Our Scene // Your Scene

Hello! Life is wild. Maybe the most abnormal thing is how normal it’s all starting to feel. We’re trying to be light over here at JazzColumbus, despite the lack of live music in our lives. So here is another action packed edition of Our Scene // Your Scene.

And if I’d said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: if you or someone you know is interested in contributing to JazzColumbus.com, please let us know! Short or long, academic, artistic, or otherwise – get geeked about your community with us anytime!
jazzcolumbus@gmail.com

This week we get to know Hasan Abdur-Razzaq, Korey Black shares some words about his new podcast, Phil talks Pandemic Fallout, Matt Adams shares yet another great Lee Konitz record, and Zakk gives us some sound advice.

For You, A Poem // author unknown

Spring pandemic
Everything is closing
Daffodils open

(heard on NPR – author unknown)

Brews and Tunes Podcast // Korey Black

What’s happening my friends?!? If you are anything like me, my guess is not a whole lot! My name is Korey Black and I run The Brewtet, a weekly jam session in Worthington at the Zaftig Brewing Company taproom! 

When the shutdown hit, I like many of you, lost the chance to connect with a live audience.

I’ve always thought jazz and craft beer goes together exceptionally well! So well, that I realized this time at home presented me with a unique possibility. So! I created a new live-stream show/podcast titled Brews and Tunes! In the show, we invite guests each week to come on and share their ideas and experiences in a multitude of topics in the jazz world. Specifically, we talk with local artists about their experiences in the Columbus music scene and how they are dealing with this difficult time!

So if you have read this far, either you are incredibly bored and have nothing better to do, or you are intrigued by the idea of this show! If it’s the first option, I invite you to like and subscribe to our podcast on Apple podcasts or on Soundcloud. You just need to search “The Brewtet Podcast” and you should be able to find it!

More importantly, if it’s the second one, I’m giving you a unique opportunity! I think Zakk and Alex said it the right way when they appeared in our first episode. They shared with me that now is the time to get involved in Jazz Columbus. I’d like to invite anyone who is interested in joining me for an episode to email a proposal with a topic that they’d like to cover! I want to hear from you, the jazz community, about what you’d like to talk about! It’s as simple as sending me an email proposal introducing yourself and a topic you’d like to explore on the show. 

I’ll review the proposals and if yours has some real traction. If I feel like it would be a great topic to explore, I’ll invite you to have your very own episode on the show! You can send all emails to Thebrewtet@gmail.com.

In the meantime, we invite you to join us for our next episode (Tuesday 4/28) featuring Bradley Mellen. Brad is an amazing Columbus musician whose experience is vast! He’ll be talking to us about using non-traditional jazz instruments in the jazz idiom and how it expands the genre even further!

Thanks for reading my post and make sure to keep checking out The Brews and Tunes Podcast sponsored by Zaftig Brewing Company!

Your Friend,

Korey

CHECK IT OUT!

As Phil Sees It // Phil Maneri

2020 has become quite a shitcan year.  Stocks crashing. Business failing everywhere.  Even oil is in negative numbers meaning technically whoever owns it should pay you to take it. In this topsy turvy world, oil is worth less than a roll of toilet paper.  People are getting sick across the planet and many aren’t surviving. Biblical plague cancels every music event that isn’t consumed from a screen. We can’t leave the house unless we want to buy food or are one of the unlucky considered too essential to not stay home and thus are potentially exposed to said plague. We are living in strange times. 

In these strange days music is clearly not essential unless it’s already recorded, or recorded from home or live streamed from makeshift home studios. Wish I’d have bought zoom stock a year ago. Zoom and Amazon and groceries may be the only thing left standing in the end.

Where does that leave jazz?  It’s a pivot point for sure. Clearly, musicians aren’t hunkered down doing nothing. They are finding ways to be creative and engaged with their audience.  And the audience hasn’t quit, it’s just on the couch for the moment. So we have willing artists and willing patrons, but the modality has changed over night. And very clearly will change again.  

Emerging from the pandemic is an undercurrent of new poverty and massive wealth shifts.  Once untouchable icons of commerce won’t survive. Meanwhile, people who were barely hanging on will let go.  Everywhere.  There’s a big sucking sound of cash and power.  

