Monday, July 6, 2015

Guitarist Vic DeRobertis on Playing Like Jerry Garcia

Left-handed guitarist Vic DeRobertis of the New England based Grateful Dead tribute band "Playing Dead" shares some tips for playing like Jerry Garcia in this Guestlisted Guitar Lesson with Jeff Gottlieb.


Friday, July 3, 2015

Dawes' Taylor Goldsmith on The Grateful Dead

Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes (photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
The online-only Glide Magazine has posted an interview with Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes as part of its Easy Answers series.  Each installment of Easy Answers asks a (sometimes unexpected) musician to describe the importance of Grateful Dead music in his or her life.

It's no surprise to me that the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia have had a significant impact on Taylor Goldsmith - not just in his guitar playing which has elements of Garcia's touch, but also in his delivery of the rock ballad.  Nobody did that better than Jerry, but Dawes comes pretty close.  Here are some highlights from the interview.

What is your personal favorite Grateful Dead song and why?
(Goldsmith) This changes all the time. At different times it’s been “Unbroken Chain”, “Box Of Rain”, “Ship Of Fools”, “Stella Blue”, “Looks Like Rain”, “Shakedown Street”, among others…but if I were to play a first time listener one song by the Grateful Dead that best represented the best of their songwriting, the guitar playing, the harmonies and the singular way they play off of each other, in my opinion, I’d put on “Jack Straw”. So I guess that says a lot.

What is your favorite era of the Grateful Dead and why?
(Goldsmith) I really love Reckoning. With that record it felt like I fell in love with them all over again. They were playing in such a new and interesting way and between that funny sound of Jerry’s direct input acoustic, Brent’s playing at the time, and listening to them hold back and play so much quieter than I had ever heard. I also loved knowing they released another equally incredible live electric record with Dead Set in that same year. It’s hard to say it’s my “favorite”, but it has definitely left its stamp with me that might not be as easily distinguishable as other era’s.

What do you feel is the greatest misconception a lot of people outside the Dead’s circle have of the band?
(Goldsmith) Two things: that it was ever about anything other than the music for those guys and that the culture that surrounded them was a product of the band. All of the extraneous elements of their public conception were just a product of their deeply devoted fans. I think those aspects have been a blessing and a curse. A lot of people misjudge the band before ever hearing the music, but at the same time, they have arguably the most committed and unique fans a band could ever ask for.

Read the full interview here:

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Grateful Dead Songs of Their Own #28 - Playing In The Band by Max Creek

JamBase teamed with microphone and headphone company Telefunken to produce "Songs Of Their Own", a 50-day tribute in honor of the Grateful Dead's 50th anniversary celebration, featuring a daily cover of a Grateful Dead original song -- 50 videos in 50 days.  

I particularly like this jammed out version of Playing In The Band from day 28 by music veterans Max Creek.  The vocals aren't that strong but the improvisation gets really out there!  


Saturday, June 27, 2015

Getting Musical Fulfillment From An Acoustic Instrument

The tenor banjo was my first instrument and after 9 years of playing I keep sticking with it.  I've messed around with mandolin, electric mandolin, guitar, electric guitar, tenor guitar, mandola and baritone ukulele.  None of them feel as "right" to me as the tenor banjo does.  (Although, as I write this I'm wondering if I would like an electric tenor guitar or an electric baritone ukuele? )

I don't really understand why tenor banjo is the instrument for me.  None of my all-time favorite musicians are banjo players.  Example:

Favorite Guitarists:  Jerry Garcia and Bill Frisell.
Favorite Bass Players:  Phil Lesh and Chris Wood.
Favorite Piano Players: Page McConnell and Brent Mydland.
Favorite Drummers: Billy Martin and Jon Fishman.
Favorite Singers: Jerry Garcia and Gillian Welch.

