You play a WHAT ?? When people used to ask me what I did in my spare time, I would reply that I play trombone in a swing band. If I only had a nickel for every time someone’s eyes bulged, head jutted forward and asked ‘what made you choose the trombone?’ Maybe it had something to do with movement. After all, one must admit that the action of a slide is more noticeable than, say, fingers moving on valves. For someone who is mesmerized by watching laundry go round and round in a dryer, trombone was the obvious choice. Not the easiest instrument to start playing. Learning to play a brass instrument is very hard on the embouchure. After about three years of practicing approximately five days per week, my father one day said “you’re starting to develop some kind of sound on that”. Obviously, I wasn’t ready for the big times. Practicing prevailed. Private lessons and opportunities to play with swing bands started happening . To this day, I love playing the trombone. I believe all musicians are “wanna-be trombone players”. When other instrumentalists are talking about the price of reeds, cost of repairs to the keypads/wires, expense of strings, etc., we trombonists sit back and smile. After all, the only supply item required is an $8.50 bottle of slide oil – and that will last for, oh, at least two years :)
My high school music teacher was Milan Nevloa in Guelph. I started in grade 9 on French horn, but moved to trumpet in grade 10. I was an active member of both the concert and stage bands.
It wasn't until long after high school that I began to fully appreciate Mr. Nevola's incredible ability to impart musical skills and (some) semblance of taste. Through him I was exposed to a fairly wide repertoire, and had the fantastic opportunity to do two band trips, including one to South Derbyshire in England.
I began to get paying gigs during high school, and soon moved on to a private teacher. Trumpet playing continued to be my part time job into my late 20s, and I am still fortunate enough to get the odd paying gig. And now, almost 40 years later, I continue to reap some of the seeds some by Mr. Nevola at GCVI.
A number of top notch musicians came through Mr. Nevola's class, many of whom continue to play professionally. Some of the people I went to school with played with with Swing Shift, Rebel Machine, Anthony Terpstra, the Dave McMurdo Orchestra, Renee Rosnes and Horace Silver.
I also had the opportunity of working with other impressive high school and university teachers from Guelph, including Ken Tinnish and the late Bob Emberson. But none had the lasting impact of Mr Nevola.
One enduring image I had of him was his demonstration of perfect pitch. He would his various objects in the classroom (e.g., desk, music stand, wall), announce the pitch then verify it on the piano.
"Nevs" passed away in 2014, and I hope that current and future musicians have the privilege of having a teacher like him.
Slapped (musically) upside of the head…
Like others out there, I came to jazz via the blues. And I know exactly when the transition started. It was a Saturday in the winter of 1982. I was sitting in the car, outside Sears at the Chinook plaza in Calgary, (as always, waiting for my wife), listening to the Saturday afternoon blues program on CKUA radio. An amazing tune came on – one that I had never heard before - and it completely floored me. It was ‘So What’ by some guy called Miles Davis. I had never heard of him or a tune anything like that before. My wife thought I was losing it - I raved about it all the way home. I had to find out about it. Took me a few days to contact the radio station & track it down. Of course I then found that the whole ‘Kind of Blue’ album was full of similar great tunes. I was, as you’d expect, my next purchase. Aside from being (pleasantly) shocked that ALL the tunes on the album were fantastic, I was amazed to find that it had been recorded in 1959! How had I not come across this before? (Probably because I spent most of my time listening to straight ahead blues & rock). That one tune completely changed the direction of my musical interests.
Intro to Humber College Improv 3, 2016
Want to ace this course? Every day play something in every key!
I’m going to quiz you on this statement. You will do fine here and in the pro world if you do this I assure you.
We spend too much time in class sorting out technical issues (often, lack of familiarity with ‘other’ keys). Let’s get some ability to change keys quickly so we can concentrate on ‘the music’. Oh yes, and play assigned phrases over the range of your instrument.
Helpful stuff: These are some issues that are perennial.
Get a Theme Book. i.e. a loose leaf or preferably a bound music book that you can make notes in. Paper is better than digital. Paper lasts - digital formats change regularly. In this book you can put ideas for songs, phrases that you want to practice - many musical related things.
Practice with a metronome - If you’re not practicing with a metronome you’re not practicing.
Accuracy first and last - speed will come.
Doing something difficult? - just play the notes first, then apply the rhythm - slowly at first.
Keep a practice log - this really makes a difference if you want to improve.
Horn players: • If you want the band to play softer then play softly and if they are good musicians they will turn down - if they never turn down don’t work with them. Don’t try to match the level of those with an amp. Rock bands are a special case - be careful - hearing is a precious sense for us.
• Vibrato is not corny - unless applied mechanically or habitually. There is a wealth of expression there. Listen to how great instrumental stylists and vocalists use it. Music is the language of feeling and vibrato (and teasing the pitch) is an important element.
