I WAS DOING ALL RIGHT

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

May 15, 2005 About Me

Recommended jazz recordings

covers I spent a few weeks trying to come up with a list of recommended recordings so I'd have some suggestions to go along with my listening guide. These recommendations primarly focus on the hard bop period (mid 1955-65), as that's the period that I like best.

I tried to organize each album in order of preference, however I decided it would be best to simply put them in ranked groups. So, within each group, there is no specific order.

GROUP 1

  • Miles Davis - Kind Of Blue
  • John Coltrane - Blue Train
  • Dexter Gordon - Doin' Allright
  • Lee Morgan - Search For The New Land
  • John Coltrane - A Love Supreme
  • Miles Davis - Round About Midnight
  • Sonny Rollins - Saxophone Collosus
  • Wayne Shorter - Speak No Evil
  • Clifford Borwn - Clifford Brown & Max Roach
  • Joe Henderson - Mode For Joe
  • John Coltrane - Giant Steps
  • Thelonious Monk - Monk's Dream

GROUP 2

  • Art Blakey And The Jazz Messengers - Moanin'
  • Miles Davis - Seven Steps To Heaven
  • Herbie Hancock - Maiden Voyage
  • Ornette Coleman - The Shape Of Jazz To Come
  • Joe Henderson - Page One
  • Miles Davis - Relaxin'
  • Clifford Brown - Study in Brown
  • Herbie Hancock - Takin' Off
  • Horace Silver - The Cape Verdean Blues
  • Miles Davis - Miles Smiles
  • Duke Ellington & John Coltrane - Duke Ellington & John Coltrane
  • Keith Jarrett - The Koln Concert or Tokyo '96
  • Sonny Rollins - The Bridge

GROUP 3

  • Lee Morgan - The Sidewinder
  • Wayne Shorter - Juju
  • Cannonball Adderley - Somethin' Else
  • Horace Silver - The Jody Grind
  • Horace Silver - Song For My Father
  • Miles Davis - Miles Ahead
  • Miles Davis - Any of: Cookin', Steamin', Workin', or Relaxin'
  • Charles Mingus - Blues & Roots
  • Bill Evans - Waltz For Debbie (Live)
  • Sarah Vaughan with Clifford Brown
  • Chick Corea - Now He Speaks, Now He Sobs
  • Hank Mobley - Dippin'
  • Jackie McLean - Vertigo
  • Donald Byrd - Free Form
  • Larry Young - Unity
  • John Coltrane - Live at the Village Vanguard

GROUP 4

  • Jimmy Smith - Back At The Chicken Shack
  • Nina Simone - Anthology
  • Horace Silver - Finger Poppin'
  • Nancy Wilson & Cannonball Adderley (self titled)
  • Betty Carter - The Modern Sound Of Betty Carter
  • John Coltrane - Crescent
  • Sonny Rollins - Way Out West
  • Booker Ervin - TexBook Tenor
  • Johnny Griffin - A Blowin' Session
  • Wayne Shorter - Night Dreamer
  • Hank Mobley - No Room For Squares
  • Miles Davis - Sketches of Spain
  • Donald Byrd - Byrd In The Hand
  • Blue Mitchell - The Thing To Do
  • Carmen McRae - Bittersweet
  • Don Ellis - Live At Monterey

RECENT/MODERN RECORDINGS

Here are some great recordings from the past 10-20 years. Most (if not all) of these artists are still in their prime and tour regularly. Catch them if you can!

Note: I *really* need to update this list...

  • Dave Douglas - Soul On Soul
  • Kenny Garrett - Introducing Kenny Garrett or Songbook
  • Chris Potter - Lift: Live At The Village Vanguard
  • Brad Mehldau - Day Is Done
  • Dave Holland Quintet - Extended Play - Live At Birdland
  • Nicholas Payton - Gumbo Nouveau
  • Masada - Live At Sevilla 2000 or Live At Tonic 2001
  • Mingus Big Band - The Essential Mingus Big Band
  • Tim Warfield - Jazz Is
  • Roy Hargrove - Nothing Serious
  • Joshua Redman - Spirit Of The Moment: Live At The Village Vanguard

FOUNDATION RECORDINGS

Some people believe you need to start listening to early jazz before you should listen to later periods. I think you should start by listening to whatever period interests you the most. Give early jazz a listen, but there's no need to force it upon yourself if you don't like it. I do believe, however, that once you develop a solid appreciation for jazz, you'll gradually listen to more periods and likely find that the old recordings don't sound so old anymore...

