Tag Archive: digital media

On Sunday, I’ll go to the recording studio to record pre-screening tapes for several music schools including NYU, Eastman School of Music, and the University of Miami (Fl).  I’ll lay down six tunes: “Tune Up,” “Billie’s Bounce,” “Days of Wine and Roses,” “Black Orpheus,” and “Darn That Dream.”  I will be accompanied by Mike Holmes (piano), Waldo Latowsky (drums), and Bobby Durham (bass).  These tunes are pretty tough, but I have been working on them quite a bit, including working with them every day this week with my band director, Mr. Bob Chandler.  I will post the recordings here as soon as I have them available.  Here’s a little information about the tunes:

“Tune Up” is a be-bop piece by Miles Davis.  The amazing thing about this tune is that it goes through three keys, and has six key changes per chorus.  It starts out in the key of concert D major for the first four bars (IIm-V7-I progression), C major for the next four bars, and Bb major for the next four bars.  Then, there is a four bar turnaround that goes Em-F7-Bbmaj7-A7.  This leads back into the IIm-V7-I in D, then C, then Bb, and then each chorus ends with one last IIm-V7-I in D.  Be-bop is characterized by advanced harmony and often very fast tempos (usually over 200 beats per minute).  Well on the subject of advanced harmony, this tune was later used by John Coltrane as a basis for his tune “Countdown.”  That particular tune has a fairly similar melody, but Coltrane makes his own chord substitutions, and uses quite a bit of tritone substitution.

“Billie’s Bounce” is a Blues in F, but it is not a standard 12 bar blues.  It is a “Bird Blues,” which means that it is written by Charlie Parker, and has his chord substitutions.  Parker made some chord substitutions.  So, the substitutions allow for more harmony, and more advanced improvisational techniques are required to navigate the changes.  The tune is pretty fast, and has a fairly difficult head, unlike most blues.  It is up-tempo, but not terribly fast, I would say around 155 beats per minute.   A normal 12 bar blues in F would be as follows:




However, a bird blues is as follows:

F7-Bb7 Bdim-F7-Cm7 F7

Bb7-Bb7 Bdim-F7-Am7 D7

Gm-C7-F7 D7-Gm C7

“Days of Wine and Roses” was written by Henry Mancini, and the lyrics were written by Johnny Mercer.  The tune came from the 1962 movie of the same name.  For the most part, the tune is in F major, although there are some spots where one can use the whole tone scale, and even one chord where the F minor scale can be used.  Some bluesy notes (b9 ) work well at times, but it pretty much stays in one key, though there is a very cool turnaround that is showy for a soloist.  The trick with this tune is that it is not a ballad, but it is still pretty slow, which makes it very easy to get ahead of the changes and get lost, which can not happen on Sunday.

“Black Orpheus” is probably the easiest of these tunes.  It is a bossa nova (latin style, straight 8th notes).  For the most part, it hovers around A minor, which is the relative minor of C major.  There are, however, times in the tune where there are some cool chords that one can really play with.  Hitting a G# over an E7 chord works very well, and there is a pretty cool C#dim A7(b9) measure that is good for working outside the key.  There are a couple of bars in D minor, and a couple in E minor as well, but for the most part, the challenge of this tune is playing something melodic.  For me, this will be a showcase on my tone and melody.

The next tune is a bear.  “Darn That Dream.”  An amazingly slow ballad, with more chord changes than grains of sand on a beach.  No, seriously.  At times, there are 4 chord changes per measure!  Often times, they are not very close to each other either.  The first measure contains 3 chords: A major, Cminor, F7.  What?  Voice leading is a HUGE challenge on this song, and you can not get lost, because if you do it is very obvious.  Also, because the tune moves so slowly, the great player can not just play the melody like it is written.  You must take a lot of liberties with the melody in order to keep it from being too boring.

The very last tune is another Miles Davis tune, “All Blues.”  It comes off of the Kind of Blue record, so this will be interesting to try.  It is a pretty standard blues in G, but the tough part of it is that it is in 6/8.  This tune lends itself to being a modal tune, so I will use a lot of mixolydian and dorian scales.  Simple melodies work well, and are necessary to help you keep your place because the tune simply feels so strange.

Also, this will take place on November 14, one day after my late saxophone teacher, Dennis Taylor’s, birthday.  So, happy birthday DT!  Also, a big thanks to Dennis and his wife, Karen Leipziger, for helping to set this up.


“The Days of Wine and Roses laugh and run away, like a child at play, through the meadow lands and through the passing door, a door marked never more that was not there before.  The lonely night discloses just a passing breeze, filled with memories of the golden smile that introduced me to the days of wine and rose and you.” – Johnny Mercer (lyrics to “Days of Wine and Roses” from the 1962 film of the same name).