Guitarists: • play something in every key, or comp a song, within the same 5 frets across the keyboard. Then on one string in the same key on different strings. No fair just changing position to transpose - let’s get some chops.
Vocalists: • Do you really know what key you want to sing this song in? Fake books are just fake books and not the authority on your voice. Also you should know different keys for a song depending on whether it is delivered in a high-energy or gentle setting. Just knowing your top and bottom comfort notes is not enough.
If possible avoid E and A unless playing with a guitar band or top pros. (horn players might screw up)
If you sing a song in a non-standard key then you should have readable (charts (at least lead lines and changes) in concert, Bb and Eb at hand. ‘At hand’ in this course means the if the syllabus says we are playing All The Things You Are then have parts for everyone that week, you’ll get to sing more.
• Know the lyrics from memory to many common songs so you can sit in on demand. (or, at least, have them quickly at hand in your own book or on an iPad).
Drummers: • Can you hear the soloist?
Remember brushes? These should be within easy reach.
Avoid playing at mm=60 and 120 too much when practicing (this applies to everyone). Too much music is played at these tempos. If we start a song above 60 or 120 we tend to slow down to it or if we start a song slightly slower we tend to speed up to those tempos.
Get a pro metronome and be prepared to count in the band (don’t be shy - is everyone with you?). Many leaders will appreciate it (but not all!).
Piano is a percussion instrument - be prepared to get into it - or get at the vibraphone - they sound great (unless you play them like drums) - oh yes, and vibes have a pedal…
Be able to play the rhythm of the melody of any song on snare (and sing it too). If the soloist gets lost then be prepared (tactfully) to sing the melody to him/her.
Be appropriate to the song and situation in terms of playing ‘fours’. It’s easy to loose horn players who don’t have your metric chops. Playing in a big band will cure you of getting too far out on breaks.
“Know why players get lost when drummers play fours? It’s often because the drummer’s time is so bad”. (Terry Clarke)
Bassists: • Turn down.
Learn to play the melody - but don’t do it while comping.
Don’t be afraid to roll a bit of bottom off your sound depending on the situation. Woofy is sweet but sometimes you have to bark to telegraph the pitch to the band.
Keyboardists: • Comp like Horace Silver, Red Garland or other masterful traditional players if you want horn players to love playing with you.
Don’t wait till the third beat of the bar to lay down the next change if you are playing with semi-pros or if the player you are backing isn’t familiar with the tune (that’s almost always the case in these classes).
Everyone: • Show up for class. You can expect 50% just for being here on time, paying attention and trying. Having got this far means you have jumped through quite a few hoops - keep it up - it’s not over yet. As a matter of fact it’s never over.
Forget about being the best - there is none. Mohammed Ali was finally defeated and so will everyone else. Forget about the jazz olympics, Wynton Marsalis has already won that. Just imagine you are playing for your mother - don’t get fancy. Do this and you’ll get work - and ‘move’ people.
To have to assign marks in art is an odious thing and the product of the industrial revolution - it sucks, but we have to have some way of indicating your technical ability. Because you don’t get a great mark doesn’t mean you are not any good - it just means there is room for improvement - and there always is! Welcome criticism - often non-musicians have very useful comments and they pay to listen to you - or not.
Want to impress others? then don’t try to impress them - that really stands out - in a musical way.
Be prepared to be uncomfortable. Improvisation is about dealing with the unexpected. If you enter every conversation by telling the same story or using a lot of big words then you’ll have few friends - see what I mean? Interesting that we can wail over an Aebersold track and suck on the same tune when playing it live - think about this.
• Don’t miss a chance to play with musicians that are better than you - good for your ego (the less ego the better) and great for your playing.
Play within your bubble. “What’s that?” you ask… Well, if you play three wrong notes in a row then you are outside it. The cure: slow down, play fewer notes or play the melody.
Hear it then play it. Don’t just jump in. One tactic is to wait until you have something to say. If you are poised to play then (usually) responsive players will give you a few bars, depending on the tune and energy level, to start your solo. Listen to the previous soloist and the general vibe as your solo approaches and that will feed you ideas.
The hip thing you played yesterday that knocked everyone out is sure to fail today… I promise you.
I recommend practicing phrases and patterns. This is just for familiarity with keys and your instrument. Best leave these licks in the woodshed though. Don’t trot out these things during solos - boring and mechanical. Just play what you hear and feel.
Doing a lift? Do it by ear and play it from memory. The published transcriptions are often full of mistakes and music notation gives no indication of energy, time subtleties and vibrato.
Do lifts of performances of other instruments than your own.
The programs ‘Transcribe’ and ‘Amazing Slow Downer’ are very helpful. If the lines are fast (even if they aren’t) play the song at half speed and down an octave to hear subtleties that can easily be missed at the regular tempo.
