Thursday, May 31, 2012

Coltrane Transcription

I set out to transcribe John Coltrane's 26-2 solo this morning.  Before I began I made a list of questions I hoped to have answered from the transcription.  Here is the list:
  1. What is the ratio of obvious patterns to simple, melodic material?
  2. How often does he switch patterns?  (At the end of each phrase?  Within phrases?)
  3. How many obvious patterns are in his vocabulary?
  4. Is his vocabulary more or less the same as what he used on the Giant Steps recording (which I transcribed, analyzed and learned many years ago, as a student)?
  5. What does he use for "melodic material" to contrast patterns?  Is it obvious how this material was derived?
  6. Are his phrase lengths more or less symmetrical?  Does he pause/breathe in specific spots within the form, repeatedly?
  7. Does measure 9 (where there is a slight deviation from the original progression) present any noticeable problems for him, compared to measure 5?
I finished the transcription, but haven't done a thorough analysis yet.  I must admit that I was really surprised with what I saw as the solo materialized on paper.  It appears that his approach to soloing on 26-2 isn't as formulaic, rigid, and pattern oriented as what he played on the Giant Steps album, recorded about a year and a 1/2 prior.  It is quite astonishing, not to mention inspiring, to think that John Coltrane's playing evolved to such a great extent over such a short period.

My transcription ended up being eight pages long, so I will post half today and half tomorrow.  Either tomorrow or sometime shortly, I will share some analytical observations.

For those of you with an interest in the transcription process, you may wish to read my article, "How To Transcribe Music", which is posted in the Jazz Education portion of my website.

You may wish to click on the individual pages to make them larger and more legible.  The recorded solo is posted on YouTube, should you wish to follow along.  Here is the link:  http://youtu.be/H_uO_UbBEAg
Enjoy!





...to be continued.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Congratulations

It's that time of year when accomplishments should be recognized and celebrated.  Two of my former students are most deserving of a true pat on the back.

Aaron Nebbia's celebratory graduation cake.  Congratulations Aaron!  Berklee College of Music, 2012.
Aaron Nebbia graduated from the Berklee College of Music and was on the Dean's list.  He studied piano with me as a high school student and attended my UConn jazz camps. I believe he was a high school junior when he switched to the string bass and never looked back.  I played a gig with him and his dad recently and can attest that he swings like crazy, knows plenty of tunes and takes great solos.  What more could one ask for in a bassist?

Bassist Aaron Nebbia and his former teacher, Earl MacDonald pose for a photo together.


Jimmy Macbride studied with me around the same time.  Drums have always been his primary instrument, but he can certainly get around on the piano.  We also worked together on composition and arranging.  It is in this area that Jimmy was recently honored.  He won a DownBeat Award for his original composition, "Short Stop".  Jimmy is currently a third year student in the jazz program at the Juilliard School, where he studies with Billy Drummond.

Jimmy has the following upcoming (local) performance in Hartford:

Drummer, Jimmy Macbride
Monday, June 4th. 7 PM.
Pond House Cafe, Hartford, CT


The King Philip Middle School's Jazz Band will play the first set, which will include Jimmy's composition Joe's Lament.

Then, Jimmy will play the second set along with pianist Dave Lantz and bassist Raviv Markovitz.

I look forward to hearing these young, fiery, award-winning musicians in action.


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Jazz Patterns

tenor saxophonist, John Coltrane
I took a brief hiatus from blogging, over the long weekend.  With everything else on my calendar there simply were not enough hours to practice and blog, so I prioritized practicing.

I have been trying to plug the patterns into the tunes, at tempo.  It has been challenging to say the least.  In thinking about how to get over my current hurdle, I remembered how Charlie Banacos required me to record myself for each of our correspondence lessons.  It worked back then, so I decided to "give it a go" using Coltrane's "26-2".  Here are 10 patterns inserted into the form, played to the accompaniment of a Jamey Abersold play-a-long CD:






I forgot to record pattern #6, but recorded an additional pattern at the end.  :)






Over time, I hope to be able to play these back-to-back, and mix and match patterns freely.  I feel that I am still a fair ways away from being able to do this.

