Top 50 JAzz Blog

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Successful "Wrong" Trumpet Embouchures

Jon Faddis

My wife calls my trumpet my mistress. Don't think so. It's way too high maintenance.

The fact is, for many of us, the struggle to find the right embouchure can seem sisyphean. There is so much bad information-especially for young players (see my post on mouthpieces); so much cant, rhetoric and conflicting theories. Right now, I have put myself in the hands of John Lynch. Previously, I have been indentured to Pivot-Master Donald Reinhardt, Mr. Superchops Jerome Callet, the carefree John Coffey and, finally, my first teacher, who told me not to tell my mother he told me, but that I had to bear down like I was taking a poop.

The fact is, there is no single right way to do it and for those of us who have chased this unholy grail through the years, it can be a comfort and an inspiration to see people do it the wrong way and yet become masters. In that spirit, here are a few examples of how right wrong can be:

Here is the great bop player Bill Hardman. Note how far off to the left side he plays:

Here's cornettist Ruby Braff who, if anything, plays even more off to the left than Hardman:

High note king Maynard Ferguson plays way over the the right of his chops.

Don't want to shortchange the swing players. Here's Ziggy Elman, playing off to the left.

Jon Faddis plays off to the left and also uses very exaggerated head movements to change register. Jon-don't ya know you're not supposed to move your head?

I always love an excuse to post this video. Here are two of the greatest-Diz and Pops. Pops played off to the right and Dizzy is the most famous "wrong-way to-play" genius in jazz history.

Trumpet players are an admixture of masochist and dreamer, as those who live with us know. In exchange for the head, neck and backaches and cyclical depression, we thirst for the daily chance to live several lifetimes in one practice session. To us, beyond every crumbling G there lurks a golden double G, crystalline, centered and in tune, or a perfect negotiation of Rhythm Changes.

Sex may be a rival to this experience; but little else.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Introducing the Secular Football League.

We all remember the struggle the new AFL had when it first tried to crack the National Football League monopoly-playing in baseball stadiums and college stadiums, etc. It was a real American success story: one flock of rich guys who, by throwing enough money into the hopper, convinced the other flock of rich guys to take them seriously.

Now it's our turn.

I know the odds are against us. Our pockets aren't deep. In fact, they're only pocket simulacra. Nonetheless, the rise of evangelism in professional football, along with the attendant cant and rhetoric about family values and god in general (plus another highly annoying half hour of ads stuck into the game), has inspired me to invite people LIKE YOURSELVES to put together a league that will blow the current bunch of pseudo-Jesuits out of the water.

Finally, after a strict 6-month regimen of Armagnac, Setlitz Powder and Ambien, we at The Institute are ready to make the announcement and open the process to YOU!

The following teams are, even now, being formed in the new, fabulous Secular Football League (SFL). Peruse the list and submit your own squad. We'll see that a publicly-financed stadium is built in your hometown tout de suite:

The Paducah Pagans
The Cambridge Sophists
The Aqaba Atheists
The Somerville Shamen
The Dracut Druids
The Newton Non-Newtonians
The Zagreb Zoroastrians
The Detroit Doveners
The Malibu Sufis
The Nome Gnostics
The Death Valley Taoists
The Akron Agnostics
The Brooklyn Buddhists
and, of course,
The San Antonio Sadhus

Each of these squads brings a mental toughness currently unknown in the NFL. I'd like to see those lummoxes do the Little Thunderbolt Pose at all, never mind naked in the Arctic.

You know you harbor a secret desire to own your own professional sports team. Now's your chance. It's up to you. You'll either end up canoodling with a cheerleader in the Skybox or rotting on your couch with a box of stale corn chex.

Act now and you get my personal guarantee: No "under god" in the Pledge of Allegiance*.

*Written by Christian Socialist Edward Bellamy; amended against his opposition "under the leadership of the American Legion and The Daughters of the American Revolution."

