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

December 5, 2005 Jazz Blog 0 Comments

Jazz at Rhapsody

As mentioned in my LEARNING TO IMPROVISE - LISTENING article, I've used all of the major online music services (eMusic, Napster, Rhapsody, Yahoo, and iTunes). Like Rhapsody, Napster and Yahoo let you listen to an unlimited number of full tracks as part of your subscription. Rhapsody has been my favorite, though, due to its great jazz selection and streaming audio quality.

Rhapsody recently released a new version of their software that improves their user-interface in both features and functionality (although there are still some glitches). They also just released a Web-based version that can be used on just about any operating system. It isn't as nice as the software version, but it's obviously more accessible and it doesn't require an install.

My favorite thing about the Web-based version is the fact that anyone (even non-members) can go there and see exactly what they have to offer. Just enter your search terms in the box at the top, and click on a matching artist name. As a member, you can listen to all of those albums for just $10 a month!

Try a search for yourself at http://www.rhapsody.com/

Why am I promoting this service? Aspiring jazz musicians need to listen to a lot of jazz. With Rhapsody, you'll have thousands of great jazz recordings to learn from and you won't go broke in the process. In fact, a service like Rhapsody frees up more money for you to see more live jazz!

October 16, 2005 Jazz Blog 2 Comments

Flugelhorn conclusion

jupiter flugelhornIf you've been following my site for a while, you know I've written several blog entries about the Jupiter flugelhorn that I purchased in August of 2004. Most of the entries focused on the valve problems that I had and the subsequent repairs.

Well, after several months of deliberation, I've come to a conclusion: I'm selling my flugelhorn.

My reason for selling has nothing to do with the horn itself. Now that the valves have been repaired, they're awesome, even better than my Bach. Everything else works well too. The slides slide, the spit valves spit, etc. No, the problem isn't the horn, the problem is me. I've discovered that I just don't like my sound after it's been flugel-ized. I feel like the flugelhorn mellows out my sound too much, killing the intensity and masking the emotion. It kind of reminds me of playing the French Horn. Yuck!

While I'd be content to never play a flugelhorn again, I'm still glad to have gone through this experience. Thanks to the flugelhorn and to the trumpet trial, I'm confident that I'm playing the ideal horn for me right now. The range of tones I can produce, from airy and mellow, to crisp and bright, allow me to express myself precisely as I intend. My trumpet is my ideal sound, cracked notes and all.

For anyone interested, I'll probably sell my flugelhorn on eBay in the next month or two. Who knows, maybe it has your ideal sound ;-)

Updated 12/5/05: I sold the horn yesterday!

August 24, 2005 Jazz Blog 0 Comments

Jazz interviews

While searching for interviews with Jackie McLean, I came across a nice collection of interviews done for Ken Burns' Jazz series. Most of this stuff didn't make it into the series, so it's great to be able to read the interviews in their entirety.


May 2, 2005 Jazz Blog 0 Comments

Heath brothers master class

Heath BrothersPercy Heath passed away on April 28, 2005, at the age of 81. Nearly one year before his passing, I was fortunate enough to attend a master class with all three of the Heath Brothers. My original journal entry from that class is shown below.

Originally written on May 30th, 2004

The 2005 Atlanta Jazz Festival is this weekend. There are quite a few great artists in town, including the Heath brothers, who gave a masterclass on Sunday afternoon. The class lasted about 2 and a half hours and it was truly one of the greatest experiences of my life.

To start, the Heath brothers are living legends. Check out the links below to get bios and discographies for each of them. As you can see, they've played with virtually EVERY jazz legend. During the class they played about 7 tunes and told at least twice as many stories about their experiences as jazz musicians. There's so much to tell, so I guess I'll just jump right in with descriptions of the brothers.


The most famous of the brothers, Jimmy is still an incredible tenor sax player. He's now 77, and rather small in stature, but when he plays… look out! I don't think I've ever witnessed anyone play so well and so effortlessly. He is a true master of jazz. Many years ago, Albert (Tootie) gave him the nickname "The Professor," which suited him well. Later in life, Jimmy became a professor at Queens College in New York. The scholarly run continued, as he would go on to receive three honorary doctorates (the 3rd is to be granted in a few months), including the first honorary doctorate granted to a jazz musician from Julliard.


