Thursday, November 7, 2019

Joe's Major Etude Revisited

Over 15 years ago I studied a Joe Pass Etude from his book "On Guitar." I posted a clip of myself playing along the original video recording of Joe here. It was by no means that easy to play in sync with the master. There were some pretty fast passages. What I learned from that etude especially was the use of altered V7 sounds over I chords, thus creating tension and resolution. But that was a long time ago.

Over the years I returned to the etude regularly, sometimes playing entire segments of it over standards. I always wanted to play the whole thing in one take over a standard and look and behold, when I tried it over "Night and Day" it worked like a charm! I did have to tweak the rhythmic placement of the notes a bit here and there to fit in the progression better but I did not change any notes from the etude. Amazing really. Joe's playing is so brilliant you can play an etude designed to be played over a static chord over an entire progression of a jazz standard without it losing its musicality.

The book remains highly recommended for those interested in studying the style of Joe Pass. I used Jens Larsen's backing track of "Night and Day." Love his comping. Thanks Jens!

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Why You Should Study That Lick

Wow dudes. It's been a while. Lately I have been working on Les Wise's book "Bebop Licks for Guitar." So I'd like to say something about licks. Every once in a while I come across someone that proudly states that he does not like studying or playing "licks" from the jazz greats. Usually the argumentation is that that is not a creative thing to do and that you should rather speak with your own voice. Let me tell why I think that is not correct from an educational point of view.

If we liken jazz to a "language" - and a scientific study from 2014 at John Hopkins |University has indeed shown that the brain areas of jazz musicians that are activated during playing are those areas that are active too while speaking - it is obvious that in order for us to learn a language we not only need syntax (grammar) but also words, phrases and sentences (vocabulary) before you can start speaking fluently. Interesting is that the grammar learning thing is completely ignored by most of us. Children are perfectly able to learn a language (and its rules) by simply imitating what they hear. 

If we accept the analogy of learning jazz as learning a language the aural tradition of imitating the sounds you hear around you becomes perfectly clear:
The language analogy also expresses the importance of the aural tradition. Generations of jazz musicians learned directly from other musicians through apprenticeship and recordings. We learn to swing by imitating great musicians, just as children learn to speak by imitating their parents.
So is jazz theory (chords, scales, arpeggios, inversions, substitutions etc.) useless? Should you not just play by ear and reproduce the sounds you hear on recordings? Just like a kid learning to speak while growing up?  That's a tough question. It's perfectly possible to become a great jazz player without knowing what the heck you are doing. You don't have to know any grammar to speak a language. But the exposure to the language would have to be significant. I have seen and heard teenage gypsy kids (and this is also true for the big names in that genre) play great jazz guitar at a very young age without even knowing the name of the chords ... Such is the power of exposure.

If jazz is more of "foreign" language to you a set of rules may come in handy though. Still, running scales and knowing a lot of theory will never make you a competent player. You need words and sentences. You need real language. And that's where licks come in. And longer units such as transcribing and studying complete jazz solos by others. Preferably sing them even:

I have always liked studying licks and complete solos because they represent the real thing way better than a scale for example. Scales are not musical. Licks and solos are because they represent the language as applied by speakers. With these you can develop your own language.  Here's Clark Terry on the subject:

What he is saying is simply this:
1. Imitate: Listen. Learn lines by ear. Transcribe and learn solos and licks. Absorb a player’s feel, articulation, and time.
2. Assimilate. Ingrain these stylistic nuances, harmonic devices and lines that you’ve transcribed into your musical conception. Make them your own. 
3. Innovate: Create a fresh and personal approach to the music.

So what are you waiting for? Study that lick. Transcribe that solo. Steal all you can. And then move on ...

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Bobby Montoya, the story of a local legend

When I was surfing Youtube a few days ago, I literally stumbled upon a very classic sounding guitarist whose playing was so strong that I was kind of amazed that I had never heard of him. Granted, finding a new jazz guitar kid that sounds really good on Youtube is not that rare an occasion but in this case it happened to be a local player that had died 6 years ago. His name was Bobby Montoya. So I did some research to find out who he was and it was a bit of a sad story and one of missed opportunities ... These are more or less his own words. But what a player he was! There are a number of obscure live recordings that showcase his impressive chops. I have selected "Wave" and "There Will Never Be Another You" but for those interested, there's more on Youtube ... Let's start off with "Wave."

Bobby with Howard Roberts and Johnny Smith (background)
Bobby Montoya was born on March 1st 1954. At 8 years old he was given a guitar by his father. His father taught him chords and how to play "twinkle twinkle little star." Before long he surpassed his father.  He studied under jazz great Johnny Smith, who retired to Colorado Springs.  As a kid, he played alongside veteran musicians and at 14, Montoya won the Benny Goodman award for the best young jazz guitarist in the country, beating musicians much older and more experienced. After winning the Benny Goodman award, the world should have opened up for him. But Montoya, for reasons he can’t explain, never stepped through the doors.

