We all have to eat. That means we have to earn money one way or another and pay taxes.
There are lots of different ways of working as a professional musician. For example teaching, performing, working within arts organisations, working as a session musician, writing, recording, sales through websites etc.
Often musicians may have more than one income stream to make ends meet.
Its important to have more than one string to your bow - so to speak! Depending on the mix you need to think about your tax position.
Being a musician can affect your day job!
Some of these may mean working as an employee - either as a musician, or in some other job while you moonlight as a musician in the evening - as the chap in the picture clearly does!.
Some may involve being self employed. There are pros and cons to both.
Being an employee carries various rights and responsibilities - both for employers and employees. Its fairly straight forward as an employee. Your employer will ensure that your tax and national insurance is deducted from your salary at source - i.e before you receive it. Employees get a pay slip which will set out all the payments your receive (which could be your basic salary, bonuses, commission etc), and all the deductions (e.g national insurance, tax, pension contributions).
Check your tax code
Your payslip will also give your tax code. This is a number which is basically is code for the amount that you can earn before tax. Its different for different individuals depending on your tax allowances.
What are tax allowances? There are various threshholds for example, based on whether you are single, have children and are entitled to tax credits, have a company car etc. You should check this each year for your own position and ensure all the tax allowances you are entitled to are taken into account in your tax code.
Each year you will receive something called a P60. Don't glaze over - stick with it. This totals all your monthly payments and deductions and gives annual totals. Keep this.
You will need it for any tax assessment.
This system of deduction at source for employees is called PAYE. It simplifies tax collection for HM Treasuary and also for individuals. In addition it makes it more difficult for people to evade tax.
Usually that's the end of the story for employees. But even so, if you encounter expenses which are tax deductable, these can be claimed either directly by writing to the Inland Revenue (if below £2500) or through completing a Self Assessment tax return. Things like professional memberships, spending on some work clothing (where this is required for your work) etc can be claimed. This would usually mean a change to your tax code for the following year.
If you are self employed - or if a portion of your income comes from self employment you must keep records and complete a Self assessment tax return.
This will apply to you if you are a freelance musician.
How do you determine whether you are self employed?
There are various tests. If you make the decisions, own the assets, find your customers and are responsible (i.e legally liable if something goes wrong) then its likely that you are self employed.
There are various different ways of trading which you need to make a decision about. For example, you can trade as a sole trader, partnership, or limited company (which is legally separate from the shareholders and limits any losses to the company). There are different reporting requirements and tax regimes.
Most musicians won't be in the category of a limited company (which is quite complicated). But there are also advantages - the key one being that any liability is limited to the assets of the company and not personal assets - so depending on the risks - you might want to think about it.
For example, if you set up a business providing stage sets, scaffolding, and equipment at large events involving high profile musicians and members of the public, go for a limited company. But if you teach a few music lessons at home - then I'd set up a sole trader - with appropriate insurance etc. There is lots advice about the advantages and disadvantages of each on the web. Try the Scottish Government's Business Gateway site which gives a lot of helpful information about starting up a business in Scotland.
If you become self employed you must tell the Inland Revenue and keep records of income and expenditure. You must keep details of sales, purchase, expenses, wages, bank statements.
Sales means any goods and services that you sell. Purchases means things that you might buy in the course of the business. Expenses are things that you might need to carry on your business e.g. fuel, computers, website costs, advertising.
Its worth thinking about simple accounts software . It makes keeping accounts a bit easier and can also help you keep track of where the money goes.
If you work from home there is a decision about whether you claim for a portion of your bills. For example you can claim a percentage of electricity, gas, telephone, internet costs etc.
When you set up our business, I advise you to claim, claim, claim. If you start out underclaiming its more difficult to change your pattern of claiming later without a lot of hassle explaining! And remember that to claim for your expenses act it only doing what you are entitled to!
If you own your home you should take advice. Claiming a portion of expenses can affect the tax status of your home. You may become liable for some capital gains tax when you sell your home - not a good trade off.
Whatever your position, employed or otherwise, if you earn income (other than through your employer and the PAYE system) you must fill out a self assessment tax return. If you do this online - as I do - the deadline for submitting it and paying any tax is 31 January each year.
Depending how much you earn, where you are in life and how complicated your affairs, you might consider employing an accountant. Don't glaze over here. You are all going to be millionaires right?
Accountants can save you more than the cost of their fees in the long run. But its not necessary and too expensive if you are just starting out.
What else do you need to know about money? Take advice when you need it but DO NOT sign up until you read the small print. And I mean independent advice. If you are not paying fees to a financial advisor the advice is not necessarily truly independent - because they are being paid out of the commission from the company providing the product. Be warned - do your own research - read as many impartial website, financial press and consumer advice. Know what the charges of any financial product are and the impact it will have in any investment or savings. Remember about compounding - charges eat into this at an absolutely alarming rate. Be sure any financial product fits your needs.