The oldest of the brothers, Percy, is 81! Percy rotated between playing a full upright bass, to playing his "baby bass," which looks like a cello. He's a very jovial man. After talking about Elvin Jones' recent passing (Jimmy spoke at the wake), Percy jokingly commented that when he finally passes, we could cry if we want to, but there's no need… since he lived such a great and happy life. Even if you haven't actually heard of Percy, you've most likely heard him play. He's on a couple hundred recordings, with artists like: Clifford Brown, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Cannonball Adderly, Art Blakey, Thelonious Monk, Don Cherry, Bill Evans, Stan Getz, Art Farmer, Milt Jackson, and Horace Silver… to name a few.


Albert is the youngest brother, at 69. Often overshadowed by the likes of Art Blakey and Elvin Jones, Tootie's list of recordings clearly shows his role as a top drummer in the hard bop era. Like his brother Percy, Albert has recorded with an amazing number of jazz legends.

Now that you know a little about the brothers, I'll try to retell some the great stories they told…


Dizzy Gillespie happened to be at Jimmy's house one night, during the period where Jimmy was making the transition from swing to bebop playing. The brothers had an old upright piano in their house, but they didn't really know how to play anything. Dizzy went over to the piano and showed Jimmy some bebop voicings and progressions. The message was: if you want to learn jazz, you need to learn the piano. Jimmy clarified this a bit, saying it isn't necessary to be a great piano player; you don't need to be able to improvise on the piano or anything like that. But, you'll benefit greatly if you can play the chords for each tune you want to learn. Jimmy credits this early lesson from Dizzy as integral to his growth as a composer (since the piano allows him to play all voicings simultaneously).


While Jimmy Heath has a strong knowledge of jazz theory, his brother Percy admits to knowing "none of that." I was really surprised to hear this, as I typically think of bass players as masters of all the complex jazz rules. Percy told us an anecdote that pokes fun at the unnecessary complexity that critics and academics impose (sometimes) upon the jazz artform:

Percy was recording "Blue Haze" with Miles Davis. Miles told him to walk on the intro. The resulting bass line was later transcribed and analyzed in a DownBeat article. Percy laughed about the article, mentioning a part where the author said that Percy used a tritone substitution over a II-V-I, to which Percy burst into laughter as he said "I did?!?" The point was that Percy and many early jazz pioneers had little technical understanding of what it was that they were doing, which makes sense when you think about it. After all, the technical analysis of jazz exists simply to explain things that have already been played. Theory has its place, but I think people get way too caught up in it all. I've seen many posts on the TrumpetHerald's jazz forum where people ask what scales/notes they should play over a particular diminished or altered change. Those posts are typically followed by lots of complicated scale theory. But really, it can get kind of silly. Just play whatever sounds good to you… It worked for guys like Percy!


When asked by an audience member about the future of jazz, Jimmy quickly brought up Wynton Marsalis' name. Jimmy applauded Wynton's efforts with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, which tours all over the world to expose people to jazz music. Jimmy also mentioned the Duke Ellington competition that Wynton started to get high school bands playing Ellington's music. Lastly, he mentioned the upcoming opening of the Columbus Circle jazz facility, the first structure of its kind. It was clear that all of the Heath Brothers support what Wynton is doing. Whether you like Wynton's style or not; whether you agree with his views or not; one thing is clear: he is the most public figure in jazz and he has the greatest ability to ensure its longevity. He needs all of our support.


I don't listen to a lot of vocal jazz. I've got a modest collection of Ella, Billie, Nina, and Sarah recordings, but that's about it. So, when Deborah Brown got up to sing with the Heath Brothers after a brief jam session (no, I didn't bring my horn this time), I had no idea what to expect. It was an impromptu performance and it was absolutely amazing. She did a rendition of "The Nearness Of You" that was exquisite. That's the only way I can describe it. I was in tears by the end…


After several tunes and after many wonderful stories, the Heath Brothers said their goodbyes to the crowd. Percy summed it all up when he said it's the love of playing music with his brothers that keeps him on the road at 81 years of age. In a final statement he said, "if it wasn't for them, I'd be fishing right now." A huge smile came over Jimmy's face as the crowd stood up in applause. You could faintly hear him say, "it's true, it's true…"


I'm still overwhelmed by the reality of what happened today. I can't believe I was fortunate enough to spend the afternoon with such legendary jazz artists. They are connected to a past that I feel incredibly passionate about, yet a past which I'll never really know. As great as today was, it saddens me to think that I may never have an experience like this again...

