Kenny Wheeler Songbook

We lost one of my favorite trumpet players last week. Kenny Wheeler influenced a generation of players and he was also a master composer. Here is his NY Time obituary. 

A while back a regular reader sent me a PDF of Kenny's tunes that he got when Kenny came to do a clinic. I have been playing some of these tunes since I got hold of this PDF. There are also Eb and Bb charts in there. Great stuff. Honor the man by playing his tunes!

Kenny Wheeler Songbook

Silverstein Ligature- Free the Reed!

 My buddy Tim Wilcox started playing on a Silverstein ligature recently and seemed very happy with it and it looked like a very interesting design, so I decided to check them out. The design is kind of similar to the old string ligatures, but the Silverstein ligs have just five thin cords that look kind of like hair ties that hold the reed in place. The cords are attached to a bar on top that also has a screw that pushes a V shaped clamp into the mouthpiece to tighten the cords and pull the reed from the bottom. It is actually quite an elegant design and the workmanship is excellent. There are two bars on either side of the lig that keep the cords spaced evenly and can be moved toward the reed or toward the reed the give different tonal colors. It makes a lot of sense to have as little ligature as possible touching the reed to allow for maximum vibration and the Sivlerstein ligature certainly achieves this end. You can also soak the ligature in water before putting it on so the cords absorb moisture. This is supposed to keep your reed from drying out as quickly while you play it. The ligs are obviously very well made and come with a lifetime guarantee.

Here is what the website has to say:
 The Silverstein Ligature was designed to give players the purest sound, to accompany musicians with the support and dedication they and their instruments deserve. The self-adjusting design adjusts itself and conforms to your mouthpiece over time, actually getting even better and growing with you. Use the patented Fine Tuner Bars on the sides of the Ligature for unprecedented control. Moving the bars up and down will change the color and focus of your sound. No other ligature allows such an easy one-touch adjustment for the perfectionist in you. The Moisture Retention feature provides real constant moisture directly to your reed. Soaking the Ligature before mounting can help reduce reed warpage during a performance by more than 50%, and helping your reeds last twice as long. The unique features of the Silverstein Ligature were designed with the perfectionist musician in mind and is a true innovation. The bar has been raised; rethink what you knew to be truth about your sound and find out what the very best have begun to notice. Cutting edge technology with a delicate touch that truly amplifies your style, the Silverstein Ligature is the ultimate realization of what a ligature can and should do.

 Before getting into my impressions about how the ligature played I should tell you that I have played on a Rovner lig for about 34 years, so my entire sound concept is adapted to the Rovner, which is one of the darkest ligatures on the market. I think of ligatures as kind of the final tonal adjustment that you make after the horn, mouthpiece and reed. If the rest of your set up is a bit darker than you'd like then you can choose a ligature that gives just a bit more brightness, or vice versa. Personally, I like the darker sound that the Rovner gives, even though I do sacrifice a certain amount of response, volume and resonance by using it. Just about any other ligature that I have tried feels too bright to me. There is always a trade off, if you are looking for response, volume and clarity then you must give up some warmth and complexity.

 I first put the Silverstein on at a gig and I wasn't really prepared for the radical difference in sound or feel that I experienced. My horn felt and sounded totally different, it was louder, clearer, and brighter. It did seem to make my horn respond quicker as well. I had never tried a ligature before that had changed my sound so dramatically. The thing that was a bit unsettling was that my intonation felt less stable than with my Rovner. You could positively spin this by saying that the Silvertstein had more flexibility than the Rovner. It think that it something that I might be able to get used to over time, but it really did surprise me when I first put it on. There was a general clarity to my sound with the Silverstein, but I wouldn't say that it really felt overly bright, like the Francois ligs feel to me. It did feel like the reed was really freely vibrating, but this also seemed to cause less pitch stability than my Rovner.