This week I plan to:

  • continue playing along with Jamey Abersold recordings.
  • dispense with the Giant Steps Workout Worksheet and playing the progression in 12 keys (for now).
  • emphasize transcribing --- notating and learning both Coltrane solos, and solos by more contemporary artists playing John Coltrane pieces from this "Giant Steps" period.
Through transcribing I hope to get a better grasp of how to balance the patterns with simplistic melodic material, to create a cohesive solo.


Friday, May 25, 2012

Smile

As Louis Armstrong sang...
"When you're smilin', when you're on smilin'
The whole world smiles with you
...."
I've decided that I'm done with being "the pianist with furrowed brows".  I've seen pictures of myself playing where I'm hunched over and angry looking.  Life is too short.  Even though I'm playing music that requires a lot of concentrating, I want to emit joy when I play.

I used to think Papa Jo Jones' perpetual smile was silly.  Now, I'm starting to think that he was "on to something".  That he "got it".   Music is and should be fun.


I use a smiley face post-it note on my music stand to remind myself to smile and not frown when playing the piano --- even when deep concentration is necessary..This may sound insane, but I have started to practice smiling while in my studio, working through piano exercises.  Like everything else I practice, I want smiling to become second nature/habit.  Any time I working through some form of physical impediment to my playing, I use post-it notes on the piano music stand with little reminders for myself.  In the past these have included "shoulders" (when I had the bad habit of raising my shoulders and retaining tension), and "tapping" (when I was a relentless foot tapper).  I currently have a smiley post-it staring back at me.

A wise, older musician friend of mine once told me that music "will never leave or forsake you".  (Sounds biblical doesn't it?)  "In all of life's ups and downs, music will be there when you need it most."  He went on to tell me about some of his life challenges and sorrows, when picking up his horn was the best form of therapy available.  His words are resonating with me these days.  I am thankful for the outlet music provides.

On day 11 of my Giant Steps challenge I felt the need to increase the time I designated to the patterns.  Some of them I played for up to 15 minutes, before feeling I had made enough progress to move on.  I often practice "double fisted" with the left hand mirroring the right hand.  My left hand is starting to feel more comfortable.  I am also experimenting with comping in different ways with my left hand.  As I start to play through the Coltrane changes at faster tempos, I am realizing that I will need a plan for my left hand so that it doesn't get in the way, or lead.  As I listen to recordings of "Giant Steps" this week, my focus will shift to the left hand at least some of the time.

Speaking of recordings, I have started transcribing a Kenny Drew Jr. solo on "Giant Steps" which I plan to post in the next few days.  I also have my eyes (and ears!) on solos by Walt Weiskopf and Dave Kikoski, which I hope to transcribe and post before the end of this 30 day journey

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Coltrane Changes

After ten days of practicing and blogging about Coltrane changes, the obligatory theoretical explanation is probably overdue.

Many musicians/theorists have provided commentaries on Coltrane's "Giant Steps" matrix. For this reason I will keep mine concise, but will include links to articles and a brief bibliography for those wanting to dig deeper.

In a nutshell, 'Trane divides the octave into 3 equal parts.  In the key of C this looks like:

C --- Ab --- E --- C 

Think of these as tonal centers (or key areas) descending by major thirds.  A progression is formed by preceding each tonal center with its dominant (V7).  Theorists call this "tonicization".

The progression ends up looking like this:

Coltrane's cycle of descending major thirds, also known as the Coltrane Matrix or Coltrane Changes

John Coltrane superimposed this harmonic cycle into existing, commonly played tunes within the jazz repertoire.

Here is a regular ii -  V - I progression in C, followed by Coltrane's reharmonization, as it appears in "Countdown", which is actually a reworking of "Tune Up" by Miles Davis.


