Reflections on life and music from a trumpet player

Monday, August 15, 2016

A New Home

The Tuning Slide blog has moved to its own home. All posts have migrated to it as well as all new ones.

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See you in our new home!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Go Fund Me

Here's the box of books- The Tuning Slide, Year One.

The boxes are now empty and recycled as they were given to the students at last week's Shell Lake Arts Center Trumpet Workshop. It has been a labor of love for me- to be able to share my trumpet learning journey of this past year with others is actually humbling. I realize how little I know, but that I can still add to other people's experiences.

I am still about $300 short of the goal of crowd-funding this project. Any help you can add would be appreciated.

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Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Jazz 5: Adding to the Music

Life is a lot like jazz.
It’s best when you improvise.
-George Gershwin

I’m going to start today with some thoughts from the book, Improvisation for the Spirit: Live a More Creative, Spontaneous, and Courageous Life Using the Tools of Improv Comedy by Katie Goodman. (Sourcebooks, Inc. 2008.) It is NOT about jazz, but rather a book on living a spontaneous life based on improv comedy. But, hey, improvisation is improvisation. So here are her suggestions for skills needed in living a spontaneous life.
1. Be Present and Aware
2. Be Open and Flexible
3. Take Risks
4. Trust
5. Surrender and Non-Attachment
6. Gag Your Inner Critic
7. Get Creative
8. Effortlessness
9. Desire and Discovering What You Want
10. Authenticity
11. Allowing Imperfection and Practice, Practice, Practice

As I look at these I see a number of the themes that I have covered in the past here on the Tuning Slide.
  • The “be present and aware” touches easily on the mindfulness we have talked about. 
  • “Gag your inner critic” is certainly a variation of the discussions of Self 1 and Self 2 in the Inner Game of Music posts. 
  • “Desire and discovering what you want” and “authenticity” tie in with finding your story and song.
But as I pointed out last week with my improvisation stories, it is all easier said- or thought- and done. It takes work and determination to do it. It takes hours of practice. (That’s another whole series to think about for the next year!) One cannot want instant gratification - or instant expertise in improvisation or in life as a whole. So as I look at those 11 suggestions I want to simplify it. I want to make it sound easier than it is, live in my fantasy world that it is easy, or just throw my hands up in surrender. Which is NOT what surrender and non-attachment above mean. So maybe there is more to be learned in that skill than I am giving it credit for.

Surrender and non-attachment, as Goodman defines it on page 92 is about
…learning to let go of your attachments to expectations, goals, and perfectionism. … to cultivate a sense of humor, and to lighten up. [We] surrender the controls and allow life to unfold in a more joyful, free-flowing, and perhaps, unexpected way.
This does not mean giving up and going home. I have heard several times in the past few weeks that the #1 rule for improv comedy is the “Yes, and…” rule. That means you affirm what has come before you, the line or theme that has preceded the hand-off to you. Never negate it- that brings everything to a stop. Instead, accept it as an important bit of information or an unfinished sentence. What do you have to add to it? How can you give added value to the “musical conversation”? In order to do that use those skills of mindfulness, creativity, and giving Self Two the direction to go ahead and play.

Now, in order to do that you have to believe you have something to say. At first, all it may be in your improvisation is to hit the note of the chord with a certain rhythm. Remember, jazz is about rhythm. Then you might want to think about the structure of the song, blues, classic standard, funk. Keep those same chord notes and rhythm but give them a little something extra here and there. Don’t be shy. That doesn’t mean play fortissimo when the song is a nice quiet ballad. Remember, you are adding to the conversation, not stopping it or hijacking it. There are then legato and staccato passages, slurs and marcato. How do they fit together?

Now, don’t expect to go onstage in a public performance and know how to do this. Improv comedy troupes practice. Then they practice some more. Improv does not mean off-the-cuff with no thought or training. It means learning the words and sounds of jazz and making conversation with other musicians. I wish I was able to do this as easily as I write about it. But I am a slow-learner. I still have an inner critic that freezes when he hears that “sour” note. I still have the perfectionist that says he has to do it right or don’t do it at all. I still have the ADD dude who gets distracted by a a lot more than squirrels and then loses mindfulness, flow, rhythm and creativity.

