Interview with JazzBites radio

PINNED Interview with Anthea Redmond for the US JazzBites radio show. The thoughts of Chairman Jase… Broadcast in August but my archive link is here.

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The Bill for Rehearsal Time

Thanks to Jazz Video Guy on YT for finding this rare documentary footage of Bill Evans preparing for a TV taping in Denmark. There’s a lot to take away, but I’ll just zero in one aspect – this is a textbook example of how to rehearse. See here for my personal thoughts on this.

Of course, it helped that Eddie Gomez already knew Bill’s book backwards, so they only had to break in a local drummer. But what shines out for me is the professional efficiency and that, my friends, is the golden rule of rehearsal.
WHAT THEY DID

They used the camera rehearsal as an opportunity for an arrangement runthrough. Efficient. Tops, feels, number of choruses, tails, that’s it. As much explaining as reading and playing. Bang, four arrangements covered in under ten minutes – and a large chunk of that was taken up with just one passage. Efficient. And that was while the TV floor crew were working out angles and lighting anyway. Efficient.

(Incidentally, Bill obviously knew the routine for these shoots. The first thing they did was sort out the ability to cue each other in a less than optimal setup – rather than whining to the floor crew about moving everything around. And notice how he sits still at the piano for a couple of minutes while they sort out a few camera moves. In film terms, he’s being his own stand-in.)

Bill already had a running order in mind and Eddie brought the bass book along (in which the hits must have been marked, even though Eddie knew them). Prepared (and therefore efficient).

WHAT THEY DIDN’T DO

Noodle around, wander off for a cup of coffee, have a jam, “get the band vibe together”, “get the feel of the room”… Insofar as Bill spent any time getting the feel of the piano, he did it while rehearsing the drummer. Efficient.

And poor Alex Riel must have kicked himself because he didn’t make those outro hits in the end! I suspect Bill knew he wouldn’t, which is why he told him to relax (and Eddie cracked a joke). They were aware that the guy was coming in cold and under pressure.

Incidentally, in my experience when someone cocks something up during a soundcheck or rehearsal it’s best not to jump on them. They’ll know and they’ll jump on themselves to try to nail it in performance.

PS There’s also an interesting insight into the working craft. Notice the bit where Bill points out to Alex that Eddie always uses a specific figure taken from the head arrangement to signal the end of his last chorus. People have often marvelled at the almost psychic communication in Evans’ trios – well yeah, but why use a Ouija board when you can use a phone? It’s more… efficient?

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Posted in c) Musicianship, e) Rants & Ramblings

No Country for Old Atonal Men…

Couldn’t resist this one (I’m actually quite partial to a bit of twangy twangy). A nice lesson too for us jazzers – musicians may be complicated, but music doesn’t have to be…

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Negative Harmony, Gulp

or I’m talking to the man in the mirror

I suppose it had to happen… Thank you TH (aka “confused of Bristol”) for asking about the en vogue topic of negative harmony. I completely understand your confusion.

Ah, I do love these opportunities to give my opinion and get myself digitally shouted at…

A disclaimer – I have used this concept from time to time, but not often and I’m not an expert. Certainly it’s interesting, but often in real life the wrong kind of “interesting”, at least to me. And I’m extremely broad-minded (so broad-minded it’s occasionally cost me gigs…)

Every now and then jazz – in its constant search for new things or even a theory of everything – gets a new craze. So let’s talk about this season’s hat.

There are different ways of thinking about this stuff, but I’m just going to stick to the basics and give an easy shortcut for use in jazz. First we should give some thought to the foundation of the idea – the proposition that there is an inverted version of the overtone series called, not surprisingly, the undertone series. Time for a bit of philosophy…

UPSIDE-DOWN YOU’RE TURNING ME…

The problem for me (and many others) is that while overtones exist in nature, undertones just don’t. The concept is artificial, theoretical – you can imagine reversed time, but you can’t undrink a cup of coffee that gets hotter as you do it. Exploring non-real entities is interesting and can certainly produce useful results. For instance you can’t have £15 + £7.30i in your pocket – yet i (the square root of -1) sings out everywhere in maths.

And in physics (as far as I understand it) the overriding concept is one of symmetry, rather than negativity as such. So I think the problem is in the naming. “Negative harmony” sounds really cool but in my view, what we’re really talking about here is “mirror harmony”. Does that get a little bell ringing in your head? Inverting musical lines is centuries-old…

Some Undertones. We approached them for comment but they were too busy having teenage kicks, which is fine by me…

There’s a slim argument that doing this with single lines may convey a certain discernible “negativity”, but no contrapuntalists are on record as regarding the result as “negative” lines (not even Bach, and he was a rare musician whose mathematical understanding went past four). As to harmony, I think the case disappears entirely – we simply don’t hear chords upside down.

