Louisville Jazz Workshop

Instead of pretending to be patriot whilst watching a fireworks display July 4th, I decided to take my Americanism a step further by attending the Jamey Aebersold Jazz Workshop in Louisville, KY. After all, what is more American than jazz. I spent a week in Louisville attending a morning theory class followed by rehearsals and masterclasses.

I auditioned on Sunday and wound up in Eric Alexander’s combo. For more information on Eric, check out his website: http://www.ericalexanderjazz.com/ I cannot begin to thank him for his encouragement and expertise in this music. It was a truly liberating experience working within his leadership all week. We approached several tunes during the first few days without sheet music. He would simply play the melody for our horn section and tell the rhythm section what the harmony was while we ran through it. He brought the focus to what is most important: the music. Around here most of the younger players (myself included up until recently) focus on playing exactly what is on the page. That approach can work but it does not serve much of a purpose for working musicians. No one – and I mean NO one – wants to listen to jazz musicians “read” music. Even if it’s a song you’ve played before yet still rely on the page – nobody wants to hear it – it is tiresome.

The week progressed and we settled on a tune Eric played earlier in the week at an evening concert, “Amsterdam After Dark” by the great saxophonist George Coleman. It turned out beautifully on our concert Friday afternoon. Fortunately the other members of my combo were incredibly talented and pushed everyone to reach a higher level. It helped produce the best possible performance for us.

A masterclass was hosted each day by different guitarists (or your instrument) starting with Dave Stryker on Monday. He was phenomenal and played with an aggressive style similar to Grant Green; although a bit more technical than Green. Tuesday was a great Miami player, Mike DiLiddo, who played a tune with each of us and gave tips on improving. Wednesday was an hours worth of chord structures from UNT’s Fred Hamilton. He talked extensively about constructing chords with a fourth followed by a sixth on top – an interesting concept that greatly broadens your guitar sound. Thursday was Corey Christiansen, who spent the full hour and a half talking about pick technique and I have to say this – Corey became a huge inspiration for me that day. He has no technical limitations to his playing. He has a perfect upstroke and downstroke to his technique. He is utterly flawless and it is inspirational. He really coached me on relaxing while playing and not tensing up. I have spent the following week now working hard on relaxing and studying pick technique.

Tuesday was a great opportunity to play with the faculty. My combo was chosen to play with a great trombonist, Steve Davis. We played standards for an hour talking about intros, dynamics, interludes, and ending tunes. It was greatly informative for a small quartet setting. He gave lots of tips to all of us. He mainly told me to turn up and play louder – I have had a problem with this for quite some time now, but it is better than being that guitarist that is simply too loud – nobody wants to hear that.

The whole week was really a great experience and I could not be happier at home practicing now. It was a great week, but it was jam-packed from 8am to midnight each day. There was little time to practice unless you skipped out on some of the faculty concert before the jam sessions. It was a learning experience. It was beneficial for me playing at a slightly more advanced level than the majority of players there. The faculty extend greater help and knowledge to those who can handle it. I can recommend it for anyone, but I would avoid driving if you’re more than a few hours from Louisville; my twelve-hour trek was mind-numbingly boring even with an iPod.

Last night Melissa and I played at Zannotti’s Wine Bar in Stillwater again. It was a good show. I would have liked more people there, but during the summer that can be hard to accomplish in a town like Stillwater. We learn a lot every time we do a gig, and I think we learned we need to work harder and vary our set list more. We are working on building a wider range of tunes to stay within this modern/classic jazz and blues vocal setting. We learn more about what people enjoy with every gig.

The Princeton is finally a completed amp. My father slaved away on building the cabinet and making sure everything fit so perfectly and I cannot thank him enough. If you have not yet, please go check out his blog and contact him about his woodwork. He does phenomenal work with an intense dedication to precision. http://kbspinswood.wordpress.com/ Pictures of the amp and sound clips coming soon. Also check out http://www.collinsamps.com/ as he built the chassis and wired it all up for me. I couldn’t be happier with his work and his knowledge improved this Princeton dream beyond my expectations.