So I go back to the practice room. I pull out the scales or find a song on iReal Pro and try to get the feel for it. I listen to Miles Davis’ solo on “So What” and feel the movement of an easy-flowing improvisation. I take a walk and refocus my mindfulness skills. I do some breathing meditation that gets me back in touch with me. Then I work on it some more. It is a much slower process than I want it to be. I can tend to get too busy. I have too many things to write or too many concerts or gigs to prepare for. So the hard stuff, like learning to talk jazz with my trumpet is set aside.

In other words I am writing these posts as much for me as for you. I am working on my Inner Game. I am reminding myself that I have a story and a song. It is mine and I have been writing it for many years. Back at that very first jazz camp I went to in the 90s one thing did become clear to me. I improvise all the time in my daily life. Things happen that I have to react to. As a preacher for years I would regularly “ad lib” in the middle of a sermon. All that was was just improvising. I pulled in all my knowledge and experiences, all the sermons I had written and preached, all the people I had talked to, all the books I had read. Then came the inspiration and I shared it when it happened. I can still do that. It is almost as easy as falling off a bike for me. I couldn’t do that when I started, of course. I wrote down every word of every sermon. I still work from a manuscript (the score of the music?) and take off when and where appropriate.

That’s all I need to learn to do with my trumpet. It is getting better. I am learning. I don’t believe I will ever be done.

Kind of like life!

You have to practice improvisation,
Let no one kid you about it.

-Art Tatum

Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Books Are Ready!

Go Fund Me

Here's the box of books- The Tuning Slide, Year One. They are ready to be given to the students at this year's Shell Lake Arts Center Trumpet Workshop. It has been a labor of love for me- to be able to share my trumpet learning journey of this past year with others is actually humbling. I realize how little I know, but that I can still add to other people's experiences.

I am still about $300 short of the goal of crowd-funding this project. Any help you can add would be appreciated.

Go Fund Me

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Jazz 4: Creating Something New

There's a way of playing safe and 
then there's where you create something 
you haven't created before.
-Dave Brubeck

Many have called it “mysterious.” Some will say there’s magic in it. Others might criticize it for being “too far out” or “odd.” No matter what is said about it, it is undeniably the center point around which jazz congregates.


I had been listening to jazz for a number of years before I realized that so much of what I was listening to only existed once in the studio or venue where it was performed. In that moment jazz went from being a great form of music that I loved to something far more profound. It was alive in a way that no other music could claim in my awareness. Sure there have been many great improvised solos in other genres; even the classical greats like Bach were known to be excellent improvisers. But no other music called forth improvising; no other music seemed to breathe the life of the music in the moment.

I was in awe.

About 20 years ago, I had my first jazz camp experience. I knew very little music theory and couldn’t have played in many of the keys if my life depended on it. But the time came to improvise. As I sat down that evening I wrote in my journal:
My first solo. Just the basics of course, but an improv solo on the simple concert B-flat scale.

"Play a melody. Write a song with it, Barry."

And I did.

It fit, too. It made some sense. You have to try to listen to what is going on around you. Hear the rhythm, devise the melody, watch the harmony. It wasn't polished. It was kind of stiff and boring, but no one started out as a virtuoso.
The instructors this morning emphasized that. The scales are to the instrumentalist what the gym is to Michael Jordan.
The same could have been said about my solo at last summer’s Big Band Camp. It wasn’t polished; it was kind of stiff and boring. One of my problems is that I get stuck on “bad” notes. A “bad note” is one that could be a great “blue note,” a note moving from one place to another. But it turns into dissonance and discord because I stop for too long. No movement, more like a crash into a brick wall. My mind blanks, I forget what I’m thinking and nothing of interest comes from the instrument. It made some sense for a little bit, a few measures, but that’s about it.

What a challenge then in this past year when, following the Big Band Camp and then Trumpet Camp in 2015, I decided I was going to do an improv solo this year. And not get stuck! It was one of several goals I set for myself, and the one that looked most challenging. Wikipedia’s entry on improvisation in jazz points out some of the problems.
Basically, improvisation is composing on the spot, in which a singer or instrumentalist invents solo melodies and lines over top of a chord progression played by rhythm section instruments (piano, electric guitar double bass, etc.) and also accompanied by drum kit. While blues, rock and other genres also use improvisation, the improvisation in these non-jazz genres typically is done over relatively simple chord progressions which often stay in one key (or closely related keys.) …Jazz improvisation is distinguished from other genres use of this approach by the high level of chordal complexity…
Problem #1: Composing on the fly.
Saxophonist and composer Steve Lacy once said,
In composition you have all the time you want to decide what to say in 15 seconds, in improvisation you have 15 seconds.
It takes time to learn how to do that. A lot more than a year. It takes a certain amount of courage to do it in public. It takes a certain amount of insanity to even want to do it in the first place.

