The recording I am most proud of is a song I wrote called "Three"

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by paul, on 05.11.2015

Caught a great double header at the Bell House on a perfect spring sunday evening with Michael; Darcy James Argue and the Secret Society were celebrating their 10th year as a band. Nadje Noorhuis, a longtime member of the Secret Society, opened the show with her quintet.

I'm a big fan of the Secret Society and the show did not disappoint; they started their set with "Blow out Prevention", written for Bob Brookmeyer, Darcy's mentor, to play with the band at Newport. They continued with a 4 part suite from "Brooklyn Babylon", and a few lesser played pieces. One of the highlights for me was "Desolation Sound" a beautiful feature for soprano.

Nadje Noorhuis and her quintet nearly stole the show for me, though. Epic, powerful music, the front line of violin and fluegel/trumpet with a powerful rhythm section featuring Matt Clohesy on bass. As great as the band is, what struck me is how great the music itself was, in terms of its conception really allowing the band to get to another place musically. The closing piece, Mayfair, was the most joyful piece of music I've heard this year. I haven't been this excited by a performance since seeing Christian Scott's group a few years back. Highly recommended!

Categories: Music

Live Music Report

by paul, on 05.03.2015

Work, work, and more work has prevented me from going out to see much music recently.

A couple sundays ago, we had planned to have Michael over for Game Of Thrones plus burgers on a spring evening. Sarah excitedly comes in the room and reminds me that we have tickets to see Stevie Wonder play "Songs in the Key of Life" at Barclays! For the rest of the afternoon, I was like a kid on christmas eve. It was a fantastic show, with horn and string sections, and unbelievable rhythm section, and Stevie just killing it.

Last night we headed up to the newly reopened Minton's, to catch Jon Batiste play a solo piano set. The lowcountry inspired food was great, service was great, music was great. I only had two problems: If you're going to charge a higher music charge than any other major jazz club in NYC, why not hire a piano tuner? In general, the prices were more than a bit much.

Friday, I went to Blue Smoke and caught Gary Bartz's quintet, featuring my old teacher Paul Bollenback on guitar. It was a very solid set of trane inspired music, nothing earth shattering, but a relaxing way to spend a friday evening unwinding.

Categories: Music

Clifford Brown on "What Am I Here For?"

by paul, on 04.05.2015

Clifford Brown's solo on "What Am I Here For?" sounds like pure, unadulterated joy. Clifford is a magician; it's a short, thrilling, perfectly executed romp through some fun blowing changes. The line in bars 8-11 is perfect to me, and still makes me smile. I recently re-listened to a lot of old Clifford sides, and decided to study his articulation in more detail.

Here's my transcription, and you can listen to the solo here. I revisited this solo as a way to study Clifford's articulation; not being a trumpeter, I've tried to reflect the articulations as I hear them, instead of trying to accurately portray any tonguing. The way I hear a lot of the phrases in this solo, Clifford will start tonguing and then move into a more standard slurring from the offbeats. I've used the staccato marking to indicate places where there is a lot of eighth note separation in general.

This solo is the first thing I ever tried to transcribe, my freshman year of college. I didn't take it down then, but I did learn it on my instrument, the guitar. Thinking back, one thing that attracted me to this solo was its simplicity; only a chorus, not too daunting to transcribe. The changes, and Clifford's playing, are unambiguous. There's no grease or funk in this solo at all, making it an easy solo to learn. This solo sits reasonably well in either octave on guitar, and I've found it to be a great exercise to learn to play solos in both.

Categories: Music

March Music

by paul, on 04.04.2015

My April listening started off with a bang; Kanji Ohta played at the Drawing Room with David Williams on bass and Leroy Williams on drums. I didn't know Kanji's playing, but he played admirably. Of course, David and Leroy sounded effortless in their swing and drive. James Zollar sat in for a take "salute to the band box", by Gigi Gryce. There was even a tap dancer sitting in! The gig was sparsely attended, which was disappointing but understandable: I barely found out about it in time, and I live down the street.

In March I saw Austerity Program and Shannon Wright at St Vitus on St Patrick's day. They were both heartfelt in different ways, Shannon Wright was dark and quiet, Austerity program were in your face and intense. My friend Steve and I watched both sets in complete silence, a wonderful thing.

Categories: Music

Wayne Escoffery at the Vanguard

by paul, on 02.11.2015

Trying to write about every show I go to this year, so I'll write about this one, but not a ton to say. Saw Wayne Escoffery with Dave Kikoski, Ugonna Okegwo, and the great Ralph Peterson at the drums. The band was good, but the highlight for me was Ralph tearing it up behind the kit on every tune. Ugonna is a rock solid bassist and they sounded like a dream.

Categories: Music

"Luminous Night" - Chorale Concert

by paul, on 01.24.2015

Last night I saw the Grace Chorale of Brooklyn give a concert at a local church, accompanied by piano and string quartet. After the obligatory Beethoven opening, the program was all new music. "Five Hebrew Love Songs", with full chorus and quartet, was a swirling reading of 5 songs; the contrast between the pieces, as well as how they flowed into each other, was stuffing. "Language of the Birds" is an extremely short work that features an orator. "Three Joyce Poems", my favorite piece of the night, was the work of Vince Peterson, who set James Joyce's poems to melody. The piano played a big role in this piece, and it was full of big chords and some nice cadences. "Luminous Night of the Soul" was a fantastic arrangement and sounded enormous. All the works were short, and the program in total was a little more than an hour.

Categories: Music

La Bohème at the Met

by paul, on 01.17.2015

Puccini's "La Bohème" might be the most well known opera of all time, and we were lucky to see the Metropolitan Opera's rendition this past Thursday. The performance was wonderful aside from a technical problem between acts one and two. The vibrancy of the Latin Quarter and the parade in act two was amazing, particularly in contrast to the stark flat in act one. The third act, which I found the most moving, took place in the snow outside an inn. One of the things I loved about the choreography was the contrast of the flat between the first and fourth acts: In the first act, everyone huddles around the flat closely for warmth, and by the fourth act, it is a warmer time of year and they run out their window and around on the rooftops.

Musically, I haven't been the biggest Puccini fan, but for me it just kept getting better, and better throughout the show, and by the fourth act I was really stunned by the beauty of the score. I found the third act the most moving, when Rodolfo confesses Mimi is sick and that she won't make it.

Fantastic opera, and I look forward to seeing many more at the Met.

Categories: Music

Peter Bernstein Quartet At Dizzy's

by paul, on 01.04.2015

I knew I was in the right place when I noticed Russell Malone, one of the greatest guitarists in jazz, behind me in the standby line. It was definitely the gig to be at; Twenty years after recording "Signs Of Life" for criss cross records, the Peter Bernstein quartet featuring Brad Mehldau, Greg Hutchinson, and Christian McBride would re-group at Dizzy's Club for 3 nights. Reservations for the show had been booked solid for weeks, so there we were in line, hoping for our names to get called on a warm, rainy January sunday in manhattan.

The setlist was a mix of tunes that Pete has been playing for years, as well as newer stuff. The band revisited "Jive Coffee", a re-imagining of "Tea for Two" in 5/4 time, played a viciously swinging blues "Cupcake", where McBride and Hutchinson walked two choruses with a shared look of pure joy in locking into the fiercest swing of a night that featured a hell of a lot of groove and swing. Pete presented a new tune, I think called "Present Moment", and two older ones, an ethereal "Blues For Bulgaria" and a grooving rendition of "Dragon Fly". Peter featured himself on an amazing rendition of Monk's "Pannonica", showing once again that Pete is the greatest interpreter of Monk's music on guitar.

I've listened to the "Signs Of Life" album hundreds of times, and it's fascinating to hear the same musicians work through the same material with 20 years of experience behind them. Mehldau sounded completely different and very much like himself, McBride came close to stealing an unstealable show with his amazing solos. Greg Hutchinson and Christian were perfectly in sync, and everyone was listening deeply.

All in all, a wonderful evening and a great start to what is hopefully a year of seeing and playing a lot of live music.

