<![CDATA[bobbysternjazz.com - Blog: B Natural]]>Thu, 17 Apr 2014 23:40:46 -0500Weebly<![CDATA[Sonny Stitt Redux: Was he the "Stinkmeaner" of the Saxophone?]]>Thu, 17 Apr 2014 15:17:53 GMThttp://bobbysternjazz.com/1/post/2014/04/sonny-stitt-redux-was-he-the-stinkmeaner-of-the-saxophone.htmlPictureSonny Sti.......nkmeaner!?
I recently received a comment on one of my posts from last summer entitled "Sonny Stitt - "How Many Keys on the Saxophone?" from a well informed gentleman by the name of Leo Cluesmann.

In my post, I detailed the experience of my encounter in 1980 with the jazz legend, saxophonist Sonny Stitt
, believing, correctly as I found out, that many people who are still around had` their own Stitt stories.

It is obvious, using Mr. Cluesmann's comment as an example, that even more than thirty years after his death, Stitt still elicits some strong emotions from folks.

I'll include Leo's comment here in full
for which I wish to thank him.

PictureHuh...?! Who, me!!?
"Sonny Stitt was a good player, but also an embittered drunken bully who enjoyed intimidating anybody he could. Also, delusional and prone to lying about his importance in the pantheon of true greats. He claimed he came up with his shit independently of Parker.

Yeah, right . . . .

He was a lick machine and nowhere near true genius a'la Charlie Parker. One *chorus* of Bird eclipsed all the solos Stitt played during his entire career . Sonny Rollins was a stone-cold beast and at 26 yrs old wiped the floor with old jealous Sonny Stitt. Gene Ammons swallowed Stitts jive-ass cliched' playing with one note and it made Stitt mad when crowds would cheer Jug, on after Stitt's predictable BS .

Stitt tried to shake Jackie McLean up, too but JMac n Sonny were way to hip for Stitt's shit. and they ended up being way more prolific than old drunk-ass Stitt.

Real talk. Stitt was a jealous-hearted chump coasting along on cheap booze and reliving his glory days by muscling starry-eyed kids on obscure bandstands. Coltrane was eons past Stitt . Johnny Griffin ate Stitt's lunch many a time. Stitt was a cornball.

He had nothing but predictable clichéed phrases at his disposal. Never took a chance on the stand. Just phoned it in and traded on his 'NAME'.

Stitt couldn't hang with Max and Clifford, and lasted 10 seconds with Miles after Trane split . The man was not a team player, just a jaded showboater who had no desire to move past his watered down lines. Even Stanley the Steamer steamrolled him on that session with Diz.

And he stills owes the union dues money!

Leo Cluesmann

Damn, that's kinda hard, Leo.

You mean he checked out owing his 802 dues?

Dig him up and hang

Let me respond by saying this:

Sonny Stitt, in his absolute prime, which I guess was roughly late 1940s - mid 1950s, was a great saxophone player, on alto, tenor and baritone. Technically, he was flawless. the "Brecker" of his day. Dizzy himself alluded to as much.

Did he develope his ideas and style independently of Charlie Parker as he claims?

Who really knows for sure. Who cares?

Did Babe Ruth really call his shot in '32?

Whether he did or not, Stitt was the first, the best and the most well known out of the long line of Bird alto sound-a-likes that followed. In those early days of bebop, just about everybody was following Bird's lead, regardless of their instrument. It was called Bebop.

On tenor, Stitt  re-synthesized Bird and Lester Young into a unique and influential style. For a few years, until the other Sonny (i.e., Rollins) took over, Stitt was top dawg on that instrument, surpassing Dexter Gordon at that point.
Early Coltrane abounds with Sonny Stitt references.

Charlie Parker was a force of nature, pure energy, one in many, many millions and a generational spirit. Was Sonny Stitt a Charlie Parker?

Of course not.

Was anybody?

The fact that Stitt's influences as a stylistic innovator on tenor were eclipsed within a few short years, first by Rollins, then
'Trane, plus a host of others, not to mention the next generation of the 1960's (Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter, even a re-invented Dexter), had` as much to do with actual changes in the music itself. Change it did, and quickly.

PictureLeroy "Satchel" Paige
It amazes me when I think about the development in the music called "jazz" from Louis Armstrong in the mid 1920s until, say, the mid 1960s with Coltrane's "Ascension". Man, that's a span of just 40 years! It's incredible when you think about it; even more so when you compare it to the next 50 years, up to the present. Other than electronic instruments, fusion, and odd meters, I dunno; there hasn't been much real innovation in the music. Why that is, is open to a whole other discussion.

My point here is that Sonny Stitt, who was leading the league in home runs, suddenly saw a whole new crop of upstarts race right past him. It reminds me of the famous Satchel Paige quote, "Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you." Gain it did.

Sometimes I wonder what Bird would have sounded like if had he not checked out age 35. Or John Coltrane, dead at age 40.  What would they have gotten into musically, had they lived an "average" life span, whatever that is.

Compared to them, Stitt lived to the "ripe" young age of 58, working and traveling constantly. I think that his being known as the "Lone Wolf" had as much to do with his innate personality, who he really was, than his policy of being booked as a soloist to perform with local rhythm sections around the world.

Ahh, ........... his personality, you say!

Sonny Stitt was known to be very competitive and and could be quite irascible at times, "an ornery ol' scudder" as Festus from "Gunsmoke" would say. The booze obviously didn't help, especially as he got older. I'm not qualified to psychoanalyze the dude, but all the traveling, boozing, societal pressures and whatever else was ailing him eventually took it's toll, as it would most anyone.

