Viewing: Jazz - View all posts

Don't just know how to do something 

I had a huge breakthrough early in my college music studies when I first started practicing for extended periods of time (besides the obvious). 

When I was younger, I would generally practice the stuff I liked to play and avoid the stuff I didn't like (generally longer, involved pieces... that required more of an attention span).  This naturally led to me only being able to play the fun stuff and hating the hard stuff--  a vicious spiral.  When I confronted these issues in college, I went too far the other…Read more

Bud Powell Un Poco Loco 

My big project this fall was digging into Bud Powell's "Un Poco Loco". 

It's a song with more than one moment that pushes the envelope of standard jazz language, rhythm and form. The Max Roach drum pattern alone has been elaborated on by many- the 5 over 4 pattern is filled with energy and slightly lopsided, not quite adding up to two bars.At the fast cut time tempo, I feel like it has a falling forward momentum, which feels to me like he was aiming more for whole note triplets across the barline (this was…Read more

Interpreting a melody - My Funny Valentine (part 3) 

After getting the ball rolling with three worked-out versions of the first eight bars of My Funny Valentine, and then looking at how three singers performed them, it was only natural to find three great instrumental versions to look at.  Keep in mind that this is the first time the melody is being stated in the performance- although with a song like this there is a lot of familiarity with the original on the part of both listener and performer.

Sonny Stitt - from a Quincy Jones' collection.  It was really…Read more

Vocal phrasing of a melody - My Funny Valentine (part 2) 

This is really a continuation of my previous post about rhythmically worked-out backphrasing.  I thought it might be interesting to take some of my favourite singers' versions of My Funny Valentine and see exactly what they are doing. 

Here is Chet Baker from "The Best of Chet Baker Sings" - one of my first vocal jazz records.  On it are simple and beautiful versions of 20 songs every jazz musician should know.  Chet's phrasing leans towards triplet-type figures.  The exact rhythm in measure 5 is hard to…Read more


In this crazy information age there is a high demand for internet content.  I remember years ago I barely struggled to keep a basic one-page website with my bio and a list of shows that didn't get too many months out of date.  Nowadays the music industry relies greatly on YouTube hits for booking artists to shows and contracts. 

Part of the reason that I figured I could at least maintain a weekly short entry into my own blog was that my brother-in-law, Tyler Kealey, took on the enormous challenge of posting…Read more

Tripletifying a melody - My Funny Valentine (part 1) 

Often I describe back-phrasing to singers as purposefully starting late and pulling on the time and catching up.  I've seen this work for many singers, but one of the dangers is that the resulting singing can end up completely lacking in rhythm or even get the band lost.

Something I've been meaning to do for a while is write out a 'tripletified' version of a melody -- essentially worked-out back-phrasing.  I used the first eight bars of "My Funny Valentine" as a basis.  You can click here to hear me playing…Read more

Binge Listening 

People are almost proud of epic TV-show watching sessions, or binge-watching.  In the last few years it seems watching Netflix, Hulu or even DVD box sets all night is a far more common an activity than going out. Yes, this does not bode well for the live entertainment industry- not just music, but sports, movies, even restaurants, which all are having a harder time beating the home-based experience. 

In music, people have been warning of this day since the radio was invented.  Why go out?  Musicians went onRead more


In acting, there is something in the world of improv referred to as 'blocking'.  The basic idea is that whenever someone introduces and idea you have to think "yes, and" as opposed to just "no".  The house is on fire! Yes and my cat is on the top floor, we have to save it!  If you don't know what to do with it you shouldn't just completely ignore it. Along the same lines it doesn't help just to stall and say yes its on fire and send it back to the other person with nothing added.  Also, check out thisRead more

Ornette Coleman "How Deep Is The Ocean" 

Ornette plays standards (and with pianists) so rarely that I want to dig into what this early example of his band sitting in with Paul Bley does.  I also have lifted a bunch of his playing on "Embraceable You" but this performance of "How Deep Is The Ocean", an Irving Berlin Standard from the '30s, is a track I haven't really listened to before, from an album (Live at the Hillcrest 1958) I've been meaning to dig into more.   The horns play a unison intro line, it sounds loosely out of time but they… Read more

