Willie Thomas and Not-Quite-Pentatonics

Willie Thomas

Hullo jazz fans. Apologies for the radio silence, I’ve been driving myself nuts on a film project.

I’ve found time for a little bit of teaching too, and I’m always on the lookout for new approaches – some just click better with some people than others, so the more you have… I recently came across trumpeter Willie Thomas and his www.jazzeveryone.com site.

Kind of chimed with me and I think it’s worth your while investigating his method. This is based on what he calls “pentatonic pairs”, and I’ve noticed a few commenters have found the name a little confusing. Do check his site out, but personally I feel you might grasp his system a little easier by thinking of it as something like “universal 5612 scales” or “inverted thirdless pentatonics” (although you might find those names confusing too, just a different kind of confusing).

There’s a lot more to what he teaches, and this initial concept is really just the starting point, but in a nutshell the idea is that you play the 5th, 6th, root and 2nd of any II, V or I chord (regardless of quality). This is of course a major pentatonic but missing its 3rd, and inverted so the 5th and 6th are regarded as being below and often act as pickups. It’s a sort of all-purpose seesaw structure around the root.

Of course, these are regarded as “pegs” to be elaborated on, and Willie will take you through all kinds of ways to put some real bebop goodness on the pegs, but it’s a very useful starting point. It’s also a great quick start to get beginners playing something that sounds and feels good.

On a personal note, it’s also another piece of evidence to support one of my favourite musical arguments – in most of jazz, the “finalising”, “at rest” tone on a tonic is actually the 6th, not the 7th. See You’ve Been Taught the Wrong Chord Tones.

PS Please don’t bite my head off – I know you use the 7th as well, but…

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Posted in a) Soloing Scales & Modes, i) Reviews

Faking It

A classical violinist, mid-Mahler… Note that she isn’t even holding a violin…

I don’t just mean “faking” harmony in the jazz sense, but rather more generally.

Got involved in a little discussion recently about how to play complex cross-rhythms over at Adam Neely’s YT channel. When presented with something like 3s on 5s some people (me included) advocate learning to feel the way the two sound and work together whereas others like to rigorously reconceptualise it by a sort of common factoring process. And if you don’t have time to do either – fake it. Both sides agree on that.

There was a rather scandalous piece that was published in The Strad a while ago about how often (surprisingly often) and why (for good reasons) even the most accomplished professional classical string players fake demanding passages – both notes and rhythms. Well worth a read – it even includes some handy tips, a lot of which can be translated to other instruments.

I’ve written stuff for all kinds of ensembles and I expect them to approximate the score here and there, particularly when rehearsal time is short – in fact, sometimes I quietly advise them to do it. They know and I know… and it’s okay…

It’s a bit like sight-reading – do your best, but whatever you do, keep going and try to lock back in as soon as you can.

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Posted in c) Musicianship, e) Rants & Ramblings

A Soundbuzz

An unfulfilled bee, interviewed yesterday.

“Part of being a performer is that failure becomes a part of your existence. Your day-to-day routine is failure with the remote possibility of success.” Samantha Bee

A recent Forbes magazine quote of the day apparently – and I think it’s an awful sentiment, but it’s worth exploring what I think she’s getting at.

If by failure she means not making it commercially, then I take the point. But one can still succeed without making millions. If she means that we must learn to learn by our mistakes (I wouldn’t call them failures) and always work to improve, then fair enough.

However, the one thing a performer can’t afford to be is a perfectionist to the point that every little slip or deficiency undermines them. When the curtain goes up, it’s showtime and you have your skills, experience and preparation. These can always be improved, and you should have the self-awareness to notice a few things that you need to work on.

But never ever walk away from a gig regarding yourself as a failure. You are as good as you can be at the time, but there’s always room for improvement. You’ll have good gigs that flop, bad gigs that are regarded as a triumph and every permutation in between. Being a performer certainly involves trials and tribulations but it shouldn’t hurt. You should have to work at your art/craft/whatever, not suffer for it.

This isn’t just hug-a-hippie jive here. I’d be the first to tell someone that if they’ve been doing it passionately for a few years and it’s tearing them up inside, there are other things to do. They might have a better chance of success and fulfilment in another walk of life. Or step back, treat it as a bit of a hobby for a while and see what happens down the line.

