Category: Music

King Curtis

By , June 13, 2018 11:36 pm

A little yakety sax for your Thursday!

One of my grandmothers had a bunch of old records that she would let me look through, and one of them was a Boots Randolph album.  Randolph was famous for the record entitled “Yakety Sax”, the title tune of which became the Benny Hill theme song and was used in many other tv commercials and themes, but I only remember listening to Randolph’s version of “Moon River”, which I would play on my grandma’s record player over and over.

Much, much later I would discover one of Randolph’s contemporaries and the soloist that influenced his “Yakety Sax” composition:  King Curtis.  Although I didn’t know his name when I was younger, I had in fact heard Curtis’ playing already; he was Aretha Franklin’s bandleader for years and was a mainstay session musician for Atlantic Records.

I didn’t know anything about King Curtis until college.  Thanks to Professor Larry Starr’s class on mid-20th century Popular Music, I listened to Curtis’ solos on recordings by the Coasters.  “Yakety Yak” was the first one I heard, and the first time I really thought about that type of playing as a unique and specialized style of playing the saxophone.  Since then I’ve heard it referenced in various ways:  “Texas Tenor”, “Ballads and Blues Tenor”, or just “Rhythm & Blues Saxophone” (although each of these labels encompass a LOT more of their own characteristics).  I’ve even heard “yakety sax” as a term for this style!

Since then, I’ve listened to a bit more of King Curtis, especially his album Live at the Fillmore West, but there’s a lot more out there.  Here’s a transcription of Curtis’ solo on “Yakety Yak” to give you a taste:

 

Stuck on the Inside

By , June 8, 2018 9:55 am

Recently, Grant (drummer for Polyrhythmics) told me that he has been discovering new music primarily from his non-musician friends, rather than other musicians, and that got me thinking about my similar experiences.

I would think, logically, that the best resources for music that would be new to me would be my musical and professional peers; music is their career, and listening to it an important part of their continuing education.  And yet, I can think of significant chunks of my music collection and musical memory that came from my friends and family that do not, in fact, play music, professionally or otherwise.

Why is this the case?  I don’t want to speak for Grant or anyone else, but I think I have a few hangups that contribute to the trend.  One of the reasons my musical tastes were so narrow for so long (they still are, but I’m getting better), is because it can be difficult not to view my listening in terms of my own music, so whenever I put anything on there would be that small voice somewhere asking me “how does this song improve my playing?” or “how does this song apply to the music I write and play?”

The correct response to that voice is “I don’t know, but if I like it and it makes me feel good then it is helping somehow, whether I can detect it or not.”  But it can be hard for me to remember that, and taking that analytical mindset instead will immediately reduce the variety of sounds I listen to.

On the other side of this dilemma, Jessica and I were talking about a recent interview with John Mayer where he described having almost the opposite problem, wanting to play all the different kinds of music that he likes and listens to, and then having to kind of make a distinction between the music he listens to AND makes, and the music that he JUST listens to.  There were many many different parts to the interview, and this was one small piece (as Jessie would readily point out), but it was one that stuck with me.

Another reason non-musician friends turn me on to so much more new music, I think, is that they often don’t think about whether the music will be something I like, or whether it’s in line with the styles I usually listen to.  They just really like it and want to share it with me. 

When I would recommend something to another musician, there used to be a lot of self-consciousness and insecurity (again, not as much nowadays, but still a little).  I wanted to know for sure it was something they were going to like, and be in line with their tastes.  I think that’s a complete non-issue for friends that don’t play music professionally.

To be fair, it’s probably a non-issue for most professional musicians too; I can only speak about my own problems!

Regardless, I am thankful for all of the new music and musical discoveries I have been able to make through all the beautiful people in my life, and I look forward to continuing to expand my musical palette and grow!

 

 

 

Short Transcription

By , May 30, 2018 11:15 pm

Hi all!

I have one more David Fathead Newman transcription to post, very short but really great and possibly one of Newman’s most iconic solo breaks:  his solo introduction to Ray Charles’ “The Right Time”.

I plan on diving into any interviews I can find with Newman after this; I tried to find any relevant biographies or an autobiography with no luck, but it looks like there are some other resources I can explore.  I hope to learn more about Newman and put a blog post together in the future!

Here’s the transcription:

 

Transcription

By , May 18, 2018 11:53 pm

Hey all,

I’ve already posted this on my other social media platforms, but here is a bit of a sequel to my previous transcription post, another David Fathead Newman solo off of the Genius of Ray Charles album, from the tune “Deed I Do”:

Once again, you can check out a little description if you click on the youtube link, but in general it has been really informative and inspiring to get into how freely Newman plays with rhythm.  Also, this solo really gives you a sense of how wonderful Newman’s tone was, especially the beginning of the solo in which he restates the vocal melody (you really should listen to the actual recording for that, though.  I’m just a vague imitation!)

