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It's just practice man... 

I hear Iverson's voice in my head whenever I feel like talking about practice. I'm 66 years old and have been playing for over 50 years. I'm a few months away from retiring from my day gig. I still try to practice 3-4 hours a day. 3 feels like a minimum for me to improve slightly. That extra hour makes a big difference to me in terms of learning new material and learning to improve and add to my repertoire…

We all have responsibilities and as we get older, we end up having more commitments instead of less. Sometimes, it feels selfish or self-indulgent to continue to voraciously try to improve but I view it as a long game.

I plan to keep working hard and improving until I can no longer play the instrument.

And closely related is practicing vs. entertaining yourself. When I was at the University of Miami, I was wandering the practice hall in the jazz department and a few guys were sneakily listening in on a trombone player who was awful. Struggling to play his major scales. Stan Samole wandered by and yelled at the kids to get away from the practice room door and said something like, “The guy is in there doing what he is supposed to do. He's working on stuff that he CAN'T play so he can get better. If you're practicing and you sound great, it's because you're entertaining yourself and not practicing!”.

I NEVER FORGOT THAT LESSON!

Barney Kessel told me once in a lesson that there are only 2 reasons to open the guitar case. You are either trying to learn something or you are making money.

I differ from that viewpoint in that I believe it's important to entertain yourself as long as that is not ALL that you do. Entertaining yourself keeps you grounded and gives you a sense of satisfaction that all the hard work and dedication you are putting in has paid off.

It doesn't matter if I am playing for an audience or not. I am competing with myself and am still striving to get better. 

 

Dave Creamer - one of the best guitarists I've ever heard. 

have you guys heard Dave Creamer? Back in the late '70s, Bob Roetker and I shared some cassette lessons with Dave. 

Dave was one of the most amazing players in history. His mastery of 4ths and 5ths exceeded any other guitarist including Diorio, Holdsworth, etc. He could execute them in an extremely legato fashion with no overdrive and it sounded as clean as most people playing major scales. 

I never found a representative recording up until today. I believe this album with John Abercrombie and Dave Creamer was recorded around 1981/1982. 
 

Thanks to Ron Benbasset for turning me onto this recording.

 

Your Eyes (feat. Will Dithrich) - YouTube

 

Maj7#5 over dominant 7? 

The Maj7#5 chord works great over altered chords. For example, play the (Ab)Maj7#5 over the 3rd of an E7Alt to outline all the juice notes of the chord (particularly The #5, #9)

Here are a couple diagrams. 

first one is the AbMaj7#5 hexatonic 

Second one is the same scale but with Analysis over E so you can see the alterations

 

Social Media - Engagement, fusion, growing up with a diverse musical experience! 

Lately, I've posted a lot of fusion videos on my IG, youtube, tiktok, threads, facebook.

It seems that the engagement is approximately 10-15x higher than an old guy playing clean, archtop guitar. (as opposed to an old guy playing fusion guitar)

I find this interesting because the interwebs regularly belittle fusion and I often read about how it has a smaller fan base than staight ahead jazz…

One of the things I've always struggled with is that I love jazz, fusion, rock, blues, bluegrass - equally.

I listen to Coltrane, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Allan Holdsworth, Joe Pass, Albert Lee, John Mayer, Jimi Hendrix - And I love them all.

I've often thought that if I had just concentrated on one thing I'd have been much better. 

Alas, growing up, I was likely to hear Ray Charles, Coltrane, Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson and Jimi Hendrix - IN THE SAME DAY, played by my parents who had really diverse tastes.

My dad used to jam with me playing Jimi tunes. Like a good father, he never tried to tell me that I shouldn't listen to jimi and that I should be listening to Wes or 'Trane instead.

He was a great dad and my parents helped forge my love of ALL music. Not just jazz.

So…I'm going to continue to post fusiony clips and jazz clips, as I feel motivated. I do not want to be pigeon-holed into a single style…

Love you guys!

 

 

A student from 50 years ago contacted me a couple of days ago... 

I had the most amazing conversation last night with a former student of mine. He's a physician and had studied with me at Ellsworth Studios in Bethesda, MD - Around 1979.

He randomly saw one of my videos on instagram. The algorithm put one of my videos in his feed and when he saw it, he immediately wondered if this was his teacher from all those years ago?

