Night School

Apr 22, 2021

I've never been much of a hand for the latest sounds, but now, when I take my daughter to school or pick her up from one of her few quarantine-sanctioned locations, I literally hear what the kids are listening to. On the way home this evening we got Britney Spears, Sam Smith, Lizzo, and half a Dua Lipo song. Oh, and Adelle, which I actually recognized once the hook kicked in. This project is full of surprises. For example, after half a dozen 21st-century tracks' worth of flattened, sample-based drums, the groove and mix on Madonna's "Open My Heart" sounded positively four-dimensional. I wasted fourteen perfectly good years in New York without setting foot in a venue where I might have encountered Ms. Ciccone's work to its best advantage, unless you count the night I played an early set with some band or other at Limelight before the serious work of the evening got under way.

This radio enlightenment is the perfect counterbalance to my intermittent daytime perusal of Reading Jazz, a sprawling century's worth of essays, articles and memoirs edited by Robert Gottlieb (who also happens to have penned the much more tightly focused A Certain Style: The Art Of The Plastic Handbag 1949-1959). Gottlieb's collection has previously inspired dispatches about Bix Beiderbecke and Bill Evans; this week I've been rereading Bobby Scott's vivid recollection of touring with Lester Young in 1954 and Stanley Crouch's 1995 take on post-postbop Miles (spoiler: one could only call Crouch's piece an "appreciation" in the most ironic sense of the word).

So despite getting with the times, I still generally have mid-century improvisational music on the brain, as evidenced by this week's Youtube lesson, Tritone Substitutions On The Blues In E. After playing through a twelve bar example with a steady bass, I explain how tritone substitutions work on the I, IV and V chord and show how to use them to create some cool, chromatic approaches to the blues changes.

You can find the lesson here:

Tritone Substitutions On The Blues In E