Dartmouth Music Festival

On the 16th, 17th and 18th of May, some of the best musicians in the country descend upon the beautiful town of Dartmouth for the annual music festival. This year I’m very pleased to be performing at three venues in the town –

  • The Grill Room at The Royal Castle Hotel on the Friday at 8pm with Becky Brine.
  • The River Restaurant at Dart Marina at 1.30pm on the Sunday with The Adam Dyer Trio (Al Swainger on bass and Gary Evans on drums).
  • The Dartmouth Yacht Club at 5pm on the Sunday at 5pm with Becky Brine.

If you live locally come along and support, and if you fancy a trip to a beautiful place to hear some great music, I can throughly recommend it!

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A new jazz show – can you help me to name it?

It’s been a few years since I graced the airwaves, but I’m back! I’ll be presenting a new jazz show on Phoenix FM starting next Monday at 6pm, playing all sorts of great jazz, old and new. I’ll also be promoting gigs in the Essex area, so if you’re playing somewhere, let me know and I’ll do my best to let my listeners know.

The one thing I can’t work out is what to call the show… ‘Jazz Club’ was the name of the jazz show on Phoenix a few years ago, but I’m slightly wary of the comedy connections! And the others I’ve come up with (‘Jazz Attack’, ‘Swingin it’ and ‘In the Pocket’) seem pretty tame/lame! So if you’ve got an idea, please post it here or send me a message on Facebook.

And don’t forget… tune in next Monday at 6pm either on 98FM, online or using the Phoenix FM app. I’ll probably make all sorts of embarrassing mistakes which will be worth listening out for!

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:

Comping the Blues part 1: voicings

Comping the blues, like any tune requires smooth voice leading between good voicings (I will focus on harmonic aspects in this lesson, rhythm will come later). Voicing chords for the blues is particularly interesting, as the harmony doesn’t move in the typical cycle of fifths and dominant chords are treated as tonic. Nevertheless, as in all tunes, to be good voicings they need to:

a) outline the harmony

b) be well constructed (well spaced intervals within the chord and the right amount of dissonance)

c) be consistent (in terms of number of voices and general sound)

The most basic thing to do is to play the 3rd and 7th of each chord. There are two different inversions of these positions, which I will call A and B:

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These by themselves are enough to use in your left hand when playing solo in you right hand, but they can be added to, to create 4 and 5 note voicings which can be played both-handed:

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Notice the smooth voice-leading between each voicing, and how when the voicing gets an extra voice, the voice isn’t merely added to the top, but sometimes changes the note choices below it to ensure good spacing of intervals and avoidance of note doubling.

Lesson with Aaron Goldberg

While I was in New York recently, I had a lesson with Aaron Goldberg. I didn’t really know what to expect, except for a roasting on various aspect of my playing. Having met him a few times before, in London, I didn’t feel overly pressured or nervous. He asked me to play something, and as I’ve been practising it recently, I played McCoy Tyner’s ‘Where is Love’. I played the head once (McCoy plays it twice) and went headlong into various different musical ideas, trying as best I could to a) keep good time and b) outline the harmonies. After a few choruses, and inspiration had deserted me, I stopped.

I’m going to paraphrase what he said to me, so don’t take it as gospel, but essentially he wondered why I’d played a little known tune only once, and proceeded to bash out a few choruses without even finishing off the performance with a recapitulation of the head. ‘Umm, I guess I, umm, wanted to show you my playing, so that you could give me some feedback, and I didn’t want to waste time playing the head’… or something to that effect. Immediately I saw the error of my ways, so Aaron moved on: “Try the head again, but this time give it some respect. Start with an intro that sets it up and when you get to the melody sing along to it”.

I played and sang, and after a couple of tries he asked my to play it the same way without the singing. Finally he got me to play each phrase from the head one by one and notice the intrinsic family resemblance of each phrase. Only once I’d focused on the head for a while did he suggest that I try to improvise. And his advice was, play like you’re writing a tune for the chords and ‘make it better than the original melody’.

I made several attempts, and after each chorus he stopped me and asked where I thought I’d succeeded and where I’d failed. It was pretty obvious each time actually. Expectation was Aaron’s way of explaining it. You’ve got to lead your listener through the music, and you can only do that by repeating ideas. Without repetition, there are no expectations formed in the mind of the listener and of course therefore no surprises either.

I learnt a few things that day. Don’t play a tune you like without doing it justice, no matter what the performance situation. Bring out the tune, so everyone can hear it. Play your solo like a written melody. Use motifs, and vary them with skill and control. Don’t just play notes from a stream of consciousness without due care to where you’ve been and where you’re going (even if you’re not sure where that is). I’ll write some more about how I’ll try to achieve these criteria soon!