We spoke for over 2.5 hours. He told me that my teaching and influence, changed his life, changed the way he thought about music, about learning - and about people influencing the course of his life.

He was really into the rock/pop music of the time and wanted me to show him how to play rock - but I wanted him to work on fundamentals until he gained a basic understanding of the rudiments.

He reminded me that at some point, I would go through the lesson rudiments with him and when he demonstrated he had grasped the previous week's lesson material, I spent the rest of the lesson teaching him some of the rock music he wanted to learn. He reminded me that I transcribed some of the music off a cassette player he brought in.

Based on his interests and my thoughts on how I might help develop them further, I wrote a list of 4 albums that I wanted him to ask his parents to get.

These were the 4 albums.

Jeff Beck - Blow by Blow 
Jean Luc Ponty - Enigmatic Ocean (with Allan Holdsworth)
Tony Williams Lifetime - Believe It (with Allan Holdsworth)
Pat Metheny - Bright Size Life

He had wondered for almost 5 decades, why I had recommended these 4 albums and whether I had recommended these albums to all of my students.

I DID NOT!...

Based on my interactions with him, I was trying to nuance him into expanding his horizons - going from more rock oriented (but complex) Blow by Blow all the way to Jazz (Pat Metheny)

He was simultaneously studying drums while he took lessons with me - which he eventually decided to focus on. He continued to play through undergrad, graduate and doctorate, and in fact, hosted a jazz radio show in college. He continues to play drums recreationally today and is a voracious listener of all things jazz.

In addition to being a huge jazz fan, he is a personal friends with many of the "who's who" of jazz. The jazz experience is integral to who he is as a person.

He still regularly attends jazz shows and it's not unusual for him attend shows of his favorite players, sitting right next to the stage, for multiple nights of "2-shows-a-night" on both coasts.

He let me know several times, that I was one of 3 or 4 mentors who absolutely changed his life and that he still frequently tells the story about his "teacher at Ellsworth and that list of 4 albums"...

I'm humbled to have had this level of influence, and that someone would reach out to me, almost 50 years later - to let me know how I influenced them.

Such is the power of teaching and mentoring.

Hybrid picking - Nails or bare flesh and getting the same sound and volume out of fingers and the pick 

I go back and forth on this issue. If I'm playing a lot of acoustic guitar, the notes jump out more when you use nails. However, I have very thin and brittle nails and they are always painful to maintain. (note, this picture is not of my nails, lol)

How I cured my raggedy cuticles - Nail & Cuticle Oil - YouTube

On electric, it's not as important. Several times folks have said to me that they use nails and even acrylic nails because they want the tone to even when they go from the pick to the fingers. To me, that whole argument is one I could care less about!

I don't want things to sound the same, or symetrical or even. 

If I wanted symetrical, I would never play jazz or R&B where the 8th notes are anything other than asymetrical. In fact, when I play with hybrid picking, I rather enjoy the sound and feel of the bare fingers snapping the strings. I try to incorporate elements of chickin' pickin' into my jazz playing and the asymmetry is as beautiful to me as a singer's breathing. (Note that Barbara Streisand once fired an engineer for eliminating the breath sounds out of one of her tracks).

For me, the imperfections are the beauty of the music that I love so much and I welcome them.

Here's a recent lesson I did utilizing hybrid picking.

https://www.youtube.com/shorts/J4ZopQ6y-84

 

Switched back to fractal FM3 after a couple years with helix stomp 

I switched to Helix for a couple reasons, one being the lack of modern bass heads. I was playing a lot of modern jazz bass (fretted and fretless) and the fractal support for that isn't as good as the line6. I also liked the form factor with the Stomp and how friendly it was to sit on a pedalboard.

I loved the modern bass amps on the Helix. I was able to get a sound close to those of modern jazz bassists janek gwizdala and tony grey.

I also really liked the reverbs and delays on the stomp.

However, the tube amp modeling and cabs always bothered me on the helix. I was never able to get a direct tone I liked when recording. When i practice, i use a “non-IR” output on the Helix/Fractal to goto a power amp and then into a pair of mojotone cabs with mesa blackshadow speakers. I began mic'ing the guitar cab and mixing that with the direct sound in order to get a tone I liked. 

Due to neighbors with barking dogs and leaf blower fetishes, this limited the ability to record and I spent hours and hours trying to get a direct sound I liked.

