I received mostly positive feedback from these workshops I conducted but I received a few criticisms as well. One critique was from a teacher who thought I spent too much time talking about elephants and not enough time giving practical information that they can teach their students. She/he expected formulas and shortcuts, but I gave them elephants and bombshells.
In defense of my workshops, I do give practical information. I try to divide my time evenly between elephants, answering questions and giving practical information. I’ll also play a tune or two. In response to this critique however, I would raise the issue I have with these workshops: The problem isn’t how I balance presenting practical information with elephants. The problem is whether I should be giving practical information to non-specialists in the first place! Should I even bother!?
Remember, I’m teaching teachers. That’s why I spend so much time on elephants. I think it would be justified if I spent the entire workshop on elephants. Simply put, the message would be: “If you have students interested in learning jazz piano, please send them to someone more experienced in the jazz tradition.” But this is up for discussion!
So the question is, from Another Elephant: If our goal is to build another room, to what degree, if any, can the new room include non-specialists?
From another angle: To what extent can jazz education follow a formula?
Stay tuned for part 3!
I want this room to be huge! Ideally, we’re not excluding anyone. But there are elephants everywhere! And they’re getting bigger and bigger. I’m afraid to say that that means our room may have to be smaller and smaller.
Let me explain. No more rooms, no more elephants.
Teachers from the ‘read-execute’ tradition are beginning to see that jazz education offers a better balance between ‘listen-execute’ and ‘read-execute.’ They want to incorporate jazz into their curriculum. In some cases, they want to offer jazz as an alternative.
Wouldn’t it be beautiful if we could get all these teachers together, give them a few workshops and then send them on their way to properly teach the jazz tradition? Wouldn’t that be ideal? We could start changing the world tomorrow!
Unfortunately, I’m discovering more and more that their infrastructure can’t support jazz education. From the big music institutions (i.e. RCM) to the individual teachers, there are so many obstacles (elephants) preventing it from happening properly. Moreover, they don’t believe that jazz education requires specialists and so the ‘jazz education’ they do offer is a mere extension of their current program. For example, teachers enroll in a few workshops, they get their students to learn ‘Happy Birthday’ by ear and they add an Oscar Peterson transcription to the grade 7 exam syllabus. All shortcuts.
If jazz education wants to go mainstream (students aged 16 and below), it’ll either have to start independently in very small pockets with groups of specialists, or institutions will have to incorporate these specialists into their programs (which would likely require a complete overhaul). Lately, I’ve been thinking that the former is more realistic.
Here’s another elephant: All of these workshops I’ve been giving have focused on ‘how to teach jazz piano.’ But what’s a jazz education without jazz ensembles? Do these teachers have room in their studios for a piano, bass, drums and horns? Nope! Their infrastructure can’t support it! Not to mention that it would take another workshop to explain that they’re not qualified to direct a jazz ensemble!
This raises an issue with these workshops. Stay tuned for Part 2!
Generally, I don’t use notation software. I used Finale for all the double note scale exercises because I thought it looked better. But it was very time consuming. Especially entering in all the fingerings and making it look decent. So I’m considering only using my hand written notation for future posts. It would take considerable less time, and I don’t think my hand writing is all that bad!
Which do you prefer?
What’s your preference on the bandstand?
Australian pianist and friend Daniel Gassin recently shared his views of music competitions on his blog. He was a participant in the 2007 Montreux Piano Competition. I’m planning on responding to Daniel’s post in the near future. I’d like to address his questions and discuss musicians who’d “rather be doing gigs and tours with leading musicians than winning competitions.”
In the meantime, I wrote this:
Let’s face it: Competitions are here to stay. The concept may be absurd, but they’re not going anywhere. There will always be presenters to host them and artists to participate in them. So rather than fight against music competitions, I thought of a few ways to enhance them. Ideally, I’m searching for a formula where my idea of excellence can always be achieved.
Competitions are often geared towards young professionals. They’re tempted with prize money, but what they really need is business relationships. Prize money has a fixed value; business relationships can be priceless.
