Low Eh! Baritone Saxophone Adventures From Canada

Listening List – The Rock Steadies 

I’m fortunate to work with the incredible corporate/party band, The Rock Steadies. I don’t do many of these kinds of gigs, but I love the lineup, song list (primarily 1970’s and 1980’s), and arrangements that Ed Lister has put together. Here are three recordings that I listen to on my way to these gigs, where I have to put my pop sax chops to good use.

  1. Prince – The Hits/The B-Sides – This compilation gets played the most in the car. I find that this set puts me in a great headspace to feel those grooves right away, as well as some beautiful tenor solos, and horn section parts.

2. Stevie Wonder – Anything in his catalog – When I started digging into solos over pop tunes, I listened to many saxophone players, but the sound that really drew me in on every solo was Stevie Wonder’s harmonica playing. His phrasing, rhythm, and note choice are really influential in my soloing over the songs that we’re performing.

3. Michael Blake – Red Hook Soul – Michael Blake is one of my favourite saxophonists. Red Hook Soul is a recording that blends rock, and R’n’B elements with extended solo sections where the band interacts. I love the way that Michael uses his tone expressively throughout this record to evoke different moods. This album keeps me thinking creatively when I’m soloing over four, or eight bar loops, and the band wants me to play a longer solo.

These are just three of the recordings/artists that I like to get my ears “tuned up” for the Rock Steadies gigs.

Do you listening to different music before you have a show in styles that you perform in less frequently?

Applying Rhythms From Jazz Etude Books – Part 2 

A few weeks back, I wrote about how I get my students who need to get solos together quickly (but are still getting comfortable with tunes, forms, and changes), to use rhythms from the jazz etude books that we’ve worked on. Here’s the next steps after they’ve dealt with the initial rhythm that they have chosen.

We start by adding a half step approach tone, an eighth note in front of beat one. I want the student to pick a non-chord tone, because of the tension and release from the last note of the bar into the consonant downbeat. Here is the original (done up in Dorico, instead of my sloppy lines on the dry-erase board. Haha!), and the example with the approach tone.

After we’re comfortable with this idea, then we add another eighth note that is a chord tone to have a consonant sound, that sets up the tension and release.

One of the parameters that I set is that we can’t have any repeated notes – in the first bar the G could be repeated, and the 7th is a more interesting note than the 5th of the chord, but I find that when students start repeating notes as a default, they create lines that aren’t as strong.

As the bars start to fill up, we can start to edit, and the student can find ideas that work in their solo. As I mentioned in the first post – As this (“stage one”, and two, and three) becomes more familiar, and my students can start to play this idea without writing it out, we start to add and subtract notes, apply different patterns, and hopefully, get away from this entirely, as we gain more confidence.

Podcasts That I Listen To – The Jazz Session 

I’ve been a fan of The Jazz Session with Jason Crane (and Nicky Schrire for a run of 38 episodes) for a few years. I think that both Jason and Nicky are great interviewers, and I love the selection of guests that they have on the show.

For me, the conversational style of the podcast is always engaging, and relaxed. I love that the hosts really dig into not just the music, but the artist’s lives around the time that the recordings were/are being recorded, and released. The short interludes of the album in between topics works beautifully, and I have gone on to purchase quite a bit of music that I hear from those snippets.

I often hear interviews with performers who I am less familiar with. In most of those situations, I know the name of the artist in passing, but I haven’t familiarised myself with their body of work. This is exciting for me! I listen to many artists, but when I’m able to discover someone who is new to me, or I am prompted to dig further into their work, I almost always find something to add to my library.

The Jazz Session is a perfect length for me. It’s typically 30-40 minutes long, and there is so much detail in the interviews.

I’ve become a Patreon supporter of this podcast. With my membership, there is an additional podcast – This I Dig Of You, where ” the guest from the main episode talks about something non-musical that is bringing them joy.” This is really fun for me, because musicians are people, and it’s always interesting to hear how musicians find balance in outside of their musical life.

Applying Rhythms From Jazz Etude Books 

In November 2023, I wrote a post about the Lennie Niehaus’ Basic Jazz Conception, and how one of the aspects of the book that I like is the ability to apply the rhythms over sets of chord changes.