 Because I have played a Rovner for so many years and have developed my sound concept with that ligature it would make it tough for me to make such a radical change in my setup at this point. That said, I think that the Silverstein design makes perfect sense and it worth a try for any serious saxophonist. Ligatures are very difficult to write accurately about because every player has a different setup and will have a completely different playing experience when trying one. For me, the Silverstein was brighter than what I am used to, but another player will have the opposite impression when trying one. A lot of players that I respect have had great results with the Silversteins and from what I can tell they are very different from everything else currently on the market.

 The price, at $140, is higher than most other ligatures, but if you are a working professional or serious student then paying this much for a significant improvement in response, resonance and volume is not out of line. Silverstein has a Pro trial policy where they will send you a ligature to try for a month without charging you. You just need to apply and tell them a bit about yourself and give them a credit card, which will only be charged if you do not return the ligature.

Silverstein web site


Have You Met Miss Jones- 4 Tonic Subs

(click graphic above for larger version)


More 8 tonic theory

In order to fully grasp the workings of the 8 tonic system we must first fully understand four tonic substitutions. Four tonic subs are also called diminished substitutions and the tri-tone substitution is included in this group of subs. If you can imagine that the tonic V7 and the tri-tone is one axis and that the V7 chords a minor third above and below is the other other axis (at a 90 degree angle from the first axis).

In the key of C the V7 is G7 and the tri-tone sub is C#7. The other two dominant chords are Bb7 and E7. These chords are all related to each other because they share the same diminished scale. A G7(b9), Bb7(b9), E7(b9) and C#7(b9) are basically all the same chord if you don’t consider their roots. The tri-tone is used all the time as the most common type of substitution, but the the other two dominant chords (Bb7 & E7) are also very common subs for V7. They are often used as ways to get to the tri-tone sub, this is called a ‘backdoor resolution’. 

For example:

D-7   G7    CMaj7

F-7 Ab-7  CMaj7

In fact, we can use the component chords of all four ii-7V7s and combine them freely.

B-7  E7    D-7 G7    F-7  Bb7    Ab-7  C#7

We can use only the dominants or only the ii-7s:

D-7       G7          CMaj7

G7 Bb7 E7 C#7   CMaj7

or play:
F-7       B-7         CMaj7

Keep in mind that the Dominant chords all sound pretty close to each other, the related ii-7s are where you start to get more dissonance. Think of the minor third axis  (B-7  E7, F-7  Bb7) as cousins of the tri-tone sub. The chords of the 8 tonic system are simply all of the chords from these these four ii-7V7s. When we are using hexatonics/pairs from these chords we are still basing the harmony these strong four tonic substitutions. The 8 tonic system is simply another way to apply hexatonics/triad pairs to diminished subs. We are just calling the related ii-7 chords Major triads (from the -3rd) or you can also think of them as IVs.


8 Tonics- All major keys play-along in Eb

8 Tonic System for Improvisation

The 8 tonic system is an attempt to organize and simplify the methods that have been used to teach improvisors to use Hexatonic/Triad-Pairs in the past. Hexatonic scales used for improvisation is now an important tool of the modern improvisor, yet there are inherent problems with the methods that have been taught up to this point. The biggest problem with Hexatonics is that they immediately sound formulaic and too much like a pattern. The other problem is that in order to use a wide variety of different Hexatonic/Triad-Pairs the player must commit many different formulas to memory in order to make the correct calculations to find the HT/TPs. These formulas are short calculations, like: Major triad from the #11 and Major Triad from the b13, but they start to add up and get overwhelming.

3 sets of 12 pairs
  Many players I have heard using triad pairs usually end up using the most basic pairs, like Major triad from root and Major triad from the 9 (which give a Lydian sound). Once you start opening up the options by considering all of the pair options of the modes of melodic minor then the world of Hexatonics will start to open up. Modes of Melodic minor are a perfect fit for the application of Hexatonics because there are no avoid notes any of the MM modes and every diatonic pairing sounds good. The 8 tonic system pretty much explodes the old system of applying Hexatonic structures to chord changes. We want to start seeing every ii-7V7 and every V7 that is resolving down a fifth in root motion as a set of 12 major triad pairs. These 12 pairs imply ii-7V7 cadences in four different keys, as well as different combinations of ii-7s and V7s drawn from two different keys.

