Podcast – Episode 5: Stella by starlight
Brendan: This is jazzguitarlegend.com Podcast Episode 5.
Brendan: Welcome to all our listeners. Thank you for joining our podcast once again. My name is Brendan Hall and I’m joined by Dixon Nacey and today we will be talking about Stella by Starlight and also we’re gonna be talking about a very interesting blog post that we put out recently which is all about how to structure your practice so stay tuned for that and right now I’m introducing Dixon. Dixon how are you?
Dixon: I’m very good. Thank you Brendan. How are you doing?
Brendan: “…” Thank you for coming once again and we’ve shooting some lessons today, haven’t we?
Dixon: Yeah man! We got three. We did one of my favorite standards Stella by Starlight. [music]. I totally love the chords of that tune so that was fun and “…” we had a look at a whole lot of different ways of how you can get a little bit more swing into your lines, how you can play longer lines, how to go about being melodic you know, lyrical, and so you know some kind of like definitive concepts that you can go about practicing. Not “…” but more kind of conceptual ideas about how you can go about improving on those elements of your playing.
Dixon: Lots of 8th note stuff and had a look at the chords and some different harmonic ideas but mainly it’s conceptual things which will hopefully be exciting for some place. I just I know that I’ve been asked a lot. I get asked about that a lot. How can I connect things together so that I can play fluently over like chord changes and difficult chord changes or when a harmony is not really common. The harmony if you listen to those chords [music]. All of those chords there’s like, 3 or 4 chord key changes sorry in there. There’s lots of modulating, lots of harmony going“…..”
Brendan: Great! So we’re gonna go into depth of that later on. But before we talk about that what have you been up to lately?
Dixon: I’ve been “…” It ended up meaning that I took about 8 days off for doing absolutely nothing. “…”
Brendan: But you got to do some great blog post.
Dixon: Exactly! I “…” weekend on this stuff man it was great and the very least was conceptualizing and like thinking about different ideas, different ways of going about some, putting up content that we’ve been doing, so that was good.
Brendan: ‘coz obviously as part of the premium membership we’re doing a monthly jazz standard.
Dixon: Yes. We’re two weeks late but this one.
Brendan: It’s gonna come out at the month, at some point in the month. Just for everybody that’s listening there’s “..” 30 hours of work into each lesson when it comes down to editing and of course Dixon seems to expand ideas a lot further than what we talked about.
Dixon: Yeah! I write down five things, yeah that’s gonna be easy and then 3 hours later I was still struggling, frustrated because it becomes much more of a, it’s like a creative process even if you rehearse it and you’re like ah man I’m gonna do only that then you get to, then your mind rises, hey what about this idea?
Brendan: It opens up like a flower.
Dixon: It opens up like a flower. It’s the analogy. It’s amazing.
Brendan: And we’ve had some really great feedback about the blog actually. If you haven’t checked out the blog you can go to jazzguitarlegend.com/blog and we did have a post on “…” this week. We wanted to talk a little bit about that as a lot of you have been asking questions about it and that post was how to practice jazz guitar and “…”. Do you play golf?
Dixon: I have time. “…” and I’m worried if I get hooked on it. “…” a really good friend of ours”…”. He’s an amazing bass player that lives in a place out of New York and he had a little bit of an injury and it’s just like you gotta watch yourself you know.
Brendan: You can’t play golf and be a guitarist.
Dixon: You can’t, I don’t know. I don’t think you can take it seriously.
Brendan: One of things I’m really really good at is mini golf.
Dixon: Mini golf. What’s your handicap?
Brendan: Basically I played my, I’ve got a wife and 2 girls. I played with them the other day “…”
Dixon: Wow. And you won it?
Brendan: Took it out. “…..” So jazz guitar, it’s like improving your golf swing apparently.
Dixon: I do like, Brendan you wrote that part, I like that part of the blog. “…” I like this one particular thing like going back to talking music instead of beating up people. I did like this one thing that you said when you’re on stage and you’re playing a tune, you’re taking a solo, you got a little bit of a feature and it’s like the one thing that “….” is that, you know, you’ve gotta communicate your point really clearly and if you don’t, the audience doesn’t care if you’re having a bad night or if your sound is not that good, or any one of the other things than can affect you and make you play bad. What they really care about is like hearing something really good and so there needs to be like “…” but there’s a massive amount of practice. You know, to play it live, something like that, you know to me it’s not hard because I practice that so much. And yet someone else it’s like, man what the heck was going on there that’s a lot of stuff you know and I’ve got guys “…” what the heck was going on there? That’s a lot of stuff! And then you hear them talk about “…” that’s not hard. Of course it’s not hard to me ‘coz I practice like crazy. So going back to your thing, what you talked about it’s like the audience wants to just hear something that sounds good and you need to be able to clearly get your point across the audience. Now that is actually the mind focus of why you practice. It’s not, I don’t think you practice just purely for self-exploration. I think you practice so that you can communicate your ideas clearly. A few year [singing and playing the guitar], but you play [music], that’s not the same thing man, you might have heard that in your brain “…” but if you don’t play that, how’s your audience gonna hear that? So the practice part is essential. “….” You know what? Man that’s so cool because that is the essence of why you practice. I don’t mean to impress people. I mean to get your point, your artistic creative point across clearly, you know. It doesn’t have to be perfect. You might even hear it with a little bit of “…”. You might hear a little bit of a missed note or a skip or slide or an articulation or you know, a little bit of an out note or whatever, I mean that stuff is up to you by getting that clearly across. That’s so important.
