Archive for mcneil


Posted in Composition, Improvisation, Musical Influences, Performance with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 2, 2010 by pogo56

This blog is in response to the questions I have received in the past about learning tunes. Throughout my time in college I was encouraged by my mentors (especially trumpeters Jeremy Pelt and Darren Barrett) to learn as many tunes as possible. They both possessed huge repertoires which really gave them the luxury to play really diverse sets whenever I had the priviledge to hear them live in Boston. I was also inspired to learn as many tunes as I could in order to combat the monotness of hearing and playing the same tunes at jam sessions around town. That’s still prevalent but I always do my best to encourage young cats that come down to my session at Wally’s on Sunday afternoons to learn as many tunes and not to come down week after week to call and play the same tune. When I started to go down to the jam sessions at Wally’s when I moved to Boston, I was advised to learn the tunes that were called that I didn’t know. So I learned those tunes and called them the next week or the week after (especially if they weren’t played when they were called initially). So to learn these tunes I either had to go out and buy the record or check it out of the library at NEC. I was fortunate to live in Boston where there were a handful of great record stores at the time (Tower Records in Boston and Cambridge, Looney Tunes in Boston and Cambridge, Newbury Comics, Mojo Records, Planet Records, and my favorite Stereo Jacks in Porter Square!).

When I got into the habit of checking out records in order to learn tunes, naturally my record collection grew. I developed this habit of buying a record in order to learn a tune but in the end I learned all of the tunes on the record. Imagine wanting to learn 10 tunes in a month, going out to get the records, and learning all the tunes on the record! That’s easily 100 or so tunes in that period. I am a pretty fast transcriber (because I have absolute pitch) and it was fun for me at the time still is. I always made sure to learn tunes that I really dug so there are obviously tunes that really didn’t touch me and I never got around to learning them. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve committed thousands of songs to memory that I’ll never get to play outside of my practice room, but there are hundreds of thousands of tunes that I don’t know that I should know. I consider myself to be a constant work in progress in that respect.

In my opinion, there are several useful ways to learn tunes, but I don’t think that there’s a magic bullet that will get anyone from start to finish any faster than the next person. Everyone has to put the time in to really hone their ear skills and once our hearing becomes more acute, learning tunes becomes much easier and fun.

Here’s one method that’s geared towards memorizing chord changes that was given to me by trumpeter John McNeil. This involves playing the piano.

1. Play the first chord to the song on the piano in time (maybe using a metronome or tapping your foot).
2. While playing the first chord of the song, say the 2nd chord out loud.
3. Play the 2nd chord in time.
4. Say the 3rd chord out loud, etc.

I’m sure that you all see the pattern that’s taking place now. This exercise is designed to allow you to “think ahead” when improvising. This way you are more equipped to anticipate the chord changes instead of playing in a reactionary mode (not saying that that is bad, you just add another asset to your playing with this).

When I begin transcribing a song, I start by lifting the melody. I try my best to absorb all of the inflections that the player on the record displays. I try to inhale when they inhale, exhale when they do, etc. Once I’m done transcribing the melody I move on to the bass line/part. Depending on the fidelity of the recording and the playing of the bassist on the record, this process can be daunting at times. I’ve found that there are times when the bass is either drowned out in the mix or the bass is out of tune or being played poorly. One thing that I do to remedy this is to listen to what’s happening at the same part of the form throughout the duration of the tune because what the bassist plays in the 2nd chorus may be a clearer than what is played in the 1st chorus.

In many cases once you have the melody(s) and the bass line transcribed, the harmony of the song becomes more obvious. If it’s not apparent then you can transcribe the playing of the chordal instrument on the record. If it’s tough to play back what’s being played at the time, then try singing the notes in question. In most if not all cases, if it sounds right to your ears then you are probably correct. You can also transcribe the solos to figure out the correct progression to the tune. If there’s a G chord in a particular tune and you’re having trouble figuring out if the chord is major, minor, or suspended, then check out the solos. If a B is played most of the time during in that measure during the solos then it’s probably going to be G major.

More to come!!

Jason Palmer

In Door Ants

Posted in jazz trumpet music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 5, 2009 by pogo56

I get a number of emails inquiring about how I was able to build my chops up. So instead of answering each one individually, I thought that I’d speak a little on how I got to where I am in this blog. As I get older I realize in order to do what I have to do day in and day out, taking care of business, working, home duties, etc, I often find myself unable to answer all of the emails that I get daily. If I haven’t gotten back to you, please forgive me as it’s not done purposefully, I’m just too busy oftentimes to remember to respond and when I do respond, I’m usually long-winded. So I’ll try to make this short and to the point.

