Moanin’

It’s been a while since I did an audio selfie here, so here’s a session recording from a couple years ago. Same group I introduced in the Listen Here post. A couple things to listen for:

When Michael solos at about 4:10, I switch from sax to piano to comp some chords. That’s pretty much the extent of my jazz piano ability.

At 5:30 I quote Fever. At that point Michael and I start trading fours. That’s where each guy plays four bars (16 beats) and you go back and forth. The idea is to play off each other.

The song is a jazz standard dating back to 1958. Written by Bobby Timmons and recorded by the Jazz Messengers. It’s been covered about a zillion times since then.

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Inchworm

This is another rehearsal recording with my friends Doug, Jamie, and Michael. You can meet them in the post about Listen Here, if you are interested.

This is a song written by Frank Loesser, and introduced to the world by the wonderful Danny Kaye. He sang it beautifully, and that is the version that is in my head when I play it.

The arrangement we are playing is from the Real Book 5th edition. Back in the 1970s somebody (nobody will say who) put together a thick book of jazz standards and popular jazz songs. This violated copyright law, because they didn’t get permission from any of the composers. So it was produced and published and sold through a grey market. I bought mine in the late 1980s from a music store that I heard had it. You’d go in, say, “Can I get a Real Book?” and they would try to sell you the legit version (which was completely different, and was missing most of the songs you would want), and you’d say, “Uh…. the other  Real Book…” and they’d look you up and down, and open a drawer and sell you the one you want.

A few years ago, a publisher finally went to the trouble of getting most of the rights to the songs, and transposed them so most of them are in the same key as the original Real Books. That’s called the 6th Edition, and you can get it anywhere. But it’s not exactly the same, so it’s better to use the 5th Edition if you can get your hands on one. And these days, that’s incredibly easy, since there are PDF scans of it that you can get from any file sharing network you want.

The version of Inchworm in the Real Book is based on how Coltrane recorded it. After the head, it goes to a simple two chord modal pattern for the solos. I am very comfortable with soloing over this kind of pattern. You are basically working in a single key and exploring the scale of that key any way you want. I just close my eyes, and see where it goes.

After my solo, I move over to the keyboard and play a couple chords so Michael has something to play over. I learned to play jazz piano about 17 years ago. I was living where I am now, but with Wife 1. Her sister owned a square grand piano from the late 1800s. A square grand is a lot like a regular grand, except the soundboard with all the strings is criss crossed so they can pack everything into a smaller space. I guess it was invented so that you could have a grand piano in the small rooms of the Victorian era.

Anyway, this thing weighed a ton, and it was ruining her sister’s house, and so we volunteered to give it a new home. I got it, and immediately set about tuning it, which, if you’re a musician with a good ear and a wrench, isn’t really very hard to do. So then I had an in-tune grand piano in my house.

So I called my brother. “Hey, Zack. How do I play jazz piano?” And by phone and email, he taught me enough jazz piano theory and practice to be able to fake enough chords to back up a guitar player while he solos.

Since then, I’ve learned a few bass lines so I can sit at a piano and play the head on a jazz tune, and then just play a bass line while I fool around and improvise with my other hand. I can do this for hours. Which explains the following tweet, which is what I’ll leave you with:

Listen Here

The above track is really long, so a good strategy might be to start it playing now, and let it be the background music as you read.

This is a song called Listen Here, written by Eddie Harris back in 1968. I first heard it on the Sirius/XM station “Real Jazz.” I liked it a lot, and it sounded really familiar. Eventually I figured out that the reason it sounded familiar is because it is quoted in a solo on another recording I really like: Loft Funk by Mike Clark.

Quoting is when, during a solo, the musician plays a few bars of another song. So I recognized it, and bought an Eddie Harris anthology album, and put it on my playlist.

