It takes a while to get many of my beginner saxophone pupils, young or old, to use the word “natural” to describe notes without accidentals. Unless they happen to have had some previous musical training it often takes a while to get them into the habit of using it and to stop using comical phrases like “B normal”, to which my stock reply goes “as opposed to B abnormal then?”. Often it also takes a while for the penny to drop that Ab and G# have the same fingering and much, much longer before students work out when it’s correct to use one rather than the other to describe a particular note. Let’s face it, most of us hate C flat and E sharp and don’t start me on double sharps and flats.
Correct usage aside, I think that there’s a case to be made for inventing a new type of accidental, the “unnatural” which would designate either a raised or flattened note. It would function in much the same way as the “alt” on a dominant chord symbol: the alteration is left to the discretion of the player just as long as it’s clear that the expected, unaltered note shouldn’t be played. C7alt could then be precisely described as “C7 unnatural 9, unnatural 5″ using whatever symbol we invented to designate “unnatural” perhaps a squiggly (~).
There’s also a case for inventing some new key signatures. How about one flat (Eb) for C melodic minor? I mean the Jazz minor scale, the one that English musicians call the ascending melodic minor scale, a name which a rather fierce Russian piano teacher once told me is just a bit of English nonsense: the scale is correctly called “melodic” on the way up and “natural” on the way down. That makes sense to me but whatever you call it, it would be much neater to have a correct key signature instead of having to use the key signature of the relative major and then have to use accidentals all over the place. In the case of C jazz minor this would be one flat (Eb) instead of 3 (Bb, Eb, Ab) and a natural sign on every A and B. Now that is abnormal!
I’m sure the idea of inventing new key signatures will be warmly welcomed by the classical music establishment (!) but I think us jazzers should seriously consider taking up the idea.
In my next blog post about sound production on the saxophone, I will be looking in more depth at the use of the tongue and cheeks.
We had another great turnout at the Bridge Jazz Club at the start of February. Once again we were scratching around to find extra chairs to seat everyone. The house band was my current quartet featuring Matt Johns on keys, Jim Rintoul on double bass and Tom Wright on drums and we did an opening set of my original tunes. As usual it proved difficult to fit everyone in for the jam session: I didn’t quite manage to get around everyone twice. We had great performances from Mike Sayers, Godfrey and Tony White on sax and in Tony’s case also flute, Charlie Mason and Matt Hannam on guitar, Harry on keys, Andy on trumpet, and Richard on drums. Sorry if I’ve overlooked anyone. Next month on 4th March I will be joined by an excellent rhythm section of James Clemas on keys, Kevin Sanders on double bass and Gary Evans on drums. The club meets in the Voodoo Lounge at Exeter Phoenix on the first Wednesday every month.
I’ve made good progress with Clock Works, a suite of largely improvised music I’m writing for Off the Cuff, a 10-piece ensemble of jazz and classical musicians. I’ve sketched out 3 of the 4 planned movements and have a pretty good idea of how the fourth is going to work. Once that is done it will be a matter of fine tuning and sending the somewhat unconventional score out to the band so that they can ask questions. Without any rehearsal planned, the score has to be as clear and self explanatory as possible. However the beauty of writing something designed to shape a group improvisation is that even if the form goes wrong, something musical will still happen. Because each movement is controlled by a timer, it also means theoretically at least, that anyone going astray can immediately slot back into the score. The suite will be performed as part of the Vibraphonic Festival at Exeter Phoenix.
I did a very enjoyable gig with pianist Philip Clouts on Friday in the Marine Theatre Bar at Lyme Regis: a tiny room which was packed out. We did three short sets with me playing a different horn in each set: soprano, alto and finally tenor and we went down really well. It was also great to come out of the gig at the end and get a fresh blast of sea air as I loaded the car on the theatre forecourt which is elevated above the promenade. We have a handful of gigs together coming up including slots at Frou Frou in Tiverton and at the Royal Oak in Ashburton. I’ve also been going over the set I will be playing on a few gigs with the Ron Jones Quartet: an opener later this month in Ashburton on the 22nd and then a couple of Villages in Action gigs in Bigbury and Talaton. The set is an interesting mix of mainstream standards and wierd and wonderful Wayne Shorter tunes, all good stuff. My latin jazz band Lightflight is also out later on the same day (22nd Feb) at the Five Bells in Clyst Hydon where i will be joined by Matt Johns on keys, Jim Rintoul on bass and Jim Newton on drums. I’ve just taken the congas out of the storage and given them a bash for 10 minutes to try and warm trhem up and also to start toughening up my hands before the gig. Details of these and other gigs coming up in the next month or so are on my website gig diary.
Rehearsals with the excellent EMG Symphony Orchestra in which I play double bass are in full swing again as we work towards our concert of French music in Exeter Cathedral on 11th April: Ravel, Debussy, Faure, Saint Saens. I’ve found some seriously groovy bass lines in these pieces which I’m recycling for use in Clock Works and for some new jazz tunes. I’m also looking forward somewhat nervously to playing the double bass at an upcoming session of Echoes the Exeter based composers group which I belong to. One of the members is writing a piece for mainly strings and the other string players in the group are considerably more experienced and accomplished than I am. I’m hoping for an easy part!
