The function of the Jazz musician, more esoterics..

An idea that has intrigued me over the years has been," what is the functional role of a musician in this society?". As musicians we tend to be more aware of the music we create or the environments we find ourselves in than what our essential function is.

By function I mean-

* What is my role in this social situation that I find myself ?
* What does the audience expect my music to do for them?
* How narrow are the limits on my actions in my role as a musician?
* How much can I affect the audience without them playing an active role?
* Should I being doing more than just trying to entertain?
* How much of my inner self should I reveal through my music, if any?
* Will they be aware if I change my function from minstrel to high priest?

I believe that a listener can only judge the functional role a musician is playing by the effect that the music has on them directly. The attitude of the musician determines the functional role he/she plays. How the musician see his own function as a musician can determine how much or how little the ego enters into the music. Function can change in the mind of a musician in an instant, and with it the profundity of the musical expression. A musician who believes their function is to create beauty will create music that is very different from a musician who's function is to pick up chicks.

If we look into the musical philosophies of ancient cultures we learn that their musicians were expected to play very different functional roles as modern musicians do. For them the role a musician was closely tied to the roles of the priest, healer, magician and seer. Music was never separated from it's related disciplines- astrology, medicine, mathematical cosmology,
geometry and ceremonial magic. To the ancient mind you could not understand one of these sciences without understanding all of them. In fact Hippocrates, the father of medicine, once stated that a doctor who didn't thoroughly understand astrology could do so much as even diagnose a patient. Music was always the thing that tied all the other sciences together and made them relevant to each other. It was the study of the manifested qualities of the whole numbers, in other words it was the foundation of qualitative mathematics. These qualities of the whole numbers, or integers, were the laws of musical harmony, but they were also the very laws of nature operating in the cosmos, on earth and in the psychological realms of the mind.
These laws of number/music became expressed in the construction of early alphabets, which were numbering systems as well as symbolic language capable of expressing abstract musical concepts. For example in the Hebrew alphabet each letting is a whole number and a whole number ratio, the first expresses it's relationship to the quality of an overtone, the second relates the letter to a musical interval. This is jumping ahead quite a bit, the point I'm trying to make is the general disparity in the way ancient civilizations defined the function of the musician compared to the way our society sees our role.

Consider the ideas that you were taught about the functional role that musicians play. Did you accept these ideas without first questioning them? Have your ideas about your function as a musician changed over time? How narrow or flexible are your ideas about function? How do you think these ideas influence the way you play music?

These ideas that we have about our functional roles can and do affect the music we end up creating, how we feel when we create music, and how people feel when they hear our music.

By making positive changes in our belief structures relating to music we can grow more musically than we could by wood-shedding for years, and the changes take affect in an instant. These changes affect the very nature of our musical expression by changing who it is making the music. Is that a ladies man playing Stella or a the high-priest of the sun?

Ok, Ok I'll go back to talking about how to play over two-fives............


Cosmic Music- Acoustic symbolism

Exerpts from ethno-musicologist Marius Scheider's essay 'Acoustic Symbolism',
from Cosmic Music-Musical keys to the interpretation of Reality', edited by Joscelyn Godwin.

"Of all the means for identifying oneself with the flowing of the cosmic rhythms, ancient ritual recommends music making as the best and most suited to man. Musical rhythm is unencumbered by any intellectual activity; it reaches down into our deepest unconscious because in it's empty form it constitutes the basis of that existence. It is the reality always operating in man, yet remaining inexpressible. Through music making one sets out on the path that leads to participation (or as they say,"drinking") at the river of cosmic rhythms. And even if one does not reach the ultimate goal, i.e., the completely empty form, by this kind of musical meditation, one nevertheless senses the nature of this ideal, most subtle and fluid filling of the empty rhythmic form by sound. There is in fact no kind of form filling of a material or static kind that can match for truthfulness the acoustic individuation of the empty rhythmic form. The flowing primordial energy can never become as transparent in solid form as it does in the fluid, or in particular the acoustic form. Not only does music making reveal the first and most palpable filling of the empty form, it also provides direct experiences of the contact between matter and spiritually significant sound, because this sound also sets the body of the singer in perceptible vibration. In wordless song, and in playing musical instruments, primal energies become transparent through matter in the purest conceivable form. Music making is a borderline occurrence between the tangible and the intangible, whereby the intangible is actually produced out the tangible. If one considers that the ancient cosmologies had the intangible and the invisible precede the material and tangible, then one begins to understand the pre-eminent significance of music in cultic activity. Whereas the sonorous word of creation gradually becomes enshrouded by the mute matter it is producing, the ritual strives toward making mute matter resonant. Music making is a borderline occurrence between intangible sounds and tangible matter. Its cosmological position in the reddening dawn between light and darkness springs from this borderline nature.........."

"The role of music in the concrete world is that of a mediator. It is no longer a primordial sound, nor a natural one, because since the dawn of creation it has become a conscious, man made art. But the the material that it uses remains the sound that reaches deep into our dark subconscious. According to the sayings of ancient cosmologies, music's place of origin lies in the breath, in the soughing of the wind and the roaring of the water. The home of music is the reddening dawn. There it has its castle with that high tower which, as it says in the fairy tales, sometimes even reaches beyond the borders of dawn into the bright daylight. As a purely sonorous phenomenon, music music is the archetype of movement insofar as rhythmic sound forms the basic structure of the world. Since man is also rooted in this early cosmos, he preserves this substructure in his subconscious, where the archaic and the truthful are ever present. The rhythmic substructure is the anthropocosmic primordial memory. As an art music- particularly in its connection with language- is a mixture of truth and falsity, and if the falsity of daylight is not overcome, music will become a bearer of illusion."

