Jose at Musika “Luma” Album Launch Live @ Mang Rudy’s: The Entire Set on Video

For those of you who missed the album launch last March 5, 2016, there is still yet a chance to watch and listen to our set. We managed to acquire some videos of the entire set we performed that night (eight songs out of nine from the album).

“Jose at Musika” is Jose delos Reyes on vocals and acoustic guitar, Robert Taylan on bass, Wibert Tan on lead guitar, Wowoo Ranada on percussion, Jazz Magday on drums, and yours truly (Mark A. Galang) on keyboards.

JOSE at Musika Live at Mang Rudy’s Tuna Grill and Papaitan: Part I – 10/11/2015

This is my third performance as the regular keyboard player for JOSE at Musika. Here’s part 1:

Life as a “Single” Guy – Stories Through Musical Improvisation: XVI. “Elevator Jazz” Jam

A good way to spend a break from transcribing music to jam freely to some random backing track found on YouTube. It’s one way to have fun and try to develop/enhance chops.

A Jazz-Prog-Rock Fusion Band’s Early Beginnings

Since going for anything musical full time in a professional capacity, I decided to form my very own jazz-prog-rock band with two guys from graduate school, namely Diamond Manuel on trombone and Jeffrey Abanto on guitar, bassist RJ Sy (Karl Roy Band, Kastigo, etc.), and drumming virtuoso and chef KC Puerto. Together, we’re Hi-5! Nah, just kidding. We’re an unnamed jazz-prog-rock fusion band that is currently in its infancy. The video above is an excerpt from our two-hour first rehearsal session together where we had the audacity to take a crack at Alan Pasqua’s “Proto Cosmos” (popularized by the Tony Williams’ Lifetime band and Allan Holdsworth). I am quite pleased with our first session together as we were able to go through a somewhat tricky piece and survive it, hahaha! Other than this piece, we also had loads of fun with a free improvisation session. Hopefully, we’ll start working on original music as well as a couple of covers to spice things up.

The spark of it, all, however, was this free improv session with Diamond:

Is Jazz Dead?

Is Jazz dead? Depends on where you live. In the Philippines, it’s barely surviving, no thanks to local mass media, many of which are hell bent on keeping people stupid with anti-neuron “music” and TV shows. However, artists like Johnny Alegre and the Tomodachi Trio along with places like Tiendesitas try as much as they can to keep it alive. In the place where I serve, I’m the only guy who’s seriously into jazz, my bandmates know of it on a superficial level, and the rest of the folks attending the services have little idea of it. The way things go with the music industry nowadays, it is probably hanging on for dear life even in its birthplace, the U.S. of A. although because of its cultural value it might continue to live on. In places like the university where I attend, some semblance of it still lives through the popular music courses being offered. Unfortunately, we don’t do jazz in graduate school. I asked the dean numerous times if we had a jazz major or elective since I was interested. The reply was negative.

If you ask Wynton Marsalis the question “Is Jazz Dead?”, here’s his reply:

Maybe we could try asking Frank Zappa that question. He said, “Jazz is not dead. It just smells funny.” Perhaps you can take the word from someone who can be inspired by some of the most profound things on earth down to the most mundane of things like fried chicken:

Johnny Alegre’s Jazz Guitar Workshop @ Tiendesitas Super Jazz Weekend – Part 1: “The Experience”

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(Author’s note: Earlier this week, I asked permission from Mr. Johnny Alegre to post this piece. Last night, I was granted permission to do so and even got help completing the piece in its final form from the legendary jazz guitarist himself. I feel very honored.)

Around 3 p.m. last Sunday (May 25, 2014), I stopped by Tiendesitas to attend a very much anticipated jazz guitar workshop. This jazz guitar workshop was facilitated by none other than one of the top jazz guitar heroes of the Philippines, Mr. Johnny Alegre. I’ve heard of Sir Johnny around the late 90s, but I became acquainted with his work through his CD “Eastern Skies”. The blend of jazz guitar and the sounds of the Global Studio Orchestra (conducted by Gerard Salonga) was captivating to say the least, and I wondered how Sir Johnny was able to do his thing. This afternoon’s event was a chance I took to somehow find out how he thinks musically as well as gain some useful information to improve my jazz composition and piano/guitar skills.

