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.

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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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The Life of 3.1415926… Musicians


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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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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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 like the actual lyrics. You’ll find these things usually rhyme naturally…

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 sort of 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

The End of an Earache

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

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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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 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)
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 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

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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Books for Sale
...appetising young books for sale...

29 June – Trio with Ed Jones
27 July – Trio with Roberto Manzin
at Brasserie Toulouse Lautrec