Jazz Improvisation - July 3, 2016

Jazz improvisation recordings, 2016

recordingThis page contains my jazz improvisation recordings from 2016. As you'll hear below, these jazz recordings feature such highlights as cracked notes, poor note choice, unsteady rhythm, and meandering phrases! And that's why recording myself is so important. It's the best way to evaluate my playing and to chart my progress over time. I don't expect that I'll ever become a great jazz trumpet player, but I am anxious to hear how much better I can get with practice. As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions.

All of my jazz improvisation recordings: 2004 - 2005 - 2006 - 2007 - 2008 - 2009 - 2010 - 2011 - 2012 - 2014 - 2015 - 2016

JULY 3, 2016

In my daily practice routine, I always try to set aside some time to play along with actual recordings. This gets me out of my comfort zone as I try to blend in, as though I'm another musician in the band. I've been doing this for several years, but as my ability to play by ear has improved, the results are finally worth sharing. Actually, I should let you be the judge of that...

iwasdoingallright - audio clip Airelle Besson - The Painter and the Boxer

In the clip above, I'm improvising along with Paris-based trumpeter, Airelle Besson's, recording of "The Painter and the Boxer," from her recent album, "Radio One." This track popped up in Apple Music, as part of their "A-List: Jazz" playlist. When it came on I thought... "ooh, that sounds interesting," so I picked up my horn and started recording. The clip captures my attempt to improvise while listening to the track for the very first time.

I hadn't heard of Airelle Besson prior to this track, but I've since learned a bit more about her and I've listened to the entire "Radio One" album a couple of times already. If you like what you hear in my recording, you should definitely give her album a listen. As you might imagine, it sounds a lot better without me getting in the way.

iwasdoingallright - audio clip Aebersold #44, Autumn Leaves

Before you listen, I should state that the audio quality of this recording is even worse than usual. I know, I didn't think that was possible either! My guess is that I was standing too close to the microphone. Or maybe I accidentally turned on Garageband's kazoo filter. In any case, try to pretend that I have a warm smoky tone. And while you're at it, you could pretend that I didn't miss those notes at the end of the solo.

I like that I took my time in this solo, without trying to play a bunch of notes, as is sometimes tempting at slower tempos. There is a brief sixteenth-note run, but I cut it short after deciding that it wasn't necessary. Other than that, I think it's ok. I won't have a chance to record for a while, but hopefully I'll be able to post a few more clips before the year is over.

About Me - December 31, 2015

Thirteen-year anniversary

All of my anniversary articles: 2 years - 3 years - 4 years - 5 years - 6 years - 7 years - 9 years - 10 years - 11 years - 12 years - 13 years

It's now been thirteen years since I started playing the trumpet again, after quitting for a period of seven years. Here's another anniversary article.


Like last year, I spent the better part of 2015 traveling. This year I returned to some of my favorite cities, including NYC, Portland (Oregon), London, Barcelona, and Paris. I also visited some new countries, including Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, and Ireland. And I'm especially pleased to report that I survived driving on the left-hand side of the road during a month-long road trip through England, Wales, and Scotland. Prior to the trip, I had expected the single-lane roads of Isle of Skye to be most frightful, but nothing quite compared to driving 40+ mph through the narrow stone-lined roads of rural Wales.


I absolutely love traveling and I intend to continue traveling for some time to come, but it has been difficult to maintain my trumpet practice routine when I'm away from home. When I first started traveling three years ago, I didn't bring a trumpet, and I had a really tough time getting my chops back afterward. After that first trip, I resolved to always bring my trumpet when I travel and I've been pretty good about practicing for at least 30 minutes every day.

Although I've been able to get time on the horn while traveling, I've really struggled when it comes to practicing ear training and jazz improvisation. Those struggles aren't due to a scarcity of time, however. Rather, they're the result of poor intonation and the inability to hear myself when I'm practicing quietly.


