Orchestral Musicians


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Time To Practice, And Write

I have one week until I depart for Napoli, and then Germany for festivals in the north. I reside for the next week in my house in Colledimezzo Italy. My vibes are set up in the garage of my father in law here, and I will practice, and write for one week. It is rare in my life when I have this much down time to practice, and write, and relax a bit. When I was attending The Juilliard School in my college years I used to practice, or shed as we musicians say for 6 hours a day. It always amazes me how even at my age of 54 years old, I still have the desire to practice my craft. To perfect the many diminished, and altered patterns, and scales. To search for new ideas, and possibilities, as well as to simply write a few new tunes, and learn new tunes that I still don’t know. The motivation in the music is for life, and I expect to play until I literally drop. Hopefully that is a long time from now.

The art of jazz improvisation is a continuous quest. It never seems to get old, and the constant searching for new stuff to play on the vast amount of standards, blues, and rhythm changes written by all the music masters. Of course these days I work a lot out of the Nicolai Slonimsky book titled “Thesaurus Of Scales And Melodic Patterns”. This book was Coltrane’s handbook. It has a huge amount of information in which he dissects the octave into multiple parts. The “Sesquiquadritone  section is the division of the octave into 4 parts, and gives you many different diminished patterns, and scales that are all applicable in the jazz genre, and the classical genre as a composer. So I practice a lot from this book , and learn the different scales, and patterns in all keys, but of course I try to live by the advice I give to my many students, and that is, “Practice does not make perfect”. PERFECT PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT”!!!  Practice everything slowly and correct. Not fast and wrong.

Fast and wrong 1000 times will give you no results. Slow and perfect  10 or 20 times will give you major results!

Mark Sherman

Wow! It sure is a different scene in the studios these days than when I was in the thick of it in the 80’s, 90’s, and early 2000’s. The other day I recorded 23 cues for a motion picture entitled “Should’ve Been Romeo”. The amazing thing is the engineer, composer, and other musicians are all working in LA. I recorded my parts in my office at home in New York. I have done this many times now for various jingle, and film composers. They send you pdf’s of all the music, and a reference mix of each tune in wave format with click track, and I add the  parts requested on vibes, or whatever instruments they want using my Apogee ONE’s and Pro Tools to record with. Then I upload it to a site like Media Fire where you can upload heavy memory files for them to download in LA. Then they put it up on their mix in their studio, and make a few adjustments, and that’s it. I email an invoice, W-9, and I-9 form, and I get paid.

In the studio scene in the 80’s and 90’s I used to have to travel down to the studio. Pay for parking. Go to the studio and record for a while. Then we would all break at “Possible 20’s” bar on 55th st. This place was named after the standard studio call of 1 hour with a possible 20 minutes overtime. So when you finished one date and had a 40 minute break till the next date, you would hit Possible 20’s for food or drink. These days you need not leave your house to do a high profile film date. What a world of technology we live in. Most of that  possible 20 studio scene is now dead as there is much less studio work in New York these days compared to the old days. Now everyone has Pro Tools , and the equipment necessary to record with, so it eliminates a lot of studio time to be purchased by the producers. It has closed many fine studios in New York City as they just cannot stay alive.

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Today I was on the panel of faculty members from the Juilliard School jazz department for a forum on the subject matter “How To Practice”. The panel was made up of department chair, and drummer Carl Allen, saxophonist Ron Blake, pianist Frank Kimbrough, bassist Ben Wolfe, drummer Kenny Washington, and myself. What an honor to do this, as well as it is a subject matter that I feel very strong about, as I have preached this to students globally for many years. I have seen so many of my students over the years return to the next lesson having not improved. Many times it is because their practice method is not good. As human beings we always want to improve fast, and be the best quickly. Unfortunately this approach does not work. Whoever  invented the expression “practice makes perfect” should be hung. It is a bad guidance quote. It should read “Perfect practice makes perfect”. There is that fine line between practicing properly, and not.  Many student come back week to week saying ” I practiced 5 hours a day”, but I do not see an improvement relative to 5 hours a day for a week. That to me means the student has wasted a lot of time.  Practicing wrong will surely waste your valuable time. That is what I spoke about. Practicing slow, and building the speed up slowly, rather than going fast and repeating constant mistakes. Focusing on one phrase, or measure at a time. How to practice scales, and other skills we work on as players, of jazz, and classical music. The other five of my esteemed colleagues had fantastic things to say, like learning the music away from the instrument in your head. Focusing on one thing at a time. making a practice journal. Using a stopwatch or kitchen timer to force yourself to practice one scale or drill at a time for a specific amount of time. Things like this. Anyway it was a really informative forum for the students who are already some of the finest young jazz students in the country, as the curve at Juilliard is extremely high. Getting into the school is probably one of the most competitive auditions nationwide. They just don’t accept anyone. I think it is even harder to get in than when I attended, and the year I got in they accepted only 2 students out of maybe 100 or more applicants. Myself, and Dan Druckman, the  current 2nd percussionist in the New York Philharmonic, and head of the percussion program in the classical percussion department at Juilliard. I really believe in this type of forum/masterclass, as with a group of faculty members such as the one mentioned here, the students get a really deep look at how these seasoned pros have dealt with the topic throughout their own quest for improvement. I sure wish they had a jazz program run by someone like Carl Allen when I went to Juilliard, although my extensive classical training has served me well in my own career, and has made me a better all around musician. I was watching these students suck up every word we said, as each faculty member got up, and spoke for 20 minutes or so, about there method for practice, and improvement. The funny thing was we all basically have similar approaches, but different wording, and slightly different concepts, but each approach was valid, and spelled the same formula for success. Those students are very fortunate to have faculty members who care enough, to take their valuable time to do this type of class. What a fantastic environment to learn in, being surrounded by this faculty of people like Rodney JonesRon Carter, Kenny Barron, Steve Turre, Eddie Henderson, Andy Farber, Billy Drummond, Bob Stewart, Antonio Ciacca, Joe Temperly, and the six mentioned above (forgive me if I forgot anyone). Next week’s forum is with legendary drummer Jimmy Cobb. I will be there!