We’ve had major social shifts before.  I’m sure you can name a bunch.  In almost every instance, miraculous new music blooms out of it.  Musicians always find a way. Music transcends money and power. It looks at it with calm disregard; because hundreds of years from now nobody remembers the second richest people on the planet, but everyone remembers Mozart. Ellington. Miles.  

Mark my word here, 2020 is the beginning of another chapter in amazing music creation. I can’t say what that is going to sound like but its coming-we still have willing participants on both sides of the equation. 

Pay attention.  See what’s coming. Support the ones you like or they’ll get washed up in the wake of this weird shitcan year. 

Someone You Should Know // Hassan Abdur-Razzaq

by Alex Burgoyne

This is Hasan Abdur-Razzaq. Hasan is a visual artist and a saxophonist, among other things.

If you’d like to hear a great interview with Hasan and friend of the scene, Rent Romus (of Out Sound) check it out HERE.

Jazz Columbus would like to introduce Hasan in a different way.

Through the words of Hasan, his longtime collaborator Gerard Cox, and a series of albums Hasan played on for Edgetone Records, here is a portrait of Hasan.

by Hasan Abdur-Razzaq

“When I first met Hasan I was fairly shocked to hear that he actually hadn’t played free jazz with others for the 20 years he had been in Columbus since moving from Cleveland. A number of us have since built a small but active community based around playing ‘fire music’ and connected to other such scenes in Detroit, Cleveland, and Chicago.”

Gerard Cox, curator at Filament // longtime collaborator
by Hasan Abdur-Razzaq

“If you’ve heard lots of people and lots of records and you hear Hasan, then no matter what kind of jazz you’re into it’s going to hit you in a few seconds that he has an elusive kind of classic jazz “sound”. He took a few lessons from Gene Walker and Gene said something to the effect of, ‘So where have you been hiding this sound?'”

Gerard Cox, curator at Filament // longtime collaborator
by Hasan Abdur-Razzaq

” …it’s one thing to be interested in something because you’ve heard the records and it seems really cool- but when you actually get to interact with someone who has real ties to the history and embodies its ideals in the way he talks and walks and thinks– then that just makes it seem so much more viable and real.”

Gerard Cox, curator at Filament // longtime collaborator

“…he’s always wanting to see the best in people and doesn’t really care about anything other than if you are creative and kind- then you feel that to do anything less than play your butt off and do your part to keep it going would just be really, really lame. Hasan is a griot and he has absolutely been our anchor.”

What’re You Spinning // Matt Adams

I’ve been listening to much music these days, as I’m sure most folks are.  Generally, I stream my Spotify-created playlists.  At least once per week, I’ll play the “New Releases” playlist.  Our current situation (Lockdown 2020) has not altered my routine, save for what I’m doing while I’m listening.  Monday morning, I was streaming the “New Releases” and happened upon “An Image” – Lee Konitz with strings.  This turned out to be tragically apropos, as yesterday (April 15) we lost Lee to Covid-19. 

This album was originally released in February of 1958 (which was seemingly a magical year for music).  I guess it was just re-released for the second time in March of this year – or maybe just added to Spotify then. 

Lee Konitz – what do you say?  An original voice, unquestionably.  Lee was Avant Gard before it was hip to be Avant Gard.  He’s proof that you can be original without being overly “weird” or playing over-the-top technical stuff, or playing with a harsh tone. Lee never sacrificed melody to be “hip,” dig? He’s new (in 1958!) without being brash. 

This entire album is an extension of that idea.   It’s a string section, a percussionist or two, Billy Bauer on guitar, Lou Stein on piano, and Lee.  I’ve had difficulty finding any more credits than that on the world wide web. The arrangements are by William Russo.  Mr. Russo also conducts the orchestra.

The first thing you hear is a lovely, albeit dissonant, glockenspiel and violin intro to “’Round Midnight.”  (Do I really need to continue?  Isn’t that enough to get you to go listen?)  This was really all the hook I needed.  From there, the melody of the tune gets passed around subtlety and seamlessly from Lee’s alto to the other soloists or instrument groups.  Lee then plays his first solo in typical Lee Konitz style – all original, non-cliché, thoughtfully, logically, and above all melodically.  It’s a short tune, as are most on this album, two choruses total, but the arrangement – the creative way that Russo uses the voices, and passes the melody around is something special. 

