I’ve been asked to help out in the trumpet section at the HSPVA Jazz Ensemble’s performance at Discovery Green tomorrow (Friday 10/26). I’ve been helping the trumpet section this way, when needed, for over twenty years now. I began teaching jazz improvisation as a class at HSPVA in the early 90’s and have been helping them out ever since.
The ensemble will be opening for one of its most successful alumni, Robert Glasper, who has become one of the top names in jazz over the past decade. His new release, Black Radio, has been well accepted and very popular.
The following is an email announcement I received from Bob Morgan with all of the details for the event (Thanks Doc). If you can make it out, please feel free to stop by and say hello. I look forward to seeing you there.
From Bob Morgan:
Wanted to make sure you knew about the annual fall tribute concert to HSPVA this Friday at Discovery Green; details:
Friday, Oct. 26; 7:00 pm (admission free!)
Discovery Green park downtown (across from Geo. R. Brown Convention Center)
(best parking is underground, entrance across st. from convention center; $ 12)
Opening group: this year’s excellent HSPVA Jazz Ensemble # 1, the also-excellent Warren Sneed, director!
Headliner: THE ROBERT GLASPER EXPERIMENT, featuring:
Robert (‘PVA, ’97), piano/keyboards
Casey Benjamin, alto sax/vocoder
Derrick Hodge, bass
Mark Colenburg, drums
Yours truly and Eric Ladau (KUHF-FM), emcees
Perhaps you’re aware that Robert’s group is one of the hottest jazz items on the planet at the moment. In fact, they are interrupting a multi-night engagement at L. A.’s Royce Hall (UCLA campus) to fly to Houston/back to L. A. for this gig. Go to Robert’s website for further info.
I hope to see you there!
PS Robert will be featured this Friday on KUHA/KUHF’s “The Front Row.”
(Sorry for the short notice, but, you know, retirement is very time-consuming…:-)
I started practicing with logs over two decades ago. I feel they are so important that I often say that if I didn’t write what I practiced in a log, then it doesn’t really count as practice time. But knowing the power of practice logs is a constant source of frustration for me with the students. There seems to be an assumption among the students that anything that requires organization must not really be fun. So I struggle to communicate to them just how much more fun they can have playing music if they begin logging their practice sessions.
The problem with not using logs is that your practice will never have the focus and direction you need to be the best you can be. Without logs and journals and being organized in our practice, our minds focus on whatever is most immediately obvious. I think this is why so many trumpet players end up focusing so much on their chops. If all of your practice is based on whatever you think about when you begin, the worries and concerns of having the chops to get through a gig dominate your focus. Then nothing else comes to mind as you pound away at a problem that would be better left alone.
Also, when you don’t use logs, there is no way to measure your progress other than by feel. Unfortunately, how you feel about your progress is typically inaccurate. Sometimes you will feel good about your practice because it feels like you spent a long time working on something. Other times you will feel bad because the time you invested doesn’t seem to be producing any results. Meanwhile, the issues that were most important for you to address have slipped from your focus and remain neglected.
When you feel like you have made a lot of progress without using logs, it is purely emotional. How do you know you made progress? When your chops feel good you feel like you made progress. When you had fun playing your trumpet for thirty minutes, it will feel like you made progress. But I have seen how this works after three decades of teaching trumpet. I know that we have a natural tendency to practice the things that make us feel good. We are reluctant to tackle those musical issues that frustrate us. So when we judge a practice session according to how good we feel about it, this is the musical equivalent of lying to yourself.
In contrast, sometimes it works the other way around. When we refuse to use logs and to be organized in our practice sessions, we tend to judge our lack of progress based on the fact that we continue to FEEL frustrated when we do those things that need to be done. Once again, this feeling is inaccurate. We cannot feel our progress because our minds continue to grow with our technique. In other words, the objectives and goals we want to reach are always in front of us, moving forward as our abilities move forward. If we judge our progress according to the way it feels, it is normal to feel stagnant as we move forward.