John Coltrane reharmonized many songs by superimposing this harmonic progression over a 2 - 5 - 1 harmonic sequence.
He retains the first chord (Dmi7) and then goes into the cycle of descending major thirds.

The song "26-2" is Coltrane's reharmonization of "Confirmation" by Charlie Parker.  Here are the chords for the first five measures of Confirmation, followed by "26-2", for the sake of comparison.

John Coltrane reharmonization of Confirmation by Charlie Parker
Note how he successfully superimposed his matrix progression while still arriving at the tune's primary tonal centers/harmonic targets of F (I) in measure 1 and 9, and Bb (IV) in measure 5.

Here is one more:  Coltrane took the standard, "How High the Moon" and transformed it into his composition, "Satellite" using the same method.  Again he successfully retains the original harmonic targets, which in this case are G, F and Eb.

Coltrane changes on "How High The Moon"
For those wanting to delve deeper into the topic here are some recommended books and links:
Wikipedia has a fairly good article dedicated to Coltrane Changes.  Here is the link:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coltrane_changes

Now... back to the piano to learn how to navigate myself through these chords!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Kenny Kirkland

I am sharing a couple of Kenny Kirkland "Giant Steps" solos today.  Both come from performances with the Kenny Garrett Quartet.  The piano solo starts at 7:34.  The tempo is breakneck. Even though it may be out of necessity, I like how he alternated between linear material and rhythmic ideas from chorus to chorus.

I love the energy this band projects.



This version is at a slightly more manageable tempo.



Somewhere in my archives I have a cassette recording of a Branford Marsalis Quartet studio session where the band, which includes Kirkland, records eight or so back-to-back takes of Giant Steps.  At some point I will have to dig it up and make comparisons with these videos.  It would certainly make for an interesting transcription project.

I don't have much to report on the "practice front", other than I'm making progress.  This is DAY 8 of my 30 day blogging/practicing challenge where I am focusing to improve my skills on Coltrane changes. I think my concentration levels are getting better.  Some of the new patterns are presenting a true challenge for me, but I am determined to get them under my fingers.  I'm enjoying playing "But Not For Me" and "Satellite".

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

But Not For Me

After completing my practice routine today I spent some extra time learning "But Not For Me".  Here is Coltrane playing it on his "My Favorite Things" recording from 1960:



Perhaps due to the relaxed tempo, Trane plays with much more simplicity and tunefulness on this song than on many of the others employing his matrix progression.  He only rarely reverts to patterns.  It provides a nice contrast, and I intend to work on this approach shortly, after becoming more comfortable with the progression through practicing patterns rigidly.

Here is my transcription of Coltrane playing the "in head" of "But Not For Me": [Click on the image to make it larger.]

I didn't include the cued "tag" at the end of the form.  Instead of playing the last four measures, the band plays two measures of Fmi7, two measures of Ami7, two measures of C#mi7, two measures of Ami7 and then an open loop of iimi7 - V7 - iii half diminished 7 - VI7 (one measure each), before the next soloist "breaks" on EbMaj7.

Overall I would say today's practice session went well.  I found I needed to spend some extra time on patterns 8, 9 and 10 (included in yesterday's posting.) Five minutes wasn't enough to make any noticeable progress.  For these three patterns I will double my time tomorrow.

As always, ever up and onward.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Switch It Up

My six-year-old son loves going to the local skateboard park and is enrolled in a weekly skateboard camp.  I realized early on I could either be a passive, bored observer, or get a skateboard of my own and join in on the fun, while establishing a common interest/hobby with my son.  At his camp I often eavesdrop on the instruction to get some useful tips for myself.

Last week they had the kids "riding switch".  This means that you reverse the feet so that you balance on the foot with which you regularly push, and vice versa.  When I tried it, I found that it was much  harder than it looked.  I instantly returned to feeling AND LOOKING like an absolute beginner.  It occurred to me that to learn this skill and thereby acquire better overall balance, I would need to "check my ego at the door", and not be afraid to look foolish for a period of time.