My favorite tune on the record is “I Got It Bad (and That Ain’t Good)”.  Violins and alto trade half-phrases on the first two “A” sections.  The bridge is double time swung – jazz quartet style.  Lee throws in a “Suicide is Painless (Theme from MASH)” quote (He must REALLY have it bad) coming out of the bridge, and the last “A” is treated a much the same as the first two – but also differently.  Russo writes a succinct coda and the song ends.  Just one chorus.  No real solos – just interjections.  Beautiful.  Creative.  Unique. Fresh. 1958.

I discovered this album by chance.  That I discovered it when I did is an unfortunate coincidence.  It is a testament to Lee Konitz’s artistry, vision, and conviction in his convictions that an album that was originally released in 1958 can sound so original to me.  The writing and playing on this album are brilliantly understated.  The tunes and solos are shorter than what modern jazz musicians are used to.  That’s just fine with me.  It’s all about the song.  Lee Konitz agrees, obviouslee.  

RIP Lee Konitz.  Thanks for sharing your unique brilliance.

Close the book! Learning music by ear // Zakk Jones

What’s the first thing you do when you decide to learn a new piece of music? Let me guess…you pull out a lead sheet, download a dark web PDF, or grab your dusty Rick Springfield tab book? If your initial answer has anything to do with “reading” some notes on a page, then I would like to firmly, yet lovingly, offer you some salvation from your dark and evil habits. As professional musicians we most likely have been told plenty of times that you MUST know how to read if we could ever possibly think about playing for a living. You probably had some JK Simmons looking teacher screaming; “Your ability to eat up those black dots and squiggly rests will keep you from the poor house! Now gimme 20…reps of Kreutzer etudes!” Sounds familiar right? Okay…maybe not. But time and time again I’ve see this awful conflation;

My musical reading ability = my ability to learn more music.

I would like to assert the notion that your musical comprehension, retention and internalization should have almost nothing to do with reading. Instead, it’s all about the ears. 

You don’t need to look very hard to find overwhelming research about the powerful relationship between music and memory. Musical information is stored in an area of the brain separate from where our long-term memories are located. This is why those suffering from Dementia and Alzheimer’s can still play and sing songs from ear or recall vivid stories just from listening to something they grew up with. On the other end of life, it’s been studied that students who are involved in their school music programs can see higher rates of productivity across all areas of learning. But you don’t need me or a neuroscientist to tell you how important your Led Zeppelin records are, so let’s talk about why I think it’s vital to your success as a musician to start learning everything by ear. 

Sheet music has a funny way of letting us think that we have everything we need to learn any given piece of music. Tempo, meter, key, form and articulation are laid out right in front of you, so what else could you want? My answer is style, mood, timbre, phrasing, and nuance. These are elements of performance that are ascertained only through repeated listening of not only one but many recordings. Masterful artists are not just merely reading notes on a page to create a facsimile. For the educators out there that lead ensembles I’d like you to ask your students these questions:

How many of you have listened to a recording of this song?

Have you listened to it more than once? How about more than 5 times?

Have you listened to more than one particular recording? More than 3?

Could you sing the melody? How about play the melody?

Do you know what instruments and sections have the melody in the arrangement? How many times does the melody get passed around? 

As both a student and educator I’ve seen in-person the answers to these questions and they reveal an existential crisis in how we approach learning music. A lot of times there is a fatal lack of awareness when we’re playing music by looking at a stand.

 You may be saying to yourself “I have a BAD ear, I simply cannot learn things by memory, how dare you tell me to simply burn my realbooks…” But fear not! I have the crash course in utilizing your ears first and not your eyes.

1. Play the simplest melodies you can think of

Happy Birthday, Mary Had A Little Lamb, Twinkle Twinkle, London Bridge…these are all childhood melodies that virtually everyone sings at some point in Kindergarten. You know them by ear. You can sing these, and probably a dozen others, right now on the spot if I asked you. Now play them on your instrument. Is it a little harder? That’s okay. Although it may seem literally childish, songs like these can help you identify weak spots in your musical ear as applied to your instrument without having to learn entirely new material.