Categories: Music


by paul, on 01.02.2015

2014 won't go down in the books as a great year for me, it was a bit of a struggle both personally and professionally. That said, I like to keep perspective, and I continue to feel that I'm basically one of the luckiest people ever. Cooking NYE dinner with Sarah and our dog Milo was a wonderful end to 2014.


Sarah and I went to StrangeLoop, a programming conference. Certainly the most inspiring conference I've been to, filled with great talks. It was particularly great that Sarah and I were able to do this together, added a lot to an already great experience. The St Louis City Museum joins the Sagrada Familia on my list of the coolest places ever.

I started playing upright bass. Given that it took me 20 years of playing guitar before I even started to feel like I could sometimes play, I expected playing upright to be a years long project to even sound competent. Instead, after 5 months of playing, I was able to play a very successful gig of original music with our quartet. We had a great night, mostly because of the love and support from everyone that came to our gig. I've got a lot of work to do on the upright, but it feels great to be basically competent.

I wrote a lot of music, and did a composer's workshop with Guillermo Klein. It is truly up to me how much music I write; I don't do it professionally, and am not nearly as rigorous about it as practicing my instruments. So, I'm glad I made time in 2014 to write a bunch of things, particularly for quartet. My tendency is to write for people that I'm playing with, so having a regular session with a quartet inspired a lot of tunes.

I practiced guitar way less, and I don't think it had a negative impact. A demanding day job leaves me with limited practice time, and taking up bass meant less time on guitar. Surprisingly, I don't think this had any kind of negative impact on my playing at all. This might not seem like a big deal to most people, but I am fanatically consistent about practicing and rarely miss a day.

I read quite a lot this year. My favorite newly discovered authors are Neil Gaiman and Hugh Howey. I also read several great books, my three favorite business books are "Turn the ship around!", "The hard thing about hard things" and "so good they can't ignore you". I recommend all three without reservation.

I ran a lot this year. a whole lot. like, way more than I ever have, including 200 miles in december alone, a PR for me. I enjoy it, and as long as I'm mostly injury free, plan to continue.

We found out that Milo's heart murmur has worsened, and he has limited time left. I'm glad to know, and we are enjoying our time with him. He's been a puppy all his life, and in the end, we are all on the clock.

Things I might like to do in 2015

  • Record an album
  • Redesign this website
  • Make it through "Information Retrieval"
  • Play in a string orchestra
  • Start blogging again, particularly about music

Categories: Music, Fitness

Jamey Aebersold Playalongs

by paul, on 10.18.2014

Like a lot of suburban kids with the jazz bug, I spent a lot of time buying and playing along with Jamey Aebersold records in high school and college. Like a lot of people, I would play small gigs with my friends, and then go home and practice the tunes I had butchered along with my Aebersold records. I remember going out to the music store and buying the “Burnin’” volume after a particularly embarrassing solo on “Cherokee” at a bar the previous night, which must be the jazz nerd walk of shame. Playing along with Aebersolds isn’t something I’ve done a lot of in recent years, but I’ve recently re-visited volumes with particularly good rhythm sections, and it can be quite fun to practice with these. Ethan Iverson’s mention of the Cedar Walton volume sparked my interest. In re-visiting these, I’ve discovered that I’m a lot more particular than I used to be: if the Rhythm section is good and the music is interesting, it’s enjoyable, if the pianist is overplaying or the band is rushing, I have to turn it off.

With this in mind, I’ve listed some volumes that I think have particularly cool rhythm sections that are worthy of exploration and listening.

vol 9 - Woody Shaw - Ronnie Mathews & James Williams (p); Stafford James (b); Louis Hayes. This album is the classic Woody rhythm section: Louis Hayes, Stafford James, and Ronnie Matthews were Woody’s rhythm section on a lot of his classic muse sides, including one of my favorites, “At The Berliner Jazztage”. One thing I like about this is it’s the actual band playing the actual book, it’s not watered down. Check out the tempo on “Moontrane”! I bet they played it this way live, quite a bit faster than on the studio recordings.

vol 13 - Cannonball Addlerly - Ronnie Matthews, Sam Jones, Louis Hayes. The Jones/Hayes dynamic is too great, and this is the only Sam Jones in the Aebersold catalog. It’s also Cannonball’s working band. They take the real tempos and play all the real shit, I love this one.

vol 11 - Herbie Hancock. Features Kenny Barron, Ron Carter, and Billy Hart. Hard to go wrong here! I wasn’t familiar with this one, as I didn’t have it growing up. Listening to it now, I think everyone sounds like they might be a bit bored. With Ron Carter, Billy Hart, and Kenny Barron, things are never going to sound less than fantastic, and everything grooves, but there’s not a lot of fire.

vol 12 - Duke Ellington - Ron Carter, Kenny Barron, Ben Riley. The sound of the recording, particularly the drums, sounds like the 70s to me. This is another one I wasn’t familiar with, but there’s a real spark on some tunes, notably “I let a song go out of my heart”. Ron’s bass is very clear and as a bassist myself, it’s great to hear him play some of the Ellington repertoire. I’ve personally avoided doing small group renditions of Ellington tunes, as I’ve never felt able to do his music justice.

vol 17, 18 Ron Carter, Kenny Barron, and either Ben Riley or Al Foster on drums. I love this set because they take real tempos and it doesn’t feel watered down to me at all. Room 608 is tough! I have a slight preference for the first volume with Al Foster. Interesting to hear Ron play the earlier Silver repertoire, as far as I know he didn’t start playing on Horace’s albums until the 70s. It’s pretty tough for me to hear this music without Horace himself on piano.

vol 27, 28 - Ron Carter, Adam Nussbaum, and Harold Mabern. It’s awesome to hear Harold Mabern play this repertoire. Also great choice of tunes, I love that things like “The Promise” are included. Adam Nussbaum keeps his own identity on this, which is hard to do playing this material. Harold is the real highlight for me on this, and the vibe he brings.

vol 33 - Wayne Shorter - I spent countless hours in high school and college playing along with Kenny Barron, Ron Carter and Adam Nussbaum on this. This is a nice set, the changes are good, and the tempos aren’t dumbed down.

vol 35 - Cedar Walton, Ron Carter, Billy Higgins, playing Cedar’s music. This is one of my favorites, although I discovered it much later. So beautiful to be able to play along with Billy Higgins, and of course Cedar and Ron are perfect.

vol 36 - Marvin ‘Smitty’ Smith, Ray Drummond, Ronnie Matthews. I’d love to hear this group playing a different repertoire, I don’t love any of the tunes on this as small group “playalong” material. Like Ellington, I tend to hold Monk on a pedestal and playing his tunes in this setting feels sacrilegious to me. What do I know, though? Listening to this now, I love to hear Smitty Smith on this, and Ray Drummond is clear. Ronnie Matthews is busy, but never goes over the line, as happens with many many Aebersold recordings.

vol 46 - Mulgrew Miller(!), Lonnie Plaice, Ronnie Burrage. I don’t know Ronnie Burrage’s music, but he sounds great here with two masters. It’s hard for me to listen to Mulgrew comp and not ever solo. Lonnie Plaxico gets a wonderful bass sound, and it’s a good session, but not outstanding.

vol 82 - George Cables, Rufus Reid and Victor Lewis play Dexter Gordon. I love this edition of Dexter’s band so much it’s impossible for me to say anything bad. I wish the tunes were a little more varied and that some more modern ones were included, but the music is mostly from Dexter’s earlier stuff, the “Tower of Power” era.

vol 95 - James Williams, Christian McBride, Jeff Watts. I don’t love the tune selection, but this is another one I bought as soon as I found out about it and spent many hours practicing with it in college. When the hell else are you going to get to play with this kind of rhythm section?

vol 115 - Ron Carter. Featuring Peter Bernstein, Stephen Scott, Ron Himself, and Payton Crossley. Particularly great for bassists as there are recordings with and without Ron. I’ve learned a lot playing bass along with this, although it’s a humbling experience to listen to the man himself play along and then listen to yourself afterwards.

vol 122 - The music of Jimmy Heath featuring Jeb Patton, Ameen Saleem, and Winard Harper. This is especially great for me as I’ve been listening to Ameen play since we were both in college in NC, and had the good fortune to play many gigs together since we’ve been in NYC. Jeb Patton has played piano for the Heath brothers since I can remember, and of course Winard Harper is a master.

vol 123 - The Joey DeFrancesco trio. This is new, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed practicing along with this one, particularly on guitar.

