In Progress

Dedicated to Pre-Bebop Jazz Guitar

Disclaimer: All of the opinions expressed herein are solely those of Jonathan Stout, 
and NOT the Campus Five or Hilary Alexander

Monday
Jan112010

Masters of the Block-Chord Solo

UPDATE: Links fixed - however, you may need to save them to play them for reasons I can't quite figure out.

Here are some recordings of acoustic chordal solos that I consider essential (and are easily linked to at Classic Jazz Guitar). Yeah, it's lame that these are just clips, but you should just go by the tunes now. Go on itunes or amazon.com and just buy all of them now. Go. I'll wait.

Allan Reuss - Beside being one of, if not the best swing rhythm guitar player, Reuss was also my favorite Block-Chord Soloist. The solo on "Bye Bye Blues" is amazing. Reuss had many gems on record through out the years.
Arnold Ross Quintet f/Benny Carter - Bye Bye Blues
Lionel Hampton - Rhythm, Rhythm
Jack Teagarden Orchestra - Pickin' for Patsy
Coleman Hawkins - Stuffy
Benny Goodman Orchestra - Rosetta

George Van Eps
- Although he is now mostly famous for inventing and playing 7-string guitar, Van Eps was a fantastic 6-string rhythm and chordal player. He was a cooler player that Reuss, and he approached the guitar more like a "lap piano". Still, he had some great block-chord solos on record.
Adrian Rollini Orchestra - Somebody Loves Me
George Van Eps - Ain't Misbeavin'
Jess Stacy - Indiana

Carmen Mastren - Another great rhythm player, Mastren started out with Wingy Manone, but most famously he played with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and even did some arranging for the band. He later joined the Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band during World War II. Here are his two most famous block-chord solo breaks are with two one-off quartets.
Delta Four - Swingin' on that Famous Door
Bechet-Spanier Big Four - If I Could Be With You

Carl Kress - Kress' chordal style descended from extented Tenor Guitar / Banjo tuning. He famously recorded duets with Eddie Lang. After Lang's death in 1933, he partnered with Dick McDonough, until that guitarist's death in 1938. Kress also did duets with Tony Mattola, and later George Barnes. Most of his well known recordings are duets or solo pieces. Here are two examples with a band, and no other guitar player.
Edmund Hall All Star Quintet - Seein' Red
Edmund Hall All Star Quintet - Rompin' in '44
(ok, here's one solo piece) Carl Kress - Sutton Mutton

Monday
Jan112010

Good Songs to Start With - now with Charts!

Earlier, I posted a list of good songs to use to learn to play swing.

I thought I should add charts of each of those songs, all using chord voicings from my 20 voicings chart.

Bb Blues (PDF)
Bb Rhythm Changes (PDF)
Minor Swing (PDF) / Dark Eyes (PDF) / Blues en Mineur (PDF)
Honeysuckle Rose (PDF)
Rose Room (PDF) / I Can’t Give You Anything but Love (PDF)
Rosetta (PDF)
Dinah (PDF) / Lady Be Good (PDF)
All of me (PDF)

Have fun working through these tunes.

Monday
Jan112010

Essential CDs for Swing Guitar

 

Pioneers of Jazz Guitar (Challenge) - This is a 24 track collection of Eddie Lang, Carl Kress and Dick McDounough playing in solo and duo settings. These are examples of the original jazz guitar tradition. All jazz guitar starts here.

Hittin' on All Six (Proper) - This $20 dollar, 4-CD set is a fantastic value, AND it's an essential collection of early jazz guitar. It has a pretty scattershot sampling of some artists, but has so many great tracks, and many that you'd otherwise have to buy a whole CD to get one track. Plus the liner notes are informative and the personel is listed on everything. NOTE: Since it's been discontinued, you might have to search around the internet a bit to find it - but it's totally worth it.

Swing to Bop: Guitars in Flight 1939-1947 (Hep) - This collection has a bunch of lesser known guitarists, while not duplicating too many tunes that are easily found elsewhere. Allan Reuss's solo on "Pickin' for Patsy," Al Casey's solo on "Buck Jumpin'," and the early Les Paul tunes are all indespensible.

Charlie Christian: The Genius of the Electric Guitar (Columbia Legacy) - The complete Charlie Christian / Benny Goodman studio takes - all of them. The liner notes are fantastic, and the rehersals and unreleased takes are very illustrative.