But I think the rather neurotic, masochistic inference in Bee’s soundbuzz is very destructive, yet weirdly it seems to be couched as a kind of aspirational epithet. So here’s my version, which I’m sure won’t ever be featured by Forbes…

“Part of being a performer is that sometimes you’ll cock things up and sometimes you’ll ace them. Your day-to-day routine is learning honestly from both.” Jason Lyon

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Posted in e) Rants & Ramblings

A Little Ear Music

A couple of weeks ago I sat in on a sort of cocktail request gig and somebody wanted Hotel California “with the guitar bits”. Never actually done that on the piano before, strange to tell, but I had a little think and a sip of my libation while the band were getting ready and then played it.

Someone was asking afterwards how difficult it is to just hear or remember something and be able to play it. As so often, I replied “it depends”.

Here’s a famous scene from the film Amadeus (which takes extreme dramatic licence with history and is of course, extremely unfair to Salieri – grazie, Signor Pushkin). It’s interesting for lots of reasons. The late Sir Neville Marriner insisted that the screenplay should be written to performances of Mozart’s music, refusing any suggestion of rewriting bits of Mozart to fit the edit.

Read more ›

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Posted in c) Musicianship, e) Rants & Ramblings

SE Confidential

Nice writeup just been published at Something Else (click for full interview). Life, the jazziverse and everything…

“I first saw Jason Lyon at Brasserie Toulouse Lautrec in London. I had gone to see Gareth Lochrane on flutes, as he was guest of the Jason Lyon Trio – which is comprised of Jason on piano, Joel Prime (the Old Avengers, Alina Bzhezhinska Quartet) on drums and Henry Gilbert (jazz re:freshed) on bass. Pretty soon I, along with most of the audience, was enjoying Gareth – but also Jason as he played.
He is an extraordinary piano player, using his own quirkiness of style to introduce a sense of fun, emotion and dexterity. Until recently, Jason Lyon was host to the popular Wednesday slot at the brasserie’s Loft jazz venue, entertaining with his trio and varied guests – including Branden Allen, Gilad Atzmon, Tom Dennis, Ant Law, Dan Oates, Benet Mclean, Kitty La Roar, Ed Jones, Duncan Eagles, Anita Wardell and Vasilis Xenopoulos, to mention only a few of the astounding line-up featured. The guests, of course, played their solo pieces but every time I saw the concept in action, the guest also became part of the trio and augmented it to a quartet with whatever instrument they played…”

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Posted in e) Rants & Ramblings

The Life of 3.1415926… Musicians

RARRRR! Brrrr

Time for another ramble down memory lane. I used to co-run a full-blooded salsa band, and co-running is a great idea as long as you’ve got a good relationship and great open coms between you. In fact, running anything larger than an octet single-handed can do unusual things to even the most dedicated and able minds over time…

But this post is primarily about client expectations. The attached pic was sent to me by a film making colleague during a round of negotiation about budgets for a project we were pitching for. Rather a succinct comment I felt, and it reminds me of calls I used to get about booking the salsa band:

“We love your stuff. We’d like to book you for a wedding in a village outside Cardiff.”
“Oh congratulations to you. We’re based in London so what about overnight accommodation?”
“I’m afraid most of the local places are already booked up. But you’ll get food. We’ve got a big garden – you could bring tents. It’ll be fun.”
“Uh-huh… What size band did you have in mind?”
“Well, we’d like a couple of singers, lots of percussion and trumpets and things. All live, no backing tracks. We’ll have a big stage.”
“I reckon that’s about a nine piece. What’s your budget?”
“We were thinking about six hundred.”
[Long pause]… “I could maybe just about get you a duo…”
[Click… Brrrrrrrrrrrrr]

 

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Posted in e) Rants & Ramblings

We’ve Run Out of Jam

Our Wednesday marathon is now run. To morrow to fresh Woods, and Pastures new (we’re uncouth swains).

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Posted in e) Rants & Ramblings
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Next Gig

We play every month at Toulouse Lautrec in Kennington, South London.

Fri Oct 27th 9pm, £15 (£9 adv)
JLT feat the Fishwick brothers tpt & dms 

For London-wide jazz listings see