Brendan: And what you’ve done in the post is you’ve broken down 3 areas, 3 different groups of practicing. “…” So group 1 you have time and repertoire. Why don’t you talk a little bit about that?
Dixon: Yeah so what, first of all I’ll talk about the basic idea behind this so basically the thing is that I believe that you, the player should practice if they wanna have good instrumental technique. I believe they should practice if they want to come to understand their instrument a little bit better and how it deals with harmony ‘coz a guitar is totally different from piano when it’s dealing with harmony “…” really easy to transpose, really hard to start with all of these sorts of things. Those things can only be overcome with constant practice okay so the other thing is getting your point across to the audience clearly like we just talked so with all these great reasons for practice and I thought when I would practice I would sit down and like I’m gonna start practicing “…”. And then I get bored you know, probably usually within the first minute and start [music] and I’ll just start jamming and then all of a sudden 2 hours later I’d come out I hadn’t really gotten that much better or maybe I had in some way but it was no definitive way of understanding how much I’d actually improved. So when I thought ok I’m definitely gonna practice a certain thing, I actually started to group these things under the umbrella of the different aspects, different fundamental aspects of music. So the first thing I came up with was time, thinking anything that relates to time: phrasing, time field, rhythmic development, 8th notes, subdivision, tempo. All those things relate to time. And then I’ll practice anyone of those little sub groups that I just mentioned “…” Harmony, that’s another fundamental. You know, repertoire, that’s an absolute fundamental. You gotta learn about stylistic, you gotta learn about the pieces that fit within the genre and how to play them you know. If I play Stellar by Starlight like [music], you know like a rock tune. It doesn’t fit within the Starlight’s genre. The chords might be right, kinda not really right, but you get the idea. You know so repertoire is really important. And instrumental technique, that’s really important so basically if you look on our little blog page we’ve got three sub groups and I just wrote a practice routine and I’m gonna practice but I’m gonna practice one group of things at a time. And I actually got this from, I heard about I think it was a great saxophonist and he’s like man, so heavy. He was studying in the States so he may probably “…” His name is Chris Potter. You can check this dude out and maybe research just a little bit too. But I’ve heard that he does this thing where he takes one thing and practices for like you know, hours and days and weeks until he gets that one thing. I even heard that Coltrane was like this from I think it was Joey, who was it? I can’t remember, some drummer going down and seen John Coltrane playing and Coltrane was like playing on this one tune and he was playing this one kind of like line through every different chord change you know. “….” But then he came back you know the next hour or the next week and he’d been playing a different concept. “…” So that’s what the idea behind the subgroup is that you choose one topic and then you break it down as little things and you might even just take one little thing and then overtime, you know you might practice one thing for two weeks. But overtime you get like 20, 30, 40 good things and whole lot of other little relative things that are related to that and you get a lot better with all of those things really well rather than kind of a bit better at everything, if you know what I mean. ‘coz that’s kinda what jamming does. It’s great, it’s expressive but it’s not for the “…” I think we should be much more pointed, much more focused on how we practice so that’s what it’s all about. And you can “…” My one bit of advice is like put reading into every group, you know like do a little bit of reading because sight reading is really important in getting the work I think you know within the industry, being a musician and say perhaps supplementing your jazz addiction, playing jazz music with teaching. You gotta be over reading and that really helps and learning, it helps with learning. So I put reading into everyone and every subgroup “….”.
Brendan: Okay so what you’re saying is these different subgroups this is just a guide of how you would structure “…” however they want “…”.
Dixon: You have to..’coz everybody’s different. Everyone has different influences and different environments growing up. They play differently. They have different sized arms, and different types of guitar. “…” In fact our lessons are really structured somebody else had put up post recently like a comment, “Yeah man ‘coz I don’t wanna learn a whole bunch of licks and lines and it’s like man, that’s how we’ve structured. That’s kind of being our mantra. You know it’s like man, we don’t wanna do this at jazz guitar legend because the whole point of like being a creative musician is not to just repeat licks and lines. It’s more like take a concept and then you go and study how you will practice it. Be very methodical and reasonable and focus about how you practice it and how you apply it into music. It’s not just like, ah Wes Montgomery plays this lick [music]. You know you play everytime you hear [music].
Brendan: So you don’t wanna get stuck on one thing. You wanna use it as a foundation to improvise.
