Thursday, April 14, 2016

Classical Saxophone

I read this book "The Devil's Horn" about the history and current state of saxophone way before I started playing myself. Now that I have played for a bit, I re-read the book and found it even more interesting since I could relate more to the contents about playing. One chapter was about how saxophone was being "discriminated" in the world of classical music. Still, there are some beautiful music written, like the Concertino by Ibert (I am listening to a performance by a duo of saxophonist Robert Black and pianist Patricia Black) The book also mentioned Frederick Hemke, who studied at U of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and taught the likes of David Sanborn at Northwestern (coincidentally, I watched Eric Marienthal's interview of Sanborn recently and the latter mentioned how unprepared he was when he went to college!) Hemke had a few albums available on Rhapsody. "Simple Gift" contains some avant garde saxophone music. Finally, Milton Babbitt's "All Set" for tenor sax, trumpet, trombone, bass, vibes, piano and drums, was mentioned and it was included in the album performed by Boston Modern Orchestra Project.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Flamenco harmonies

I bet there are times you hear a guitar player playing something that reminds you of Flamenco and you asked yourself how did s/he do it? This is a good article that explains how some of the flamenco chords could be played and used. Even if you have studied authentic Flamenco guitar (like I did a few years ago), you should still find this useful for other styles.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Sensuous Sax

Smooth jazz ballad, especially when played with saxophone, has long been associated with the image of a couple having sex. Perhaps that's because a lot of movies have employed this cliche. And there is a whole series of recordings that uses this as the theme, at least for the cover, where there are always a man and a woman in intimate positions. It is not actually all the typical "movie sex themed" music. For example, I just listened to his cover of Pink Floyd's classic, "Us and Them", from "Sensuous Sax: The Kiss." This version could still be considered "sexy" but in a different way.

By the way, it was interesting how I came across this series: I was writing about smooth jazz and the established musicians like Marion Meadows. When I checked out his discography on Rhapsody, I found a "Sensuous Sax: Sensation", which listed him, Kenny Geoffrey and Dan Pickering on the cover as the featured musicians. However, this album cannot be found on his discography elsewhere. In fact, most other albums in the series are under the name of one "Le Valedon" which is a very mysterious artist. I just can't find any bio of this person. Some of those albums listed "Compose" as the label. And I tracked it down to "Peter Pan Music" which seemed to be the parent company. That's all info I have on this series.

So, why am I so interested? I want to play like Le Valedon! Seriously, his playing is no doubt very crowd-pleasing, especially to the female audience I suppose, with all these familiar melodies, in a quite romantic mood. In the last 8 years jazz was my main focus and I played a set of the most popular jazz standards at our high school reunion. The question I got the most was: can you play something people know? (And when does your song end.)

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Smooth jazz revival?

Several years ago there were many articles written about the "death" of smooth jazz, like this one and this one in 2010 that talked about Chicago's WLFM trying to fill the void left by the former smooth jazz station WNUA. Well, WLFM switched to alternative rock in 2012 too, according to this site. FYI, these folks has created
a Chicago-based, Chicago-targeted, Chicago-driven Smooth Jazz-formatted digital station available through the internet.
I listened via this link. It's alive and kicking. The playlist was similar to the "old school smooth jazz radio station", i.e, a mix of vocal and instrumentals. As I mentioned before, I am not a big fan of smooth jazz vocal. And I found a few interesting fact about it here:
The goal of every radio station, says WQCD operations manager John Mullen is to be heard. "The bulk of music is smooth jazz - so out of 10 or 12 songs, the majority will have an instrumental, jazzy texture. So if we throw in a vocal, maybe to add a little spice or to bring in a few people who are not jazz fans to our radio station, it's our way of getting people who have never tried us to try us."

Oddly enough, instrumentalists often find their songs have a tougher time at jazz/AC radio if they have vocals on them. "I had a song called 'Body Language' with vocals by Shai that got to No.6 on the adult R&B chart, but it didn't get as high on the jazz/AC chart because of the vocals," says James.

He adds that another single, "All Night Long," featured a background vocal hook, while an all-instrumental version of the song was featured on the Japanese release of the album. "When Warner Bros. in the U.S. sent out the CD promo, they included both the instrumental and the vocal version, and the instrumental version was the most popular one here. The stations are playing vocals, vocals, vocals from other people, but when an instrumentalist comes along with one, they won't play it."
Actually, my indicator of its revival is the live performances here in the SF bay area. Looks like it's part of the "new direction" of Yoshi's, which traditionally booked mainly "traditional" jazz musicians but I have been to quite a few smooth jazz performances in the past year, including Peter White, Michael Lington, Jessy J...... I know Najee has played recently. Mindi Abair and Brian Culbertson are coming up in Sept and Oct. I hope this change helps Yoshi's business (Yeah, I still count on them booking those traditional jazz cats) 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Jazz and Washington D.C.

I found out RTHK (the "NPR" of Hong Kong) is broadcasting a show called "The History of Jazz" (爵士樂的歷史) from the Facebook page of a Hong Kong Internet radio show for jazz. RTHK's promo mentioned the show focusing on Washington being an important city in the development of jazz other than New Orleans and New York but this fact is often neglected.