If alcoholism is a disease, then Sonny Stitt was a sick man.

Was he a team player? Probably not.
Was he politically savvy and good at kissing asses? Doubt it.
Did he live off of his reputation? I'm sure he probably "phoned it in" at times, as Leo put it. It's hard to be inspired all the time especially working with various quality rhythm sections as he did.

Why was he so bitter? I dunno, probably a whole lot of reasons, real and imagined. I always thought, though, that he was more "bittersweet"!

Was he the Stinkmeaner of the saxophone?


Stinkmeaner, maaaan!! Col. H. Stinkmeaner!!

I dunno. Stinkmeaner ain't got no teefusses!


Teeth, man! Teeth!

Check the video below and judge for yourself.

R.I.P. Edward Boatner, Jr. "Sonny" Stitt "Stinkmeaner".

Despite your apparently deserved reputation as an ornery buzzard, you've nevertheless been a musical inspiration to many of us, and I, for one, ain't mad atchya!!
Gratuitous use of the "N" word, the "B" word, the "XYZ" and the "LMNOP" word!

You have been 4warned!
B. Stern
<![CDATA[Two's the News - X-Centric Gonzatonic Pentatonic b2s]]>Thu, 10 Apr 2014 17:32:46 GMThttp://bobbysternjazz.com/1/post/2014/04/twos-the-news-x-centric-gonzatonic-pentatonic-b2s.htmlPicture
Say it fast, but practice it slow.

As described in a previous post, which could be well worth checking out, the Pentatonic b2 scale is basically a Major Pentatonic scale with the second degree flatted (C Maj. Penta = C-D-E-G-A to C Penta b2 = C-Db-E-G-A).

Lowering the 2nd degree a half step creates some important new interval relationships; mainly, the interval of a Maj. 3rd (min 6th) between the 2nd & 5th scale degrees (Db (C#) & A), as well as the tritone created between steps 2 & 4 (Db & G).

So, what's it all mean, Mr. Natch'l?

Well, for one thing, it means that you'll probably start hearing this configuration, both harmonically and melodically, as a type of A7 #9, or as an A with a min 7 and both a Maj. and a min 3rd. This Maj. / min. 3rd sound has been very prevalent since maybe the mid 60s.

Transpose this (C-Db-E-G-A) 3 times, up (or down) a minor third each time, and you've got yourself all 8 notes of a diminished scale (Eb-E-G-Bb-C, F#-G-Bb-C#-Eb, A-Bb-C#-E-F#).

Actually, you only need to transpose a tritone away to accomplish this, but since the diminished scale divides the octave into 4 equal parts, you've got 4 different Penta b2s, which in many cases, can be subbed for each other.

"We know you're eccentric, but what does "X-Centric" mean? And...what in the name of the Universe is a Gonzatonic!?"

These questions in particular have been perplexing man and womankind for the past 2,000 milliseconds that it took for you to read this.

The enshrouded mysteries of both the "X-Centric" and "Gonzatonic" parts are revealed here, here, here and even here. These posts deal alternately with the Maj. Pentatonic, Pentatonic b3 & b6 scales.

The above Pentatonics (plus b2s) are "X-Centrically" explored even further in "Slicks Licks That Stick! (Vol. 1
)" as well as "Gonzatonically" in "Slick Licks That Stick! Vol 2" (without the b2s).

Therefore, presented here is Jerry Bergonzi's "shape #1"
formula as presented in his book, "Vol. 2. - Pentatonics" (Advance Music) and applied "X-Centrically" to the 5 modes of the b2 Pentatonic scale.

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Treble Clef                Bass Clef
B. Stern
<![CDATA[Unstable, Mates! - An Etude Based on Benny Golson's Quirky Classic "Stablemates"]]>Thu, 03 Apr 2014 18:01:27 GMThttp://bobbysternjazz.com/1/post/2014/04/unstable-mates-an-etude-based-on-benny-golsons-quirky-classic-stablemates.htmlPicture
"Stablemates", Benny Golson's classic, written in 1954, is the subject of this etude.

I'd been 'shedding this tune as of late, so I thought I'd slow the process down a bit and write out an etude, which similar to a solo transcription, can be helpful in focusing in on individual elements of a tune.

"Stablemates" is not your "standard" jazz standard, in that its form (36 bars, ABA 14 - 8 - 14) as well as its flow of chord changes, is somewhat unorthodox.

I think that for these reasons, mainly, the tune has remained a challenge to improvisers and has stood the test of time since its inception 60 years ago!

What gets me most about this tune, is its several "minor deceptions". Like, in measure #1 already. The tune is in Eb (tenor key; Db Concert), so judging from bar #2, the original idea might have been to start the tune on the ii chord (F-7). But nooooo!, Mr. Benny! He laid his first trap by raising that ii chord (ii-V7) up a half step.

Then in measure #4, one might reasonably expect the D7alt to resolve to some kind of G chord.


Instead, we get detoured to the ii-V7-I a minor third above, only to be led back around to that Gm (where we thought we were going in the first place) as the first chord of a protracted iii / VI7 / ii /V /I / I in measures 9 thru 14.

Take it to the bridge.

This has to be a toll bridge. The "toll" extracted being the time required in the practice room to be able to negotiate smoothly through the dominant 7th chords here, each lasting one full measure apiece.

The first 4 bars are a kind of backwards Cycle of 4ths, ascending chromatically, in order to come back down chromatically tritone subs) the next 4 bars, the last bar being the V7 of Eb (tenor key). But, hey look out!!

Don't forget that speed bump, the ii-V7 raised a half step in the first measure of the "A" sections, we already talked about.

