Catching up and Skype Study

  I just looked at my blog and realized that I haven't written a single post in 2016, pathetic. I guess I started to get busier with teaching, playing and more recently the house. In 2015 and 2016 I flew out to Arizona to adjudicate a rather large Jazz festival at Northern Arizona University (at Flagstaff). I was blown away by all of the great sounding high school and college bands at the festival, especially the bands from the Tucson Jazz Institute. I discovered that TJI had SIX big bands and a bunch of combos. I'd never heard of a high school conglomerate (draws from several schools in an area) program like this before. Portland has American Music Program, one of the top conglomerate bands in the country, but AMP can barely scrape together one full big band! There was a lot of great ensemble work by the other bands at the NAU festival, but the TJI kids could really improvise and they swung much harder. The program happened to be run by Doug Tideback, who led a big band in Santa Cruz that I played lead alto in way back in the 80's. Doug, along with bassist Scott Black and saxophonist Brice Winston, had obviously built something that I hadn't seen before and in an unlikely place like Tucson.

 Last November I came out for a third time, I had booked nine clinics around Arizona at ASU, Rio Rico, TJI, Eastern Arizona College, Young Sounds and some high schools. At Rio Rico, a school at what barely could be called a town,  they had two full big bands with about twenty young saxophonists. This was a poor school with poor kids, so why were there so many young musicians excited to learn there? Something was going on here that wasn't happening in Oregon anymore. So besides the promising Jazz educational scene in Tucson, the city was one of the most beautiful I'd ever seen (and yes I've actually traveled the world a good deal), the cost of living was very low compared to PDX, the Mexican food here garnered a UNESCO World culinary city designation recently, there were brilliant world class Jazz players living there, it was in driving range of LA, Santa Fe, ABQ, Vegas and San Diego....and it was sunny all year round! I never have been one to mind rain and even after a decade of living in the NW I still didn't hate it, until fairly recently. Last winter was particularly wet so in December I booked an Airbnb in Tucson and my student (and driver) Brian Meyers and I hit the road for the Old Pueblo. Needless to say my wife wasn't super thrilled about my snowbird plan.

  My goal was just to check out the scene to see if I could actually make a living and enjoy living there. It rained in Portland the entire 21 days that we were in Tucson and I was having my morning coffee on the back patio in my bare feet every morning. The people in Tucson were also warmer, maybe part of the strong Mexican cultural influence, or maybe the lower cost of living made folks more relaxed in general, maybe human beings just needed more sun to make them happy, or just the effect of incredible tacos on a culture?? There were also many factors in Portland that seemed to be pushing us out. The Portlandia mania of the last few years had flooded the city with thousands of new residents who still want to live the dream of the 90's........to retire when you're 23 so you can drink craft brew, ride a fixed gear bike and pay cash for an outrageously overpriced shit-hole condo. Our property taxes for our house in Lake Oswego was over $8k a year rising! The traffic was getting EXPONENTIALLY worse in PDX each month with only more cars on the horizon. The cost of everything was inflating along with the exploding rent and real estate market. I left California to escape of of that nonsense.

 Basically Portland became San Francisco (my birth town) before my very eyes. Portland used to have a gritty blue-collar funky vibe that was unique. It wasn't as granola as Santa Cruz (where I grew up) but it had a similar feel to what I remembered Santa Cruz to be like in the late 70's and early 80's. Santa Cruz has been flooded by the bland Silicon Valley culture and true hippies can't even afford to live there anymore. At the time (2000) it was kind of a no brainer to move to Portland, the real estate and rents were less than half what they were in Santa Cruz and there was actually a thriving Jazz and art scene. There were about nine venues in the downtown area that had regular Jazz and some of these clubs had been open since the 70's, like Jazz D'Opus. Portland really seemed to have a strong history as a Jazz town and there were a lot of world class cats living there. Today Facebook showed me a post from four years ago when I had nine gigs in a row with great players, those days didn't last much longer. A few key Jazz clubs folding in a mid-size will cripple a Jazz scene and that's exactly what happened in Portland a little over three years ago. Well, to be accurate the Jazz scene was off the hook for decades, especially in the poorer and mostly Black part of NE that I had lived in. When the true Jazz clubs folded there were some new venues started booking Jazz, but nothing seemed to pay enough to make it worthwhile. Eventually I was having to drive out further of the city to play creative gigs in rooms designed for listening, to venues like The Jazz Station in Eugene, Just Joe's in Bend or the Art Gallery on Olympia. Eventually a time came when my friends would call from New York or LA to ask where to book a creative Jazz gig in PDX as they toured up the coast and I couldn't suggest one venue in town, nothing that would pay decently at least. My students were all out playing $40+pizza and beer gigs. Portland had been very good to me and I had a lot of great experiences there.....but it was obviously time to go.