There is a very good Government backed website called the Money Advice ServiceIt is impartial and is a good place to start. In particular, it has a good budgeting tool. Handy for business and personal finance.
Sometimes borrowing can be a good thing - most businesses run with some sort of loan, overdraft facility. But again check charges and conditions.
Mortgages can make buying a home cheaper than renting - but be sure you can afford an increase in interest. And be clear about how you pay it off. Remember the endowment policy scandal? A whole generation (including me) were sold policies as a sure way of paying of your mortgage early - only to find out that they don't repay your mortgage at all - leaving people with a massive shortfall. If you do end up buying a house, or premises or any other large asset - always try to think at a tangent.
By that I mean you need to work at finding something good value. You will rarely be able to afford your ideal - wherever you are in life. There are lots of opportunities - don't be rushed. Whenever I buy something large, I try to take it out of the market. Advertise for what you want yourself. You might be surprised at what might come your way. Don't be shy.
Review all your financial affairs at least yearly. I reckon you can often save up to about £1000 a year by doing this. Move electricity, gas, insurance, telephones. mortgages and saving accounts if necessary to get the best rates. Don't be afraid to ask for discounts - its an unBritish thing to do - but it can pay dividends.
Educate yourself about finance so you can make informed decisions - read sites like the BBC, HM Revenue and Customs, Paul Lewis (the BBC Moneybox correspondent). Reading the Motley Fool books were the single galvanising factor for me. I ready them after the age of forty - you should read them sooner! It doesn't have to be boring and the earlier you start the better!. I like the Alvin Hall books below - plain english.
The money you save before you reach the age of 30/40 will grow far more that the same amount saved later - because of the miracle of compounding. You might also want to consider investments. You can get tax relief for buying assets into your SIP (which is like an ISA wrapper around your personal pension).
The Musicians Union also has some helpful advice for musicians on finance and pensions insurance. Its worth knowing that membership can provide public liability insurance. Important if you teach.
Dealing with tax and finance is not much fun for most of us (unless you are an accountant yourself) but you can't avoid it. Don't let it build up or you will be letting yourself in for a lot of trouble and expense later.
Live long and prosper!
Santa and the Xmas break is a good opportunity to get some new books and so some reading. I bought four books recently, Investigating musical styles, General Musicianship and History of Music (all second hand) by Roy Bennet and one sight singing book by Paul Harris and Mike Brewer. The Roy Bennet ones are useful in giving a fairly potted account of all things classical (and not just the classical period). So by January, I shall obviously know it all !! I wish! Here are the links to Amazon if you are interested. I recommend them.
I was married on 21 December - a long time ago. To celebrate we went to see We will Rock You at the Edinburgh Playhouse. Wow - what a show! It was fabulous. The singing performances were great. Especially Amanda Coutts as Scaramouche. And they had a LOT to live up to.
Freddy Mercury, Queen
There will only ever be one Freddy Mercury. He was larger than life and so creative! And what a voice. Queen turned out some masterpieces e.g. Bohemian Rhapsody, We will Rock You, Somebody to Love, Who Wants to Live Forever? These and others have stood the test of time. How on earth did they come up with these classics? There was really nothing else even close (musically) at the time. You can't replace or repeat it. It was down to those individuals at that particular time. They were just fantastic.
But the stage show interpretation was just about right. They did not try to mimic Freddy's performances but gave an energising, fun performance around a light story.
I loved it. I also liked the Scottish twists - kilts, tartan and stuff.
It must be tough and tiring to turn in such full-on performances that seem fresh every night for months on end. But that's professionalism.
The cast were brilliant and the dancing high octane. It must be very difficult. It was difficult enough for our choir to all sway in the same direction!
The only slight downside for our family was my 16 year old came away with a headache from the flashing lights and noise! Can you believe it? He has very blue eyes and is a bit photosensitive. Just shows that youngsters can't stand the pace - or maybe he really does need some cool shades!.
In comparison to the blues, jazz is said to be looser, has more interesting chord changes, is based on improvisation, has more varied structures (i.e. moves away from 12 bar blues) and is happy!
I thought I would put this to the test with a bebop tune from Charlie Parker. Charlie Parker was nicknamed the "Yardbird". There are apparently two stories about this. One is that he lived free as a bird. The other that he was in a car that accidentally hit and killed a chicken (yardbird). Charlie Parker made the car stop so he could take the chicken home and cook it. Whatever. The name stuck and sounds quite cool. He must have liked the name too as one of his defining albums, made at his peak (around 1947), was Yardbird Suite.