Friday, December 16, 2011

It's Not Sci-Fi; It's Radio! by Steve Provizer

You see this object?
Recognize it?
Vaguely familiar.
It’s called a radio.
Yea, it’s a device that lets you listen to different kinds of sounds.
Oh, an mp3 player. Looks like an ipod with a really clever skin.
It's different. You don’t have to put anything into this thing to make stuff come out of it.
No downloading? Where does the sound come from?
You just turn it on, like this: 
and the sounds coming through the air are caught and brought into the radio by this metal rod.
Oh, you’re just screwin’ me around. Stop it.
Gospel truth.
What about those other gizmos?
They're called tuning dials. All you have to do is turn them and different kinds of music pops out. You can even hear people talking-live.
Talking about what?
Politics, sports, Hollywood, the weather, weight loss pills.
Is it interactive? Can I text them if I want to comment on something?
More than that, big guy, you can actually call in to their studios and then YOUR voice would come out of this little box too.
Sounds impossible.  These things must be just for the military, right? 
No, regular people are allowed to use them. They're a little hard to find, but I might be able to hook you up.
Must cost a fortune.
You might well believe that, my friend, but you can get one of these things for the cost of a bag of munchkins.

And once you buy one, that’s it. You never have to pay another red cent.
No set-up charges?
No rental fees?
Absolutely not. 
It’s all a little overwhelming.
Technology can be that way, my friend.
Well, put me down for one of these babies, cause I want to be on the cutting edge.
That’s my man.
Ra-di-o, you say.
Yea. Imagine the possibilities.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

"An Open Letter to Occupy Boston." Steve Provizer

It's always tough to move to the next thing, but it would have been delusional to think that Occupy Boston and other Occupy groups would be allowed to continue camping. 

In her ruling, a Boston judge said: “while Occupy Boston protesters may be exercising their expressive rights during the protest, they have no privilege under the First Amendment to seize and hold the land on which they sit.” I hope this First Amendment skirmish does not become the END IN ITSELF. I know this in the foreground and serious points have to be made, but please don't get bogged down. Don't hand it over to the lawyers (even the good ones) and don't rely on the judicial branch to solve any problems for you. Start thinking about YOUR NEXT MOVES. 

It will be very difficult. I'm sure the encampment, the publicity, the joy of being a living symbol of what you believe and witnessing the large number of people who have rallied to support you has been a potent experience. Marshaling the same level of energy for continuing the struggle in what may now be a less visible and adrenalin-fueled process, is a tremendous challenge. Equally difficult will be maintaining your extremely high level of inclusive participation when this movement gets down to the irritating and grinding process of getting people to agree on specific demands and political moves.

But, the creativity that Occupiers have shown to this point makes me optimistic that you will not get drawn into a court-centric approach; that you will demonstrate great agility and find and implement new dazzling tactics to move the process ahead. I'm not alone in thinking of you as a vanguard, as people with the will and commitment to continue to be leaders. To win, you've got to be several steps ahead. Go ahead, do it. We'll be there.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Occupy Jazz? by Steve Provizer

Economically, there was never much of a middle class among jazz musicians, but to steal an Occupy Wall St. slogan, we are now in a 99%/1% situation. In this post, I'll take a look at whether it's useful or folly to apply the OWS paradigm to the jazz financial picture.

In the Occupy Wall St. realm, when you sweep away the bologna covering the pro and con arguments, what's left is a disagreement about meritocracy and the Myth of Mobility:

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

"The Shadow of Kitty Genovese" by Stephen Provizer (reprised)

This is a re-written version of a piece from last April, which I'm reprising as a pre-quel to a post later this week about the Occupy movement. I think it's timely.

I recently re-discovered the unusual Phil Ochs LP "Pleasures of the Harbor."  A song from that album, "Outside of a Small Circle of Friends," and another song from 1967-"All's Quiet on West 23rd," by a group called "Jetstream"-were inspired by a 1964 incident in Queens where the murder and rape of a woman named Kitty Genovese went unreported by neighbors.

The degree of passivity and non-involvement on the part of Genovese's neighbors is not clear (Good explanation here), but the incident inspired a flurry of research, which in turn generated a sociological premise called The Bystander Effect. The gist of this is that the larger the size of a group of people witnessing a "reportable" activity, the less likely any one person is to take action.

