Paul Motian

Paul Motian died today.

Thanks for your taste and incredible feel, not to mention some inspired performances all the way up until your death.

We should all be as lucky to make music of that quality until we pass. Here's hoping we are.

Thanks, Paul.

John McLaughlin: 1 Nite Stand Solo Transcription

My first encounter with John McLaughlin was when I was probably about 12 years old. My brother who was responsible for all my early exposure to decent music, had brought home McLaughlin's Birds of Fire record and put it on. I can still distinctly remember the feeling of having no idea what the hell it was I was hearing, but I sure as hell liked it.

There was a tremendous amount of freedom in his playing that I had never heard before. Up until that point my exposure to music was the standard groups that are now referred to as "Classic Rock" who I still love, but I had never heard anyone play like this before on what I thought of as my instrument.

The guy was just blowing, and that was was the revelation.

I've followed John since then and as I got to be a better musician I started to understand just how good he really is. And not just in the obvious, virtuosic way, but for the incredibly clear way he expresses his ideas.

1 Nite Stand
When Que Alegria came out it became my favorite record for probably 2-3 years. I constantly came back to it and reveled in it. This was the John McLaughlin record I had been waiting for forever. It had everything that I had been attracted to about his playing and recordings on one disc: an amazing acoustic guitar sound (sometimes mixed with a guitar synthesizer), an unbelievable rhythm section, great songs and incredible blowing. For me, John's rhythmic expression is nearly unmatched by any well-known guitar player, I'm sure having to do with his immersion in Indian music. You really hear it on this record in every tune.

Below is a YouTube video of the solo excerpted from the song which will help you when learning or following along with the transcription and a link to a .pdf of the transcription.

"1 Nite Stand" is a bit of an odd bird on this record. It's essentially a funky 16-bar blues with a tacked on 2/4 bar making it 17 bars. That extra 2/4 bar will keep you on your toes if you want to play this one with your band.

What was great to see while transcribing this is how freely he moves in and out of playing very clear harmonic ideas based on the underlying chord changes and then playing free chromatic phrases. His command of the instrument and where he wants to go is fantastic.

One of the best examples of this is starts at bar 23 and continues through measure 30. The way he gets into playing over that B7 chord and follows the line through into the next E7 chord is nothing short of brilliant. Not to mention the technical demands of playing the line.

Link to the transcription:
> 1 Nite Stand pdf

If you're interested in a transposed version of this for horn, let me know, I'd be happy to provide it. I hope all of you get as much out of this as I did.

Road Games: How to Keep it Together When You're on Tour

In the past few months I've been all over the US playing with some great musicians and I've learned a tremendous amount—not only about music but how to make the most of life on the road.

Since I've had the last week and a half to get my thoughts together, I figured I might as well write something about where I've been and what I've learned.

Pro Tips
One of the biggest problems being on the road is erratic schedules. What that means is your eating gets really screwed up as well as your sleeping. In order to keep from gaining 150 pounds or just generally feeling like crap, eat as many vegetables as you can, when you can because catering and food options can be pretty grim.

Same goes for water. Drink it, lots of it. Bring it with you for long van rides and flights. Keep a bottle handy in your bag and pound it before you go through airport security and they make you throw it away.

Keep some nuts and Cliff Bars around for when there's just nothing to eat or you don't want to pay $9 for a slice of crappy pizza.

Before you leave home, download TV shows to your iPod that you don't have time to watch when you're home. I started watching season 1 of Family Guy on an airplane somewhere over the Great Lakes. I think that show has a future.

Speaking of your iPod or iPhone, make sure you don't forget your chargers and all that music you've never gotten around to listening to at home.

Internet service is sometimes free at hotels, sometimes not.

Find out about, and drink the local beer. You can get Budweiser anywhere, try something new.

Play with the local musicians. Find out where the jam sessions are and go. You'll quickly find out there are great players everywhere, and sometimes in the places you least expect.

Bring stuff to practice and the magazines that have been piling up on your coffee table.

Good headphones for your iPod are key to being able to hear what you're listening to and for letting the chatty guy sitting next to you on the plane that you're busy.

Bring your sense of humor. I was lucky to be touring with some really great people but if you're stuck for 10 days in the middle of nowhere with people you don't like, it's going to get old really fast. Remember why you're there—somebody likes your playing. That's a good thing. Focus on that, put your head down and get through it. 