A while ago, I heard several arguments on the complexity of music, particularly of jazz.  As a jazz student, I have spent many, many hours studying this style of music, studying improvisational techniques, and ways to play a song “well.”  One song that I know I can play well is a Henry Mancini/Johnny Mercer tune called, “Days of Wine and Roses.”  Here is a copy of the lead sheet (sadly, it is very difficult to convert something from a Finale notepad file to a file that I can use on this blog, but this should do).  So, we will now examine how to approach playing the “head” as a saxophone player (or any horn player), how to improvise a solo, how to “comp” chords on piano, how to play a bass line through this (on bass or piano), and finally what the drummer would have to do.  Keep in mind that all of this is done in the minds of musicians.  We see nothing more than the lead sheet that is below.  Nothing else.  All the rest of the decisions are made in our heads, and are not made until we begin to play.  This is what allows jazz to be so free and conversational.  Now, here is the lead sheet.  One short note, The first and second endings are not noted on this sheet.  The first ending starts at the Fmaj7 chord before the D-, and goes to the repeat.  The second ending is right after the repeat.

Now, as a saxophone player, the first thing that I must do is play the melody.  However, this would be very boring if I simply played what is written.  The first thing that I will do is make sure that I walk down on the whole note.  So, I may play A-G-F-E natural.  The E natural against the Eb7+4 chord creates a nice tension, which is then resolved by going to the Eb.  The E natural is the flat nine of that chord, so that note will often work over that chord, seeing as the Eb chord is altered already (dominant 7, sharp 4).  Next, I might add a grupetto or turn on the D on the  A- chord.  Simple things like this, or anticipating phrasing makes the melody more enjoyable.  I would never play8-17 like written.  There is plenty of space for more turns, anticipation or delaying of rhythms, and countless other possibilities.  Next comes the solo.  We are in F major for the first chord, so I would likely start my solo running straight up the scale.  Start on an upbeat to give your lines momentum.  I would then be sure to highlight the +4 and b7 of the next chord, so I would play some combination of Db and A natural.  Highlight the +9 and b9 of the next chord, and then we go into G-.  Here, I would highlight the Bb and Eb that are outside of the key signature, and this is also a great place for a G blues scale, as it creates a nice contrast to the rather simple, happy melody.  Basically, from the D7+9 chord through the G- chords, one can use an Eb minor scale, G minor scale, or Bb major.  I prefer the Eb minor.  But don’t use too much of this yet, rather wait until the second chorus of solo to really hammer out the blues.  Next, we see our beloved Eb7+4 chord again.  Once again, emphasize the Db and the notes outside of the key.  Now, we likely have only really used simple melodies to this point.  We get to a point where we are in G major (and E minor, which are very similar) for a couple measures.  Use a lot of 16th notes here, and go into a double time sort of feel, come back to the A minor, and then arpeggiate the turnaround to emphasize the chord tones that are outside of the key.  Start each arpeggio in root position, but because we have two chords per measure, the second chord will not be arpegiatted in root position.  The arpeggios will be straight 8th notes, and will be as follows E-G-Bb-D-C#-A-G-E, then in the next measure, D-F-Ab-C-B-G-F-D.  We’re back to G-, so the rest of the turnaround is easy.  Second chorus is the same until we get to the second ending.  Really aim for the Bm7(b5) chord, and hit the F natural there.  E7+9 chord is a good place to show off the #9 (G natural).  Make up a nice closeing rhythm and you are done.

Now, for the piano player.  This is only a medium swing song, so if you are a good piano player, you want to play a couple of different voicings on this.  You don’t have to play the melody, so you can use both hands for chords.  The bass player plays the root, so you really want a rootless voicing.  For the +4 chords, you could choose a sort of sus voicing, where you play the sharp 4 for two beats, and then substitute the 3 for the +4 on the last two beats, or you could simply play a voicing like 7-9-3-+11 or something of the sort (the 11 is the +4).  The most important thing is that the 7 and 3 of each chord get voiced.  Why?  The 7 and 3 tell what kind of chord we have (major, dominant 7, minor, diminished, etc.)  As far as rhythm goes, any standard swing rhythm would work.  Vary rythms accordingly.  For guitar player, a Freddie Green style of strumming would work just fine.

