Thursday, June 14, 2012

End of the Road

I have almost reached the end of my 30 day practice challenge.  Unfortunately, a few looming professional deadlines required my attention this week and kept me from fully completing the project and reporting on my practicing.  Here is an update on my progress:

During the past few days I constructed solos on paper for 26-2, and But Not For Me.  I wrote four choruses for each tune, incorporating some of Coltrane's lines, my digital patterns, assorted vocabulary and some "linking material" of my own.  Doing the same exercise for Satellite and Countdown is next on my practice agenda.   My plan was to learn these solos up to tempo, record them and then post the recordings and written music here before day 30.  Alas, that won't happen.

Before the end of the summer I do intend to bring some closure to this project, by recording and posting my written solos, as well as some "improvisations".  I plan to play a few of these Coltrane pieces at my trio performance on July 22 in New Haven.  Maybe I'll bring a video camera.  In addition, I have scheduled myself to give a performance/presentation entitled "Countdown to Giant Steps" at a Music Convocation session at UConn at the beginning of the fall semester.  I plan to keep these pieces in my repertoire for a while and look forward to being able to play them weekly at Lu's Cafe, starting in the fall.  Kinks tend to work themselves out best on the bandstand.

I think this was a worthwhile process/endeavor for me on several levels:
  1. I have been attracted to these pieces for many years and wanted to be able to play them well.  I'm almost there. 
  2. I enjoyed being back on the piano bench daily, and this project has helped to relight that fire within me.
  3.  I believe I will be a more effective teacher of this material after having put in the hours, sweating through it.  
My one regret at the end of this process is that I didn't read Walt Weiskopf & Ramon Ricker's book, "Coltrane: A Player's Guide To His Harmony" until just this week.  If I were to do it again, or coach someone else through learning to play Coltrane changes, I'd start with this book and the transcriptions of Coltrane's solos, and then devote 30 (or 60 days) to learning it all thoroughly.

I hope my blog posts have been helpful and perhaps inspirational to young musicians (especially my current students).  My advice to the young players reading this is to put in as many hours as you can now, because practice time will become a limited, precious commodity in a few years.  I also think it is easier to learn this stuff when you younger.

...and now for a public service announcement:

The Hartford Jazz Society is presenting a concert by "The Cookers" on Friday, June 15, 2012. 7 PM,
at the Polish National Home, 60 Charter Oak Avenue - Hartford, CT.

Opening Group: East Catholic High School Jazz East Big Band (7 pm)

Student Jazz Workshop: The Polish National Home
Friday, 6/15/12, 4:30 PM – 6:00 PM

Billy Harper - tenor sax
Eddie Henderson - trumpet
David Weiss - trumpet
Craig Handy - alto sax
George Cables - piano
Cecil McBee - bass
Billy Hart - drums

Tickets: $15 in advance / $20 at door
To secure your tickets please use the PayPal link here, or call The Hartford Jazz Society at (860) 242-6688

Perhaps I will see you there.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Jazz Lines

Today I went through the "26-2" and "Satellite" John Coltrane solos I transcribed, and extracted all of the lines with particularly strong melodies that clearly outlined the harmonic progression.  Most of these were four measure phrases.

I then practiced "plugging in" some selected phrases into the tunes.  I limited myself to using one line exclusively, for a while, before switching.  I plan to stick with this for the next couple of days, making it a primary focus.  These melodies should nicely complement and contrast the digital patterns I learned earlier in the process.

To be completely candid, at this point I am questioning whether I should be learning Coltrane's lines or writing my own.  I could write my own, but some of these are just so hip that I really want to incorporate them into my vocabulary.  I tend to think that if I learn some of these, I can be flexible with them and find ways to improvise within them.  Hopefully I'm not "copping out".  At this juncture, I think the most important thing is committing to doing something concrete and staying with it for a period.  Thoughts?

Here is my list of extracted, premium Coltrane melodies/lines:

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Crunch Time

It dawned on me this morning that I have just one week to go in my 30 day blogging/practicing challenge.  Yikes!  I feel like I still have oodles of work to do.

I am going to try to imagine that I am being given one week to prepare for an important gig or recording, and these are the tunes.  I wonder how much preparation time McCoy Tyner was given (if any) to practice these songs in advance of the recording sessions.  I also wonder if he chose not to play on Satellite.

At this point I have 26-2, But Not For Me, Countdown and Satellite memorized.  The problem is playing them fast.   

It is often said that improvisation is spontaneous composition.  At various points, different teachers of mine have had me write out solos.  Although I don't have the citation handy, I remember reading an article by Chick Corea in Contemporary Keyboard Magazine many years ago, where he "admitted" to writing out choruses on "I've Got Rhythm".  I found this to be a useful, helpful exercise, back when learning to play uptempo rhythm changes was my goal.  I think I will do some not-so-spontaneous composing this week, writing out my own lines through Coltrane's progressions.  I will follow through with writing out some half note guide-tone lines through the Coltrane matrix, and will also write out some embellishments to these simple melodies.
Today I finished my transcription of John Coltrane's solo on "Satellite".  I really just wanted to get this unfinished project completed, so that I can move onto some analysis and perhaps even learning the solos, to get them under my fingers and into my memory. The last three choruses appear below.