Slonimsky saves the world

Q: "Is there a good way to practice out of the Slonimsky book? Do you
transpose that shit or just run over it in the key of C to get more ideas. It's very interesting but dense harmonically, I never considered all the different permutations that are there." Markos

I've never gotten round to transposing the Slonimsky material. The 1:6 are whole to
ne, 1:4 diminished and the 1:3 can be used over whole-tone or three tonic progressions, each one of those already cover several keys. The diminished and whole-tone patterns are cool because they are based on the scale but not all the notes are diatonic to the scale. That makes them close enough to use in place of a whole-tone or diminished scale. Remember also that as long as you move a pattern in minor thirds or whole-steps it sounds like diminished or whole-tone respectively.

The 12-tone patterns don't need to be transposed either. You just need to land on a good note when they resolve. This is because they have no key center, just a powerful gravity to the final tone. In fact you can really think of all symmetrical scales as having a strong dominant function, so you can get pretty wild and loose with them. Just make sure you resolve them strongly, you'd be amazed what you can actually get away with and still sound good.

Another way I like to practice from the book is to read through in a loose manner. I might just follow the shapes of the lines but use different notes. TSMP is great for opening your ears up to new directional motion in lines. There are shapes in TSMP that you just don't run across in Jazz. It also can introduce you ways of covering larger intervallic space, the first scale in the book (the 1:2 tri-tone) is a good example of this. Watch out for the trap though that many players who practice out of TSMP too much fall into. This is the strong tendency to start your lines at the bottom of the horn and head to the top of the range before going back down. I call this the 'Slonimsky Roller Coaster Syndrome'. There is one of my peers in particular who does this all the time (who lives in NYC and is on the Verve label). This cat is a great guy and a truly fantastic player, but up-down-up-down thing really gets on my nerves. Take that book away from him!!!

I think what Trane and generations of players found in TSMP were lines that had so much forward motion that they could be used over ANYTHING. These lines are strong enough to make outside playing sound logical. Tonal harmony is after all mainly about forward motion, so the lines found in TSMP offer away to still retain forward motion while playing outside. It just becomes a matter of being able to resolve these lines in a logical way.

Later in the book there are some very exotic sounding pentatonic scales like the Javanese pelog scale, the Japanese Hira-Joshi scale and Scriabin's pentatonic scale from Sonata number 7. These all could be used over various types of C7 chords. They could also fit over other chords with a little ingenuity. All these exotic scales still sound uniquely exotic no matter what chords they are played over.

The Bi-tonal Arpeggios section of TSMP is a topic that has already been thoroughly fleshed out in Gary Campbell's Triad Pairs book. These pairs of triads offer a goldmine for the Jazz musician. For more on this topic see my Triad Pairs articles.

For me TSMP offers an entire new world of 'directional ideas'. The lines in TSMP snake, interweave, spiral, converge & diverge, jump, lurch, and infra-interpolate. Practicing this book will break you free of overly simplistic vertical/horizontal concepts of linear thinking. TSMP has been without a doubt one of the main modes of transmission of contemporary classical ideas to the Jazz world. There is still much in TSMP that has been untapped. Can you imagine what would Jazz sound like in thirty years if young players worked out of TSMP instead of David Baker's Bebop books???


3 more Sonny videos

Don't miss the three new streaming videos posted at Sonny Rollins.com .

The first one is Tenor Madness on the main page, this is the squirley yet still interesting late Sonny.

The second video is a 1981 version of Moriat (a.k.a. Mack the Knife), this one is a little less raw.

The last one is a Ralph Gleason interview with Sonny from 1963.

Mover called me tonight and was telling about his two hour phone conversation with Sonny on Christmas. Sonny's still on the road quite a lot, but Mover said Sonny has been in one of his reclusive periods since his wife (and manager) passed away.


The never ending quest, or the obsession......

I realize that I've really been lagging on my posting lately. Sorry to all my regular readers.

Well, I finished mastering my CD project and it sounds better. Mastering bought out each individual instrument, generally just giving everything more of a ring. Now the search is on for a record company to put it out. There is always the option of releasing it ourselves, and that would only be about $1500 more for manufacturing.
  • The important most things that you want a record company to do for you are-
  1. Get you press/reviews- you could also hire a PR company to do this for you if you want to independent. A good record company already has a network of press contacts that will at least take the time to consider writing up new releases.
  2. Radio airplay- you need a solid network of broadcasting contacts in place in order to get wide airplay. I've seen driven independent artists do a good job at this themselves too. There are a few companies that charge you a couple of hundred dollars, plus a few hundred CDs and postage to get your music directly to DJs and programmers. I've had other friends who have had good results this way.
  3. Distribution- It's sometimes nice to actually sell some disks at some point and you can't really do this without good distribution. CD Baby can only go so far. You can find distributors without being on a label, for the DYI types.
  4. Tour support/booking- In the Jazz realm this can be totally nonexistant, but many labels will work with booking agents to send bands around the festival circuit. Personally, I'm only interested in touring Europe, so this is what I'm looking for. It is said that only about five booking agents book almost all of the European Jazz festivals.
  5. Legitimacy- Look at the artist rosters of the labels you are considering. Are these artists going to make you look better or worse. These will be your label-mates and these folks will be what people think of first when they think of the label.
Right now I'm just sick of hearing the CD that I just finished. When people ask me if I'm happy with it, I can't help wanting to say that I'm sick of it and never want to hear it again. I've totally lost my perspective. All I hear is my poor articulation, out of tune notes, repeated phrases, and sloppy lines. Hopefully I will get over this phase, maybe not though. I've been giving mastered copies out to musicians I respect in hopes of getting a better perspective on the recording.
Enough of that.....