When I travel, I typically stay in rented apartments or hotel rooms. To keep the volume down to an acceptable level, I always need to practice with a mute. The best mute I've found thus far is still the Dennis Wick adjustable cup mute. Unfortunately, when I'm playing at my quietest level, it can be a little hard to hear myself, especially if I'm trying to play along with a recording or one of my ear training tools.

The other problem I face when practicing away from home is intonation. The Dennis Wick mute plays fairly well in tune, but I can't say the same about my Colin Pocket Max pocket trumpet. Although the pocket trumpet has fairly decent intonation through most of my playable range, it suffers quite a bit with notes below the staff, especially those which require the 3rd valve. The volume and the intonation issues might be tolerable in isolation, but together they make it rather difficult to hear individual pitches clearly.

Since I always bring my Colin Pocket Max pocket trumpet on multi-city trips, I decided that a good first step would be to try and find a pocket trumpet with better intonation. I've often heard that Benge pocket trumpets are among the best, but used ones are expensive and hard to find. Kanstul allegedly has a good pocket trumpet too, but those are similarly expensive and rare. Wanting something in the $750 or less range, my research suggested that the Carol Brass pocket trumpet might be the best option.

A couple of months ago, I went ahead and bought a used Carol Brass pocket trumpet from eBay for about $500. I've been using the Carol Brass pocket trumpet exclusively for the past 6 weeks (I'm in Paris right now!), and the intonation is much better than my older Colin Pocket Max pocket trumpet. While I'm fairly happy with the Carol Brass pocket trumpet so far, I still need to fix the problem I have with hearing myself clearly when I play with a mute.

Earlier this year, I bought a 3rd-generation Yamaha Silent Brass mute, which I had hoped would fix the problem with hearing myself. As you may know, the Yamaha Silent Brass mute is a very quiet mute that uses a microphone to pickup the sound so you can hear it clearly using headphones. You can even mix in an additional audio source so you can play along to recordings. When I first tried it, I thought it was the perfect solution, but as soon as I tried playing pitches below the staff, I ended up with horrible intonation problems. Argh!

I've tried using the Yahama Silent Brass mute off and on throughout the year, but I've come to the conclusion that it just won't work for ear training and improvisation due to the intonation issues. All hope isn't lost, though, as I did stumble upon a new idea during my most recent trip. Using a set of iPhone headphones as a "microphone" along with my Dennis Wick mute and the Yamaha Silent Brass audio module, I can hear myself without the intonation problems of the Yamaha Silent Brass mute. It's a bit hacked together at the moment, but once I get home I'm going to experiment with a better microphone and mute configuration. I'll let you know if I come up with anything worth sharing.


Once again, I attended the annual Atlanta Trumpet Festival this year and I participated in the adult trumpet ensemble. Over the years, I've had mixed results with my playing at the Atlanta Trumpet Ensemble. The ensembles always play classical tunes, but since I don't play that type of repertoire in my daily practice routine, my chops aren't always up to the task. This year I decided to prepare a bit more and during the month leading up to the festival, I devoted about 10 minutes a day to practicing trumpet etudes. That seemed to do the trick, as I played better than I had played during any prior Atlanta Trumpet Festival. If I had more time, I'd definitely keep up the etude practice, but it isn't feasible when I'm traveling.


I continue to participate in a weekly jazz jam session when I'm in Atlanta and I'm very grateful for that opportunity. During those sessions, however, I'm always reading from written music or I'm playing tunes from memory. Consequently, my playing tends to be a bit formulaic and underwhelming. I'd like to reach the point where I can rely totally on my ears in those jazz jam sessions, but my ears aren't quite good enough to handle complex melodies and rapid chord changes -- yet!

My ability to play by ear has gotten good enough, however, to play in non-jazz settings. The first of these non-jazz jam sessions occurred last year when I was traveling in Chilean Patagonia. That was the first time I had improvised with other people entirely by ear, and it's something I never could have done prior to practicing ear training. Since that time, I've continued to seek out similar improvised sessions and I've been lucky enough to participate in a few more since then.

