Interview with JazzBites radio

PINNED

I was recently a guest of the delightful Anthea Redmond for the US JazzBites radio show. Call it the thoughts of Chairman Jase…

Live broadcast on August 12, 14 and 16. My archive link is here (compressed to buggery – their broadcast quality is better…)

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Posted in e) Rants & Ramblings

Camels and Robots

…and as they come to the turn, it’s 001101110101 on Humpy leading the field…

Or putting rhythm sections out of business…

Nah, of course, I’d never do such a thing. There’s no substitute for the real deal. But then practising isn’t the real deal either and I was asked a while ago about how I practise. Sorry the reply comes so late, MH.

Sad truth is that at the moment, I don’t and I’m not proud of the fact. Life’s in the way right now, but I have been doing this a long time, so with a gig whiskey inside me I can usually rise to the occasion.

But when I do, I use a program called Band in a Box to get the virtual guys round for a play. Attached is an example of four choruses of Caravan. I’ve tweaked it a little to my preferences and to give me a workout with variety, but it’s really just BIAB’s basic sampled output. There’s a lot more that could be done – for instance, you could swap in specific basslines and hits. Frankly though, for practice purposes, I can “hear” those.

If any of you use BIAB and want the original file so you can tailor it, just get in touch.

Midnight at the Oasis…

(FUN FACT: Did you know that the delightfully old-fashioned British pejorative “git” comes from the Arabic word for a pregnant camel? It’s one of those adopted words that came from our often unsavoury adventures abroad. I’m not an experienced herder, but by all accounts, while usually pretty cool and sweet creatures, camels are very obstreperous when in that condition and not to be messed with… And who can honestly blame them?)

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

Lies, Damn Lies & Marketing Part 7 – Sick Self Love

Interesting piece in the NYT recently by Frank Bruni. Belated grasp of things, but good that the talking heads are finally starting to notice what’s been going on under their talking noses for years.

In a nutshell, the piece focuses on the eulogising of Aretha Franklin and John McCain. I don’t want to go anywhere near politics here, but the general point is that so many tributes appear focused on the writer rather than the subject. Bruni is pretty fair here – pointing out that those like him with a privileged platform have been doing it too. Introspection is a rare commodity these days.

I think we’re all familiar with the “the bassist from Crotchstrap used to mow my lawn” and general griefsploitation stuff. But let’s just boil this down to how to promote yourself as a musician. Of course, we’re in a prisoner’s dilemma here – if everyone else is exaggerlying their arses off, it becomes normal, so if we don’t, we might sound pathetic. But it is possible just to be honest.

As I’ve said previously in this blog series (The Dark Art of Marketing), I feel that integrity matters. You didn’t work with someone, you just held the door open for them once. You weren’t best pals with them, you just once buttonholed them for a two-minute chat while they were waiting for their limo. You might feel you know them through their music, but you didn’t actually know them at all.

Social media… theoretically a fantastic tool for communication, but sadly in reality all too often an amplifier for narcissism and confirmation bias that warps people.

Hah! So why do I blog? Because I genuinely believe I have useful and helpful things to say. You don’t have to like or agree with any of it. Feel free to object.

Every technological advance throughout history has immediately been used as a weapon even it wasn’t developed as one. You can use a sharp stick to build a shelter or hurt someone. You can use the internet for knowledge gathering and communication or… to hurt someone. Or even to falsely aggrandise yourself.

Let’s not be one of those people, eh? We’re better than that aren’t we?

And of course, if you make it a policy not to lie, you’ll have a much easier life. No need to remember or concentrate – you can just get on and do your thing. Sadly, nowadays that isn’t a recipe for success, but you’ll sleep soundly. And fame often ain’t worth the candle anyway.

Re-re-re-re-spect – just a little bit…

PS This is not a political forum. As always, I welcome comments, but please keep them general and on point, and for this first time ever, I will moderate.

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Posted in d) The Dark Art of Marketing, e) Rants & Ramblings

All About That Bass, Bout That Bass (No Trouble)

That cat can swing… Right paw in a sort of slap position btw.

I’ve had a question about comping bass solos. Wow. Well, how long have we got…

I’ll start by mentioning that I play some “journeyman” bass. I can do a reasonable job as long the tempos are gentle, the changes aren’t too complex and you don’t expect inspired solos (or particularly good intonation). The reason I mention it is that it’s important to put yourself in other musicians’ shoes, and the best way to do that is to spend some time at least mucking around on their instrument. If you can’t do that, at very least try to put yourself in their heads.