“.forwards experienced it’s but backwards working be may You”
“?evitagen siht sI”
“?hrtf hR”

The notion of mirror harmony has been explored in great variety in modern classical music (see books like Persichetti). In that respect, it’s intended to be an arbitrary system of organisation to generate interesting compositional ideas, rather than some deep truth about music.

ABC – EASY AS 321…

It’s crashingly simple – you can mirror any group of notes across any chosen reflection point. In this case, the surface of the mirror is a note that doesn’t exist. Since the I is the most resolved and the V is the most tense, why don’t we imagine a midpoint betweem them? Might as well. Halfway between the I and V in eg the key of C is the space between Eb and E. To mirror a note count the semitones up and replace it with a note the same number of semitones down. E <-> Eb, F <-> D, F# <-> Db, etc.

So Dm triad becomes Bb triad, G triad becomes Fm triad and C triad becomes Cm triad.

(The fact that the tonic flips polarity leads some to conclude that negative harmony is where minor comes from. Personally, I don’t agree. I reckon medieval wandering musicians just found that changing the third got them more amorous attention…)

You can do this with any chord type or voicing. Unless you have an Andromedan brain, you can’t do the mirroring work on the fly, so here’s a jazz shortcut…

We spend half our lives playing turnarounds, right? We also get bored and often convert every chord to a dominant. So…

E7 A7 D7 G7 (C)
maps to
Abm6 Ebm6 Bbm6 Fm6 (Cm)

Some things to note:
1. We’re approaching the key centre by a string of minor plagal (IVm-I) cadences rather than authentic (V-I) cadences. There isn’t really anything “negative” about plagal cadences, but it gives some kind of natural flow.
2. We’re losing flats rather than sharps as we approach. Some would argue that means we’re getting brighter rather than darker during the progression.
3. If you complete the process for every scale tone, a Mixolydian scale inverts to a Dorian one. Modally, that’s the point when major becomes minor – rather neat (but full modal mirroring gets rather knackered beyond this case…)
4. I hope you can already see that if you want to use this as a substitution under a “positive” melody it’ll produce some pretty hairy bitonality. Expect to get clouted if you try it with a singer…
5. Have fun looking for patterns and things – there are some to be found.

There’s a lot more that can be explored on a rainy day. I’d say this is a good first step into using this stuff (it might even be all you need). But I’d also say it’s a tool, not a rule.

RECAP – OR PACER

1. Approach the key centre from the “wrong” direction – by 4ths rather than 5ths.
2. Make every chord a minor 6th.
3. Be prepared to alter either the harmony or melody to avoid clashes. Often.
4. Be careful about unleashing this stuff on an unprepared band. Chances are they won’t think you’re being “artfully anti”, they’ll think you’re drunk…

Incidentally, the concept originated from a guy called Levy who wrote a book called A Theory of Harmony. Not THE Theory of Harmony. As theoretical treatises go, it’s an unusually slender read. It also strikes me as an admirably determined attempt to smash square pegs into round holes.

Okay. I’d love to discuss the subject in the comments, but please leave the internet blowtorches at the door. Especially if you’re a congregant of the Negative Harmonic Church and intent on burning me for heresy.

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Posted in a) Soloing Scales & Modes, e) Rants & Ramblings

The Cat Crept into the Crypt…

cryptcatsA charming story related to me recently by Russell Occomore, one of the directors of Jazz at the Crypt. The venue is underneath a splendid mid-19th century Gothic church in Camberwell, South London. They approached the place to propose a use for the crypt some years ago. This is a smaller space dating to the Saxon church which previously stood on the site, and a pretty substantial amount of money was needed to do the place up, so they and the church put out an appeal.

Now what should appear shortly afterwards but a mysterious plastic bag. It contained lots of brown paper rolls, and (sensibly) the police were called in to investigate. The rolls contained not explosives, but antique French gold coins, and the total valuation was pretty much bang on what was needed to renovate the crypt. After a respectable “are you sure?” period waiting to make sure someone hadn’t just left the bag lying around by accident (I do that with bullion worth thousands all the time), they set to work.

The benefactor wanted to remain anonymous, but they think they’ve narrowed it down to an elderly parishioner who didn’t have any family left. What an amazing story.

