"The potential for the saxophone is unlimited." - Steve Lacy
Saturday, June 27, 2020
Tuesday, June 23, 2020
Below are two examples of a microtonally altered "Blue Monk" by Thelonious Monk. This tune is a good vehicle for quartertone alternations, being that the melody is already centered around semitones.
Example 1 is my rendition. Here, I'm using the middle register of the instrument. The sound has more weight, but some of the quartertones are a lot more difficult finger and play in tune. Also, because I'm playing twice as many notes, the melody now has a double-time feel.
Example 2 is by Argentinian saxophonist Dario Dolci. In Dario's example, he's using the upper register of the instrument, which can make it slightly easier to play the quartertones with more clarity--not to negate the difficulty of what he's doing. As you'll hear, Dario has also slightly varied the melody.
I've also, included a few fingering charts for those of you looking to get your quartertone fingers wet.
(1) This first chart is from a book titled Preliminary Exercises and Etudes in Contemporary Techniques for Saxophone by Ronald L Caravan. An amazing book!
- Use a chromatic tuner
- Be prepared to make slight alterations more suitable for your own set-up
- Be patient. You have to allow your fingers to get used to the newfound awkwardness and your ears a chance to get used to the quarter-steps.
Wednesday, June 17, 2020
Since the death of George Floyd, I think we all can agree that America has been on a virtue-signaling overdrive. All are proclaiming that they are not racist, but it's the other guy. White America is apologizing day and night for the current and past injustices inflicted on black America. And if their white colleagues are not, they're shamed all over social media, or fired from their jobs.
I've seen little evidence of virtue-signaling ever helping black America nor any group sympathizers proclaim to advocate on behalf of. These symbolic gestures only make the so-called privileged feel good and less guilty. If not, why else would Chic-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy get on his knees and shine the shoes of Lecrae, a black Christian rapper at the Passion City Church in Atlanta, GA?
Of course, he's more concerned with not having Black Lives Matter come after him and his franchise than the welfare of poorer black America. If he was really serious, he'd donate a lot of his 7 billion dollar net worth to helping all of those folks attending that town hall meeting to send their kids to college, or start young entrepreneurship programs in their neighborhoods. Better yet, start music programs and/or give underprivileged communities access to musical instruments. This won’t happen. The reality is that he got in his expensive car or plane, and went back to his mansion, while those folks continued dealing with the challenges of their daily lives in black America, unaffected by his public shoe-shining ceremony. And to his credit, millions of dollars are awarded for Chic-fil-A employees who are in need of college tuition assistance. So he's not your typical profit-hungry CEO.
At the end of the day, virtue-signaling actually leaves black America worse off. Why? The problems that actually plague us don't get addressed. Virtue-signaling is like an aspirin. It only reprieves the symptoms, it doesn't address nor gets rid of what's causing the headache.
It's hard to get the picture from my head of Nancy Pelosi and members of the House taking the knee while wearing kente cloth. It's ludicrous and helps no one, long term. It's nothing more than a photo-op.
If they cared about black America they would stop voting against the DC voucher program, which gives $20 million to private schools in the District of Columbia, allowing bright kids stuck in failing schools to get a good education and have a fighting chance--just like your DC politicians. Many of whom, have gotten the best education that money can buy: Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Stanford, you name it. In fact, many in Washington send their own children to the Sidwell Friends School, a prestigious private K-12 school that has been the home of the children of Theodore Roosevelt to Barack Obama. Unfortunately, their allegiance is to the teachers' unions, a loyally Democratic voting block. Sad, but true.
Soon after, news stories began championing acts of vandalism in which angry Americans are tearing down statues of historical figures who were slave owners or who lived blatantly racist lives, and sometimes just because they’re white. Again, this is all symbolic and does absolutely nothing to move black America forward. If they actually cared about black America they would not be silent about the 104 shootings in Chicago on Father's Day weekend, which left 14 dead; five were children, including a three-year-old boy who was killed when someone opened fire at his father while they were cruising down the street. This is one driving-while-black story you won’t see in a constant loop on news stations.
And I could go on all day with the examples, but here’s my point: we don't need more symbolism. What we need are tangibles.
- more scholarship money or forgivable loans for private schools for K - 12 grades
- increased opportunities for home ownership
- low interest or forgivable small business loans
- lowered college tuition costs
- increased opportunities for technical training
- bigger tax breaks
We need tangibles that allows us to build wealth. What all of these things have in common is that they help us while we're helping ourselves. Some would argue that one solution is to take money from the police department budget. Here's the irony: very few of these people actually live in poor black neighborhoods that depend heavily on the police to defend and protect them. Again, another example of liberal thinking that ultimately hurts the black community. Mayor Bill De Blasio is looking to cut the NYPD by one billion dollars. I propose this: If he's going to do that, he should move his family out of Gracie Mansion and into the Drew-Hamilton Houses, near where I live on Fredrick Douglas Avenue. He should have to deal with the consequences of his decisions, face-to-face.
