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  1. #1

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    (This is a bit long)

    Yesterday evening I had the opportunity to take part in a weekly jazz improv workshop. It's really just a jam organized by a piano player who owns the music lessons studio where it's held. For $20, he leads a group of 5-6 guys and calls Real Book tunes. He'll direct soloists, call for trading 4's/8's, and so on. He hands out lead sheets and emails everyone with songs to work on during the week.

    Now, I never get to play jazz with a group, so I was nervous but knew that I needed to make myself do it. Normally, I sit in my exceedingly well equipped studio with many fine guitars, great amps, many picks, and music that I can turn up, down, stop, pause, or play at my whim. As those of you who gig regularly can attest to, that's not a "real world" environment!


    The group consisted of drums, bass, piano, trumpet, and another guitar. I brought my '72 L-5C and used a crappy small Line6 combo at the studio. The other guitar player had an Eastman AR-371 (175 copy) and used the other, slightly bigger and less crappy Line6 combo.

    A few things I was reminded about at this session:

    Even if you have a SFPR, a Clarus, and a JMUL at home, you can play through a Line6 with a 10" (maybe 8"??) speaker if you have to. It will not be fabulous, but your notes will still be the same notes.

    None of the other musicians - except perhaps another guitarist - will care what amp you are playing through, or what compromises it imposes on you. They will still desire for you to play good notes. If the other guitarist also has a crappy amp, he will definitely not let you have an excuse.

    The finely tuned picking dynamics you have honed in your private bubble will fall apart completely when you can't control the volume of the music around you, or of your own equipment, during a song. If you generally pick lightly, you need to turn up. Otherwise, you will have to dig at every note, losing expression and sounding perhaps a bit clumsy in the process.

    The need to pick more forcefully is one of the reasons for heavier strings. I'm glad I had 13's on my L-5C. 12's would not have put up adequate resistance, and would have "flubbed" out, probably sounding bad in the process. Picking lightly and evoking lots of delicate nuances simply does not work in that setting. Heavy strings, stiff pick. Save the sensitive stuff for the private bubble at home.

    Laminate (his) vs. carved (mine) did not matter in terms of feedback - there was none. But it mattered in terms of mix. His guitar seemed louder so it was very audible, but to me the additional sustain and heavy low-mids were a bit mushy (he was a very good player; no complaints there!). I enjoyed the fact that I could turn down my volume and still hear the brighter, acoustic top end of my L-5C in the mix, especially during comping. When I turned up to solo, the slightly harder attack and quicker decay were perfect for what I wanted to hear (even with the crappy amp).

    Reverb and delay have no place in a small room crammed with six musicians. The lush amp setting that you enjoy at home will make you sound like a wall of mud in such an environment.

    iReal b on the iPad is a truly killer app. I have something like 900 tunes on it, and every tune we played was just a touch away. When I had to transpose "Summertime" from Am to Dm, it took less than 10 seconds.

    The experience was great. I did fine, although I was not up to my own standards for myself, nor was it without a few humbling moments. My major lesson was that all of my focus on gear - which has provided me with extremely fine tools at this point, so it was not for naught - has run its course. If I want to be a better musician, to the woodshed I must go. And to the next session of this workshop I will go as well!


    The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
  3. #2

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    This is why I woodshed like crazy, so I don't end up being one of those guys.

  4. #3

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    Well said Roger... It's about the music. Good gear is there to allow us to stop thinking about gear. Easier said than done in most cases, but we all need a reminder every so often.

  5. #4

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    Thanks for the brutally honest assessment. It was very informative and serve to reaffirm a few notions I already had, and also give new insight.

    Have fun.

  6. #5

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    It's interesting that someone is able to charge for a jam session. Perhaps it would make sense if he was providing worthwhile instruction.

    You can take control of setting up jams yourself.

    Check out this site:

    SAN DIEGO JAZZ COLLECTIVE (San Diego, CA) - Meetup is a national (international maybe?) site where anyone can set up a group for people with similar interest. Thorough this group we have a jam or two every week and they're free.

    In addition, outside of that group, there is one or two open mic jazz jam every week in San Diego.

  7. #6

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    I have no problem with the modest charge. There's some coaching (not really instruction) and he provides the location, the communication, and the organizing of members. He also acts as leader so a bunch of strangers don't sit around awkwardly wondering who will be the leader.

