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Posts Tagged ‘piano’

I recently came upon this beautiful talk by András Schiff about J.S. Bach. It’s well worth the 33:33. (was that timing intentional?)

Here are some highlights for me:
“we need ruhe und stille (peace and quiet) to create music”

“there’s no more beautiful musical calligraphy than Bach’s, because you can see these wonderful waves like flowing water. He never writes a straight line, but only waves. And so you can imagine how this music flows along.”

prelude

Prelude in C major from The Well-Tempered Clavier, I

Schiff plays an hour of Bach every morning. no need to practice technique. Everything he needs is in Bach: psychologically and spiritually, musically and emotionally and even purely physically. “To be able to start a day like this cleanses the soul.”

“In polyphonic music each voice is of equal value. It’s like a society in which everyone is equally important.”

“There is a blending of secular and sacred in Bach’s music. In his dancelike and playful secular music (Schiff spends a good deal of time talking about the delightful French Suites) Bach’s faith still shines through. Conversely, the Masses, Passions and Cantatas contain dancelike elements. The sacred and the secular coexist harmoniously.”

For Schiff, Bach was not only the greatest composer, but a great teacher. Starting with the inventions and working up to the preludes and fugues and later works, there is a definite pedagogical progression to his music. I would like to add that there is no better place to go to study composition and counterpoint.

Schiff’s voice is melodic. He’s beautiful to listen to.

Just for fun I have decided to return to practicing Bach daily in order to rediscover (and discover!) this fantastic music. Won’t you join me? I’m starting with the inventions and sinfonias. It’s incredible to return to those so many years after studying them. Particularly with the perspective of a jazz musician.

 

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I decided to wear pants – for the mosquitos. sandals for the drive, but low boots just in case the bugs were out in full force. A choice of two sweaters to protect my arms from bites, only because I didn’t relish the idea of industrial strength deep woods off for sportsmen for ever on my favorite one. My wool felt Busterish looking pork pie hat, just in case I felt like being Buster at the outset.

I didn’t think about the wind.

I didn’t think about the cold.

I ended up wearing the boots, both sweaters, the hat plus a borrowed coat ten sizes too big.

The brave Barrie folk brought chairs, hot drinks, coats, hats and blankets. They knew it was going to be a blustery night for Buster.

You start with a large patch of green by the water. Heritage Park. Is that a great name for a park by the water? (are you listening, Toronto?) Stakes were driven solidly into the ground to tether the screen in place. It took six people to get the screen up. A giant balloon in the shape of a movie screen – kind of like those plastic jumping castles turned on its side, being filled with air to keep its shape.

 

 

The wind won the first round. But with one hour before screening, the stakes were unstaked and restaked in a more sheltered area, sound system in place, lap top, dvd (for back-up), blue ray and projector set up on the table and keyboard ready to go! Bravo to Robin Munroe of the Barrie Jazz and Blues Festival and to Claudine Benoit and John Arruda of the Barrie Film Festival!!

During that hour I sat in my car memorizing as much of my score as I could. No stand clips were going to hold any music in place. (not that I had remembered to bring them, d’oh!) I was loving the idea of improvising.

We even had popcorn!

It was a beautiful blustery bitingly chilly night, I was dressed ridiculously, my fingers were chilled to the bone, and I loved every minute of it!

Thank you, Barrie Jazz and Blues Festival and Barrie Film Festival!

 

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Preamble

On June 11 I will be presenting a concert about Mary Lou Williams at the Barrie Jazz & Blues Festival. I’ll be talking about her life and playing her music. George Koller will be joining me on bass, and Nick Fraserwill be playing drums. It’s a fascinating project. In a career that ran from the mid 1920’s until her death in 1981 Mary Lou remained, in Duke Ellington’s words, “perpetually contemporary” and was an especially formative figure on the Kansas City scene of the 1930’s and in New York during the 1940’s. She wrote hundreds of compositions and played in every style from boogie to swing to bebop to modern, influencing several important musicians along the way. Many came to hang out in her apartment.

