In Which Ryan Is Oddly Contemplative About Snow
February 2021 | 2:2
Koopa and Goomba hope there is a warm radiator in your life, or its human equivalent.
What's Been Happening
I like snow.
Most people I know that feel the need to comment on snow are anti-snow, and they have fairly compelling reasons. It’s cold, it’s disruptive, it generically makes it harder to do things, it sticks around long past the stage where it’s pretty, the venn diagrams of “enough snow to be pretty” and “well now there’s too much snow” are basically a circle… there’s plenty of valid reasons to not like snow. But I like snow.
It could be associative with snow days growing up, but in a real sense I’ve had snow days for about a year and I still like snow. I’ve read about how it blankets things and makes them look pretty, and it can feel renewing, and it makes things really peaceful because it absorbs sound. Those are certainly true, but they don’t seem like the real reason for me personally. It could be some deeper resonance with my personal heritage of family in Minnesota, or farther back to Northern European and Scandinavian roots; some deep seated contentment brought on by snowflakes, birch trees, and a liberal use of umlauts and adding the letter “s” to the end of words. That’s certainly a part of me, but that doesn’t feel like it either.
In a surprise to probably no one reading, it snowed for almost 24 straight hours the day before I wrote this. It’s Chicago so we’re largely plowed and shoveled out already, and we’ll probably get more snow and this snow will melt and then we’ll get more snow. And each time it snows, I’ll pause and think, “Nice, it’s snowing. I like snow” before moving on with my day.
I’m not sure if there is a reason I like snow. I think I might just like snow, and I hope that sometime soon something in your daily life that you simply like falls from the sky for 24 hours or so (metaphorically in most cases).
May your masks smell pleasant and your packages arrive without incident,
Chart O' The Month
“WEB” is one of the newest tunes in the Medium Ensemble book, but its roots go back quite a ways both musically and personally. The basis for the tune is Louis Armstrong’s iconic introduction to the tune “West End Blues” (hence WEB), which is arguably one of the most important early recorded examples of jazz improvisation. I actually started my undergraduate jazz recital with the original version including the introduction, and in true trumpet player fashion missed the top note rather spectacularly. Fast forward about ten years and I decided to do another recital just for fun, and to bookend the performance with the original version and a modernized rendition that became this chart.
<Editor’s Note: I missed the same note the exact same way on that recital too. I did end up starting a gig back in September with the same introduction and played it right, but I guess I still have to do an actual recital with this tune at some point to fully cleanse myself.>
Compositionally, this tune is representative of two things. First is something I’ve lovingly dubbed a “rhythmic contrafact” which I can’t confirm as either an official term or an original idea. Basically a contrafact is a new song written using the same chord changes as an existing song, for example how the theme from “The Flintstones” is written over the same progression as “I’ve Got Rhythm”. For this tune, instead of using the original harmony I tried to write a new piece using the original rhythms from the cadenza which spawned some really cool ideas. The other thing I tried to do is write much simpler, or as my friend Scott “Herm” Anderson would say, “Dude, just write less stuff down”. Trying to stick with simpler ideas for longer and dictating fewer specific details to the musicians similarly led the chart to some new and interesting places and makes this one of my favorite additions to the library.
Speaking of snow, here's some snowflakes! There are at least several dozen more outside at the time of this writing (full disclosure; I have not counted them) but that doesn't make these less cool or pretty.
As I mentioned last month, the annual Jazz Education Network conference was virtual and I got to help out with a lot of the back end stuff. Among the most interesting was running remote clinic sessions for various groups and artists through the JENerations Jazz Festival (for the uninitiated; yes, everything with JEN has to have some kind of JEN wordplay if at all possible. I don’t make the rules). Regardless, that meant being a fly on the digital wall for a lot of cool conversations so I took a ton of notes and here are some of my favorite tidbits:
Play the “Remington” warm-up backwards by starting with the most tubing possible and then ascend to make the tubing progressively shorter. <Editor’s Note: This is a brass player specific thing, let me know if you want me to explain>.
When parts are doubled in octaves, referring to the bottom octave as the “shadow tone” and treating it accordingly.
Alan Baylock (all thoughts relating to leading a band):
Be clear about your vision.
Have individuals in the band you delegate your vision to (eg. lead trumpet and drums).
Use singing to minimize the need for talking or explaining.
For tuning, find and expose unisons and octaves; by definition they exist and will improve aural awareness.
Dynamics = emotion
Open your gifts; if you are given information and you accept it but never explore it, it’s still in the wrapping and not truly being used. Go more in depth to draw out the knowledge.
Learning is like a flower opening; it occurs at its own pace and becomes apparent as something new on its own terms. You can’t force it without damaging it, so give it the environment it needs, be patient, and allow it to occur.
If the music is not clear inside you, it can’t come out.
Express yourself with honesty and clarity.