There is a tune by the same name. I looked at this a little in the last jazz blog. But lets analyse this in more detail now to check out if it meets the jazz criteria above. Here is a lead sheet of the tune below.
Lets take a look at it. The tune is in C (although the melody finishes on the dominant G). The melody uses the blue notes, b3, b7 but also b6, b2 (and indeed other chromatics).
The chords sequence starts with a ii, V7 (intro) and then the I. In the 3rd bar (at the melody b flat) the chord is Fm (F,A, C) i.e. the iv chord. But is quite clashy with the Bb. Then we see use of Bb7 (blues flat 7th of the C scale - dominant chord). This progression suggests a ii, V, I sequence but it does't change key but goes back to C7 chord. Its a fairly common technique in jazz.
Next system begins with a C7 (i.e. Ist chord), bVII7, VI 7 (interesting as A would normally be a minor chord). In this case its dominant. This was often used to give a stronger sound, then back to II 7 (dominant again) going to the dominant.
The next system begins with an Em i.e iii, which moves down a 5th to A7 (VI the chord) then down another 5th to Dm (ii). Again this sequence almost sounds like a ii, V, I sequence but its doesn't change key - sticks to the D minor and then back to G7 (V7). The next system repeats the key chords (but omits the iii, VI, ii sequence.
However, in the fifth system , we have Em (iii) followed by F#m7 b5 - in line with the E minor harmonic scale. Next is B7 followed but he iii, VI 7 , ii - this time moving back to, iii b5 7 , VI 7 , II7 (stronger movement), then ii, V, I (relief!). This is followed by iv to Bb 7 and back to I 7. On the home run, Bb7 (i.e. bVII 7), VI, then a step down II (dominant again), ii (minor this time) to I, and finishing with a ii, V7, I progression.
So does this meet the criteria. Well it certainly is looser than the blues, has more interesting chord changes and goes way beyond the blues structures and progressions. Is it happy and based on improvisation? Here's a Youtube video of the Charlie Parker original. There are several solos based on improvisation before returning to the melody- saxes, muted trumpet, electric guitar, piano. Sounds happy to me!
You can see how complicated this is - at least to analyse. Don't try to do this while driving! The BBC news announced that people who listen to jazz int he car are convicting of speeding offences more than others! A music psychologist puts this down to people being distracted as they are too busy trying to analyse jazz.
Did Charlie Parker work this out as he was improvisating or was it instinctive? Charlie Parker apparently once said:
‘You’ve got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice,practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.’
I have been doing some more research on Miles Davis and the impetus that Kind of Blue gave to the jazz that followed as well as the developments in jazz in the early 20 century that brought us to the point that Kind of Blue could be recorded.
I checked out Oxford music online and researched Miles Davis younger years. He was a professional player by about 15 and was completely driven by the need to be better than others. He was dedicated to his music.
I have also been listening to Kind of Blue some more. As I said in my previous post - its amazing that it was almost perfect first time. And it was not to be repeated - the band broke up soon after.
But modal jazz went from strength to strength. Coltrane in particular embraced and explored modal jazz and soon after Kind of Blue, formed his own band and recorded "Giant Steps". He went on to make several more recordings before dying suddenly of liver cancer in 1967.
Kind of Blue and Giant steps were important and marked the start of development of other styles such as free jazz, soul jazz, fusion and rock jazz, latin jazz, acid jazz, smooth jazz and brazilian jazz.
Musicians developed jazz into an art form. It became more and more complex, clever, but possibly less accessible. Therefore to fully appreciate it needs a deeper understanding.
Kind of Blue was an important leap forward at the time. BUT it would not have been possible without the musicians that had gone before. So I have also been listening to some jazz from the early 20 Century and looking at the development of jazz to help decide whether I'd like to research Jazz going forward or back from Kind of Blue.
New Orleans was where it all started. The city was a cosmopolitan melting pot of different cultures, languages and their respective music. Following the American civil war Brass bands were huge. Various band music merged to create a multicultural tradition. Dance bands, blues and the latest risky songs all thrived in Storyville, the few blocks set aside for prostitution. It was here that Jelly Roll Morton started his career near the turn of the century as a kid piano player named "Windin' Boy". He began by playing a lot of Ragtime.
What is Ragtime? Ragtime was a piano style derived from the mix of brass bands, folk melodies, African-American banjos, spirituals and minstrel songs around at the time. It has a raggy, jaunty feel flowing from the syncopation ragtime has. Loud right hand accents fell between the accents of the left hand rather than on top of them. This syncopated style involved limited improvisation and lacked the swing feel of jazz. But it was important in influencing the early jazz musicians like Jelly Roll Morton. Rags were published at the tail end of the 19 century and by 1899 about 120 rags were published in New Orleans. A ragtime fad swept the US - which was highly dispproved of by the establishment at the time!