Mary Lou with Jack Teagarden, Dixie Bailey, Hank Jones, Tadd Dameron and Milt Orent in Mary Lou’s apartment, Aug 1947

Boogie woogie

Here is an example of a rolling octave boogie woogie bass line. (played an octave lower than written)

(click on image to enlarge)

Mary Lou is nothing short of a powerhouse. Her left hand has tremendous strength and stamina. Over the past several weeks I’ve been trying various left hand boogie patterns and trying to sustain them over periods of time. I’m in awe of her.

A couple of days ago I watched Mary Lou Williams 1978 concert from Norman Granz “Jazz at Montreux”. The camera work is great with a lot of close-ups of her left hand.

As the camera zoomed in, I began to notice that her bass notes were being played by both her 4th and 5th fingers at the same time. Two fingers on one note! A revelation! It’s also something I had never attempted before. But as I tried it out and thought about it, it began to make a huge amount of sense. First of all, it doubles the strength of the weakest finger while giving it support. The bottom note needs to be hammered in the boogie woogie style. Secondly, it changes the angle of the hand so that you’re not spreading your fingers out straight, but rather angling the hand to the left, which is way less strenuous. All of the action is in the rotation of the wrist. It didn’t take long before this way of playing began to feel less foreign and more comfortable. I imagined how I could apply it in other contexts. In fact, I had a gig that night and kept looking for opportunities to hammer out a bass note using those two fingers. The tone was strong, heavy and warm.

Do any other piano players use this technique in any style of music? I wonder where Mary Lou got it from and I’m very curious to know who else uses this.

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Ethan Iverson interviews Keith Jarrett/1. voice leading

I really enjoy reading blogs and Ethan Iverson’s is particularly fascinating. The following piece contains an excerpt from his lengthy interview with Keith Jarrett. You can find the whole piece here. I highly recommend it!

(reprinted with permission. Thanks, Ethan)

Keith Jarrett: “Voice-leading is melody-writing in center of the harmony. If you can do it, you’re lucky enough to get to a moment where you can actually find more than one thing happening and trace those things at the same time to a logical next place…or illogical place–really it doesn’t matter sometimes!
It’s so different [than] what people think when they look at a lead sheet and build those blocks [the] way you learn harmony. They can’t get away from this structure of vertical playing with your left hand and then if you’re lucky, maybe a good idea in your right.

I try to spend time every day training myself to hear more than one thing at once. As a piano player it’s very easy to lapse into rote-style playing; chords in the left hand and melodies in the right hand. When you have to think and play quickly it works well. It’s a great way to learn tunes, it sounds good and helps you focus on melody while staying grounded in the harmony. Why not?

Several years ago Fred Hersch showed me a great exercise. I call it Fred’s 20 minute workout. It’s become part of my daily calisthenics. I choose a tune, take out a timer, set it for 20 minutes, choose a tempo and play. I often start simple, just playing the melody. Over and over. While playing the melody I’m focussing on sound, touch, dynamics, nuance of the phrase and mentally taking notes of motifs that could be developed later. I switch hands, and play it as well as I can with the left. I believe that if I’m truly focussed I could probably spend 20 minutes just on melody alone. There’s that much to think about!

Each chorus provides a new challenge. I just make them up as I go and try to stick to whatever it is for an entire chorus: melodic displacement, repeated notes, motivic developement, alternating RH and LH, etc.

I spend a lot of time playing 2 part counterpoint. To me, this is how you begin to learn about voice leading and to develop the ability to truly hear more than one thing at a time.

Ideally, I’ll do the 20 minutes X4 version of the exercise: 20 minutes playing 2 part counterpoint only, the next 20 minutes in 3 parts, the next 20 changing key and the last 20 doing whatever I want in the original key.

Committing to playing a 20 minute solo is not easy. You run out of licks really quickly. It’s an amazing way to develop your sound.




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