Transcription: Slam Stewart “I Got Rhythm”

by Hannah Dexter, bass

Slam Stewart is often forgotten when we think of virtuosic bass players. Although he came to prominence at the same time, Jimmy Blanton is credited with changing the way bass players solo, maybe due to how difficult Stewart’s classically trained style is to emulate. Although he spent one year at Boston Conservatory, studying orchestra repertoire under Jean Lemaire of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, his tone, intonation, and agility on the upright burns through countless classical players’ technique. No one can make tremolos and trills sound as tense and uplifting as this man.

Keep in Mind

1) Play this singing and bowing, at the same time, all the time.

2) Tear apart each phrase and practice them isolated. At nauseam.

3) Try playing it with someone comping ¼ notes. It’s insane.

4) Play with joy. Slam Stewart does not have a sad sound in his bass or in his voice.

5) The recording of this song is tuned a little high. It’s been verified that the original key is Bb.

Download the PDF here: Slam Stewart I Got Rhythm – Bass

Swing sisters, swing!
– The Jazz Girls

10 Fingers: Reuben Rogers

by Ella Campbell

The same evening we posted an article about Eric Harland, we had the opportunity to interview Reuben Rogers after a Charles Lloyd concert.

Here it is: 10-Fingers-Minus-One with Reuben Rogers.

1. What music do you listen to when you’re feeling introspective?
“Wow. Okay. I don’t know. It depends on what I scroll through my iTunes and choose. It could be anything. It could be some Miles Davis, it could be some funky Meters, it could be Calypso. I don’t just listen to jazz. Anything that moves me. A lot of times I’ll just pick a tune that moves me, and then click Genius on iTunes and I just go. I’m inspired by different people that I know a lot of times. If I’m close to the musician, if I at least can touch them and know them and talk to them, I want to hear them. Since I know their personalities, I can feel what they have to say.”

2. What is your favorite music to dance to?
James Brown, Jungle Groove

3. What was the most profound moment you had during a private lesson?
“Wow. I can’t say that there’s one particular thing. Maybe a couple. I had a good bass teacher, his name was Mitt Brown in Boston, and it’s because of him, for the most part, that I have the foundation that I have as a bass player. Cause he was like” – He started slapping his hand – “nope. nope. nope. … I mean, not literally hitting me. But you know, he was straight. And I didn’t know how important him being on me like that was. I only had lessons with him for maybe a year, year and a half, and man, I owe him so much. It’s ridiculous. But also I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to study with a handful of great bassists from Ron Carter to Rufus Reid and countless others. And anything they give, any little advice is good advice.”

4. Who is a young musician we should be looking out for?
“Hm. Eric Harland! I mean the whole crew, Taylor Eigsti, Julian Lage… Those guys I love because we’ve had great history and they are carrying our music to a whole ‘nother thing. Ofri Muhemia. He’s going to be a bad boy, he’s checking all the cats out, Hutch and everybody.”

5. What music did you hear as a child that you still listen to today?
“Gospel music. Gospel music, calypso, reggae music, and I still listen to that still today. All the time. Even though jazz music is what I play every day all day, but all of that music is in me and it stays in me and I can’t get away.”

6. What was the first album you bought?
Jaco Pastorius. And Miles Davis Greatest Hits. I mean, back then you know, I didn’t realize that I needed to know the entire albums.  But I mean, it was a compilation so I was just like ‘Oh shit!’ Oh, it was some heavy music all on one record. I listened to those two records over and over and over. I didn’t have any money to get anything else, but you know.”

7. What song did you have stuck in your head today?
He laughed “That’s funny that you say that. I’m going to tell you right now. I don’t know why I don’t remember it. But you will be very surprised.” He started pulling his iPod out of his pocket. “We were in Memphis these past few days and I was,” he interrupts himself, “wait, you know who Kirk Whalum is? He’s doing wonderful things. He has this wonderful program his doing for kids and he has this museum and it’s a great thing. I knew Kirk over the years but I hadn’t listened to his music in a long time. He was so warm, and so great with us, that I was like, ‘I’m gonna go buy this brother’s album.’ I bought it today, and he has this song, this cover called ‘I Wanna Know’ — Who sings it though? JOE. — He does a cover of this. It’s totally smooth jazz, right? But my god. He does it so well. So, anyway, all day:” – Starts playing it on his iPod for us to listen to. He starts dancing. – “So that’s what I was doing. That’s what I was listening to. It was funny, I was like, dang, have I ever bought a smooth jazz album before? I used to play a lot of that when I was in college. But anyway, this is what I was listening to.” – plays it again – “But you know what else? They got an organ. And the beats remind me of gospel music because he comes from gospel. Strong gospel background. So anyway. That’s what I’ve been listening to.” He started heartily laughing. “Kirk Whalum!” He laughed again. “From Charles Lloyd to Kirk Whalum. You know what I’m saying? It’s all good music. It’s all good music.”