Problem #2: Chordal complexity
Most of us want to sound professional when we do our improvising. That means the complexity of chords and chord changes. We don’t want to sound like some newbie just playing the blues scale over the changes. It may fit, but that’s baby stuff. To think that one can get to that point in one year would be the height of grandiosity- or blindness.

Problem #3: Learning the language
This is all about a language and developing an understanding of its meanings. It is no different than having a conversation with a friend- except we have all learned how to use words in conversations one little bit at a time. We didn’t do that in any great way until we developed a vocabulary, the experience of talking with others, and the experiences of our lives to have something to talk about. If you have 15 seconds to say something, you better have the language ready to be accessed at the right time and place.

A daunting task, to be sure. But I did have a few things in my favor.
  • I have a rudimentary understanding of the language. I have a decent ear for jazz, jazz forms, and jazz licks. I have been an intense jazz listener for 50+ years. It’s kind of like being somewhat able to understand, say Spanish, when it is spoken, even though my brain trips over itself when I try to speak it.
  • I am also a decent musician. I understand a lot more about music from simply playing it than I realized before this year. That means I have a basic understanding of chord progressions and the blues scale.
  • And, I now have the time, in my semi-retirement, to spend time learning.
While I didn’t have a set plan for learning jazz, I first spent a lot of time really getting to know my musical skills- the basics, just the basics. Day in and day out there were those long notes and chromatics. Then there was Arban (always good old Arban!) and Concone and others. Finally I decided I would learn the 12 major keys. Yes, after 50+ years I was doing one of those basic things.

The result was I got to Big Band Camp and I was ready. No getting stuck this year. Let it happen!

It did! No it wasn’t a great solo, but it didn’t get stuck, it didn’t suck, and it wasn’t stiff. I even think there might have been some swing it it. At least I was swinging. Since then I have done some more improvising with the one big band I play in. Nothing fancy. But I now have the courage to at least try. I have done it and I know I can do it again.

What then does all this mean?
#1. It takes time and effort. Just a year of work doesn’t do it. But it’s a start.

#2. Appreciate jazz when other people do it. Listen. Then listen some more. Finally, listen again.

#3. Have courage. Take the opportunity to improvise. In the privacy of your practice room and in public.

#4. Be good to yourself and appreciate what you have done and what you can do.

#5. Push yourself. Don’t stop where you’ve been. Look at where you still want to go.

Now that I have more of the basics down, it is time to move into the advanced beginning stage. (Trying to keep that trumpet ego in check!) That means more of the 5 things above. It means enjoying the practice and challenge. And it means seeing how improvisation has already made and can make a difference in my life.

That will be next week.

The genius of our country is improvisation,
and jazz reflects that.
It's our great contribution to the arts.
-Ken Burns

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Books for Trumpet Workshop Students

Go Fund Me

Over the past year I have written a weekly blog post on music and life titled The Tuning Slide . It has been based on what I first learned at the Trumpet Workshop at Shell Lake, WI, Arts Center in August 2015. I would like to provide a copy of the blog posts as a book for the students at this year's workshop.

I have tried to go beyond the basic ideas and describe how I personally wrestled with them in my own developing trumpet practice. I have also applied the ideas to every day life, connecting music with daily living.

I have played trumpet for over 50 years but until recently was not able to spend the time to become as proficient as I would like to be. The blog book also explores music as a life-long experience.

The money raised will pay for the book's publishing and free distribution to the students.

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Jazz 3: Swing

It Don’t Mean a Thing
(If It Ain’t Got That Swing)
-Duke Ellington

You may remember the old joke about the comedian who asks, “What’s the secret of a good joke?” and then answers the question without a moment’s break. “Timing.”