 

I was recently appointed to the Juilliard Jazz Faculty under the direction the wonderful drummer and educator Carl Allen.It is my biggest educational appointment ever, and as an alumni I am excited, and thrilled!

Our trip following the Shenyang leg of our tour involved and uneventful flight to Guangzxou China, where we were taken to our hotel for a day of rest, and I did a radio interview for the Foshan event the next day. That following day we drove to Foshan where we arrived at the Zumiao Museum for sightseeing, and were greeted by an absolutely brilliant, and organized man named Peter Han. I had spoken many times to Peter on Skype prior to the tour to iron out all the questions regarding our presentation, venue questions, scheduling etc. Finally I met Peter face to face as he greeted us at the museum. This museum was over 400 years old, and had pictures of all the famous martial arts students, and masters. There was a building dedicated only to the martial arts, complete with pictures of all the masters. Of course one of the most well known masters was Bruce lee, and there statues of him everywhere. The pictures in the post give you a great idea of what it was like. It had a Chinese opera house, and many areas where people pray, chant, and do Tai Chi publicly. It is a very holy place with many temples, and amazing history behind it. For the second half of the sightseeing we went to the oldest kiln in the world where incredible pottery has been fired for over 500 years. The kiln was built in 1506, and is still operational. Check the pictures, as it was totally amazing. We bought lots of gifts in the gift shop for our loved ones back home. Everything is dirt-cheap here. So Peter Han is very meticulous man who is a PHD, lived in the US for 15 years, and simply new every detail of our manifest. We created this manifest maybe six months ago, and he was the only one so far who really memorized it. Every detail was followed perfectly. Anyway we had a nice lunch, and were then escorted to the performance venue where we did a great concert at the Creative Park in Foshan. Then a nice dinner, and a set up, and master class at a local jazz club where we played, and went through some educational stuff, and answered some good questions. Afterwards enthusiastic students who attended again mobbed us, and we gave autographs, and took photos. All in all a great day as Peter Han really took care of business.

Museum Entrance

Museum Entrance

Host Peter Han

Host Peter Han

Young Bruce Lee

Young Bruce Lee

Dan Halcott, and Peter Han

Dan Halcott, and Peter Han

Museum Show

Museum Show

Evening Master Class

Evening Master Class

Active Kiln built in 1506

Active Kiln built in 1506

Women Praying

Women Praying

Xu Cunyu, and Lu TIng Ting

Xu Cunyu, and Lu TIng Ting

Xu Cunyu, and Lu TIng Ting

Xu Cunyu, and Lu TIng Ting

Our final day in Shenyang China was spent at the Shenyang Conservatory. This is music like I have never seen before. There are 13,000 students studying at this school. I guess it is in line with the fact that there are 6-7 million people living in the center of Shenyang, and 23-25 million living in all of Shenyang including the suburbs. So with that huge population I suppose 13,000 students is not that much. It services students from elementary school all the way through college with music studies as well as academic studies, but I think mostly music. The campus is huge. We arrived and were escorted to a really beautiful concert hall lined with flowers, and the beautiful Chinese style of decoration throughout the hall. After the set up and sound check. We were escorted to another beautiful lunch at yet another traditional Chinese round table with tons of food and drink. Our concert was successful as normal, and then we were treated to performances by some of the conservatories finer traditional Chinese musicians. This was truly enlightening, and educational for all of us American musicians. First a very serious looking young man named Xu came out in traditional silk Chinese attire, and played with amazing command, and personality a guitar like instrument called a Pipa. I think John McGlaughlin, or Paco Deluca would have gone crazy hearing this kid play. He had fantastic command, and stage presence. He bowed to the instrument, and to the audience with deep respect. He played his ass off, and Tim, Jim, Tom, and myself were truly mesmerized. The a beautiful young female student named Xu Cunyu came out and sat behind a Zither, known in Chinese as a Yanghi. It is on a beautiful wooden stand and struck with thin wooden sticks with a little paddle on the end of the sticks. It is tuned for the constant use of the pentatonic scale, and she played a really beautiful composition. Then a absolutely knock you dead gorgeous girl named Lu Ting Ting came out in a really long blue full length dress and played the Erhu. This instrument is a 2 stringed violin type instrument that is bowed, but the bow is permanently fastened between the two strings. It uses mainly the Asian pentatonic scale as it is tuned to D and A. It is really a gorgeous sound and the girl who played it was emotional, and flashy. All three of these musicians had great stage presence. We were all really impressed. Afterwards when we were asked to comment, I said I was really enlightened by these sounds, and that as we go all over the world as educators bringing our American jazz music to all the different cultures, I felt as if I had just gotten an education. It was really a fantastic thing watch. There is sure a lot talent out here in the world, and I know Jim Ridl, Tom Dicarlo, and Tim Horner, and myself all fell very grateful to have witnessed this innovative, and traditional Chinese music. We were really moved.

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Quingshan Lu Percussion Professor

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The Zither (The Yangqui)

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