Mily Balakirev (1836–1910), leader of the Russian ‘Mighty Handful’ (‘Kutchka’) of composers was a brilliant pianist, improviser, noted conductor and champion of other composers. He incidentally studied math, became a civil servant/railroad clerk and was a huge animal lover. Although influenced by Chopin, Liszt, and Orientalism, his music is of a strong Russian character and is often technically difficult to play. Balakirev is surprisingly little known today, but I try and encourage my students to listen if not learn some of his works. Here are a couple of recordings recently done at my studio by students Dakota Lichauco and Jessica Wang playing two beautiful gems from his piano works: Humoresque and Nocturne in D minor
Always heartwarming to see siblings practice and perform together. Here, high school senior Zachary (p) & his younger brother Nate Gillette (tpt) team up to perform the jazz standard “I’ll Close My Eyes”‘ (Billy Reid).
As part of his jazz studies with me, 15-yr old Nate (who also studies jazz piano) recently transcribed Blue Mitchell’s solo (Blues Moods, 1960) on the same tune:
Recorded and mixed in Cakewalk by BandLab at the Leitmotif Piano Studio.
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.
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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.
Here is a link to Part II of this series “Creating Counterpoint Using Guide Tones in Jazz Improvisation“
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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.
Download the score for piano here:
Camila Cabello ‘Havana’ – sheet music for piano.
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!
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 X1 with no EQ or effects applied.Continue reading
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).
Roughly about a year and a half ago, I decided to start a search for a grand piano. Aside from several local stores & dealers in the Boston area, my area of exploration extended to out of state New Hampshire, Connecticut & New York businesses as well. Adding to this were helpful friends, local musicians, teachers and piano technicians – willing accomplices in my search, who would inform me of a potential instrument if it appeared on their horizon. (Thanks to Victor Belanger, whose largesse included cheerful and complete responses to my many technical queries). And of course Craigslist, which can be a bit of a wild card, but worth a try nevertheless. To find the ‘perfect’ instrument would be complicated, as perfection is elusive, but my checklist was tangible.
- Size: between 5’8” – 6’8”, preferably larger than 6′
- Manufactured after 1950, it’s age preferably 5-20 years, requiring little or no major repair or maintenance for the next 20 years
- Width not greater than 61” or else it wouldn’t fit through the studio entryway. (The concrete bulkhead could be modified, but I wasn’t prepared to undergo a demolition to accommodate a piano)
- Deep, warm, rich sound, with notes in the upper and lower extremities that you’d actually want to play and not shy away from
- It would serve well for both classical as well as jazz repertoire
- Suited to my budget, which would place it somewhere in the mid-level range of pianos
- This one a phantom stipulation but of great importance – a piano that would inspire my creativity and compositional flow
Almost all research was done on the internet – piano companies, model specifications, dealers, customer reviews, Larry Fine’s The Piano Book, and browsing through piano forums. Among the stores visited were Darrells Music Hall (Nashua, NH), Londonderry Piano (Salem, NH), Steinerts, Boston Organ & Pianos (Natick, MA) & Allegro Pianos (Stamford, CT).
My early search started with Steinways in mind – not the new pianos – despite the revered name and surrounding hype, I wasn’t enamoured with the sound or price,Continue reading
[This article was published in the June 2007 issue of the Qatar-based feature magazine ‘New Era’]
When asked to name someone who has had a major influence in their lives, most people choose to mention a mentor figure – a teacher, sports coach or counselor. Having had a succession of piano teachers in my learning years, I can attest to their influence not only on my musical growth, but also in areas personal and psychological.
I began learning the piano at age six. In the years to follow, my teachers were chosen for me. If at all there was an interview, it was the teacher who had the final say in choosing the student. Understandable. For the most part, they were wonderful human beings, but their undemanding teaching methods (at least where I was concerned) and indulgent style left me unchallenged and I carried a certain void with me.
Recognizing the need to be challenged, I set out to find a teacher in my early teens. I was already in love with the piano, working zealously and enjoying practice as much as I did performance. Impatient to move ahead in my musical growth, I welcomed criticism, objective observation and discipline. My ideal teacher would be someone who would recognize my musical aptitudes and deficiencies, while shaping a curriculum that would bring out the best in me while setting a high standard of goals.
If you want to study music privately, recognize that you are a free agent, and can and should interview prospective teachers. As a teacher, I encourage students to query about my teaching methods & lessons before they sign up. Just as you might seek the opinion of two or three doctors on a medical issue before accepting one diagnosis and treatment over the others, I see no reason why a student shouldn’t take trial lessons with a few teachers before deciding on whom to study with eventually. Continue reading