My favorite session to-date occurred a few months ago, while I was in Portland. I found myself with two guitarists, one of whom I had met while traveling in Spain last year. The two guitarists were in a band together and they had several original tunes that they had written over the years. During our jam session, they'd start playing one of their tunes while I listened. As soon as an idea jumped out to me, I joined in, playing a fully improvised melody. I wouldn't say that everything I played was great, but on a few of the tunes, I played better than I've ever played before. I just thought of an idea and executed it perfectly by ear. And I mean, perfectly! Practicing ear training can be frustrating and tedious at times, but experiences like this have proven to me that the effort is totally worthwhile. I can't wait to see how well I'll be able to play a year from now!

Jazz Improvisation - August 30, 2015

Jazz improvisation recordings, 2015

recordingThis page contains my jazz improvisation recordings from 2015. As you'll hear below, these jazz recordings feature such highlights as cracked notes, poor note choice, unsteady rhythm, and meandering phrases! And that's why recording myself is so important. It's the best way to evaluate my playing and to chart my progress over time. I don't expect that I'll ever become a great jazz trumpet player, but I am anxious to hear how much better I can get with practice. As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions.

All of my jazz improvisation recordings: 2004 - 2005 - 2006 - 2007 - 2008 - 2009 - 2010 - 2011 - 2012 - 2014 - 2015 - 2016

AUGUST 30, 2015

I've been traveling a lot lately, so I haven't had much time to record myself. Now that I'm home, I decided to fire up Garageband and see if I could record anything worth sharing. I like bits and pieces of these solos, but each have their moments of cringe -- my signature sound!

iwasdoingallright - audio clip Aebersold #40, Softly as in a Morning Sunrise

This is my second time recording "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise." The first time was back in 2006. Unlike 2006's recording, today's version eases into the improvisation a bit before building. It also extends through two choruses. There are elements of today's solo that I prefer (like the nice high C!), but I can also hear myself getting a little anxious as I tried to hold on through the second chorus without making any major mistakes that would ruin the clip.

iwasdoingallright - audio clip Aebersold #34, There Is No Greater Love

I've enjoyed "There Is No Greater Love" ever since I first heard Sonny Rollins' version on "Way Out West." I love how slowly he takes the tune, giving him time to really dig into the changes and explore the harmony (I also really like the version on "People Time" by Kenny Barron and Stan Getz).

Unfortunately, when I first tried playing "There Is No Greater Love," I found it rather challenging to play over the first four measures of the "A" sections. Rather than play something that made musical sense over the entire four measures, I'd end up playing four different one-measure solos due to the movement of the chords. I've stuck with the tune, however, and I'm finally at a place where I can occasionally play a decent solo. This might not be the best solo I've ever played over "There Is No Greater Love," but I think it meets my goal of at least making some musical sense.

Jazz Blog - July 19, 2015

Dave King, Rational Funk

I've been traveling a lot lately (I'm in Copenhagen right now), so it's been hard to find the time to write new blog posts. But then Dave King decided to share his expertise, wisdom, and treasured life-lessons in a series of goofy YouTube videos... and that's how you get a new blog post.

As I'm sure everybody (anybody?) already knows, Dave King is the drummer for Happy Apple and the slightly more popular band, The Bad Plus. I've seen The Bad Plus a few times, and frankly, I feel like I've been cheated. Ethan Iverson, their erudite and gifted pianist, typically does all of the talking. Yet now I know that Dave King has been sitting there the entire time with a funny comment that he's dying to share. But he can't share that funny comment, because jazz is serious!

Jazz may be serious, but drumming is hilarious. At least, it's hilarious when Dave King talks about drumming in his Rational Funk YouTube channel.

On one hand, Rational Funk is a silly, geeky, and satirical take on the world of drumming and instructional videos. On the other hand, Rational Funk is a brutally-honest criticism of popular music and the so-called music business. And on the other other hand, it's just a guy having a laugh with his off-camera cohort, Joe Johnson. I'd ask Dave King for his take on the videos, but killing cats like him are too busy shedding so he can shred on the gig.

