On Composition

My first experiences as a composer/arranger probably began when I was somewhere in the vicinity of 8 years old. I would sit at a piano for countless hours on end, experimenting with combinations of notes, chords, sounds, rhythms, and things resembling songs I might have heard on the radio, television, or an LP. Through trial and error I would stumble onto a chord progression and perhaps a corresponding melody that fit with that chord progression, playing it for a long time in wonderment.  These early explorations were quite naive and not particularly well informed. Yet that spark of interest and drive to find nice combinations of notes was the catalyst that has pushed me to listen/learn/compose with great enthusiasm to this very day.

Our influences as composers/arrangers are, to my way of thinking, environmental. The music we grew up listening to, the bands we played in, the tunes that coincide with profound life experiences all help to shape our individual sound in our writing.

This is somewhat like a recipe we’ve made many times, ever evolving as we alter the ingredients a little at a time.

I’ve always spent a good deal of time trying to recreate music that moves me on the piano, sometimes on the guitar, and ultimately on the saxophone. I would try for emulating  as much detail as possible. Being that I was very curious as to how the “whole picture” worked, I would inevitably pay careful attention to what each individual instrument was doing; piano voicings, piano comping, bass lines, drum patterns, and some understanding of how the whole band fit their individual parts together. To me it seemed like an incredible puzzle that beckoned one to take apart and re-assemble.

Playing through the great american songbook on the piano was another integral part of developing a compositional vocabulary for me. This inevitably led to expanding upon traditional versions of these great tunes through expansion of form, some reharmonization, and

incorporating various rhythmical side trips within the form. Becoming comfortable with playing tunes on the piano ultimately led to an ability to conceptualize the instrument without actually having to physically access the piano during the writing process.

My first large ensemble writing experience happened on the Buddy Rich band. I had the incredible opportunity to write my first 6 big band pieces for this great band, to record them and play them every night. On Buddy’s band I had the good and bad aspects in each pieces staring me in the face on a nightly basis, and was able to adjust my approach with each subsequent venture. What a crazy great situation! I hadn’t had the time to study arranging up to that point, being that arranging for big band was not yet on my radar. Little did I know which way the road would turn.

In hindsight I realize that if an aspiring arranger spent time playing piano, learning the jazz language, going on from there to explore various voicings, combinations of notes, rhythm possibilities, and melodic development, and then sat in a big band for an extended period of time, they would have much of the machinery in place to fashion a decent big band arrangement. Without knowing it, I constructed a piece that had development, variety,

and shape, qualities that I had been exposed to via playing the great arrangements in the Buddy Rich book. Being confronted with the opportunity to write that first big band piece forced me to consider the various musical qualities associated with any compelling piece of music: a story line, form, motion, variety, and texture. While my orchestrational abilities were in the beginning stages, I never the less could access the sound of the big band that was in my head, melding this sound  with ideas that I had found on the piano earlier. Also inherent in this initial experience was the thinking of what Buddy would like to hear, and how I might create an environment in which I would enjoy playing with him. These first few big band attempts were just that: attempts. But they definitely framed what lied ahead in terms of developing a sound and process.

I went on to write some for Mel Lewis, the Sam Jones Tom Harrell small big band, did some orchestrating for television (not really for me) and in 1983 put my first big band together. Hard to believe that in the last 34 years we’ve recorded 20 big band projects. Between these projects and various european radio band experiences, I’ve written close to 500 arrangements. I still feel like there is plenty to learn and plenty of avenues to explore. What all this writing has afforded me is a certain level of fluidity and confidence.

One of the most critical components of fashioning a big band or other large ensemble arrangement is having a set of parameters already in place. I generally think about who I am writing for, what kind of groove may be appropriate, what key best fits the intent of the piece, and sometimes a particular scenario that the music might underscore. Also to be considered is what kind of form may be utilized. What then follows is a sketch of the piece where I establish much of the above mentioned. I usually start with framing the form by inputting primary themes and perhaps some harmonic information. If various orchestrational devices occur to me I may write a description in words of what that orchestration might look like, and keep moving. (unison trumpets-tutti saxophones) If I can sketch out most of the piece it gives me a good head start on the writing. Often times I will program a drum loop in Sibelius and then add a bass part and then piano/guitar parts. This creates a nice bed to set horn parts on top of. With each subsequent pass through the piece, I add a little more detail, usually leaving the major voicings and detailed orchestrational devices for last.

Since I am generally writing for a recording project or some sort of production that involves 8-12 tunes I wind up working simultaneously on all the pieces. It makes things go more smoothly when I toggle between pieces, and things are less likely to stall in this scenario. The mantra is “keep moving”. The other plus with working on multiple pieces simultaneously is that you get a sense of how the full program of tunes will work together.

