Valentin Garvie came around this evening. He had phoned up to say he was in London for four days between a tour around Sweden and a pile of work with Ensemble Moderm in Germany, so I invited him around straight away. We played through a few blues pieces and one or two standards, all with the Aebersold playalongs.
To summarise what came out of the evening:
1. I’ve improved a bit since the last time we tried this together, which is encouraging in itself, but in addition Valentin was particularly encouraging. He’s very good at delivering praise and encouragement wrapped up neatly with some constructive criticism.
2. My polycarbonate mouthpiece is really not bad – we did a sound test and the differences were not quite so obvious as they had seemed last time we compared it with his Bach 1.5C
3. Valentin is a really good jazzer! I don’t know why he hasn’t been doing more of it. As we got warmed up he got much better, very rapidly, indicating that he has been very good at jazz improvisation in the past but has let it get a bit rusty. After half an hour or so he was producing some amazingly impressive stuff and by comparison I felt I was sounding worse and worse. The most noticable thing for me was that I don’t seem to have any sort of style, rather I play in what might be called the “Blandissimo” style. Some gin didn’t help. For a moment or two I felt like giving up but then Valentin managed to find yet more encouragement, somehow.
4. He agreed wholeheartedly with “Really, the best way to learn is to take tunes off records..”. (see previous post, here).
5. He thinks that rather than trying to learn all the turnarounds, all the two-five-ones, all the blues progressions in every key etc. (not that I have been, entirely…) I should I should stick to the simpler more common keys only and concentrate my efforts more on learning a big repertoire of patterns, licks, riffs, whatever they are called, extracted from recorded solos. I must find a ways of chaining chunks of this sort of remembered material together in my improvisation. Hopefully, this should to prevent me meandering around aimlessly, which is what I tend to do when I’m reading chord symbols.
Now, that’s a lot of learning in one evening – and all it cost me was the preparation of a bowl of stif-fried vegetables with rice and a gin&tonic!
(6. I must persuade Valentin to come over more often.)
Right now I’m well stuck into some “turnaround” exercises.
The one I’m currently chopping away at is one of the simplest from Aebersold’s book of turnarounds (Volume 16, Ex. 3). Basically, this is a four chord repeating sequence, for example F#M, A7, D7, G7, which needs transposing into all keys. It’s making me do what Ken Bartells told me to do a year ago, which is to try to be conscious of which notes and what chord I’m playing. I still find this really difficult but I’m confident that I’m going to crack it eventually.
Another landmark I’ve passed recently, I now realise, is what might be called the acquisition of “trumpet finger pitch”. Ever since I can remember I’ve had “horn finger pitch” meaning that I only have to imagine I’m holding a horn and make a certain valve combination for the note I’m wanting to hear to pop conveniently into my mind. This is an extremely useful thing, particularly for playing atonal music – in fact I don’t know how anyone could play the stuff without that having this facility.
Although the trumpet is in Bb, just like the French horn, the hornplayer reads and thinks in F. Thus, while the trumpet fingerings are quite similar between horn and trumpet (although one octave apart) the notes have completely different names. On one level, then, trumpet fingering is completely different to horn fingering – which is, I think, why hornplayers and trumpet players are now an entirely different species and generally do not interbreed. I must be quite a rare “sport”, hybrid or mulatto.
Now that I can “activate” my right hand and imagine certain trumpet valve combinations to get any pitches I want in my head I think I can say I have got “trumpet finger pitch”. It’s taken longer than a year to acquire this, and I wasn’t sure it would come – in fact I was actually slightly worried that if it did come it would mess up my horn pitch. Luckily, trumpet fingers and horn fingers, being on different hands, don’t seem to conflict at all. Phew!
I’m on holiday with the family in a cottage in Sherringham Park, Norfolk. Nobody lives anywhere nearby so I can practice at anytime and most of what I’ve done so far has been outside.
I’ve brought Kenny’s Benge pocket trumpet with me and I’m doing irregular bursts of modes and jazz-chord arpeggios from an exercise I’ve written called “Lodes of Modes”. See below.
I’ve also had the odd stab at repeat tonguing in the high register – something I find rather difficult. So, I’m not really being very systematic but then this is a holiday. I guess what I’m doing adds up to about 90 minutes or so each day.
The little Benge is perfect for a holiday practice trumpet. It takes up almost no space – it even fits inside my regular horn case, next to my horn, and, most importantly, it’s a serious piece of gear – an excellent instrument by any standards.
With a cup mute in it’s nice and quiet so it doesn’t disturb the kids trying to get to sleep.
Here’s “Lodes Of Modes”:
This evening, I’ve just discovered a good way forward. I sat down with Aebersold’s Turnarounds book and CD (volume 16) and tackled the progressions for what are called “Turnarounds No 3”. It’s basically this progression: DM,F7, BbM,Eb7 repeated three times followed by a variety of unsubtle modulations into another key – and through all the keys.
I started off by playing along with the CD but soon realised I was just deepening previous grooves I had made rather than finding new pathways. I turned off the playalong and started to play just the chord notes of each chord symbol. Difficult! Ken Bartells was right – I must learn to know what notes I am playing and learn play ones I choose rather than playing exclusively by ear.