Jazz Education Network Conference 2013

 The Jazz Education Network is and organization that rose out of the ashes of IAJE, the International Association of Jazz Educators, when it went down in flames a few years ago. I don't know the real story as far as the reasons for the flame out of IAJE, but I've heard people say that hookers and piles of blow had something to do with it. It's always hookers and blow, isn't it?

This year I'm planning to go to the JEN conference in Atlanta. I have been invited to take part in a panel discussion on Jazz blogging with Earl MacDonald and George Colligan, both of whom have great Jazz blogs. The panel is titled 'Blogging with a Purpose- Educating and Building the Jazz Audience Base' and is with be happening on Saturday, Jan.5th at 1:00pm, at the Learning Center- Atrium Tower, Lower Level 1.

 I am looking forward to seeing old friends, checking out new gear and educational materials, seeing some interesting workshops and getting into some soul food. If you happen to be attending the JEN conference this year please stop by and say hello, or email me at: casavaldez@comcast.net if you want to meet for coffee.


The Pedagogy of Jazz Improvisation- Charlie Banacos

Charlie Banacos is once of the most influential Jazz teachers of the 20th century. When I was in school in Boston he was legendary, and had a two year waiting list to study with him. Anders Bostrom, my housemate in Boston, studied with him and I would hear the types of things that Charlie had assigned each week. Everything that Anders was working on was more more advanced than anything that I was getting at Berklee.

 For years I have just heard the results of his teaching in the playing of the students that spent time studying with him, but never really had a clear understanding of his pedagogy. Charlie also taught correspondence lessons to students all across the country, and there must be many of his written lessons floating around out there. I have never run across any myself, though not for a lack of trying. I will not even make an attempt to write about the profound effect that this educator had on his students. My good friend and pianist Kerry Politzer studied with Charlie for seven years and if you even mention his name around her she gets visibly upset, reminded of the great loss of his passing. Charlie inspired a such high level of devotion in his students that many of them speak about him more as a father figure or spiritual teacher than a Jazz educator. The influential players/educators who studied with Banacos reads like a who's who of Jazz: Gary Dial (for over 40 years), Randy & Michael Brecker, Mike Stern, Bill Frisell, Joey Calderazzo, Danilo Perez, Jeff Berlin, Kenny Werner, George Garzone and Bill Pierce, and many more.

Regular CV blog reader Stephan van Briel recently sent me a link to a former Bancacos student's (Lefteris Kordis) New England Conservatory doctorate dissertation. The dissertation details much of Charlie's teaching methods and concepts, something that I have been curious about for many years. There is some great material in there that is worthy of serious study for any Jazz educator or student.

From a letter from the Banacos family:

"As we approach what would have been Charlie's 66th birthday next month, his family would like to express their deep gratitude and appreciation to a number of individuals who have kept his legacy alive. There is a newly published dissertation by Lefteris Kordis at the New England Conservatory of Music on Charlie's pedagogy (appropriately named "Top Speed and in All Keys: Charlie Banacos's Pedagogy of Jazz Improvisation"). Lefteris' tireless research - including helpful interviews from dozens of students - resulted in an exciting and wonderfully comprehensive assessment of Charlie's teaching methods.  "
Charlie's daughter Barbara still offers correspondence courses, faithfully following Charlie's teaching methods.
 Top Speed in all Keys- Pedagogy of Charlie Banacos

Charlie Banacos: Recollections of a Legend (All About Jazz)
Charlie Banacos: The Zen Master of Improvisation
Charlie Banacos Wiki page


Rhythm Changes Matrix- keys of Bb & G (A sections)

Rhythm changes takes a lot of work to master and it seems to me like the only way to play stuff that is really interesting is to devote some time learning different harmonic approaches to the changes. There are many typical sets of reharms that are commonly used and when a soloist starts to go into one of them a good rhythm section will usually follow along. You will end up discovering a few sets of changes that you will favor.

  I asked a student of mine to take some of the sets of changes from Jamey Aebersold's Rhythm Changes Vol.47 and put them into Sibelius. He got most of the A sections, the B sections will be posted soon. I suck at Sibelius, so only two keys were done, which are the key of Bb and the key of G.

Rhythm Changes Variations in Bb & G


Richie Beirach compositions & reharms

Regular blog reader Stephan van Briels sent me some nice compositions & reharms by Richie Beirach. Beirach worked with Stan Getz and Chet Baker, his musical partnership with Dave Liebman spanned 30 years and he has recorded 37 albums as a lead. Richie may not be a household name, but his influence on many of today's Jazz pianists is not insignificant. Beirach has a unique harmonic approach and is known for his extensive use of poly-chords.

Richie Beirach compositions & reharms

Richie Beirach's web site
Richie Beirach's published compositions (Advance Music)


Slonimsky exercises for saxophone

Slonimsky's Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns is the gift that just keeps giving. There is so much great material in this book that can be adapted for Jazz improvisation. It is arguable that there would have never been a Giant Steps or Countdown if it were not for this great book. There is still so much to be learned from the TOSAMP and just about everything in it sounds super hip. Markos has extracted some lines from the TOSAMP and created some nice exercises for saxophone (or other instruments). Thanks Markos!

Slonimsky Exercises

Lee Konitz transcriptions/Downbeat article

More great stuff from Mark Sowlakis,  four nice Konitz transcriptions (w/ an analysis of Billie's Bounce) and some scans of a Downbeat feature from 1980. Thanks Markos!