8. What’s your favorite basement album?
“I don’t know. I don’t know.” Eric heckled him to think of something. “I don’t know! Eric Harland Voyager! I can’t think of anything right now! Bump his stuff.” We gave him a second.  “I go back to the classics a lot of times. I love anything from John Coltrane. I’m still a sucker for the greats.” Eric chimed in, “for good music.”  “There’s so much out there that sometimes I get overwhelmed by all the new music out there. I’ll wake up in the morning sometimes and just be like, you know what, let me listen to some Coltrane Ballads for a second. Let me get myself together. And it always hits me still, those classic albums. Then, later in the day, I’ll go back to some crazy hard shit that I’m listening to. But, John Coltrane, Ballads.”

9. If you could see any musicians perform today, who would they be?
“Who would I go see? Damn.” You don’t have to think this hard. These are supposed to be easy questions. “There’s so much music out here now man it’s crazy. Bob Marley.” Eric said, “Oh. Put him on mine too.”  “I wish I’d seen him. You know who I saw recently, that was killin? One of Fela’s sons. Not Femi. The younger one. The newer one. He’s just gettin’ his shit together. Seun? Is that his name? Sum’n with a S. His show was happenin. He was dancin’ his ass off. You know who I wish I had seen? Tony Williams. I wish I saw Tony Williams play live. I could’ve, but I didn’t. Dumb. Ray Brown. I saw him play a lot, but I wish he was still alive today. He was a great, great man, period. On and off the bass.” Eric: “I would have liked to see Tony at like, 20.” “Duke Ellington. I wish I could see him lead a band.”

Until next time,
Swing sisters, swing!

10 Fingers: Ben Williams

by Ella Campbell

Lately, I have been terrible about asking ten questions to musicians. Somehow I only get around to asking about 7 or 8, so here we have 10-Fingers-Minus-3 with Ben Williams. (when I typed ‘minus’ just now, I accidentally wrote ‘mingus.’ bass must be on the mind. #jazzgirltypos).

He and I played phone tag for a day at the Detroit Jazz Festival and then after watching Wayne Shorter perform at the end of the day, we got the chance to speak.

Mr. Williams is currently touring with Pat Metheny, and has performed on many-a-musicians’ albums as a sideman. (Stefon Harris & Blackout [check out our interview with Casey Benjamin, another member of Blackout], Terrell Stafford, Marcus Strickland [check out our interview here] and more). He also has an album as a leader, State of Art, released in 2011. In 2009 he won the Monk competition.

1. What music do you listen to when you’re in a reflective or contemplative mood?

“Maybe like Marvin Gaye or classical music. Dvorak is my favorite composer.”

2. What is your favorite basement music?

“Nobody has a basement in New York.”

I roll my eyes. Well I don’t mean, literally in a basement. If you’re just hanging out with people, what are you listening to?

“Yo are you hip to this singer named Emily King?”

I thought I was the one asking the questions? Yeah, I’ve heard her.

“Yeah I fuckin’ love Emily King.”

cue: Ben playing the song Down from his iPad.

“It’s weird because I’ve known her for a few years, and I wasn’t really hip to her music until a few months ago, and now I just can’t stop listening to her.”

3. What song did you have stuck in your head today?

“I know I had a song stuck in my head, I have one stuck in my head all the time. Well, actually, it’s usually in the morning and then it kinda goes away. This is a little embarrassing, but I had a Whitney Houston song stuck in my head.”
*pauses music to remember*
“I had, this Whitney Houston song, stuck in my head!”
*continues not remembering*
“Um. Run To You! It’s a little strange for a jazz bassist.”