The gigging year has got off to a great start with a record attendance at the Bridge Jazz Club here in Exeter last night. The house band was myself on tenor sax, the excellent Craig Milverton on keys, double bass maestro Ron Phelan and fine drummer Massimo de Majo. Even as we were starting the opening set, I was running around finding more chairs as people continued to file in and pay the very modest £6 entry fee. We only got through 5 tunes in the set as everyone was tearing into their solos, Craig giving his keys a thorough seeing to and Ron displaying remarkable agility in thumb position on his 5-string double bass along with very skillful chord playing and flamenco style strumming of the strings too. There were loads of jammers. I counted 13 I think including talented young players Tom and Raddon on guitar and keys. In fact we had 4 pianists in the house as well as a few drummers along with the usual clutch of guitarists and sax players. It was great to see Mike Sayers out playing alto again after a spell out of action. I do hope this is a sign of how the club is going to go for the rest of the year as we have to pay increased room hire fees at Exeter Phoenix. Next club night is 4th Feb when I will be with my current quartet line up of Matt Johns on keys, Jim Rintoul on double bass and Tom Wright on drums. My plan is to bring the soprano sax which I haven’t played at the club for a while and to do some originals including a couple of new tunes which have only has a couple of public airings before.
My spring composing project is writing a 45 minute suite for a 10 piece improvising ensemble for performance in the Exeter Vibraphonic Festival in March. The idea is to write general instructions, some motifs, sections of harmony and to let the musicians have a great deal of latitude in how they interpret the “score”. The suite in several short movements will be controlled by timers and called “Clock Works”. The performance will also include video scores by bassist Marcus Vergette and other guided improvisations. “Off the Cuff” takes place at Exeter Phoenix on Friday 20th March. The line up is Pete Canter & Cat Hardy – saxophones, Gill Baker & Tim Sayer – trumpet & flugelhorns, Ruth Molins – flutes, John Welton – bass clarinet, Matt Johns – keys, Marcus Vergette – double bass, Coach York – drums and vox TBA.
The year’s gig diary has started to shape up quite nicely with a quartet gig at Swing Unlimited in May, a couple of latin jazz gigs with my band Lightflight, guesting with the Ron Jones Quartet for some Villages in Action rural touring gigs as well as regular gigs here in Exeter at The City Gate Hotel and the jazz club. There are also some duo gigs with fine pianist Philip Clouts at new venues and also with guitarist Jesse Molins. I also have several concerts with EMG Symphony Orchestra in which I play double bass to look forward to this year including two in Exeter Cathedral. The first on 11th April is a feast of French music including works by Ravel, Debussy, Fauré and Saint-Saëns.
Happy new year
Had a good gig at Teignmouth Jazz Festival a week or so ago with my quartet. The band was myself on tenor and soprano sax, Matt Johns on keys who played like a demon, Jim Rintoul on double bass and Tom Wright on drums. We had done a couple of rehearsals covering my original tunes including a couple of new ones. These both went well and I had a couple of people from the audience ask me which of my albums one of them, “Sky”, was on. In fact it’s going on the next one so I had to disappoint them. Nevertheless several copies of Lightflight my most recent album were sold. We did two sets of entirely original music and held the attention of the audience too. I think this is very encouraging given the somewhat nostalgic approach that much jazz takes these days: tribute to this; tribute to that; what happened to having your own voice and doing something new?
This was followed a few days later by the Bridge Jazz Club which this month fell on bonfire night. Perhaps not surprisingly numbers were down a little but the house band of Jim Rintoul, Jesse Molins and Jim Newton did a great job. We discovered a fine new double bassist, Ron Phelan, during the jam session. Ron has recently moved to the Devon Somerset border so hopefully we will be hearing him again. The next club night is on Wed 3rd December when I will be joined in the house band by top pianist Philip Clouts, the charismatic Marcus Vergette on double bass and the superb drummer Coach Yorke. Usual jam session to follow our opening set. Please note this is the last club night when jammers will get in for £3. From January the door price will be £6 for listeners and £4 for jammers.
Rehearsals with the fantastic EMG Symphony Orchestra finished for the year last night with a run through of Cesar Franck’s Symphony in D minor. This was to get us in the mood for our programme of French music in the new year which will culminate in a concert at Exeter Cathedral on 11th April. Last night also marked the end of my first year of playing double bass with the orchestra. It’s been a very steep learning curve and also very enjoyable. The highlights for me were the Vaughan Williams pieces we performed in the cathedral this spring and last week’s performance of Elgar’s Cello Concerto with fantastic young soloist Laura van der Heijden.
Tonight I’m playing jazz again with my trio at the City Gate Hotel in Exeter from 7.30pm. James Clemas will be on keys and my old buddy Andy Tunbridge will be on double bass.