Until Einstein, “time” was seen as a constant. It was always the same. Then relativity came along and suddenly time was a “changeable” dimension.  (Don’t ask me to explain THAT!) Time became, to put it way too simply, relative. As we get older we can agree with that idea. Time sure moves faster when you have more time behind you. (Where did this year go? It’s the end of July already!)

Another way of describing this is to say that “time” is how we perceive it. If we are bored, it hardly moves; if we are having a great time, it ends too soon. Music depends on time- and timing. Music is guided by a “time signature.” In jazz, the idea of “time” can take on another dimension. Time becomes the movement of the notes in a unique and special way. From there that movement is what musicians often call “the groove” or the interaction of musicians, time and melody into something everyone can feel.

When you are in that groove with the movement leading you, holding you and the music together-
That’s Swing!

Wikipedia starts the definition of swing this way:
In jazz and related musical styles, the term swing is used to describe the sense of propulsive rhythmic "feel" or "groove" created by the musical interaction between the performers, especially when the music creates a "visceral response" such as feet-tapping or head-nodding.
Got it? It sounds simple.
    1.    There’s the movement (propulsive rhythm).
    2.    That movement is created by the interaction the performers themselves are feeling.
    3.    There is a “visceral response,” perhaps because of that interaction, responses like tapping your foot or nodding your head.

If that’s all it takes, I have seen many performers “swinging” in some of the dullest ways possible. In some ways it sounds like a small group of people doing their thing in a way that moves them.

Wikipedia continues:
While some jazz musicians have called the concept of "swing" a subjective and elusive notion, they acknowledge that the concept is well-understood by experienced jazz musicians at a practical, intuitive level. Jazz players refer to "swing" as the sense that a jam session or live performance is really "cooking" or "in the pocket." If a jazz musician states that an ensemble performance is "really swinging," this suggests that the performers are playing with a special degree of rhythmic coherence and "feel."
In other words, if you don’t understand it, that’s because you aren’t an experienced jazz musician. It takes a “practical” and “intuitive” understanding to know when it’s “cooking.” That just adds a bit of snobbery to the first part of the discussion. You have to be with the “in crowd” to really know what swing is or even how to make it happen. How about that attempt at paradox- practical AND intuitive.

Do you get the idea they can’t describe it any better than anyone else? All they are saying is that they know it when it happens. When it’s not happening, well, it “just ain’t swingin’ man.”

The crazy thing is that this is as good as it gets trying to nail it down without some time listening to the music. We have all had an experience of the essence of “swing” whether it is in jazz, or any other kind of music. It may have been the Sunday the organist at church nailed a Bach prelude or the praise band’s hallelujah touched the depth of your soul. It might have been at the rock concert when your favorite band never sounded better and every note was right where they (and you) wanted it to be. Those are the same as “swing,” just in a different musical genre. They are peak experiences when music and time come together and meld into Einstein’s four-dimensional universe.

Okay, enough of this. We can wax and wane poetic, prosaic, or scientific night and day and never quite get to that kernel of truth about swing. We know swing because it moves us. We know swing because something in us responds to it. As musicians, we know we are “in the groove” when we come to the end and realize you were simply carried along.

In jazz, we call it swing. Swing always is an interaction in time and musical movement. On a very simple technical level swing is that dotted-eighth/sixteenth combination of notes. But Latin jazz doesn’t do that, yet it can swing as hard as any other jazz.

That’s where the idea of time really comes into play. Wynton Marsalis describes it this way in his book, Moving to Higher Ground:
Jazz is the art of timing. It teaches you when. When to start, when to wait, when to step it up, and when to take your time- indispensable tools for making someone else happy….

Actual time is a constant. Your time is a perception. Swing time is a collective action. Everyone in jazz is trying to create a more flexible alternative to actual time
We are back to our perception of time, and again that perception is grounded in a collective sense of time in the interaction of the musicians, the rhythm, and the music.

Wynton Marsalis applies all this to our daily lives. Swing helps us in:
    1.    Adjusting to changes without losing your equilibrium;
    2.    Mastering moments of crisis with clear thinking;
    3.    Living in the moment and accepting reality instead of trying to force everyone to do things your way;
    4.    Concentrating on a collective goal even when your conception of the collective doesn’t dominate.
Change happens. It is a constant. Sometimes it is expected and not jarring. It is in time. Sometimes it knocks us off our balance. That is when the understanding of swing, staying in the groove, going with the flow comes in handy. The moments of crisis, times of change, when we can lose our ability to make healthy decisions is when we move back to the basics. The forms of life that keep us moving.