2. Separate musical elements

Too often we forget that we can learn music by getting to the nuts and bolts of the particular piece. Are you having trouble with the rhythms of a syncopated melody? Try playing an entire head on just one note so you can stop worrying about getting the notes right and focus on your time, phrasing, articulation and dynamics. Look at this reduction of the blues tune “Sonnymoon for Two” by Sonny Rollins. By working out the basic elements of rhythm, swing and articulation, you will be surprised at how complete it will sound once you simply add the notes. Tie this in with an understanding of how the melody fits within a key via intervals and scale degrees, and you start to build crucial connections in your ear between all of these elements. 

3. Practice your scales in new ways

Practice your scales! Ok…DUH, but now I want you to work on them in entirely new ways. Have you played all your major scales beyond 3rds? Practicing in 4ths, 5ths, 6ths, 7ths and beyond can give you a new perspective in hearing larger intervals within a key center. A crucial step in learning music easily by ear is identifying the contour of melodies. High vs. low. Small intervals vs. big leaps. How about using new rhythms to creatively practice a scale? What if you played a G major scale but only the “and (&)” of 1 and 3. Or used just the rhythms of a melody applied to a scale? Take a look at these examples. 

4. Sing, sing, sing!

You’ll hear this a lot, but using your voice no matter how “tone-deaf” you think you are is a seriously important tool in connecting your ear to your instrument. Our voice is a powerful weapon since we can usually sing back musical phrases and rhythms pretty quickly upon hearing them a few times or even once. Use your own imagination to practice call-and-response between your voice and your instrument. Sing a simple melody within a scale/key and play that back to yourself. If you can’t do it, get simpler. 3 notes. Long rhythms. Small intervals. Then slowly graduate to more complex combinations. 

5. Read music 

Wait what??? I thought this whole article was about NOT reading…well, yes. Sort of. I’m not saying you need to abandon the art of musical comprehension by sight. It IS a very important skill, however, we want to make sure you don’t use it as a crutch. You should still devote time in developing this skill, BUT. Try this out. Find a piece of music you want to learn. Before you dare pull out your axe please find a recording or five and just LISTEN. Spend time focusing on a different element. Notice what you like about the performance. Can you identify the key, tonality, or strong melodic/rhythmic motifs? Hone in on one instrument at a time. Jot down the elements you’d like to emulate or expand upon in your own interpretation of it. What is it that inspires you to want to learn this? Now take this informed listening experience and apply it to the instrument. I’d certainly bet that your ability to learn the notes on a page has sped up significantly since you’ve exposed yourself to what the music SOUNDS like, and not LOOKS like. You play the music. Not the other way around. 

Practical Observations

The bulk of my work as a professional musician has been gigging for the better part of a decade. In that time I’ve had the great fortune of performing in a myriad of musical environments from Union pit productions, wedding/cover bands, touring rock/funk/soul groups and all sorts of Jazz configurations. The biggest impression left on me from my own idols and mentors is the importance of having a very strong ear, and the ability to learn lots of music quickly. My experiences as a sideman across many genres and scenes has solidified the fact that I internalize music much better when I initially spend the effort learning it entirely by ear. This skill is one of the biggest reasons why a musician can keep getting calls and referrals. In the past 3 or so years I’ve made a conscious effort to prepare for every gig through complete memorization. Although it was a lot of work at first to learn entire sets and hours of music, I ultimately put myself in a better position to really retain the information. This is especially important in my position when I sometimes sub for a band only every few months. Instead of having to relearn everything, go back through charts, or read on the bandstand, I’m able to “spot check” parts of songs and spend a lot less time prepping and a lot more time having fun and being in the moment when it matters most. 

If your goal is to play within a certain style effectively you have to immerse yourself in it. Even if you have a strong ear, you won’t be transcribing complex modern jazz melodies, harmonies and rhythms if you don’t have a strong understanding of its history, language, analysis and recordings. These basic ideas on developing your ear can be expanded and utilized in learning all styles and levels of music. 

Even in musical productions where your ability to read is crucial, I find that the best musicians in the pit are the ones that have their ears wide open and their eyes out of the book. Just because a sheet of paper “tells” you what’s going to happen next, does not mean it WILL happen. You want to be the one that can fix something on the fly by ear, instead of being flustered and shuffling through your book. 

Remember, music is a very special form of art and expression that is uniquely personal and powerful to both the performer and listener. Don’t let anything get in the way of that. Even if you have no aspirations of playing professionally, I encourage you to progress your musicality through your ear first and foremost. Challenging yourself is the only way to get better. Now, go learn somethin’ dangit! 

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