This is the type of tune which you have to play a lot until you've really internalized it, in order to start

saying something on it.

I changed the title of this etude on page 1, but forgot to do so on page 2. Both are admittedly kind of lame (although the current title does manage to describe the quirkiness of the tune), but don't let that stop you from checking out the etude itself.
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 Concert                        Bass Clef

B. Stern
<![CDATA[Add Some Augmented Scale Patterns to "+" Up Your Day!]]>Thu, 27 Mar 2014 13:29:20 GMThttp://bobbysternjazz.com/1/post/2014/03/add-some-augmented-scale-patterns-to-up-your-day.htmlPicture
The Augmented Scale is a 6 note, symmetrical scale, the tonalities of which are a result of the octave being divided into three equal parts.

Among it's other "pluses", this three headed beast can be a useful and effective device when improvising over a static or modal harmonic situation, shifting the tonality momentarily a Maj. 3rd above or below the home key.

As has been described previously in these pages, the Augmented Scale can be thought of (using the first 2 lines of the exercise as an example) as:

2 Augmented triads, a minor third apart (F+ & Ab+) or, enharmonically, a half step apart (F+ & E+),
3 Major or 3 minor triads, a Maj 3rd apart (F, C# & A Major or minor triads).

If we start the Augmented Scale on F, as in the pickup to the first line of the exercise, the result would be, F-G#-A-C-Db-E.

Since the interval makeup is 1 1/2 steps - 1/2 step before repeating itself, you could also start the scale (or pattern) on A or Db and it would be the same exact scale, with the same exact interval makeup (i.e. symmetrical).

In fact, this exercise is really a two bar phrase transposed down a Maj. 3rd and then down another Maj. 3rd.

The fact that the Augmented Scale is formed from the division of the octave into 3 equal parts means that there are really only 4 unique Augmented Scales (12 note chromatic scale / 3 equal divisions = 4 Augmented Scales).

For a more cosmic view of the Augmented Scale, check out this previous post.

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Treble Clef                Bass Clef
B. Stern
<![CDATA[Descending the Spiral Staircase - More Altered Pentatonics]]>Thu, 20 Mar 2014 14:06:35 GMThttp://bobbysternjazz.com/1/post/2014/03/descending-the-spiral-staircase-more-altered-pentatonics.htmlPicture
Surprise! Another ii-V7-i exercise dealing with altered pentatonics.

Can't get enough, huh? Me, too!

I mean, why practice this stuff? Why practice scales, patterns
, etc.

In fact, why practice.......period!?

I expect there might be different answers
depending on the skill level and intentions of the player.

As for myself, and players like me who have been doing this for a while, it's about making new connections (musically, not necessarily politically or professionally), creating new pathways, growing new synapses, etc.

In other words, trying to get away from playing the S.O.S.

As I mentioned on my home page, the more you learn, the more the universe seems to expand exponentially, whereby, instead of feeling larger within it, you realize how little you really know.

The great part about that is: There will always be something interesting and challenging to learn, and get this:


I really can't understand people who say, "I don't know what to practice." Man, even 'Trane said something to that effect in the Frank Kofsky interview, I think.

But hey, that was 'Trane. He had his own special, private hotline to the Universe. But then again, so does each and every one of us.

Without going to cosmic on you, all I can say is the stuff I post here on this blog, as well as the exercises, etc. in my Slick Licks! books, are things that interest me personally, things that I've been trying to master or wish to infuse into my vocabulary. I figure if this stuff is interesting to me
, it'll probably strike a chord with at least a few of you folks out there.

Which brings us back to the "Why practice this stuff?' question.

Constant repetition creates
1) Muscle Memory and 2) Subconscious Response.

Athletes do it.

These two processes work on the outer and inner levels, respectively, during improvisation, not unlike a spoken language. The former deals with the physical while the latter deals with the mental and emotional aspects of spontaneous musical creation, kind of a "Head, Heart & Hands" philosophical approach (hey, that was a pretty good group, back in the day).

The point in practicing these, or any, exercises, licks
or patterns, etc. is not simply to plug them in and repeat them as is, but to add them to your subconscious stream of material, as well as to create the necessary neuro / muscular familiarity.

Add to that the all important element of 3) Imagination, and you've got yourself a winner.
Even just a little bit of this element can go a long way, when combined with the other two "perspiration" elements.

I remember both Miles Davis and Michael Brecker mentioning that it would take many months of practicing certain
new material before it began to creep into their musical conversations in a natural and organic way. So patience is indeed the virtue here.

Oh BTW, The Exercise:

This is a descending 4 bar patter pattern, over a minor ii-V7-i, working a Pentatonic b3 and two
Pentatonic b6s.

As you may already know, both of these Pentatonics are derived from the Melodic Minor scale.

Breaking it down:

The basic construct of this pattern is step up / skip down /
which repeats according to the number of notes in each measure. The "skip down" part is where the "descending in 3rds" comes in, not Maj. or min 3rds necessarily, but 3rds diatonic to the Pentatonic Scale.

The three pentatonics used in line 1 are:

C Pentatonic b3 (C-D-Eb-G-A) = A-7b5 11
Bb Pentatonic b6 (Bb-C-D-F-Gb) = D7#9 b13
Pentatonic b6 (D-E-F#-A-Bb) = G- (Ma7) 9 13

I like how the connection via a half step between the last not of measure 1 and the first note of measure 2 breaks up the symmetry a bit.

Get it in your head, heart and hands.

Then just forget about it and play!