Be nice to the sound guy/girl, stagehand, tech, pretty much everyone. You might be coming through there again next year and people have memories. Chances are, these people are doing what they're doing cause they love music too. You're in it together.

Enjoy the fact that you're getting paid to play music around the country. Even when I was hitting somewhere that someone else might call nowhere, I met cool people and saw at least one amazing thing when I was there. Not to get corny, but this is a great country. Enjoy the travel while you're out there.

And to everyone I met in the following places over the past few months, it was a pleasure. Calgary AB, Regina SK, Charleston SC, Palm Desert CA, Queens NY, Savanna GA, Washington DC, Palm Beach FL, Kalispel MT, Solvang CA, Fayetteville AR, Huntingdon TN, Cleveland MS, Syracuse NY, Minneapolis MN, El Cajon CA, Farmington PA, Salt Lake City UT, Fort Collins CO, Westport CT, New Orleans LA, Gretna LA, Easton PA, Williamsport PA, Troy NY.

If any of you have additional tips I'd love to hear them. It looks like I'll be out quite a bit in the coming year and there's always room for improvement.

How to Explain Where You Were

I hate it when bloggers don't post for a while and then out of the blue post a quick note that says, "I've been really busy guys." Everyone's busy, pretty much always. What they mean is, they're busy with things other than the blog. And it always spells the end of the site.

Well, I'm doing that now, except for the end-of-the-site part.

I've been on the road with two different bands for the better part of the last three months, had dinner with Nate Mendel of the Foo Fighters (it was a friend's wedding), had a beer bought for me by Brooke Shields and have met some incredibly nice people all over the U.S. When I'm not doing that I'm booked with gigs at Spiderman on Broadway here in New York and teaching private lessons. Some that I've gotten from writing this blog.

I know, poor me.

I'm not complaining, I'm explaining. This has been a fantastic summer of a lot of music and performing. Can't complain about that.

For what it's worth, I have a video in the can about Melodic Minor and Half Dimished uses but honestly, have not had the time to write the post. November through December is going to be much calmer so there are good things ahead. I may even sneak in a quick note about some Diminished stuff I've been shedding.

In the meantime, enjoy the rest of your summer if you still have it, or the beginning of the fall. All is well and I'll be posting some stuff in the near future.

Funk at the Vanguard

Just a quicky-- I went to see my friend Antonio Sanchez play with Adam Rogers, Aaron Parks and Scott Colley last night at the Village Vanguard.

Adam had a couple really nice new tunes and I'm digging the direction he's going in if these new tunes are any indication.

But I couldn't help thinking, they really should only have funk music at the Vanguard cause man, that place just smells funky.

Wes Montgomery: Days of Wine and Roses Transcription and Tab

I'm pretty sure Wes Montgomery was the first jazz guitarist I ever heard, off a tape my brother had of The Wes Montgomery Trio. I remember not liking the sound of the organ and not understanding the guitar playing—few 10-year-olds are hip and I was no exception.

Cut to today and I'm still listening to and dissecting Wes' playing and hoping that just a little rubs off on me.

If you're reading this, you probably are already aware of how great Wes is, how clear his melodic ideas are, how his command of chord soloing is still astonishing and how unbelievably hard he swings. And man, he made it look so easy.

Days of Wine and Roses
Below is a transcription with tabs of Wes' solo on "Days of Wine and Roses" off of Boss Guitar. Wes changed up the harmony of the song a bit from what most musicians are used to from the Real Book. The head is worth a transcriptions of it's own as it's done in a chord solo format and it's just beautiful what he does with it but that's for another time.

I also included an analysis of what's happening in his lines, the scales, ideas and arpeggios he employs over the harmony. Like any analysis, it's reverse engineering. You're getting some insight into the way Wes is thinking and approaching certain harmonic situations, but there are sometimes alternate interpretations.

The solo is here:

There's just not a note out of place in this solo.

Some Notes
It's amazing how much music he wrings out of a relatively straight ahead use of scales and arpeggios. His thematic ideas are stated very clearly throughout—notice how he treats the D7alt chord in measures 5-6 and 21-22, repeating the same chromatic approach idea. There is also an echo of another line used over Eb7 at measure 9 that he repeats in measures 25-26.

In addition to pretty standard scale/key based improvising, Wes makes ample use of both chord tone soloing in this tune as well as superimposing harmonic ideas over the base harmony like in measures 7-8 where the harmony is G-7 and Wes superimposes a D-7 arpeggio idea creating a G-11 sound.