Categories: Music

October Listening Notes

by paul, on 10.24.2013

I went to see four concerts in october. Started at the Iridium, watching peter bernstein play trio with Bill Stewart and Doug Weiss on a dreary fall evening. Peter mentioned that playing Monk was a joyful experience for him, but also frustrating, because the music is so difficult. An interesting observation from the greatest interpreter of Monk's music on the guitar

Up in Greenpoint, I saw Sourvein, Scorpion Child, GypsyHawk, and Mothership at St. Vitus, the best metal bar in NYC. Music was raw and loud, but just the kind of metal show I like to see. Also had the steamed buns for dinner, liked everything but the brooklyn cheesesteak. You've gotta be in the mood for St. Vitus, but there's no better place to see a metal show.

Next up, I convinced Sarah to accompany me to the jazz standard to check out Ralph Peterson, Reggie Workman, Donald Brown, Donald Harrison, Billy Pierce and Brian Lynch do a tribute to their former bandleader, Art Blakey. This was quite simply the best straight ahead jazz I've seen for a long, long time. Donald Harrison in particular was on fire. The set was structured like a Jazz Messengers set: a blazing uptempo tune to start, followed by an in the pocket swinger, a ballad featuring the trumpeter, then another swinging blues to finish out the set.

Next, I saw Chris Thile play an incredible solo set of Mandolin. He play a two and a half hour set, featuring the music of bach, and a full rendition of the B minor partita right in the middle. Everything from memory, and plenty of fiddle tunes and originals in between. Chris is the best mandolin player in the world, and a great entertainer to boot. It was a fantastic way to spend a tuesday evening.

Finally, I went to see a great metal show at Roseland ballroom. Lamb Of God, Killswitch Engage, Testament, and Huntress. Went to the show kinda last minute, so bought a ticket from a scalper out front. I've never done this before, but it worked fine and got me in to a sold out show. All the bands were great, but Killswitch Engage's set really stole the show for me. I've since picked up a couple of their albums, and they're good, but this music really comes to life live.

Hopefully I'll get out to a few more shows, but wanted to write up what I'd seen during a relatively quiet thursday evening.

Categories: Music

september listening notes

by paul, on 09.29.2013

Ethan Iverson, Tootie Heath and Ben Street at the Village Vanguard

I caught this same group last year, they sounded even better, and started off with the same tune as last time, "now's the time". Tunes were kept short and to the point, a refreshing change from most jazz shows where you hear 4-5 tunes per set.

Muhal Richard Abrams at Roulette

Muhal's big band music grabs your attention and doesn't let go. I am particularly fond of his album "Blu Blu Blu", so I couldn't pass up a chance to see him solo at Roulette, a wonderful theatre in brooklyn. It was an hour of unbroken playing, free and clear. There was an ensemble set afterwards but I couldn't stay for the second half.

Vinicius Cantuaria at the Jazz Standard

My friend steve and I took in Vinicius' quintet at the jazz standard on friday night, they were fantastic. I wasn't familiar with most of the music except for a cover of "How Insensitive". Vinicius switched effortlessly between nylon string and a semi-hollow with a giant bigsby tremolo, which isn't the easiest thing to pull off.

Categories: Music

June/July Listening Notes

by paul, on 07.28.2013

I'm woefully behind on blogging about live music I've seen, just been quite a busy summer. Went to see a lot of great music this past couple months; Cedar Walton's group with Javon Jackson was a joy to see, and I have never seen Cedar play live. I grew up listening to Cedar playing in the Jazz Messengers, and those records are so intense that I wasn't prepared for how light his touch would be. Wonderful to see a master of the music play; although I wish he had played more of his own tunes, the set I saw was mostly Monk.

Way back in June I went to a couple good metal shows, Tomahawk at some big venue in midtown, and Weasel Walter's group at St. Vitus in greenpoint. I really liked St. Vitus and definitely want to go back; it has a great vibe. Tomahawk was particularly great, I really enjoy John Stanier's drumming a lot and I hadn't seen Mike Patton on the mic since I was in high school.

Also saw a jazz supergroup of sorts at Shapeshifter labs; Clarence Penn's band featuring Adam Rogers, Yosvany Terry, Seamus Blake, and James Genus. It was truly an awesome band and Seamus Blake tore the roof off the place. If I recall correctly, the gig was on a weeknight and was sparsely attended, which I was sad to see. If you're reading this, I'm sure you already support live music, but it was a good reminder that even some of the greatest musicians of our time can use our support on a rainy tuesday night in Gowanus.

Finally, I saw Gilad Heckselman at the jazz standard; a guitarist I've wanted to see in person for a while. It was a CD release party and they did mostly original music, which I really enjoyed seeing. Gilad has his own language on the guitar, and it's always interesting to see someone with that personal a sound and approach play. I always picture young gun players like him as having nearly perfectly efficient technique, although I must say that Gilad kind of doesn't. He has great chops for sure and never plays a wrong note, but watching him play, it's quite an idosyncratic technique (especially in his left hand), there's quite a lot of what a pedagogue might consider extraneous motion. More proof that there's many, many ways to approach the instrument and technique is a broad topic.

Categories: Music

May Listening Notes

by paul, on 05.01.2013

Brooklyn Philharmonic, Outside/In.

My first concert in May was at Galapagos, in DUMBO. Galapagos used to be in our old neighborhood in Williamsburg, but like us, it has migrated to less hip digs. Tonight was the Brooklyn Philharmonic's outside/in series, which presents 4 composers from outside the classical world, premiering pieces for string quartet. The highlight of the show was Hadi Eledebek playing some astounding Oud, on a piece he wrote for Oud and String Quartet. I also really enjoyed Jesse Krakow's piece, which also had the drummer from Dr. Dog (!).

Ryan Truesdell, Gil Evans orchestra at the Jazz Standard.

This was music from "Miles Ahead", and "Sketches Of Spain", conducted by Ryan Truesdell. It was all Gil Evans' original arrangements, with Greg Gisbert providing lead trumpet.

Pat Martino trio at the Iridium.

Pat and the band sounded incredible, but the Iridium is fast becoming my least favorite jazz club in NYC; The sound was terribly balanced for the first two tunes, it was really expensive, and the set was relatively short. They played a wes tune, blue in green, airmail special, oleo, you took advantage of me, footprints, and a few more. Footprints was the highlight of the set for me.

Eyal Vilner Big Band at the Garage.

My friend Dan introduced me to Eyal's band, a wonderful big band. Interestingly, there was not a single sax player in the band that had much trane in their sound.

Peter Bernstein Quartet at Smalls.

This was my first time seeing Billy Drummond live, and he was great. Peter is my favorite jazz guitarist, so seeing him in a quartet is always amazing.

Categories: Music

March Listening Notes

by paul, on 03.20.2013

Saw a lot of great music in March, unfortunately not a lot of time to write about it, since we're preparing for our trip to vietnam on friday! Freddie Bryant's trio at La Lanterna, Killer Ray Appleton with Peter Bernstein at the Jazz Standard, Michael O'Brien's trio at Silver Lining, Composers Collective Bake Sale at Roulette, and I feel like I'm forgetting a few more. All of it was fantastic, Ray Appleton's incredibly deep groove being a particular highlight.

After vietnam, I'm headed back to New Orleans for my yearly pilgrimage to the French Quarter Festival, one of the greatest music festivals in the world, and certainly my favorite.