More dates to come at Zannotti’s in the near future and pictures soon. A new Melissa and Brian music blog will be up and running here in the next few weeks, as well as more sound clips added to Sound Cloud. If you haven’t yet, go check it out: https://soundcloud.com/brianbelanus

Thank you for reading!

Gigs, Audio, July…

Melissa and I are back at Zannotti’s Wine Bar in Stillwater, Oklahoma on July 13th from 8 pm to 10 pm

It is exciting for her and I to continue to work and gig together. It has been a challenging road since we started to perform together back in October of last year. The lack of a bass player and drummer prove to be a challenge to keep everything in line and on time. After having put in three months of gigging over at Zannotti’s, we are both becoming more comfortable there and more comfortable performing together. We even took a request of a song we had never seriously played before at our last show. It is good for us to live with this open mind and stand up there willing to play anything. We have a set list in rotation, but it is nice to hear recommendations.

At our last gig, we had a full crowd of attentive listeners and drinkers. It was a bit of a change. We have stretched the gamut of complete silence  to having to struggle to hear each other. It was truly our best sounding gig by far. We had more of a “groove” together as my parents might put it. I know we are feeling better about our gigs too – which is a significant improvement!

In other news  - I have a Sound Cloud account now and so far put up three songs. One, a solo guitar arrangement of Darn That Dream a favorite standard of mine. The latest two tunes feature Melissa Brumfield on vocals. If you have a spare moment, please follow this link and check out our tunes! https://soundcloud.com/brianbelanus

I have been working with Lee Rucker this summer on improvisation. I cannot thank him enough for his knowledge, encouragement, and support with my playing. I can tell a distinct difference in my playing after two lessons with him this summer. I worked with him two years ago, but I was not in the place I am today. I feel I am truly benefitting from it now. I am absorbing information much faster and memorizing tunes easier. Previously, I was much younger in my musician years. I feel as though I have absorbed our lessons of past and now taking in this new information quickly. It’s an exciting time.

More audio will be posted later this summer. We have had to take a while off for vocal rest and wisdom teeth removal. We will be back on track by July and hopefully have more recordings online.

All the best and thanks for reading!

June’s buggin’

It’s about time I get back to this online world, huh? I am faithful at updating the gigs section but words seem to escape me lately.

I wish I could say I have been extremely busy since school let out, but truth is I have been trying to take some time off to do absolutely nothing for a while. I’ve practiced daily, but trying to lighten up some due to summer activities at the end of June and beginning of July.

I will be heading out to the University of Louisville for Jamey Aebersold’s Summer Jazz Workshop at the end of June, which is host to an esteemed faculty of top-notch musicians from across the world. Guitarists of note: Corey Christiansen, Fred Hamilton, Dave Stryker and many more. So I am looking forward to a week-long of jazz playing and not sitting around my house.

I’ve been jamming weekly with a few people from UCO for about a year now. It has been very beneficial toward hearing myself within the context of a group. Feeding off the energy of everyone else playing has really helped. I’ve learned quite a few tunes that I simply know now – which is a huge benefit. It is much easier to improvise and really get into your playing when you know a tune.

Melissa and I will be back at Zannotti’s on June 15th singin’ and slingin’ your favorite standards with a few contemporary tunes in the mix. Zannotti’s is an awesome little wine bar in Stillwater, Oklahoma. It has a great vibe with knowledgable wait staff and is also nestled in the bustlin’ metropolis of Stillwater, Oklahoma. If you are in the area please come out and have a drink and listen to a few tunes!

I’ve just been ADD with transcriptions lately. I have bits and pieces of a few Wes Montgomery things done, a few phrases of Sonny Rollins playing “What is This Thing Called Love?” It’s just a hodgepodge of solo sections that I have been trying to work on. I need to hunker down and finish them while I have time this summer.

I’ll be starting lessons with Lee Rucker again this week. I am very excited about that, probably more so than even the Aebersold jazz camp. I really enjoy learning from Lee. He’s got a no-nonsense approach, which I really like and learn a lot from. I am hoping to keep taking with him as long as I can outside of school. I’m already done with my improvisation credits for UCO. I don’t FEEL like I am but as per the almighty university – I am finished. So I will just go around their little plan and actually learn something on my own.

