Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Creative Brilliance of Ruben "Cougar" Estrada

When I was in college one of my part time jobs was being a pizza delivery driver. I enjoyed the job as I got the chance to listen to music while driving around town with the best night of the week being Friday nights because I got to listen to a show that was broadcast by my Alma Mater Cal State Long Beach called Jazz on the Latin Sidehttp://www.jazzandblues.org/programming/hosts/bios/?host=Jose%20Rizo. The host of the show is a gentleman by the name of Jose Rizo and he was always very pleasant to listen to while sharing some of the most amazing music out there.

One night was most special because Mr. Rizo came on the air and said that he had just come across a new CD that really amazed him and that he didn't want to say anything further because he wanted to play the title track without any delay. It was from a group from Santa Barbara, CA called The Estrada Brothers and the name of the track was "About Time." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c891rOf62p0

Once I heard the opening groove I could feel my eyebrows go up as I hadn't heard someone lay it down like that in a long time. It didn't take long for me to take notice to the fact that while they did have some Latin percussion in the song that the group was actually driven by a guy on the drum set, which was the preferred rhythmic language that I talked. Later in the song this drummer took a solo that almost caused me to crash because I was cheering loudly while driving to my next delivery.

That was definitely one of those moments when a drummer wowed me, to say the least.

Soon after that night I had a birthday and it was around that time in my life when I would just go out and buy myself a present rather than wait to see what other people would get for me. Immediately I was at my local Tower Records and went straight to the jazz section in order to find this now coveted CD that I wanted. And there it was!

Right away I was amazed at what I heard. The band was stellar as band leader Ruben Estrada played the vibes like no one else in the world. The rest of the band was just as amazing but my biased ears wanted to hear more of this amazing drummer who I soon found out was Ruben's son Ruben "Cougar" Estrada. I spent the rest of the afternoon listening to their amazing music.

First off, the CD is amazing in its totality. Many artists claim that they despise the fact that people can download songs now because it robs them of the opportunity to make the money they would normally make back when people had to buy the entire album. While I do sympathize with such an idea I also don't blame the consumer for purchasing only what they want because frankly, many CD's aren't worth buying because there are too many filler songs. Sadly, I notice this to be the case most of the time in the jazz genre so I was ecstatic when I found out that my purchase of this CD was in fact worth every dime I spent that day, which in itself wasn't easy because that's when I was on a poor college student's budget.

The best way to describe Cougar's drumming is that he is a brilliant painter while also having a thunderous groove. He is a brilliant painter because he has a beautiful way of playing the traditional Latin rhythms with his cymbals, which in itself provides a light texture that doesn't overpower the vibes, which acts in most cases as the lead instrument. His thunderous groove is in the fact that when he has to push because he really kicks the band hard. But his groove also has a ton of soul to it so it really makes you want to move. He is also great and setting moods to the music such as the circular feeling he gives the listener when he plays through the 12/8 section of "Two Friends."

Mr. Ray: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u9TDhy0Kf44

Two Friends: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJ6LVqirDrI

Delia Bonita: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jTiLgaPiQI

Joe's Songo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-kgNlC8CZWk



\
Cougar's brilliance also extends to the next CD titled "Get Out of My Way." This time we get to see him move through different types of grooves while also playing through various moods such as on the song "Tin Tin Deo" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=atezyieK6ZU. He also continues his beautiful coloring of the drum set on tracks like "Blue Bossa." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uKc6pXiNZk0. This CD doesn't feature as much of his thunderous groove but it really shows his musicality in ways that wasn't seen on About Time, which is a music lesson in itself.


Aside from performing with The Estrada Brothers Cougar also performs with Los Lobos and his own musical projects. To this day he is one of the most musical drummers I have ever heard because he really knows how to play a song. Too often we only hear about song drummers when it comes to pop music as if pop songs were the only true songs that are written. That is just not true because it takes great talent to write a good song in any genre. The Estrada Brothers do a great job not only with their great original material but also with their arrangements of popular favorites as they offer renditions of these songs are in most cases very refreshing. None of this could be done without the brilliance of Ruben "Cougar" Estrada.





Carlos Solorzano
@csolorzano18
https://www.reverbnation.com/carlossolorzano

Saturday, May 7, 2016

El Rey: The Great Tito Puente

Growing up in a house with Arthur Solorzano meant that I had the privilege to hear lots of great mushc. One of his favorite genres was Latin Jazz with one of his favorite artists being the great Tito Puente. Puente was of course a master percussionist but also a brilliant composer and arranger and there was no better setting to listen to him than in a live setting. Aside from being a brilliant all around musician he also had a world class band so each show was an event to say the least. One listen to one of my father's favorite albums, which is titled El Rey, says it all: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o4T0XjQ4WaE

In my life I had the chance to see him perform three times. The first time was when I went with my parents to see him at the Marsee Auditorium at El Camino Community College during my senior year of high school. They band did two sets of all of our favorite songs and they were simply amazing. Watching Puente play his timbales along with the marimba and vibes allowed me to be in the presence of a true musical master.

