Bootleg a Day #5: Adam Rogers, Nate Smith & Fima Ephron – Elephant live @ 55 Bar

Posted by on Oct 1, 2014 in Bootlegs, Drumset, Inspiration

Starting around 1:30 Nate Smith really lets loose over this odd meter, funky Adam Rogers tune, wow! Also, it’s nice to hear Adam Rogers in his element.  Hard to catch all of the Fima Ephron stuff, but I can assure you it was tasty and locked right in. This is another set from my 2011 stint in NYC.

Adam Rogers – Guitar
Nate Smith – Drums
Fima Ephron – Bass

55 Bar, NYC, 10.13.2011

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

    Is Classical Necessary? A Cost-Benefit of “Legit” Study for Jazz Saxophonists

    Posted by on Jun 3, 2014 in Sax


    Let’s get one thing out of the way: you need to learn to play your instrument before you can start learning to play jazz. Trying to improvise over an Eb-7 chord when you are still trying to remember whether it’s a D-flat or D-natural is challenging, but it’s impossible if you are at all unsure of the fingering for a high Eb! There are many foundational elements that every musician must master regardless of their genre of specialty, including instrument-specific technique, music theory, and stylistic fluency. But how to build this foundation is a hotly contested topic in the world of jazz education.

    My classical journey: …read more

    5 Steps to Finding Your Sound Through Imitation

    Posted by on May 11, 2014 in Improvisation, Inspiration, Practice Tips, Sax


    When you hear John Coltrane, you immediately know it’s Trane. It’s not the notes he’s playing or his dazzling technique that makes him sound uniquely like himself. It’s his sound. Every jazz musician, at some point, ventures into the abyss in search of their own, unique sound. Your sound is what makes you, well, you. But where do you start?

    Let’s begin by defining the core elements that determine one’s “sound”:

  • Articulation – Contrast Wayne Shorter’s heavy tongue with the light, legato style of Hank Mobley.
  • Color/Tone – Joe Henderson’s rich, dark tone stands in stark contrast to the bright, aggressive color of Michael Brecker’s tone.
  • Rhythm– Dexter Gordon plays his eighth-notes straight and behind the beat, while Cannonball mostly uses a heavy swing and plays squarely in the middle of the beat. Sonny Rollins loves the off-beats.
  • Harmonic Conception – Do they always play a flat-9 over a the five chord on a major ii-V7-I? Do they employ a lot of chromatic runs and enclosures a-la Mark Turner?
  • …read more

    Playing the Changes: It’s what separates the men from the boys.

    Posted by on Apr 22, 2014 in Harmony, Improvisation, Practice Tips


    Jazz improvisation is inherently subjective. What makes one solo “better” than any other is often a matter of taste, a preference for a given style. But while articulation, swing feel, and phrasing vary wildly from one great player to the next, every noteworthy improviser is able to effortlessly demonstrate a tune’s chordal movement. Just as any writer worth her salt showcases complete mastery over grammatical convention, the conversant jazz musician must be fully in command of the harmonic structure on top of which they are improvising. Simply put: You’ve gotta be able to play the changes!

    Arguably even more important than their virtuosic technique and impeccable rhythmic feel, what makes the great players truly great is their unshakable fluency of harmonic language. Until you are playing all the changes over a tune, your not really playing the tune. All the cool licks in the world won’t make you sound any more proficient than a truckload of glue will convince anybody that little Tommy’s mustache is a all-natural, glorious Tom Selleck.


    What does it really mean to be able to “play the changes”?

    For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the terminology, the “changes” are the chords that were originally composed to support the melody of a song.  Many musicians first face chord changes by being presented with an excerpt from a Real Book, known as a lead sheet, which states the melody and chords to a given tune.  As these changes are flying by, it is the job of the jazz musician to spontaneously compose a line that fits within the context of the harmony. More advanced jazz musicians will occasionally superimpose other, more complex harmonies on top of the original chord changes, with the intention of eventually resolving back to the originally composed harmonies to give their superimposition context. Some call this playing “out” and then back “in” [the chord changes].