Dixon: Well yeah. I think you use it as a way of learning about sound. You know like, ah that’s what happens when I play this series of notes. So this is the feeling that I get. But it’s not. It shouldn’t be restricted to that. You know it’s like a scale. “…” Now I started almost on the same note. I finished almost on the same note. But I played it a variety of different ways. Now I’ve never ever played that ever in my life, whatever the heck that was. “…” The point is you have so many different things that you’re practicing. You’re good at rhythmic things and harmonic things, melodic things like how lines are made up and you develop those concepts and then that informs how you play. You start playing licks man. And when you hear a lick, or you know it sort of presents stuff in your mind, you can actually choose to discard it or take a little part of it. Instead of doing that you might go 1,2,3 [music]. I kinda changed it. Each time it evolved it started in a different place I rhythmically changed it. And that becomes more unique and more personal and that’s why you know, like that question is “…” And there’s a good example actually in 2009 I’ve written this “…” and someone had said to me hey man, so what do you actually practice and I was like, you know what I don’t even do this anymore. And so I wrote, I emailed the dude and this is exactly what I practice and I looked at that the other day and now it’s 2012 and man, I don’t even practice that anymore. I practice something totally different or I just don’t really have that much time “…”. So yeah it’s got to be personalized. And everything is to be. Otherwise you’re not really being creative. You’re copying.
Brendan: “…” ‘coz we have brought out fundamental series recently. If you’re listening to this in the future it’s obviously there’s a whole lotta lessons out there but we decided that we would actually put some lines into the course material. So what you’re saying is don’t just take those lines and that’s all you’re going to play.
Dixon: That’s the beginning part. That’s actually a great comment man. You can call them licks, you can call them lines, whatever. I call them lines purely because licks kind of, it’s like, lick almost, it almost kind of implies that the way that you’re gonna use it as you gonna grab it and play it exactly like “…” in the same place over the same harmony and the same rhythmic form, and the same order of notes and that’s not the point. The point is to learn like I mentioned earlier. The point is to learn about the harmony. So without fundamental series, we dealt with one scale shape, one position. It was this one here it was like [music]. Just around the C major chord up on the 8th fret you know. It’s a C major scale there. And like writing little lines like that. I played that exactly within my little shape which I learned very well “…” But I guess that’s the essence here is to come to terms with the harmony on your own tunes. Learn about it in the same way that you learned how to talk. You know people don’t go goo goo gaga and then bang! “…” and get that point across perfectly and clearly. No they went away. And in fact people that can really write well and really talk well have “…” to how to do that. “…” You apply that concept into music. Music is a language. How you possibly gonna play anything that’s musical if all you’ve done is “…” studies about like, tinkling on a few notes. How you possibly have turned that into any kind of dialogue with another musician or with an ensemble or “…” playing musical ideas just when you’re practicing. So that’s kind of getting away from the topic a little bit. Do you think it must be, everything must be personalized; the way that you play it. You can take those lines, you can use them if you want but really, it’s not about that. I don’t think music should either be about that. You don’t just take what other people do and then repeat it. You’ve got ideas that you learn from it and might help you with understanding things but after that you practice like crazy until you can play something that you feel. It’s important.
Brendan: Would that be why a lot of people obviously grab a take toward blues and we had a lot people asking for blues. Is that because blues has a like a set format and quite easy instructions for people to digest?
Dixon: Yeah! Yeah! Well I’m glad you asked that because we’re actually, the next video that we’re gonna shoot because we are a little bit behind on our one standard per month delivery, we’re gonna shoot this one quite quickly “…” because lots of people have been asking this in the blog comments and stuff it’s like, how can I play this kind of substitutions and super impositions, these invented kind of like chords that are just stuck over the top of other blues, you know, a jazz blues not the standard blues. And I do think that the blues has an essence, you know, music. And the essence of it is not contained with the notes. It’s not like you know, ah pentatonic scale. Man that’s so bluesy. It didn’t sound like a blues to me. That’s a pentatonic scale. Bended that’s so bluesy you know. It didn’t sound bluesy to me. Or vibrato that’s so bluesy. You see what I’m saying? People get mistaken into thinking that it’s the stuff their hearing. It’s not that man. It’s the intention and it’s the underlying emotion that the player has inside them and that they express through their instrument that is blues. Now that doesn’t get lost just because you “…” and call it jazz blues. So in a way, it is more simple but then the jazz musician gets harder than that and mess around and they put [music] a little extra chords, passing chords, and all of a sudden it feels like wooah, there’s a lot of harmony going on there. But that doesn’t mean it’s not soulful. I got really feeling that when I played that and you can still express your music in a kind the essence blues way that I think it’s the core of the blues not the notes.
Brendan: That’s awesome. That’s some really really good information there and I’m sure next month’s lesson is gonna be a real good lesson.
Dixon: I’m looking forward to doing it. It’s gonna be a challenge and it’s hopefully gonna answer a lot of questions that we’re getting basically.
Brendan: “…” into different components. There’s a section which will be available to general public either through youtube channel or through “…” the blog page or the lessons page, the jazz standards. And then there will be portion of that which is generally covering improvisation in a concept that we’re going to be linking back into our current core series which has 42 lessons.
Dixon: So maybe we should just quickly take a moment to explain how we’ve designed the sections.
Brendan: Yeah that would be good.
Dixon: So the first section was the Core Lessons. We came up with that because people like, we want, what content can we deliver