Remember that jazz is made up of forms and when you have an understanding of the forms you can adapt. If you know the forms of your life, you can begin to trust your Self 2 instinct as discussed in the Inner Game of Music. It’s the muscle and mental default mode that keeps us standing when it would be easier to fall.
From there we accept what is- staying in the moment- accepting the things we cannot change, changing what we can, and knowing which is which.

Another way to describe swing is that it’s how you accent the music, what you emphasize, what you want people to hear. Any jazz musician knows the forms for accents, for what to emphasize and what not to. That can change from performance to performance, within the basic forms of course. Tonight the musician may want to emphasize the upbeat feel of a chorus; tomorrow, after a difficult day, the emphasis may take more of a bluesy style.

What you accent in life can become your song or story. How you do that can change the rhythm of your life.  That’s your perspective. We all know the analogies of looking at the doughnut or the hole; the cage of horse manure with the optimist seeing the possibility of a horse amid all that. Even the old "is the glass half-empty or half-full" can add a new dimension- the glass is refillable.

Accentuate the positive. Assume positive intent.
Or not.
It’s your choice.

But you are not alone. With few exceptions jazz is a truly collective music. We have to listen to each other, not fight each other in a jazz performance. It is a cooperative action of attempting to make more than any one of us can make on their own. If I accent the upbeat and you slur through them it might sound unique, but will it sound appropriate? Will it sound like one of us is trying to one-up the other? The music will often suffer as a result. It can easily descend into chaos. Some might call that “free-form” but it takes amazing concentration of collective action to produce good “free-form” jazz.

In the end, Wynton Marsalis says, swing demands three things:
    1.    Extreme coordination- it is a dance with others inventing steps as they go;
    2.    Intelligent decision making- what’s good for group
    3.    Good intentions- trust you and others want great music.
Swing is worth the effort. We grow in relationships- and we learn how to develop relationships. We learn how to listen to others and, in the end, ourselves. That will lead us into the next two weeks’ posts on what may be the heart and soul of jazz- improvisation, the ultimate in going with the flow.

Until then, keep swinging.

I don't care if a dude is purple with
green breath as long as he can swing.
-Miles Davis

Note: All Wynton Marsalis quotes are from the book:
    •    Moving to Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life by Wynton Marsalis and Geoffrey Ward. 2008, Random House.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Jazz 2- What Makes Jazz Jazz?

Jazz does not belong to one race or culture,
but is a gift that America has given the world.
-Ahmad Alaadeen

I remember a discussion I had with a teenager in my church youth group some 30+ years ago. We had been listening to some live rock song that had a great guitar solo. We started talking about different styles of music and came up with a question.

What makes jazz jazz? Why isn’t it rock or vice versa?

Neither of us had an answer, although we did, in general, agree that we knew it when we heard it. Here, then, decades later, I am going to attempt to answer that question from my experiences. As I said in the previous post, I have been enthralled by jazz in all its forms for over 50 years. I’m not out to give an in-depth analysis of jazz and what makes it what it is. There are countless books that do that. Some are history like Ted Gioia’s History of Jazz, a remarkable story of how jazz got to be what it is. Some are on video like Ken Burns’ mini-series documentary, Jazz, from PBS. Barry Kernfeld’s What to Listen For in Jazz has informed this particular post. All three of these are 16 - 20 years old, but capture the story that has become jazz.

Since one of my goals is to relate the music and the experience of jazz to my life and experience, musicology is not my goal. Living jazz is. So, I found in Kernfeld’s book seven things that are essential ingredients to understand about jazz. These, I think, give a little more to work with than just saying “I know it when I hear it.” While all of them can be found in most other musical genres, how they apply to this genre begins to answer the greater question of what makes this music what it is.

First comes rhythm. This should come as no surprise. Jazz started as music for movement. It was street music, dance music, walking and marching music. The power of the “beat” is unmistakable. It is almost impossible to call it “jazz” if it doesn’t have rhythm. It must constantly be supported and carried by the rhythm section- drums or bass, piano or guitar. I know that sometimes that rhythm is pretty hard to find, especially in more free-form jazz, but if you ask the musicians they will say there is something there. It will go nowhere without a living, breathing pulse.

