Youtube’s effect on jazz education

I’ve been teaching a jazz history course at a local, private high school ( It’s an interesting challenge because it’s open to all students – not just music majors.

As a way to make the music accessible to non-musicians, I’ve been playing a LOT of music from various posts: early Bessie Smith, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, etc. What an amazing experience to be able to discuss the evolution of jazz and then show videos of the players. It really brings the whole topic to life.

I’m not claiming a big discovery here. Sure, it’s a rather obvious thing to do. The reason I’m writing about it is the revelation to me: this was completely impossible just a few short years ago. I went to one of the largest music universities in the US but never saw any film footage of the jazz greats there. I remember the impact of seeing John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy on film – that was an incredible moment! Today, it’s immediately accessible.

I wonder what the impact will be for all this immediate access to so much content. When working with young jazz bands, I’ve been suggesting they search youtube for any music they’re playing. What a great thing to see and hear the original bands playing the tune. But also, possibly just as important, seeing similar age school groups playing as well. I remember how inspirational it was to come back from a jazz festival having heard other great bands. It was always a very quick lesson in how much more I needed to practice!

This is one of the positive stories about the good the Internet can provide. Well, as long as you don’t show your students some of the obnoxious comments people sometimes post on youtube. Can’t we all just behave ourselves?

Freedomfest 2008 lineup announced

See for more details.

The Madison Center for Creative and Cultural Arts and the Overture Center for the Arts proudly present FreedomFest 2008, a one-day festival of creative jazz music for liberated souls on Friday, February 22 from noon to midnight at the Overture Center Lobby.

2:00—3:30 PM ||||| The People’s Drum Circle of Madison 

3:45—4:45 PM |||||  Madison Area High School Jazz All-Stars 

5:30—6:30 PM ||||| Tom Gullion Quartet featuring the great Ernie Adams on drums.

6:45—7:45 PM ||||| Jazz String Quintet with Jim Gailloreto 

8:00—9:00 PM |||||  The Seekers |||||  Hanah Jon Taylor debuts a new international ensemble featuring Jobic LeMasson on piano, Tatsu Aoki on bass, and Reggie Nicholson on drums.

9:15—10:15 PM |||||  Douglas Ewart and Inventions |||||  Legendary member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) presents his 9-piece ensemble featuring Dee Alexander (Jazz Performer of the Year 2007, Chicago Tribune)

10:45— Midnight -||||| Archie Shepp Quartet |||||  Jazz icon comes to Madison from Paris as the FreedomFest 2008 feature with Steve McCraven on drums, Willie Pickens on piano and Richard Davis on bass.

Tickets are on sale at B-Side Music at 436 State; Strictly Discs at 1600 Monroe Street,  and MadCity Music Exchange at 600 Williamson Street.  The cost is $35 general admission and $20 for students. 

For additional information please contact the MCCCA at 251-2787 or 347-5988; and the Overture Center at 258-4141 for ticket information. 

FreedomFest 2008

This just in: the Tom Gullion Quartet (featuring drummer Ernie Adams) will be performing at FreedomFest 2008 in Madison, WI on Feb 22nd. This festival is put forth by Hanah Jon Taylor annually and this year’s headliner will be none other than Archie Shepp! Obviously, we’re very excited to be a part of it. More details will eventually we available at

I’ll update details as they solidify. Save the date!!

Even Music Education is struggling

I just wrote the previous post about the ailing music business and saw a related article about struggles in music education.

Sounds pretty grim. One stat from the article was in NYC there is one music teacher per 1,200 students (in 2006). Ouch. That basically makes music education an impossible task.

I don’t want to appear unsympathetic to the public school system in NYC but I must admit it makes me even more grateful for the amazing music program at my childrens’ school, Pleasant Ridge Waldorf School. The program here fosters a love of music from the very beginning and the children quite naturally produce great music on a weekly basis. The curriculum includes singing, playing recorders and eventually learning string instruments (violin, viola, cello and bass).

That’s really great at face value. But there’s more to it than that. The real beauty is the integrated way all subjects are studied and music is often part of the way children learn. This approach solves the core problems written about in the article. However, getting a public school system to radically shift its pedagogy…well, that’s a tough one.

music biz 101++

The future of the music business is getting a lot attention. It’s thrashing and gasping for breath. Perhaps you saw the recent article in the New York Times. It extends an article on Wired magazine’s site

I found both very interesting and they seem to make sense. The current music industry became so focused on producing silver dics (otherwise known as CDs) that they somehow missed the boat on digital distribution. This has been the subject of most of the writing about the “demise” of the music industry.

So David Byrne suggests we adopt a DYI attitude and take control of our music. Sounds great. Until you start digging deeper.

Just because we can all afford a laptop and necessary software to record the music and hack together a web site to distribute it doesn’t really mean we’ll all be producing great music. I’ve learned the hard way how difficult that task actually is. Recording engineers, mastering engineers, a good producer, graphic designers all have immense value in the process. The question remains open about how independent musicians can afford to pay all these people. Especially when the public seems to expect downloads to be free.

And even if we did raise enough money to do the project properly, I’ve never seen anyone suggest a solution for getting that music played on the radio. Just because you upload an amazing MP3 doesn’t mean anyone will ever hear it.

Clearly, we have a lot of deeper thinking to do.

Bitonal Concepts in Jazz Improvisation (edition 2007)

by Tom Gullion – Dec 2007

Note: this article extends the concepts originally put forth at

Tension and Release

Tension and release apply to all kinds of music. At the root of everything, great music finds elegant ways to resolve tension. So, it’s quite simple: if you want to make great music, it’s all about the resolution.