So imagine there is no prize money. Instead, all participants are compensated for their travel, accommodation and performance. Emphasis is placed on participants interacting with other participants. Those relationships are valuable and competitions should highlight that. Expenses are paid so that participants have an equal opportunity to take advantage of that.
Top prizewinners are offered the services of a booking agent who will organize performances and tours over the course of a year. Most likely, the prizewinners would tour as a unit. Let’s say the 2nd and 3rd prizewinners split a set, and the 1st prizewinner plays the entire second set. They would be compensated accordingly. It seems to me that this would be the most market-friendly way to organize performances.
Side Note: Variations on the prizes could include the services of a recording studio, teacher, photographer, videographer and/or a publicist.
Here’s the hook: The participants are also the judges. They will represent excellence. Prizewinners are voted for on a private ballot. No discussions! I don’t like the idea of judges discussing and trying to persuade other judges to be ‘more moved’ by a performance than they naturally are. Otherwise, excellence is at the mercy of a persuasive judge and there would be no point in having more than one!
What do you think? It’s a rough draft and may need some tweaking, but it’s a start!
“Should I go to Paradiso Saturday evening? Do you think Chris will play anything different? As good as his solo work is, I've heard it enough - his CD, last gig at Paradiso, and the JazzWorks fundraiser. I await your guidance.”
Peter’s questions and my answers are below. In the coming weeks, I’ll be reflecting on his questions and other issues with playing solo piano in more detail.
1. How many tunes are in your solo "book?"
I always have at least two sets of music (14-16 songs) in my immediate repertoire (songs ready to go at anytime). But my entire performance repertoire (tunes I’ve performed at least once) is probably triple that. I wish I could have my entire performance repertoire in my immediate repertoire, but memory fades and maintenance can be very time-consuming.
It’s a balancing act. If I put more tunes in my immediate rep, then I won’t have as much time to learn new rep. If I spend more time on new rep, then I’ll have less time to spend on maintaining my immediate rep. I think I’ve found a balance that works for me.
2. What is the split between originals and other people's compositions?
In my immediate repertoire, it’s usually one-third originals and two-thirds non-originals. The balance in my entire repertoire is more like one-fifth originals. One of my long-term goals as a composer is to invert that balance.
3. What are some of the criteria that attract you to developing other people's compositions for your own performance? What are some specific examples?
I ask myself two things: 1) Does this composition move me? 2) Am I capable of sharing/re-creating this experience for my audiences? If the answer to both questions is “yes,” I’ll take steps to incorporate that composition into my performance rep.
- Yes, Doug Riley’s music moves me. Yes, I think I can re-create that experience.
- Yes, My Foolish Heart moves me (especially Bill Evans/Tony Bennett’s rendition). Yes, I think I can re-create that experience.
- Yes, Bach’s music moves me. No, I don’t think I’m physically capable of playing his music.
- Yes, Kapustin’s music moves me. Yes, I think I can re-create that experience (just barely!).
4. What's involved in bringing some of your material up to a performance level?
For written/prepared music, most of it is memory work. I try to memorize a piece on every level: visually, aurally and physically. In my ideal world, I should be able to pass three tests before my material is ready for a performance.
- Play all notes from memory as you want them to be played.
- Write out the score from memory away from the piano.
- Sing every note in the score from memory.
Preparing to perform improvised music is a little less systematic, but still follows a few patterns. It usually starts with a concept or a sound and then I develop/study a vocabulary to realize it. The concept could be bebop or Doug Riley or something original. If improvising is a creative act of regurgitating vocabulary, I’ll know a tune is ready for a performance when I think I can freely regurgitate within that concept.
Of course, I never really know if my material is up to a performance level until I’m actually performing it. That’s the ultimate test!
5. What would you say to a fan such as the writer above, who seems to be suggesting that he wonders if your performance Saturday will not be "different" enough from previous performances that he's heard?
Listeners may be interested and find enjoyment in every facet of music-making. This could include process, evolution, creation and re-creation. I can’t change their interests; all I can do is share mine.
6. Do you have any new tunes up your sleeve?
I always have new tunes up my sleeve! I try to mix up my set-lists when I know I may be performing for audiences I’ve performed for before.
