Extraordinary lead trumpet player, Mike Lovatt (third from the left), invited me to bring my son, Zak, along to a recording session of the BBC Big Band.
That’s Zak (he plays trumpet), behind the extraordinarily stellar trumpet section.
The stars are (from left to right):
Brian Rankin, Derek Taylor, Mike Lovatt and Martin Shaw (my jazz trumpet teacher!) .
Meanwhile, over on the left side of the room there are more superstars:
Trombones, from left to right: Liam Kirkman, Gordon Campbell, Andy Wood
Conductor (and superstar jazz trombonist): Mark Nightingale
Drums: Tom Gordon
Piano: Gwylm Simcock
Needless to say, this band sounded ridiculously good!
They say the recording will go out on BBC radio 2 on a Monday evening, sometime soon, at 9:00.
Here’s my son, Zak, playing trumpet, leading his quartet, “Blueshift”, at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 1st May 2010. Their performance was part of the final round of the Yamaha Jazz Experience Competition. There were three age groups: 15 and under, 17 and under and 19 and under. Blueshift, won the 15-and-under section.
Zak is 12 years old.
On May 20th there’s a concert at St. James’ Church, Piccadilly, London.
It’s a live performance, or interpretation, of the album, “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis. I think it’s going to be a sextet, but what I DO know is that I’m going to be the one playing the trumpet and thus, to some extent, trying to “be” Miles Davis.
This is, of course, an impossible task but aside from the difficulty of doing it well the principal thing that needs sorting out is how the band should approach a performance of this legendary recording.
The choices are, either to try to reproduce the original as near perfectly as possible OR to perform the concert as an “interpretation”, in a similar manner to an orchestra+conductor performing, say, yet another Brahms third symphony. Brahms wrote his symphonies on paper whereas Miles Davis and the rest of that amazing sextet “wrote” theirs directly onto magnetic tape. There seems to be no point in attempting to play a perfect replica of “Kind Of Blue” as it is, itself, already a reproduction – and it would take years of rehearsals and ultimately would serve no purpose. Rather than that it would be better simply to fix up a big hifi system in the hall and play the CD to the audience! So, the only sensible option is for us to perform some kind of interpretation …for want of a less lofty word.
Actually, we’ve done this show once before, a few years ago, and in the same venue in Piccadilly. I kept very quiet about it, only inviting one close friend of mine who I knew wouldn’t be critical of it, and of me, however badly I played! The hall was less than half full and we were pretty badly under-rehearsed. In fact, the performance itself was the first time we’d ever met the drummer! Also, nobody used a mic – and I really needed one because it’s very hard to get a decent Miles Davis harmon-mute sound without a mic poked right into the mute!
This time around I feel a bit different about it and, as you can see, I’m going public. Most of us will have microphones, we’ll be better rehearsed, I’ll be more confident and I hope we can fill the hall this time.
So, these days I’m trying to learn Miles’ solo from Love For Sale. I’m trying to learn it exactly, with every nuance of articulation, decoration, rhythmic idiosyncrasy, pitch bend – everything. I’m spending hours at it every day. It’s not even guaranteed that we’ll play this track when it comes to the show (it’s not on the original version of the album – only later, extended ones. It was originally on the album, “Circle In The Round”) but I absolutely love it and it’s packed full of useful little Miles “signatures” which I hope will infect my playing and come out in my improvisations. That’s the plan, anyway. I feel the need for some sort of a plan, however flimsy…
I must admit to having got out of the habit of practising trumpet every day during the last few months. This is because I’ve had so much tricky and important horn stuff to play recently, which has taken up all my practise time. But this won’t do. I’m going to have to find a way of doing at least a little jazz every day. I’m sure the key to learning jazz improvisation is to do it often – even if it’s little and often.
So, note to self: from today, I’m going to try to do at least some trumpet every day.
This horn is quite heavy, and it’s going to take some time to get used to it – by which I mean many hours of practise. And this means stiff neck, shoulders, back-ache …PAIN.
I’m not all that keen on pain. I believe in “No pain = GAIN”. So I asked Andrew Taylor, of Taylor Trumpets, the maker of this marvellous horn, if he would make an adaptor for me so that it would sit on a camera monopod. This he has done and you can see it in the photo. The adaptor is basically a highly elongated bottom-end valve cap with a screw-threaded hole at the bottom which is the same size as those found on the underside of cameras.
So now, whether I sit or stand, I can have the “Phatterboy” floating weightlessly in front of me. I’m not sure if I’ll use it for actual gigs any time, but it makes practising very comfortable.
I found this, while looking through some old photographs.
I must have thought it worth keeping or I wouldn’t have written it down, or taken the photo. I’ve not seen the actual bit of paper since that day.