Charlie Christian: Complete Live Recordings (Definitive) - This 4 CD Box Set is all of the CC airchecks and jam sessions at Minton's. Add this to the Columbia box and you've got all of CC's recordings, except for his random sideman work with other artists such as Lionel Hampton, Edmund Hall, etc. Plus, it has my absolute favorite version of "Stardust" from a 1939 jam session. 

Oscar Aleman: Swing Guitar Masterpieces 1937-1957 (Acoustic) - This 2 CD set contains the most Oscar Aleman recordings available outside of Argentina. For those unfamiliar, Oscar was an Argentine contemporary of Django Reinhardt, who also played in Josephine Baker's band. He's a creole finger-style version of Django, and totally badass. Here, go listen to this in the mean time.

Monday
Jan112010

Good Songs to Start With

This is another updated post from the old blog....

There was a thread on the Django Swing Page forum - www.hotclub.co.uk - about good songs for beginners. I thought I should put something here about good songs to start with for players new to the style. Some of these good for practicing leads, some better for practicing rhythm, and most for both.

Here are some suggestions:
Bb Blues (PDF)
Bb Rhythm Changes (PDF)
Minor Swing (PDF) / Dark Eyes (PDF) / Blues en Mineur (PDF)
Honeysuckle Rose (PDF)
Rose Room (PDF) / I Can’t Give You Anything but Love (PDF)
Rosetta (PDF)
Dinah (PDF) / Lady Be Good (PDF)
All of me (PDF)

Here’s a little explanation as to why these can be helpful:

Blues: This is clearly something every jazz musician needs to know backwards and forward. Of course it is a good place to start since it contains only 3 chords at its most basic level.

Rhythm Changes: Now, this song does have a lot of chords during the A sections, but more often than not, I just consider them to be 8 bars of Bb when soloing. The ability to play over the most simple of changes is far more important in the long run, than being able to mechanically run through complex changes. Playing 8 bars of a single chord is a great way to make yourself play melodically. Changes create interest – when there are no changes you have to create the interest.

Minor Swing / Dark Eyes / Blues en Mineur: Each of these is a variation of a minor i-iv-V progression. You could basically play though the entire song with the harmonic minor scale. But you can also use arpeggios throughout. Either way, it is good training ground to balance chordal movement and scale-based playing.

Honeysuckle Rose: A great example of playing V-I tunes, like Sweet Sue, or You Rascal You. V-I is a very simple move, but since its so obvious and entirely diatonic it can be hard to play something that doesn't sound cliche or corny. Step one is to embrace the corny, and then move on. The bridge is also a classic set of movements, which will come up time and time again. I7-IV is classic as is the II7-V7. The best part is that all of the changes go by fairly slowly – only every 2 bars.

Rose Room / I Can’t Give You Anything but Love: Another song with classic movements you find all of the time. Both have a I7-IV-iv movement which is very classic. Additionally, each has a II7-V7 section, and I-IV7-ii-V movement as well. Again, here the chords don’t go by too fast.

Rosetta: More classic changes. I-V+-I-IV7-II7-V7-I. Each of these changes is classic. These changes do go by a bit faster. The bridge can basically considered a 4 bars of Am, then 4 bars of C going back to F.

Dinah / Lady Be Good – The A section is another lesson in I-V movment (although Lady has that IV chord). Each bridge has more common movements. Lady has a classic IV-iv-I movement along. Dinah has descending line cliche - i.e. the vi-vimaj7-vi7-vi6 movment (say, Em, Em/D#, Em/D, Em/C) - which is sometimes used in Lady Be Good as well (taking the place of the two bars of A7 during the bridge).

All of Me: This is the most complicated of the list. See my earlier post about the breaks down all of the changes. Again, the changes only come every two bars (mostly).

Some final thoughts:
I know when I started, so many modern jazz tunes have changes that go by 2-per-bar, and move in unfamiliar or novel ways. I found that I couldn't play melodies, but just mechanically run through the changes. Once I started playing the swing/hot jazz style, I found that the simpler and more conventional changes of the style allowed me to play melodies instead of simple hoping to get through the changes. Now I can handle more complicated changes because I know how to play melodies, not just run mechanical lines.



Monday
Jan112010

The 20 Essential Rhythm Guitar Voicings

Many of the better rhythm guitar books have a one page chart of the most used voicings. Frankly, if you threw out the rest of most books, and just used the chart, you'd be pretty much set for a career of rhythm guitar. 95% of rhythm guitar playing uses those most used voicings, and the other 5% can be done without.