Links to the music:

Dig into this one, it will be worth your time to learn some of this if not all of it. I'll have a video up soon where I'll extract some of these approaches and demonstrate ways for you to get it into your playing, but until then, the analysis should give you an idea of how to use some of these ideas.

John Scofield Explains How to Practice, or Learn How to Learn

There's a video on YouTube of a clinic that Scofield gave in 1983 somewhere or another that is frankly not very good for most people. I don't think he was accustomed to teaching at that point and a lot of what he says clearly goes over the head of much of the audience. So I approached this audio of a clinic he gave in the mid-90's at Cabrillo College with some hesitation.

Turns out it's fantastic for a lot of reasons.

The whole clinic is available at Casa Valdez, a great jazz blog and is worth listening to for any type of musician, no matter what your instrument. Scofield presents a lot of very clear ideas on how he approaches learning tunes and music in general.

This particular part jumped out at me because I think about how to practice all the time and have often wondered about the practice routines of musicians I admire.

I'll let Sco lay it out:

All the musicians I know, what they're about is learning how to learn...and getting good at learning and to keep that keep learning...keep absorbing music and learn how to learn something so that it comes back through you. Learn what to learn in your practice time—what to work on. You get better at that. So you don't have to play arpeggios for an hour, scales for an hour and then get to the real weed out the unimportant things you work on and to really work out, up here what it's going to take to improve. So you got to keep your wits about you in this practicing thing.
 Later I'll post an analysis and transcription of his improvisation on Stella by Starlight and how he goes about getting the tune under his fingers. It's a killer.

What Happens In Your Brain When You Improvise?

This video has been out for a couple months but I found it fascinating.

Charles Limb, a scientist who happens to be a musician decided to investigate what goes on in the brain when someone is improvising jazz and freestyle rap by using an MRI scanner to measure changes in the musicians' brains.

In order to study what happens, he compared brain activity in someone who's playing a memorized solo to someone who is improvising one.

As he himself says, there's very little information on this yet but it appears that when we improvise, we have to shut off one part of our brain that inhibits us and activate an other. In addition, language areas light up and even with your eyes closed there are visual areas lighting up.

Reading the comments on the TED site, I'm struck by how many people—I'm assuming musicians or artists—seem to be threatened by this pulling back of the curtain. They argue that you can't possibly hope to understand creativity or the artistic process and further, science will never be able to create art without the artist.

So what?

They're kind of missing the point. There are robots that can probably shoot 3-pointers all day but it never gets old watching a real live human being do it in real time. Nobody's getting replaced here, it's about understanding. Demystifying the physics of shooting that 3-point shot doesn't make the athlete less compelling, if anything it makes them more amazing when you realize everything they're calculating on the fly.

As Limb says in the video, "It's magical but it's not magic."

Thelonious Monk Tells You How to Play Jazz -- You Dig?

A friend of mine sent this to me a few months ago. I know it's made the rounds on the web but it was new to me.

Click on the image above to see full-size or just read below for the text.

Some handwritten notes from a notebook with some of Monk's philosophy, both for music and life apparently taken down by Steve Lacy.

I heard an interview with Steve Lacy a couple years ago where he spoke about playing with Monk. Many of the things he said in the interview stood out for me and I even wrote some down because they were so insightful so it was cool to see some of those very things appear in Lacy's notes from 1960.

I love seeing stuff like this from musicians and artists I admire because it's a peek into their thought process that you don't often get just from watching them perform. It let's you know what's going on behind the scenes.

Some of this is beyond me ("ALL REET!" -- an inside joke? A reference to Cab Calloway?) but much of it is good advice for any musician in any style.

I think it's great to see that Monk was aware and thinking of his audience. He's so often portrayed simultaneously as nutty, a tortured genius or in the throes of mental illness but this shows his very clear ideas about performance and how to sound good.

If what he says at the end is true – "A genius is the one most like himself." – Monk was most certainly a genius.

