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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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.

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 Earthworks PM-40 PianoMic system, straight into Cakewalk SONAR X2 Producer. Some very basic mastering was done to add a touch of eq, dynamics and reverb).

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,

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Ramona Borthwick - One Of Us

ONE OF US | Ramona Borthwick, Leitmotif 2010
By RAUL d’GAMA ROSE, Editor, AAJ | January 17, 2010

The wonderful music of One of Us dwells on the interconnection of all things. Pianist Ramona Borthwick and her quartet make this happen on two important levels. First, they play from the same script as if they had studied the pages and came to make each their own in a very special and individual way. Second, there is a seamless connection between each of the songs and the quartet’s leader; Borthwick brings her considerable talent in weaving everything together with a secret gossamer thread. Both of these attributes speak volumes about the sensitivity with which each of the musicians handles the considerably—sometimes dense—material.

Ramona Borthwick proves that there is some depth among younger composers. Her bright work is agape at the immensity of all things. It appears that she looks at the world with childlike wonder, but is also privy to the true and deep nature of what she sees. This is reflected in the fluidity and the exquisite allure that is woven through each melody. Borthwick also leads and inspires colorful and artful harmonic invention throughout. She has a willing ally in trumpeter/flugelhornist Ingrid Jensen, whose memorable work here is absolutely magnificent; she plays each note as if it were her last. The result is solos like the music of dew on leaves—pristine, and each ringing with priceless wonderment.

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Ramona Borthwick - One Of Us

Am excited to announce the release of my new CD ‘One Of Us’. The music on this project is reflective of personal experiences, and is dedicated to our wonderful planet Earth, who in all her graciousness has been sustaining us forever. The CD comprises ten original compositions that were recorded last summer with some amazing players – Ingrid Jensen (tpt), Noel Borthwick (gtr), Johannes Weidenmueller (b) & Adam Cruz (dr). Most of the tunes were written specifically for this project over a period of a few months, some of them especially with the musicians in mind. Some info on the musicians: Ingrid Jensen, a multifaceted player and one of the leading voices on the trumpet, brings her trademark fire, energy and lyricism to this project. Noel Borthwick, gifted guitarist, Cakewalk CTO and producer of this project, lent his distinctive sound to the music, and was the hardest to book for this recording 🙂 Johannes Weidenmuller, a highly sought after bass player on the New York scene, was an integral member of the Kenny Werner trio for many years and also worked with John Abercrombie, Joe Lovano, John Scofield and innumerable others. Drummer Adam Cruz a regular with Danilo Perez, has played with David Sanchez, Tom Harrell, Chris Potter, Paquito D’Rivera, and recorded with Chick Corea (Origin).

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My upcoming quintet CD has been sent to mastering, whew! (It was recorded last summer in NY). Being witness to another series of mixing sessions was a great learning process for me – not entirely fun I admit – my respect & admiration for all the sound engineers out there has grown infinitely 🙂 Dan and Noel did a great job, and I can’t wait to hear the finished result. Have just started on the artwork for the CD digipak – should be interesting. Will keep you posted on how things are moving.

Hookah Menu at Tony da Dhaba

I’d mostly seen this ancient pipe being used by people in Indian villages, but it appears that it is a trend gaining popularity among college students in urban areas today. Hookahs are widely being offered in cafes and restaurants in Indian cities, with the tobacco offered in an assortment of flavors. Students come in groups and sit for hours peacefully gurgling communal pipes in casual surroundings. Here’s a hookah menu hanging at a popular ‘dhaba’ restaurant on the outskirts of Bombay. (This place also served served ’emu tikka’ btw).

Incidentally, one of my upcoming performances (20th November) will be at a restaurant in Pune called the Shisha Jazz Cafe, ‘shisha’ being a common term for the hookah in the Middle East. For reservations call 20-65200390.

With NARESH FERNANDES, Timeout Mumbai Magazine, January 2007

It’s been 15 years since Jazzmates. What’s changed for you since?
Much – it’s been a great journey and continues to be. I think the two most significant changes in my life have been geographical moves across the globe, and the inevitable – getting older! I think the latter has a lot to do with changing your perspective on life and the intensity of commitment to things important in your self-development as an artist.

Around the time of the release of Sound Matters‘ in India (1991), we had the opportunity to move to Ottawa, Canada. It came at a time when we were trying to play jazz in an otherwise bleak environment, and although the move was a job related one for Noel, we both felt it was necessary for our own growth as musicians to place ourselves in a more creative environment.

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With RICK HOLLAND, JazzRadio247.com, September Issue, 2006

Rick Holland: Thank-you Ramona for taking some time with us and our listeners at JR47. I just wanted to tell you, I’ve been enjoying your new disc, A New Leaf. I think what really captured my attention was the influence of World rhythms that involves your music. Can you share with us how you feel Jazz has cross pollinated into world music?
Ramona Borthwick: That is an interesting question, since this is relatively a more common phenomenon the other way around – world music cross pollinating jazz. Jazz itself might be considered world music in a sense, since its origins can be traced to the synthesis of Afro-European influences. Although my early music education was in western classical music, I grew up in India, a country where traditional and folk music is pretty much part of everyday life. With its regional diversity and profusion of religions, there are festivals occurring monthly if not more often, with music being an integral part of celebration and worship. In such an environment it’s hard not to have cultural influences leak into one’s expression of music, and often it is an unconscious process. So although I didn’t actively study or play traditional Indian music, I was exposed to a fair amount of Indian folk and classical music. And then there were Brazilian and other South American influences that came from listening to music from other parts of the globe. Ultimately, I believe that the best music comes from letting yourself play what needs to be played from inside you, without forcing it, or it can end up sounding contrived especially if you add stylistic elements for the sake of exotic value. The beautiful thing about jazz is how the form accommodates other stylistic elements while still retaining its core style. We are seeing more and more international jazz artists from Europe and other continents, combining native influences into their music in an organic manner.

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