January 25, 2015
Here’s a 1963 picture of “The Downbeats” with our matching red blazers. I’m the towhead on the right with the clarinet. Our pianist had an unnerving habit of calling off complex Broadway arrangements he had worked up at home. During this show, he started playing “I Could Have Danced All Night” (from My Fair Lady) in C. I was doing all right, until we got to the bridge. It modulates into the key of E major, which put my clarinet in F#. Suddenly, i was awash in a sea of 6 deadly sharps, like an accidental waiting to happen. I felt about as graceful as Charlie Chaplin on ice skates. I wished i had skipped the gig and gone surfing.
Three days later, i met Alvin “Al” Learned, the founder of the legendary Westlake School of Jazz. Al promised to arm me with the tools i needed to calmly navigate those crazy situations. In the ensuing weeks, Al walked me through the 9 exercises now comprising Unit One of New Ears Resolution. He also showed me how to learn standards such as “All the Things You Are” and “Body and Soul” in an innovative new way. Rather than tediously memorizing tunes as before, Al encouraged me to study their underlying logic with the same insight the song writer brought to the piece’s original conception. My repertoire mushroomed, my confidence multiplied.
I soon purchased my first $25 Conn alto sax and started gigging with “The Viscaynes,” a surf band formed by Mark Turnbull. Their material was largely in the unwieldy guitar key of E, which put my alto in 7 sharps. Because of Al’s revolutionary approach, this no longer posed a problem. I told Mark about Al, he too started taking lessons, and we still converse to this day in “Al speak.” Transform your own improvisational approach with New Ears Resolution today.
December 10, 2014
Are your improvisations based more on the chord changes (Coleman Hawkins approach) or on the melody (Lester Young approach)? Many players look at the chord progressions and derive either arpeggios or scale patterns based on the indicated changes. Here is an exercise that will develop your ability to integrate larger leaps into your melodic flow.
To derive the maximum benefit, practice this pattern in all 12 keys around the circle of fifths using the background track provided below. If you have difficulty figuring out the pattern in the other keys, contact me for a FREE chart (no cost or obligation). Better yet, download “New Ears Resolution” to learn how to play any melody in any key BY EAR!
December 3, 2014
Several HONK fans have been asking me how to get a hold of the HONK “Clay Figures” album. The complete collection is now available as a download. The first HONK LP was released by Twentieth Century Records in 1973. The cover showed clay figures of the band. A second LP was recorded by 20th Century but never released as an LP. In 2004, both albums were remastered and released on a single CD. This package includes all 20 selections as well as the cover art and the booklet.
The songs are:
From the first album – I Wanna Do For You, So Much Easier, Don’t Let Your Goodbye Stand, Circles in Sand, Caught on a Greyhound, Another Light, We’re On Wheels, Hidin’ Out, I Wanna Stay, Money Slips Through My Fingers, Buckeyed Jim, Pipeline Sequence.
From the second album – Fortune Wheel, Dog At Your Door**, All My Time Is Free**, There Is a River**, Heatwave, Love Ain’t So Common, Please Remember, No One Is Waiting
** These 3 songs also appear on the Epic “Orange Album.” However, those recordings were produced a year later. If you are familiar with the Epic album, you will find it interesting to compare these earlier recordings done by Steve Desper at Cherokee with the later recordings produced by Henry Lewey at A&M Studios.
October 30, 2014
Jeff Rzepiela is a talented reed player and arranger. His web site contains many transcriptions of solos by the masters of jazz. Check out his latest newsletter Scooby-sax_Newsletter_Oct_2014(1) which features an insightful analysis of an improvised solo by Arnie Krakowsky over the tune “I’ve Never Been in Love Before.” Jeff skillfully singles out several key phrases in the solo, shows how they relate to each other, and makes them available for those of us who benefit from “wood-shedding” over great “licks.”
September 19, 2014
Kenny Barron’s wonderful composition Voyage is a particularly apt vehicle for Stan Getz. The phrase in bar 4 especially caught my ear (example A.)
It would be fascinating to ask Mr. Barron whether he conceived of Voyage rapidly or – as often happens – the piece evolved over a period of time.
Focusing on bar 4, you see that the melody outlines the F7(b9) chord as shown in example A above. It’s tempting to speculate that the appoggiatura was originally part of the F7(b9) arpeggio. The Eb then takes its place as the 7th in the F7(b9) chord, as shown in Example B. Of course, Voyage as we now know it is far hipper than it would have been if bar 4 looked like Example B!
