The End of an Earache

Little Wednesday had a long life in gig years, and now he’s going to play with Charlie Barker

STICKY TIL END OF JUNE – NEWER POSTS BELOW

Well, residencies have a lifespan and I’m afraid we’re losing our lovely dog Weekly Wednesday. He’s heading for that great jazz gig in the sky, where all the musicians are glum because God’s girlfriend is a singer – oh please, I’m kidding.

After about six years of frolicking about, I’m afraid it’s just become commercially unsustainable for Toulouse Lautrec to maintain a quartet hound every Wednesday. And I understand completely – as should all musicians. Remember, goodwill is one thing, but venues are not charities.

My great thanks to all who’ve come over the years, punters and musicians alike. Also to the venue for hosting us, and of course my wingmen, Joel and Henry, without whom… And please come down and enjoy the night while we play out our obligations throughout June. Let’s go out with a bang, crash and quite a few wallops.

We’ll really miss scruffy old Wednesday, and nothing can ever replace the mutt, but we will be getting a new puppy called Monthly Friday.

Mutatis mutandis (posh talk for “a bit different, but basically the same”). It’ll be Guest with JLT, except two full sets, a door fee and jam will be off the menu. Although there might be the odd sit-in…

As ever, we’ll play it by ear. Woof.

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Posted in e) Rants & Ramblings

Threepenny Lyrics

Learning tunes need not involve corporal punishment Mackie…

Bit of fun this week. I sat in on a gig the other night and the singer called Mack the Knife. It’s an interesting one because it’s harmonically very simple – just the four main chords of the key, but usually played cranking up the choruses by semitones. So you really need to take the Roman numeral approach.*

Now you could be at the level of just knowing what the I, ii, V and vi of a key sound like. But if not, here’s a silly way of remembering how this tune goes. And it will help you to get to the point where you just know what the chords sound like in relation to each other. Bear in mind that where memorisation is concerned, silly is your friend.

Here’s how I first learned this tune. I sang:

And old I goes, to the ii,
Then the V goes, back to I.
Then the vi comes, but becomes ii,
Then the ii goes, ii-V-I.

Stupid isn’t it? But I’ve never forgotten it. As a kid I thought up a few more of these sort of harmonic mnemonics for other tunes. For instance: “I and tanned and just like A Train, the II from Ipanema goes 7ing, and then she iis and then Valts and Is.” Try to come up with something that scans with the actual lyrics.

Of course, after a while the memory trick falls away and you just know it, but it’s a fun way in and a useful way of teaching, I’ve found. Like language learning – I suppose the classic is the way to remember “cat” in Spanish by picturing a cat eating a big cake.

*See also What Have the Romans Ever Done For Us?

PS I don’t know of any songs where the harmony appears in the actual lyrics except Leonard Cohen’s Halleluia – “the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall, the major lift”.

Cole Porter’s line “from major to minor” does invoke the sense of transition to minor but actually involves going from the I to the IV7 of the temporary key (the IV), thus including the minor third of that key. If anyone’s aware of any other songs that actually tell you how to play them, I’d be interested to hear about it.

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

Young Jazz Synergy Weekend & Guildhall in Focus

Alexandra Ridout, BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year 2016

Friday 19 May – Sunday 21 May
Brasserie Toulouse Lautrec,
London SE11 4RN, 020-7582 6800

The world loves competitions these days, and it seems people aren’t interested unless there are judges whirling round in big red chairs. But music really isn’t like that.

The latest amazing group of jazz talent emerging from the top colleges work and play together, and we are proud to present a summer festival to demonstrate that the whole is even greater than the sum of the parts. Collaboration, not competition – very jazz…

This weekend in May, Toulouse Lautrec Jazz Club will host three ensembles, featuring several BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year participants and their colleagues, in their natural habitat – playing together, performing their music, their way. Welcome to the future.

Produced by Jason Lyon

Friday 9pm (£18 door, £10 adv)
TOM SMITH SEPTET
Tom Smith alto, Alex Hitchcock tenor, Alistair Martin tpt, Rory Ingham tbn, Will Barry pno, Daisy George bass, Dave Storey dms
Advance booking here

Saturday 9pm (£18 door, £10 adv)
THE REDOUBTABLE RIDOUTS
Alex Ridout tpt, Tom Ridout saxes & recorder, Will Barry pno, Flo Moore bass, Phelan Burgoyne dms
Advance booking here

Sunday 7.30pm (£18 door, £10 adv)
SAM BARNETT QUINTET
Sam Barnett tenor, Laurence Wilkins tpt, Alberto Palau Garcera pno, Seth Tackaberry bass, Zoe Pascal dms
Advance booking here

All these musicians have come through the leading music academies and they’ve already worked with NYJO, Soweto Kinch, Stan Sulzmann, Dennis Rollins, the BBC Big Band, Clark Tracey, Gareth Lockrane, Jean Toussaint, Perico Sambeat and many others. But this weekend is all about them.

Tom Smith and Tom Ridout were BBC Young Jazz finalists last year and Alexandra Ridout won it – and got a big engraved thingie, of which she’s justifiably very proud. She was also nominated in the British Jazz Award Rising Star category, as was Rory Ingham.

Monday nights 8pm (free), starting in May
GUILDHALL IN FOCUS

The UK is home to some of the world’s finest music academies, several of them are in London and one in particular, Guildhall School of Music & Drama, is virtually on Toulouse Lautrec’s doorstep.

We’ve decided to offer GSMD students a residency they can call their own, to give our audience and us an opportunity to get to know these exceptional up and coming young players. We’ll be seeing a lot of them in the future, but why wait? Come down any Monday night and enjoy a lot of them right now.