Lee Konitz solo transcriptions and DB article

Triad Pair exercises

Regular Casa Valdez contributor Mark Sowlakis put together this sheet of Triad Pair exercises.
(click the above graphic for a larger version)


Woodwind Proficiencies

I took over the Jazz saxophone professor position at Portland State University a few weeks ago, so I had to design an entire teaching curriculum for undergrads and graduate students in a hurry. One of the components of the curriculum I devised was a graded series of proficiencies. Something that impressed me about Berklee's program was the woodwind department's proficiencies. It wasn't anything revolutionary, just very thorough and well thought out. By the time a Berklee performance woodwind major gets out of school they (at the very least) have a solid gasp on the fundamentals of musicianship (scales, arpeggios,intervals, ect).

I wrote Bill Pierce, the woodwind department chair, to see if I could get a copy of the the woodwind proficiencies and he was kind enough to direct me to the department's web page where they have posted complete documents detailing the different levels. Berklee is on a semester system, so there are eight levels for the four year program. PSU is on a trimester system, so I had to split those eight levels into twelve. I also added a few things to the requirements that I thought were important to know.

These proficiencies would be a good way to to approach practicing the fundamentals for any woodwind student, or for any teachers wishing to be a bit more organized in their teaching practice.

link to a compressed file containing the proficiencies


Break the Mold- podcast and concert series

When I was down in L.A. earlier this year playing at the Blue Whale I met a saxophonist named Alex Sadnik, who runs Break the Mold, what several musicians tell me is the best continuing Jazz concert series in the L.A. area. Alex books highly interesting forward thinking L.A. musicians for his series and has also started interviewing many of these musicians for a podcast series of the same name. So far he has interviewed 33 different players for the series. If you were ever interested about what the real Jazz scene is like for the guys in the trenches playing creative music then you should check out these podcasts. Alex is an intelligent interviewer and he has chosen some great interviewees. I hope to play at Alex's concert series next time I am down south.

 Break the Mold Podcast
Break the Mold concert series FB page


Spirit Seeker: John Coltrane's Musical Journey

    I don't have kids, but if I did have kids I would be reading them Gary Golio's new book Spirit Seeker: John Coltrane's Musical Journey. As soon as I saw this book I new I had to have it, even without kids. The illustrations are stunning and fairly psychedelic. The story is about Coltrane's triumph over drug and alcohol addiction and his spiritual journey to create music that would bring happiness and healing to listeners. Golio is also an addiction counselor for teens, so I would guess that he wanted to present young inner city kids with a model for overcoming addiction through art and spirituality. Trane's drug problems are not a major theme in this book for youngsters, but it is worth mentioning.

Here is an excerpt from the afterward:

"Music and religion were the twin forces that shaped John Coltrane's early years. Both of his grandfathers were Methodist ministers, and each of his parents was a skilled musician.

In North Carolina during the 1930s, the church was the center of black community life. At a time when discrimination was widespread, the church offered comfort, hope, and guidance. One way it did this was through music...

Perhaps more than any other jazz musician, John Coltrane let his religious feelings guide and inspire his work. Of his recovery from drug use, he wrote, 'During the year 1957, I experienced, by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening which was to lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life. At that time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music.'

It was his commitment to sobriety for the last ten years of his life that allowed him to pursue his vision and to create some of the most enduring music in the field of jazz."

Gary Golio
Here is what Gary had to say about his book:

   " Sometimes, when you've lost almost everything as a child, a lifeline appears that restores your faith and re-ignites your spirit. For John Coltrane, that lifeline was the saxophone, and the musical dreams it inspired. Spirit Seeker - John Coltrane's Musical Journey (Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) captures John's struggle from lost boy to musical leader, from darkness to light. In words and images that reflect the depth of John's joy as well as his yearning for inner peace, Spirit Seeker tells the story of how art and spirituality shaped one man's talents and gave him the courage to share those gifts with the world. It's a uniquely American tale that touches on race, jazz, religion and redemption (from addiction), the power of Art, and how John's early difficulties fueled his unique vision of the Divine (A Love Supreme). Like my previous books on Jimi Hendrix (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, NY Times bestseller) and Bob Dylan (Little, Brown), Spirit Seeker is meant to introduce a new generation of listeners to a great musical creator and his story."

 I love this book and if you do have kids that you are planning to introduce to Trane's A Love Supreme at some point then you do need to buy this book.

Spirit Seeker: John Coltrane's Musical Journey


ReedGeek Universal Reed Tool

  A few weeks ago Mark Sowlakis, my buddy and regular contributor to this blog, called me and told me about the great results that he and other sax players he knew had been having with a new reed adjusting tool called the ReedGeek. Mark said that he had gone from being able to play just three to four reeds in a box of ten to playing six or seven out of a box. That sounded like a pretty big claim, but I do trust Markos so I figured I would give it a try. I send Mauro at ReedGeek a message and he agreed to send me a few ReedGeek tools in exchange for a banner add on this site.

 I usually only can play three or four reeds, if I'm lucky, out of a box of ten. These odds are roughly the same as playing online Bingo. I do have a tendency to enjoy gambling, but if there is any way I can avoid wasting so much bread on little shards of cane then I will jump at the chance to improve my odds. The idea of the tool does make a lot of sense because a warped reed table is one of the most common reed problems and the ReekGeek is a simple solution to warping. Even if a reed starts out playing great, often it will die due to a convex or concave table warp. I learned this from Ray Reed's great book The Saxophone Reed: The Advanced Art of Adjusting Single Reeds. The ReekGeek tool is a perfect way to flatten the reed table without removing too much material, as often happens when using a reed knife for this delicate operation. The tool also is great for adjusting side rails.

