Practice Journal, 15-21 July 2024

This entry is part 11 of 13 in the series 2024 Practice Log

So, last week’s practice was pretty solid, though I got sick over the weekend and didn’t make it to the practice room on Sunday. Again, I did a lot more alto practice than anything else, though the tenor and bari got some play too. 

Tunes-wise, I worked on a bunch: 

  • All the Things You Are: I’ve just about got this one down, especially on alto and bari. 
  • I Can’t Give You Anything But Love: About the same, once again especially on alto and bari. One interesting thing is that lots of backing tracks exist in different keys, so I’ve been trying those out. It’s a challenge!
  • Waltz for Debby: Still working on it but it’s coming along. I’m partial to the version Evans did with Cannonball Adderley, though this Seamus Blake version is nice, and so is Johnny Hartman’s sung version (among lots of others).  
  • The Days of Wine and Roses: I just started work on this one, but it’s okay.  I remember my old sax teacher recommending Sun Ra’s version off Blue Delight, believe it or not. (It’s very unlike what you’d expect from Sun Ra.)
  • Waters of March (Águas de Março): It wasn’t on my list, but I heard a few versions—including Susannah McCorkle’s and of course Jobim’s original (?) with Elis Regina—and decided to give it a try. Interestingly, North Americans seem to prefer to play it in Bb, whereas the original (and all the Brazilian versions I tried to play along with at the practice room) seem to be in B. Oh, and I belatedly learned why the tune is familiar: it was bastardized by the Coca-Cola company back when I was a kid.  

Beyond that, I’ve been focusing on overtones. I’m pretty happy with my (unfortunately slow) progress. Ben Britton’s A Complete Approach to Overtones: Vivid Sound and Extended Range had been helpful, especially in his explanation that for voicing overtones above the 2rd overtone, you ought to use the octave key. I’d seen people doing these extended overtone exercises with keyless saxes and was getting frustrated that I could get past the 3rd overtone, but venting with the octave key has helped make it (occasionally) possible for me to hit the 4th overtone and sometimes (inadvertently) even beyond.   

Finally, seeing that Bird used to practice Klosé’s 25 Daily Exercises for Saxophone (available here) has made me a little more willing to give them a try—and to dig out my old, water-damaged copy of the Ferling Exercises and give them a go once more. We’ll see how far I get with them, but maybe they’ll help me a bit with the one area I’m still badly struggling with: double-time playing. The other thing I’m doing to try tackle that—giving myself chances to improvise fast on tunes—isn’t achieving as much, or at least doesn’t seem to be so far. I’ve been a bit lax on scales lately, though, and I think those are part of the key to getting the necessary dexterity. 

And that’s about where I am now. 

May–June Reads (2024)

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series 2024-Reads

This is the fourth in a series of posts about books I’ve read in 2024.  May was rough for reading, due to a crazy work schedule, a crazy translation schedule, and a heavy practice schedule, so I didn’t really get much reading done that month—or, rather, I finished relatively little in May, though I had several books on the go. Therefore, I’m posting about May and June together in a single entry here. 

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Back to the Woodshed

This entry is part 10 of 13 in the series 2024 Practice Log

So, I took a hiatus from practicing sax there for a while. In May I got quite sick for a few weeks, and practicing was out of the question. Then I got really busy between work and a big translation project my wife and I took on, plus working out the reservation system at the practice room I use was just a bit too complicated for me to wrap my brain around. 

The good news is that I’m back at it. However, now that I am, I’m going to change up how I write about it here. Specifically, I’m not going to be tracking stuff daily here. It’s an extra step, a lot of work, and not so useful to me. I will, however, be posting any transcriptions I do and also tracking my progress on my project to learn 52 tunes this year. Here’s the list, updated just today. 

Right now, I’m working on two tunes: 

I also, I should note, have mostly been playing alto, rather than the bari sax pictured above. After some hemming and hawing, decided that I wasn’t happy with my alto mouthpiece, and decided to try something else. Though I’ve had good experience with Theo Wanne pieces, they’re not cheap, so I decided to get one of the GetASax alto pieces—the ones printed in dental resin. The one I got is supposed to be a detailed replica of an excellent vintage Meyer mouthpiece (this one), and I’m happy to say it’s a great mouthpiece, and it’s giving me the flexibility I wanted but wasn’t getting from the piece I was playing before. It’s cool because liking the sound I’m getting is helping make playing fun for me, and helping me push harder at getting better. Somehow I’m more able to control my sound, and I’m getting further with overtone exercises too, which I’ve not done so much on alto but really was struggling with previously. 

