An aspiring jazz trumpet player's blog about jazz improvisation and ear training.

November 16, 2021 About Me 0 Comments

Taking jazz and trumpet lessons

It's been four years since my last journal entry, when I announced my move to Manhattan. Needless to say, a lot has happened (to us all) since then, but for this update I'm going to focus on my musical development over the last two years.


First, some background for those who aren't already aware . . .

Long, long ago, when I graduated high school, my dream was to become a professional jazz musician. I knew that I wasn't nearly as good as my jazz heroes, but I naively assumed that college would somehow make me a "great" player. After a year at one college, and then another year at a different college, it was painfully clear to me that I wasn't learning much at all, and I was only barely improving. To be honest, neither school that I attended had much of a jazz curriculum beyond combo and big band classes at that time.

Towards the end of my second year of music school, I decided it was time to make a change, so I switched to the business school and majored in finance. During that first year of business school, I had a business idea, and taught myself computer programming in order to make it a reality. That business idea didn't actually go anywhere, but it did inspire another idea, and the eventual co-founding of my first tech startup.

Twenty years later and two more startups later, I was burned out with the tech industry and ready for a change. Over the next four years, I traveled extensively, and thought about where and how I'd like to spend the next chapter of my life. As mentioned previously, the "where" ended up being Manhattan.

After moving to Manhattan, the first two years were mostly spent settling in and remodeling our apartment. During those two years, I attended two or three concerts every week. As most of you know, the level of playing here is incredible. It's basically the best of the best, night after night. While I could have easily felt discouraged by my shortcomings as a jazz musician, instead I felt inspired to see just how good I could get, with great teachers.

And that's how I decided "how" I wanted to spend the next chapter of my life. I would devote myself full-time to music, and finally get the jazz education that I never received when I was in college. To be clear, I'm not trying to become a professional jazz musician. I would, however, like to see if I can become as good as one. Or at least as good as the person people call when the "great" players aren't available!

Rather than spend a fortune on a top music school that I probably couldn't get into anyway, I decided to take private lessons with the best teachers I could find. And that's what I've been doing for the past two years. I've wanted to share my experiences in those lessons, but I've been too busy practicing. Seriously! I now practice a mix of piano, trumpet, and ear training for a total of 4 or 5 hours each day. I still have a year or two (or 20?) before I'll be where I want to be in my playing, but for the first time, I feel like I might actually get there.

I'll write a separate journal entry for each of my teachers, but for now I'll share their names in case you want to check them out on your own.

Nadje Noordhuis - Trumpet embouchure, strength, etc

Garry Dial - Everything else!

December 29, 2017 About Me 6 Comments

Fifteen-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 - 15 years

It's now been fifteen years since I started playing the trumpet again, after quitting for a period of seven years.


As with recent years, 2017 began with a focus on travel. My wife and I spent the first few weeks of the year in Utah, driving through its national parks. It was our first time in Utah and it was one jaw dropping view after another. We've been to the Grand Canyon and other places in Arizona, but Utah really blew us away with its abundance of beautiful scenery. Prior to making the trip, we were concerned that snow might close some of the roads, but we managed to go everywhere we wanted without issue. And best of all, due to the cold weather, there weren't any crowds.


After Utah, we travelled to Mexico. I'm embarrassed to say that this was only my first visit to Mexico. Needless to say, I loved the food, culture, and historical sites. I also had several opportunities to practice my Spanish with the friendly locals. During this trip, we visited Mexico City, Merida, and a few coastal cities on the Yucatan Peninsula. I look forward to exploring more of Mexico in the future.

We had planned a few more trips for this year, but as you'll read below, new priorities arose after our Mexico trip.


The last time I redesigned this site was back in April of 2010. A lot has changed since then in the world of web design and development. One of the biggest changes is the shift towards a mobile-first approach, where sites are now primarily designed to be used on phones and tablets. If you've ever tried to access my old site on a mobile device, you've likely noticed that it didn't scale very well on smaller displays.

