We’re Moving…

Not literally, and the piano won’t suffer. From the start of September my jazz residency at London’s Toulouse Lautrec will have a new home on Wednesday nights.

There will also now be a “minimum” (as our cousins across the pond would say) – ie £5 entry, which includes £5 credit at the bar. So it’s still effectively free, but you’ll have to buy a pint and a bag of nuts. I don’t think that’s too terrible, to be honest. Hey, you can make friends by passing your nuts around. Or not.

This means we’ll be skipping from Monday 29 August to Wednesday 7 September. Which will give the hard-working house band a chance to enjoy a well-earned break at a luxury health spa in Lake Como. Our drummer Joel is particularly looking forward to the hot stones massages and I can’t wait to flush out my system with lukewarm seaweed juice. Yeah, right…

So tell your friends. Or if you know people who don’t like jazz and you want to muck them about, tell them. Oh… basically just tell everybody.

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Posted in e) Rants & Ramblings

Funky Chunks & Clunky Chunks

…and dominantsy divey…

Right, I was beer-deep in a chat with a musician the other day who was a bit down about the results he was getting out of 7b9 chords. They sometimes just sounded – well, tame.

Aha. Need to restore some mojo here. So what was going on?

The 7b9 dominant chord-scale is a classic and versatile sound most associated with the bebop era, but used ever since. It has a funky chunk and a clunky chunk…

The easiest one to look at, from a keyboard perspective, is G7b9, because all the white notes are straight and all the black notes are alterations.

G Ab A# B C# D E F (G)

All the hip action is visually obviously in the first bit – root, b9th, #9th, 3rd #11th. Wild stuff. The rest of it, going all the way back to the root, is really just a normal dominant scale.

Now a G7 chord will generally resolve to a C chord, and you’ll see that the root and 5th of C have some nice funky stuff around them. Not so the 3rd of C – that’s in a rather boring area.

I’m not saying there aren’t ways to handle this, but it is pretty common to centre a lot of action around the lower, funky chunk. Read more ›

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Posted in a) Soloing Scales & Modes

Windows 10 – The Anniversary Waltz

Quick note for those who are using Win 10. I’ve been messing around with the new Anniversary Update (on a backup PC – hey, I’m not stupid). A few things to bear in mind:

  • This software release is not nearly stable yet. It’s causing quite a few performance problems, program crashes, driver conflicts, etc. The problems can mostly be solved, but you need to get geeky on it…
  • Some “lucky” souls have found their broadband slowed recently because it’s trying to download in the background, and some even “luckier” souls have unwittingly received the full install and find their machines behaving erratically, turning back on all the irritating stuff they’ve spent ages getting rid of, and so forth. (Those cheeky bastards from Redmond have even tried to get your machine to act as a P2P distributor to help with download rollout.)
  • The changes are – as far as I can ascertain for now – mostly cosmetic and commercial. Sure, Edge now supports extensions, but if you want to use extensions, you don’t use Edge, right? Anyway, overall your machine won’t run better with it, and may in fact run worse.

My advice would be to opt out and let Microsoft beta-test on the other poor fools. Go to the search bar, type “Settings”, then click through Update & Security > Windows Update > Advanced Options. Then check the “Defer Upgrades” option (this won’t affect your security upgrades).

As and when the upgrade is patched properly and offers benefits beyond letting Cortana pick your nose for you, you can always decide to reverse the process.

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Posted in j) Sound & Vision

Pal Tony

Tony Kofi

Tony Kofi

Did a great gig with our friend Tony Kofi last week. Hell of a player, and a lovely guy. He brought along a stack of really interesting tunes and called a few of them in an ad hoc order as the mood and need for contrast seemed to dictate to him. It was only as I was whisky post-morteming at home later that I realised there was a really sweet narrative arc implied by the tunes.

We kicked off with the theme from the Cary Grant film Mr Lucky, which exuded a typical Mancini street swagger. (Here’s our cocky protagonist.)
The next number was George Adams’ Flowers for a Lady, which seemed to involve as much flourish as adoration. (Our young buck is wooing and trying to impress.)
Then a segue into Tyner’s tender You Taught My Heart to Sing. (Ah – it seems this isn’t just an alley cat conquest anymore. Or is it her tune? And does that start to work on him?)
Next up was Monk’s We See – a very hip declamatory tune. (They get hitched, but the wedding is an unusual, rather bohemian deal.)
So what comes along next? A quirky, restless triple-time bundle of fun called Little Niles (by Randy Weston).
We played out with Kenny Barron’s Voyage – (onwards into the future go our kooky little fictional family).

