Building community to help us with our music

Hey everyone,

I hope you’re having a great weekend! I just have to say that the response to my ebook Get Ready To Jam Vol. 1 was very touching. Lots of you downloaded a copy and I was overwhelmed by how many of you emailed me to share your experiences with learning walking bass lines.

One of my favorites was hearing about the group of “Dads” who get together to jam while their daughters are at their dance class each week. It was very gratifying to hear how they use my Journey Through The Real Book videos to learn about each tune and decide which ones to play as a group. (Words can’t express how this makes me feel!)

Group. Together. Community.

My introduction to the Real Book came when I was a teenager and my friend, Frank, invited me over to his house to “jam.” Although I had never played jazz yet, Frank sat me down at his piano, opened to Autumn Leaves, and proceeded to count “1-2-3-4” at light speed. Bam! As his fingers flew up and down his guitar’s fretboard, I struggled to figure out the strange (for me) chords but somehow managed to get through it OK. I remember his Italian grandmother sitting over in the corner, listening to us, more than I do the actual music!

But a seed was planted, and without a friend like Frank, I wouldn’t have pushed myself quite as energetically to learn my chords.

Community. Energy. Support.

I progressed slowly but with lots of joy along the way. I think it took me about 2 years to become comfortable playing walking bass lines with my left hand, and another 2-3 years before I could play rootless chord voicings. That’s one reason why the response to Get Ready To Jam has been so gratifying. It’ll help you get there faster than me.

If you didn’t get your copy yet, you can find it here:

Get Ready To Jam Vol. 1

Yes, community definitely gives us energy and the response this week is inspiring me to write and publish a new ebook every month this year. I’ve already started writing Get Ready To Jam, Vol. 2, which will feature 2-handed rootless chord voicings for each of the 20 famous jazz standards contained in Vol. 1. So you’ll be able to play these tunes with and without a bass player. You’ll know what do in each musical situation and get to know these tunes very well along the way.

And, in the spirit of community, I’d like to share with you a great recording I heard for the first time yesterday. It would have been the drummer Max Roach’s birthday, and WKCR was playing 24 hours of Max’s music on the radio, as they do every year.

I was particularly interested in hearing some of the broadcast because I got to know Max during the 1980s, and I wanted to fill in some of the “gaps” in my knowledge of his career.

I’m always astounded to discover all the nuances of a particular time period. History tends to generalize things, but the reality is always much more nuanced and multi-layered than we realize at first.

Case in point: It’s well-known that after playing bebop with Charlie Parker and others, Max Roach formed his now-famous quintet with trumpeter Clifford Brown and began the
hard bop” style. And his playing on all these recordings is hard-driving and intense.


Yesterday, thanks to legendary DJ Phil Schaap, I learned that there was a brief period between these two events, when Max went out to California to be an artist-in-residence as a jazz club in a converted lighthouse. He pondered his music, career, and was highlighted in featured concerts where he was free to try things out and experiment.

I was flabbergasted by one of the recordings from this period, which features oboe, English horn, flute and alto flute as the “front line,” instead of the expected (and louder) trumpet and sax. And, as a sensitive musician, Max plays in a lighter style than usual and uses a lot of brushes behind this delicate orchestration.

By this time, Max had already received a degree in classical composition from the Manhattan School of Music and his compositional and arranging talents are on full display in the recording I’ve linked to below. Also, the music sounds incredibly fresh and vibrant. This music would still sound “innovative” if we heard it played live today!

Have a listen:

Max Roach with flute and oboe

Harold Rumsey, the guy who converted that lighthouse into a jazz club, built up a community that sustained live, innovative jazz for years.

Thanks for being here, and also for being there for your friends and fellow musicians!


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