Music functions in exactly the same way.  It is necessary to switch up one's practice routine on a fairly regular basis, to avoid plateauing.  This keeps things interesting and stimulating, but certainly not painless.

After a successful five days of practicing the same things, I switched it up today.  I went from sounding OK to falling flat on my face.  It isn't an easy road, but it will lead to results.

Here is a snippet of my practicing, recorded on Sunday afternoon.  Using a set pattern, I made it through the Coltrane matrix in 12 keys, by memory, without faltering.  (The progression is included in my blog post from "Day One".)  I am pleased with this accomplishment, but because I can now do it, it is time to "up the ante" and move on to the next challenge.



For this week's new routine I added the following six, new patterns: (Click on the image to increase the size.)
For the first time, I am including some patterns that don't begin on the root of the chord (#s 8, 9 and 10).  I found these to be especially challenging on the first run-through.  I will begin with these tomorrow when I am "freshest".

Today, I almost felt like I was "back to square one".  It was a good mental challenge, and I look forward to conquering this exercise... just like I look forward to doing an ollie on my skateboard by summer's end.  :)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Being Human

I have a confession to make.  I didn't make it into the practice room on Saturday.  In the morning I took my son to skateboarding camp and all afternoon we had a garage sale.  After "holding it together" all day, my 6-year-old son finally "lost it", having an evening meltdown of epic proportions.  It rendered my wife and me frazzled and exhausted.  I suppose I could have been ultra disciplined and dragged myself into the practice studio afterwards, but drinking a glass of wine and unwinding with my wife seemed much more appropriate.

I got back at it this afternoon, following church.  I'm pleased to say that I can now play the four patterns through the matrix, in 12 keys, without faltering.  The melody for 26-2 is also memorized, and I can get through 26-2 and Countdown, albeit at slower tempos.

Before going any further, I have been remiss in not sharing the original Coltrane recording of "26-2" from the album "Coltrane's Sound".  It is one of my favorite recordings of all time.  Elvin Jones' drumming just makes me want to get up and dance.


It's now time to change up my routine.  This week I will add 6 new patterns and will reduce the time per pattern to 5 minutes, as I will no longer need to use this exercise to learn the progression.

Monday's routine will look like this:
  • Pattern 5:       5 minutes
  • Pattern 6:       5 minutes
  • Satellite:        15 minutes
    • head, application of patterns, improv, experimentation
  • Pattern 7:        5 minutes
  • Pattern 8:        5 minutes
  • But Not For Me: 15 minutes
    • head, application of patterns, improv, experimentation
  • Pattern 9:        5 minutes
  • Pattern 10:      5 minutes
  • 26-2:               15 minutes
    • head, application of patterns, improv, experimentation


Friday, May 18, 2012

Lessons from Guy LaFleur

As a child growing up in Canada in the '70s, I regarded hockey players, Guy LaFleur and Ken Dryden as heroes.  When playing street hockey in front of my house, I always pretended to be either one or the other, depending on whether I was in or out of the net.

A couple of years ago I read Ken Dryden's book, "the Game", and reveled in his insights, observations and tales about the individuals who comprised the Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens of the 1970s.  For me, the most extraordinary, memorable story concerned Guy LaFleur's practice habits.  After completing all the mandatory team drills, LaFleur would always stay on the ice and "play", in the truest sense of the word.  He might move the puck down the ice with his feet only, do twirls and spins, flick the puck around in peculiar ways with his stick, etc.  He was always the last person off the ice.  The structured workout with his teammates may have kept him fit and disciplined, but what set him apart from other players could be attributed to his regular "playtime".

Since reading this, I have tried to model my own piano practicing after LaFleur's example.  Like Guy, I maintain structure at the beginning, but always follow it with unstructured experimentation (play!), where I "mess around", and try things.


After completing my Giant Steps exercises today, I put on some Jamie Aebersold play-a-long tracks where I not only tried to apply what I had practiced, but experimented and just fooled around. 