Specifically for the Paradiso performance, I’ll be performing some new excerpts from my Metamorphosis set. I’m also going to dedicate an entire set to the music of Doug Riley.
Major seconds over minor thirds:
You can stack minor thirds:
I already showed you this one from Part 4:
If you’ve check out major scales:
Here’s one of my favourites. I used to play drop-two voices like this:
But with lots of practice, you can play them like this, with much more control:
Again, there are many things you can do with double-note scales (and quadruple-note scales!). There are many alternative-fingerings too. These are just some of the things I’ve checked out. Hope you enjoyed, thanks for reading!
If you work on all these exercises, hopefully by this time your fingering-intuition is getting better. Your muscles just know where your fingers go even though you haven’t worked out anything specific. They just feel it. That’s great. That’s where you want to be.
The next two posts deal with some interesting exercises that make double-note scales more practical. First, is using the fingering from double-note scales to create interesting single-note patterns. For example, minor thirds:
And major seconds:
Be sure to check out the other intervals too! You’ll find patters like these are easier and easier to learn and apply to your playing:
A bop scale:
A diminished scale pattern:
Another diminished scale pattern:
There are countless others, but hopefully this gives you some ideas! And if you check out all these chromatic fingerings, you’ll be playing these like they’re nothing. Trust me!
Stay tuned for Part 7!
“I want to improve my be-bop playing.”
Here’s an example of a goal that will likely result in success:
“Over the next year, I will learn every Charlie Parker tune and every Charlie Parker solo in every key.”
It’s specific, it’s time stamped, it’s ambitious (but realistic) and it will improve your be-bop playing!
Naturally, we emit a pressure on players to sound a certain way and to take after our heroes. Eventually though, every player has to trace out his/her own path.
I remember sitting down with a Bill Evans record once, dedicated to transcribing every note. I struggled because I didn’t really dig Bill Evans. After a few hours, I put it away; I was too frustrated. I learned an important lesson that day and vowed never to put my heart and soul into something I didn’t dig 100%. Otherwise, I’m succumbing to that pressure. That was a moment of clarity for me and I began tracing my path.
You will be criticized for not sounding enough like the heroes. You will also be criticized for sounding too much like the heroes. That’s sacred ground! How do you deal?
Ignore them. Be yourself.
“Donnellys Classically Non-Traditional” - Oct 22/09 | Dale De Ruiter | Kamloops This Week (Full Article)
“Jazz Meets Opera” - Oct 16/09 | Mike Youds | Kamloops Daily News (Full Article) (News Article)
“Tickling a Musical Fantasy” - Oct 15/09 | Dale Bass | Kamloops This Week (Full Article) (News Article)
A Perfect Mix of Jazz and Opera - Sept 28/09 | Sharon Fitzsimmins | Barrie Examiner (Full Article)
Chromatic fourths and easy and fun:
And of course, this is one reason why you practice chromatic fourths:
You’ll notice that in certain spots you have to slide your second-finger from a black key to a white key. Try this exercise that alternates ascending with descending passages and isolates this occurrence:
I would imagine that Moszkowski’s Book III and IV would contain exercises similar to this. Exercises that focus on isolating spots with troubling fingering/hand positions. I would encourage you to experiment with similar exercises with all intervals. To start simply, practice switching directions! An example using minor thirds:
Stay tuned for part 5!
You see, my wife and I have a playlist of songs for fun. It includes artists like Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Kanye, Beyonce, Fergie, Akon, etc. etc. But I get bored of their songs quickly, as if they’re only meant for a specific time and place. Now that those times and places are gone, the songs are meaningless.
Mixed in the playlist is Ray Charles’ Let the Good Times Roll. I feel I could listen to that a million times and never get bored. One might say it’s timeless.
I stand by my observation that listeners are the difference between good and bad music. But I’m still looking for an alternative.
Our ears change. Our tastes change. My good music today, could be bad music tomorrow. But sometimes, my good music is always good music.
Is everybody more likely to get bored of Lady Gaga than Ray Charles?