The real quest I want to talk about is the elusive quest for the perfect setup. For years all I played was alto. I've played the same slant Otto Link hard rubber 6 for 17 years and the same Vandoren Java 3 1/2 reeds for 23 years. My buddy Tom Pereira was the one who finally corrupted me. Tommy is a late stage gear addict. He looks at gold-plated five digit Mark VIs on eBay as compulsively as porn addict with a T1 internet connection. I'm sure everyone knows at least one saxophonist with this compulsion. They are never happy with their setup. Of course there are many variables to a saxophone setup; the horn, resonators, mouthpiece, neck, ligature, reed. Any of these factors can drastically affect the sound of the horn. I've heard that Don Mensa does a clinic where he dumps a pile of mouthpieces out on the table and then proceeds to play every one, sounding exactly like Don Mensa on each one. I know that for me there are very few pieces that I can sound good on, let alone be comfortable playing on. Getting back to Tommy, for years he suggested that I try other Mark VIs to solve the problems that I was having on my Starsky and Hutch era Mark VI. I finally gave in and found a horn that destroyed the horn that I was so very happy with for 15 years. I had found my holy grail and that was the begining of the end for me.

I figured that the next step was to try the tenor once again. I'd had intermediate tenors before and never played them because I just couldn't get the right sound. All I needed was the right horn ,right? My first try was a Keilworth stencil from eBay. It had a richer sound than most intermediate horns but not good enough to take out of the house. Next I bought a Mark VII from eBay. It was much better than the first horn, actually sounding closer to what I was hearing, but it was just too dead and spread. The Mark VII sold on Craig's list and I impulsively bought a 121xxx sn Mark VI on eBay for $3350. The horn was a relacquer and had had some body work done on it. It had a very rich and warm sound, even though it needed some more work. After putting about $600 worth of work into it the horn played and sounded great.
Still, I felt it could be a little better. I just wanted the tenor to feel as comfortable as my alto and the response just wasn't quite there yet.

About a month ago Tom located a beautiful 141xxx sn Mark VI for $3900 on the Sax on the Web forum (SOTW). I sprung for it and it WAS better. This horn had muy grande huevos! After a bit of work it was screaming (in a dark, fat, rich sort of way).

Am I done searching for tenors?? Shit, I hope so. If I do keep looking for one should I admit my powerlessness over my gear addiction?! I can clearly see what this addiction has done to my friends. Oneof my buddy's girlfriend dumped him because all he talked about was Otto Link mouthpieces. She even knew his favorite facing by heart,"a seven star", she said. This guy still hasn't found a really great Otto Link yet and he's been searching for a good 25 years. Well, maybe he did, but he probably messed it up by dicking around with the facing with a file.

Here's a poem from a MySpace page, one of my friends pages named Otto Link-

I'm an Otto Link.

I'm the Otto Link.

I'm the Otto Link you dreamed about in the Berklee dorm, all those years ago.

I'm the Otto Link that old man, in the dumpy, rat-hole apartment, filed down for you & ruined.

I'm Trane's Otto Link.
I'm Dexter's.
I'm Sonny's & Stitt's; Stan & Wayne's too.

Grossman & Liebman's,
Bergonzi's & Garzone's
and all those other white guys' Otto Link.

I'm George Coleman's Otto Link on "My Funny Valentine" and also the new one, the one that you made your 14 yr old student buy, even though he sounds terrible on it.

I'm the Link with a baffle,
the Slant Sig,
the early Babbit, late ToneMaster & Pompano.

I'm the Otto Link.

So as for my mouthpiece addiction right now, I'm still searching for the perfect Otto Link!
I'm looking for a slightly more open alto slant Link than the one I'm now using. I have an early Babbit 7 that's a little too open. I'm also waiting for Tommy to send me an early Babbit hard-rubber 7 tenor piece, in hopes that it will project better than my rare Zimberoff hard-rubber. If that doesn't work then I might buy a blank and have Brian Powell make me a tenor version of my alto piece.

I looked at my reed orders for last year and I actually had a few $400-600 months!! This was just for reeds. I hope my wife still isn't bothering to read this blog. I still haven't even mentioned the baritone yet.......

This is meant to be a cautionary tale for all of you saxophonists that are happy with your setups. It starts out at first by trying different reeds, then maybe a new ligature, then you might start just typing Selmer into an eBay search once and a while. This disease progresses fast and is incurable, it can only be arrested. It just might be cheaper for me to switch back to using drugs again, at least there are no PayPal fees.

Seriously though, it's hard to know when you've crossed the line from upgrading your equipment in order to improve your sound, to a compulsion that eats away your heart if you don't put a higher bid in on a Slant Link. Usually it's far too late when you've realized that there could be a problem. Hopefully by this point you at will least have a killer sound.

Just repeat these words over and over to yourself," My setup sounds fine, why change anything?".

