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Monday
Feb162015

[REVIEW] Thailand International Jazz Conference 2015 

This year I attended the Thailand International Jazz Conference 2015. It was an epic 3-day event that blew my mind, inspired and made me so many things. I decided to write this blog post as a highlight reel for anyone curious about how the event was like. I definitely recommend jazzers (both fans and performers) to attend this yearly event. 

This blog post is divided into 2 parts:
a) The Workshops
b) The Concerts

Here it goes... 

a) The Workshops

I attended most of the workshops but will focus on lessons I learned from 7 workshops for this blog post.

WORKSHOP 1:
Passakorn Morasilpin: Saxophone

I couldn’t really follow what Passakorn explained during the workshop but tried my best to learn directly from his playing. I learned some ideas for jazz improvisation from an example he played for a tune (I think it was All The Things You Are). Here’s an excerpt from I observed...

Jazz improvisation lessons from watching Passakorn:

  • Play melody and displace notes rhythmically for tension

He started off by just playing the melody of the song. Then, he displaced the rhythms to create interest in the melody. It was interesting to hear how he sustained the melody notes. It was longer than what I would usually hear myself play. 

  • Embellish melody notes to create thematic solo

Then, he started embellishing the melody notes. This part of the solo was cool because you could still follow the melody as it was only slightly disguised.

  • Play melody in different octaves 

Next up, he started playing the melody in different octaves. I think some parts of the melody was displaced but not all.

  • Transpose melody to create thematic solos 

I heard this during a very small segment of the melody. This is one of my favorite thematic improvisation techniques so it was very cool to hear Passakorn use this in his example.

 

WORKSHOP 2: 
Peter Slavov Performance, Rhythm Section Interaction, Contemporary Jazz Bass and Improvisation

Peter talked about different aspects of how he looked at the bass and rhythm section. The highlight for me was the opportunity to play with Peter on stage and get feedback on my playing. We played over a blues and Peter gave feedback about our solos. It was Toro Cheng on piano, Julian Chan on sax and myself on guitar.

 

WORKSHOP 3: 
George Garzone’s Workshop

With The George Garzone Trio: Francisco Mela, George Garzone and Peter Slavov. [Photo by Yin]

Garzone is a genius. Basically everything he said in the workshop was pure wisdom. Here’s what I remember:

  1. Your sound is the most important thing
  2. People will not remember what you play but the sound you have will stay in their minds
  3. When playing ballads, just play the melody
  4. (For saxophonists) The future of your music is dependent on your long tone.
  5. It’s not what you play, it’s how you play it.
  6. (For saxophonists) The articulation is in your fingers, not in your tongue.

 

WORKSHOP 4: 
Drum Masterclass with Francisco Mela

Francisco Mela’s energy is infectious! The best part about his workshop was the clarity of his message and how his playing punctuated his message. Here’s what I got from his session:

  1. Sound is money
  2. The most important element in jazz is swing
  3. The voice of a jazz drummer is in the ride cymbal
  4. Play and listen - eliminate what you don’t like about your playing

 

WORKSHOP 5: 
Matt Brewer: Organizing Improvisation

I digested three main points from bassist Matt Brewer’s workshop:

  1. Create actual musical statements (using motivic improvisation)
  2. It takes patience to develop a single musical idea
  3. Be patient, transcribe and model your improvisation using this organized improvisation concept

 

WORKSHOP 6: 
Lage Lund: Voice Leading and Moving Inner Voices

My jazz guitar student Chee Seng, Lage Lund and myself after the workshop. [Photo by Yin]

Lage Lund’s workshop was called Voice Leading and Moving Inner Voices. However, the coolest part was how open Lage to questions from the audience. I managed to ask three questions on his approach to melodic improvisation. My main takeaways were:

  • Use voicings as a basis for melodic ideas

I was very fascinated with how Lage Lund created long melodic lines so I asked him how he created those. He said then to him there was no difference between voicings and lines. Then, he demonstrated how he used different voicings melodically. It was very cool.

  • Embellish voicings with approach notes to create more chromatic ideas

From this basic voiceled voicings idea, he showed how he expanded his lines with approach notes. He started with just a single approach note and then added more approach notes (diatonic and chromatic) into two or all three of the notes of the voicing.

  • How to use different notes beyond standard chord extensions

Lage also explained how over time he started to hear different notes as extensions of standard chords. He used b7 over a Major7 chord as example. He played a low-voiced 3rd inversion CMaj7 chord followed by a CMaj7 arpeggio that ended on a Bb on the 2nd octave. I’m not sure what he played in between but basically the Bb sounded like a tension over CMajor7. Interesting stuff!
 