    I have tried numerous times to meet jazz musicians in Northern New Jersey using Harmony Central and Craigslist. This area is full of blues, metal, and classic rock - but jazz is extremely hard to come by. And when you find them, they are either hardcore (intimidating) or very mediocre beginners. This session is specifically for "intermediate" players, so there are no egos, but also no really bad players. Also, on your own you might easily find drums but there's never a bass player... or your ad gets a response from 3 guitar players... or there's a sax guy who lives in Brooklyn and has no car. And so on.

    Just like a set of Thomastik strings, the $20 goes a long way.

  8. #7

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    So, how did the other guitar player's face look when you pulled the Blonde '72 Gibson L-5C out of its case?

  9. #8

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    We have several of those sorts of sessions around where I live but they are all in front of crowd. Although I play out regularly doing swing era standards, I'm still terrified to join in such a format. I have a fear that someone is going to call "Giant Steps", and when I'm called to solo, I'm just going to hang my head in shame and pack up as people throw things at me. One day though....

  10. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by rpguitar
    This session is specifically for "intermediate" players, so there are no egos, but also no really bad players.
    Define "intermediate".

  11. #10

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    I was going to ask about tone capacitors, but maybe this is not the thread for it.

    Great rundown on the session Roger.

    I have never played in a repeat venue long enough (like once a week for months or years) to see if the micro tone distinctions we make at home would ever start to come out in such a complex setting if repeated often enough.

    >>> When I turned up to solo, the slightly harder attack and quicker decay were perfect for what I wanted to hear (even with the crappy amp).

    In the late 20's and early 30's my grandfather (still a kid really) played the tenor banjo much as we play guitars today. Lots of chord comping and more solo work than we normally associate with guitars (never mind the banjo) in that era.

    He had an archtop as well, but the banjo made the money in a larger hall band setting.

    Volume and attack were instrumental.

    Thanks again for the post.


  12. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by Broyale
    Define "intermediate".
    That is so hard to define as we really don't have a scale.

    Reg, one of our resident pros who is a really strong player imo, defines himself as an intermediate jazz guitarist. (Although, I wonder if he said that to make a point.)

    Whereas, I wouldn't be surprised if there are others on this site that don't play nearly as well that consider themselves advanced jazz guitarists.

    Classifications don't carry to much meaning. But certainly someone who says they are an intermediate player, certainly they are not as good as George Benson. Other than that, you've just got to hear them play.

    I wonder if the better someone gets at playing jazz, the more conservative they get in how they rate their skill.

  13. #12

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    Great post Roger.

    Since I started going to a weekly jam session, my ideas on gear and stuff 'I need' have changed drastically.
    Allthough the jam I attend is very informal and loose, it is held before an audience ( to say there are people in the bar, but not really a 'listening' audience) it is visited by pretty fine musicians (horns, drums, piano, violin, etc)
    The owner of the bar is a great piano player who invites the other players.

    I bring my The loar LH 600 with a floater most of the time, or my old tele and I have a roland cube I plug into. Depending on the other instruments that are played, the number of people in the bar, the mood of the evening, I don't know but the same gear seems to sounds different every time.
    I came to the conclusion that it doesn't really matter what guitar or amp I am playing, there are just too many parameters to have control over how I sound..
    Now I just concentrate on getting better at playing, the one thing I do have control over.
    This said, i am changing my pickup (benedetto S6) to a K Armstrong single coil
    hoping to have a better tone next fridaynight


  14. #13

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    Good post, Roger.

    I've been playing my '77 L-5CN / Deluxe Reverb in a combo with drums, stand up bass, piano, alto sax, & trumpet. Sometimes I have kind of wished for a laminate guitar, but you know what? You're right, probably no one would notice but me.

    I suppose this is why I haven't been posting as much. I'm out of things to say, but I have a lot of tunes I need to practice.

  15. #14

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    Well, labels aside ("intermediate"), you needed to be able to read Real Book charts to comp. With piano and 2 guitars, if you couldn't comp, someone else was there to handle it. Of course we tried to stay out of each other's way to avoid mud. As a soloist, you needed to be able to improvise in at least a coherent and inoffensive manner over the changes. However, it was a non-judgmental environment, so I'm sure you'd get some encouraging "it sounded pretty good" type comments even if you sucked. I can usually see through such comments. So I did not want to suck.