Here is my version of that chart.

Click to enlarge image

20 Voicings (PDF)

A couple tips:

Major-chords: Always default to a maj6th voicing. It's the sound of swing.
Minor-chords: Always default to a min6th voicing, unless it's part of the ii-V, and then use the min7.
Diminished-chords: In a diminished chord, any note in the chord can be the root (Aº=A, C, Eb, Gb; Cº=C, Eb, Gb, A; etc.).

While we're at it, here's a couple of examples on a Bb Blues that use these voicings.

Simple Bb Blues (PDF)

Friday
Jan082010

(Re) Interpreting Swing Era Harmony - All of Me

One of the original posts on the old blog was an examination of a modern lead sheet, and de-bebop-ifying the chords (link).

If you've ever cracked a fake book to learn a tune, you might have noticed just how "hip" some of the songs are. Bebop has brought a host of new substitutions and complications, and moreover the basic default for harmony are unique to both early and later forms of jazz. To get the swing-style chords you will often have to de-bopify the changes, removing unecessary ii-V movements, and complex extensions. But at the most basic level you will have to reevaulate the types of chords used.

I think it's time to revisit the concepts mentioned, and cover them with a little more detail.

All of Me - Modern vs. Swing-Era (PDF)

The top staff shows chords that were taken directly from a leadsheet I found somewhere on the internet, and there is no exaggeration. The bottom staff is pretty standard way it would have been played during the Swing-era.

1. 6 kinds of chords

The concept of 6 types of chords goes back at least as far as Eddie Lang and his instructional manuals (which you can buy digital copies of at djangobooks.com). Each type of chord has a specific function. You can stack extensions and alterations on top of these chords, but the idea is that those extensions don't or even can't alter the function of the chord.The six types are:

Major
Minor
Dominant
Minor7th
Diminshed
Augmented (I might argue that Augmented chords are only used as funky dominant chords in swing, and therefore don't really need their own category)

Understanding the function and type of any chord is key to getting the harmony right, and that understanding will also help when approaching any song melodically as well.

2. Stylistic Defaults

Major - (generally I and IV chords in major keys) Swing musicians would always voice these as Major 6th chords, whereas Bebop and later jazzbos generally would voice these as Major7ths. Major7ths are very un-swing, and they've got to go.

Minor - (generally i and iv chords in minor keys) Swing arrangers always voiced these are Minor 6th chords, and bebopers would use a Minor 7th chord. Minor 7th chords have a "dorian" sound, which is not appropriate for the swing-era. Eddie Lang put minor 7th in their own category, and I agree. Always use a minor6th voicing unless the minor chord in question has the function of a minor 7 (see below)

Dominant - Dominant chords cycle backwards - it's just what they do. Dominant chords have a partner in crime, which is the Minor 7th chord. The only key is know when to let the dominant chord work solo.

Minor 7th - Minor 7th chords lead into a dominant chord, and just smooth out the voice leading. Swing harmony uses minor7th chords for vamps (like I6-vi7-ii7-V7), and cadences. Bebopers tend to cram them everywhere possible. Unless there is a vamp or you're coming to the end of the phrase, you should probably cut out the extra minor 7ths.

Diminished - Diminshed chords have role as a passing chord in both swing and bebop.

Augmented - Frankly the only time you see augmented chords in swing, they are basically colored V7 chords.

 

 

Thursday
Jan072010

Allan Reuss - The Unsung Hero of Swing Rhythm Guitar

Allan Reuss is easily the unsung of Swing Rhythm Guitar. Allan was a student of George Van Eps, who was playing with Benny Goodman band at the time. Van Eps did not want go out on the road with the Goodman band, so he offered his student to Goodman. Allan stayed with the Goodman band until 1938, and so was part of one of the most amazing bands and rhythm sections in swing - the Goodman band w/ Krupa, Harry James, Vido Musso, Ziggy Elman, Jess Stacy, etc. Later, Reuss played in the bands of Jimmy Dorsey, Harry James, Jack Teagarden and many others.

While Freddie Green is always heralded as the greatest of rhythm guitar players, I think Reuss should get far more credit than he does now. Not only did he contribute his own playing, but Allan was responsible for teaching at least two of the other great rhythm guitarists - Steve Jordan and Freddie Green himself!