Important ragtime musicians included Scott Joplin, Walter Gould, Tom Turpin, James Scott and One-Leg Wille Joeseph. Joplin was the King of ragtime writers selling over 500,000 copies of the Maple Leaf Rag. Joplin's music was carefully composed - no improvisation here. He wanted to be taken seriously as a composer and saw himself as the black american counterpart to Chopin or Strauss. Joplin died in 1917. Here's a video of Scott Joplin's great tune "The Entertainer"
New Orleans jazz
The influence of call and response and improvisation in Congo Square coalesced into a New Orleans style of music which was often characterised by several horns improvising on simple chord changes. There were lost of cheap brass instruments around following the civl war. There would also be rythmn sections with piano and banjos.
Charles Buddy Bolder (1877-1931), led a Ragtime band as a soloist cornetist and entranced the city. He developed ragtime into a powerful bluesier, hotter style. In particular he invented the skip beat.
Why is this important? Because it gave Jazz its rythmn.
He dominated the jazz scene and was the first real jazz star until 1907 when he had a mental collapse. There is only one known photo of him but he was undoubtedly one of the key figures in early jazz.
Here's an interesting Youtube video on him which also explains the skip beat if you are interested in hearing more.
The music was structured but also allowed more rythmn and improvisation in an organised way
Following the early years in Storyville district, Jelly Roll Morton (pianist) began to travel around the gulf coast. He was an extrovert and bragged endlessly that he invented jazz. He embellished the ragtime and blues styles. By 1911 he had visited New York and he eventually settled in Chicago the home of new jazz in 1914. He composed his earliest tunes here. In 1917 he travelled to California and travelled up and down the west coast. He returned to Chicago in 1923 and made his first recordings. Classic recordings of his include Sobbin' Blues, Mr Jelly Lord, (with the New Orleans Rythmn Kings, "New Orleans Joys, King Porter Stomp , Wolverine Blues (piano solos).
He relocated to New York in the late 1920s and recorded some more. But by 1930 his style was out of fashion and he struggled from here on. He eventually died in poverty and obscurity at age 50 in Los Angeles in 1941. His legacy is huge and includes a series of interviews for the Library of Congess reminiscing about his career including some songs named after Buddy Bolden - one of them sung by Frank Sinatra!
There were a plethora of active jazz musicians in New Orleans in the early days. The first recording of the New Orlenas style was not made by Morton - but by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band who recorded "Livery Stable Blues" which featured passages where the instruments imitated farmyard animals. Other pioneers included Freddie Keppard, Kid Ory, and King Oliver.
The following picture gives a typical example of New Orleans music where each instrument has a role. Piano and banjo provide the rhythm, trumpet plays the main melody and clarinet embellishes
By 1917, the Storyville District was forced to close and jazz musicians moved north.
In the 1920s some of the key soloists began to emerge - for example Louis Armstrong, Bud Freeman, .
"Armstrong plays with such bravura and intensity that when you listen to is you hear the future. At that moment you know something is in the works that is never going to be contained" Gary Giddins, critic, 2000
The hottest jazz bands could be found in a nine block stretch known as "The Stroll". There were a mix of musicians - some white who attended Austin High school and some black. Together they developed the Chicago style - which built on the rhythmic innovations of New Orlens jazz but with a more frenetic intensity.
As mentioned above Jelly Roll Morton and the New Orelans Rhythm Kings were recording together. Louis Armstron turned up in 1922 to join his mentor King Oliver in the Creole Jazz Band. The two cornet players had an intuitive call and response chemistry. They recorded "Chime Blues" in 1923. Armstrong went on to be fantastic soloist and moved to New York at the of the 1920s.
His influence was strong and the general level of musicianship rose. We started to see more syncopation, scat singing and improvisation. The influence of Louis Armstrong is strong and raised the level of musicianship. Swing bands and their leaders started travelling around the dance halls and swing became commercially viable. This was important as it spread jazz throughout the USA. Count Basie, Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman were all important. The dance music that these bands played stood the test of time and swing bands are still very popular today. I love this foot tapping music.
Some iconic tunes from the time are
Big bands played music with a strong structure (both melody and chords). Trumpets, saxes, trombone sections would provide chords and rhythms. But there would often be some opportunity for soloists to take a turn during the pieces to improvise. Musicians were experimenting with different instruments - e.g. drum solos, rhythms etc. But swing band solos stuck to the notes of the various chords they were using. This combination of disciplined arrangements but also some improvisation within limits were the hallmark of the big bands.
Each of these developments was important. Each built on the work of previous musicians and moved the development of jazz forward in incremental steps. Swing was interrupted by the Second world war.