As of the time of this writing, there are 30 episodes of Rational Funk. The last 5 or so have inexplicably featured jazz trumpeter, Ron Miles, in a buddy crime-fighter intro that has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the show. The Ron Miles intro is never explained, but thanks to its awesome 80s-themed soundtrack and hard-hitting action, I've found it to be a pleasant reprieve from all of that drum talk.

So, this is my plug for Rational Funk. If you've got what it takes, I'd recommend that you start with the first episode and work your way through all of them. If you just want a good laugh, though, I'd start with the following video on rap rock. It's the best of the best (and it talks about the worst of worst). Like all of the Rational Funk videos, it features lots of censored bad words, so thankfully, it's totally appropriate for children.

Ear Training - February 27, 2015

Ear training tool - version 3.0

Today I launched version 3.0 of my free online ear trainer!

online ear trainer - v3

This new version of my ear trainer runs natively in modern web browsers, without the need for Java or any other type of plugin. It's a nice change of pace from the security warnings and Java installation headaches. Unfortunately, it isn't without it's problems. The main issue is that the performance varies depending upon your web browser. It runs best in Chrome, Opera, and Safari (as of my May 2nd update). Firefox is pretty good too, but the notes sometimes drop out, as if some of the audio files haven't loaded. Unfortunately, it's so bad in Internet Explorer that I've decided not to support IE. With the availability of the Java version, my free iphone ear training app, and the ease of acquiring a Chrome or Opera web browser, I hope that won't be too much of an inconvenience.

Anyway, enough about boring old web browsers. Fire up your Chrome, Opera, or Safari web browser and give my new ear trainer a try!

UPDATE 10/4/16 - The custom feature now supports melodies with even (i.e. non-swing) rhythms. To enable this feature, add "R:even" to the top of your custom script. Note that this only applies to stand-alone melodies. Rhythmic accompaniments will still use swing rhythms regardless of this setting.

UPDATE 9/6/16 - This update introduces the concept of custom exercises, where an "exercise" saves the current ear trainer settings. For example, if you like to practice random melodies with a tempo of 120bpm, in auto-play mode, with 3 repeats, and random modulation, you can save that configuration as an exercise. Another ear training exercise might be random ii-V7-I chord progressions with a tempo of 90bpm. Once you save these as separate exercises, you can return to them at any time without having to manually change the tempos, repeat options, etc. You just click on the exercise names and stored configuration is loaded automatically! To use this feature, simply login and then use the "Your Exercises" link at the upper right to create a new exercise.

UPDATE 7/30/16 - Thanks to a visitor's request, I have added Sus2 and Sus4 triads to the Chords feature.

UPDATE 5/12/16 - This update adds randomization to the ear trainer's Custom tab, with a syntax like the following: { randomSequence1 ; randomSequence2 ; randomSequence3 }. As an example, if you want to play a C and then a random note that's either a G, A, or B, you'd put the following into the Custom tab: C { G ; A ; B }

UPDATE 3/6/16 - The melodies feature now includes the ability to play a cluster of notes simultaneously via the "Sequence Type=Harmonic" option. A suggested exercise for this would be to play a C major cadence followed by the note cluster. Begin with a couple of notes, and increase to as many as you can identify. Over time, this should improve your relative pitch. I also added a few new 9th chords to the chords feature. Both of these new features are the result of your feature requests, so thank you for your suggestions!

UPDATE 10/31/15 - I improved the layout of chord progressions for this update, so they should be easier to read. Also, I fixed a problem single-note melodies and and the "Restrict to Single Octave" option.

UPDATE 10/20/15 - This update fixes a few bugs, including an issue where modulation could force the jazz progressions to be played in extreme upper and lower registers. Additionally, the Custom tab's scripts will now respect the specified double bar repeat settings. To round things out, you'll find a few more examples for the Custom tab's scratchpad feature, including a listing of all currently supported chord types.