The 8 tonic system can be considered as three different sets of 12 hexatonic triad pairings. Each set is functionally dominant, basically implying different combinations of ii-Vs in four keys. The result of applying these sets to normal ii-V7 progressions is that you set up symmetrical lines that are also highly chromatic. It feels very freeing to have eight possible major keys to choose from at any one time and this helps the improvisor to spontaneously create new ideas. By using half and whole-step hexatonics we are weaving different strands of the 8 tonic pretzel together.

 The justification for an eight tonic based system is this, the diminished scale should be the scale that our systematic improvisational harmonic model should be based on because the diminished scale creates all of the chords we use in Jazz. By combining two diminished seventh chords we are choosing exactly 2/3 of the 12 possible notes, which again gives us dominant function. The matrix below shows which chords come from a C diminished scale. 


Theo Wanne's Strap Ring system installed Mark VI- by Michael Conley

  Have you ever felt that the balance of your sax was a little off? Do you find your right thumb rests above the "thumb rest"?  Do you feel your range of motion is restricted when you play the saxophone? Does your neck crane, or do your shoulders tighten up, or wrists get cramped? Do you feel you can direct the air stream at a variety of angles to get various tone colors and range of expression?

    I have been playing saxophone for many years and have gone through a number of saxes over the decades, with my main horn being the alto.  I love all good saxophones, including strange vintage horns and modern instruments alike. I still play Yamaha 62 models on soprano and tenor, but about 4 and a half years ago I got my hands on a near-mint Mark VI alto (with high F#) that I literally  saw in my mind  before I acquired it in a trade for another, older Mark VI I had purchased. I liked the sound of that older VI but something was not right with balance. I thought it was the lack of a high F#, a feature I  was used to from playing a series of horns; first an H.Couf Superba I, then a Selmer 80 Super Action, then a YAS-62, and a YAS-875 Custom. I had gone back to the 875 before the trade because the balance threw me off, especially when I played high notes. 
Mending plate installed

    I really fell in love with the sound of the newer VI and I was getting closer to a classic alto sound but I noticed my right hand cramping up and when I did scales and exercises that I had done for years they were not as smooth as before. I was also having trouble controlling my altissimo, which had not been a problem for me. Since I am a middle-aged guy I thought maybe it was just my body failing to keep up with commands from my mind, a sorrowful prospect indeed. I decided to try to alter the balance of the sax by lowering the strap ring with the aid of a little jig I fashioned from "mending plates" I got at the hardware store. This did help a bit so I left it on the sax and went on like that for awhile. 
TW 3-ring hook
I like to read about horns and new products and when I saw Theo Wanne's ads for his new "Mantra" line of saxes I was intrigued by various design features. The feature that stood out the most for me was the strap ring with 3 positions. I had seen old Kings with a similar feature, but this one was
different in that the lower rings stuck out further from the body of the sax. I thought it looked cool and wondered if it would improve my set-up. I reviewed some Wanne mouthpieces and in the course of emailing back and forth I asked about the strap rings and was told they were thinking about offering them for sale as a modification part. A year or so later I asked again, and I got one in the mail a few months back. I was immediately excited about the prospect of putting it on my horn, but I was busy and a couple of months went by before I got down to my technician's shop to have him install it. In the mean time I had thought " Man! maybe I should put this on my soprano" which still seems like a good idea since I use a strap and it sometimes rubs against the knuckle of my left thumb. But I also talked about it with other players and I sort of got cold feet about modifying a perfectly good Mark VI alto. Finally I was sick of feeling cramped, and coincidentally my upper back got really tight for a week, which was aggravated by the way I was holding my horn, so I decided to have the work done. Chuck at Wally's Music Service, my technician, was able to remove the old ring and solder on the Wanne ring in about an hour. I immediately liked the balance. The top ring is in the same place as the old ring, but now I have two more positions.
Original position