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Treble Clef                 Bass Clef
B. Stern
<![CDATA[Softly - The First 8, Part 2]]>Mon, 10 Mar 2014 15:41:48 GMThttp://bobbysternjazz.com/1/post/2014/03/softly-the-first-8-part-2.htmlPictureSoftly as in a Swarm of Flying Marshmallows
This exercise works together with the post from 02/25/2014, and the basic explanations can be found there.

What we've done here, basically, is omitted 2 of the notes from each of the original Melodic Minor scales (D Melodic Minor, omit G & C#, and Bb Meodic Minor, omit Bb & Eb), thereby creating 2 altered pentatonics.

For the D min tonic chord, we'll use a D pentatonic b3 (D-E-F-A-B), which has a more "obvoius" tonic sound than our other MM choice, the pentatonic b6, which is what we'll use for the A7alt dominant chord (F pentatonic b6 = Bb Melodic Minor = F-G-A-C-Db). The D min pentatonic supplies us with a good old Dmin6 9 sound, while the fore mentioned F pentatonic b6 gives us an A7 #9b13, and includes the tritone C#(Db) & G.

As in the previous exercise, both scales are played alternately in a single direction, each measure beginning on the next available scale tone.

Note: Measure 4 of Line 4 should be labeled as an A7alt chord.

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Treble Clef                  Bass Clef
B. Stern
<![CDATA[Three Flavors! - Mixo, MM & Aug ii-V7-I]]>Wed, 05 Mar 2014 00:01:14 GMThttp://bobbysternjazz.com/1/post/2014/03/three-flavors-mixo-mm-aug-ii-v7-i.htmlPicture
This exercise comes in 3 flavors, and I don't mean your standard vanilla-chocolate-strawberry, either.

I'd even venture to claim, from my own biased point of view, that it's even more yummy, and certainly less fattening

It could even help you sweat off a few pounds in the process, plus it'll most definitely keep your cholesterol in check

Having gotten those preliminary points out of the way, what I'm really trying to say here is............

Damn, that Ice Cream looks good!!!
That's why I don't keep any in the house!

On the other hand, while the 3 flavored tasty treat being served up here may not be Howard Johnson's (he plays tuba!), it'll keep you from going into sugar shock.

of that. Now dig this!

As with many of the exercises presented on "B Natural", this one deals with the ii-V7-I cadence. The "Two-Five-One" is the most common chord progression in jazz and pop music, by far.

But, you knew that

Therefore, it serves as a common denominator, "real world" vehicle in which to frame an exercise

The three flavors mentioned previously
and used in this exercise, are some of my faves. Namely, Mixolydian, Melodic Minor and Augmented scales being the flavors of the week. Since we ran out of cones, we'll serve them up in triad pairs as well as  a "triad trio" (for the Augmented sale).

Are you drooling yet? Better see a doctor (if you said yes)!

Flavor #1

Checking out the first measure of line one
: Fm7.

Upon close inspection we discover that the first group of sixteenth notes forms an Ab Maj triad in a 1-5b-1-3 pattern, right? The next 4 note group is identical, but up a whole step, forming a Bb Maj triad. The third 4 note grouping in bar one, alternates back to an Ab Maj triad, this time in it's next ascending inversion, forming a 3-1b-3-5 pattern . Once again, the next group of 4 sixteenth notes is a Bb Maj triad in the same 3-1b-3-5 pattern as the previous one.

Why these two triads? Because, the Ab and Bb Major triads, in this case, are derived from Eb Maj which is the key of the initial 4 bar exercise. The 4th and 5th scale steps of
of any Major scale always produce Maj triads and Ab and Bb Maj are the 4th & 5th scale steps of Eb Major. These 2 triads combined form a 6 note (hexatonic) scale: Ab-Bb-C-D-Eb-F (from Ab) or Bb-C-D-Eb-F-Ab (from Bb).

It's interesting to note that the only note from the Eb Maj scale that's missing here is G.

The idea is to alternate these two triads, which share no common tones, going through it's inversions in one direction (ascending in this case). Because of the absence of the G here (the 3rd of Eb Maj), the quality created by this type of triad pair is decidedly less "Major" and more "dominant" sounding, agreed? Therefore, it sounds very natural over an Fm7, which is the ii chord of Eb Maj and which proceeds it's V, which is Bb7. As a ii and it's V chord are interchangeable, we can consider measure #1 to be a kind of Bb7/F

Flavor #2

In measure 2, (Bb7alt) we shift our focus to alternating inversions of the triads E Maj & F#(D or Bb) Augmented, which are built from the 4th & 5th scale steps of B Melodic Minor, which also just happens to be the parent scale of Bb7 altered (it's 7th mode), our dominant scale color of choice in this case. Forming our 6 note scale from these 2 triads we get (from Bb):  Bb-B-D-E-F#-G# = Bb+7 b9b13 or just plain Bb7 alt.

Flavor #3

Measures #3 & 4 (Eb) is yet another flavor, and still a rather strange one to many.
  We're talking about the Augmented Scale, a six note, symmetrical structure, being made up of:

2 Augmented triads, a minor third apart (Eb+ & F#+) or, enharmonically, a half step apart

(Eb+ & D+)
3 Major or 3 minor triads, a Maj 3rd apart (Eb, B & G Maj or min triads).

The six note Augmented Scale in measures #3 & 4

Eb - F# - G - A# - B - D

Both major and minor triads are used in this case, creating a somewhat ambiguous, yet still very Eb, tonic chord resolution.

Practice this exercise at quarter note = 50 bpm (or slower) for starts.

A lot more info on triad pairs and the augmented scale can be found in books by great saxophonists and educators, Walt Weiskopf, Jerry Bergonzi
and Gary Campbell.

What's that frying sound? Must be my brain.

I need some ice cream!

