Archive for July, 2013


Brubeck & Garner – Two Of The Greatest Jazz Pianists

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013
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Brubeck & Garner – Two Of The Greatest Jazz Pianists

This is part two of the post on 7 great piano players of jazz.

Dave Brubeck (b. Dec. 6, 1920, d. Dec. 5, 2012)

Dave Brubeck is perhaps best known for his television and movie scores, and is certainly considered on the the greatest jazz pianists. His roots are in and with jazz piano, where he perfected his unique style of odd meters and rhythms. Brubeck was nearly expelled from college at the University of the Pacific when one of his professors discovered that he could not read music. Several of his professors came forward, arguing that his ability with counterpoint and harmony more than compensated. The college was still afraid that it would cause a scandal, and agreed to let Brubeck graduate only after he had promised never to teach piano. After graduating in 1942, Brubeck was drafted into the U.S. Army. He served in Europe in the Third Army. He volunteered to play piano at a Red Cross show and was such a hit that he was spared from combat service and ordered to form a band. He created one of the U.S. armed forces’ first racially integrated bands. While serving in the military, Brubeck met Paul Desmond, who was to become the sax man in the Dave Brubeck Quartet, in early 1944. Dave returned to college after serving nearly four years in the army, this time attending Mills College in Oakland. He studied under the French classical composer Darius Milhaud, who encouraged him to study fugue and orchestration.

Even many non-musicians are familiar with Brubeck’s “Take Five,” written by Brubeck’s musical partner, Paul Desmond. The recording was the first jazz instrumental to sell a million copies.

Brubeck was designated a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress, inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 1986, and presented with a Kennedy Center Honor in 2009. He died in Dec. 2012.

Suggested Recordings: Brubeck Plays Brubeck available from Amazon on audio CD. This is Dave Brubeck on piano, alone. A quintessential recording of his quartet, including “Take Five” would be Time Out, also available from Amazon.

Erroll Garner (b. Jun 15, 1921, d. Jan. 2, 1977)

Erroll Garner, who hailed from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was unique in the sense that he was entirely self-taught. He was influenced, as were many early jazz piano greats, by the music of Fats Waller.

Garner sat in for Art Tatum in Tatum’s trio in 1945 and later formed his own group. His Concert by the Sea album, recorded in 1958, is one of the best-selling albums in the history of jazz.

Erroll Garner, however, will always and forever be known as the composer of the jazz standard, “Misty.”


Suggested Recordings: Concert by the Sea available from Amazon on audio CD. For”Misty,” played by Garner, listen to Original Misty, also available from Amazon.

This article will be continued on the next post.
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Seven Jazz Piano Great Pianists – Part One Of Three

Monday, July 29th, 2013
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Seven Jazz Piano Great Pianists – Part One

Featuring: Fats Waller, Art Tatum, Dave Brubeck, Erroll Garner, Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, and Herbie Hancock

Jazz and piano are two words that just seem to go together – like salt and pepper. Jazz is an idiom, a style of music. The piano, of course, is an instrument. But, it is a flexible instrument, capable of being its own orchestra, or in the case of jazz, its own jazz combo.

In the history of jazz, many musicians have turned to the piano as their preferred means of expression. As a result, some of the best jazz music ever written and played has been on the piano.

Here then, is an accounting of seven of the best jazz piano greats, along with reasons why you should get to know them and their music – if you don’t already.

Fats Waller (b. May 21, 1904, d. Dec. 15, 1943)

It would be fair to say that Jelly Roll Morton, who preceded Waller, was more of a trailblazer, but that would be at the expense of Fats Waller’s popularity and genius.

Early jazz piano was marked by the development of the Harlem stride piano school. While James P. Johnson is known as the father of the style, and the afore-mentioned Morton played an important role, Waller perfected the style and made it popular.

A musical prodigy, of sorts, Waller played the organ at the age of six in his father’s church. In an all-too familiar story, Waller became enamored with jazz music, his father objected, and Waller, torn as he was between classical music and jazz, chose the latter. Much to the benefit of the world of jazz music.
Fats Waller was a professional performer at the age of 15, with an animated style, and exceptional vocal ability. He certainly deserves a spot on anyone’s list of jazz piano greats.

Suggested Recording: A Handful of Keys available from Amazon on Audio CD.