Speculation aside, one way you will definitely improve your instrumental technique is by playing figures such as this one in all 12 keys around the Circle of Fifths, starting with a slow metronome setting and gradually increasing the tempo.
While I practiced this particular lick, I experimented with various rhythmic combinations. If you do that, you will keep your imagination engaged, so that your practice time does not degenerate into a dry, lifeless exercise. You will also develop your own stylistic preferences, so that choosing the hippest rhythm for an improvised passage will not slow down your reflexes during performance. Some of the iterations I tried are shown in Example C.
The first iteration emphasizes the third of the chord – the “sweet note.” The rest of the sketches experiment with various rhythmic syncopations. Perhaps you also will benefit from playing along with the final lick in all 12 keys using this background track:
If you need a chart, fill out the request form below. Your information will not be used for any other purpose, nor will it be saved. Better yet, download New Ears Resolution and learn how to transpose by ear on the fly!
February 15, 2014
A recent biography of jazz tenor sax giant John Coltrane verified that he had indeed studied the wonderful Bach Cello Suites. The suites, though quite challenging, are a joy to play, and they provide numerous opportunities to build your tone, technique, and conception. As it turns out, they also contain some amazing phrases which can be adapted as jazz improv “licks.” What do you think of this one? It’s from Bach Cello Suite Number 2, “Allemande,” bar 21. Play it through in all 12 keys (see chart below) and let us know whether Bach gives you ideas for your jazz improvisation.
January 9, 2014
Here is an interesting phrase I’ve been practicing in all 12 keys. As always, follow Kenny Werner’s cue to “play effortlessly” in order to get a relaxed, flowing, swinging feel. Want a FREE chart of the lick in all 12 keys and a “background track” to play along with? Write your email address below. Your information will not be used for any other purpose. Better yet, download “New Ears Resolution” and learn how to play in all 12 keys by ear with ease.
November 21, 2013
This review of the Second Edition of “New Ears Resolution” was posted by the wonderful guitarist, singer, and educator Trevor Hanson http://trevorhanson.com/trevor/ . Trevor is highly respected for his work in both the jazz and classical fields and has a large following in Western Washington State.
- Basic concept: great. The basic concepts and the way you have organized their presentation are very useful. You have many good insights and analogies to help get students on board, even if they have had little formal training. There’s no question that moveable-do solfege is a tremendous learning aid, and you’ve done a good job at making it accessible and understandable. The early parts of your presentation assume that the reader has little or no background in music theory.
- Combining essential skills in small lessons. By combining ear training, scale/harmony theory, and repetition and presenting the material in small, easily manageable chunks, you’ve provided an excellent framework for learning that doesn’t overwhelm the student. Many theory books cover this material in just a few pages – making it difficult for students to achieve a working knowledge of (and quick memory for) these essential elements.
- Familiar tunes as examples. Linking little phrases to familiar tunes is very helpful. This is how most of us recognize intervals, patterns, and progressions. By providing examples, you save students time, since recognizing a short quote is often difficult.
- Audio files. Listening to and playing along with the audio files is a huge advantage.
- Scale/chord material. Your presentation of the scale modes is very good. I really like the clear examples showing how each mode can be derived from the Ionian, the examples showing how each modal color can be used, and the charts/audio exercises that contrast these elements. I found your discussion of Locrian m7(b5) and Phrigian sus(b9) even more useful. I ran out of time before getting a chance to look at Bill Green’s approach to the blues scale and V7#9#5 chord, and am looking forward to examining this section. These are all really important topics that most musicians just have to figure out by experimentation. You have provided a logical starting point for studying these elements.
October 16, 2013
“Great tunes! Some truly satisfying compositions played really well. It’s been awhile since I have heard a recording that would be labeled ‘Jazz’ that wasn’t overly preoccupied with trying to show off the participants’ musical muscle. This CD is more about songs and songs played really well. Don’t get me wrong, the playing is masterful, but no one seems bent on ‘going to the hot dog stand.’ I love it.”
—– From the Review of “Capistrano Sessions” by “Chicago” drummer Tris Imboden
October 15, 2013
There is a lot of talk in improvisation texts about the three minor scales (which start on LA), the Dorian mode (which starts on RE), and the blues scale (which can begin on either one). However, the reality is that master jazz improvisers glide freely between all five scales with additional nuances interspersed. Below is a lick to illustrate this principle. Listen to the mp3 recording while looking at the chart. Try practicing this lick in all 12 keys. If you have difficulty, try slowing it down or looping the hard section with the FREE DOWNLOAD Best Practice. Or contact me for a FREE chart of the lick in 12 keys by filling in your email below. Your address will NOT be used for any other purpose, and it will NOT be saved. Better yet, if you want to learn to play jazz by ear, download New Ears Resolution.