WORKSHOP 7: Nial Djuliarso / Robert Mulyarahardja: Sounding Good Quickly with People You’ve Never Met/Played Before

It was very cool to watch Nial Djuliarso and Robert Mulyahardja perform during their session. It was great to hear Robert play again after not seeing him for years. I remember him from our time at Berklee and how we had some classes together, advanced harmony classes with Steve Rochinski to be specific! We also managed to jam together in a very acoustic session earlier in the morning, much in the spirit of their workshop topic.

Nial pointed out some great advice. Two key points that I remember clearly include:

  1. Choose songs that everyone knows (not Pinocchio by Wayne Shorter for instance)

  2. Play shorter solos

  3. Have a meal together with your all the band members for the event before you play - this is so you can get to know each other before you even play a note together. Chemistry can make a huge difference in the performance

Nial is a very prominent jazz pianist who I’ve heard about over the years though we never met in person until this year’s TIJC. I really look forward to playing with both of them in the future!

The Concerts

Friday, January 30, 2015

Silpakorn University Jazz Orchestra had amazing energy. Like many of the jazz orchestras and big bands I would hear over the next few days, they were awesome. It made me miss playing in a jazz orchestra and reminded me of my time playing in the San Jose State University Jazz Orchestra. Next up, Passakorn Morasilpin’s group performance introduced me to jazz vocalist Natt Buntita. Her vocal style combines world music and jazz sounds in an elegant manner. I loved how her voice became a part of the instrumental texture. It reminded me of the kind of jazz vocals I loved. Part Esperanza Spalding with hints of Gretchen Parlato, and definitely a lot of her own personality. Passakorn’s playing was powerful and he played with a beautiful tone throughout his set.

For the Silpakorn Faculty Jazz Ensemble’s set, I heard so many interesting sounds and songs. A highlight for me was the jazz guitar of Dan Phillips who I met just less than an hour before he took the stage. Thanks toJulian Chan for introducing me to him! As Dan played, I was enamoured by his clear lines and distinct rhythmic phrasing. Right after that set, I went looking for his CDs and bought two of his recent ones. The next night, I bought his instructional DVD as well.

The George Garzone Trio was an intense end to the night. There was amazing chemistry in the band. Every single note that Garzone played was clear and beautiful. 

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Chai & The Blues Maniacs Featuring Nurse was a fun electric blues set. It felt longer than I expected. Still, it was a good addition to the daytime workshop session I attended. Den Euprasert's Project R was high energy and I love Denny's playing. I particulary loved how he developed his solos.

Closing the second night was Lage Lund Trio’s hypnotic set. To me, his trio performance was more akin to watching someone explore short stories. It wasn't playing standards in the more often seen melody-solos-melody form. Lage’s mastery of counterpoint, low-voiced chords added a conversational quality to his flowing lines. The chordal structures brings depth into the guitar trio format. It was a tight performance full of so many interesting ideas. It has made me into a serious fan. Not to miss out, I bought his instructional DVD right after the set. I’ve wanted it for a while but since it wasn’t available for shipping to Malaysia been unable to get it. Am working through it now and learning so much!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Mahidol University Jazz Orchestra was in full force with a strong sound. I only caught a little bit of their set. But, I  heard their soundcheck earlier during the day which was awesome! Jetset'er came up next with a mix of throwback 1980 to early 2000s pop and dance music sounds. I enjoyed their music. There were so many classic arrangements ideas throughout. Fun music full of life!

Pomelo Town's set was a saxophone battle extravaganza. Krit Buranavittayawut, Koh Mr.Saxman and Jakob Dinsen took turns playing lines in harmony (and jazzier discordant counterpoint at times) and then taking intense solos.

Jeff “Tain” Watts Quartet closed the festival with full swing (pun intended) playing tight arrangements that subtlely challenged the listeners. Odd-meters, metric modulations and all sorts of geeky jazzy goodness was abound. The most beautiful part was the closing when they surprised audiences with the Thai National Anthem. Playing it in their distinguished elegant way was the perfect end to a wonderful conference. Thank you to everyone at TIJC for organizing this event and it was great to be alongside fellow Malaysians there, celebrating and learning more about jazz - the art form that we love.

Peace! =)

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Friday
Jan162015

My first music video and first video lesson course!

2014 was all sorts of things for me. From performing in Thailand for the first time for the 4th Thailand International Ukulele Festival to being a part of the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra for the Pixar in Concert performance. I released two albums: Squirrels in Space's first release and In The Moment, a follow up to my 2013 electric guitar work 'in the deep night/electric poetry'.

Lots of stuff.

For 2015, January features 3 new releases from me, one is a music video directed by award-winning Khairil M. Bahar and two are part of my online education work. Here are the details:

1. MY FIRST MUSIC VIDEO: Wrecking Ball (Miley Cyrus Fingerstyle Guitar Cover)
 

First video of 2015, in collaboration with award-winning director Khairil M. Bahar - here's my take on Wrecking Ball by Miley Cyrus. Thanks to Khai for all his ideas - this was fun!

