Some thoughts on Arkansas Junior High All Region music for saxophones...
First, let's look at Williemakeit Blues. A few things to note about the piece:
The most important thing, and the most commonly ignored, is how to articulate swing 1/8th notes. As the key area exercises now used in Arkansas All Region indicate, the basic idea is to slur from the "and" to the beat, which means you lightly tongue all of the "ands" and none of the beats. Sometimes the line will need an extra articulation or slur, and in real-world charts these are generally not indicated.
Tonguing every swing 1/8th note is practically never done. Don't do it, don't teach your students to do it, and don't expect it in the audition room. This is even true if the exercise/chart does not have any slur marks at all.
Why "practically never done?" Because we're talking about a very expressive form of music, and there are no hard and fast rules. So take things like "never" and "always" with a grain of salt.
How can students practice this articulation? First, they need to listen. Glenn Miller's In the Mood is easy enough, and most band libraries will have the chart to read along. Learning to play along with the intro is an education in itself. Feel free to sub in your favorite swing recordings. Advanced saxophone students will get a lot from listening very closely to Charlie Parker then playing along. Ideally, by transcribing the solo themselves, but reading out of the Omnibook is a great way to help your ears guide your articulation and sense of swing.
Note length, accents and dynamics
As I noted earlier, Brian has done an excellent job of marking these stylistic considerations. Note the F# (I'm looking at an alto part) on the and of four in bar two. The crescendo is not just an artistic license taken by the composer; it is actually appropriate and nearly universally expected when reading this rhythm, even if not marked. The only thing missing here (again, in my opinion) is and accent mark on the F#. In swing style, accent any entrance that happens on the and, or beat two or beat four, and forte piano - crescendo through any held notes.
Now, let's look at the quarter note on beat three of bar three. This housetop accent is also stylistically appropriate, even if not marked. This marking means accented with space before and after the note. Note: this does not mean the note is short! Think DAHT, not dit. The length of quarter notes is not always the same, but playing a quarter note on beat one or three with this articulation is a good place to start. If you are playing in a big band, it is the job of the lead trumpet to dictate the length of these notes.
On to bar five, beat four. The composer has again notated an articulation that should be assumed in this situation: legato on the first 1/8th note, staccato on the second. In swing style, 1/8th notes followed by a rest are to be played short and accented.
Next post: Improvisation
Behringer Neutron drone | Dave Smith Evolver Lead | Polara Reverb | Akai EWI4000s Controller
I uploaded this Sunday Jam on a Saturday...but it felt like a Sunday, so there it is!
The last two gigs where I used my EWI were not pleasant.
Gig one: South on Main with my band, TwiceSax
I brought three synths, a speaker, a two-space rack with power and reverb, EWI, flute, and saxophone. Too freakin' much. The venue (one of the coolest in Little Rock) features a sticking out into the room, and it is about three feet tall, with the only easy access from one back corner up a ramp that extends into the dining area. So I basically worked my but off to get it all on stage, got nice a sweaty, and ran my setup way closer to the top of the gig than I like.
My monitoring for the synths was bad, and I was never happy with the EWI sound.
Gig two: Four Quarter Bar with the Organ Collective
I brought my tenor, one synth, EWI, speaker, and my two-space effect rack. Not as much stuff to bring to the gig, but still a lot of heavy with that rack. Also, a lot of cable spaghetti that could have been more tidy.
The real problem: the sound in the room was deafening. Our sound check volume was 50% the volume of the actual show, because the mains weren't really used during soundcheck. Once the mains came on, and started slapping off the brick wall 20 feat away, the EWI was G. O. N. E. gone.
When I started playing I couldn't hear at all. With the EWI, you get virtually no physical feedback from the instrument, which makes it very difficult to keep yourself from overblowing. When you blow too hard, you lose all expression and articulations vanish.
Gig three: hasn't happened yet
But the video in this post was really used as a test of a new setup. I used the Neutron as a drone and the Evolver lead voice to be controlled by the EWI. I ran it all through my new Polara reverb pedal. Most importantly, I had everything set on my new media tray. I think I am close to having it to a simple, gig-able set up. I can get the entire EWI rig, sax/flute, and music stands/music into the venue in two trips by myself, and I can get it setup in about 15 minutes. Getting the speaker closer to my head helps a lot with being able to feel my sound, and I figured out a way to manage cables down the shaft of the stand.
