Archive for Oscar Peterson

Christmas Time is Here — Part II

Posted in Education, Players, Playing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 18, 2017 by theguitarcave

So in Part I of Christmas Time is Here I briefly described some of the history of Christmas carols and popular holiday songs with the idea in mind that as musicians we are sometimes called to play them and shouldn’t shy away from playing them or enjoying the rich history and tradition they symbolize. In this post I will cover actually moving on to making these songs a part of repertoire. The first step in that direction is, of course, deciding on, and building up an arrangement of a song that you like, that works with your abilities as a musician, and will fit the performance you are going to give. This can be an arrangement you learn or one you adapt from either a vocal or instrumental arrangement that is already out there. Every musical number I do, Christmas song or not, even if it is based on someone’s version of a song, I like to change it a little bit or add something to it. That is just a way of personalizing the music or performance and jazz musicians especially do this all of the time.

If you are inclined to a the classic era of Big Band and vocal performances, you can never go wrong with any of the masters from the Golden Age of jazz and pop: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis Jr., Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett, and Bing Crosby to name a few. Their interpretations of holiday music are still heard regularly today — I heard Nat King Cole’s The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting…) in 3 different stores during the buildup to 12/25 this year. The arrangements are usually pretty involved but they are also accessible and can be very inspiring in what you add to the song or (if you also sing) how your vocal arrangement will sound.

Speaking of Chestnuts and roasting on an open fire… We’ve all heard Nat King Cole or someone else sing this song, but how many people have actually seen a chestnut? Have you ever wondered about that? There was a time when chestnut trees were almost 25% of all hardwood stock in some areas of North America and recipes for everything from roasted chestnuts to chestnuts and sausages were typical fare. But a blight, introduced by planting a strain of Asian chestnuts in Long Island, NY in 1904 wiped out literally billions of trees. That’s right, Billions! It’s estimated there are only a few dozen pre-blight trees still alive in North America today and, of course, hardly anyone eats chestnuts during the holidays and almost all of the chestnuts that are eaten have to be imported. By the time The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting…) was written in 1944, most of the nation’s chestnut tree stock had already been wiped out. What an ecological nightmare! The things I learn blogging sometimes.

Many great instrumentalists from the 40s, 50s and 60s made holiday albums: Oscar Peterson, Count Basie, George Shearing, Joe Pass, Charlie Byrd all made Christmas albums. So did swinging 60s style artists like Herb Albert, and so have newer jazzy/poppy superstars like Wynton Marsalis, Diane Krall and Nancy Wilson. There are literally weeks worth of instrumental and mood-type Christmas music on YouTube and possibly something on one of these albums could inspire you in a certain direction.

Some people may be more inclined to the rock and roll side of things but keep in mind that the lines of where Golden Classics leave off and rock and roll begins is a fine one indeed. Elvis Presley recorded a whole bunch of Christmas music and his tastes range from gospel, to rock and roll to straight pop. His interpretations of the classics (I’ll Be Home For Christmas, Little Town of Bethlehem) are as good as anyone’s because his gospel background and religious convictions give such sacred songs a depth that many secular vocalists just don’t do as well. It’s very easy to reduce a whole lot of the religious holiday music to camp and sentimentality, but Elvis never does this. He also recorded the definitive version of Blue Christmas. On the original version his vocals are awesome and the arrangement, including the background vocals by The Jordanaires, was inspiring and musically groundbreaking for the time. Was this the first rock and roll Christmas Song? Hmm. Maybe someone more knowledgeable than I will chime in. Of course there was a whole lot of rock and roll Christmas after 1957 including: Chuck Berry, The Ventures, Phil Spector’s Christmas (including The Ronettes’ version of Sleigh Ride, which is also a classic), The Beatles, who released lots of Christmas craziness through their fan club and then later, John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s So This Is Christmas and Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmas Time, both of which still get HEAVY airplay during the season. They are modern standards for sure. The Boss, Bruce Springsteen, also has a modern standard with his version of Santa Claus is Coming to Town, which has also been covered by everyone from Mariah to Bieber. José Feliciano, who I wrote about here, has the awesome Felice Navidad song that still gets yearly airplay and the recently-departed George Michael had a big 80s classic hit with the holiday favorite Last Christmas. Back in 1992 I was lucky enough to catch the Johnny Cash Christmas show when it rolled through New York City. That was a lot of fun. Brian Setzer has had a Christmas show/revue for years and he has covered a whole ton of great songs. Like this one:

So, depending on your preferred style of music, you can adapt and arrange any song you see fit and spice up everything from musical performances to family gatherings. Christmas songs, carols and melodies lend themselves to a wide variety of possibilities; they can have a very bare bones arrangement that you may sing along with, or they also can be turned into an instrumental mind-blower like what the always amazing Ted Greene does below. When I was in a punk band we used to do a twisted, Black Sabbath kind of take on Santa Claus is Coming to Town. When I got old and settled down, Christmas Time is Here was the first Christmas song I learned to play as a solo improviser and I have played it every year since and performed it at numerous gigs. This past year I worked up an arrangement that was based on The Ventures version of Sleigh Ride and tweaked it to work with gypsy jazz, rehearsed a couple times with the fellows, and away we went at a gig 4 days before Christmas. It was one of the best songs of the gig(!) even though no one had either a vibrato bar or copious amounts of delay since we were playing amplified acoustic. As always: If you are playing the songs instrumentally MAKE SURE you can play the melody without screwing it up! That means going over it a bunch of times. You should be able to play it 3-5 times in a row without a mistake. If you can’t, you will probably fudge it at the gig or in front of people. So beware!

There are about 7-8 songs that I can play pretty well solo and I start getting them together in the fall and play them through the season. Christmas songs are great vehicles for learning to play in an unaccompanied style (especially if you are new to unaccompanied playing), because the melodies are so well-known and the arrangement you can begin with can be very simple, but still very effective. As always take it slow and work your way through it a couple bars at a time. Since most songs do not have many different parts or modulations (unless you add them, which you can certainly do!) you will find that they will come together pretty quickly. Learning to play and perform these tunes is also a great test of what you can add to the performance every time you play it once you become comfortable improvising with yourself. I blew off a version of White Christmas while a few of us were sitting around one day in December and it sounded pretty flippin’ good! If you’re comfortable with the arrangement and comfortable improvising (throwing in some wacky chords and riff choices) you can turn the song into a really special and personal thing…and it can be a little bit different every time! So maybe give that a go later on in the year. Here is a list of jazzy, snazzy solo guitar instruction to get you started. If you’re not up to that yet, try these. You will become part of a long and very storied and important tradition that has involved the guitar and other string instruments for the better part of a millennium. Even if you play in a punk or metal band — everyone likes Christmas songs if you play them well and it’s November or December. Whatever you do, don’t even try this in July man!

ShortRiffs — January 2017

Posted in Equipment, Music Business, Players, ShortRiffs with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 26, 2017 by theguitarcave

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Welcome to the January release of ShortRiffs. Here are a few items that happened last month and early this month. I will try to make this a monthly feature. Feel free to let me know if there are things I should explore. I ALWAYS appreciate your feedback, tips and comments!

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My holiday season was Great this year. Lots of fine times, great food and I played a gig! It was awesome. A three-hour gypsy-jazz Christmas party at a very private and exclusive club. It was a fun time and we were received very well from both the staff and patrons for our gypsy music, jazz standards and holiday songs. Highlights of the night included Django Reinhardt’s Danse Norvegienne, Troublant Bolero and Douce Ambiance, a great speedy version of There Will Never Be Another You and two holiday favorites, My Favorite Things (which is in our regular rotation) and a song I brought in, The Ventures’ version of Sleigh Ride, which was also a big hit and sounded great. Totally played it like a boss and of course the other guys are just killin’. We had a clarinet player sitting in with our usual guitar presentation so the mood was even more jazzy and festive. Good Times!

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One thing that happened at the gig that wasn’t so great was that a new microphocation system I had purchased, the Audio Technica Pro 70, completely died on me. I had my suspicions that something was wrong because I went through the first battery in like an hour. Then at the end of our last song all of the sound cut out and it was just distorted noises. Some kind of short? I dunno. I had high hopes because a few bands I like use this mic and it seems to get a very dedicated acoustic sound. It was all good until it failed. I’m trying to get it replaced/repaired and see what happens. Obviously, I can’t recommend at this stage, but am holding off final judgement. If you want to hear what it should sound like, listen to the Gonzalo Bergara Quartet:

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I heard the new Rolling Stones record everyone was talking about, Blue and Lonesome. This review here is pretty typical of what people are saying about it. Personally, I didn’t hearfingers much to get excited about. I didn’t even like the song choice that much. I’ve listened to Sticky Fingers pretty regularly over the last few months. What a great record! Easily one of their best. Also some choice cuts from the ’65 years: I’m Free, I’m Movin’ On, Gotta Get Away, Doncha Bother Me and some later 70s stuff like When the Whip Comes Down, Shattered, Waiting on a Friend and Little T and A. When the Rolling Stones used to play the blues, they did it effortlessly. There was an insolence to how little they tried and/or cared. Look at the sleeve of Sticky Fingers; Mick is barely awake. That was part of the attraction. Now they’re all earnest and stuff and most reviews remark on how they still sound like they used to. Uh…they don’t, and all of the marketing and spin in the world is not going to change that. Multi-millionaires probably shouldn’t be trying to play the blues anyhow. If I was 70 and had their money, I would be on a beach 24/7/365.