I would see him two more times in 1996. The first time was when I went with my then fiancee (and yes, she did marry me) to the House of Blues in West Hollywood to see him in a club setting. That was probably the best performance of all because I could tell how much he loved playing in clubs. The last time was at the Hollywood Bowl with his All Star Band. It was a great show as he took a different approach since he was working with other musicians. He seemed to put more emphasis on jazz tunes but that awesome Latin groove was still there.

Since Puente was always blaring through my father's speakers I am proud to say that his music was a big influence on me. Even though I didn't necessarily go into the Latin genre exclusively I learned so much from the way he played his instruments as he taught me a lot about what it was like to play with great musical taste.

Many times I have stated that drummers who also play harmonic instruments have a different approach to their drumming because they have a musical vocabulary that most drummers have no knowledge of. Who better than Tito Puente to exemplify such an idea since he was in fact not only the band leader but also the guy putting the charts together? It really warms my heart to see a percussionist have such an influence on the musical world because there are too many times when we are seen as the red headed step child in the band.

Puente was indeed a rare breed. His career spanned over fifty years, he won five Grammy awards, appeared on over one hundred albums and had such a great band that he was known as "One Take Tito" in the recording studio. It's amazing to read the CD credits and see that his albums were at times recorded and mixed in 2-3 days!

Show us how it's done Tito!


El Rey del Timbal

One of the things I admired most about Puente was the way he would phrase his solos. He didn't just rip away as his timbale solos told a story. If you go to the above link and listen to his solos on "Ran Kan Kan" (track 3) and on "El Rel del Timbal" (track 9) you can hear that he is not only a great drummer but also a musical composer on the drum. Of course that doesn't mean that Puente couldn't throw down with the best of them but the nice thing about Latin music is that there is always an emphasis on playing in harmony with others so one usually solos while being accompanied by other percussionists. Check out these classic solos from early in Puente's career:

Four by Two: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vYbcUTUhOms

Ti Mon Bo: (start at 4:44) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TXBgJ2ajjQs


Vibes and Marimba 

Puente was a genius with the mallets. His performances on the vibes and marimba were second to none as he certainly had a style all his own. Since these are melodic instruments we see more than his ability to phrase on a percussion instrument. Puente's brilliance was in his ability to create pieces of music that were most memorable as he created moods that took the listener on a beautiful journey.

Mambo Diablo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vx6NymsfTpA&list=RDvx6NymsfTpA&index=1

China: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snmE0jNSqn0

Azu Ki Ki: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hG7pn7JKqfc

Brilliant Arrangements

I am not the biggest fan of traditional swing jazz because of my Latin jazz upbringing. Truth be told, I would rather focus on tunes with Latin grooves than swing grooves as those get old for me real fast. Sometimes this caused tension for me when I played gigs in a jazz standard group because I preferred to play the tunes the way Puente arranged them than the traditional arrangements that were released decades earlier. Of course the tunes in themselves are beautiful pieces of music but it was always hard for me to go back to the original version when Puente's arrangements were the first ones that I was exposed to.

Take a look at these three standard classics. Each song in their original form was amazing in their own right but Puente took them to another level. "Take Six" is Puente's arrangement of Dave Brubeck's "Take Five," which of course is a song that was already memorable thanks to its rhythmic dimension. After all, who wrote jazz songs in 5/4 time? Puente took it to the next level by adapting it to the Afro-Cuban genre. Same thing with classic "Killer Joe."

Take Six: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KB4iVzf10lY

Killer Joe: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v0B-1pJ_NY0

"Spain" in itself was already a beautiful classic. I have heard the great Chick Corea record this in various ways with some amazing musicians who helped him offer a different approach for each generation. Meanwhile, Puente takes it and arranges it in a way that makes one feel like an Afro-Cuban musician collaborated with a Spanish composer somewhere in Barcelona. Absolutely brilliant!

Spain: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=drqmHw9LMzc


Let's Groove 

There are times when one just have to let it go. Nothing is more exciting than a Latin song that just moves. Of course Puente knew exactly how to do this because of his musical knowledge both as a composer & arranger and as a multi-percussionist.