Frequently I have heard a piece of music that inspires me, and manages to spark a sound in my head that borrows from the groove or some aspect of the harmony or melody of the piece. If you take one of the three as a foundation (rhythm, harmony, melody) and then build on top of that, more ofter than not you wind up with something that sounds nothing like the original inspiration. I think the primary effect in these cases is that the excitement of hearing a moving piece of music gets the creative juices flowing, and makes you want to write something.

A great way to get a new piece started (on top of listening to all kinds of music) is to sit quietly and imagine what the piece you are going to write sounds like. You might hear general shapes of sound that translate nicely into a sketch, one that can be developed later in terms of detail. I frequently hear a sound, a rhythm or bass line or melody when I am walking. Something about that form of rhythmical bodily movement inspires musical ideas to emerge. If the initial idea comes from something other than you playing an instrument, as in your imagination, you are far more free to hear something well beyond what you might play.

Another approach for me is to improvise freely on either piano or saxophone, and wait for something compelling to emerge. Once I detect something of interest, I play the idea repeatedly, elaborating on the initial idea a little at a time. Once it seems like a fairly complete sentence I move on to perhaps a complimentary section with a new melody or progression.

Little by little a composition emerges. Some of the better compositions come quickly and are not terribly complicated. Simple is allowed! With simplicity there winds up being room for complexity used in a strategic manor to create tension/release and a general sense of variety.

Aside from grabbing ideas from pre existing pieces of music, there is a lot you can do in terms of moving things around at the piano. Take a 1-4-5 three note voicing and move it around in a variety of ways, whole steps or minor thirds apart, for example. Try different bass notes against this voicing. Have the top note of the voicing form a melodic shape while simultaneously having the bass line create a melodic shape of it’s own. Utilize contrary motion between bass line and chord voicing. Take a 1-4-5 voicing and move it diatonically through a variety of scale qualities (1/2-w diminished, altered dominant for example). There are an infinite number of devices of this kind that can spin off into a potential composition. And seemingly if you start to operate this way the ideas manage to come more quickly, where one shape leads to an offshoot of that shape, and onward from there. Patterns are a great device for planting a seed for a new composition.

There is far more to discuss as far as process. Being a self taught arranger much of my process involves “making it up as you go”. There is definitely an improvisatory thing at play when writing and arranging, where one idea leads you to the next. I generally have no shortage of ideas. Being fairly active in the music scene usually primes the pump as far as generating ideas go. Once the idea emerges, then the real hard work begins. Fashioning a well constructed, compelling piece of music involves much editing, re arranging, and refining. This part of the process never seems to end. I can always find ways to improve, or at least update anything I have written. Small tweaking of articulation, voicings, and melodic lines are all part of the journey to arriving at a good piece of music. That journey is why I get up in the morning.

The final piece of the puzzle of composition/arranging is getting you music performed, hopefully by a group of great musicians of your choosing. This is the wild card that inevitably takes the music to places you never thought existed. Hence it is critical to leave lots of room for the personal input of each player, where every member of the ensemble contributes to the musical conversation in their own particular way. This is the basic premise of jazz music. As a composer/arranger it is my roll to stay out of the way of the conversation by way of leaving room in the writing for interplay and conversation.

So much more to learn, so much more to write. So many gems in the classical repertoire to draw upon. Many interesting rhythms and textures in indigenous music from all corners of the globe. Keep searching, keep putting the puzzle together. Stay current as far as what young players/writers are up to. Write yourself into the picture as a player, an instigator, an orator.  Keep moving!

Mintzer Big Band examples

Get Up!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J5UwWXVH0Lg

Truth Spoken Here  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ioc2voPbkM8&index=6&list=PLZkh-aQshNIPQBNEKW9PwoTGmEaZ1NWYU

Civil War  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4UemgTly–U&list=PLZkh-aQshNIPQBNEKW9PwoTGmEaZ1NWYU&index=15

These three tunes from the MCG Jazz cd “Get Up”

Please visit bobmintzer.com for more examples.





January 20th 2017

I will not be watching the inaugeration of Donald Trump as president of the United States on January 20th. I am appalled that he will be the leader of this country. Donald Trump is a sociopath who has spent his life conning the system and boasting about how clever he is.He stands for everything I am against. He is not trustworthy, is self centered, self seeking, untruthful, mean spirited, not the least bit self reflective, a braggart, and an asshole. Why anyone would want anything to do with this creature is totally beyond me.  He calls the current government crooked and rigged, which is interesting, coming from one who is crooked to the core, and thrives on circumventing all the rules pertaining to the common good, making his own self serving rules, rigging his sphere of existance solely for his own benefit.