Have a mission. Maynard Ferguson wanted to play the Arban’s Trumpet Method up an octave. A virtuoso saxophone player friend of mine decided to learn to trill from every note to every other note. It was their mission and they developed beyond the norm. They set lofty goals that suited them. To try to ‘beat’ another player is a lower goal. To indulge in your passion to the nth degree is to develop uniquely.
Develop relationships with other musicians. It’s always been the case that ‘work goes to friends’.
• Finally a quote from the masterful teacher and bandleader Herb Pomeroy: “A player should come to a gig first as a human spirit, second as a musician and third as an instrumentalist. Too many players reverse that order.”
I had the special opportunity to see Chet Baker in a small jazz club in Toronto. We were sitting so close that his horn case was under my table.
As you can expect, he was mesmerizing. But I also noticed another detail that stuck with me since that night over 30 years ago. He was playing a Connstellation model trumpet, likely the 38B. This is the same trumpet that was also played by high note specialists Maynard Ferguson and Cat Anderson. It's a silver horn with a big bell, and is heavier than average. Chet was using a Bach 7C mouthpiece, which was typically included with new trumpets and is often classified as a beginner or student model. I was astounded at the sound Chet coaxed out of that horn. I mean, he sounded like Chet Baker! I had the exact same horn and mouthpiece, and I probably sounded more like Kenny Baker than Chet. (Always good to slip in a Star Wars reference....) When I overhear trumpet "gearheads" discussing the most picayune details of the newest gadgets, my mind wanders back to that Chet Baker show. Granted, there can be a huge difference between entry level horns and pro models. But if Chet Baker can make that equipment sound like, well, Chet Baker, then I suspect that the player is a MUCH bigger factor than the equipment.
WHY I LOVE MAJOR 7th CHORDS
I have been in love with the sound of the major 7th chord for as long as I can remember.
Go to a piano (no experience required) and play the following chord:
Now, play this:
Do you hear what I mean?
Major 7th chords have been around music for a long time. The Renaissance period (1450 – 1600) had a few (although they didn’t really think in terms of chords then). Bach used them occasionally and even Mozart and Beethoven. But it wasn’t till the 19th century that they started to come into their own.
In 1888, the French composer Erik Satie composed three slow waltzes for solo piano, entitled Gymnopédies.
The first one alternates two major seventh chords at the beginning:
It’s a gorgeous song.
I discovered another beautiful example in my first year at university when I started working on the piano arrangement of “Wedding day at Troldhaugen” by the Norwegian Edvard Grieg ( 1843 – 1907 ). When I got to the slow middle section, there it was in the fourth bar:
Early rock tended to ignore them as it had a focus on the boring old triad but you couldn’t keep the secret hidden forever. Examples where the major 7th chord can be heard are “This Boy” by the Beatles, “Color My World” by Chicago, “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” by Blood Sweat and Tears” and one of my favorites “So Far Away” by Carole King.
Have a listen on YouTube:
This Boy (1st chord) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_vqE2hBWkg
Color My World (1st chord) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=swHjpyrV1e8
You’ve Made Me So Very Happy (2nd chord “love before”)
So Far Away (opening 2 chords) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1GAaWz4X4nUIf
If any musical genre has done more for the major 7th chord it has most certainly been JAZZ. It adopted the saxophone as its signature instrument when no one else wanted it and has provided a true home for major 7th chords. I guess that’s why I’m such a huge jazz fan. In closing, here is a somewhat obscure piece by the late great jazz pianist and composer Marian McPartland. It’s one of my favorites and CHECK OUT ALL THE MAJOR 7TH CHORDS!!!
When I was seventeen, I though Ed Bickert was one of the coolest guys in the world -even though I knew virtually nothing about the guitar. But my trumpet teacher took me to George's and Bourbon Street regularly at that time (late 1970s/early 1980s), where Ed could often be found as both a sideman and featured artist. I soon fell under his spell, and would watch him for hours. At that time, he smoked steadily during the gigs. Often he would light one up during the tune, then just put it in his mouth and keep on playing. I will always remember that the ash from his cigarette would grow to seemingly impossible lengths of an inch or more, yet would not fall. You see - with the exception of his hands - Ed was virtually motionless on stage. This is what impressed me. It wasn't the smoking, but his complete and total immersion in the music that he was creating. He did eventually stop smoking, but still maintained his cool. Nothing flustered him. During a show at Ontario Place, Rob McConnell referred to Ed as "our acid rock guitar player". He just gave one of his sly little smiles, and continued sitting rock still. I had the opportunity to met him years later, and told him of the impact his playing had on me as a teenager. He was very gracious, as one would expect. His style was widely influential, but no one could copy his unique tone and incredible phrasing. You KNEW when you were hearing Ed Bickert. Ed received the Order of Canada in 1996, and retired in the early 2000's after the sad death of his wife Madeline. Last November, he turned 84 years old. But in my mind he's still 50, with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, still as a statue and playing that old solid body Telecaster. Thanks for the music Ed
As a teenager just learning the trumpet, I had no real exposure to jazz, until someone suggested I check out big band music. So I trekked downtown to Sam the Record Man and bought The Jazz Album by Rob McConnell and the Boss Brass – yes, I’m dating myself, but I have to admit it was an LP. Songs like “Body and Soul” and “My Man Bill” were indeed intriguing – but my world changed when I heard Guido Basso’s gorgeous solo on “Portrait of Jenny.” It was so lush and so emotional, I knew that I wanted to play that kind of music.