April 21, 2005 Jazz Blog 3 Comments

Morehouse jazz w/ Sean Jones

Sean JonesLast night I attended a concert by the Morehouse College Jazz Band, featuring trumpeter Sean Jones! The concert was the final event of the Morehouse College Jazz Festival. This was my first time hearing the Morehouse jazz band, and it DEFINITELY won't be my last.

Like the Nicholas Payton concert (w/ GSU) a few days ago, Sean Jones joined the band during the latter half of the evening's concert. The opening numbers included several popular tunes such as "Green Dolphin Street", "I've Got You Under My Skin", and "April In Paris".

For me, the standout from the first half was "Watermelon Man", by Herbie Hancock. The director, Melvin Jones, mentioned that they were going to be doing a special funky rendition of the tune. As soon as I saw the band put their horns down and lean into their microphones I knew what was coming; they performed the Head Hunters version, including an a-cappella version of the intro! It was a great performance and the audience really got into it. The entire tune was played with just four saxophones (or maybe it was five) a trumpet and the rhythm section.

During the "Watermelon Man" performance, the trombone players (who weren't playing) took off their jackets and started passing them back and forth to each other. The saxophone players did the same thing in a later tune. I'm guessing there is some history to this. Perhaps a famous big band used to do this? Or maybe it's a Morehouse tradition? If anyone knows, please fill me in.

Sean Jones joined the band for "Stolen Moments." Before the performance, the band director mentioned how he and Sean attended Rutgers together. He also announced that Sean had recently accepted the lead trumpet position with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra (apparently Sean turned them down twice before). I had known about Sean joining that band, but I didn't realize he was going to be playing lead. I didn't even know he could play lead. That gap in my knowledge has now been filled. He most definitely CAN play lead!

Sean is a wonderful player and he really knows how to work a crowd. His "Stolen Moments" solo began with a few choruses of laid-back low notes. His tone was very airy, and he lazily played short simple phrases. It went on for so long that I'm sure the audience started to wonder what he was all about. Even I started thinking, "this guy is the new lead player for the LCJO? Did Wynton make a mistake?" But, this was all part of the show. When Sean finally did turn it on, when he showed us what he could do... damn. It was like Godzilla tearing through Tokyo -- unstoppable. Just when I thought he had reached his limits, when I thought he had given it all he had, he kept on going. When he finally did reach his peak, he belted out the most incredible Freddie Hubbard slur/shake lick (the lick Freddie plays in several solos, particularly "Red Clay". Freddie, of course, plays on the original recording of "Stolen Moments" so this was a nice nod). It was so good, you would have thought Freddie himself had just walked on the stage. The crowd loved it, cheering Jones along. Even the trumpet players were jumping up and down, pumping their fists in the air. It was the most fun I've ever had listening to jazz. My eyes even began to tear up a little from the pure exuberance.

On subsequent tunes, Jones proved that he can not only play high and fast, but that he also knows how to put together a musical solo. He also further demonstrated his ability to entertain a crowd (although this was thoroughly proved during "Stolen Moments"!). There were a few times where he'd attempt a seemingly impossible note. He'd miss it a couple times then take a quick break and nail it with ferocity. I'm sure this was intentional, but the audience ate it up. Great showmanship. Sean will be a fantastic addition to the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.

The last tune of the evening, "Flying Home" was another highlight for the Morehouse jazz band. The band really got into it, waving their horns and moving up and down in sections. The energy carried over to the crowd, which visibly moved to the beat. It was so enjoyable, I didn't want it to end.


Since I just heard the Georgia State University jazz band a few nights earlier, I naturally found myself making comparisons. For the most part, it would appear that the individual players in the GSU band are more proficient on their instruments. As a group, they are more precise, nailing each entrance and passage. They manage to keep up this high level of playing while performing noticeably more challenging tunes/arrangements.