Donald Trump has collected a group of extremist billionaires and crackpots for his cabinet with a myriad of conflicts of interest and agendas that will hardly serve the people. We will have an ultra conservative agenda shoved down our throats, and education, health and welfare, the arts, and equal rights will take a back seat to tax cuts for the wealthiest and Trumps cozying up to extremist world leaders that can further his business dealings and feed his fragile ego. He will circumvent any and all rules pertaining to conflicts of interest. His family will be involved in governing our country, and will reap the financial benefits of this unscrupulous behavior. Congress is now trying to shove the approvals of the cabinet members through before anyone sees what these folks are really about.

Those who voted for him either don’t seem to care, or don’t understand the con job that is in progress. The Republican party in large part has their heads up Trump’s ass, and is collectively riding his election to implement their half baked agendas. Healthcare will be dismantled and replaced by nobody knows what. Environmental issues will be in the hands of climate change deniers. Wall street and finance policy will be determined by wall street insiders.

The new secretary of state has had major business dealings with Russia and many other countries as CEO of Exon Mobil. I don’t see how any of this will make America great again. It will make the Trump family and his billionaire club very wealthy and powerful. Deregulation is upon us like we’ve never seen before, and the rich are gonna get richer.

Transparency in governance will become a thing of the past. We are already in a reality tv show mode as far as monitoring what this new government is up to. Trump’s representatives don’t give a straight answer on anything pertaining to his erratic behavior.

What to do: Speak up, show up, and call this fiasco for what it is. A con job.



Dear friends and colleagues:

These are trying times we find ourselves in. The U.S. and the world at large is more polarized politically at the moment than any time that I can recall. The left and right components of political thinking are in separate realities, causing frustration, anger, and in some cases abject hatred. Seemingly the only way out of this scenario is love, compassion, and some kind of awareness of the world as a place for all it’s inhabitants to live in colaboration, peace and relative comfort.
Today in the Hannover train station in Germany I saw a refugee family sitting on the floor
accompanied by two suitcases and a toddler on the father’s lap. A sad, tragic sight by any measure. What went through my mind is that western countries initiated the invasion of the middle east, in part exacerbating the destablization of the region, and creating the scenario we now face: innocent people caught in the middle of sensless wars. Are we not responsible in some capacity to help these folks, given our part in creating this dire situation? Germany is the foremost country stepping up to help out. What about the U.S.?
As one of my Republican friends is quick to point out, we all want the same basic things:
a good quality of life, food and shelter, a sense of community, a sense of well-being. What we find at the moment ae vastly diferent concepts ar far as how to achieve these ends. Big government/small government, socialization/privitization, services for all/services for some, address climate change/climate change as a left wing hoax, religion playing a subsantial part in government/separation of church and state, and an incredible amount of chatter on the internet that may/may not reflect reality. And the big question: whose reality?
Hate and devisiveness will get us nowhere. Forcing agendas on others is a futile endeavor. Yet we need consensus on some level. I think we would all agree that people should treat one another with respect, empathy, compassion, and love. Those who have been handicapped by history deserve appropriate consideration. We need to help one another! Period.
Finger pointing, mud slinging, and generating hatred will not get us where we all want to go. Let’s work towards a world where we take care of our citizenry, provide quality education,
update infrastructure, and live and let live.