My Princeton is completed! Craig Collins from Collins Amplification delivered it to me earlier this week. I could not be happier with how it turned out. It really sounds incredible! It kills any Fender made Princeton I have played through. My father and I will be finishing out the cabinet tomorrow actually. Craig just built the chassis for me with a few modifications to it. It’s got a ton of headroom. It will stay clean all day long. Craig does really incredible work. Although the project turned out beautifully, it is bittersweet to hear that he is moving! Oh well, I will enjoy this amp forever, so I am glad it worked out! Pictures and sound clips to come sometime in the next month. Please check out his work at http://www.collinsamps.com/

I have made my peace with this website for now. I will have pictures of the amplifier posted soon!

Gigs of Old and Gigs of New

Well March was certainly chaotic, but it also gave way to a lot of positive changes. Melissa Brumfield and I played at Zannotti’s Wine Bar on March 5th and it went really well. Half of the show was solo guitar and then she joined me on vocals for the last few songs of each set. It was received very well by everyone in the audience and those in charge of the wine bar. We will be back at Zannotti’s Wine Bar on May 18th with the show starting at 8pm. Melissa will be the main feature this time as we make the transition from half solo guitar and half vocals to an almost entirely vocal performance.

Melissa Brumfield and I will also be playing at Ibiza Bar and Lounge in Stillwater, OK on April 17th starting at 8pm. It will be our first show there and we would love it for everyone to come out and support us. We are doing this show as an audition for future bookings at Ibiza.

Poster

Walter Kelly and I played this past Sunday for Easter brunch at the Double Tree at Warren Place in Tulsa, OK. It is always a very fun gig to play. We sit for three hours chunking through standards until we get to eat. We need to work on taking a break, since we were both beat up afterward.

I’m officially trying to sell my beloved D’Aquisto Jazz Line that has been featured in most pictures of me with a guitar for the past several years. It is a wonderful instrument but my Gibson ES-175D  has truly taken over my necessity for an arched top instrument. I am looking to finally purchase a guitar by the acclaimed luthier Ed Schaefer down in Austin. It is all very contingent on selling the D’Aquisto though, so if you are interested, or know someone who might be, please utilize the contact feature at the top right.

On top of gigs, I am in 15 credit hours at UCO this semester. I am extremely tired and ready for it all to be over in just five more weeks! I have improved significantly this semester, but I need another significant improvement by next semester for my junior recital, which will take place in the Fall of 2013.

I will try and keep this updated more regularly – sorry. I do work hard to keep the Gigs section up-to-date, so please check that out and come out if you can.

Thanks for checking out my site!

Ides of March

In a word I have been ‘busy’ as they say. The Spring semester has really sprung up and proven another challenge is in the midst until May. I will be thankful once it is over, but for now I am enjoying the busy schedule. It’s hectic to be here and there without any real day off, but it is better than the alternative.

March is starting to sound busy as well. I have four gigs in the first two weeks before a relaxing Spring Break starts during the third week. First up on at 8pm on March 5th at Zannotti’s Wine Bar in Stillwater, OK, I will be playing a show featuring my girlfriend, Melissa Brumfield, on vocals for one of my two sets. We are both really excited to be working together again after our show several months ago for Cimarron Alliance. On March 9th, back up I-35 to Stillwater again for a private event, playing with Walter Kelly at the new Conoco Phillips building at OSU. It is a formal event, which means playing a lot of standards, but it should also be a lot of fun. Walter and I do not play together much, so I look forward to playing together and trying out some different tunes.

During the second week of March there will be two gigs at the Jazz Lab for my performance degree requirements at UCO. They are on March 12th & 13th and I will be performing as part of the Jazz Guitar Ensemble and Jazz Repertory Combo III. I’m not sure how I feel about these gigs right now, but I prefer the combo setting as it allows us to stretch out and explore improvisation. Guitar Ensemble requires a bit more structure, as we have five guitarists in our group, which leads us toward playing strict arrangements without much room for error. Both settings are enjoyable, but I much prefer exploring my instrument in a freer setting.

