Why The Saxophone?

Laurie Savage, saxophonist and philosopher

Ted and I were talking about Covid the other day and our hope that like many another disease it would evolve to a less dangerous form, and so the conversation drifted, as conversations are wont, to evolution and the idea of the saxophone having evolved from simpler, less virulent instruments like The Ophicleide.

It probably wasn’t a case of natural selection, but rather the Ophicleide, a rather benign and woofly keyed Euphonium-like beast was hybridised and weaponised by that redoubtable mad genius, Aldolph Sax in the early 1840s.

When I was in the later years of high school in the late moon-landing-and-marijuana tinged 1960s I discovered two wireless programs that change my life in subtle ways: Relax with me hosted by Arch McKirdy (2BL), and John Thompson’s Underground (2SM). In most ways they were chalk and cheese but in another, very important, way they were very similar. Both programs played music one would never hear on the steam wireless. Arch McKirdy introduced me to Phil Woods (“What are you doing the rest of your life*”), Ben Webster, Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Hank Mobley, Gerry Mulligan and others, while John Thompson introduced me to Mike Bloomfield, Howling Wolf, Johnny Winter and many other blues based bands, some brilliant, some not. The saxophone caught my ear and so did the blues.

So, why the saxophone? Simple, I can’t sing**. I loved the English guitarists like Alvin Lee, Eric Clapton and Robyn Trower, and was wrapt in the electric bass of Jack Bruce with its deep growling melodic lines. So I borrowed a bass and gave it back a day later – I hated the feel of it, I have absolutely no affinity for stringed instruments. But, a friend’s Dad was an altoist in a dance band and let me have a blow; it was love at first honk.

Men in my family were not encouraged to play music, serious literature was OK, sport was ideal but music was not something men did so it took a while. When I was 30 I bought a sax, took music lessons and as soon as I could arpeggiate 3 chords and force high notes by biting the reed I went to blues jams. Nothing much changed for a long time but I got better and sometimes manage to play something I’m happy with and that makes people smile.

*WAYDTROYL must have been the least appropriate opening score for a movie about Horatio Hornblower.

** Yes, singers, I know … anyone can sing. That’s probably true for women because their voices don’t break. It’s different for many men.

It’s Not Just for the Music


With over 12 years involvement with Melbourne Jazz Jammers I have found that there is more to the sessions than the music.

Firstly, they offer the opportunity to network with fellow musicians. Out of this has come the formation of many ongoing groups that have gone on to gig around Melbourne and at various country festivals. This has been my own experience with the band

“Breakout” which started from a phone call to me from Peter Ryan over 6 years ago. Peter had known me from his occasional appearances at the jam session. From time to time the band has dipped into contacts through the jam sessions to replace players.

Then there are the surprise drop ins from interstate and international visitors to Melbourne. I can remember some superb musicians over the years. The German guitarist, the Canadian tenor saxophonist, the Russian alto saxophonist, the two Japanese trumpeters, Luis, the Spanish soprano saxophonist, the Japanese pianist, the Belgian vocalist, the Sydney drummer, the Queensland vocalist and the list goes on.

As well there are the new overseas arrivals to Melbourne who use the jam sessions as an initial foray into the Melbourne Jazz scene. The Columbian Pianist who went on to do Paris Cat gigs, ade ishs who has become one of Melbourne’s top jazz pianists, Mihoko the Japanese tenor saxophonist, Sebastian the French drummer, and Danilo, the Italian drummer are but a few examples of the fine musicians we have met through the jamming experience.

Not to mention the ongoing friendships that have been formed

Hopefully, nothing will have changed when the jams are back in full swing after this crazy pandemic.


 

Learning music

An article by Alan West, saxophonist

 

I would like to pass on what was impressed upon me. I learnt from a double bass player, Murray Wall, who learnt from Lenny Tristano – a well known NYC music teacher who used to play piano with Charlie Parker.

 

The Lenny Tristano method,

Lenny was blind (there is ear work involved.)

 

Starters: Learn the diatonic system, scales in major and minors (natural, harmonic and melodic) in all keys. Play them slowly and try to hear the next note before you play it. Play arpeggios (including 7th) from each step on all those scales. First in root position, once mastered that move on to 1st, then 2nd and then 3rd inversions, again slowly and trying to hear the next note before you play it. Make all scales sound musical. Pick solos you like, start with easier ones, sing the solo and learn it on your

instrument from your singing (likewise melodies). Sing as much as possible, your ear is like a muscle and improves with use. Know the melody well to every tune you play. You don’t deserve to solo on a tune if you can’t play the melody.

 

For the more serious players. The above is about 6 months work with 4 hours a day regimen. Here comes the hard part. Tristano said if you can’t play a tune in all 12 keys, then you don’t really know it, all you got is finger memory. Start with nursery rhymes (hopefully your momma sang them to you as a child) pick them up by ear and take them through all keys. With standards, start to think of the chords in degrees i.e. III VI II V7 1, instead of Em7 Am7 Dm7 G7 C. You will start to hear in degrees more quickly and playing in all keys is much easier that way.