The key to success as a musician is to remove feeling from the practice equation. Save all that feeling stuff for the band stand! When you are practicing, it is important to remain objective. Do not pursue happiness in your practice sessions. Instead, pursue accuracy, pursue competence, pursue versatility. But for those, you must be organized.
Eddie Lewis – Trumpet, Tom Borling – Keys, David Klingensmith – Bass, Seth Paynter – Sax and Richard Cholakian on Drums.. this is the amazing band that will be performing with me at the “Eyes on Tomorrow” Concert for Greater Peace in the Next Generation… you will not want to miss this.. tickets are on sale now.. don’t forget there will be a live auction and some amazing items are on display. Alyse Black and the Mambo Jazz Kings will also be there.
Next in my Life Builders series es mi compadre Cesar Morales, perhaps the most virtuosic saxophonist I have ever met. Although we work together only rarely anymore, I worked more with Cesar in the 90’s than I did with any other sax player. The first time I ever wrote about Cesar online was in my “First Impressions” collection of stories on my old website. In that story I recalled the first time we met. I had heard so many wonderful things about Cesar and he said he had heard good things about me. But when we met, I was wearing tights and Cesar was dressed up like an elf! Ha! We’ve been having lots of laughs ever since.
In the early 90’s, Cesar and I worked together with Angelucho and his Copa Cabana. The following is a video from one of our gigs together with that band. This was taken at the Houston International Festival. The horn section is Ed Lowe on tombone, Cesar on sax, Luis Juarez and I on trumpet.
Soon after I started working with Angelucho, I also began working with Cesar in the Ricky Diaz Orchestra. This was the first big band in Houston to call me on a regular basis. I still work with Ricky occasionally and had the pleasure of recording a CD with him this past summer. It was actually a recent gig with Ricky Diaz that inspired me to write about Cesar for this Life Builders post. Every time I work with Ricky, it feels like a family reunion.
Later, Cesar and I worked for several years with a band called Salsamerica. This was a variety, top forty band that did half Spanish music and half English. Working steady with Cesar in this band was a very important learning experience for me.
I remember before I met Cesar, people used to tell me that he was a walking encyclopedia of tunes. Guess what…they were right!
Most of my students know that I place a lot of importance on expanding repertoire. I emphasize this with my students simply because I value the idea of having a vast collection of tunes in my own career (See one of my earliest posts titled “What Defines Us?”). This is true regardless of whether you want to be a soloist or someone who just enjoys playing in band. The more literature we know, the more of a blessing we can be to those who we serve through our music. And my desire to know so many tunes is directly inspired by Cesar.
As I said, Cesar and I worked together for most of the 90’s. With Salsamerica we did everything from jazzish dinner sets, to Motown, to Tejano, to Salsa. Working with Cesar in this context, where we were called upon to perform music from such diverse genres, I got to experience his wealth of repertoire first hand. I saw just how many tunes this man has bottled up in his head and I was inspired.
This inspiration has been the driving force behind that part of my pedagogical approach. It was Cesar who taught me that it is our repertoire that defines us as musicians, and that when we know more tunes, more solos, more compositions, we then become more valuable as working musicians. It may be different in academia, but in the streets, our repertoire is our most valuable commodity as musicians.
What a Difference a Day Makes
I remember one gig with Salsamerica when Cesar motioned to me to take the lead on “What a Difference a Day Makes.” I shook my head and told him, “I don’t know it.”
Afterward, Cesar pulled me aside and asked, “How could you not know this tune? We play it on almost every gig with Ricky Diaz.”
My response to him was not satisfactory. I told Cesar, “I don’t play the melody on Ricky’s gig.”
Cesar pointed out that I should be paying attention to the melody on every tune I play, regardless of what part I am playing. He was right. I have tried to take his correction to heart ever since. Just because I don’t play the melody does not mean I should be ignorant or unaware of it.