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Treble Clef                  Bass Clef
B. Stern
<![CDATA[Softly - The First Eight]]>Tue, 25 Feb 2014 19:41:23 GMThttp://bobbysternjazz.com/1/post/2014/02/softly-the-first-eight.htmlPicture
This is a basic exercise, written out in Tenor Key, which I recently developed for several of my Skype students which I thought I'd share here (hope they don't mind). It utilizes 2 Melodic Minor scales, D & Bb Melodic Minor to be exact, alternating over a tonic minor (i) chord (D-6, D- Maj7), and an altered dominant (V7) chord (A7alt), each chord lasting a measure apiece.

This is also a simplified version of an exercise found in "The Melodic Minor Handbook" by yours truly and published by Jamey Aebersold. The exercise in the book consists a 4 bar minor ii-V7-i using 3 different Melodic Minor scales. Both exercises are "continuous scale' types, where the inherent first note of each new scale picks up where the last note of the previous one left off.

For example: measure #1, (D- = D Mel. Min.
= D-E-F-G-A-B-C#-D)
                                 measure #2, (A7alt = Bb Mel. Min = Eb-F-G-A-Bb-C-Db-Eb)
measure #3, (D- = D Mel. Min. = E-F-G-A-B-C#-D-E).

And so on. Get the drift?

Several measures start on the same notes. These are the common tones between both D & Bb Melodic Minor, and they are F, G, A and C# (Db). That makes 4 of them, so that would means there are 3 uncommon tones between the two scales. Hmmm, interesting! Maybe worth investigating further.

In any case, this exercise can be used practice blowing over the the "A" Section, for the most part, of the standard "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise".

On most lead sheets of the tune, the A7 is preceded by it's ii chord (E-7b5); but as the rule of thumb says that a V chord can be subbed for by it's ii, and vice versa, or the ii can be left out altogether, for the purposes of this exercise, that's exactly what we'll do.

We can even put an Eb in the bass as under the A7 as a tritone sub, for the first two beats or the whole measure. This sounds kind of "Horace Silver-ish"

There are also several lick and pattern examples. The real point of all of this is to get these scales in your fingers and ears, internalize them, and invent your licks, patterns and exercises.
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Treble Clef                   Bass Clef
B. Stern
<![CDATA[Notnowmom! - An Interview with Saxophonist Carolyn Breuer]]>Tue, 18 Feb 2014 12:32:08 GMThttp://bobbysternjazz.com/1/post/2014/02/notnowmom-an-interview-with-saxophonist-carolyn-breuer.html
I remember the first time I ever heard about Carolyn Breuer (pronounced Broy - er). I was sharing a quiet taxi ride in Munich, Germany with her father, trombonist / pianist Hermann Breuer.

As I recall, I was about to doze off in the back seat, when Hermann remarked suddenly, “Saxophone players tend to practice a lot of patterns, don’t they?”

I must have answered something like “Yeah, I guess so. Why?”

“Well my daughter, who’s 12, started playing alto and she practices a lot of patterns.”, he replied.

I mentioned to him that I had a few students at the time and that I’d be glad to give her some lessons.

That, however, never happened, as I left Germany a short time later.

She doesn't seem to have suffered in the least because of it.

Quite to the contrary.

As "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree", so the saying goes, saxophonist / composer Carolyn Breuer has gone on to become one of the most recognizable and respected Jazz Artists on the European scene.

I caught up with her recently via Alexander Graham Bell's 140 year old

PictureAllan Praskin
BSJ: So, when exactly did you start playing the saxophone?

CB:  Actually, with 12. I got the saxophone for my 12th birthday. Before that, I played piano and was kind of bored with it. I wanted to do something with a wind instrument, so then Hermann gave me the saxophone.

BSJ: Why saxophone?

CB: Because he (Hermann) had a band at this time with Allan Praskin (the American alto player).

BSJ: Wow, Allan!

CB: He really impressed me with his alto sound and the way he played, which I thought sounded to me like heaven. Hermann took me a lot of the times to his gigs when he was playing with Allan......I wanted an alto saxophone (laughs)!

BSJ: Besides Praskin, who were your early influences on the instrument? Who were you listening to?.

CB: Actually, I started right away with Charlie Parker. Bird and Allan Praskin, these were my two heroes.

BSJ: Did you actually take lessons with Allan?

CB:  No, but I went to so many gigs and he was always talking to me about the instrument and about tunes, so I picked up a lot just by being around him.

Actually, I went to a workshop that he was giving, when I was 14 or 15. I was kind of imitating him, maybe. I wanted to sound like he did, but couldn’t. He was playing these really hard reeds and I wasn’t sounding at all like him. When I was playing, he was always saying to me, “I like your sound!  I wanna sound like you” (laughter)!

I think he was a big early influence and then Charlie Parker and I thought “Oh, this sounds easy” and then I discovered, “OMG, I took on the biggest genius of all, Bird, as a musical role model and I was kind of frustrated again (laughs).

PictureCarolyn & Hermann Breuer.
BSJ:  Yeah, like all the rest of us!

How much of an influence was Hermann on your musical development?

CB: One of the biggest! I mean, he was always there, he was always practicing and rehearsing. He was also a role model, you know. If you do it, then do it really…….not a little bit, not half. Do it 100%! Hermann is one of those musicians that when he plays, he’s giving you all he’s got.

BSJ:  That’s definitely the Hermann I remember.

PictureThe Tree & The Apple
CB: He could also be a hard critic, sometimes. He wasn’t always telling me what I wanted to hear. I mean he’s my father and you have tell your child the truth. I know that when he likes something, then it’s really good, that it’s really no bullshit!