From Steve Jordan's autobiography, "Rhythm Man: 50 Years in Jazz," (1991):

Freddie Green told me that Allan Reuss straightened out his rhythm work when he was first working with Count Basie, shortly before I went to Allan for help when I was twenty years old and playing with the Bradley-McKinley band. It may surprise some people to know that Green played only three or four strings most of the time. Like me, Freddie followed Allan's rule to avoid use of the first string, the top E, because it is too twangy. Freddie preferred the deep sounds and no one played those deep sounds as well as Freddie did.

I'm guessing that, based on other exerpts from Steve Jordan and others, Allan was probably taking some of the information from Van Eps and distilling it. Still, the voicings Allan taught Green and Jordan and others are the ultimate template for swing rhythm guitar.

I've been looking some video clips of Reuss playing, and it's pretty hard to see him clearly, but here's a couple clips.

Benny Goodman - "Bugle Call Rag" (1936)

Check out Allan's mid-30's Epiphone with a white pickguard. You can see him picking over the "neck pickup" area of the guitar.

Benny Goodman - "I've Got a Heartful of Music / Avalon / House Hop"

It might worthwhile to go listen to the studio takes of "House Hop", just so you can be fully aware of just how tight and jumping that video is. The rhythm section in the movie was the classic combo of Gene Krupa, Harry Goodman, Jess Stacy and Allan. Funny thing was that although Krupa was a star, neither he nor Harry Goodman were particularly good timekeepers. It was Reuss who was the glue and really got things pumping. When somebody told Benny that they had not realized how important Reuss had been until he was gone, Goodman's said simply, "Neither did we."

But talking only about Reuss's amazing rhythm guitar playing is only half the story. Reuss was also a chord melody soloist par excellence, but that will have to wait for another post.

Wednesday
Jan062010

Rhythm Guitar: I Can't Give You Anything But Love (advanced)

Since "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" has so many classic chord changes, it's a good showcase for many classic advanced rhythm guitar moves.

I Can't Give You Anything But Love - advanced (PDF)

Again, lets go through the changes:

1. Here, were using a very typical inversion more to set up the diminished passing chord. Jumping from a root position shape to the 1st inversion (meaning the 3rd in the bass) is a very common move. Also, the 1st inversion chord doesn't have a 7th, so it can be used with any major-type chord. Of course, the best part is how it moves into the diminshed passing chord.

2. In mm.8-9, I use a "tritone substitution" in passing from Eb7 to Ab7, stopping in between at an A7. If you look at the fingering shape, the only change is in the bass is Bb->A. Now, that could just be passing movement in the bass without calling it a new chord. But, sometimes that passing chord (which is a tritone away from the original chord - Eb->A is a flatted 5th) is drawn out for a longer duration. However, functionally, the A7 is just acting as a funky sounding Eb7.

3. In mm.9-11, this is what I call a "walk up." This a very common move over any dominant 7 chord. I learned this from John Reynolds at my first and only "lesson" with him (that story will be it's own post). Basically the middle two chords, E7->Bº, are just diminished passing chord. Although it says E7, I think the function is better described as a Bbº, which would be fingered exactly the same way, anyway. Finally, instead of playing the Db6 at the 4th fret, we play it at the 9th fret to finish the upward movement.

4. In mm.12-13, this is what I call a "walk down." This is done over a distance of a minor 3rd, such as a I->VI7 move (see mm.27-28), or in this case a IV->II7.

5. M.14, another 1st inversion chord, just to break up the static chord. You could walk this chord up, like we did in mm. 9-11, but we'd end up with an Eb7 chord at the 11th fret, which I find a bit too high.

6. Mm.17-23, same moves as last time.

7. MM. 25-26, these are the same chord as the simple version, just shifted up the neck following the "walk up."

8. MM. 27-28, here is the second "walk down", and this time with the roots on the A string.

9. MM. 31-32, this is a simple I-vi-ii-V vamp as a turn around. Notice that the vi7 (Fm7) voicing is the same as the I in 1st inversion (Ab/C). That can be very handy. In fact, even the full chords of a I6 and a vi7 have exactly the same notes (i.e. Ab6=Ab, C, Eb, F - Fm7=F, Ab, C, Eb). You will see some modernized changes where they call for a vi7 chord, where in reality you could just as easily play a I6.\

Gives these moves a run through and see what happens. Your comments are always welcome.

