2011 in review, and a New Year’s resolution

Here are a few of my favorite blog articles from 2011, for your re-reading pleasure:

Remember, you can keep up with my humble blog in 2012 via feed reader, Twitter, or email. I try to cover a lot of ground here, so if you’re interested in narrowing things down, you can find a blog article you like and click on any of the related “instruments,” “categories,” or “topics,” and then subscribe by RSS or email up near the top of the page, under the main header and just above the first article on the page, like so:

Also, I love to hear from the highly intelligent, talented, and attractive people who read my stuff, so please don’t hesitate to check in if you see something you like, something you don’t like, or something you would like to see more or less of. Or if you just want to say hello.

And, as promised:

My New Year’s resolution

Continue reading “2011 in review, and a New Year’s resolution”

Interview: Ryan Lillywhite of Cannonball Musical Instruments

Ryan Lillywhite of Cannonball Musical Instruments

I’m pleased to share an interview that I did with Ryan Lillywhite of Cannonball Musical Instruments. Ryan and I played in college jazz band together, and recently reconnected. He is a really creative and fun soloist with an incredible tenor sound, plus a cool guy with a cool job, not to mention a new dad. Read all the way to the bottom to find a video of Ryan and his Cannonball colleagues (all very tasty players) showing off their chops and their horns. Cannonball is a serious contender in today’s saxophone market, doing some very interesting and innovative things, generating some great buzz, and signing big-name endorsing artists left and right. Ryan was kind enough to answer a few questions about what he does at work. [Full disclosure: I recently bought a new Cannonball tenor with Ryan’s expert help, and it is a seriously awesome horn.]

 

BP: Tell us a little about yourself.

 

RL: I work for Cannonball Musical Instruments. I studied at Brigham Young University where I started in music but ended up graduating with a business degree and a music minor. When I’m not working, I stay busy performing, fixing up old horns, working on my old muscle car, and spending time with my wife and five-month-old daughter.

 

Tell us about your performing background.

 

I had a blast as lead tenor in Synthesis (BYU’s jazz band); I’ve performed with the Utah Symphony and some smaller local groups, recorded for movies and commercials, and recently performed with the Cannonball Band at the Salt Lake City International Jazz Festival. Most of that was on tenor sax, but I’ve done my share of doubling on flutes and clarinets in pit orchestras. I currently take my jazz quartet around for local weddings and other events, which I’ve been doing for about a decade now and still enjoy. Especially when food is provided.

 

What is your job title? What do you do at work?

 

It kind of depends on the day … we all wear a lot of hats around here. I play test, inspect, and acoustically customize about half of the saxophones we sell; I’m in charge of the spare parts/repair department; I manage a number of international accounts; I do our social media; I contribute to product and acoustical development and testing; I clean the boys’ bathroom (hey, you asked!); and whatever other projects come up. Things definitely don’t get boring around here.

 

How did you get the job?

Continue reading “Interview: Ryan Lillywhite of Cannonball Musical Instruments”

Review: Bob Hartig’s Giant Steps Scratch Pad Complete

Recently, I’ve noticed a lot of jazz musician bloggers opining about the evils of memorizing patterns and “licks,” and calling for original and creative improvisation. While I don’t think anybody will argue about the importance of individuality and creativity, I do think it’s a big mistake to ignore the value of memorizing, practicing, and internalizing established jazz vocabulary.

When a person learns a foreign language, they learn first to repeat some standard useful phrases. Then they learn to rearrange the vocabulary and syntax of those phrases to create new ones. Over a lifetime of study and practice, they may learn the language well enough to speak or write with their own distinctive creative voice. But if a student tries on the first day of French class to be creative and original, they aren’t likely to make much sense. To speak the language, you need to hear it, imitate it, and then repeat over and over. Genuine individual originality comes much, much later.

So I was pleased to read an excellent blog post by saxophonist Bob Hartig:

If you listen to a lot of Kenny Garrett, and if you take it upon yourself to transcribe a bunch of Kenny Garrett solos, and if you steep yourself in those Kenny Garrett solos, then chances are you will come out sounding an awful lot like Kenny Garrett.

Now, if that’s all you aspire to, then that’s where you’ll end up: as a Kenny Garrett clone. But if you desire to forge your own voice, then Kenny will simply become a part of your vocabulary, a vocabulary that includes other influences besides Kenny and increasingly reflects your personal explorations with melody, harmony, timbre, and nuance. You are an individual, after all, and the sheer force of your individuality will direct you toward your own sound and approach.

Bob expands on this in the comments section:

A good writer doesn’t become one by attempting to create a different dictionary. He or she develops expertise by becoming conversant with the existing language, and that happens largely through reading the works of great writers who have gone before. Through careful scrutiny and application of how others have handled the English language, the individual’s personal writing style emerges.

Shakespeare is noted for adding a huge number of words and phrases to the English language—undoubtedly one of the most creative minds working in that medium. But how many of the words and phrases in his works were really brand new inventions? Surely less than 1%. And how much did Charlie Parker or John Coltrane add to the jazz language, that wasn’t already there? Their contributions are staggeringly significant, but what they actually created out of thin air was a drop in the bucket among all the notes they played in their careers. For most of us mortals, our truly original contributions to the language (be it English or jazz) are few and far between; most of our creativity happens when we shuffle and remix the materials that are already before us.

Bob backs up  his ideas about the importance of jazz vocabulary with his Giant Steps Scratch Pad project. The Scratch Pad provides a wealth of tasty and useful vocabulary for playing over the chord changes to John Coltrane’s tune “Giant Steps,” a tune that has challenged the best of jazz players for decades because of its unusual and elegantly symmetrical chord progression. Bob was kind enough to send me a review copy of the Giant Steps Scratch Pad Complete, a new PDF-only (at least for now) edition that contains the same material as the Scratch Pad, transposed into all twelve keys. The transposed material makes this especially good for those who aspire to play Giant Steps in all twelve keys, or who double on instruments of different transpositions.

I took the Scratch Pad Complete for a test drive today. Continue reading “Review: Bob Hartig’s Giant Steps Scratch Pad Complete”

Introducing the Random note picker

Here’s a little web app that I put together for quizzing my university students on their scales. (The music majors all have to pass a scale exam, playing randomly-selected major and minor scales.) I hope it’s useful to somebody out there:

  • Quiz students (or yourself) on scales, arpeggios, fingerings, key signatures, ii-V7-I patterns, chord voicings, or whatever. Click “Show options” to pick which notes you want to include.
  • Set “How many?” to 12, and generate 12-tone rows.
  • Set “How many?” to three or four, and generate chromatic or diatonic motives for inspiration for your compositions or improvisation practice.
  • Or whatever.

As always, feel free to contact me with bug reports, feature requests, or mockery of my humble coding skills.

Enjoy!