I gave up trying to get results with a reed knife years ago, since I usually would end up just killing every reed I would touch with it. So far with the ReekGeek tool I have gotten many reeds to play that would have been destined for the reed boneyard. I have had particularly good luck with tenor reeds that were just too hard and stuffy. I was able to remove a small amount of material from the back of the reed in order to make the entire reed a bit softer. This adjustment strategy for me in the past was done with a tool made by Vandoren, which was small piece of glass mounted with sandpaper. This almost never worked because it was just too hard to manipulate the reed on the sandpaper and I would always end up sanding too much off the bottom of the reed.

 So I am not yet getting six or seven playable reeds out of a box of ten from using the ReedGeek tool, but it has definitely proven itself to be a valuable new tool for reed adjustment and it has saved many reeds that were effectively DOA. I plan to experiment more with the rail adjustment feature in the future and I'm sure that in a short amount of time the ReekGeek with save more than enough reeds to pay for it's cost.

 Here is what the ReekGeek site says about the tool:

The ReedGeek “Universal”® Reed Tool enhances reed performance by rapidly and accurately flattening reed tables. Within 10 minutes of training to use the tool, players will notice a dramatic improvement in efficiency (ease of sound production), sonic quality and responsiveness in their reeds. Users of the tool will find more “good” reeds in a box and the reeds will perform longer and more consistently over their lifetime.
More than flattening…
The blade at the tip of the tool has a gentle radius that can be used for precision scraping, including balancing the tip, adjusting the heart or other fine adjustments. The radius allows single-point contact for scraping very precise areas of the reed quickly. On each side of the scraper blade, there is a blade designed especially to adjust or modify the rails of the reed. These blades quickly define the desired rail profile.
Getting the best from your mouthpiece…
Most commercial reeds will have or develop lateral warpage of the reed table either from the factory or when the reed comes in contact with moisture. In this defective state, the reed will not seal correctly along the critical area of the mouthpiece. This area extends along the mouthpieces side rails to just below where the mouthpiece window and table meet. When the ReedGeek is properly used in daily reed maintenance and reed preparation, the reed and mouthpiece will perform much more cohesively as a unit. This unit will have the reed positioned snugly against the mouthpieces’ table, side and tip rails creating a temporary vacuum.It is this vacuum and subsequent release (pop) that maximizes the vibration and response of both the reed and mouthpiece, contributing to improved tone quality, articulation, and control.
The ‘Geek can also be used to balance both the rails of the reed and the tip by using the rail blades and the scraper radius. The two main reasons for poorly performing reeds are: 1. Reed Warpage and 2. Imbalances at the tip and side-rails. As you know the ReedGeek is very effective in dealing with the warpage on the bottom of the reed. Again, always address the area of the reed that corresponds with the area of the mouthpiece where the window and table meet.


Doug Web Interview

 I ran into Doug Webb this year at the Namm show. He was at the Oleg booth demoing Oleg's new tenor and the Tubax, an Eb contra-bass sax. I had heard about Doug for for years, but it was the first time we had met. Doug is one of L.A.'s top call saxophonists and he has been featured on over 500 different recordings, as well as on hundreds of TV and movie soundtracks. When we started talking he told me that his brother lived in Portland and that he would be interested in coming up to play a few gigs just so he would have an excuse to visit his brother. I set up a gig for us on Sept. 22nd at Ivories Jazz Lounge with George Colligan and Alan Jones. I also booked some school clinics for Doug and will be presenting one right here at Casa Valdez Studios on Sept. 23rd at 11am. Here is the link for the Doug's Jazz improvisation clinic at Casa Valdez Studios. Please email me for more info at: casavaldez@comcast.net

 Interview with Doug Webb

DCV: When were you at Berklee?

DW: ‘79 through the end of ‘82.

DCV: So I got there just a few years after you, in ‘86

DW: I actually graduated with the class of ‘83 but I wasn’t actually in school much then – my last semester was fall of  ‘82.

DCV: What was your major?

DW: Jazz Composition and arranging.

DCV: Were you able to study with Joe Viola?

DW: Yes, I studied with Joe Viola for 7 semesters.

DCV: What was that like for you?

DW: Well, I was practicing a lot and sort of thought I knew everything and I wish I would have availed myself more of his teaching ability. I basically did what I wanted to do. He would sit and play chords for me and I would play tunes, and I never did any classical work or etudes or things that he actually teaches. He was more of a psychiatrist. You’d leave your lesson feeling really good about your playing and yourself and that you were doing the right thing.
Joe Viola

DCV: I think that was a big part of reason he was such a great teacher, he was just a supportive person. I never played much Jazz with him. He would mostly play duets with or we’d play etudes in unison. A lot of our time was actually spent tweaking different things on my horn.

DW: We’d usually play jazz. I think maybe once or twice we would play Classical etudes, but most of the time he would play chords on the piano and he would ask me to play tunes. He would also ask me to play solo saxophone for him. I guess he didn’t really care that I didn’t much want to do anything that he taught or wanted to tell me to do. I remember I had a later Mark VI at that time. He told me if I put the middle finger down on the right hand that it would actually… my C and C# were a little sharp, which is very common, so I would put the middle finger down on the right hand, on those two notes. On a D I would put the middle finger down and maybe the first two fingers, and he got me thinking and hearing pitch better. I’ve always tried to play in tune. You know, little things like that. And now of course I don’t play that same saxophone so I don’t need to do that anymore.

