Duke Ellington, Cootie Williams, and the Wise Musician

I love Duke Ellington’s music. And last February, after hearing a smoking middle school septet (yes, I wrote that correctly) do a superb version of Duke’s Black and Tan Fantasy, I think it’s safe to say Duke’s music will be a long-lasting legacy.

Here’s a vid, a short bio on the man. The gem comes around 2:40. “Every musician in the world has some limitation. There is no musician in the world who has no limitation…. But, the wise players are those who play what they can master.”

On The Value of Mentors: Bootsy Collins, Mark Mothersbaugh, et al.

Some good advice about finding and working with mentors from James Brown’s funky bassist Bootsy Collins, DEVO’s Mark Mothersbaugh, Pro Skater Javier Nunez, rapper Anwar Carrots, young impresario Levi Maestro, and Dale Crover, drummer for the Melvins and, briefly, Nirvana. They’re chillin’ and shillin’ for Scion, but there are some good nuggets of advice in there. The reason I put this up is that every single professional musician I’ve talked to about music practice has had at least one mentor who changed their lives.

Learning to Practice

I’d like to share this old video with you that documents Gypsy guitarist (and fiddler! I hand no idea) Dorado Schmitt teaching his son, Samson, who looks to be around 10 in this video. They’re playing one of Django’s solos over his tune Minor Swing, no small feat. It’s a great example of teaching and learning for many reasons.

Few musicians I’ve talked to have ever been taught how to practice. We’ve all been pretty much on our own. When teachers do influence us, it’s by making reasonable and very specific demands that make it clear exactly what is to be practiced if not exactly how to go about it.

Have a Plan, Man! (Axiom Brass)

This ain’t your momma’s brass quintet (vid below). They play contemporary stuff and a great example is a cool section in Anders Hillborg’s Quintet that sounds like a backwards recording. One of my favorite brass ensemble pieces in recent years is the Pacquito d’Rivera’s Three Pieces for Brass Quintet, especially Wapango. Visit their web site to catch that Hillborg clip, or just spend a dollar to buy the mp3. Better yet, get the album, New Standards.

Do You Have a Growth or a Fixed Mindset?

Research begun by Carol Dweck in the mid-1980s explored the repercussions of how we think about intelligence. She identified two ways of thinking about intelligence that people hold. Either we tend to believe that intelligence is a fixed thing: you’re born with a certain amount of smarts and that’s what you have to work with,…

Words of Wisdom from Jazz Musicians: DMEP

While at the festival (I was there to critique groups and give a couple clinics on my investigation into practice), I got the chance to chat with Rob Klevan, long-time education director at the fantabulous Monterey Jazz Festival. He turned me on to a new app and interviews that you HAVE to check out if you’re interested in jazz, or any kind of music practice for that matter. This weekend I got to meet one of the featured players, Sal Cracchiolo, before he went up to play a smoking set with the always funky Tower of Power.

This thing goes deep.

The Fruits of Practice Sound Like This: Max Roach 5-Tet “Freedom Day”

Wow. I’ve always been a fan of Max Roach as soon as I first heard him, but this is some of the best playing I’ve heard, not only from Mr. Roach, but from everybody in this quintet. Eddie Kahn, after flying through some nimble-fingered walking bass delivers one of the most interesting upright bass solos I’ve heard in a while, and the way he locks in with Max Roach on drums is as tight as the bond of close friendship. Abbey Lincoln recently passed away, but her gorgeous contra-alto voice lives on powerfully in this music. Clifford Jordan’s fat tone on the tenor; Coleridge Perkins (I think) and his artful comping on piano, accentuating hits with Max Roach, who kills that drum set in the tastiest way: clean, and with total respect and communication with the other musicians, and even at these speeds is so relaxed and easy-sounding. Wheeew! This is great stuff. This is what practice sounds like.

Colin Oldberg: Principal Trumpet, Hong Kong Phil.

Colin Oldberg is an excellent player who has played with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and earned a spot on the first YouTube Orchestra and has played Carnegie hall twice. He’s also part of a fantastic brass quintet, Axiom Brass. There’s a link to the full length mp3 of the excerpt from the beginning of the show. Colin talks about practice.

Nicholas Barron: Chicago Singer-Songwriter on Practice

A talk with Chicago singer-songwriter Nicholas Barron who has an interesting take on practice. Check out the site for a free mp3 of Nicholas’s music.

In the course of the interview Nicholas said, “That’s what a lot of people do; they practice in a room and they don’t get anywhere. It’s really about practice being life, and life being practice.” Check out the whole interview if you want to understand what he means.

Lessons from a VW

Last Saturday at the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival, I went to listen to Victor Wooten give a clinic. A while ago I posted a review of Victor’s book The Music Lesson, which is up for an audiobook award. For the clinic, Victor Wooten played with the fantastic and funny bass player (yes, there is another bass player in his band) Anthony Wellington; legendary jazz bassist John Clayton showed up for an improvised tune or two. The clinic was a fantastic example of playing, teaching and telling it straight. It was so good and inspirational, I knew it would be worth sharing.

Sir Kenneth Robinson, animated

Now and then I run across something that is only indirectly related to practice, but which I feel compelled to share. Here is a talk by Sir Kenneth Robinson that you should listen to and watch, wonderfully animated by the good folks at RSAnimate. Hope you find it enjoyable and stimulating. Have fun, and good…

Book Review: “Free Play,” by Stephen Nachmanovich

Free Play doesn’t deal directly with music practice, but it is nevertheless an important book for anyone interested in music (or other arts, or life). I strongly believe that improvisation benefits practice. To me, improvising is an essential musical skill, one possessed by musical greats (Hussein, Bach, Shankar, Beethoven, Duke, Mozart, etc.), and is practiced in musical traditions all over the world, as well as by young children who haven’t developed some of the fear associated with improvisation in those overly focused on the written notes. Remember when you drew letters over and over as a young child, taking great care (or not) with the shapes? Now imagine that despite all that practice time forming letters and sounding out words, that you never (ever) spoke extemporaneously. Crazy, right? To me, that’s about the same as practicing scales over and over until they’re memorized, but then never using that tonal material to improvise. Crazy talk! At the end of this review is a link to an mp3 of my improv group Meh! playing an improvised story with Nachmanovich.