A Short Selection Of Holiday Themed Music That Doesn’t Suck

I think the title pretty much sums it up.

Let’s first go with something classy, Duke Ellington. who in 1960 recorded a jazz interpretation of “The Nutcracker” by Tchaikovsky. The video below is of the Overture, opening with a descending walking bassline and drums before the horn enter. So Cool.

Duke Ellingon – Nutcracker Suite, Overture


This reminds so much of the eighties. This was a holiday staple on WLIR, a very hip Long Island, NY radio station that played progressive New Wave music before it became mainstream.

The Waitresses – Christmas Wrapping


This is my wife’s favorite holiday song therefore it must be included.

RUN-DMC – Christmas In Hollis


Vulfpeck, if you don’t know are a band originally from Michigan that models itself after classic studio musician bands like Motown’s Funk Brothers, L.A.’s Wrecking Crew, and the studio musicians of Muscle Shoals.They strike a balance between virtuosity and goofiness.

VULFPECK – Christmas in L.A.


Let’s end with the sublime: Ms. Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Fitzgerald – Christmas Songs (FULL ALBUM)

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Posted in Classic Rock, Jazz, Music Appreciation and Analysis

A Haiku For The Holidays 2018

Something Different
For The Holidays This Year
Music Is A Gift

The New Jazz Spasms – Tradition (Fiddler On The Roof)

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Posted in Jam Band, Jazz

“May All Your Dreams “. . . : Brian May’s Star Licks Guitar Video

Continuing with the Queen theme from my previous post, the video below is from a series of instructional videos fthat were made in the ealy 1980’s called Star Licks. Besides Brian May, the series featured well-known musicians such as Steve Lukather (Toto), Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath), Al McKay (Earth, Wind & Fire) and guitarist Albert Lee (Eric Clapton, solo), with the musicians demonstrating their techniques, riffs, etc.. May was approached with the idea for making audio cassettes of guitarists explaining their techniques. That idea was eventually expanded to include film to be marketed as video cassettes. The idea of “cassettes” may be like ancient history to some readers of this post but I remember seeing the ads for these videos in my guitar magazines (I feel so old).

In the video, Brian May discusses his equipment and techniques, and demonstrates a number of his guitar solos. He doesn’t really go into much detail about the solos and without the accompanying booklet, it may take some patience absorb the material but at the 17 minute mark there’s the big payoff when May takes you through his guitar solo in Bohemian Rhapsody.

Brian May – Star Licks (Guitar Tutorial 1983) – Full Version

If being the guitarist in Queen wasn’t awesome enough, May earned a PhD in astrophysics from Imperial College London in 2007, and was Chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University from 2008 to 2013. He was a “science team collaborator” with NASA’s New Horizons Pluto mission and has an asteroid named after him (Asteroid 52665 Brianmay). Extra cool bonus points: He is also an animal rights activist who has campaigned against the hunting of foxes and the culling of badgers in the UK.

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Queen For A Day . . . : Bohemian Rhapsody On Classical Guitar

I haven’t seen the movie yet but with the recent release of the Queen/Freddie Mercury biopic, I thought it would be a good time to share this great video of classical guitarist Edgar Cruz playing a solo guitar arrangement of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. As a guitarist I especially appreciate the camera work with it’s use of both left and right hand closeup views. Enjoy.

Edgar Cruz – Queen Bohemian Rhapsody

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Posted in Classic Rock, Classical

“Getting Off The Root” . . . : Digging Deeper With Jeff Antoniuk

As I’m doing my own deep dive into jazz bass playing, I’ve been working on my bass soloing. As the material has a much faster harmonic rhythm than the rock/blues/funk tunes that I usually play, I’ve noticed that many of my lines are centered on the chord root. As bassists, so much of our playing is focused on that root note when we function in our usual role of supporting others. When we change roles and become soloists, it’s hard to think differently and we unconsciously play our solos the same way: focused on the root.

Jeff Antoniuk, a jazz musician and educator, has been putting out some great videos on jazz improvisation. In particular, I’ve been getting into his Digging Deeper video series. What I like about them is they provide very specific exercises in the context of existing jazz repertoire. These videos are not for beginners who are just dipping their toes into jazz improvisation. As he stats in the videos, these are tailored to adults amateurs and semi-pro jazz musician.

The video below addresses that “bad” habit and singles out us bassists (am I feeling a “little” bit persecuted . . . fuck yeah!) but addresses all instrumentalists.