For several years I've wanted to redesign this site, but my time and energy has been focused on travel. Earlier this year, however, I volunteered to redesign the website of an independent jazz record label. I really enjoyed the design process and when it was over I thought, "Hey Rick, what about redesigning your own site?"

So now I have a new website design! I will readily admit that this new site doesn't have all of the testing and polish that I'd normally like for a product launch. I hope to address problems quickly, but please let me know if you run into any issues. I'll also note that while most of the site works well with mobile displays, I haven't done much with the online ear trainer. Over time I'd like to have a mobile-friendly interface for that, but it's a sizable project and I haven't had the time to take it on.


In 2001, my wife and I moved from Chicago to Atlanta. I'd like to say that decision was the result of careful consideration, but it came down to this: my wife was tired of the long Chicago winters and she thought she'd like to give Atlanta a try. When we moved, I thought we'd live in Atlanta for 5-7 years before moving to someplace more permanent, but then my career took over and Atlanta became our home for the next sixteen years.

A lot has happened during my sixteen years in Atlanta. I started playing the trumpet again, I befriended members of the local jazz community, I built this jazz blog, I started promoting jazz in Atlanta on this website, I created a few ear training tools, I joined a weekly jazz jam session, I started skateboarding again, I built a mini-ramp in my backyard (so much fun!), I quit skateboarding after spraining my ankle (not fun at all!), I started doing yoga, I learned Spanish and (some) French, I started drawing & painting (this site's Lee Morgan image was drawn on my iPad), and I participated as a co-founder in two very demanding tech startups.

In 2013, after co-founding three tech startups and nearly 20 years as a professional software engineer, I decided to take a break from my career. Since that time, my wife and I have been spending most of our time traveling. For the first time in our lives, we visited countries in Europe, Central America, South America, and Asia. I've loved every moment of our travels, even that time when I got the flu in Paris. Well, maybe I didn't love that, but if you have to have the flu somewhere, you could do worse than Paris!

Initially, we were traveling simply for enjoyment, but after a couple of years we began to think about where we'd like to spend the next 5-10 years of our lives. To help choose our ideal city, I made the following wishlist of amenities: international airport, robust jazz scene, ability to walk to jazz clubs, great restaurants, public transportation, cultural diversity, appreciation of the arts, proximity to friends and family. Oh, and it would be nice if the city is close to water.

The front-runner was an obvious choice, but that city has one major drawback: cold winters. Actually, there are plenty of other drawbacks (like, the outrageously high cost of living), but since cold weather drove us out of Chicago many years ago, that was our primary concern. To see if the weather would be a deal-breaker, we visited our front-runner for the past four years, staying for 6-8 weeks during the winter months. Regardless of how cold or snowy it would get, we'd always find ourselves wishing we could stay longer. And that's how we knew we had found our future home.

I bet you'll never guess which city we picked...


Five weeks ago, we moved into an apartment in Chelsea. It's definitely smaller than our old home in Atlanta, but it has an ideal room for me to practice my trumpet. In fact, it's so well insulated that I've been playing without a mute! I definitely didn't think that would be possible when we first began our apartment search. And best of all, I'm now within an easy walk to about a dozen of New York's best jazz clubs.


I don't know what the new year will bring, but I look forward to settling into our new home and making of the most of everything New York has to offer.

Happy (almost) New Year!

February 20, 2017 Ear Training 0 Comments

Ear training with recordings, part 2

Seven years ago, I wrote a blog post about the benefits of practicing ear training with jazz recordings. In that article, I included an example of myself doing call and response, as well as improvisation, with Curtis Fuller's recording of "Moonlight Becomes You." For the sake of convenience, you can hear that audio recording right here: iwasdoingallright - audio clip

As one might hope, my ability to play by ear has improved since I made that recording in 2010. Thanks to those improved skills, I've been working on a couple of new ear training exercises which I'd like to share with you in this cleverly titled "part 2" article.