So for me it’s a huge compliment that Hermann loves to play my tunes. He always wants to play them and check them out on the piano. For me this is a real compliment, because he wouldn’t just say it.

BSJ: Hermann raised you by himself?

CB: Uh huh.

BSJ: And your mother?

CB: Well, she died when I was ten and before that she was already somewhere else. I was most of the time with either Hermann or his mother, my grandmother.

BSJ: Did you have a regular saxophone teacher in the beginning?

CB:  I had a classical saxophone teacher. He showed me technique and stuff, a lot of etudes and classical pieces written for solo alto saxophone. He was a very strict teacher who actually wanted me to become a classical saxophonist since I was always eager to learn, studied a lot and was kind of his “prize pupil”. He wanted to get me into the classical thing, but I just wasn’t into it.

BSJ: What was his name? 

CB: Enrique Kropik. He was a friend of my father's and so he gave me lessons.

BSJ: Private lessons or through a music school?

CB: No, private lessons, but really every week from when I was 12 until I was 19, when I left for the Conservatory.

BSJ: So you studied with him for seven years.

CB: Yes, during that time I practiced a lot. When I was 16, I decided to leave school and just focus on music. There was a big fight with my father because he wanted me to finish school normally, but I didn’t want to.

I thought I would lose a lot of time (laughs) because I was so bored. I practiced saxophone and worked in a bakery to earn a little money and I prepared myself for Conservatory.

BSJ: What went into your decision to study in Holland?

CB: At that time (1988), in Germany, the only school offering a major in Jazz Saxophone Performance was Cologne.

In Holland, though, there were several Conservatories offering this program. There was Hilversum, The Hague. There was Rotterdam. Everyone I spoke to about it told me that the Dutch were a lot further along than they were in Germany since they had been offering this for twenty years already in Holland.

Plus, the teachers there were like the creème de la creme: trombone, Erik van Leer; Bart van Leer and Ack van Rooyen, trumpet; Ferdinand Povel, saxophone; there was really a high level of teachers.

BSJ: So you decided on Hilversum. Was your main teacher there Ferdinand Povel?

CB: Yes.

BSJ: What was his overall influence on your development as an improviser?

PictureFerdinand Povel
CB: He was, I think, the biggest influence. Before I started at the Conservatory, I was very intuitive. When I played a tune, I tried to focus mainly on the tonic or on a turnaround. I just closed my eyes and tried to hit the notes that sounded the best.

I got quite far with this method up to the point that I went to the Conservatory. The reason I got accepted, I think, was because I played melodically and musically, but I had no idea about changes or of the possibilities of what you could do with them.

So in that regard, Ferdinand was a huge influence. He showed me everything, all the theoretical stuff, actually. Before that, as I mentioned, I had lessons with the classical teacher and with Hermann, who comped for me on piano and told me, “Close your eye's and try to find a nice melody.”

BSJ: Well, there's certainly nothing wrong with that, since that's really what it's all about.

The reason they call it “music theory” is because it's really analysis after the fact. Being able to “hear” what's in your head and manifest that spontaneously through your instrument is the ultimate purpose, anyway.

CB: Actually now, twenty years later, I’m trying to go back to that first way of playing and forget all this stuff, you know? Sometimes it’s like a curse that you know so much because you feel pressured to show it. I get bored with playing what I know. I want to be surprised, also, by myself.

At the same time I’m very thankful that Ferdinand explained everything to me in a way that made it all seem so logical. He was always very generous with his information, telling us students anything we wanted to know. I’m really thankful for that.

BSJ: He was also a helluva player. Still is, in fact.

So you were in Holland for how long?

PictureGeorge Coleman
CB: Well, the plan was for me to stay there one year. My father said, “You have everything you need here in Munich: you have great musicians, you can take lessons; you have your father who can show you everything at the piano or whatever, so go there for a year and check out the Conservatory and come back!” That was the deal.

So I did my year, I liked it there and stayed, two years, three years. Then I thought, Ok, I’ll take the exam and get my degree. Then it became five years and wound up being 15 years!

BSJ: So you actually settled there. How long were you actually in school?

CB: Five and a half years. I got what I guess would be the equivalent of a Masters Degree, although I never thought about using it for anything.

After finishing school I went back to Munich for several months, but there wasn’t much going on, so back to Holland I went.

What’s maybe interesting also is that when I finished my degree, I twice got scholarships from Holland to go to New York. The first time I went, I studied with George Coleman and Vincent Herring and the second time I studied with Branford Marsalis; I mean, “studied” is a big word;  I took a few lessons.

BSJ: What specifically did you work on with Big George?

CB: Well, he was, and still is I guess, into playing a tune in all 12  keys. That was the thing. We played Rhythm Changes and Cherokee through the keys. He showed me some things on dominant chords, whatever, but I don’t remember exactly.

BSJ: I read on your website that Branford came to hear you at one of your gigs.

CB: No, we played on the same festival, in Germany I believe. He was the main act and I was kind of a support act with a Dutch quartet in a club afterwards.  The whole band came to check us out and afterwards he said that if I was interested he would give me some pointers and help me further, whatever.

At first, I thought it was probably just talk and was not going to happen. But we stayed in touch andwhen I got the scholarship, I went again to New York. The lessons were mostly, how would you say, a “kick”. He told me to stop playing only jazz standards and try to find my own tunes and melodies. He encouraged me to write my own music and go one step further than trying to sound like all the other guys. Yeah, that was actually the first step for me to start writing music; and a year later, in 2000, I released the first CD of my own tunes.

BSJ: Was that “Fate Smiles on Those Who Stay Cool”?