Categories: Music

February Listening Notes

by paul, on 02.23.2013

So far this month I've seen a blues band at the Cat's Eye in Fells Point, The Brentano String Quartet at Carnegie Hall, and Camerata Notturna at a church on the upper west side. The blues band was a solid bar band, made better by the fact that they didn't play so loud that no one can talk.

The Brentano Quartet deserves a new paragraph, as it's the best string quartet I've seen live. Front row seats was a christmas present to me from my lovely wife, and I enjoyed every minute of the program:

  • HAYDN String Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 33, No. 2, "Joke"
  • STEVEN MACKEY One Red Rose (World Premiere, co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall)
  • BEETHOVEN String Quartet in G Major, Op. 18, No. 2

Lastly, we saw Sarah's Colleague Nate Burke play fantastically with Camerata Notturna, the show was entitled "The Ace of Bass", as it featured a concerto by Bottesini, the virtuoso bassist. My favorite piece of the concert was Wagner's Siegfried Idyll.

Categories: Music

January Listening Notes

by paul, on 01.11.2013

I've only been to one show so far, but I'm going to start my post at the beginning of the month, and iterate.

Last night, I noticed an awesome clip of the cobham/duke band, with alphonso johnson taking a killer bass solo. I sent a link to my friend Andrew, and checked twitter. Noticed that Nate Chinen had posted jazz shows of the week to the NY Times, so had a quick read. Billy Cobham, Ron Carter, and Donald Harrison are playing at the Blue Note, and not only that, they are going on in 30 minutes from now!

I deliberated only slightly before I raced out the door to take in my favorite bassist and two other masters of our music play a set. I wasn't dissappointed, it's one of the best concerts I've ever seen.

The set started with "So What", and a solo from Donald Harrison that started hesitantly but quickly built to a head of steam. Hearing Ron Carter play this tune was a treat, endless imagination and groove. Billy and Ron's interplay during their respective solos was beautiful. The next tune picked up more steam, a rhythm changes tune called "Copy and Paste". I never realized what cool composer Ron is until Ethan Iverson highlighted it on his blog.

The third piece was greater still, "I Can't Get Started", featuring a long solo introduction from Donald Harrison. I never really appreciated his artistry fully, until hearing him on this intro. Equal parts ferocity and soul. Ron's way of navigating the changes was something else, and while I don't usually think of Billy Cobham when I think of great ballad drummers, his playing suggested I should probably start.

The penultimate piece was for solo bass, "When you wish upon a star". This was the most creative double bass piece I have ever heard, period. Ron used all sorts of techniques, strumming, tapping, but always in service of the melody and the music. They closed the set with "St. Thomas".

Thinking back, I am sure that my reaction to this music comes from the whole experience: The pacing of the set, the variety of pieces and playing, and the intensity and emotion in the music made this some of the most enjoyable music I've ever heard.

Ethan Iverson and Johnny Gandelsman play Brahms

Last week, Sarah and I went to see Ethan and Johnny play the Brahms sonatas for Piano and Violin (or Violin and Piano, depending on the Sonata). I had never heard this music before, but it was fantastic! On my list of things to do now is some focused listening to these sonatas, and checking out the score at the lincoln center library. The dynamic range of the music was incredible. Bargemusic has top shelf musicians, is a beautiful 5-minute walk from my house, and is affordable. Unfortunately, it's on a boat, and I often get slightly motion sick from the rocking, so we left a bit before the end. Still a very enjoyable evening. Concerts like this often don't happen with regularity outside of NYC, one of the reasons I love living here.

The last thing I saw this month was Ethan and Matthew Guerreri playing beethoven's fifth, four handed. This was at the listening room, and was really more like a salon than a traditional show. It was a real treat to meet Ethan and Matthew, and to meet other folks at the show.

Categories: Music

December Listening Notes

by paul, on 12.16.2012

Last year, I promised myself I would get out and hear more live music. It's important to me for a lot of reasons. As a working musician, it's important that I support live entertainment myself and go to shows. Seeing live music is a great way for me to keep inspired as a player. Finally, it's a way for me to break out of my routine a little, as I tend to be a creature of habit. I wanted to see at least 3 shows a month, and blog about my experiences, and I am happy to have done that for every month this year.

My parents took me to Cappers, the local raleigh jazz club, to see Bucky Pizarrelli play a show, when I was fifteen years old, and just getting into jazz music. So it was thrilling for me to catch him again, almost 20 years later, at Dizzy's club in lincoln center. Ken Peplowski was playing the hell out of the clarinet, Chuck Redd on drums and vibes, really a fantastic evening. Bucky still sounds great, plays wonderful rhythm guitar in the style of freddie green, in addition to playing great solos and generally being a team player. Derek Smith was excellent on piano.

Jason Lindner + Panagiotis Andreou + Mark Guiliana form the group "now vs now", who I saw with my friend Geoff at Drom. Great music, great space, and Panagiotis is a phenomenal bassist. Always a treat to hear Linder and Giuliana also, but the sound in the room was way too loud, it was kind of like being assaulted.

Bach in the heights, at Zion Lutheran church, 2 blocks from our apartment. Selections from the christmas oratorio. Really hard to miss a concert featuring bach's music when it's a 5 minute walk on a rainy sunday. Bach in the heights is a fantastic organization, to get so many people into a church to listen to Bach on a sunday is a fantastic thing. I'd like to participate in something like this at some point.

I'm sure I'll see some more music before the month is through, but I'm something of a completist, so I wanted to blog about my final 3 concerts for 2012. I plan to do this again in 2013, for sure.

Categories: Music

On Practicing

by paul, on 12.08.2012

Woodshedding. That's what us jazz musicians call practicing. This comes from a time in history where the woodshed was the best place to practice your instrument without bothering others too much. Most musicians have spent a lot of time in the shed, practicing, whether they call it that, or not.

I have been a musician for 22 years now. Ever since I saved up enough money mowing lawns to buy an acoustic guitar from the flea market when I was 14, music and the guitar have been part of everyday life. People often ask me how often I practice, or, since I have a day job, if I have time to play during the week. My wife often cannot contain a chuckle, because the answer is that I practice guitar every single day, usually for many hours, and it's extremely rare for me to miss a day. Like many jazz musicians, I was particularly obsessive in my early 20s, probably averaging 3-7 hours a day for many years.

I have lived in all sorts of places and done all sorts of things in the past 22 years, but I've managed to pretty much play the guitar every day. My practice routines have varied a lot over this period of time, some periods are extremely structured where I am working on very specific things, and some periods are just me enjoying playing guitar. I've found that when I'm travelling, I generally fall into a pattern of just playing solo guitar, usually without technical goals. Playing things in different keys, remembering tunes I have forgotten, etc. Whereas when I am at home, I generally have a specific set of things I am working on: a tune, a chord voicing or harmonic structure, or some kind of technique. Sometimes I have to remind myself just to play guitar for the love of it, just to hear some music, match it with a feeling, and play it.

What I have failed to do, tens of times, is to document what I've been working on. Record my practice sessions. Write down what I have learned. My subconscious thinks that if I can document it, I am less likely to forget it, and the truth is that all musicians forget things. I have spent hours and hours on melodies that I can no longer play, learned many tunes I have since forgotten. Part of me worries that this has been time wasted, but I think that's the engineer in me. The other side of me realizes that the music we play isn't so easy to quantify; who's to say that the hours I spent learning "Inner Urge" haven't influenced the way I hear melodies in general?

Everyone's music is through the lens of the sum total of their experiences, this is why it's important to emerge from the practice room once in a while. Too much time in the practice room, and your music can start to sound practiced, worked out. Wayne Shorter said that Miles would pay his musicians not to practice, so that they would be more spontaneous on the bandstand. Still, there's no doubt most of Miles' sidemen spent plenty of time in the shed, working through things.

Time playing music is time well spent, regardless of what kind of music it is, or what the goal of it is. Sometimes, when I'm practicing, I forget this, and get too focused on what I'm not as a musician: I am not fast enough, my time isn't solid enough, etc. It's important for me to remember what I am, too.

Categories: Music

November Listening Notes

by paul, on 12.06.2012

Didn't get to see as much music as I would have liked to in November. I did get to see some extremely high quality stuff, though.