Next the Bebop era emerged in the late 40s and 50s.
Why was Bebop important? Because it marked the start of a more advanced form of jazz based on more complex improvisation and chords. We start to see musicians beginning to develop a freer style.
Charlie Parker (1920 - 1955) in particular was extremely influential and pushed the boundaries at this time. He grew up in Kansas but moved to Chicago and then New York. It was here that he really developed his style. In the 1940s he began working with up ad coming jazz artists like dizzy Gillespie and they formed a powerful partnership. They took their music to Holywood in 1945/46.
He used the whole range of his instrument and improvised in a way that noone had heard at the time. Chord sequences went beyond the II, V, I sequences of the time. This, in turn, inspired the musicians around him.
For example the file below begins with ii, V7, I but then goes to iv and VII7, then I, bVII 7, VI 7, II7, ii, V7 etc. For now, we should just note that there many more variations than the earlier chord structures. Minors were sometimes replaced with dominant 7s to give a stronger sound (e.g. the D7 instead of Dm). I will do a separate blog on this analysing is in more details in the next few days.
Musicans were developing a language of advanced improvisation techniques and harmonies. As well as more complex chords, jazz musicians started improvising beyond the notes of the basic chords, using chromatics, passing notes. Tempos were fast. These features characterised the Bebop style. The music was more a guide. Chords and a simple melody would be given (called the heads). Musicians would improvise using the these as guides.
The following Youtube video plays the animated music to "Confirmation". Its interesting and is a good example of Charlie Parker's playing and the Bebop style.
And who was playing with Charlier Parker some of the time? Along with other important jazz musicians, Miles Davis played with him. There's no doubt that Kind of Blue would not have been made without the development of Bebop and the ideas of the Bebop musicians.
Bebop is still important today and most (all?) serious jazz musicians are familiar with the concepts as it provides the early foundation of the more advanced forms of jazz around today.
Free jazz began to emerge at the tail end of bebop. It is a natural progression and pushed improvisation even further than Bebop did. This music is amazingly complex, clever but definitely not easy to understand.
To the uneducated ear its difficult to listen to - rather like a foreign language. If you have been steeped in the jazz world you are fluent. If you are a musician, but have not played jazz, you might know a few words of the vocabulary but for most people its completely impenetrable!
Important players include musicians like Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis and John Coltrane Free jazz is - as the name suggests, is an even freer style than Bebop and is characterised by some principles:
Ornette Coleman recorded The Shape of Jazz to come in 1959. It was shocking at the time. Very abstract and avant garde. It avoids and chording instruments (no piano). There are simple melodies at the start and end of the pieces with extended solos in between. This built upon the Bebop structure of heads - solo - heads. However he broke away form the concept of laying down chords which was new. There were also simultaneous solos.
It was controversial. Miles Davis was in the thick of this movement as was John Coltrane - the fantastic tenor saxophonist that played with Miles Davis on Kind of Blue. Musicians were instructed to play as if they could't play! And some thought that Ornette Coleman genuinely couldn't play. But although its difficult to understand its exciting too. The music seems primal - almost human screaming.
Some have attempted to transcribe this music. I am attaching pdfs of Lonely Woman and Bitches Brew - two of the iconic free jazz tunes which were influential. Bitches Brew sold over 1 million copies.
These look deceptively simple. They give a heads but with directions to interpret freely, no chords, and then instructions for extended solos and "band freaks out".
I'm attaching the Youtube video of Ornette Coleman's Lonely Woman below. The melody is an outline which is to be interpreted freely. No changes. It has an extended alto solo. Its difficult to listen to but there is no doubt that is is very atmospheric and expressive.
Could Ornette Coleman play like that if he has no knowledge of his instrument? Seems very unlikely.
Fusion with other genres was next - e.g. rock, latin etc. Jimi Hendrix pioneered this as did Mile Davis. Unfortunately Hendrix died too early to know how far he could have developed this. More on this in a further blog.
I'm keen to learn. Traditional music is pushing the boundaries and there is a blurring of the boundaries with other genres. For example look at Salsa Celtica - primarily a jazz/latin band that plays celtic music in amongst the horns. The techniques behind modern jazz improvisation will improve my own playing.
But to be able to really understand and appreciate modern jazz, and the advanced techniques that are relevant now - its important to go back first and understand the development of jazz. Before we leave Miles Davis, check out the following quote:
"Jazz has got to have that thing. You have to be born with it. You can't learn it. You can't buy it and no critic can put it into any words, It speaks in the music. It speaks for itself"
More than 50 years on - is he right?
I think you have to have a feel and a good ear for music and be prepared to work to understand it. But I believe that if you have that, you can learn jazz. What do you think?