  • Sidney Bechet - The Legendary Sidney Bechet
  • Sidney Bechet - The Best Of Sidney Bechet
  • Louis Armstrong - The Best Of The Hot 5 & 7 Recordings
  • Louis Armstrong & Duke Ellington - The Great Summit, Master Takes
  • Louis Armstrong - Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy
  • Louis Armstrong & Ella Fitzgerald - Ella & Louis
  • Bix Beiderbecke - Vol. 1: Singin' The Blues
  • Jelly Roll Morton - Birth Of The Hot
  • An Anthology Of Big Band Swing 1930-1955
  • Fletcher Henderson - A Study in Frustration: Thesaurus of Classic Jazz
  • Duke Ellington - The Best of the Duke Ellington Centennial Edition
  • Ella Fitzgerald - Sings the Duke Ellington Song Book
  • Charlie Parker - The Complete Charlie Parker On Verve
  • Dizzy Gillespie - Dizzy Gillespie At Newport
  • Dizzy Gillespie - Verve Jazz Masters 10: Dizzy Gillespie
  • Fats Navarro and Tadd Dameron: The Complete Blue Note and Capitol Recordings
  • Lester Young - With The Oscar Peterson Trio
  • Art Tatum - The Complete Capitol Recording

Be sure to check out The Red Hot Jazz Archive for audio clips and historical information pertaining to pre-1930's jazz.

COMMENTS?

I turned off comments for this thread because I want to avoid a situation where people debate my ordering or my inclusion/exclusion of a particular album. This is my list, if you don't like it, go make your own ;-)

August 31, 2004 About Me 4 Comments

Two-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 been about two years now since my comeback. I thought this would be a good time to comment on my progress and playing experience thus far.

EMBOUCHURE

I've worked on a few new methods during the past year or so, including the Balanced Embouchure and Caruso's Musical Calisthenics For Brass (I continue to practice both of these methods daily). I haven't seen any dramatic results, however I have become a lot more conscious of my embouchure, especially the use of excessive pressure. Now, when I feel like I'm pushing too hard, I'm quicker to make corrections and/or rest.

RANGE

I'm still most comfortable below an E at the top of the staff. During my morning warm-ups and exercises, I can play a few C's above the staff with little pressure, but I only have a few of these in me each day. After that, I have to use excessive pressure to play anything above the staff. So, yeah, my range is (still) lousy.

TECHNIQUE

I've been working daily with the Flexus book for a few months, primarily the slurring exercises. I've also been working on my single and double-tonguing speed on Clark studies. While working on my technique, I take extra care to make sure I'm not falling into the old habit of excessive pressure. My progress is gradual, and I still crack/miss several notes, but at least I'm trying to use a more comfortable embouchure setting than I've used in the past.

EAR TRAINING

It's been about nine months now since I've added ear training into my daily practice routine. My ear has really opened up during this period, and it's getting noticeably stronger all the time. Pitches, intervals, and chord changes... everything is becoming easier to identify and play.

I'm really surprised at how well I've been doing since adding random melody playback to my routine. While listening to jazz recordings, I'll hear a short phrase and the notes will jump out at me. If I pick up my horn, I'll surprise myself by playing the notes perfectly, without previously knowing the key or the starting note. This doesn't happen all the time, but the experience is becoming more common.

IMPROVISATION

I believe that my development as an improviser is largely dependent upon my progress with ear training and overall technique. Ear training will tell me the notes to play (i.e. the ability to play what I hear), and a solid technique will give me the chops I need to actually play those notes. Fortunately, at the present time, I don't hear myself playing a lot of notes above the staff.