Wednesday
Jan062010

Rhythm Guitar: I Can't Give You Anything But Love

A great tune to start learning both swing rhythm guitar and swing harmony is "I Can't Give You Anything But Love." The tune's chords don't move too fast, and every one of the chordal movements are classic swing moves.

I Can't Give You Anything But Love (PDF)

First, take a look at the chord extensions used for proper swing harmony.

1. Note that the I and IV chords (Ab and Db) are both voiced as 6th chords. This definite of Swing harmony - Bebop harmony would always go with a maj7 instead.

2. Notice that all minor chords are minor 6 chords, unless they are part of a vi7-ii7 move or a ii7-V7 move. Minor7 chords imply a Dorian sound (which is very bebop - think Miles Davis' "So What"), and were only used in during the swing era for backcycling, like in a I6-vi7-ii7-V7 sequence.

Second, let's take the changes transition-by-transition.

1. The first 4 bars is a classic I-biiiº-ii7-V7 sequence. When moving from I to ii7, a diminished passing chord is very common, and you can approach the ii7 from half step in either direction (in Ab, either a Aº or Bº, going to the Bbm7). In this song, the melody happens to fit better over the Bº, so we'll stick with that. (but the melody will be another post).

2. After repeating the first 4 bars, the next eight are a classic I7-IV6-II7-V7 sequence. This sequence is found in all sorts of songs, not the least of which is the bridge to "Honeysuckle Rose." Now, bear with me on the numbers for a second - the I7 (which functions as V chord) goes to the IV6 (which is now the I, at least temporarily) - this basically just V-I move in disguise. The II7-V7 move is just another classic backcycle. Stopping in between at ii7, is just a way to smooth out the movement.

3. After repeating the first 4 bars again, the next sequence is again classic. Again there's a I7-IV6 move, but this time it's followed by a IV6-iv6-I6 sequence. As with the diminished passing chord above, the movement suggested by the IV-iv move, could also go the other direction, and instead be IV-#ivº (which would be Db6-Dº). You can find this move in many turnarounds, and especially in any song based on "Rhythm Change" (i.e. the chords to "I Got Rhythm").

4. Finally, the last move is more classic backcycling. I-VI7-ii7-V7 can be found in countless songs. The I-VI7 move contains one important voice leading movement, which is the root raising a half step (the Ab from the Ab6 chord becomes an A natural in the F7 chord). Once you get to the F7 chord, it's all just backcycling from there.

We'll come back to this tune and work through some more complex rhythm guitar voice leading.

Tuesday
Jan052010

Playing with the band - Youtube clips

For anybody who is not familar with my work with the Campus Five, here's a good video that shows how my guitar playing interacts with the band. This is one set of the Campus Five playing at the Cicada Club in downtown Los Angeles. You can see how I mainly play rhythm guitar on my Eastman, but will swtich to the faux-Gibson or LeVoi as the song demands.

Tuesday
Jan052010

New Youtube Clips

Here are some clips of me playing solo, and playing over some playalong tracks.

"On the Sunny Side of the Street" - solo chord melody

"I Can't Give You Anything But Love" Take 1 - single note electric solo

"I Can't Give You Anything But Love" Take 2 - single note electric solo

Tuesday
Jan052010

GEAR: What I Play

Tools don't make an artist great. But, there is a right tool and a wrong tool for the job, and having right tool makes the job a whole lot easier. I've been at this for nearly 10 years, and I think it's appropriate to share my thoughts on gear. The easiest way to start is to show you what I play.

Eastman AR805 (2004)

This is my main guitar, and it is amazing. It is a 16" non-cutaway archtop in the original L-5 style, except that it is X-braced. Cutaway guitars always have less acoustic response, and so this guitar has nothing to limit it's acoustic potential. 16" archtops have less fullness and roundness than 17" archtops - and in a band setting, I find that extra lows and low mids are covered up and lost. 16" guitars are more like a knife, slicing through between the bass/bass drum and the horns/right hand piano. 16" guitars seem to carry more, since there's less boominess to have to project.

I'm big on vintage aesthetics, so the original "chuck wayne" style pickguard had to go. I replaced it with a guard from www.archtop.com, which is modeled one from a pre-1935 Gibson L-7.

At times I have used a DeArmond Guitar Mic floating pickup, but I haven't found a way to mount it that would allow the guitar's top to vibrate freely. The guitar is so amazing acoustically, and it's really a shame to interfere with that.