The Princeton Reverb chassis I ordered from Collins Amplification should be ready by the beginning of March as well. I really look forward to building the cabinet when the amplifier is finished. It will be a standard spec cabinet built out of pine instead of baltic birch plywood. Right now, I am toting around my Deluxe Reverb Reissue, which sounds great, but is ultimately too heavy for a daily haul. A Princeton is simply a vibrato channel only version of a Deluxe Reverb. It will be lighter, not quite as loud, but still retain all the Fender tube amplifier greatness. I am really excited about it!

I need to finish up some transcriptions of Wes Montgomery that I started during my winter break. I would love to start transcribing Jim Hall’s solo on I Hear A Rhapsody from Jim Hall: Live! but I have to start finishing projects before starting another. School has really taken up a lot of time lately though. My core courses are taking up more outside school time then I thought they would. My Spring Break already sounds packed full of transcription. It needs to be!

That’s the news! Head out to a show if you’re in or around Oklahoma. Some interesting arrangements in the works for my solo section of the March 5th gig.

Recommendations

I’ve been working a lot lately on transcriptions and through several books around my house. I’ve been transcribing Wes Montgomery’s solos on ‘Satin Doll’ and one of my favorite solo takes from his album Boss Guitar, “The Days of Wine and Roses.” He takes such a beautiful solo on that tune.

It’s always those subtle nuances that get me with Wes’ playing. The small lick he plays at 1:36 is just perfect (which he also uses during his solo on Canadian Sunset on the same album.) His subtle bend and phrasing just kill me. Wes is simply, Boss Guitar, and that title shows no short comings. He’s got all the soul a player could ask for and chops that are otherworldly.

Transcribing Wes has really taught me more than anything. It’s taken time out of so-called practicing, but it has improved my improvisations ten-fold. His solos are well crafted and not just blaring out the gate. He has a structure that most musicians do not think about while improvising. We all want to “play all we can” over these changes and often miss the point. We want to craft solos that make us feel good. No one plays an incredibly fast solo rushing over changes and feels good at the end of the day. I remember playing everything I could over a given chord and never feeling satisfied.

I’ve studied Bert Ligon’s Comprehensive Technique for the Jazz Musician lately, which is phenomenal. He has comprised a wonderful method of practicing sequences and other techniques. He goes a step further using transcriptions of soloists using these phrases in their solos. I know how hard it is to really convince students that sequences are worth practicing. Ligon shows us how to connect sequences as a phrase by giving us examples of McCoy Tyner, Freddie Hubbard, Miles Davis, Charlie Paker, etc. using these concepts in their solos. It’s practical to practice these things when you see them in use.

Another book worth mentioning is Bret Willmott’s Complete Book of Harmony, Theory, and Voicing which has transformed my comping ideas. He uses typical drop 2 voicing as substitutions for other chords. For instance, a lot of us play C7 or the “grande” C13 chord, but Willmott uses a Emin7b5 instead. You get E, Bb, D, G or the 3rd, 7th, 9th, and 5th of a C7. It’s such a hip sound! His book has really opened up my mind and ears to applying chords in a different way. It has saved me from playing chords that I really dislike (C major7 stock voicing for example!)

I’ve got another amplifier on the way too, built by a local builder. It’s a Princeton Reverb with a Paul C. Mod done to increase the headroom. I’m building the cabinet, with my father, out of pine with dovetail joints. It will look amazing out of pine and will break in beautifully.

I’ve got a few shows coming up, mostly private gigs, but I have been starting to jam with people every Sunday afternoon, which has really been fun.

Bought a slew of music with iTunes gifts from Christmas. Lennie Tristano, Lage Lund, Jonathan Kreisberg, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Elmo Hope, Donny McCaslin, and too many more to remember.

That’s the news of late! Go listen to the album Boss Guitar by Wes Montgomery. Now.