Jazz Corner's Jazz Vision- Streaming Videos

Bill Mithoefer (Monk'sDream) hipped me to a cool streaming Jazz video site called JazzVision.com, which is part of the Jazz Corner network. It's the first dedicated video sharing and video networking site dedicated to Jazz. It's nice not to have to filter through all the swearing baby, nervous hamster and gnad cruncher videos like on YouTube. Thanks Bill.


Ellington on the web-"I Ain't Got Nothin' But The Links"

David Palmquist has put together the most comprehensive set of Duke Ellington web links on the planet. He has hundreds of links in categories like- On Ellington Himself, Strayhorn, Female Vocalists, Male Vocalists, Reedmen, Trumpets, Trombones, Multiple Ellintonians, Arrangers/Producers, Sites Focused On the Music of Ellington or Strayhorn, Ellington Societies or Newsletters, Ellington Recordings, Online Ellington Recordings and Books, Scores and Sheet Music, and Miscellaneous.

Ya' think David Palmquist likes Ellington?

Ellington on the web


Garzone video interview- Arthouse Music

Casa Valdez reader Dudz sent me thins link of a George Garzone video on the great Arthouse Music web site talking about the triadic system that he teaches his students to enhance their improvisation skills. He describes some practice techniques for improving improvisation skills. He also discusses technique for playing more relaxed so a student can open up the sound that is produced and how he teaches his students to develop a melody without over-articulating.

I hear many talented young players these days who over-articulate. This makes even the hippest lines sound corny, stiff and white. There's sax teacher here in Portland who's students all sound like this. The Sufis say that every teacher has a fatal flaw that is there for their students to learn from. I still haven't figured out what George's fatal flaw is yet. I love his 8th note feel because he swings so f*$%@g hard while sounding totally relaxed and fluid.

"Don't use your tongue...stop that tonguing!"- George Garzone

Garzone video clip
Arthouse Music

Adolphe Sax, Konitz & Readers sound off

I've been in a barren period lately as far as writing for this blog. I see by my site meter that my numbers are slowly dropping, which usually happens when I slow down. Even my dad commented to me today that not much was happening at Casa Valdez. I'd like to hear from you readers. Have you guys found anything interesting on the net lately? Learned anything profound from a teacher? Read any good books? Have any questions about a particular topic? Seen any good YouTube vids? Have any gear issues? Want to rant about something? You can see I'm at a loss for topics at the moment. Often I find the discussions and debates that happen in the comments sections the most interesting part of this blog, so don't be so passive and help me out here.

I am reading two very interesting books right now, The Devil's Horn and Lee Konitz: Conversations on the Improviser's Art. The first book is a thorough history of the Saxophone from it's invention to the present. I've never read as much about Adolfe Sax and his trials and tribulations. He died in poverty after being persecuted by ruthless competing instrument makers used every nasty trick to ruin him. I'm still reading about the early 20th century and the meteoric rise of the sax in America. It seemed that back then there were as many sax quartets and all-sax orchestras as there are garage rock bands now. Most big companies had a sax quartet to boost morale. If you were a good saxophonist then you even had a much better chance of getting a good job. These aattb sax quartets were the precursors to the swing band sax section. It's hard for me to imagine how a sax quartet like the Brown Brothers could be what a rock stars are today. These guys were making $1000 a week almost a century ago!

Lee Konitz: Conversations on the Improviser's Art is an entire book of interviews with the master. In this book Lee talks about his days with Lennie Tristano's group, opening for Bird, working with Miles Davis, his early development as an improviser, his composing, the music business, and much more. This is a great read even if you aren't a huge Konitz fan, and you'd be developmentally disabled if you weren't (see how PC I am since I was chastised by an angry reader for calling someone a retard, I really meant Lame-o). Lee is still playing his ass off in his eightieth decade and his experience as a Jazz musician is invaluable to any young player. Lee's thoughts on improvising really made my think about my entire approach to playing. He talks about how he doesn't consider himself a virtuoso, like Chris Potter, who can captivate an entire audience in rapt attention. He never tries to force any emotion into his music, he just tries to develop good melodies. Lee seems to be very concerned with musical purity and doesn't ever compromise his approach just to please an audience.

Put these books on your Amazon wish list if you want something interesting to read over the holidays. Let me hear from you guys!!!


Stefan Kac's 'My Fickle Ears Dig It' website

One of my readers, tuba player Stefan Kac, is hosting a great blog called My Fickle Ears Dig It. Stefan has written some fascinating articles about the philosophy of music. His latest post is called The Art of Socializing and talks about music as a social art. Some of Stefan's other posts are The Abstract is Real, Arnold Schoenberg and Stan Kenton, Identity, and The Case Against Audience Tampering. Keep up the great work Stefan!

