Friday, March 27, 2009

Duke Ellington and the coat of many colors

We've been discussing the color-music relationship for the last few weeks, and we are hoping that you find this topic as fascinating as we composers do.

In Jazz history, a certain Washington, DC born composer by the name of Duke Ellington is credited with being one of the great composers in history- Jazz or otherwise.

Lets look at one of the things that Duke Ellington (and later Strayhorn) was doing differently from the other Jazz composers of his day.
Prior to Ellington, if you were to look at the compositions that Jazz musicians were writing and playing, you would find that almost exclusively, when they modulated(changed keys), they would always go to a closely related key. For example if you were in the key of C, you might go to the key of F. Some key with only one accidental different than the previous one. I'm sure you might be able to find a couple of exceptions to this rule, but generally speaking this is how Jazz tunes were being written and arranged.

Now, lets look at some of Ellington's music, from the same period in history, the 1930's.
Take the song 'Do Nothin' til you hear from me'. It starts in the key of Bb and on the bridge it goes to Gb . Why did Duke do this? These keys aren't supposed to be related.

The answer might lie in the fact that Duke's first job was as an artist- painting signs to make some money. Of course, its impossible to know Ellington's inner mind; but there seems to be a very logical connection if one tends to look at key centers the way one looks at colors;

Tonalities in your rear-view mirror may be closer than they actually appear.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Return of the composer at #8

Sorry for all this shameful self-promotion; we'll get back to writing about more topical things shortly, but we are happy we have hit #8 on the JazzWorld charts;

So a big Thank you for all of your support!
...and if we ever top Slumdog Millionaire, we'll know we've taken a step up.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Sunday, March 8, 2009

CD Release Party April 3rd and 4th


Now for a bit of shameful self-promotion.
WE are having our CD release party for 'Return of the Composer' on April 3rd and 4th at
HR57 Center for the preservation of Jazz and Blues.

The cost will be $12 cover- plus if you are real cool you can purchase a copy of the new CD and have it signed by anyone or all of the group.

On a radio news update- we made it to number 10 so far on the JazzWeek World Charts and hopefully will get a but further up- although our main competition seems to be the soundtrack to Slumdog Millionaire-
I don't know if we can top that one.

So far we haven't debuted yet on the regular Jazz charts, but we are keeping our fingers exed.
Hope to see you...

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Our Foray into Jazz Radio

Recently SaltmanKnowles new record 'Return of the Composer', which you maybe listening to right now, started to appear on Jazz radio stations.
So far 'Return' has made it as high as number 10 on the World Jazz charts but hasn't yet debuted on the straight-ahead Jazz Charts.
If you happen to be reading this and are a radio listener, please call your station and request to hear a track from our record.
While there may not be any immediate rewards coming to you other than a chance to hear our music, you will have our sincere thanks, and some good Karma.
We will try and keep you updated on our progress.

PS- you can hear some examples of the color theory written about below on this record.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington and Color Thought...

Once you have decided that some of the key centers do in fact correspond with colors you can then start its application.
I would suggest looking at a good piece of Jazz or Classical music to see how the theory works.
For example, if you look at Bach, you will see his tonal movements mostly in fourths- that is around the key cycle.
Does it sound like he is moving to distant locations?
Probably not- but it is effective;
What about Beethoven?
What about one of my favorites, Billy Strayhorn?-
Now you really are cooking with gas as they say.

Strayhorn and Duke Ellington were the Composers who really moved Jazz out of the moving to the closest keys syndrome.
You can look at any of their tunes and see that they started moving to more remote centers- like tritones(complements) and half-steps (split complements).

In fact, if you look historically at tunes being created in the 1930s- you will find that they have almost exclusive movement in fourths;
Until Ellington and Strayhorn opened things up for the rest of us.
If you can think of moving in the same color pathways that they did, many more possibilities open up.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Historical colorings...

The Number 12 plays a significant role in the connection between music and art. It is the number of keys in our Western musical system and the number of colors on our Color Wheel.
(not to mention the Zodiac and the 12 tribes of Israel.)

The idea of combining music and art goes back to at least Ancient Greece when philosophers questioned weather there was a physical embodiment to music.

There are many well-known artists who have worked on this premise; Many of whom may not have been actual Synesthetes.
The list includes Isaac Newton who thought there was a correspondence between the frequencies of color and sound, Painter Arcimboldo, Paul Klee,Vassily Kandinsky, Alexander Scriabin and Duke Ellington.

