SAXOPHONE MASTER CLASS: I still have some open spaces for interested saxophone students interested in my 23rd Saxophone Master Class held this August at East Stroudsburg University, PA. Go to my site under education and then to “master classes.”
FEATURE ARTICLE: IT’S THE MELODY STUPID!!
Thank God that you are never too old to learn something new-well maybe not new but at least in a fresh light. In the beginning of May I am recording with my long time associate and present Quest partner, pianist Richie Beirach and Lee Konitz. First of all, this is a dream come true since Lee is one of my all time heroes. His long interview/book with Andy Hamilton is fantastic and lead me to propose a recording. He is an artist beyond reproach, absolutely concentrated on what he believes in without compromise. If the record “Motion” with Elvin Jones weas his only contribution (recorded in the early ‘60s-decades ago) he would be a giant, let alone his work with Tristano and Warne Marsh earlier. In my opinion, Lee has existed below the radar as compared to others of his generation.
In his book and teaching, it is melody which gets the main attention. Through lessons with Tristano and his own personal aesthetic, Lee is adamant about placing melody at the top of the pyramid for jazz improvisation. With that in mind Richie and I decided to co-write a tune together in dedication to Lee for the recording. (Incredibly though we have been altering each other’s work for years, we never have truly collaborated from the start on a tune.) Trying to be faithful to Lee’s aesthetic I wrote completely from the soprano saxophone, purposely focusing on a truly “melodic” statement to give Richie for his harmonization. As has been said for centuries, writing a good melody is the hardest of all compositional challenges. How to decide between one note or another, its placement and duration in the rhythmic scheme, the form of the statement, etc., are the kinds of questions which are impossible to consider while in the heat of improvisational battle, but when slowed down become quite a challenge to consider. Over the course of a few weeks I found myself constantly editing and re-writing to get it acceptable and ready to hand to Richie. What a job!! Try just writing a melody-no bass line-no harmony-just pure melody-not so easy.
THE RECORD BUSINESS: CONTINUED DISCUSSION
Just like everyone else in jazz, I have been writing and discussing the current state of affairs concerning the virtual disappearance of the record business as we knew it for decades, its effect on musicians and what will possibly rise from the ashes. Of course, the younger generation looks to the internet through Facebook, Twitter, etc., as a way of spreading the word and connecting with the audience. I have always contended that although it would appear that without the middlemen (record company, etc.) direct communication with one’s audience should be a great thing, I still feel that without the kinds of resources that record companies had available to some degree or another (obviously depending upon their financial resources and promotional will), the need to promote the music still exists and without it, not much in terms of notoriety can happen, let alone sales of a product. In the past few months, I have had two young associates that after having recorded their music (with me on several tunes for each) agreed to one deal or another in which they had to pay a considerable amount of cash to get things happening. It is apparent that the younger generation is reconciled to this state of affairs and doesn’t really have a choice because the old model is gone: sign up with possible money advance; record company pays for the recording and production; promotion and even tour support follows, etc. As much as I try not to be negative about this state of affairs, I still don’t see how a new artist ((let alone an established one) can get their music out “there.”
Saxophonist Sue Terry has a blog and a recent entry is a great summary of how we got to this and where we are. I appreciate her letting me use the text. Sue describes it perfectly.
FROM SUE TERRY: “It wasn't that long ago but it seems like a whole 'nother era: the 1990's, which saw the rise of the "indie" musician. "Indie" was a nickname for "independent" as opposed to artists who had recording contracts. Up until this era, most musicians had to make recordings through a label because of the high cost involved in making the product, vis a vis recording, manufacturing, distribution, marketing. Keep these four stages in mind--we'll come
back to them later.