Sarah and I went to "Jazz And Colors", a pretty unique event in central park. There were 20-30 bands, scattered all over central park, playing the same set list. The event was timed a little strange, in that there was a long break in between sets, so we only stayed for the first set. We started with Wayne Escoffery's group, and then headed over to see some of the most swinging music I have seen this year: Aaron Goldberg, Omer Avital, and Ali Jackson playing trio. They did a fantastic, grooving rendition of "Blue Trane"; They really played as one unit and it was fantastic.

Miguel Zenon, Scott Colley, and Antonio Sanchez played trio at the Jazz Gallery. This is a jazz supergroup if I ever saw one, and lived up to my high expectations. Miguel Zenon's tone is so compelling, and unique among players I've heard. Tone is a quality that can sometimes be lost on recordings, but it is so apparent when seeing someone live. They played some wonderful original music, and it was a special treat to hear them tear through inner urge. Sometimes, I find it a more interesting point of reference to hear a new, exploratory group tackle material that I am familiar with, because they paint it in such a new way. Monet is more powerful because you know that you are looking at haystacks in a field, but re-imagined. Listening to jazz can be that way, too. Part of the reason I think jazz has lost some audience, is the lack of familiarity with the source material. Back when "Autumn Leaves" was a pop tune, hearing the Miles Davis Quintet tear it apart and re-construct it was really grabbing, but today, most people listening don't know the tune to begin with, and I think something is lost there.

Finally, I took a lesson with the great chicago guitarist Jeff Parker, who plays with a number of different groups, including Tortoise. Jeff and I talked a little, but mostly played, a few standards first, then a few vamp-ish things, then some things that were completely free. I learned a lot from playing with Jeff, as he is such a creative musician, but at the same time, his playing was very supportive and always in service of the music. My lesson came about somewhat randomly, as Jeff posted on twitter that he was stuck in brooklyn after hurricane Sandy, and his gig with Jeff Ballard at the vanguard was cancelled. I asked him if he'd be up for a lesson, and there you have it. Stuff like this is why I love NYC. Great experience, although I'm still bummed I couldn't go to the Ballard gig! On a separate note, I don't always play very well in front of great players, but I played pretty well with Jeff, and he complemented me on my time feel. This felt great, as it doesn't come naturally to me, and I have worked extremely hard to improve my time over the years. Jimmy Bruno once told me you had to be born with good time, but as much as I respect Jimmy, I think he's wrong about that.

Categories: Music

October listening notes

by paul, on 11.04.2012

Due to a busy month at work, and hurricane sandy, I only got out to 3 concerts in october. Pretty weak, I know, I will make up for it in november. I saw the west point brass quintet play at trinity church in manhattan, at their wonderful lunchtime concert series. Then, one saturday we went to bargemusic and saw Mark Peskanov tear it up on the violin, playing Bach, Mozart and Schubert. The highlight for me, as usual, was the Bach. The Schubert piece would have been great for me on a different day, but I really wasn't in the mood for Schubert, certainly no fault of the musicians, who were both excellent. We also went to Silver Lining, and dug a piano trio.

And that's it. But, november is here, and there is a lot of music happening! So, I will have a lot more to write about going forward.

Categories: Music

September Listening Notes

by paul, on 09.20.2012

The month is not even through, and already I've been to a good amount of shows.

Bill Frisell at Grace Church

The best solo guitar concert I've ever seen. The only 8am concert I've ever seen. There are so many things to say about this show, which was held at a church two blocks from our apartment. Bill played a lot of tunes; Moon River, Honeysuckle Rose, Nowhere Man, In my life, and I'm sure some I didn't recognize. Like most Frisell performances, Bill didn't say much, just sat down with an old telecaster, a pedal board, and 2 amps, and got right into it.

Twelve in 12 series at trinity church

Just saw Kevin Puts' "Einstein On Mercer Street". Fabulous writing, Kevin won the 2012 pulitzer prize for this work. On the way in, they were playing Ornette Coleman's "Sound Grammar". At a church! The oldest church in NYC, even! Next week is Steve Reich's tribute to Daniel Pearl, which I'm really looking forward to.

Joel Harrison's big band @ shapeshifter

Really enjoyable playing and writing from the band, and Joel. Shapeshifter Labs is a very cool space in Gowanus, and I'm going to try and support it by seeing a lot more shows there. Joel is quite an underrated guitarist, perhaps because he's such an accomplished composer. He mentioned this was the largest ensemble he'd written for, he's off to a pretty good start!

Peter Leitch at Walker's

Saw Peter Leitch and Harvie S play duo at Walker's. This is one of the best regular gigs in NYC for jazz guitar fans, Peter plays great and always has a fantastic sideman. Plus, Walker's has a good manhattan, a great cobb salad, and the best burger in Tribeca.

Not really a concert, but I took a lesson with the guitarist Lage Lund. It was a fantastic lesson, the best and most inspirational guitar lesson I've had in years.

That's it for september so far, wanted to write these down so I don't forget them by the end of the month.

Mariel Roberts at Issue Project Room

Her first performance was cello accompanied by a recording. Then a solo piece, "flutter", which had the most sonic textures of any solo piece I have ever heard. She then brought out a string quartet for a wonderful reading of a piece I didn't get the name of. She's an astonishing musician.

Brooklyn Bluegrass Festival at the Bell House

The highlight of this amazingly great show was discovering Michael Daves, a fantastic, hard driving bluegrass guitarist and singer. Got to see Tony Trischka's band, and the amazing Andy Statman trio. Andy was a force of nature on the mandolin, incredibly powerful playing. It's hard to believe he has a paralell career as a clarinetist! This was a wonderful afternoon of music.

Categories: Music

Bass: Funky Broadway

by paul, on 09.18.2012

Practicing some bass tonight, I noticed a slight difference in the way Tommy Cogbill, the original bassist on Wilson Pickett's "Funky Broadway", plays the groove, and the way Jaco plays it. Jaco's groove sounds good by itself, but doesn't work as well playing along with the original tune, to my ear. Anyways, not groundbreaking, but this is a badass groove, so figured I would jot it down for posterity.

Categories: Music

Grant Green's first chorus on "Miss Ann's Tempo"

by paul, on 07.15.2012

One of my favorite Grant Green sides is "Miss Ann's Tempo", and I figured I'd post a short transcription of his first chorus. The phrasing on this is just about perfect.

a transcription of grant's first chorus

Categories: Music

just intonation: a very short introduction

by paul, on 07.05.2012

Ten years ago, I purchased a book called "The Harmonic Experience", by the wonderful writer, teacher, composer and musician, W.A. Mathieu. I ordered this treatise on harmony sight unseen, after reading his short collection of essays, entitled "The Listening Book". Both books are beautifully written, but the "Harmonic Experience" has been particularly eye opening. Reading it was a little like watching the matrix for the first time.

The language of modern western music is one of twelve notes. These twelve notes, A through G#, are, in our modern times, typically tuned in something called Equal Temperament. Open up garageband and play a middle C on the keyboard, and you will hear a tone with a frequency of 261Hz. Play an E natural above that, and you will hear a tone at 329.63 Hz. A G natural above that one, 392. Play all three of them together now, and these notes will sound like vanilla ice cream; a C major triad. One of the first combinations of notes you learn at the keyboard or guitar

Play the same thing on garageband or a well tuned piano, and you'll hear the same tones. The thing is, there's a little something missing. Our electric guitars, ipads, baby grands, play a C triad on any of them, it won't sound quite all the way there. There's something that we, culturally, have assumed. Next, listen to this.

Now, listen to the first one again, followed by the second. Listen once more, especially to the way the notes fade away. Do you hear a difference? Listen some more.

Here's a visual representation of these two sounds. They look a bit different, don't they? Have one more listen. waveform of an equal temperament C triad waveform of an just intonation C triad

What's going on here?

