Saturday, January 24, 2015

Thanks for your support!

A-JAM helps serious San Antonio students to succeed in the exciting global field of jazz. You can be a part of our success by contributing to the program financially. Your donations are tax deductible, and can be made through the Alamo Colleges Foundation online, via mail, or by phone. To contribute, call Lynne Dean at the Alamo Colleges Foundation, 210-486-4135 during business hours or email her at Tell her you want to contribute to the A-JAM fund, code 340005. She'll take care of everything.

Looking to help create unique opportunities for serious community college students?  Our program gives young San Antonio musicians skills, knowhow, and entry into the exciting intercultural and international world of jazz, right at the top of the field. Your contribution to our A-JAM mentorship fund ensures that this year's A-JAM honoree will be able to participate in the international intensive that is the capstone of our program. 

Endowed, the A-JAM fund sponsors--annually--one student to travel to the IASJ (International Association of Schools of Jazz) meeting. This global summit is a game changer for the individual student and for the local jazz culture. Over the past two decades, I've witnessed the change in communities near and far. The results run deep. 

Your contribution ensures the wherewithal to send students to places like Brazil (Jeané Gaines, 2011), Austria (Stephen Bennett, 2012), and Denmark (Odie Wallace, 2013) to perform and learn with peers from all over the globe. In 2014, the meeting was in Cape Town, South Africa, at the University of Cape Town. 

Exciting, isn't it?  How much money do we need? Costs vary, but an annual income of somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000 is ballpark. Not much in the grand scheme of things, is it?

Alamo Colleges music students thank you!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Enjoyable Warmup - (Rhythm and) Blues Exercise

Forty-four degrees Farenheit tonight in San Antonio. Perfect moment to share a warmup with you players of melodic instruments...

Bob Cranshaw
It gets the blood flowing and the keys knowing. It requires little or no reading, and a minimal amount of equipment: your instrument, a CD or mp3 and player, plus about 44 minutes of focused time.

Here's a link to purchase the CD or download the tracks from It's Volume 42 of Jamey Aebersold's Play-a-Long series, "Blues in All Keys."  (We have several of these playalongs in the circulating collection of the library at Northwest Vista.) It comes with a booklet containing chord sheets for Eb, Bb, C, and bass clef instruments.

As its name would imply, the CD contains playalong tracks for blues progressions in 12 keys. They are performed by a trio of world class jazz musicians: James Williams at the piano, Bob Cranshaw on bass, and Mickey Roker on drums. Follow the links and look them up...

James Williams
The form and formula are simple. There is one basic progression and one variation of it.  These are played in each key; from 3-5 choruses for each progression. When you're in a particular key and it's time to move from the basic progression to its variation, listen for a little bell dinging during the last four bars of the form; you switch progressions at the top of the next form. You'll hear it...

So how to dig in? It's not as daunting as it may seem. Twelve keys, yes, but only one simple progression...

First, put the CD or mp3 into the player, turn to track #13 and tune your horn. Set it back to #1 and hit pause.

Second, get out the booklet and take the time to look at it. There's a discography and other items that may be of interest, along with the progression and its variation, written out in all twelve keys for C, Bb, Eb, and bass clef readers.

Mickey Roker
Third, analyze and memorize the progression. Yes, memorize the progression in at least two keys. Bb and C concert would be good choices. Play it at the piano.

Fourth, put on the first track and play along. Start simple if this is unfamiliar territory. Play roots in harmonic rhythm, guide tones, etc. (I have a checklist for learning new tunes that I can share with you if you email me.)

Finally, play through all of the keys before returning to the first track. This is a discipline. There are always things you can improve next time, but one of the main objects of this exercise is to gain fluency in all keys. You don't have to play all keys in one sitting at first, but make a note of which key you stopped on and resume with the next one at your next practice session. With practice, you will be able to play through all twelve keys in one sitting, one after the other. This only takes, as I said, about forty-five minutes.

My fearless prediction is that you will soon look forward to this as a daily exercise, finding it to be both relaxing and invigorating, satisfying and rewarding. Once you've memorized the progression, you can do it in the dark if you like. I use it as a way to center myself, as a kind of meditation on the blues... 

With mindful practice, you'll witness your facility with all keys growing and strengthening.  When you encounter these progressions in "real life" on the bandstand or in a session, this is likely to make it easier for you to play what you hear. Sounds like fun now, right? Let me know how it goes.

Note to multi-wind players--Play through the blues tracks on Bb, C, and Eb instruments alternately (and/or whatever other keys your horns are in). Your tonal relationship to the track will be different, which will probably change what you play. Record yourself...

Once more, with rhythm...
Once you're comfortable with the blues in all keys, try working similarly with Aebersold's I Got Rhythm Changes in All Keys (Volume 47).

Second only to the blues, "Rhythm" changes are the most popular form in jazz. Thousands of contrafacts have been written to this harmonic scheme.

Todd Coolman
As with the blues, once you've looked at the progression, don't read from it; analyze and memorize it. Pause the recording between tracks as necessary to recalculate the changes in the upcoming key. 

Unlike the Blues in All keys playalong, this volume doesn't have a voice reminding you of the new key. But the movement through keys has logic; starts in concert Bb, then goes to F. The remaining keys appear in circle-of-fourths order: Eb-Ab-Db, etc.

Jim McNeely
As always, check out the players you're practicing with! This playalong features bassist Todd Coolman, pianist Jim McNeely, and drummer Steve Davis

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Master Class with a Genius, this Saturday Afternoon, Jan 17 at The Carver!

Just for you, A-JAM! Like manna, an opportunity has fallen across your path, thanks to the generosity of The Carver...

This Saturday, January 17, you are invited to participate in an exclusive master class with Vijay Iyer at the Carver. The master class takes place at 11 AM in the Jo Long Theater of The Carver Community Cultural Center, 226 N. Hackberry, San Antonio TX, 78202. Phone 210.207.7211. Get directions here.

Grammy-nominated jazz pianist, composer, bandleader and MacArthur "genius" award recipient, VIJAY IYER is regarded by Pitchfork as” one of the best in the world at what he does”. Iyer, a highly accomplished artist bridges the avant-garde with the mainstream, composes classical arrangements yet loves improvisation.

This past year has been an exceptional one for Iyer. March 2014 marked the release of Mutations, Iyer’s eighteenth album and his debut for the prestigious ECM label: a recording for piano, string quartet and electronics, the first album to document his works for chamber ensembles. He also began a permanent appointment at Harvard University’s Department of Music, as the Franklin D. and Florence Rosenblatt Professor of the Arts. Other recent honors include a 2012 Doris Duke Performing Artist Award, an unprecedented “quintuple crown” in the 2012 Down Beat International Critics Poll (winning Jazz Artist of the Year, Pianist of the Year, Jazz Album of the Year, Jazz Group of the Year, and Rising Star Composer categories), a “quadruple crown” in the JazzTimes extended critics poll (winning Artist of the Year, Acoustic/Mainstream Group of the Year, Pianist of the Year, and Album of the Year), the Pianist of the Year Awards for both 2012 and 2013 from the Jazz Journalists Association, and the 2013 ECHO Award (the “German Grammy”) for best international pianist.

But wait, there's more... To see Vijay Iyer in concert, come Saturday evening at 8 PM. For additional information, contact Katchie via email or phone at 210-486-4828.