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”

Vadala doubling book review

Improve Your DoublingI spotted this new review of Chris Vadala’s Improve Your Doubling: Advanced Studies for Doublers on jazzreview.com:

Featured Book: Improve Your Doubling: Advanced Studies for Doublers

I reviewed the book myself a couple of years back.

The jazzreview.com review is by Peter Westbrook. He gives some nice perspective on woodwind doubling:

The practice grew out of the need for players to cover parts on more than one instrument in the big bands of the 1920’s and 30s, and spread to the pits of Broadway shows and the TV staff orchestras at NBC and CBS. Saxophonists were initially expected to double on the clarinet until it was largely replaced by the flute in the 50’s, as it saw more acceptance in jazz. The 60’s brought new colors, adding oboe and bassoon parts for doublers—or triplers—to deal with, until players such as the legendary Romeo Penque appeared on the New York studio scene prepared to play every woodwind instrument known to man, often in quick succession, a situation further complicated by the re-emergence of the clarinet on the 1980’s. I counted over 20 instruments stacked up in front of the five-piece reed section of the Maria Schneider Orchestra at a recent concert.

Continue reading “Vadala doubling book review”

Know your foreign musical terms

This is a bit of one of the excerpts that I provided for my saxophone students to play at their beginning-of-the-semester band auditions.

Excerpt from Fisher Tull, <i>Sarabande and Gigue</i>
Excerpt from Fisher Tull, Sarabande and Gigue

I heard some very fine playing during the auditions, but many of the students were fooled by the “senza vib.,” with some going so far as to use fairly extreme vibrato at the beginning of the note.

As my blog readers already know, of course, senza vibrato means without vibrato. Continue reading “Know your foreign musical terms”

Review: The Woodwind Anthology

Woodwind Anthology cover

I recently got my own copy of The Woodwind Anthology, a massive two-volume collection of articles from The Instrumentalist and Flute Talk magazines. I’ve used this anthology from various university libraries throughout my  long college education, and found it to be a go-to source for pedagogy classes and comprehensive exam preparation.

Inexplicably, Instrumentalist is selling these right now for $37 for the set. Check it out here. The shockingly low price makes me wonder if this has gone out of print. If you’re interested, I suggest ordering soon. Continue reading “Review: The Woodwind Anthology”

Review: The Woodwind Player’s Cookbook

I’ve been reading The Woodwind Player’s Cookbook, published last year by Meredith Music and edited by Charles West. It’s a collection of 57 pedagogical essays by a pretty impressive roster of woodwind folks. You can download the table of contents here to see the authors and titles.

Most of the articles deal with technique fundamentals on specific instruments, which should make this book valuable to school band directors, but it also works quite well as a handbook for woodwind doublers; in fact, there are several articles that deal specifically with doubling, by Mike Duva, James Nesbit, Elsie Parker, and Albert Regni. Continue reading “Review: The Woodwind Player’s Cookbook”

DRQOD: Ghandarvas and powdered wigs

I always enjoy Patty Mitchell’s “BQOD” (Blog Quotes Of the Day) over at oboeinsight. I’m in the thick of dissertation writing these days (technically, it’s “doctoral document” writing, since I’m working on a DMA, not a PhD), and this morning I ran across a couple of items that won’t make it into the finished product but are too fun to keep to myself. And so I present my Dissertation/Document Research Quotes Of the Day: Continue reading “DRQOD: Ghandarvas and powdered wigs”

Review: Improve Your Doubling, by Chris Vadala

Improve Your DoublingI only know of one etude book geared toward woodwind doublers, and it’s Chris Vadala’s Improve Your Doubling: Advanced Studies for Doublers (Dorn Publications, 1991).

Mr. Vadala is on my list of “notable woodwind doublers,” and certainly he is an outstanding player on single reeds and flute, but I think what makes him really notable in the (tiny) world of woodwind doubling is that he jumped on the opportunity to establish himself as an expert in the field, by writing this etude book and by contributing a semi-regular column, “Tips on Doubling,” in Saxophone Journal throughout the 1990’s. If you find yourself in the odd position of trying to do scholarly research on woodwind doubling (like I do, now and then), you find a lot of Chris Vadala and not much of anybody else.

So. I’m generally leery of anything that is “for doublers.” I don’t want, say, a clarinet mouthpiece “for doublers”—I want a clarinet mouthpiece for clarinetists. What do I want to sound like when I play the clarinet? A doubler? No. And so I find the idea of an etude book “for doublers” to be a little problematic—wouldn’t I be better off using the tried-and-true etude books for each individual instrument? Continue reading “Review: Improve Your Doubling, by Chris Vadala”

New Grove on flute materials

The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians is widely used by college music students and is regarded by most (for better or for worse) as the unimpeachable source of all musical knowledge. In my studies for upcoming doctoral comprehensive exams, I ran across this in the “Flute” article:

Materials used for the tube and mechanism include nickel-silver, sterling silver, gold and platinum, while the springs are usually of tempered steel or phosphor bronze, occasionally of gold or another metal. The choice of material, especially for the head joint, influences the flute’s tone: wooden flutes produce a rich tone with a very full fortissimo in the lower register; metal flutes produce a limpid, flexible tone with great carrying power and also allow the player very sensitive control over the tone-colour; gold produces a mellow sound while silver is more brilliant. To achieve a combination of these qualities a head joint of wood or gold is sometimes fitted to a tube of silver.

The idea of different materials having different sounds is, of course, seen as conventional wisdom by flutists (and indeed by wind players in general), but it flies in the face of 100 years of acoustical science. Continue reading “New Grove on flute materials”