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

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
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Next Gig

We play every month at Toulouse Lautrec in Kennington, South London.

Sat 29 July 9pm, £15 (£9 adv)
JLT with Ed Jones tenor

For London-wide jazz listings see