Lots of Newness in My Musical Life

This summer has been productive!  Although my family had to temporarily sacrifice our vegetable garden due to moving, I would say that my musical garden has been robust!

I was honored to be asked by CBS Denver to give Wednesday's Child LeShea a voice lesson.  LeShea was so earnest, sweet and hard working that it was a pleasure to work with her.  I wish for her to find the family of her dreams.  Anybody would be lucky to have LeShea in their lives.  Watch the clip that aired on the morning show on channel 7.

I've also been busy working on a deeply personal musical endeavor, The Molly Growler Project.  What started out as an outlet during a difficult time has morphed into a three-piece band.  I'm the primary songwriter, something new for me, but the other band members have powerful musical voices to contribute.  We played our first show as a full band recently and it felt empowering, uplifting and communal.  All the good stuff about putting a band together and just getting out there with it.  Check out the bandcamp page for recordings.

I also put together a little jazz duo that consists of myself and guitarist Aaron Summerfield.  It's a mellow, stripped down sort of jazz that's been really fun to perform.  We played a few gigs at the ModMarket in Highlands Ranch and I made a short video of it.

The full jazz band (which is now between band names) I've been singing with for a few years finally finished mastering our demo.  Crazy how these things can take a while to complete!  Two of my favorite tracks are loaded on the sounds page of this here website.  Here is the direct link.  Listen to the tunes at the very top.

If you would like to catch any of my performances be sure to check the regularly updated calendar.  Be sure to say hi when you stop by.

I'm feeling especially grateful for all these opportunities that have come my way recently.  Many friends, students and family have come out to support my performances.  I feel all warm and gooey inside thanks to them.  It makes me want to keep on keepin' on.


The Sunday Listens: New Santigold

This week we're gonna talk about how brilliant Santigold is.

Ok, I'm not really gonna go on a diatribe about her artistic merit, but I will say that her newest album, 99¢, which came out 2 weeks ago, is a really fun descent into pop mutations.  Frankly, it's been my only jam for the past week.  Carribean dancehall meets 80's pop meets contemporary hip hop.  I hear everything from Siouxsie Sioux to Erykah Badu.  Intrigued?  Buy it here.

What I do want to talk about is how wonderfully Santigold uses the full range of her voice in this album.  In fact, she gives us clear examples of the spectrum of her registration.  

Let's talk registration for a moment.  Loosely, this refers to head voice and chest voice, high notes and low notes, respectively.  Oftentimes singers blend these registers, singing in neither register exclusively.  However, Santigold has sections where she fully lives in each register, letting us hear the unique colors each register has to offer.  It is this type of tonal play that makes pop music so infectious and interesting to listen to.

In her song "Chasing Shadows" she layers to separate vocal lines during the chorus.  The primary one is sung in a chest dominant register while a head voice only line is superimposed on top.  The contrast between the two registers happening simultaneously creates a dynamic sound and helps to heighten the song overall.  Then, she comes in on the second verse singing, again, in an exclusively head register.  Her voice sounds very pretty, for lack of a better adjective, and the vocal line has an opportunity to float over the bass and drums.  Check it out and let me know what you hear:

The track, "Before the Fire", opens with a darker sound than much of the rest of the album.  The lyrics hint at personal struggle, be it in romantic love or life's purpose.  To accentuate this, she sings in a full, heavy, chest voice registration.  On the chorus, with its held-out notes, it becomes almost a full belt.  This song has serious feels and it comes through because of the choice she made for vocal placement.  What do you think?

Conveying artistry and emotion as a singer is often about making smart choices in how we use our voice.  I appreciate vocalists who give us a wide range of vocal colors and textures, like Santigold.  Listening to how our favorite singers use their voice will help us to create dynamic, emotional music that reaches our audience.

Who are some dynamic singers that inspire you?  Let me know in the comments.

The Sunday Listens: Students' recommendations

I'm taking a cue from students this week.  My students teach me as much about music, arguably more, than I teach them.