CB: Yes.

BSJ: I remember hearing your group at the present Unterfahrt in Munich, ca. 2001 and needless to say, I was quite impressed. It was also the first time that I actually heard you play, almost 20 years after first hearing about you from Hermann. I have the CD…..

CB: Is that the one with the napkin on my face?

BSJ: That’s right (laughs)! Can you tell us a little bit about that and the whole concept of why you went ahead and started you own record company and called it “Notnowmom”? Also, why the cover picture with what looks like a washcloth covering your face?

CB: Well, I did it because nobody wanted to release my CDs. I sent my recordings to all the usual record companies, but nobody wanted to give me a chance or invest their money in me. I was always kind of speechless. I just couldn’t understand why I was being rejected. I thought, “The music is good, I’m not exactly ugly. Why!?” But nobody was interested. So I said, “Ok, then I’ll do it by myself. Fuck them!” (laughter)

As for the CD cover, at that time there weren’t many role models for female jazz saxophonists, and the few that there were, were women who wore very revealing clothing on the cover and a lot of makeup. I just wanted to make a statement from the very beginning that “this is not about my face, this is about my music”, and the rest is not important. Just focus on the music, not on the face. I just got bored with all these….Diana Kralls, and blonde and beautiful………

BSJ: Well, since you no doubt belong to that last category yourself, I wouldn’t think it’d be something you’d want to hide under a washcloth forever, either. Aside from that one CD cover, though, I don’t think you have.

CB: Of course, now that I’m a bit older I think a little differently, but actually, that idea with the napkin was very smart. I didn’t know I was so smart (laughter)! It got a lot of attention, people saying, “what’s this?”.

BSJ: Very clever and effective. I’m sure you had people curious as to what was under that napkin. Why did you call it your record label “Notnowmom”?

CB: I just liked the three words “not now mom”. No reason.

BSJ: I see. I’d guess the CD did fairly well. I’ll bet you sold a few.

CB: Because I had no budget for advertising, interviews, marketing, etc, I did this all alone from my kitchen table in Amsterdam, and I sold, like, 5,000 copies, from gigs and the internet.

BSJ: That’s terrific! If I remember correctly that was a live album, right?

CB: Yes. It was done in a studio in Augsburg with a small, live, audience, if you want to call it that. It was a typical jazz club atmosphere. Not too many people showed up. (laughs)

BSJ: So you’ve been back in Munich now for about 10 years. Besides the challenges of motherhood, what has been your focus musically in that time?

CB: Well, I came back with a recording contract with BMG in my pocket. They had released my previous CD “Serenade” which I had recorded with the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam. I was full of energy and full of hope, in coming back with my first record contract and happy that I didn’t have to do everything by myself anymore. Things looked promising.

After three months, BMG was taken over by Sony and all the people who signed me lost their jobs, and my record was taken out of the program. I was basically left empty handed again. So, I decided the only way was to do it myself, once again and I’ve released several CDs since then.

In the meantime, my son was born and I took everything a little slower. I made some children’s CDs, inspired by my son, and now I’m starting up again. Last year (2013) was “The Four Seasons of Life” project and at this moment I’m working on a new project that mixes country / folk with jazz.

I’ve written some new tunes and we’ve had several rehearsals already, which I’ve taped. I think it’s really so beautiful with the acoustic guitars and the horns. Hermann is playing trombone on a few tunes, and it’s really special, I think. Really nice!

BSJ: And you have a banjo player on this?

CB: On some tunes, maybe. At the moment we have two acoustic guitars and they have everything: banjos,
slide-guitars, dobros, classical and Weissenborn guitars. There will also be a string-quartet…..

When we get into the studio, we’ll decide how we want to produce it and what instruments we’ll use.

But the thing is, I….how’d you say,……I’m fed up with piano players! I can’t deal with them any more  I need a break! (laughs)

BSJ: You wanna talk about that? Why are you fed up with piano players?

CB: Because there are so many possibilities and so many notes on the instrument (knowing laughter) and they play so many notes….. it’s driving me nuts, I’ll tell you!

BSJ: Have you ever done a pianoless trio, with just bass and drums? That can be a lot of fun!

CB: I would love to, but then you need a really kicking bass player and a kicking drummer (laughs).

BSJ: I think you could find a few of each in Germany, or in Europe (names several musicians).

CB: Yeah but, you know, that’s also the thing for me: I’m fed up with people who are maybe good musicians, but are not willing to rehearse.

BSJ: Well, that’s the other thing.

CB: That’s the other thing! You know if I ask (name) or (name), they’ll come play the gig, but that’s all. You know, this whole jazz mentality gets on my nerves. Everybody’s trying to play with everybody, and as many gigs as they can, but there are no real bands. Like in pop or rock music, you are a band, and if you are a band, you rehearse; you go for it! Everybody’s sacrificing a little bit for the main thing, you know. As a band leader, you are responsible for everything, and musicians who just come to the gig and are not willing to rehearse, I’m just……….!

BSJ: It’s difficult nowdays. It didn’t used to be that way, in my experience.

CB: Me too. I had my quartet for almost eleven years, and we rehearsed when we had no gigs. We were eager to rehearse. I remember one New Year’s Eve, none of us had a gig, so we got together and had a rehearsal until 6 o’clock in the morning on a little boat (on a canal) in Amsterdam.

BSJ: Wow! Now that sounds like a party!

CB: I miss this type of mentality. For my new project, I have musicians who are coming more from the rock scene and for them it’s so normal, that before you go to the studio, you rehearse for half a year. In jazz, it’s the other way around. First you record the CD and then you start rehearsing for the gigs, and then the CD usually sucks, until you start gigging and the band starts sounding like it should have sounded on the CD.