PS - Watch till the end of the video, there are some licks not to be missed. (LITERAL SPOILER ALERT: I actually lick the capo and guitar)

If you like the video, please share it. Thank you! =)

2. MY FIRST VIDEO LESSON COURSE: Fingerstyle Guitar 101: Intro to Right Hand Technique 

Fingerstyle Guitar 101: Intro to Right Hand Technique
Release Date: Monday, Jan 19 2015

For anyone who's always wanted to study with me but haven't yet, now you can study with me from your home, via this new video lesson course. 

In this course, you’ll learn 3 fingerstyle guitar pieces. These are intended to be short pieces tightly condensed with a lot of technical and musical information. Although you will be able to play these pieces after studying them in this course, the main goal is to actually understand the concepts behind them - to understand how I’m playing these pieces. The results you’ll get by really digging deep into the videos is that you’ll start to see what to practice and how to practice these techniques. Later on, you’ll be able to use the same techniques on songs you may already play or new ones with more conviction, better tone and stronger delivery.

There are 3 modules in this course. Each covers a particular approach of fingerstyle guitar playing. By understanding the strengths of each approach, you will be able to make a better decision on what technique you want to pursue further.

The course officially launches on Monday, Jan 19 2015 but there's a secret link for anyone who can't wait.

(HINT: It's at the video description of a certain music video you can watch. Okay, like this video here.)

3. Modern Jazz Improvisation Lesson Pack

Modern Jazz Improvisation Lesson Pack
Release Date: Monday, Jan 26 2015  

You'll get 100 hip jazz licks with lines in the style of...
• modern players like Tim Miller, Julian Lage, Carl Verheyen and Bryan Baker
• classic jazz & bebop stylings of Charlie Parker, Pat Martino, Garrison Fewell and Steve Rochinski
• ...AND as a bonus, you'll also get 3-chorus blues etude full of bebop and cool intervalic lines to spice up your jazz vocabulary.

COMING SOON at: http://www.azsamad.com/lessonpacks

 

Friday
Jan092015

New Video Lesson Course Coming Soon: Fingerstyle Guitar 101

Coming soon! =)

For any guitarist who wants to begin playing fingerstyle in 2015...

This is a video lesson course with notation/tab PDFs so you can study at your own pace at home. 

Az Samad Fingerstyle Guitar Academy
Intro to Right Hand Technique


• Imagine playing a melody on guitar and then adding the bassline - and then the chords to it.

• Imagine making it sound as if there were two or more guitarists playing but instead when people look, it's only one person and a guitar!

• Imagine creating a sound that's like an orchestra on a single guitar!
This is the world of fingerstyle guitar.

Names like Tommy Emmanuel, Don Ross, Chet Atkins, Michael Hedges, Alex de Grassi, Thomas Leeb, Sungha Jung, Mike Dawes and more all play their own brand of fingerstyle guitar. What unites them is an understanding of the fundamentals. How to hold the guitar, how to make the kind of sounds that makes people cry and get into a trance when you play guitar.

In this course, you’ll learn 3 fingerstyle guitar pieces. These are intended to be short pieces tightly condensed with a lot of technical and musical information. Although you will be able to play these pieces after studying them in this course, the main goal is to actually understand the concepts behind them - to understand how I’m playing these pieces. The results you’ll get by really digging deep into the videos is that you’ll start to see what to practice and how to practice these techniques. Later on, you’ll be able to use the same techniques on songs you may already play or new ones with more conviction, better tone and stronger delivery.

There are 3 modules in this course. Each covers a particular approach of fingerstyle guitar playing. By understanding the strengths of each approach, you will be able to make a better decision on what technique you want to pursue further.

More info coming soon! =)

In the meantime, check out lesson packs available here: 
http://www.azsamad.com/lessonpacks 

 

Monday
Nov102014

Siskiyou - Benny Lackner Trio (2014): A review by Az Samad

Benny Lackner Trio:

Benny Lackner piano and keys
Matthieu Chazarenc - drums
Jerome Regard - bass

Siskiyou is a county in California. It’s also the title for the new album from Benny Lackner Trio. I recently saw the trio live during their Kuala Lumpur leg of their Asian tour (for the tour, Paul Kleber was on bass). Listening to the album, I felt transported into a world of sound with dreamy atmospheres in Palau (track 3) and intense drive coupled with a spacious approach to soloing in Heartracer (track 6). Discovering the Mehldau connection (Lackner was a student of Mehldau), it made sense why I felt a similar sensibility throughout the album. The two covers in the album, Cygnet Committee (David Bowie) and Sugar Man (Rodriguez) are tastefully played with a sparse groove in the Bowie tune and a counterpoint with attitude approach in the Rodriguez cover.