This week was the Swallow Hill graduation, where all of the group classes culminated with a performance for each other.  I had several classes perform.  The songs spanned Joni Mitchell, The Beatles and Frank Sinatra.  I must say they all performed fabulously.

One of my students performed with a class I was not teaching - a fingerstyle guitar class with fellow instructor Jeff Rady.  Her class performed "Colorado Girl" by Townes Van Zandt.  I'd never heard it before, but it was just breathtakingly beautiful. The original version ain't too bad either.

Down a similar steel-stringed acoustic vein, my student Shannon has been persistently telling me to get in touch with the style of Western Swing, specifically Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys.  When I mentioned it to Dustin - who has never before this moment displayed any knowledge of country and western - he was like, "Oh yeah, Bob Wills, he's the best."  Apparently you can't grow up in the Texas Panhandle and not know about Bob Wills.  So much for me, I grew up in Kansas!

I'll share two tracks.  The first one is instrumental, although you'll hear a lot of hootin' and hollerin' going on in the background.  The YouTube video comes with a thorough introduction to Mr. Wills:

One of the best Bob Wills western swing pieces you probably never heard. A notable and quotable music historian said that Western Swing was nothing more complicated than White men playing jazz on guitars and fiddles. While Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys may not have been the first Western Swing Band (That honor probably belongs to Pappy Lee O’Daniel and His Light Crust Doughboys) Wills was the hottest, most prolific, and most innovative of the bands with a vision and a stage presence that would make the sound wildly popular. Listen to Too Busy and you will hear some of the most joyous and upbeat swing jazz ever arranged. Wills made Western Swing impossible to nail down as he played waltzes, reels, blues, pop, ~all the most unlikely hybrids While the sound originated with groups from Houston to Beaumont, up East Texas to Tulsa, and back to Ft. Worth, it was known as hot string band music in Texas and Oklahoma and was not tagged as Western Swing until the 1940s as is became popular in California.
Wills had been a member of that first Swing Band, Pappy Lee O’Daniels Doughboys, but left around 1932 for station WACO in Waco taking vocalist Tommy Duncan and Wills’ brother, banjo player Johnnie Wills. In Waco, Leon McAuliffe, steel guitar, pianist Al Stricklin and drummer Smokey Dacus were added, the nucleus of the best band Wills ever managed. Pappy Lee, still seeking revenge for the loss of Duncan said he would put commercials for his flour on WACO if they would fire Wills. WACO went for the money and Wills went to Tulsa where he played at Cain’s Dance Academy, a place where men would be taught to dance for, as the song says, 10 cents a dance, and where you could also be treated to some bootleg hooch while spending time with the young ladies. Cain’s evolved into Cains Ballroom as Wills packed the hall full every night he was booked there. The Wills sound would soon be broadcast over clear channel powerhouse KVOO, (Voice Of Oklahoma) in Tulsa. Pappy Lee showed up once again seeking more revenge on Wills. He promised KVOO he would pay a lucrative sum to the station to advertise his flour if they would fire Wills. KVOO, fired Pappy Lee instead and an 8 year association with Bob Wills & KVOO began which made the station famous for it could be heard from the Rockies to the Canadian border and the East Coast to the Gulf Coast.
Too Busy was recorded September 1936 in Chicago on the Okeh and Vocalion labels 03537A, the flip side of “No Matter How She Done It”, 03537B.
— YouTube user preservationhall01, https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCEhyCeNjTHkc255oUtfNEpA

This little ditty is charming my cowgirl boots right onto the dance floor.  A couple of listens will have you singing along.  It also includes a pedal steel solo that Jeff Rady would probably be proud of.  Shannon, I hope I chose well!

If your curiosity has been piqued and you'd like some more exposure to folk music of all styles, western swing yourself over to Swallow Hill.  New classes start tomorrow.  I've got a number of classes and workshops to choose from myself.

Y'all take care now!