DCV: I remember that he had a ton of alternate fingerings for every note. His sense of pitch was pretty incredible.

DW: Yeah, he could hear a note and know if it was out of tune and also know why. He just loved the saxophone. And it seemed like he liked to hear me play, and I would just play for him, and he’d occasionally say something and we’d play tunes, and he’d smile a lot. You always left feeling good about yourself. As opposed to somebody who would try to teach you something every week, when I’m already learning something every day because at that time I was practicing quite a bit.

Herb Pomeroy
DCV: Did you also get a chance to play with Herb’s band?

DW: Yeah, I was in Herb Pomeroy’s recording band for 6 semesters. I was very fortunate, that was great. He got me playing and listening to the sound of voice, not just yourself, not just the saxophone. He’d play a voicing, and sometimes to make a weird voicing sound good, maybe if there’s a flat 9 in the voicing, it will sound good but maybe one of the notes has to be very soft. He would really get you hearing and blending with these other musicians. It was a great experience.

DCV: He was definitely one of the best things about Berklee for me. I played in his Recording band for three years, also did the Line Writing band and his small combo.

DW: My last semester I was in school I only took a lesson with Joe Viola and played with Herb’s band. And that was it. I had two classes.

DCV: So did you go straight to L.A. after school?

DW: Well, I was going to possibly go play with Buddy Rich. I was recommend, but that never materialized because Buddy had a heart attack right at that time in the Dominican Republic I believe. So I never did do that. But I went on board a cruise ship for 16 weeks. Then I got off the ship, got to L.A., took my trunk and walked off the ship. The ship was going two more weeks to Miami but they weren’t going to pay my way back to L.A. so I just said, “well, I’m getting off here.”

DCV: So you’ve been in L.A. ever since then?

DW: Primarily, yeah. My mother lives in New York so I tried to visit her a lot and play there more often than I do now. The busier I get, the more I’m working, the harder it is to take much time off and do anything besides work.

Doc Serevins
DCV: When did the Doc Severinsen band happen, was that right after you got to L.A.?

DW: I came to L.A. at the end of the summer of ‘83. I’m from Los Angeles. I was born in Chicago in ’60, my parents moved to Los Angeles in 1962, so I’ve been in Los Angeles my whole life. So when I came back after going to college and working on the cruise ship I guess I’ve been here ever since. I started playing with Doc in ’92 or ’93 when the Tonight Show just ended and Branford got the gig and Doc wanted to take the band on the road and apparently he could.

I actually took Pete Christlieb’s place because he didn’t want to go on the road. Pete was busy doing other things. At first I started subbing for Ernie Watts, he recommend me, and then when Pete didn’t want to do it I took his chair and Ernie and I basically did it together for quite a while. Doc just did a tour last year and Ernie went out with him. So it’s been something nineteen years now. I did pretty much all of that work from 1993 to about 2007. He did quite a bit of touring right after the tonight show ended and you’d be amazed, he was incredibly popular. People would recognize Doc Severinson all of the country, wherever we’d tour, the Southwest, Midwest or the South. Older people just loved Johnny Carson, but you could see how short-lived fame on television is because over the course of about 13 years of him doing one or two tours a year, usually seven to fourteen days. He would do one or two a year and you could really see the diminishing enthusiasm for the band. It was very expensive; he was paying us well and taking the guys who all did the Tonight Show. Another thing that started happening is that the guys in the band started dying. Quite a few of them, or they were unable to play. Bill Perkins got ill and didn’t want to play in the band anymore.

Bill Berry
DCV: Your fans were dying too, right?

DW: Yeah, the fans were dying and the band was dying. Snooky Young got pretty old and wasn’t able to play the way he used to. My job was wheeling him around in a wheelchair at the airport.

DCV: Did you ever play with Bill Berry? He was a great mentor for me.

DW: Yeah, I played in his big band and several times in a small group with him. We played at a club called Alfonso’s once with a quintet and I played with him at a placed called Chadney’s a few times. He was a very nice man. Great player and he had a great band. I played with a lot of big bands; I guess L.A.’s kind of known for that. I mean I still play in Bill Holman’s band and various other bands. I’m playing this Monday with a great big band, Emil Richards, and the sax section is Pete Christlieb, Lanny Morgan, Gary Foster, Gere Cipriano and I. I play in about six big bands were Pete Christlieb and I are the two tenors. They never get one of us; it’s always both of us.
Pete Christleib, Doug Webb, Lanny Morgan, Emil Richards, Gene Cipriano

DCV: You also worked with Freddie Hubbard and Horace Silver. What was that like?

DW: Playing with Freddie was one of the greatest gigs of my life. Just incredible. Horace was an amazing learning experience. He really wanted you to play the changes and he grounded my playing in the idiom of Hard-Bop. I think he did that for all the tenor players that played with him. It was of the best things that ever happened to my playing. His approach to Hard-Bop had continued to evolve and it was quite different from what his contemporaries, like Herbie, were doing.

DCV: How much of your work is recording now?