No doubt the Bystander Effect is second cousin to what's been called Charity or Compassion Fatigue, a more diffused phenomenon-about an accumulation of events than a specific one.

What has yet to be found is an explanation for a phenomenon I've been puzzling over for a long time: that people are willing to de-prioritize their own well-being in order to make sure that some one or some other group of people does not make out better than they do. The key example is believing that unions don't represent a way for lots of people to get a fair deal from employers, but a threat to one's own well-being.

I despise but at least understand why we humans are willing to ignore the physical harming of someone else-it's a self-protective reaction. Ditto that stressed financial resources can explain a person's ignoring the plight of someone else with a disease or handicap.

But how to explain the widespread belief that the decent wages and job security of a fellow working person are more of a threat to your well-being than the massive accumulation of wealth at the top, or the enormous military expenditures used to support a decaying American empire around the world? This is sheer masochism, rooted in a massive disinformation campaign, combined with a bizarre belief that people born on third base deserve help getting to home plate.

It may be time to let go of the "I'm not poor, I'm just not wealthy-yet" mythology, to recognize that we have been divided and are well down the road to being conquered-and that your local teacher or pipe-fitter are not your enemies. Kitty Genovese, collector for Clean Water Action, the Hyatt 100, what's become known as the 99%-we're all in it together.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

"Republicans Candidates Separated At Birth" by Steve Provizer

It's a hoary concept, but still viable. Although it's possible that some of the non-candidates are not Republican. I have tried to err on the side of deeper psychic similarities:

Michelle Bachmann and   VIncent Price

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Review: "Jammin' at the Margins"

Once again, the academic slavies in Brilliant Corners U. (Uber-Graduate division) have been plowing through a book about jazz and popular culture: "Jammin at the Margins" by the prolific Krin Gabbard, who's been reviewed here before ("Horns and Hormones"). Published in 1996, the book might seem like old news, but as far as I can see, no one ever wrote a review of this book longer than a paragraph.

Having other Gabbard tomes under my belt, I anticipated his approach: an academic/general reader hybrid, using cultural theory, some historical research and, in this case, plot summaries to back up his theses. All such theses stem from a central precept, which we've seen before from Gabbard: jazz as manifestation of black sexuality and the ways that white culture attempts to come to terms with/subvert/co-opt this sexuality.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"An Untold Boston Jazz Story" by Steve Provizer

In 1971, this callow trumpet player enrolled in the Jack's Drum Shop (J.D.S.) School of Music. Even though the institution flashed only briefly through the dense Boston musical educational firmament, it was The Real Funk and deserves a nod.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

News of Questionable Interest

A tip 'o the hat to my progenitors at this blog-Chris, Matt and other guests, on whose shoulders I stand. Brilliant Corners, the Little Shop of Jazz Horrors we call our own, has gone over the 100,000 visits mark. Now, how to monetize this financially-challenged demographic...

Go, Occupy Boston!
My band-SLSAPS, laying a little groove on the nefarious proceedings

Thursday, September 22, 2011

"Bass Bow-Masters"

Since the 1960's, it's become common for bass players to keep a bow handy, and many became adept users-Jimmy Garrison, Ray Brown, Eddie Gomez, George Mraz, Christian McBride, Michael Moore, and others. BUT-99% of the time, they use it only for long tones that are meant to add dramatic underpinning to an intro, in interlude or an ending. Actual bowed (known as "arco") solos are rare.

The recent birthday of Leroy Elliot "Slam" Stewart (b. 9/21/14) reminded me what a virtuoso bass player can do with a bow and how few such players there have been. In fact, I can count them on three fingers, Slam Stewart, Major Holley and Paul Chambers.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

"Mutes and Other Distortionary Audio Lenses" by Steve Provizer

My last post showed some of ways mutes have been used in jazz trumpet playing.  The technological extension of the sound alteration/manipulation done by mutes is, of course, electronics. Or, before that-mechanics. The photo below shows the mechanical trumpeter constructed by Friedrich Kaufman in 1810. Obviously, after a very tough gig.

T. Blanchard w. wireless mic
Note that I'm not talking about simply updating the means of amplification by having a wireless mic attached to the bell of the horn; that simply allows the player to move away from a stationary mic and still be heard. 