For the bass player, you want to make sure that you hit the root on every chord.  The piano/guitar player is not playing the root, so they are using what is called a rootless voicing.  The bass can walk through most of this, but emphasizing the alterations on the chords is imperative.  For the drummer, I would recommend using brushes on this tune, but light sticks would be alright as well.  Make sure to carry the form through the song, and give a little crash to note the different sections of the song (repeat signs, 1st, 2nd ending, after each chorus).

The amazing thing about jazz is that all of the musicians have to know this and make their decisions within a few seconds.  So, that is a little demonstration of how to attack any jazz tune, and there are many far more complex than this one.  Hopefully this gives you a better appreciation for how layered the music is, and how much knowledge it takes to play these tunes.  If a jazz musician is lucky enough to have music, they have nothing more than the lead sheet, like above.  This small amount of written music allows for a greater freedom of expression and conversation between musicians, the essential elements of jazz.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” – First Amendment to the United States Constitution

Is there anything more important to our society than the First Amendment?  I doubt it.  In order to create a society of excellence in the sciences and arts, a society must be able to express itself freely.  Imagine a society where one can not say what one wants to say, or protest.  Imagine that John Lennon’s song, “Give Peace a Chance” was never allowed to be sung.  The Vietnam War protests were perhaps the pinnacle of our first amendment rights.  Those protests tested our country, and, regardless of what your opinion of that war was, that was a movement that was the identity of a decade of our country.  Without the freedom of speech, our nation would lose its identity.  What about artists?  Musical and visual artists would certainly not journey into this nation if they were not allowed to say what they want to say.  Would we want a nation (like the USSR) that banned the Beatles?  Is that what we want to be known for?

Freedom of the Press.  Without that, I could not write this blog.  In fact, in some countries, what I am writing right now could be considered illegal.  Is that the society that we, as Americans, want?  I should hope not.  We often hear how the press is “biased” or “unfair” and that may be true.  But, that is their right, it is up to us the people to make up our own minds.  The press can say what they want to say, and they can endorse the candidates they want to endorse.  I, for one, am proud that we have people in the media that care enough about our nation to make their opinions known.

As far as freedom of religion, I am a Roman Catholic, and in many places Catholics were presecuted.  Christians have been fed to lions, people have been martyred for their faith.  I am glad that we have a nation where Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Agnostics, Atheists, or anyone else can have the peace of mind that our government will not persecute them based on their beliefs.  Imagine not having the right to go to Church.  Imagine having to have church in the basement of a friend’s house because the country does not allow you to worship freely.  It ain’t a pretty sight.  To be sure, religious differences cause tension from time to time.  But would we not rather have a little tension than no freedom?

The right of people to assemble peacefully is integral to our society.  Martin Luther King Jr. was permitted to speak publically, and he called attention to the problem of racism in our country, and, thankfully, we now have a society that includes people of many races, and does not exclude people due to ethnic background.  We have the right to disagree with our elected officials.  We have the right to send them home, and place the people we want in charge of our country.  We are this nation.  We are America.  We are free peoples living together.  At times there may be struggles, at times, such as now, we may have two very different political parties and ideologies, but the important thing is that we are allowed to have this debate, to have these ideas.  Sure, at times tempers may flare, and we may have some rough days, but would we really have it any other way?

Get Low Review

          In a world of movies dominated by big budget special effects films, Get Low, presents a different sort of movie reminiscent of its setting in 1930s Roane County, Tennessee.  Director Aaron Schneider and Producer Dean Zanuck deserve plenty of praise for making one of the best dramas of the year for only $7 million.  In a somewhat unusual role, Robert Duvall delivers a performance that some critics – including this one – believe may earn him an Oscar Nomination. 
         Felix Busch (played by Robert Duvall) is a hermit who nobody quite seems to understand.  He has lived by himself in a house in rural Tennessee for the last 40 years.  When he comes to town, he creates quite a buzz.  He wants to throw a funeral party for himself, while he is still alive.  He invites anyone and everyone to come to the funeral, and his “hermit money” provides an incentive for struggling funeral home owner Frank Quinn (played by Bill Murray).  It is a tale of love, regret, forgiveness and understanding, through which the life of Felix Busch slowly becomes just a little bit clearer. 
          The acting in the movie is well above average.  Robert Duvall has a role that is not so much defined by what he says, but what he does, which makes his facial expressions and body language increasingly important.  Indeed, Duvall did not merely play Busch, he was, even if just for the brief 100 minutes of the film, Felix Busch. 
          In addition to the experienced Duvall, there was one other actor whose role was portrayed perfectly.  This was the 27 year old Lucas Black, who plays Buddy Robinson, Frank Quinn’s assistant and the mediator between Busch and Quinn.  Black – hailing from Decatur, Alabama, seems to feel quite at home in this role, and his southern accent helps to keep the pace of the movie from rolling by too fast.  To truly feel the emotional impact of the film, it can not be too fast paced, and Quinn’s natural southern demeanor kept the movie true to the setting.  It is Black that keeps this movie authentic, and he deserves major praise for his work.
          Though special effects were a non factor in this film, the cinematography and musical score were outstanding.  They worked together, the musical score consisting of simple country guitar melodies reminiscent of the guitar playing of Andy Griffith and the cinematography worked to create a beautiful and accurate portrait of Tennessee in November.  Indeed, the strong musical score and cinematography worked in conjunction with the acting to make this film one of the best dramas in recent years.
          The film has yet to win any awards, but many, including Wall Street Journal  critic John Anderson, believe that the film may earn Robert Duvalle an Oscar nomination.  This film easily earns a ***+ out of **** review.  Simplistic, nostalgic, powerful and beautiful are the only words needed to describe this film.
You can see the trailer here.