Sax pornography

Monk'sDream sent me a link to a SBA alto from Ralph Morgan's personal collection that was make especially for the Selmer's head designer. Dave the Junk Dude is selling this horn on his site. This horn was a unique prototype for the Mark VI and is about the most beautiful alto I've even seen. Before you look at the pics you may want to put a towel over your keyboard so you don't get drool all over it.

Ralph Morgan's SBA alto

Larry's Improv Page

Sammy Epstein turned me on to Larry's Improv Page today. This page is put together by Tony Micelli and named after his teacher the great tenor player Larry McKenna. This site is LOADED with great material. There's podcast interviews with great players, tons of interesting PDF lessons, a Lick of the Day page, blog, great Jazz links, funny page and a lot more. Who is this guy Tony Micelli!? His site makes Casa Valdez look like a tiny hole in the wall Jazz taqueria. Jeeeesh!
Overachievers like Tony suck, they make underachievers like me look and feel bad.


A pain in the neck!

I apologize to my regular readers for slacking off recently. I've been having problems with my tenor and I'm about to take drastic measures to resolve them. First of all the Rigotti reeds I use were out of stock for a long time. Roberto's finally got some in and I ordered three boxes, thinking that would hold me for a little while. I immediately went though all 30 reeds without finding a single good reed. This is something that has never happened to me with this brand. I was so looking forward to feeling good about playing tenor and this was a major blow to my little feeling. Sometimes it does seem like in order to be truly happy I need to have at least one good reed. I know that this is not a healthy way to react to this relatively small problem (in the grand scheme of things). It would be like if an opera singer would sometimes wake up one day and, lo and behold, she sounded like Rachel Ray and Mose Allison's lovechild.

For some reason a good tenor reed is much harder for me to find than a good alto reed is. Does Riggoti use all their best cane on the smaller reeds? It sure seems that way. Even worse than my reed problems are the problems that I'm having with my neck (sax neck that is). It took me a little while after first getting my horn to notice, but at some point my neck was pulled down. You see slightly feel a small crease on the side and some of the lacquer on the sides has also come off. I feel that this causes my horn to have less centered intonation that it should have. The overtones don't match, meaning that the overtones are out of tune with the corresponding regularly fingered notes. The horn has a warn, fat and beefy sound but it's too hard to play it in tune. At first I thought it was just me (which of course is partially is) because I hadn't been playing tenor as long as I had played alto. After having other people try it with other necks I accepted the fact that some of my problems are due to the neck.

A couple of weeks ago I brought my horn in to a local sax tech and had him try to pull the neck back to where it originally was. It moved up a half an inch and the result was even more unstable intonation than before. While looking at a tuner I could play every note right in tune, but it didn't feel as centered as I would have liked. New Mark VI neck go for as high as $1700, no kidding. It's insane. I might be able to get lucky and find a beater for $600, but I wouldn't be able to try it first to see if it's any better than mine. Besides, I don't really have an extra $600 to drop on a neck.

I've experienced neck problems with other horns in the past and found that a different neck can change everything about the way a horn sounds and feels. Changing necks can make your horn brighter or darker, stuffier or more free-blowing. They can change the response, intonation and timbre. Now days there are a lot of after market necks being. I've tried several different brands and most seemed to be worse than the original necks. Oleg's necks for instance are pretty awful. There are even some wood necks being made now by a few different companies. I have yet to try one of these.

There are guys who say that you can made a neck better by super-freezing it. This changes the molecular structure of the neck. There are other more woo-woo techs who think that they can make a neck better by making tiny scraping on the inside on the neck. One of the first thing to try if you're having problem that you think are related to your neck is to have someone who knows what they're doing refit your neck so that it makes a tight and even seal in your horn. A loose neck can cause some major problems over the entire range of the horn, so can one that isn't even fitting.

I'm now looking to trade my whole horn in for a different Mark VI. I may have found one. What a pain in the neck.


Dave 'Fuze' Fiuczynski- Inner Jazz streaming video

I shot an interview with guitarist Dave 'Fuze' Fiuczynski at his Brooklyn apartment back in 1999. I've known Dave since we were both going to school back in Boston. He is one of the most disciplined, driven and innovative musicians on the scene today. I got the chance to play with him again when I was living in New York and was really impressed with what he was doing. He always about four of his own projects happening at any given time, as well as his sideman gigs.

In this show Dave talks about his involvement with micro-tonal, Middle Eastern and Indian music and gives demonstrations on his fret-less and his quarter-tone guitars. He also talks about how he has taken an indenpendant approach to marketing his music, his 'third-stream' approach, his recording projects, players he looks up to, his favorite painters, George Russell's Lydian Chromatic Concept, and his studys with George Garzone. You'll also get to hear Dave play some of his unconventional guitars. I posted a few minutes of this program a while back, but this is the entire 45 minute TV show. Scott Marshall's camera work here is fantastic.