You do need to run through a mic so that the sound becomes an electronic signal. Then, you can run it through an effects box. Initially that process involved re-shaping an analog wave, but for the last couple of decades, like everything else, this has moved into the digital domain; domain being the appropriate word for the hegemony of this technology.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Lure of the Mute by Steve Provizer

I. e., the thing you stick in the bell of your horn to change the sound and/or make it softer. Could be anything. I'll do a quick recap here and get into it more next time.

The trumpet in its present state is a relatively new phenomenon-final evolution in the mid-1800's. It's a good bet that early on, the complaints of neighbors got some horn players to jam a rag into their bells to keep peace in the 'hood. Of course, there was sometimes a quiet woodshed to go to, but the idea of sticking something in the end of the horn to alter the sound didn't pick up steam until some time later.

As far as I know, there is no notation in a classical score asking for a mute (fancy Italian word: sordina) until well into the 20th century. After all, you choose to write for a trumpet because the thing is so damned loud. Likewise, no mutes in Sousa, or James Reese Europe.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Jazz Evolution: Filling Up The Holes by S.G.Provizer

A recent post on Playjazz, a site with much to offer aspiring jazz musicians, said this:

This is why it's so important to listen to music from the whole history of jazz - because familiarity with the roots of the music allows us to hear the notes that aren't being played in later forms. Without knowledge of the earlier idioms, the brain is unable to 'fill in the gaps' when a modern musician implies certain material instead of stating it explicitly.

My reaction is that he kind of got it backwards. Jazz has evolved to fill up all the holes. Listening to the old stuff is imperative, but ironically, because jazz history has moved in a certain direction (more notes), it's natural for aspiring jazz players to want to jump on the continuum.
Lots of notes

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Tatum FIles by S.G.Provizer

I'm sure this has been bruited about more than several times in the jazz blogs, but hell, the skies are dark and the wind is howling. So, the question is re-asked: To honor, worship and adore Art Tatum? My answer: I will honor and, in a limited sense worship, but not adore.  Yes; no one ever played "more" piano, but sometimes more says "too much." 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

N.Y. Times Style Magazine: "...hardscrabble glamour." Steve Provizer

"Or maybe your granny (great-granny?) was a weathered-but-gorgeous sharecropper, a Dust Bowl refugee in frayed frock and battered boots, only-wait! what if those boots were splattered with glitter?"
Sunday New York Times Style Magazine, August 21, 2011

"Damn heels." Granny was trying to weed the beans when one of our gopher holes intervened. "Pa, I told you to flush out those varmints and fill up these holes!"

"Be right with you, sweetie. Just trying to see if these jeans are riding too high in the crotch. Too bad this mirror's got so many cracks in it. And you can hardly see anything in between the Prince Albert letters."

"Stop preening and get out here! God, my things are a mess. You'd think Gucci would find a way to keep the dust out of their purses."

"Stop frettin'. Next time I go to town I'll see what they have in the General Store."

"With that old nag laid up with the dropsy, it'll be a while before anyone gets in town."

"Damn, that means we wont be able to pick up this month's Harper's Bazaar."

"Oh, they've got nothing in there you haven't seen in Potato Grower's Weekly."

"Well, who's a little snippy? Just because that burlap frock of yours showed up in a J.C. Penney's ad."

"Like to know what Martha what's-her-name got for designing that."

"Honey, the day she can slop 3 pigs and do what you can do with a can of beans is the day I'll transfer my affection to that phony."

"You're sweet. Hand me that bucket of glitter, will you?

"Wait, you're not planning to...?"

"Yes I am, you old fuddy-duddy."

"But there's 12 coats of hand-applied lacquer on that vinyl. A dozen designers worked overtime to arrive at that shade of puce."

"I don't care, pa. It's mostly covered with cow manure anyway and I need a little brightening up."

"But glitter? It's so--louche!"

"Just because nobody else in the dust bowl has done it before doesn't make it a faux pas."

"Oh, honey, that's why I married you. (That and your pa's shotgun). You always were out in front of the rest of the pack."

"Like to see those rubes next door try to measure up to our standards."