Finding a new non-cutaway archtop is pretty hard nowadays, and Eastman is a fantastic choice.

John LeVoi 12-Fret Petite Bouche (2002)

I found this guitar at Buffalo Brothers in San Diego. It was unusual guitar - Petite Bouche guitars are 14-fret, while Grande Bouche guitars are usually 12-fret. 14-fret Grande Bouches are a fairly common hybrid, but going the other way is almost unheard of. The guitar is insanely figured, with a bearclaw spruce top, and bird's eye maple back, and aa flamed maple neck. Honestly, figured woods and short scale are not really my thing, but it's a great guitar and I got a great deal, and so it's been with me ever since.

I play it on Django-type songs with the Campus Five, and because of it's higher timbre, I sometimes use it when I need to fake a banjo.

The original owner asked for both a Highlander pickup and a McIntyre Feather pickup. Neither really sounds that great, and so I always just mic the guitar.

Washburn "Frankenstein" ES-150 Clone (1990's)

Photo by Samuel Chan

This guitar was a strange ebay find - a wonderfully strange ebay find. The original owner apparently decided to take a mid-90's Washburn HB15 and make a Gibson EH-150 clone out of it. The pickup is a vintage CC pickup that was refurbished, so not all of the pick up is totally original. The original owner did an amazing job of cloning a Gibson - he reshaped the headstock, put on the Gibson logo, added vintage knobs, and the right pickguard.

But of course, I really care about the sound - and it sounds awesome! I had been dissatisfied with my electric tone for a long time, and using this guitar was the first time I was satisfied with my electric tone in a long time.

Tone, especially electric tone, is an important part of the equation. The ideas that come into my head and fingers are directly related to the tone coming out of the instruments. Most jazz boxes have humbuckers, and that tone has stopped doing it for me. The sound of a CC pickup really allows to channel Charlie Christian - which is exactly the kind of sound I'm after.

Gibson EH-185 (1939)

My main amp is a 1939 Gibson EH-185. It's a transitional model from 1939, and it's actually label as an EH-150 (at the time Gibson was going to be replacing the 150, instead of adding another model). It has mic and instrument channels, and master treble and bass knobs.

My bass player, Wally Hersom, went over the electronics and refreshed them, replacing some blown caps, but its otherwise all original. It's surprisingly durable, despite being over 70 years old.

Everything I said about CC pickups when talking about the Washburn goes double when plugging one into a real CC amp.

I worry about the amp, so right now I'm considering cloning it. The first hard part will be getting all of the electronic components for the amp circuit, but the second hard part will be finding a vintage field coil speaker. I think the field coil speaker is an integral part of the sound of these amps.

Strings and things

On all of the archtops I use .013 gauge sets, but I swap out the high E and B strings with a .014 and an .018. On the Eastman, I use Martin SP 80/20 strings. 80/20 strings sound warmer and more vintage than Phosphor Bronze, which is much more common nowadays. On the electric I just use regular old D'Addario Nickel. For the Selmer-style, I use either real Savarez Argentines (.011 gauge), with ball ends. While I really don't have any tonal concerns about ball vs. loop end, I get ball so that I can use the strings on another guitar if there's an emergency.

I go back and forth on picks between the Wegen Fatone and the Red Bear New Tortis. The Fatone has amazing power and fullness, and is essential when playing in less than ideal acoustic situations.

Alternatively, I use the Red Bear Tortis (GJ size, standard bevel, B shape) especially for chord melody stuff, Allan Reuss-style solos, and the like - basically anywhere where I don't want to be slamming the strings into the fingerboard. The Red Bear is brighter and cleaner than the Wegen. I definitely do NOT like the "speed bevel" that can be ordered on the Red Bear, it makes the tone way too bright and thin for my taste.

Microphone - Rode NT-3

Photo by Samuel ChanI'm a purist, yes. And that means I play acoustic guitar into a microphone - a pretty darn good microphone actually. The Rode NT-3 is the perfect mic for what I'm looking for.

I need a condenser mic, because dynamic mics are generally made for vocals, and have far too much of a "proximity effect" (artifically increased bass response, increasing exponentially in relation the closeness of the sound source). That proximity effect sounds great for vocals, but not on already boomy archtops. Further, even if you eq out the proximity effect, dynamics loose volume exponentially if you move away from them - which means shifting in your seat could cause significant volume shifts. Condensers are far more forgiving regarding positioning.

