I guess 38 is as good an age as any to become a jazz cat, and 2020 as good a year. Technically, this journey began last year. Or maybe it began in 2003 when Black Tie Elephant played our take on the Charlie Parker tune A Night In Tunisa; however, I’ve hit such a concentration of jazz-related milestones over the last two years that I decided to make a list. My goal: track progress over the last two years, stay positive, and stay motivated. In particular my most recent milestone, which I achieved last weekend thanks to #stayhome, has me really feeling like a real jazzer. This all said, the main musical takeaway of #stayhome, for me anyway, is the importance of being together in playing music. So, following the list of milestones I’ve listed a couple of goals. Top of that list: putting some real life, in-person jazz jams on the calendar at Soapbox.
My brother recommending Duke Ellington when I mentioned being interested in finding some jazz with “great chords and voice-leading.”
Listening to the Okeh Ellington (late twenties) collection non-stop for about three months.
Discovering twenties NYC/Chicago jazz, and New Orleans trad jazz as separate and unique musical styles.
Transcribing (well, starting to transcribe) my favorite two tunes on the Okeh collection.
Transcribing a few solos from those tunes.
Learning to play the solos on cello.
Buying some Ellington piano books.
Reading Ellington’s autobiography Music Is My Mistress.
Jamming on cello on some blues at the open mic at Rosa’s with the remarkable Chicago blues pianist Ariyo.
Arranging an early Ellington tune for my high school string group.
Receiving impromptu jazz theory lessons from the high school jazz band teacher at the school where I teach.
Learning from the jazz band teacher about the importance of the Dominant 7 flat 9 chord to early jazz.
Going deep into diminished chords with Chromawheel and cello.
Discovering Eddie Lang, the king of diminished passing chords.
Discovering Joe Venuti, one of the OGs of jazz violin.
Starting an all strings early jazz group, the Knights of Jazz String Band, and arranging a bunch of tunes for them.
Performing Mack The Knife and Ellington’s It Don’t Mean A Thing in a combo with the jazz band teacher on trumpet, a professional jazz guitarist, and some talented student players.
Starting to actually hear the chord quality of ii-V-I progressions in tunes.
Starting to actually hear diminished chord quality in tunes.
Thanks to #stayhome, ‘shedding a tune for the first time. By this I mean playing It Don’t Mean A Thing in all 12 keys. And even focusing on the “dark side of the moon”: the keys of Db/C#, Gb/F#, and B/Cb.
Some future goals:
Play with more jazz musicians as soon as this quarantine is lifted! Invite Jacob, Trumpet Tom et al to Soapbox jazz jam.
Continue shedding tunes in all 12 keys.
Continue getting comfortable with diminished chords.
The Library of Congress has a great description of the music scene at the World’s Fair. Dvorak was there conducting, Sousa was there leading his band. Will Marion Cook (later Duke Ellington’s mentor), and Joseph Douglass (grandson of Frederick Douglass) performed. Scott Joplin, then living and working in Chicago likely played ragtime in one or more of the numerous saloons and cafes along the outskirts of the fair.
25 million visitors from hundreds of countries soaked it all in, and carried the new popular musical styles home across the US and abroad.