Here is a biographical sketch from his website:

  • Fuze’s recordings are an experimental mix of tradition with modern sounds and rhythms, a melange of funk-rock jazz, ambient textural improvisations, world-music elements, metal, reggae, house, dub, drum&bass and other new grooves topped with Fuze's unique writing, extraordinary soundscapes and passionate soloing. In response to the less than supportive environment for his unusual and uncompromising music in the corporate recording industry, David started a record label, FuzeLicious Morsels, to release his own recordings, with a current catalog of nine CD’s and the live DVD. The first CD, “JazzPunk”, was released to great critical acclaim in 1999. A recording of standards and covers written by Fuze’s idols and mentors, each tune was reworked in Fuze’s distinctive musical combinations. His 2000 CD, “Amandala” by Headless Torsos, is an instrumental continuation of Screaming Headless Torsos. Other releases are “Black Cherry Acid Lab", a mixture of funk-rock, rap and punk with vocalist Ahmed Best and saxophonsist Mark Shim, and “KiF” a world-funk-jazz group featuring electric five-string cellist Rufus Cappadocia, both released in June 2003. Fuze will shortly be releasing another KiF CD, which will be a continuation of his interest in blending Eastern sounds with Western grooves; and a David Fiuczynski guitar instructional DVD. In addition to being a prolific writer, arranger and bandleader, David has recorded and performed with some of the highest profile jazz artists working today. Fuze has appeared on over 95 albums by other artists, toured extensively with many of them, and with his own and other groups, has been featured at most of the world’s major jazz festivals. A full list of David’s musical career highlights follows.
  • Fuze has been enthusiastically featured and/or reviewed by DownBeat, Jazz Times, JazzIz, Billboard, Musician, Guitar Player, Guitar World, GuitarShop, Guitar World, Guitar Magazine, Guitar One, allaboutjazz.com, Interview, Vibe, Pulse!, Bass Player, Modern Drummer, The New York Times,The Village Voice, Keyboard, Audio, College Music Journal and Audio Files in the US; Jazz Life, Guitar, Musee, Record Collectors, Jazz Times (Japan); Rytmi, Soundi (Finland); Muziq, Jazz Man, So What, Octopus, Vibrations (France); Gitarre&Bass, Jazzthetik, Jazz Thing (Germany); Chittare, Axe, Audio Review (Italy); Latin Pulse! (Latin America) Oor (Netherlands); Stage (Belgium); Jazz Quad (Belarus); Echoes, Jazz Wise, Top, Guitarist, Rhythm, "Q" Magazine (England) and over 100 other publications worldwide.
  • David was born in the United States and raised in Germany. He returned to the U. S. for college, and was awarded a Bachelor of Music degree from the New England Conservatory in 1989. He lives with his wife, vocalist and graphic artist Lian Amber, near Northampton, Massachusetts. In recognition of his unique artistry as an instrumentalist, writer and arranger, David is a past nominee for the Herb Alpert/Cal Arts "Genius" Award for outstanding musical achievement.
  • Fuze is an accomplished teacher, having taught for the past fifteen years, and is a full time faculty Professor at Berklee College of Music in Boston. David has developed his own teaching concept based on chord scale theory in jazz and especially non-jazz contexts. His emphasis is on improvised techniques and expanding creativity.

Photo: Sergio Cabanillas González

Dave 'Fuze' Fiucznski- Inner Jazz streaming video
Dave Fiuczynski's web site
Scott Marshall's (the cameraman for this shoot) Scene Media website

Black Cherry Acid Lab
Screaming Headless Torsos - Live!!! In New York & Paris

Choice Cuts of the Screaming Headless Torsos


The Art Spirit- Robert Henri

My ex, who is a great painter, turned me on to a book called The Art Spirit by Robert Henri. This book really spoke to me, even though Henri was writing about painted rather than music.

Painters often have more developed conception of the creative process than musicians do. Both of my parents were serious artists, so I grew up thinking of music more as a fine art than just as entertainment.

My childhood was spent around artists so I got into the habit of relating ideas about painting to the process of making music. If we as musicians are not aware of ideas relating to the philosophy of art, as well as of music, then we will fail to see the profound importance of what we are doing. We may forget that we are creative artists in the tradition of Beethoven, van Gogh, Michelangelo, Matisse, and Velasquez. Sometimes we may become too blinded by playing music for the cocktail enhancement of yuppies

  • Robert Henri (1865-1929) was an American artist, teacher, and an outspoken advocate of modern painting. He is best known for his leadership of the group of realist painters known "The Eight," later termed the Ashcan School. Henri was a devotee of realism and the usage of everyday city life as a subject. He taught at the Art Students League in New York and had a profound influence on 20th century painters such as Stuart Davis, Rockwell Kent, and Edward Hopper.

