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:

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New Blues and Metal Guitar Courses on GuitarZoom

It’s been a while since I wrote anything that refers to GuitarZoom, the organization where I mainly work as a music transcriber, social media moderator, music theory and guitar answer guy, and now as a composer of background music. Anyway, GuitarZoom has a lot in store for this year, and this includes a couple of Blues and Metal courses.

For the serious intermediate metalhead guitarist, here’s a good course on Metal by Eric VanLandingham:

http://guitarzoom.com/ultimatemetalguitarconcepts/

(FYI, the music that you hear just before the lesson kicks in (the Djenty BGM you hear during the animation sequences) was written, performed, and recorded by yours truly.)

If you wish to be able to utilize pentatonic scales effectively, especially in a blues setting, you have to check out this upcoming course by Casey Smith’s called “Ultimate Power Pentatonics for Guitar”

(Again, intro animation music by yours truly.)

All of these courses come with my sheet music transcriptions in standard notation and TAB.

For more information regarding these courses as well as upcoming promos, go visit http://guitarzoom.com. For any questions regarding course content, music theory, guitar playing, or anything music in general, you can always email me at mark(at)guitarzoom.com. (FYI, I don’t handle customer service stuff and technical issues, but I’d be more than happy to talk about music with all of you.)

Drummers Are Rare, Elusive Creatures

My band’s drummer left a few weeks ago. Such a shame, really. Other than being an excellent drummer, he had good composition ideas that he generates by writing his grooves and vocalizing the riffs he hears in his head. Because of many personal problems he had to address, he had to vacate his place.

It’s rather difficult to look for a really good drummer who can play the sort of stuff I hear in my head. I do hope I find one soon so that we can pick up where we left off a month ago. The problem is that my band’s not your usual alternative rock or pop band, so finding a drummer that can play our kind of music takes extra patience. I am probably being too ambitious in this regard, taking on a sort of Frank-Zappa-like attitude, but what the hey! I gotta dream big.

So, to the 10 (or less) of you Metro Manila residents out there who are crazy enough to read my blog, I would like to ask for your help so that my band can find a new drummer. Here are our preferences:

1. Can play in any genre or style, especially metal, jazz, and prog.

2. Willing to jam with us in Makati City, preferably every Friday afternoon to evening.

3. Willing to learn, no attitude problem i.e. no rockstar mentality

4. Ability to read standard notation is a plus but not required.

So there you have it, folks. Drummers are such elusive, rare creatures that we require assistance to find one who’s willing to jam with us.

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:

The Sobering Reality of a Life as a Musician

At this point in time, it’s pretty obvious I’ve become a Devin Townsend fan. Obviously, music has got something to do with it, but more than the music I get to learn a lot of things from the guy. I’m not a touring musician at this point but I sure understand how difficult it could be.

In this recent Devin Townsend interview, other than talking about Casualties of Cool (his new album and project), Mr. Townsend presents a picture of a touring musician who has the challenges of keeping a musical career while keeping things afloat back home (kids, aging parents, etc.). Perhaps, this is the sort of thing that Frank Zappa was confronted with before, being an independent musician and all.

One thing that I think about is would it be possible for me to go the same kind of route that Devin Townsend and Frank Zappa have done before. I got a bunch of compositions now that I will start recording some time this year. Maybe I can organize a band and then go on tour, but there will always be the questions regarding finance and logistics. How much money will it take? More importantly, how will I be able to establish a following that will allow me to do such things? How do you make it sustainable? Such are things that I’m learning little by little from people like Devin Townsend, Frank Zappa, Steve Vai, etc. From what I hear, it’s so far off from the glamorous life that you get to see from mainstream artists who are on the radio stations. If Devin Townsend, an individual coming from a developed nation that supports the arts, is confounded with challenges that could get in the way of his music and livelihood, how much more will it be for me, an unknown musician from a third-world country, who is barely at Mr. Townsend’s level?

I ask myself now, what should I try doing next if I am to move forward and achieve some form of progress? After completing my studies, what’ s the next step? It’s something I have to plan carefully and, more importantly, pray about to the Lord.

To Shred or Not To Shred?

It’s been established that most of Devin Townsend’s work does not feature guitar solos. Case in point is that in the Strapping Young Lad album “Alien”, only one song gets a guitar solo. As you can see in the video above, Devin Townsend can shred (or, in his own terms, wanky wank wank), although the point of this video is sort of a mockery or a parody of the guitar hero phenomenon. In fact, in one of D’Addario’s videos featuring Mr. Townsend, he goes on to say that, “Anybody and his dog can play wanky guitar,” which I would think means that anyone can go on and play a gazillion notes without any semblance of meaning other than to impress people. So the question now is the title of this entry: To Shred or Not to Shred?

If Mr. Townsend would perform what can be called meaningful shred, it would be something like this:

 

It’s a medley of Devin Townsend songs with a title that let’s people know what his opinion is about shred guitar in general.

I remember reading that Mr. Townsend always puts the song in mind and that more often than not, wanky guitar doesn’t work well in a song (in his songs at least) and it does not add anything to it. It sort of echoes Claude Debussy who once said “The attraction of the virtuoso for the public is very like that of the circus for the crowd. There is always the hope that something dangerous may happen.” So, if we are only trying to communicate “danger” through shred, is that all there is to it?

Perhaps a sort of balance must be always kept in mind. You can shred as long as it will add something to a song or musically make a point, making shredding inevitable to the music. It would certainly be the case in other kinds of musical work. In other cases, we have to accept that shred will not work well. For example, in Dream Theater (a band known for shredding prowess) songs like “Lifting Shadows of a Dream” or “Disappear”, shredding on a guitar would be a worthless exercises because it will not add anything to the song. Clearly this shows that John Petrucci knows when to say “pass” to shredding even if it is one of his strongest points.

So, if we can forego shredding in music, then why even attempt how to do it in the first place. One reason is that there are occasions where it will work and it will add wonderful things to a song. I can’t imagine a song like “Highway Star” or Mr. Big’s “Addidicted to that Rush” without all that shreddy guitar work. Second, learning how to shred improves motor skills and reaction time in music. Steve Stine usually says in his instructional videos that the point of learning how to shred or play difficult stuff is not the goal itself. But rather practicing such things builds skills and confidence that will enable you to do things easier and more effectively. If you can play difficult material then lower level material would be easier to play. It builds skill that will enable any musician to accurately reflect what should be expressed. It’s kind of like functional musical gymnastics.

I remember my piano teacher, Prof. Richelle Rivera, saying something to effect like, “Playing fast is not the goal. We already know you can play fast. Producing a good tone is.” I am of course paraphrasing my piano teacher’s words but in essence meaningful expression is always more paramount than superficial flash. I remember getting a bit impatient about myself playing slowly on pieces by Bartok and Beethoven and so I decided to speed up a bit (especially on the Bartok Bagatelle I was assigned to work on), only to be reprimanded by my teacher who insisted that I play the piece at an almost dragging pace. In such a manner, I was again reminded that playing slow is actually more difficult than playing fast. Articulating the notes in a way that accurately represents what you want to communicate to an audience is harder than impressing an audience with a gazillion notes per second. To this day, despite no longer being a piano major, I still work on my piano skills as my teacher had instilled upon me.

So, to shred or not to shred? To shred, as long as it is done meaningfully and appropriately, the opposite of shredding as a means of self-indulgence.