The building blocks of harmony are expressed as ratios. The interval of a major third, between C and E, is at its essence, a ratio of 5:4. A perfect fifth, 3:2. These ratios sound pure and sweet, they are derived from the harmonic series, and occur throughout nature. Harmonics on your guitar will sing them to you. Birds will, too.

In the examples above, the first triad is played using the notes C, E and G in equal temperament tuning, giving us 3 pitches: 261.63Hz, 329.63Hz, 392Hz. The second example is tuned using the ratio 4:5:6 for the three notes, giving us 261Hz, 326.25Hz, and 391.5Hz. Below is a table that illustrates the results. Look at how big of a difference there is for an E natural!

NoteEqual TempJust IntonationDifference

The reason the second example sounds different, is that it's tuned using these low-prime ratios. If you think, as I do, the second example sounds better, why don't we just tune everything using these low-prime ratios?

Problem is, these ratios, called low-prime ratios, don't play nicely when you want to do things like change keys; When the jackson five take it up a half step for the bridge, you can't stop to retune your piano. So, we, culturally, make a small compromise, for practicality. We tune our instruments using a slightly different system, that subdivides the all the notes from middle C to the B above it into equal parts. This is close enough for our ears to accept, but we have one foot out of our musical eden, so to speak. Sometimes it's useful to peek behind the curtains, and for all the wonderful things that our modern musical tools can bring, to also recognize and remember what we are giving up in the process.

I used clojure's overtone library to generate the waveforms, using the pretty-bells function from the example. The screenshots were taken from audacity.

Categories: Music

Transcription: Christian McBride, On a Clear Day

by paul, on 07.01.2012

Did a quick one chorus transcription of Christian McBride's bass line from "On a Clear Day". I love the slur he puts in bar six, the fantastic line that he drives through bar 16, and the way he anticipates the A7 coming from C major in bar 21.

I transcribed this one because in a bass line, it's the small things that count, and christian brings a lot to the table in that regard. I've notated things as triplets with a quarter followed by an eighth, but they could almost be dotted eights and a sixteenth. He almost sits right in between the two, and neither notation is quite correct. As always, the truth is in the music, not on the page. Nevertheless, Here is my transcription of Christian McBride walking a chorus through "On a Clear Day", by Lerner and Lane.

Categories: Music

June Listening Notes

by paul, on 06.24.2012

Dayna Stephens group at the Jazz Gallery

Dayna Stephens has an enormous tenor sound, the kind that envelops the entire club, no microphone required. I went to check this group out because Julian Lage, one of my favorite guitarists, was playing, and the band did not dissapoint. They played a varied set, starting with Skylark, followed by Straight Street, Radioactive Ear, and the ballad After Love Comes. Next, they played an interesting Wayne shorter tune I hadn't heard before, called Emptiness. The bell ringer was a rhythm changes, Loosey Goosey. It was a real treat to hear Julian play a rhythm changes tune, really effortless, creative playing over the barlines.

Peter Leitch and Dwayne Burno at Walker's

I took Sarah to see Peter Leitch play duo with Dwayne Burno at Walker's, home of the best burger in Tribeca. I didn't write down any of the names of the tunes, because we spent most of our meal drawing with crayons on the tablecloth, but they started their set with "My Ship", one of my favorite standards.

Bela Fleck with the Marcus Roberts Trio at the Blue Note

The highlight of my month was catching Bela Fleck play with Jason Marsalis, Marcus Roberts, and Rodney Jordan playing fantastic bass. I had never seen Marcus live, but he lived up to my expectations; His unaccompanied solos were particularly imaginative. I'll definitely be getting their album.

Kurt Rosenwinkel standards trio with Geri Allen at the Jazz Standard

I again dragged my wife to this gig, with promises of BBQ and manhattans. Great playing from Kurt and Geri, but the band didn't really catch fire ever. Jason Faulkner kinda stole the show for me, with his fantastic drumming.

Peter Bernstein Quartet at the Village Vanguard

I'm really glad to see Peter getting his due as a bandleader; This set featured his quartet with Donald Vega on piano, Dwayne Burno on bass, and Bill Stewart on drums. Peter played the verse to Cole Porter's "I Love You" unaccompanied, and sounded great as always. They started off with a trane-ish tune that had Stewart slashing and burning, and Vega showing a strong Tyner influence. A wonderful set, indeed.

Categories: Music

transcription: Christian McBride's bass line in As Time Goes By

by paul, on 06.22.2012

Christian McBride has always been one of my favorite players. Like all great bassists, his time feel and beat is impeccable, but his sense of pacing and dynamics has always stood out to me.

Sarah and I watched "Casablanca" a few weeks back, and since I have a recording of Christian playing it, I thought I'd learn a chorus or two of his. This comes from a Jamey Aebersold play along, "Hot House". It is one of the baddest playalongs on the planet, the rhythm section is Jeff "Tain" Watts, Christian McBride, and James Williams. Unbelievable! I don't use many playalong records anymore, but I particularly like this one, since it's probably the closest I'll get to playing with a rhythm section of this caliber!

Here is Christian McBride's bassline on "As Time Goes By". Heavy triplet feel throughout, particularly notable is the lines he plays to tie together the different sections, and the huge arpeggio he plays coming out of the bridge. Well worth learning.

Categories: Music

new tune

by paul, on 06.21.2012

Last week I wrote a tune, called "Before". I wanted to write something, and then record it, playing all the instruments myself. I did this, with the exception of the drums, which are a loop from the always excellent Loop Loft.

Here is the recording, and here is a PDF of the sheet music.

Categories: Music

Bird's bridge on "Dewey Square"

by paul, on 06.02.2012

Charlie Parker's music sounds like a dream; it can lead you down a road, turn on you, and then drop you off someplace you never expected to be. I've been learning the tune "Dewey Square", and decided to write out Charlie Parker's fantastic improvised bridge. This has everything that makes Bird's music so great; rhythmic variety, surprising phrasing, and a nice melodic arc. The first phrase is punctuated by a beautiful little Eb descending run which I really like, it sounds like kind of an afterthought, but in the best possible way. Followed by some tight double time with an abrupt end, then ending the bridge with some dissonance. He resolves the last phrase beautifully, but again, in a very surprising way. It sounds completely natural, until you try to sing along with it!

You can listen to the solo here.

In learning this, I've found the last 4 bars deceptively hard to hear, both because of the ending, but also because he starts the phrase earlier than I expect after the previous one. It's very easy to rest an extra beat, but of course, that throws everything off.

In terms of playing this on the guitar, my instrument, I prefer to keep this bridge it in the original octave, I think it lays better, and sounds better on the instrument. I do play the rest of the melody down an octave. There are a lot of smears that are fun to do and lay pretty well, I think the most awkward part is the chromatic run down in the last two bars.

Categories: Music

May Listening Notes

by paul, on 05.28.2012

I only made it to 3 concerts in May. I had planned to do more, but was sick and/or injured for several weeks.

Billy Budd at the Met

I took Sarah to the opera for our seventh anniversary. I first became interested in Benjamin Britten's work through reading Alex Ross' excellent book on 20th century music, "The Rest Is Noise". Alex is the best kind of writer, the music is described so beautifully, and in so much detail, the first thing you want to do is go out and listen to it! The opera was really well done; it's an all male cast, so the music was written much lower than we're accustomed to hearing. This informs everything about the music, including the orchestration; When the melody is right in the center of the orchestra, instead of streaming overhead, the instruments, particularly the strings, take on a much different role. The set was also incredible, a giant tilted boat that rose and fell to show the different parts of the deck.

Peter Zimmer, Peter Bernstein and George Garzone at Smoke

Best show of 2012, so far. George's reading of the melody on "I want to talk about you" was one of the best things I've ever heard, period. Heavy, undulating post-coltrane jazz, but Pete Zimmer was completely his own man, and brought a lot of intensity while sounding nothing at all like Elvin Jones, no small feat when you're playing tunes like "Crescent". Peter Bernstein sounded great as always, and George Garzone just blew me away. George's phrasing was both unpredictable and incredibly decisive.

the Ear-Regulars at the Ear Inn

Finally, I get to see Howard Alden on guitar! In a small, packed, bar, all the way on the west side of Manhattan just north of the Holland Tunnel, no less. A fantastic hang, great group of bass, trumpet, clarinet, trombone and guitar, doing old school jazz. I wish I would have gotten there for the first set, they take a long break. Peter Leitch plays at Walker's on sundays, next week I am going to take Sarah there for a burger, and we'll walk over to the Ear Inn for an after dinner drink. If we're up for it, cap it off at the Silver Lining. Jazz is alive and well in TriBeCa!