An acquaintance of mine used to say “Where are we? Here. What time is it? Now.” Living in the moment. Taking the next logical step. This seems to be an ever changing endeavor as one’s perspective changes on life. But being in the moment is far more desireable than worrying about the future or regretting the past.
Right now I’m headed back to Los Angeles after spending a month in Europe. Did two weeks with the Yellowjackets: London, Ambleside, Paris, Krakow, Fano, Cala Gonone, Sardinia. Then a great concert with the Modern Art orchestra outside of Budapest followed by a week of teaching at a jazz gathering in Harnosand, Sweden with old friends Fred Noren, Gustavo Bergali, Adam Nussbaum, and a host of new friends. Finally, Carla and I spent a week on a Hertigruten boat traveling up the Norwegian coast. Amazing!
There is nothing quite like spending a week in a country to learn first hand about how folks do things there. Did you know that Sweden sends government representatives abroad to study how other governments do things? Or that Sweden, a country of 40 million people, took in 330,000 Syrian refugees, or that when a Swedish family has a child the mother gets a paid year off from work and the father gets 6 months paid leave? Did you know that high quality cutting edge healthcare in Sweden is essentially free to all, and attendance at the best universities cost roughly 1,500 dollars per year? Now tell me that higher taxes, where the wealthy pay their fair share, are a bad thing.
In the littlest fishing villages on islands in northern Norway, where the weather can make things challenging in the winter, everyone helps each other out. Someone with a snowmobile will travel a long distance to bring back food supplies for the rest of the community, If you don’t have a car, it is common practice to go and borrow your neighbor’s car without having to ask. The keys are left in the ignition. If the neighbor comes back and you have his car, he will borrow another neighbor’s car if needed.
One of the young women who worked on the Hurtigruten boat was from Copenhagen. She decided to move to one of the isolated fishing villages mentioned above. She was welcomed despite being an outsider. Initially the fishermen took bets on how long she would last living under these challenging conditions. She has been there 4 years. What an amazing experience this woman has undergone, integrating into this very different societal situation.
Right now, as I enter th 4th quarter of my life I am most concerned with helping people through sharing music, random acts of kindnes, and working on self awareness. I’ve let the self promotion thing slide lately, and am far more concerned with putting some nice notes together as a composer and player, and helping my fellow man.
Right now I don’t feel like I have to be the best at anything. I’m happy to make a nice sound come out of a saxophone and write music that represents my thoughts and feelings. I don’t have to play major jazz festivals or be the “flavor of the day artist”. Usually my musical activities of late involve long-term axcquaintances, relationships that I have developed over time.
Right now I feel like we are being hoodwinked by a Republican party that does nothing for our citizenry and blames their own misdeeds on one of the most together presidents we’ve ever had. The fact that they’ve promoted a psycho like Donald Trump as their candidate should tell you something.
Right now I am still excited about learning every day about music, peoples of the world, nature, art, and literature.
Right now I am less concerned about what I think, and eager to see what you think, with the hopes of learning something new. Hence I havent writted a column in a while.
Right now I wish you all a good life, good notes, bright moments, and meaningful endeavors.    Bob

January 2016

Happy New Year! And what a year it was. Lots of music and interesting moments. Released an R and B Big Band cd Get Up! Recorded a new Yellowjackets cd (Cohearance due out 4/16), released a new etude book “Playing on the Changes” with Alfred Music, released a big band play along app on Fuzzy Music, signed on as the chief conductor of the WDR Big Band starting fall 2016. Grammy nomination for “Civil War” from the Get Up cd in the best original instrumental composition category.

I don’t think I could fit much more into a year! Add to that teaching at USC, touring with the Jackets, my big band, and as guest artist with several other bands. Very grateful for all the opportunities and a strong work ethic I get from my mom.

This is the first blog post in quite a while. Kinda lost interest. Lately it has felt better to indulge in musical and life activity rather than spending time posting about it. Working and playing hard these days.

I’m grateful for all the amazing people in my life. My wife Carla, son Paul, mother Cynthia (90 years young), brother Rich and his family, the guys in the Yellowjackets, Russ, Will, Dane, all the cats I’ve played with in my big band, The WDR guys, the amazing staff at USC Thornton School of Music, all the fans of music I get to intersect with on a daily basis. Thank you all!

Some ideas for subsequent projects have crossed my mind, but at this time I would simply like to practice my horn, learn some new tunes, go to classical concerts, do my teaching and playing, read a lot, do some hiking, cooking, and hanging with friends. After 40 years of one project to the next, 30 cd’s as a leader, 15 cd’s with the Yellowjackets, and all the rest it’s time for a breather.  At this point what I consider cutting back a bit is probably the equivelent of what every musician aspires to be doing. Anyway, always a work in progress in terms of figuring out how to best spend your short time here on earth. The fact is, you can shape your environment with a little bit of thought, determination, and soul searching.

With the country and the world so very divided, it is a real quandry as to what to do and how to think about it. I guess what I can do is spread the message of love and cooperation through music in my performing and teaching. Great music is such a terrific example of egoless colaboration, where the whole is far more important than the parts. There is little or no focus on who is right or wrong, only respect for one another. In this setting the musical conversation proceeds with the sole objective of making the ensemble harmonious and joyous. What a concept! It seems so obvious. In fact Russ and I are doing a performance/discussion for a gathering of CEO’s in San Francisco next month that focuses on how the collaborative spirit in musical performance would perhaps parallel the potential benefits of a harmonious workplace. I think the same would hold true in our government and between various governments of the world. I’d like to think so anyway. Anything is better than the abject disrespect our politicians display towards one another. But I digress.