DW: Well, I do a fair amount. I want to say every week usually something, but it’s not like it’s tons of stuff every day, but sometimes 3-4 sessions a week, sometimes one a week, this week I have a session Saturday. It’s various things. I’m actually trying to play a lot more Jazz, practice and get ready to write material for a new record on Posi-tone records.

DCV: How has the L.A. music scene changed in the last 15-20 years?

DW: I don’t know that it has changed. I’ve never been a huge studio guy. I’ve always been known more as a jazz musician, but I’ve always taken every gig I’ve gotten and tried to do the best I could.  Most of the success I’ve gotten has been from my playing and I have a bunch of unusual saxophones and woodwinds.

DCV: I saw a picture of all your horns out in your yard. It was pretty insane!

DW: Yeah, I’ve got a lot of weird things. Stuff I’ve never worked on. I have a full set of crumhorns that are tuned to A=440 and I’ve never gotten a call, never played them on any recordings.
Doug's horn collection

DCV: Are you kind of a mouthpiece guy too?

DW: Yeah recently I bought a collection of mouthpieces, really great vintage mouthpieces. Tons of old Links. So yeah, right now I have quite a few.

DCV: What kind of piece are you playing right now?

DW: Right now for the tenor it’s a New York Super Tone Master that had been worked on by Frank Wells. Frank Wells used to work on John Coltrane’s mouthpiece. He would do a thing that he kind of invented where he would take a hammer and hit them a little bit to get them to open up a bit. He would also give them a natural, rollover baffle. It made the mouthpiece take the air really well. Coltrane played a piece, or various pieces that Wells worked on. I think when Trane passed away he had boxes and boxes, hundreds of mouthpieces like the one I’m playing now.
Doug playing a straight alto with Richie Cole

DCV: How about on alto?

DW: I go back and forth between three different Meyers. The one I normally play is a 7, and it’s the most comfortable for me but when I really want to sound like an alto player I play a 6. I actually have a New York Meyer 5 that’s kind of bouncy, sound great with a King Super 20. Sometimes I switch off and play different things. I also have a really nice Dukoff tenor mouthpiece that I keep in my case that’s like the one Dexter Gordon played. It’s a really nice mouthpiece. I have a Stubby #2 that I got from Bob Sheppard that’s really nice. I like them all; they’re all a little different. I have several lengths that are various degrees of darkness. I used to play a Berg Larsen that I played for 35 years. I got it when I was 15 and played it up until about 2 years ago.

DCV: Are you doing a lot of teaching?

DW: Not really, not too much. I have one student that takes from me every week and occasionally someone comes over for a lesson.

DCV: What is your approach to teaching? If people come to the clinic that you’re doing, what can they expect that you might work on?

DW: it really depends on what level they are. I try to get people to understand, from a theoretical level, harmony and what improvising over chord changes is all about. Even if someone is playing modally on a D-7, which is basically a C major scale, the Dorian mode… getting them to hear the chord and hear the notes of the chord and how they sound, and base their improvisations off of harmony and how harmony works. If they’re more advanced, getting them to be aware of creating tension and release through the resolution of the dominant seventh chords. If they’re a little more advanced, then modern reharmonization based on…

DCV: Coltrane’s 3-tonic system?

DW: Well yeah, or taking it in and outside of the harmony, ala Steve Grossman or Brecker, the way things move in and outside. Giant Steps-type reharmonizations, other reharmonizations that are similar to that but not exactly Giant Steps. The function in that, like parallel harmonies and reharmonization and maybe if you have a ii-V-I, creating tension by adding another harmony in the line you’re playing. That’s something to do after somebody already can at least play changes in a basic way.

DCV: I was checking out your Renovations CD yesterday. Very good, I liked it, there’s definitely a lot of Coltrane influence there. Your “I Can’t Get Started” reharm was pretty cool, was that yours?

DW: John Coltrane did that.

DCV: That was a Coltrane reharm?

DW: That was. He never recorded it.

DCV: Wow.

DW: Those were his changes, and I got them from Art Davis who still has some papers in Coltrane’s hand. I got some other stuff that Coltrane played. I’ve been looking everywhere for them, I know I never threw them away. Lewis Porter did a book on Coltrane, I told him I would get them to him and get them copied and I’ve been looking everywhere. He just wrote this book on Trane.
Doug with Stanley Clarke
DCV: Would you say that Trane was your major influence when you were younger?

DW: Yeah, probably still is. I just love his playing, absolutely love his playing. But I also equally love other players and other styles of music. Everybody, from Eddie Harris to Stan Getz and Paul Desmond, I like players who play beautifully, and of course Bird, all those guys who really played beautifully. Hank Mobley. And Coltrane did too but when you say, “is Coltrane your main influence?” you expect to hear a guy squawking and grunting and histrionics on the saxophone.

DCV: What about modern players? Anyone you’re into?

DW: You know, I really like a lot of guys. I mean there’s a bunch of guys in New York that play great. My favorites are probably Wayne Shorter, Pharaoh Sanders. Other than those, the younger guys like Bob Sheppard and Pete Christlieb. Playing with him, he never ceases to amaze me. Younger guys in New York? I really love Eric Alexander, Grant Stewart plays great. I’ve heard some things that Joel Frahm has done that I really like. Ben Wendel just sounds great. There are just so many guys that are really dedicated and just doing wonderfully.

DCV: Well, thanks Doug. I’m really looking forward to playing with you up here in Portland.

DW: Thanks. See you soon.


