Monday, March 19, 2012

Thoughts Arranging and Orchestration

Blog # 98: Arranging and Orchestration

I think the modern Jazz Quintet is one of the most underutilized groups around from an arranging point of view. Many musicians seem to fall into certain obvious roles: IE we'll write a melody for the sax/trumpet/guitar to double in unison while the piano player comps over chord symbols on the chart, and the bass and drums accompany that. We all the the melody, then take turns soloing, then the melody again to end. Everyone always playing at all times. Pretty generic. I've worked with Rock, Folk and Pop musicians over the last year and they are MUCH better than Jazz musicians at thinking about the arrangement and orchestration.

I've been thinking more and more of any group I'm playing in like its an orchestra. There are many many instruments in such a group: Trumpets, violins, cellos, bass, Oboes, Clarinets, French horns, bassons, flutes, various drums and percussion, and there are very few times all these instruments are playing at the same time. Combining them in different ways is what can make each piece different from the one before or after it. Also, the structure of the piece in classical music greatly varies too. Some piece bring back the main theme stated exactly as it was in the beginning, but many more use some sort of variation or end in a completely different way.

Lets start applying this thinking to a Jazz Quintet(trumpet, sax, piano, bass. drums). At any moment any combination of those instruments can play or NOT play; which is also a very interesting musical choice and can lead to some different textures and more variety in the music.

For example, here are some options, just dealing with Trumpet:

Trumpet + Piano + Bass + Drums

Trumpet + Piano

Trumpet + Bass

Trumpet + Drums

Trumpet Alone

Trumpet + Piano + Bass

Trumpet + Piano + Drums

Trumpet + Bass + Drums


You see the point I'm making, and how many different combinations there are with each instrument, by subtracting. Everyone doesn't have to play at every moment, whether that's during the head or during a solo. Add to that varied Dynamics, different comping patterns, forms, playing in the high or low register etc and there is a lot being underutilized within a jazz group. Sometimes these things are spontaneous, but there is also nothing wrong with planning things out too. Having specific events written into tunes can really make them special, different or provide some drama or excitement, after all isn't that what its all about?

Check out this tune of mine from a recent show. Notice how the instruments are combined in different ways, when things are doubled, when there are harmonies. I spend a lot of time thinking about form and ways that I can make each piece special or different.

Here are some other ideas I've used on tunes recently to mix things up a little:

1)Have the piano and bass double the melody and the horns play a supporting role

2)Have the piano solo start alone with an improvisation based on a two line counterpoint figure

3)Write a full section for solo piano before the melody starts and the band comes in

4)Start a song with a Rubato statement of a melody variation before the real melody is fully stated

5)Have a song with no solos from horns, piano, or bass and just a drum solo built into the form

6) Write a left hand figure for the piano, but let them comp with the right hand

7)Have each of the horns take turns stating part of the melody like a call and response

8) Use the same chord progression but write a different melody for the 2nd time

9) No solos in the form, all composed material.


Just some thoughts and ideas on Arranging your music to make it more interesting. Think outside the box. Try to be more creative.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

FREE Download of Sycamore Show

Blog #98: FREE Download

Here's a live show I did with my band last Thurs @ Sycamore in Brooklyn. Sycamore is a a bar(and Flowershop during the day), that has a basement space where they put on shows of all different kinds of music. It is a really small room, which bench seating, that feels like a dark wine cellar. The show was really intimate: probably on 15 people and mostly just close friends. I know when I was playing it felt like I was doing something directly for those people who have supported me, and I really tried to dig deep and give them something special.

I think the show came off that way. There was a lot of energy, passion and also some very personal quiet musical moments too.

I thought my new song 'Gotta Get outta Here' came off particularly well:

Here is the full show:

You can listen or Download the whole show for FREE.

Heart of Darkness:

Jon Crowley - Trumpet, Compositions

John Beaty- Alto Sax

Brad Whiteley- Keyboard, laptop

Julian Smith- Bass

Nick Anderson - Drums

Monday, March 12, 2012

Escape from NYC, Sycamore Gig, What's Next

Blog #97: Escape from NYC, Sycamore Gig, What's next

I'm in PA at the moment. I took a train here this afternoon, been feeling a bit burned out and tired from the constant struggle that is New York City, and I haven't written a blog entry in a while because of it. Sometimes I feel like its a constant uphill battle being a musician. You put so much work in; so many hours of practicing, writing music, rehearsing bands, scheduling, booking gigs; its exhausting. Sometimes you can bring some people out to shows, and sometimes you play some pretty empty depressing gigs. I even find dealing with other musicians pretty tiring(or maybe that's all people). When I get a text or email these days my first thought is 'ugh, I'm sure this person is just trying to cancel or reschedule', and when one person tries to move a rehearsal, it usually means I have to make a lot of phone calls, or send a bunch of emails and coordinate a bunch of schedules that will never fit together. On top of all that, it seems like so many musicians I know have issues with each other. They are always saying "you should get this guy, don't use this guy" or "I don't want to do a session with him, he's a dick" or "I'm mad at that guy". Trust me, I'm not excluded from that drama by any means: there are plenty of people around that really hate my guts. Add in the fact that we're all hustling for a small number of gigs around NYC, trying to bring out friends and win over fans. Its just totally exhausting and at some point you need a break.