All music breathes. The rise and fall of dynamics, crescendo and decrescendo, are the active elements that make it something more than a one-level sound. In jazz, that breath becomes a rhythm. Some of this is what is called articulation. When you emphasize what note, how you flow from one section to another. But it is always alive, always moving.

When jazz musicians say the music is “in the groove” this is part of what they mean. It is alive and moving. The two most common rhythms can be described as

• Swing and
• Duple.

Swing is a movement of triplets enhanced or bounded by accentuations. Duple is doubles, also enhanced and defined by accentuations. While recognizing that there are numerous variations and exceptions, we can take Dixieland and “big band” traditional jazz as the best examples of “swing.” Duple is more straightforward and can be seen in Latin jazz. I will talk more about rhythm, especially swing, in the next post.

The connection of rhythm and breathing with living is obvious. Drumming has been one of those human endeavors most likely since the first time an ancient relative hit a hollow log with a stick. In so doing they were mimicking the action at the center of our lives- the heartbeat. Rhythm is more than primitive in its origins. It is primal. It is basic, essential. A heart arrhythmia can be fatal- it is out of rhythm.

Second is form. With tens of thousands of possible songs to play, a jazz group and its musicians would be hard pressed to memorize everything out there. That would clearly limit their repertoire and challenge the skill of even the greatest among them. What has developed to make this job relatively easy is the form of jazz music. The most common of these was adapted from the basic “song” form- the music of the Great American Songbook. Very simply this form is the beginning theme, the “head”, the first description of which is usually done twice, the chorus in the middle and then closing with the theme. This often referred to as the AABA form.

There can be many variations on how long these individual sections can be. The song form would, in general, be 32 bars, 8 in each section. Other variations can have a repeating pattern of measures and chord changes such as the 12-bar blues which can be adapted to 8- or 16-bars. Chord changes are often sort of standardized with the 12-bar blues being the grandaddy of them and the progression of the chords of I’ve Got Rhythm (referred to as “rhythm changes”) being another.

One other form is the march and ragtime form. These are usually 16-bar phrases with two, three, or four themes as the song progresses.

Now, in general, a jazz musician can pick up a book of songs and all it might have are the head, chord changes, and the closing. When you understand the basic form of these songs, you have the greater possibility of playing more music and not being completely lost.

Third is arrangement. This is the first of three elements of jazz that are about “writing” the music. Arrangement is taking something that already exists and adapting it. Arrangers can do it note-for-note adding embellishments with their group playing as close to the original as possible. They can also take the original and add embellishments to it to change the patterns around the original. The third is to orchestrate the song differently. Having a saxophone-based combo play a song will give a very different experience from a piano-based one. For example taking a Lennon-McCartney song and arranging it for a big band would take all these into account. What instruments do you want to play when? How close to the original will it be? Will you divide it into sections that build on or riff on the theme?

Fourth is composition. Simply put this is basically writing new music. You are composing a new song. It can be based on the chord progressions from another song, such as the many on the changes of I’ve Got Rhythm or the 12-bar blues. It will be a new melody, a new song.

Fifth is improvisation. Improvisation is so essential to what call jazz in all its forms, I will take at least two posts to deal with that. Suffice it to say here, that being able to improvise is what can help all of us succeed in the ups and downs of life. It is not simply flying by the seat of ones pants. It is the ability to call on our knowledge, experiences, hard work, and creativity to solve problems and enhance our lives. Kernfeld called improvisation the “most fascinating and mysterious” element of jazz. It will be featured prominently in all that we do in jazz.

Sixth is sound. This is where orchestration comes in. Different instruments sound different. Different combinations sound different. How you put them together can make a huge difference in what you hear- or don’t hear. It is also the tuning of the notes and how they fit together. Miles Davis famously said that “there are no wrong notes in jazz: only notes in the wrong places.” Thelonius Monk added to that sentiment. "There are no wrong notes; some are just more right than others.”

The ultimate in the jazz sound is what has been called the “blue note.” Simply put the “blue note” is a note that is played or sung a half-step off from what would be expected. Blue notes add a sense of tension, surprise, or worry to the sound. It comes from its use in the blues progression. The “sound” of jazz is what has led many to say they may not know what jazz is, but they know when they hear it.