Matt Otto/David Valdez Quintet Live @ the Blue Monk

I recorded this gig with my Zoom H4. All the tunes are Matt Otto's originals.
All of the MP3s are compressed into one large zip file. Once you click the link it will automatically start downloading.

David Valdez- alto saxophone
Matt Otto- tenor saxophone
John Stowell- guitar
Chris Higgins- bass
Todd Strait- drums

Matt Otto-David Valdez Quintet Live @ the Blue Monk
Recorded at the Blue Monk on Aug.5th, 2012

Singing Through Your Instrument- Matt Otto Improvisation Clinic

 Matt Otto came to PDX from Kansas City this month and I had the great pleasure of being able to do a lot of playing with him, and I helped him set up an improvisation workshop. I can honestly say that the experience had a profound impact on my musical concept. Matt's clinic was about the most profoundly interesting clinic that I have been to in years and I know that the students who were there felt the same way about it.

   Otto's teaching concepts are influenced by his studies at several great Jazz schools. He began his studies with David Baker at Indiana, followed by studies at Berklee, The New School and Cal Arts. After being in NYC for a few years Matt started suffering from severe bouts of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, which forced him to develop ways to practice without his instrument. He began singing with pedal drones in order to help him develop his ear. This seemingly simple exercise began to shape his entire approach to improvisation.

  There is quite a bit of singing in this recording of Otto's clinic and I would strongly encourage you to sing along with the exercises. If you follow along through the the entire clinic I am sure that you'll find great value in Otto's unusual approach. Matt's approach helps the improvisor to make the ear the driving force in the process of improvisation, rather than having the mind choose your notes according to theoretical rules.

Matt Otto Clinic- part 1
Matt Otto Clinic- part 2

 Links to drone mp3s:
Drone Bb
Drone B
Drone C
Drone Db
Drone D
Drone Eb
Drone E
Drone F
Drone Gb
Drone G
Drone Ab


Sigurd Rascher: Top-Tones and the Keyless Saxophone

  I remember the first time that I ran across Sigurd Rascher's Top-Tones book. I was in seventh grade and there was an older saxophonist that lived right across the street from me that used to turn me on to different books. He also got me started working out of Coker's Patterns for Jazz. This guy showed me how overtones worked and, after much squawking, I was eventually able to get the first couple of overtones. 

 Rascher's Top-Tones is a book that many saxophonists own. I would guess that most of these players even believe that practicing overtones is quite important to gaining control of sound, pitch and the altissimo range. I would also venture to guess that only a small percentage of these players can play any more than just the first page (see below) of overtone exercises from Top-Tones.
(click above for larger version)

 The way to play the overtones is to make changes in the shape of the mouth cavity, tongue position, lower jaw placement, and airstream direction. I was watching a YouTube video on overtone production and it was talking about how overtones are produced with the voice box mechanism, total bullshit. In fact, there is a lot of B.S. online being passed off as expert saxophone instruction. Before you listen to someone teach you about overtones listen to see if they can actually play overtones up past the second octave.

 For years I used to think that in order to play the higher overtones well you had to develop a titanium embouchure, which only came from practicing overtones for insane amounts of time. I think that many saxophonists have this same misconception, but this is not the truth. It does take a little time, but only until you figure out exactly what you need to change in order to play higher overtones, not to build chops like a grizzly bear trap. Once you realize how easy it is to change your airstream, mostly by changing the shape of your tongue, then you will be able to hit even the highest overtones with minimal effort.

 Joe Viola used to have me to pitch and timbre match exercises with overtones. For example, he would have me play a middle Bb or F and then without stopping the note change to a low Bb fingering. The goal of the exercise was to have the normal fingered note and the overtone finger sound the same in timbre and pitch. You do need to move your fingers pretty quickly and evenly in order to do the exercise well. You can also use this same technique to get beginning students to play the overtones if they are having difficulties with the overtone fingerings. When they play the normal fingering notes their oral tract will already be in the correct position to get the overtone. If they move their fingers to the low overtone fingering fast and even enough then there is more of a chance that the higher overtone will pop out. This just jump starts the process and is very helpful if a student is really struggling to get the overtone to pop out .

 There are often problems when trying to teach this important exercise to younger beginning students. The first is that many rental saxophones have a lot of leaks, especially on the bell keys. Since leaks are cumulative down the horn, by the time you get to low B or Bb there is a lot of resistance, making overtones problematic. The second problem is that some elementary school kids have very short fingers and it is hard for them to play low Bs or Bbs for any length of time, these kids I will start on overtone exercises from low C.

  Often the main motivation for students to work on overtones is just to get better at altissimo, which is something that overtone work will definitely improve. I personally feel that a more important reason to practice overtones is that you will get more control of subtle timbre shading. All of the overtones are present in each and every note you play on the saxophone. When we master overtones we will be able to change the overtone spectrum in any given note, thus effectively controlling the timbre. We will be able to easily make any note warm and dark or bright and buzzy.
(The graphic above shows a spectrum analysis a low A on an alto saxophone, note the overtone peaks).

   Last January I went down to the NAMM show and saw a lot of interesting new products, but by far the coolest thing I saw there was the Hollywood Winds' Keyless saxophone. I had seen the pictures of Rascher with the keyless sax that Buscher had made for him, but I had never played one. Hollywood Winds had both a keyless alto and a keyless alto at their booth and I was able to play tested the alto. The first thing you notice is how light they are. A saxophone without any keys weighs about half as much as a normal saxophone with keys. The second thing you notice is just how easily they blow. The low Bb is obviously the lowest note that the horn plays and it comes out effortlessly. You can really feel the whole tube vibrate under your fingers in a way that doesn't happen with a normal saxophone. If you run your fingers carefully down the body of the horn while blowing a loud low Bb you can actually feel the vibrating nodes at certain points on the tube.