Cheers, Guy!
#10 - Guy LaFleur (my childhood hockey hero)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Mental Practice

My wife can attest to the fact that I'm not a very good multi-tasker.  But today, I started my day with a 5 mile run, during which I practiced reciting the Coltrane matrix in my mind, in time.  By the end of the run I could say it through the keys without faultering, changing chords every two steps.

C - Eb7 - Ab - B7 - E - G7 - C
F - Ab7 - Db - E7 - A - C7 - F
Bb - Db7 - Gb - A7 - D - F7 - Bb
etc.

I practice in my mind a lot, but its been a while since I had something this complex rolling around up there.  Kenny Barron told me that he practices mostly in his head, and I think most jazz musicians do.

I remember hearing that olympic athletes are spending more and more time mentally visualizing their routines and races, and that it results in noticeable improvements and rapid gains.

I can attest that my 1.5 hour routine behind the keyboard went a lot smoother today after having worked through the progression both while running and mowing the lawn.  Ever up and onward.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

From the 'Shed

Because I am currently learning John Coltrane's "26-2", here it is in an inspiring performance by Joe Lovano's band from 1995.  His sidemen are Mulgrew Miller - piano, Tony Reedus - drums and Anthony Cox - double bass.


I have also been listening to Joe play this with a similar roster of musicians on his double album, "Quartets: Live at the Village Vanguard", recorded in 1994.  It makes me wonder, "For how long was this piece in Lovano's regular performance repertoire?"  I've observed that many great jazz musicians play selected pieces at every gig for a fairly extended period of time, in an effort to master them.

Today's practice session went well and I'm feeling good about "being back in the 'shed".  With the exception of playing "Countdown" (I ran out of time), I kept to the plan I made at the end of yesterday's practice session.  I decided to allot specific times to each component.  Here's how it looked:
  • 26-2 melody: 20 minutes
  • Giant Steps Workout page
    • pattern 1: 10 minutes
    • pattern 2: 10 minutes
    • pattern 3: 10 minutes
    • pattern 4: 10 minutes
  • Play 26-2 at a slow tempo, incorporating patterns: 15 minutes
  • Countdown: 15 minutes
I use a digital kitchen timer, setting it before starting each unit.  When the timer beeps, I stop and move on.  It was Fred Hersch who suggested this practice method to me when I took lessons from him about 10 years ago.  I've used it ever since.

There are several benefits to this system, but what appeals to me most is being able to cross something off my checklist and feel a sense of accomplishment when the timer beeps.  Psychologically this is much healthier than walking around for two years with an unfinished goal of mastering Coltrane changes (or whatever grandiose objective one might have).

If you are wondering about the four patterns listed above, here they are:


I plan to practice the same things tomorrow, but in a slightly different sequence.  Practicing the four patterns back-to-back became tiresome --- both physically and mentally.  I had to take breaks in between (using the time to return phone calls and sort through office clutter).  I will try interspersing these patterns throughout my day, and will start the day with a pattern.

I am getting close to having the melody for 26-2 memorized.  I imagine I will have it learned by Monday. 

Soon I won't need to spend as much time on each pattern.  My main obstacle has been memorizing the matrix as presented on the Giant Steps Worksheet (posted in yesterday's blog).  The patterns have been helpful towards accomplishing this end.  By the beginning of next week I anticipate having to revise the routine, but for the next few days, it will be nice to have a solid plan in place.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Day One

As I thought about how I would begin my new practice routine, I experienced the same trepidation I feel when starting a new composition and facing a blank piece of manuscript paper. As a composer, I’ve learned that instead of worrying about writing something wrong (which will blemish the new page), it is better to simply begin writing and have an eraser handy. Today, I had the realization that in the same way, I needed to just dive in and start playing.

It was suggested that I record myself playing each piece at the onset, so that I can provide “before and after shots”. Much to my chagrin, I did this. I doubt I will ever post the recordings. I played horribly and had trouble executing the tempos dictated by the Jamie Aebersold play-a-long CDs which "accompanied" me.  It did serve to break the ice,  get me playing, and reintroduce me to the pieces.