Some interesting things started happening. Home recording equipment got cheaper and better. This created a need for affordable indie manufacturing, which was filled by companies such as DiscMakers and Oasis. The CDs that were manufactured needed distribution, and along came CD Baby, and middleman distributors like Artist One Stop and North Country that brought these CDs to stores like Barnes and Noble, Virgin Megastore and [the now defunct] Tower Records. The mystery of the barcode was decoded, and made available to us commoners for tracking of sales by Sound Scan. Internet connections improved, and streaming audio and digital downloads became easier. I Tunes was born in April of 2003. All the "brick and mortar" retailers jumped on the
bandwagon with their own download offerings, joining the increasingly popular (and increasingly profitable) Amazon dot com in offering mp3 versions of both major label and indie CDs. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, thought the record labels, as they proceeded to buy up space on the playing field. The average lot size on the playing field started to shrink.
When I attended an early Future of Music Conference in Washington, D.C. several years ago, the phrase 'level playing field' was served up more times than a volleyball. All the panelists seemed convinced that because the recording process was no longer locked up by the "majors" meaning the "indies" would be able to bypass them and take control of the dissemination and sales of their music, reaping the profits thereof. Their plan worked perfectly--except for the profit part. Because pressing a CD became so affordable, pretty soon anyone with a pulse, a credit card, and two notes to put together could make a CD--and they did. Hence, the recordings created by real
musicians were thrown into the same hopper as everyone else’s. There went the neighborhood! As CDs became numerous and ubiquitous, the value of your CD followed--in inverse proportion. Meanwhile, the music consumer (your potential customer) was flummoxed. So many choices, so little time. Hello, Stage 4. We mentioned the stages earlier: recording, manufacturing, distribution, and MARKETING. The marketing stage is the tipping point, at which the so-called "level playing field" starts to tilt, wildly. Because as we all know, people (even us, the enlightened ones) tend to go with what they know--or at least with what they've heard of. What sells? The stuff at
the top of the see-saw. The stuff at eye level in the store display, the newspaper, the magazines, the web. Everything else sinks to the bottom, where the collective weight of it all makes a nice anchor to buoy up the top.
But what about the Grammy Awards, you ask. Isn't that a peer review process for all the professional CDs? Don't the best CDs win awards, so music consumers will know what to purchase? As a voting member of the Recording Academy, which produces the Grammys, let me enlighten you:
There are hundreds of CDs on the Grammy ballot, in dozens of categories. You are supposed to vote only in your area of expertise, but even so, there are many, many albums, artists, compositions, solos, arrangements, and other categories in your field to vote on. The tracks on the ballot are not located on a central website where they can be heard by Recording Academy members. So you can imagine what happens--you end up voting for your friends, your personal favorite artists(regardless of whether you've listened to the track on the ballot), and the tracks you happened to hear on the radio that you liked. There are many other deserving tracks on the ballot that you will never hear. Even if there were a practical way to actually listen to each track on the ballot, you would have to devote countless unpaid hours to reviewing them all and making an honest evaluation. Probably you would still end up voting for yourself, your friends, and your personal favorite artists. Maybe a few others would earn a little checkmark on your ballot, which would then wing its way over to Deloitte & Touche to be counted. And maybe if all the voting members did this, a few great musicians nobody has heard of would get a break.
As a substitute for actual listening, in our unperfect world we rely on MARKETING. And marketing costs either money, or time, which is the same thing. Is it possible to circumvent the record companies and sell thousands of units on your own? Of course it is! The Internet abounds with such stories. So, those artists who have
sold tons of CDs and digital downloads, how did they do it? By playing lots of live shows, and MARKETING. And, oh yeah--it helps to be good.”
FROM LIEB: Here is a sample deal from an established company with Grammy credibility and a decent catalogue featuring a wide variety of music that was offered to one of my young friends. It came down to basically a bottom line minimum of $4850 plus a “voluntary” $1200 more for radio promotion. This is after the several thousand paid for musician’s fees and recording costs. The “possible” income is 71 cents per CD (minus costs so let’s say 60 cents per “sold” CD) not payable till 1500 copies are sold (a minor hit these days!!) As well, the deal is co-ownership so the artist will never get the music back. I’m not sure about the mechanical fees and all that but it was probably a split deal. So if you do it by yourself and you get it on CD Baby or similar avenues of sales and sell the music at gigs (which is happening less and less because of downloading), you will still be left with hundreds of copies cluttering your bedroom. And if you got some press through private promotion or hiring someone, for that “press” to make a difference in your career, you would need to repeat the process at least once again within a year or two and then one more time again within a short period. This is theoretically meant to sustain any “momentum” or “buzz” that might be occurring about you and your music. Not a pretty picture. Something has got to give eventually----we shall see.