Below are some excepts. I've changed a few words here and there, like from the word gallery to concert hall.

"Art when really understood is the province of every human being. It is simply a question of doing thing, anything, well. It is not an outside extra thing.

When the artist is alive in any person, whatever his kind of work may be, he becomes an inventive, searching, daring, self-expressing creature. He becomes interesting to other people. He disturbs, upsets, enlightens, and he opens ways for a better understanding. Where those who are not artists are trying to close the book, he opens it, shows that there are still more pages possible.

The world would stagnate without him, and the world would be beautiful with him; for he is interesting to himself and others. He does not have to be a painter or sculptor to be an artist. He can work in any medium. He simply has to find the gain in the work itself, not outside it.

Cherish your emotions and never undervalue them.

We are not here to do what has already been done.

Know what the masters did. Know how they composed and improvised, but do not fall into the conventions they established. These conventions were right for them, and they are wonderful. They made their language. You can make yours. They can help you. All the past can help you.

A music student must be a master from the beginning; that is, he must be master of such as he has. By being a master of such as he has there is promise that he will be master in the future.

A work of music which inspires us comes from no quibbling or uncertain man. It is the manifest of a very positive nature in great enjoyment, and at the very moment the work was done.

It is not enough to have thought great things before playing the music. The moment a note is played it carries inevitably the exact state of being of the musician at the exact moment of the tune, and there it is, to be heard by those who can hear such signs, and by musician himself, with perhaps some surprise, as a revelation of himself.

For an musician to be interesting to us he must be interesting to himself. He must be capable of intense feeling and profound concentration.

Don't worry about feeling unappreciated. Everybody that's good has gone though it. Don't let it matter if your music is not "accepted" at once. The better or more personal you are the less likely likely they are of acceptance. Just remember that the object of playing music is not simply to sell CDs. It is all very fine to sell CDs or play concerts, but you are playing for yourself, not for the audience.

The music student is not an isolated force. He belongs to a great Brotherhood, bears great kinship to his kind. He benefits by taking and he benefits by giving.

Through music mysterious bonds of understanding are established among men. They the bonds of a great Brotherhood. Those who are of the Brotherhood know each other, and time and space cannot separate them.

If the musician is alive in you, you may meet Bird nearer than many people, also Monk, Pops, Trane, and Miles. In certain recordings- a few bars into the first tune you know that you have met a brother. You pass people on the street, some are for you, some are not."


Casa Valdez Selected Resources

I've compiled a huge collection of books that I highly recommend and have created my own Amazon website called Casa Valdez Selected Resources.

I've tried to include all the books that I've written about, the books that have been significantly important to me in the past, and books that I've heard about and have wanted to read.

I hope this will be helpful for you. It was a lot of fun putting it together.


Steve Neff- Nefertiti

I reconnected with Steve Neff on the Sax on the web forum (where he is know as Nefertiti) when I sold him an hard rubber Otto Link alto mouthpiece. We both went to Berklee in the late 80's and studied with many of the same teachers. After I sold Steve the Otto Link I checked out his website and was pretty impressed. The site was geared toward education and had a lot of interesting material on it. Steve has recorded himself playing a bunch of different alto and tenor mouthpieces (and posted them on his site. I think they are very helpful for players who would like to hear the differences between the top brands before they lay out the big bucks.

Steve has written some Jazz practice books that I think are some of the best of their kind. Steve's books are practical, they are meant to give the player a workout.

His first two books deal with Major ii-V7 I patterns and minor ii-V7 I patterns. Each book has about 80 different patterns in all keys (one pattern to a page). These patterns are just nice traditional sounding Bebop lines, not too bland and not too outside. These are perfect for getting students more comfortable navigating through ii-V7 progressions. They are also 'non-descript' enough to use without anyone being able to tell where you got them from.

The next two are called Approach Note Velocity- Major and Approach Note Velocity- Minor. Here Steve goes through every key and explores different chromatic approaches to chord tones . The closest thing to this book on the market is Joe Viola's Technique of the Saxophone- Chord Studies. Steve's books are much more geared toward the Be-Bop player the Joe V's book. Practicing chromatic approaches is essential to being able to create interesting Bop lines and this is the first book that I've seen that isolates this one aspect of improvisation. This stuff isn't groundbreaking in it's basic content, but it's just what students need to work on in order to master this aspect of improvising.