Oh don’t worry, Jason Moran’s dance music was Azaelia Banks.

“I guess we’re an eclectic bunch.”

4. What was a profound moment you had while taking lessons?

“Um, well, actually okay. One thing I do remember, and this is a quote from Rodney, that I think is a quote from one of his teachers. He said, and this is regarding teaching and passing on information, ‘the information that you know does not belong to you,’ and it’s your responsibility to pass it on. It was from an interview that he did, and someone asked him why he teaches. I think it’s awesome, and I always remembered that.”

*The music changes to No More Room* [Remember we mentioned this song in Burniss Earl Travis’s article?]

Have you taught?

“Yeah, did you know I was actually a music education major at Michigan State? My last semester I was a student teacher.”

5. What was your most profound moment as a teacher?

“I don’t know if I had one profound moment, but teaching is… I guess any time a student just gets it and they go ‘oh! ah ha!’ That moment… I don’t know if profound is the word, but it means something to me.”

6. Name some musicians you want to see perform live.

“Well, most of them are dead because most of the people that I’ve wanted to see, that are alive, I’ve seen.” He paused. “Well, they’re all gonna be dead. Okay.
John Coltrane.
Freddie Hubbard.
Michael Jackson.

*song changes to Ever After*

“Umm…. Ray Brown. I never saw Ray Brown.
And Jaco.”

7. Ben and I began talking about standards, and I came up with a very patched, awkward and un-eloquent way of asking him about them:

“I think standards are standards because they are good songs. I don’t think anyone plays them just because they’re old, or by a certain composer; it’s because they still sound good, and you can still play them today and they sound good. I would say this, I feel that we need to keep creating standards. I think it’s a really important issue. The American Songbook is basically where we get all of our standards from, but it should be like an open book instead of a closed book. Where we can keep adding shit to it, not ‘this is what it is, and this is what it’s always going to be.’ I think about it a lot, and I’ve had to talk about it a lot, and I try to think about it in different ways. Actually, part of my thing, part of my goal with my music, is to try to add some repertoire to the ‘American Songbook.’”

. fin .

Until next time,
Swing sisters, swing!
– La

10 Fingers: Esperanza Spalding

by Hannah Dexter

The benefit concert with Esperanza Spalding and the American Music Program is now an annual event. My fellow Portland and Michigan State bass man, Louie Leager, was playing alongside Miss Spalding this year! I was running Pete’s Bass Shop while my boss was out of town and she rented an upright from us for the show. She graciously agreed to do this interview when she and her brother dropped off the bass on her way to the Portland Airport.

1) What song did you have stuck in your head today?
…. What? (an “are you serious face”). Uhmm… I didn’t- I didn’t have a song stuck in my head today.

2) What music do you listen to when you’re feeling thoughtful?
Uhmm… I like to listen to Oumou Sangare. She’s a singer. She’s from Mali. It’s good. It’s really outside of what we study. It’s nice for a different perspective.

3) What’s the first album you bought with your own money that you couldn’t stop listening to?
Mmmmmmm! (She lights up) I think it was probably Cibo Matto. My friends in high school liked it.

4) What’s your favorite Booty Music? Dance Music?
Dance Music? (Her brother gets a big grin on his face and chuckles, they make eye contact). Hmm Lemme think lemme think. Well, Earth, Wind, & Fire, or, you know …. Stevie Wonder!  Manhunt! Prince!