As I stumbled through up tempo versions of Giant Steps, Countdown and 26-2, the thought crossed my mind that at some point in the process, I will need to think of ways to approach the Coltrane matrix melodically, in a manner which provides contrast to digital patterns and continuous eighth notes.

After the brutal reality check of recording myself, I got down to the business of practicing. For about 20 minutes I worked at learning the melody of 26-2. I mostly played it very slow, in straight eighths (not swung), with 2 hands, 2 octaves apart. I worked out some left hand fingerings.

I then shifted my focus to addressing the matrix progression itself. Years ago, my friend Jim Brenan gave me the following worksheet, which originated from saxophonist Pat LaBarbera. Working through the progression in 12 keys, in an isolated manner, outside of the context of specific tunes, should prove beneficial. With both hands playing two octaves apart, I played 1 2 3 5 and 1 2 3 1 patterns through the transpositions. I did this slowly, with a metronome, without looking at the page. My brain felt a little bit sluggish at first, but I got better. Saying the chord qualities out loud, helped (“Major, dominant, major, dominant…”).


I imagine this sheet will represent a major portion of my practice routine over the next month. Gradually I will incorporate more and more patterns and increase the tempo.

Here is the gist of what I plan to do tomorrow:
  • 26-2 melody
  • Giant Steps Workout page. Same patterns as today + 2 new ones.
  • Incorporate patterns into 26-2, using slow Aebersold version (still reading the changes)
  • Play 26-2 at a slow tempo (still reading the changes)
  • Sing root motion for 26-2 and try reciting the changes in time.
  • Review Countdown’s progression and melody
  • Incorporate patterns and try “improvising” on Countdown.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Countdown to Giant Steps

I have decided to embark on another 30 day blogging challenge. When I wrote 30 tunes in 30 days earlier this year, I not only enjoyed the process, but I felt as if I grew musically and had really accomplished something worthwhile by the end. Devoting 30 days to a specific topic seems like just the right amount of time to make some headway.

After a period of defining myself more as a composer/arranger than a pianist, I have found myself craving more time behind the ivories, returning to my roots. For the next 30 days, I will take you along for the ride as I head back into the proverbial woodshed.

In the early 1960s, John Coltrane devised a chord progression which he superimposed over the common harmonies of several popular songs. Musicians refer to this progression as “Coltrane Changes” or the “Coltrane matrix” or “Giant Steps changes”. 

I can play Giant Steps fairly well; at least to the point where as a sideman I wouldn’t embarrass myself on a gig. There was a time when I practiced Giant Steps diligently. What I haven’t done is really learn the other tunes Coltrane recorded during this period, which also incorporate his superimposed harmonic matrix. These include:
  • Countdown (based on Miles Davis’ “Tune-Up”)
  • 26-2 (based on Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation”)
  • But Not For Me (by George Gershwin)
  • Exotica (Coltrane’s arrangement of Gershwin’s “But Not For Me”)
  • Fifth House (based on Cole Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love”)
  • Satellite (based on “How High The Moon”)
  • The Night Has A Thousand Eyes (by Brainin/Bernier)
  • Central Park West
  • Body and Soul (by Green / Heyman)

Over the next 30 days I plan to memorize, practice and become comfortable playing the above listed tunes. I am committing myself to practice these pieces in a focused manner for no less than one hour per day.

The question is… how will I blog about this experience? I have been considering what could be included in a 30 day practice-oriented blog. Here are my ideas:
  • my practice routines and methods, as they evolve
  • self-evaluations of my daily practice sessions, followed by planning & modifications to the regimen for the next day’s session.
  • written exercises
  • listening logs and suggestions
  • lead sheets
  • transcriptions
  • recordings of me playing specific exercises
  • YouTube uploads of Coltrane recordings
  • lists of published resources I am using
  • harmonic analysis of selected songs
  • an explanation of Coltrane changes
  • videos or audio recordings of me performing the pieces at the conclusion.
Let me know if you have further thoughts as to what I might consider including in the blog posts. I am certainly open to suggestions. Some of the posts might be brief, serving primarily to “check in”. Others may be quite involved.