Finally, my quartet is playing Withycombe parish church in Exmouth next Friday 5th Dec 8pm and we will be joined by special guest James Shipway on guitar for an evening of standards and originals in the fantastic acoustics of the church. More details on my website.
I’m looking forward to my gig on Saturday at Teignmouth Jazz Festival. I have a new band this time around and as well as lots of original tunes from my last two albums Lightflight and Ununbium I also have a couple of brand new tunes to give their first public airing. One of these “Sky” opens with a folksy counterpoint between piano and double bass in 3/4 before a short interlude featuring the bass gives way to a soprano sax melody and solos. The other “Mountain” is a modal charge in 6/8 on soprano which releases into a 4/4 swing section. I like these nature based titles: naming tunes is always difficult but these suggest a whole album of tunes called River, Tree, Bird etc, job done! The band is myself in soprano and tenor saxes with the brilliant Matt Johns on keys, Jim Rintoul on double bass and Tom Wright on drums. We’ve had a couple of rehearsals and at this week’s the band was sounding great. We are in the United Reformed Church from 1pm Sat 15th Nov.
Talking of churches the quartet will be doing a concert in another on Fri 5th Dec, this time with special guest James Shipway on guitar. We will be in the parish church at Withycombe in Exmouth from 8pm. As well as a few atmospheric originals chosen to make the best of the church acoustics there will be some hard swinging standards, and some groovy latin Jazz. Entry is £7.50 on the door.
Last Week’s gig at the City Gate Hotel turned out to be a really good one. Booked as a trio with excellent Cornwall based keys player Matt Johns and his road pal Tim Greenhalgh on double bass, we were joined by talented young drummer Tom Wright sitting in on snare and brushes. Right from the first tune “Blues for Bill”, an original of mine on my quartet album Ununbium, the band settled into a great groove: up tempo, in the pocket clean and crystal clear. The night just got better and better and as usual Matt and I had a blast frequently venturing outside the harmony while Tim and Tom held steady. Gigs at the City Gate in Exeter continue on the last Friday each month and the next is on Fri 28th Nov when I will be with James Clemas on keys and an old buddy of mine on bass: Andy Tunbridge who goes right back to my playing days in London in the 1980s. With luck Tom will sit in again. There’s great beer down there too so do check us out.
I’ve been taking advantage of a quiet October on the gig front and the mild weather to do some alterations to my music studio: basically adding a storage room and enlarged covered entrance. It’s taking a while and all the bending, lifting, sawing and hammering is starting to register. However it will all be worth it to get some stuff out of the main studio and have things like cases and stands ready to hand instead of spread all over the house, bike shed, porch etc etc. By the way anyone near Exeter getting rid of a uPVC door?
The Bridge Jazz Club was good again at the start of October with a house band of myself on tenor, Matt Johns on keys, Tim Greenhalgh on bass and Tom Wright on drums. There were 14 jammers including some welcome new faces from the University Jazz Orchestra. On bonfire night 5th Nov I will be joined by top guitarist Jesse Molins, double bassist Jim Rintoul and drummer Jim Newton for this month’s club night. This is essentially the trio Eclipse with drums as an added bonus so I’m thinking of doing a few of my originals. Music starts at 8.30 at Exeter Phoenix. While on the subject of the Bridge JC I am announcing an increase in the entry price for jammers in the new year to £4 to help offset the increase in room rent that the club has to pay from January. The club is nearly 4 years old and the jammers charge has been at £3 since its inception. The regular door price for other listeners will stay at £6.
I did make the long drive down to Falmouth earlier in October to play with Claudia Colmer and Friends at the Star & Garter. This must be one of Britain’s longest running jazz nights: 26 years so far. It was great to play with Claudia again along with excellent pianist Max Turnbull and also drummer Pip Harbon, someone I hadn’t heard before who impressed me with his chops and ability to play sensitively in a small room.
Tonight I am at the City Gate Hotel in Exeter with my trio from 7.30pm. This is my regular last Friday of the month gig there moved to avoid Halloween. I will be joined by Matt Johns and Tim Greenalgh and may with luck also have Tom Wright sitting in on snare and brushes. Do come along. The beer is good and so is the Jazz.
My quartet is playing Teignmouth Jazz Festival on 15th Nov and we have a couple of new originals to try out. One of these features an opening tune for double bass and piano. We are in the United Reformed Church from 1pm and the band is Matt Johns on keys, Jim Rintoul on bass and Tom Wright on drums. I will be playing soprano and tenor saxes.
The following week, Sat 22nd Nov, sees me back with the fantastic EMG Symphony Orchestra doing a concert in the Great Hall at Exeter Uni. The programme includes Elgar’s Cello Concerto, Britten’s Young Person’s Guide and Smythe’s Wreckers Overture all pretty tricky for the double bass section where I will be hiding. So it’s about time I got over my Bob the Builder phase and get back to some serious practice.