We'll see how it goes. - BD
Things I did, Things to Do
I played at the Ohio Club in Hot Springs last night as the featured artist in their Thursday jazz series. I play this venue about three times a year, typically, and I love it every time. The venue is clean and smoke free, the patrons are engaged (to the point you can play REAL jazz - just just cocktail jazz), the rhythm section is great, and the food is good. Definitely one of my favorite places to play.
Several things made me thoughtful, and I am now thinking them right into a blog...
First, I had a blast. I always do. I played some of my favorite tunes and really let my hair down on them, which is a rarity. I need to do it more often, and I should walk away from the "there just aren't many venues in my town" excuse and make it happen. It also made me think I should talk to the house group about learning some of my original music for next time.
Second, I was pretty rusty, though I doubt many people outside my own head noticed. To do: grow up, and get back on the practicing wagon. I just let things lapse over the last couple of months while digging into electronic music (which I do no intend to stop) and traveling. No excuse. I need to play to keep in shape and to keep moving in an upward trajectory.
Third, my hands are pretty sore today. I injured my hands about 20 years ago working in a factory (repetitive motion injury) and have never gotten them looked at. Playing bass is nearly impossible (gonna do it tonight, though!), and I usually only notice it with my saxophone playing when I am out of practice. When that happens my hands and fingers get stiff, especially in my right hand. I had a conversation with an old friend which is motivating me to get it looked at.
Up front: I am afraid of surgery. Afraid of the pain, the down time, and the possibility for it to go wrong and permanently damage my hands, and therefore my ability to play the saxophone at the level I want. I am going to start by asking my GP if I can get a PT referral, and if not, I will seek a specialist who has experience working with musicians. Fingers crossed (until they go numb, haha).
I'm going to go dig into a some pages of Walt Weiskopf's books, Around the Horn and Beyond the Horn. Historically, I can dig into those with a metronome and get my fingers/hands to loosen up. Happy shedding. - BD
I am really having a lot of fun working on a couple new projects, including the upcoming recording session for my "main" band, TwiceSax, planning a session for my mostly-a-trio project (upright bass/drums/saxophone), and a new project with my old college roommate, Logan, which may end up being called "Duophony." I feel overwhelmed at work (nothing new), and I fight against my lazy brain (nothing new), but this music gives me energy and motivation (ahhh, definitely something new, or at least something that has not happened in quite a long time).
TwiceSax has been playing together for a loooong time, and we have never recorded more than a raw demo. I have written a lot of music for the band, my brother-in-law and co-bandleader Dave Williams II has started writing some really cool music for us, and we have raised the money for the recording session. Time to just make it happen.
That's my theme right now; while attending a professional conference this week I was taking notes, and the thought just hit me: stop waiting for someone else to tell me to do something. Like an old possibly Chinese proverb says: the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago; the second best time is today.
So, today I will talk to some people about getting these projects into the home stretch. In the meantime, I continue to really enjoy using my iPad as a music creation tool, and I am loving the explorations I am undertaking into improvising with semi-generative music from the electronic toys I have accumulated for a few years. This video is entirely produced on my iPad, using a handful of synths, effects, and utilities. Check out the video description for detailed info.
New to this video: animation that responds to the music! I just got this app yesterday, and it is way over my head, but I managed to cobble something together this morning before I started my work day. This may be nothing but a fun time-waster, but at least it was fun!
About the music...
I sequenced the drums in the Rozeta X0X, controlling a drum set in Patterning 2. The main feature of the track is the bass line (which needs much better mixing and compression, but hey, I'm learning) and the evolving delay, filter, and glitch/stutter effects. I set up parameters in all of the sequencers to make this generative texture. I want to create several more of these "Themeless Variations" and then I am going to start creating larger compositions and adding improvisation on various instruments, including EWI, tenor and soprano saxophones, and perhaps some flute and bass clarinet.
If you have comments, critiques, criticisms, questions, jokes, book suggestions, or anything else that fits in a comment box, please hit me up. - BD
E-Coltranius #3: Project "128"
My musical background, in four parts, with a fifth possibly growing on me:
Now, I really want incorporate these tools and my musical background into my composition. Cue the video above. Not a full piece - probably barely a snippet, mostly just a proof of concept that I can work some of this stuff. I spent a little time improvising with this track, and it was fun, if a little self indulgent.
One of the challenges with synthesized music is that it sort of gravitates to 80's film soundtrack and hair band sounds - great if that's the aesthetic for which you are shooting, but frustrating if you're not. I suppose that may be my own 80's and 90's childhood experience creeping in, too. This snippet definitely fits into that groove, but I am filled with inspiration. Next step: I want to get some more complex chords going with more dynamic contrast. I might tweak this piece, or I might just move it to the shoe box of unfinished ideas and experiments.
Texture really is the attraction I have with EDM sounds. I think the reason I enjoy music from the late-Romantic period is largely because these composers were such masters of orchestration. They used so many timbres to convey emotion, stories, philosophies, etc., and I find it captivating. I think synthesized music presents a vast set of possibilities, and they can be used in much the same way as orchestral textures - and, in fact, many of the sounds of EDM were derived directly from acoustic orchestral sounds. The question is: can I, Brandon Dorris, with my decidedly non-electric musical background, pull off something influenced by this genre, in such a fashion that my bebop heart will be happy playing it? It remains to be seen!
Whatever I do next, I am having fun with music, and next to making money with music, that's about the best thing in the world, right? Just kidding, of course...obviously having fun while making money with music is the best thing.
It has been a long weekend...which brings me to Sunday Jams. On the way home from a concert (my day job is being Arkansas Symphony Orchestra's Marketing Director) I sometimes stop for a 30 minute to 2 hour wind-down, depending on how much I need to unwind. I often set up some portion of my synth rig, and I sit down with no rules and no plan to make some spontaneous music. Sometimes I jam to a playalong track, sometimes I patch something up and noodle, sometimes I write and arrange a tune from scratch...like I said, no rules.
This Sunday I set up my Behringer Neutron with a t.c. electronics M350 effects processor for some killer spaced-out reverb and just noodled around. I accidentally connected the bipolar LFO to the envelope 1 gate, and was pleasantly surprised...BAM...modular synthesis in a nutshell, I think. After some tweaking to get the right sound, and right pulse from the LFO, I soaked it in some dark reverb from the M350 and explored for a while. Since I was digging it, I made a short, room miked video. Enjoy - or don't, and let me know why not. - BD
My first EWI exploration with VCV Rack, an Open-source virtual modular synthesizer. As VCV Rack approaches version 1.0, things are getting interesting, and the upcoming stability is getting me excited about the sound possibilities for EWI!
All modules used in this video are free, and they are POWERFUL. Wrapping my head around the work flow for designing a dynamic, expressive synth voice with breath control has been less formidable than I thought. One of the custom modules (Dual MIDI to CV) makes it easy with dedicated CC #02 routing! Of course, a much simpler voice could be made with a simple oscillator, a low pass filter, a VCA and an ADSR filter. Routing CV gates and breath through a multiplier to trigger/control everything, and a slew-rate limiter/inverter to smooth the translation of MIDI to control voltage should go in the category of "minimum" needs, too.
Now, for some short educational programming...
When I first started using a breath controller I was very much in the dark about how breath control worked. It took reverse engineering several patches made by other people to figure out the basics. In its most basic form, you are modulating some parameter (usually volume or the cutoff frequency of a low pass filter) with data from your breath sensor. Note data is pretty straight forward: your controller says "start playing C4 now, and stop playing now."
Now, to turn the electronic sounds into something more organic we need to smoothly adjust a parameter and cause a change in perceived loudness. This change can be achieved by gradually increasing the amplifier volume as you blow harder, but if you want to create a sound with more "living" characteristics you can instead gradually increase the cutoff frequency on a low pass filter from 0 (completely closed, and there for blocking all frequencies). As the filter opens, more harmonics are allowed through, causing the perceived sound to get louder AND brighter. I have heard this setup (breath sensor routed to a closed low pass filter cutoff frequency parameter) on a pure saw wave called the "heart and soul of wind synthesis."
If you experiment with Eurorack (or any other kind of synthesis) and breath control, let me know - I love this stuff! - BD
The first post...
Welcome to Coltranius Music. My name is Brandon Dorris, and I am a musician. If you are reading this, you almost certainly know that...
I intend to post notice of my gigs, recordings, music related ramblings, and whatever else I feel like posting here.
I play saxophone.*