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MBBJE blog

First Circle by Jay

   

The First Circle                                                                           

The MBBJE worked on Pat Metheny’s “The First Circle” this past year. (Big band arrangement by Bob Curnow.) It’s a complex piece of music in 22/8 with a manic hand clapping pattern throughout the introduction. I’ve been a big fan of the PMG since 1987 so I pulled out an old drumming exercise written by Paul Wertico who was the drummer in the band at the time.

This music brought to mind many questions about the original version of “The First Circle” that Paul had performed with Pat. Perhaps Paul would answer a few questions through his website. To my surprise, Paul replied with his phone number and suggested I call him directly with my questions. Here are some notes from our conversation.

1. The drumming exercise I was practicing had a significant notation error by the publisher. (Thanks for the correction Paul!)

2. The “count in” for First Circle is 4 quarter notes.

3. The First Circle was performed on every tour that the PMG did from 1984 to 1998.

4. Background parts (and clapping) were played during each concert by the Synclavier computer which broke down in Germany and cost $2,000 to repair.

5. The tempo of “The First Circle” could be changed and was usually increased for the end of the tune. More info at: www.paulwertico.com

 

Michel Petrucciani by Dave

 

 

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Petrucciani was born in France in 1962.  His Wikipedia entry draws parallels with Bill Evans, Keith Jarret and Oscar Peterson.  Although he regularly performed in a trio as well as with other performers, he preferred to play solo.

A relentless performer, he was performing more than 200 times per year at his busiest. Even in the year before his death, he gave 140 concerts.

Many years ago, I owned a cassette of his 1983 solo album “100 Hearts”.  The music is astonishing.  One reviewer commented on Petrucciani’s “emotional complexity”, and I whole-heartedly agree.  Two highlights from that album stick with me to this day.

The first is a wide-ranging, 14-minute improvisation that manages to weave “Someday My Prince will Come”, “All the Things You Are”, “A Child is Born” and Bill Evans’ “Very Early”.  The second is an incredibly rich and challenging version of “St. Thomas”, a portion of which sounded like it was being played in two keys simultaneously.

Of Petrucciani, another reviewer wrote “the rapidity with which the fingers of his right hand hits the piano keys defies all understanding of that part of the human anatomy.” What makes that comment even more astounding is that he was known to break fingers during his performances.

Yes, he was only three feet tall, and yes, he was in near constant pain from his osteogenesis imperfecta (aka “brittle bone disease”). Moreover, not many genre-defining musicians are regularly carried onto the stage.  But Michel Petrucciani is so much more than these physical limitations. Search up a clip, sit back and let his music envelop you.

Mnozil Brass: the brass best band you've never heard of... by Dave

In fact, I was oblivious to their existence until a friend forwarded me their video for "Lonely Boy" (thanks Wayne!). If you see only one YouTube video this year, make it this one. In an impressive display of teamwork, Leonhard Paul controls the slides of two trombones AND the valves of two trumpets simultaneously, while four of his teammates provide the air support. As if that isn't enough, his chair is removed leaving him supported in midair by the other four players, all the while maintaining both a melody and contrasting bass line. It's a great introduction to Austria's Mnozil Brass.

Founded in 1992, their normal configuration is three trumpets, three trombones and a tuba. In addition, you will see specialty instruments from famed European brass maker Schagerl, including the custom designed "Gansch horn" trumpet featuring rotary valves mounted vertically and a unique upturned bell (sorry, geeking out a bit there). 

Besides being incredible instrumentalists, they sing Bohemian Rhapsody in seven-part harmony, whistle (in seven part harmony) and play recorders with their noses (in seven part harmony, of course). Add in the occasional animal sound, percussion toys and carefully choreographed dance routines and you start to get the picture It's as if the  horn line from the world's greatest drum corps were also Cirque du Soleil clowns.

Here are some more examples of their style:  During their James Bond medley each successive soloist "kills" the previous one, leaving him temporarily immobile on the stage; their extra-fast version of William Tell is blended with Austrian drinking songs complete with actions; and their rock medley opens with the three trumpet players singing the Bee Gees's vocal lines to Stayin' Alive and closes with the classic zombie dance from Thriller.

The leader of this motley crew is Thomas Gansch, one of Europe's leading trumpet players. He plays with symphonies, big bands and small jazz combos. Plus he's a powerful high note player AND an amazing bebop soloist. Gansch alone is worth the price of admission. But my favourite member is actually one of the trombone players, Leonard Paul.

