open myself up, it comes. I want to say,' It comes from Heaven', as Mozart said. His music is ceaseless. "It never runs dry", he said. "It was a terrible struggle," he said. "I would get up at four in the morning and play until I went to work, and when I got home from work I was at the piano all evening. My wife was not really pleased. I was possessed."
Another case was a research chemist in her early forties. This woman started having strange feelings that she was on a beach with people she knew while she experienced a strange taste in her mouth. After finally having a gran-mal seizure a brain scan revealed a large malignant tumor in her right temporal lobe. She was told that the operation to remove the tumor might cause some personality changes. She was able to return to work soon after the operation. Before the surgery the woman had been uptight, unemotional, obsessive about household chores, and self absorbed. After the surgery she suddenly became warmer, more interested in going to movies, parties and living it up and keenly sympathetic to her co-workers. Soon she was the office confidante and the social center of the entire lab. Like Tony she also suddenly became passionately excited by music. She was 'addicted to music' and it now moved her to rapture or tears. In both these patients the passion for music came along with a surge of emotionality, 'as if emotions of every type were being stimulated or released'.
Had these patients had their brains stimulated to more intense activity and greater neural connectivity or had they just experienced nothing more than brain damage? One theory was that seizures, surgery, electric shocks, trauma could intensify the neural connections between perceptual systems in the temporal lobes and certain parts of the limbic system. This hyper-connectivity could be the basis for the sudden emergence of unexpected artistic, sexual, mystical, or religious feelings that sometimes also occurs in people with temporal lobe epilepsy. Could this Musicophilia be caused by something like this?
For me this article raised some questions dealing with emotional intensity, musical ability or appreciation and neurology.
- Do great musicians simply have overactive temporal lobes?
- Does a relaxed, happy and sympathetic temperament also increase musical thinking?
- Do we just need to tune into the right frequency in order to hear the divine music that is constantly playing throughout the universe?
- Should I start giving my students electro-shock therapy?
- How are they articulating the start of each note?
- How are they releasing each note?
- Does the volume stay the same or does it change for each note?
- What is the timbre of the note?
- Are they able to quickly and drastically get much louder or softer?
- Are they using the full range of possible articulations?
- Are they varying horizontal and vertical playing?
- Are they playing dense and sparse at different times?
- Are they aware enough of creating interesting direction in their lines?
- Do they know how to bring a rhythm section to a low simmer from a high burn?
- Are they able to consciously lay back and play on top of the beat?
- How is vibrato used and is it varied without being corny?
So often Jazz devolves into a string of connected 8th note lines, with little change in the texture that is being created. If you are always aware of the questions above while improvising then you will create interesting textural sound-scapes. Think like a sculptor or a painter instead of a musician once in a while.
How important are individual notes when the larger sound sculpture is bland and lame. Hip Be-Bop lines aren't enough to keep things interesting. Go ahead a make subtle shadings to individual notes! (Alternate fingerings and overtones are great for shading pitch and timbre)
You want to make your solos have a texture at least as complex and interesting as someone speaking a romance language.
Don't just focus on one element of texture, like dynamics. Practice being aware of all the different elements that vary texture, shift your focus consciously to one after another. Eventually it will become second nature to create interesting textures.
Ponder on This.
I decided to use a local refacer named Jeff Holman because I was getting tired of send pieces through the mail to Brian Powell for refacing. I wanted to be able to sit down and play the thing so the refacer could actually hear what I was talking about. It is too hard to explain to someone over the phone what you are hearing and would like to hear.
"Well it needs more- bite, balls, zing, oomph, body, warmth, depth, center, chunks, sizzle, edge, blah, blah,blah......"
When you send a mouthpiece away, you just hope that the refacer has the same concept of a good saxophone as you do and knows how to get it. Brian has done great work for me in the past, but I really felt like he could do better if I was right there showing him what I wanted.
My soprano piece is ready for me to pick up. I'll let you know how things worked out.
This blog is starting to remind me of a saxophonist's American Splendor.
It wasn't even original!
It was a 4 that had been opened up to a 7. I told him that usually only original NY Meyers go for over a thousand, not refaced pieces. I really was expecting and wanted to be able to play it and tell him that it wasn't worth $1100, and that he could find a better piece for less.
That didn't happen.
It was one of the best alto mouthpiece I have ever played in my life. It was a little brighter than my Link but the thing screamed. It had a perfectly centered tone and it played effortlessly top to bottom. In fact, it made me want to open my Slant Link up a little more to play like it. I instantly knew that Damien would never find a better mouthpiece no matter how hard he looked, he knew it too.