So while commuting one day, I was listening to Listen Here, and I noticed that the bass line was pentatonic. (You may recall that the pentatonic scale is 5 notes, spaced at the intervals of the black keys on a piano.) Or, at least, it sounded pentatonic. I don’t have perfect pitch, so I wasn’t positive. So when I got home I tried it out, and I discovered that not only is it pentatonic, but it is in B♭. That’s a magical key for a couple reasons: 1) you can literally use the piano black keys to play that bass line, and 2) that is the first blues key every horn player (sax, trumpet, trombone, you name it) learns. And when you are a sixth grade kid just learning to play the blues, one key is really plenty, so it’s the only blues scale you are going to play for about the first 3 years of your career. It is, therefore, the very favorite key of every horn player everywhere.

So now I have a song that has a bass line that you can play on the black keys of a piano, and it is in a key that I love. So I set about learning the melody. Which, it turns out, is all of 10 notes long. It’s not a head, such much as a riff. So I learn that in a few seconds.

It’s actually a peculiar riff, because although it’s played over a blues scale, it contains a major 6th (in this case, that’s G). That’s one of the notes that you typically skip when you play the blues. Because G is a white key. So I guess it makes you sound “white”. Anyway, that’s probably why that quote in the middle of an eight minute song, in the middle of a jazz playlist with nearly a thousand songs, stuck in my head.

At the time I made this discovery, I was playing in a small jazz group. Doug: a drummer who used to be my next-door neighbor, who I’ve been playing jazz with, on and off, over the past 15 years. Jamie: a bass player who grew up playing with one of the best blues players in the northeast, but who only recently started playing jazz. [The difference being that blues is typically just 3 or 4 chords in a simple pattern, whereas jazz is all over the place when it comes to chords.] And Michael: a really good jazz guitar player who taught at a local private school for rich kids — the kind of school where the kids are so rich there can be a teacher who just does electric guitar lessons.

So the next time we got together, I taught the bass line to Jamie, asked Doug to give me a funk beat, and asked Michael to figure out what to play because I literally had no idea. I found a couple chords to hit on the piano while it got started, and then I jumped in and played the riff. Did that a few times, and then started fooling around on the B♭ blues scale.

One of the thing I learned from listening to Eddie Harris’s solo on this song is a great way to use the raised 4th in the blues scale. I typically use it to walk chromatically up from the 4th to the 5th. But if, instead, you hang out on the raised 4th, and then fall to the regular 4th, you get this Grover Washington Jr. vibe. I do it at 6:45 in the above audio clip.

This became one of our go-to songs. It’s easy to stretch out and just play. A good jam.

Eddie Harris, who wrote this song, was an experimentalist. He was noted for doing strange things like putting sax mouthpieces on trumpets, and trombone mouthpieces on tenor saxes. However, the thing he was most noted for was putting a pickup on his sax and running the output through the strange electronics that guitar players of the time were messing with. He would create a second voice that matched what he played but an octave down, or whatnot. So I’ll leave you with a video of him doing that at the Montreux  Jazz Festival in 1969. Check out the audience at 3:45 in, who manage to remain incredibly chill even when the band is absolutely rocking out. It’s kind of funny:

Charity Gig 2014

Every year I play a charity gig for the local library. The group is always changing, so this is the first time I’ve ever played with this particular group of guys. We play standards, and there is some dancing. You’ll hear background noise, kind of like a club gig.

I recorded this using the “Voice Memos” app on my phone, with a Blue MIKEY Digital mic (I highly recommend it).

The band this year is myself on Alto Sax, Bob (an engineer I went to college with) on Bass, Peter (runs the local school district music program) on Drums, and Alex (a high school senior (!) who has been accepted to Berkeley next year) on Guitar.

My Funny Valentine

Fly Me To The Moon

Georgia

As Time Goes By

It Had To Be You

Girl From Ipanema

Paper Moon

Our Love Is Here To Stay

Sweet Georgia Brown

I Could Write A Book

Love For Sale

Mercy, Mercy, Mercy