5) What is the most meaningful moment you had in a rehearsal, class, lesson, etc.?
Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!!!! … well… There’ve been a lot. I have to say. One that may mean something to other students… A couple of years ago, I got to participate in this conglomerate concert, everyone was there. The roster was so many people. Everybody played like one song, in a band with 5 or 6 people. And the band I got to play with was Herbie Hancock and Roy Haynes. The song was Dolphin Dance and I had never really learned the song. I had found out pretty late about it, so when I found out- from the time I found out to the gig I was trying to learn it. And memorize it. Really get the changes together and as soon as we started playing it, I got lost in the form. And I had wanted to make such a good impression on Herbie. To be a good listener and to follow him and be into what he was doing… and I got LOST! (Laughing) I had no idea where I was in the form! I know. I was so nervous and I don’t really remember anything I was playing. I was just so scared, and trying to listen, trying to hear anything in the form but, you know if I played a wrong chord he’d just make something out of it and I had no idea where we were. It was really embarrassing and I was getting really upset. Then I started to notice that anything I played, he heard. Anything I did, he was right there. Any rhythm I went to out of safety or trying to not sound like an idiot, Roy would grab. I realized I was so worried and scared that I wouldn’t do a good job of following them, but they were completely engaged with each other and me. They were listening as if I were anyone. Basically they gave me the same courtesy and dedication to listening and caring what I was playing that I was trying to give to them, thinking that, well they’re the masters and I better figure out how to compliment them. After the song, I was so embarrassed, I went to Herbie and I went ‘Oh man I’m so sorry, Mr. Hancock, I’m so sorry for getting lost, I’m gonna work-‘ ‘You were lost?’ (we laugh) He said ‘I thought that was fun!’ (we laugh harder). The lesson is, at that level, there is no ego. It’s totally humility. He came to the playing situation with as much willingness to follow me as I did to follow him. It had nothing to do with me as an individual, it was for the sake of the music. I hadn’t learned that before, I was ready for ‘yes master,’ come like a puppy dog, or whatever. So that was a really… powerful lesson. It’s basically, there is no level. There’s more experience, more mastery, but the basic fundamental intention of playing with anybody remains the same. He was almost 70 at that time.
JG: Wow. That’s a really great story.
ES: Yeah, now. At the time it was so intense.

6) Who’s a young musician we should be looking out for?
Christian Sanz.

7) What’s your favorite basement chillin music?
It’s Bill Carrothers. It’s just mellow enough that you don’t have to fully listen, but anytime you wanna tune in it’s the hippest deepest stuff that he’s playing. I like his record with Bill Stewart. His trio record. It’s a debate who’s the bass player cause I don’t have the pamphlet. Check it out!

8) What music from your childhood stuck with you?
Oh! Mr. Rogers’.  We were just talking about that in the car.

9) Make a band of 5ish musicians alive or dead that you want to see in concert.
ES: Hmmmmm… that is really challenging question. I don’t know if I can do it right now. I just can’t think- Okay!!!…. Nat King Cole.
JG: Piano or Vocals?
ES: Both. Definitely both. . . Nat King Cole. . . Oscar Pettiford. . . actually, you know what? If I could ever just see Art Tatum play solo, in real life, I think that would be enough. That’d be enough. But also, since there’s so few videos of him, it’d be great to have that band, Nat King Cole, Charlie Parker, and uhm… But, then you know, I’m not gonna go there because you don’t know about the chemistry of the band so I’ll just do Art Tatum solo.

10) If not music, what other job?
ES: I think I’d like to do some sort of healing. I got this book about energy healing. I don’t think I could do it because it’s so different from my understanding of medicine. But, I think it would be a worthwhile pursuit. Something with healing, medicine, nursing, some kind of natural medicine. Something that related to learning how to cultivate plants in a healthy sustainable way. Which I think may be related.
JG: Makes sense. Music seems to be pretty related spiritual healing.
ES: YEAH! Maybe that’s- maybe that’s not totally unrelated. But I know I see this woman in Austin, Texas who’s a healer/massage therapist and I’ll go in with a physical problem and the experience I’ve had with her, I go in and my shoulder’s bothering me and she can actually read the problem in myself. She’ll give me an exercise to work­­ on that’ll have nothing to do with my shoulder- well, with my shoulder AND ‘Don’t try so hard to prove that I’m capable. That’s gonna wear you out. Know that you are capable.’ Just being around someone with that gift, that talent, it means so much to me and when I met her I was like wow, if I didn’t do music I’d wanna be someone like that, that can give that to people because it’s.. it’s amazing! … So I guess we can try to do that in music.

Until next time, Heal sisters, Heal!

10 Fingers: Derrick Hodge

by Ella Campbell

Allow us to explain what a “10 Fingers” post will be: we ask musicians ten fun and and quick questions. Hopefully the answers only require one or two sentences, we know these guys have got a lot of people to talk to! With those short answers, we at Back Beat add links so that you can discover and learn from them everything they mean when they just give us the name of an album or artist. I know these interviews look short, but try to read as many of the links as you can – we certainly learn a lot looking all of them up, and we want to share all of that with you!