Digging Deeper #70 – “Get Off The Root!” & All Of Me –

You should definitely check out Jeff Antoniuk’s You Tube channel (see link below). There are so many helpful tips offered that it might get overwhelming. Just the one video above has enough things for me to work on to keep me busy for awhile.

Jeff Antoniuk – Educator –


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Posted in Improvisation, Jazz, Music Theory

“That Which Does Not Kill You”. . : Recent Adventures In Jazz Bass Playing

I have written about my returning to playing bass after a prolonged period of playing the Chapman Stick Guitar. One of my immediate challenges in actually find people to play with. I hate going to jam sessions. You wait for hours to play 3 short songs (if you’re lucky) with a grab bag of other players. The idea of going through Craig’s List is about as appealing as unanesthetized root canal surgery. Then I came across a video for JazzLab NY. Basically it’s a program for adult jazz students to get together in on-going bands for playing on a regular basis. It’s organized to put players of comparable skill together.  I also liked that it be an on-going band instead of ending after a month so you can really develop a group chemistry. So I signed up and had the first session a week ago.

Just a little background on my jazz bass playing experience . . . It’s not that much. While I have played bass for over thirty years, the vast majority of it has been in rock, blues and funk bands. Some of them have been bands that I refer to as Grateful Dead adjacent (what is now referred to as jam bands) so I’m no stranger to improvisation. I am a life long fan of jazz so I’m familiar with the repertoire and the genre’s stylistic elements. And having studied jazz guitar, I’m no stranger to the music theory that provides the basis for jazz. That being said, I realized that my actual straight ahead jazz experience was pretty meager. Yes I played an occasional jazz tune but the material was not the most complex (usually a simple blues, Miles Davis’s So What, Autumn Leaves, etc.). Russ Nolan, the man who runs JazzLabNY placed me in one of the advanced groups and I knew I was in for something different when he sent me the list of tunes that we would be working on (the initial set list is for everyone get on the same page with the plan to introduce our own choices and original material as we progress). There’s a blues by Monk, a rhythm changes tune, tunes by Jobim, Wayne Shorter and Chick Corea as well as jazz standards I was familiar with and those I wasn’t.

When I got to the session I thought I was well prepared. Russ introduced us to each other and briefly discussed what he hoped to accomplish with us: to make us better musicians by making us a better band. Then he called the first tune, Monk’s Straight No Chaser, a song I was familiar with. He counts it off and I hold on for dear life. The tempo is way faster than I ever played at in my previous “jazz” sessions. I managed to make it through the session and Russ said that I played okay but I knew that I had my work cut for me. The other musicians have way more experience as jazz players. I’m not used to be the weakest player in a band but I definitely felt that to be the case this time.  So what do I do now,

What I do is practice my ass off. I entered the changes to the tunes into Band In A Box, a music software program that generate backing play along tracks and I have been going through the tunes ever since. It made me realize that I needed to internalize chord sequences so I can play something over the sequence with minimal thought. Many of these songs have sections where there are two chords a measure and the tempo is fast. The fraction of time you have to think about what you want to play will cause you to often fumble and lose your place. I’m really looking forward to the next session.

The video below explains the idea behind JazzLabNY. Check it out.

Welcome to JazzLabNY – 

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Posted in Improvisation, Jazz

“He is poetry, he is innocence, he is energy, he is Flea!” – Flea at the Pathway to Paris, 09/14/2018

With that great introduction from none other than Patti Smith, the bassist extraordinaire Flea (born Michael Peter Balzary) proceeds to give a short but beautiful solo set playing bass and trumpet. The performance is loosely divided into three sections with Flea using echo effects and a looping pedal to create a soundscape over which he alternately plays some sparse, atmospheric trumpet and rocked out fuzz tone “lead” bass lines. The final section features a slap bass groove reminiscent of his Red Hot Chili Peppers playing before he finishes with a dance carrying both instruments, stopping the loops and leaving the stage. So cool.

This was part of an event recently held in San Francisco by climate change organization Pathway to Paris which aims to unite “musicians, artists, activists, climate change experts, academics, politicians and innovators to participate in a series of events, dialogues and leading initiatives to help turn the Paris Agreement into reality.”

Flea performing for Pathway to Paris 09/14/2018 –


Like most great musicians, Flea took in sounds from different (sometimes disparate) sources, synthesizing them into something uniquely his own. The video below, from You Tube essayist Polyphonic, talks about how Flea combines Funk’s slap bass style with Punk’s aggression to create his signature style.

How Flea Plays Bass – 

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Posted in Bass, Classic Rock, Music Appreciation and Analysis
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