Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Musicians & Singers: The Importance of Recording Yourself

Why should you record yourself?  Obviously, to see what you really sound like, e.g. what you are doing wrong and what you are doing right.  It is easy to fool yourself into believing you are the next Jaco Pastorius, or if you are a singer, the next Mel Torme.  You aren't hearing the actual sound, you are hearing the sound in your head, which unfortunately, is not the sound the audience hears.  We've all seen those comical clips of singers trying out for American Idol, thinking they are really killing it, but blowing it so badly that it's embarrassing.  Poor souls.  Don't be one of them.

A few months ago I purchased a Handy H5 Zoom Recorder from Sweetwater.  This is a hand-held recorder that does a great job of recording live performances and practices.  All I do is turn it on and lay it down somewhere, and after practice I turn it off.  The micro disc then goes into my laptop, where I download and analyze the recording.

I use the free program Audacity to separate each song from the larger recording, and then I export each separate song into its own MP3 file.  These can be uploaded to Yourlisten.com or sent to band members via dropbox, or even emailed if not too large.

The first time I recorded my bass playing, I was appalled.  This was several years ago.  I learned that I was not hitting each note right on the head.  There was a slight delay.  This was because I was listening to the band and searching for the right note to play.  You can't search, you have to know what note you are going to play.  I don't mean you should memorize the bassline, necessarily.  If you know the song thoroughly, you can improvise and still be on the beat.  Now I concentrate on hitting the note right on the beat.  It sounds much better.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Foreign Fender Basses (Photo)

I have two Fender Jazz Bass guitars.  The one on the left is my Chinese Fender and the one on the right is my fretless Fender Jazz Bass, made in Mexico.

Are they REAL Fender basses?  Yes, absolutely, authorized by Fender and made to specifications.

I purchased the Chinese Fender a few years back.  My first bass guitar was a 1960 Fender Jazz Bass, purchased for me by my father.  It too was sunburst with a tortoise shell pickguard.  I was sentimental about it and wanting to replace it as closely as I could afford.  The Chinese Fender only cost $500.  It is a lovely three-color sunburst with a black pickguard.

I recently acquired the fretless Fender because I am now focusing on jazz.  It only cost $650, and I bought it not for the excellent price, but for the availability.  It came with a white pickguard, which I replaced with a tortoise shell pickguard.  The tortoise shell looks much better on a sunburst finish.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Loving My New Fretless Bass; Another Tip For Learning Tunes by Reading Notes

I received my tortoise shell pickguard and installed it on my Fender bass.  It looks so much better than the white pickguard.  After laying off practicing for a day, playing did indeed seem easier when I resumed the following day.

Today I was playing "Misty" along with the notes when an idea dawned on me.  Before playing the notes to the recording, I just follow the notes with my finger while the recording plays.  This gives me a much better sense of the timing and sound.  Afterwards, it is easier to play the notes correctly with the recording.  Brilliant.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Time to Rest and Reflect

This past week I have hit the practice routine harder than usual.  My new fretless bass kept me up late practicing.  New toy syndrome.  I had two band practices with two different bands, the Cats Jazz Band (a big band with a band leader) and a new quartet that is in the early stages of formation.  All this practice required intense focus and concentration.  As a result, I am mentally tired.  I need a day or two away from the bass.

I'm told that the subconscious mind keeps working on problem solution and information processing when the conscious mind is at rest.  I have noticed an uptick in my level of playing after a layoff of practice.  Your mind is refreshed and things seem to click and come together more easily.

This only works if the rest period is preceded by vigorous study or practice.  It's why in college students are often advised not to over-study for exams, and to even take a day of rest before an exam, assuming he or she has studied well beforehand.

Fortunately for me, no more band practices are scheduled for a couple of weeks, so I will have time to rest and reflect.  However, I won't waste the time off.  There is too much still to learn.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

How to Learn Jazz Tunes

I have been struggling for the best way to learn jazz tunes for some time now.  When I first started with a beginner jazz band, I thought I just had to study the notes in the sheet music, playing them over and over, without any music.  Then, I thought, when the band meets I will be able to just sight read the notes and all would be well.  It didn't work.