This is as true in jazz as it is in classical music – if you can’t tell the difference between a clarinet and an oboe, you just won’t be able to write well for them. If you can get a squawk out of them, you’ve started. If you can play a little bit, you’re closer. If you’ve had a go, however feebly, at some of the parts they typically play, you’re much closer. Remember, instruments have specific roles to play in any kind of music.

So… where do we start? Not in historical order, let’s try building up from nothing.

MONKERY

You don’t actually have to comp at all. Leave them their space, go off to the bar even. Monk used to occasionally start gigs with pure solos – the drummer will now play you a tune, now the bassist will, etc. I’d say that, in general, a bassist won’t regard you laying out completely as idleness, cluelessness or lack of support. With the piano, guitar or drums out of the way, they have the musical space to themselves and most of them will relish the situation. But do be ready to come back in the right place though…

BACK TO BASIES

The odd little trinkling riff way up at the top of the piano – ie, well out of the way. This can work like a charm, but probably not all night. Likewise, low simple pedal points, often to mark section breaks. It’s not always a crime to play roots when accompanying a bassist. Oscar Peterson did it frequently. As, in a different vein, did Tyner. As in fact just about everybody does.

SO YOU WANNA BE THE CHAMP

An approach typical in bebop and hard bop. It’s pretty much the bog standard way – just keep champ-champing in the mid or upper register – although with a lighter approach than the way you’d comp a horn. Typical basic rhythms are the Charleston variants that Red Garland and others popularised. But be sensitive. When bassists get the opportunity to let fly, they like to use the full range of the instrument. They’ll often be right up the neck (it’s called thumb position). It is possible to play “in and amongst” but often better to keep out of the register they’re plundering at the time.

Don’t hop about weirdly, try to make it all organic, but it can actually be very beautiful when a bassist is really going for the high stuff with both hands barely inches apart for you to drop down really low – occasionally even playing a walking bass line yourself. Role reversal.

THE VAMP OF SAVANNAH

An idea inherited from jazz’s Latin roots, and prevalent in hard bop, funk, fusion, etc. Become a machine – pump out something consistent and allow the bassist to do something over it (do keep good time though). Of course, keep an eye on them and if they don’t much fancy this approach in the particular circs, don’t impose it. And be careful of dynamics – don’t overpower them.

THE CHAMBER OF HORRORS DELIGHTS

Pretty much invented by Bill Evans as an extension from the champ-champ. Total communal interaction, passing ideas around all the time. Quite literally creating a sort of conversational chamber music arrangement on the fly. With all these approaches, it becomes natural to respond to things that happen during a solo and magically make rhythmic hits, echo solo lines, etc. Kid the audience into thinking you’ve rehearsed… But in this approach, interplay is intense and constant.

Incidentally, this isn’t one for bigheads. If you do it right, audiences often can’t tell the changeover from piano to bass solo (or vice versa – great idea to occasionally give the bassist first whack). Or they don’t want to interrupt the music. Or they’re too busy arguing, falling in love, falling over, etc. So you’ll often get the applause for the two as one.

BACK TO BASS CAMP

So which to use? All of them, when appropriate. I’ve remarked before that I actually enjoy comping more than soloing (I’m weird like that). There’s as much creativity and challenge in it, believe me – possibly more – and comping a bassist well is possibly the ultimate test of your chops.

Your bassist, however inspired, generally spends the majority of the gig on a refined form of autopilot – it goes with the territory. For years they didn’t even get to solo at all. So when you give them their time to shine, treat them right.

Oh, and in general, if you feel you have to comp just to keep your place – stop it! You should be able to go and move the car, stop downstairs for a piss, have a chat with Uncle Fred and come back and just hear where the band is in the form.

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Posted in b) Harmony & Comping, c) Musicianship, e) Rants & Ramblings

Audio Plugin – the PSG

“Up the uppifier…” “Give that bit less… oomph” “I feel there’s something missing…”

I had planned to release this freeware FX plugin on 1 April, but things got delayed a bit. Okay, a lot.

Introducing the all-new PSG™ – put it on a spare channel strip and it will instantly double your productivity, guaranteed. Using carefully formulated psycho-socio-acoustic algorithms, the PSG can automatically do anything your client wants to any mix.

To install, just label any strip you choose “PSG” and don’t route it to anything. Then when you’re getting damn fool suggestions or demands, you can play with any of the controls with as much dramatic flair as you wish, and the PSG (pop star’s girlfriend) plugin will magically fulfil the client’s every wish, to their instant amazement. Leaving you free to work.

