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’m becoming a bit frustrated by not getting enough study time. We are on holiday and the kids need occupying, taking out, playing with etc. for many hours each day. On top of that I have get my horn chops working because I’ve a couple of hard gigs at the end of the week, in Germany and Italy with London Brass.
As usual with that crowd it’s a whole new pad of pieces (to me) and I have precisely three and a hours of rehearsal time in which to learn how to play Richard Bissill’s stupendously difficult horn parts.
The scraps of trumpet practice I have managed in the last few days have been on arpeggios and scales. I really need to start learning some standards and trumpet solos from recordings.
I’ve been running quite a lot (something else which shortens my available practice time) and I always listen to music on minidisc as I run. Due to a mix up last week I found I had inadvertently kept a disc which John Barclay lent me. After an hour or so of listening I found he had recorded it in LP mode, which means you can cram more music on the disc. He had used not just LP mode, but LP4 mode, which give an available 300 minutes (5 hours!) of music on just one disc. The quality is not so good but it’s really not bad – and certainly good enough for the vintage jazz recordings which John had copied. I didn’t even notice the poor sound as I was running.
The amazing thing is that John has recorded himself playing along with some of the tracks, so every now and again another trumpet player pops up – in a different sound, in a different acoustic. John, a closet jazzer, is very good! He’s got a wonderful sound, a great feel for jazz harmony and bags of style. What’s funny about it is that even though, I guess, he recorded the stuff on his own at his home without any idea that someone else might one day listen to it, he still sounds apologetic, as if he’s poking his head around a door and saying, “hello? does anyone mind if I just squeeze in here and play along with you guys – just a few quiet twiddles – don’t mind me, I’m only messing about…”
Such a superb musician – he’s obviously going to be a great jazzer – but curiously such a humble soul. John also happens to be one of the funniest people I have ever met.
John and I have a plan to spend some time together thrashing out some jazz. I’m expecting to learn a lot from him …though I can’t imagine he’ll learn anything from me.
The task ahead has got a little bit clearer now.
I need to learn how to read from chord symbols. I should carry written sequences around with me and work on them in my head. Yes, that’s a good idea. I could photocopy a few from the Real Book and carry them around with me. I don’t necessarily have to have the instrument with me.
I think I need to learn to “see” each chord symbol as a harmony flavour and a scale – sort of a grid of possibilities within that flavour. Having learned that then I should learn how to imagine how the following one sounds while I am still playing the first. I think this ability must take a long time and a lot of work to acquire – and the method of acquiring this skill must be efficient.
Working out methods is where I am right now.