    The balance has improved and I have been able to play longer and harder without getting tired. Even my lip gets less fatigue. My back is more comfortable and my wrist is better and I do not have to crane my neck to play. The first week I had two of my regular gigs where I perform rather extended sets, and I just never experienced the fatigue I had come to expect. Not only that, but  scale passages lined up better due to the improved ergonomics. The other great thing is that I have greater control of the air direction and can approach the mouthpiece at various angles, and have regained the control I had feared I was losing. I feel so much better- this thing is a game-changer for me!  I have a fairly vigorous performing style that involves tap dancing and playing throughout the range of the horn, and I generally wear a harness except for gigs where I am doubling and picking up the soprano and percussion instruments a lot. I tried the new ring with my harness as well as a neck strap with the same result; when the harness or strap was adjusted correctly, the horn would hang with the tip of the mouthpiece going to the middle of my chin, below my lip when attached at the original ring position, but right into my chops when attached at the lower position. Eureka! I could not help but think about some of the older players I have known who had had to quit playing because of back problems and wonder if this would have helped their situations and enabled them to extend their playing careers.
Middle hook

Bottom hook
  I would not hesitate to recommend this product to anyone playing a sax who
feels this might be an issue. You may first want to experiment with the type of jig that I made before I got this mod done. These are easily fashioned from a mending plate, machine screw, washer and nut, using a drill and hacksaw to alter the plate. This is really a make-shift solution but you will notice a difference. I was wondering if there would be any deadening of the sound due to the length of the piece soldered onto the body tube but have observed no discernible difference. The horn just sings so much freer for me since I can hold it where I want it. I am intrigued by the research and development going on at Theo Wanne's workshop and will continue to follow his developments. At this time, the triple strap hook is not offered on the Wanne website, but for the sake of all my fellow saxophone players I hope this innovation is made available as it greatly improves the ergonomics of playing the sax.

Michael 'Shoehorn' Conley website


Jazz Mantras- by George Colligan

Naturally, musicians love to play, and I still enjoy playing music live and touring now and then. However, I've been a full time educator for the last five years. In this time, I believe I have made progress as an educator. However, the infinite universe that is music always seems to throw new challenges our way. I was teaching a class at the start of the week and I thought we had somewhat of a epiphany. It's not that the concepts are new, per se, it's that the way I was able to present it and the way we worked on it as a class seemed to gel better than previous efforts to introduce said concepts.

Many jazz educators and students would agree that we can easily get bogged down in the land of chord scales. I'm not trying to contradict previous posts! It's important to know basic jazz chord scale theory. But it's just theory. Theory is not music. Chords and scales are not music. They are a means by which to make music. I find that some of my students, in an effort to, admittedly, listen to my constant whining that "you guys are not MAKING THE CHANGES," will try to make the changes the best they can; unfortunately, if all you are focusing on is connecting the dots, then it's likely you aren't concentrating on making compelling music. I recall in Victor Wooten's marvelous book, "The Music Lesson," there is a discussion of all the parts of music that aren't "notes." And yet getting bogged down in notes is a huge problem in terms of being artistic. The "notes," or in jazz, "making the changes," is like English class; you learn vocabulary, grammar, syntax, spelling, and so forth. However, this is not poetry or  fiction. It's THE BASICS. If you can't speak Spanish fluently, you cannot write poetry in Spanish on the level of Pablo Neruda!