QUEST ON TOUR: It is always a pleasure to be with my old friends, Richie Beirach, Ron McClure and Billy Hart for a short tour in Europe. We are like the contemporary version of the Modern Jazz Quartet, meaning only this group of musicians can play what they play. No one can be substituted for. We will have a record out soon on
a new label, recorded live at the radio station in Hamburg, Germany.
NEW RELEASE:RELEVANCE WITH EVEN PARKER AND TONY BIANCO (Red Toucan): A one time live event from London a few years ago. The liner notes will explain everything about this special occasion.
“After decades of playing with musicians from the famous to the esoteric to relatively unknown, there still exists for me a wish list of those who for one reason or another I haven’t performed or recorded with. Near the top of my list was saxophonist Evan Parker. With the help of an old friend and compatriot, Tony Bianco, we were able to arrange a gig at the Vortex in London for the BBC. Of course I have always had the utmost respect for Evan’s art, his unique technical mastery and longstanding reputation as one of the masters of the free jazz idiom. As would be expected for such an occasion we said hello, went directly to the stage and improvised two sets. I will remember this evening as one of my best experiences with a peer saxophonist. Tony as always provided the perfect flowing and consistent “carpet” for us to commune together. As Evan and I both evolved from the Coltrane aesthetic, I think that this meeting could be seen in some ways as similar to the encounter we all know of Newk and Trane on “Tenor Madness” (1957) — different approaches to a common language. (I would imagine to dedicated jazz listeners, this meeting will also be of some historical value.)”
BUT BEAUTIFUL BY GEOFF DYER: (book)Recommended to me by Lucille Humair, this is absolutely the best book I have read on jazz. It is fictional but based on real events that happened to the likes of Bud Powell, Ben Webster, Chet Baker, Mingus, Pres, Monk and others. Difficult to explain here, the book is very well written and truly captures the feeling and spirit of what jazz really is about in human terms, through Dyer’s depictions of a portion of the lives of some of the masters. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
IMPRO-VISOR: An excellent FREE program for beginning improvisers. Here is an explanation by Robert Keller who developed the program:
“Impro-Visor (“Improvisation Advisor”) is a software tool designed by musician and computer scientist Bob Keller to help jazz musicians work out, hear, and record solo ideas, including studying the work of others. It provides a notation capability for lead sheets that consist of a single melody line and chord changes. Melody content can be entered by a point-and-click interface, typed text, or a MIDI keyboard. Chord progressions are entered by typing the chord names or loading from an existing text file. Using the point-and-click interface, notes are sounded with the corresponding chord background as they are entered. Visual feedback is provided by an optional coloring scheme: chord tones show as black, color tones or tensions show as green, chromatic approach tones show as blue, and everything else shows as red.
A typical use of Impro-Visor is to ask students to compose a solo of one or more choruses over a tune being studied. By working out lines for the solo, a better understanding of both the tune and of line construction is acquired. In addition to the visual and audio feedback described above, there are various ways of getting suggestions for ideas, such as using scales, cells, licks, idioms, and quotes. These are part of Impro-Visor’s vocabulary and are automatically transposed to the chord of the moment. The user can then tweak the melodies as
desired or choose alternatives. Ideas can be saved in the vocabulary for later reference. In one use, students submit their solos to the instructor, who then collects them and projects and plays them in the classroom, for mutual critique.