Otto Link Millennium Edition Tenor Sax Mouthpiece


Baby, saxophone or jack-hammer, which is worse?

Here's one for your blog and/or anyone you may know who may know about this...

Now I'm a dad of a newborn, my spouse is concerned about our baby being in the same room when I'm playing and it being too loud and damaging his ears. I'm told that adult e
ars can comfortably deal with sound up to 90 decibels (we could be way off on that, I’m not sure) and that that should be ok for babies. My question is does a saxophone's average decibel level at a comfortable/reasonable distance between player and the another person go above that? I play tenor with a 9 metal otto link tone master... but still in my band I'm not able to really be heard above the guitar amps and drums, etc. without a mic, unlike the trumpet and bone. I need to report back to my baby's momma on this. Any help you could provide would be awesome.
Thanks homie!

Thanks for the good question Adam. I was just talking to a friend about this very question. He thought that his Jumbo Java mouthpiece was blowing out his ears. I found some interesting answers to your question. Babies do have more sensitive hearing due to smaller ear canals, the decibel levels that they can take are slightly lower than adults. That said, a babies cry can easily hit 115 on the decibel meter, far above the safe level of 90 decibels. Saxophones aren't much louder than 100 decibels, maybe an Otto Link metal 9 might get you up to 105 decibels if you play triple forte. Adults can take 90 decibels for up to 8 hours safely. If you were to practice for 8 hours at triple forte in the same room with a screaming baby then you both should wear some good earplugs. Hearing loss is very common among musicians, and you would think babies, but there are ways to prevent it. Invest in some good earplugs made for musicians, these will allow you to hear well enough to play while protecting your hearing. If you're playing in the same room with your baby at a mezzo-forte for an hour or two at a time, your baby should be fine as long as you don't blast or play for hours at a time. If you want to be overly cautious you might consider using some wax in your baby's ears and earplugs in yours. Remember that cute little baby of yours can do more damage to your hearing than a jackhammer, so next time you're changing a diaper you may want to think about putting in some earplugs. It seems like you should put earplugs in a crying baby's ears too.

Don't take chances with your hearing! Be especially careful when you go into the recording studio. My teacher Ray Brown had his hearing severely damaged by a bad engineer's headphone mix.
Don't wait until your ears hurt before taking action. Hearing damage can be almost instanteous or it can be cumulative over years. Either way, musicians can't afford any hearing loss. DCV

Question: Which sound has greater potential to damage your hearing - a baby's cry or a jackhammer? If you answered the former, a baby's cry, you were right, according to information provided by a representative of the Center for Hearing and Health.

At 115 decibels, the sound of a baby's cry can begin to cause hearing damage to a person next to the child after just 15 minutes, reported Dorie Watkins, an industrial audiologist for the Center for Hearing Health. The jackhammer doesn't quite measure up, measuring "only" 105 decibels, she noted; but that level of sound also can cause damage to the inner ear after one hour, according to medical and science standards.

Decibel Levels of Daily Noises

NIOSH has compiled a list of the decibel measurements (dBA) for common noises you might be exposed to each day at home, work or during recreational activities. A decibel is a unit that expresses intensity or power. See what your exposure is to unsafe noises with some of the following examples:


  • 50 dBA - Refrigerator
  • 50-80 dBA – Electric shaver
  • 50-80 dBA – Electric shaver
  • 60-95 dBA – Hair dryer
  • 75-85 dBA – Flushed toilet
  • 80 dBA – Ringing phone
  • 110 dBA – Crying baby
  • 135 dBA – Noisy squeeze toys


  • 40 dBA – Quiet office/ library
  • 65-95 dBA – Power lawnmower
  • 90-115 dBA – Subway
  • 105 dBA – Snow blower
  • 120 dBA – Ambulance
  • 140 dBA – Airplane take-off
  • 180 dBA – Rocket launching from pad


  • 70 dBA – Freeway traffic
  • 95-110 dBA – Motorcycle
  • 110 dBA – Car horn
  • 117 dBA – Football game (stadium)
  • 150 dBA – Firecracker
  • 157 dBA – Balloon pop
  • 170 dBA – Shotgun


  • 0 dBA – Softest level the human can hear
  • 10 dBA – Normal breathing
  • 60 dBA – Normal conversation
  • 110 dBA– Shout in the ear
  • 120 dBA – Thunder
How Much is Too Much?

NIOSH states that the maximum amount of time a person can be exposed to 85 dBA without experiencing hearing damage is 8 hours; this is the average level of noise a person hears every day. However, continuous exposure to 85 dBA beyond the 8-hour limit will cause hearing loss. If a person is exposed to level above 85 dBA, the risk of hearing loss increases in a shorter amount of time. The maximum time allowed for 110 dBA (e.g. a crying baby) is 1 minute 29 seconds. If a person is exposed to a noise that has a measurement of 140 dBA (e.g. airplane departure), immediate inner ear damage would result.

How loud are the activities that you enjoy?