It put me in mind of the odd occasions when I have deliberately themed sets with some kind of loose narrative structure in mind. It also got me thinking of classic films like Pal Joey. Portmanteau musicals. Read more ›

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Posted in c) Musicianship, e) Rants & Ramblings

What an Amateur!

“Damn good… for a king”: Rhama IX of Thailand is an accomplished saxophonist (Benny Goodman was a bit of an amateur at the king thing).

Recently had a chat with a singer acquaintance to arrange an upcoming thing, which had to be cut short because… she had to go and serve someone who’d just come into the shop.

I should add that she’s one of the finest singers I know and works the best gigs in town. But she feels she needs to keep it secret that she does a couple of afternoons working in a shop every now and then, because she fears people won’t take her seriously as a musician if it gets out.

Crazy huh? But it sadly seems to be true that musicians and punters alike just assume you’re not serious or not very good the moment they find out that you don’t live and breathe music. And heaven forbid you’re interested in (or FX STING actually good at) something else too…

Let’s put this one to bed, shall we. Borodin was a chemist; Ives sold insurance; had he lived a little longer, Elgar would probably have worked at Bletchley Park. Ruben Blades is a lawyer and former government minister, and Paderewski ran a country. As does the King of Thailand… Read more ›

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Posted in e) Rants & Ramblings

Don’t Blame It on the Sunshine…

Well, just about every musician I speak to seems to be in the doldrums at the moment.

We’ve all had them. Those gigs when you wind up playing to the barman and a confused duck that’s waddled in by mistake. Then comes the time-honoured excuses game – political bargaining with the venue management. Oh, and by the way, they’ll always tell you last night was busier…

Unfortunately we have to play this game, but it’s mostly a pointless exercise. Fantastic bands often play to terrible audiences and vice versa.

That’s just the way of the world, and the post mortem analysis is just a waste of time. Unless there really is something fundamentally wrong with the gig such as, I dunno, say doing a Metallica tribute at a toddler’s birthday party (although actually…) And you do have to appreciate that the venue is a business, not a charity to support musicians.

So here’s a cut out and keep guide for the next time you have to play the corporate executive game. You know the one? “Quarterly profits were disappointing because of the wrong kind of leaves falling on our target demographic’s socks”… Read more ›

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Posted in e) Rants & Ramblings

Tooning Note (and Laser Elephants)

Tooning note… ah, the classic Aebersold call to arms… Actually the Aebersold playalongs are very good and I wish they’d been around when I was starting out. But this post isn’t about that – yet again, I’ve opted for a cheap gag headline. This one’s a tip for singers (and accompanists).

In this day and age, a jazz accompanist rarely gets a full chart from a singer – it’s usually “just the changes, ma’am”. The question facing us today is “how to put the singer in with full confidence in the right key?”

A gifted accompanist in action.

A gifted young accompanist in action.

Now an accompanist with ears like lasers and/or the memory of an elephant could probably just instantly find you the opening phrase of any tune. But laser elephants are fairly rare beasts.

Some tunes just naturally suggest the start from a vamp or turnaround. But quite a few tunes do present some problems. Most people can do a pretty decent job, but what they’re often doing is artfully disguising the fumbling and finding. Read more ›

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Posted in c) Musicianship, e) Rants & Ramblings
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Monday Gig & Jam


We play every Monday night, 9 to 12, at Toulouse Lautrec in Kennington, South London.
See also Thoughts from the Piano Chair of a Jam Session.
Illustration by Sue Harding

August guest soloists
1 Tony Kofi alto sax
8 Martin Speake tenor sax
15 Ant Law guitar
22 Steve Fishwick tpt
29 Ed Jones tenor sax

September guest soloists
7 Anita Wardell vocals
14 Duncan Lamont tenor sax
21 Roberto Manzin tenor sax
28 Dave O'Higgins tenor sax

More info on guests here


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