That being said, since we only have but so much time, and many of my students come in to music school being behind the curve( I blame our educational system for banishing the funding and the priority for music education, not to mention the lack of anything besides crappy pop music on television). So, I believe sometimes it's important, or at least worth a shot, to say, "OK, I know we don't all have our ABCs and 123s perfect, but in any case, let's pretend we do and try to be creative." So in an effort to not forget about why we want to make music( self expression, creativity, artistic impulse, etc..), we throw caution to the wind and just play. But then the question is, what are we working on?

I like to think in terms of having a mantra. In meditation, a mantra is a word or sound which is believed to clear the mind and develop spiritual focus. If improvising jazz can be seen as a meditation of sorts, then having one idea which helps one to focus on improvising can help to make one's improvising more musical. I have suggested this to students before; if your mantra, or single focus during improvisation is something like "RHYTHM," imagine how different your approach to a song like "Moment's Notice" would be! Or if your mantra was "MELODY" on a tune like "Giant Steps"; it would hopefully not just be endless 8th notes and so forth.

Now, I believe that great jazz solos are made up of a variety of techniques, be they melodic, rhythmic, harmonic, compositional, what have you. However, I think much is to be gained in terms of developing these musical reflexes if you were to say, take "Confirmation" and practice it continuously using different mantras. For example, you could take from 1 to 100 choruses using the idea of "SPACE" as a mantra. Next, you could use the idea of "DISSONANCE" as a mantra, for 1 to 100 choruses. Next, you could use the idea of "MOTIVIC DEVELOPMENT" as a mantra. There are as many mantras as there are artistic concepts, so that is an infinite world. Also, this makes playing through the form less boring; meanwhile, you are learning how to play the changes better in the process of repetition.

 The eventual goal is that through the idea of focus on any given chorus, eventually you will go from one mantra to the next as you see fit while you improvise. You might think "SPACE" for the first chorus, "BUILD" for the next, "ENERGY" for the final, etc.... At a later date, you might not need to even be so conscious about it. We tried this in my Guitar Heroes class and it yielded some really cool results. When I told guys to make half of their solos space, it really made the musicality higher. It's something really basic to good phrasing, and yet so many of us aren't conscious of this.

 As the class continued, we went further into conceptual mode. " Rhythm section, I want you to TIP(play good time and not much else), and soloists, imagine that 'Confirmation' is based on a Tin Pan Alley tune, and you are writing that tune right now!" It was a little more specific than a MANTRA, but it also yielded musical results different from the usual constant stream of eighth notes. Then, we started to get into trying "Confirmation" at different tempos, in different grooves and suggesting different rhythmic feels or even other genres. We tried the tune as a slow Count Basie swing groove; it brought a whole new life to the piece! We tried it as a Stadium Rock tune; "50 percent Def Lepard, 50 Percent Led Zepplin..." I suggested. I told the bassist just to play F pedal.

 Again, this was interesting. I was amazed at how much time we spent on one piece of music. I got the impression that it was enlightening for the students, although sometimes the overall mellow vibe of Portlanders can leave me wondering. Still, the point of the day was that music is limitless; don't forget that art is equal part creativity as it is skill. Don't be afraid to experiment, even with material which is very familiar. You may surprise yourself!

Originally posted on Jazz Truth


The Scale Omnibus- free download

Francesco Balena, of www.saxopedia.com, has put together a fantastic book called The Scale Omnibus and is offering it as a free download. This is basically a compendium of 392 distinct scales in all keys, very useful indeed. Download it this very minute!

