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.
- Transcribe some trad jazz clarinet ossia lines since some are just incredible. For example https://youtu.be/pwhQ918ZYFI?t=45m27s
- Do another arrangement for string jazz band.
- Write some Cello Blues.