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A new and interesting Jazz Band has been formed for professional events in the London area.
The London Jazz Trio is a piano led Jazz band, formed especially to play a sophisticated combination of modern pop tunes, classic tracks and of course the Great American Songbook.

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music arrangements for cruise shipsCruise ship singers and entertainers can often find it difficult to know what makes a good quality arrangement and it may take a great deal of experience and money to learn how to avoid mistakes.Here’s a few tips on how to avoid the pitfalls of  long rehearsals, wasted money and nervous performances!Firstly I should point out that personally, I’ve written arrangements for many professional cruise ship vocalists as well as the main shows (and TV show, orchestras and Pop acts) but aside from that I am also a freelance pianist and I get to see a wide variety of musical arrangements and talk to vocalists who regularly play guest spots on cruise ships. My first 2 jobs out of college were in the cabaret band on cruise ships and I’ve even been a passenger and spoken to other bands and artists.

Tip1. Not all Musicians Are Created Equal.

Your arrangements should sound fantastic played by fantastic musicians but also sound good from bad musicians. I spoke to a singer recently at a gig in London and after the first set he was thanking the band for the way the charts sounded. He told me how he’d recently come back from a cruise ship guest spot and had to give up using the band, it sounded so bad. He moved from the theatre to the lounge and had to use backing tracks instead. It takes a lot of experience in order to write arrangements that take this into account. You may be a seasoned pro’ with beautiful charts and your regular session guys have no problem playing the intricacies that you’re used to hearing but if the band are not up to the same standard then you may have to pull numbers from your carefully worked out set, even after long, extended rehearsals.

Tip2. Make It Easy To Read!

This may seem like stating the obvious but I come across this issue so often. Music which is quite simple to play but which is written in such a way as to make it difficult. Even if you don’t read music, does it look neat, clear and can be seen at 3-4 feet away? Even if the answer to these questions is “Yes” there’s detail which can still make the arrangement difficult. An example may be a chord symbol written as “Fb7(#11)” – although this may be technically correct sometimes, a commercial musician will ALWAYS prefer to see “E7(#11) , I guarantee it. Good arrangements are written to be read first time with no rehearsal as opposed to get marks in a college exam. Something which constantly irritates me is that people write music with 5 or 6 bars to each line, especially with Jazz or pop music. Rhythm sections tend to think in groups of 4 or 8 because that’s how the musical phrases sound. If your arrangements have 4 bars (measures) per line, a rhythm section doesn’t need to think much but if your charts have 5 bars (or 6 or 7….I’ve seen them all), your chances of the bass, drums, pianist or guitarist getting lost have just increased by a massive amount.

Tip3. Bands Come In Different Shapes And Sizes

Cruise ship bands not only differ in their level of competence but also the amount of musicians and instruments within the group.  This can be a real headache for the arranger as well as the vocalist. The band that I started my career with was  a 7 piece, with piano, bass, drums, guitar and sax (doubling clarinet) trumpet and trombone. This is a good size band that can cover most music really well but it’s not that common any more. I tend to ensure that arrangements can be played well by a trio (piano, bass, drums) and include all the necessary cues of the horn parts. That way it’s all covered.

Tip4. Choose Your Key Carefully

OK, we know the show is all about YOU…..and your voice sounds perfect in B major on this song. By all means use your B major arrangements for bands that you know but for bands that you don’t know or if you have little or no rehearsal, take it from me – Bb major of C major will make everybody’s life a great deal easier!

Tip5. It’s Not All About Style, But……

With musicians, style IS important. A great Jazz player may know 1000s of tunes in any key but may not be able to read simple notation or if you put a page of chord symbols in front of a classical trained pianist and you tend to get silence! Your arrangements (especially for piano) should have enough information on them so that a Classical player can read some notes and so the Jazz player can read some chords.If you are a singer and have any questions regarding arrangements please do feel free to contact me and ask anything you like, no obligations.When all your arrangements are in order, the band should look like this: (My cruise ship band from 20 years ago ….and that’s me in the centre )cruise ship bandGood luck,James Treweek Pianist, arranger, composer
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General, Piano Technique, Tutorials

The “Holy Grail” for pianists is to find an “effortless” technique which allows them to be at one with the instrument. This is something that has interested me for the past 20 years and which I believe I’m beginning to gain some understanding of. I’ve been meaning to blog about this for ages but it’s such a huge subject!

