Music and Language Jam

In the last 3 years, I’ve have lived in 4 different countries, and have been making a huge effort to understand their culture and adapt to them the best way possible. This would include intense language learning, getting to meet as many people as one can, visiting libraries, bookstores, museums, bars and art expositions. All these situations helped me to learn so much about the world and, curiously, about myself.

At some point in 2013, I remember enjoying so much reading a book written by Victor Wooten, the great bass player, because it made me feel great about music again. At that point in my life, I was living in considerable pressure (mostly created by myself…) with university, professional concurrence and the need to prove something to others and myself. It was a huge investment to be in a Canadian university, so I’d better get some work done! So the book helped me to relax and free up my spirit to experience the joy of music again. So I was ready to learn for real, not to prove anything to anyone.

When that became my new reality, learning was transformed into a completely different experience. Every album that I would listen would suddenly have so much more to focus on. Every book I would read would suddenly have plenty of details in each and every paragraph. Every new place I would visit would overwhelm me with their magical sights, sounds, and even smells. And, ultimately, every person would become endlessly more interesting and complex to my appreciation.

Suddenly learning languages became an unavoidable instinct as strong as learning music to me. So I dived in French, Italian and German, and have been investing some real time with them. During this process I have been remembering a very insightful part in Wooten’s book (http://www.themusiclesson.com) that I’ll paraphrase here:

  • Learning music is like learning a language. Not only a new language, but your own mother language. Try to imagine your first years of life. As a baby, you could not understand or say a word. You certainly had no idea what grammar was, or even a word, a letter! And now you’re a great master of your language! Maybe not a respected author or speaker, but you certainly make yourself easily understandable and make use of this language to express pretty much everything you can imagine. The way you are connected to this language is really amazing. We usually don’t give this fact much credit because pretty much every human being has that learning experience with its mother tongue. But that doesn’t erase the fact that you’ve been through an incredible learning process and became a master of your own language. It became your own!

Wooten continues with the metaphor (paraphrased again):

  • And how did you manage to do it? Was it studying grammar? Was it researching every word and their meanings? Although this has certainly helped you to get even better, when you were doing that, you were already fluent! So what was it? Jamming is the answer. You may have not realized, but right after you were born, you were widely exposed to daily jams with many of the great masters of your language: your parents and other members of family. You didn’t know what to say, and mostly you had no idea what they were saying. But you were there, communicating, all the time.

Needless do say that Wooten recommends you to go jam with the masters to learn music! I agree with his argument. It’s been true throughout my music career and it’s been true during my new attempts in learning new languages. I love my German conversation groups, even though I can’t express almost anything, I do understand things in a broader perspective every single day we meet.

It can’t be more true about music. For me, music is all about relationships. Improvisation is all about relationships. Of course I’m not saying you should stop practicing and just go jamming (and Wooten doesn’t either!), but this process should be seen as the music experience itself. Your own assumptions on music will either harmonize or conflict with others’, and that’s exactly when you will have to make real musical choices, express yourself no matter how much you know. And, in the future, music might become your mother tongue.

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Kind of Blue – Chorus’ Structure

Most part of jazz choruses have a very defined and simple structure, and usually fit in one of the following categories:

  1. 8-bar chorus: quite rare, the shortest you can find, usually just a short form of blues. Examples
  2. 12-bar chorus: basically the blues, very current harmonic structure. Miles Davis’ “Solar” is one of the rare examples of a 12-bar chorus that is not a blues!
  3. 16-bar chorus: relatively frequent. In the beginnings of jazz, most tunes had a 16-bar chorus: ragtimes (Maple Leaf Rag) or spirituals (Swing Low, Sweet Chariot). One can decompose them according to their melodies in two 8-bar phrases as well as in four 4-bar phrases. One can find tunes with additional 2 bars, such as “Baby Won’t You Please Come Home”. Rather than assuming there is a 18-bar chorus category, it is quite more often to understand these cases as 16-bar structures with 2 bars added in the end. Here are some examples of 16-bar tunes.
  4. 32-bar chorus: the most current structure, generalized during the 20’s. The chorus is decomposed in four very clear 8-bar phrases, and one can recognize some different forms:
    1.  32-bar AABA: the most frequent form, in which the 1st, 2nd and 4th phrases are identical and are called “A”. Only the 3rd phrase is different and is called “B” or “Bridge”. Examples.
    2. 32-bar ABA’C: also very frequent, in which there’s no Bridge. The 2nd phrase is different from the 1st, and the 3rd starts like the 1st but ends differently to present a new different 4th phrase, called “C”. Examples.
    3. 32-bar ABAB’ examples.
    4. 32-bar ABCD: not very common due to the amount of new material it demands for every 8 bars, especially for those composers so used to the AABA form. In this form, each phrase is different from the previous ones. Examples.
  5. 64-bar chorus: decomposed in four 16-bar phrases. Its commons forms are exactly like those from 32-bar chorus, but twice longer. Cole Porter composed many tunes with 64-bar chorus structure. Here are some examples.