There are other things that I've done to work on improvisation, including note limiting and freeform improvisation exercises. I haven't spent enough time on these things (yet), so I'm not quite sure how much they've helped my playing.

In general, I do feel more confident about my improvisation. I'm proud of some recent recordings, particularly My Funny Valentine and the two Granted clips, but I still hear a lot of room for improvement. Currently, I'm only able to play about 30% of my ideas (maybe not even that high of a percentage). I think ear training will be the key to strengthening that number.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

As I've already written in my comeback journal entry, the first six months of my comeback were basically wasted on old habits... so if I discard that period, it's only been a year and a half since I've been (hopefully) doing things right. With that in mind, I suppose I have done quite well in a relatively short period of time.

Most importantly, I feel like I'm finally beginning to make music. For the first time, I feel like my improvisation is representative of what I want to play (not all the time, but sometimes!). Going forward, my primary goal is to tighten the gap between what I want to play and what I'm able to play.

April 24, 2004 About Me 3 Comments

Recommended recordings - OLD

I decided to put together this list of recommended recordings to share albums that have had a major impact on my playing and appreciation of jazz.

Update 5/15/05 - I had planned on updating this list with more recordings, but instead put together a new list.

Wayne Shorter - JuJu (1964)

Wayne Shorter, JujuI first heard this album while a freshman in college. Our jazz combo was playing "Speak No Evil," a tune that I had never heard before. I went to the library to try and listen to that recording, but it had already been checked out. Not wanting to leave empty handed, I decided to give "JuJu" a listen.

This was the first album I heard with Wayne Shorter as the bandleader, and it was also the first time I heard McToy Tyner play. Now that I think of it, it was also the first jazz album I bought (I bought it the next day) that did NOT include a trumpet player.

My favorite tracks are "JuJu", "Mahjong", and "Yes Or No"… but, of course, this album shines from start to finish.

Dexter Gordon - Doin' Allright (1961)

Dexter Gordon, Doin AllrightThis is my favorite Dexter Gordon album. Both Gordon and Freddie Hubbard (Freddie was only 22 at the time!) play extremely well-crafted melodic solos. Every note sounds perfect. Gordon even manages to make ghosted/empty notes sound cool, as he charges into his solo on "It's You Or No One."

This album also happens to have my all-time favorite Gordon recording, "I Was Doing All Right." I've heard a few versions of this Gershwin tune by different artists, but none match the cool, confident, and laid-back sound on this recording. I could try to describe the sound in more detail, but I think the album photo pretty much sums it up.

When it came time to name this Web site, I instantly thought of this album and the inspiration it's given me to become a better player.

Ornette Coleman - The Shape Of Jazz To Come (1959)

Ornette Coleman, The Shape Of Jazz To ComeAs mentioned in an earlier journal entry, I first listened to this album when I was 16. I found it at the local public library. It had "jazz" in the title, so I checked it out…

At the time, I didn't realize the importance of this album to the avant-garde jazz movement. Nor did I know that it lacked traditional jazz structure and harmony. All I knew was that it sounded unlike anything I had ever heard.

I still get chills every time I hear the intro to "Lonely Woman." It begins with a droning bass line, accompanied by a driving ride cymbal. As the dark mood sets in, the horns enter with a beautiful yet haunting melody. The tune continues with incredibly creative and communicative improvisation by Coleman and Don Cherry.

Tracks like "Eventually" and "Focus On Sanity" may challenge some listeners with the frenzied melodies and sometimes dissonant harmonies, but I think this album is played with such a strong sense of control and style, that the "out" parts are always brought back "in" at just the right moments.

January 12, 2004 About Me 7 Comments

My playing history - the comeback

MY PLAYING HISTORY - ARTICLE LINKS

As mentioned in "the blowout", my chop problems and the obstacles I'd face trying to play the trumpet professionally eventually led me to quit playing altogether in 1995. During the next seven years I only played the trumpet a handful of times. I'd pick it up every once in awhile to see if I could still play, but since my chops weren't conditioned anymore, I'd sound terrible and just put the horn down.

During these years away from the trumpet, I also stopped listening to jazz. I still loved the music, but I couldn't listen without feeling the urge to play again. And, since that urge was unfulfilled, listening to jazz left me feeling depressed; like I had lost something.