1st Alex Weston King/Sam Leak
8th Ines Loubet Franco/Telmo Sousa
15th Darcy Williams/Joe Hill
22nd Maria Rehakova/James Maltby
29th Matthew Grenz/David Swan

Darcy Williams Trio at GSMD – ah, that hall, those “platform performances”… some things never change. (The tutors and friends are usually coolly slumped up at the back for these affairs, btw.)

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Posted in e) Rants & Ramblings

Playing Flat

A quick one for pianists – in particular, pianists who are fortunate enough to play on grands. Though not all grands are made equal…

Okay, let’s admit it, we all read sometimes. Whether detailed arrangements, originals, things we “kinda know” or whatever.

Put the damn flap down and read the chart across it.

If you’re a singer-pianist, the audience needs to see your lovely face. If you’re a humble pianist-pianist, the band at least needs to see your perhaps not quite so lovely face. And you need to see them. (Actually, in some stage setups I’ve idly toyed with the idea of bringing periscopes or wing mirrors…) It’s also rather handy for you be able to see the room properly – Music is played to people, not at them…

Trust me – it might seem awkward at first, but get used to reading flat. It’s not that difficult really and you’ll thank me for it later.

Of course your attention will be mostly on the chart. But if you read it like a Star Wars opening crawl, your middle-distance vision will also be working for giving and receiving all those wonderful little cues and interactions that can really help to make a band (and a gig) tick.

Sure, a lot goes on in the ears, but you want to take every advantage if you really want to awaken the Force…

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Posted in c) Musicianship, e) Rants & Ramblings

Hippies Didn’t Own the Sixties

A hippie in the ’60s

We had a really enjoyable gig recently with trumpeter Quentin Collins and he brought some interesting tunes along. QC (appearing for the modern harmony, m’lud) was obviously in a sort of early-’60s Blue Note frame of mind. Got me thinking about the ’60s.

I love that stuff, I feel at home in it, and the house trio really got into it too. But permit me a personal digression at this point for a little pèlerinage sur les lieux du passé. Or…

A TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE

When I was a young pup I pissed off to live in Paris for a while. And I did what anyone does when they’re fresh to a foreign city. I trawled the bars, rationing the beer against the money and getting a feel for the place. Among other things.

One night I wandered into a little club round the back of the Pompidou Centre and was a bit disappointed to find that although they had a nice little stage, there wasn’t a band on. It was a dead night and some of the staff joined me at the bar, listening to the background music and dreaming. They were playing a Wayne Shorter album – Adam’s Apple, I think.

It was the first time I’d heard it and I just sat there soaking it up. It just felt so airy, so free and fresh, so not ting-ting-ta-ting. I remember thinking: that’s the kind of jazz I’d like to play. The association was strongly made and I was mentally catapulted back to that moment on the gig the other day. Read more ›

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Posted in e) Rants & Ramblings

Lies, Damn Lies & Marketing Episode VI: That’s Lovely But…

Okay, I’m basically going to demonstrate by example here. I’ve noticed recently that a certain website has started billing my guest-with-house-trio residency as an “award-winning quartet”. It’s very flattering and no doubt rather good for business, but I do feel I should set the record straight.

Many of the soloists have indeed won awards and my drummer has too. And the bassist and I aren’t slouches – we have a few swimming certificates and things between us. Perhaps we all deserve knighthoods anyway for being so wonderful… But the implication that we are an established quartet with the soloist and have won awards as such is going too far.

Obviously on the press side it can be rather difficult to crunch down often complicated scenarios into a handful of punchy words. And it’s great that people do their best to present what you do in a glowing light. It’s really nice that they actually want to. After all, they don’t have to…

But it really is a duty to clarify things like this – passive dishonesty is still dishonesty. In short, I think we should be as rigorous about correcting flattering mistakes as we are about correcting unflattering ones. Sometimes people mangle you in a nice way (but it’s still mangling…)

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

Crystal Metheny

bilbao

Bilbao parties. Without pointy hoods…

The point of this week’s post isn’t confined to Metheny tunes – it’s just that there are a couple we’ve happened to play recently that illustrate it nicely.

The two tunes I’ll reference are Song for Bilbao and Question & Answer. They’re both characterised by rather floaty harmony on the A sections and contrasting, very fast, very pungent movement on the Bs.

Now while you can knock yourself out working on the Bs, actually all you really have to do is outline the changes. It’s what the hotshots do on the tunes they themselves wrote – it’s exactly what’s intended and required. It’s appropriate.

In a sense, tunes like this are kindred to earlier things like Yes or No or The Night Has a Thousand Eyes, which feature contrasting sections of fairly static pseudo-modal stuff and active functional harmonic motion. You tend to wig out on the former and get more “straight” on the latter, keeping the distinction clear.

So in Bilbao we have a very open and clear modal landscape on the A sections – C7sus to C Locrian and back again. I can imagine a crisp sky and a street brass ensemble blaring out a powerful folk melody. There’s something vibrant about that part of the world – simultaneously and fiercely ancient and modern, but never dull.

Then the folk band goes nuts. The B section unleashes a fast series of really quite simple triads over a 6/8 rhythm. You honestly can get everything you need out of this section with not much more than triad inversions as F goes to Bb, to Eb to F to Db to Eb to F to G7 and back to… our C7sus sound at the top of the final A.

Read more ›

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Posted in a) Soloing Scales & Modes, c) Musicianship, e) Rants & Ramblings
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Wednesday Gig/Jam


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. We welcome and accommodate all, but please do have a squizz at Thoughts from the Piano Chair of a Jam Session.
Illustration by Sue Harding

June guest soloists
7 Sara Dowling voc
14 Ed Riches gtr
21 Duncan Eagles tenor
28 Tom Ridout tenor

More info on guests here


For London-wide jazz llistings see