On a whim, I found a good deal on a fractal FM3 Mk II Turbo and I bought it.

Within a couple hours of plugging it in, I was getting better and more realistic direct sounds than 1.5 years of mucking around with the helix.

Prior to getting the fractal again, I had a couple brief flirtations with sample-based modelers. 

I bought a quad cortext and found that its reverbs were toy-like and had some issues with extremely low output on the headphone jack and inability to use the effect send as an output to my power amp. It did have a great and more realistic (than the Helix) fender tone but I sent it back a day after getting it.

I also bought a tonex but it was a complete failure. First of all, it installs itself as the default audio device but cannot be used as an audio device out of the box so I spent a frustrating ½ hour trying to figure out why I had lost audio on my computer. Then, I discovered that it's installation software had disabled the main outputs on my presonus 68/C device. But then, I discovered that it had no ability to configure one output with and one without IR - which is a requirement in my monitoring situation. And in order to use it to configure sounds, you have to disable it's playback by going deep into the setup menu (this enables its use as an audio interface). Then you have to edit sounds on a virtual VST on the computer, save, download to the device and then switch the setup menu back from audio device to “live” - which is playback. And on top of all that, it's software is a complete UX disaster.

So it got returned also,

The fractal sounds much more natural than the helix. Much more amp-like feel whether you are listening direct or going through guitar speakers. It sounds like an amp, feels like an amp and reacts to pedals like an amp. On top of that, the effects are VERY GOOD. Head and shoulders better than tonex, quad cortex and kemper although I like the kemper a lot. 

And speaking of pedals, the fractal implementations of time-based effects like reverb, delay, vibrato, modulation, rotary speakers are vastly superior to anyone else although helix and kemper have very good implementations.

When it comes to stomps - overdrives, wahs, auto-wahs, envelope filters, nothing compares to the fractal. I have several expensive dumble style pedals and you'd be hard-pressed to tell whether the drive you are hearing is from a virtual one or the real pedal.

Fractal has shown how powerful an algorhytmic modeler can be. There is no dependence on someone capturing the amp and what gain settings they used, what tone settings they used, what cab they used, etc., etc.

The only thing missing with fractal is that they have no modern bass heads. So if you play modern electric bass in the style of tony grey, janek gwizdala, hadrien feraud, matt garrison, you may find it frustrating. You will most certainly have to buy 3rd party IRs for the cabs and like me, you'll have to take an existing amp or preamp and get into the bowels of the editor and modify it to work for bass. Since I don't play bass much anymore, it's not that important to me right now. This is the one area the helix beats fractal. The bass amps are much better.

But for literally everything else, the fractal reigns supreme.

 

新製品 fractal FM3 VS HX stomp 日本語解説ゲリラライブ - YouTube

 

 

 

Nerve damage and getting old makes it harder and harder to maintain a good grip on the pick. 

I've had spinal surgery twice in the last 20 years. The last time was back in May 2023. I had lost feeling in my hands and feet with the most recent issue and had Laminectomy, Laminotomy, Foraminotomy, Laminoplasty. The surgery was very successful in many ways. My pain is totally gone but I still have residual issues with numbness in my hands and feet.

And one of the side effects is that I have been having an incredibly hard time gripping the pick. I thought for a while that it was dryness but I've now determined that I have lost some strength in my right hand's fingers. 

A number of manufacturers make picks with holes in them. That doesn't help me. I have been “hole-punching” my picks for years and increasingly, it doesn't help.

There are picks with bumps on them to assist in a better grip but I'm very used to the 346 shape and I literally have hundreds of these picks.

So, I bought some anti-slip tape off of amazon and it works great. (https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01MYB5U9A/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title)

This tape is adhesive backed and it's easy to cut without scissors - which is good because it would ruin them.

I'm very happy with this solution and I feel like, overnight it has improved my technique!

 

Mixed day of life and love and music 

Weird day today. Earlier in the day,  i found out that one of my buddies from the Army Band - John Desalme, passed away over the weekend. Very sad and distraught about that. He was a breath of fresh air about life, love and music. A fierce jazz player and great friend. John is the 2nd from the right in this photo on tenor saxophone.

 

 

 

Late this morning, I got a follow request from one of my heros - Dweezil Zappa.