Steve is just now finishing his fifth book called Mastering the Dominant Be-Bop Scale. I'm looking forward to getting my hands on this one when it comes out. Here is Seve's own description of his new book:
"The dominant bebop scale is an essential tool in playing jazz. It is used all over the place in jazz music. If your transcribing jazz solos you won't have to go long before you find some variation of this scale being used. In my Approach Note Books I tackled Major and Minor tonalities pretty thoroughly. In this book I focus on the dominant tonality and what to play over it. The book starts out with the basic dominant bebop scale. the next section deals with what I call "Bebop Scale Links". These are small phrases or patterns that can be inserted into the bebop line to add variation. The next section deals with "Dominant Resolution Links". These can be added to the bebop scale when the dominant chord is resolving down a fifth. The last section of the book I write about how to use and practice these scales and links over a standard blues progression. I provide a 4 chorus blues solo to demonstrate."
I'm always looking for these sorts of books for own personal practice regime (as pathetic as it is). There are several things I look for when buying a Jazz practice book.
  1. Will it be fun to play out of?
  2. Will I be able to use it without getting sick of it immediately?
  3. Will it actually help my playing in some way?
  4. Is it different the books that are already out there?
  5. Will it be something that I can use with my students?
  6. Will I actually use it?
In the case of Steve's books the answers to all these questions is yes. I'm definitely looking forward to shedding these books.

You can download PDFs of Steve's books for a reasonable price right from his website.
Steve Neff's home page
Steve's mouthpiece clips
The Best Major II-V-I Patterns
Approach Note Books


The Vast Space of Colours´ Sound

Here's a website that explains a system for relating exact colors to intervals and scale types. It looks interesting but I haven't had the time to really study it yet. If anyone does get into it please let me know what you think.

It is only logical that colors should have exact correspondences to musical notes, since both colors and tones are governed by the same laws of number. One of the main differences in our perception of color and sound is that we only see one octave of color, but we can hear eleven octaves of tones.

Here is the introduction from the Longchen Harmony site:

  • As the potentiality of mind is providing the space for perception, thinking, emotions, concepts and language, another way to express this space as light and movement is through music and through color. In order to come to an understanding of preferences and dislikes for musical harmonies, one is offered an overview of the whole harmonic space as such, beyond the conventional understanding of what is convenient. Preferences for certain Harmonies should not lead to fixations that means to prevent one to explore the special characters of less known harmonies and appreciate them. In context the general tolerance towards the display of colors as such and their varying effects is broader-less strange. This may be caused by the development of modern art, the painting and an acceptance on a large scale. To present the interaction of the effects of color and tone, one uses the intervals of 12 tones within music to approach an approximate objectivity. These intervals and structures show the scales of music as colour and as degrees of light in progression. It will be shown by first establishing the criteria for the 3 basic colors through the intervals and than explaining how they fuse within the modulation of the scales' structure and functions in the vertical and in the horizontal.

Thanks Maureen!


Young Ben Van Gelder

I ran across Ben Van Gelder, who was only 18 at the time, about a year ago while perusing MySpace. Ben was still in Holland then but had plans to move to New York City the following year. I listened to the tracks on his page and was pretty impressed with his maturity. He was coming out of the Konitz thing, interesting lines, straighter 8th note time feel, and a dry but nice sound. I played his music for a couple of my high-school students, hoping to scare them into practicing harder.

Now at the ripe old age of 19 Ben is living in NYC and studying at the New School. He seems to have moved away from Konitz lately, now sounding a bit more modern. I can definately hear Dave Binney's influence. He's already working with Winard Harper, Dave Binney, Jean Michel Pilc and Ari Honig at clubs like Dizzy's Coca Cola, 55 Bar, the Jazz Gallery, and Sweet Rhythm.

We'll be hearing more from Ben in the future.

Ben Van Gelder's MySpace page
Ben Van Gelder- live tracks

Gaynor's voice leading and chordal exercises

Dan Gaynor sent me these exercises that he wrote for a student of his.

"My student hasn't had a lot of experience with chord extensions or with voice-leading, so I have one exercise for each -- on saxophone. The melodic minor stuff is to really shed the V13(#11) as a Lydian-dominant, and to see how the dominant 7, minor 7 (b5), minor (maj 7) and Major 7 (#5) all fit over the same dominant chord."

Click on the exercises below for a full sized view.


Distance learning with Bob Mover

I had a chat with Bob Mover yesterday. We talked about the huge debate that my Bob Mover-Cookoo's Nest post had stirred up, both on this blog and on the Sax on the Web forum. I just e-mailed him the many pages of heated comments about what he had said about the state of Jazz education. He did want me to stress that he didn't have anything against playing in odd time signatures, he just felt that young players should first learn to swing in 4/4 first.

Mover also said, referring to the types of tunes that students are focusing on, "Coltrane even got sick of playing Giant Steps, after exploring those type of changes for about two years he moved on, to just playing over one chord (laughs). Anyone can play a bunch of shit over Giant Steps changes. The true test of a good player is if they can play over The Song is You."

Mover told me that he had been having a blast with his nine month old baby girl. He has also just started teaching students via web cam and asked me to let my readers know that he was accepting students on the internet.

