Most of my blog visitors are just bots spamming it with SQL injection attacks so this one goes out to any humans left out there. My job has been sucked into the generative AI vortex so I now work in an AI group at Amazon. If you’re reading this after an LLM became sentient and began rampaging… bwahahah, oh man, we’re nowhere near that… unless of course you are an investor and then yes sir I can magic your problem away.
As both of my human readers will know, in 2023 I posted a lot of jazz transcriptions and videos of myself playing them badly. This was very intentional as I decided to stop marveling at how one could make up solos on the spot, and to take some steps to learn the trick myself. My last guitar teacher (Berklee-trained) was very scale oriented, and so my improv really sounded like I was playing scales: very linear, no chromaticism and quite boring. It turns out I had a lot of misconceptions about how one does the thing — as I discovered, chord tones work better than scales; transcribing licks and solos by ear is not cheating but actually foundational; approach tones are key to getting the bebop sound. Besides transcribing, sitting down and working out all the arpeggios on a tune in one position, and composing a couple of solos really felt like they gave me a good boost in my playing. So I’m going to keep this going into 2024.
As a reference point, here’s where I am starting this year, on All the Things You Are in which the first chorus is composed and second half-chorus is improvised. Maybe I’ll check in again in 12 months and see how I improve.
November was a month to remember: we had Remembrance Day, and Guy Fawkes day, and well, just a whole lot of remembering things. I have been listening to a lot of hard bop, so naturally, I learned Remember, the Hank Mobley version.
Here’s take 1230912, post-workout edition, where I never could land that Ebm9 arpeggio in bar 49. I intentionally learned this in 5th position rather than 9th just to get some practice in a different area of the fretboard.
So I haven’t posted a transcription for September or October nor have I done much of anything this month, because I had COVID officially for the first time. Unofficially, who knows, probably at least twice by now?
Someone needs to let BillG know the 5G has worn off at this point and we all need a refill… in 2-3 months time.
Anyway, I finally learned first couple of choruses of Bloomdido from my transcription and here I can be seen playing it not quite correctly so enjoy!
August’s tune is another Parker blues: Bloomdido. I transcribed all four choruses this time around, which was educational in that Parker repeats the same licks at the same place in more than one chorus, for example the C minor pentatonic figure in bars 21, 33, and 57 resolving to the 3rd of the F7. In two of those cases, he leads into it with a descending G mixolydian b9 b13 scale using a 3rd to b9 (B to A flat) intervallic leap which sounds amazing. The tempo is whipping by, so I didn’t really notice those until breaking it down, but there are a number of sounds worth stealing here.
I transcribed this tune by hand without my instrument during a 6 hour flight using a virtual piano and slow downer app; consequently I don’t actually know how to play it yet. I have maybe the first 2 choruses down at about half speed but will need a couple weeks of practice to memorize the rest and get it up to speed. So, no video yet!
July’s video is short and sweet. Rather than transcribe a solo this time around, I learned the head without actually writing it down and then composed a single chorus. The changes are a very bare bones B-flat blues, so this was an opportunity to check up on my voice leading and whatever bebop licks have found their way into my fingers.
A few observations on this process:
my composed chorus is, not surprisingly, better than my improvised solos (not shown), so more work to do here
despite this being a very straightforward I-IV-V, I initially wrote in a G7 arpeggio in bar 8, so I can see some progress in my ear anticipating common jazz harmonies, even if they aren’t actually there
The recording is solo with no backing track or metronome. There are a couple of places, especially during rests, where I rush the tempo, and there’s a bar where I obviously failed to get my pick and left hand in sync, but on the whole I think it’s alright.
Time to interrupt the music posts with a check-in on this year’s garden. Now that the beds are freshly weeded and mulched, I can look at it without wincing. This year I did tomatoes: Black Krim, San Marzano (new); peppers: sweet, jalapeno, habanero; corn (new); Kirby cucumbers; garlic; gai lan; kale; carrots; potatoes; snap peas; pole beans; arugula; raspberries (new); strawberries (new); herbs: thai and sweet basil, thyme, chocolate mint, rosemary; flowers: marigolds and nasturtiums. I also just tossed a few brussels sprouts seeds in a pot to see if I can get anything with those in the fall.
Right now a few tomatoes have come in but most are still green. The corn just got its first set of silks. The berries aren’t doing anything at all. Last year’s A-frame trellis is holding up for the tomatoes and I made a small 3-post trellis for the cucumbers, which seem to be doing well (2 jars of refrigerator pickles so far). Loving straw as a mulch compared to grass clippings (weedy) and wood chips (doesn’t break down enough) that I’d used before.
I didn’t get very far on a transcription this month, owing to having a new project at work and especially due to Return To Office commute erasing 3 hours daily of what might have been practice time. This month’s transcription is the first chorus of Miles Davis’s Four. Frankly, it still needs work and really wants the next few choruses to sound complete, but putting a pin in it for now as I am out of time.
I’m transcribing and learning a jazz standard each month of 2023 to try and get better at internalizing jazz language. For the month of April, I went back to bebop and learned Charlie Parker’s Moose the Mooche, a song about Parker’s favorite drug dealer. I picked the version that’s in the omnibook to have a reference to check my transcription against, and while the omnibook is probably more accurate, my transcription is a bit simpler and amenable to guitar. How Aebersold & Slone hear all of those eighth notes in the middle is beyond me.
The first time this tune grabbed me was probably when hearing the version on Joshua Redman’s Wish and I just liked the syncopation and chromaticism on the head. That version is recorded as a trio with bass and drums and so has a bit more space, while still managing to bring the intensity.
And here is me playing Parker’s head and solo. I stumble a bit around bar 14 where there is a fast position shift but overall it sounds OK, I guess.
I am continuing to transcribe and learn a jazz standard each month to try and get better at this genre. And recording myself to keep myself honest.
March’s song is My One And Only Love because I thought, “why not try to learn a ballad?” I started by making a playlist (“My many one and only loves”) and listened to twenty versions of this song, settled on the version by Grant Green as the one to transcribe, and wrote it out (just melody this time — most recorded solos are generally embellishments of the melody). Green’s version has a slightly different melody and chords than the standard, and is in Eb instead of C.
I recently got a Focusrite Scarlett for recording and the audio quality difference is, unsurprisingly, night and day compared to just recording with my webcam mic. The guitar is straight into the Scarlett, then I am using Guitarix with a Fender Twin Reverb-like amp model to get the clean sound. The bass/drums are a JJazzlab midi track. I’m using pipewire in place of Jack to route and mix the audio sources. I’m really pleased with this setup, and after years of Linux audio being, well, Linux audio, it feels like pipewire finally got things right (even on the oldish version Debian stable ships that disclaims any responsibility).
Here’s a full song with improvised solo.
Things for me to work on after having watched myself:
It’s a bit shaky on the B7 -> Bdim -> Cm transition. I kept missing the b5.
I got a bit behind the chords on the last chorus and had to play catch-up.
The solo is generally in the right key centers but not outlining the chords very well or having much development.
I tend to play way behind the beat, even though (I think) I have it clicking away in my head. This is something I’ll need to focus on because it makes the whole thing sound sluggish and weird.
Although I still like the melody, I got bored of this one pretty early on, so next month I’ll pick another uptempo bebop standard to learn.