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 wrote out all the chords from Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” and turned them all into a useful chordal study which goes through every key. Felt quite pleased with myself. It’s a bit of an ear bender, so learning to play it in every key might take some time.
I’ve also extracted a useful exercise from Clifford Brown’s amazing “Night in Tunisia” from an album called “The Beginning And The End”. It’s based on a whole tone run and it’s very tricky and makes a challenging study for the ears and fingers. Something to put into my workout.
New year’s resolution: to get this diary/journal going again after quite a long period of neglect (look at the date of the previous entry).
A large part of what stopped me writing was that every time I thought of doing so I felt the time would be better spent practising the trumpet. Also I lost the sense of importance of keeping a progress record. One of the things I like to do is to teach, and it’s not inconceivable that one day I might teach jazz, perhaps specifically to people who are already “classically” trained. If I do, then a well-kept journal, of my own trials and tribulations, could be a very useful teaching resource for me. Not only that – I do think that what I’m attempting is unique; I’ve never heard of an established horn player switching not only instrument but an entire musical discipline before. I feel something of an explorer, and I suppose a good explorer makes maps as they go along.
Apart from a period of some four months last summer during which I worked quite intensively for the London Philharmonic Orchestra at Glyndebourne Opera, I have been working pretty hard at my jazz. I’m still a long way from any kind of public performance but I’ve not lost any of my enthusiasm or energy for the task of learning. .
During the period since my last writinng here my collection of playalong recordings has enlarged quite a lot and nearly all of them are Jamey Aebersold’s excellent books. Also I’ve found another absolutely great tool to help me learn. It’s a software program called The Amazing Slowdowner (available to download from www.ronimusic.com). This extremely clever software will get hold of the CD player in your PC or Mac and make it do the most amazing things. It can play a track – all of it or just a section of it – looped if you like if you like if you like if you like – at any speed without altering the pitch. This is incredibly useful in itself but there’s more – it can transpose the pitch of the track up or down by any amount you want – semitones or fractions of semitones or combinations thereof – up or down. The great thing is that pitch and tempo can be chosen independantly of eachother. It’s an incredibly easy to use, no frills, sensibly written program. Congratulations to the author – a jazz musician himself, for turning my PC into the most useful learning tool I could imagine for my jazz.
I keep finding new ways to use it but here’s one way, just to help demonstrate how useful it is: say I want to learn a solo by Clifford Brown – from one of his recordings. I’ll put the CD in (or I can rip the desired track to an MP3 file and store it in my computer for ease of access – The Amazing Slowdowner works just as well with MP3 files, or other types of audio files on hard-disk, as with a CD spinning in your drive) and find the start of the actual solo and set it to loop the first bar or two – a chunk small enough for me to learn without breaking it down still further. I’ll slow it right down so I can hear every little detail and then commence trying to play it. When I’ve got it, I’ll start to speed it up a little and move onto the next chunk.
It’s the ability to play around with the speed of the playback and the length of the loop which is so wonderfully useful. It’s hard to imagine a more efficient way of learning something by ear. And I’m now certain that “by ear” is the way to do it. I’ve a book of Clifford Brown’s solos transcribed and printed. They certainly look nice but if you play them “from the dots” they come out sounding stilted and mechanical. I reckon the only way you’ll get it to float, fly and dance like Clifford Brown is by copying him directly. And that’s why we learn solos, isn’t it? Jazz is supposed to be an aural tradition. I want to learn Clifford Brown’s rhythms, grammar, syntnax, accent and dialect – and I can’t do that from a book. My best chance is with the great man’s recordings and the Amazinng Slowdowner. This is the way it’s always been done, incidentnally. It used to be constant repositioning of the needle on a 78 record – and I’ve heard it said that many jazz musicians used completely wear out their records learning like this!
The Amazing Slowdowner is much more efficient – and you can learn it in a differnet key from the original, if you want. A lot of the Aebersold playalongs are still too fast for me to get my head around the chord changes. With the Slowdowner I can highlight any tricky bits and run them as slowly as I like until I’ve got the hang of it, then speed it up bit by bit.
Incidentally, I’ve been very surprised and humbled by putting Clifford Brown’s solos under the microscope in this way. One would think that the more you slow it down to disect and investigate it the more minor imperfections of rythm and intonation would show up until, at high magnifications, it would start sounding rather ragged. Wrong! What has been a most amazing ear-opener for me has been the discovery that the more I dissect and magngfy the more detail and accuracy is revealed. Hats off to the incredible Clifford Brown.