Wednesday 29 June 2011

Smithville - more gigs!

Following our debut at The Basement last month, Smithville have some more gigs. The first of these is at Brighton's beautiful bandstand on Sunday 10th July from 2:00 to 4:00 pm where we will be joined by guest bass player Eddie Myer. It may depend on the weather, so fingers crossed. Unlike Eastbourne bandstand where I did a season of gigs a few years ago, there is very little shelter from the elements.

Expect plenty of finger poppin' fun, funky grooves and organ-led mayhem.

Here's some more information on Brighton Bandstand along with a beautiful picture.

Brighton Bandstand

Monday 27 June 2011

Kineojazz presents Dr Lonnie Smith Trio featuring Jonathan Kreisberg and Jamire Williams, The Basement, 18th June

18th of June was a day to remember - for quite a few reasons.
  • Discovering we had been previewed by John Fordham in The Guardian Guide that morning and tickets were selling well
  • Arriving in the afternoon to discover that Dr Lonnie Smith's B3 had not been set up and setting up the B3 only to discover that it had no foot pedals and being told that we hadn't asked for pedals
  • Confirming with Dr Smith's agent in New York and drummer Jamire Williams that "Dr Smith needs pedals" (obviously!)
  • Ordering a Hammond C3 (with pedals) down from London at 4:00 in the afternoon for a 6:30 soundcheck
  • Discovering that we had been sent a piano stool instead of an an organ bench and Dr Smith patiently explaining the need for a bench (so his feet can hover above the pedals)
  • Dr Smith saying, "Don't worry, we'll find a way - we can make something!" And make it we did - the front of a drawer from an old chest of drawers, two high stools and a role of gaffer tape
  • Guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg saying, "We need to talk about that bench you made. I seriously think Lonnie is going to kill himself."
  • The C3 arriving just before the doors were due to open
  • Drawing a line under all of the above and just enjoying the gig
And what a gig. When you hear Dr Smith play the organ you are hearing an extension of himself. It's a beautiful sound and he tells his own story - with drama and intensity. He can played very, very quietly and suddenly play so loudly that you almost fall off your seat. Jonathan played brilliantly, virtuosically even. He brings brightness and colour to the sound. On the other side of the stage drummer Jamire Williams brings energy and fire. The audience listened closely to everything, the band received a well-deserved standing ovation and left The Basement in a state of near bliss.

There are various videos around on Youtube. I won't link to them hear as they don't really do the night justice. However, here are some great photos from the official kineojazz photographer.

Click here for John Fordham's "proper" review of Dr Lonnie Smith Trio at Ronnie Scott's two nights later.

Thursday 9 June 2011

The Roadrunners: The Never-ending Tour (continued . . .)

11/06/2011 - The Master Mariner, Brighton Marina, 8:30 pm
17/06/2011 - The Duke of Wellington, Shoreham, 8:30 pm
24/06/2011 - The Ranelagh, 8:30 pm
01/07/2011 - White Hart, West Hoathley, 8:30 pm
21/08/2011 - Standup Inn, Lindfield, 8:30 pm
24/09/2011 - The Master Mariner, Brighton Marina, 8:30 pm
30/09/2011 - The Ranelagh, 8:30 pm
23/10/2011 - Standup Inn, Lindfield, 8:30 pm
26/11/2011 - The Master Mariner, Brighton Marina, 8:30 pm

Wednesday 8 June 2011

Thoughts on Wes Montgomery

There there are a couple of reasons why, as a jazz guitarist, I have mixed feelings about Wes Montgomery. Don't get me wrong, Wes was a genius. His reputation is well deserved and he set a benchmark for high standards in improvisation, not just on guitar but on any instrument. The Incredible Jazz Guitar is one of my favourite jazz guitar albums of all time. So what are my reservations and why.

1. Guitarists influenced by Wes often end us sounding more like Wes than they do themselves (if that makes sense). I loved the work of Emily Remler, and her original material in particular (the album Catwalk). On standards territory she gets a bit too close to Wes and perhaps away from her own approach. From Wikipedia, this quote from People magazine in 1982 sums up her dilemma:
"I may look like a nice Jewish girl from New Jersey, but inside I’m a 50-year-old, heavyset black man with a big thumb, like Wes Montgomery." 
It can be really dangerous taking your influences too far. Much as many an alto sax player has never got beyond the influence of Charlie Parker, the danger with Wes is that once you're into him, you just can't get away from him. I think that George Benson took what Wes did and developed his own style but I've heard quite a few guitarists over the years who I think haven't managed to do this.

2. Wes's soloing is almost too exciting sometimes. What do I mean this? He plays really fast, he crams in a lot of ideas, you don't have a chance to absorb one before you're flying onto to the next one. This quote from Wikipedia just about sums it up:
"Listening to [Wes Montgomery's] solos is like teetering at the edge of a brink," composer-conductor Gunther Schuller asserted, as quoted by Jazz & Pop critic Will Smith. "His playing at its peak becomes unbearably exciting, to the point where one feels unable to muster sufficient physical endurance to outlast it."
I have to admit that, in part, this suspicion of Wes is partly envy. I'm not the only one. I remember reading a funny Jim Hall story about how he spent a day with Wes in San Francisco trying to get his thumb caught in taxi cab doors. Wouldn't it be nice to have his style down off pat? Wouldn't it impress other guitarists? That said, we're all individuals and following the muse means going where the music takes you. I often feel a stronger affinity to Grant Green. He digs into fewer ideas, leaves more space, constantly interacts with the rhythm section and, for me, has a stronger emotional punch (I'm thinking here of Idle Moments, one of my favourite jazz albums of all time). And he's a very exciting player without being overwhelming.

In recent years my own playing has moved more and more away from diatonic harmony as I stretch things further and further. In fact I've been going back to Wes and understanding more and more where his own harmonic sense comes from. In my last post I quoted Lee Konitz talking about slowing solos down. I've been doing this with Wes solos recently. Listening to them over and over on half speed before transcribing them. This gets around the Gunther Schuller problem of the solos being unbearably exciting because you can really listen to and absorb the idea. The solos sound brilliant at any speed, just a more manageable at a slower speed, giving you plenty to savour.

I can already feel the fear of Wes abating. It's just important that I steer away from his octave playing - that's his signature and his alone. Discuss!