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

The Value of “Huh?”

confusedI was recently asked about how to play the second chord in Jobim’s Wave. I don’t think my correspondent would mind me saying that he’d got himself rather tangled up in analysis and choices of diminished chords.

Here’s where the most helpful thing I’ve ever encountered comes in – it’s called the “huh?” chord. You sometimes analyse tunes ahead of time, and often while you’re actually playing them. Read more ›

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Posted in b) Harmony & Comping


Vielen Dank to Tomas, who enjoyed the Beethoven Buddhist Choir and added a question. What kind of a computer do I think a musician needs?

This raises two immediate thoughts. First, most musicians don’t tend to have great wadges of money falling out of their trousers. Second, most musicians do tend to go without to afford good equipment (often it’s a choice between a decent instrument and a car). So I’ll focus on the word “need”, and the result will probably surprise you.

Basically, modern consumer hardware has long since passed the point where it can handle good audio and even modest video work with ease. The circus has moved on, and as ever it’s games that are leading the way – so bleeding-edge hardware these days is all about live rendering the sunlight glinting off virtual goblin snot (which is mostly the domain of expensive high-end graphics processors).

I’ll focus on PCs here, but I have nothing against Macs. I just feel that you get more bang for buck on PCs if you’re prepared to embrace complexity and choice (and what are musicians good at, if not fiddling with things?) I’ll keep the tech specs general anyway.

There’s an entire industry out there geared to selling you hardware you don’t actually need. So what actually does matter for tasks such as multitrack recording and mixing in a DAW, working with samples and scorewriting? Read more ›

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Posted in j) Sound & Vision

Augmented Sixths or Tritone Subs?

I was recently reminded of my dusty school days when someone asked me how jazz uses augmented sixth chords. Oh, I do so love these invitations to give a fag-packet explanation and get myself into trouble…

I suppose the simplest answer is that jazz uses augmented sixths all over the place, it just doesn’t think of them as augmented sixths at all.

The only real difference between an augmented sixth chord and a dominant chord is that the former carries specific expectations as to the direction the tones are to resolve. This chord is typically notated deliberately to highlight its “raised sixthiness” (which means using eye-catching accidentals on that note).

The harmonic function of the augmented sixth is as a pre-dominant chord, and one allowing for a lot of chromatic interest. The three classic variations (German, Italian and French) are as follows, preparing the arrival of G dominant:

Ge6: Ab C Eb F#
It6: Ab C C F#
Fr6: Ab C D F#

The augmented sixth chord appears on the bVI of the key, and the idea is that the lowest voice drops and the highest one rises, both by semitone, to the root of the following V chord an octave apart. The middle voices go where you’d expect, to B and D. The German one is highly organised and everything slips by semitone (how very German), the Italian one has the twin Cs resolving in different directions (how very Italian), and with the French one, the D is already there so stays put (how very French)… Read more ›

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Posted in a) Soloing Scales & Modes

Erm, me…

고맙습니다 to my lovely Korean friends at Talent Shop, who recently spent a sweltering week enthusiastically tailing the band with cameras. Check out their website or YouTube channel for a growing series on London musicians.

PS Yes, I do actually possess a comb, I just keep forgetting to use it…


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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
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Wednesday Sessions

We play every Wednesday night, 9 to 12.30, at Toulouse Lautrec in Kennington, South London. It starts as a gig then becomes a jam.
See also Thoughts from the Piano Chair of a Jam Session.
Illustration by Sue Harding

October guest soloists
5 Tom White tbn
12 Paul Booth tenor sax
19 Vasilis Xenopoulos tenor sax
26 Chris Rand tenor sax

November guest soloists
2 Fulvio Sigurta tpt/flugel
9 Jim Mullen guitar
16 Benet McLean violin
23 Carl Orr gtr
30 Christian Brewer tenor sax

December guest soloists
7 Tony Kofi alto sax
14 TBC
21 Anita Wardell (Xmas Special) vocals

More info on guests here