Categories: Music

April Listening Notes

by paul, on 05.02.2012

Orrin Evans and the Captain Black Big Band at the Jazz Gallery

Orrin Evans' incredible big band, featuring Stacey Dillard, Marcus Strickland, and a ton of other heavyweights played at the Jazz Gallery in early April. They played a lot of great music, including a lot of selections from their fantastic new CD. Todd Bayshore, a NC native, did a bunch of the arrangements. Orrin is a force of nature on piano. Sadly, the jazz gallery is losing their lease at the end of the year, and my favorite jazz club in NYC will need to find a new home.

French Quarter Festival, New Orleans

For the past three years, I've gone to the French Quarter Festival for a long weekend of music and food. Sarah couldn't come this year, so I stayed in a cheap single room in the Marigny, wrote a song every day, ate like a king, and saw more live music than you would believe. Some highlights:

  • Steve Masakowski at the royal sonesta - The UNO band, Steve is a fantastic player and I need to get some of his albums. Wonderful touch and sound, very creative and swinging
  • Kermit Ruffins @ Vaughan's - Errol and I went thursday and had a blast. This is an all out party, with red beans and rice served at midnight. not to be missed!
  • Lyric String Quartet - 2nd movement of the Ravel String Quartet was magical.
  • Rebirth Brass Band - Finally got to see them, well worth the wait. Quite possibly the best brass band I've ever seen.
  • Little Freddie King - Classic blues guitarist from Louisiana.
  • Irvin Mayfield and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra - great set
  • Carl LeBlanc group - Fantastically underrated guitarist. Also plays banjo at preservation hall. A fine, fine musician.

I ate pretty damn well, also. Boudin and eggs at Stanley, Banana Cream Pie at Emeril's, Pork Belly sandwich at Cochon butcher, Shrimp Po' Boy at Parkway Bakery, Gelato at Angelo Brocato, Oysters at Felix's, and chocolate bread pudding at Red Fish Grill. My lord, life is good sometimes. How many days 'til next year?

Categories: Music

March listening notes

by paul, on 03.25.2012

March isn't even done, and I've been to five concerts this month already!

Will Terrill trio at Silver Lining - 3/25

Fantastic piano trio set at a very swanky underground (literally) cocktail joint. Will is originally from Durham, and had gone off to work in Betty Carter's band when I first started playing jazz. He's got an amazing feel, and is able to play very quietly but still keep it intense.

Henry Threadgill's Zooid - 3/18

Liberty Ellman on guitar. This was intense music, and the interplay was fantastic. Bass guitar, Acoustic Guitar, Drums, Cello, Trombone, Tuba, and Henry on flute, bass flute, and alto sax. I only wish Henry would have soloed more, his screaming alto solo on the last tune was a high point in a set full of them.

Bach in the Heights - 3/18

This was a local concert at a church 2 blocks from my house on a sunday afternoon. Interestingly, they tuned all the instruments down to A404, and the winds were period instruments: Oboes, Bassoons and flutes were all wooden.

David Grisman Trio at City Winery - 3/11

David on Mandolin, his son Sam on bass, Jim Hurst on guitar. A great mix of old timey tunes, bluegrass tunes, some jazz, and some more modern stuff. I took extensive notes for some reason, but am too lazy to type them up.

Nrityagram Dance ensemble at the Joyce Theatre

Drums, Violin, Bamboo Flute, and Voice. A traditional indian ensemble that also included at times a Sri Lankan drummer.

Edit: Finished the month watching Kendra Shank at the 55 bar with my folks, featuring Jay from Maria Schneider's band on bass!

Categories: Music

Transcription: Ron Carter chorus on "Ornithology"

by paul, on 03.20.2012

I recently got an electric bass, and have been learning the instrument by learning some basslines from my favorite bass players: James Jamerson, Bootsy Collins, Paul McCartney, and of course, Ron Carter.

I haven't always been the biggest fan of a walking electric bass sound in jazz, but Ron is such a good player that I wanted to cop some of his lines. I took a walking chorus of his on "ornithology" off of a Jamey Aebersold record, to try and understand how Ron sounds when he's playing it relatively straight (he usually does anything but!).

Here is the PDF. I haven't recorded a sample because I'm lazy, and because if you're a jazz player you probably have this playalong record anyways. If not, go out and support jazz education and buy yourself a copy, it's got Ben Riley and Kenny Barron, and you really can't go wrong with that kind of rhythm section, can you?

Categories: Music

February Listening Notes

by paul, on 03.01.2012

I saw some music this month, and played some more. Here's a rundown:

Ted Brown at the Kitano

Ted Brown is one of the original students of Lennie Tristano. He's got the most unique saxophone tone I have ever heard in person, quiet but forceful, and almost at times sounding like a harmonica in the high register. Ted played the standard repotoire, listed below. I personally felt that the quality of the tunes he played are particularly high, which isn't always the case on a "standards gig". The gig itself was incredible, I could have watched Ted spin melodies all night. The rhythm section of Michael Kanan, Murray Wall, and Taro Okamoto was incredibly tight, I sat right next to Taro and could hear everything, perfectly balanced with an unmic'd bass. I was surprised to learn after the gig that Ted made his living as a programmer for 30 years! All in all, one of the best nights of pure jazz I've seen in recent memory.
The Setlist:

  • The Man I Love
  • Gee Baby, Ain't I Good To You?
  • People Will Say We're in Love
  • Stardust
  • Dig It! - Ted Brown
  • Background Music - Warne Marsh

Jazz in Charleston

Sarah and I took a little vacation to Charleston, one of the grandest southern cities, located in the South Carolina Low Country. Charleston has a reputation as a southern outpost for Jazz, and we caught a great trio at the Charleston Grill, a great venue for jazz. I didn't get their names, but they have a real piano there and the bartender serves a generous pour of whiskey. What more do you need? I didn't get the name of the trio, but they played the standard repotoire very well.

The Village Vanguard Orchestra

The Vanguard Orchestra has played monday nights at the Village Vanguard for almost 50 years. I have lived in NYC for twelve, and never seen them once. This month, my friend Dave and I fixed that, by heading up to the Vanguard. The band remembered Bob Brookmeyer by playing several pieces of Bob's from different eras. The "early Bob" piece, a blues, knocked me out! In a way, it was even more experimental than his later work. The later work, which will be on a forthcoming album of Bob's music by the orchestra, featured Rich Perry on tenor, and was simply titled "Rich". A wonderful night of music, I'll definitely be back.

Gig with Ratzo Harris

I got to spend a wonderful evening playing a gig with the great Ratzo Harris on bass. Ratzo played his electric upright 6 string, which sounded like a dream, unlike other electric basses I have heard. This was the kind of gig where I listened so hard that by the end of the night I was mentally worn out, following the harmonic tricks and turns took all my energy. Like all great players, Ratzo has huge ears and was constantly acknoweledging and adapting to what I was doing as well.

I plan on seeing even more music over the next month, really trying to take advantage of being in NYC. Also this month, I got a p-bass and started playing bass again, and took a lesson with the composer Darcy James Argue, so it was a good month for me, musically speaking.

Categories: Music

Written solo on "Daahoud"

by paul, on 02.12.2012

I just wrote out a guitar solo on the Clifford Brown tune, "Daahoud", an old favorite that I've always found a bit challenging to play. I was working on this tune recently and instead of re-learning Clifford's solo, which I transcribed years ago but have forgotten, I decided to write out a well structured guitar solo.