Analysis: Kind of Blue (1959) – Miles Davis

The best-selling jazz record of all time is – naturally – a classic. Kind of Blue is usually the first choice if you would like to listen to a jazz album, and we’re not exceptions to that!

Miles Davis’ sextet is an all-star band that deserves a lot of focused listening:

This time, we’re gonna try to figure out the structure of each tune’s chorus. Of course, you can use your knowledge from my previous posts to analyze the tunes! Check out the links, turn on your stereo and let’s listen! You’ll get the answers just below the documentary, an extra for you to enjoy Miles Davis’ masterpiece in detail.

spotify:album:1weenld61qoidwYuZ1GESA

Spoiler:

  1. So What (Miles Davis): 32-bar AABA
  2. Freddie Freeloader (Miles Davis): 12-bar Blues
  3. Blue in Green (Miles Davis / Bill Evans): 10-bar (a unique one!)
  4. All Blues (Miles Davis): 24-bar Blues (basically a 12-bar doubled!)
  5. Flamenco Sketches (Miles Davis / Bill Evans): 24-bar modal tune (we’ll talk about it the upcoming posts!)

Hope you’ve enjoyed, this album is one my favourites and certainly THE FAVOURITE ONE for many! Feel free to ask questions, make some comments or give some suggestions! Hope to see you all next week!

A Journey to Interstellar Space

Here’s a great post from Good Music Speaks blog about John Coltrane!
If you don’t know Coltrane, I would recommend to listen his previous work with Miles Davis and other albums cited in the article before digging into “Interstellar Space”. But it’s up to you! It will be a great journey no matter how much music you’ve listened to!

Enjoy!

Ella and Louis – Unfolding of Tunes

Hello everyone, this week I’m gonna start the first series of articles of this blog. It is called “Jazz Recordings Analysis”, and all of its articles are based on Philippe Baudoin’s book called “Jazz – Mode D’Emploi”. Every article in this series will feature one analysis of a jazz recording, each following a different concept cited in Baudoin’s work.

The idea of making a record analysis came from my own struggle to understand jazz repertoire in a deeper way than just listening to a tune a couple of times, reading its melody and chords in a ‘real book’ and playing it around with no good reference. But how can I make that happen without sacrificing my sacred practice or work daily hours? Apparently Baudoin’s book is there to help me and whoever has the same problems. I guess this also applies to a big crowd out there who doesn’t know where to start when facing the endless materials in the path to know and understand jazz repertoire. 

Anyway, this is for those who ‘love’, ‘just like’, ‘would like to know better’, ‘is interested in’, ‘why not’: JAZZ

So let’s begin!

Unfolding of Tunes

Jazz tunes can be either vocal or instrumental and they must have at least one chorus (or refrain). So here’s what you might find on your way:

verse: usually containing less bars than the chorus (8 or 16), they are generally executed in vocal versions. Although a bit forgotten by the instrumental repertoire, they are sometimes quite rich in both melodic and harmonic perspective. It is not rare to listen to a performer to sing it ad libitum (tempo free), but it is very likely that it will serve as an introduction to the song. You can usually separate it from the main chorus by the entrance of the rhythm section (drums, bass and piano). Here are some examples of songs with a verse for you to listen:

List of jazz tunes with verse

– a main chorus or refrain: the main part of the song, that holds its main melody. It is also the part which jazzmen will improvise over, usually after the first exposition.

Analysis: Ella and Louie

This is a classic. A great start for those who have never listened to a whole jazz album, and a great reference for those more experienced.

Before pressing play, it’s cool to check out some basic info:

Ella and Louie was released in 1956, the first of three that Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong would record together at Verve Records. The killer band playing on this:

Everyone involved in this album is a jazz legend, so don’t waste time not looking up what each one has done in their careers. We are about to listen a fantastic group, folks.

So, while listening to this record, today we’re just gonna focus on trying to figure out if there’s a verse and identify the chorus. Yep, easy as that! The most important thing is that you take the time to really listen to the whole record. It doesn’t need to be all at once. Sometimes it can be a very hard challenge to stay focused for a complete hour. If you catch yourself distracted, thinking about something else, there’s no need to feel guilty, just bring your concentration back to the music, no need to rewind any song. The only thing I suggest you now is that, after one song is over, write down on a piece of paper if there’s a verse and when the chorus starts (what are the first words of the chorus?). After listening to the whole album, check my notes below and see if you got it right.

spotify:album:6MsLTKnsv6k7wCOt7jxtWo

Here’s the spoiler:

  1. Can’t We Be Friends? (Paul James / Kay Swift) – No verse, 3 chorus (Ella – Louie – Trumpet/Ella and Louie)
  2. Isn’t This a Lovely Day? (Irving Berlin) – 1 Verse (Ella), 3 chorus (Ella – Louie – Trumpet/Ella and Louie)
  3. Moonlight In Vermont (John Blackburn / Karl Suessdorf) – No verse, 2 chorus (Ella – Trumpet/Ella and Louie)
  4. They Can’t Take That Away From Me (George Gershwin / Ira Gershwin) – No verse, 3 chorus (Ella – Louie – Trumpet/Ella and Louie)
  5. Under a Blanket of Blue (Jerry Livingston / Al J. Neiburg / Marty Symes) – No verse, 3 chorus (Louie – Ella – Trumpet/Ella and Louie)
  6. Tenderly (Walter Gross / Jack Lawrence) – No verse, 3 chorus and 1/2 (Trumpet – Ella – Louie – 1/2 Trumpet)
  7. A Foggy Day (George Gershwin / Ira Gershwin) – 1 verse (Louie), 3 chorus (Louie – Ella – Trumpet/Ella and Louie)
  8. Stars Fell on Alabama (Mitchell Parish / Frank Perkins) – No verse, 1 chorus and 1/2 (Ella – 1/2 Louie)
  9. Cheek to Cheek (Irving Berlin) – No verse, 2 chorus and 1/2 (Louie – Ella – 1/2 Louie and Ella)
  10. The Nearness of You (Hoagy Carmichael / Ned Washington) – No verse, 3 chorus (Ella – Louie – Trumpet/Ella)
  11. April in Paris (Vernon Duke / E. Y. “Yip” Harburg) – No verse, 3 chorus and 1/2 (Ella – Louie – Trumpet – 1/2 Ella)

Next week we’re gonna talk about the chorus form, and appreciate another jazz classic.

Please let me know what did you think about this listening experience and my post by leaving a comment below. I’ll gladly answer back as soon as possible. I’ll be eagerly waiting for your comments, questions and suggestions. Also, if you’re dying to have more info and can’t wait a week for the next post, check out my Contact page for some extra options.

See you next week!

“Jazz – mode d’emploi” – Jazz analysis

I spent my last three months living in Bordeaux, France, practicing guitar, trying to learn how to speak French properly and – of course – appreciating the beautiful city, its people and its absolutely fantastic wine and cheese.

After spending the morning with my guitar, I would usually pay a visit to the local public library, a fantastic place. They have a pretty big section of music books, CD’s, DVD’s and other medias, so I was delighted to go there and try it out. Then one day I had an incredible surprise: I’ve found the book I was unconsciously looking for my whole professional life in music. Now, I usually enjoy music theory books, no matter how bad they are. But I don’t even know if this one fits the “music theory” category.

Let me try to explain.

For my whole career, I’ve been struggling with the fact that most of us, young musicians (I get each day more cautious about calling myself a young person) learn music through books and techniques. I am guilty of that, and through the last 3 years I’ve been trying to change it. It hasn’t been easy, though. But that’s where this book comes in handy (kind of paradoxal, I know).

Philippe Baudoin, a parisian jazzman and prolific author, was generous enough to write “Jazz – mode d’emploi” (which I don’t even know how translate it properly, but I got the idea). In two heavy volumes, Baudoin puts on the table every single concept you can think of to use for a comprehensive analysis of a jazz recording. And that’s where the paradox is over. With this reference, my friends, we can take every single information from a jazz tune and learn as much as we never did by just sitting down comfortably, turning our best sound system on, closing our eyes and listening. Just listening!

I won’t get into the book’s content (if you’re a jazz lover, just buy it and start practicing your French), but I will use it to start the first category of articles of Music Filter: Recordings Analysis. I will go easy to start: I’ll pick up some classics and just do some analysis over tunes’ forms and “big picture” concepts. As we get along through the process, we’ll get more specific and hopefully analyse improvised solos and specific sections of music.

I was planning to choose the record to start with (not sure if I should pick Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” or “Ella and Louie” from, well… from Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong), but I spent my whole afternoon listening to this absolutely beautiful album by Portuguese singer Margarida Guerreiro:

spotify:artist:4YSBaaKXAftsf8la9rTcJL

See you next week for some jazz appreciation!

Website opening!

Hello everyone!

Welcome to my new website!

I hope you all feel like home. I will try to take good care of this place 😉

I’ve created this website to keep you posted about my latest productions, gigs, articles, reviews and – why not!? – my latest trips around the world! Also, I would like to use this space to have some feedback from fans, clients, friends and internet souls. So feel free to post your own comments, suggestions and love (or hate? booo!) messages. I’ll be very glad to read them all and answer as soon as possible!

The idea is to post once a week, always giving you the latest news.

Next week I’ll talk about a bit about something I’ve been working on this week: a Hawaiian music project!

Thanks for passing by, folks. See you all next week!

Cheers!