If you have a high-speed connection and a web cam you might consider taking some lessons with Mr.Mover. I would highly recommend Bob as a teacher. He charges $75 for a 90 minute lesson via web cam, even less than he charges for lessons in person.

I really think that this is the future of Jazz education. Of course web cams can't replace conservatories, but web cams could help isolated music students study with high level teachers like Bob. Maybe some day this might help create better Jazz scenes in places like Fargo, North Dakota.

Some of Bob Mover's distinguished students include: saxophonists Grant Stewart, Claire Daly, Josh Benko, Tommy Morimoto, Guitarist Joe Cohn, pianists Makoto Ozone and Dave Kikoski, and drummer Jeff `Tain` Watts. Bob's approach to learning Improvisation will lead the student to significant improvement, even with limited practice time.

Bob Mover's home page
Here is a link to some of Bob's MP3s and a nice transcribed blues solo

You can reach Bob for web cam lessons at:


Dave Koz- Worse than waterboarding?

Here's a YouTube video that proves my point from a couple of posts ago about altissimo. These videos should probably be banned in the Geneva Convention. I don't think we'll be safe from them if the new Attorney General appointee gets confirmed. Thanks Dan, I guess.....
Dave Koz & Danny Jung playing saxophone duet

This one is so corny it will make you nauseous:
Dave Koz - You Make Me Smile

"It's not what you play, but the attitude that you bring to the saxophone that's important."- Dave Koz


John Gunther trio live @ the Knitting Factory

I first met John Gunther at Berklee where both auditioned for the Heb Pomeroy band. That was by far the most brutal audition of my life. John, Doug Yates and I were battling it out for just alto two spots. Today those guys are two of my favorite saxophone players.

John always played everything great. His soprano, alto, tenor, flute and clarinet were all equally together. Don't you hate guys like that? He plays every style appropriately, the consummate professional musician.

John is also a great composer and is always leading three or four different projects. Shit, I hate that guy! Slow down buddy, you're making the rest of us look bad.

After getting his degree at Berklee John went down to Miami where he got a Masters degree, while in Miami he flew up to NYC to study with Joe Lovano (courtesy of an NEA grant). Then he moved back to the city and got a Doctorate degree while teaching at NYU. He's currently living in Boulder, Colorado and teaches at the University of Colorado.

This trio gig was shot at the Knitting Factory by camera man Scott Marshall in 2000.

High speed-John Gunther trio video
Low speed-John Gunther trio video
John Gunther's website


Lawrence Williams Speaks!

Lawrence Williams was one of the greatest men I have ever had the privilege of knowing. He was a master drummer, composer, artist and most of all, a spiritual giant. When he played the drums he always beat them to a pulp, putting everything he had into the music.

Lawrence lived for Jazz. He thought about Jazz 24 hours a day; composing, listening, playing, or planning his next project. His motives were always to keep his music on the highest plane possible so that others would feel uplifted when they heard it. Because Lawrence was so dedicated to his music for fifty years he was able to leave behind a huge body of work when he passed. He wrote enough tunes to fill four Real Books.

Near the end of his life he started working with pastels when he became too sick too play the drums. He even had an art show at an art gallery where Geri Allen, Kenny Garrett, and Marcus Belgrave played his music.

Several years ago I took cameraman Will Brown with me to Lawrence's small studio apartment
in southwest Portland. I interviewed Lawrence for a few hours, but he was feeling pretty weak and was having a hard time staying focused. We decided to break for lunch and went to the Oyster House for lunch. There Lawrence threw down a huge plate of raw Oysters. When we got back and started shooting again Lawrence was on FIRE, he was amazing.

I've posted a short clip from that interview before, but yesterday I edited all of that footage and came up with forty minutes of material. In those forty minutes Lawrence sums up just about everything that I've been trying communicate with this Blog for three years.

In an All About Jazz interview Jeff Watts talked about the method that Lawrence used to compose some of his music:
  • AAJ: How do you compose as a drummer? Is it a little different approach when you sit down to write?

    JW: Pretty typically. There's a drummer in Detroit named Lawrence Williams, who's a great composer. Some of his music is featured on albums by, like, Geri Allen and Marcus Bellgrave and people like that. One device that people from Detroit told me that he used was that he would, before even thinking melodically, he would write out a whole rhythmic idea. A whole thing that made complete musical sense, but only using rhythm. Then he would assign notes to it. That's something I tried on a couple of the tracks. Composition is still pretty new to me, so I'm just trying whatever it takes. But most of the time I have an idea and I'll sing it. And then whenever it starts to make a certain amount of sense, I'll go to the piano. And then the song will kind of unfold.
Mr. Williams is arguably the greatest Jazz composer and drummer Portland has ever seen. He spent many years in Portland, before moving back to Detroit shortly before his passing. In his later years health problems prevented him from playing drums, though he always kept up his prodigious output of compositions. He has a unique style that has influenced a generations of Jazz musicians. Players such as Nancy King, Geri Allen, Marcus Belgrave, Regina Carter, Marvin 'Smitty' Smith, Kenny Garrett, David Valdez, Dan Gaynor, Cheryl Alex and Steve Christopherson have been mentored by him. His compositions have been recorded by local artist Nancy King, Blue Note recording artist Geri Allen and by the Dutch Metropole Orchestra. Lawrence's compositions are even studied in composition classes at Oberlin Conservatory.