In addition to expanding my repertoire and getting myself back into shape at the keyboard, I hope to provide some insight into what jazz musicians do behind the scenes, and how one can practice effectively and efficiently. Maybe it will be helpful to some young, aspiring musicians.

All of the fun starts here tomorrow. Now I’m off to the library to gather up some CDs, books and get planning.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Composing

Before the semester ended, a group of my undergraduate jazz students asked me to give them a list of composition assignments for the summer.

When Dave Douglas was visiting campus as a guest artist, he encouraged the students to form a composition club, where they would meet weekly to play each other's new pieces, discuss their work, challenge each other in new directions and organize public performances.  Dave's guest artist fee was worth every penny as he clearly ignited the creative spark in these young, developing musicians.  I wish every guest I had brought in over the years had such a positive impact.

I encouraged the students to purchase Ted Pease's text book, "Jazz Composition, Theory and Practice", published by Berklee Press.  Ted taught at the Berklee College of Music for 25 years and his book is a wealth of well-organized information.  I used it during the Fall 2011 semester when teaching composition as a sabbatical replacement for one of my colleagues.  I did every assignment along with the students and found it to be a tremendously helpful, insightful experience which I recommend to any jazz musician with a desire to sharpen his/her composition skills.

That said, here is my list of summer jazz composition assignments, as requested by the members of UConn's new Jazz Composition Club:

Write a:
  1. 12-bar blues in Eb.
    optional details:  use an aaa (riff-type) melodic form, similar to Sonny Moon For Two.
  2. minor blues in C.
    optional details:  incorporate an aab melodic form (2 identical 4-bar phrases with a different final response.)
  3. Bird blues in F.
    optional details: Write in a through-composed manner, using Charlie Parker's "Blues For Alice" as a model.
  4. "Rhythm Changes" head in Bb.
    notes:  listen to many examples first, including: Anthropology, Oleo, Rhythm-a-Ning, Cottontail
  5. new melody over the harmony of one of the following: All The Things You Are, Out of Nowhere, What Is This Thing Called Love?  Green Dolphin Street.
  6. 32-bar AABA modal tune.
    optional details:  put the A sections in D phrygian mode and the bridge in Ab lydian mode.
  7. a 32-bar ABAC tune incorporating an ostinato bass figure in the A sections.  Try to capture a "spooky" quality.
  8. through-composed piece by starting with a brief motif (in the vicinity of 5 notes).  On scrap paper, manipulate the motif using standard motivic development techniques, including repetition, sequence, inversion, retrograde, augmentation, diminution, etc.  Afterwards, harmonize the melody.
  9. piece using unconventional notation/aleatoric/graphic score techniques to convey your ideas
  10. a 32-bar, medium tempo swing piece.  Decide on a form.  Begin by writing strong, distinguishable rhythms, later adding notes and harmony.

Friday, May 4, 2012

30 Days 30 Songs

Remember my 30 day song writing challenge back in February (and March)? With the help of some of my students, I recorded all 30 pieces and posted them on my web site. You can listen to them and download PDFs of the music at the following link: http://www.earlmacdonald.com/30-songs-in-30-days.html

Using SoundCloud, I went back and added recordings to each of the original blog posts.  Here is a sample of one of my favorites.  Many of you will recognize it as a remake of Miles Davis' "All Blues".



If you are interested in going through the blog posts from the beginning of the series, click here.  To navigate to the next post, go to the bottom left and click "newer posts".

Let me know if you've got a favorite song.  I may expand one or two of them into fully developed big band compositions.

Special thanks goes to Tom Lee - trumpet, Emily Lavins - saxophones and flute, Nick Trautmann - string bass, and Mike Allegue - drum set.  We recorded all 30 pieces in just two brief sessions.  Each song was completed in one take.
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