It’s an arpeggiated exercise for learning chordal patterns within F# Melodic Minor. It may seem a bit abstruse but all those patterns are very useful.
I’ve just tried to play it – and it’s very difficult. That’s over four years now (going by the date stamp of the photo) and I still haven’t learned it. I think I’d better get on with it…
How wonderful to know that those evil warmongering Republicans have been shown the door!
Despite far too little sleep (I was watching the election results coming in during the night) I’m feeling euphoric. I feel like I did when Tony Blair got rid of the tories (this was before he became one himself).
America has elected a jazz president! I don’t mean because he’s black. I mean his voice. Listen to him addressing a large crowd – his performing voice. It’s wonderful! It’s pure jazz. He’s got rhythm. I’m going to find a recording of one of them and transcribe it for trumpet and see if I can get some of it into my playing.
I’m allowing myself to suspend my cynicism today and to believe that the world might become a better place.
(That’s what I felt when Tony Blair became the Prime Minister …before he screwed up.)
(Tony Blair didn’t swing, though….)
Here’s a lovely picture of my son, Zak, playing the PhatterBoy.
Just how cool is that?
And what’s more – it sounds as good as it looks. He’s a very good trumpet player.
Here’s a nice pic of my friend, Kenny Wheeler. He’s been very encouraging and helpful – and inspiring – and I bought a couple of trumpets and a BEAUTIFUL Kanstul flugelhorn from him.
Here’s a picture of my amazing new toy.
I’m not quite sure what I think it sounds like. But doesn’t it look absolutely amazing?
I’ve got three mouthpieces which work with it and they all sound very different to each other – they all work, though, so maybe I should keep them all going for the time being.
One is a straightforward Besson 15 – a pretty normal sort of tenor horn mouthpiece which gives it a mellow and fruity voice with not much edge to the sound.
Another is the mouthpiece which Andy Taylor made for it (shown in the picture) which looks the best, has the rim dimensions of my (French) horn mouthpiece and the internal shape of some kind of Yamaha tenor horn mouthpiece. This is a harder, higher temperature sound which seems to have a more interesting colour in the high register.
The third is a Stork Vacchiano 1.5B trumpet mouthpiece – the biggest I’ve ever seen and might be quite good with the PhatterBoy. It makes it scream when loud – quite a hot and raucous sound. A bit like a flugelhorn with masses of electric guitar distortion pedal.
I blew the PhatterBoy into my portable digital recorder (a Zoom H2) and recorded direct to mp3. I wanted to hear what it sounded like in an acoustic space so I added some reverb. I used it with the mouthpiece shown in the photo. I think it sounds very promising. Not too much like a flugelhorn – not too much like anything, really – perhaps a bit like an alto-flute.
I’ve had another amazing lesson with Martin Shaw.
We spent quite a long time looking into what we have agreed to call “Ghost” tonguing. Having done a bit of work on it since the last lesson and got somewhere (though by no means anywhere near it yet) it’s now got a little clearer exactly what I have to do. So now I have an exercise I will put into my work-out to teach my tongue to jump in and out of that precise position on my upper incisors which damps the sound. It’s a great effect and I’m chasing after it seriously.
The second half of the lesson was spent trying to find a way of using the ghost tonguing in context. Martin wrote out a couple of little riffs for me, which would work over a 2-5-1 sequence and which contain obvious places to do the ghost notes.
We talked quite a lot about how dificult it is for me actually to hear some of the things that Martin does (he does play really beautifully) well enough to even try to copy him. He worked through a variety of ways of slowing it down, with me listening and copying, but not getting anywhere near it. Mine always sounded clumsy and awkward – his always fresh and alive and perfect.
I think next time I’ll have to bring the minidisc recorder so I can better analyzing exactly what’s going on. I need to do this not just with the ghost notes but with many other aspects of style.
My articulation still needs to be blunter, firmer and more immediate at the front of the notes. I still sound too much like a horn player – shaping everything. Despite this being quite a profound change in style, I’m completely confident it won’t mess up my horn playing , as it seems to me that people who learn to speak French don’t lose their Engish accent in the process. I’m sure it’s exactly the same thing. The parallel with learning a foreign language is very clear to me
Martin also said I need to listen to tons of Clifford Brown. Fantastic! I’ll try to learn some more of his solos.
- Continue the chromatic runs and practise ghost tonguing as workout exercises.
- Practise the riffs Martin gave me.
- Study “Confirmation” by Charlie Parker – from the copy Martin lent me with articulations and other useful pencil marks added.
- Get hold of David Baker’s book on Clifford Brown in the Giants Of Jazz series.