So… the cat crept into the crypt, cracked it, crept out and consequently cool cats can creep in. Hard to say three times fast, but I wouldn’t mind that as a legacy, would you?

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A Seasonal Puzzle

Christmas party celebration humorous cartoon, vector, isolated

Don’t know about you lot out there, but I want a refund on my 2018 – the one they sent me was broken. Ah well…

Here, from the archives, is a version of a rather famous tune that doesn’t reveal its identity until the very end. I was a bit Jarrety at the time… If you relish the musical puzzle, stop it at 3.12 and make your guess before it gives you the answer.

At which point, I hope you’ll affectionately kick yourself…

Merry Christmas, Chag Chanukkah Sammeach (belatedly), Joyous Kwanza, and in general I hope you all have a lovely time.

Jason

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Auf Wiedersehen Pet

manzin

A very dear friend, and amazing musician, Roberto Manzin is departing soon for Berlin. Bruder, du muβt jetzt biβchen Deutsch lernen…

So we’re giving him a big send-off gig. He’ll be playing with the Jason Lyon Trio on Sunday 9 December 1pm-5pm at Oliver’s Jazz Bar, 9 Nevada Street, Greenwich SE11 9JL.

Roberto has a lot of great musicians as friends, so we’ve made it a “bring a horn” party. Should be quite a thrash. Come on down.

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The Set Menu

Here is an episode of a ’60s BBC TV series called Jazz 625 (yeah, our TVs had 625 scan lines at the time and the Beeboid techies came up with that really imaginative name). It’s Bill Evans with his second trio visiting London. Look at 0:16 – the tune is Nardis, and watch bassist Chuck Israels – he only just makes the answering bass riff in time. He obviously didn’t know what the tune was going to be.

So what’s going on here? This is a high-profile national broadcast and Bill (who doesn’t speak to introduce tunes during this show*) seems to just be pulling tunes out of him, erm… whim.

Well, the band certainly knew Bill’s book. In fact, they knew it in all the keys, because on any given night, he might decide to change things up. Old school (as the nuskool kids are fond of saying), and I’ll have more to say about key fluency below. He also had a rather standardised compact repertoire throughout most of his career. He didn’t play wide, he played deep – that is to say, he preferred to explore a dozen or so tunes thoroughly for years, rather than playing a ton of different stuff. (Not that he wouldn’t have been capable of nailing just about anything.)

He certainly felt more at home in certain tunes and tempos, and perhaps there was an eye to marketing as well – he’d often tend to play things that were on albums he’d released, obviously.

He was also in the habit of having a little list of tunes sitting on the piano (you can see it in the video). And the band would have been aware of what was on that. But here’s the thing – it wasn’t a set list as such, more of a menu…

SET THEORY

Sir wants everyzing on ze menu? And in zat ordeur? And maybe a waaafer-thin mint?

I’ve worked with set lists and without, and I much prefer to do it without. Having a sort of menu is fine, but you do have to take into account changing moods – yours, the band’s and perhaps most importantly, the audience’s.

It’s generally good to consider set openers and closers, but I feel it goes best if you treat the rest as choices. I don’t mean you should turn gaps between tunes into lengthy onstage debates – or if you do, at least involve the audience in the “what do you want to do next?” banter and make a bit of fun of it.

Some musicians prefer to work with rigid set lists, and that’s fine. And sometimes it’s a really structured and themed gig, so you put a lot into the prep.

SET IN YOUR WAYS?

But in general, I honestly can’t remember the last time even a strict list didn’t get at least tweaked around on the night. It really is generally treated like a restaurant menu. You don’t eat everything and you choose what you feel like in the moment.

Oh and get key-fluent people. I’ve done gigs where we’ve decided on the fly to follow tune X with tune Y, and quickly noticed that they’re in the same key, so we changed it. These little things matter and in these days of thumbable iRealBooks and such, the only hurdle is your own chops.

Mind you, there’s a lot to be said for the Roman numeral chunk approach to learning tunes. See here for more on that (and another Monty Python reference). I honestly think I must have played Green Dolphin Street in just about every key (singers… I love them to bits) – and without a phone. It’s not a difficult tune to understand and remember structurally, and a good starting point for applying the Roman numeral approach.

* The show was hosted by the late great Humphrey Lyttelton, generally known as a more trad-inclined trumpeter but passionately interested in all styles of jazz. For more on his later fame as a hilariously grumpy panel show chairman see here.

 

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