Art Tatum (b. Oct. 13, 1909, d. Nov. 5, 1956)

Born in Toledo, Ohio, and almost completely blind, Art Tatum is well-known for his virtuoso technique. He had perfect pitch and, like Waller, was a child prodigy, with the ability to play simple songs at the age of three.
Tatum’s parents were musical and, given his sight impairment, his attraction to sound is no surprise. His talent was. As a young adult, Tatum “cleaned up the floor” in a Harlem “piano cutting contest” with the likes of Fats Waller and the legendary Willie Smith.
If there is one unique feature to Tatum’s style that has lasted it is the fact that his swing-type of rhythm eventually led the way to the development of what we now call bebop.

Suggested Recording: Piano Starts Here available from Amazon on audio CD.

This article will be continued on the next post.

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Six Musical Forms and the Works that Go with them -Ready

Monday, July 22nd, 2013
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Six Musical Forms and the Works that Go with them

Music

What did you do when you woke up this morning? Did you haphazardly stumble through your morning without any thought to what might be coming next or did you plan your day? Maybe it started with a trip to the gym, then getting the kids on the bus, going to work, getting the kids to practice and later coming together for some much-needed family time. Whatever happened today or yesterday, you likely had a plan and without it, life would have been one chaotic event after another.

Every piece of music that is thoughtfully composed has a plan. All composers have different ways of writing their music but somewhere in the process, putting together a sequence of events is completed and in music, that’s called the form. You’ll learn more about the specifics of the form later but let’s look at a couple general musical forms.

Aria

If you’ve ever been to a musical or an opera, you’ve heard an aria. Arias can stand on their own or be part of a larger work but usually showcase a vocalist. One of the best known arias in the modern music theatre may be “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” from the musical, “Phantom of the Opera”.

Concerto

Think of an orchestra with a piano at the front of the stage playing a piece that was clearly written to showcase the masterful abilities of the pianist. That’s often a concerto. A concerto features a soloist or small ensemble accompanied by an orchestra. The most famous concerto may be Rachmaninov’s “Piano Concerto #2”

Oratorio

An oratorio is an extended vocal work based on a sacred text although it can also have instrumental accompaniment. This type of composition is normally associated with much older music. The most famous oratorio is Handel’s “Messiah” from which “Hallelujah Chorus” is found.

Symphony

A symphony is an extended work for orchestra although it may also include solo vocalists or choirs. Usually in three or four movements, the symphony has changed throughout history but it still remains the largest (and often longest) of all orchestral works. Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 9” is one of the most famous symphonies because of its inclusion of “Ode to Joy” but classical music enthusiasts enjoy symphonies from before and after Beethoven’s time.

Song

Interestingly, the song hasn’t changed in form throughout history. It still remains a short and self-contained piece that includes a vocalists and may or may not be accompanied by instruments. Sound familiar?

Minuet

Take yourself back to 17th century France for a moment. It’s a Friday night and after a long week of work, you decide to go out and do a little dancing. You might have danced the minuet, a dance set to a ¾, 6/8 or other triple meter time signature. The music was often played by a small ensemble although minuets evolved into compositions often found in symphonies. The most famous might be “Minuet in G” by Bach.

Finally…

What we know today as modern music still has much of its roots in the music from hundreds of years ago. As you listen to the music of today, try to find similarities between these forms and the forms you hear today.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_musical_forms_by_era
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Four Tips to Picking the Perfect Piano

Thursday, July 18th, 2013
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Four Tips to Picking the Perfect Piano

Grand Piano

So you, a family member, or maybe a friend loves their piano lessons so much that you’re looking for a new piano or a replacement instrument. If you have no idea where to start looking, what you need is a buyer’s guide and lucky for you, we’re here to help. We’ve put together a few tips to help you look for the perfect piano for both you and your budget.

It doesn’t have to be New

Automobiles only have so much life and generally, the older they are, the more problems they’ll have but that isn’t necessarily true with a piano. Like wine, sometimes the best musical instruments have been around for a long time but the proof is in the ownership. If the owner had the instrument regularly tuned and serviced, kept it out of extreme temperatures, and didn’t let the kids use it as a jungle gym, that old piano might sound better than some of the news ones you’ll see. Don’t count it out if it’s used.