   I was shocked at how easily the overtones popped out on the keyless sax, which is of course exactly what Rascher had in mind when he designed it. There are several reasons that make it much easier to play overtones on the keyless sax.

1. Because there are absolutely no leaks.

2. There are no tone holes to cause turbulence.

3. There are no posts or key guards attached to the body of the horn to dampen the vibrational nodes.

4.  Since you don't need to press down on any keys your hands can remain totally relaxed. When playing overtones on a normal sax you can tend to press pretty hard on the keys, especially the left pinky, just to seal all of the leaks.

5. The keyless horn is so light, so it takes very little effort to hold it. I even found myself using the computer while practicing.

6. There is really nothing else you can practice on the keyless sax, other than long tones on a low Bb, so you end up practicing overtones much longer than you normally would on a normal saxophone.

I played the keyless sax for a few weeks after I got it and had several major breakthroughs with my overtone practice. Suddenly I was able to play all the overtones up to about the 12th overtone. In a short amount of time I was able to flit between all of the overtones quickly and cleanly with very little effort. Before the keyless sax I could probably only play up third above the double octave with any amount of control. Some of the higher overtones would pop out sometimes, but I certainly didn't have much control. I think that my breakthroughs were not all due to reasons #1-3 that I listed above, because after working with the keyless sax I could go back to my Selmer VI and my new range was still there, though a little less easy to get.

 Over the first few weeks that I had the keyless alto I wrote some exercises for it and had all of my alto students play it in their lessons. A few of the students were able to hit overtones that they had never been able to play before. As I said before, it can be quite difficult for young students with leaky horns  and small fingers to play overtones at all, and the keyless sax was a big help for these kids.

 After about a month of working with the keyless alto I went to a jam session (after a keyless practice session) and noticed a huge difference in my playing. It seemed like I had much more control of my airstream and like I could put much more air into my horn without the tone breaking up. Everything about my control was better. I noticed more control of my pitch and I could also shade each note the way I wanted to. It was a pretty drastic difference and that night I finally understood the true value of overtone practice. Of course I had always believed before then that overtones were the most important thing a student can practice to gain more control of the saxophone, but I never realized just how big the payoff was for a small amount of practicing was. I always felt a bit bad for torturing my students (and their parents) when I would ask them to practice overtones, but now I could really see the value in it.

 After coming home from NAMM I contacted Hollywood Winds and started bugging them about giving me a keyless alto. I had decided that I had to have one and if they wouldn't give one to me in exchange for banner advertising I would have to pay out of pocket and buy one. Luckily Hollywood Winds went for my offer to put a permanent banner ad on this blog in exchange for a keyless alto. The altos run at $450 and the tenors are around $600. The real question is really going to be if it's worth that kind of bread for something you can't even play on a gig. I would say that for someone like me who is a full-time player and teacher it is definitely worth the money to have such a strong practice and teaching tool like the keyless sax in your arsenal. It might not be worth it for a weekend warrior or a young music student, when they could always just practice overtones the same way saxophonists have done for decades. On the other hand, if you a serious saxophone student that plans on making a career out of music then you would probably get enough benefit from working with a keyless horn to make it worth purchasing one.

I will be posting my original overtone exercises for keyless or keyed saxophones soon!

Sigurd Rascher in Buescher Promotional Ad (1/3)   

Sigurd Rascher in Buescher Promotional Ad (2/3) 

Sigurd Rascher in Buescher Promotional Ad (3/3)


Hollywood Winds Keyless Saxophone








Broken Waltz- New Matt Otto CD

 Matt Otto is Kansas City based saxophonist, educator and blogger who has been featured many times on this blog. I've known Matt for over twenty years and we still play together on occasion. In August Matt will be coming out to Portland to do a few gigs with me at the Camellia Lounge and the Blue Monk. He will also be doing a master class on August 5th. Email me if you are interested in registering. I will be posting more information about that class soon.

Matt has been releasing his recent CDs exclusively on his blog, which happens also to be one of the best Jazz educational sites on the internet. Otto is asking his blog readers to send him a donation for any amount, in return he will send a link to download MP3 or FLAC files along with Concert PDF charts for all 10 tunes! The recording is beautiful, the playing is killing and the tunes are really interesting. I am really looking forward to playing some of these compositions when Otto comes to town.

  Otto is one of the leading tenor saxophonists of his generation and if you haven't checked out his educational website you should see all of the great free lessons he has posted.

Matt Otto will be performing at:
Camellia Lounge
(510 Northwest 11th Avenue  
Portland, OR 97209)
Saturday, Aug. 4th
w/David Valdez, George Colligan, Chris Higgin and Todd Strait

The Blue Monk
3341 Southeast Belmont Street  
Portland, OR 97214
Sunday, Aug. 5th
w/David Valdez, Chris Higgins, Chris Brown


Lawrence Williams 3-horn arrangements

Last weekend I played a gig with a group called The Lawrence Williams Project, which I have co-lead with pianist Dan Gaynor for almost ten years. Lawrence Williams was a close friend of ours who passed away about six years ago. He was an incredible drummer and an equally great Jazz composer. We try to keep his music alive by performing it once or twice each year, but I also thought I would  post some of the charts here on this blog so more musicians around the world could have the experience of playing these beautiful tunes.

