Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Bass Picture of the Week (March 30th)

Here's another photo from the Life photo archive on Google. The caption reads "A man playing the bass at the Refuge Temple.(New York, NY, April 1958)"

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The R-word

As a parent of an autistic boy, I've always been sensitive to the use of the word "retard" regardless of context. With the recent brouhaha regarding President Obama's reference to the Special Olympics, there has been increased attention to the Special Olympics, and particularly their campaign to eliminate the use of the "R-word". Here's the article from CNN, and the web site of the Special Olympics where you can pledge to stop using the word.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Bass Picture of the Week (March 23rd)

I'm out of town next week so here's and early posting of Edith Piaf. I can only hope she's expressing her intense joy over the bassist engaging in what looks like a slap.

Another Great Paul Chambers Video

Here's another video of Paul Chamber (a follow-up to a previous post). This one with the John Coltrane Quartet playing On Green Dolphin Street. Again, check out Paul's acro solo. I found it interesting where he placed slurs and hooked bowings. I'll have to watch it a few more times to get the ideas written down in my transcription of this solo.

Great Video of Paul Chambers

I recently came across the video below of John Coltrane with Wynton Kelly, Jimmy Cobb and Paul Chambers. I've always thought that Paul Chambers deserves more credit than he receives (something echoed by Marcus Miller in a recent blurb in Down Beat).

What makes this video intriguing to me is that Chambers takes two solos in the video. The first (at about 3:00) is an arco solo. This gives a chance to see his bowing technique. There are books of transcribed arco solos (e.g., Jim Stinnett's books), but these don't tell you much about how Chambers articulated the notes or what his bowings looked like. The second solo (at about 6:30) is a pizzicato solo. Both solos are great, along with the playing of Kelly and the others. Enjoy.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Solo to Orchestral Transcriptions

I'm often faced with the following problem: I play in orchestral tuning but have a piece I want to play (e.g. Hindemith sonata) that is written for solo tuning. I don't want to re-tune my bass and can't afford the time/money of switching to a set of solo strings (which I think sound much better than an orchestral set ratcheted up a notch) just to play a few pieces. So what do I do?

For Bottesini's Elegy, there is a Frank Proto edition in which he includes two piano scores: one to accompany each of a bassist in orchestral and solo tuning. This seems to me like a great solution. Well, I just cam across Douglas Mapp Music which offers piano transcriptions for many of the pieces in the repetoire. The pieces look good and seem, to me, reasonably priced.

I'll let you know how my first order goes.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Double-Stops Masterclass

I've been working on some new techniques, including slapping and developing my technique with respect to double stops. I found a useful "masterclass" written by John Goldsby in several 2007 issues of Double Bassist magazine (now defunct and incorporated into the Strad). The Strad has been kind enough to make these articles available on its web site. The articles by John Goldsby are great. Lots of good ideas for developing a good double-stop techique. I've been doing scales using thirds and fifths double-stops (something suggested by Goldsby). While the articles focus on jazz playing, the ideas are equally applicable to other genres (classial and rockabilly).

Also included on the site is a masterclass by Owen Lee on the double bass solos in Mahler 1 and Prokofiev's Lieutenant Kije suite.

Finale Carbon Fiber Bows

I have been using a Finale carbon fiber bow (from the String Emporium) for a while now. I have to say that I am really impressed with this bow. The bow is very responsive and produces a great sound. For off the string playing, its great, much more alive than other synthetic (non-wood) bows. Plus, the price is awesome ($350 or so plus a great case and the rosin of your choice).

Here's a video of Jason Heath (Contrabass Conversations) demonstrating the bow and demonstrating its sound relative to a more expensive bow.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Great Jazz Video Site

Have you ever spent more time than you expected searching through YouTube videos? I've lost hours of time seeking out footage of Mingus or watching Ray Brown's masterclass on YouTube. Well, now someone has done the searching for you. (The viewing is all up to you.) A new site by Brad Sharp lists all sorts of great artists and their YouTube video performance. Best of all (I think), its sorted by instrument. Warning: Make sure you have some time set aside before getting started on the site.

I've suggested that he add Scott LaFaro to his list. Although there is not a lot of Scott on YouTube, there are a few videos. The one below is short, but dynamite! What a bassist!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

And my parents tought a regular degree in music was worthless

When I was an undergraduate, I wanted to pursue a degree in music. My parents were totally against it and, under pressure, ended up pursuing a degree in accounting. Talk about a 180. Anyways, its long story and has a happy ending.

Moving beyond my parents, imaging what they would have thought if I pursued the following:

Liverpool Hope University has launched a brand new MA in The Beatles, Popular Music and Society, the first of its kind in the world.