The musicians that I most admire don't conform to categories, traditions or styles, as far as I can tell.  In other words, they aren't constrained by a box.  The banjo player who best espouses this musical philosophy is probably Béla Fleck, but he plays a five-string banjo.  My banjo has 4-strings and I play it with a guitar pick!

At this point in my musical development, my focus is on getting my ear and understanding to the point where I can actually learn things just by listening to my musical heroes, such as hearing the way Jerry Garcia or Bill Frisell improvises.  I don't know that it matters that they are playing a different instrument than me; theirs are six-string electric guitars and mine is an acoustic 4-string banjo.  The feeling is there regardless of instrument.

When I have played a plugged-in instrument through an amp something about it didn't seem right.  There were too many sonic options, perhaps.  This doesn't mean that the music I want to play on my tenor banjo can't be inspired by the music I have heard coming from players of electric instruments.  It just means that my interpretation is going to have to be a little different.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Learn Guitar With David Brent from The Office

David Brent of the original BBC The Office (Ricky Gervais) has a series of guitar lesson videos on YouTube.  These are of course meant to funny and an opportunity to showcase David Brent's original songs, but the funny thing is that they also serve as actual guitar lessons.  The information that David Brent provides has some merit to it and is not that different from other guitar tutorials on YouTube.  See for yourself!


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Steve Korn's Talking Pictures Blog - Featuring Bill Frisell

Seattle-based photographer Steve Korn has a blog called TALKING PICTURES, on which he asks jazz musicians Leading Questions, such as "When I'm playing well __________", and "I've never understood _________".  I became aware of Steve Korn's blog when I saw that he had done a Leading Questions with guitarist Bill Frisell.  Below are some highlights from Bill's succinct responses.  The comments by other musicians in this series are worth reading as well!

Bill Frisell with clarinet (photo by Steve Korn)
Someone once told me "Music is good."
When I was 14 I got my first electric guitar!
Practice makes me feel good. 
When I look at where I’m at right now, I think I'd better get started. 
Some of my best ideas come to me as a gift when least expected. 
Fear is part of the deal. 
Motivation is not something to take for granted. 
Discipline is something I could use more of. 
I’ve never understood politics. 
The future of jazz is happening. 
The history of jazz is overwhelmingly rich with beauty, mystery, and reveals infinite possibilities for the future. 
The clarinet was my first instrument.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Ornette Coleman's Harmolodics

Sadly, most of what I know right now about Ornette Coleman I've learned only in the days since he died on June 11, 2015 at age 85.  I've been really impressed thus far with what I've heard and read in interviews with the forward-thinking jazz musician.  Always thoughtful and well spoken, he often says cool, cryptic things like "sound has no parents" and "let's play the melody, not the background".

A term that Ornette used to describe his musical philosophy is "Harmolodics".  From what I've been able to gather, it's an elusive concept that seems almost impossible to define in words or word sounds.  The following quote is perhaps Coleman's most clear and succinct attempt at describing it:
"Harmolodics is a base of expanding the melody, the harmonic structure, the rhythm, and above all the free improvised structure of a composition beyond what they would be if they were just played as a regular 2-5-1 structure, or if they were played with the concept of a melody having a certain arrangement to know when to start and stop."  (ORNETTE COLEMAN)
To get a better sense, I turned to Joe Morris' book - Perpetual Frontier: The Properties of Free Music. Morris devotes a chapter to Coleman's Harmolodic methodology.  Coincidentally, I had purchased this book just a few weeks prior to Ornette Coleman's passing.

Morris states that Coleman created a platform that was highly rhythmic and allowed for spontaneous melodic invention, but did not rely on notes that related to a specific chord, scale or harmonic line/progression.  His compositions were an open dialog in which the melody, rhythm and harmony were all in play and no one player had the lead.  Coleman's work encouraged an open kind of contribution from his collaborators and therefore he valued musicians with a personal style more than a "schooled" or "correct" one.

Of course, the best way to understand Coleman's music is by simply listening to it.