Some Examples of Dangerously Loud Recreational Activities

  • Noise levels at video arcades can be as high as 110 dBA.
  • Firecrackers create sound levels from 125 - 155 dBA at an average distance of 10 feet.
  • Sound levels at live music concerts can be measured at 120 dBA and beyond.
  • The noise level of gunshots can be measured at 150 dBA -167 dBA and hearing loss can result from just a few shots of a high powered gun, if appropriate hearing protection is not worn.
  • Noise levels at movie theaters have been measured up to 118 dBA.
  • Sound levels in health clubs and aerobic studios can be as high as 120 dBA.
  • Personal stereo systems with headphones produce sounds as loud as 105 - 120 dBA if turned up to maximum levels.
  • Sound levels at a sporting event can be measured up to 127 dBA.
  • Motorboats emit sound levels ranging from 85 - 115 dBA.
  • Motorcycles have been measured at levels ranging from 95 - 120 dBA.
  • Noise levels of snowmobiles are as high as 99 dBA.
  • Many children's toys emit sounds which are measured at 135 dBA -150 dBA.
  • Noise levels from 'Boom Cars' have been measured at 140dBA and beyond."

Casa Valdez for the Jazz Harmony student

The nature of blogs and the fact that the Blogger search engine sucks makes it difficult to locate information on Casa Valdez. There are articles that I think are very important for my students that are lost in the archives. I have written about many of the topics that I usually deal with in my private and group lessons. There are some topics that I always teach, and in a certain order. For those students that may not currently have a teacher, or just want to suplement their other studies, I will try to lay out a course of study from the material on this blog. This rough outline is aimed at the Jazz improvisation student. This is simply a suggested course of study, feel free to develop your own.

Jazz Harmony for Improvisation: chord-scales
Berklee Harmony 1-4
Digital Patterns
Symetrical Scales: diminished and whole-tone
John Stowell's melodic minor scales for improvisation
Ray Brown Patterns
Paul Contos ii- V7 patterns
Motific Development
Tim Price's Blues Studies
Lee Konitz 10 Level system
Bob Mover's ii-V7 subs
Basic ii-V7 substitutions
The best ii-V7 substitution ever
Half Step subs/related ii-7s part II
8th note lines and practice tips
Randy Porter's Bebop harmonic devices
Modes of the Harmonic Minor Scale
Gary Campbell's Triad Pairs for Jazz
Triad Pairs and the modes of Harmonic Minor
Special Function Dominant Chords
Pentatonic Lines
Jof Lee's Polychord overview
Mulgrew on Woody Shaw- the 'Blue Major third'
George Russell's LCCOTO
Tim Price's random line excercise
Coltrane Chord Substitutions


The art and science of CD Mastering

So we've now finished tracking everything except some last minute bass clarinet and alto flute harmony parts. I recorded one solo that I left out because it was so hard, I didn't want to hold up the entire band until I was happy with it. Well, I'm still not happy with it. I did a shitload of takes and never really got in the groove. Partly because I wasn't really warmed up and partly because the sound was also pretty bad. We were recording in our engineer's small project studio and even though we used the exact same mic setup, the sound came out much brighter and smaller. It's hard to play when you're hearing a weak sound in the cans. I was also going to replace another solo but the sound was so much better in the big studio that we decided to keep the original tracks. This of course wasn't Sean's fault, there's just no way a home studio can come close to the sound of a high end professional studio.

Having great preamps and a top of the line board makes all the difference in the world. At first we were thinking of trying to cut costs by mixing at our engineer's home studio, but we wanted the best sound possible. Pere was talking about having the engineer master the CD on his ProTools HD system to save $500-600 dollars. Mastering is the last phase of the process before pressing and it can really make or break the final sound. Some mastering facilities will do a CD for a flat fee and some charge by the number and length of the tracks. A good mastering facility has very specialized gear that is too expensive to own unless you are in the business of mastering. People say that you should always have a different person master your project than person who mixed it. Mastering is about organizing all your tracks, setting the correct levels, adding the right amount of compression and tweaking the final timbre to create a specific tonal atmosphere. This last operation requires that the mastering engineer has a very clear idea of the sound that you are going for artistically. As with your recording engineer, make sure that the mastering house has done the type of music that you are working with. Rock mastering is a very different game than Jazz mastering. Rock mastering usually compresses the hell out of the sound and cranks up the levels until the waveforms look like bricks.

If you're going to spend several thousand dollars on recording and mixing, then don't be a big weenie and do a half-assed job on the mastering. Here is some more information about mastering from Digital Domain website.

Can't I just mix to DAT?
Seven reasons why you need mastering.

Every recording deserves good mastering. When you're through mixing, your work is not finished. Mastering adds polish, it sounds more than just a record...it becomes a work of art. The songs work together seamlessly, their sound can take on a dimensionality and life that enhances even the best mixes. Here are seven reasons why Mastering is needed.

1. Ear Fatigue
Most music today is produced by recording a multi track tape. The next step is the mixdown. This mixdown may take anywhere from 4 hours to 4 weeks, depending on the producer's predilections, the artist's whims, and the budget. Usually each tune is mixed in isolation. Rarely do you have the luxury to switch and compare the songs as you mix. Some mixes may be done at 2 o'clock in the morning, when ears are fatigued, and some at 12 noon, when ears are fresh. The result: Every mix sounds different, every tune has a different response curve.

2. The Skew of the Monitors
Monitoring speakers. It's amazing when you think about it, but very few studios have accurate monitor systems. Did you know, placing speakers on top of a console creates serious frequency response peaks and dips? A typical control room is so filled with equipment that there's no room to place a monitor system without causing comb-filtering due to acoustic reflections. And though your heart is filled with good intentions, how often do you have time to take your rough mixes around, playing them on systems ranging from boomboxes to cars to audiophile systems? Usually there is no time to see how your music will sound on various systems in different acoustic environments. The result: your mixes are compromised. Some frequencies stand out too much, and others too little.

