"Good improvisation communicates harmonic progression melodically. Effective melodies manipulate harmonic content through the use of guide tones and preparatory gravity notes, masterfully woven in systematic tension, release, and transparent harmonic definition."
March 29, 2012 | Century-old piano factory now home to a different kind of music
Terrific read in the DeKalb IL news "Midweek" on one of our favorite builders, Dale Ludewig. The midwestern U.S. luthier shares space in what used to be the Wurlitzer Piano Factory until 1979. Pianos, accordions, and even jukeboxes were made in the building, purchased in 1904.
Ludewig has worked out of the space since 1975, primarily providing custom wood cabinetry with a switch to building instruments around 2000 .
We've had the privilege of reviewing his cutting edge work. His instruments are known worldwide for their tone, and several for their unique color and cosmetics.
March 27, 2012 | European Vacation. JazzMando heading to the UK
Just a heads up that the JazzMando Merchandise Center will be closed from March 29th through April 5th as some of our crew head to London for some sight-seeing, some Guiness, and an enviable trip south to Brighton to visit our friend Trevor at The Acoustic Music Company in Brighton.The instrument selection there is absolutely legendary, literally world renown, and we hope to bring back some interesting pictures.
Rough job, but somebody has to do it.
If you're in need of any strings, picks, or polish cloths, be sure to get your order in before Wednesday the 28th We'll resume shipments on April 6th.
March 25, 2012 | An Evening in the Village: The Music of Bela Bartok
We've mentioned Jake Schepps here on the site in a 2007 review of his project with mandolinist Matt Flinner, Ten Thousand Leaves.
Just a heads up, in celebration of Bela Bartok's 131st birthday you can download the latest album of the forward-thinking banjo sensation for free today only, 3/25/12. The album features the Matt Flinner Trio (plus Schepps), Grant Gordy (of the DavidGrisman Quintet), Ben Sollee and more. You can get the album at the following link: An Evening in the Village: The Music of Bela Bartok and enter $0 at the checkout.
March 23, 2012 | Clacky, Clacky and how to make a mandolin not sound like a guitar.
Probably more the majority than anything, the mandolinist who comes from guitar origins. On the surface it makes sense, frets, pick, wood and steel--why not just play the mandolin like a guitar?
There's some great discussion over at the Mandolin Cafe Forum, and some of the best advice you can take home with you we've heard in a long time. Why you can't strum accompaniments the same. Why you need to develop your single note melody voice. Why cross picking is a vital tool in a mandolin identity. It ain't all just about the tremolo!
Read the posts and join in on the discussion. We'd like to hear your thoughts!
Hard to believe it's been almost nine years since we had the Don Stiernberg Quartet in the hometown of JazzMando Headquarters for the annual summer "Jazz in June" concert. What a thrill to hear the legend and his Chicago based sidemen in person!
You can't tell from the video, but the outdoor performance was in the middle of a typical Nebraska summer heat in front of a 5,000+ crowd, evening temperatures in the upper 90's, and grueling humidity to match. To try to cool everyone off, the band performed this Latinesque rendition of the Rogers and Hammerstein classic, "It Might as Well be Spring."
Timely, as in case you missed it on the calendar, yesterday was the first official day of spring.
Might also mention the world premier jazz mandolinist of today is a significantly more svelte version of the man. Exercise and clean living has forged the artist into to a profoundly healthier shape today.
March 19, 2012 | Great Vintage Mandolins Under $1,000
Our friends over at the Mandolin Cafe have posted a tremendous resource for anyone with a limited budget shopping for a mandolin but still looking for a professional sound. The standard answer for the sub $1K economy route is to purchase a mass produced entry level instrument, generally of Asian origin, and effective and readily available in stores and online, but limited in tone prowess.
With a little advice from the experts, another viable option is to acquire a vintage instrument, crafted in the early 20th century when mandolins were made very well, in quantity, and many have stood the test of time. You don't want to shop these without some good advice, and it's critical to have the resources of a good repair shop readily available. Done right, you can acquire world-class tone in a reasonably priced package.
Some high profile players and dealers weigh in with their thoughts. This is an excellent read, and one you'll want to bookmark!
We've got strong personal opinions on pick selection, and made a case for the thicker (1.5mm) pick on a recent Tips and Tricks column, "Patience with Picks." Each person has different fingers and hands, and approaches to the instrument. Pick thickness can make a dramatic difference in your sound and the approach to tone production.
When you listen to a radio, if its music you want, you're looking for deep rich bass within the contact of a dynamic full range of sound. If it's talk radio or news, you need an emphasis on high frequencies to distinguish the subtle articulations of speech. A full spectrum can make it hard to interpret words.
The playing style we nurture here for jazz and classical music is about an emphasis on that rich low register. Bluegrass is about sonic penetration. Achieving volume is not just about loudness, either camp needs to know best how to throw the sound in context. It's interesting to see how other players arrive at their own conclusions how to win this battle.
We're in the process of building our own Cafe Press JazzMando Logo Store for shirts and gift items. It's a work in progress, but we're ressurecting some of our better selling shirt designs, including the "Old Joe Clark" graphic to amuse your friends.