Many of these folks tried to discover a relationship between notes or keys and colors, and developed their own system for doing so.

It seems like more than a coincidence that in Western thought, we have divided our systems so similary- so correspondence between the 2 seems so natural.

More to come...

Sunday, October 26, 2008

1 irrefutable Reason to vote Obama

Okay- first we have to apologize for not writing for a while- and secondly for delving into politics.
Now to the crux of the matter.

We have been watching the presidential debates quite avidly this time around- and one thing keeps striking me above all others.
Intelligence- No, not the secret spy clandestine kind.

The kind I thought people admired- the "I have a real 'Intellect' kind".
Why wouldn't we want the person to represent our country be as bright as possible?
Isn't that what world leaders respect?
I know I do.
- and while that is certainly not the only criteria to being our leader- the opposite definitely aught be true-
If you just are not that bright- you should NOT and can not be our highest representative.
Joe 6 pack, Joe plumber and and Joe Schmo;
Lets all use our intelligence and eloquence, and vote smarter.

PS- Please do not take this to mean that I believe that I would be an intelligent representative of anything other than my pet cat.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Music is an addiction (thanks TSA)

Well hello again; and this time I'm coming to you from Edinburgh, Scotland while on vacation.

I've discovered that not having a working instrument can really be a *itc* on your psyche and general state of mind.

You may be asking yourself why a musician would be going away for two weeks and not have an instrument that they can play.

I was asking myself the same question a few nights before I left; and concluded that it wasn't a good idea, so I lovingly got a medium hard/soft case and a lot of bubble wrap and put my instrument carefully and lovingly inside- even testing it a bit to make sure that it would hold under most circumstances.

After arriving in Scotland thru New york and the UK I discovered that one of my two bags had not arrived with me, but the airline repeatedly assured me that it would be coming soon, oh, very soon.

A day later, it did in fact arrive, and while the case looked completely intact, I couldn't shake that certain feeling.
Yes, my Bass neck was broken in 3 places- of course there was a lovely note from the TSA saying that they had inspected it. (of course they didn't mention the shifted, no longer protected belongings)
And while in fact I might be safer when I fly now,
I know my Bass isn't.

PS- It was 'inspected' two times more on my return home. Thankfully it was already broken.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Pimpin' the "J" word

Yeah that "j" word.
Everywhere we turn there are "jazz" festivals being advertised in well known media locales.
It seems that now a days there are hundreds of Jazz festivals every month;
but don't be fooled.
Very few of these festivals have what most of us would consider anything resembling Jazz.
Yes, its just a word: but that word is used to justify all sorts of reasons not to play real Jazz music;
and yet- to call every festival a Jazz festival.

Not only that, but when are we going to redefine what the word "mainstream" really means.
All of these "terms" that the industry uses are just jargon to justify doing what they have always done.
"sell quick"
"sell in volume"
Just as long as it can
"sell ".

Friday, June 27, 2008

Gas- its whats for dinner.

You may be asking yourself what gas has got to do with music, even as you are reading this opening line.
Fortunately, while I do love a mystery, clarity might be good.
Unless you were a working musician circa 1970, you may not know that the wages being payed in what few jazz clubs left today, bear more than a striking resemblance to those paid over forty year ago.
Up until recently, Pre-W, era- at least the wages that you had to spend arriving at said jazz club, remained relatively stable. Henceforth, while general wage increases couldn't be taken into account, you weren't paying more to arrive at said establishment.
We are getting closer to the point where the new phrase will be
"gas- its what's for dinner".

Friday, June 20, 2008

Jazz, the final frontier?

These are the voyages of SaltmanKnowles... (and yes, we do love Star Trek)

Twenty years ago, I had a music professor in school who repeatedly proclaimed "Jazz is dead" to our entire class.
It often reminded me of "space: the final frontier".
What do we do once we shoot off into space? Are there no more places to go?

If we keep doing and playing the same things, then we might be abetting the death of great music. Classical music seems to like this, as its difficult to remember any major programs not containing music by people living during the past 100 years.
This is not to say that Classical music doesn't have programs of new music, but they seem to rarely contain any Singable, non-gymnastic, or groove elements- translation; "not good".

Well, the good new is that Jazz is in fact not dead at all, but the old gatekeepers certainly make it seem that way. There is plenty of great new Jazz with all of the aforementioned proper elements-
We have new grooves to write, beautiful new melodies to compose and some very hip and appealing harmonies to be voiced.
the only question is; when will the rest of the community catch on to the fact that these are the elements which make our music GREAT- and will lead us beyond the last frontier?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Go ahead, make my day!