Then I tried something else.  I would just read the chord symbols and build bass lines around them.  That worked better, but it wasn't perfect.  Some songs, like "Take Five," have specialized note patterns that require reading the notes to learn the song.

Now I have evolved to a third method.  I listen to a recording of the song to get the gist of it.  Then I play through the notes on the page once or twice to gain familiarity with the song.  Finally, I attempt to play along with the recording, by ear.

My final effort is to play the notes along to the recording, putting the sound and the theory together for a complete package.  I inevitably discover parts of the song that I can't read well enough to stay up with the recording.  I then go back to the notes and study just that part of the song, memorizing the note pattern if needed.  Now I play along to the recording again, both by ear and by reading the notes.  I repeat this cycle until I know the song well enough to play it with my live band.

This new method seems to work well!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Got My New Fretless Fender Jazz Bass

My new fretless Fender came in.  I like it.  It is liberating not to worry about hitting frets.  The neck is very fast.  The sound is great, though the new Fender flatwound strings sound a bit tinny.  This should pass when the strings are broken in.  They will stretch over the next few days, and I will have to tune them often, but then they will be fine.

I can't help but wonder what Fender was thinking, putting a bright white pickguard over a sunburst finish.  The white does not complement the dark finish, in my opinion.  I ordered a tortoise shell pickguard from EBay, for only $15, which includes shipping.  I will swap out the white pickguard when the tortoise shell one arrives.

Tomorrow I practice with my yet unnamed jazz quintet, which now may be a quartet.  The sax player is dropping out.  He says he only wants to jam now and then, has no time for gigging or practicing for gigging.  Now is the time for serious musicians to separate themselves from the dilettantes.  

Friday, March 17, 2017

Are You Gig-Ready?

"Gigging" is the term that means playing in musical performances.  A gig is a musician's job.  Playing in parties, clubs, festivals and other venues is called "gigging," or "playing gigs."

Being good enough to play in such performances is being "gig-ready."  Being good enough to gig is the goal of every serious musician who wants to perfect his craft.  That's what we strive for in individual and group practices.

To get gig-ready, you have to be willing to "let it all hang out," to coin a 1960's era slogan.  Take a chance.  Perform!  You may screw up, you may make a fool of yourself.  If so, be the fool, after all, it's only temporary.  You are a work in progress, and on the way to becoming a competent musician.

If you don't have gigging as your goal, why are you practicing your instrument?

Thursday, March 16, 2017

A-N-T-I-C-I-P-A-T-I-O-N: Still Waiting for my New Fretless Fender Bass

I thought I would have my new fretless Fender Jazz Bass by now, but it only just left Salt Lake City (a UPS hub) this morning.  Looks like Guitar Center stores inventory somewhere in the Midwest.  However, UPS tracking says it should be delivered by the end of the day tomorrow.  I should have it by the weekend.  That's good, because I have a practice with my fledgling jazz band on Sunday.

Monday, March 13, 2017

I Bought a Fretless Fender Bass Guitar!

Yesterday my friend Rafael Espanol let me try his Rondo fretless bass guitar.  I liked it.  So today I went over to Guitar Center in Gilroy and ordered a fretless Fender Jazz Bass.  I should have it in my hot little hands in a couple of days.  My wife will complain, but all progress involves some pain.  An hour or two of nagging is a small price to pay for a $650 Fender bass.

The biggest advantage of a fretless bass guitar:  no fret noise.  No making that awful boink sound when your finger hits a fret by mistake.  I would rather be a tad sharp or flat when stretching for a note than to hit a fret and make that awful noise.

My bass will look exactly like the one on the left.

Breaking Into the Bay Area Jazz Scene; Dealing With a Rival (Audios)

On March 3rd I practiced with a group of very professional jazz musicians in San Jose, California.  With any luck I will play with them again.  The sax player was amazing.  Listen to the audios linked below and you will see what I mean.