"Too late now. They were taken away in chains by the sheriff after they missed their sharecrop payment."

"I know, I offered to lend her my Chanel suit for the trip to Leavenworth, but she just looked at me with a blank expression."

"Nothin' you can do about that. Most of these Okies couldn't tell the difference between Prada and Pravda."

"That's a good one, pa, but let's get going. If we move fast, we can patch that hole in the ceiling before the next tornado and still have time for that skin peel we promised each other."

"Honey, have I told you lately you're weathered but gorgeous?"

"Come on, lover. let's go have a closer look at the crotch on those jeans."

Thursday, August 4, 2011

"Bad Jazz and Sports Art" By Steve Provizer

The recent announcement of a statue honoring Celtics great Bill Russell inspired a personal wave of public art paranoia and this expansion of an old post about Bad Jazz Art. Jazz has a special kinship with basketball and I wondered whether basketball heros, and the sport in general, have fared as badly in the world of statuary and art as has jazz. The Institute reports as follows:

Magic Johnson escapes from the clutches of an unidentifiable creature 
to direct traffic.

MJ sticks it just before the Mummy gets him

Rejected for the $20 Double Eagle goldpiece
Getting Ready to Jam
Maybe the 76'ers could use him.

And now, some of the jazz stuff...

And, public jazz statuary: Oscar Peterson, Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie.

Best of show: Doctah J.

Public art, on the other hand and almost by definition, is by committee. This is not a process that generally works in favor of art.

Maybe the best that can be hoped for is that the squadron of people tasked with the creation of the Bill Russell statue will lean toward user-friendliness. He was a guy noted for getting his hands dirty on the court and in the community. I hope the the statue that represents him is one that we appreciative citizens not only get to look at, but can touch. Maybe they can site it in a place where we'll be able to walk up, exchange a few words with #6 and hear his great cackling laugh.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Jazz, Young'uns & the Cycle of Influence By Steve Provizer

Ed L. recently did a sweet post about Eric Von Schmidt and the Cambridge folk scene of the 1960's. I commented thusly:

Growing up in Boston/Camb., I was a jazz, not a folk guy, but the "jazz life" seemed a mixed blessing, and the group of people you talk about here represented a way of approaching life that was very compelling to me.

Also, in our teens, we're drawn to artists slightly older than us in a way that I don't think we ever feel again; the romantic promise of Art, I suppose, that experience erodes.

So: Given how important the cultural mythology of a particular music and its makers is to young people, it might seem astonishing that anyone under 40 continues to want to play jazz. The audience shrinks. There is no Miles. There is no Trane. Nor is there an Ella or a Sassy; only boxed set relics. Wonderful musicians abound in 2011, but none represents that kind of gravitational cultural pull.

I've posted often about the special case of New Orleans, but this phenomenon is national. Yes, the mass of young musicians has gravitated toward guitars, rap, DJ'ing, etc. but somehow, despite its detachment from the cultural mainstream, jazz continues to carry enough weight to strike a chord with young musicians. That a 16 year old in 2011 should be compelled by a saxophonist who played in 1941 might seem odd, but really, how should we measure a 70 year musical cycle of influence? 

It's reasonable to assume that an Ionian flutist in 350 B.C. played pretty much the same way as one playing in 250 B.C. Or, that Lute players improvising madrigals used the same musical framework for at least 100 years. 

Yes, I know, the accelerated pace of life, etc., undermines the comparison. But, even though the Next Great Gizmo goes from version 1.1. to version 22.2 in months, slower cycles continue to remain at work. The earth still takes about 365 days to orbit the sun. Human gestation remains 9 months. And most importantly, perhaps. our hearts have probably been beating at the same rate for millions of years.

Music is heartbeat. Improvisation is assuming the heartbeat will be there and deciding to take a risk and see what happens.

Something essentially improvisational has been hard-wired into homo sapiens. There has always been jazz and always will be and the distance between 1941 and 2011 is less than you might think.

Friday, July 22, 2011

"Tinges and Strains in Jazz" by Steve Provizer

It's a truism that jazz was forged from a number of different elements: ragtime, blues, folk songs, European structures... As the music continued on its merry way, it flirted with other influences. These became temporary add-ons, were discarded, or became fully woven into the jazz fabric.

