Posts Tagged ‘Off time’


One of my recent musical projects crashed and burned because one of the other band members (a great guy and great player, who I consider a friend) wanted to do what the rest of us considered pointless, time-wasting rehearsals on needlessly complex versions of covers.

(Covers? I mean come on. Give me a break! Unless you’re doing something as brilliant as Devo’s cover of “Satisfaction,” why even bother?)

For example, take the Junior Parker tune “Mystery Train,” that Elvis made famous.

Standard 12-bar blues done in straight time.

Well, why on earth do it as a 14-bar tune and then drop back to 12-bar form for _one_ of the solos? No point as far as yours truly and the rest of the guys could see. A needlessly complex time waste (in rehearsal) that no one would ever notice.

How useless and pointless.

Then we get to the complex shit that makes sense.

Let’s take probably the most complex tune time-wise ever recorded: “The Dance of Maya,” by the Mahavishnu Orchestra, on the “Inner Mounting Flame” album. (I could be, and probably am, wrong about some of the particulars — hey! I’m a guitar player, not a drummer!)

It starts out in a straightforward compound meter 10/4 time (3+3+4), then goes to a straightforward swung 20/8 time (1… a 2 … a 3… a 4… a 5… 6…7 and), then goes double time on it, then drops back to the relaxed 20/8 time, and then superimposes the 20/8 on the 10/4.) Over and out. It’s unimaginable in any other form.

Absolutely brilliant. It just works. Blows you (at least me) away.

Pointless complexity is useless. True complexity can be beautiful.

 

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by Chaz Bufe, author of An Understandable Guide to Music Theory

Decades ago, in my 20s, I took up piano en route to getting a degree in music theory/composition. I’d taken a couple of years of lessons as a ‘tween with an incompetent teacher who hadn’t even taught me to count, and then gave it up in frustration a couple of years after I started, thinking the problem was with me.

When I hit 25, I decided to go to school, and rather than choose a money-making, academic-track, or scientific career, I decided to do what I really wanted to do: music. I was essentially at ground zero, and had to learn an instrument. I chose piano, because I at least had some technical rudiments.

For the next five years, while taking a full load, working 20 to 40 hours a week, and shutting down the bars two or three nights a week (hey, I was in my 20s), I practiced three hours a day on piano damn near every day. I was fairly decent by the end of those five years.

For the next year and a half I was a t.a. in grad school (since you asked, Washington State), where I continued to practice three hours a day, while teaching 9 credits per semester (ear training and class piano) plus assisting with another 8 credits of classes in theory, all for $350 a month, out of which they took tuition. I spent an entire winter walking up the hill to the department with one of my feet in a cracked boot, with my foot wrapped in plastic bags to avoid the wet, but not the cold.

At the end of that time I was utterly disgusted. I hated two of the three people on my committee, they hated me — the department was giving m.a.s to outright incompetents, but me? Hell no; they simply wouldn’t do it — and I was tied to the written page. I could sight read like a son of a bitch, and could also realize figured bass at full speed at first reading, but could I improvise? Not a chance.

More importantly I was nauseated by the snake pit, by the departmental politicking, so at the end of my third semester I took my loan for the following semester, bought a 1961 Rambler, loaded all of my shit into it, and took off for San Francisco.

An Understandable Guide to Music Theory front coverThen I quite playing for eight years.

But two years after I escaped academia, I decided to put my time there to good use, and wrote An Understandable Guide to Music Theory: The Most Useful Aspects of Theory for Rock, Jazz and Blues Musicians. It was a wise move, as the book was well reviewed and has sold considerably north of 10,000 copies over the years.

A few years after I wrote the book, I started playing guitar in a regular jam session with some other SF musical hippies. My technique was nonexistent, but my time and phrasing — thanks to my time in academia — was right on. We were doing a lot of off time and compound meter stuff which was all over the map and which, thanks to Bartok, I had no problem with.

Front cover of The Drummer's Bible Second EditionAt that juncture, I talked my longtime pal Mick Berry, an excellent New Orleans drummer, who hadn’t played in ten years while pursuing a futile career in stand-up comedy, into coming out of musical retiremen and playing with us. That eventually led (with co-author Jason Gianni) to See Sharp Press’s best-selling music book, The Drummer’s Bible: How to Play Every Drum Style from Afro-Cuban to Zydeco.

Two years after that band started, by which point I was almost a semi-decent guitarist, my dad had a stroke, and my parents wanted me to move to Tucson to help. (A horror story all its own, which I won’t get into here.)

Once in Tucson, I realized there were only two ways to go: blues or country. (Jazz/avant garde shit was out of the question; punk paid as badly — not at all — as it ever did.) The choice was easy.

I shortly started making musical friends and playing in a blues cover band (yours truly, bassist, drummer, and vocalist). A few years into it, I started, in my late 40s, to write tunes.

Since then, it’s been a succession of ever-evolving blues bands, involving people I barely knew to people I loved dearly who killed themselves with booze and hard drugs. (See Slow Motion Suicideabout my closest friend and longtime bass player Randy Oliver.)

After that, more evolution. First as Pinche Blues Band, with just me, wonderful bass player Jaime DeZubeldia, and my now-longtime friend and musical partner Abe Acuña doing both drums and vocals. I loved it. So much fun. I could just stretch out whenever I wanted, without fear of running into anyone else.

Following that we went through a lot of permutations, most notably with the addition of extremely good player and nice guy Fred Hartshorn on keys/sax. Following a bunch of personality b.s., we just reformed and will be hitting the circuit shortly.

Throughout this time (2005 to present), I’ve been writing more material, sometimes with Abe, sometimes by myself, and sometimes with former bandmate, great vocalist, and lyrical genius Brian Hullfish.

Lately, I’ve also started playing with Paul D, a former session guy from NYC, who’s an extremely talented bassist, guitarist, and vocalist, plus Fred and drummer Dave Miller.

I’m mostly playing bass, plus doing occasional lead vocals, which has given me a fresh appreciation of how good the bass players I’ve played with over the years have been, and how hard vocals are.

It’s a revelation. Bass playing at least is a hell of a lot of fun. (At least so far, vocals not so much — I’m filled with shame.) And bass playing is challenging. Here are probably the best examples of the bassists I’ve played with:

I hope you find this at least interesting if not useful.

Hail to the bass players, if not Hail to the Chief (and fuck that lying, bullying, narcissistic, seriously mentally ill piece of shit).

Cheers,

Chaz