Listening to Kind of Blue this week. This album is said to be the foundation of modern jazz. It has a lot to live up to!
Jazz is a genre which emerged from the blues around the end of the 19th century and early 20th century. But jazz developed from and went beyond the blues. Miles Davis recorded Kind of Blue in 1959 - which is about half way between the origin of jazz and present day. It marked a new way of working for musicians. Before this, musicians worked with a set melody and backing etc. Miles Davis pioneered modal jazz. Worth mentioning though that the theory behind this way of working was developed by a friend of Miles - George Russell.
Russell spent the better part of the '50s devising a new theory of jazz improvisation based not on chord changes but on scales or "modes." He explained this to Miles one night over the piano and Miles saw the potential. But he needed to find a pianist that could understand it well enough who could play and signpost the chords for his other musicians - like a musical compass. The answer was Bill Evans, a classicly trained pianist but with an amazing feel for what Miles wanted to do. The track "So What" from this album is still held up today as a fantastic example of this new way of working in jazz which is still the foundation of jazz today.
"So what" is a long track - over 9 minutes but it has a 32 bar structure at its core. It begins with an intro which is about 16 bars gradually builds, followed by several sections where each musician takes a solo of 32 bars, then an outro. Who were the musicians? Miles Davis on trumpet, Paul Chambers on bass, Cannonball Adderly and John Coltrane on saxophones, Jimmy Cobb , Drummer, and Bill Evans on piano - all first class musicians!.
Its said that Miles Davis and Bill Evans were amazingly in tune with each other as musicians to the point that Miles Davis used to ring Bill up and ask him to play down the phone. So Bill was the inspiration behind a lot of the harmonies and was influential in Miles' music. More on that later.
So What is elegant in its simplicity. It centres around two chords C and D minor7. The rythymn is swung 4/4. The transcription asks that it be played "Slowly and Freely in an attempt to capture the spirit of the recording. But the piece was almost entirely improvised at the time - with no detailed sheet music available to the players.
The intro begins with minimal instrumentation - just piano and bass, initially with a question and answer. Chambers begins the introduction with 3 simple notes - an upbeat of two quavers and a minim - A, C and an unexpected G sharp (Am7) . The structure of the intro involves 8 bars on the same chord, then 4 bars with a variation, then back to the original chord for four bars. Bill Evans on piano picks up on the last bass note and then answers with two chords. This pattern runs through to the third bar with various variations and resolves on a C chord.
Then both players break into playing in perfect unison (must have been planned) with a longer riff of semiquavers, and minims. Next the bass holds D semibreves and is accompanied by the piano over the top followed by bass riff ending in Eb and a 2/4/ bar. Then the distinctive bass riff and driving rythymn begins around bar 12, with swung semiquavers and answered by piano with two chords, this repeats x3 and then the bass ends the phrase with a simplified rythmn on E,D and A.
Second time round, the saxophones (Coltrane and Adderly) and the trumpet (Miles Davis) join Bill Evans answering with the two chords. The underlying chord is Dm7 . The sequence is repeated in Eb7m then back down in Dm7. On the last riff of the sequences there is no answer (planned or signalled?).
When the melody starts, a walking bass drives the tempo all the way through. The drums also feature a persistent ride cymbal all the way through. Each of solos is 32 bars - 8 bars on the first chord then 4 on the second, then 12 on the first then 4 and 4. Each of the solos has this structure underlying it. Apparently this was totally unplanned. Miles Davis would just wander around pointing at people when it was his turn to play. However the calibre of the musicians and their responsiveness to each must have brought some order to this almost subconsciously.
You can hear how they respond to each others playing in the music. The first solos features trumpet, with Miles Davis launching it in Em7 for eight bars, into Fm7 for four then back to Em7 and so on. The piano plays fairly sparingly underneath and responds with a syncopated rhythm and fills.
Next is Coltrane on tenor Saxophone. His solo begins by responding to the smooth feel of Miles Davis with similar dotted quavers and ties. He then stamps his own mark , becoming much more elaborate with the use of semi and demi semi quavers and many triplets. In fact he seems to play as many notes as possible! And does so brilliantly. The chord changes are the same as before.
Adderly is next to play on alto sax and his solo seems to begin in Bm7, then to Cm7 and so on. He emphasises the Cm7 by landing and holding the top B. His style seem in between the two previous players, very elaborate and fast in some phrases especially at the beginning and on ascending phrases in response to Coltrane. But bringing it back to swung semi quavers in other sections. He uses a trill too.
Bill Evans on the piano begins in Dm7. The other instrument take over the backing chords. Then he switches in Ebm7. He uses a few triplets (across minims) and also swung rythmn. Evans solo finishes with the bass picking up a riff which includes a triplet - perhaps responding to the feel of Bill Evans' solo. The outro echoes the intro with the same bass riff, question and answer structure, with the instruments dropping out in reverse order until down to bass and piano.
