Wednesday, March 22, 2006


I managed to catch up with our great Manchester based (well Lancashire really) guitarist Mike Walker last night for a great gig at Matt and Phreds in central Manchester. It was meant to be a tryout for new material from drummer Mikey Wilson as part of his quartet but they hadn't had the opportunity to rehearse, so it was standards based stuff. There was a great choice of tunes including Spain and others by Chick Corea, Black Narcissus by Joe Henderson as well as tracks by Pat Metheny and Steve Swallow. Black Narcissus was one of the first jazz tracks I learnt so it was great to hear that. It's the first time I've heard it played live anywhere. I studied it as part of jazz harmony and jazz guitar class when I was living down in London run by Amit Sen who was an ex student at Berklee and Black Narcissus was one of the study tunes. I then went on to do a BTec Jazz Foundation course at Westminster college also run by Amit that had a well respected Uk piano player called Tim Richards as one of the tutors. Tim's a great musician and played at last year's Manchester Jazz Festival. Black Narcissis was heavily featured as a study tune on that course as well.

Pic of the cover of Joe Henderson's Power to the People album that contains the track Black Narcissus

I managed to collar Mike and get the ball rolling with arranging a first guitar lesson next week so looking forward to that. It was a phenomenal gig actually with great playing from Mike, Iain Dixon, Mikey Wilson and the whole band. I'm not sure if it's just me, but it's great to hear a different choice of standards from the 'norm'. Many of the jams I go to tend to end up playing One Note Samba, Black Orpheus, Stella by Starlight and those sort of tunes. As good as they are, these aren't the tunes that got me into and playing jazz. Like many people, I picked up on A Kind of Blue, and much of the Coltrane stuff. Crescent was one of my early favorites. I also picked up on the first Return to Forever record. I wish more people were into playing these tracks at the jam sessions but I don't get the feeling that as many people are into that kind of stuff so much. Shame.

I've been fairly slow getting absorbed into the jazz scene in Manchester but getting there I think. There were a couple of friends there last night that I've played with at various jams. It was interesting what they were saying about Mike having been around longer themselves. Apparently he's very well respected in the USA and has dep'd for John Scofield a few times. They say he was offered a tutorship at Berklee as well but turned it down. No idea if any of this is true or just urban myth. It may be our UK bias but many people think he's better than most of the famous USA players such as Sco and Metheny and I'd have to say I'm not sure I disagree. It's a shame he hasn't recorded more. Anyway, all this whets my appetite for getting the lessons going and learning what I can from him.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Bring the beat back

Following my last blog on the lack of jams in Manchester, 'Kick out the jams', I've checked out what appears to be one of the only remaining ones at the excellent Matt and Phred's jazz venue in central Manchester. It's only monthly which is a shame.

It is pretty much straight ahead jazz and I found it quite tough actually. We did a funky blues track as the first tune that I played on and I played pretty well on that one I think. I put in some nice altered sounds using pentatonics placed around the keys (as opposed to just the blues scale pentatonic) which worked really well. See the 'Pentatonic lines- navigating outside tonal harmony' blog entry in the fanatastic Casa Valdez blog by David Valdez for more information on this approach. The next track was a tune called 'Yesterdays' from the Real Book. My repertoire is still quite poor and I had to read it from the sheet. That was more or less OK but I didn't then have the confidence to improv on it. We also did One Note Samba and things seemed to go a bit wrong in that as well. I really need to work on these tracks but also learn how to cope better in these sorts of situations. I'm fine on fusiony tracks and can really burn on them but some of these latin tracks stump me. All in all it felt like a 'mixed' performance shall I say and there's plenty of work to do.

Kick out the jams

Well this seems to be what's happening in Manchester these days. Not so much kicking MC5 style, but literally kicking our jams out of town. I've been checking out the jam scene in Manchester for about 18 months now and it's health has been variable. I'd say we're going through a lean time right now.

The first jam I checked out when I moved back to Manchester from London (another story) was 'All that Jazz' at The Arch Bar run by a local DJ Lee Speed on a Tuesday night. It was pretty good back then but I'd have to say it's lost it's way recently. It did completely stop for a few weeks but has started again with the venue being under new management. Let's hope it's goes from strength to strength. Another good one back then was at the Po Na Na Souk bar also on a Tuesday run by a local guitar player called Daiwa (not sure how his name is spelt). This attracted more singers probably due to having a better PA system. Sadly that has now gone. Lee started up a really good one in January this year back at Po Na Na on a Thursday but this only lasted for 3 weeks despite good attendance. This was a real shame as the standard was really execellent. It seems that the venues are not keen to pay the extra for a PA and house band. A DJ is cheaper and easier sadly. Then there was the jam at the Iguana Bar in Chorlton that only lasted about a month. Tough times for us players.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Perfect Pitch

Picture Iain Dixon, Sax PlayerI've been slowly recovering from the nastiest cold I've had in many a year. It's been very frustrating as I had so much energy following the jazz weekend I did recently. Almost back to health now. Just a lingering cough.

Anyway, I made it to a fortnighly improvisation workshop this week that I've just started going to run by a local sax player called Iain Dixon. He was one of the tutors on the jazz weekend. A player of some note who's worked with many of the jazz greats including Michael Brecker, John Surman and some pop greats such as Bryan Ferry and Primal Scream.

This weeks class was about the jazz holy grail of playing what you hear in your head. I'm not too bad at finding a note after one random guess on the fretboard i.e. relative pitch. However, Iain is suggesting it's quite possible to go straight to the note and that this is essentially a memory task. This seems formidably difficult to me but I'm going to try working towards it. Seems to be a case of just doing it until it works - simple eh? This means singing a note and then trying to get it straight off. Seemingly a black art but it must be doable. We tried this out in the class at length with mixed results but it's obviously something that will take much practice. I'm going to try the Jamey Aebersold Jazz Ear Training CD's in the car and get one of the Kratt chromatic pitch pipes. The task is to try and get the key for every track on the radio and check it with the pitch pipe. Eventually this pitch memory will stick. It would be great if I could get to this stage - one of many things that's now added to the jazz to do list.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Ring Modulator - the first post

So this is the first post - a random start to this blog. I'm not entirely sure what direction the blog will go in. I'm really into playing and listening to jazz now and have been for since last summer.

I guess I've had an interest for a long time but I'm pursuing it very actively, almost obsessively now. I guess this started following a trip to the North Wales Jazz Guitar Workshop last summer. I went the year before as well. When I went last year I didn't feel that I'd moved on at all from the year befoew and I left determined to do something about it. I've now got a jazz guitar going with a guitar teacher friend Paul O'Hagan and we play at pubs in the Stockport area.

Anyway, I've learnt a hell of a lot in the last 7-8 months. I'll be getting lessons soon from a fanatastic Manchester based guitarist called Mike Walker whose played with some of the greats such as Dave Holland. I also attended a jazz weekend locally and got to play with one of my all time favourite drummers Luke Flowers from the fantastic band, The Cinematic Orchestra. The photo below is from the jazz weekend. I'm the guy with the finger almost stuck up his nose. Mike Walker has his back to you conducting and Luke Flowers is to my left with the stripey shirt.

I think this blog will be about my musings on how my jazz education and gigging goes. I've got stuff to say about the Manchester Jazz jam scene but I'll save that for another post. Enough for now I think.