• Just because you’re not a drummer, doesn’t mean you don’t have to keep time.
• Pat your foot and sing the melody in your head, when you play.
• Stop playing all those weird notes (that bullshit), play the melody!
• Make the drummer sound good.
• Discrimination is important.
• You’ve got to dig it to dig it, you dig?
• Always know….(MONK)
• It must be always night, otherwise they wouldn’t need the lights.
• Let’s lift the band stand!!
• I want to avoid the hecklers.
• Don’t play the piano part, I’m playing that. Don’t listen to me. I’m supposed to be accompanying you!
• The inside of the tune (the bridge) is the part that makes the outside sound good.
• Don’t play everything (or every time); let some things go by. Some music just imagined. What you don’t play can be more important that what you do.
•  A note can be small as a pin or as big as the world, it depends on your imagination.
• Stay in shape! Sometimes a musician waits for a gig, and when it comes, he’s out of shape and can’t make it.
• When you’re swinging, swing some more.
• (What should we wear tonight? Sharp as possible!)
• Always leave them wanting more.
• Don’t sound anybody for a gig, just be on the scene. These pieces were written so as to have something to play and get cats interested enough to come to rehearsal.
• You’ve got it! If you don’t want to play, tell a joke or dance, but in any case, you got it! (To a drummer who didn’t want to solo)
• Whatever you think can’t be done, somebody will come along and do it. A genius is the one most like himself.
• They tried to get me to hate white people, but someone would always come along and spoil it.

Transcription: Led Zeppelin's Black Dog

When I was a kid I made it my mission to learn every Led Zeppelin song there was. In fact, you could probably say Jimmy Page taught me how to play the guitar as I played nearly nothing else (except maybe for a little Deep Purple, Aerosmith and Yes (yes: Yes)) thrown in until I was about 15.

There was nothing more satisfying than being able to figure out and play one of Jimmy Page's riffs. Turns out it's still pretty damn satisfying.

I was recently teaching a new student the Pentatonic scale and after having played it for a bit we reached the "so what now?" point. Black Dog is what.

This song is like a dissertation on how to make music from that scale. Sure, it has a few approach notes but in essence it's pure Pentatonic.

Funnily enough, this one was written by John Paul Jones who said "I wanted to try an electric blues with a rolling bass part. But it couldn't be too simple. I wanted it to turn back on itself."

I think he succeeded on this count. This thing is slippery as hell between the shifting rhythms of the riff and what John Bonham is doing. It's easy to interpret the instrumental sections in varying ways but as I transcribed it I went with what seemed to make the most sense taking into account the drums, harmonic motion and the phrasing.

No matter, the point of this transcription is to get the notes under your fingers so you can play along with the record (mp3?) or with your cover band. It's a good way to start.

This transcription is through the first chorus. I've notated the vocal line as well for reference but did not include the first one.

You can download a PDF of the chart here.

Like Lester: Lester Young Backs Me Up

If only I could be as hip as Lester Young. Probably not going to happen but at least he's got my back on the whole chord-tone soloing thing.

Not that it's controversial. I got a great response to my chord-tone soloing post and video but that was with Mike Stern. It was interesting just a few days after I posted that to stumble across an example of a real world chord-tone solo. It made me realize that a lot of the stuff that we practice and are told to practice are not abstract. They come from musicians having checked out early players and then saying to themselves, "how the hell are they doing that?" then devising a way to practice whatever the technique is to get it into their playing.

I was recently listening to a new (to me) Count Basie record and a song came on I didn't know with a sax solo that blew me away, mostly because it was swinging so hard. But there was also some nice harmonic things here and there that were going on as well. Perfect for a transcription.

The solo starts at about 1:20 in on the video.

So I took an afternoon and transcribed it and lo and behold, it's pretty much a chord-tone solo with small exceptions.

I probably should have known that. Most of the early jazz improvisers did exactly that. Harmony in popular songs and jazz was relatively simple. There wasn't the tremendous amount of resources available like now for learning chord scales, substitutions and playing out hadn't even been invented yet. There were no jazz schools. People learned this stuff from other musicians they played with. It was about making a melody on top of the harmony and what fits better than the chord tones already there? This was 1939.

With that said, it's not a square chord-tone solo either. But it sure as hell is instructive on how to take that chord-tone base and build on it. Lester's got some nice blues-influenced lines in here and he even messes with a bit of Augmented ideas and of course some great approach note examples. And again, listen to how hard he swings. It's unbelievable.

So check it out. If you're not a sax player, learn it! It's fun to play another instrument's solo as you'll probably end up playing things you'd never have considered before.

Now if only I could hold my guitar out to the side while I play.

You can download a PDF of the transcription here.

Like Mike: Chord-Tone Soloing Like Mike Stern

Is there anything more scary than chord-tone soloing?