After seven years away from the trumpet, I finally started playing again during the summer of 2002. The return was largely due to two new factors in my life: (1) I had just bought a house (I moved to Atlanta), and (2) I started working from home. Since I now lived in a house, I was free to make as much noise as I wanted. And since I worked from home, my schedule would be free enough to practice in short sessions throughout the day.

Unfortunately, just six months into my comeback, my playing hit a wall. After 15-20 minutes of playing, my chops would be totally shot and the old pain from my blowout years resurfaced. Things were so bad that I could barely play an E at the top of the staff, and that's when my chops were still fresh! I continued playing for a few more months, but I wasn't improving much at all.

Not willing to give up (again), I turned to the Internet for possible suggestions. My search led me to two books that have helped pave the way to recovery: "A New Approach to Altissimo Trumpet Playing" by John H. Lynch, and "The Balanced Embouchure" by Jeff Smiley.

I purchased the "Altissimo" book first. I don't actually follow the exercises in that book anymore, but I mention it because it was the first time I had heard anyone suggest an embouchure that uses very little of the fleshy/red part of the lip. The first time I tried the suggested embouchure, I played a C above the staff with little pressure. Before long, I was able to hit a G above that (the highest note I had EVER played). It was amazing. Truthfully, the notes didn't sound that great, but the experience showed me that I could in fact play high notes! Unfortunately, I was unable to use that embouchure for anything other than high notes.

A few months later, I bought "The Balanced Embouchure," which also suggests an embouchure that uses less of the red part of the lip. The key part of the Balanced Embouchure, though, is that the lips roll in or out to adjust for playing throughout the horn's entire range.

When I first read "The Balanced Embouchure," I instantly saw parallels to my own trumpet playing history. Like me, the author had found himself with a limited range and no working solutions (I loved reading the trumpet myth section!). What really stuck with me, though, was the author's suggestion that traditional trumpet teaching is a "numbers game": the standard flat-chinned embouchure works for a small percentage of players. The rest of us will either quit playing, or continually struggle to make it work. Clearly I was in the "struggle to make it work" category.

My comeback story is a work in progress. I started working with the Balanced Embouchure method in July of 2003. So far I've seen definite progress, although I know I've still got a long way to go before my embouchure is solid.

UPDATE 12/3/2006

It's been over three years now since I started the Balanced Embouchure. To this day I still do some of the roll-in/roll-out slurs in my daily routine. I can't say for certain whether I'm doing them correctly, but I can say that my current embouchure is more rolled-in than my old one and my range has gradually improved to a Bb above the staff, which is now about as high as I go when improvising. In addition to the Balanced Embouchure exercises, I have been doing some of the Caruso stuff and some exercises from the Caruso-inspired Flexus book. It's likely that a combination of all of these things have helped me get to the point I'm at today.

ADDITIONAL READING

To see how I've been doing since my comeback, you can read my various "anniversary" entries:

And here's another article I wrote which focuses on the comeback journey.

January 11, 2004 About Me 0 Comments

My introduction to jazz

As mentioned in the "My playing history - the beginning" article, I began taking trumpet lessons in the 7th grade.

At the time, I was really shy and felt intimidated by our middle school band director. In fact, I didn't think he liked me at all since I had switched from the French horn to the trumpet without asking him for permission. In actuality, he wasn't mad at me at all, but nevertheless it kept me from asking him to recommend a private lessons teacher. Instead, I turned to the phone book for guidance and basically picked the first place that mentioned trumpet lessons in their ad.

I'd later learn that all of the best trumpet players in the area took lessons from a well-known teacher who consistently turned out the best trumpet players in the state. No doubt, had I asked our band director for a recommendation, I too would have studied with that well-known teacher. But, as luck would have it, I ended up with a private lessons teacher that nobody at my school had ever heard of.