Un Poco Loco: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRDvkcJcIw8 

Dance of the Headhunters: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RHZwuN5u2aA

Puente in Percussion:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sInuHtWPigM

El Rey was special and I am so grateful that my father shared his love for Puente's music with me because he has taught me so much about music. Every time I listen to his music I learn something new and that is saying something because I am in my forties and do not know a day in my life when I didn't have this man's music around me.

I play mostly drum set so I didn't exactly follow the same path as Puente but rhythm is universal and I have learned so much about how to feel rhythm and how to put rhythms together thanks to Puente. I think my proudest moment as a fan was in college when a classmate of mine named Victor Wheeler did a timbale duet with me in one of our music classes. We performed our arrangement of "Four by Two" and it brought the house down. The best part about it was that people walked out of the theater that day humming the main rhythm, which brought big smiles to our faces because they were really feeling what we had just played.

It's hard to believe that June 1 of this year will be sixteen years since Puente has passed away. I remember the morning he passed because my father called me when I was still asleep to give me the news. I thanked him for letting me know but it didn't really hit me until later that day. I had decided to take some of his music with me to listen to on the way to work and it was actually on my drive home when it finally sank in. I was listening to a song titled "Son Con Son" from his 100th album as that song has one of the best grooves I have ever heard. As the groove moved my heart I could now feel the loss. Thankfully I was close to home because I began to sob. Not only had the world lost one of our greatest musical treasures but a piece of my upbringing was now gone. Music would never be the same for me.

Thank you Tito for all of the treasures you gave to us. Rest in peace Maestro!


Carlos Solorzano
@csolorzano18
https://www.reverbnation.com/carlossolorzano


Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Metal Monster: Brent "Deadly" Smedley

A little over ten years ago I borrowed a double CD from a friend of mine by the heavy metal band Iced Earth called The Blessed and the Damned. I was curious to hear this band because I kept seeing their CD's at the music store checking out the Iron Maiden CD's because the artwork always caught my attention. My friend assured me that I would love their music so I was more than excited to throw on disc one when I drove home from work later that day. Right away I was taken by their killer riffs, their catchy melodies and their dark fantasy lyrics and since it was a greatest hits collection I could hear right away that some of the songs featured various musicians due to personnel changes they had over the years.

Then a live version of song called "Travel in Stygian" came on and that was when I really noticed a drummer who just blew me away. Right away I had to look at the song credits and that's when I found out that his name was Brent "Deadly" Smedley. The song started out with a pulsing 12/8 beat that featured some nice ride bell work and some tasteful double bass licks before heading into an up tempo common time riff that had a syncopated feel that Brent drove with straight beat with some cool double bass riffs that doubled the guitar part. After the song went through a few sections it kicked into an even faster section that started with a killer guitar riff before Brent jumped back in with some amazing up tempo grooves that featured some amazing double bass work. Then the song went into a slow section that Brent played tastefully before kicking the song into another gear before they dropped into an amazing up tempo section that Brent drives with some amazing double bass work that is broken up before he pounds away on a tom driven section before the band takes the song home. The song really told a story both lyrically and musically and Brent did an amazing job keeping the entire story together with his masterful performance.

Travel in Stygian: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=75zQ5Mlad-g

I was officially hooked on this band and wanted to learn more about this amazing drummer. That led me to pick up a copy of Alive in Athens, which featured Brent playing this amazing song along with with live versions of many Iced Earth classics. Brent's drumming is amazing regardless of the setting he is playing in but he really shines in a live setting.

At the time of my discovery I came to find out that Brent was no longer in the band so I was more than pleased when he returned for the Framing Armageddon album in 2007.  The album featured nothing less than what some people expect from an Iced Earth album but as time went on the music became even more dynamic, which demonstrated a band that was growing in its songwriting, which of course, works best when they have a dynamic drummer like Smedley.

I was deeply moved by the moods in song such as "The Clouding" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=daRJxnlo1zM or those moments when it's just time to rock out and drive that metal machine on a song like "Ten Thousand Strong." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dMOtwk9oXjA. Now that Brent was back in the band the foundation was set in stone and there was no way to break down this kingdom.

As time went on the band continued to gel as a unit and Brent's drumming got even better. When the group released the album Dystopia I was blown away by his drumming performance because he delivered what I consider to be one of the best performances ever by a metal drummer. In all the years I have listened to metal music I have heard lots of great drummers deliver some amazing performances but none of them were better than what I heard on Dystopia. Brent really brought his "A" game on that album.