Most of what’s written below is taken from an email I sent to a colleague regarding piano students and how this may be of benefit to some of the more advanced pianists.

The whole subject of technique is extremely complicated and is not simply understanding the mechanism by which we play the instrument, but relies hugely on how we hear and think about music too.

For me, there is a distinct difference between “technique” and something which I shall call “mechanism”. By “mechanism” I mean an efficient use of the muscles of the hand and arm which allows for “effortless” playing by means of gaining maximum effect with minimum input of energy.

Of course this is “technique”, but that word has other implications such as ability to play thirds, octave passages and other specific technical difficulties which are a different concern. Jazz musicians don’t need to build a formidable “technique” in the same way that a classical musician does but the ability to play accurately with precise rhythm and good tone, without conscious awareness of technique is vital. Although applicable to any good musician, this is a specific area of concern for improvisers because we cannot fall back on knowing the notes .

Any physical discomfort is a barrier to improvisation as we need almost all of our conscious mind devoted to creating the notes in the first place. We also need to learn how to combat unwanted tension.

I once asked a very well respected teacher what one should do if experiencing tension and the reply was “play through it!” which is a familiar response and one I find at best unhelpful and can in extreme cases lead to focal dystonia. Another problem which arises more often with students of Jazz/ improvisation is that they usually come to the piano at a later age and haven’t built up a technique at a time when their hands and wrists are more supple and still growing. As a result, many students play the piano with tension or at the very least a highly inefficient technique which wastes energy and produces a bad tone, usually with muscle stiffness. My own approach is based upon:

  • Firstly “timing” the key correctly – nothing to do with rhythm, but rather, feeling the point at which the hammer strikes the string so that one can input the minimum required energy to gain the maximum affect.

  • Maximising the use of the small muscles of the hand (which are very weak but allow great independence) while minimising the work done by the long flexors and extensors which are joined to the forearm. This system of muscles and tendons is very strong and yet impedes finger independence, results in a stiffened wrist, finger  insensitivity and can result in pain if overworked. Most students I see (and many professionals) overuse these long flexors and extensors.

For me, the basic piano playing mechanism relies on:

  • allowing the hand to drop completely -thus allowing a loose wrist and removing unnecessary work from the Flexor Digitorium System in the arm.

  • For the finger to strike the key (“timing” the key/ hammer precisely)

  • The finger then supports the weight of the hand (rather like a house resting on stilts).

  • The fingers do not press at all- they support (they are never passive).

  • The next key is struck by a finger and the weight of the hand is transferred from the first finger to the next with no break – producing an “effortless” legato.

  • Additional energy required for most playing can be added by pushing from the arm or adding additional weight from the arm.

The “feeling” of playing a legato phrase is to drop onto the first note, then feel a  continuous connection with the keyboard throughout the phrase and finally pick the hand up at the end. Playing is effortless, with a good tone and extremely rapid.Although this sounds simple, most pianists are unable to achieve the correct results due to an overuse of the long flexors. These give the pianist a feeling of strength and security but they also “take over” work that needs to be done by the small, far weaker muscles within the hand. This means that the pianist may look as though he or she is performing the correct action but the work is done by the wrong muscle groups and the correct feeling will not be achieved.  Work must e built up from a very small sound,  learning to time the hammer precisely and to allow the arm to completely let go of the hand at the wrist. Only then can additional power be added. Obviously this is only part of a comprehensive technique but the “mechanism” is essential. This is a huge subject and one which produces much disagreement among pianists! This is a really an introduction and I’ll be adding to this subject with images and video. I’d love to hear the thoughts of other pianists.