Still exercising every day. Trying to eat well prepared nutritious foods.

Trying to see the good in everythong around me, although it is challenging sometimes. Trying to stay calm and when I freak out, tryi to understand where the fear is coming from and how to re focus on the positive. With daily practice this is attainable. Work in progress.   Keeping the faith!



During the last several weeks I have been traveling quite a lot. Long plane rides are a good time to review music, either new pieces that you need to learn for up-coming situations, or tunes that you might not have played for a while. You might even take a chord or series of chords and try to hear various things to play over this harmonic setting.

There are a couple of different ways to approach this scenario. The most obvious one is to listen to a recording of the music and either learn the music by ear or follow along with a lead sheet. In either case, one might listen for form (how long is the form, (are there 4 and 8 bar phrases, or something less symmetrical)), relationships between 2,4, or 8 bar phrases in terms of key centers and possible repetition of phrases that may be transposed in some way, or rhythmical motifs that relate to one another in a specific way. You are essentially considering all the detail in the melody, harmony, and rhythm of the piece.

In some instances I would sing along quietly with the recording, either reading the music, or better yet, trying to sing without the music. Going over 8 bar phrases several times in a row generally makes this possible. My good friend Greg Johnson strongly advocates singing as a means towards internalizing melodies, both in terms of playing tunes and improvising. He actually fingers notes on his saxophone while singing the pitches. Interesting idea!

I often work on blowing changes by first singing the roots of the chords. Russ Ferrante, another close colleague, has his students sing 7th chords for each chord change. You can expand upon this way of thinking in many ways. Try singing the 3rds, 7ths, 9ths, or 11ths of each chord change. Next take a melodic shape such as 3-7-5 and sing these three notes on each chord change. Lots of different ways to do this. I think the end result winds up being that you become closer to hearing/feeling the good notes on your instrument without having to do too much thinking while you are playing.

I find that you can take this approach a step further by leaving out the singing, and go right to “hearing” the music in your head. You can imagine you are playing your instrument while hearing the music. After doing this for a while it is amazing how much you can actually hear, and how it feels very much like you are playing.
Today I was looking over a new tune composed for the new Yellowjackets project. While looking at the solo changes I began to construct a solo in my head that seemed to move through the changes with some level of ease and connection. I was actually seeing/ hearing the big picture, and it felt like I was playing my saxophone with a rhythm section! I realized I could play with Elvin. McCoy, and Jimmy Garrison right on this airplane! Lord knows I’ve listened to enough Trane recordings to know the sound and feel of that band. It was a wild feeling, one of clarity and connection with some greater power, very much like the feeling I sometimes get when playing live in an inspired setting.

I had to stop and ask myself why suddenly was I able to connect with the music in this fashion. I think the main reason was that I thought enough to try and experience the music in a way where it was totally in my head. The other critical points

that may have facilitated the ability to do this are: 1. A high level of familiarity with the jazz language through repertoire, stylistic knowledge, and having played a lot. 2. A good understanding of the “big picture” as in what all the instruments of a jazz quartet do and sound like, and where does the saxophone go in this context. I can actually play with the “band in my head” at times. 3. Having given some thought to form and the relationships within the form that allow you to quickly see what goes where.

So cats and kittens, this 62 year old is still discovering new things every day. It is a good feeling to stumble onto something new and have a realization of sorts.
As I tell my students (and myself), the three steps to implementing a new way of doing things are: 1. Think of it. 2. Practice whatever it is in a variety of ways, which generally leads to other “its”. and 3. Figure out how and where to plug the new thing in.

And so we keep working on it.

The Making of Get Up!


Get Up! is my 20th cd as a big band leader. Hard to believe that is 200 arrangements worth, and another 100 or so that I haven’t recorded on top of that.

I feel like I am getting better at the whole process, and also see that there is lots more to learn and incorporate into writing for this instrumentation. If you can think of a concept or an idea to underscore with music, the music follows. There is no replacement for writing a lot on the road towards developing a sound and concept.

While most of my earlier cd’s were written in a short period of time, this one was conceived over a three year period. It was nice to tinker with the arrangements in a leisurely fashion, and even write more than was needed so as to be able to pick the best 9 pieces.

All this music was written with particular musicians in mind. Before writing a note I knew who the rhythm section and horn players should be. Some of the personnel  changed due to availability or lack thereof, but I got pretty close to the initial idea for a lineup. There always is a middle ground between who you are most comfortable playing with, who you can afford, and who will best serve the music. I think I did pretty well this time around.