 

 

 

 

Ghost Note Tour

By , May 10, 2018 11:12 am

Last month I spent 17 days on the road with Polyrhythmics, having played 13 shows, and on 11 of those shows we shared the stage with the band Ghost Note.  Although the road is always thought-provoking and eventful (in addition to a lot of work), it’s the sharing of the stage that’s prompting this post.

Ghost Note is co-led by Nate Werth and Robert “Sput” Searight, both musicians I first heard when they were performing with the band Snarky Puppy.  They are the center of the group, are both immensely talented, and draw equally talented musicians to that center, surrounding themselves with people that match their level of musicianship and passion for creative music.

The tour began with Nate on percussion, Sput on drums, MonoNeon on bass, Vaughn Henry on keyboards, Jonathan Mones on Alto sax, and Sylvester Onyejiaka on Tenor sax.  Halfway through the tour, Sylvester and Vaughn left, and the band added Domi on keyboards, Peter Knudsen on guitar, and A.J. Brown on bass (for 2 of the gigs).  All from different parts of the country, all immensely talented.  It was incredible.

I could write a whole other blog post on Ghost Note’s music itself – fun, melodic music with room for a lot of complex rhythm and interplay, as well as specific spaces for improvisation and solos.  But as fascinated as I was with the music, I was equally fascinated with the personal dynamic of the group and how it stays together, works together, and plays together.  I didn’t ask Sput or Nate very many specific questions related to this, but in conversations with them and the other band members I started to get a picture of it.  Here a couple of observations:

 

-These guys WORK.  Like all the time.  Whether it’s recording parts for someone from their house, DJ’ing radio shows, travelling for gigs, or making videos and music through their social media platforms, everyone involved in Ghost Note works on music-related projects in a wiiiiide variety of forms.  And it’s not limited by geography; they’re involved in collaborations with people across the country.

-Even while they travel and connect with people away from home, they’re connected with the scene where they live.  Following them on social media, I can see what everyone is doing locally, whether it’s Portland, Miami, Dallas, or New York, among other places (yes, there were members of Ghost Note currently living in each of those places!)  And although I’m sure all of the Ghost Note members have occasional issues similar to what I’ve just begun to deal with – in terms of striking a healthy balance between in-town/out-of-town and work/friends and family – it was motivating to talk to and be around musicians that were so professional in terms of networking and personal promotion.

-They were all really warm and supportive!  They’ve played with some of the greatest and most famous musicians in the world, and there were no egos, just people focused on playing music at the highest level they can, and enjoying it at all times.  And that was the case no matter how big or small the venue was; they always brought it and played with full intensity.  This is another thought that seems obvious when it’s written down, because everyone says that great musicians do that, but it’s different when you see it in action.  I can think of a few very specific situations on this tour where Ghost Note could have played differently or dealt with things in another way, and I watched them put huge amounts of time and energy into the show, their fans, and the venue and staff.

 

I have a lot of other thoughts swirling in my head after this tour and Polyrhythmics’ recent run to New Orleans, but I will end here with these initial thoughts about the Ghost Note run.  If you’re so inclined, check out their recent album, Swagism, and stay tuned for more from me!

 

 

 

 

Transcription

By , May 4, 2018 9:48 am

 

Hi all!

I think a lot of you have already seen me post this clip elsewhere, but I thought I would put it up here as well.

I would like to get more in the habit of posting video of what I’m playing/working on; just short informal bits, nothing too intense.  This is the first in that effort, so tell me what you think!  

If you’re interested, click the youtube link on the video and read the description for my quick thoughts on this solo and why I’m interested in it at the moment!

Art

Saxophone Siblings

By , April 15, 2018 4:48 pm

I started playing music by learning clarinet when I was 9.  I had 2 cassette tapes:  one of Swing clarinetist Benny Goodman and one of saxophonist Kenny G.  That ended up being the only Kenny G music I had, but I did go on to get several Benny Goodman tapes after that.

I then went on to listen to more and more jazz, and by the time I was 13, when I had the opportunity to play in Jazz Band at school, I was excited to play this music.  At the time, however, the band did not allow clarinets, so if I wanted to join I had to play the saxophone.  

I don’t remember being disappointed about it, and in fact I think I was excited to learn this instrument that was in so much of the music I listened to, so I was given an old Alto Saxophone from one of my cousins and things kind of took off after that.  I’ve been playing alto ever since.

After college, I bought a Tenor Saxophone from an old friend and would play it by myself sometimes, but never really worked with it; all of my gigs were on alto, and I considered myself an alto player.

Then one day Scott Morning recommended me for a new band, and assured the members that I did, in fact, play tenor (although at the time he didn’t know for sure!)  That was my introduction to Polyrhythmics.