One of Cesar’s amazing talents is that he can solfeggio anything he can play. And when you hear how fast he can play, that is just short of miraculous. The only other person I ever knew who could do anything even close to this is Curt Warren. The difference between the two is that Curt uses movable “do” (if I remember right) and Cesar uses a more European fixed “do” that he learned as a child in Mexico. So Cesar uses “do” for all the C’s, regardless of the key. And he also uses “si” instead of “ti.”
Before I ever met Cesar, a good friend of mine, Jessie Duran, said that he was going to take solfeggio lessons from Cesar. The stories Jessie used to tell about Cesar seemed too fantastic to be true. But every bit of what he told me was right on.
This too had an impact on my playing. Cesar established a musical truth for me that I may have learned too late in my career if I had never worked with him. I learned from him that ear training and technique go hand in hand. Technique is not just a matter of wiggling your fingers. Your technique can only be as useful as your ears. If you cannot hear what you are playing, then your technique is nothing more than “pyrotechnics.”
A Transference of Technique
Cesar plays so fast all the time, and working with him several times a week for many years meant that I got to hear him use that technique in a musical manner. I remember a long time ago, Tony Campise said in a clinic that he played the way he did (lightning fast) because that’s what he was hearing in his head. Well, after working with Cesar for so long, I realized that this was contagious. I began to hear things that way as well. I went through a period when almost everything I played in an improvised solo was fast.
When I moved to Houston, I had very little speed at all. I remember being intimidated by how fast everyone here was playing. But working with Cesar for those years, I began to hear “fast.” I began to speak that language.
Granted, I don’t play like that so much anymore. Okay, well, sometimes I do, but not as often as I used to.
But the point is that Cesar showed me how to take all of that stuff I was practicing and make it sound good in a solo. So I have him to thank for pointing me in the right direction.
Thank You Cesar
As always, I have typed several pages of text about what Cesar means to me and I know it’s time to stop and close this post, but there is so much more I could say. I have touched on the main musical points. There are many other ways that Cesar contributed into my life. I am so grateful to be able to call him my friend.
I know Cesar doesn’t do the internet thing, so I won’t end the way I normally do. I just want you all to know that Cesar is very dear to me. I miss working with him. We had so much fun together and I only hope that I can touch other people’s lives the way he has touched mine. You know….spreading the love around a little.
I want to close this post by encouraging everyone who reads this to acknowledge someone who has contributed to your life. That’s what these Life Builder posts are all about. Yes, I want to acknowledge these people who mean so much to me. Yes, that is the most important thing. But I can do that privately (and I actually do it privately more often than I do it on this blog – now that I’m trying to be better at that). So I want everyone to use this as an example so that you can tell the people who made a difference in your life that they are important to you.
Mother Teresa once said that the poverty in America is the poverty of loneliness. When you tell people that they made a difference in your life, it makes them feel more like life is worth living. So please, take my example and do something with it.
Most of my students know that my thoughts often congregate on one philosophical topic at a time and my teaching goes through waves of changing emphasis. As I learn new things about trumpet, teaching, learning and life in general, I share my fascination with the students in their lessons. For the past few weeks, the new wave has been an emphasis on expectations. What I have been sharing with the students is the idea that expectations destroy stereotypes.
My Success With Expectations
I have been both successful and unsuccessful as a teacher in this regard. An example of my success in using expectations to destroy stereotypes can be seen in my youngest students. Almost invariably, when a parent of a seven or eight year old student sets up a lesson, I am told that the child cannot take an hour long lesson because he or she does not have a long enough attention span. In the beginning, these parents sometimes push for fifteen minute lessons (which I cannot accommodate).
Interestingly, when the kids come to the hour long lessons, I never see any indication of attention span problems. This is ironic because I do not attempt to entertain my students. I am a natural teacher, not a natural entertainer. So I teach the students in a serious manner which keeps them engaged throughout the lesson. When the lesson is over, the students almost always say that they wish the lesson was longer (longer than an hour). They don’t want to leave. It’s funny because the parents then say “Well I guess he/she really likes playing the trumpet.” There’s no doubt that they probably do like playing the trumpet, but I do believe that what they are seeing is a different teaching style, something they are not used to.