I still think GSU is a great band, but compared to Morehouse, they sound a bit robotic, as if GSU's main objective is simply to play each tune as precisely as possible. Morehouse, on the other hand, performs as though their main objective is to entertain the crowd and to have fun while doing it. And it works. By the end of the evening, I felt like I had just been to a party. I wish I felt that way after every college big band concert…

April 17, 2005 Jazz Blog 0 Comments

Nicholas Payton master class

Nicholas PaytonNicholas Payton recently came to Atlanta for a performance with the Georgia State University jazz band. He was also kind enough to give a master class, which I attended. Following are my notes from the class and the concert.


Born into a musical family in New Orleans, Nicholas Payton started playing the trumpet at the age of four. Everything he played, he played by ear. He'd listen to local bands and recordings and try to mimic what he heard. In time, he'd learn entire solos by ear.

Nicholas didn't take trumpet lessons until the age of eight. He mentioned that the lessons were tedious and basically drove him away from the horn for a year or two. His interest in playing wouldn't return until the age of ten or eleven, when he started playing in local bands. From that point on, he played everywhere he could, from street corners to cruise ships. BTW: According to the bio on Payton's website, he started gigging at the age of eight. Regardless of the exact dates, it's clear that he was a great player at a very early age.

At some point early on, Wynton Marsalis called Nicholas' house to speak with Payton's father; Nicholas' father was an educator in New Orleans. Nicholas knew Wynton was on the phone, so he picked up his horn and started playing near where his father was talking. Wynton overhead the playing and the rest is history. Wynton would soon introduce Nicholas to other musicians, effectively jumpstarting Nicholas' career (I believe Wynton was responsible for the Elvin Jones introduction, but I might be mistaken).


When learning tunes, Nicholas doesn't use fake books. Instead, he learns tunes by ear, directly from the original recordings. The same goes for patterns and licks. He never used any of the pattern books that so many young players rely upon. If he did learn licks, they all came from listening to recordings.

Also worth mentioning is the fact that he never got into all of the advanced theory taught in most jazz books. He made this point by saying (and I'm paraphrasing) that he couldn't get into Lydian dominant and stuff like that. He did, however, stress the need for players to know their scales well enough to play well in every key.

I must say, having just written about the importance of playing by ear, it felt great to have that message validated by Payton's history and his approach to music.


Like most trumpet players, Nicholas has a standard practice routine. His routine includes breathing exercises, Cichowicz flow studies, Clarke studies 1&2, Bowman articulation exercises, Arban slurs and articulation exercises, and whisper tones. The whisper tones are basically long tones played at a very low volume.


Aside from a short demonstration of the whisper tone exercises, there wasn't any playing during this master class, either by Nicholas or students. After seeing Randy Brecker and the Heath Brothers, I had sort of expected that every master class has a jam session and/or a demonstration of specific techniques. Earlier that day, Nicholas had been rehearsing with the Georgia State University jazz band for a concert later that night, so perhaps there wasn't a jam session because he wanted to give his chops a break.


As mentioned, Nicholas performed with the Georgia State University big band that evening. At first, I was disappointed to learn that he was only joining them during the second of two sets. The disappointment wore off quickly, however, as the GSU big band was so good that I nearly forgot all about Nicholas. When he did finally join them, he sounded incredible (as expected). Every note he played sung with impeccable precision.


At one point during the master class, a GSU student asked Nicholas if he ever practices legit music. With a 'no you di-int' look on his face, Nicholas responded "so Jazz isn't legit?" Ouch!

February 6, 2005 Jazz Blog 0 Comments

Ear trainter - simple song update

Ear trainer - click to try!You may have noticed that there weren't a lot of jazz tunes in the list of tunes for my simple song ear trainer. This was because I wanted everything to be fairly easy and recognizable by anyone coming to the site. That explains the large number of x-mas carols, nursery rhymes, and traditional songs.

Well, guess what? I've gotten tired of playing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and "Rudolph". To make things more interesting, I just added a new feature that allows you to select tunes by genre!

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