Kind of Blue was not just remarkable for "So What". It had a number of landmark tracks. Flamenco Sketches is another track based on improvisation with Coltrane in particular enjoying the challenge. Evans apparently wrote out five scales and said to the musicians to play in the notes of these scales. It would be up to each soloist how they interpreted this. The track is much slower.
"All blues" and " Freddy Freeloader" are also great tracks with great solos thoughout. "Freddie Freeloader" was the album's only conventional blues. For this track alone, Miles let his usual pianist, Wynton Kelly, a straight blues-and-bebop keyboardist, sit in for Evans. Whereas "All Blues" is said to be the most fully developed piece of "modal" jazz" on Kind of Blue.
Its amazing that Kind of Blue was so perfect and is tribute to the musicians. In a way, that is what is testing about improvisation. You can't go back and do it again. And how successful it is depends on the calibre of the musicians and their understanding of what they are trying to do.
Miles Davis was a brilliant recruiter and picked the right team for this never to be repeated recording. Unfortunately the band broke up soon afterwards with the musicians going their own ways. But the method pioneered on this album - modal jazz - went from strength to strength.
Bennets Bar has a nice slow session every Wednesday. Its run by Nigel Gatherer, a well known whistle and mandolin player as well as a great tutor for the Scots Music Group.
I don't normally play my fiddle here now - its a bit slow. However I took my guitar along for a change and had a really nice evening. There was a good crowd playing with a clarsach and bouzouki among the instruments. Later on, I pulled out the fiddle and played a few sets - including Battle of Waterloo/Nusa which we have been playing lately in the folk band.
I have been listening to Spotify a lot. I have been a member for ages but it is coming into its own and it's a good source for all genres of music I find that my starred music is getting more and more eclectic! Recent additions to the ever growing list include Sufjan Stevens, Bela Fleck, Soul Coughing, Fatboy Slim, The Streets, Le Vent du Nord (a French Canadian trad band coming to Celtic connections) and Thomas Newman.
Also listening to Kind of Blue - which I'll be blogging on soon!
I also joined Grooveshark recently. They are both a good source of online music and both have a free option. I have been searching them for inspiration for composing and possible tunes to work into new sets. I predict that soon we will all be "renting' music through such online sites more than buying it to own. I suppose it will take iTunes to make the leap - we shall see.
While on the subject of composing Wednesday includes a slot for composition. I have composed a tune called Scotland's Finest for a Day in B minor. Its now on Sibelius.
My way of working seems the reverse to many of my classical colleagues. I guess it comes from being a trad musician. I compose straight onto the fiddle and then work out the manuscript and wrestle with Sibelius until it sounds as close as possible to how I played it. This is well nigh impossible given that the voices Sibelius has are not particularly geared for folk music! But it is a useful exercise to get it down accurately and to add other instruments. I had some nice feedback on it from Tommy. He suggested changing the instrument voice to an oud - the folkiest that Sibelius has? Hmmn.
Next challenge will be to put in some harmony, percussion, and rythmn lines. I will probably take it into Logic.
Tough but enjoyable week. Tough because I completely lost my voice with a cold. Friday 28th saw us practicing Handel again - cool. Had to pull out of the singing workshop on Monday. Still able to play the fiddle though!. Monday began with more folk and sorting out the arrangement for our performance. I recorded our penultimate rehearsal and I am attaching a couple of files below. These are not the finished set but they are fun to listen to.
Tuesday was choir - couldn't sing but I sat in on the rehearsal. Sounds lovely. Then more Handel. Then down to Portobello for my fiddle lesson. Finally home for many paracetamol and practice.
Practice has been busy with six tunes for the folk set, Handel Concerto Grosso in D minor, as well as scales in 3rd position and several more tunes for my fiddle lessons. I am still using the shruti box which is helpful to play scales against. The tunes I am concentrating on at the moment are Neil Gow's "Drunk at Night, Dry in the morning" three gaelic waltzes for technique, and three english tunes.
Wednesday started with an improvement in my voice but the start of a dreadful cough.
We had a rehearsal for the folk performance and did a sound check. The performance in the evening went pretty well. The rock bands were first with a blues theme running through the performances. Our folk set was as fast as we have ever played it but it was great fun. We played six tunes in two sets. I really enjoyed everyone's performance - well done!
Thursday was the day of our classical concert as St Nicholas Church. We had final rehearsals for the choir and the strings group in the afternoon. Drank lots of cough medicine and was feeling slightly strange by the actual performance. But it must have worked as I made it through both the choir and strings group OK. I loved playing Handel. I have been surprised at how much I've enjoyed playing classical music. Another of the highlights of the evening for me was listening to the concert band. Such a big sound and great music. Holst.