James Brown was the ground zero as far as master of the funk. He influenced everybody. The Stax scene out of Memphis had to be included in the mix as well as the Motown sound. Mix all this up in a large bowl and you get the Oakland funk, or East Bay Grease, as it is referred to. Here then was the rhythmical foundation of the music on the cd.

The tunes I arranged were fairly simple in terms of harmony, mostly one chord vamps. Sing as Simple Song (Sly and the Family Stone), I Thanks You (Sam and Dave), It’s Your Thing (The Isley Brothers), Elegant People (Wayne Shorter/Weather Report).This was a nice scenario in terms of laying the groundwork for superimposing harmonic side trips and adding an extra ensemble section periodically. The original tunes in the program dealt specifically with some aspect of funk, be it Oakland Funk, Yellowjackets, James Brown,The organ trio shuffle, and even the evolved Weather Report take on funkiness.

Everything comes from someplace. This idea of superimposing a jazz sensibility on R and B is not new. The Bluenote “boogaloo” tracks from the 60’s headed in this direction. Of course Herbie Hancock and the Headhunters took the Oakland Funk and created something quite fresh. When I was on the Thad Jones Mel Lewis band there was a Thad arrangement of “Money Money Money” in the book. That arrangement stuck with me, and showed me how hip a simple R and B tune could become with the right treatment. Jim McNeely did an amazing thing to the Hendrix tune Up from the Skies with the Vanguard Orchestra a few years ago.

To have one short rehearsal, then do two concerts and an afternoon of recording with music like this is no easy feat. I had to get the best cats I possibly could.

They all did a great job, but everyone was sitting on the edge of their chairs. Ideally it would have been great to play this music for 6 months before recording. But this is not possible in this day and age with musicians of this calibre, and the confines of making a jazz big band recording. But after 20 cd’s, I can get the most out of the least for the most part. The main ingredient was the fact that everyone wanted to be there and help out to make the music great. For that I am truly grateful!


Things to Think About: Handout for my USC students


This is a beginning of semester handout I distributed to all our jazz freshmen and sophomores. My vision of what students of the music should be working on/thinking about. Hope you find it useful!


1. What a band leader looks for:

Players who have a positive attitude, are respectful, communicative, encouraging, show up early, contribute to all aspects of the activities of the band, answer phone calls and emails promptly, and, on the rare occasions they are unable to make the gig/ rehearsal, give advance warning and offer a sub who has seen/learned the music. Band leading is labor intensive. Leaders (band mates) don’t need nor appreciate drama.

Players who study the music/recordings thoroughly and in many cases memorize the music. They typically learn the form and solo changes even if they are not soloing. You never know when the opportunity will arise for you to solo on a tune.

Players who are versatile.. Good soloists in a variety of styles, good readers, team players (good ensemble players), active participants in rehearsals, composers/ arrangers who contribute to the repertoire.

Players who seem like they want to be there (even if they don’t), who participate, don’t talk/text excessively during rehearsals, and generally seem engaged and interested in what’s going on.

Your teachers and class mates are perspective employers and partners in future creative endeavors.

2. What are the musical skills you should be working on right now and for the rest of your musical life:

  1. playing your instrument at a high level
  2. having a vast vocabulary in a variety of genres of music.
  3. having a vast repertoire which includes standards, a variety of jazz tunes, your

    arrangements of standards.jazz/pop tunes, and original material, classical music, and

    musics of Brazil, Africa, and anywhere else that may attract you.

  4. being an accomplished composer/arranger who has considered how to use

    composition as the vehicle for their playing.

  5. organizing reading sessions of your music/establishing relationships with like minded

    players. Making demo recordings of the music. Your calling card!

  6. Becoming fluent in using Sibelius/Finale, Pro Tools, and some video capabilities.
  7. Having some idea of what you are trying to convey with your music and what are the

    specific components that make up your sound, how they work and why.

  8. Pounding the pavement! Send your demo tapes around to festivals, schools, clubs. record companies. Instigate! Don’t personalize rejection. Lots of that to go around.

    But the energy you put into developing playing/recording situations will eventually

    come back around.

h. Efficient use of your time. Lots of things to work on. Try to structure your time so that

you cover the areas you need to in regular (daily) small doses. A good 45 minute

practice session where you cover the critical areas can be better than practicing for 5 hours.

Example: You have 6 things to work on (homework, writing, shedding tunes, etc)

Spend 20-30 minutes on each area and move through all the areas, even if it feels like you need more time on something.. Go around a few times. By coming

back to an area fresh you avoid the risk of getting stuck or burnt out.
i. Listening to all kinds of music for inspiration and information. Select the music that

really rings your bell and get inside that music through transcription and extraction.