I have posted audio files for many of these tunes along with the PDF parts on my Posterous media server blog. Below are links to each tune:

Ballad for Gene Parker
A Song for Strength
Early One Morning
Love of Life
Blues on Piano
Love's Resolution Within
Number 3
Forever Clear
When I Come Home
Hearing is Believing

David Demsey explains Joe Allard's method

  Tonight I listened to David Demsey describe Joe Allard's teaching method in great detail. This was one of the Bulletproof Saxophone Method lessons and I have never heard anyone relate Allard's concepts so well.  I have posted several articles about Allard's system on this blog (Allard Unveiled, Allard Overtone Exercises, Allard videos) and I think that any saxophonist would be making a big mistake to overlook the ideas of this master teacher.

 Allard really stressed overtone work and Demsey describes why this sort of work is so important. I recently got a keyless saxophone and have been working with it for a few months. I always knew that overtone work was critical and I always teach overtone exercises to my students, but I never really spent a ton of time working on overtones until I started working with the keyless sax. I noticed a huge change in my control and quality of my sound in just a few weeks of regular overtone work. I wrote a bunch of overtone exercises and will post them soon.

(Yes, Bulletproof Sax Method is one of the banner ads on this blog, but I do not accept advertising for any products that I do not fully endorse and recommend to my own students. You will not see ads for Cannonball saxes on this blog!!)


Clarence "C" Sharpe bootleg unearthed

photo by Otto Flückiger
 When I was just sixteen years old a bassist named Ted Wald moved to Santa Cruz (were I grew up) from New York City. Ted had been in the trenches of the NYC Bop scene for 40 years before leaving the city to follow a young girlfriend out west, and to seek a healthier lifestyle. Ted was a true old school Be-Bopper who had played with a who's who list of Jazz greats, including Bird himself. I felt a little closer to the smokey clubs of NYC when ever I played with Ted. Ted always had a million stories of about all the cats he had played with. He was one of the few white musicians in the circle of players that he ran in. Ted was also the first white Muslims, maybe even the first Muslim,  that I had ever met. Ted never really spoke much about his faith and I didn't really know what to ask him since I hadn't been exposed to that culture, having been raised in a lilly white California beach town. Ted was also the first bassist I'd played with that refused to use an amplifier, which for him was also sort of a religious belief. Ted knew a ton of standards and he never cared what key anything was played in. He didn't read music and every solo he took was a walking solo, old school all the way.

photo by Otto Flückiger
  One name that constantly came up in Ted's stories was Clarence Sharpe, who he usually just referred to as "C" Sharpe. Ted had played with Sharpe for years and had the highest respect for him. He would always say that Sharpe was the baddest Bebop saxophonist in NYC, despite that fact that he had no teeth and played wildly out of tune. I could never fathom how a guy with no teeth could ever play the saxophone at a high level, let alone be the baddest cat on the scene. I guess I figured that Ted was exaggerating a bit, turns out that he wasn't. I had always asked Ted if there were any recordings of Sharpe and he had lost the only bootleg that he had. Sharpe had recorded on a Lee Morgan record called Indeed, but that apparently wasn't a good representation of his playing. Sharpe had struggle with heroin addiction for many years and that may have been a factor in his failure to get a recording career off the ground. Of course the fact that Sharpe had wildly erratic intonation, because of his lack of teeth,  couldn't have helped his mainstream marketability either.

I ran into a post on Face Book the other morning by saxophonist Alex Hoffman about Sharpe. Alex had posted a link to a blog called Crown Propeller that posted a bootlegged recording of Sharpe playing with Ted Wald, Walter David Jr., Lonnie Hillyar, and Jimmy Lovelace at a club called the Tin Palace. The recording is a bit rough and you can hear some clear conversations while the music is playing, which is actually quite interesting. The band is burning, but Sharpe stands out, despite the expect intonation issues he is a monster. I finally understand what Ted was raving about.

I sent Ted a link to the recording and he was very happy to finally hear this band that he he spent so much time time playing with. Here is is reply to me:
"Salaam Aqui,
First thank you, thank you, thank you.  I miss those guys.  I am the only one left.  Maybe Sharpe didn't know anybody was recording us because for a long time people were begging us to record and Sharp was not about doing it because he didn't have any teeth.  (He had portable ones which used to come flying past me in the second tune whenever we played.)  I spoke to a piano player, Tardo Hammer, who said to me, "Man, Bird Lore, (the C-Sharpe Qunitet) was bad.  Maybe the baddest in New York at the time."  I saw some blurb on the tube about some critic named Parsells who made it his business to hear that band in '79 or '80.  I do have a tape somewhere in my belongings.  I had others but someone swung with a tape of Sharpe, Walter Davis, Jimmy Lovelace and myself playing "Pennies from Heaven".  I do appreciate what you sent. 
Peaceful, peaceful. Blessings, thank you for living, Ted (Said Khalid)

P.S.  Also Thanks to Stanley Crouch for ever booking us.  Sharpe was mostly surviving tutoring and teaching at the University of the Streets.  Mostly he was a living legend and my friend."

105 Minutes with legendary Clarence "C" Sharpe

105 Minutes with Clarence "C" Sharpe.