I was in shock that there were pieces out there that played that well and weren't even original.
When I gave it back to I said," You're screwed."
He had no choice but to spend $1100 on a small piece of hard rubber. If he let it go in hopes to find something cheaper he would always kick himself for passing it up.
After all, what is $1100 when it comes to your saxophone sound?
Boots Randolph, ‘Yakety Sax’ saxophonist
June 3, 1927 — July 3, 2007
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Boots Randolph, whose spirited saxophone playing on “Yakety Sax” endeared him to fans for years on Benny Hill’s television show, died Tuesday. He was 80.
Mr. Randolph suffered a cerebral hemorrhage June 25 and had been hospitalized in a coma.
Mr. Randolph played regularly in Nashville nightclubs for 30 years, becoming a tourist draw.
He recorded more than 40 albums and spent 15 years touring with the Festival of Music, teaming with guitarist Chet Atkins and pianist Floyd Cramer.
As a session musician, he played on Elvis Presley’s “Return to Sender,” Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman,” Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Round the Christmas Tree” and “I’m Sorry,” REO Speedwagon’s “Little Queenie,” Al Hirt’s “Java,” and songs by Buddy Holly and Johnny Cash.
In 1963, he had his biggest solo hit, “Yakety Sax,” which he co-wrote with guitarist James Rich.
“Yakety Sax” was the name of one of his gold albums and became the theme song for “The Benny Hill Show.”
He also was part of the Million Dollar Band on the TV show “Hee Haw.”
Mr. Randolph was born Homer Louis Randolph III in Paducah, Ky., and grew up in the rural community of Cadiz, Ky., where he learned to play music with his family’s band.
He said he did not know where or why he got the nickname “Boots,” although his Web site at the time of his death suggested it was to avoid confusion because he and his father shared the same first name.
Mr. Randolph began playing the ukulele and then the trombone, but switched to the tenor sax when his father unexpectedly brought one home.
He graduated from high school in Evansville, Ind., then joined the Army and became a member of the Army Band.
After his discharge, he played primarily jazz at nightclubs before landing a recording contract with RCA in Nashville in 1958 and working for recording sessions.
Mr. Randolph had his own nightclub in Nashville’s Printer’s Alley for 17 years, closing it in 1994 because of declining business and to spend more time with his family.
Survivors include his wife, a son, a daughter and four grandchildren.
Music Minus One Tenor Sax, Alto Sax, or Trumpet: Boots Randolph-When The Spirit Moves You
Music Minus One Tenor Sax, Alto Sax or Trumpet: Boots Randolph: Nashville Classics
I tend to catch myself whining about the Jazz scene here in Portland. Since moving here I've watched club after club close down. When I got here in 2000 it felt like a little Greenwich Village, no kidding. You could walk to almost eight downtown clubs with live Jazz in less than a mile radius. Today you might find three rooms with Jazz on a Friday night. My trip reminded me that things could be worse.
My first stop was the breathtaking city of Istanbul. We stayed practically between two of the world's most incredible mosques, the Blue mosque and Haga Sophia. The call to prayer sounded like it was coming from right out our window. Turks are intelligent and friendly people who really know how to hang. Sitting at rooftop cafes overlooking the Bospherous while smoking nargiles (hookas), drinking small glasses of sweet apple tea, playing backgammon and eating kabobs and Turkish delights; these guys know how to party.
There only seemed to be two Jazz clubs in Istanbul, pretty sad for a city with over ten million inhabitants. The owner of Nardis, the club I played at, said that people hadn't yet gotten used to going out to clubs to hear Jazz. They were used to hearing it at the cities two annual Jazz festivals, there were just not many Jazz connoisseurs who will go out of their way to hear Jazz. Nardis was a great venue by any standard; nice grand piano intimate two level room, sound-man, good snacks, closed circuit video of the show with projection screen. They treated me very well and I tried to smile even though the rhythm section couldn't swing if they were hanging from a rope. The show started at 10pm and the 1st set was over at 11:10pm. I set my horn down and sat down to wait for the second set, a few minutes later the bass player started to pack up and everyone started to mill around like the gig was over. Being confused, I asked the pianist what was happening. He told me that the gig was over, one long set. Later I would experience the same thing at a Barcelona Jazz club, apparently that was the norm.