Of course, deciding when an "influence" becomes an established part of the fabric is open to debate. For example, to what extent was "the Spanish Tinge" already woven into the jazz fabric before Jelly Roll Morton started hyping it (probably so he could claim it as his own invention)? Or, how much credit does Fletcher Henderson deserve for the mutation of 'call-and-response' into big band orchestration techniques?

In some cases, influence was too diverse to assign individual credit. For example, the strain of Jewish music known as Klezmer ("instrumental music") that eventually infused the swing movement was nurtured, starting in the late 1920's. by a squadron of Jewish musicians (Benny and Harry Goodman, Ziggy Elman, Manny Klein, Artie Shaw...).

There have actually been very few individual musicians clearly visible on the cutting edge of new influences which had an impact on jazz.  Here are a few choices (Early Jazz is too much of a stew, so after that):

George Gershwin's contribution is associated closely with the phrase "melting pot." It's too bad, as such a reductionist phrase debases his singular ability to filter disparate influences through his own sensibility and achieve great results-i.e., Harlem stride, the Cantorial tradition, Tin Pan Alley, transitional musical theatre and, in Porgy and Bess, opera and Gullah folk culture.

Dizzy Gillespie next comes to mind. After he became exposed to Cuban musicians like Chano Pozo(picture left) and Machito in 1940's New York, he championed the creation of Afro-Cuban music. Dizzy's long term influence, not only as a bop pioneer, but as a hybrid-izer of jazz with other musics is unassailable.

In the late 50's, jazz Bossa Nova albums started to show up and here it seems to me you have the most intensive byplay with a fully-formed music from another culture that jazz has ever seen. Brazilian musicians started performing regularly in the US and Bossa Nova compositions entered widely into standard jazz repertoire. The popular culmination of the movement was the album Getz/Gilberto, released in 1964; an album that continues to sell well. Can you then place due credit in the hands of Stan Getz? Not in the sense that I've been using it here. After all, this was a genuine collaboration between Getz and Joao Gilberto, not Getz introducing an foreign strain into jazz.

At about the same time, a number of jazz musicians turned their attention to Asia, East and South Asia. Two musicians were exemplary in developing those influences in two very different ways. 

One was flautist and saxophonist Paul Horn who, in the late 1950's, was part of a coterie of West Coast musicians using scales from other parts of the world and unusual time signatures. he (and that cohort) continued to develop that direction, but in the late 1960's, Horn broke from the crowd and did a series of recordings in sacred and highly resonant places like the Taj Mahal, the Great Pyramid and a Cathedral in the Ukraine. It was an effort to join jazz and meditation and the results might be characterized as early "New Age" music. 

John Coltrane was the other musician most occupied with world-especially Indian-music. Trane's Giant Steps album from 1959 included the song "India" and until he died in 1967, most of his recordings had at least some specifically Indian touchstones. 

Technically, there were areas of mutual concern between Trane and Horn: scales, drones, pedal points and the development of slow, rubato sections(alaap). But, unlike Horn's meditative, echoic, melodic excursions, Trane's music, as we know, explored the edge of consciousness in a very different way

I would also mention Yusef Lateef as an important exponent of Eastern elements at that time.

More foreign elements have been introduced into jazz since that time, but the process has changed completely. Starting in the 1960's, jazz became globally available and musicians from all over the world mastered the music. The language of Armstrong, Parker, Coltrane, Ayler, etc., became a global language. 

If musicians in another country infuse elements of their own culture into jazz, they are likely to do that while developing in their homeland and bring that fusion with them when they come to America, either as visitors or expats.  Examples might include Dollar Brand and Hugh Masakela from South Africa, Miroslav Vitous from Prague, Jean Luc Ponty from France,  Neils-Henning Orsted Pederson from Denmark, or Arturo Sandoval from Cuba.  It's unlikely (and might be been seen as a form of musical colonialism) for an American jazz musician to use, let's say, Finnish folk themes as compositional motifs.

Collaboration has replaced Introduction.