The new course, which can be studied both full and part time, covers four modules with specific issues relating to The Beatles and Popular Music, consisting of four 12-week taught modules, plus a dissertation.

Mike Brocken, Senior Lecturer in Popular Music at Hope, said 'There have been over 8,000 books about The Beatles but there has never been serious academic study and that is what we are going to address.

'Forty years on from their break-up, now is the right time and LIverpool is the right place to study The Beatles. This MA is expected to attract a great deal of attention, not just locally but nationally and we have already had enquiries from abroad, particularly the United States.

''The Beatles, Popular Music and Society' marks a seminal advance in popular music studies. For the first time in the UK and possibly the world, a postgraduate taught course is offered to research into The Beatles, the city from which they emerged, the contexts of the 1960s, technology, sound and songwriting and the industries that have set up in their wake to capitalise on tourism in the city of Liverpool.'

For further information, please call the postgraduate enquiry line on 0151 291 3389.

Bowmaker Zdzislaw Prochownik

I've been looking to buy a new bow for some time now. I came across the bowmaker Zdzislaw Prochownik, who happens to also be the principal bassist in Winnipeg. After I inquired about is bows, he sent me two bows: a 119g pernambuco bow and a 123g massaranduba. Both bows are exceptional: great curve, excellent balance and a real life to them. I ended up purchasing the massaranduba as I preferred the feel of it and it made my bass sing. I really liked the feel of the wood. I was not familiar with massaranduba before.

If you're looking for a bow in Canada, particularly a Canadian-made bow, check out Mr. Prochownik's work.

Monday, March 2, 2009

R. Murray Schafer wins the Governor General's award

Congratulations to R. Murray Schafer who has been awarded the 2009 Governor General's Performing Arts Awards for Lifetime Artistic Achievement. Mr. Shafer is a composer and educator who I first encountered when studying the World Soundscape Project. This project was, at least initially, driven by Shafer's studies of noise pollution. I later read his book The Soundscape which extended these ideas into thinking about an evironment's soundscape as a compositional tool or an orchestral component. (I've tried to use some of these ideas in my own compositions, with much less success that those of Shafer.)

Many of his ideas are included in what I think is his most famous composition, The Princess and the Stars. This piece is based on Native American folklore and must be performed around a lake, therby incorporating the natural soundscape of the lake. In fact, it was once performed in nearby Banff National Park. I've heard that a bootleg recording of that performance resides somewhere on the University of Calgary campus.

Thirft Stores and the Recession

As people start grappling with the recession, they look for means of saving money. This usually means cutting back on purchases and holding on to items a bit longer than maybe one would in more abundant times. As a result of this behavior, thrift stores in Calgary (and elsewhere) are feeling a pinch. Paraphrasing from an article in the Calgary Herald (March 1 2009):

Calgary's social agencies are issuing calls for donations of household items as the recession begins to pinch city residents.

"We've noticed that people are not going out and buying new things; they're hanging onto what they have," said Sparrow. "We're also seeing new faces in our stores." At the same time, the agency has experienced a 20 per cent increase in demand for its Free Goods Referral program. Women in transition or coming out of a crisis are referred to the program by one of 60 community agencies and provided a voucher to obtain clothing and household items at a Women In Need thrift store. Sparrow's organization especially needs dishes, pots and pans, linens, flatware, as well as clothing and accessories, she said. Its Dover-area store also takes furniture. "We're hoping that when people start thinking about spring cleaning, they think about us and donate," said Sparrow.

It's an about-face from the boom, when thrift stores struggled to cope with a flood of donations. Some turned donors away and a few hired security guards to prevent people from dumping unwanted goods on their doorsteps.

Beth Heyd, operations manager of The Salvation Army's Thrift Stores, estimates donations of household goods have dropped by half. Normally, there'd be a dozen sofas in the furniture section of the Salvation Army's Horizon Heights stores at 36th Street and 32nd Avenue N. E., she said, but only one or two couches were available on Thursday. "My theory is that you'll give second thought to buying that new sofa if you're worried about getting laid off," said Heyd. Donations of used clothing remain strong, but she's noticed an increase in professionals, especially women, shopping for used business wear at the thrift stores.

Likewise, the Calgary Drop-In and Rehab Centre put out a call for donations of linens for the 2,000 homeless people who pass through its doors every day. "We are in desperate need of towels and blankets," said Louise Gallagher, director of public relations and volunteer services for the drop-in centre.

Personally, I get most of my gig clothes from thift stores. My wife and I did a big clean out of our closets today, taking several bags of clothing to a local thrift store. Next time you're struggling to get through your closet, think about doing the same.