On Friday night, Detroit was graced by the presence of the Robert Glasper Experiment. If you’ve never seen a concert in Detroit, go there. That city shows LOVE. Well, “moves love,” I suppose. The line-up included Mark Colenburg, drums; George Clint– I mean, Casey Benjamin, saxophones, vocoder and ambient laser sounds; Derrick Hodge, bass; and of course Robert Glasper, keys.

After the show, two friends, one Jazz Girl and one Jazz Guy, accompanied me while I was lucky to get the chance to have a quick conversation with Derrick.

1. What’s your favorite booty music? “Booty music? Depends.”
Okay, well, how about favorite dance music. … Still depends?
“Yeah. But I could go dance to some Skrillex. That’s some dance music.”

2. What’s your favorite thoughtful music? Radiohead.

3. What do you call the music that you play? “I call it whatever the people who come to see us play call it. Just as long as it gets them here to listen. ‘People Music.’”

4. What music from your childhood has stuck with you? Nancy Wilson, The Isley Brothers, Kirk Franklin and gospel music, and Marcus Miller.

5. What is the first album you bought that you couldn’t stop listening to? “Woooo.” He looked up and became thoughtful. “Donny Hathaway. The album with ‘Someday We’ll All Be Free.’” Extension of a Man. “I would listen to it to feel his spirit. He has an ability to really make us feel the way he felt.”

6. What is your favorite vocal jazz album?Nancy Wilson and Cannonball Adderley. It was my dad’s favorite.”

7. If you could see any musicians play, alive or dead, who would they be?Michael. Then, Stravinsky and the Beatles, believe it or not.”

8. What’s your favorite basement album? Nas: Stillmatic

9. What was the most profound moment you’ve had in a private lesson or masterclass? “Hm. This is a good question… When I realized that all simple things answer all of my questions. I wanted to play fancy but, fancy is just a combination of boring and simple things. Vince Fay… He was my teacher.”

10. Who is a young musician that we should be looking out for? “Kenneth Rodgers. ‘Gizmo.’ He’s… well, he’s a musician. He plays guitar, bass, sings and is a musical director.”

Derrick Hodge poses with some of our Jazz Girls. Beautiful music, beautiful bass, beautiful man!

Derrick was one of the most patient musicians I have ever talked to. We would remind him that it was okay if he had to dart off and put his things away but he politely insisted that he had the time to answer our questions. Giving thoughtful and direct answers, our writing can barely illuminate what a truly wonderful spirit Mr. Hodge embodies.

Keep your eyes and ears open for our upcoming articles:
10 Fingers: Casey Benjamin
Transcriptions: Clifford Brown
Concert Review: Snarky Puppy
Concert Review: Robert Glasper Experiment
Messages from Masters: Bobby Carcasses

Until then –
Swing sisters, swing!

Messages from Masters: Marion Cowings

by Ella Campbell

During the winter semester of 2012, Michigan State University’s jazz studies program was blessed to have a week-long residency with the master vocalist, Marion Cowings. Unknown to many, his lack of popularity is not telling of his charm, stage presence, and beautiful vocal styling: the day he left from his residency at MSU, he was New York bound for an engagement at Smalls. During the afternoon on a Monday, walking into the College of Music, he was unmistakable. Dressed in dark skinny jeans, clean canvas sneakers, a crisp button up shirt, navy vest, silk scarf, sport coat and unbelievable swag, one could only assume he was, “the vocalist that’s visiting.”

Later that night, he gave a masterclass to the jazz studies program. He opened by singing “Have You Met Miss Jones” with the faculty from Michigan State (Rodney Whitaker, bass; Randy Gelispie, drums; Reggie Thomas, piano; Diego Rivera, tenor sax). Immediately every-one’s breath was taken away by his power and versatility. He was singing to, and for, every one of us. He finely controlled his voice to be open, gesturing with his arms the same openness, and was conversational when the tune called for it. His communication with the audience was enchanting. His communication with the bandstand was equally as notable. In videos of Cowings, you can see his communication skills very clearly. He’ll hold up three fingers when he wants to tag the ending, counting down with each repeat, and he’ll cue every note in the final turn, including the cutoff. He gives the band specific directions before he counting off, and makes it very clear who he wants to solo — and when he wants them to stop.