Basso played this solo in his signature flugelhorn style – and even though I had no idea what a flugelhorn was, I wanted one. There was a darkness combined with a sweetness of tone that I knew I would never achieve on a trumpet (although Chet Baker came close). So, after much scrimping and saving from my $2.00-an-hour part-time job, I finally had the cash to order my first flugelhorn, and would spend the next three-plus decades listening to and playing big-band flugelhorn parts.
Over the years, I have enjoyed playing songs from the Boss Brass playlist, including the haunting “Close Enough for Love.” And I have played Christmas arrangements, show tunes, ballads and modern jazz on a series of flugelhorns. But whenever I do, I’m drawn back to my first experience with the flugelhorn, and to Guido Basso who has set the standard for this beautiful instrument.
I know I will never play with the virtuosity of Basso – who could? But I still have aspirations of one day playing “Portrait of Jenny,” the song that planted the seeds for my love of jazz, by the performer who inspired me to buy that weird, fat trumpet-like thing that is now a staple of horn sections in big bands everywhere. Thank you, Guido!
I first saw Maynard Ferguson live around 1980, at the Forum in Ontario Place. A group of us from our high school band arrived six hours early to stake out our seats.
The band was electrifying. They opened with an impossibly fast version of “Give it One”, and didn’t let up for 2 hours. The band’s energy was astounding, and my group was enthralled and exuberant. This was trumpet heaven. Truly he was, as Stan Mark called him, “the greatest trumpet player in the world”. Tired but happy, we left the concert with a renewed enthusiasm for music.
Maynard passed away in 2006. Of course, he will be remembered for his remarkable trumpet playing and electrifying live performances. But for young trumpet players, he was an inspiration. He made the trumpet cool.
After total domination of the music scene in America in the 1930’s & 40’s everyone thought big band jazz would last forever. Then came WW II .
Big bands played a major role in lifting morale during World War II but several factors led to their decline:
- Loss of musicians who were overseas fighting
- A recording strike against record company royalty restrictions
- The rise of bebop as jazz players were seeking a less commercial outlet for their talents
- The cost of paying for 15 – 20 musicians
- The invention of TV ( keeping people at home ).
But instead of going away, big band jazz changed! Some of the most famous bands stayed together (Count Basie, Duke Ellington & Stan Kenton) and continued to tour. Instead of dancers, they played for a younger audience of jazz fans. It was more performance oriented and tended to feature longer solos.Other bands took the songs of the era and arranged them for the standard big band instrumentation ( 5 saxes / 4 trumpets / 4 trombones / guitar / bass /drums & piano ). The older bands started recruiting younger players from music schools to fill the roster and bring a new energy to their music.In the 70’s, the fusion ( jazz / rock ) movement in jazz made it’s way into the big band genre which turned a whole new generation of young rock fans onto big band jazz. Bands like Blood Sweat and Tears ( jazz / rock ) and Chicago ( rock / jazz ) topped the pop charts. Woody Herman (an icon of the swing era) began recruiting college and university level jazz musicians. His “New Thundering Herd” (1959–87 ) had a hit with of all things a big band arrangement of “Light My Fire” by the Doors.
Here are the links to three YouTube clips of big bands performing songs that you would never have expected:
1. Gil Evans Orchestra performing a big band arrangement of “Stone Free” by Jimi Hendrix (1983 )
2.The University of Miami Studio Jazz Band performing a big band arrangement of Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android” from 2012
3. The Ed Palermo Big Band in 2015 at Iridium in NYC performing big band arrangements of the music of Frank Zappa
Big band jazz did not go away! Today most high schools, colleges and universities have jazz programs. Although touring is cost prohibrative for a lot of groups, most cities have big bands that perform on a regular basis. Community ( rehearsal ) big bands are providing an outlet for college level students to perform as they try to establish themselves as professional musicians as well as established musicians with a true love of big band jazz . As of this writing, the Glenn Miller Orchestra is on tour and performing his original arrangements from the late 30’s and early 40’s.
Has Big Band Jazz changed? …………………………………………… YES !
Is it dead ?....................................................... NO !
And please remember, “If music isn’t LIVE… it’s DEAD".
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