There are feedback issues with condensers, and I have developed strategies for dealing with feedback. It's well worth the trouble, because the tone is outstanding. I've had non-guitar playing musicians in the band give me complements on the tone my guitar coming through the PA.

Unlike a regular small diapraghm "pencil" condenser, the NT-3 is internally shockmounted, so it has a minimum of handling noise. Also, it does require phantom, but it has a battery compartment, so you plug into a system that doesn't provide phantom - this is very helpful when plugging into an acoustic guitar amp for smaller gigs without a PA.

Finally, the NT-3 has an on/off switch, which seems like an ameteur level feature, but I find it to be essential. The NT-3 picks up a lot when you're not playing guitar through it, and especially in between songs it can amplify all of the stage conversation. More over, I often have to lean forward to turn pages in our book, which could mean leaning into the mic, and causing feedback. Having an on/off switch is an easy solution to that problem. Plus, it means not having to count on the sound guy to turn you off.

Tuesday
Jan052010

Why New Bands Don't Sound Old - UPDATED

This was a post that I originally wrote in a thread on swingdjs.com back in 2005, and then added it to the old blog. Since its been over 4 years since then, I figured I re-post it and annotate some of the developments in my thinking.

As a bandleader and musician who's tried SO frickin' hard to get that vintage sound, both live and in the studio, let me share a couple of things I've figured out - God knows I've still got more to learn.

1. The Beat - The "swing" feel of late 30's-early-40's swing is different that the modern jazz "swing" feel of almost all post-1945 jazz. The stacato 4-feel of Swing changed into the the more legato shuffle of post war jazz. All of the modern recordings outside of the "trad-jazz" scene have a modern feel. Even all the great swing soloist's 1950's recordings are all "swingin'" rather than "Swing". It's more than on(or ahead of) the beat vs. behind the beat, but that certainly is true. Three things are responsible for this:

The first update is that I would classify all three of these factors as symptoms and signs of the same change - de-emphasis of what they used to call a "dance beat."

- The ride cymbal/bop drumming: Swing Drumming (from watching Josh Collazo on every gig) involves four-beat bass drum, and four-beats on the snare or time on the hi-hat. Very choppy. Because of the flowing ride cymbal, the choppy four feel was smoothed out. Plus the bass drum left four-to-the-floor duty so it could be free to comp and drop "bombs". The beat lays back because of this, giving that slinky feel that a lot of "groove" dancers like.

I'd put the lack of 4-on-the-floor bass drum as way more important that the ride cymbal, per se. Josh Collazo and Hal Smith spend enough time playing ride cymbal, but they do it while playing strong 4-beat bass drum.  But I'd still say that emphasis on the ride cymbal as the time keeper is a big anachronistic red flag.

- steel bass strings/legato bass: Listen to Walter Page, then listen to Ray Brown. Page goes "dunk-dunk-dunk-dunk" - very staccato, choppy. He's playing his gut strings as hard as he can to project over the (large) band. Now, listen to Ray, he's playing "doo-doo-doo-da-doo," each note blending into the next, very legato. Again the beat will lay back because of this. Guys can play either feel on either string, but steel strings allowed bass players to lay back so they were originaly responsible for the change in sound.

I think this part sounded too much about the gear, and not enough about the change in philosophy. The steel vs. gut dichotomy is reflective of the difference in sound. I'm not sure if the advent of steel strings really led players to change, but the use of either string makes it a lot harder to play the alternative style.

- lack of rhythm guitar: although I'm partial to rhythm guitar for obvious reasons, its essential to a 30's-40's swing feel. Bear in mind that Freddie Green chunked his whole life through the Basie band and "Corner Pocket" doesn't swing like Basie in the 30's-40's. Rhythm guitar helps to chop up the rhythm, but it can't change a whole band playing in a modern style. Oh, and electric guitars don't count. They just do not work timbre-ally.

To be honest, rhythm guitar is part and parcel of Swing, and it doesn't belong in modern jazz. It runs contrary to the whole feel. I still need to a full post on the abomination that is playing Freddie Green rhythm on an electric guitar (and how to do it right if you have no choice).

