Jazz and popular music of today owes a huge debt to Africa where the driving steady rhythm, swing, and accenting beats 2 and 4 come from. Most audiences in the US don’t know this, and don’t feel that kind of beat. Because of this, audiences frequently end up clapping on beats 1 and 3, as they’re doing in the clip below. Harry Connick Jr. knows better, and he also knows how to turn the beat around so he can help the audience clap on 2 and 4 (that happens around the :39 mark in the video below). His drummer is happy about it and gives a double-fist pump right after Connick makes the switch. Notice how much more hip the sound is!
Bill Evans is a genius whose ideas about music, and his music itself are still fresh and invigorating and necessary. Evans played piano on the best-selling jazz album of all time, Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue; he was nominated for 31 Grammys and won 7, including a lifetime achievement award. There are too many gems from Evans in these 5 short videos to list, but some of the good stuff include Evans’s thoughts about the universal musical mind, composition vs. improvisation, learning to improvise, and so much more.
Here are 12 practice suggestions from Master Marsalis. Each one could be the subject of a book on its own. After the vids, I’ve added suggestions to consider below each of Wynton’s rules. Some will be covered more thoroughly in the book, “The Practice of Practice.”
iRealB is one of the best practice tools I’ve come across in many years. Absolutely brilliant! If you need to practice with a rhythm section in just about any style (jazz, bluegrass, pop, rock, etc.), you’ve got to get this app. It’s available for both iOS, MacOS, and Android devices). Here’s a comprehensive video walkthrough of most of its features:
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.”
Wynton Marsalis is a musician who knows how to practice. As a younger man, he was equally at home in front of a symphony orchestra playing the Haydn concerto, or laying down some serious jazz with Art Blakey. Check out Wynton’s discography for more evidence. For a while now, he’s turned his full attention to traditional jazz…
Anyway, at the fest this year, in casual conversation, I recounted Victor Wooten’s presentation a couple years ago which I posted on the blog. A high school kid raised his hand and asked how he could overcome the problem of having large hands. Victor set the kid straight. This picture of Chinese artist Huang Guofu overcoming (read: crushing!) his limitations reminded me of Wooten’s words of wisdom.
This is a great tune. It’s simple, but very easy to rush those quarter note and dotted quarter note rhythms. If you’re not paying attention, you’re gonna speed up instead of lay it back. Here’s how it’s done right, and Freddie blows a killer improvised solo. (changes in C are here, thanks to MRB) (Real Book, vol. 2 in which Moanin’ appears can be found in C (piano, guitar, etc.), Bb (trumpet, clarinet, t. sax), Eb (alto sax) and bass clef)
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.
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.
I’ve written often about how important mistakes are in the learning process. Not just mistakes, but what you do with them once you discover them. That “discover them” part is the most important. If you discover them in the practice room, you’ve just stumbled on a place that needs attention and focused effort. If you discover them in your jazz combo during a performance, they’re not mistakes any more, they’re opportunities for communication. Here’s a wonderful video by jazz vibraphonist Stefon Harris explaining and demonstrating this idea. Happy winter celebrations everyone!
The swingingest version of Duke Ellington’s tune C Jam Blues with Oscar Peterson on piano, Ray Brown on bass, and Ed Thigpen on drums. These are masters at work.