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piano_royalty_free_music_iconOccasionally a gig comes along which makes all the hard work over the years, worth it- and for me, I was lucky enough to experience exactly that on Sunday. I had a gig with the great, British saxophonist Stan Sulzmann along with Nick Smart (trp), Buster Birch (drms), Pete Ringrose (bass) with myself  (Jim Treweek) on piano. For me, it was one of those rare nights where everything comes together and playing is just a sheer joy. The prospect of playing with such fine musicians is rather daunting but I’ve found over the years that when great musicians have nothing to prove, then they’re the nicest people you could hope to meet. It was also a real pleasure to meet Helen Mayhew,  who was in the audience, and is certainly one of the UK’s top Jazz broadcasters and has interviewed Jazz giants such as McCoy Tyner, Branford and Wynton Marsalis, Freddie Hubbard, Abdullah Ibrahim, Geri Allen, Michael Brecker, Eddie Harris, Dianne Reeves, Chick Corea, Stanley Turrentine, Quincy Jones and Shirley Horn.In my opinion Stan Sulzmann really is the best of British Jazz, with a wonderful tone and a never ending stream of thoughtful, inventive  ideas. stan-sulzmannStan Sulzmann is constantly in demand as a guest soloist and has appeared with bands across Europe, including the Hilversum Radio Orchestra, NDR Big Band (alongside Chet Baker), Hanover Radio Symphony Orchestra and the New York Composers Orchestra. His career stretches back to the 60’s, where he drew critical acclaim playing alongside Graham Collier, John Taylor, Kenny Wheeler, Gordon Beck, as well as leading many groups of his own. Since that time Stan has been at the forefront of European contemporary jazz, and has been in demand by musicians such as  Gil Evans, Mike Gibbs, Kenny Clarke/Francy Boland and Michael Brecker. nick-smart1Nick Smart (trp)  is another musician who constructs intelligent, swinging solos with a beautiful tone. Nick has performed with numerous groups including the Stan Sulzmann Big Band, London Jazz Orchestra, Michael Garrick Big Band, BBC Big Band and is the regular soloist with the James Taylor Quartet.  Nick has been increasingly sought after in jazz education.  Currently Jazz Co-ordinator and  Bmus Tutor at the Royal Academy, he teaches the Jazz LRAM pedagogical diploma and directs the Big Band. Under Nick’s direction recent Big Band projects have included performances with Peter Erskine, John Taylor, Stan Sulzmann and Kenny Wheeler. Nick is also currently on the faculty at the Guildhall School of Music and Middlesex University, as well as a regular tutor on various Jazz summer schools including Glamorgan, Wavendon, Burnley and Trinity.If you get a chance to see either (or both) of these great British Jazz musicians you really won’t be disappointed.
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How to get Beyond Music TheoryHow to get Beyond Music Theory?The subject of balancing a knowledge of theory with “instinctive” playing came up in a music forum the other day. It’s obvious that musicians have strong views on this but I really don’t see the two aspects as being in conflict with each other. In fact, I have very strong views on the matter! :-))Learning How to be a Natural: My whole teaching approach is based upon how to play “naturally” or “instinctively” but it’s also based in a very sound knowledge of theory.  When you learn an instrument you have to perform a great deal of conscious work because you need to tell your hands what to do. We learn this by moving through small conscious steps until each element is allowed to be controlled by the subconscious. We can then move to the next level. If you put in enough hard work you may eventually reach the stage where you can forget everything and just play – but  there’s really nothing instinctive about it.When playing Jazz, I’m only content  if I’m able to play utterly within the moment and play (only) what I’m hearing in my head. As a result I may improvise within the chords, or outside of them. I’ll play whatever I feel at that moment and even though it appears and feels “instinctive”, it’s really no such thing, as this ability has been very hard earned and I’m still able to explain what I’m doing in terms of theory afterwards.Learning to Hear:A knowledge of scales and harmony not only helps you understand the logic within different styles and helps you discuss musical ideas, most importantly, it allows you to HEAR the music better! Very few people  have the ability to hear music and immediately and replicate it. For the rest of us the ability to hear music accurately can be made far easier by breaking it down into smaller elements. If you familiarise yourself with the sound of a basic chord (for example C minor-C,Eb,G) and then add the 7th (C,Eb,G,Bb), add the 9th (C,Eb,G,Bb,D). It doesn’t take long before you can recognise this chord precisely, anywhere at the keyboard by recognising a combination of the chord quality and it’s texture (or voicing). For example a Cm9 played in “closed position” in the middle of the keyboard (Middle C,Eb,G,Bb) will sound rather ordinary, but open up that chord so that you have C in the bass with G above, then Eb, Bb and D – you have a large resonant chord. You could invert it so that you have C in the bass the add Bb (below middle C), D,Eb,G. It’s the same quality