What makes the difference? I believe that those young students are responding to my expectations of them. I do NOT expect them to have attention span problems. I do NOT make excuses for bad behavior. I do NOT try to entertain them with puppets or candy or lying about how well they did. No, I clearly communicate my expectations to them and because of this, I have never had an attention span problem with any of my youngest students.
My Failure With Expectations
I wish I could say that I have always been that successful in this regard, but I have not. One of the failures I remember most, probably because it was so recent (about three years ago) was my expectations for students with braces. It used to be that when my students had braces, my expectations for their performance was compromised. Instead of expecting them to do their best, I made allowances for them. I made excuses for them. I started each lesson thinking to myself, “here we go again. This guy is going to sound terrible with the braces.”
My expectations for the students with braces meant that the students expected even less of themselves. As teachers, it is dangerous for us to make any assumptions. I once had a teacher who had false expectations of my playing because he knew I was a jazz player. So everything that was wrong with my playing was because I played jazz. If I played a rhythm wrong, the answer was to stop playing jazz. If I played out of tune, the answer was to quit playing jazz. To that teacher, I would always be a bad player for as long as I continued to play jazz. When we base our expectations on these false assumptions, these stereotypes, we are then completely incapable of teaching.
With me, it was the same way with braces. But I will tell you that I have changed my attitude and I make a conscious effort to destroy ALL stereotypes by holding all students to the same set of standards. Today I hold my braces students to the same musical expectations as I do anyone else.
Just Do It Right!
I remember the day I finally figured out what I was doing wrong with the braces students. I was in a lesson, listening to some really horrible sounds from one of the students, when I just blurted out to him, “Just do it right. I want you to get a good sound right now.”
Amazingly, the student stopped playing with that horrible sound and immediately started sounding good.
Why hadn’t I thought of that in the first place? Here all that time I was trying to WORK our way through the problem while inadvertently overly focusing on the problem and not the objective. As teachers, when we clearly state our expectations, it takes the students’ focus off of the problem and points them towards the final objective.
This is the implementation of the goal setting that I talk about so often. In all of my promotional materials, I tell people that this is one of the things that sets me apart as a teacher. I believe in pursuing the students goals (as opposed to my own personal goals for those students) and combining that with giving them the practice techniques they need to achieve those goals. This is the best recipe for musical empowerment that I know of. When we focus on the goal instead of the obstacles, through our expectations, we help the students to more easily overcome those obstacles.
My mistake with the braces students was that I was focusing on their bad sounds, not on the goal of getting a good sound. What’s ironic is that I don’t typically operate that way. But my past experiences as a teacher working with students with braces created a bias in my teaching that I had to correct.
If you are a teacher, I strongly encourage you to think about what I’ve shared here. What are your expectations for the students?
I can tell you that I have spoken with a lot of teachers who expect their students to sound bad, to play poorly and to have bad attitudes. And guess what! That’s exactly what they encourage in their lessons. If you think yo may be one of these kinds of teachers, I want to encourage you to change your outlook. Raise your expectations of your students. Don’t just assume the worst and be satisfied with that.
If you are a trumpet student, please understand that the expectations you have of your own musicianship are the ones that matter most. The students I enjoy teaching most are those who have higher expectations of themselves than I have of them. And I know you could say that I have no business teaching someone if my expectations are not higher than theirs. But I disagree. Part of my job is to help them raise their own expectations of themselves. I consider myself to be a successful teacher when they can finally take ownership of their own musicianship to the point where they care far more about their own playing than I possibly could.
Of course, that leads to other problems we need to address in the lessons (because those are the students who constantly berate themselves – which is also not good). It’s all part of the process of growing as a musician.