2.Old vs. Modern instruments - Swing (ie the 30's-40's sound) was largely pre-amplification. The reference point for volume was an acoustic piano - The loudest a band could get had to take into account the maximum volume of a piano. As microphones, sound systems and guitar amps got better and louder, other instruments changed to keep up with their electricifed collegues. Drums in particular, are vastly different today. Today's drums and also cymbals are made to keep up with amplified music - they are decidedly louder. It is impossible to play swing drums on modern equipment. I did two gigs on drums, borrowing Josh Collazo's kit, and got compliments from the other guys on the gig. I go into Guitar Center and sound stupid on their modern kits. (pause for jokes about my drumming) A vintage kit, and one set up vintage (heads, cymbals, etc.) are essential to play the style.
All of the other variations with horns are responsible, but I think drums and bass are the two most important.

I still think the difficulty in finding old-school style gear makes it difficult to for others out there to play in the old-school way, but it can be done. A good analogy is having the right tool for the job - can one use a slot-head screwdriver on a philips-head screw? Usually, but often the job can be done better or easier with a phillips screwdriver. Lately, Josh Collazo's drum set has been set up for his gig with Edward Sharpe, which is totally "wrong" for swing. Nonetheless, Josh has been swinging so hard our last couple gigs. If you're one of the best swing musicians in the world, then you could probably make anything swing. The rest of us can benefit from making the job easier.

3.Isolated Recording vs. Room Recording - The sound of a live band is the combined sounds of all the instruments interacting together in the air and then reaching your ears. The sound of modern recording is all of the instruments mic'd individually, and interacting in the sound system artificially. Appearently the overtones don't ring out right, or something -on one level this is pretty audiofile stuff, most people can hear some difference. The organic vintage sound of Mora's Cd's (www.morasmodern.com), or Swing Session's, or my own Cd is due to room recording. Everyone is the same room, with all of the frequencies interacting organically picked up by one or two mics - just like they did back in the day.
The guy who recorded Mora's and my CD (who also plays trumpet with the Chicago Six) uses a MS stereo pair to get the room sound. If something needs a boost, he has everythig mic'd individually for safety, but 99% of what you hear is just the room sound.

This is a much smaller part of the puzzle for me at this point. Good recording techniques of all kinds can be used, so long as the goal is to make the band sound natural. Once you start trying to "improve" or "alter" things, you're going to run into trouble.

I could write a book about this stuff, so I've had to simplify a bit, but I really find these to be the case. Most musicians don't really bother with the specifics of the genre, but that "Swing" feel vs. "swing" feel issue really prevades every musician. 99% percent of the musicians in this city (or any city) can't play or don't try to play with a real "Swing" feel.
There's a reason some of the same guys show up in the different bands. I find that Western Swing bass players are better for Swing than most jazz players, because they are more dedicated to the style. Hope that helps explain the discrepancy.

This last thing is still very true. 99% of the jazz musicians out there not only don't play with an old-school swing sound and feel, but they don't want to. Modern jazz has an orthodoxy (what I call the "striaght-ahead problem"), and Swing-style rhythm is not part of that orthodoxy.

Sunday
Aug302009

Welcome to the New Swing Guitar Blog

Welcome to the new home of Jonathan Stout's Swing Guitar Blog. The original can still be found at www.swingguitar.blogspot.com - and it still contains some great articles, lessons, and gear reviews. But over time, many of the links died and many of the uploads were lost. Also, my understanding and conception of many topics have evolved and matured. Thus, I decided it was time to start over.

Here's the mission statement from the old blog:

"Swing Guitar" covers all of the types of jazz guitar playing and players from the Swing Era (roughly 1935-1945) and later players in the Swing style. The style has several different facets - Rhythm Guitar - Single String Lead Guitar - Chordal Rhythm Solos - etc. Some of the guitar players we'll talk about are Freddie Green, Charlie Christian, Allan Reuss, Django Reinhardt, George Van Eps, Oscar Moore, Carmen Mastren, Eddie Lang, Dick McDounough, Carl Kress, Al Casey, Irving Ashby, Dave Barbour, and numerous others.

Among the stuff I have planned:

1. a PDF fakebook of common swing tunes - both for learning the tunes and for illustrative purposes
2. video and audio examples of a real swing rhythm section playing
3. more examples of Freddie Green-style rhythm guitar chords
4. updated links and reviews of swing guitar-related resources
5. more gear news, reviews and epiphanies
6. more articles about swing-era rhythm and harmony

Welcome or welcome back!

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