Don’t go for High Price

With all musical instruments there are beginner instruments all the way to concert hall quality and the prices will reflect that. Maybe you have a lot of money to spend on a piano but if the person who will play the piano is just starting, they likely won’t appreciate the features that make up a $30,000 piano. That money would be better spent taking lessons and going to camps and masterclasses if the player is serious.

There are many great pianos in the intermediate category. Remember that a better piano doesn’t make you play better in most cases. It will only make you sound better. More expensive doesn’t always equal better value when you look at the needs of the player.

Get it Checked Out

Even if the piano is new, ask a piano technician to check your new piano. If it has a warranty, you can purchase the instrument before having it checked out but if it’s used and you will purchase the instrument as is, it is essential that a technician do a full inspection first. Just like a car, don’t take it off the lot until it has been checked.

The appearance can be fixed

Some people ask their piano teacher or technician to play the piano before they purchase it. If you find one that has a beautiful tone, is in great mechanical shape but it has minor damage to the wood on the outside, that can be fixed and if it’s minor, it won’t be too expensive. Don’t count an instrument out because of the outward appearance unless it’s seriously damaged.

Finally

Like anything else, there is a degree of safety and comfort that comes from purchasing from a music store but don’t count out instruments that have sat in somebody’s home for a long period of time. Like items at a garage sale, these pianos may be great instruments being sold at an unbelievable price.

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Monophony, Homophony, Polyphony, or Balogna

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013
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Monophony, homophony, polyphony – or is it all bologna?

If you decide to study how music is constructed, you’ll enter the world of music theory. Music theorists spend all of their time studying the nuts and bolts of music. Think of it this way: In the automotive world, there are mechanics who actually service vehicles and engineers who design and analyze how a car is put together.

Each side may think they’re more important than the other but in reality, both are essential. If mechanics had some engineering knowledge, they would be better mechanics. If engineers spent their days seeing the cars come to the shop, they would see the practical shortcomings of their design and be able to fix those problems in later models. Having knowledge of both makes both professionals better at what they do.

Music is the same way. There are performers and there are theorists. Most classically trained musicians have a large degree of knowledge on both sides. Just like performing, there are a fair amount of questions left up to the person analyzing the music. Let’s look at one.

Monophony? homophony? polyphony? Or is it all bologna?

You know that what makes music unique is the different ways that the tools of the composers are mixed together. Sometimes music is loud, sometimes it’s soft. Sometimes it’s fast, other times it’s slow. Another device used has to do with texture. How much is going on at any given time. The words used to describe these textures are Monophony, homophony, and polyphony.

Here is a beautiful rendering of an example of polyphony:

Monophony doesn’t ignite much controversy. You might know from science class that mono means one and in this case monophony means one voice. When you sing your favorite song in the shower, you’re making monophonic music. (unless you count the sound of the water as a voice) When somebody plays a trumpet on stage without any accompaniment, that’s monophony. Hundreds of years ago when music was chanted in unison, that was often monophonic.

Now the controversy. Homophony and polyphony both have two or more voices happening at the same time. If two musicians played a duet, a theorist may consider it either homophony or polyphony but which is it? The distinction has to do with the importance of the voices. If you’re playing a duet with your friend and you’re singing the melody while they’re playing a bass guitar, that’s homophony because one voice is more important than the other.

Homophony could also be what theorists call rhythmic unison. You and your friend are singing the same song using the same rhythm with the same pitches. No one part is more important than any other because the parts are exactly the same. Think of 10 people singing the national anthem in unison. That would likely be considered homophony.

Polyphony is more than one voice but there’s a lot going on. Think of a symphony that has a wild array of different parts going on with one important right now but a few seconds later, another part becomes important. One way of looking at it is polyphony is two or more voices making complex music while homophony is two or more voices making relatively simple music. Pianists who play the melody with their right hand and chords in the left are playing homophonic music, unless the left hand is also creating a melody to interact with the right hand part.

The Controversy

Can you see where two music theorists might have different opinions when labeling certain types of music? The definition of complex versus simple mean different things to different people and this makes for some lively debates in the music theory world. Some even say “music is music, and all this talk about homophony and polyphony is just bologna!”

Do you want to study how music is constructed? If you do, you might want to be a music theorist but be prepared to have debates just like this.

Here is an article on Wikipedia about polyphony that might shed a little light on the subject: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyphony

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RwtPP5nFEmg

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