This is the second of a two-part series on linear improvisation using guide tones in jazz. (I recommend viewing the first of the series ‘Creating Linear Connections Using Guide Tones in Jazz Improvisation‘ to maintain continuity). Although geared towards pianists, these principles can be adapted to other instruments as well. Here I’m demonstrating how to create a ‘double counterpoint’ or two melodies that complement and play off each other solely using the right hand. The technique used is similar to when playing polyphonic keyboard works by Bach and Handel.
This is the first of a two-part series on linear improvisation using guide tones in jazz. The ear naturally gravitates towards strong chord tones, and building around them will give your lines a stronger structure and shape. I’m using a common progression (Autumn Leaves, Theme from M*A*S*H) to demonstrate how guide tones (derived from harmony) can help you create beautiful, flowing lines. At 8:14 I demo and improvise over the four formulas that are discussed in this video.
I began using Skype around 2005, the start of the video-chat revolution, mainly to keep in touch with family overseas. A couple of years later, I gave my first online lesson to a student in Israel who was interested in jazz improvisation. We used Skype and barring some poor connectivity issues at that time, the lessons went off extremely well. Teaching remote students is an important part of what I do at the studio and over the past decade I’ve got to know some wonderful, talented people across several continents. These days I use a variety of video conferencing apps, depending on preferences – Skype, Google Hangouts, Zoom and FaceTime.
So when the COVID-19 restrictions were announced, my in-studio students from the Boston area transitioned to online lessons, a process that happened with ease overnight. For fun, I took screenshots of some lessons during the first week of the ‘quarantine’. The bonus for me is that I get to meet not just the students, but often their families, and almost always a fur baby that likes to hang around at our lessons (including a bunny rabbit and Chilean degu!).
This must only be 16-year old Dakota Lichauco’s second or third jazz transcription, and she proved she had BIG ears! Here’s her playing Kenny Barron’s piano solo on ‘Have You Met Miss Jones” (by Richard Rodgers), along with a recording of Mr. Barron himself (live In Japan, 1995).
When a student successfully turns in an assignment of this nature, it’s a reason to share it in the hope that it inspires other students to transcribe tunes and solos they are attracted to. In the course of working on ‘Turn Out The Stars”, I requested Matar Maoz (online piano student residing in Tel Aviv) transcribe Bill Evan’s solo from the album “Since We Met”. (Bill Evans Trio – Live: Since We Met, ℗ 1991 Fantasy, Inc.). He did an impeccable job – here he plays it along with the Bill Evans recording.
When my 10-year old student Ethan disclosed that he was a huge fan of Camila Cabello’s ‘Havana’ and would like to play it, I decided to introduce him to the process of ‘music transcription’. Together we worked out a solo piano version after analyzing the form and harmonies, the LH groove and diff melodic sections. Then showed him how to notate it in his manuscript book. After a few weeks, we recorded it at his lesson. This is an adaptation for a young pianist – the groove (bass and broken chords) is played by the LH while the melody is played by the right.
Excerpts from the closing performance from a summer jazz workshop held for my teen piano students, many who play a second instrument. Featuring 14 yr old Zachary Gillette (piano/tenor sax) and Graham Backman (piano/oboe), 16 yr old Matar Maoz and Julian Carpenter (drums/piano), Eric Illich (piano/alto sax) and Sarah Montoya (bass). Thanks to Noel Borthwick (guitar) for co-leading this workshop.
A few months ago, Rubi Lichauco, my student, obtained the score of Cristal by Cesar Camargo Mariano, a tune she was attracted to when she heard it played by Cesar himself. Here, the original composition for solo piano was adapted for piano and jazz guitar (Noel Borthwick). Despite Rubi’s busy schedule, she has pursued music in more ways than one and it is wonderful to see her commitment and perseverance pay off!
Here’s a reharmonization of the popular Irish ballad ‘O Danny Boy’ (a.k.a. ‘Londonderry Air’) that I did using techniques such as modifying chord color as well as time/meter changes, inserting chromatic passing chords among others, to enrich a standard tune. (Song starts at 1:05).
(Recorded on an Estonia L-190 using the wonderful EarthworksPM-40 PianoMic system, straight into Cakewalk SONAR X2 Producer. Some very basic mastering was done to add a touch of eq, dynamics and reverb).
So I’ve just unboxed and finished road testing my new Earthworks PM40 mic system. I’ve longed for the ability to record the grand piano in our home studio. Mic’ing a grand piano well can be a challenge for even experienced audio engineers. Not only do you need to have great mics, their placement greatly contributes to the quality of the sound. In a home studio environment this can be a daunting or near impossible task.
Earlier this year I happened to hear a demo of the PM40 system at NAMM 2012 and was floored by how good it sounded. After researching these mics and communicating with the company, we finally ended up buying one for our studio. Not only does it sound incredible, but you don’t need to be an audio engineer to install and use one! There is virtually no bleed from peripheral sounds outside of the piano and recordings can be done with the piano lid open or completely closed. I like that it is made in the USA (Earthworks is located in Milford, NH) and for a neat freak like me, the minimalist set up allows for boom and cable-free clutter with the visual focus remaining on my grand. In this video I show what I did to install this in my Estonia L190 grand piano.
