Bootleg a Day #4: Kurt Rosenwinkel crushing 26-2 w Orlando le Fleming & Jochen Rueckert

Posted by on Sep 30, 2014 in Bootlegs, Inspiration

Halfway through our week of bootlegs, it’s time for a little Kurt Rosenwinkel playing Coltrane’s 26-2 (come on, I’m still a sax player!). He visited Chicago a while back with his standards trio, and they swung their asses off. I couldn’t believe how effortlessly Kurt was able to work over one of the most difficult tunes out there.

Jazz Showcase, Chicago, IL, 4/19/2014

Kurt Rosenwinkel – Guitar
Orlando le Fleming – Bass
Jochen Rueckert – Drums

Bootleg a Day #3: Aaron Goldberg, Francisco Mela, Tivon Pennicott, Jaleel Shaw, John Benitez: Lotus Flower jam @ Zinc

Posted by on Sep 29, 2014 in Bootlegs, Inspiration

Back in October 2011 I spent a month living in Brooklyn trying to check out and play as much music as possible. I stumbled into Zinc Bar my second day in town – ready to throw down at their jam – after checking out Greg Hutchinson’s show over at Smalls. Aaron Goldberg was playing with Greg’s group that night, and when he later walked into Zinc, I was relieved to have already sat in and said my piece in the jam.

When Aaron jumped on stage, the room lit up, and Tivon Pennicott and Jaleel Shaw were ushered onto the stage. Drummer Francisco Mela and bassist John Benitez had already been playing and absolutely burning. So, the group started playing an uptempo version of the minor standard Lotus Flower, and they just tore it up. Check out Tivon starting around 2 minutes in, incredible sound & feel, and he builds a beautiful solo.  Aaron Goldberg takes over around 5 minutes in, enough said…Enjoy!


Aaron Goldberg – Piano

Francisco Mela – Drums

Tivon Pennicott – Tenor

Jaleel Shaw – Alto

John Benitez – Bass


Bootleg a Day #2: Mark Turner @ Constellation w Avishai Cohen, Joe Martin & Justin Brown

Posted by on Sep 27, 2014 in Bootlegs, Inspiration, Trumpet

Next up in our series, we present the incomparable Mark Turner in a set from just 4 days ago!  He brought his group to Chicago’s newest and hippest jazz venue, Constellation.  They played 2 sets that drew mostly from his latest album, Lathe of Heaven, which hit the shelves only a couple weeks ago. What an experience!

I must admit, I picked up the album as soon as it came out, and I listened to it a few times with a bit of difficulty. My ears were unsure of how to process some of the 2 part horn harmonies without chordal support. However, witnessing this group live in such an intimate setting as Constellation drew me in, and I was spellbound by the end of the show. Mark’s tone coated the room with such a lush, dark, and gentle hue, and his compositions proved both creative and satisfying.

Avishai must be the most underrated trumpet player on the scene today, so I’m glad he’s seeing the spotlight with the likes of Mark and the SF Collective. I’d heard Justin Brown with Gerald Clayton a few times, and his sensitive, active presence on the drums is always a treat. He’s such a fantastic listener. And although I’d heard Joe Martin on record, his playing in person was even more fulfilling. Overall, what a show!

Mark Turner – Sax
Avishai Cohen – Trumpet
Justin Brown – Drums
Joe Martin – Bass

Bootleg a Day: Ben Wendel Quartet @ Smalls w Joe Sanders, Gerald Clayton, & Henry Cole

Posted by on Sep 26, 2014 in Bootlegs, Inspiration

This week I’ll be treating you to some of the incredible music I’ve experienced over the past few years. Each day you’ll be getting a new bootleg that I’ve recorded (yes, on my iPhone) from a live show that blew me away. We begin the series with the Ben Wendel Quartet at Smalls on June 5, 2014.  Ben’s control of the saxophone is astounding. Notice his use of circular breathing in his a-capella intro: he doesn’t even break a sweat! And who can beat that rhythm section –Joe Sanders and Gerald Clayton have played so much music together that their level of communication is telepathic. I was also blown away by my introduction to Fela Kuti-inspired drummer Henry Cole.