Well, yes. Pretty much everything. I mean, chord-tone soloing is kind of lame, right? If you really want to be good, just learn a bunch of scales and then play them really fast in the right key.

Hipness? Attained.

OK, back to reality.

What's the Point?
Practicing chord-tone soloing is something I avoided for a long time. I had a teacher who once told me I needed to use arpeggios more in my improvising, that my lines were too scale-based. I remember thinking, "OK cool, I'll learn a bunch of arpeggios and then I can get back to learning new scales."

I didn't see the point in playing the notes that were in the chord. I wanted to play interesting notes. If I wanted to play notes from the chord, I'd just play the chord.

What I didn't understand was that he was telling me my lines didn't have any direction because I wasn't making the connections in the harmony with just scales. I was sort of meandering. Meandering in the right key, for sure, but meandering nonetheless.

If It's Good Enough for Mike...
I once attended a Mike Stern seminar where he was talking about practicing chord-tone soloing and how he still does it while shedding tunes. My head practically exploded, mostly with scorn because chord-tone soloing isn't hip. At that point I was seriously obsessed with the Augmented and Melodic Minor scale, string-skipping exercises and working out quartal voicings. What could be more boring than playing the notes in the chord?

Mike then went on to play -- I'm not kidding -- one of the most beautiful solos I've ever heard him play. The proof? I still remember it over ten years later and am still talking about it. How many performances can you say that about?

Like a little kid, with that goofy grin he always has, you could see the joy on his face just playing 1-3-5-7 of the chords. He did this on Autumn Leaves of all songs. Autumn Leaves -- a beginner of all beginner tunes.

This made me rethink everything, though it still took me years to fully recognize the power of this simple method.

How To
So how do you do it? Watch the video and find out:

Chord-tone soloing, like anything worthwhile requires some work from you. For any song you want to do this on, you have to figure out the chord-tones for each chord. If you know arpeggios by rote, this is one way to approach it but it's considerably easier and probably more musical if you know the actual notes you're playing.

Autumn Leaves
For example, here are all the chords in Autumn Leaves with their respective chord tones next to them. Notice I'm not putting in any 9's, 11's, 13's or what have you, just the basic makeup of the chords, 1 3 5 and 7.

A-7 = A C E G
D7 = D F# A C
GM7 = G B D F#
CM7 = C E G B
F#-7b5 = F# A C E
B7b9 = B D# F# A
E-7 = E G B D
E7 = E G# B D
Eb7 = Eb G Bb Db
D-7 = D F A C
Db7 = Db F Ab Cb (B)

Practicing this concept means playing those notes – and only those notes – over their respective chords while trying to make some music out of it.

Why do this? If you're a horn player or someone who can't comp for themselves, which makes most of us, it will make the harmony of the song incredibly clear to your ear making memorizing or just hearing it in your head much easier. You will also begin to see how notes and chords resolve into each other. It forces you to go off of auto-pilot and actually think about the notes you're playing, short circuiting your muscle memory.

Guide Tones
Particularly strong notes from these chords are the 3rd and the 7th sometimes referred to as "guide tones." They determine the character of the particular chord, whether it's a Major or Minor in the case of the 3rd, or has a b7 or a Major7. A great way to start this kind of practice is to play just the guide tones of the chord progression you're playing over.

For instance, here are the first 8 bars of Autumn Leaves with one example of a guide tone line:

In this example I emphasized common tones and tried not to leap but step between the chords as they changed from bar to bar if possible. In the following example I do the same thing but using both guide tones at the same time as building blocks for comping ideas.

And finally, here's an example of a chord-tone solo over the first eight bars of Autumn Leaves to get your started if you're new to this:

You can download a PDF of all of these examples on one page here.

Dig the Basics
Too often when I was in school I would ignore certain things I perceived as "beginner" because there was always something so much more interesting to learn. I believed if I just learned that thing that seemed exotic to me, I'd suddenly be a great player. That's the lottery concept of improvising. You believe that if you learn that one scale, or concept, or lick or whatever then suddenly you'll be great.

If it were only that easy. All these concepts and exercises and approaches are tools to help you understand your instrument better but more importantly, much more importantly, understand the music you're playing so you don't have that feeling of not knowing what the hell is going on and just hanging on for dear life.

Like Mike, I practice this on all new tunes I work on and sometimes I do it just because it sounds good. And sometimes when it sounds really good, I understand why he has that goofy grin on his face.