Monday, April 03, 2017

我的爵士雜記:Jazz tunes to learn (revisited)

Three years ago I posted this about my first tunes played at the Stanford Jazz Workshop Guided Jam. From simply improv with the blues, we moved on to modal, major ii-V-I, minor ii-v-i and finally rhythm changes. I recommend checking out this article on Guitar Player by one of my favorite online guitar teacher Matt Warnock about 5 tunes beginner should learn (with great video examples from YouTube too!):
  • Summertime: improv with A minor pentatonic (yeah, every guitar player knows) 
  • Maiden Voyage: with dorian mode
  • Cantaloupe Island: dorian and mixolydian
  • Autumn Leaves: major ii-V-I
  • Sunny: minor ii-v-i
This set (and in this order) pretty much mirrors what we did at SJW (add your choice for a rhythm change tune: Oleo or Anthropology!) 

And if you check out this list from my other fav Jamie Holroyd, you would find similar tunes:

  • Summertime: same as above
  • So What: dorian
  • Tune Up: This is actually my go-to tune for practicing ii-V-I changes

Yes, you really should learn to play Summertime: the melody, improv and comping. Matt Warnock taught several commonly seen jazz voicing for Summertime here.

Speaking of comping and voicing, I do have a counter example. Another online teacher put up this video and was promoted by GuitarPlayer: 3 Easy Jazz Songs - For People Who Don't Play Jazz! Don't get me wrong: I really appreciated his effort in getting more people to play jazz. However, jazz players simply don't play that! First of all, his video taught the chords of the songs (without the melody) so I'd say it's a bit misleading. Second, it's one thing to know and learn to play those chords (Drop-2 and Drop-3 chords in Berklee's terminology) In a real jazz jam situation you won't play those chords like that though. When you jam with a piano and/or bass, you won't play the low notes on your guitar since it would clash with them. Guitar players should stick with those "upper voicing" when comping.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Ripping CD to FLAC on a Mac

I have rejoined the Mac family for some time already and enjoyed the machine a lot. However, I found it lacks free music-related tools when compared to PC. My go-to music file player on PC is foobar2000, which is very versatile (support many formats) I like to simply drag some files from my drives to it and have it start playing. No import/library BS like iTunes. I could also rip CDs into my preferred format (FLAC at this time) Sadly it's not available on Mac. After Googling for a while, it seems to me that I could still use 2 pieces of free software as "replacement" of foobar2000:
  • VLC can play many formats and I can drag-and-drop
  • XLD can rip to various formats
However, probably for licensing reason, the "default" installation for XLD does not include FLAC as an output format (which is chosen under "Preference") To add FLAC as a format, one needs to download the plugin, unzip it and mv the whole "bundle" (a dir) under ~/Library/Application Support/XLD/PlugIns/ For other XLD tips, please read this. (I changed the file naming convention to my favorite one: %T_%n_%t)

Monday, March 27, 2017

Smooth Jazz and Metal Weekend

I came to SF less often since the beginning of the year partly due to changes at the office but I went two days in a row during the past weekend. After my tax appt, I visited the Legion of Honor, which I chose over De Young Museum, because of the "Early Monet" exhibition. (The "regular" ticket does not cover this exhibition) I overheard the security guard saying that it has been crowded even since it opened more than a month ago! I also read that Monet is one of the painters who can always draw big crowds. Impressionism gotta be the most popular art style (maybe Surrealism is #2?) Even though "early" implied that the pieces were not from Monet's "peak" period, there were still good and interesting enough to be appreciated in their own rights (not to mention the values of seeing how he evolved as a painter) For the evening, I had a choice to make: whether to see a Joshua Redman led quartet ("Still Dreaming") playing avant-garde jazz inspired by Ornette Coleman and Dewey Redman. videos) at SFJAZZ or the smooth jazz master Richard Elliott at Yoshi's in Oakland. Well, the box offices have decided for me as I wasn't able to buy any tix for the former. And to be honest, the music from the videos are not exactly very attractive either . Even though I often found that the beauty of the "ugly" sounding music shines at live performances, watching Richard Elliott live was definitely a great choice: if I want to play smooth jazz on tenor, he is THE guy I should imitate. He also played an Akai EWI at the show. (I play the USB version of it) I especially enjoy the tunes he played from his latest album "Summer Madness" (in the middle of March Madness, pun intended)

I rarely go to concerts two nights in a row these days but I just don't get to listen to great Death Metal bands live that often so there's no way I would miss Obituary's performances at the Fillmore on Sunday. Again, if I want to play death metal, this is the band I would cover. They are promoting their brand-spanking-new album, which is a strong effort, on this tour. The headliner is actually the legendary thrash metaler Kreator, who also had a new album out in 2017. The other opening acts are also worthwhile to mention: the show started by Horrendous, a two-guitarist/vocalists plus bass and drums lineup. Their sound reminded me of the Death Metal pioneer, Death, with very technical playing. I dig it a lot. The next band was Midnight, which I have also never heard of before. I could hear strong influences of the "punk"-side of Motorhead and also early Venom. They played with their head covered by a black-cloth-mask. And they no only got the look but also the chops. Both bands started the show strong for Obituary. If I remember correctly, I have never been to their show before. (And to be honest, I have probably seen all metal bands that I really dig after this one) Some of their songs are considered to be "easy" to play for "beginning" death metal bands. Don't underestimate their skills because of this though. Their guitarist used the whammy bar very well and played a lot of dive-bombing solos. And finally, it's Kreator's turn and they reminded me once again that they are as good as any of the Big 4 of Thrash Metal. Thrash and death metal are still going strong after all these years.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Obituary interview