    Some of the tunes we played were:

    Unit Seven
    One Note Samba
    Stolen Moments
    Blue Bossa
    Little Sunflower

    The trumpet player was most impressed by my L-5. The other guitarist was either trying not to appear impressed, or he was genuinely not fixated on such things. (There are such people!) Anyway, I knew that how I played it would matter the most by far. We all resent the guy with the fancy toys who can't use them.

  16. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by kamlapati
    I suppose this is why I haven't been posting as much. I'm out of things to say, but I have a lot of tunes I need to practice.
    I hear that! So true, Kamlapati.

    Quote Originally Posted by Geert
    I came to the conclusion that it doesn't really matter what guitar or amp I am playing, there are just too many parameters to have control over how I sound..
    Within reason, Geert, you are right! Of course I felt great playing a stellar guitar. But that was my personal enjoyment and it was very much intangible; also it was not musically substantive. I could have played any guitar that was comfortable for me. Luckily, 17" carved archtops are comfortable for me.

  17. #16

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    theres nothing quite like playing with others to keep you on your toes

    tempo, even a slow one, is relentless when it comes to conjuring up all the stuff on the fly, changes, solos, substitutions, (no less vocals and what were the lyrics to that verse???)

    comes so much faster than at home alone LOL

    good for you -keep it up

  18. #17

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    [QUOTE I could have played any guitar that was comfortable for me. [/QUOTE]

    yes, I guess comfort is everything. That why I want a thinline one day, and another tele with a CC pickup, and... oops


  19. #18

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    Good post. I haven't played in anything but ensemble settings for many years, but this is a great summary of the advantages. That "magic" tone doesn't do much when you can't hear it! Right now my playing partner is playing my 335 through my Deluxe Reverb reissue, and it sounds so much better than when I use the same gear! There's a deep lesson in there.

  20. #19

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    It's something that doesn't really come up during the gear conversations where one faction says "Man, you NEED a guitar like <this> to play jazz" and the other says "Dude, it doesn't really matter! It's all up to YOU, man."

    End of the day, it's context that makes the difference. Whether you're practicing or grooving alone in private, or playing solo in front of an audience, or playing in an ensemble, the environment has a major effect on lots of things including the importance of gear. I'm sure that some of you are thinking, "That's right, vintage Gibson acoustic archtop YouTube guy, about time you noticed that." And to those people I thank you for your polite restraint. And also for your continued polite restraint.

  21. #20

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    iRealb is really a fantastic app. I use it for practice all the time.

  22. #21

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    Interesting. Thanks for taking the time to share this.

    I suspect that given the appropriate amplification, they would have noticed your guitar tone and it would effect your playing since you could hear it. Still, maybe I won't worry about splitting the coils on the incoming pickup replacement after all..

    Side note: Was the iPad screen big enough to read the charts or was it a real eye test?
    Last edited by Spook410; 10-09-2012 at 02:25 PM.

  23. #22

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    I had the iPad on a music stand a couple of feet in front of me. It was perfect in that configuration. It is "just the thing" for that kind of situation. The screen stays lit when iRealb is running, and during about an hour forty five, I think the battery dropped 10% or something. It was a non-issue.

    Actually I did get a couple comments on the guitar tone after all. The main thing I need to work on is my picking attack and being relaxed - just like I am at home. I felt rushed and a bit heavy handed due to the less than ideal volume around me. I think it would be better to play it MY way and see if the band around me responds by cooling down. It's really their responsibility to support the current soloist, after all.

  24. #23

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    Last edited by Jabberwocky; 10-09-2012 at 02:44 PM.

  25. #24

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    I had a very humbling experience once. I typically don't play out, but one day a jazz saxophone friend invited me to sit in with a local full-brass-section jazz group, as they were missing their guitarist. I even knew in advance what songs would be played. But what I didn't expect was to be handed full multi-page mulit-section band charts at the event! Where was the single page "Real Book" sheet I was expecting (talk about living in a bubble-Yikes!).
    The good news was that the brass section was so loud (and good) that the success of the whole affair hardly hinged on my rhythm playing (which I muted at times under the circumstances). I lost my place at times!!!
    I could only think of the Mike Tyson quote afterward: "Everybody's got a plan until they get hit".

  26. #25

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    So: you guys with IPads on musicstands.. are you not TERRIFIED it will fall? how do you keep it in place??