I'll never forget the first time I met my trumpet teacher. I was sitting with my mother, in the waiting area of a small music store. The store had a merchandise area with several electric guitars on the wall, and a hallway with 4 or 5 lesson rooms. While we waited for my teacher to appear, we were treated to a muffled concert of rock drumming, the sound of an electric guitar being tuned, and a beginning trumpeter slowly playing scales. Before long, one of the practice room doors opened and out came a trumpet student, about my age at the time, followed by my new teacher: Bruce Staelens.

The first thing I noticed about Bruce was the square patch of facial hair located below his bottom lip. It was the first time I had ever seen a real live soul patch! Next, I saw that he was wearing octagon-rimmed eyeglasses (another first!), which rested low on his nose. You can probably see where this is going, so I'll cut to the chase. Bruce was a jazz musician.

Since I hadn't been playing the trumpet for very long at the time, my first lessons were spent entirely on fundamentals and whatever music I was playing in band class. Jazz didn't come up until I joined the middle school jazz band. At that point, I'd bring in my sheet music and Bruce would help me with the rhythms, phrasing, etc. Once I learned how to play the tunes, the focus shifted to jazz improvisation. Bruce would put on a Jamey Aebersold record (yes, it was a record back then) and we'd take turns improvising.

Jazz improvisation definitely didn't come easily to me. I couldn't play anything by ear back then and I had very little experience listening to jazz. I kept with it, however, because of how good Bruce's trumpet solos sounded. With each of his solos, my appreciation for jazz grew and so did my determination to improve.

In total, I took lessons from Bruce Staelens for four or five years. The lessons were pretty short and we usually didn't spend more than ten minutes or so practicing jazz improvisation. While the bulk of my jazz education would come from other sources, Bruce's early role in my jazz education was perhaps the most important. It was Bruce who sparked my interest in jazz and it's that love of jazz which keeps me playing to this day.

The next phase of my jazz education began when I turned 16. With my drivers license in hand, I now had the freedom to drive myself to the public library. It was there that I'd discover recordings by Miles Davis, Clifford Brown & Max Roach, Ornette Coleman & Don Cherry, Freddie Hubbard, and John Coltrane. They even had that awesome video of Coltrane and Eric Dolphy playing "Impressions" with that erector-set/scaffolding backdrop. I'd say the pivotal moment of my "library years" came when I first listened to "Lonely Woman" on Ornette Coleman's "The Shape of Jazz to Come." That was (and still is) the coolest thing I've ever heard. After that, all I wanted was to be was a great jazz musician.

ADDITIONAL READING

January 11, 2004 About Me 11 Comments

My playing history - the blowout

MY PLAYING HISTORY - ARTICLE LINKS

Since I was one of the top high school trumpeters in the state, it seemed only natural for me to continue with music when I went to college. So, I enrolled at the music school at the University of Michigan.

As I mentioned in "the beginning", I averaged about 3 hours of practice a day during my senior year of high school. Once college began, I figured I should continue to increase my daily practice time and within a few months I had reached 5-7 hours a day. There were plenty of days where I'd even practice as many as 8 hours. The logic behind these marathon sessions stemmed from my high school experiences. The more I practiced in high school, the better I got. So, it only made sense that the same logic would apply to me at college. Also, I quickly learned that it's extremely cold in Michigan, especially for a kid grew up in Florida. It's so cold, in fact, that once you brave the icy walk to the practice rooms, you tend to want to stay there until you can feel your toes again.

Unfortunately, my lengthy practice sessions didn't produce the results I was looking for. After a few months, my upper lip developed a bb-sized blister on the exterior and the inside of my lip became bloody where I had already formed creases due to excessive mouthpiece pressure. My lip eventually healed, but my playing ability would never be the same. From that point on, I'd always experience some degree of lip pain while playing. Also, while I used to practice for hours on end, I could no longer play for more than 30 minutes before my lip became too fatigued to play. Making matters worse, I often forced my lip to play by using more and more mouthpiece pressure.

Despite the problems with my lip, I was still committed to becoming a professional jazz trumpet player. I was so committed, that after one year at Michigan, I transferred to DePaul University in Chicago so I could live in a big city with more playing opportunities. Before long, I met some other music school students and became a member of a funk band and a jazz combo. For several months, both of these bands had steady gigs once or twice a week. Even though these weren't fancy high-paying gigs, it really felt nice to perform around town in front of other people (even if they were waiting in line for coffee!). Unfortunately, I enjoyed playing live so much that I continually pushed my lip beyond its limits.