Finally, the seventh element of jazz is style. Jazz is not one style of music- it is a genre made up of these elements and then flowing into numerous styles. Kernfeld, in What to Listen for in Jazz, leaves the idea of style to an epilogue. That way he could look at the elements that can be found in one way or another in different styles. Here are some of the styles that have developed in jazz, and are still breathing life into the genre:
  • New Orleans Jazz
  • Big Band
  • Bebop
  • Hard Bop
  • Fusion
  • Free Jazz
  • Latin Jazz
  • Acid Jazz
  • Jazz Rock
  • Kansas City Jazz
  • Modal Jazz
  • West Coast Jazz
And Wikipedia goes on to list another 30 sub-genres.

Talk about diversity. Talk about having an abundance of opportunities. Talk about a perfect music to have developed in a little more than only 100 years in the United States.

That’s jazz. That’s all there is to it. In 2000 words or less.
The details, are in the hands of the musicians- and of you and me as listeners. That’s where we will go in the next six posts, seeing how these are good metaphors for life and how, when we learn jazz, we are also learning how to live.

Jazz is the type of music
that can absorb so many things
and still be jazz.
-Sonny Rollins

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Jazz 1- What About Jazz?

Eight weeks on jazz. Ah, where to begin?

I could start with a dictionary definition, but that would be almost antithetical to the whole idea of jazz. I could find a quote from some famous jazz musician and place it at the top of this page as an introduction. I could find a video of someone explaining the basics of jazz. But jazz is much more than any of those and far beyond any ability to explain it easily, quickly, or purposefully.

So instead I will do what jazz might encourage. I will riff on the theme. I will answer my own question: What do I want to say about jazz? Here goes:

1. It moves me- just like many forms of music. It moves me internally- I feel good when it hits me. It moves me externally- I physically cannot sit still when listening to jazz. My family will tell you that I direct music when listening to it. Jazz inhabits me and makes me move like no other music.

2. It is a dialogue in sound that occurs through the interaction of different instruments- just like many forms of music. I’m not even talking about improvising at this point. Just the sonic mix of instruments does it. Again, all music requires some sense of interaction in sound, but jazz has taken it and made it into a musical art and craft.

3. It is alive. Even when it is a studio recording there is a sense of a living form that most other types of music may only get through a live concert performance. This is where improvised solos play an important part, but because the music of jazz has grown out of live experiences, it seems to capture that in ways other genres do not.

4. It is almost infinitely adaptable. That is another aspect of jazz being “alive.” Jazz - combo or big band - can play an arrangement of Jim Croce or Lennon-McCartney as easily as it can play the music of the Great American Songbook or the classic music of jazz and Dixieland. On top of that, composers can write music that is new and exciting and it will be jazz.

5. It can stand up with other genres and styles as well as anything. There is Preservation Hall Jazz Band recording with Bluegrass icon, Del McCoury. You can hear Wynton Marsalis in concert with Eric Clapton or Willie Nelson.

6. It is our American music. It is part of the very roots of our American heritage. It describes so much of who we are and the potential of who we can be.

I have been enthralled by jazz for well over 50 years. Jazz has been involved in all of my adult life, moving me, challenging me, inspiring me. It started with Al Hirt’s Java. Herbie Mann’s Memphis Underground kicked me up the side of the head. Les McCann and Eddie Harris with Compared to What gave me more insights. Doc Severinsen, Buddy Rich, Maynard Ferguson, and, above all, Louis Armstrong all contributed even before I graduated from college! I want to share what this has done and why.

You see, above all else, I think jazz is the best musical paradigm for how to live day in and day out. Life is an improvisational exercise. Life is finding the rhythms, harmonies, dialogues, hopes, fears, and emotions to make it through another day. All of that is what jazz does in ways that no other single genre of music can- at least for me.

Sadly it has been reported recently that, as far as music sales go, jazz has become the least popular musical style. That is a long way down from the heights of the big band era when some would argue that Glenn Miller’s In the Mood helped us win World War II. It is a sad departure from the incredible all-time best-selling Miles Davis and Kind of Blue. There are no doubt many cultural factors involved in that, but it still is depressing to think that this rich musical heritage is an endangered species.