The audience in Turkey was polite, but pretty unresponsive. They didn't seem to know when to clap and they never got very excited, unlike audiences in Spain, where I felt like a full blown Rock star. There was a terrible singer there that the crowd didn't seem to mind, even though she sounded like a dying goat yodelling. I was told that you could count all the Jazz players in Istanbul on two hands. I also met a young saxophonist that used to study with Rich Cole, who taught at Istanbul University for six months until the Jazz program was cut. Apparently Richie never got around to teaching this guy how to play changes.
When I got to Barcelona it felt like I was back home again. I easily fell back into the Spanish schedule of siestas from 2-5pm, dinner at 10 or 11pm and bedtime at 3 0r 4am. The second night in town I went down to the Jamboree to play at the WTF (What the Fuck?!) jazz session. I usually host this session when I was in town but it was the last Monday of the month, and that week was regularly hosted by saxophonist Libert Fortuny. I had heard about Libert from my friend Pere Soto. He said that Libert had been one of the top players at Berklee and that he was the most advanced saxophonist in Spain, he was like a Rock star there. I walked in to the band making some major noise while Libert played riffs on the EWI. He had a huge array of pedals the boxes on the floor that he spent a lot of time hunched over. He was running drum machines as well as adjusting his EWI sound. I must admit that I didn't like the sounds that he and the band were getting, it just sounded like shitty Techno to me. Finally Libert picked up his alto and blew over some grooves. It was obvious that he was pretty much of a virtuoso on the saxophone. There are very few alto players in the world with with that kind of aggressive control of the horn, Danny Walsh would be another one. His sense of harmony was influenced by Garzone and his technique allowed him to pretty much play whatever he wanted. He was very much aware of his stage performance and had the swagger and moves of a Rock star. I came up on stage and we did sort of an alto battle that had the crowd screaming. Ah, the roar of the crowd can be seductive indeed.
The second set Libert came back in full costume as his alter ego- Golden Showers. He was wearing skin-tight pink spandex shorts that were stuffed in the crotch, a tank-top with the words Golden Showers written in pen, big reflecto sunglasses and a long blond wig. While on stage he talked in a high screechy women's voice and did silly shit like simulate giving fellatio to the guitarist as he was playing. I guess the crowd liked it, they were already worked up so I think they would have gone for anything. I was not impressed. Here was a guy who was obviously one of the best players of his generation doing silly shit instead of just playing good music. I figured that he must just have gotten bored playing with players who weren't as good as he was there in Spain so he made things interesting for himself with theatrics. I really wanted to hear him stretch but he would only drop fragments of cool lines in with his repetitive rhythmic riffs. I could tell that Libert could really do some damage if he was in the right situation. He must have been smoking even as a young kid.
The next club I played at in BCL was Bel Luna, with my drummer friend Salvador Toscano. Bel Luna was the perfect Jazz room. It was L shaped with the band in the middle. There was a big stage with a nice grand piano. They served good food and the atmosphere was upscale compared to the catacombed dungeony feel of the Jamboree. The gig was with a good bass player and another saxophonist. I had a great time playing but was again surprised when the gig was over after one long set.
A few days later Salvador set up a session during the afternoon at a very cool underground club. The club was a long and skinny converted garage with cement floors and murals on the walls. We played with some guys from South America (of which there are many in BCL). It wasn't the greatest session but at least I was playing with Salvador again.
It seemed like the Jazz scene was going downhill in BCL, like everywhere. There were only a few Jazz clubs in the entire city. Salvador seemed to be working a lot, but he was also playing Latin music and Rock/Pop. Pere Soto was working with his Django project at Bel Luna regularly, but he said that not much else was happening for him there.
Barcelona is one of the most interesting and beautiful cities I've even seen and I would highly recommend it to anyone who likes art, architecture, music, food, the night life and gorgeous women. When we left for the airport if was almost 4am. As we came down the stairs from our apartment to the street we were shocked to see even more more people walking around than there usually were during the day. At night Barcelona makes New York City seem like Boca Raton. NYC isn't the 'city that never sleeps' anymore, that city would be Barcelona.
I'm glad to be back to my house with my dogs and comfortable bed. Portland seems so green and lush compared to the Mediterranean. It also seems like a ghost town. Where did everyone go? Any schemes I may have had about moving to Spain are on hold for now. In comparison Portland holds up pretty well, even with only a few Jazz clubs. Maybe things do run in cycles and more clubs will open again. Until then I'll be here in Stumptown.