At this point, I've probably done enough transcribing (for now).  Tomorrow I will dig deep into my transcriptions of 26-2 and Satellite, and will do some comparisons.

If you are looking for choruses one, two and three they appear in previous posts: here and here.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Satellite Transcription

I managed to crank out one more transcribed chorus of John Coltrane's "Satellite" solo today.  This is a follow-up to yesterday's post which included choruses one and two.  Here is his third chorus:

[To enlarge the music, click on it.]

Shows in CT

Mark your calendars!  I have several upcoming shows to announce. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012,  3 p.m.
$20, students $10
Brenton Evans Piano Showroom
963 State Street
- New Haven.

I will be unveiling my new trio featuring string bassist Henry Lugo and drummer Ben Bilello. Come early to browse the adjacent art gallery. Or choose to dine in one of the many restaurants in New Haven's creative district. Then savor the ambiance of jazz in the piano showroom, as my new trio performs fresh interpretations of classic American Songbook repertoire, pieces by renowned jazz composers and original works. Please RSVP to as seating is limited. Additional information is posted at

Monday, August 13, 2012- 7:00 p.m.
the Hartford Jazz Society's "New Directions Ensemble"
Bushnell Park, Hartford, CT

The 10-piece New Directions Ensemble plays for the third consecutive year at the Monday Night Jazz in the Park summer series. 

A picnic basket, a bottle of wine, you and your date or a big group of friends and your dog... it doesn't get much better.  Sit up close if you're there for the music. Grab a spot further back or over by the Corning Fountain if you're interested in sitting on a blanket while the sun sets and the stars come out, relaxing and having dinner set to our swingin' musical backdrop.  Rain venue: Asylum Hill Congregational Church

The Hartford Jazz Society's “New Directions Ensemble” was recently voted “best jazz group in Hartford” by the readers of the Hartford Advocate. The band has been described as “set to swing in its own fresh way, generating contemporary band music that lives in the present --- independent, cliché-free and untethered to conventional big band nostalgia”.

Jazz at Lu's Cafe:
Starting in the fall, I will be hosting a weekly jazz series at Lu's Cafe on the UConn Storrs campus.  There will be an acoustic piano, supplied by the Department of Music.  We are in the the process of deciding what night of the week will be best.  Let me know if you have an opinion. 

It will be nice to have a regular place to play with my students.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Coltrane - Satellite

In my quest to "get inside the head" of John Coltrane (or perhaps more accurately, to get the sound of his lines inside my head), I am continuing to transcribe his solos on tunes incorporating "Giant Steps changes" (A.K.A. Coltrane changes) from October, 1960.  Today I wrote down the first two choruses of Coltrane's solo on "Satellite", his reharmonization of "How High The Moon".   More will follow.

It will be interesting to compare this with 26-2, and But Not For Me from the same time period.  Surely there will be some noticeable similarities and repetition.

Here is a YouTube link, should you wish to follow along:

[To enlarge the music, click on it.]

A Transcription of John Coltrane's "Satellite" solo - chorus 2.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Giant Steps Rundown

Surprised is how I would describe my reaction when analyzing John Coltrane's solos from the "Coltrane's Sound" recording of October, 1960.  I had assumed Coltrane would be playing obvious, identifiable patterns through the matrix portion of his tunes, as he did on the Giant Steps recording from May, 1959.  I was wrong.  In the time between these two recordings his playing underwent a noticeable evolution, which lead to his being able to play in a much free-er, more melodic manner, with considerably less repetition.

I transcribed "Giant Steps" years ago, and made the following summary page.  Notice how he played the first four measures almost note-for-note SEVEN TIMES!  This explains why I made the aforementioned assumption. [Click on the image to make it larger and more legible.]

This summary of John Coltrane's Giant Steps solo shows the digital patterns he played repeatedly during the first eight measures.

Many of the questions I posed before transcribing 26-2 are now moot.  There are some really pretty lines, some of which I may deliberately copy.  The first four measures of choruses one and two are examples.  I marvel at how the descending whole tone scale perfectly matches the progression to outline the chords.

I am beginning to think that the opening four measures of the 26-2 solo is perhaps a key to unlocking the mystery of the progression and how to play over it.

This example illustrates Coltrane's use of a descending whole tone scale during the first four measures of his 26-2 solo from the recording, "Coltrane's Sound".

Tomorrow, in addition to doing some more transcribing, I think I'll write out a page of half note chord-tone/guide-tone lines which weave through Coltrane changes.  Maybe...just maybe... embellishing around these fencepost guide tones might be an easier, less rigid, and more effective approach to playing these tunes.  We'll see.  Ever up and onwards.

Friday, June 1, 2012

26-2 Coltrane

Here is the second half of my transcription of John Coltrane's solo on 26-2.  This is a follow up to yesterday's post where I posted the first two choruses.