3. More Me
The producer was supposed to be in charge. He tried to keep the artists out of the mix room. But something went out of control. The producer was gone for the day, or the bassist had a fit of megalomania. Or the artist decided to be his/her own producer. Whatever....all the mixes sound like vocal, or bass, or (fill in appropriate instrument) solos.

4. May I Have Your Order, Please
When mixing, you (the producer) often have no idea what order to put the tunes until after all the mixes are completed. If you physically compile these songs at unity gain, and listen to them one after another, it probably won't sound like "a record." Some tunes will jump out at you, others will be too weak; you may discover (belatedly) that some tunes are too bright or weak in the bass, or that the vocal is a little weak, or that the stereo separation is too narrow. These things actually happen, even after weeks in the studio, and the problems sometimes don't become apparent until the album is assembled in its intended order, or auditioned in a good monitoring environment.

5. The Perspective of another Trained Ear. The Buck Stops Here.
The Mastering engineer is the last ear on your music project. He can be an artistic, musical, and technical sounding board for your ideas. Take advantage of his special ear... many beautiful music projects have passed through his studio. You may ask him how he feels about the order of your songs, how they should be spaced, and whether there's anything special that can make them stand out. He'll listen closely to every aspect of your album and may provide suggestions if you're looking for them.

6. Midi Madness
Lately it sounds like everyone is using the same samples! Acoustic sounds are coming back in vogue, but perhaps you haven't got the budget to hire the London Symphony. So, you had to compromise by using some samples. But you shouldn't compromise on mastering. Good mastering can bring out the acoustic quality in your samples, increasing your chance of success in a crowded music field.

7. Don't Try This at Home
The invention of the Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) and the digital mixer is an apparent blessing but really a curse. Many musicians and studios have purchased low cost DAWs and digital mixers because they have been led to believe that sound quality will improve. Unfortunately, it's real easy to misuse this equipment. We've found many DAWs and digital mixers that deteriorate the sound of music, shrink the stereo image and soundstage, and distort the audio. There are several technical reasons for these problems-usually wordlength and jitter are compromised in these low-cost systems. Therefore, we recommend that you protect your audio from damage; use a mastering studio that employs a high-resolution system that enhances rather than deteriorates audio quality. Prepare your tapes properly, and avoid the digital pitfalls. Use the informative articles at theDigital Domain web site as resources to help you avoid audio degradation. When in doubt, take this advice: mix via analog console to DAT or analog tape, and send the original tapes to the mastering house. You'll be glad you did.

Those are only some of the reasons why, inevitably, further mastering work is needed to turn your songs into a master, including: adjusting the levels, spacing the tunes, fine-tuning the fadeouts and fadeins, removing noises, replacing musical mistakes by combining takes (common in direct-to-two track work), equalizing songs to make them brighter or darker, bringing out instruments that (in retrospect) did not seem to come out properly in the mix. Now, take a deep breath and welcome to the world of CD mastering.

from Diskmakers soundlab-

In the recording studio, you record one song at a time, and the focus of the recording or mixing engineer is to make each song great. The result, however, is generally a collection of songs that all peak at different levels and may have different EQs. In the post-production phase (called mastering), a professional engineer unifies the CD by using EQ, compression, and other dynamics processing to give it a consistent sound from track to track.

In addition, post production can raise your album's overall level through the careful use of compression, so your album can compete with any major label release. The mastering engineer also ensures that your music will sound great - whether it's being played through a car stereo, a portable CD player, or a top-of-the-line stereo system. In CD Mastering, the sound of your CD will be optimized, making it sound punchy, warm, and full, while raising the overall level (volume) and highlighting details that aren't already apparent. Post production is also helpful for addressing issues such as "pops," out-of-phase tracks, and overall noise reduction.

A fresh pair of ears can be the difference between a good-sounding CD and a great one. A real advantage of post production is that an unbiased sound professional has the opportunity to evaluate your master and determine how to get the most out of your production. After you've spent weeks or even months in a recording studio listening to your CD over and over again, a fresh pair of ears can put the project into perspective for you and let you know whether or not your CD will benefit from post production. After all, you only have one chance to make your music sound its best. The choice is up to you.

The mastering engineer, to improve your recording, can:

• Raise the overall level.
• Even out song levels and EQ individual tracks for cohesion.
• Correct minor mix deficiencies with equalization.
• Enhance flow by changing the space between tracks.
• Eliminate noises between tracks.


The recording process so far...

Tomorrow I go back into the studio to record for the last time before we start mixing. We'll be in our engineer's the project studio instead of the studio that we recorded the bulk of the tracks in. The first two days of recording at Supernatural Sound cost $900, plus $840 for our engineer. This of course does not include musicians, two of whom we flew in for the session. For the piano tracking we went into Randy Porter's Heavy wood Studio, where Randy tracked his Steinway on five tunes (for $350). Next, at Casa Valdez we had Dan Gaynor play my Casio tone to trigger B4 virtual organ sounds with a PowerBook on four more tunes. Then late one night, after my dogs had gone to sleep, my buddy Damien Mastersen recorded some killer chromatic harmonica on two tracks. Since I want to be right in the same room with the engineer to track my solos (for better communication) we can save some bread by not going back to Supernatural Sound until the final mix. I have to say we got a really great sound at Supernatural, very warm for a digital studio. So far Pere Soto and I have spent almost $4k on this project. The final mixing and mastering will cost another $1420, then the manufacturing costs.