The workshop kicked off with an interview conducted by Zach Lucero (former NU107 DJ and drummer of Imago and Humanfolk), which served as kind of an introduction to Sir Johnny. Afterwards, Sir Johnny tried to figure out what his audience was like that afternoon, a mixed group of people consisting of beginner-level guitarists to people who’ve had many years of experience, such as myself. The key tips in his workshop were:

  1. Be in tune.
  2. Play in time. Have good timing.
  3. Strive for the right tone.
  4. Have good visualization (e.g. practice playing all your modes across the fretboard, draw fretboard charts)
  5. Listen to great works of music.

The workshop had discussions ranging from some of the most basic topics such as getting in tune and scale shapes to more advanced discussions of jazz theory such as modes and the impact of Latin American music.

In terms of jazz guitar playing and composition, one of the points that greatly captured my interest was Sir Johnny’s discussion and demonstration about modal interchange and secondary dominants. Why is it such a big deal? It is because it explained a lot of things such as playing minor pentatonic or the Dorian mode over a major blues chord progression, “out there” soloing, the use of color/passing/approach tones, and other stuff that makes jazz sound like what it is. Modal interchange and secondary dominants make perfect sense as to how many jazz pieces (bebop and modal jazz in particular) start at a particular key signature, drift in and out of different key signatures, and then end right back at the original key signature without sounding jarring like a 20th-century serial composition (Ascension-era John Coltrane is a different case for another discussion). Sir Johnny’s words regarding the matter had confirmed what I have been hearing and trying to do before: Modal interchange has big implications not only in the way we approach soloing but also in reharmonization and composition.

The seminar sort of felt like most of my jazz theory discussions with pianist Steve Nixon, with the exception that this time it’s about jazz guitar. I have been learning jazz through a pianist’s perspective for most of my life as a musician, but this afternoon was the first time that I was able to learn jazz directly from a guitarist’s perspective. For years I have done work to try and understand the theory of jazz through a piano keyboard and have been trying to transfer that knowledge through the guitar. Thanks to Sir Johnny’;s workshop, I was able to confirm that I must be doing something right with all that experimentation and self-learning. More than that, I now have some understanding as to how Johnny Alegre approaches jazz guitar and this big musical language called jazz itself. Would I say that the workshop was a success? I would say yes simply because my understanding of how and why jazz guitar is what it is has improved vastly thanks to Sir Johnny.

So, how did it all end for me? Well, like a star-struck fanboy, I fumbled around thanking the man for the stuff I learned and I asked permission to publish this post (with snippets of the recording and photos). As star-struck as I am, I forgot to introduce myself properly, despite trying to converse with him three times, and I forgot to purchase his latest album (which I will BTW) despite having prepared some cash for it. I even made an embarrassment of myself by asking, “What was that piece you played at the end?” only for him and another member of the audience to tell me that it’s Stevie Wonder’s “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” in a tone that seemed like, “Isn’t it obvious that Johnny’s playing ‘You Are the Sunshine of My Life’? Duh…” Oh well, if I do meet him again, I’ll take note of these things and hope to be a bit more composed and refined in the way I conduct myself in front of him.

If time permits (and if I am allowed to do so), yours truly will  transcribe some of examples Sir Johnny performed in the workshop and make them available here (in standard notation and tab). Watch out for Part 2 of this piece as I try to retell some of the things I have learned from Mr. Johnny Alegre.

For more information about Johnny Alegre, his latest and past albums, and his other projects, please visit this Facebook page or his website.

Billy Joel Was in a Metal Band

I’m pretty sure that hardcore Billy Joel fans already know this, but I only found out about this tidbit early this morning. And so, out of curiosity, I found out about this silly looking band called Attila. It’s an organ and drum duo. Here’s a YouTube clip showing the duo’s fondness for barbarian outfits and tons of meat going hand to hand with some of the silliest lyrics on the planet:

Okay, as far as my limited knowledge goes, three men spring to mind as individuals who properly used a Hammond organ in a heavier rock kind of context: Jon Lord, Keith Emerson, and Rick Wakeman. Billy Joel’s attempt was laudable although it seemed like there was too much processing going on that it sounds like a lot of noise most of the time. Perhaps he should have listened to stuff like “Tarkus” or “Highway Star” to figure out how organ in a heavy rock context should be done. Coupled with those atrocious lyrics, I’m not surprised why Mr. Piano Man called it “psychedelic bullshit”. Attila’s album though is remarkable as a sort of template for keyboard and drum duos. Perhaps Billy Joel in a proto-metal band sounds and looks so kitschy and so bad that it can actually be like a pug or a bulldog and end up being cute.