"The presence of Lawrence Williams to the Jazz Development Workshop elevated the creative aspect to the music community that was brewing and burgeoning in the mid-seventies. Lawrence's music was raw, creative and challenging. However, the ingredients that is, the musicians who were involved with Lawrence and myself put their own personal on his compositions. These musicians met every day and became the nucleus of the Jazz Development Workshop. The primary musicians were Geri Allen, Greg Cook, Lamont Hamilton, Dave Mason, Kenny Garrett, and later Bob Hurst. Lawrence took on the creative responsibility along with Geri Allen for creating the extraordinary original compositions that the Detroit Jazz Development Workshop became known for. This workshop became the model for a wave of similar musical conglomerates across the country. His music continues to inspire and utilize their own passions."- Marcus Belgrave

  • "On a more personal note, Lawrence’s music legitimized my musical personality much like Billy Strayhorn did for Duke Ellington.” Marcus Belgrave 2006
Lawrence Williams Speaks!- streaming video
(Windows users make sure you have Quicktime plug-in installed)


Altissimo torture

Very few saxophone players know how to use their altissimo register tastefully. Sanborn ruined legions of alto players who tried to copy him. Before Sanborn was our man Sigard Rascher, who still tortures gentle listeners the world over with his groundbreaking Top-Tones book. I prefer the lower register of the alto saxophone to the upper extremes of the instrument. When I listen to recordings of myself playing upstairs I ofter regret that I choose to make that trip to the attic, even if I was perfectly in tune. I can stomach the tenor sax's altissimo a bit more, since it is somewhat lower and darker that the alto.

The thing that I don't usually like is when players just pop up to the altissimo range from lower parts of the horn, suddenly screaming out a double high D that makes all the dogs for a two mile radius go nuts. The least annoying way to use the castrado range of the saxophone is when you make it a natural extension of the normal range. A few guys my age who do this well are Mark Turner, Matt Otto, and Doug Yates. They usually approach altissimo in a way that doesn't make you cringe. You don't always realize that they are upstairs, because the timbre sounds like the rest of their horns, and they work their way up and back down before they make Fido start howling.

My advice (which I'm sure will not be heeded) is that if you are an alto player, don't ever go above a high B- EVER! I know many of you think it's cool to cause sonic pain, like a Harley-Davidson rider at an AARP convention, but just because you can do it doesn't mean you should.

I do have my students practice overtones, to gain more control over their upper oral tract. Overtones will definitely help gain more control over your altissimo range, since altissimo note are really just overtone notes. Mastering overtones (not necessarily to the Sigard Rascher extreme) will also help you gain control of your timbre, meaning you will be able to control the upper partials in your sound. Being able to shade your sound consciously is a wonderful skill.

There are many different fingerings for every altissimo note and the alto fingerings are mostly different from tenor fingering. Each brand of horn is unique with regards to which fingering work the best. You should experiment with many different fingering charts until you find the best fingerings for your horn. Even though a particular fingering might sound the clearest and be the most in tune, it may not be practical because you may not be able to approach it smoothly from the fingerings of nearby notes. You need to work out the fingerings that you can play smooth scales with. Get out your tuner because the pitch will be your primary consideration for choosing a fingering, technical considerations will be a close second, and lastly will be the timbre of the fingerings.

Before you embark on this high note exploration though, have mercy on Fido and buy him some earplugs.

Top-Tones for the Saxophone: Four-Octave Range
Overtone exercise I got from Joe Viola
Flavio's alto fingering chart
Altissimo fingering charts by saxophone make
Lower altissimo chart
Middle altissimo chart
Upper altissimo chart (Danger: Don't try this at home)
Jason Dumars' favorite altissimo fingerings


The importance of a good saxophone setup

One of the most difficult things for a sax repairman to do is a proper setup. Anyone can change the corks and springs, and put new pads on a horn. There are very few sax technicians who really know what they're doing when it comes to regulating the key heights. Each horn needs to be regulated differently in order to play in tune. Often classical guys like a lower setup than Jazz players. As you raise the key heights the horn becomes more free blowing, but the intonation gets wilder. The trick is to open the keys up just high enough to get the maximum sound possible, without messing up the intonation. It's a very fine line. Personally, I like higher than normal key heights. This has opened a Pandora's box of intonation problems.