Here, I road test the mics by playing my composition “One Of Us”. I recorded the Estonia at full stick, completely dry. The recording was done with Cakewalk SONAR X1with no EQ or effects applied.
A question I often get asked by my students is how to reharmonize a tune. This is a brief video outlining some methods I use. It is assumed that you are already familiar with jazz chord voicings, extensions/alterations & substitutions. Here is the leadsheet containing the reharmonization to Ode To Joy.
Reharmonization is a vast and beautiful area in which I continually encounter new insights and surprises. There are many books available on this subject, and transcribing reharmonized tunes by jazz greats will not only improve your ear, but give you a first hand look at how they approach improvisation on the new chord changes as well. P.S. A minor slip of the tongue at 3:42 – the chord is a Gm9sus (not G9sus) and at 4:55 C#dim (not Cdim).
Visited a cool, damp Anaheim in mid-Jan to attend the NAMM show. With over a 1,00,000 folk passing through the convention doors over four days, the buzz at this music industry convention is powerful and contagious, this year being no less.
Strategically situated by one of the main entrances was the Cakewalk booth in the Roland arena where music production demos of the SONAR X1 were being held.
What I really want for Christmas: The PianoMic System by Earthworks. The adjustable bar lies across the soundboard, and there are no awkward booms or messy cables. I think something this inconspicuous and easy to use will definitely be an incentive to record solo piano more often. [Update: Father Christmas did grant my wish!]
Visited the awesome Integratron built by in the early 60’s by aviation engineer and paranormalist George Van Tassel. Situated in Landers, CA about 20 miles from Joshua Tree NP in the Mohave desert, it brims with a colorful, if not fascinating history. The name “Integratron” actually applies to a machine, in Tassel’s terms – a high-voltage electrostatic generator, that would supply the range of frequencies to recharge cell structure. Magnetic fields and Tesla’s technique of creating high ionization static fields were also key principles in the development of this structure. Had an opportunity to sing in this all-wood acoustic chamber (only one of it’s kind in the world) and it was surreal. While I felt energy and a strong focus from my ‘center’, my voice had a re-inforced quality as if I had morphed into a tri-headed human with extra vocal cords. It was clear, rich and warm – no confusing bounce backs and garbled echoes, with the perfect amount of reverb. ‘Rejuvenating’ sound bath sessions are held here, and it would have been interesting to partake in one. The chamber is also rented out for recording sessions.
Ramona Borthwick is for me a complete artist. I have known her for several years as a web designer and my personal webmaster, but I have also been aware of her work as a musician. Recently I got a copy of her new musical adventure called ‘One of Us’ and I am extremely happy to witness Ramona’s growth as a composer and pianist, adding to this she also sings, and well. ‘One of Us’is a very nice tapestry of different musical paintings and moods.
Ramona’s compositions are really captivating as she moves along many different lines, sometimes Latin flavors, sometimes European airs, but always with her very personal touch. The choice of musicians that complete this musical endeavor could not have been better. Each one of the performers does fantastic work enhancing Ramona’s compositions. My special kudos go to Noel Borthwick (Ramona’s husband) who plays some of the most exquisite guitar I have heard in a long time, reminding me sometimes of the best work that I have heard from guitar greats (Pat Martino comes to mind). ‘One of Us’ is an album that you can listen to many times, always getting new and rewarding things from.
I really hope that this effort becomes a must listen to, for jazz lovers around the world, such as myself, a pianist and composer from México City. My most sincere congratulations to Ramona and her team for making such a great album that I am sure, will endure the passing of time and become a collector’s item in the jazz music world.
Dr. Rick – Ramona, please give us some of your background. Tell us where you studied music, maybe some of your biggest influences as a student of music.
Ramona – I grew up in Bombay, India where I had most of my formal musical training. Born into a musician’s family I was fortunate to have had private piano lessons in classical music twice a week starting at the age of six. In addition to practicing the instrument, assignments in music theory and history were aplenty. In junior high I got good enough to sub at school for the music teacher when she called in sick 🙂 This was my first solo gig playing experience, it was stress-free and a lot of fun. My listening and playing revolved around classical music during these years; in particular I enjoyed practicing Bach, Debussy and Bartok. Aside from some Brubeck and Jobim albums that were part of my Dad’s collection, I wasn’t really exposed to much jazz then. I also grew up listening to church music – Anglican hymns, psalms and choral works, and at sixteen was pumping the pedals of the old reed organ at church during choir practices and services. Hearing such rich harmonies and elegant vocal parts may have been instrumental in steering me toward the multi-layered, polyphonic style of writing I do today. Lastly there was an ubiquitous presence of film music in the background, which my father, a studio musician and arranger wrote – a blend of traditional and folk music tailored for Bollywood films. So while I didn’t actively study or play it, I was exposed to a fair amount of Indian folk and classical music. Later as a teenager, I heard Corea’s ‘Light As A Feather’ which may have been instrumental in changing my focus from classical music to the unknown and infinitely more challenging world of jazz and improvisation. I’d say my best teachers were all the jazz players whose music I transcribed, analyzed and tried to imitate.