Back to my original point. Having resources tends to have a positive domino effect on most. It can inspire us a group to make the cultural reforms in the areas of health and nutrition, crime rates, and the diminished presence of the black father in the home. Unfortunately, the mere mention of these things gets one labeled as a racist or a coon. So important issues just keep getting swept under the rug.
On a personal note, I've noticed significant changes in my value system since experiencing a more financially stable lifestyle. I'm more giving, more concerned about my physical and mental health, and I've learned to appreciate the simpler things in life. My day is not consumed with only trying to figure out ways to hustle people. I think more about sharing my music than selling it. My thoughts are more concerned with how I can make a difference than making a buck. Twenty years ago, I viewed every personal encounter as a potential gig, a potential addition to my mailing list, or a potential CD sale. I thought this way simply because I was broke, desperate, and had no resources.
But I do know this: taking the knee, tearing down statues, hashtagging #BlackLivesMatter, defunding the police, and denouncing your privilege does nothing to aid that black family without the means to send their kid to a good K-12 private school or college, the aspiring black entrepreneur looking to start a business, or the musician looking to book a tour for his or her band. As I've said, virtue-signaling only gives us the illusion that change is on the way, and protects white America from the stigma of racism. The reality is that after identifying whatever privilege one has over black America, they're not going to give up any of their resources. And they shouldn't. Black America does not need anyone else's stuff, we need our own.
Booker T Washington often argued that for black Americans to advance, they must to first improve themselves through education, industrial training, and business ownership. Address these three areas, and everything else would fall into place. Of course, it's a bit more complicated than this. With any type of reform, there are always numerous false starts and mishaps. Economist Walter E. Williams argues that a more simple solution towards economic stability is this:
- complete high school;
- get a job, any kind of a job;
- get married before having children;
- and be a law-abiding citizen.
But the central tenet of Washington's beliefs is this: leave us alone. We don't need our situation to be socially-engineered. And we certainly don't need rich, white politicians taking the knee on our behalf. Look at the gains made by black America during the Reconstruction period, in the height of racist America. Many pretend like this period never existed. No other group in history ever made such socio-economic strides in such a short period. In fact, many subsequent oppressive laws were put into place because many white Americans could not compete with this new free class of people.
Contrary to the popular narrative, culture is not inherently stagnant. The surest way, however, to stagnate a group of people is to tell them that their situation can not be changed simply by changing their actions. That power lies not in their hands, but in the hands of others.
Tuesday, June 16, 2020
The Jones family gazed compassionately at the television set as CNN showed the third funeral of George Floyd. “So many people,” says Herman Jones. “He was loved by so many people.” The Jones family was moved by the maskless hugs of comradery, the affectionate kisses on the cheek, the celebratory joining of hands by members of the congregation. “So many people.” Shania thinks her dad must be sad. They couldn’t even have one funeral for his mother. She lived just on the other side of town. ”I’m going to miss Granny Ester,” says Shania, quietly, and sadly as they watched the choir sing “Amazing Grace.” “I guess this is different,” she begins to wonder silently. She tried to control her anger as she remembers how Granny Ester was the pillar of the community: she was a principal at Glendale High for 20 years, she donated to a whole host of charities, and taught piano to underprivileged kids in her spare time. "Too bad we couldn't give HER a proper send-off," she utters even louder, unsuccessfully trying to hide her tone of disappointment. Apparently, this is different. “So many people. So many people.”
Monday, June 15, 2020
Friday, June 5, 2020
Personally, I would like to see a more sizeable presence of black jazz writers--more for their point of view than their skin color. But only if they are excellent.
I would like to see a more sizeable presence of black jazz writers--more for their point of view than their skin color. But only if they are excellent.
As I see it, if the world of jazz journalism started embracing the much-practiced paradigm of racial quotas and cosmetic diversity where people are hired not by the content of their work, but the content of their skin would eventually hurt everyone involved. Aspiring black writers would suffer in that they'll never be incentivized to rise to the occasion and earn their position as a staff writer at a coveted magazine or newspaper. White writers would have to blanket their anger in white guilt to damper their hostile feelings towards the newly incompetent writers taking some of their work—justifying it with "Well, it is their music, right?" And music publications would suffer in that their magazines and newspaper would be all of the sudden flooded with substandard writing. This is only a hypothetical situation, mind you, pointing out the potential pitfalls of skin-based diversification.