I typically use this method when I have a student who needs to play solos, but don’t quite feel comfortable improvising over forms, or they are worried about getting lost, or playing out of time. I find that this gives the player something to latch on to, and more confidence in front of a band.

Here’s how I break it down.

First, we pick a rhythm. In this case, it’s the fifth exercise in the Lennie Niehaus book. Then we identify the chord tones, and then we apply them to the rhythm. I then send this with my student as homework. I like it when they write several variations, and the goal is that they will internalize the tune with the consonant landing points. If they dig in, and learn this, they could play idea through the form, and have material that they can use to keep their place.

As this “stage one” becomes more familiar, and my students can start to play this idea without writing it out, we start to add and subtract notes, apply different patterns, and hopefully, get away from this entirely, as we gain more confidence.

I’ll post further variations in the upcoming weeks!

Listening List: Horns+Bass & Drums Recordings 

Over the next few months, I have some shows with rhythm sections that are comprised of just bass, and drums. I’ve been composing a ton, and I’m excited to be able to share that music in the near future.

In March, Marc Decho and I will have a trio show. I’m excited to explore the combination of woodwinds, electric bass, and drums.

I have put together a quartet with Ed Lister, Sage Reynolds, and Mike Essoudry, which was supposed to debut in January. Unfortunately, I had to be out of town unexpectedly, but we’ve been able to push the date to May.

Here are a few recordings with bass-drums rhythms sections that are on my listening list right now.

Kings County – Way North (2015)

This recording always makes me smile. I love the melodies, and the group’s ability to connect with each other. I really love all three of Way North’s recordings, and with each of the recordings, the music gets deeper, and deeper. Check them out on Bandcamp!

Two Of Clubs – Broadview (2011)

I remember hearing this recording for the first time, and fell in love with the sound. I’ve been telling Marc Decho that I’ve wanted to do a project like this for a while, and it’s finally happening! Rich Brown has so much range on this recording – whether he’s laying down the bass line, playing chords, or soloing…it’s always inventive. There’s so much room for everybody to stretch out, it’s another fun, and engaging recording.

Damaged In Transit – Steve Swallow (2003)

The ideas are flowing free on this one! I would have loved to catch this group live! To me, the whole recording feeling kind of through-composed. Every piece seems to flow into the next very logically. Another electric bass, tenor sax, and drums recording, I feel that there’s such a different tonal palette with the electric bass, which allows the music to float a little more. I really enjoy this period in Chris Potter’s playing as well (it’s when I started getting into him).

I know that there are more “classic” saxophone-bass-drums recordings, and that’ll be a list for another week.

Are there saxophone-bass-drums recordings that catch your ear?

I Lightened Up My Setup 

My mouthpiece/reed setups have been on the heavier side for a while, and after several performances with the Crius Saxophone Quartet, and working on transcriptions, I realised that I wanted a little more flexibility in my setup.

Gonzalez Reeds sent me a few boxes of their Malbec reeds for tenor, and alto saxophones, which played slightly softer than my usual Jazz Local #627 reeds, and in the practice room they were awesome! I found the flexibility that I was looking for – a little more shimmer in the top register, and a clearer sound in the bottom end.

I was excited to test them out on a gig.

Harder Reeds

But they didn’t feel great on the gig – I went back to my harder reeds. I felt like I couldn’t control the softer reeds. The reeds felt mushy, and I was searching for the tuning constantly.

A few weeks later, I started working on a Joel Frahm transcription, and once again, I wanted a little more flexibility. So I tried the Malbec again, and started to figure them out – the sound started to open up, and I was finding the sweet spot for response.

Softer Reeds

As I have moved to softer reeds across each of my saxophones over the last few months, I am loving the results. For years, I feel like I have been expending extra energy in just creating the sound, and now, I am able to focus on more musical things.

It has definitely been a change that was worth making, even if it took a while to get comfortable.

Three Things That I’ve Learned From Being A “Musician-Dad” 

I’ve spent the last week with my daughters (they were on winter break from school), and I was off from teaching. It was a great chance to have some time together where we weren’t running from activity to activity. I started to think about how lucky I am to have the career that I have, and how it has impacted the relationships between my daughters and I.

