Monday, August 21, 2017

Tips of the Week: Dealing With the Jitters; Real Book Choices

Dealing With Nervousness:  Yesterday my band played at the GVA Cafe in Morgan Hill, California.  Just before we broke into glorious song, I had a very small case of butterflies (nervousness).  There were two accomplished bass players in the audience.  Would they think I'm a jerk?  A rube?  A fool with a bass?

It was just a fear of being judged.  We all fear not measuring up to others' expectations.  But I had a quick talk with myself:  just play like there's no one in the audience.  If they like it or don't like it, it's all good.  So nervousness was not a factor in my playing that night.

Real Books:  Real Books are books of sheet music for musicians.  They are licensed for use, and not a violation of copyright, as were their predecessors, called Fake Books.  Most of them are for C instruments like piano, guitar and bass, but you can get them also for Bb and Eb instruments, that is, saxophones and trumpets.  The most popular Real Book on Amazon is Real Book 1, 6th Edition.  It has the notes and chord symbols, but not the lyrics.  This has been a problem for me, as I still get lost on occasion, and need the lyrics to keep me on track.

I found out this week that, instead of Real Book 1 6th Edition, you may want to consider Real Voice Book 1 for High Voice.  It has the same music, in the same keys, but with the lyrics.  The price is about the same, very affordable. Real Voice Book II is different from Real  Book II, but its songs also include the lyrics.  I have both of them.

Other great Real Books that have the lyrics are the New Real Book series, 4 books as I recall.  There is some duplication of songs, but enough differences to make it worth your while to buy.

First Gig of Our Jazz Quintet: "Moment's Notice" -- Lessons Learned

Fusion Blue at the GVA Cafe
Yesterday our jazz quintet, "Moment's Notice" played its first gig at the GVA Cafe in Morgan Hill, California.  We only played five tunes, in conjunction with a jazz fusion group of friends.  Basically, we opened for their band "Fusion Blue (see pic)."

It went well.  Not perfect, but you must adapt to unexpected twists and turns.  I forgot my sheet music to "It Had to be You," and was forced to adlib the song.  When we started to play "Fly Me to the Moon," our singer started off on the wrong note, forcing me to switch to the key he was singing in, instead of the key on the sheet music.  Still, it came out all right.  Lesson learned:  always start a song with an instrumental piece to set the key for the singer.  We need to practice our beginnings a lot more.

I recorded the gig with my Handy H5 Zoom recorder, but had the volume up too high and there is distortion in the recordings.  My bad.  So I won't post them here.  Another lesson learned.  I should have anticipated this because of the small stage and volume, and turned the recorder power down a bit.

Our guitar player came up with the name for the band, "Moment's Notice."  It's the title of a jazz tune by John Coltrane, and we don't even play the song, yet.  It wouldn't be my first choice, but it's better than nothing.  At least now I can start a FaceBook page for the band and start promoting it.

The big band that I play with, the Cats Jazz Band of Los Gatos, has a few weeks off, and will resume practice on September 7.  That's great, it gives me a chance to polish up our repertoire with the extra practice time.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

"Blues In The Night" Big Band Recording #jazz #bigbands

Our big band, the Cats Jazz Band of Los Gatos, meets every Thursday for practice.  This past Thursday was our last meeting of the semester and we said goodbye to our bandleader. Russell Zimmer, who has taken a more full time job as music director for a school.

I think the best song we played on Thursday was "Blues in the Night."  It was darn-near perfect.  Have a listen.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Planning My Next Bass Attack!

Tonight is the last semester session for the Cats Jazz Band of Los Gatos, California.  We will have a break for a couple of weeks, and resume in August.  I am not sure I am coming back, however.  I'm a bit bored and not terribly inspired.  Maybe it's time to give my rival a chance to play bass with the band.  I've been at it for three years now, and maybe it's time to move on.

I think my major goals right now are these:
  • Learn as many jazz tunes as I can, with a goal of 100 tunes.  This should prepare me for any jazz jam or gig.
  • Improve my knowledge of acoustic bass.  I need instruction on technique and how to avoid fatigue.  I have found a potential teacher.
  • Play in as many jazz jams as I can.  I will look for ones nearby this summer.
My Handy Zoom Recorder has been an excellent asset for practices:  it records the music very well and gives great feedback on how you actually sound.

Update:  I've decided to stay with the Cats Jazz Band for the time being.  I need the practice at reading notes.  Reading notes well takes time, and the Cats has improved my note reading considerably.  However, I'm not good enough yet, so I will stay.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

My Jazz Band Is Coming Along!

My jazz band is coming along. We still need a name. The band didn't like my suggestions of "Five Drunks on Methadone" or "Stogie the Bass Player and His Supporting Cast." Oh well. Links to songs in our last practice are below if anyone is interested in listening. I play a bass solo in the first song, "Watermelon Man."

Monday, May 8, 2017

Cats Jazz Band Recital of May 6, 2017

My practice big band had a recital last Saturday, May 6, 2017.  For some strange reason we were generally "on" and sounding fairly tight.  What a shock.  Having an audience surely helps one focus.

Here are recordings of each song.  Have a listen if you like.

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 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.