“I always answer that I never took the risk. I never took the risk to go out to LA or to go out to Nashville.”
He lived on and off in Denver but always found his way back to Pueblo. There he was a regular in the nightclub scene throughout the 1980s and 1990s. In 1996, Montoya was quoted in a local newspaper article, saying he didn’t want to be in Pueblo anymore twenty years later. However, fifteen years later, he was still there, resigned to the fact that his best chances for greater fame had slipped away. 


Montoya was diagnosed with diabetes in 1988 but he disregarded his doctor’s orders for treatment and medication and a nightlife of touring and playing took its toll. The medication often went ignored. In a last interview he stated:
 “I would like to tell people to go after your dreams. You may find yourself older and you haven’t done what you wanted to do and, in my case, I just don’t have the health to do it.”
Bobby Montoya died january 17 2013 from the effects of diabetes, aged 58, finding great comfort in his religion.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Pasquale Grasso: The Bud Powell of the Guitar

By now I take it all of you guys have heard of Pasquale Grasso. If not, hurry to Youtube and type in his name. What you will hear is, well ... Bud Powell but then on guitar. There is no guitar player that even comes close to his pianistic bebop style and to the heights he has taken solo guitar playing in that particular genre. On guitar that way of playing is unprecedented and though his style is "old school" he is still a ground breaking artist. But also his single line playing is purely pianistic and deeply rooted in the bebop style of Bud Powell. His execution and delivery are pretty unbelievable and he is a guitarist's guitarist in every aspect. Pasquale is playing Trenier guitars.

I came across his latest video in which he is playing a Bud Powell solo with the WDR Big Band. The tune is "Parisian Thorougfare." As a matter of fact, the whole original Bud Powell solo was arranged for big band ...

Here's the original recording:

And here's Pasquale with the WDR Big Band:

Here's some additional info on Paquale from his own web page:
One of the most strikingly unique artists of his generation, Pasquale Grasso has undoubtedly changed the way the world views jazz guitar. Born in Ariano Irpino, Pasquale began playing guitar at a very young age. By the summer of 1997, his parents, who recognized the depth of their young son’s talent, sought out the instruction of jazz innovator, Agostino Di Giorgio. A former pupil of Chuck Wayne, Di Giorgio immediately took interest in Pasquale, whose prodigious aptitude for the instrument flourished as the young guitarist quickly became his closest pupil. From that point, it wouldn’t be long before news of this talent spread.
Barry Harris, the world-renowned jazz educator and bebop piano master, became an extraordinary influence when Pasquale attended his jazz workshop in Switzerland during the summer of 1998. Harris, contemporary of Miles Davis, Sonny Stitt, and Cannonball Adderley, took Pasquale and his brother, Luigi, under his wing. Over the span of the next 5 years, the Grasso brothers became pillars of Harris’ international workshops and were quickly promoted from mere attendees to instructors for the other students. Pasquale was named Harris' guitar teaching assistant and for the last ten years he has conducted workshops in Italy, Switzerland, France, Spain, Holland, and Slovenia.
In 2008, Pasquale pursued classical guitar studies in the Music Conservatory of Bologna under Professor Walter Zanetti. During his time at the conservatory, Grasso developed a new approach to the guitar, combining classical tradition with Chuck Wayne's modern technique ... In 2012, he moved to New York City and quickly made a name for himself in the city's vibrant jazz scene.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Art Tube MP Studio V3

Guys often ask how I record my vids and how I get my sound. Well, I think the secret to a good recorded sound is going direct. It's as simple as that. No mike. No amp. I tried that often and the results are invariably inferior to my direct recordings. Of course you can use an amp modeller - I have used an old Digitech RP 300 for many years - but there's a simpler and purer way even. A good tube preamp will do trick even better! 
About two years ago I bought a valve preamp that sounds great. It's an ART Studio V3 preamp. Let's have a look at some info: 
The Tube MP Studio V3 delivers warmth and fatness to any audio source while maintaining an exceptionally low-noise signal path. While its primary function is as a microphone preamp with +48V phantom power, variable gain and phase reverse switching, the Tube MP is also an exceptionally versatile tube driven direct box for any instrument source. The Tube MP Studio V3 uses ARV3™ presets were created and fine-tuned by some of the industry’s top studio and live-sound engineers and allow instant access to a multitude of preamp settings designed for guitars (electric and acoustic), keyboards, bass guitars, drums, vocals and more. Additionally, the Tube MP Studio V3 employs OPL™ (Output Protection Limiting) technology to protect the next component in your signal path from clipping and overloads.T’s proven V3™ (Variable Valve Voicing) Technology to instantly contour the tone to any source ...
OK, there's obviously a sales pitch going on in the above text but the bottom line is that the thing really sounds great. What you hear in the video is what it sounds like. I only added some reverb but for the rest the sound from the guitar has NOT been processed whatsoever. Best listen to the clip on a real hifi set to get an idea ...