August 29, 2013
Any improvisation teacher will tell you that knowing your scales is essential to becoming an effective improviser. But here’s the rub: For many musicians, mindless repetition of scales numbs the imagination, limits your lyricism, and eliminates the joy from your performance.
Here is a solution. I have developed hundreds of phrases such as the one shown below which develop incredible technical facility on your horn while keeping your heart, mind, and imagination fully engaged.
Practice this phrase in all 12 keys, progressing around the circle of fifths as indicated on the example, while listening to the attached mp3 file. Use the contact form below to request a free chart, if you can’t figure out the lick in all 12 keys. Better yet, download “New Ears Resolution” for just $9.99 to totally revolutionize your playing.
August 15, 2013
What you practice is what you will perform. A joyful practice session produces a joyful performance. If you “practice joy” instead of merely “practicing scales,” the joy in your performances will be contagious, and your audiences will grow larger and more enthusiastic.
Now here’s the rub: Any teacher of improvisation will tell you, “You have to master scales to be a great improviser.” But you hate practicing scales! Your mind grows numb. You can’t wait for your practice time to be finished.
The challenge is to keep your imagination joyfully engaged AND, at the same time, increase your technical mastery of your axe. Can you do both?
Over the years, I have assembled a book of 300 licks that both challenge my technical ability and — AT THE SAME TIME — keep my heart and my imagination fully engaged. Most of them evolve as I work them out in all 12 keys; others are borrowed from the solo transcriptions of the masters. Below is a recording and a chart for 1 such scalar lick which I just finished practicing. Try it! Can you play it in all 12 keys? If not, contact me using the contact form below for a free chart. Better yet, download New Ears Resolution to learn how to play any melody by ear in any key.
December 17, 2012
The highly acclaimed Second Edition of “New Ears Resolution” is now available instantly & economically as a download via the trusted FastSpring Network!
The cost for the entire package is now only $9.99USD, and you can begin your exciting exploration into the fascinating world of improvisation immediately.
September 3, 2012
Here’s a snap of HONK’s most recent concert. It was a blast! Left to Right: Richard Stekol, Tris Imboden, Craig Buhler. (Not shown in this shot: Will Brady, Beth Fitchet, Steve Wood)
June 11, 2012
Here is an enjoyable (though challenging) way to practice the harmonic minor scale. Read the rest of this entry »
May 12, 2012
“Storyville” packed Laguna Beach’s Marine Room in June. Everybody had a great time, so we decided to do it again.
When: Tuesday, August 14 , 2012, 7:00-11:00 PM
Where: The LAX Jazz Club at the Crowne Plaza Hotel
Please RSVP at: the Storyville Facebook page.
listen to samples of Storyville’s music here
This most unique ensemble is comprised of HONK member Craig Buhler along with bassist Jack Prather, trumpet & vibes man Brian Atkinson (Disneyland Band), brass man Dan Barrett (Benny Goodman, Woodie Allen, etc.), and first call L.A. session players Karen Hammack (piano) and drummer Paul Kreibich (Ray Charles Band). Their repertoire is amazingly diverse spanning jazz history from Louis Armstrong to Wayne Shorter, pop icons from Benny Goodman & Nat King Cole to Bob Marley & Steely Dan
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April 3, 2012
Sonny Rollins is renowned for his unique approach to thematic development, which is somewhat similar to the way Beethoven worked in a piece such as his famous Fifth Symphony. His solo on his original tune “Blues for Philly Joe” (named for drummer Philly Joe Jones) is a perfect example of this type of development. Parts of the solo are so rhythmically driven, one can imagine that Rollins was consciously emulating the way a jazz drummer would approach a solo. Here is a great blues lick that works well over the IV chord (bars 62-63). Doesn’t it sound like something Cannonball (a great blues master) might have played? Try playing it in all 12 keys. If you can’t figure out how to transpose it, leave a comment below or email me for a free copy of the figure in all 12 keys.