 

In a nutshell that is the basics. From here you can venture forth with a solid foundation. Remember the important thing about technique: It is only important when the lack of it inhibits music coming out. Just having a blistering technique and not much else is meaningless. Good luck, see you at the jams, whenever.

 

Alan and regular jammer Malcolm Hornby play on these. They are good: check them out!

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iso remote recordings, written by Alan West

 

Gypsy Jam – Demo

https://www.dropbox.com/s/cof7w1dfjhdql3o/gypsy%20jam%20demo.mp3?dl=0

Cha Cha Fransesca

https://www.dropbox.com/s/d8z51qfqgw4uu76/cha%20cha%20fransesca.wav?dl=0

Hot Luck

https://www.dropbox.com/s/gm4k3pj47zrrpld/Hot%20Luck.wav?dl=0

Josephine

https://www.dropbox.com/s/4uo37retj9wl9l6/Josephine.wav?dl=0

 

Alan West – sax, Malcolm Hornby — Piano, Denis Toner – bass and Mark Voogd – drums.

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The ‘orrible Truth – the future of live music

 

One might say that Madge from Altona is as miffed as anyone else in Refinery Terrace. It would seem that the corner store has run out of Winnie Blues due to some unregulated panic buying, and this year’s Chateau Plonc is barely worth the cardboard box it comes in. But what, you may ask, of the grand metropolis up the road, that once heaving hub of social activity, now ring fenced, locked down and surrounded by squaddies armed to the teeth. There is not a bar, venue, stadium, theatre or dancehall open – and it may not be about to get better any time soon. That is the ‘orrible truth, and here is why:

If you take music venue managers at their word, (and who wouldn’t?) they were either losing money or barely making any profit in the past even if their venue was full. Cut down the allowable punters and ticket prices would have to go up a staggering 400% just to maintain the status quo.

Taking my superseded copy of the Building Code Of Australia as a guide (see note 1), the design capacities could be reduced by between 70% (concert halls) and 87% (stadiums). Bars are even worse. In summary – the greater the original crowd capacity, and the smaller the venue, the bigger the loss of bums on seats. There probably isn’t a venue in Melbourne that could turn a profit. If a venue is losing money, the more music it puts on, the quicker it will go broke, and no musician will earn a living from live performance – not that many ever did anyway (see Note 2.)

Musicians are better off than venue owners. They can all earn $400USD + per month by running up a million plays on Spotify (see Note 3) or… play for the fun of it -or as Venue managers used to say “for exposure”. So Musos dependant on gigs for their income (remember, there aren’t many) must rely on the philanthropy of venue owners, as the others will have gone broke anyway. Industry executives (see note 4) are predicting a downturn from the 2019 industry value of $555 million. How many bars that have closed will reopen?

Unless you enjoy playing so much you will do it for free, it doesn’t look good. Cheer up! – any day now, pigs will fly, the moon will turn blue, and someone will come up with a vaccine. Maybe get a cure for saxophone playing and Little Sunflower while they are at it.

 

In conclusion:

So…A bit heavy on the serious stuff this week, and it is not looking too bright just yet. It will get better. Lots of jammers hunkered down with their ukulele, bagpipes, bolivian nose flutes or whatever. Chops should be sensational. Meanwhile, all the singers are learning the verses to go before the choruses – another first.

 

Festival and Jammers News:

https://www.melbournejazzjammers.com.au/

https://www.instagram.com/newport_jazz_festival_2021/

 

Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/groups/83551088146

Note 1: The figures given are calculated from Table D1.13 of The Building Code of Australia, a 665 page manual so obscure that it was used to burn down several apartment buildings in Melbourne.

Note 2: According to their submissions to government, every musician in Australia has lost hundreds of gigs because of Covid19. Luckily, only around 33% of professional musicians earn their living solely from music.

Note 3: What does streaming pay? Depends who you ask! The second link is a fun little exercise.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RxIfuBtppiM

http://www.streamingroyaltycalculator.com/

Note 4: Industry executives: they can be identified by their propensity to call musicians “artists” or “talent” or “profit centres”, or “units”. The figures are taken from the ARIA annual report.

 

Aria Report 2019

The report might be worth a read (link below) but the Bar Chart says it all.


https://www.ariacharts.com.au/news/2020/aria-2019-music-industry-figures-show-5-5-growth#:~:text=Fifth%20straight%20year%20of%20growth,annual%20increase%20from%202018%20figures.

On Jazz Guitarists

Another in a series of guest writers: Fermin Navascués on learning guitar.