Of course you need some other tools too to be recording and you have to know how to handle recording software. I have written on that earlier here. But I kind of simplified my recording setup last week and the signal chain is now as follows:

Guitar > Tube preamp (Art Studio V3 Tube MP) > Mixer (Behringer Xenyx QX1202) > USB Audio interface (Scarlett Focusrite 2i2) > Laptop and camera (Software: Sonar X2 Producer, Cyberlink Power Director). My camera is a Sony HDR-MVI, which was especially designed for recording music.

But at the centre of my recording setup there's just this little valve preamp. No microphone or amp needed. And, like the rest of my recording gear, it's pretty inexpensive.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Oscar Peterson On Guitar

In the mid 2000s I came across a video of a young guy playing over an insanely fast Oscar Peterson solo. It was really an extraordinary feat and I was surprised to find out it was a countryman of mine named Wim den Herder. This solo generated quite some publicity for him. Over the years I kind of lost touch with his career but when I did recently, I found a few astonishing videos and info on him. When he was just 13 years old, he won the Dutch National Guitar Awards and in 2003 he began his jazz studies at the Amsterdam Conservatory, from which he graduated in 2008. In 2009 Wim founded The Guitar Academy, a guitar training school. Upon revisiting the spectacular Oscar Peterson solos once gain - there were a few more than I thought - I decided to ask him about his motives to tackle such hard stuff on guitar. Dudes, if this won't blow you away in terms of dedication and practise regime, I'm not sure what will ....

How did you get the idea to play Ocar Peterson on guitar? 

When I heard this solo (Just Friends) I immediately thought that it would be impossible to reproduce it on guitar. But I had tried this earlier with a solo when I was 16. You decide to stick firmly until you can do it. That decision and the discipline is extremely motivating. Either you fail or you become a better player.

How long did it take you to get the first Peterson solo under your fingers?

It went faster than I had expected. It took me 16 hours to figure out the 60 seconds of the solo and another 8 hours to record it. So after 3 days I had it on Google video and later Youtube.

What happened then?

It was the best thing that had happened to me. I got mails from Paul Reed Smith and Oscar Peterson's daughter. Later Jennifer Batten even recognised me backstage. When I invite guitarists over to Amsterdam, I always send them the vid first. A video like that that going viral  opens all kinds of doors. Its impact is hard to measure but of course it made me a better player.

I noticed a video of a live performance of that solo. What's the story on that?

When I was to play that same solo live on stage, I studied it at 115% speed, because live your level of playing always goes down a bit. This way I had the feeling that I could do more than was required. This took me another week of studying, about 25 hours.
By the way, many people think when they see a number like that "oh, that's not too bad" but try focusing on ONE solo like that for 25 hours. It feels like a very long time.

What other Oscar Peterson solos did you study later?

I recorded another three solos. Sweet Georgia Brown, The Boogie Woogie and one of which I do not know the name. I called it "Tribute to Oscar Peterson."

 Sweet Georgia Brown


Boogie Woogie

Tribute to Oscar Peterson

Pfff ... Totally insane stuff. On your Youtube page I came across a Rhythm Changes etude. How about that one?

What you do every day will grow over time. It was a bit like going on holiday and sorting out what to take with you ... By this I mean that the list becomes longer and longer but by sheer force of repetition you are able to remember all the items. I composed a new chorus every year. It eventually grew into a 5 minute lick with 3000 notes. I think improvisation is not completely free. You learn all kinds of stuff by composing and then putting it all together live on stage. Just like an expert in a talkshow who has gained knowledge over the years. Every day you can compose a perfect solo and live you use the material available. Live improvisation is about 10% freedom and about 90% preparation.

How did your career go after that?

It was much more subtle than just the attention the videos generated. I was able to play better lines and I got better at jam sessions. I had all these licks under my fingers. Also, in excersises like that you often you end at the third and then you have to think of something new. One of the best ways to learn how to improvise is to play transcribed solos!

You are not the typical archtop guitarist. Most of the times you are playing an acoustic guitar. Why is that? 

I prefer the sound of Maton guitars: open, lots of clarity and with more expression. In addition, I like styles that are guitar oriented like metal, blues, fingerstyle and gypsy jazz. In jazz, guitarists often try to sound like horn players and roll off the treble and leave out vibrato. I think that diminishes the sound of the guitar itself. Probably just a a matter of taste.

What are you up to these days?