UPDATE 8/29/15 - With this update, you can click on the notes in the ear trainer's staff in order to hear a specific note. I also added a sight singing "Play Mode" where the ear trainer will show notes without playing audio. Once the notes appear, you can click on individual notes to hear their pitches or you can click the repeat button to hear the entire sequence.

UPDATE 7/31/15 - This update focuses primarily on the Custom tab. New options have been added for modulation within sequences via double bar lines ( || ). This is handy if you want to do ear training over an entire song. By adding double bar lines periodically within the song, you can repeat and modulate a series of measures.

UPDATE 5/2/15 - I added a new soundfont which greatly improves the piano sound for Safari and other browsers that don't support Ogg files. With this change, I think my new ear training application runs almost as well on Safari as it does on Chrome and Opera.

UPDATE 5/1/15 - This update fixes several bugs, adds keyboard support for controlling playback (left arrow=repeat, right arrow=next, space=play/stop), and it includes a few new chord progressions (jazz blues, minor blues, etc). The biggest change is the addition of accounts. Once you register for your free account, you can save your custom melodies and chord progressions. I still need to improve the documentation and examples for the custom markup, but hopefully the existing samples will give you enough to start customizing your ear training exercises.

Jazz Blog - October 22, 2014

Keep On Keepin' On - the movie

This week I'm visiting Chicago, where I first lived as a student while attending DePaul University's music school. After my brief time at DePaul's music school, I changed majors and enrolled in DePaul's business school, where I eventually dropped out to begin my career as a software engineer and entrepreneur. In total, I lived in Chicago for nine years and I still regard those years as being some of the most exciting years of my life.

Each time I return to Chicago, I enjoy revisiting some of the places that shaped who I am today. One of those places is the Music Box Theatre. It was there that I first saw art-house films like "2001 a Space Odyssey", "8 1/2", "Wings of Desire", and "Laurence of Arabia." It's also the theater where I first saw a double feature of "This Wonderful Life" and "White Christmas" with the woman who would eventually become my wife.

Like most of our trips to Chicago, my wife and I had a few things planned, including a visit to the David Bowie exhibit at MCA, a Keith Jarrett trio concert, and catching up with some old friends. Aside from that, however, our schedule was fairly open. I hadn't yet told my wife this, but it was my intention all along to see if we could squeeze in a showing of the movie "Keep on Keepin' On."

"Keep on Keepin' On" depicts the bond between legendary jazz trumpeter, Clark Terry, and a 23-year old blind piano player named Justin Kauflin. At the beginning of filming, Clark Terry is 89 and suffering the debilitating effects of diabetes, including the loss of his own eyesight. Clark Terry becomes a mentor to the young piano player, teaching him tunes, and coaching him through stage fright during the Thelonious Monk Jazz Piano Competition. In return, Justin Kaufman and his seeing-eye dog become part of Clark Terry's support system, bringing joy to Clark Terry and his wife while his health deteriorates.

"Keep on Keepin' On" is currently in a limited distribution run, with just a few days of screenings in a handful of cities. Right now, it's playing for a few days in Atlanta, Chicago, Washington DC, New York City, and Asbury Park, New Jersey. After that it moves on to other cities and beyond that, who knows where or when I'd be able to see it.

Being a fan of Clark Terry's music and a jazz trumpet player myself, it's no surprise that I'd want to see this movie. I'll admit, though, that I expected it to be a tough sell to my wife. I imagined the conversation going something like, "Hey, I know we're only in Chicago for a week, and we both know you don't like going to the movies, but there's this movie about an aging jazz trumpeter player and a young blind piano player. The trumpet player has diabetes, loses his eyesight, and . . . um, are you still listening to me?" At least, that's how the conversation might have gone were it not for the Music Box Theatre.

When I told my wife that the movie was playing at the Music Box Theatre, she instantly became nostalgic for those earlier years when she and I went to the Music Box Theatre for the holiday double features. Without a second's hesitation, she agreed and we were off to the 3pm showing on a Sunday afternoon in Chicago.