After performing, he requested that a student group play. The student vocalist called “How High the Moon” and attempted to imitate Cowings’ commanding stage presence toward the audience and band. However, after four measures they were cut off by Cowings shouting “Disaster!” The vocalist hadn’t spoken loud enough for the entire rhythm section to hear what he wanted for the intro and key, so the bassist began playing different changes, in a different key, than the pianist. During round two, the vocalist made sure to give clear instructions to everyone that he wanted the last eight bars of the form to be the intro. Mr. Cowings supported this idea: many vocalists do not have perfect pitch, and by playing the last eight bars of the form as the intro, vocalists will be able to hear the melody in their heads before entering.

This way they can sing without having to be given a starting pitch (ex: vocalist turns to pianist and whispers, “can you give me an A?”), and then try to mentally hold on to that pitch while a different intro is going on, and then pray they are still hearing the pitch correctly in their head by the time they enter.

As far as being instrumentalists alongside vocalists, Mr. Cowings expressed that every song doesn’t call for “a science experiment saxophone solo.” We are playing the same song that a vocalist is singing, therefore we should play the song. As a saxophone soloist was getting fancy later during the masterclass, Cowings said “It’s not all about chasing Bird.” This struck many as: he may be right, perhaps fast rhythmic bop language is not appropriate for all tunes. However, one of the elder professors, who was around during the time Bird was hittin’, was taken aback by this statement. This is also understandable. Why not chase Bird? We were never there, we can never really understand what it is like to hear him play. But according to our elders, Bird is a wonderful musician to strive to embody and consistently chase, because we will never be able to catch him. Two schools of thought, both are valid interpretations, so take from that statement what means most to YOU, and be sure to play and accompany the message of the song.

While attempting to convey the message of words through our instruments, remember that voices are instruments too. Depending on how good of condition they’re in, if they’re warm, or cold, if the performer is in good health, etc., they will perform differently. Instrumentalists need to be prepared to hear and play our vocalists’ tunes in any key, and be able to transpose any interval while sight-reading. (Or just, any tunes, for that matter!) Instrumentalists also need to be sensitive to this fact, and that a half step does make that much of a difference. Think about how big of a difference it means on the saxophone. The lowest note on baritone sax is a concert Db. If an arranger writes for a pedal on a low B, it isn’t possible. The saxophone just doesn’t have enough buttons for that – it’s how the instrument works. So, wary instrumentalists, sometimes vocalists need to change the key they sing in every other night. It’s how their instrument works.

Aside from being a master of knowing exactly what he wants the structure of a song to be, and knowing exactly how to tell the band that, Cowings is also a master of captivating his audience. He had the second student vocalist, who called “Stella by Starlight,” attempt to say what the song meant to him in ten words or less. However, the student could barely think of ten words that the song meant to him. Cowings asked him who the song was about, and when the student answered “Stella,” he was wrong. Cowings meant who, personally, the vocalist was singing about.

Every song has to be about something, or someone, because you must “make them understand you. Relegate [songs] to an extremely personal level.” When playing tunes like “Stella” or “Have You Met Ms. Jones” the songs should not about “Stella” or “Ms. Jones” — none of us have met either of them! However, each one of us knows a sort of “Stella” or a “Ms. Jones”. Or, for the ladies who don’t “swing that way,” we know men who are “a great symphonic theme” who are real to us, “and not a dream.” Cowings not only challenges us to make every song mean something specific to our experience, but also to memorize the lyrics of each song we learn so that we can “play the words as if [we’re] singing.” We must be vulnerable when we play, and I think each of us knows this. I also think that knowing something is much different than embodying it and feeling it, in such fullness of spirit, that others can feel it too.

“You may say, ‘Oh gee. They’re gonna see my heart.’ You’re right. That’s what they paid to see.They want to go where we can take them. You have a gift to give. So give it.”

– Marion Cowings

Our next articles are going to be 10-Question interviews with Sput and Mike from Snarky Puppy as well as a review of their concert in Detroit!

Unfamiliar with Snarky Puppy? Check them out here!