Something loopy….

Here’s something I came up with this afternoon – at the moment it’s just a bass line with some chords, but the rhythm is quite nifty I think!

You can listen here:

And here’s the score:



How long does it take to compose a piece?

Composition can be a long and sometimes tiring process. The pieces I have just completed, my Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis have taken me four years! That’s a slight exaggeration though – to be precise, the Magnificat took a period of two intensive months to complete in 2009, and since then I have recently spent another 3 months arranging it for SATB and adding a setting of the Nunc Dimittis.

All in all though, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the entire process took in excess of 200 hours.

If I had spent that time teaching piano I could have made a very handy £6000!

Most of the time was spent initially working out how to fit a melody and structure around the somewhat difficult texts of the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis. (I found the Nunc particularly difficult to set to music, as the structure of the text is less symmetrical and the rhythm of the text is less fluent). Once that was accomplished I suppose the most time consuming thing was finding a way to expand the melody and harmony into four parts so that every part has a singable melody yet the whole chorus fulfils it’s harmonic role. It’s a bit like filling out a cryptic crossword, except the answers to each question influence the subsequent (and sometimes precedent) questions! If you know any physics then I suppose an analogy would be the ‘Three body problem’ ! You sometimes feel that there is always a better solution, but approaching it requires altering so much that it’s impractical.

Anyway, the next step is to get a few performances of the piece. Thomas’s Battersea are going to perform it for their Evensong in March, and I’m going to try and get some Oxford and Cambridge colleges to have a look at it too. One major advantage of setting the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis is that it is a staple of the Evensong services of Anglican church services, so there should be quite a few opportunities for it to be performed!

Nunc Dimittis

When I was teaching at Thomas’s School, Clapham, I wrote a Magnificat for the school choir, in two parts. Three years later, I’ve finally composed a Nunc Dimittis to go with it. I’m putting the finishing touches on the Magnificat (as I’ve re-arranged it for SATB now), so once that’s done I’ll post the full piece on here. In the meantime, here’s the Nunc:

Here’s the PDF of the score:  Nunc Dimittis

And here’s the audio ( from the MIDI rendering straight out of Sibelius):  Nunc Dimittis

Once it’s recorded properly, I’ll publish it, so if you’re interested in getting hold of a copy, let me know.

Wayne Shorter at the Barbican, and why I don’t believe the critics were even there.

Ok, this is going to be controversial.

On Sunday night I attended the most talked about concert of this year’s London Jazz Festival – Wayne Shorter Quartet, with the BBC Concert Orchestra joining them for the second half. I will shortly explain what I thought of the concert (and also what I believe, speculatively, that the band thought), but first of all let me make it clear that I have the utmost respect for Wayne Shorter as a musician. He has contributed enormously to the jazz world, both as a brilliant improviser and as a composer of some of the most memorable and heart-felt tunes in the history of jazz.

Does having a brilliant track record exempt you from criticism though? Does being an ‘elder statesman’ require glowing reviews from every source, lest the gods of jazz pass judgement? Reading the reviews of Sunday’s concert from the Guardian (John Fordham), Financial Times (Mike Hobart), Telegraph (Sebastian Scotney) and Evening Standard (Jack Massarik), all of which gave glowing 4/5 star reviews, one might imagine that the concert was an unqualified success.

I couldn’t disagree more.

Here is my review of the concert, and afterwards I’ll talk a little about why I think the critics gave such dishonest (or perhaps clueless) reviews.

The concert was divided into two halves. They first with the quartet alone, and the second with the addition of the BBC Concert Orchestra. The first half was dramatically and musically engaging (how could it not be with the like of Shorter, Danilo Perez, John Patituci and Brian Blade), but there was a strange and strained relation between Shorter and the rest of the band. He played very infrequently, and (this is entirely my speculation) seemed to be ‘cut out’ of the music-making process in many instances by Perez. Maybe twenty or thirty times he put his sax to his mouth, waiting for the perfect place for a musical entry, and in nearly every single instance, Perez pre-empted him. Perez often played something beautiful, but it seemed to me that since Wayne was often on the cusp of playing something, there should have been the space for him to express it. I felt that if only Perez hadn’t played so much (there was barely a moment without the sound of piano), there could have been a lot more Shorter. 

The first half did finish on an appropriately emotive climax though, and during the more confrontational nature of this section, Shorter found his voice. He soared above the rolling crescendos and called it a day after this high point. The band seems somewhat surprised to be called off at such an early juncture (I think only 25 or 30 minutes had passed). But a beautiful place had been reached and Shorter wisely decided to leave it there.

Had I left the concert at this point, I wouldn’t have said a bad word about it. However, the second half was not good. I’m pretty sure that Shorter would agree (and his almost embarrassed modesty at the final applause seemed to vindicate that conclusion).

It started with an orchestral introduction, which was full of bad playing, dodgy rhythms and shoddy intonation. My heart sank. It seemed woefully under-rehearsed. Perhaps the players didn’t like the music (and I’m not sure I would blame them), but it was something I’d expect from a good amateur orchestra, not the BBC Concert.