Shit, this had better be good, right?! The CD is something I would have never done had I not co-produced it with Pere. We both are kind of balls-to-the-wall players usually, but this project turned out totally different. It's mostly dreamy romantic Latin music, with a Samba and a Rock-Funk tune thrown in. My grandmother would have even liked it! After years of going to my concerts she once told my mother,"You know, I think that I don't really like Jazz."

One thing I discovered during this recording was that a Royer ribbon mic combined with my clip on SD Systems condenser mic sounds incredible. I've never gotten a better sound in the studio in my life. Each mic compliments the other for a complete full and rich sound. Our engineer Sean Flora has been very easy to work with and really knows what he's doing. He's got great ears, which is crucial. Just being a gear geek doesn't make anyone a good engineer.

Before you choose your engineer make sure he/she has recorded the type of music that you're going to be playing, that they are familiar with the studio that you'll be working in, that they are clear about what their role will be (producer or just engineer), listen to some of the CDs that they have already recorded, give them some CDs that you would like your project to sound like, and have a long talk before the session about how you would like the session to go (schedule, breaks, communication, payment, ect).
Be musically prepared! Don't get too distracted by the fact that the clock is ticking and your wallet is draining. Once you start recording think about how you would like your own playing to sound.

One more thing! Always double check to make sure that the piano has been tuned. Not last month either, it's got to be done right before your session. Most of the time the studio will at least split this with you, but not always so be prepared for this extra expense. If you're going to be playing it hard for more than one day you should probably consider getting it touched up before the session is over.

SD Systems sax bell mic
Royer R-121 ribbon mic
Supernatural Sound Studios
Sean Flora Engineer


Mark Sowakis' intonation solution

My homeboy Mark Sowlakis just wrote me this email with some very interesting information about how to solve the upper register problems that are so common on Selmer Mark VIs. My alto could definately use something like this. Lee Kramka is one of the most respected repairmen in the Bay Area. Lee's Sax Workx web site

Hey man, guess what? I solved the intonation problems on my Mark VI. Well, I didn't solve 'em, but Lee Kramka did. You know how the left hand just gets sharper and sharper as you go up? Well, turns out the by putting a smaller diameter octave pip (the small circular bump with the hole in it on the neck that the octave mechanism sits on), about half the original diameter, drops the second register into incredibly perfect tuning. My octaves are bang on the money now, all the way up, and the sound is fantastic. Lee had been noticing that the newer horns all had smaller diameter octave pips, and thought this would work. As long as your pip is soft soldered it is easy to remove, and mine was. Now this thing tunes even better than the Yamaha and sounds great, it's amazing. He also put some cork in the low C tone hole to bring down the middle d and e, and now it's so great. I'm gonna have him do my tenor as well. Cost was $250 and it was well worth it. I thought I'd pass this on as so many people are chucking their old VI's trying to find better pitch, and this is totally the answer. You might want to post this info you your blog. Also, I have some MP3's here of you that someone passed me, something like Ghengis or thereabouts. Haven't heard them, although I did hear one that was a rehearsal with Charlie Hunter. What was that all about? What's new up there? Markos

Thanks Markos,
That does sound like something worth a try. Seems like a better option than cranking open the action on the upper and lower stack to bring down the relative pitch of the palm keys.

You must have MP3s of a four horn band + Charlie Hunter called Quintet D'Gengis (don't ask, only Charlie knew what that meant). That band featured Kenny Brooks on tenor, Adam Beach on bari and Scott Jensen on trumpet, along with me and Charlie. That was Charlies brainchild and his first foray into arranging. I think you may have our demo that was produced by Spearhead's Micheal Franti. We played around the Bay Area in the mid 90's. Keep in touch buddy, David Carlos Valdez


Questions from Sammy Epstein

Hey David,
You've definitely got good stuff on your blog!
Now, when you take a lesson from Randy, and he talks about, say ii-V-Idim-Imaj7, how do you implement that on your horn? And how do you teach single note players to implement on the horn? Do you have a set of licks that work for I dim to I maj, and work them in each key? I say one can't simply do scales over the patterns...no hip solos come from merely scales (my opinion) and the other example, over Solar: C-7 /C-7 /C-7 / C-7 / We played this: D7alt Cmel- / F7alt Cmel- / Ab7alt Cmel- / Cmel- C-7 / or you can think of it like this: Ebmel- Cmel-/ F#mel- Cmel-/ Amel- Cmel- / Cmelodic- / something you spoke about months ago... or Eb-7 /Ab-7 /Cmaj7 How do you implement these substitutions in your playing? Do you come up with licks that "make" the changes, and then practice the licks in twelve keys? As I see it, gotta have structure (i.e., licks, patterns, call it what you will) or scales sound just like scales, nothing more, leading to naive solos that simply don't work. Your thoughts? From sunny Austin, Sammy

As a horn player studying with a piano player there is a little translating that I must to to apply certain ideas, but not much. Pianist can certainly flesh out chords substitutions in a way that horn players only dream of. As a horn player applying chord substitutions you need to be clearer than a chordal instrumentalist does. As you move further away from the key of the original changes you need outline the chords in a more direct way. Single note lines can suggest chordal structures strongly enough to create convincing advanced reharms if there is enough clarity in the lines. This doesn't mean playing only digital patterns (for exp. 1,3,5,3) or playing all the notes in every chord. Create strong melodic lines without running scales or chords.