BSJ: That’s true, especially if you‘re doing your own, original music. It’s much more difficult, nowadays, to keep any kind of a band together, unless you’re funded somehow. It all boils down to economics, or rather, the lack thereof, usually.

However, if we do consider ourselves creative musicians, then coming together to create should be part of what we do, regardless of the economics involved, which will ultimately not only make the music the best it can be, but also special, giving you a tight sounding product you can potentially market. However, it seems that for most of us, it’s become all about “the gig”.

CB: Yeah, I think it’s very easy to be special, because the only thing you really have to do is rehearse!

Although, to be fair, maybe it was something that worked better when everyone was younger. That’s my explanation. When I was twenty-five and the people I played with were also twenty-five, we didn’t have a house, a spouse or children; we just wanted to play music.

BSJ: Well, I guess then, in that case, some of us never really grow up! (laughter)

I’d like to ask you about your tune “Synergy”, from your current CD “The Four Seasons of Life”. One of the things that intrigues me about the tune, from a purely theoretical standpoint, are all the “sus” chords involved. Can you give us some insight into how the process of composition works for you?

CB: Composing is, for me, a very intuitive process. As for the analyzing side of it, I do it later, when the tune is actually finished. With “Synergy”, I had the idea of the basic motif (sings first 2 bars).

I always take the basic motif and try to develop it with different chords. I’ll usually play the melody on the piano and I’ll look for the root (in the bass). Then I’ll close my eyes and sing where I feel the bass needs to go. This is the “secret” or the “magic”, I dunno. When I have the bass note, I’ll fill in the rest of the chord with the sound I’m hearing. In this case, the sus chords, they just sounded so damn good! (laughs)

It wasn’t that I decided “I’m going to write a tune with sus chords”, it was the melody, as a motif which I tried to develop further, at the same time as I was matching the bass line to what I was hearing.

I’m not someone who writes a lot of tunes, maybe two or three in a year. I need a magic moment, and there are not that many magic moments in a year. When I have this magic moment, then a tune comes out in, like, ten minutes or whatever. I’m not thinking about it, It’s just, whew, coming out of me. Then for the next three months, nothing is coming out! (laughs) So I wait for the inspiration, actually.

Sometimes I’m wondering about people who write tunes, for their own projects and they ask me to play it, and I think, “Well, I wouldn’t dare put this in front of a musician”, you know!? (laughs)

There’s one guy who’s writing like thirty tunes in a month, but I would not consider one of them as I tune. Just changes and a melody, but no magic in it. I think a tune has to have a certain magic.

BSJ: For me, “Synergy” definitely has it. That’s why after I heard it, I asked you for a lead sheet.

CB: Yeah, it’s not sounding constructed.

BSJ: Your solo really flows seamlessly through the changes, which while not necessarily exotic, are not your normal ii-V7s.

CB: I think they are nice changes to play on.

BSJ: How, theoretically, do you negotiate the sus chords in your solo.

CB: I’m thinking, for example, on an E7sus4, as B min.

BSJ: B Dorian?

CB: Right, B Dorian. That also makes it easier, I think, to see it that way.

BSJ: When did you write it, actually.

CB: Uhhh, shortly before I went back to Munich…….2002 or something like that, while I was still in Holland.

BSJ: Was it part of your quartet’s repertoire?

CB: Yes, we played it, but I never had the feeling that it would be good enough to be recorded. I think it really needed a back beat and a bounce, and at that time I wasn’t really satisfied with the feeling with which they played it. That’s why I didn’t record it at that time.

BSJ: So the recording with the WDR Big Band on your current CD was the first (and only) recording of it.

CB: Exactly, but not on purpose.

BSJ: How do you mean?

CB: I was a guest soloist with the WDR Big Band and they record everything. I had sent them a lead sheet before and Michael Abene did the arrangement for the band. The recording itself was just a rehearsal for a concert. Afterwards, they sent me the tapes to practice with, and I thought, wow, this should be released.

BSJ: Well, I think people will enjoy checking out the tune, lead sheet and solo transcription. I certainly have.

Click the Play button & listen to "Synergy". Carolyn's alto solo begins at ca. 2:00.
Download PDF of "Synergy" (Lead Sheet & Alto Solo)

Concert                       Eb
         Bb                      Bass Clef
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<![CDATA[Square in the Circle, Part 2 - Diminished Scale 4ths, ii-V Application]]>Tue, 11 Feb 2014 13:15:10 GMThttp://bobbysternjazz.com/1/post/2014/02/square-in-the-circle-part-2-diminished-scale-4ths-ii-v-application.htmlPicture
This somewhat Monkish, four bar line, is based on the premise of my previous post, which uses pairs of Perfect Fourths a tritone apart, as part of a Diminished Scale application.

This time, we can work it over a biii - bVI7 - ii  - V7 - i progression, which is most commonly found in the last four bars of a typical "Mr. PC" type Minor Blues.

The P4th pair from measure #1 (of line 1) represents one half of the C# (E, G, Bb) half tone / whole tone diminished scalewhile the P4th pair in measure #2 is half of the ht / wt diminished scale a half step below that, i.e. C (Eb, F#, A). It resolves neatly into a D tonic minor; D Melodic Minor being the scale of choice.

Programing at least the bass notes into a Band-in-a Box / iReal type play-along app will allow you to better hear the line in it's intended context; in other words, it might make more sense to your ears.

In fact, it just might have you hummin' and strummin' all day long!
    Download PDF
Treble Clef                  Bass Clef
B. Stern