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HOLY BRAZEN THIEF BATMAN! IS THAT A GUITAR IN YOUR PANTS OR ARE YOU HAPPY TO SEE ME? THIS IS GOING TO MAKE MITT ROMNEY SUPER SAD! Yes, the one liners just write themselves don’t they? Here is the video. Looks like he stashed it in the drum department first, which may be as impressive as getting it out of the store. Someone wasn’t paying attention. He must’ve really WANTED that Strat!

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Greg Lake passed away in December. That’s a shame, although by all accounts he had been battling cancer for awhile and was probably worn out. He was a prog rock legend given his associations with the awesome King Crimson, the very peppy and pyrotechnic, ELP, briefly in the very 80s Asia and as a solo artist. Although he was frequently a bass player, his guitar sound at times really captured the vibe of Olde English. Steve Howe and Jimmy Page also had this down. It’s almost like they could call up the sound of the Middle Ages anytime they wanted…and this was before there was such a thing as a Renaissance Fair. I very much liked his compositions From the Beginning, Still You Turn Me On, and Lucky Man. Any of those three songs was a favorite for acoustic guitar guys to play back in the 70s/early 80s and I still play From the Beginning from time to time.

Also, Butch Trucks, drummer for the Allman Brothers just passed away this week. Wow! This is a sad story. He and Jaimoe (Jai Johanny Johanson) were a drumming force to be reckoned with and had a lot to do with why the Brothers were the standard for that brand of rock for so many years.

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yoko1I found this Dick Cavett with John and Yoko DVD as a giveaway a few months ago. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to part with it. *eyeroll* Watching it (and by that I mean “skipping around alot”) was an interesting and somewhat uncomfortable experience. I remember seeing one of these interviews back in the day when I was a a young lad because I had discovered The Beatles, but I certainly did not understand the whole early 70s Lennon thing. I’m not sure anyone understands or agrees on the facts any better today, but this DVD is a good window into the attitudes, habits and opinions of a very wacky time. The fact that people used to smoke cigarettes on television talk shows is probably hard for younger generations to believe. Dick Cavett had a lot of great musical guests on his program(s), including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, George Harrison, Oscar Peterson, Joni Mitchell, Ravi Shankar, and many others.

This 1971 interview occurred at the height of the Lennons’ post-Beatle political period. There are great moments of John Lennon wit; he was a funny, smart and interesting guy sometimes. Yoko… if you strip away the weirdness she always tries to affect, she is interesting and intelligent. They are both nervous and their relationship was probably very contentious at times as they constantly talk over each other. The persecuted artist complex thing gets old though; they did put themselves out there in some very silly situations (Bed-Ins, Bagism) and John had already seen the negative aspects fame can engender. I’m not sure if they thought everyone was going to love them for their radical and sometimes half-baked politics and if they did, why they thought that. The fact that a lot of the political/overly personal music was pretty jyterrible didn’t endear fans or critics to the new John Lennon either. For all of their revolutionary proclamations at this time, by the late-70s the couple would transition to what would become button-down 1980s Yuppie culture. Though elements of this culture are prevalent in modern American society, the whole shebang can be a bit like Beetlejuice too. I can’t help but think of Delia Deetz and Otho whenever Yoko talks about her “work“. As I discovered while researching for the post on Pete Townshend and The Who, both Pete and Yoko were influenced by Gustav Metzger and his concept of auto-destructive art. Pete destroyed guitars and Yoko made this noise on the while jamming with Chuck Berry.

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I’m not a John and Yoko hater and don’t put any stock in those “tell-all” books that were written by people who supposedly knew the details of their relationship. Once their relationship became the thing, everything else came second. I don’t know who is to blame for that, if anyone. I don’t really care about musicians’ personal lives… and never have. I could read about the recording sessions, equipment, touring or composition all day long, but how John and Yoko or whoever else related to each other is a big <a href="https://www.youtubeIt's like reality television or supermarket tabloids. So overall I didn't find this that interesting, but it was free and there were some funny moments.

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Finally, here is something fun and scientific. The legendary Bobby McFerrin shows the power of expectations and the Pentatonic scale. Isn’t this great? This short clip is part of a much longer presentation, Notes and Neurons: In Search of the Common Chorus This is an interesting talk and is related in a way to things I’ve discussed with the This Is Your Brain on Guitar posts, here and here. A great primer to start the new year for all aspiring musicians and improvisers out there!

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Coming very soon — Christmas music and GuitarSong #6 — Django Reinhardt’s version of Night and Day.