As Polyrhythmics continues to move forward each year, I have deepened my commitment to being a better tenor player.  Although the 2 instruments are closely related, they really do require different things, and most importantly the voices are distinct and very different from each other.  

It’s difficult to maintain a balance, because I never want to stop playing alto.  It’s where I began and I still feel like it’s an important voice to me.  But I think some of the difficulties I’ve had lately (that I hinted at in my last post) come from an underdeveloped voice on tenor saxophone.  After all, I have 20 years of playing alto to try to catch up on if I really want to strike a balance.

As I said, alto will always be a part of me, and I will continue to use it as a primary voice in Theoretics, as a well as a part of my sound in Unsinkable Heavies.  But I am also excited to expand and explore tenor sax more seriously in the years to come!

 

Writing

By , April 4, 2018 1:13 pm

Hi all,

It feels good to be a little more active in blog posting, so thank you to any of you that have checked out what I’ve been writing the past couple of months!

Polyrhythmics recently finished several days writing new music together, which is always very exciting.  Last time around, I had a few ideas for a song bouncing around in my head, and with the help of the band, and Grant in particular, that song eventually became Vodka for My Goat, which is on the most recent album.

This time, I didn’t have anything in mind for a new composition, which I was comfortable with going into the writing session; I was ready to add my musical voice to whatever the guys brought in, and if some organizational thoughts came up that I could share regarding other people’s songs, then so be it.

It’s not always easy to be comfortable in that role, though.  When the songwriting and compositional impulses are going strong for everyone else in the group, it’s hard not to feel like you need to pull your weight in that department.  There is definitely a stronger feeling of ownership in a project when you have a direct hand in the music-writing process.

So even though I did as I intended, helping to organize other guys’ ideas and trying to add small suggestions when I felt like it, there was a bit of insecurity for me in the session, which I’m still dealing with a little bit.  This is also compounded by some current feelings of stagnation in my playing, which I think comes from a couple of different places.

I’ve tended to focus my development on playing the saxophone and becoming a better saxophonist, or at least better at playing saxophone in my given approach/style.  One of the things I love about the instrument is the wealth of different ways to play it, all of which can take you down wildly different paths.  And although I occasionally stretch myself and work on writing and composing music, that pull does not feel as strong to me as the pull to work on the craft of playing the saxophone.

We will see what happens; the periods of time when I feel that pull to write music come and go, and when they come I will turn to my saxophone to bring that music out.  Improvising as a way to coax out music in my head has been somewhat successful in the past with Hardcoretet, as well as previously and currently with Theoretics, so I see no reason why it can’t help me bring something new to the Polyrhythmics table too. 

In fact, in the process of writing this post, I’ve already started trying to work with some ideas that have popped up in the last couple of days.  It would appear that composing is just a slower process for me, and being patient as well as persistent (hopefully) pays off!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good Things Happen Slowly

By , March 21, 2018 11:54 am

I recently read Fred Hersch’s autobiography Good Things Happen Slowly, a beautiful book.  

Hersch is a New York-based jazz pianist, although he has played and composed for a variety of different musical styles, and also is an activist and spokesman for AIDS health and awareness causes; the book offers a look into Hersch’s development as a musician in New York in the late 70’s, his life with HIV and his coming out in 1993, and many of the different avenues and detours his personal and professional lives have taken over the years.  

I was initially interested in reading it because of his historical place in the New York jazz scene; Hersch came on the scene after the 60’s but before the Young Lions era of the 80’s, the 2 time periods that I feel are discussed the most when talking about modern 20th century jazz.  Hersch’s stories do not disappoint in this area, and also were supplemented by more of the memories he recounts in an interview with Ethan Iverson here.

Many of these stories revolve around Hersch’s experiences learning on the job from old masters, from Art Farmer to Joe Henderson to Sam Jones and several others.  He sees himself in a group of young musicians that were some of the last to learn to play almost exclusively by working and gigging with legends.  The generation after them – the Young Lions mentioned above – largely came from college jazz programs that were more firmly established after Hersch and his peers left school.  Because I underwent most of my musical development in a college jazz program, and I didn’t have that same kind of on-the-job training or mentor/apprentice relationship like Hersch describes, I’m really curious about it, and have been since before I started this book.

On a related note, I really enjoyed imagining what the scene would have been like back then at Bradley’s, a famous piano Greenwich Village piano bar that is now closed.  To read about it in the book and in Iverson’s interview, you really would never know which legendary pianist was going to come in and drink at the bar, and then, inevitably, show you how to play a standard or teach you a tune at the piano.  Amazing!