I needed a break, so I headed for my parent's house in rural PA. They live about 40 min outside of philadelphia. I got in this afternoon by train, did a few hours of trumpet playing and then went for a nice drive on the windy back roads. It was nice out, so I had my windows down, blasting some Miles Davis(Cannonball Adderley's Something Else). I feel a bit more relaxed already. I did some errands, went to the market and bought some cereal and milk: people seem a lot friendlier outside of New York, even just the little exchanges with the cashier. NYC can be such a hostile place, and it feels like everyone is just looking out for themselves and ready to cut the throats of strangers.

Before leaving, I played a gig this past week with my new band 'Heart of Darkness' @ Sycamore in Brooklyn.(with John Beaty-sax, Brad Whiteley-keyboard, effects, Julian Smith-bass, Nick Anderson-drums), all original music by me. I booked this show as "Jon Crowley Presents: Heart of Darkness". I like the idea of presenting groups like that, that way it can be me doing whatever project I'm working on at the moment, and frees me up to do a lot of different stuff. I don't think I've ever worked so hard as I I did to promote this gig and to bring people out. I made a Facebook Event, I sent an email, I listed the gig on, and HotHouse, I made a bunch of fliers and put them around Brooklyn, dropped some off at the venue and even sent some live recordings to DJ Linus at Breakthrough Radio, who did a nice special on me. (Thanks Linus!

Anyway, the show went really well. We had a pretty small audience: probably just 15 people and they were pretty much all close friends of mine. The show felt like I was just giving back to the people who I care about, which was nice. The band and I really gave our all and I was happy with the music, which had a lot of energy and passion. Felt like I got out a lot of what's been brooding inside me. We only rehearsed that day, several hours before the show and the last rehearsal was right before our last show back in January (although we had a different drummer on this one: Nick Anderson: who sounded AMAZING). I recorded the show and will put it up for free download/listen on my bandcamp site in the next few days. ( Lastly, the one person I didn't know at the show came over and introduced himself, signed my maiilng list and bought a CD. He told me he loved the music and wanted to see us play again...I told him I have no gigs scheduled at the moment. He also said that our show made his day and that he had come down stairs to see some music purely by coincidence. The fact that he liked the music so much made my day. It feels good to win people over with musical honesty and emotional sincerity.

Sycamore was a great venue: it was in the basement and felt like a wine cellar. The room was very warm and sounded great. I'd love to play there again. I've been thinking a lot recently about where I want to go next with my music. I've played at all the big venues around the city: The Blue Note, 55 Bar, Fat Cat, and Lincoln Center. While I'd play at some of those places again, I'm not rushing back to most of them. There's so much stress and BS politics involved that I just don't want to deal with. Hoops to jump through, asses to kiss. I don't want to play those games anymore. I think in the future I'd be more interested in playing smaller shows(less frequently) for people that are really there to hear music, relax and have a good time. I don't like the separation that exists in playing club dates. I'd like to play more house shows, art galleries and other random alternative spaces. Playing this show at Sycamore for people I care about made me feel that direct connection with the audience even more, and that's what I want to do more now.

SO, if you live somewhere on the east coast, like my music, and want to have a party or do a house show and have a bunch of friends over, and would like to have my group come play a set, I'd be down. If everyone that came out could just throw in $5 or $10 dollars, we could probably make it work. I want to bring music directly to the people and am looking for that honest and direct connection with people. Send me an email, let's make it work.

Other than that, I'm going to chill out in PA for few days, rest, get away from all the NYC drama for a while, refocus, and practice. I bought a one-way ticket, so I will be here as long as it takes to do that. I am single and don't work a steady job, so I can get away with that. I just want to reflect on everything that has happened personally in the past few months with the end of my old band 'Red Light Growler', other personal things that have happened and where I want things to go from here.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Heart of Darkness @ Sycamore

Usually don't plug gigs on here, but I'm playing at Sycamore in Brooklyn Thurs March 8th 9-10. Really trying hard to bring people out to the show, wrote a lot of great new music and made some fliers too. This may be my last show in a while(which I'll explain in my next blog)

Here's the Description:

I hope you'll join me for "Jon Crowley presents: Heart of Darkness @ Sycamore" on Thurs March 8th.

Very excited to be presenting this night of original music with this great band. 'Heart of Darkness' features all original music of mine that conjures the influences of Classical music from the Romantic Period(Chopin, Scriabin) and sets it in a Quintet format with 2 horns with improvisation against an Indie-Rock backdrop. Much of the music is written, including most of the piano left-hand parts, bass figures and horn harmonies. All the songs are through-composed, so they unfold like stories with definitive beginning, middle and ends, instead of the antiquated 'melody-solo-melody' format. For this reason, The music has been described as 'Aurally cinemagraphic".

You can hear some samples from our last show here:

I want to make sure we bring a lot of people out for this event, our first at Sycamore, so I've set the cover low at just $5(!)

Come join us,


Jon Crowley- Trumpet, Compositions
John Beaty- Alto Sax
Brad Whiteley- Keyboard, Laptop
Julian Smith - Bass
Nick Anderson - Drums

Thurs March 8th
1 set: 9-10:00
1118 Cortelyou Rd, Brooklyn
(Q train to Cortelyou Stop)