When I first got my current Mark VI alto I discovered an annoying gurgle on the high C. It sounded like there was a lot of spit in my mouthpiece. The rest of the horn played great, except that one pathetic note. I learned that this is a common problem on Mark VIs. The only effective way to eliminate the gurgle is to raise the upper stack enough that it goes away. On my horn the keys ended up pretty high. This threw out the intonation because now the palm keys were different in relation to the upper stack.

I only know a few techs who I think are good enough to setup difficult horns and get them to play perfectly in tune. One of these guys is Randy Jones of Tenor Madness. When Randy sets up a horn he uses a strobe tuner to make sure all the partials are in tune as well as the fundamental. Randy once told me that he thought that any Selmer Mark VI could be made to play in tune if it is just set up properly. Sometimes in order to fix intonation problems extreme measures, like building up the insides of tone-holes, need to be used .

The techs that I know on the west coast who a good at setting up a horn are Lee Kramka (Sax Worx) in San Francisco, Eric Drake (Saxology) in Berkley, and Sarge (World Wide Sax) in Everette, Washington. In Colorado there is Tim Glesmann (Sax Alley) and of course in Boston there is Emilio Lyons. I'm sure there are more but these are the guys I know who are really good.

Both of my horns need some help with key height regulation right now. I may drive the three and a half hours north to Everette to see what Sarge of World Wide Sax can do with them. Sarge can bring trashed horns back from the dead to look like new. My Mark VI tenor is wildly flat on the high F#, sharp on the palm keys, and the overtones aren't even close to lining up and my altissimo G barely even comes out. I do like the horn's sound, so I'm going to give Sarge a chance before I trade it in for a different horn. On my alto my low C is really sharp, as well as my palm keys.

My point here is that not all intonation problems are caused by the player. If your horn is not set up right it can be nearly impossible to play in tune. You may want to consider getting an expert repairman to check your key regulation out, even if all your pads are sealing.

It never seems to end.........


Eric Crystal- Young blood

I first heard saxophonist Eric Crystal play he was only about 18 or 19 years old. He was by far the most mature and talented teenage saxophonist I had ever heard. While I was living in Oakland I had the chance to play a few sessions with him at my buddy Dred Scott's crib. At that time called Eric 'Young blood' . Well, Eric is now in his thirties and he sounds even better than ever. I think he's been touring with Boz Scaggs (not a bad gig to have) for several years now, but when he's back in the Bay Area he still does plenty of damage in the local Jazz clubs.

Eric is a real natural, one of these guys with just an innate musicality. He's always highly creative, a true improviser and never shows off or sacrifices taste to create excitement. Eric always develops his solos very compositionally while seriously swinging his ass off. Eric Crystal is truly gifted, and along with plenty of discipline he has become one of the best players of his generation.

Eric Crystal's home page
video of Eric playing Evidence
Eric's MySpace page

Dr.Murphy's saxophone site

Dr. Joe Murphy of Mansfield University has put together an interesting saxophone site that has a lot of good didactic material. He covers the basics like warming up, tuning and vibrato. There are also some good lesson plans for sax teachers and instruction on techniques like slap tonguing, circular breathing, and multi-phonics. Finally he includes some sax history, sax repair, and some sax humor.

Mansfield University saxophone site


150 silly saxophone proverbs

I found a link to these on Sax On the Web:
150 Sax quotes

If you don't already know about SOTW you need to check it out. SOTW is the web's largest saxophone forum.

Check out their marketplace forum if you're looking to buy or sell any sort of sax gear:
SOTW sax marketplace

You'll find good advice about any issue relating to the saxophone using the SOTW search.

There are great resources on the SOTW links page.

A good way to find your way around this huge site is the SOTW sitemap.


Joe Allard- A True Master

In my mind the two saxophone teachers that had the biggest impact on saxophonists on North America were Joe Allard and Joe Viola. Of course there are other great teachers who were/are also true masters of the horn, but many of them are more firmly based in the classical tradition.

If you look at the great Jazz players of the last generation or two who studied with one or even both of the Joe's, you'll find many of the most influential players in Jazz. Joe Viola and Joe Allard's peers were people like Marcel Mule' and Sigard Rascher, they were invited to the Selmer factory to help the development of the Mark VI and Joe Allard even designed his own Slant Link.

I only wish that I could just have one more lesson with Joe V. I have so many questions that I think only he could answer. Joe seemed to know exactly what was happening inside my mouth when I played.

Mary-Sue just turned me on to the Joe Allard web site, where some of his students write about his teaching methods. Allard's wisdom should be preserved for later generations of saxophonists. Someone should really put a site like this together for Joe Viola too.

This stuff is pure saxophone GOLD!
Joe Allard web site
Student interviews
The Master Speaks: Joe Allard video