Now I really want to watch it. And I found out the full title was actually "History of Jazz: Oxygen for the Ears" To be honest, even though I claim myself being familiar with the development of styles in different era in the history of jazz, I am quite ignorant about the connection between jazz and DC. In fact, last time when I was in D.C., the only club that I heard about was the Blues Alley and I skipped it after going to many in NYC. To me, New Orleans was about the early dixieland jazz. Then jazz musicians moved north to Chicago and New York and big band/swing era begun. Charlie Parker who played in Kansas City was the pioneer in bebop which spread to the New York jazz scene quickly. Next we had hard bop on the East coast and cool jazz on the West coast. And we have Miles and Coltrane playing modern jazz (e.g. the modal stuff, the avant garde and fusion) in New York, which has long been the "capital" of jazz. According to this article, before jazz musicians including the great Duke Ellington moved to New York (Harlem to be exact), they were playing at D.C. for a while, which was historically important. Also, the current live jazz scene are actually more active than the one club I mentioned before. For example, there are several good ones in the U Street area (The Howard Theatre was where great African-American musicians played in the early and mid-twentieth century) I guess D.C. was as important as San Francisco as far as jazz is concerned. SF also used to have a vibrant jazz scene in the Fillmore district (maybe D.C. weighs a bit more because of the Duke Ellington connection. SF does have its own Vince Guaraldi though :P) Pianist Jason Moran actually said something similar (from the above link):
[As a jazz artist, the] most familiar and important [cities] to him are New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and New Orleans.

Moran looks at a city's jazz scene through the artists who enliven it. "I always think about who does the city raise? Duke Ellington and Billy Taylor were people who became major mouthpieces for the music and swayed the opinions of millions," he says. "D.C. is a major central point because of the people it births." He does not feel a musician has to live and perform in New York to make a substantial contribution. 
FYI, Jason Moran is considered as 1 of the 12 most important jazz musicians according to the San Jose Mercury News. From my recent Virginia trip I actually saw brochures of the Jazz at the Kennedy center program at the conference center. Sounds like it's gonna be like Jazz at the Lincoln center and SFJAZZ. I will not miss the jazz scene next time I get a chance to travel there. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Taylor Swift 1989 Tour

Yes, I went to her stop at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara last Sat, with my daughter of course. And this was the first time ever I have been to an American pop-star's concert. (Depeche Mode was close but they were not American :P) We bought the tix in the morning of the first day it went on sale and we could only get the "top-level" tix (which still costs $100+ each) We estimated she probably makes between 1-9mil that night. Well, according to this article, she made 2.5mil per stop on average recently. And this tour will push her 2015 earning over 100mil.

Enough about the business aspect, let's talk about the music! So, the format of a pop concert is actually similar to a rock concert: both started with some lesser opening acts (I mean, usually, once in a while you find the likes of Alice Cooper opening for the likes of Motley Crue) The openers for Swift were Shawn Mendes and Vance Joy. Mendes played all by himself with only his guitar (and his voice) which was tough (but also less people to share his money :P) Apparently he has lots of teen female fans and didn't mind. Personally I don't care too much of his songs (sounded like a lesser Ed Sheeren) The music of the Australian Vance Joy was more enjoyable to me as there were traces of influence by English bands like Oasis (according to Wikipedia, he's inspired by George Harrison, so that's in the ballpark)

The wait for TayTay's appearance was finally over ~9pm (oh yeah, that's a long wait. My daughter was a huge fan of Swift for several years. It peaked around the time of the release of "1989" last year though. You know a girl could only like the same artist with the same level of dedication for so long! She has already "moved on" to One Direction. I guess our constant reminding of how expensive the tickets were made her appreciate it a bit more. In fact, glad to see her enjoying the concert a lot that night) The setlist could be found on the Wikipedia. As expected, she started with several hits from 1989, which represented her transition from pop-country to "simply" pop. I was on the fence about this transition. I mean, I like to see musicians sticking with their roots. However, Swift has been more pop than country already so she might as well cross the line completely. Anyway, the new songs are kinda enjoyable. I just think the country elements made her more stand out from the other run-of-the-mill pop stars. I admire the efforts in rearranging her old and new songs to make them coherent in one concert though, for example, Trouble was rearranged and sounded more mysterious. The other highlights include her playing acoustic guitar/piano to accompany her singing, and she played a white Johnny Marr Fender Jaguar on the song We are never ever getting back together (You know how much I love Jaguar :) Last but not least, the production was top-notch: the sound system was loud and clear and the "run-way" stage that split, elevate and rotate was cool (and seemed safe for TayTay and the dancers) I wonder what concert I would go with my daughter next.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Mouthpiece hygiene

I have bought second hand saxophone and clarinet online. And I was wondering how I should clean them, especially the mouthpiece. And it's not just an issue with second hand instruments. Music store does allow trying out woodwind instruments. What would be a "clean" way to do it? I read some posts about bringing your own mouthpiece. How about trying out the mouthpiece itself? Anyway, I found an article that detailed someone who studied the topic of mouthpiece hygiene thoroughly. Yeah, the science is complicated. The risk is there. I guess I should wash it more often.