Transcription, Arranging from scratch, and Rote rehearsal

Each time I do an arrangement for Play It With Moxie, or any other group, I go through the same few steps before I ever start writing notes.

When you decide to cover a song, your first decision is whether to make a faithful reproduction or make it your own.  Reproducing the recording has several benefits.  The audience will respond to the familiar.  With a transcription you can hand out the sheet music, play the recording, play along with the recording as a group, play it without the recording, and have the song ready very quickly.

On the other hand, if you learn the original improv solo you will be assured of capturing the style but not necessarily the soul; and you might be as good as the original, but you will not be better.  Personally, I’d rather have my bandmates’ minds in the moment rather than trying to pull from some distant recording.  If you create your own version, everyone’s had a chance to put their stamp on it, to get invested, to be eager to share with the audience.  Also, if you do it straight off the recording, the audience may not care because they could just listen to the recording.  You will never sound as much like the original band as the original band does–you may be better, but you won’t be more like them than they are.

You may not have a choice.  If your band doesn’t have the same instruments or voices, you might not be able to pull it off.  I prefer to take it consciously in a different direction, put a different beat to it, play it like you play some other song–especially if not all the players are familiar with the recording.  Sometimes it’s best to hand out lead sheets at a rehearsal, have someone play it solo, then have people join in and make an arrangement out of a jam.  Still, you’ll have to preserve the characteristic recognizable parts somehow, if only in the introduction or chorus.

Finally, you don’t have to use everyone all the time.  There’s a lot to be said for playing your strengths and not getting in your own way.  Bottom line, you need to know your players, their instruments, their capabilities, and how they blend.  That’s going to come from trial and error, and that’s a worthy way to spend rehearsal time.

Play It With Moxie Live CD Release

One of my bands is releasing a CD!  I was executive producer for this CD.

Samples at and — check out “Angel Eyes”.


We recently recorded videos at Comcast for the Atlanta Jazz and Blues show.  Episode #209 has some of our old videos; new ones are posted on our website,

We recorded seven tunes, one of them a second take.  There were three camera operators, a sound engineer, and a director/producer, plus a stage manager and a person who operated the fog machine.  Yeah, that last one was important: when we did this a few years ago, the dry ice completely engulfed our drummer and made things difficult for a few others.

They provided a DVD of the finished product, with titles and camera cuts as they’ll be broadcast.  Also they gave us raw video to edit as we wish for our own use.

It was a good experience.  It made a difference having so many people involved: if one person has to jump between dry ice and sound board, plus preset cameras instead of operating them live, the results just aren’t as good.

The Lights Go Down

Rehearsal is about more than learning notes and roadmap.  It’s also, sometimes, about practicing performing.

The rumbling noises were either the drummer’s son barnstorming us in his Air Force jets or a thunderstorm.  We determined which when the lights went out in the middle of my solo on “Now’s the Time”.

The bass dropped to half volume and the piano went silent.  Immediately the drummer shifted to hi-hat and I started outlining chords while the bass kept walkin’.  After a few moments the power came back on and we picked it back up.

These things happen.


We had a sub piano at the gig.  During “How High the Moon,” Terry kicked into “Ornithology” at the top of her solo.  Piano player caught on and started scatting in unison.  Great stuff.

Musical Illusions

Check this out: the tritone paradox.  We tried this at a quintet rehearsal, and we split about 50/50 overall on how many went up and how many went down.  I’m calling musical illusion next time I have trouble transcribing something.

Inside Out

Let’s turn the idea of playing outside on its head.  Sometimes I’ll improv on a steady set of changes and let the band shift and crabwalk behind me.  Some pieces are written this way, for example “Cape Verdean Blues”–you don’t have to constantly shift your scale a half step and back.  It’s just an effect.  On the A section of “When Lights Are Low”, you can stay on the Eb scale the whole time.  It puts some tension in the latter part and resolves it at the cadence.

It helps me understand the larger structure of a song (in terms of chord changes) by thinking of the melody/solo and the rhythm section as two threads.  They can be braided, they can be parallel, they can be knotted, they can be perpendicular on a loom, they can be unrelated.  Most interestingly, they can be in motion or not.