Here is a PDF of the solo. I haven't done a lot of this kind of composition before, but haven't really felt like my jazz solos have really been developing much over the past year or so, so I thought I would try something new.

Categories: Music

january listening notes

by paul, on 02.02.2012

Trying to make it out to see more live music this year, and also blog a bit more about it. I saw 3 great shows this month: Darcy James Argue's Secret Society at the Jazz Gallery, Barry Harris at the Village Vanguard, and the NYC Guitar Festival Marathon at the 92nd St Y.

The Secret Society gig at the Jazz Gallery was an amazing show and we barely got in, it was packed. Wonderful, timely, current music, played by an amazing group of musicians. I'm taking a lesson with Darcy this month and really looking forward to it.

I have seen Barry Harris play countless times, as when I first moved to NYC I went to his workshops at the Y near lincoln center every week. Barry is a traditionalist, so I was floored by his opening number, Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely?": This was truly a Jazz Twilight Zone moment, especially if you know Barry's feelings about most modern music. The rest of the set was great, and Barry played quite a lot of Bud Powell inspired tunes, including a beautiful rendition of "Sweet Georgia Brown". Barry is consistently great, and I'm glad I came out to this.

I'll definitely be going back to the 92nd st Y, as it's a wonderful venue, and particularly the guitar festival. I saw close to 3 incredible hours of music. Highlights for me were Nigel North's wonderful rendition of PICCININI's toccata, played on theorbo, Gyan Reilly's virtuosic rendition of "2 songs in lydian", and Pino Forastiere's awesome 6 string electro-acoustic adventures.

Categories: Music

new peter bernstein transcription

by paul, on 01.14.2012

From looking at the transcriptions on this site, it's pretty apparent that peter bernstein has always been my favorite jazz guitarist. I was lucky enough to meet peter and get a lesson from him when I first moved to NYC years ago, and have caught many gigs since. I've done a lot of transcriptions of his over the years to understand how he approaches tunes and phrasing. Even though I learn to play solos directly from recordings and don't use sheet music, I started to notate my transcriptions a few years ago because I found I would forget solos, and it's nice to have a reminder, and also I hope it's helpful to other musicians.

Here is my transcription, and here is a clip of the solo. This tune is the same changes to "Doxy", and Peter's pacing and phrasing are wonderful as always. Harmonically, he sticks pretty close to the changes throughout, but he builds intensity both through dynamics and also register, like the high Ab in bar 20. I often don't notate articulations much, but for this solo I've tried to get the slurs as close as possible to the original. Note that he picks the diminished run in bar 38, on a faster tempo he would slur the half steps.

As always, I ask that you buy a copy of the recording, Eric Alexander's "Full Range", if you like this solo. It's an awesome record and a great way to support this wonderful music.

Categories: Music

2011 compositions

by paul, on 01.01.2012

Compositionally, 2011 was a good year and I got the opportunity to write wedding music for 2 different sets of friends, which I very much enjoy doing. For the other stuff, I focused more on writing through composed pieces, as opposed to vehicles for improvisation. I finished about 8 pieces, which isn't bad for me. Looking back, there's quite a few things I've left unfinished, so I've got a good start into 2012. Mostly for my own benefit, I'm going to do a quick compositional recap.

  • For Evan and Diana - A piece for Evan and Diana's wedding that I blogged about extensively.
  • For Sarah and Ben - A piece for Sarah and Ben's wedding. I had to write this so that it could be easily played by Andrew on guitar.
  • La Belle Epoque - This piece reminds me of some salon music in a paris cafe or something. I could, and probably will, extend this out more.
  • Travelling Light - I wrote this after getting some ideas from a Ralph Towner book on acoustic guitar, and taking some harmonies and writing a melody on top. I think this turned out quite well.
  • Five Ways - Just a lead sheet I wrote for playing on. This was written as a vehicle for improvisation.
  • Rainy Tune - A kind of melancholy, straight 8ths type feel tune. I like the way the melody came out on this one.
  • All Twelve - A short, atonal piece.
  • Empty House - I wrote this while Sarah was out one day, for the band I play with on fridays downtown, which is a quartet. I don't know whether or not I really like this tune yet, need to play it more.
  • Before The Rain - A lead sheet for a longer form piece I am working on. I often write music when it is raining out, so my titles tend to contain the word "rain" quite a lot.

Hopefully 2012 will be as good or better for me compositionally, and will be the year I finally make an album of my music. I always feel good about spending time composing; it's very satisfying to me and I think and hope that my friends and family also enjoy hearing my music and that it adds a little beauty to the world.

Categories: Music

new short composition

by paul, on 12.09.2011

I haven't been blogging much lately, but I'm trying to compose a lot more, and here is a PDF and a MIDI MP3 of a short piece I wrote for violin and cello.

The piece is called "all twelve" because, unlike a lot of music I write, it uses all twelve notes in equal weight and doesn't really have a key center.

Categories: Music

Fats Navarro solo on "Wail"

by paul, on 10.23.2011

Picture of Fats Navarro

My transcription of Fats Navarro's solo on "Wail".
Listen to the solo.

Ethan Iverson's wonderfully written anthology on Bud Powell inspired me to go back and listen to Bud's early stuff, which features some great playing by Sonny Rollins and Fats Navarro.

I studied with an amazing pianist named Ed Paolantonio, who in turn had studied with Lennie Tristano. Lennie's thing, which Ed taught me, was that you picked a soloist, learned to sing 10 or so of their solos with the record, then without, then you learned them on your instrument.

You picked either Lester Young or Charlie Christian for your first round of this, and then for your second, you could pick Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, or Fats Navarro. I picked Charlie Christian and then Charlie Parker, and I can still play and sing all those solos. Nevertheless, I always meant to go back and check out Fats Navarro, given that Lennie obviously thought so highly of him.

Here is a PDF ( listen MP3) of Fats' great solo on the Bud Powell tune "Wail", a rhythm changes tune in Eb. The solo mixes really melodic, almost sing song phrases with some wicked bebop. Check out that bridge! It's pretty much a continuous thought from the start through to the last 8, a wonderfully spun phrase, which is especially unbelievable given the tempo. The articulations are approximate and are meant to mark how I hear Fats play the phrases, as I'm not a trumpeter, they aren't meant to suggest tonguings or anything like that.

I hope you enjoy discovering this wonderful solo as much as I did!

Categories: Music

Wes Montgomery's Solo on "Ecaroh"

by paul, on 08.28.2011

Here is my transcription (mp3) of Wes Montgomery's wonderful solo on the Horace Silver tune "Ecaroh". I did a particularly bad job of soloing on this tune on a gig recently, and so I learned Wes' solo in an effort to improve on negotiating the changes. As always, hearing a masterful solo like this makes the changes seem much simpler than when you're reading down the tune for the first time.

Since Wes was incapable of playing a bad note, this is obviously a great solo. I love how he mixes some bluesier phrases in with some very pretty lines that really get into the harmony of the tune. Wes is definitely not one to glide over the changes. The second A is kind of interesting, it's hard for me to hear what Melvin Rhyne is doing in the harmony but the repetition Wes does over it clearly works.

Categories: Music

Bird's Solo on "Groovin' High"

by paul, on 07.12.2011

I just did a transcription of Charlie Parker's half-chorus on "Groovin' High". Here is a PDF and you can listen here.

Bird sticks pretty close to the changes on this solo, to me, the genius of this solo is in his inventive phrasing. The last phrase in the solo is particularly surprising, and I smile every time I hear it! Even on bars 14-15, he takes the end of his line in a new direction, providing a kind of climax both in pitch and in drama.

Categories: Music


by paul, on 04.27.2011

Here is a recording of my orchestration of Messiaen's "La Colombe", originally written for piano, re-imagined for orchestra. If you're interested, you can follow along with my score.

The reading went pretty well and I was happy with the results. After it was over, I wondered if I shouldn't have picked something a bit more dramatic, like with my shostakovich orchestration, but ultimately I think this is a beautiful, somewhat quiet piece and I hope I did it justice.

Categories: Music