The Scale Omnibus


10mFan Mouthpieces

The new 10mFan tenor mouthpieces have caused quite a stir in the saxophone community. The SOTW thread started when the mouthpieces were launched is the longest running threads in SOTW history with over 1,600 comments and a quarter million views! The pieces were designed by Mark Sepinuck, who many know by his 10mFan eBay user name. Mark is one of the world's most prolific dealers of vintage horns and mouthpieces and has probably played more vintage pieces than anyone else on planet earth, so he has a unique perspective on what makes a mouthpiece play great. After selling vintage pieces for thirty years he wanted to create a modern piece that outplayed the vintage pieces that are able to get a vintage or modern sound depending on how you play it. He worked for a year and a half with Eric Falcon getting every aspect of the designs just right. Mark uses the very best German bar stock hard rubber, which is really the only way to go. I'm just never satisfied with pieces made with injection molded resin compound. The finish work on these pieces is excellent and the consistency is great. You don't need to try four or five in order to find the one that plays. Mark believes that his pieces will take people away from the vintage pieces that they have playing for years. The 10mFan pieces are prices quite well compared to the few mouthpiece makers who are using hard rubber bar stock.

 One thing is certain about Mark's pieces, they have great response and they take the air like crazy. To me these qualities are not simply a matter of personal taste, either the piece feels great or it doesn't. I think that not every single player might not like the sound of 10mFan pieces enough to switch, but every player will appreciate how they feel and respond. These are NOT copies of vintage pieces, they are engineered from the ground up, unlike many modern pieces that are merely CNC'd from scanned specs of old Links.

The Merlot
 I tried all three pieces. The Boss, the brightest piece of the three, had a bit too much baffle for me. This piece is for someone who want a bright, punchy sound that can peel paint, perfect for R&B, Rock and Funk players. The middle piece is the Robusto, which has a medium baffle and can easily do everything from Rock to Classic Bebop, kind of a Hard-Bop vibe. All three pieces have medium large chambers and can take a lot of air. The Robusto reminded me of an Early Babbitt, still a Classic sound but you could drive it and get more edge and fatness if you wanted. The warmest piece is the Merlot. The Merlot could be compare to a Slant Link, though it doesn't really have the same woody sound as a Slant. I would have to describe the Merlot as a distinctly modern sounding warmer piece. The Merlot has more of a shaded warm sound compared to the Robusto, but it is really pointless to try to describe the qualities of these pieces in anything other than general terms because they just aren't exactly like anything else on the market.

 One thing that is quite interesting about these pieces is the fact that it's possible to get a really wide range of tone qualities from them, depending on how you put air through them, and on what brand and strength reed you use. Just listen to the sound clip on the 10mFan audio clips page of Jeff Rupert playing the Merlot and you'll hear a fluffy, dark Getzian sound and Ian Tordella playing the same piece sounds like Mobley. Then listen to Joel Frahm playing Inner Urge the same piece and you'll hear something entirely different, his sound has much more edge and clarity with a strident quality. When trying the 10mFan pieces you should prepare yourself with at least four or five brands of different reeds, and in a range of strengths. This is actually a good approach when trying any new piece. Make sure you have brands with different types of cuts, like thicker Francios' or Blue box Vandoren, medium cuts like Roberto's, and cuts with less heart like Jazz Selects of Riggottis. The same brand of reeds will play totally differently from mouthpiece to mouthpiece and you might miss the fact that you found the perfect piece simply because you didn't try the right reed on it. Mark stressed the fact that you can color the tone with different brands of reeds rather than running to a re-facer.

 I applaud Mark for creating a groundbreaking new mouthpiece. He had a unique vision and he carried it out, resulting in a totally new approach to mouthpiece design. Mark has created a piece that is good enough to make a lot of picky and stubborn saxophonists give up the pieces that they have played for (in some cases) decades. These mouthpieces have definitely upped the ante in the custom mouthpiece world. I'm  happy that I have something to recommend to my tenor students that doesn't cost and arm and a leg and has consistent workmanship. 10mfan is now getting dealers all over the world to start carrying his mouthpieces, so players can have the opportunity to try them out and see what all the excitement is about.