Being in school can be a daunting experience. You are still forming as a creative artist, and part of you wants to just stay in the shed and work on your music. You are inundated with course work, and you are getting some calls for gigs. Remember that musical expression reflects the whole person. You want to be well read, articulate, able to manage your time well, comfortable in your own skin. A lot to deal with!

Some life stuff that may halp:

USC and most universities are a petrie dish for viruses and other fun diseases. Be sure to:

1.Eat well! Read: “It Starts With Food” by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig) Eat nutritious foods! Don’t eat foods with empty calories. (More energy)

  1. Have a short exercise regimen that you roll out of bed and do every day. (More energy)
  2. Get enough rest. Go to bed early and get up earlier. You will do your best work in the morning when you are fresh. (More energy)
  3. Stay away from drugs and alcohol. They are the opposite direction you want to go in. (Lots more energy!) Success in life is contingent on good connections with people. Drugs and alcohol obscure and cloud those connections.
  4. Start the day with a positive affirmation. You have another shot today at working on music, learning about the world, learning about how to deal with people in all kinds of situations.
  5. Try to get in the habit of focusing on what you are grateful for. Make a list if

necessary. It will help you to be a person others want to be around.


November 2014

Interesting and troubling times we are living in. Whacked out weather patterns are hitting us in the face, suggesting that climate change is very real and upon us.

Anything having to do with people of color, be it immigration reform, unreasonable treatment of people of color by the police, and basically anything a president of color does is being condemned by the right, amplified and distorted by the media.

The right is consistently perpetuating lies for their own political gain, be it the myth that the XL pipeline project would somehow create permanent  jobs, and lowering taxes for the wealthy and corporations would somehow create more jobs and help the non existent middle class.

Same shit, different day.  We as a country are being duped at a ridiculous rate. Sad.

To be a great musician one must “zoom out” and be a part of the big picture when playing in an ensemble. The primary focus is on the greater whole. Only be doing this does a significant band sound emerge. If people of the world could only grasp this way of looking at things, we would be much better off.

On a brighter note,  I’ve recently read three great books. The first is the Herbie Hancock memoir called “Possibilities”. Herbie’s comments on music and life are so very inspiring. He is a true scientist of music, art, and the human condition. That inquisitive spirit that is so prevalent in everything Herbie does is truly amazing.  It was so fascinating to hear him recount the years with Miles and doing his own recordings. I grew up on this music, saw Herbie play with most of his own bands, and in 1974 did a double bill with the Headhunters and Deodato. My first gig of any consequence was with Deodato. We did a week’s worth of concerts with the Headhunters. I got to hang with these great musicians and hear history being made every night.

I’ve actually read two books on diet. The first ,by Joel Fuhrman, called “Eat to Live”, advocates a primarily plant based diet, where the protein source is vegetables, beans, and tofu. He has you stay away from foods with “empty calories”.His thinking is that you eat nourishing foods that don’t add calories for no compelling reason. Made good sense to me. I lost about 10 pounds on this diet, and found that I had lots more energy.

The second book,  “It Starts With Food” by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig, advocates a similar approach, which essentially is to eat foods that effectively nourish the body while also preventing inflammation, which, in their way of thinking, is the cause of most diseases. Unlike the Fuhrman book, this one claims that animal protein (meat, fish, eggs) is perfectly healthy in moderation, and if eaten with lots of vegetables and no pasta, rice, or starchy stuff, is a great way to eat.

I believe one should do lots of research on diet and try different things.

In my case, I’ve incorporated the concepts from the two books, have lost another 5 pounds, and feel even better!  Do your homework! Get your diet together, develop a daily exercise routine, and say goodbye to chronic disease and unnecessary doctor visits. Tell your health insurance company to kiss your ass. And, oh yeah, eating this way can be very gratifying and tasty once you realize you don’t need bread, pasta and rice with every meal.

I’m writing this blurb from Tokyo, Japan. The breakfasts over here are fantastic. They serve lots of fresh vegetables, fish, meat, fruit, and generally healthy stuff. Happening! You don’t see very many overweight people here. Guess why!

Mixing the R and B big band project now. Wow! The cats really threw down!!!  Will Kennedy and  Will Lee with Russ Ferrante and Ray Obiedo and the NY horn cats lit this music on fire! My wife was dancing all over the concert hall during the performances! Good sign!   The cd should be out in the spring.

That’s all for now. Do your homework!