 After coming home from my exploratory road trip last December I started making serious plans to move. My wife was finally on board (not an easy sell) so we starting getting the house ready for market. Kids, my advice to you is this....stay on top of your home repairs. After six weeks of contractor work and months of packing the house was ready to sell. We had it staged and got an offer a few weeks later. I packed all our boxes and what was left of the furniture and made two U-Haul trips to Tucson with my faithful students Names and Charlie Brown III. The second trip was back in June and I've been living with my mini-Heeler Milo at a temporary furnished apartment in the Catalina Foothills while my wife waits for either our house to sell (the first contract fell through after I arrived) or her job transfer to come through.

 Stuffed Sopapilla
 All of this puts me in a sort of limbo, or rather a Bardo state between life and death. All of our things are in storage and I'm not sure I'll stay in Tucson or if I'll return to Portland until the house sells, or if I'll stick it out in the temporary place. I just try to remember that eventually everything will be settled and a new life here in Tucson can begin in earnest. It's hard to be focused and organized about promoting your career (or blogging for that matter) when your household is in total transition.  I'm trying to work towards some things amidst the chaos, like finishing my Chamber Latin-Jazz CD project, also tours: to Oaxaca (w/guitarist Pere Soto) and Mexico City in January, South Florida in February, Columbus to work with the Columbus Youth Jazz Orchestra, Buenos Aries to play with guitarist Juan-Pablo Hernandez, Tokyo to work with pianist Grant Richards, and Las Vegas to play a few sextet gigs with saxophonists Charles MacNeal and Brice Winston. So all in all things are looking very promising and I feel like an entirely new world of opportunities will open up for me by moving to the SW.

 One thing about the NW is that it's FAR from EVERYTHING! Sure there's Seattle, but that never really seemed that happening and it was tough to get enough gigs to make the drive worthwhile. Vancouver, BC is a sparkling jewel of a city but the Jazz scene is shit for being as big as it is. So it's basically a 12 hour drive to the Bay Area, which is the nearest real Jazz scene of any consequence (sorry Lodi). Here in the Old Pueblo it's a seven hour drive in any direction to get somewhere cool and a flash to fly to DF, SF or LA. Did I mention also that Tucson has incredible Mexican food? I absolutely love living in Tucson and this is the hottest time of the year! Eventually things will settle down enough that I can finish my 8-Tonic Improvisation book and start blogging more. I'm also planning to make my own hard rubber alto mouthpieces, based on my large chambered, long faced Slant-Link. Well, I will dial in the design at least and the shop that makes Theo and Navaro pieces will manufacture them. They will be first of the the Casa Valdez line  :-)

 I've decided to promote my Skype teaching studio since I'm building from scratch again. Here is a link to a page with Skype study information:


David Stern's Approach to 12-Tone Patterns

A great paper by David Stern on composing 12-Tone patterns. Some serious nerdification going onhere...

David Stern's 12-Tone Pattern Document


Kevin Sun's Jazz Blog

Kevin Sun has an interesting article on Mark Turner on his blog A Horizontal Search, as well as an archive of great transcriptions.



The Pocket Herb- the genius of Herb Pomeroy

The teacher who had the biggest influence on me during my time at Berklee was Heb Pomeroy. I was quite fortunate to play in his Concert Jazz Orchestra for three years, as well as a few semesters in his Line-Writing band and his small combo. Herb was a true master composer, arranger, educator, improvisor and band leader. His influence of how modern Jazz harmony, composition and arranging can not be overstated. For instance, for many years the Altered Dominant scale was called the Pomeroy scale. Unfortunately I never took any of Herb's composition and arranging classes, which I have always regretted. Herb taught an arranging class called Line Writing, a Duke Ellington arranging class and a Jazz composition class. He never published any books.  An All About Jazz article on Herb says this:
During Pomeroy's long tenure at Berklee, many people asked him to write a book. His detailed answer was “I could, but I find that this [Line Writing] course changes a little bit every semester as I try to fine-tune it with new rules and principles to match relevant musical needs." Pomeroy was an excellent musician, not only as a trumpeter, but as an educator. His teaching was the music itself, not any particular personal beliefs or stylistic preferences. By not writing a book, he demonstrated the ultimate trust for the future of jazz education, and music as an ever-changing, dynamic art form.
In an interview with Forest Larsen from 1999 Herb talked about some of the things he learned while studying at Schillinger House (which later became Berklee College of Music):

 "Well this fellow, Richard Bobbitt, who was the dean, he had studied with Stefan Wolpe. I hope my memory is accurate. Bobbitt learned from studying with Wolpe about voicing not through choosing notes because they are the root, the 3rd, the 5th, the 7th, the 9th, but making most – I don’t want to say all – most of the vertical structures structures that are created because of the intervallic relationship between the notes, not because they are a function… So, certain intervals – you know, there are consonances, there are dissonances. If we want to get richer, or we want to get darker, or we want to get brighter, the choice of interval between notes is more important than the function that the note is in the chord.

Which will also – I sort of based a whole course on this later on, when I started to teach – also will take away from the obviousness of the chords that have the root in the bass, from the chords that have the 3 – 7 tritone that announce “I am this chord” and there’s very little you can do about it. Instead of taking the notes because they are these very important – vitally important in certain areas of sound. But if you’re looking to broaden, whether you’re a classical composer or a jazz composer – this approach to intervallic choice of notes rather than function choice of notes I got originally from Bobbitt… I learned a great deal from this man about this, the intervallic approach to vertical writing as opposed to the function.

