"The potential for the saxophone is unlimited." - Steve Lacy
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Tuesday, November 20, 2018
Often when I do masterclasses I’m asked by aspiring musicians questions about practicing, which is understandable. They figured I’ve gotten enough together to be invited to give a masterclass, then I MUST know what I doing—at least I’d like to think so.
Practicing, as I explain, means different things depending on where you are in your level of development. In fact, I’ve identified the process as having three tiers.
Tier 1: Practicing to ACQUIRE knowledge and skill sets that enable you to improvise.
Tier 2: Practicing to PLAY great improvisations.
Tier 3: Practicing to GET OUT OF THE WAY OF great improvisations.
Tier 1 is what I refer to as the building blocks stage. This when you’re working out your scales and harmony, vocabulary building, as well as building a repertoire of tunes that will enable you to do a gig. Students at this sometimes sound mechanical and are often without an original approach. This is fine. I’ve often argued that this is where they should be. That stuff is part of the macro. Right now they should be focused on the micro.
Tier 2...this is what I call the practicum. The stage in which you’re taking all that you have an accumulated during Tier 1 and are now trying to weave it together into a comprehensible, perhaps personal form of expression. This is accomplished through both playing and practicing. In some ways, the former is more important than the later. Playing forces you assess in real time, giving you a clearer sense of your strengths and weaknesses, which will, in turn, give more focus to your individual practice. Players during this stage are starting to come into their own and are not just honing skills, but an improvisatory concept. You might say that they’re moving from the micro to the macro.
Tier 3...here, we’re assuming you’ve done your homework, and that all the ducks are in a row for Tiers 1 & 2. This level is more difficult to assess since your now trying to align yourself with the forces of nature rather than forcing your agenda. This level is more about openness, acceptance, and transcendence. It can be more about your state of mind that the state of your chops—not that the latter is not important.
How do you get there? Well, that is the $64,000 Question. The irony is that you get there by not worrying about how to get there. But by being ok with getting there and not getting there. It’s about being beyond getting there, and just being.
The truth of the matter is that the lines between Tier 3, living a spiritually sound life, and getting in touch with the essence of your being become blurred. Sometimes they’re one and the same.
My feeling is that when you do arrive, everyone will notice but you.
Saturday, November 10, 2018
My most recent prepared saxophone explorations is what I call "Groan Tube Soprano." This is a technique where I take the noisemaker (see Figures 1A - C) inside of the Groan Tube — a small cylinder-shaped device that produces a toy baby like sound when it moves up and down the tube—and place it inside of the soprano by dropping it into the bell.
Of course, the entire Groan Tube cannot fit into my soprano, but the aforementioned noisemaker does fit quite snuggly.
Step 1: Aquire a Groan Tube!
Step 2: Remove the noisemaker located inside the Groan Tube.
Step 3: Drop the noisemaker into the bell of the soprano.
One of the benefits of playing with this noisemaker piece inside my instrument is that I’m forced to explore a multitude of velocities through which I can move sound through my instrument. Playing the soprano the conventional way is not an option. However, blowing the airstream slowly, rapidly, jaggedly, inhaling, exhaling, slap tonguing, and flutter tonguing—they all seem to force the air stream to interact with the noisemaker in interesting and unpredictable ways. In addition, pressing the keys adds another layer of sound manipulation.
Joining me is Canadian-based soprano saxophonist Kayla Milmine-Abbott--an important musical figure on Toronto’s improvised music scene. Together, I’m sure you’ll all agree we’re able to create a musical realm like no other.
* Below is a clip of flutist Stacy Russell demonstrating this technique with the flute body and foot joint.
Saturday, November 3, 2018
Whenever one of our own is taken away from us, it’s always a sad occasion. However, when this happens while they’re still young and have a lot more music to give, it’s even more tragic. This is certainly the case with trumpeter Roy Hargrove, who died on Friday, November 2, 2018, of a heart attack. He was only 49 years old.
I first met Roy in the late 1980s at the after-hours session at the Blue Note Jazz Club. This was a common meeting ground for young musicians having just arrived in town. I was 23 at the time. And during this youth fascinated period of jazz history, I was approaching the age of being little use to anyone in the industry. This was a very different time. Roy, however, was on a very different trajectory. He was 18 at the time and still attending Berklee College of Music. By the time I heard him, his reputation had quickly preceded him. It was usually along the lines of “Aw man! You gotta hear this cat Roy from Texas.” And the fact that he was already signed, further fueled the excitement.
Roy came on the scene when there were few trumpet players like him. In many ways, he was counter-culture to the intellectual and virtuosic approaches popularized by trumpeters like Wynton Marsalis, Terence Blanchard, and Wallace Roney—in that order. Roy brought something much simpler to the table. His approach emphasized the blues, swing, and a dash of R&B. He was coming from a much more organic place than the aforementioned. He was one of the few jazz young musicians at that time to play the blues scale unapologetically. It really struck a chord with the public—especially budding musicians his age and younger. He became the voice of a new generation.
Unfortunately, his reputation of drug dependancy equally became the topic of discussion, alongside the new neo-soul sound he was honing with bandmates Antonio Hart, Geoffrey Keezer, Christian McBride, and Gregory Hutchinson.
Most of us wake up to a daily fight with our demons. Some find healthy and positive resolves, others like Roy were not so lucky.
I never got the opportunity to perform in any of his bands, but because of his love for playing and jamming with fellow musicians, we did share the bandstand numerous times in informal settings. It was nothing short of joyous listening not only to his love for the trumpet and jazz, but for life. Playing jazz might have been his occupation., but it was the sharing of his gifts with the world that became his life's mission.
I’m sure Roy will always be looking down over us, trumpet in hand, a smile of his face, anxiously waiting to sit in.
RIP. You’ll be missed.
Check out this clip below of Roy playing one of my favorite compositions of his, "Strasbourg St. Denis."
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