- Get hold of the Charlie Parker Onmibus.
- Tongue firmer all the time.
- Listen to Clifford Brown. Listen to Clifford Brown. Listen to Clifford Brown. Listen to Clifford Brown. Listen to Clifford Brown.
I’ve been practising pretty regularly and, I feel, steadily improving but increasingly feeling myself to be in a musical vacuum. What I need now is fresh air, not my own stale stuff to breathe; so with that in mind I’ve arranged to have a lesson with Martin Shaw, who has been enthusiastically recommended by both John Barclay and Derek Watkins.
I’m taking a trumpet and a flugelhorn but no books or printed stuff of any kind – jazz is supposed to improvised – plus I don’t want to be telling Martin the way I want the lesson to go.
What do I want? Not sure, but I’d like him to get me to loosen up my playing and then guide me towards better ways of doing it. The fact is I don’t know if I’m any good at any aspect of it. John Barclay has been vey encouraging, even flattering, as have Valentin and Dan Newall, but I don’t really know if I’m heading in the right direction, hence the need for a lesson …or several.
Well, that was amazing. Martin Shaw is a terrific teacher, and very generous with his time. He gave me two hours! It felt like half an hour. It seems that I’m basically on the right track and he was very encouraging about my attempts – after hearing me struggling through All The Things You Are, although several things came up which I’m writing down now to remind myself about.
1. General articulation: I’m doing it too softly! My tonguing needs to be more positive, or harder, less “classical” – this surprised me but he demonstrated the difference and convinced me. It’s part of coming from my highly classical horn technique and rounding the starts of the notes. “It’s a beautiful sound but not right for jazz trumpet”, I think he said… So I must try to remember that.
2. Learning the modal flavours: Up and down scales thinking in terms of raised and lowered 2nds, 3rds, 6ths etc.. Make cards or use Psion… Go to the ninth and back down each time. Then learn them from the ninth down then up. Then in broken thirds, fourths etc…
3. Playing Aebersolds using only the chord notes. Up, then up and down the scale notes.
4. Playing Aebersolds up and down the straight simple scales notes – so, for example, when encountering the altered scale Calt, just stick to C7 (for now).
5. Same as above but improvising using only the scale notes first in minims, then in triplet minims, then crotchets, then triplet crotchets then quavers, then, triplet quevers etc…
6. Don’t use double tonguing in the fast stuff – it’s almost never done in jazz. The fast licks seem to all be slurred pairs or threes, across the main beats.
7. Learn the closed-tongue Clifford Brown thingy sound. Like muting the sound by putting the toungue against the teeth so the air has to squeeze around the teeth to get through. This is a new departure – something unheard of in classical technique and I don’t think it’s been analyzed much by jazz trumpet players. They just seem do it. I don’t know what it’s called, even.
8. The timbre can be less bright – Martin’s was considerably smokier, or more lush than mine. No idea how to do this.
9. Chromatic scales: very useful and need to be clean and accurate and fast. Good for warming up. Use a more postive finger action – slam the valves down a bit more !
I’ve just spent a week in Antwerp, Belgium, playing Schubert’s 9th Symphony with the Flanders Filharmonic orchestra (KFOV) and stayed with an old friend and fine photographer, Miel Pieters, a fiddle player in the orchestra. Here’s are some pictures he took of me practising my Benge pocket trumpet. It’s perfect for travelling as it fits in my horncase – and there’s still room for the horn.
After a long period of fairly intense study I’m now having something of a lull in the trumpet practise due to being busy every day recording from dawn to dusk at Abbey Road Studio One, the film score of Troy, playing the bigger, curlier thing in F. This does not mean total cessation, though. Far from it; I am lugging around with me a new book by George Bouchard: “Intermediate Jazz Improvisation”.
I’ve been studying this on my fingers and in my head in the studio and on underground trains and have found some very intrigueing stuff about use of what Bouchard calls the “Altered Pentatonic” scale. The notes of this scale, if it starts on C, are C, D, Eb, G ,A. This doesn’t look like much but it’s a huge chunk of learning. I want to learn them in all keys, first of all, and then learn use them out of their root keys in the clever way Bouchard describes for use over dominant, altered and half-diminished chords. For example the C pentatonic shown above will sound great played over B7+9 or over Aø.
This is poing to be a big job for me, particlarly as I’ll have to learn to play a scale with a C “feel” over a B “feel” harmony. I haven’t tried this yet but I as can’t hear the damn thing in my head yet I know it’s going to be problematic. A very good challenge, though, and Bouchard is pretty insistent that it sounds great.
Anyway, I feel great about being “intermediate”. It’s a such a great leap up from being a beginner.