I’ll start by talking a little about my history of playing the trumpet. I started off playing in the 6th grade. I passed the “ear test” in 5th grade so I signed up for band going into the 6th grade because at the time it was the cool thing to do. My first choice was the saxophone, but because my last name ended with a “P” and saxophone was everyone first choice, I got stuck with my 2nd choice, the trumpet. My mom then went out and bought me a cornet, thinking it was a trumpet, so there I was.

In my band class throughout middle school (grades 6-8, in NC), the band classes were 60+ students, about 15 of which were trumpet players. We had monthly playing tests to see who would sit in the 1st chair. I was consistently the last chair all of 6th and 7th grade. After my 7th grade year going into the 8th I decided that summer to learn more about this piece of metal. I wanted to be able to actually play songs that I heard on the radio. So I spent that summer trying to learn the popular R&B songs that were playing on the radio. I quickly learned that the songs on the radio had different sounds and shapes to them (which I later found out to be keys) and that each song, in order to be played as it sounded on the radio, had to be played with a specific set of valve combinations. By the end of that summer, I had learned all of my major, dorian minor, and chromatic scales by ear. 8th grade year rolls around and I think to myself that I’m ready to make some music.

In my eighth grade year of band 2 significant things happened to me. First I made first chair of the all-city band in High Point, NC. It was a concert band of winds and percussion that consisted of the best students attending middle school in High Point. High Point’s a fairly big city so when this happened it was a boost to my confidence with the trumpet. The second thing that happened to me was towards the end of the school year a gentleman by the name of Mr. Morton visited our school to tell us about a music camp that was taking place in the summer. Mr. Morton turned out to be a great patron of jazz music and the local musicians that were on the scene in NC. The camp that he spoke about was a jazz camp that was named after saxophonist John Coltrane (who grew up in High Point as a kid). I attended that camp that year and that was my first introduction to jazz music. Two years would pass before I would being to study jazz music on my own.

Fast forward to my 9th and 10th grade years in high school. I was considered a quiet nerd who played the horn, and also had a deadly jumpshot. I was one of the best point guards in my region at the time and I was really starting to get into basketball. My high school won the state while I was there and I also played AAU. In the fall season I played trumpet in the marching band. Now that consisted of a lot of dancing and playing trumpet really LOUD. The result of those years of hard overblowing left me with a calloused lip (which I still have to this day).

My junior and senior years of high school found me more involved with music than with basketball. I eventually started attending the Greensboro Music Academy about 3 nights a week. There I was about to take private trumpet lessons, theory, and I also participated in a small jazz combo with a rhythm section and another trumpet player. I consider myself very fortunate to have started out playing with a small group that featured another trumpeter because now I’m really into that, where as there are not many trumpet players on the scene now that are. You see small groups with two saxophones, two trombones, but rarely two trumpets. Maybe that’ll change.

So I ended up being awarded a scholarship to New England Conservatory in 1997 to major in jazz trumpet performance. I was really excited to be in a big city, studying this music with peers who were just as enthusiastic as me to learn to play. So I go into my first lesson with my trumpet teacher and he asks me to play a C scale two octaves. So I play it and he notices some issues with my embouchure and suggests that I deal with them with his guidance. I essentially put all my trust and faith in him and I learned how to play the trumpet from scratch in the span of a year.

It was John McNeil who first introduced me to the Carmine Caruso technique in 1997. I’ve been doing it every day ever since. What was great about John’s teaching method was that he gave me exercises that catered to where I was chop wise at the time. He really took the time to monitor and document my progress from week to week. What was even more remarkable about my lessons with him was that he was able to deal with these issues in the lessons as well as issues in music. We spent a ton of time working on repertoire, dealing with playing with good time, playing a capella, dealing with substitute chord changes, analyzing transcriptions, intervallic modes, etc. I’ll always treasure my time with him and I consider him to be one of the premier trumpet instructors in jazz alive today.

The Carmine Caruso Techinique was the deal breaker for me. When I started to really get into this method I noticed a sudden ease in the effort it took for me to execute my musical ideas in a live situation for an extended period of time. This method assisted me in getting my muscles in sync involuntarily in order to play the trumpet with the least amount of effort. As soon as the results from doing these exercises everyday and really paying attention to the timing (and not the sound) of them started to kick in, all of my embouchure issues started to dissipate. The only issues that I noticed that were hindering my playing then were insufficient breathing and posture. I found those issues to be easier to deal with than the embouchure.

For me the Caruso Technique, coupled with hours of personal practice time, hitting up as many jam sessions, and playing with as many cats on the scene as I possibly could allowed me the opportunity to build and maintain my IN DOOR ANTS…..

Keep Swingin,

Jason Palmer