George Coleman and Wayne Shorter

George Coleman and Wayne Shorter are two of my favorite saxophonists. They both played in the most important bands of Miles Davis, have strong personalities, are dynamic composers/improvisors., and made/make huge advances to further jazz music. Their approaches are somewhat different, yet they both take the music to a higher level every time they play. I propose here to talk a little about these two saxophone virtuoso’s similarities and differences, and how the change from Coleman to Shorter in Miles’ band seemed to follow the music of  the time period, both in terms of what Miles was doing and what the current trends in jazz were.

George Coleman, in my humble esteem, is one of the most lyrical and articulate improvisors on the tenor saxophone (also alto saxophone). He manages to find beautiful melodies that are extremely “singable” and reflect the harmony in a cleverly colorful way. To me he has always had the right combination of the blues, modernism, a vast and colorful palate, and a serious sense of swing and phrasing. Just listen to Miles Davis’ Four and More or Live in Europe and you can hear what I’m talking about.  Joey DeFrancesco once told me he listens to Four and More every day. I can see why. The band plays amazingly, and it may be the best Coleman I’ve ever heard.

Wayne Shorter is an equally dynamic tenor saxophonist, and a prolific composer. His work as a solo artist, with Art Blakey’s Messengers, and with Miles Davis are nothing short of amazing. His current working band takes improvised music to new heights. Wayne’s compositions are in a class all to themselves. His saxophone playing might be considered somewhat more abstract than George Coleman’s. Wayne can create a parallel reality to the diatonic harmony of a tune in such a special way. He is the master of suspense, waiting until the very last moment to play something on the saxophone, seemingly at the exact right moment.

George Coleman takes a Rembrandt approach to improvisation, where a somewhat literal yet spontaneous and fresh interpretation of the tune is utilized. George works the harmony in a very thorough way, squeezing lots of color and interesting possibilities out of the harmonic structure.

Wayne Shorter (to me) takes more of the Salvador Dali approach, where the focus is less on elaborating on the harmonic structure and more about creating another structure over the form which relates in a more abstract way to the traditional structure of the piece. He will spin an abstract tale that you really have to think about for a while. Wayne speaks this way when you talk to him in person. You have to look beyond the literal towards the abstract to follow along at times.

George Coleman assumes a Mozartian approach to blowing, where every phrase is eloquently conceived and totally attached to the music. Wayne goes the Edgar Varese route, where swaths of sound and color seem to override phrases with specific pitches and conventional melodic shape.

The story was that some of the guys in Mile’s band were feeling that George Coleman was too much the traditionalist, and was playing licks on the bandstand (or practicing on the bandstand). I never heard it that way. The story was that Tony Williams  wanted  Sam Rivers in the band. They know each other from Boston.

On a recording session I did a few years ago with Ron Carter, I had the opportunity to ask Ron about this situation, and if band members had any impact on Wayne Shorter replacing George Coleman in Miles’ band. Ron said “Miles made the decision to bring in Wayne, no other band member”.

In August of this year I had occasion to play at the Hollywood Bowl with Herbie Hancock and an orchestra conducted/arranged by Vince Mendoza. I spoke to Herbie at length about the same subject. Herbie’s take on it was that Miles had been waiting for Wayne to finish up with Art Blakey’s  band, and had intended to hire him as soon as he became available. When asked about stylistic considerations, Herbie said that Wayne was playing in a more abstract fashion that seemed to fit the direction of the music Miles’ band was going in. This band wasn’t the only one.

I  contend that the trend in jazz in the mid/late 60s was one of abstractionism. Many musicians were taking the music as far out as they could, perhaps as a continuation of what John Coltrane was doing towards the end of his career, as well as the influence of the free jazz movement pioneered by Ornette Coleman, Archie Shepp, Cecil Taylor, and others. Young people and artists around that time were bucking all things conventional and many facets of life were being questioned and re evaluated.

Miles picked up on this, I believe, and superimposed an abstract and almost free jazz approach to grooves of that time period, where harmony and melody became very fluid and secondary to rhythm. We used to call this “time-no changes” Wayne Shorter seemed like the right player for this shift in direction.

Bob Moses once told me a story about his experience  subbing in the Keith Jarrett quartet around that time. Keith called Stella by Starlight, counted it off, and proceeded to play totally out of time, no key center, and no melody remotely resembling “Stella”.

So, where are we with all this? We’re talking about two great artists who took very different roads. One was not better than the other, just different. They both contributed greatly to the sound and direction of the Miles Davis Quintet of the mid sixties. In a way, it’s silly to compare these two giants. It’s far more important to recognize the merits of each musician we encounter, and see what their particular approach was. See how they thought and responded to the music at hand.

It is said that it is better to identify rather than compare. I agree!