The teacher practices Jazz
Last weekend I went to my first jazz jam with my Vibraphone aka my Malletkat GS Grand. We were a quartet of Tenor Sax/Flute, Vibes, Bass, and Drums. I survived with my dignity intact, but I’ve a few discoveries and confessions to share.
On the plus side, I knew all the tunes from years of playing and teaching jazz piano plus my jazz time and feel is strong.
Here is the practice regime I began to follow to improve my jazz experience.
Tune: Satin Doll by Ellington/Strayhorn
If I can help you with your jazz piano journey, call me.
BTW: In the era of Ai content generation, a human wrote this blog.
Less stress in piano lessons
This week an adult student came to class in a state of agitation. They were frustrated that they didn't have time this week to practice, and they felt embarrassed.
Five things to consider.
I said, "John, think of this hour as an oasis without responsibilities". That worked, he had a fun lesson. He even sent a thank you email after class.
This week's artwork
From whiteboard notes and exercises I sent to students this week.
Super video demonstration but...
Let's consider the assumptions he is making about you the student/listener.
What is my job?
I prepare students to understand and execute what he is talking about. The first thing we will do is assess your situation and then we'll draw up a logical plan.
BTW: in 2017, I studied with Peter Martin in Rome Italy. He's a great guy and a very skilled musician. When I grow up, I want to play piano like him. FYI. I was in Rome studying jazz drumming with Greg Hutchinson. Greg played in Ray Brown’s last group.
Learning 10 pieces music in 20 hours
Tonight, in concert band we will sightreading 8 to 10 new pieces of music that arrived last night and this morning. I am following this protocol to be ready.
1. I immediately printed the music.
2. I created a new YouTube playlist of the pieces.
3. I studied the scores while listening to the musical recordings. I made note of the tricky bits. I did not necessarily listen all the way through, just enough to get a sense of the part.
4. I put aside all the music I can easily sightread. It will be read for the first time tonight.
5. I have made note of the tricky bits in the three remaining pieces: one measure in one piece, one section in another, and then put the third on the music rack for immediate attention later this morning.
6. I wrote in the stickings on the two easier pieces in the trickly passages.
7. I am preparing to practice the one tricky piece with my pencil, eraser, recording, drumkit, music ready at hand.
I will let you know how it turns out tonight.
I started part-time teaching in 1982 and in 2007 I went full-time. That is a few generations of students that have passed through my studio. What have I learned?
If I can help you get started, call me.
Another day in the teaching studio and another diverse set of pieces. Someone stated that an average piano teacher teaches 600+ titles a year. I believe it.
Up next: Music rehearsal with my friends, the pianist Jim Finlayson and bassist Rory Slater. I'll be drumming. We've been meeting every 2 weeks for years. It is always a highlight of my week playing tunes from the "Great American Songbook". Lots of Porter, Corea, Hancock, and Ellington.
Back to class
7. Prelude in Db by Glière
8. Fantasia in D minor K397 by Mozart
9. Pumpkin boogie by Faber
10. Sonatina in C by Faber
11. Drum rudimental warmups
12. Never Going To Give You Up by Rick Ashley
13. Theory class RCM 8 and Band Lab DAW
Now to the drummers
14. Video game music
15. 3/4 Scottish snare drum solo
16. Free Fallin' by Tom Petty
17. Rollin' in the deep by Adele
18. Superstition by Stevie Wonder
Revised August 2022
A typical Tuesday in my studio
Another day of teaching piano and drum set comes to an end. Here is today’s student repertoire.
Marching by Kabalevsky
Skating Waltz by Berlin
Love Me Tender by Elvis
Claire de Lune by Debussy
Les Baricades Misterieuses by Couperin
Chitlin’s Con Carne by Burrell
Etudes by Scriabin
Prelude and Fugue in Bb by Bach
Clementi Etude in E by Clementi
Serenade by Haberbier
Cancion by Mompou
Cottontail by Ellington
Kamado Tanjiro no Uta by Shiina and Ufotable
Watermelon Man by Hancock
Haunted mouse by Faber and Faber
Forest Drums by Faber and Faber
Dinah by Fats Waller
Never Going to Give you up by Ashley
Street of Dreams by Ella
Scottish ¾ March
It’s Only A Paper Moon by Nat King Cole
Meditation by Jobim
Night train by Forrest
Time for a beer.
Revised August 2022
I spent the summer of 2001 making music on the Mediterranean near Santa Pola, Spain in a small apartment overlooking the sea. I fondly remember the sun, the heat, the paella, the wine, the flowers, and the nightly walks along the seaside promenade.
Now to the story.
I had had big plans of dragging my portable piano to Spain. At the check-in counter in Toronto the agent promptly rejected the piano in the lovely crate I had built. The airline won’t let me check it as baggage because they said it was as big and heavy as a coffin. Dejected I sent it home in an in-law’s car trunk. As luck would have it, I had another in-law in Spain with an old unused Casio keyboard of sixty-five keys, one pedal, a stand, and books of Bach and Chopin.