Here are three things that I’ve learned from being a musician-dad. This is likely going to turn into a long list as they grow up, because I’m learning new things every day.

  1. I have been able to be available to be a dad. When my daughters were born, I was able to be a present parent. My teaching schedule usually started around 3:30-4pm, and my day times were generally clear, so we had outings every day – from the library to the music store, to getting groceries, and all of the appointments in between. We have had many long drives to visit my parents, and they are great travellers. I’ve loved the bond that we have created by sharing experiences, and now I’m able to volunteer for class trips, and share in their lives that are becoming more social.
  2. I have a “cool dad” job. As the kids have grown, it’s always been important to bring them to concerts, and music festivals. It’s amazing to have them back stage amongst the musicians, and on stage during sound check (with their cans on) to see what musician life is all about. There are pictures of them hanging out backstage at JazzFest and Bluesfest – great memories! They hear me practice (and curse occasionally) – it’s part of their everyday experience. Now that they are in school, they share those experiences with their community, and I’m regularly greeted with “you’re the musician”.
  3. Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes, I have to miss things. Sometimes, I have to scramble to make things work. Sometimes, there’s not enough work. Sometimes, I’m burnt out from too much work. Being able to have time to connect makes the tough times easier. We’ve spent the last few weeks with the Rainbow Loom, making friendship bracelets. I’ve learned more about Rainbow Loom over the last month than I ever thought that I would!

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been able to reflect on how fortunate I am to have chosen this career, which has afforded me the time to be a “musician-dad”.

Thank you! 

I just wanted to post a huge thank you to everyone who read Low Eh! in 2023!

Over the last few months, I have been more active on the blog, and the support has been incredible! I’ll be off for a few weeks, but I have lots of new material for 2024!

Stay tuned!

Music Books – Graded Studies Series 

I’ve been using 80 Graded Studies for saxophone and clarinet, and 76 Graded Studies for flute for many years now, and I think these books are great for students who are needing material outside of their band books (Essential Elements, Standard of Excellence, etc.), and looking for a faster paced method that allows them to focus on all elements of the musical pyramid.

I love that the melodies are singable. This makes it easier for myself to help guide my students through sound, rhythm, notes, articulation, dynamics, and overall musicality. It also allows the student to reinforce the fundamentals while focusing on each element.

The introduction to articulation is particularly important to me. Most band books don’t have enough material that requires both articulated, and slurred passages, and I find that students either become over, or under-articulators. When I introduce this book, the varied articulation patterns get the student to work to control their tongue muscles, and the control that they are able to gain works well in their band situations.

The books are paced well – half notes to quarter notes, add articulation, and dynamics. Then, quarter notes to eight notes, add articulation, and dynamics. They also include some good melodies that introduce syncopation, and triplets as the student progresses.

Although you need to add a separate book for technique, the Graded Studies series allows the student to focus on the fundamentals while digging deeper into musical concepts that give them more tools for their musical toolbox.

I Let My Students Pick Their Own Rep 

It’s the season where many of my students are performing the same tunes. The same tunes that I have taught for years…and I’m okay with it.

When I student contacts me about lessons, we discuss scheduling, and policies, but I also send a rundown of how I like my lessons to run.

My teaching concept (which is the same concept I use in my own playing) revolves around efficiency. If I have to think about playing my instrument, I’m probably not making music, and ultimately, not having a great time. Also, when a student comes to me, I tend to break down embouchure and air issues right away. Sound is the foundation of music, and if we can get to a point where the sound is consistently open and in tune, it will make our lives’ easier doing everything else on our instruments.

I will assign studies from a method book, and I let my students pick their songs. I find that when a student plays music that they love, they dig into the lesson material, and stay interested in all elements of their instrument.

My students have chosen their instruments for a reason that is personal to them, and because I teach woodwinds, the students are typically older than a five or six year old piano student. To me, this means that they have started to develop their own taste in music, and that is something that I should respect.

As I learn about the music that they enjoy, I am able to shape the technical aspects of our lessons to fit their needs, and I find that they get more out of their lessons because they see the value in practicing. They need to love the music that they’re playing!