On Friday evening, I and some other musician friends went to the GVA Cafe in Morgan Hill to listen to our keys man perform with his Jazz fusion band, Fusion Blue.  They were fantastic.

The keys player in Fusion Blue, Rafael Espanol, has taken us under his more experienced wing, and we practiced yesterday at his home in San Jose.  We tried out a female singer, who was quite good.  We're hoping to have her join our fledgling efforts at forming a jazz band.

The Cats Jazz Band, an adult education project of which I am a part, continues to study sheet music of famous jazz songs.  I still struggle with reading music.  I can read it, just not fast enough yet.  Sight reading is still beyond my grasp.  To make matters worse, the Cats has another jazz student who currently plays guitar, but is mostly another bassist, and he has wanted my job for the last two years.  He thinks he is better than I am, and has taken to offering me criticism disguised as advice.  His comments about my playing took a turn for the worse this week, when he became insulting.  I told him his comments were presumptuous, and asked him to stop giving me advice on how to play bass.

I won't complain too much, however.  His negative comments only spur me to practice harder, so I can blow him away, musically speaking.

Here are some songs from the March 3rd practice, which so annoyed my rival:

Autumn Leaves:  http://yourlisten.com/Stogiebass/autumn-leaves-practice-01

On Green Dolphin Street:  http://yourlisten.com/Stogiebass/satin-doll-practice-01

Moondance:  http://yourlisten.com/Stogiebass/moondance-practice01#comment

Blue Bossa:  http://yourlisten.com/Stogiebass/blue-bossa-practice-01

Four on Six:  http://yourlisten.com/Stogiebass/four-on-six

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Jamming With Jazz Musicians (Audios)

After two years of practice with my adult education band, I realized that I was not progressing as fast or as well as I would like.  My band leader told me I needed to jam with other musicians to fill out my scope of learning.  I searched Craig's List for other jazz musicians for this purpose.  I saw a few ads looking for jazz bassists, but did not feel ready to put my self out there.  Another year went by and now I do feel I have the chops to start playing in jazz jams.  Sooner or later you need to climb out of your comfort zone rut and take some chances.

A couple of weeks ago I jammed with four other musicians who aspire to play jazz.  None of us are experts, but we all want to play jazz.  So we met in the the keyboardist's garage and went at it.  The results were encouraging.  The songs recorded below are the first time we had ever played together and we are essentially playing cold.  Have a listen.

Have a listen:

Autumn Leaves

Black Orpheus

Bag's Groove

My Goal of Jazz Bassist Is Slowly Being Realized

Three years ago I dreamed of becoming a jazz bassist.  I had plenty of equipment, three bass guitars, two acoustic basses, two amplifiers, a microphone...but nowhere to use them.

I had spent the previous four years playing bass guitar with a classic rock band, but had grown tired of rock.  It no longer satisfied my musician's soul.  I had been listening to Rod Stewart's five CD collection of "the Great American Songbook" jazz standards, and I yearned to play bass to such music.  But how does one break in?  I hadn't a clue.  Still, I joined the local jazz society and bought a lot of Jamey Aebersold books about jazz, and collected an array of walking bass how-to books.  They weren't much help at that point, since these books presumed a pre-existing level of knowledge that I did not yet possess.

One day, however, my attorney and good friend Don invited me to come to a jazz band recital that he was in, playing alto saxophone.  Don was in a band?  What was that all about?  He told me it was an adult education project where a lot of older musicians (and a few young ones) practiced jazz and swing tunes, under the direction of a band leader.  I signed up, and began playing bass with this band.  Suddenly I had found a possible path to my goal!

The band read music.  I didn't read music.  Uh oh.  With each new sheet of music the band leader gave out, I penciled in the name of each note, c, d, e, etc.  I could easily figure out the notes because I new the lines of the staff were, from bottom to top, GBDFA (good boys do fine always) and the spaces were ACEG (all cows eat grass).  Slowly, after a few weeks, I could recognize the notes on sight and actually began reading music.  Not expertly, to be sure, but slowly and clumsily.  After three years with this band, my note reading has steadily improved.  It gets easier over time.