In Song For Lucia, a calm spoken word quality to the solo gives a beautiful flow to the solo that Lackner takes. A more electronic energy come in on the title track Siskiyou, with the drums and synth bass sound in the foreground against the piano that stays more in the background of the mix until halfway in the tune. It’s almost as if there is a battle between the acoustic and the electric, the expected and the eclectic. Towards the end, the bass and the drums remain and goes to fade. Closing the album, Name Dropper echoes a groove reminisce of The Bad Plus meets Charlie Hunter in a elegant ballroom in New York. The dissonance really kicks in around 2:27 when a distorted solo crashes into this piano trio setting opening the floodgates for textural cacophony.

My favorite piece in the entire album is Heartracer. On repeat, the song has been stuck in my mind since I saw them live. I might cover this piece or write something inspired by it. There’s such a haunting beauty to it. For fans of Brad Mehldau, The Bad Plus and Esbjörn Svensson Trio, if you haven’t checked out Benny Lackner Trio, this is a good place to start.

Related Links:
Benny Lackner Trio on Facebook  
Benny Lacker's Official Website

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If you enjoyed reading this review, please sign-up for my mailing list to be informed of blog posts and more! You'll also receive a free EP! Thank you! =)

 

Thursday
Sep182014

10 Steps For Guitarists To Learn New Songs 

Occasionally, I get asked about how I practice for performances and recording sessions. A big factor is how much time I have to prepare for it. In most cases, I try to prepare as much as I can and as early as possible. Here are the 10 steps that I take to learn songs. 

1. If there are no lead sheets or charts of specific parts to learn, I find several versions of the same song to listen to. If there is a guitar part written out, I study the equipment requirements, guitar sound needed, technical requirements, range of the guitar part and note any difficult sections. After this, I try to find recordings of the song/orchestra piece if it is available. My main sources are usually YouTube and Spotify. 

2. I start off by listening to the most definite version of the song. I listen casually first, at this stage I just try to get the vibe, groove and feel of the song first.

3. After repeated listenings, I take out a piece of paper or open a blank Google document to write down the general song form. I look out for sections like the intro, verses, choruses, bridges, interludes, guitar solos and outro. I'll write or type this out so I can see the overall roadmap for the song.

[REAL LIFE EXAMPLE]
For a session recording for YouTube artist NanaSheme in her cover of John Legend's All of Me, I typed the entire songform in a spreadsheet file because it was easier to notate the bars using the program. The songform is heavily driven by the lyrics so I also wrote down key words to mark the different sections. You can watch the final result here: All of Me - John Legend (Cover By NanaSheme)

4. The next step is for me to count how many bars each of these sections are. I pay attention whether there are any odd meters, time signature changes and sometimes will notate if there are any rubato or sections that slow down or speed up.

5. I usually take a short break at this point or listen to the song casually again.

6. The next time involves figuring out the chord progression of the song. I work out section by section and listen closely to the bassline and chordal instruments. I also notate any essential rhythmic attacks that are important for the song.

7. After I have an overall idea of the chord progression, I then look out for any signature parts or background melodic lines that I might need to play. I often get gigs where I play in duo or small group settings. For these gigs, I often will try to cover the main background lines to create a fuller arrangement.

[REAL LIFE EXAMPLES]
When I played acoustic guitar in a trio to accompany Malaysian hip hop artist Altimet on his song, 'Bangkit' - I played an assortment of the keyboard lines and some of the horn parts. 

In The Great Malay Songbook, a project with vocalist Cheryl Tan, I played the background vocal parts to Bila Larut Malam in my guitar accompaniment. For our version of Zainal Abidin's Hijau, I follow the original bass line and keyboard part closely to get the feel closer to the original recorded version.

8. After I have a notated version of the piece, I then start practicing the song. I work on the piece as a whole first and then slowly zoom in to practice each section at a time. As I understand the piece more, I may correct my written chart and guitar parts. Common corrections for me include adding specific left and right hand fingerings, fixing the chord quality, writing down exact voicings and taking note of dynamics. 

9. I also will look at the lyrics of the song if available and consider that so that I can play the parts better in relation to the meaning of the piece.

[REAL LIFE EXAMPLE]
When I performed with Andy Flop Poppy for our Akustika I set at Dewan Filharmonik Petronas, I pay attention to the lyrics so I can see how the song fits with our other material in the set from a thematic standpoint. 

10. Lastly, I record my performance of the piece so that I can find any weak spots, mistakes and things to work on. At this point, I repeat the practice and recordings as many times as possible before the actual rehearsals with other musicians, the recording session or actual performance. At the rehearsals, I will also take note if I need to change any aspect of my guitar part. 

Basically, the whole process is cyclic. It requires a feedback loop to learn and then refine. It's a long process for me but it's what it takes for me to get ready for a well-prepared performance. 

Hope this helps you in your own learning & performance preparation. 

All the best!
Az

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