March 7, 2012
Cannonball Adderley’s solo on “The Way You Look Tonight” is an amazing tourdeforce! He blazes through an entire chorus in 53 seconds. But, if you play this solo** at half speed, it is as melodic as a Johnny Hodges invention. Played in concert F, it is written for alto sax in D major. In this key, the bridge modulates to F major. However, the wonderful phrase shown below actually begins in G minor and ends in F major. Try playing this lick in all 12 keys. It works well over a II-V change. If you cannot figure it out on your own, email me for a free chart of the lick in all 12 keys.
** This solo is found in “The Julian Cannonball Adderley Collection” edited by Tim Price, published by Hal Leonard.
March 3, 2012
Here is an exercise to develop your rhythmic precision, finger dexterity, and improvisatory diversity.
In Kenny Werner’s book “Effortless Mastery,” he states that in order for a phrase to sound relaxed & swinging, it must be played effortlessly. How do you play a line like the one below and make it sound effortless? You must sacrifice one of these qualities:
- playing it fast
- playing the whole phrase
- playing it perfectly
Try looping little sections (as few as 2 notes) until they flow effortlessly. Use your metronome in order to keep the groove going smoothly. Start slowly and gradually extend the length, speed, and precision of what you are able to play effortlessly.
March 3, 2012
New Ears Resolution is not only designed to teach you to play by ear; this discipline also encourages you to think more intelligently about the material you are playing. Rote memorization of a song is not only tedious & laborious, but that process also cheats you out of the joy, wonder, and beauty implicit within the composition, the qualities which make a great performance so special. When you approach a piece with “new ears,” you are beginning to understand its underlying logic in the same way the composer did while creating it.
Below is a simple illustration of this process. The example is a Mixolydian phrase. Try playing it in all 12 keys. On the first line, the phrase is presented as if it were in C major. On line 2, the same phrase is shown once again, this time as if it were in F major. Which line helps you to better understand the phrase? I welcome your comments.
February 25, 2012
Would you like to train your ear, improve your “hand/ear co-ordination,” and enhance the content of your improvisation?
Try mastering this wonderful phrase (you can use it over a V-I chord change in a minor key) from Sonny Rollins’ solo on “Airegin”!
Play it slowly enough, so that you can play it effortlessly and smoothly. Gradually increase the tempo, but retain the smooth & effortless approach.
Once you are able to play it effortlessly in C minor, try mastering the phrase in all 12 keys.
A transcription of the entire solo can be found in Modern Jazz Tenor Solos transcribed by Hunt Butler and available from Jamie Aebersold.
December 13, 2009
Page 43 of the Eb Charlie Parker Omnibook contains this cool phrase in lines 12 & 13. Why does this particular lick sound so nice over a V7 chord? One reason is that the 3rd of the chord (TI), the 7th of the chord (FA), and the 13th of the chord (MI) are prominently featured on the strong beats 1, 3, & 1 respectively. These are the most interesting notes in the chord. FA & TI form an attractive tritone, while MI is a major 7th above FA. The line also has an interesting contour.
Although Bird’s solo on “An Oscar For Treadwell” is in the key of A major (on alto sax), you will notice that the lick shown below – which occurs in the first 2 measures of the bridge – is in the key of F#. For the benefit of New Ears Resolution students, i have written in the solfége syllables below the notes. (The syllable “SE” – pronounced “say” – is between SO and FA.) As always, you will derive the maximum benefit from playing this phrase in all 12 keys. If you cannot figure out the notes in the other keys, email me for a FREE pdf of the complete chart and an mp3 recording you can practice along with.
The more you study the work of the masters such as Charlie Parker, the richer your own musical vocabulary will become. Playing the licks in all 12 keys develops your “hand / ear co-ordination” and prevents you from falling into “finger familiarity” ruts.
October 17, 2009
Are you hip to Ralph Moore? He has a fabulous sound and great ideas. The following lick is taken from Ralph Moore’s solo on the tune “SOS” from the CD “Moore Makes 4″ by the Ray Brown Trio with Ralph Moore. This is an amazing solo, packed with wonderful lyricism and dazzling technique. For details, see the book “Ralph Moore Jazz Tenor Solos” Transcribed by Bill Sears, published by Corybant Productions, Inc., 1994. I have recorded the lick in all 12 keys, so you can play along with the recording. On the following page is the link to the recording along with a chart showing the lick in all 12 keys. Below is an analysis of the various key centers traversed by the lick. You will note that the melody & the chord changes both adhere strictly to this key center scheme. (See “New Ears Resolution” for details on this analysis technique.)
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