With facial expressions ranging from the doleful to the maniacal, Paul combines an love of clowning with some very serious musicianship on both the slide trombone and bass trumpet. There are amazing videos with just Gansch and Paul, demonstrating incredible teamwork and musicianship. Their incredibly wide-ranging fantasia on "Hey Jude" is at times touching and funny, blending sweet melodies, blistering bop lines, soulful gospel choruses, trumpet pedal notes and awkward dance moves. To find some of them you'll need to search the name "Leonhard Paul", as for some reason they don't always come up with the regular slew of Mnozil Brass videos.

Speaking of videos, there are a number of them on YouTube, including a full 90 minute concert. Unfortunately they rarely tour this sound of the Atlantic, but visit their FaceBook page and sign their guestbook.

If you play a brass instrument, you will love this band. If you are not a musician, you will still come away impressed and happy. The closest I can get to the German pronunciation is "note-ZEELL brauss". But however you say it, they are amazing.

Librarian – most misunderstood member of the group by Pat

 Alas, lost in heaps of sheet music, bewildered by the pounds of scotch tape, bemused by the plethora of folders – {concert folder, regular folder, Christmas folder, rehearsal folder, to name a few}, sits the solitary custodian of the ensemble.

As an administrator, his basic instrument is the alphabet.  “V” for vocal, “X” for Christmas. To make it even clearer, the colors abound. If it’s a red “V” with a number on the chart, it means a Christmas vocal tune.  If it’s a red “X” with a number on the chart, it means a Christmas band chart.  Don’t get me started if it’s a regular old “V” and/or “X” !!   And, And… the colored folders.  Which tune goes in what folder!!!  It’s enough to drive a really smart trombone player into a tizzy.

Being a librarian really is a thankless job. For without them, there would be total chaos. Rehearsals would be pandemonium. Concerts would be bedlam.  So here, officially, I would like to say thank you to all the musical librarians out there who make musicians lives easier.

Unknown to most, they can leap tall buildings in a single bound.  I won’t mention the running start and favourable winds J

 

"Sinatra at the Sands" by Dave

 My all time favourite big band album has to be "Sinatra at the Sands", from way back in 1966. Recorded in front of a live audience at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, he was backed by the Basie Band, conducted and arranged by Quincy Jones. 

 For my money, this recording includes THE definitive versions of many Sinatra classics, including:  Come Fly With Me, I've Got you Under My Skin, One for My Baby, You Make Me Feel So Young, Angel Eyes, It Was a Very Good Year and Fly Me to the Moon. Even the fantastic 1974 Madison Square Gardens concert with Woody Herman pales in comparison.

 Frank was in great voice, and the band was studded with many of the legendary players associated with Basie, including Marshall Royal, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Sonny Payne, Sweets Edison and the rock solid Freddie Green. In my opinion, the only downside to this recording is some of Frank's ad lib "asides" and brief monologues, which run the gamut from lame to cringingly dated. So fast forward through those parts.

 Here's a link to the full hour-plus recording. Unfortunately, it's audio only, but it's still great:

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WoZZ08S4eyw

 I hope you enjoy it, and if you're not a Sinatra fan, you will be after listening to that!

She’s more than just the disaster queen by Rosemary

 

She’s more than just the disaster queen

 

 

 

When you think about Maureen McGovern, most people see this singer as the disaster queen, after singing the theme songs from The Poseidon Adventure or The Towering Inferno. But she is much more than that.

 

 A few years back, I went to a Christmas concert where she shared the bill with the late great Mel Tormé. I couldn’t pass up a chance to hear Mel sing with a big band, but I wasn’t expecting much from Maureen. Boy was I surprised!

 

 She had a masterful ability to sing with the big band, and her vocal range and pitch were extraordinary. In fact, I enjoyed her numbers almost more than I enjoyed Mel. She’d start a song in the standard soprano range. And then she would go up an octave. And then another one, all the while not showing any discomfort.

 

 Perhaps the best example of her vocal calisthenics can be found on her Naughty Baby album, where she sings some Gershwin standards but adds her own twist. Check out her take on “By Strauss:”

 

www.youtube.com/watch?v=BWOMdHXl4VI

 

 This is singing at its finest. Her voice isn’t just an instrument – it’s an orchestra. And that’s definitely not a disaster!

 

TributeTo The Trombone by Pat

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 :)

A Tribute to My High School Music Teacher by Dave

 

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… by Wayne

 

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 by Bruce

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Intro to Humber College Improv 3, 2016

 

 Bruce Cassidy

 

 

 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.”