Miles Davis' Sidemen Graphic 

I've often wondered what a complete family tree (or I guess intricate cloud) of people who played with Miles Davis would look like, but of course anything past one or two degrees of separation increases so exponentially that we would come across Kevin Bacon or your neighborhood jazz student within six or seven steps.   Just for fun I chose ten albums covering a large sampling of just his studio recordings (Charlie Parker's Swedish Schnapps (1953) to Tutu (1986)) and connected the sidemen from each. Any… Read more

Lena Horne "I've Got It Bad And That Ain't Good" 

When I wrote some CD reviews for Peter Hum at, I felt I gained some good insight from that kind of in-depth listening- especially knowing I would have to turn those thoughts into words.  (And that someone might actually read them).  Recently I have been doing a lot of really focused listening to all kinds of music, some familiar, some I thought I was familiar with but that sounds new on re-listen, and some completely new from all genres and time periods.  This is the first of some individual…Read more

Untitled's Blues 

I can't count the number of tunes I have played called "Untitled".  Or a variation depending on what music notation software calls a piece with the title left blank.  I personally struggled when setting an untitled poem to music with what to call it.  In the end I used words from the poem that seemed appropriate.

Jazz tunes can be short- a blues head can be 12 bars long and provide enough material for extended improvisations.  One common titling tradition is naming tunes after colleagues and friends, like…Read more

What are you looking at? 

Sometimes, more often than not, I have my eyes open when I play, but I'm not really looking at anything-- something I became awkwardly aware of at a gig once when I noticed someone looking back at me like I was staring.   When playing with others there are often visual cues, not just literal ones like a head nod, but things like nodding to encourage each other, or a panicked expression that lets you know someone is lost. While it's often not done consciously, body language can drastically affect the music… Read more

Autumn Leaves 

At pickup jazz gigs and jams, musicians are often confused by the key of the standard "Autumn Leaves". It's commonly played in G minor (like the Cannonball/Miles version) or in E minor (as printed in the real book). However it starts in the relative major (in the case of E minor, an Amin7 chord, a ii-chord in the key of G Major), so if someone says "Autumn Leaves... In G" they could mean either version.  I personally feel that it is a minor-key piece, as the piece ends resolved to the Minor, and the first…Read more

What key do you do it in? 

Does it sound different when you play or sing a song in C or in D?  The simple answer is yes.  But there are factors that come into play before you get to any lofty imagery-based reasons.

The biggest issues we face as jazz performers are the difficulty level of the key as it lies on your instrument and whether or not there is a negative quality to the sound from playing it in a higher or lower register.  To vocalists this is called tessitura.  The goal in choosing a key is to avoid drawing attention to it…

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Solo Piano CD Review: John Medeski 

I haven't been writing much for my blog lately- I have been gradually making the transition back to living in Ottawa. 

Until I get settled sometime in mid-August, here is the first of a few solo piano CD reviews I did for Peter Hum at

Click here for my review of John Medeski's "A Different Time"

Peter dumped a pile of new music on me, what better way to spend the summer than checking out all the great new piano music out there.  If any of the reviews I write don't get posted I will put them…Read more

Ottawa Jazz Festival Inspiration 

I have been attending the Ottawa Jazz Festival for over 15 years now, some years more regularly than others, but I haven't missed one since 1996.  This year was almost different- I was hired for an extended tour which closed July 1st.  When the festival offered me two chances to play shows that included my original compositions I had to try and make it work.  Luckily the good people at Troika allowed me to get a replacement for the last ten days.  I felt the shows were a personal success, but not only that…Read more

Music: Memorized! 

As a young student I dreaded the deadline of having my music memorized. Memorizing was boring, not fun stuff like sight reading new music or improvising. Through the grades of Canada's Royal Conservatory of Music I gradually found it harder and harder to "cram" for tests since the pieces got longer and more involved. By the time I decided to get back into playing classical music in university, I had almost completely lost the ability to retain classical pieces (Mozart's Sonata K570 I picked up pretty…Read more

There Will Never Be Another You 

It occured to me while looking over the things I want to write about that I haven't really done much jazz yet- mostly popular music.  I do consider myself primarily a jazz musician, and yet I feel strangely like I want to be somehow distanced from the jazz community.  Partially, there just happens to be a ton of great material out there, and I'm worried I'll address something many people have looked at in way more detail than I have.  I'm not going to let this stop me, I have a few things I've been looking…Read more