I set up that keyboard in a window with the ocean view. Then I started playing during the long afternoon siestas. Bach, Chopin, and I quickly fell in love. Apparently so did my new neighbors who, unbeknownst to me, heard me practicing hours on end through that open window.
Back in Canada I started asking about for a “Classical” piano teacher. A professor from McMaster University recommended Leon Karan. I set up a lesson. It didn’t go well. I banged through some scales and thumped out my Bach. Though I was embarrased and humiliated, Leon was kind. After I recovered, he said, “you are of course going to do your ARCT?” “I am?” Five thousand hours later I earned an ARCT diploma in piano pedagogy and won a national scholarship. Thank you, Leon, for your patience. You changed my life.
Revised August 2022
Stretching your limits is good
Learning Jazz on the xylophone
I've fond memories of listening to New Orleans Jazz as a kid at home. Al Hirt, Louis Armstrong, Pete Fountain, the lot. Music that gives joy when you play it. and joy when you listen to it.
"Sugar" was released in 1926 by Ethel Waters, you can listen below. Over the Christmas break, I've been learning to play jazz on the xylophone. Who knew it was so much fun? This is my version on xylophone with piano accompaniment.
If you would like to have as much fun as this on the piano, call me.
Revised August 2022
Preparing to play jazz piano in public
Yesterday fourteen piano students got together in a jazz club and jammed with a bassist and drummer. What a blast!
Here is some feedback from students:
Next up February, Covid willing.
If you'd like to join us, call me.
Revised September 2022
Number 3 is the saddest. “I tried teaching myself “. Trying to teach yourself from YouTube or some half-baked app is like trying to teach yourself to drive a car from YouTube. Let that sink in for a moment. A teacher will make you a plan, sequence the material for you, respond to your concerns, and inspire you.
Number 1 and 4? " I have no talent; I have no rhythm." I take ballroom dance classes with my wife. She is a natural and trained dancer. I’ve no talent or rhythm. But I’m having fun every week. Nobody cares, not even my wife. We are having way too much fun dancing to worry about my lack rhythm or talent.
If I can help you overcome the resistance, call me.
Revised September 2022
How do I practice?
I practice piano and drums daily, except Sundays when I rest. This summer I'm practicing bass. My student Barb asked me, "how do you practice?" This is what I said.
Revised October 2022
Eric Liang, jazz student.
This guy did the work and then fearlessly put himself out there.
Revised October 2022
I learned piano haphazardly as a teenager. When I attended Berklee College of music the piano teachers never talked about “playing” the piano, only what to play. Later in my professional work as a commercial musician the playing demands were not too strenuous.
In my early forty's I spent a summer in Santa Pola Spain with a small keyboard and a book of Bach WTC book 1 and Chopin Waltzes. Every afternoon after lunch while the world took a siesta, I would explore the music on this tiny sixty note plastic keyboard. It was a magical experience. Upon returning home, I started asking around for a piano teacher. Leon Karan’s name came up a few times, so I called him. He answered with his warm Russian accent. Yes, I will see you. An appointment was made.
“Mr. Story, please play for me a c major scale.”
Gritting my teeth and tensing my body as hard as I could, I dug in and roared up the piano. He looked at me sympathetically.
“Please play your piece for me.”
I’ve no recollection of which piece I played but I do remember his concerned reaction. I was humbled.
“You are of course going to do your ARCT?”
“ARCT, you are a piano teacher. You have a duty to your students.”
Four years and five thousand hours of practice later, I graduated age 47. It was the most difficult and rewarding thing I’ve ever done as a musician. It was truly a marathon, but to mangle my metaphors, I felt like superman.
If you'd like to feel like superman/woman, call me.
Revised October 2022
Gary's Jazz Journey
"Spending winters in the sunshine, reading, playing golf and socializing seemed a wonderful way to spend retirement. With both of us being music lovers, our sound system is always on all day with great music ranging from Classical, Jazz and some pop. But I felt something was missing and it wasn’t snow. My wife encouraged me for years to take music lessons. I was not too keen because my memory of lessons was the Nuns whacking my fingers with a ruler insisting, I keep my lazy fingers off the keys; that ended in 1958 when I got my Grade 8 piano. But the seed was planted. I decided to look on the net for a music teacher near Burlington and came across David’s website. This really looked interesting. During our cocktail hour that night, I said – when we get back to Burlington, I am going to take Jazz lessons from this David Story guy. On April 23, 2013 my life changed.
Of course, I thought I would be rattling off Jazz tunes within weeks; grief! As time progressed, I realized how complex Jazz really is, especially soloing; how do they do that? Practice, practice, practice every day and soon I started to see the tunnel – no light yet! After a few years of toil and trouble, something that sounded akin to music emerged; I encouraged my cousin to take lessons from David. Then, 4 years ago, David encouraged us to attend the Jamey Aebersold Summer workshop in Louisville. There we were for 6 days: 2 old guys, jamimg in groups, attending classes and intense listening, from 7am to 10 PM. Hardly time for a Scotch closer at night! At last, all those lessons from David were clicking into place like a Rubik’s cube. We went back the next summer and did it again. Then, David encouraged me to try and get a group together to Jam. The pressure was on; my 2 songs would not cut the mustard. More practice. An advert in Kijiji did the trick; we ended up with an exceptional drummer, bass, guitar – and me. We met every week for 3 hours until covid.