I waited expectantly for the rich textures of the orchestral writing to subside and leave space for the band. It only happened once or twice. and was disappointing when it did. Shorter spent most of the time inaudibly doubling the melodies in the orchestral parts. Blade was relegated to metronome, and at times I genuinely felt that without him the orchestra might get lost and give up entirely. Part of the blame has to land on Shorter – I think his orchestral parts were written with jazz musicians in mind, and once in the hands of the more ‘rhythmically liberal’ sections of classical musicians, lost their vitality and definition.

Another major problem was the complete lack of contrast. The orchestra was rarely pared down to smaller sections, and were often playing various melodies and accompanying figures at once. This richness would be fine in small doses, but after a short while became tiring on the ear. To many flavours all in one dish.

Finally, for a jazz concert, the second half featured very little in the way of improvisation. Not that that is an inherent problem, but considering who was on stage, it did feel like a wasted opportunity.

2 1/2 stars (4 for the first half and 1 for the second).

Now of course you can disagree with some of my subjective musings, but reading the critics reviews, I felt that I had attended a completely different concert. And I know some of my musician friends agree with me. So why were all the reviews unfailingly positive?

I have two hypotheses, both of which are worrying:

  1. Critics don’t actually have a clue about what they’re hearing.
  2. Critics are afraid of criticising the big names, presumably because they have vested interests.

The first is obvious enough. And I don’t think it just applies to critics. The audience on Sunday’s concert gave it a standing ovation. Perhaps they were simply showing deserved respect to an elderly master of the art form. And critics without opinions of their own would probably gauge what to say by the reaction of the audience.

The second (if true) is even more concerning. It means that critics have the liberty to criticise young, up and coming musicians as much as they please (often spuriously), but when it comes to the established big guns, in large venues with expensive tickets (presumably paid for by their employers) they have to tow a certain line.

I actually tend to think that there’s no conspiracy.  Some critics really are quite musically ignorant (after all they’re rarely performing musicians themselves). And perhaps they are right to review concerts according to the audience’s reaction (maybe that’s all that matters?). However, if the job of a critic is to make a reader think twice about what they heard and saw, and give voice to their uneasy sense that they were duped and only stood up at the standing ovation because everyone else was, then the critics did a terrible job on Sunday.

Music for Events

I’ve had the domain name for years now. I got it because I like the idea that ‘dream day’ was an anagram of ‘Adam Dyer’, back in the day when I was really cheesy. (Who am I kidding, I’m still really cheesy). Anyway, it always struck me as a good website domain to host a wedding/events music website, so yesterday I went ahead and made up a website on Wix. You can have a look here:

So if you’re a musician or a group that would like to get some work, let me know. If you have some audio clips/photos that you would like me to include on the site, please send them (and I’ll make you a subpage of your own).

Finally, comments would be appreciated – does the pricing structure look alright? I would take the £20 booking fee to cover sending over contracts etc. But the rest of the money would be the musicians, and I’d be getting you the gigs. That’s fair isn’t it?

It’s not a finished article yet, so bear with me, but I’m going to exploit my brother’s multi-millionaire clients to try and get some nice gigs!

When gigs go wrong…

I think all musicians experience annoyances at their gigs, ranging from being completely ignored, to having chip-on-their-shoulder types coming up to you while you’re playing; ostensibly to compliment you, but in reality to try and put you down (usually with the criminally cliché ‘So do you have a real job?!’).

So last night, having driven halfway around the M25 for 3 hours in Friday afternoon traffic, and unloaded all my gear, I was hoping for an uneventful night. In many ways it went really well – my new P.A. system sounded great, and I was playing with a fantastic bassist called Rob Anstey (who had been recommended to me by Gabriel Latchin). There was an issue however – and that was a certain person at the bar who obviously hated jazz, and really wanted to play early 90’s dance music at high volume instead.

While I was setting up, this ‘music’ was playing at ear pounding volumes, and I hoped it was merely the sort of music that caterers use to get hyped up and all the canapés out in time. It soon became clear that the music wasn’t just for the caterers though. We played an hour long set at reasonable volume, but we were interrupted by the girl from the bar asking us (while we were playing) how long we’d be going for as she was keen to get the 90’s music back on! I mumbled something about sticking to schedule (I can’t talk and play at the same time) and she went away somewhat sour-faced.

In the break I made a futile attempt to stop the girl at the bar from putting the same awful music back on at aircraft levels of decibels. I don’t have a problem with this kind of music for later, once we’d finished, everyone is pissed and they just want to dance, but it definitely wasn’t interval music.

In the second set, the inevitable happened – the person coming up to talk to you while you’re playing. He was quite friendly actually, but it meant that we curtailed our current tune so that I could finish the conversation with him. In the few seconds that we took to exchange pleasantries, the girl at the bar decided that it was time to put back on the awful music. After a bit of hand-waving to signal that we were still playing, she came over to us and had the cheek to say (in a superbly passive aggressive tone of voice) “If you stop playing it really does spoil the atmosphere, so please don’t.” 


On the path to outside, part 1: Minor/major II-Vs

Autumn leaves is a somewhat clichéd perennial tune, but it’s the perfect vehicle for practising major and minor II-V-Is due to the cycle of fifths in the harmony: Cm7 F7 Bbma7 Ebma7 Am7(b5) D7 Gm7

One way to make for some more interesting melodic lines over the harmony (without going ‘way out’) is to deliberately play the chords ‘backwards’, that is playing the relative minor/major II-V-I.

Here is a video to demonstrate: