Transcription: “Jackson” by Slavic Soul Party!

In my efforts to keep this thing going, I give you my transcription of “Jackson” by the great Slavic Soul Party! Transcribing this was a fun day for me. Coincidentally, this an open invitation to all Slavic Soul Party! members to double-check my work.

Jackson – PDF

Miles, Mulligan and more

On February 10, I will again be performing Miles Davis’ classic The Birth of the Cool organized and led by my dear friend Thomas Helton. This concert will be slightly different, however, in that it will feature three new arrangements by yours truly written specifically for the nonet. In addition to that, the second half of the concert will feature the various incarnations of the famous Gerry Mulligan Quartets.

Birth of the Cool

This concert is being produced by Richard Nunemaker for the Houston Tuesday Music Club on Sunday, February 10 at Emerson Unitarian Church at 4pm. You can hear Thomas, Richard and myself discussing the concert on KUHF’s “The Front Row” by clicking here.

Of the new arrangements, I chose to write three features, one each for alto saxophone (“Opus de Funk”), trombone (“Lament”) and baritone saxophone (“Ghengis”). Here’s a playlist of the concert, in backwards order:

“Opus de Funk” is really just a transcription and re-orchestration from the 1959 album, Art Pepper + Eleven: Modern Jazz Classics. While the original Birth of the Cool selections are wonderful, there isn’t a straightforward blues among any of them. This recording has long been one of my favorites, with plenty of room for the alto to blow through the blues. That, plus the excellent arrangement by Marty Paich make this a great pairing to the original album (and great practice for me to learn how the unusual nonet instrumentation can be handled).

“Lament” is trombonist J.J. Johnson‘s well-known jazz ballad. I wanted to pay tribute to Johnson’s presence on the original recordings and feature his talents as a great writer, since this ballad is truly one of the best written in the idiom. My arrangement sought to capture the “Gil Evans sound” heard most prominently on “Moon Dreams”. There were many things to consider here: where to draw the  line on using dissonance, Gil’s careful placement of voicing, the development of the main theme throughout the piece, and so on. It was a real challenge, as students of Gil Evans’ style are surely aware.

Finally, I chose “Ghengis” from Gil’s Guests written by the late, obscure multi-saxophonist Gil Mellé. Mellé was a bit of a renaissance man in modern music, he dabbled in various ensemble sizes and structures, had a strong interest in atonal music and unusual forms and was even a featured painter on several jazz LPs of his peers in the late 1940s. “Ghengis” is an unusual tune with an unusual construction. The melody itself is raw and atonally inclined, with several instruments providing a (somewhat) pointillistic melodic shape. While the tune is just a head arrangement, there is an obvious tape splice to include the improvised solos before returning to this head to end the piece. Mellé’s baritone sax is front and center, however, and the original arrangement made for a great place to jump off and experiment with combinations and sounds within the nonet.

Enjoy the music and I’ll see you at the concert!

Here’s to you, Dad.

A musical memoir for this Father’s Day.

My youth is drenched in the blues-inspired guitar rock that was in constant rotation in my dad’s car and at home. Artists like Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimi Hendrix, Albert King, Eric Clapton and ZZ Top can give a rough outline of his musical tastes from the 80s to late 90s. Classic rock staples like The Beatles, The Who, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd were strictly forbidden, as they were deemed “too poppy” by Dad. As all young children do, I blindly agreed with Dad’s position. The British Invasion and soul music would have to wait for me until my late teens when I moved out on my own.

Despite this, I still remember being exposed to a variety of good music living at home. Rock, blues, country and everything in between was played. But it was Dad’s passion for the guitar solo that affected me in such a way that led to my pursuit for finding (and critically listening to) the perfect instrumental performance. Before I ever began to study music, I remember listening to SRV’s Texas Flood endlessly, memorizing each note of every solo and the way it sounded. I would often sing it back trying to mimic with the right articulation. Anything was fair game because I was learning: Santana’s “Oye Como Va”, Clapton’s “Layla”, Hendrix’s “Fire” and even (the forbidden) Jimmy Page’s solo on “Heartbreaker”. It was the kind of active listening that is required of any serious music student, and I can still sing most of these solos verbatim today.

I strongly recall evenings listening together with Dad to his old LPs and discovering all the cool music that he listened to in high school and college. I remember my excitement when I first heard Jimi Hendrix’s “Gypsy Eyes” for the first time and my initial puzzlement at Buddy Guy’s guitar style. There were also occasions when we took a timeout while woodworking in the garage to hear Albert King deliver another furious guitar solo (“Crosscut Saw” was always my favorite). These are memories that I still treasure and these days, I understand how great it must be to experience those moments with your son.

Dad’s passion for music was always there, and it’s proven to be a strong bond between us still. There are so many lessons and skills that the man taught me over the years, but I think this was the one that he never planned out. When I think of all the times I was chauffeured to and from band rehearsals or lessons or gigs or whatever else, Dad was more than happy to be there. Mom and Dad both were, really. I can’t neglect my mom’s constant support of my musical path. They loved to hear what I was doing even when they didn’t like or understand the music I was pursuing in the same way that I did.

I’m sure that he was eventually won over (even just a little) by my involvement in jazz, ska and reggae music, too. Dad always had an open ear and an opinion of my practice sessions, recordings and live shows, for better or worse. That kind of communication meant a lot in those formative days, because he was my first critic of content and taste. It’s because of my dad that I was able to find the path that I’ve been on for as long as I can remember.

Thanks Dad. I’m eternally grateful.

Houston’s jazz history

I’ve decided that something needs to be done to aggregate and organize all the information relevant to this city’s expansive jazz history. Therefore, I’ll start putting all the collected information that I can find in one place, and you can find it here: http://ryangabbart.com/music/houston-jazz-history/

I’ll post the significant updates here on the blog, but I invite everyone to contribute submissions by either emailing me directly or posting a link in the comments section of the History page. Photos, articles, videos and interviews are welcome (and needed!). Eventually I’ll be able to categorize and sort everything for quick access via search.

Trade your Christmas music up

It’s inevitable. You will attend a party this holiday season and the music playlist will include some God-forsaken Christmas album that you will drive you up the wall. Main offenders (in my opinion) usually include Kenny G, Mannheim Steamroller or The Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

Not this year, Kenny. Not EVER.

Don’t let your party get to this point! Instead of playing these worn out, tasteless choices, why not something interesting and fun?

I’ve never been a fan of Christmas/holiday music, not even a little. It’s been a topic of loathing for me ever since I was old enough to develop opinions. I guess the whole “Christmas Creep” thing is a sore subject for everyone. Artists usually turn out a holiday-themed album as a secure entry into their cannon as a marketing ploy. After all, Christmas music sells at least once EVERY year, so why not? Right? Unfortunately, most of this music (also: movies) really REALLY stinks. So, why not trade that bad music in for something better?

For an incredibly thorough list, check out eMusic’s Ultimate Guide to Holiday Music. But I’ll list just a couple here:

For the traditionalist

Vince Guaraldi Trio, A Charlie Brown Christmas
Elvis Presley, Elvis’ Christmas Album (and subsequent reissues)
A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector


Rock, R&B, Soul & Jazz
Rockin’ Little Christmas
Joey Ramone, Christmas Spirit…In My House
Stax Records, Christmas In Soulsville
James Brown, James Brown’s Funky Christmas
Jimmy Smith, Christmas Cookin’

For the Classicist

J.S. Bach, Christmas Oratorio
Benjamin Britten, A Ceremony of Carols
Christmas With The Symphony Brass Of Chicago
Ludwig Guttler Brass Ensemble, Christmas Brass Music

An Esoteric Christmas
Various Artists, Badd Santa
The Mexicali Brass, Christmas With The Mexicali Brass
Shawn Lee’s Ping Pong Orchestra, A Very Ping Pong Christmas: Funky Treats From Santa’s Bag
Andy Cirzan’s Annual Holiday Mixtape (for a limited time!)

Some Noteworthy Winter Performances

If you’re in the Sugar Land area for New Year’s Eve, why not drop by the Town Square for the free, family friendly festivities? The highlight (of course) being that I’ll be playing with Fried Ice Cream and the big Sugar Cube Drop that will take place at midnight. It should be pretty neat, right?

 

 

 

I’ll be playing with Thomas Helton’s Tribute band on January 9 at Ovations. I’m really excited about this because we’ll be performing Miles Davis’ classic Birth of the Cool in its entirety. It’s my first time playing any of these tunes, so I’ve been really studying up on my classic bebop and cool jazz improvisation styles. Sometimes orchestras perform historical concerts on period instruments, and I feel like this is no different from that. But The Birth of the Cool is an historical artifact that I feel is still relevant and influential to many jazz musicians. It’s going to be a lot of fun!

Finally, on February 25 & 26, the 13th Annual Moores School of Music Jazz Festival is taking place. This year’s guest artist is trombonist Andy Martin. He will be giving free noon clinics and a performance with the MSM Jazz Orchestra on Saturday night’s concert. You won’t want to miss the spectacular concerts on both nights, though.

You can always keep up with what I’m doing by checking out my calendar of events, too.

Can’t talk. Busy.

It’s been a busy semester, which may not actually make me special (no matter how much I think it does), but I’d like to take some time out to chart this fall’s ups, downs and everything in between.

 

Teaching

I’m still rehearsing the MSM Jazz Ensemble, but I’ve also added to my load with a music appreciation class this semester. Instructing a class is a lot of work, even my little class! While I never thought I’d be on the other side of the grade book, I have found it to be an enjoyable experience. Teaching students how to comprehend music has been an exhausting challenge, one that I hope I’ve been successful at. The learning curve has been difficult, though. Preparing lectures, organizing materials for presentation, handouts & guidelines for assignments, grading those assignments takes a lot more time than expected.

My big goal has been  to offer solid, practical advice on understanding jazz music as an art form. The ability to communicate one’s thoughts are critical, and I only hope that I’ve sharpened some students’ skills when it comes to expressing their opinions more clearly. It’s a lofty goal, I know. But one that I’m interested in seeing accomplished, if only marginally. Between the classroom and the rehearsal room, I’m constantly telling people that they need to be clear in their message. My days are filled with a longing forclarity. This is most certainly a metaphor for my life, I just haven’t pinpointed exactly what yet. Too busy.

There have been some great moments, however. My favorite comment from my class this semester has been from this listening journal entry (in reference to this video of the Stan Kenton Orchestra):

It’s the first time I’ve seen a big band drop all of their instruments and sing together with June Christy. The sound is good but honestly the lyrics ruin the song I think. It’s almost like they are complaining about all the cheap products in Mexico. Nobody likes a complainer. June Christy’s voice is good though. Malaguena >Tampico

And my favorite quote from another jazz history class: “Jazz is more profound when it doesn’t help pay the bills.”

JAZZ: The Smithsonian Anthology

Speaking of jazz, history and jazz history…did you know that the Smithsonian Folkways label is releasing an updated collection of jazz recordings? It’s about time, since their last update was nearly 30 years ago. With it, there is a revised track listing and several [drumroll] NEW recordings! There’s a better representation of the last 60 years, especially, with a more diverse selection of cool, hard bop and avant-garde artists. It seems that they could have done a better job with newer material from the past 15 years, but I appreciate the inclusion of newer artists all the same. Maybe a completely new set featuring jazz music from 1970 and onward? Just a thought.

As part of their marketing campaign for the new set, Smithsonian Folkways has posted a jazz history listening test for all 111 tracks. If you’re on limited time (like me) you can also take the shortened 25-track test. I’m pleased to say that I named all 25 fairly easy: usually identifying the artist better than the song title.

Infographic Madness!

The Beatles are the J.S. Bach of popular music. Their output is both prolific and incredibly influential. More than any other pop group EVER. Time well tell, but I’m fairly certain that I’m correct in this assumption. Which is why there are so many analytical and historical reports on the guys. As a musician, though, I get totally excited whenever I see study of their musical compositions, like this infographic:

Click to enlarge

Michael Deal did a great job of compiling several strains of information (from song keys to lyrics to collaborations) on the Beatles, resulting in this fantastic page of graphic goodness. For a complete musical analysis of their output, I suggest reading The Beatles As Musicians: Revolver through the Anthology by Walter Everett.

winter Project

I’m loving the recording of “Love for Sale” by the Miles Davis Sextet on The ’58 Sessions album. Especially noteworthy is Cannonball Adderley’s solo. I need to transcribe this and use it in an arrangement for big band. I’ve never spent a lot of time listening to The ’58 Sessions, but if my Listening to Jazz class has done anything for me on a personal level, it’s been a joyful revisiting and rediscovering of jazz classics.