Anyway, that’s my saxophone update for the week. Hopefully by this time next week, I’ll have those two tunes under my belt and will be working on something else, though if not, I don’t mind giving myself a little more time to really focus on them and learn them. (The latter tune, though, has a pretty straightforward structure and I found it easy to get myself off the lead sheet within a few times through the tune, even if I can’t quite pull off the double time either of the horn players do in the video above.)

Oh, and that’s my biggest stumbling block these days: speed. I’m getting a bit better at it, but somehow getting into double-time is really hard for me. Those running 16th notes have a way of kicking me down and taking my wallet, but I’ll lick them sooner or later. I’m taking the advice I’ve found in a few places: if you want to get better at improvising fast, practice improvising fast, and also work on your scales and scalar patterns. I’m not much for memorized licks, but I think once I have time to do some transcribing again, I might find it’ll help too. We’ll see, I guess.    

Blogging Pound’s The Cantos: Cantos LXXII and LXXIII (“The Fascist Cantos”)

This entry is part 57 of 57 in the series Blogging Pound's The Cantos

Pound Cantos…. and, we’re back. 

Years ago, I started a series of posts covering each poem in Ezra Pound’s The Cantos, one (or a few) at a time. I’m picking up that series now, since I have a little time again. (Who knew having a kid would make someone so busy?)

The readings are probably still going to remain atypical, not so much for the reasons made clear in my first post in this series as because atypical is my general approach to the Cantos. II seem to have abandoned the fiction project that inspired this series, but I’d like to try finish the Cantos just the same, especially since I got so far into the book. 

There’s also an (updated) index of all the Cantos (and related sources) I’ve discussed so far.

I’ve arrived, after great and long detours, at that strange interstice between the Adams Cantos and the Pisan Cantos: the two “Italian Cantos” which have also been called Pound’s “Fascist Cantos.” For reasons I’ll get into below, I’m going to cover them both in a single blog post, while trying to do them whatever justice they do or don’t ultimately deserve, before setting out into the verdant, overgrown wilderness that is the Pisan Cantos.   

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Night Music (1989-90)

The recent passing of David Sanborn (it happened back in May) recently got me thinking about the TV show he cohosted with Jools Holland back when I was a teenager. It was called Night Music. Well, apparently, the show was originally titled Sunday Night, and I’m not sure when the name changed, or whether I caught any episodes of it back when it was called that. I do vividly remember tuning in to watch Night Music, though.

For a music kid like me, it was amazing that this show exist: a major network TV show that featured jazz music? Sure, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bootsy Collins, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Leonard Cohen all played the show… but they could get on TV anytime, and often were. Where else, though, could you see Sonny Rollins, or Miles Davis, or Carla Bley, or the other jazz folks who played the show? Where else could you see Sonny Rollins sit in with Leonard Cohen, for example? Where else could you see a black and white clip of Count Basie’s big band or Coleman Hawkins or a young Sonny Rollins on network TV back then? (When can you now, for that matter—on network TV, that is?)

I also vividly remember seeing Kenny Garrett playing his “straight alto” sax in Miles Davis’ band—in their rendition of “Mr. Pastorius”—and wondering what the hell kind of sax it was. You can see at the section starting about 36 minutes into this clip:

It wouldn’t be very long before Miles was gone, too. This was the closest a kid like me, out on the Canadian prairie, would get to seeing the man play live, and it meant a lot to me. And that’s just one of many acts I first saw on Night Music. What’s wild is that I kind of took for granted that the show existed, until it was gone. Then, there was nothing else like it. 

There probably will never again be anything like Night Music, either. I suppose we don’t need it as badly, now: we can see as much live and archival jazz on screens as we want, right? There’s already a lifetime’s worth on Youtube, and more getting uploaded everyday. We can even see crazy collaborations, sometimes, on Youtube these days, though not as regularly as we could when Night Music was airing. 

Back in the 1980s, Night Music was a kind of oasis for kids like me. I’ve always been grateful to have had the show to watch for as long as we did. I cannot see mainstream network TV airing anything like this at anytime, so the show really was a sort of miracle. (Actually, it took some finagling. Sanborn mentioned in some interview how, just to get unusual artists booked, they had to get described as having a “Phil Collins” type sound, even when that was really not to the case. The suits were, even as the show aired 

If you missed out on it—or if you’re a bit younger than me—some of the non-jazz acts might strike you as strange. (I don’t know if anyone now remembers bands like Was (Not Was) or The Roches; I sure didn’t till I rewatched some episodes.) In some ways, the show would be a weird time capsule, capturing an eclectic bunch of musicians and styles that were current in the late 80s and early 90s, if it were available on DVD. I’d have a copy if it were, but it’s not, and it apparently never will be: people have asked the rights owners, and they seem to have no interest in releasing it. But if you’re interested in checking it out, there’s a couple of caches of the show that are easy to find: one’s on The Internet Archive, and the other is, of course, on Youtube