At the end of my first year at DePaul, it was clear to me that I wasn't going to be a professional musician. I simply didn't have the chops for it. Also, I was also keenly aware of how difficult it would be to try and make a living as a musician. It would have been extremely difficult even at my peak (my peak didn't even come close to the level that most pro's play at)... but with a weak lip, there'd be no way. So, at the end of my sophomore year at college I dropped out of music school and entered DePaul's business school.

With a more strenuous business school schedule (there isn't much homework in music school!), and since I had to work full-time to make ends meet, I gradually stopped playing the trumpet altogether. During the next seven years, I picked up the trumpet only a handful of times.

On to chapter 3... the comeback

January 11, 2004 About Me 0 Comments

My playing history - the beginning

MY PLAYING HISTORY - ARTICLE LINKS

My trumpet-playing journey began when I was in the 6th grade (1984), where after a brief introduction to the various band instruments I chose to play the French horn. Yes, the French horn. By the end of that first school year, I had learned everything I needed to know about the French horn: it's boring.

Not willing to be a background player for the rest of my band-life, I decided to switch to trumpet. Using a Rubank trumpet book, I taught myself the fingerings and practiced the same exercises I had played the preceding school year on the French horn. By the end of the summer I was as good on the trumpet as I had been on the French horn, so I started 7th grade in the next level band class. I soon began moving up in chairs and started to take private lessons that same year.

While in 8th grade, I auditioned for Florida's all-state band and was accepted. I'd continue to make all-state throughout high school, but that first year probably had the greatest impact on my playing. The pivotal moment occurred while watching the top high school band perform. They sounded incredible to me at the time, especially the trumpet section and trumpet soloists. I honestly had no idea high school kids could play so well and I certainly didn't think I could ever be that good. Inspired by the high school players, I endeavored to see just how good I could become. And with that, I increased my daily practice time to one hour.

I kept up my 1-hour practice routine during my first year of high school, but by my sophomore year I was beginning to get frustrated. Sure, I had continued to make all-state band, but at all-state and at my own school, I was always behind the same handful of players. No matter how much my playing improved, theirs improved at the same rate or better. While I enjoyed playing the trumpet and to some extent would have enjoyed playing any part, I was dying to play first trumpet. I should explain to my non-trumpet playing readers that first trumpet is the heart of the action in high school band. It's a magical wonderland filled with triumphant high notes, dazzling solos, and instant popularity. In fact, it's just like being the star quarterback on the varsity football team. Sadly, high school cheerleaders are oblivious to this truth... Anyway, the point is that I really wanted to play the first trumpet part but there were always better players at my school.

Things started to turn around for me toward the end of my sophomore year, however, when my parents and I went to visit some old friends of theirs. At their house, I met their son who was then in his late twenties. He had also played the trumpet when he was in high school, but he wasn't stuck in the middle of the section like I was. He was first chair. Before long, we were talking about my situation in band. After telling him that I'd never be first chair because of the better players at my school, he looked at me and said, "why not?" And that was all he needed to say. The only thing holding me back was my lack of determination.

By the end of my sophomore year I had increased my daily practice routine to two hours, and managed to rise above one of the players in the "unbeatable" group. Now confident that I could actually make it to first chair, I spent the summer practicing nearly 3 hours every day. And guess what? During the first playing test of my junior year of high school I made first chair. Not only had I become better than all of the trumpet players at or below my age level, but I had also become better than all of the seniors!

I stopped taking lessons during my senior year of high school because my private lessons teacher moved out of state. But by that time I was practicing at least 3 hours a day, so I was steadily improving on my own. I was improving so much that when all-state auditions came around, I tried out for all-state jazz band and was accepted -- and we didn't even have a jazz band at my high school. Needless to say, I was feeling pretty good about my potential as a professional trumpet player at the time. Unfortunately, those good times would soon come to an end...

On to chapter 2... the big blowout

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