I'll be demonstrating "Wimpicking" at Troy Grady's Youtube channel shortly. Wimpicking is a technique which allows you to play multiple guitar parts simultaneously with only one pick. It becomes even possible to strum and play a bass line at the same time with a pick, three to four, like this:

Or you can play a power chord and a melody like this:

The secret is that you can do this if you break it up into small parts (usually 4 notes) and then if you practise real slow, eventually you can do it. Over time you'll be able to do it fast with 2560 notes! Just take your time.

Thanks for the interview Wim!

Friday, March 15, 2019

The Gibson ES 300

Many of you will have seen and heard my latest acquisition, a 1947 Gibson ES 300. I had to trade in my 1963 Barney Kessel though. She did not come cheap and I am not a collector ... But what a stunner she is. 72 years old and still in mint condition. Truly a closet queen. Even the original frets show little to no wear. She spent decades in her case in a collection. No longer so! This baby deserves to be heard! For, she's the Godmother of the laminate Gibson ES guitars as we know them!

highly figured top, back and sides
Some specs first. My new blonde beauty showcases a 17”-wide body with highly flamed maple top, back, and sides; a 1-piece mahogany neck; a 20-fret bound 25 1/2” scale rosewood fretboard with split parallelogram inlays; a bound headstock with a pearl crown inlay; P 90 pup in neck position, multi ply pickguard.  She still carries the old Gibson script logo. Gibson introduced the new block logo in the same year. The blondes are very rare.  I did not find any production numbers on the ES 300 apart from the fact that only 83 ES-300 examples in natural finish were built in 1948. On the current vintage market, the blondes are considered more desirable and therefore more expensive than the ones that have a sunburst finish. 

old script logo

But let's have a look at some guitar history see to find out where the ES 300 stands in the Gibson lineage.
1936 ES 150

The first ever Electric Spanish (ES) guitar introduced by Gibson was the ES 150. The year was 1936. It was a 16" archtop that was fitted with a CC pickup.. The smaller ES 100 appeared in 1937 and the more ornate 17" ES 250 after 1938.

1940 ES 300
In 1940, the ES-250 was replaced by the ES-300. It featured the same 17”-wide maple body and carved spruce top as its predecessor, but now a new long diagonal pickup was added. The market did not like it much and in 1941 a shorter but still diagonal pickup debuted in 1941. Because of the outbreak of World War II in december of that year production of electric guitars gradually ground to a halt.

After the war, a line of Electric Spanish guitars was reintroduced during 1946. It included a modified version of the older 1940 ES-300. The new edition was made from laminated maple and a mahogany neck. Gibson figured that carved solid spruce was not necessary for an electric guitar, for, string vibrations were amplified by a pickup anyway. The ES 300 was equipped with one of the newly designed P-90 pickups in the neck position. Later, in 1949, the ES-300 got a second bridge pickup. Vintage Guitar Magazine states that early post war models were highly transitional. Some had P90 pups with adjustable poles, others with no poles at all. Also, some were constructed with highly figured woods whereas other examples were constructed mostly using mahogany, sometimes for all of the body. I remember playing such an all mahogany ES 300 a few years ago. The modern block logo was introduced during 1947-48 and the multi ply pickguard replaced the bound one in the same year.

For a few years, the ES-300 stood as the fanciest electric archtop in Gibson’s lineup. It was the guitar that Django Reinhardt used during his US tour with Duke Ellington.

Gypsyjazz UK writes:"Django arrived in the U.S on 29th October 1946 to tour with the Duke Ellington Orchestra as a guest soloist; the tour would transit the East coast and would include 2 concerts at Carnegie Hall in New York ... Django arrived in New York without a Guitar but the William Morris Agency acquired a Gibson ES-300 with a hybrid amplifier just before their 1st Concert on 4th November." 

Listen to the recording above. Don't be fooled by the pics. Django is playing a Gibson ES 300 here. Wow, and how great and modern he sounds on it. Note that lick at 0.47  Joe Pass has stolen from him later and that you hear often in Joe's playing. You can also hear that Django lick in a Joe Pass etude from his "On Guitar" book here. And that flurry of notes at 2.09 is incredible for that era. It is so bebop ... Note the applause of the audience after it. They recognize the greatness of what they are hearing.

The reign of the ES-300 ended in ’47, when a new model The ES-350, a cutaway version of the 300, became the new top electric model. By the time the ES-5, yet another electric archtop king, appeared in ’49, the writing was on the wall. Few pros were using non-cutaway electrics and the 300 was discontinued in ’52.

By the way, one of the most famous solos in rock and roll history was played on a Gibson ES 300. Yeah, I am talking about Danny Cerone's  solo in Bill Haley's "Rock around the Clock."

Enough history now. How does it sound? Well, pretty darned good.
I have always preferred Gibson ES guitars and, like I said earlier,  this is the Godmother of them. The sound is unmistakably vintage ES. Woody, rich and very classic. This guitar breathes bebop!

Here's "Body and Soul"on the ES 300.

And here's "Round Midnight."