Put more bluntly, if the piano and bass want to move to an A chord, I don’t have to–I’m the trumpet, dammit.  I mean, y’know, maybe I *want* to… but I don’t *have* to.

Cape Verdean–Horace Silver:

Try Miles for When Lights Are Low.

If I Could Be A Bell

A formative influence on my playing was a single performance at a Methodist church somewhere in the late 70s.  A fellow named Hal Lovvorn played a trumpet obliggato in, if I remember correctly, only one song at the end of a long youth choir program.

It was gorgeous.  It sounded like a handbell, a bowl of still water, and a silver mirror blended together.  We had a recording of it on reel-to-reel, so I can say it isn’t just a kid’s lens-flare memory.

I spent years trying to sound like that, not realizing until later that there is a wonderful effect in a church called reverb.  At any rate, I did my best to become a tone player, but nowadays I don’t play every day and I’ve lost a bit of it.

Still, it’s good to remember that every single performance could be the one that inspires someone.

Outside Rhythms

I’ve taken a break from working on playing outside the chords; mostly I’ve been working on when to do it and how much.  Now I’m trying outside rhythms, crazy stuff like quarter note triplets in 3/4 time (9 notes in two measures) or quarter note triplets starting on beats 2 and 4, that kind of thing.  The former took a great deal of concentration, and the latter required letting go.  It was sort of the same contrast as Brubeck and Debussy.

The great thing about being a horn player in a group is that a lot of the time I’m not playing, so I get to study what the others are doing.  A soundman at a recent gig commented on how we all came back in together after a drum solo.  We do that all the time, and from years of practice, we know a lot of Mike’s phrases.  It’s dirty pool to end a drum solo with a roll, but he gives us tempo cues with dynamics in it.  I just hadn’t thought about how subtle they are, or how we’ve learned to roll with some of the other things he does.

Of course, as with playing outside notes, it devolves into chaos if you don’t have a solid context, a tight rhythm section.  We were playing some Bomba (I wasn’t familiar with the term) and similar rhythms, and the bass purely avoids 1 and 3.  I finally concluded that the bass plays the absolute minimum necessary to keep the dancers in line–about three notes every six or seven beats, and not just accenting the beats because that would be square.  Swing, too, is all about the upbeats; I just didn’t grow up immersed in some of the more complicated Latin rhythms.

So right now, I’m just trying to get inside.


I played for a WWII veteran’s funeral last Saturday.  It was nice.  They had a Salvation Army brass band, four pieces; I never get to hear an alto horn anymore.

They contacted me through the church music director, since I play there Easters.  They said they wanted me and asked about my fee.  Well, I don’t know what I’d say if a civilian wanted Taps at their funeral.  Veterans, however, are legally entitled to Taps (excepting dishonorable dischargees, felons, and fugitives).  It isn’t something the family should have to hire or buy, and honors shouldn’t be sold.  (If you’re interested, the relevant statute is Title 10, section 191).  However, they do have to be requested by the family, through the funeral director or V.A. or some other avenue.

In fact there is a stipend provided by the Secretary of Defense to reimburse supplemental persons if active duty military personnel are not available.  Technically, the military representatives are responsible for providing taps, whether playing it or arranging for a sound system.  This can take the form of a special bugle that has a digital recording so that a non-bugler can simulate the performance; it also may take the form of a boom-box  The various branches of the military are short on buglers.  I spoke to a lady whose son is a full-time Taps player for the Navy; that’s his assigned duty.

A trumpet player and ex-marine named Tom Day had the obvious thought that if someone needs Taps, there are plenty of people who can play it; you don’t have to settle for a recording.  Sure, the recording will be note-perfect (and it was recorded by a military player, from the Marine Corps band), but a live bugler seems more respectful.  Anyway, he founded a civilian group called Bugles Across America that does this.  I signed up.  The Georgia group gets a request almost every day, and those are just the ones that 1) aren’t being covered by the military and 2) know about the group.

I just want to let people know there are options, if you’re planning a veteran’s funeral.