chord (minor) with a different texture. Learn all your keys and you can now recognise a minor chord with any extension in any position on the keyboard. (See Jazz harmony posts). There’s no real difference between this method and recognising a particular model of car in different colours. Some cars may have slight modifications but it’s still the same car and you’ll recognise it every time. Instead of hearing a bewildering array of notes, you’ve brought it down to thinking about the smallest possible elements. When you come to play, you don’t think at all-you hear and you’re subconsious does the work that you’ve taught it.Knowledge of scales and harmony enables students to make sense of the bewildering amount of patterns that we use in music. These patterns are entirely man made and many of them are learned in our childhood without knowing it. To western ears, Arabic music or Chinese music can sound very out of tune but it’s because the westerner’s brain hasn’t learned the same patterns. The same applies to Jazz. Many people don’t like Jazz because their brain can’t work out the patterns and it may sound discordant or agitated to them. This type of learning is below the conscious level and might be described as “instinct” in exactly the same way that we learn a language (and accent) when young. When we talk, we don’t think about how the words and sentences are made up (because we learned that when young) , although in order to teach somebody else we need to have a very good understanding of spelling and grammar.Thinking Orchestrally: It should be said that the piano lends itself to thinking theoretically because of it’s visual, logical layout. We can think orchestrally the whole time-and by “orchestrally” it matters not if it’s Ravel or Bob Marley. You can hear the notes and mentally overlay them onto the keyboard. The mistake that most pianists make is to play the piano! The best pianists are trying to emulate orchestras or Big bands or other instruments. It adds colour and another dimension to piano playing. Vladimir Horowitz is the most wonderful “orchestral” pianist. An example of pianistic playing is the wine bar “Jazz” that you hear, with loads of pointless runs and arpeggios. Guitarists approach their instrument differently and find the guitar more of a “feel” instrument because they can’t really look at what they’re doing. Also, guitarists don’t have to learn a completely different shape for each key, anything like the extend that a pianist does. This does mean that they can learn faster without the need for much theory- but beware. I can’t tell you the amount of amazing guitarists that earn a fraction of what they could,  because they can’t read music properly.Don’t Limit Yourself:My point is that a thorough knowledge of theory helps you HEAR music better and learn how to forget the rules and play from your heart. Without this, even with a lot of talent you’ll probably be stuck within one style and be musically restricted. I’ve seen it time and time again.
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music arranger
I thought this may be useful for the musicians amongst you. I’ve produced some blank manuscript paper for you to download and print out. The links below are single stave versions in treble and bass clef as well as double stave piano manuscript. They’re also in US and UK paper sizes.Single stave Manuscript paper- treble clef. US Single stave Manuscript paper- treble clef. UKSingle stave Manuscript paper- Bass clef. US Single stave Manuscript paper- Bass clef. UKDouble stave Manuscript paper- US Double stave Manuscript paper- UKSimply click the link above, download the PDF and save a copy o your hard drive.
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jazz harmony tutorial
This worksheet is another quick overview of Jazz piano styles within 2 sheets of A4 paper. Whatever your standard, it’s always useful to be aware of these harmonic stylistic differences as it’s particularly useful for solo piano as you can mix and match the different approaches to provide textural interest.
Download Jazz Harmony Tutorial Fig 1 shows the basic II-V-I progression in closed, root position and you should always be aware of this in the back of your mind. Fig 2 Shows these chords opened up in 2 ways, to provide a more resonant chord using only the same notes. Fig 3 is an example of Bebop voicings, which are usually very sparse using only 3rds or 7ths and thus known as “shells”. Fig 4 extends the harmony by the use of added 9ths and 13ths. Notice that this is still based on the basic “open” voicings. Fig 5 extends this idea and shows chromatically altered extensions. Fig 6 shows the rootless voicings used by most modern Jazz pianists. These take the important notes of the open chords (3rd,7th and possibly 9ths,11ths,13ths) and inverts them to produce intervals of 2nds and to enable the chord to fit within one hand. These voicings are only effective in the tenor register of the piano. Fig 10,11 shows how these voicings may be used when “comping” in a rhythm section. The right hand adds a stronger trumpet like element with an octave and 4th or 5th, boosted by the thick rootless voicing of the left hand. If you’re familiar with these approaches in all keys then you’ll have plenty to work with, especially for solo piano.
Happy practising!
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