  • No download or registration required
  • Warning: contains crass stereotyping, not fully tested on all relationships
  • Fully backwards compatible with the betas of Oomphifier, KindaMissinger and ABitLiker
  • Coding based on the open source STFU library
Posted in e) Rants & Ramblings, j) Sound & Vision

Cutting to the Chase (Reaticulate)

I’ve been asked to explain a bit about the really groovy looking window that appears on the right-hand side of my REAPER orchestral template. What is it, why is it there, how do I get it and so forth?

Take another little pizz of my heart… (ouch, sorry)

Well, one of the old problems for MIDI musicians concerns what is known as “chasing”. You’ve long been able to send samplers messages to change from pizz to marcato to “stick your bows in your ears and fart quizzically”, or whatever else. Traditionally these are included in sound libraries as keyswitches – so you play a note that’s out of range of the instrument and it triggers the change. So far, so funky.

This script doesn’t include “sfartzando quizzicale”.

But if you’ve just been playing back a section with the string sampler set to pizz then move elsewhere to a bit in the music where it’s supposed to be tremolo, it often won’t work correctly – if the sampler didn’t get the memo, the strings will still be plucking about. This can get really plucking annoying.

Hence MIDI “chasing”. When you hit play, the DAW software can look back through every MIDI track for the last change instruction and retrigger it. However, it has no way of knowing whether a note is an actual note or an instruction to change sounds, so you have to convert the keyswitches to another type of MIDI event that it can clearly identify.

There are lots of ways of handling this process, but the solution I use is Jason Tackaberry’s Reaticulate. You can still use the articulation switches as usual, but they will be converted into MIDI cc (continuous controller) messages and displayed in the MIDI Editor window as little labelled needles and in the pretty interface window, updating in real time.

As I said, there are other ways of implementing this*, but personally I find Reaticulate convenient and attractive. Don’t underestimate the latter issue – when you do this kind of work, you’ll be spending many hours peering at a screen, so aesthetics are important. I also appreciate seeing some friendly symbols that look like good old fashioned music, since the rest of the interface is slabby chunks of coloured data, faders, buttons, etc. The sight of a few dotted quavers cheers up my bleary eyes…

The bank files I’ve written for Reaticulate (containing info for Garritan Personal Orchestra 5, Kirk Hunter Concert Brass and Cinewinds Core) are here. Tackaberry’s “factory” banks already contain the necessary info for Cinematic Studio Strings and Spitfire.

(If you’re interested in such things, here are the MIDI note name files for the libraries used in the template.)

* See also Blake Robinson’s BRSO. Blake is the guy who did most of the programming for the Spitfire series. Which are beautiful and one day I might be able to afford them…

PS Tackaberry goes by the nom de youtube of anothercrappypianist. I can identify…

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Posted in g) Classically Inclined, j) Sound & Vision

REAPING Rewards

Sorry again for my absence. That time of year when you take stock (and there’s been some weird stuff to take stock of this past year…)

So what better way to kick off than by starting weird. I’ve extolled the virtues of a DAW called REAPER before (see here), and one of the reasons I like it is that it’s so flexible you can happily fiddle around, confuse yourself and pleasantly avoid work for hours. In particular, it’s very skinnable, templateable and scriptable in no fewer than three languages.

So for any out there who use it, here are some things I’ve been cooking up, when I should have been hard at work on the actual music.

First up, we have a full orchestral MIDI template. Not a Hollywood kitchen sink job, more your sort of turn of the century massive. It defaults to Garritan Personal Orchestra 5, augmented with Cinematic Studio Strings, Kirk Hunter Brass, Cinewinds Core and Pianoteq Stage 6, but don’t worry if you don’t have them. REAPER will just say “can’t find” half a dozen times then let you in anyway – at which point you can substitute in your own sample libraries. It loads fully purged and should just about squeeze into 8GB RAM. It also uses Jason Tackaberry’s plugin Reaticulate. Copious user notes will display on load.

Orchestral manoeuvres in the light.

Download Orchestral Template
Download Reaticulate Bank File

Next, we have a script to split a MIDI track into RH and LH at a user-specified note. It’s obviously useful for piano parts, but you can also use it to separate comping from walking bass, or trumpets from trombones, or violins and violas from basses and cellos. Well, at least roughly.

Before…

…After

Download MIDI Splitter

Finally, here’s one for straight audio work. This script will take all selected items and shift them to a duplicate track with the same routing, settings and FX as the original. I was mooching around on the REAPER user forum and got involved with a request that I thought is actually a bloody useful thing to be able to do.

Before…

…After

Download Audio Splitter

Right, well that’s the propeller-head stuff out of the way. Next week I’ll get back into the noble art of putting people off their pizzas with funny chords and scales and such…

And a belated happy new year.

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Posted in j) Sound & Vision
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