Hersch also talks a bit about how his music and the music of some of his peers was kind of caught between the 2 more popular (as popular as the genre could be) styles of jazz at the time:  fusion and a more neo-traditional style that attempted to go back to the 60’s.  Hersch and his compatriots were exploring original compositions and ideas – not as directly pointing to the past as the neo-traditional crowd – but they also fit into the orchestrations and arrangements of earlier jazz styles – not as electric-influenced as fusion.  As I mentioned before, this perspective does not get as much attention as others, at least to me, so I found that aspect of the book intriguing too.  I would love to read something from the perspective of the Out and/or Free music scene happening at the time too, but that will have to be at a later date.

When it comes down to it, though, these stories and views about musical categories and styles take up a relatively small amount of the book.  There are fascinating accounts of Hersch’s work with the poetry of Walt Whitman, arrangements of material from classical composers as well as classic tin pan alley songwriters, his short time running a recording studio, and working on a multimedia performance based on on the vivid dreams experienced during a coma, among other events.  And these are just on the musical side; Hersch’s experience in and out of the gay community in New York, the brutal battles with his health over the years, his experiences in social activism, and his general views in hindsight, looking back from early piano lessons as a child and gigs as a young adult in Cincinnati to building his career as a musician and teacher in New York, combine to form a truly inspirational and impactful life that he recounts wonderfully.  I highly recommend this book!

 

 

 

Austin Impressions

By , February 9, 2018 5:54 pm

For my next post, I had planned on asking John Speice, a prolific and very active musician on the scene in Austin, Texas, to do an interview.  

Several of the projects Speice is involved in, including Brownout, Grupo Fantasma, Ocote Soul Sounds, and Money Chicha, have been essential music in the Polyrhythmics van for a while now, and John was also on hand to sit in on and talk after our late night performance at High Sierra Music Festival last summer.

In addition, Adrian Quesada, one of the main creative engines behind Brownout, Grupo Fantasma, and Ocote Soul Sounds, was in Seattle in November working with the modern opera Pancho Villa from a Safe Distance at On the Boards theater, and Polyrhythmics horns had the opportunity to do some small recording for him while he was here.  Clearly these guys have a lot going on! 

Most recently, we played in Austin with another project John is involved in, Kalu and the Electric Joint, and between hearing him talk about past touring bands and scenes and seeing the reaction of the crowd to his presence in the Electric Joint, I felt like he could add something to the musings I’ve had here about the musical circles and scenes in Seattle and how the dynamic here compares to that in other cities.

However, as I was preparing to ask for the interview, John posted a link to an interview he had done here:  

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-akmgh-86440a#.WnSMXPIbSU4.facebook

The interview was for a podcast called “How did I Get Here?”, and it ended up having everything I wanted John to talk about!  I highly recommend checking it out, although I believe you have to download the Podbean app to do it.  The app is free, so it’s still relatively easy to get to and to hear.

Here are a few parts of the interview that really resonated with me:

By connecting the dots between the various bands and musicians he’s played with between his time in Denton and Austin, Speice paints detailed pictures of a couple of different musical circles. Throughout these sections, he just matter-of-factly describes what he was trying to do musically, and how meeting one person led to meeting another, and how playing one gig led to playing with this band, etc. As I’m typing this, it seems really obvious – that this is how a musician works – but it’s not always that easy, sustainable, or direct. The difference in hearing Speice talk about it is that you can tell he would always do what it takes to make life work, so to speak, and that he has a certain determination about playing music that is really inspiring.

In one memory, John describes auditioning for an established Austin band close to when he moved to town, and being passed up for another drummer that had a more technical/”chops”-based focus, and the negative impact that experience had on him. He found out later that that drummer was also dropped later on, because he didn’t have the sound and/or feel that the band wanted. All schadenfreude aside, there was some affirmation in hearing that news; he felt that it meant that even though there are many technically amazing drummers out there, the specific style and feel that he has is just as valuable. There are several places in the interview where he describes moving from playing and listening to music based on technical virtuosity to longer-form groove-based music, and his thoughts on that were really deep to me.

Near the end of the interview, Speice talks about his family, and what it has meant to be with his wife over the years and for her to be supportive and encouraging of what he calls a “compulsion” to be a musician. This also resonated with me; as the musical aspects of my life continue to grow and spread in different directions, I am increasingly aware of and thankful for the patience and support of my girlfriend, my family, and my friends. The compulsion to play music as a career can narrow your vision at times, and it’s important to recognize that to keep from isolating yourself too much, something that I am working on.

There were many more parts in this interview that are worth sharing, but I don’t have the room here. Check out the link to the podcast, if you are so inclined, and definitely check out John’s projects:

brownoutmusic.com

grupofantasma.com

https://ocotesoulsounds.bandcamp.com

www.moneychicha.com

www.goldendawnarkestra.com

www.kaluandtheelectricjoint.com

 

 

 

 

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