 

I used to come home from playing guitar in bands at functions and the like, playing pop music and soul tunes and my wife said to me “How come you go out and play pop tunes but come home and listen to jazz?” Well, true enough, I was disillusioned with contemporary music on commercial radio. A friend had referred me to PBS radio 106.7 and I discovered not only a plethora of jazz but also, Latin, funk, soul, world music and even doo-wop and progressive metal to mention a few. The key ingredient here was passionate and enthusiastic announcers who not only sourced significant and rare recordings but who could also tell you about the artist, the recording sessions, the impact of the music and some great anecdotes that brought these artists to life.

Where did the interest in jazz start? When I was 15 one of the senior boys at school who played great clarinet and admired Benny Goodman, encouraged me to jam with him in the science lab during lunch times. This led to playing rhythm in his 13 piece swing big band with guys averaging 16 years old. After that, I had tried to learn jazz guitar from a tuition book but found it hard going.

After listening to PBS and building up a CD collection of jazz artists, I found a CD at the library that brought it all home (No pun intended!). It was The Artistry of Barney Kessell with chord solos that seemed impossible to execute and improvisation that said something and makes every note count.

Eventually I signed up for jazz guitar lessons, with Bruce Clarke who at 80 years young was as sharp as a tack. In true Bruce style he gave me a time slot to decide if he was going to teach me. I practiced up in anticipation and when I arrived he asked me who was I listening to? Well, I said Barney Kessell and rattled off a few others like Joe Pass and Herb Ellis. He then asked me if I could read and put an exercise in front of me to prove it. He said he had heard enough, pointed to the photo on the wall of him playing with Barney Kessell and the other one next to it, playing with Herb Ellis and said, “See you next week”.

For me, the Jazz Jammers has provided the opportunity to transition from learning the music to playing it. It provides a safe haven to play with a wonderful array of musicians and instrumentation, and a great network for collaboration.

Sunday at the Junk: Gossip, Jazz,

The Jam Session: We foregathered so early that the Junk wasn’t even open, convened a meeting on a nearby park bench… kicked around a few ideas for a proposed jazz party that will hopefully come to fruition some time in the New Year. Not saying which New Year as we haven’t got that far.

The set up was much aided by Debbie, directed by the Captain, a few cables plugged in by meself,  Fermin set up the guitars and amps, and Russell re-assembled the drum kit, although he subsequently averred it wasn’t up to (his) standards.

A pleasant and diverse afternoon of ballad mangling ensued, with contributions from Salah then Bill Swannie on drums, a welcome return from PT Pete on bass after his Uni exams, songs from Jane, Debbie amongst others, Neil and Fermin on guitars, the Captain opened the batting for the saxophone brigade, followed by the immaculate tones of Cardinal Calamatta, and we may have persuaded Julian (floot and abacus) to join the putative Committee. Hopefully he won’t be too busy to play floot. Huich on violin. Volker back on sax.

Singer du jour was Michelle Gigliotti, in a tight set, accompanied by Kip Dale on electric bass, Bill on drums, and meself tickling the ivories. She sang a second set with Malcolm struggling with some of my dodgiest charts – my excuse is that I never used charts on any gig with Michelle anyway… and we knocked out 80 or so in years past.

Pony Tail Pete back on bass

Rod and Bette de Singapore dropped in, as you do, POCKOTL was there, and there were a pleasing number of locals in the audience. More musos than last week, and more fun too…

Featured Singers this Sunday 25th November

This next one is going to be a bit special, as Debbie and Ashley de Wang will be singing some duets – swing tunes in the main. I have heard some of their material and this should prove a real crowd pleaser

Next jam, this Sunday 25th November, 4.00pm start,

TheJunktion Hotel, 99 High Street, South Kew – the Hotel is on thecorner of Kew Junction. Public parking is available on Studley ParkRoad, or behind the Mercedes dealer/behind the High Street Shops offFenton Street from High St, Kew.

Castlemaine Jazz Festival

https://www.castlemainejazzfestival.com.au/

The website has, at last, plenty of information on the bands playing and the venues. It all happens this weekend, and whether you are thinking of going for the full four days, or just dipping in to see the highlights, including Nubya Garcia, who has already sold out her MIJF dates (the Age, Tuesday 5th June), it is about time to saddle up the nag and head North. Continue reading →

From The Leinster

Dateline Collingwood: 4.3.18

Last Sunday the Jazz Jam at the Leinster arms Hotel reached a new nadir, a point where the bottom of the barrel had been scraped so much that the bottom was gone and the tunnel to China is now complete. No one is to blame but not much can be said about it other thank goodness it is over. The sound of a cat being strangled somehow has much more appeal now. Continue reading →

AGM for Castlemaine Jazz Festival

This is coming up in a week’s time: Saturday 2nd September at 11am in the Chewton Community & Senior Citizens’ Centre, Main Road Chewton

If you are a member of the Association, you should have received a proxy form to fill in. The good Captain will be attending, naturally, and the Melbourne Jammers’ interests will be best served by giving him your proxy . If you cannot attend, please fill in the form and return it to him