    Learning to play the changes takes many years of focused listening, practice, and patience. However, I’d like to offer

    4 simple tips that will get you headed in the right direction …read more

    Tonguing for Jazz Saxophone

    Posted by on Apr 9, 2014 in Practice Tips, Sax


    Last weekend I met up with a former student, who is now a good friend and has since shifted his focus away from saxophone toward his studies in biology at the University of Chicago. But despite spending most of his time on science that I can’t even begin to comprehend, he still wants to keep improving as a musician. We were playing through a few tunes when he asked for a bit of help cleaning up his articulation. As I was offering a few exercises and tips, it dawned on me…

    Eighth-note articulation for jazz saxophone can be broken down into two simple tonguing manipulations: (1) on/off tonguing and (2) half-tonguing.

    Why focus on eighth-note articulation? Eighth notes form the foundation of jazz. The style with which one articulates and swings their eighth note is, in essence, the core of one’s sound. This post will focus on the first part (articulation), and at some later date I would like to return to swing analysis.

    On/Off Tonguing

    Back in high school, I distinctly remember the day that fellow saxophone  geek Jeremy Fratti (now a New York jazz player/professor) and I discovered on/off tonguing. It was truly a revelation. So what is it? Basically, when playing any eighth note passage, every jazz musician will tongue the upbeats while slurring the downbeats. Now there are three general exceptions to this rule:

    1. Always tongue the first note, regardless of whether it’s an up- or downbeat.

    2. Always tongue the last note, regardless of whether it’s an up- or downbeat.

    3. Some notes should be “ghosted”, which I will cover in the second part of this post.

    I like to have my students work through the following exercise to practice on/off tonguing, which is a simple loop of the ascending and descending bebop scale:

    Try taking this slowly at first, articulating the first note the first time only, then every other note (G, Bb, D, E, E, D, Bb, G, -repeat-). You can then slowly increase the tempo, take it through different keys, and apply different lines until this articulation becomes second nature. Repetition is the key, as you want this to be so incredibly ingrained that you don’t have to think about it for even one second while improvising.


    Half-Tonguing for Ghosting

    Returning to exception #3 mentioned above, there are certain times when you will want to “ghost”, or de-emphasize a note. Generally speaking, when playing an eighth note passage that takes an unexpected dip, standard jazz style rules dictate that you should ghost this note. There are many other reasons and instances under which you would want to ghost notes, but providing a list of rules that you could memorize dictating when “ghosting” is appropriate would be doing you a disservice. Jazz is a language. When you were learning to speak as a cute little baby, nobody sat you down in front of a blackboard and made you conjugate a bunch of verbs. You just listened to your parents speak all the time.  The best way to learn the rules of any language, including the language of jazz, is to listen carefully and listen often. If you want to lean to really play jazz, you absolutely need check out many, many jazz recordings.

    So, once you know when to ghost a note and what that should sound like from listening to the masters, how do you actually execute the “ghost” on the saxophone? At 1:40 of the following clip, the great Jerry Bergonzi offers a wonderful description of the mechanics behind this behavior:

    In essence, you want to put the your tongue on the very tip of the reed, half covering the sound, in order to produce the desired ghosting effect. A common pitfall when practicing this is to decrease the amount of air you are using. Don’t do this! Make sure you keep consistent, full air pressure throughout your line. Also, when coming out of a ghost, lightly tongue the next note by turning your ghosted half-tongue into a full tongue.  This will give that note a clean, crisp start.

    To practice this technique, I recommend repeating a simple line, such as the following:


    The a-sharp should be ghosted using the technique described above, otherwise the on/off tonguing described in part 1 should be employed. So, the tonguing pattern is:

  • F: tongue first time only (rule 1), slur not on repeat
  • D: tongue
  • C: slur
  • A#: ghost – half tongue this note!
  • B: finish your half-tongue on the a# with a light full tongue on the B
  • Ab: tongue (accent, as this is a jump to the top of the line)
  • G: slur
  • F#: tongue
  • …read more