Many would argue that jazz publications are already flooded with substandard writing, even with a white male majority. And I'm not sure I would agree with this assertion. While it is true that jazz journalists don't always get it correct as far as deciphering who's excellent and who's not, I would hardly label the writing as substandard. It's pretty good. You don't get to be a magazine of longevity like DownBeat, JazzTimes, and The New York City Jazz Record, without doing quality work. That's just a fact.
Having more of a presence of black writers would offer a different sensibility that would broaden the aesthetical spectrum of these magazines, and not just cosmetic diversification, which is often the case with skin-based attempts at diversity like those seen at elite schools and universities.
We can hang up our jackets of political correctness for a moment and acknowledge that there's a certain cadence present in black writers, which differs from that of white, Hispanic, and Asian writers. For some reason, acknowledging cultural and aesthetical differences between groups gets us labeled as racist. I think it's more racist, pretending that no cultural differences exist in the arts.
I'm all for diversification, as long as you're bringing excellence and something much needed to the table.
When you have to work harder, the quality of your work becomes better. Because you are producing better work than your peers, you are now raising the level of your medium. This is what happens when we value merit over melanin. And you may not like Stanley's tone or always agree with his often contrarian point of view, but you can't deny his ability to put pen to paper.
Here's another point: Imagine if the World Tennis Association had racial quotas that demanded that at least one black player had to be in the quarterfinals to make up for the injustices of slavery, there would certainly be no Venus and Serena Williams. And why would there be? They would no longer have the incentive to be the best of the best. If that kind of racial preference policy existed, the only thing the Williams sisters would need to make sure was intact would be their blackness—since that would be the main thing that they would be judged on. I call this the melanin-over-merit fallacy.
And this is one of the significant challenges of being black in America.
We don’t always feel we have the freedom to just be an individual. We are perpetually under societal pressures to be part of the black collective. More recently, we are letting white liberals define our narrative. Without aligning ourselves with this collective, whose unifying cultural glue is typically victimization, we become at a significant risk of being labeled an Uncle Tom, a coon, or a sell-out. And this is pretty scary for most blacks. We're one of the few groups that actually fear being ostracized from our race by other blacks. I've seen so many blacks play down their intelligence and social grace just so people won't think that they're not "down with the common folks." And this is one of the great tragedies of black culture. We let underclass values define the culture as a whole. We need more blacks who dare to stand up and say, "No, I'm not acting white, I'm acting normal. I'm not speaking white, I'm speaking correctly."
No one is more demonized than the black conservative (or nowadays, and old-school liberal) whose only crime is thinking differently. I remember when actress Stacy Dash was vilified by other blacks for endorsing Mitt Romney for president on Twitter. One person tweeted in response: "I like to request a trade to send Stacy Dash to the Caucasians to acquire Bill Clinton to the blacks." (Totally ignoring that we experienced one of the biggest mass incarcerations of black males during the Clinton Administration.) Another person tweeted back: "We've been letting you slide for years! It's OVER." As you can see, thinking differently about black culture, especially in politics is considered cultural-treason. Regarding Dash, my question is this: Why can't you be black, AND an airhead?
As I mentioned earlier, blacks represent roughly 13 percent of the U.S. population. However, we make up approximately 75 percent of the NBA. Is this the result of preferential drafting policies? Not. Black players are simply outperforming ALL other groups. Fortunately, for professional sports, teams are committed to winning, not looking like a rainbow coalition. And if the NBA does become more diverse, I'm sure it will be because the other groups stepped up their game. Not because of social engineering.
Meritocracy is what keeps jazz thriving. Either you can play or you can't. Being famous and getting press, those are different issues. However, as performers and composers, blacks have never needed social engineering to be a competitive or a dominant group in jazz. We've always done so the old fashion way: originality, hard work, and excellence. We didn't have to adhere to a lesser assessment model, compared to whites and Asians, the way we've had to when dealing with elite schools and universities. Some college admissions give race "bonus "points: blacks get 280 points added to their SATs, Hispanics get 180, and Asians get docked 50. Talking about the soft bigotry of low expectations. This sends a clear message that says, "We have no faith in you and your abilities." So sad.
But who knows, maybe society as a whole can learn a thing or two from the jazz world. We might look at jazz journalism 15 years from now and find that the majority of staff writers at the publications, as mentioned earlier, are Asian men and Hispanic women. If that's the case, I hope that they will be there for one and one reason only: excellent writing.
Tuesday, June 2, 2020
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