My lessons continue. The Jam will continue after we all get our shots. I am still amazed at what some practice along with amazing guidance and encouragement from David has done for my life and continues to do so. Not bad for an 80 year old!"
Gary's First Jazz Lesson 2013
Update October 2022: Gary is still at it. He's been playing jazz, in multiple bands, each week now, for years. Go Gary!
Revised October 2022
Setting out to create your own music has many satisfactions.
But first a story.
I'm 13 years old, and an overly confident self-taught guitarist. I head off to music camp in Kirkland Lake Ontario in the summer of 1972. Harry Forbes, the guitar instructor, was kind and tolerant. Good thing because I sucked.
One day I spotted a strange looking keyboard in the corner of the room.
Q: "What is that, Harry?"
A: "It's an ARP2600 synthesizer".
Q: "What does it do?"
A: "It does this"
Me: "Holy *D*D(#KD+!"
I was hooked. I've never looked back.
So why create your own music?
1. Personal expression
2. Participate in the sound of our time
3. Keep the "play" in playing music alive
4. Creative exploration and discovery
5. Learn new instruments
6. Join an online community of music makers
7. Become a rich and famous DJ
8. Collect gear
Electronic music has its own terms.
DAW Score paper
How to get started.
The cheapest way is to explore phone apps. This can be expanded with the addition of a specialized keyboard that attaches to your phone. $100+
Next up, purchasing a USB keyboard and a Digital Audio Workstation and pair of audio speakers. $500+
When you want to go all in you will need a USB interface to plug in mics and instruments, USB keyboard and a Digital Audio Workstation, microphones, yards of audio cables, a pair of specialized audio speakers, a specialized desk, and a room to put it all in.
I can help you get started, call me.
Revised October 2022
Over the duration of the classes, I've learned many new things about teaching online. As a result, I've upgraded and tweaked my technology and lesson plans. Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks?
Revised November 2022
I'm 15 or so, I've been playing a year or two. I "practice" in quotes all the time. She is cute, she sings, she needs an accompanist for the church strawberry social. I step up. I'm waaaaaay over my head. But keen to impress.
We practice, I survive. But I am about to learn the difference between the practice room and the stage. In hindsight I imagine it is like the difference between basic training and real combat.
It's a beautiful day, they haul a small piano outside on the grass. The back of the piano faces the singer and the audience. We step up. I am soooo nervous, so underprepared that my right leg starts to bounce uncontrollably, audibly, banging the underside of the piano. People are looking around for the source of the noise. I'm deadpan behind the piano.
It mercifully ends.
1. "Superbia et ante ruinam" Pride goes before the fall. But the show must go on.
2. Never underestimate the power of shameless audacity in a show biz career.
3. It's harder than it looks. The magic of the performing arts is the illusion it is easy.
Poland is a long way to travel to learn with American Jazz Masters Dena DeRose, Miguel Zenon, Aaron Goldberg, Mike Moreno, Ali Jackson, and Luques Curtis.
It was worth every penny for such a transformational experience. Bonus, a beautiful country and people too.
Aaron Goldberg, pianist, was our ensemble leader for the week.
About seven years ago I first attended the Jamie Aebersold Jazz Workshop in Louisville Kentucky as a drummer. I was green but pumped. I was pulled out of the workshop on day one and sent to a room where two instructors waited. Bassist Bob Sinicrope started drilling me with questions. Who are you? Why are you here? Very direct.
I explained I was a piano teacher and musician from Toronto who now played the drums. I had attended Berklee College of Music back in the day… He cut me off. “Who did you study with?”
Ah, Ray Santisi.
“Ray Santisi, I’m his bass player!” We were instant friends.
Which brings me back to Poland and Aaron Goldberg.
After hearing us all play we were put into groups and assigned rooms to report to. A bunch of us showed up, nervously eying each other. Language was an issue. There were 5 Poles, 2 Russian teenager wunderkinds, 1 Chinese Rock Star, and 1 Canadian old guy. We all noticed the room was devoid of music stands.
Aaron walks in. He was a student of Bob Sinicrope! He calls the first tune: Body and Soul. No music. We sing as a group the bass line of the song after much discussion and negotiation. We get it. Then the singer, in halting English, explains it’s in the wrong key. Aaron gives us a new tonic note and low and behold we sing the bass line in a new key. He counts us in. Away we go. I’m glad I’m a drummer that day.
At the concerts during the week, we are the only group playing without music. We play with intensity and conviction born from pure terror. We nail it.
Aaron buys us a bottle of Bison Vodka at weeks end and salutes us all.
Thank you Aaron for valuable insights and the vodka.
5 steps to Jazz lesson renewal
If you are feeling stale, try the following exercises.
If I can help you, let's chat.
You've got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.
I'm a professional pianist and music educator in West Toronto Ontario. I'm also a devoted percussionist and drum teacher.