There are a few concepts that are great to introduce this way.

  1. Playing by ear – the students can sing the songs that they love. It makes a great connection for them to start to learn how their instrument sounds. It also takes the pressure of sight-reading vocal melodies away.
  2. Improvisation – as they work on their tunes, we can start to introduce embellishment, and work our way into improvisation eventually. This also helps introduce scales, and chords.
  3. Duets – I have been writing duets using my students tunes, which then allows them to focus on playing with others, playing in tune, and with good rhythm. Some of my arrangements are available here, with more to come in the near future.

It’s also great for the parents who are not always musical to hear their child perform music that they hear on the radio. Not every saxophonist’s parent is into Coltrane! When the parents start to hear familiar melodies, it gives them a clearer picture of how their child is progressing, because they have a point of reference.

In my experience, as a student progresses, they end up digging deeper into the music that their instrument is more known for, and my saxophone students who started playing Careless Whisper, start playing from the Charlie Parker Omnibook – it’s all about getting them to love the instrument, and finding their path.

I don’t shy away from Christmas music, or pop tunes, or video game music, or movie themes! Everybody should be able to perform the music that they love!

Listening List: Drummerless Groups 

I have been (and will be) performing with several drummerless groups over the next six weeks, and wanted to share some of my favourite recordings.

Jimmy Giuffre 3 – Fusion and Thesis (re-released in 1992 as 1961 on ECM). I’ve put these two together, because I originally knew the compilation, 1961, as the entire work. I can’t deny a little recency bias – I just performed a tribute to Jimmy Giuffre’s music with Sage Reynolds, and Ali Berkok a few days ago (November 25, 2023), and dug into this music.

The music is fresh – it could have been recorded yesterday, and I find that with most of the music from this iteration of the Jimmy Giuffre 3 (with Paul Bley and Steve Swallow).

Kenny Wheeler – What Now? (2006) Since listening, and performing Music For Large and Small Ensembles, I have been a Kenny Wheeler fan. There are several drummerless offerings from Kenny Wheeler, but this is the one that has stuck with me. I heard this in college, and Chris Potter seemed to be THE influence for many tenor saxophonists at the time (this is also some of my favourite Chris Potter).

The melodies are singable, and every composition has a twist that makes each track memorable, and interesting to me.

Adrean Farrugia and Joel Frahm – Blued Dharma (2018) I just love the interplay between Adrean and Joel on every track on this recording. I was fortunate to have spent time in Adrean Farrugia’s ensemble in college, and then to perform with him in Ottawa with a tribute to Thelonious Monk. Joel’s control of the saxophone is something that I marvel at.

This is a recording that I love to listen to post-gig when I want to cleanse my ears – pure musicality!

Do you have any favourite drummerless recordings? Maybe recordings with two drummers?

My Social Media Journey 

I often get asked by other musicians about my commitment to posting on social media platforms. I have always been an early adopter of new platforms, and I enjoy trying to figure out what works, and what doesn’t. Posting clips is built into my daily routine, and I have been so fortunate to have these platforms as an avenue for my music over the past few years.

During lockdown in 2020, social media became my outlet when there weren’t any gigs. I was teaching online 6-8 hours a day, and my drive to practice was possibly the lowest that it had ever been. After a few months of living in this state, I knew that I had to start finding the motivation to create, and improve.

I started forcing myself to post a clip a day – 30-60 seconds of what I was working on that day. That routine motivated me to get to my instruments regularly, and stoked the fire. Soon, I was recording etudes, and examples for my students.

I started to build my platforms, started this blog, and gained connections with musicians all over the world. This included collaborations with composers, I played on recordings, I started to book students, and make friends who were living in the same situation that I was around the globe.

I continue to post regularly. I don’t make a post every day – it’s busier now that gigs are back, I’m in school, my kids are growing – life resembles more pre-lockdown now, but I update my stories, and have maintained the connections that were built.

Building the community has been the most important, and rewarding part of the journey – the support was, and continues to be overwhelming! Thank you!

Please feel free to follow me on any of my platforms!





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