Disclaimer (aka, Rick making excuses once again): These exercises are fairly new to me, so the audio clips aren't particularly good. For example, you'll hear very uneven rhythms and hesitation. Someday I hope to be able to play these with a metronome, but I'm just not good enough yet.


This exercise combines call and response ear training, improvisation, and compositional development into a single exercise.


  • 1. Start by playing a recording that you haven't heard before.
  • 2. As the recording plays, listen for any melody that jumps out as being both interesting and potentially playable (i.e. not overly complicated/hard).
  • 3. As soon as you hear a melody that you want to use, stop the recording.
  • 4. To make sure that you've heard the recording properly, sing the melody.
  • 5. Next, play the melody by ear on your instrument.
  • 6. Once you've played the melody correctly, improvise a theoretical continuation to the melody.

Step #6 is important, so I'll go into a bit more detail. Rather than just improvise anything I want, I'm trying to imagine what might come next if I were the composer. This forces me to play something that makes musical sense, as I build on what I've just heard. In time, I'm hoping this will add more cohesion to my improvised solos, so I can build from one phrase to another without it sounding like a bunch of random ideas.

Here's an example of this exercise: iwasdoingallright - audio clip

The source excerpt is from Howard McGhee and Benny Bailey's recording of "Nostalgia" from their "Home Run" album. After the excerpt plays, you'll hear me repeat the melody followed by my improvised version of how the rest of the tune might go. At this point I haven't listened to the rest of the tune, so I truly don't know how it should sound. I'll admit that I didn't do a great job with this attempt, but I did at least mirror the piano a bit with my descending phrase and I did manage to play the melody accurately by ear.


I don't have a particularly good musical memory. I have trouble remembering tunes, and it's especially difficult for me to learn intricate bebop tunes like "Donna Lee." In fact, even though I've heard "Donna Lee" hundreds of times, I probably couldn't even sing the first measure accurately.

This ear training exercise is an attempt for me to improve my musical memory while building my repertoire of jazz sounds and ideas.


  • 1. Pick an interesting, yet playable jazz solo. You certainly don't need to learn the entire solo. A chorus or two is fine.
  • 2. Memorize the solo by ear and be able to sing it accurately. Do not use any written music and don't write anything down. When memorizing, work on small sections at a time, listening over and over again until you are able to remember it all. This can take several days/weeks.
  • 3. Once you can sing the solo, try playing it by ear on your instrument.
  • 4. Once you can play it by ear, start on different notes, testing your ability to play it by ear in various keys.

Here's an example of this exercise: iwasdoingallright - audio clip

The solo is from Chet Baker's recording of "Tangerine." In the recording, I play a section of the solo in one key and then I play it again in another key. Neither key is the original key from the recording.

Obviously, you need to be able to play fairly well by ear already in order to succeed with this exercise. If you're having trouble, you could limit yourself to short phrases, or you could try a dedicated ear training tool like my free online ear trainer.

December 24, 2016 Jazz Improvisation 6 Comments

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

DECEMBER 24, 2016

My weekly jam session group has been playing "Beautiful Love" lately, so I thought I'd use it for one of my jazz improvisation recordings. I don't have an Aebersold play along track for this, so I ended up using a backing track provided by LearnJazzStandards.com, which you can find here on YouTube.

iwasdoingallright - audio clip Beautiful Love

Although my endurance has actually been pretty good lately, this clip comes at the end of my practice session and I can't quite hold on for the full two choruses. Fade out to the rescue!

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.

December 31, 2015 About Me 2 Comments

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 - 15 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!

August 30, 2015 Jazz Improvisation 2 Comments

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.

July 19, 2015 Jazz Blog 2 Comments

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. The piano or bass player typically do all of the talking, but 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 go straight to 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.