Of course there’s nothing simple about that. It’s where the mystery of music resides. But it’s worth focusing our attention there for the rewards are great!

Current brain research keeps pointing out how the brain loves patterns. It brings you measurable pleasure (in the form of dopamine) to discover patterns in sensory input. The brain enjoys making connections, especially between things which weren’t previously related. The idea is that your brain experiences pleasure when there’s just the right amount of pattern recognition and new experience. If there is too much new information, it makes us tired. We all know how much energy it requires to study and retain new information. Conversely, we get bored when there’s not enough new information. Listening to simple songs gets boring quickly.

So the mission of the musician is to provide just the right mix of recognizable vs. new material.

Given that it’s impossible to find two listeners with exactly the same experiences, the mission just stated is bogus. You’ll never be able to get the mix perfect for all your audience.

However, you may find you can give your experienced listeners profound joy by helping them create new connections in their listening experiences. I find the bitonal approach to be a good avenue toward that goal.

I’ll get to more details about bitonal concepts in a few paragraphs. But for now let’s consider it a way of layering musical structures. For instance, if we take a simple major triad and superimpose it over another major triad, we get a new sound. But the base elements are simple and well-known. Thus, we create a new connection: C Major + D Major = C Major with a sharp 11th.

This is a simple example but it lies at the heart of the concept. Now let’s explore bitonal approaches in more detail.

Bitonal approaches

Pedal point

Pedal point suggests playing a chord with some alternate tone in the bass. Some of the more obvious and common examples are sus chords and intros or outros. The sus chord can be as simple as a minor 7th chord with the 4th in the bass.

Herbie Hancock’s tune, Maiden Voyage, consists of only sus chords. The intro and outro in Miles Davis’ version of Someday My Prince Will Come is a classic example of using the 5th as a pedal point.

There are numerous examples of this approach throughout all music, not just jazz. But jazz seems to have evolved this concept beyond a mere compositional device. The basis of this approach is to slightly alter the base chord with the alternate bass note or to provide harmonic interest over a static (or mostly static) bass. Wayne Shorter’s This Is For Albert is a perfect example of this.

In general, musicians tend to approach pedal point in a fairly traditional way. One can just play the chord symbols (ignoring the bass) or play vertically (playing the chord/scales).


The basis of bitonal music is to have two tonalities occurring simultaneously. In the case of pedal point, it’s really just a single chord happening over an alternate bass note. To me, bitonality is when we have two chords sounding together. In this case, we have a C Major triad and an E Major triad played together. I really enjoy these sounds because they produce harmonic tension in unique ways. And, even better, they don’t have predictable resolutions.

You can play arpeggios which combine both chords and find some interesting melodic material.


One of the evolutions of pedal point was to derive new scales which fit the more dissonant or abstract chord/bass note combinations. Woody Shaw used this approach in a lot of his tunes. Aebersold’s Woody Shaw volume includes several with suggested scales. This approach adds melodic interest since the new scales often include interesting leaps and irregular scalar patterns.

You can follow the model Woody Shaw (and others) created or you can uncover your own scales for certain sounds. My favorite approach is to play the sound on the piano and very slowly discover the scale that already exists within the sound. You start with one note and follow your ears to the next one (half step, whole step, minor third or some other interval). This makes for a really fun practice session, does wonders to help develop your ears and often leads you into interesting melodic territory. Give it a try!


What if we combined the above approaches? Hopefully we’re making music with all this stuff. So we should learn the above concepts and be able to apply them where most appropriate and most musical. There are times when you want to simply use pedal point. There are cases when a true bitonal approach is what’s need. Of course, this is obvious. I only write it to keep us aware of the goal: to make great music. Using whatever means necessary!


Once you’ve assimilated all this, you may find that your hearing changes a bit. It’s very possible that piano and guitar voicings may sound similar to some bitonal chord you’ve been working on. That’s perfect! That’s exactly what you want! When this happens, you can start to respond to traditional sounds in unexpected, new ways. Imagine you’re playing a standard tune such as Have You Met Miss Jones? If someone (or something) plays an F# against the first chord (which is F Major) you’ll be prompted to think bitonally. That’s exactly what seems to have happened to George Garzone! Check out this recording four’s and two’s on NYC Records.. But the CD and you’ll get a transcription of the cool, chromatic line he plays behind the melody. Garzone has invented a “triadic concept” which is reportedly coming out in a book in the future. Regardless of the name, the idea certainly looks and sound`s familiar!


Here is a collection of suggested things to do to explore these concepts:

  • At first, consider how a bitonal maps to traditional chords/scales
  • move beyond that to exploring the sound
  • create hybrid scales elaborating the sound
  • look for patterns
  • look for melodic approaches
  • consider how to apply these melodic approaches over traditional harmony


We defined “bitonal” as a concept and looked at a few approaches. In the “real world” you’ll find many players who blur the lines between concepts. It makes studying jazz more difficult but it makes listening to the music that much more interesting. I’ve heard musicians talk about using bitonality (or something similar) as a means to play “out.” But that’s a bit short-sighted.

If we really embrace this, we can stretch the bounds of harmony but maintain connection to our listeners’ experiences. The whole point of music is to create something new based on something old. That’s the way to get the listeners’ brain engaged and keep them interested. In fact, if you’re lucky you’ll be giving the listener immense pleasure. Which is what makes music such a noble profession.

By simply combining sounds that our listeners already know about into a something new (aka bitonality), we can get pretty good results. Of course, this is simply a music device. It’s no magic bullet. Making great music requires all you can give of yourself. Bitonal music might just be a good thing to have in your toolkit.