So what I will do in the next seven installments of this Tuning Slide series is talk about jazz as I see it. I will explore how it has enlivened me, what it can teach us, and how it can give us all a sense of movement and unity.

Let me close this with a video. Well actually it is a You Tube video of what many consider the greatest jazz solo Louis Armstrong ever made. Way back in the mists of jazz history, Satchmo and His Hot Five recorded West End Blues. It set the standard on which just about everything else is built.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

43. Crazy Great! Preparing for Tomorrow

Learning isn’t a way of reaching one’s potential 
but rather a way of developing it.”
― Anders Ericsson,  

A recently published book has been making some waves. In Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson (psychologist) and Robert Pool (science writer)...
skillfully examine the eternal debate of nature vs. nurture with this thoughtful treatise supporting the latter. The authors posit that deliberate, focused practice is the key to learning and mastering any new skill, whether or not an underlying natural talent is present. “Generally the solution is not ‘try harder,’ but ‘try differently,’”
-Publishers Weekly
Success in today's world, expertise, requires a focus on practical performance, not just the accumulation of information.

 I thought this would be an appropriate way to end this first year of the Tuning Slide. It gets back to the general themes we have looked at in these posts since last September. It deals with intention, practice, passion, having mentors, paying attention. Anders and Pool comment that they
..can report with confidence that I have never found a convincing case for anyone developing extraordinary abilities without intense, extended practice.
The students of Bill Adam's instruction (and their students!) who have so influenced me this past year would agree. They have challenged me, and through me, you to look more closely at what we do in practice. Take it seriously. Find the time if you want to find the skills. Over this past year, as I have shared with you my journey at age 67 to become a much more proficient trumpet player this has been my constant awareness.  Each month I found myself practicing more days- because I wanted to and made it happen. Each month I also practiced longer each day- again because I wanted to and had the increased ability to do so. There are now days when I finish my routine and practice and can't believe what I have managed. Old dogs- new tricks. Yep!

But, as Anders and Pool tell us:
Doing the same thing over and over again in exactly the same way is not a recipe for improvement; it is a recipe for stagnation and gradual decline.
If I keep doing what I have always done I will keep getting what I have always gotten. Sure, I may have more endurance, but I won't have gained much else. One thing I know I want to work on, for example, is my high-note ability. I have a hunch I have been working on that the way I have always worked on it. Yes, I am more able to hit the high "C" than I used to be, but it is not solid or clear. My experience tells me I am not finding new ways to work on it to get me past my plateau. One of my goals this summer at adult Big Band Camp is to find one of the instructors who can help me figure that out.

Well, fleshing all this out will be one of the themes for next year. Which brings me to answer the question
  • What's coming on The Tuning Slide?
First, I'm not posting anything for the next two weeks. I will be at the adult Big Band Camp at Shell Lake taking my next step into jazz and improv. I will be taking notes and developing the next series of 8 posts here on the Tuning Slide- all about jazz and improv and how they apply to life and what we can learn from Jazz about living. I will try to keep it broadly about jazz and not narrow it down to trumpets. This has been a passion of mine for many, many years and now I will take some time to write about it. Watch for that beginning Wednesday, July 6.

I will also be at the Trumpet Camp at Shell Lake the first week of August, taking notes and talking to people, including you, Mr. Baca. My goal will be to develop and expand the thoughts and ideas for year 2. Year 2 posts will begin on Wednesday, August 31.

Let me know if you have any topics you want me to research or riff on. Much of what I do here is my own written version of improvising, which is not, as some people think, simply flying by the seat of one's pants. Send me thoughts, quotes, or questions. Add them to the comments on the blog and I will work on them.

So, have a good two weeks while I regroup and move this blog into the next phase. Hope to have you back in a few weeks.

Meanwhile, don't stop practicing and growing. It is easy in the summer to become distracted. If you want to continue to grow toward your expertise, keep at it.

Let me conclude with two paragraphs from the website, Create Yourself Today about the Anders and Pool book. This is her takeaway from it
It’s not what you are born with or not, that makes you great at anything, makes your performance peak. And it’s not your environment either, at least not the one you were born into.

Your performance at any given field is all about your intent, your readiness, your desire to get great. Exceptionally great.
Maybe even
Crazy great!