Meet Aimee Nolte

Gang, this is Aimee; Aimee – the gang. She’s a prolific YouTuber (channel here) and I recommend you spend a couple of hours in her company. There’s not a lot she hasn’t already covered, or doesn’t plan to cover, but I’ve picked out this one.

Somebody was asking me a while ago about how to harmonise melodies with upper structure chords. Well, here Aimee shows you that, and a lot else besides, with a little help from some bloke called Bill Evans…

Ms Nolte has a really good knack for pacing you through really quite detailed stuff in an easy, engaging manner. It’s often presented at the piano, but occasionally from a skateboard… v California…

(I’m waiting for her thoughts on Chick Corea’s 500 Miles High during a HALO jump… Action jazz…)

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Posted in b) Harmony & Comping

Da-ba-da-ba-dah…

Never mind Baldwin’s superb yanqui lounge creep, I just love the beautifully done, inane, piss-take bossa. “You have my hand… it gives me the blues… in my heart…” Perfect Portubollocks.
Also watch the woman on shaker (and “da-ba-da-ba-dahs”) at 1:42. She knows the lines that are coming and starts losing it…

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Posted in e) Rants & Ramblings, f) Esquina Latina

Bebop Part III – Find the Lady

You’ll find Parker’s Lady hidden everywhere…

I’ve admitted before that I’m not really much of a licker. But there are some gestures that are more than licks, they’re essential idiomatic vocabulary. Thanks to SG for pointing out that I’d missed this one from my bebop posts. Well, it was sort of in there – but I don’t think I highlighted it enough.

Here’s the tail-end of the first phrase to Charlie Parker’s Donna Lee:

Bb7 (actually 9)
D F Ab C G F

It’s a beautifully balanced little snippet that goes up a dominant arpeggio from the 3rd to the 9th then reverses direction and curls back via the 13th (or 6th if you prefer) to land on the 5th. It uses every scale tone except the root and some kind of 11th in a way that compactly and clearly defines the chord. People often talk of Parker’s innovative way of working with upper extensions, and this might be the perfect example.

It originally appears over just a Bb7 chord, but it sounds good over Fm7 Bb7 too. This lick appears in everyone’s playing, varied and embellished in any number of ways. So that’s it as a gesture to use over a V chord or a ii-V elaboration.

But it can also be used, with the rhythm varied to fit, over a V7alt or a V7alt I in major or minor, by playing a tritone away:

E7 (actually 9) | EbM (or Ebm)
G# B D F# C# B | Bb

In this version, the E9 is standing in for Bb7alt. And the added note at the end (which is so natural that you almost can’t help but play it) deposits you on the 5th of the tonic that follows, so you can use this over either a major or minor cadence. Read more ›

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Posted in a) Soloing Scales & Modes

Robosalsa!

I’ve had an enquiry from PD who enjoyed the article on Hearing the Clave, but isn’t a great music reader so he was asking whether I could give sound examples. Fair enough, I thought, I’ll get to it when I’ve got time… Then I thought, I wonder if someone’s already done an app for this? Well, someone has and ay dios mio have they done it well…

This fantastic little app defaults to the fundamental rhythm patterns I gave, plus maracas, guiro, bongos, bass and customisable spoken count. All the channels are mixable and mutable, and have drop-down menus with many more variations to investigate too. You could do worse than copping some of these patterns. Some of the piano montunos are generic, some are taken from specific tunes – there’s even one from my old pal Alex Wilson, who has Afro-Latin music in his bone marrow.

You can start with just clave and gradually dial in combinations of the other parts to get a feel for what they sound like individually and how they interlock. Then try the same exercise with the clave channel muted to start weaning yourself off having to hear the clave actually played. You might want to turn off the Auto Change feature under Master Key if you’re working on clave awareness, but it’s handy if you want to practise along around the cycle of fifths.

Oh, and you get similar loving care in the merengue department too. For some of my thoughts on this style (and an amazing dancing golden retriever) see Modern Merengue Piano Basics.

Genial, mis amigos.

PS You don’t have to subscribe or pay to use the online version of salsabeatmachine, but do consider donating a couple of quid or buying the mobile version if you find it useful. Which I reckon you will. If this thing had been around when I was starting out it would have spared me a great many blushes…

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Posted in f) Esquina Latina

Booker’s Blues

"Excuse me, where's the section on altered dominants, please?"

“Excuse me, where’s the section on altered dominant chords, please?”

All of us are always learning (well, hopefully most of us are…), but it’s not big-headed to take pride in what you do.

Here’s a little parable (with apologies to Jorge Luis Borges). Imagine you’re walking down an enormous corridor in a library that stretches on and on into the distance. You’re reading the books as you go, and all you can ever see ahead is more shelves crammed with books that you haven’t read. Sometimes you’re inspired and motivated by what’s ahead and still to be discovered, sometimes the sprawling vista of what you have yet to learn gives you the blues.

All those books you haven’t read… But have you ever stopped, sat down for a moment and looked back along the corridor at the view of all the books you have read?

This isn’t intended as a prescription for complacency or arrogance, rather a mild corrective against self-flagellation. Self-awareness cuts both ways. And remember, the world is full of people who are quite happy to talk you down – you don’t need to do it to yourself.

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Posted in c) Musicianship, e) Rants & Ramblings

Skeletal Comping

Confession time. I actually enjoy comping more than soloing. It’s like a fascinating, constantly shifting, multi-dimensional puzzle to solve, with no limit to the possible solutions but your own imagination. Co-operating is as important as leading. Playing not just the piano, but playing the music.

Here’s something I find interesting. Listen to a recording of a really good jazz comper. Quite often you’ll find that some, or even most of the chords aren’t actually played at all. They often hit, hang or hold off completely, and leave loads of space. For instance, there are great Rhythm and Giant Steps recordings out there where you frequently won’t hear more than occasional chording from the pianist. (And it isn’t because they can’t make the tempo.)

Some people tend to play every single chord change on a chart, on the button, all the time, chorus after chorus, solo after solo. Why?

Well, maybe it’s to keep their place. Maybe it’s to pin things down and help others keep their place (can be necessary). Maybe it’s fear that people will think they’re not very good or they can’t play the changes, or a sense that they’ve been hired, so they’ve got to play all the time. Maybe it’s boyish (or girlish) enthusiasm… Read more ›

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Posted in c) Musicianship, e) Rants & Ramblings

Gareth Lockrane with JLT Review

Thanks to Sammy Stein for writing this review/interview.

Welcome to the jazz world's equivalent of The Prancing Pony.

Welcome to the jazz world’s equivalent of The Prancing Pony. Half price for hobbits, no ringwraiths allowed.

On a corner of a main road in the busy, noisy borough of Kennington, London, sits an unassuming building, easy to walk past but turn in and you find yourself in the place of wonder and magic that is Brasserie Toulouse Lautrec. Downstairs is a bistro restaurant filled with intriguing little nooks and crannies, creaky wooden floors and chic art work, already offering a pleasant refuge from the traffic outside. The Loft, which is the jazz club, is up some stairs, up more stairs and through a curtain, emphasising the sense of finding some inner world of magic where time has paused.

To get into the jazz club you pay a small fee (a fiver on the night in question) in exchange for a chunky, round wooden token which can be used to buy drinks in the jazz room. Up the stairs, you enter The Loft, an intimate room with a barman (I learned he is called Chris) with a wide smile and welcoming manner. Offering your token as payment for drinks it feels more and more as if you have chanced upon some wonderful part of Middle Earth where the coinage is wooden and everyone is friendly. However, in The Loft the prevailing currency is music…

The full piece is up at www.kindofjazz.com.

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Posted in 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