Ben Wendel – Sax
Joe Sanders – Bass
Gerald Clayton – Piano
Henry Cole – Drums

Harmonic Discipline and the Subtleties of Dominant Chords

Posted by on Sep 16, 2014 in Harmony, Improvisation, Theory


It’s been a whirlwind of a summer. I almost moved to London, but then I heard the burritos over there are terrible, so last week my girlfriend and I moved into a new apartment together instead. So, the posts stopped for a while, but it’s time to get back on the horse!

I’ve been thinking a lot about harmony and come to believe that the difference between today’s best jazz musicians and the rest of us is their masterful command over the minutia of harmony.

I realized that I don’t have as a good a grasp of the plethora of dominant alterations out there as I should.

Why Harmonic Mastery is ESSENTIAL

Those of you with some degree of jazz exposure may be thinking…

…I know what a dominant chord is, and I know what a b9 and #9 sound like. It’s not rocket science.

Fine. But are you sure you aren’t just blindly applying alterations regardless of each particular context? Do you REALLY know when the piano player is hitting a #11 or b13, or are you just thinking…

…Ah, some sort of altered dominant, time to plug in my angular diminished licks!!

Have you ever played the board game Operation? The basic objective is to use little tweezers to take out tiny plastic organs from a dude’s body without without touching the sides. Jazz harmony functions in a surprisingly similar manner. Your hands don’t have to be perfectly steady and studied to come close to getting it right. But every now and then your hands (ears) aren’t studied enough to make it out (of the harmony) cleanly. The inappropriately dissonant buzzer goes off, Beaker’s nose glows bright red, and you’re busted.

I’m not here to sound the hater-buzzer every time you sit on an F over a C7#11. But I hope to help you understand that the more you play “close enough” with harmony, the further you will be from sincerely obtaining your musical goals.


Some chords are pretty straightforward. Major, minor, and half-diminished chords have consistent functions in conventional harmony, and their varieties are limited.

Take the varieties of C major for example. You can play a C major scale over Cmaj7, C6, C6/9; raise the fourth (lydian) and you’ve got the rest of the C major family covered (Cmaj7#11, etc). It’s a good bet that the C major you are playing functions as either the tonic (root), IV, or III (relative major) of the tune.

Similarly, 99% of minor chords you come across are the tonic, iv (relative minor), or ii of a ii-V-I. Again, I’m talking about traditional jazz/western harmony here, not the more contemporary harmonic approach to non-functional chord progressions.

What Makes Dominants So Special

Compared to major & minor, the dominant chord is unpredictable. It’s most versatile yet subtle harmonic family in music.

Before diving into the many forms of the dominant that I cover later, let’s pause to think about WHY it’s so flexible. Go sit down at your piano, play any simple dominant chord (i.e. C-E-G-F), and resolve it to the closest inversion of ANY major or minor chord. It works! I won’t get into why, but the presence of that embedded diminished triad (3-5-b7) creates a lot of tension, and that tension can resolve anywhere, which means that in jazz harmony, the dominant chord can function in many ways.

Western Classical: V7

Classical composers, or really any composer before the early 20th century, would employ the dominant chord in an extremely predictable manner: as a five chord. No alterations were used, and the presence of that embedded diminished triad created all the tension necessary to make the resolution sound good to your ears.

The traditional functions are:

  • V7: Resolving to major [V or V7 – I]: The most popular resolution in all of western music.
  • V7: Resolving to minor [V or V7 – i]:  Note how the dominant structure in classical is maintained between major and minor, meaning that the same set of notes can resolve to either major or minor harmonies.
  • I7-IV: Secondary dominants [I7 – IV]: When moving between tonal centers, classical composers often use the dominant of the resolution key (V7 of IV) to prepare the listener for the harmonic transition.
  • …read more