As for licks for I diminished to I maj7 resolutions; take a look at my symmetrical scale article for diminished ideas. Everyone should be familiar resolving from diminished to Major or any other chord. Download the Ray Brown diminished lines that I posted for many of the most common diminished patterns. Write some patterns of your own and learn them in 3 keys, which will get you 12 keys, what a deal!

Patterns should be learned so you can use them as the templates for creating your own lines. I'm not big on learning all your lines in every key. You need to be able to transpose ideas to different keys, but practically speaking if you really learn every new line in all 12 keys then you'll end up repeating yourself like crazy. The listener won't recognize that you played lick X in four different keys, they'll just hear redundancy.

We want to have variety and balance in our solos. Don't play too chordally/vertically OR too linearly/modally, new ideas OR repetition. Don't play too many patterns OR freaky lines. The chord/scale approach needs be balanced with the development of motifs, and the motifs should be drawn from relevant material (the melody, ideas that the rhythm section is comping, your own and others' solo ideas, quotes from other tunes that have similar changes, ect). Remember BALANCE and VARIETY! If ideas are not being developed in your solo then no matter how many cool lines you play your solo will seem static. Focusing on all this theory and reharmonization, chords and scales, can distract you from taking simple melodic ideas and making melodies.

Randy has been trying to wean me away from relying on modes too heavily,"Less Trane, more Bird!". This allows you to outline reharm chords without obliterating the underlying harmony with a hail of notes. After all a scale is much more dense than a chord. Try to choose your chords consciously, don't just randomly play wider intervals. Be prepared to justify the chords that you're outlining.

Randy had me do something that was meant to help melodic awareness. He had me improvise blues choruses, but I had to play the exact same chorus twice in a row. This of course eliminated many unimportant notes and forced me to play stronger, simpler melodies. Another thing Randy suggested was to be aware of when I played a really good idea and then let it breath for a second or two. How will the listeners appreciate your best shit if you never leave them time to digest your amazing lines. How will they hear the true extent of your genius?!

I hope I covered everything you asked about. Thanks for the questions Sammy.


Randy Porter's triadic Cedar Walton resolution

The other day in our lesson Randy Porter showed me and interesting way of a resolving a dominant 7th (b9) chord. He thought it sounded like something that Cedar Walton would play, definately someone worth emulating. It's a very hip yet simple harmonic device.

So over a C7(b9) resolving to a F you would play:
A triad, Ab triad, F# triad, then resolve to F

This creates a desending triadic line that leads to the I.

This works for chordal
as well as for single line intruments. Just be very clear as you play your triads or triadic line. Major triads are always very strong, able to supercede almost any harmony they are played over. In this case the triads are drawn directly from the chord-scale and descend in stepwise motion, very strong motion indeed.

CEDAR WALTON Volume 35 A New Approach to Jazz Interpretation by Jamey Aebersold


Brian Powell- mouthpiece wizard

My friend Tom Pereira sold me the Zimberoff tenor piece I've been playing on. It was re-faced by a guy named Brian Powell and is the nicest tenor mouthpiece I've played. Tom has had many pieces done by Brian and all of them have been vastly improved. Recently I was looking for alto pieces for a few of my students. I really wanted to find something that compared to my battered old hard-rubber slant Link 6. Even though my mouthpiece has seen constant action for the last twenty years and overdue for some maintenance it is still the best sounding alto piece I've ever played. It has a big dark warm sound, it's totally even up and down and still has enough of an edge to cut over any size band. Comparable Slant Links were going for upwards of $600, not in the budget of my students. Tom told me that Charles McPherson was playing on a Meyer copy that Brian Powell had made from a Vandoren V16 blank. I decided to send my Link off to Brain and have him make some copies for my students. The first ones that came back were disappointingly stuffy, edgy and dead. After calling Brian I found that he didn't use the same lay as my piece because he thought that it was too long to be playable. He suggested thinning out the tip and adjusting the inside a bit as well as making the lay longer. The second time I tried the pieces I was floored. They were all smoking! They played exactly like my rare Slant Link 6 except a bit brighter because the rubber was harder than the original Link, this was fine. I had never played anything as good as mine until that moment. The Valdez model V16 Link copies are under $200 and you won't find anything that is even close in that price range. All you need to do to get one is contact Brian and tell him you want the Valdez Link copy, have WWBW send him the V16 that he specifies. In a short time you'll have the best alto piece you ever played in your life, for just $180. I'm going to get one made for myself and then have Brian do some minor work on my original.

Brian does refacing work and his partner Erik does the chamber work, together they call themselves the Mouthpiece Guys. They are true masters of art of mouthpiece making, both having spent many years apprenticing with Ralph Morgan. He is very receptive to the needs of the player and is very reasonable and blazing fast. Check out their endorsement page and the pictures of their work. I cannot recommend these guys too highly.

Your mouthpiece problems are over!

Brian Powell can be reached at:
phone 937-271-8291

Mouthpiece Guys


Musical Listening Test

Here's an interesting musical listening research study from the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne-

"We are interested in studying musical perception ability in the general population. The following test, developed by Isabelle Peretz (University of Montreal), takes less than 10 minutes. It involves listening to pairs of tunes and deciding whether they are the same or different. We will give you your score at the end.

Musical Listening Test

Elementary Training for Musicians


Secrets of Pere Soto!

Here is a peek into the musical mind of Pere Soto. Click on pages for large version
From Pere's chord substitutions and V7 resolutions books-