Answering the Call

It’s was the first Saturday of the year that I had formally worked with both the choir and worship band of UCCP-Makati Church of Christ Disciples. It was tough and challenging yet at the same very fulfilling. I have seen the logistical challenges that I would face should I try to unite both choir and worship band. The task seems daunting but I hope for the best. I am really hoping that I’m being of any help to that rather small community of believers.

Just this morning was the time that I would call testing the waters. Although I had played with the worship band a couple of times, it was the first time I would be at my most active. I was directing the band while playing lead guitar. I played with the church’s regular pianist and choir conductor through a number of songs. I was trying very hard to demonstrate that there need not be a divide between a traditional piano-and-choir-group and a contemporary worship band. In my mind it should just be a single worship group that is engaged throughout the worship service. Next Saturday I will be hauling again a number of items from my home studio to the church, teach music theory and instrument technique in the afternoon, rehearse with both choir and worship band.

As things go at this time, it seems that the worship band isn’t ready yet for the rather technical aspects of playing the kind of music featured in the anthem section of the worship service. I aspire to be able to pass down whatever skills I have to the band and the choir so that every musical aspect of the service could be covered by both as a single unit. It doesn’t have to matter whether they are singing traditional hymns or covering the kind of stuff that Don Moen and Ron Kenoly would play. I am optimistic that this will happen given training and patience.

Like my studio persona, I am a teacher, equipment technician, musician, and music director rolled into one package. It’s tough work where I do not expect any remuneration of sort. What lies ahead of me are more challenges from both a personal and professional perspective. Why would I be crazy enough to put out such effort every week? It’s because I am answering the call of The Lord. I have no other justification for it. God has called me to use my skills for his purpose. I will abide by what I believe is my calling and purpose in life. So it has begun, my life as a volunteer music worker.

Dealing with the Six-String Bass Guitar

The electric bass guitar certainly has a very interesting history. If it were a person, you would know that one of its ancestors was the orchestral double bass and from the other side is the electric guitar. Most people would know a bass guitar to be a four-stringed instrument, but as bass players wanted to extend the range of their instruments, instruments with more than four strings have been developed, the five-stringed version with the low B being very popular. However, I have chosen to go one string further with a six-string bass.

I started playing a four-string bass when I was a teen and then I went up to five, and then more recently the six-string bass. While there are those who hate the six-string bass by being too much to handle, I personally love the instruments flexibility and range. I’m assuming people didn’t realize that the six-string bass was supposed to make people’s lives easier. If you’re surprised that I’m saying that, try playing a two-octave arpeggio over a four string. I’m quite sure that it’s a stretch. On a six-string bass, you can play the same arpeggio over just a span of six frets. If I use the four-string technique on the six-string, I could cover three octaves.

The way I chose my tuning is a matter of convenience. For a while I was playing my six-string bass in the standard fashion: all fourths from B to C. It was wonderful at first. But being a guitarist as well, the C at the 1st string can sometimes be off putting. I could manage with that C well, but I wanted my guitar technique to translate into my bass playing. This is why I decided to tune my bass like a baritone guitar (an octave lower of course) and so the tuning is (from 6th to 1st string) is B, E, A, D, F#, B. It’s a step higher than the Guitarron Mexicano. The great thing about this tuning is that I could use my guitar techniques, one of the most important is the CAGED system. I could also use certain techniques I’ve learned from fingerstyle guitar i.e. classical/flamenco-style tremolo, barre chords, etc. Rather than putting energy into learning techniques specific to the standard six-string bass tuning, I’d like to concentrate more on writing and making music and so the baritone guitar tuning helps a lot by saving up my neurons for something else. It’s just more efficient for me that way.

Given the size of the neck, the six-string bass guitar can be unwieldy. Thus I am not surprised why John Myung wants his six-string bass guitar to have a neck width comparable to just a five-string. At this point, I really can’t have a choice on that matter. It’s rather difficult to find a six-string bass guitar in the Philippines unless you have one crafted for yourself, so I’m very fortunate to have found one at a budget price. All in all, the six-string bass guitar has been of great help for my music.