Right now I have more time on my hands: I don’t have a studio date, or a big tour upcoming due to venues still being closed, and our new album, More Than Another Day is now done and up on Amazon and my website too. (Read more about the album here). There’s a lull here before the holidays, and the deadlines are mostly at my back. This is the time of year I take my cue from Kobe Bryant, (RIP), who made a remark that stuck with me – he said: “I always return to The Fundamentals every year” when his off season began.
So when the excitement of the recording session and new music calms down, and the creative projects: photos, packaging and video are under control, I go back to the piano and work on my core skills again. I normally start with sight reading classical music – the entire collection of Fryderyck Chopin and now Bach’s The Goldberg Variations. I normally add Coltrane and Bird, some Jelly Roll and Joplin and always some Bill Evans. After spending a few weeks with these brilliant minds, it makes me curious how genius is created: not only were they great composers but ridiculously amazing performers creating an abundance of work often during a short lifetime. Of course, as I plod along through the more difficult sections of their music it highlights their advanced abilities which is always a very humbling experience, but it still feels good to challenge my mind and add to my technique.
Playing classical music is a skill builder and adds to my knowledge base, while jazz always has interesting chords to explore as well as improvisation ideas. I also try and save time for my ‘vegetables’ as my friend calls them: scales, arpeggios, chord extensions, and modes that are not as fun for me as say Monk or Miles. Composing for me is my ‘dessert’ the part I love. Scales? Arpeggios? Who needs them if you’re improvising, right? Let me tell you – those fluid Coltrane lines were well rehearsed: Coltrane reportedly even practiced in the restrooms of clubs on gig night in order to have a broader range to improvise from. Sonny Rollins, the “Saxophone Colossus,” spent two years of daily rain or shine practice sessions under the Williamsburg Bridge. You have to build skills to develop stamina and create the freedom to improvise well in the moment. Back to Basics, The Fundamentals, Skill Building, or playing Vegetables – that’s what I’m doing now. Increasing skills always feels good as well as being good for you, and this year it feeds my spirit too. And hey, I like vegetables too!
Enjoy the fall season wherever you are!