Keep in mind the Logo Store is different than the JazzMando Merchandise Center. If you're looking for picks, strings, or Jupiter Silkweave polish cloths, the transactions will be in a different shopping cart and sent from another branch of our business. We're sorry we can't combine them within the same transaction.
We'll be adding more designs as we go, but take the time to check out some more of the additions, like the "Dogs Playing Mandolins" (now in Womens sizes!), the 3-note 7ths chord mug, and even a bib.
March 13, 2012 | Supercharging your playing. Ten years of FFcP.
When we first started developing our FFcP (Four Fingered closed Position) approach to unraveling the mandolin fretboard in 2002, our initial goal was to make the keys and scales outside of the traditional folk tune song list more accessible. In order to really dig into the more complex harmonic genres of jazz and classical possible on the mandolin, it would be necessary to abandon the safety of the open strings, G, D, A, and venture into the weird key signatures like Bb, Eb, and F#.
FFcP not only opened these doors, it packed a systematic approach to moving up the fretboard. Scale knowledge based on note relationships, not just fret numbers exploited the mathematical symmetry of the mandolin and opened doors for a whole crop of new 8-string enthusiasts.
That is the cerebral side, the intellectual benefit. What others embraces though, was the physical. These simple finger calisthenics were a terrific way for new players to develop strength and dexterity. Even the die hard bluegrass enthusiast found the fruits of a few minutes a day improved the playing.
We've expanded the studies over the years, up the neck, Pentatonic, Dorian/Minor, Augmented 11th, all a great way to understand the fretboard both tactile and brain.
If you haven't reviewed the other options, check out our FFcP index. You'll find these free exercises will supercharge your playing forever.
March 11, 2012 | Django in June temporary registration discount.
We mentioned in January, the popular New England Gypsy Jazz festival, Django in June known to have featured some of our favorite JazzMando dignitaries, the likes of John McGann, Jamie Masefield, Aaron Weinstein, and Jason Anick. We pointed out this year's mandolin clinician is perennial jazz mandolin royalty Paul Glasse to the list.
Early registration technically runs out the 15th, but camp coordinator Andrew Lawrence is offering JazzMando fans an extension through April. Starting the 15th of March regular cost of Camp will go up by $30 and continue to do so every month till June. Here's the offer: if you are hoping to make it to Django Camp this year, even if you are not 100% certain you can make it, all you have to do is mention the JazzMando special, and camp director Andrew will extend the early-bird period for you for the remainder of March.
Pre-register any time before April 1st at no cost increase.
We've heard from many readers the camp is a big hit--well worth the investment of time and minimal tuition. Highly recommended; if you haven't already experienced Django in June, this is the year to make it happen.
We all have stage stories, dealing with the unexpected challenge of a stage interruption. A seasoned professional knows to adapt, sometimes exploit, as in the case of this Josh Williams Band performance at the Doyle Lawson Bluegrass Festival in Denton, NC last year. His bluegrass quartet's rendition of Mordecai included as special "guest" performance, as you'll see around 1:30 in this 3:15 clip:
About a year ago we introduced you to the wood and steel wizardry and craftsmanship of the Pecos, New Mexico builder Brian Lock with a hand-on review of one of his stunning Red Spruce and Red Maple two-point mandolins. We've enjoyed watching the veteran builder grow his unique style, further his signature silhouette with a delicious new signature model, his "Stardust" series, having interned under three of the greatest contemporary bulders in the 21st century, John Monteleone, Mike Kemniitzer, and Steve Gilchrist.
Brian weighed in with his rendition of the "jazzers dream." Constructed of Euro spruce and Sugar Maple, strutting a floating ebony tailpiece, he branded the series headstock with a red coral headstock inlay:
Click images for closeup
He later outdid himself in October, with his robin's egg blue showcase "La Mer." Outstanding!
-Red Spruce top
- Sugar Maple back/sides/neck
- Ebony fingerboard, bridge, floating tailpiece, Bound and
- Pearloid binding
- Ebony headstock veneer- front and back
- McIntyre acoustic feather pickup
- Carbon fiber neck rod
- MOP nut
We see this question frequently in some form or another in various message boards, "What is a 'Sus' chord and how do I finger it?" Not limited to jazz, they appear across many genres, pop, classical, predominantly in Contemporary Christian, even unknowingly in bluegrass music.
What we find is a general confusion about the nomenclature, the difference between a Sus, a Sus7, and an add9. These are all unique and in individual contexts, interpreted slightly differently. We wrote about the nuances in an August 2006 MandolinSesions article, and if this remains unresolved in your vocabulary, the article may put you at rest. (So to speak.)
March 1, 2012 | John McGann, Julian Lage, Darol Anger, Rob Thomas- Opus de Funk
We've been working with Professor John McGann on an upcoming MandolinSessions article on the improvisational process recently. The above souvenir picture from a recent trip across the pond was a pleasant surprise considering our mutual admiration for the Fab Four. For a real treat, check out his acoustic wizardry with Brian Herbert on their session picker's tribute to the Beatles, "Any Time at All."
On a jazzier note, we also wanted to share with you this terrific YouTube vid from the Berklee multi-instrumentalist monster and some of his acoustic jazz friends. The Horace Silver Blues/Bebop standard, "Opus de Funk" is executed marvelously.