Even then I was saying to myself, “This is going to be valuable.” I tell you, so many students that I had at Berklee, and I don’t mean to wave the flag here, have come back to me – two, five, ten years after, not while they’re taking the course, after they’ve absorbed it – and said that this course was one of the most opening things that they studied in a school or classroom situation…

Most jazz ensembles – whether they be three or four horns and a rhythm section or a whole band – the instrumental sound is pretty similar. I don’t mean the harmonic sound. I don’t mean the style of the player’s vibrato. The purely instrumental sound when you hear whether it’s 4 horns in like an octet or you hear the 12, 13 horns of a full jazz orchestra – the instrumental sound, the layered effect of color of trumpets, color of trombones, color of saxes in this function kind of harmony that we’re talking about – is the same. Whether you listen to Basie of ’35, or you listen to Woody of ’54, or you kind of listen to Mel and Thad of ’85 – whichever of these bands. Nothing to do with rhythmic style, harmonic style, era – was it swing, was it bebop, was it whatever. This layered, as I call the layer-lit colors, each layer really separated from each other, not entwined like this getting a richer sound instrumentally, is the same.

Whereas if you use this non-function, this intervallic work, and put the instruments together so you rub color against color – put a reed between two brass, rather than put four brass and then four trombones and then five saxes, or maybe one or two overlapping – but I can hear a typical big band and it almost sounds like there are just the three primary colors, so to speak. I don’t hear any sense of rainbow effect going on there. So these are some of the things that I learned from these teachers which were not jazz tools, but they were music tools.

I knew then, and in hindsight I even thanked them even more. Because so many students – I mean, I’ve had many people who are professional writers in their home lands, directors of radio / TV studio bands, conductors of symphony groups who wanted to get into the jazz thing, leaders of big bands all over Europe, who came and studied at Berklee and would take this course. And I could watch, I could see in their faces while I was saying these things, I could see these looks, this opening. That was very gratifying, to know that you had…

I did not invent this, I merely organized the thinking. People say “oh, you created it.” No! Maybe that mathematical mind from back in my teens and all that allowed me to organize. When you teach as long as I did, and stand in front of the thousands and thousands, literally, hours I have stood in front of bands and rehearsed them, and developed an eye-ear relationship. I do not have a God-given eye-ear relationship; I have a developed eye-ear – see the score and hear it in my head. The number of hours that I was able to do that – and I feel very blessed with my own professional band, with the Berklee band, and with the MIT band, and then clinics all around the country and the world and all that – I don’t think it’s exaggerating to say it’s thousands of hours that I’ve stood there and heard it and seen it. It’s allowed me to perceive things about scoring techniques for jazz orchestras that I don’t think many people have had the opportunity to know.

The only person that I’ve been able to have a close association with who – we’ve talked about it some, but I just knew it from observing him – was Bob Brookmeyer. I think Brook has this same sort of ability, and he’s a marvelous writer.

I don’t know what kind of thoughts and things Gil Evans had in his head. I don’t know about Duke – I tried to find out from Duke, I played with the band and would question him. (Laughing) He’d be terrible – I’d say, if we were in a room and it was casual, I’d say “Duke, come here – on this tune, in the first two measures you do this”, and I’d play on the piano, “but I can’t figure out what you do in the next two measures.” And he’d say, “Oh, you’re doing it better than I could do it anyway” and just walk away. He wouldn’t show me anything!"

I recently got my hands on a document called The Pocket Herb, which is basically outline notes from Herb's Line Writing, Duke Ellington and Jazz Composition courses. For someone totally unfamiliar with Pomeroy's curriculum there may be many things that are unintelligible, but I think that any experienced arranger will find much of value in the document. For anyone who actually took these courses these notes will be pure gold.  

The Pocket Herb- notes from Herb Pomeroy's Line Writing, Duke Ellington and Jazz Comp courses 

Notes for Pomeroy's Line Writing and Ellington classes

Abbreviations used in Pocket Herb:
A Alto Sax
AV Adjacent Voice Violation
AVOID Avoid Notes
B Baritone Sax
BNV Blue Note Voicings
C Consonant
CD Combination Dimished
Ch T or CT Chord Tone
D Dissonant
DBL Double
H Harmonized (as Opposed to writing melodic lines in each part)
HP Herb Pomeroy
LIL Low Interval Limits
NIS Not in Scale
P Perfect
PC Primary Climax
PD Prime Dissonance / Planned Dissonance
SC Secondary Climax
T Tenor Sax 


Doug Webb Clinic

I posted Doug Webb's substitutions a while back, but never got around to editing the audio from the clinic. I figured that I should just post the raw audio tracks, or I'd never get around to editing the tracks. There is a lot of great information here, but it is kind of long. Near the end of the clinic Doug Plays through the entire page of his substitutions, which is really fantastic.
(Click for a larger version)

Doug Webb improv clinic- part 1

Doug Webb improv clinic- part 2