Pi Recordings Profile for All About Jazz

I’m well into an All About Jazz profile on the NY jazz label Pi Recordings. Already interviewed executive producers Seth Rosner and Yulun Wang, now I’m started on a series of capsule reviews of artists including Vijay Iyer, Steve Lehman, Rudresh Mahantappa, and members of Chicago’s AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians). There’s a ton of great stuff here and I’m looking forward to sharing my thoughts on it.

Here’s a quick preview of some Pi Recordings artists:

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Dreambox Media Record Label Profile

I had the pleasure of speaking with drummer Jim Miller about his local Philadelphia label, Dreambox Media. A major player on the contemporary jazz scene Miller shared his insights and thoughts on jazz, the role of record labels, and how the music business has evolved over the years. The profile features my interview with Jim Miller and reviews of some of my favorite Dreambox Media offerings, including albums by Chuck Anderson, Jim Miller, Steve Giordano, Larry McKenna, Tyrone Brown, Jim Ridl, and many more.

The full profile is on All About Jazz and here’s a link to the Dreambox Media website.

And finally, here’s a playlist of a few of my favorite Dreambox artists:

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Review: Coursera Introduction to Improvisation – Final Thoughts

Having completed the 5-week Introduction to Improvisation course on Coursera, I do have a few thoughts to share for those considering trying the same course.

First, though it is marketed as an introductory course, it does assume facility with one’s instrument, fluency in reading standard notation, chord symbols, and some level of ability in musical analysis. Though it might be overwhelming for a beginner, it does have appeal for more intermediate or advanced players, or those with theoretical capabilities that are still developing their playing.

Second, as reflected in the discussion boards, the content is not what many assumed it might be. It is a jazz oriented course, yet it does not focus on jazz standards. Instead, the repertoire is drawn from a more modern selection using more contemporary harmonic concepts than the tunes which make up so much of the jazz canon. For instance, there is literally no mention of playing on II-V-I progressions, one of the quintessential movements in jazz.

A related issue is the pace of the class. There are very few exercises (only Week 2 features scalar drills), and the assigned tunes often use many different scales over relatively fast chord changes. This could again frustrate a student trying to master the fundamental concepts.

Finally, the peer review assessment’s vary in their utility and insight. While there is no clear alternative for a class this size, the grading system and comments often seem arbitrary and too subjective. The reviewers may not be in a position to provide accurate feedback, yet are required to do so to fulfill the course requirements. And, unfortunately, the discussion forums often devolve into the kind of thoughtless jousting we so often see from online anonymity.

Despite these criticisms, I did find the course to be a worthwhile project. The backing tracks provided are high-quality, the repertoire is quite interesting, and Burton does provide some very useful insights in his video lectures. Perhaps the greatest asset of this class was the opportunity to record and share my improvisations on a weekly basis, constantly self-evaluating, and comparing my playing to that of my fellow students.

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Review: Coursera Introduction to Improvisation

The concluding week of Gary Burton’s Introduction to Improvisation course dealt primarily with thematic development. Throughout the course, Burton emphasized the role of the improviser as a storyteller, considering the solo as a logical narrative. To assist in realizing this conception, he also presents a method of analysis that focuses on determining the mood, demeanor, and intent of the tune. As an improviser, it is the player’s role to interpret the tune, highlighting the unique and creative aspects embedded by the composer.

To demonstrate these concepts, Week 5 consisted of two improvisations, one on a standard Blues, and the other an interpretation of Carla Bley’s “Olhos de Gato.”

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Review: Coursera Introduction to Improvisation

Week 4 of Gary Burton’s Introduction to Improvisation course introduced three new topics for improvisers.

The first is the concept of guide tones. Guide tones are chord tones that are a step or half-step from a chord tone of subsequent chord. These are used both as connective devices, but also as a crutch during fast chord changes.

Contrasted with guide tones is the use of common scales over multiple chords. These are used when one scale is applicable to a diatonic chord progression.

A third approach to playing over the harmony is applicable to constant structure chord progressions. Constant structure refers to progressions in which the same type of chord (i.e., major, minor, dominant) is played from different roots. Here, the improviser may simply transpose a melodic figure from one harmony to the next.

The assignment for this week was to improvise on Keith Jarrett’s “Memories of Tomorrow.” Here is a link to my improvisation.

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Review: Coursera Introduction to Improvisation

Sorry for the delay on these reviews, I’ll be posting about Weeks 3, 4, and 5 of Gary Burton’s Introduction to Improvisation class this week.

Week 3 deals with the application of scales to harmonies in a vertical manner, i.e., one scale per chord. Using the 10 common scales taught in Week 2, Burton describes a number of techniques for determining the appropriate scale for each chord. The scales are already divided according to their tonality as major, minor, or dominant. In choosing the variety of major, minor, or dominant scale, Burton refers to the melody and preceding harmony as indicators.

This week’s tune was Chick Corea’s “500 Miles High.” Here’s a link to my improvisation.

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Album Review at All About Jazz

My review of the Daniel Bennett Group’s new album, Clockhead Goes to Camp, is now published at All About Jazz. Here’s the link. I think it’s a unique and captivating album, it’s definitely worth checking out.

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Free Guitar Lesson: Freight Train

Here is the tab for the first part of my  lesson on Elizabeth Cotten’s Freight Train. Here is the video, also available on Youtube. The notations for the second and third variations are available to subscribers to my newsletter. These are posted in the Exclusive Lessons tab of my site. You can subscribe to my free, monthly newsletter here.

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Yo-Yo Ma and the Chicago Civic Orchestra

Here’s a link to a great article in the May 2, 2013 Chicago Tribune, written by Mark Caro. Caro reports on a collaboration between renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the Chicago Civic Orchestra. The article describes Yo-Yo Ma’s “challenge” to the orchestra to play Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, with no conductor, by memory. The significance of this lies in the subtleties of interpretation, and listening skills and sensitivity of the musicians to each other. Also mentioned are Ma’s thoughts on creativity, developing the skills necessary to become a successful professional musician, and the need to anticipate the needs of the modern classical music industry and audience. All around a good read!

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Chet Atkins’ “Maybelle”

Just uploaded my 2007 performance of the Chet Atkins’ tune “Maybelle,” dedicated to the great Maybelle Carter. The song uses the Chet Atkins fingerstyle techniques, his take on “banjo” rolls for guitar, and Carter-style strumming.

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