“God put me here.  The longer I am here, the more I feel called to be here…it’s not really a job because I love it.” – Mr. Jerry Williams

When asked who I would most like to interview, I think that there is really only one answer.  Mr. Jerry Williams, the U.S. History teacher and baseball coach here at Franklin Road Academy.  A teacher unlike any other, Mr. Williams has long been seen as an enigma by students.  However, through a very unorthodx teaching method, Mr. Williams turns ordinary students into extraordinary writers, while giving them confidence and tools that they can use for success in college and beyond.  This past Wednesday, I had the chance to interview Mr. Williams.

It is 7:15 on a cool August morning.  It is my appointed time to interview Franklin Road Academy’s most fascinating teacher, and many time winner of the FRA faculty superlative “Craziest In Class.”  As I arrive at his classroom, I am thrown the first curveball.  He is nowhere to be found.   I find him in the hallway, and he beckons me outside.  I hastily grab my notepad and pen and hope that I have my questions memorized.

Mr. Williams, as intimidating as he sometimes is, turns out to be one of the most pleasant interviewees one could imagine.  Slowly, he reveals to me his motivation for being a teacher.  Mr. Williams was originally academically ineligable to play baseball, so, after a year at junior college, he returned to Vanderbilt University, where he was an All-SEC catcher on the 1980 SEC Championship team.  He said that originally, he did not think that he would be a teacher.  But as he came here, he sought to teach others what he had not known, to prevent the mistake that he had made.  He wanted his students to go into college, “with a head full of knowledge.”  He wanted students to go to college and beyond feeling confident in their writing.  As the sweet morning air hangs in the sky, Mr. Williams greets the students as they arrive.  We get back to the interview, and I ask the question that I personally am most curious about: What is the hardest part of your job?  Mr. Williams looks to the sunrise and thinks for a couple moment before finally saying one word, “listening.”  Mr. Williams tells me that he often gets so excited about teaching and gets so thrilled with the subject matter that he sometimes forgets to really listen to and understand his students.  It’s something he says he works on, but something that he still struggles with.  A surprising answer, that shows his real passion for the students.  He sees his greatest challenge is understanding and listening to students, a real sign of caring for his pupils.  Next, I ask him on whether he thinks he is being called to be a teacher, and what the meaning of that calling is.  Mr. Williams says that he does indeed see teaching as his calling, though it was not always so.  As he continues his service at FRA (and it really is a service) for over 25 years now, he says that the calling grows stronger each year and that, “now, it’s not even a job because I love it.”  He ends by reminding me that what you put into it is what you get out of it.  For Mr. Williams, God placed him in this school to make a difference, to help people become better writers, make class more enjoyable, and, “trying to look for good, and make the good better.”

“Through humor, you can soften some of the worst blows that life delivers.  And once you find laughter, no matter how painful your situation might be, you can survive it.” – Bill Cosby

Well, for Digital Media, I must write a post on why I chose to take this course, so here is an original poem by me, myself and I detailing this choice.

Along the path of summer I strode
When upon me a choice I was bestowed
I was in need of a computer course
But did not want to work like a horse
Computer science was out, Digital Media in
For taking this class is far from a sin

But this was not the only reason I thought
For to question the establishment I sought
For since the days of Wine and Roses are gone
I question the cause each and every dawn
The day of tragedy has struck, 11th hour has come
A tragedy that drove loved ones to tequila and rum

For this tragedy was a journalistic disaster
That had the force of a nuclear reactor
It caused the downfall of a great career of words
It caused the downfall of a great number of nerds
So I seek to perfect the science of Digital Media
Without making this blog appear too sepia