I'm pleased to say that my wife and I both loved the film. And to our absolute delight, after the screening we were treated to a live performance by the film's young piano player, Justin Kaufman, and a Q&A session with the film's director, Al Hicks.

Clark Terry is one of the most recorded jazz musicians of all time, with over 900 recording sessions. During his long career, Clark Terry also mentored hundreds, if not thousands, of jazz musicians, including Miles Davis and Quincy Jones. Despite these and many other accomplishments, Clark Terry is barely known beyond jazz circles. As a trumpet player and fan of jazz music, I'd love to introduce more people to the life and music of Clark Terry, and this movie is the perfect vehicle to make that happen.

"Keep on Keepin' On" isn't just for trumpet players, nor is it just for jazz fans. Rather, it's a heart-warming story of friendship, inspiration, and the power of music to bring people together and instill hope in our lives. Amidst a movie landscape of vapid CGI blockbusters, "Keep on Keepin' On" is a breath of fresh air and I wholeheartedly recommend it. As the film's director mentioned after the screening, the only way the movie will succeed is by word of mouth. So this is my mouth, making words. Go see this movie!

About Me - October 16, 2014

Twelve-year anniversary

All of my anniversary articles: 2 years - 3 years - 4 years - 5 years - 6 years - 7 years - 9 years - 10 years - 11 years - 12 years - 13 years

It's now been twelve years since I started playing the trumpet again, after quitting for a period of seven years. Here's another anniversary article.


After my first trip to Europe in 2012, when I didn't play for a month and it took me two months to rebuild my chops, I now bring either my regular trumpet or a pocket trumpet anytime I travel. When traveling, I don't practice nearly as much as I do when I'm at home, but I manage to put in enough time to keep my chops in decent playing condition.

I've done quite a bit of traveling this year, beginning with an amazing trip to Chile. After Chile, I spent a month in Manhattan, followed by six weeks exploring the Pacific Northwest and the Canadian Rockies. And this past weekend, I returned from five weeks in Spain!

toledo, spain

Although the traveling puts a damper in my progress on the trumpet, I have had a few rewarding playing experiences while on the road. When I was in Portland over the summer, I had two playing opportunities. The first was with the clarinet-playing owner of our AirBnB rental, and the second was with a drummer who I met at one of Portland's many food truck parks. My favorite jam, though, occurred while I was in Patagonia, with Torres del Paine national park in the background. I don't know if I'll ever top that.


As I mentioned at the end of last year, I decided to make the Android app available free of charge after hearing about some problems with newer OS versions. The problems persisted and after receiving a dozen or so emails, I removed the Android app from Google's app market earlier this year. I don't own any Android devices, and since download numbers were so low on the Android app, I couldn't justify the time and expense of its maintenance. If you're one of the former Android app users and you're looking for an ear training replacement, I'd definitely suggest my online ear trainer. It's what I use.


If you've used my Play By Ear ear training app with iOS 8, then you've surely noticed that the audio isn't working when pitch detection is enabled. After the first exercise plays, the microphone turns on for pitch detection and it fails to reopen the audio channel for subsequent playback. I haven't used my Play By Ear app in a while, so I didn't realize there was a problem until I began receiving your emails. Thanks for letting me know!

Fortunately, it didn't take too long for me to identify the culprit and I've already uploaded a fix to the app store. Assuming Apple approves the update, it should be available within the next few days. While I was making changes to the app, I also improved the pitch detection algorithm and I modified the layout a bit so it stretches to fill larger iPhone displays. Hopefully you'll enjoy the new changes.


About a year ago, I started taking jazz improvisation lessons with one of my friends from the Atlanta jazz scene. In last year's anniversary article, I wrote that the lessons had me feeling discouraged about my playing. And if anything, I felt that I was playing better before I started taking lessons. I wish I could say things improved over time, but that just isn't the case. After several more months of lessons, I realized that the teacher's approach wasn't working out for me and we parted ways. The teacher and I are still good friends, but the experience was a classic example of how everyone learns differently.