I look forward to checking out the upcoming metal tenor pieces, hopefully the alto pieces will not be far behind.
"I've been playing the Robusto, and I feel right at home on it. Mark claims that one doesn't have to search for the ultimate hard rubber vintage piece any longer, because his pieces have it covered, and the way I see it, he can't be altogether faulted for that claim. You'd have to look far and wide to find a vintage piece that matches his Robusto and
Merlot (The Boss, the third model in the series I haven't tried). The vintage feel is certainly there. A new contender on the scene, definitely worth trying. Well done!"
- Jan Garbarek

10mFan web site
Link to page of audio recordings


Jazz Conversations- a new site by saxophonist Jayn Pettingill

 Jayn Pettingill, who is an old friend of mine and also a talented altoist, has started writing a very interesting web site called Jazz Conversations.

About Jazz Conversations:
Jazz, in the last 150 years, has grown into quite a large word, encompassing many genres and subgenres than ever before. It can mean many things to many people: My "Jazz" may not be your Jazz, but there are always points of intersection that mingle, or combust, creating vivid conversation. With many ways to listen to and to play this music, Jazz Conversations seeks to capture some of the music's magic through writing and audio profiles of the people who play it, their stories, their recordings or anything in between and beyond.
Jayn Pettingill
About your Host:
Jayn Pettingill is a San Francisco native who has been playing saxophone professionally for 30 years. Her early studies with Frank Morgan, Victor Morosco and Anthony Braxton have influenced her music deeply. As a freelance musician she collaborates with a variety of musicians and bands. Her own projects include "Verb," a quartet of alto sax, trombone, bass and drums, and Kaijuscope, a twelve piece ensemble which reimagines the music of Akira Ifukube, through Jayn's compositions and arrangements, in collaboration with visual artist Michele Graffieti.

Jazz Conversations site

Half-Speed Jazz Blog

Jacob Zimmerman
"Half Speed Jazz" is a collection of classic jazz solos played back at half speed curated by saxophonist Jacob Zimmerman and trumpeter Theo Padouvas. The inspiration for this project came from the teaching practices of legendary jazz pianist Lennie Tristano. His method for learning solos involved singing along with the recordings played back at half speed. The authors of this blog believe that listening to a great solo at half speed can illuminate the enduring quality and substance of an improvised performance.

New solos are posted every Monday. If you have a great solo you think should be included please contact: jacob@jacobrexzimmerman.com

Half-Speed Jazz blog link

Diminished ii-V7 substitutions

Here is a sheet of diminished substitutions put together by Mario Sandoval, one of my PSU private students, that illustrates different diminished substitutions over a ii-V7 I in the key of of C.

4 Tonic System

Click the above graphics for larges versions


When Frustration Levels Are High- by Marty Sacks

When Frustration Levels Are High

  My saxophone playing involves a lot of shoulder shrugging. I’ve surpassed my 10,000 hours of practice that Gladwell argues can lead to expertise.  I’ve studied with great teachers (Mr. Valdez included) and tried to incorporate their instruction. But the fact remains that I’m just not that good at playing the sax. It pains me a bit to write such things, but the evidence is there. How do you make peace with the fact that your playing remains stuck at the same level? I’ve spoken with other musicians about this concept and I’ve received thoughtful advice preaching patience, but the great mind game is in actually believing the message. Telling yourself you’re okay doesn’t make you feel okay. I read Kenny Werner’s Effortless Mastery, and I was impressed by his recommendation to think “Every note I play is the most beautiful sound I've ever heard.” I appreciate that approach, and understand its intention, but the method is a struggle to adopt. I can’t tune out the voice saying, “If that is the most beautiful sound ever, then this world is a cold, dark place.”

  I’m writing a blog post because I found one solution to the problem. It’s not a great remedy, but I found it fairly effective.  The key, in a perverse manner, was graduate school. I moved from Portland to Boston and stopped playing – for 18 months. As in 18 months. That’s an absurdly long period of time for a musician to forgo his favorite pursuit, but I was overwhelmed with other matters, including the relentless pursuit of future employment. More importantly, I ceased playing until the foreboding feeling I experienced when looking at my saxophone dissipated and transformed into a sense of longing. It wasn’t until then that I could genuinely say to myself “I don’t care if I sound like I’m 10 years old.” And the best part has been that I feel 10 years old when I play, filled with the excitement that comes from making noise and… well… honking.