Went into SCE on Friday for the music literacy pop in session.
I have been thinking about buying a new acoustic guitar for a while. What to buy? An electro acoustic, or acoustic only, dreadnought or smaller. In the end I bought a nice Tanglewood dreadnought. Still on the shopping theme, I also bought some tickets to see Vasen and friends in Celtic Connections and We Will Rock you at the Edinburgh Playhouse. Two weeks to Fiddle festival (see my previous post). Go along if you can.
Si has been working hard on the hardanger fiddle he has been making for me. See my previous posts to read more about hardangers. The front has been glued on with hide glue. Its painstaking work but this is a turning point as the instrument starts to come together. Exciting. Some pics are below.
Catch up on the second performance week.
Tuesday 25th October began with warm ups and choir and then we caught up with some music literacy.
Wednesday saw us beginning a new piece in choir - Bach Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring. Lovely. The choir is sounding great now. More dynamics and tighter.
In the afternoon, we played Handel again in the classical strings group. Starting to come together too. Looking ahead to two performances next week.
Alasdair Allan MSP, Minister for Learning and Skills visited us this week and heard some of our choir practice. I was watching the civil servants at the back - a role I know very well after years working in the Scottish Government. They in turn were probably hoping the Minister would stick to the brief! It all went smoothly.
I spent some time reading the published views in response to consultation about the merger of Stevenson and Jewell and Esk Colleges. I was pretty disappointed in this document. The website gave the impression that this was a comprehensive summary of responses. As I said, I have worked in policy in central government and I have done numerous consultations. The document is not an analysis, or even a summary, of responses but seems a selective list of quotes. Hmmmm. I would expect, at the least, to see the number of responses received and the number that answered yes or no to the core question about whether the two colleges should be merged. I'd also expect all the responses to be made publicly available (unless people said they wished to remain anonymous). From memory I don't think this was an option. Perhaps there is more to come….
For anyone interested there seems support for the merger among Ministers. An extract from Holyrood magazine states:
"With a ten per cent reduction in their public funding this year and rising demand for places, colleges are surely under strain. And rationalisation appears to be the direction of travel. McClelland revealed at the event that more than 30 out of 41 colleges – 75 per cent – “have or are considering mergers, federations or very close collaborations”. Three of Glasgow’s colleges came together last year to form the City of Glasgow Colleges while two Edinburgh institutions are currently consulting on amalgamation. The minister welcomed these moves and warned that this is an area in which government “will have no option but to take a much closer interest”. The recently announced Griggs Review of college governance could take the issue a step further.But as merger creeps onto the agenda, what will that trend mean for the sector? Is it merely a cost-saving exercise, or are there genuine educational benefits to be gained?
The proposed merger between Stevenson College Edinburgh and Jewel & Esk College might serve as a good test case. After lengthy discussions, the two institutions have announced plans to come together by the summer of 2012.
For the full article follow this link. Also read an interesting Oral Parliamentary question tabled by Sarah Boyack earlier this month.
Wednesday night was a great night at the Tass. I play there most Wednesdays but last night was our special Oxjam night - a charity event we have every two years. There were a load of great musicians (people like Sandy Brechin on accordian and Gavin Pennycook on fiddle and nyckelharpa) as well as the session regulars. Gavin Pennycook played some of his Scottish and Irish tunes on the Nyckelharpa or Swedish fiddle as its sometimes known. There are probably only four or five in Scotland just now. Is odd as our music really lends itself to the instrument.
He has a great album out at the moment called Celtic Nyckelharpa. Click on the pic to buy.
I had a chat with him as I am interested in the nykelharpa given my love of Scandanavian music. We also plan to make one in the future and I wanted to ask if we could make contact to look at it more closely.
One of our session (Patty) comes from South America, and so many of the latin american community in Edinburgh joined us - which was great. We sang a few spanish songs.
Not heard how much was raised yet.
Thursday was Folk group which is seriously good fun. We have been working on the arrnagement and harmonies. I am really looking to forward to the next session. Then more practising before tomorrow (Friday 28th).
Went for a fiddle lesson on Monday. Used a shruti box which gives a drone to play against. Listening to Handel, Concerto Grosso no 5 D minor on Spotify.
Went out to the Tass (High Street, Edinburgh) on Wednesday night and played in our session there. Its a few weeks since I've been. Next week there is an Oxjam session on with a few good trad musicians coming to play and support the event. Why not pop along and sup? There will be a raffle and LOTS of playing. Here is the link to the Facebook Event page
Watched the excellent Transatlantic sessions today.