Earlier today I was in the post office to mail some cd's for our upcoming European radio campaign.
One of the nice post office workers was helping me pack my cds up and asked what kind of music I was sending out.
When I told her it was Jazz, she said, "I love Jazz, I'll take one, how much?" and immediately put a smile on my face and some money in my pocket, which of course I had to turn around and give her back for postage.
The more important point here though, is how many folks out there really do love Jazz? I'd put my money on the fact that its a hell of a lot more than purchase the mere 1% of market share that Jazz makes up.
So, here's to hoping more folks make my day and come out of the "jazz lovers" closet.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Why Jazz is truly America's Music

We know that for years Jazz has been referred to overseas as America's Music, but why?
For years, Jazz has been the voice of america: Its been the music that we tout to other cultures as representing us or U.S.

We have developed other music here in America, so what makes Jazz special, and how does it truly reflect our values and culture?

Our country's core value is Freedom. Freedom to speak and criticize, Freedom to express, and Freedom to make your own choices.

Freedom is essential in any music that contains improvisation as a primary element like Jazz.
However, just like in our country freedom does have some limits.
One must adhere to our country's laws, often for the benefit of all; Jazz has similar restrictions like form and harmony that must be dealt with- but the amount of choices you can make within those forms is enormous.

But Jazz also contains elements which other improvisational music does not. The most important of those is what we call 'swing'.
Swing reflects the heartbeat of our nation better than any other rhythm.
The true feeling of swing comes from the polyrhythmic feel of cultures fused together just like our country.

When you hear Bossa Nova you immediately think Brazil.
Ska, Soca, Polka all are immediately associated with their countries of origin.

When you hear, real hard swing you think...


Thursday, May 29, 2008

Artistic Teams

Working in a collective artist situation is different from regular gigs. By collective, I mean lots of different artists across many disciplines. My point of reference is theater. I'm also speaking from the theater musicians point of view. First there is a hierarchy of ideas and people who can have them. The creative team consists of designers: wardrobe, set, lights, choreographer, writer, composer, musical director, and sound. The director is the captain of the ship. His first mate is the stage manager. The stage manager is the conduit of information between all departments. She calls the show, sets rehearsal times, and schedules. The director is the source of artistic vision for the entire piece. The musical director rehearses the band and singers. He conducts, makes cuts, and handles the coordination of music and the piece.
Time is often short. Being on time is important. I think the greatest myth about theater musicians is their instantaneous ability to process information. Yes good reading skills are a plus, but there's more to the game than that. Other parts of the game include: awareness, ability to take a cue, patience, and being a good company member.
Awareness encompasses a lot of things. For example, you're in tech and ten people are trying to communicate with each other. This is not the time to noodle away on your instrument. Let's say you have a scheduling conflict. It's a few days before opening. If one is aware of the chain of command, one should approach the stage manager not the composer/musical director.  Your cue is coming up, and you're still reading your novel and not watching the director. The singer just jumped three bars; did you go with her? Awareness can also be called common sense.
Musical directors have different styles. The good ones will give you an idea of the tempo in advance. Sometimes they give the wrong tempo and want to adjust it. One's ability to take a cue comes into play. Some cats are nervous and you have sit back off the tempo. Others really mean what they give. Some cats don't want to conduct at all, so you're left finding it yourself.
Patience... The rehearsals are long. Bring something to read or do in your down time. It makes the process more bearable. Crappy food is a must. The bottom line is this. Everyone in the process has to perform together. The actor has to make his quick change; the sound man has his cue; the crew needs to move the walls; and so on. Tech is the time when all areas of the team work though the show together. 
A good company member is someone you don't mind being around. He initials the sign in sheet. He's on time and ready to play. He has a pencil and marks his music well. He takes his book home and practices. He's reasonably positive and has a decent attitude. A good company member doesn't comment on areas outside his expertise. i.e. ( A musician giving actor notes. ) 
Notes are method of improving the work, suggestions of how to do something better. Director's give actors notes. Musical directors give musicians notes: softer bar 33, or you missed an entrance etc. If you make a mistake and receive a note it's o.k. Don't argue with cat. If you don't understand something ask about it. Otherwise, be aware of the note and perform better the next go round. 
Theater is a great form of storytelling. It's live and compelling. The audience is the unknown cast member. The pay is steady, and you can swing in some cases. The audiences listen to you and occasionally they'll follow your work.  I will visit this topic again from the designers point of view.