  I wouldn’t necessarily recommend my method of rekindling joy in playing music (given the length of time), but I hope that others who also are prone to self-deprecating thoughts can find a way to move past the frustration of not sounding a certain way. One useful piece of advice I received pertained to the constant comparison to others’ playing ability (or as it’s more commonly known, the “oh shit, that guy’s so much better, I need to go practice”). David Castiglione, who taught a jazz improvisation course at Vassar College, told me to think that of everyone as being on a wheel. You are further along on the wheel than some people who are older than you -- and a great distance behind some people who are younger. You are not a “superior person” to those who don’t play as well, just as those whose playing is more advanced than yours are not better people. Taking a holistic view (i.e., looking at the entire person) helps me recognize that there are other things that matter more than the ability to integrate the right substitutions over the dominant 7 chord.

 For those who are able to, as Bird said, “…forget all that shit and just play,” I commend you. For the rest of us, I encourage you to be kind to yourself and find a teacher who won’t chew you out when you struggle.

Marty Sacks is a 2014 MBA candidate at Boston College. When not playing music or studying, you’ll find him at Argopoint, a legal consulting firm in Boston.


Jazz Heaven Instructional DVDs

 It is now possible to learn from the masters without attending high priced conservatories or moving to NYC. When I was younger there were really only a handful of good instructional Jazz videos, and even books for that matter. Each year brings a multitude of new high tech interactive instructional products (some of which I have reviewed on this blog) and the quality seems to get better every year.

Falk Willis
 Jazz Heaven is based in Brooklyn and founded by a Jazz drummer named Falk Willis. The DVDs are well produced and feature some of the great Jazz musicians of our times. Falk sent me the newest Jerry Bergonzi series of DVDs called Creating a Jazz Vocabulary (vol.I-III), as well as also a Bergonzi sax specific DVD. PDF supplements are included with each DVD. There is a ton of great information here and it really feels like you're taking a private lesson with Jerry. Each DVD has two hours of lessons, plus play-alongs and PDFs.
 Jazz Heaven has a bunch of other Jazz luminaries on their roster, including Kenny Werner, Vincent Herring, Lee Konitz, Ari Honig, Walt Weiskopf, Joel Frahm, Ingred Jensen, Jean-Michel Pilc, Enrico Pieranunzi, Geoffrey Keezer, David Kikoski, Lincoln Goines, Paul Jackson, Sergio Brandao, Lage Lund, Gilad Hekselman, Oz Noy, Eric Harland, Ralph Peterson, Portinho, Mike Clark, Jamey Haddad. Not all of the DVDs are completed yet, but the thirteen products that are available now are all really good.

 If you can't manage a move to New York City or didn't get accepted to one of the East Coast's top Jazz conservatories then Jazz Heaven's DVDs could be a viable way to learn from one of the greats. You can get online access for 24 hours for each DVD for $19.95, 90 day access for $29.95 and a physical DVD for $39.95. The prices are really quite reasonable considering how much great material you get.

Jazz Heaven site


X-Centric Gonz Pentatonic b6 ii-V7 application

Here’s a downloadable exercise (including a bass clef version), by saxophonist Bobby Stern, on one of the many possible uses of  the Pentatonic b6 over a minor ii-V7-i, which he posted recently on his blog.

Bobby has, to date, authored three books: “The Melodic Minor Handbook: A Jazz Player’s Perspective” (Jamey Aebersold Books), as well as “Slick Licks That Stick!” Vols. 1 & 2, available separately or together as PDF books from his website.

Bobby has lots of great educational material on his blog.
(click pic above for larger version)