The only reason that I'm still subscribed to the Rolling Stone magazine's Two-time-a-day newsletter is because once in a very long while they would write about music I'm interested in (most of the other times they just trash DT) Today they published an interview of Obituary, about their three decades of history and the upcoming new album, which is supposed to sound like 1990's Cause of Death (my all-time-favorite) I am surprised the Tardy brothers were influenced by Southern rock/blues back in the days! These days they are recording at their own studio, which is also a "man-cave" with pool table and TVs. Yeah, that's the dream of every male musician!

Wednesday, February 01, 2017


Like most kids from my generation, we learned the recorder from school music classes. I also took Chinese music lessons after school learning dizi and erhu, on which I could barely play a few tunes. And my mom bought me a harmonica which I enjoy its sound a lot. However, bass guitar is the first instrument that opened the door for me to play some "serious stuff", especially with other friends, and in a rock band setting. Compared to other years in high school, the last year was a relaxing one and I got to spend quite some time to have fun outside of studying. And nothing was cooler than starting a band with my buddies. I started out as a drummer which was a struggle for me. And our bassist bailed on us a lot so I was encouraged to sub for him: "it's so easy to pickup" (which was partially true as I got by with always playing the root of each chord as 8th notes for all songs!) I was already a metal head at that point and had quite a few favorite bands and their guitarists as my heroes. After starting to play bass, I felt that I have joined an even more exclusive "club", bass hero worshipers! The most heralded bass players at that time included Steve Harris from Iron Maiden. However, I got curious about the two guys who won all those magazine polls as best bass players: Billy Sheehan and Stu Hamm. Sheehan's live recording with his old band, Talas Years, was so hard to buy but I eventually get to listen to his highly regarded bass solo masterpiece: NV4 3345. And Stu Hamm's "King of Sleep" was one of the first cassettes I bought after I entered college. I dug his jazz fusion style very much. And surprisingly, at this point I still hadn't listen to any music of Jaco Pastorius, who had of course influenced most bass players after him, including Sheehan and Hamm (he mentioned how impressed he was after seeing Jaco's performance) As I became of jazz fan, it become inevitable for me to hear some cover version of Jaco's tunes, e.g. Portrait of Tracy, and then a whole tribute album. Still, to be honest, I never really tried listening to his albums, like his ground-breaking self-titled album from 1976 or "Word of Mouth" from 1981. I guess my taste is too conservative for his music. I am most familiar with his playing on Pat Metheny's debut album "Bright Size Life". And I did enjoy the playing of his son, Felix, on his lone recording with the jazz fusion group Yellowjackets. These days I am going through Jaco's live recordings with the Weather Report.

To appreciate his genius, I strongly recommend watching his biopic "Jaco" (produced by a huge fan of Jaco and former Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo) It went through his years as a talented kid to joining famed fusion group "Weather Report" to becoming one of the most highly regarded musicians  in the jazz/rock/fusion circle to his demise. Now I understood why he was considered to be the bass equivalent of Jimi Hendrix: he completely reinvented how music could be played on this instrument.

The outro of the movie included his tune "Continuum" covered by another favorite group of mine: Rodrigo Y Gabriela. I was so inspired that I had the urge to play some music (for some reason I picked up my soprano sax first probably influenced by the footages of him and his Weather Report bandmate Wayne Shorter) I found a good tab on "Continuum" here.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

我的爵士雜記:Play jazz like Jim Hall

差不多廿年前住在Manhattan的時候去jazz club識了一個朋友(一生人僅止一次!)Ken, 我們都是爵士結他發燒友,當然他的認識比我深得多(我才剛開始彈結他,對爵士樂理認識等於零)他告訴我他最欣賞的結他大師是Jim Hall(我一直最欣賞的則是Pat Martino),所以我不時會找些Jim Hall的唱片來聽聽;在雜誌Premier Guitar的newsletter介紹下讀了一篇關於Jim Hall的演奏手法的文章,十分值得推薦給各位爵士友。五個例子展示Jim Hall如何用chord tone來solo或comping,還有從一條弦到兩弦之外(略過中間一弦)的單音solo,以及chord melody soloing(想提一下:雖然flash player播放該頁的音樂有點問題,更方便的是下載該頁上連結的zip檔案,有齊tab及錄音)

Friday, December 23, 2016

Akai EWI-USB Experience...... on a Mac

This post is more about computer than music. Call this my endorsement of Mac if you will. So I wrote about setting up my Akai EWI-USB on PC 1.5 years ago. Basically it worked out of the box but not that well (sound came out too late with the standard audio driver so I needed to download and installed ASIO4ALL) And to play an additional audio track from the computer (usually a backing track) I will have to use another sound card (like an external USB one) so the audio will come out from 2 different outputs, which I can live with but not ideal.

When I got my Macbook Air, this is one of the first peripherals I tried. Basically it worked out of the box. Really, no delay and additional driver/sound card is not necessary. It can play my backing track at the same time.

No wonder artists and musicians like Mac (We already knew many software developers like Mac 'coz it's running a flavor of Unix under the cover)