Another feature of Impro-Visor is the ability to generate brand new licks over a chord progression selected by the user. Lick generation is based on a specific “grammar”, and different grammars can be used to get different styles. Grammars can also be used in conjunction with Impro-Visor’s play-along capabilities to support trading fours or eights with the user playing in real time. Looping over the entire chorus or a small segment is supported. The accompaniment is generated automatically from the chord changes, and various styles can be specified. Grammars can be learned by Impro-Visor from a set of one or more transcribed solos that have been entered as leadsheets. A large collection of chord changes for standard tunes is available in leadsheet form from the Impro-Visor user group. Users can also create new styles, enter voicings using a keyboard interface, etc. and generate a solo that deduces the characteristics of this solo over ANY set of chord changes
main page: https://www.cs.hmc.edu/~keller/jazz/improvisor/
user group: http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/impro-visor/
solo samples: http://www.cs.hmc.edu/~keller/jazz/improvisor/Solos/index.html
tutorial (translates to many languages): http://www.cs.hmc.edu/~keller/jazz/improvisor/ImproVisorTutorial4.htm
wikipedia description: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impro-Visor
NOTE FROM LIEB: Prof. Keller entered one of my solos which features a menu which includes choices of rhythmic feel, ratios of the dotted eighth to other rhythmic values, even noting a latin to swing rhythm, etc. I haven’t had time to get into it but this seems like a very good tool for beginners and elementary players on any instrument. So a student can write a solo on a simple harmonic progression-analyze the color codes for info on what they did and then generate a similar solo on another set of changes.
Important “code” for the transcriptions as mentioned above:
red=passing or foreign notes to the chords
green=color of complimentary "harmonious" notes of chord
black=notes in the chord
TRANSCRIPTION TOOL FOR I PHONE: I HEARIT
iHearit is an iPhone/iPod Touch app which lets you slow down music without changing the pitch, set loops, and intuitively navigate songs by touching the waveform image. Musicians can use iHearit to listen and practice along with music in slow-motion, loop difficult passages, then slowly increase the speed (even to faster than original).
Transcribe licks, patterns, jazz solos, lyrics, etc. and learn the phrasing, time feel, and articulation of the masters much more easily. Visit http://ihearit.net for info.
KILLING GOSPEL: Twinkie Clarke-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZXDlAZJm19Y&feature=related
LIEB SOLO FROM ”LIVE AT THE LIGHTHOUSE”: Saxophonist Steve Wirt plays my solo from this Elvin Jones live recording, ”Taurus People” at a live gig. Some real work here!! (The complete Lighthouse transcription of everything what Steve (Grossman) and I played is available through Caris Music.)
GENE LEES: One of the most astute writers about jazz, politics and humanity in general was this man, whose Jazz Letter was a main source of vital information for the serious jazz community. Gene didn’t pull any punches and always backed his views up with real facts. In a world where good writing has is becoming more and more rare, Lees was a beacon of truth and intellect at the highest level.
ANOTHER WUNDERKIND: From Ireland (12 years old guitarist this time!!): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ou1vS_Kn7W0
INCREDIBLE ROYALTY: got a check for 18$ coming form the AF of M (musician’s union) “Intellectual Property Rights Distribution Fund” for my “services” recording with Miles “On The Corner” and “Get Up With It.” Imagine-thirty seven years later and I’m still getting benefits from the Prince of Darkness!!
MAY: Dave Liebman Group at the Deer Head Inn, Delaware Water Gap, PA USA; Heidelberg, Germany; tour with Michael Arbenz Trio; “Quest” concert in Santiago De Compostela, Spain; concert and clinics with “We Three” ( Adam Nussbaum-drums/ Steve Swallow-bass) in Essen, Germany and Sevilla, Spain; recording with Richie Beirach and Lee Konitz; Miles Davis tribute at Iridium with Tom Harrell and Jeremy Pelt, New York; clinics and concert at University of Cincinnati, OH.
JUNE: The Falcon, Marlboro, NY and the Lafayette Bar and Grill, Easton, PA with Evan Gregor (bass), Bobby Avey (piano), Mike Stephans (drums); 20th Anniversary Jazz Meeting of the International Association of Schools of Jazz (IASJ), Den Haag, Netherlands