Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Comedy and Music of Hans Groiner

Niche genre: Jazz piano comedy

The ability to look inwardly and poke fun at yourself or your craft, I think, is vital in order to stay sane and to keep from becoming deathly serious with your work. ("All work, no play makes Jack a dull boy...") After watching the antics of his character, Hans Groiner, it is clear to me that pianist Larry Goldings possesses this aptitude for humor.

Austrian pianist, Hans Groiner

Hans, in my mind, is the Victor Borge of jazz piano. He misinterprets and oversimplifies musical concepts with such conviction and seriousness that you might almost believe he isn't joking, until you are reminded by his ridiculous wig that this all must be a charade. Which it is, of course—a hilarious charade. For your entrance into the world of Hans Groiner, his jazz piano lesson is the best place to start:

Monk Expertise

Hans is a self-proclaimed expert on the music of Thelonious Monk (although he thinks Monk could have made some better note-choices in his music.) He flattens out all chromaticism from Monk's compositions, and in so doing, in his mind, improves the music a great deal. "[Monk's] note were very--some of them--very, uh, wrong-sounding and dissonant." Although Hans freely admits to disliking Monk's music, he could see "potential" in the music. Check it out:

Hans Groiner at Work - Live at Smalls

Seeing Hans talk to a camera in a YouTube music lesson or documentary is hilarious, but seeing him in action, performing his own concert at a legitimate jazz club constitutes another level of humor. This hilarious performance features Groiner on the accordion/piano, Jeff Ballard on drums,  and Joe Martin on bass. (Pretty good band mates for little old Hans!) The performance is split into three parts; here's the first part:

What's your favorite Hans Groiner quote/song?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Walking Bass Lines on the Piano - Rhythmic Concepts

A huge benefit a piano player enjoys is the ability to play several musical lines simultaneously. Therefore, in the jazz idiom, it's possible for one piano player to fulfill the roles of not only the melodic/harmonic instruments (typically with the right hand), but also the bassist (in the left hand).

In the following video, I focus in on these left hand bass lines. These lines serve as a strong harmonic and rhythmic foundation. In and of itself, too, a bass line constitutes its own independent melody. (The harmonic progression used in the video is a simple C bluesprimary chords: C7, F7, and G7.)

Being an overall foundational component, bass lines are most often constructed with not much more than four well-placed notes per measure. That is to say, quarter notes are the rhythmic bread-and-butter of a sturdy bass line.

Once a strong quarter-note groove has been achieved, though, certain variations can be thrown into the mix in order to spice up the music and add a heightened sense of excitement/momentum to the groove. Here are some of the main rhythmic ideas that I demonstrate in the video:
  1. Instead of 4 quarter notes per bar, try using 6 quarter-note triplets to fill up a 4/4 measure.
  2. Experiment with different groupings of these 6 notes. (e.g. Two groups of 3 or Three groups of 2)
  3. Eighth note or eighth-note triplets can be played to propel the line toward a target note that you'd like to emphasize. (e.g. Eighth-note triplets preceding beat 4: "1, 2, 3-na-ne, 4")
  4. Once the RH joins in with your LH's bass line, experiment with placing faster right hand rhythms (triplets and sixteenth notes) atop the LH's quarter notes.
These are only a few ideas to get the ball rolling. Check out the Application Examples and "Putting it All Together" clips within the video for some ideas on how these concepts look and sound on the piano. Of course, the joy of music improvisation is that the sky is the limit—see what other ideas you can come up with, and have fun making your own walking bass lines!

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