The title track is just perfect and only Brent could have delivered such a dynamic performance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zuwW9IVwZ0U. This was most important because they were about to introduce new singer Stu Block to the band and he is a metal god! But, such a metal god can only rule the landscape of rivet heads if the drummer supporting his throne has the goods to keep him in a elevated position. Brent is the man for the job and if you take one listen to the track you will most likely agree with me when I say that Iced Earth has never sounded better. The rest of the album is fabulous and is to this day my favorite Iced Earth album.

Some other highlights from the album have to include the rocker "Boiling Point" where Smedley drives the conquering tank: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EWJ7bUCPKK0 "V,: which has some tricky grooves and some amazing double bass licks between some great lead vocal lines to the complicated epic song "Dark City" which features some amazing drumming by the metal master: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dCDCo3k7sQ

Following the release of Dystopia the band recorded a DVD/CD package called Live in Ancient Kourion. It was amazing to hear the new songs from the Dystopia album live but I was also amazed at how Brent interpreted material from the albums he didn't play on. I was most impressed with the way he performed on tracks like "Wolf" and "Dracula" because they were originally recorded by drummer Richard Christy who is amazing in his own right yet. Brent made these songs his own and it was a pleasure to hear Brent's interpretation of the songs along with how his performance impacted the rest of the band.

Rock on Deadly Smedley!

Soon after that tour Brent had to step away from the band to take care of some family issues. The band went on to record the amazing Plagues to Babylon album and it was indeed great to hear the band grow all the more in terms of their songwriting with vocalist Stu Block. However, I would be lying if I didn't say that I was ecstatic when it was announced that Smedley would return to the band prior to the recording of their latest album titled Incorruptible. 

O. M. to the freaking G!!!! 

Right away the new album opens with the epic "Great Heathen Army" and it was such a joy to hear those opening power chords ring out while Smedley's pounding toms announced that "Deadly" Smedley was back! Then into the killer rocking double bass beat before locking into the 12/8 groove on the chorus with the smoothest transition that helped tell the story of this epic song. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q_VbMVwVuhw

Another stand out is "Ghost Dance (Awaken the Ancestors)." Being a drummer who loves World Rhythms and music from other cultures I can say that this song moved my spirit in a way that a metal song never had before. The tom driven part is something we would expect in a song with this kind of theme and it was executed brilliantly. But the groove is just as awesome as the 16th note subdivisions were performed in a way that projected the same feel as the tom part and that is why the entire song feels like a Native American dance. It is a brilliant performance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dy-T8ZHBNEE

One final song I'd like to highlight is "Clear the Way (December 13, 1862)." The opening part totally has an Irish feel and it is funky! But once that main groove kicks in it's time to rock. The later grooves maintain that Irish feel thanks again to the way Smedley plays the 16th note subdivisions. I think it's safe to say that on this album he didn't just perform well but offered a performance that helped tell the story of the songs. That is not typical of every drummer out there: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wmljtVrxul0

It's good to have you back man! You are one of the best ever in the heavy metal genre and I look forward to many more years of not only enjoying your drumming but learning from your drumming.






Brent Smedley's Discography: https://www.discogs.com/artist/854281-Brent-Smedley


Carlos Solorzano
@csolorzano18
https://www.reverbnation.com/carlossolorzano



Monday, May 2, 2016

Music Literacy

In the spring of my third grade year I asked my parents for a drum set. My father made it very clear that if I got a drum set that I had to learn how to play drums the right way so my parents signed me up for private drum lessons at a local music store. After meeting my first teacher he walked me to the back of the store, which is where the drum room was located. During his stride he grabbed a book from one of the shelves and after sitting me at the drum set he placed the book on a nearby music stand. It was called How to Play Rock and Roll Drums. 

Then he opened the book to the second page, which featured some quarter notes and rests played on the bass drum and the snare drum. He explained how they are counted: 1-2-3-4 and then counted me off before he had me play the exercises in the book. 

I played each figure perfectly and before I knew it the thirty minute session ended and it was time for me to go home. I was most grateful to say the least because I did really well when it came to reading music for the first time. I had been playing drums at school in a small drum corp but everything we learned was by ear so this was the first experience of learning a new language. Right away I had a good feeling about this.

Music literacy is a much argued point by many musicians for various reasons. First, there seems to be a badge of honor for being self-taught because that means you figured out how to play your instrument on your own and did so with a lot of ear training. Second, there is an argument about how being self-taught also helps your feel. Feel....the immeasurable piece of evidence that is used in musical arguments that (conveniently) can't be measured (more on that in a future blog) while these same musicians ignore the fact that some of the best performers ever are in fact musically literate.


I Am Not Self-Taught...So What? 

I studied drum set privately for 13 years so that would be the equivalent of going to school from Kindergarten through high school. I have never worked with a musician for an extensive amount of time that frowned upon the idea with many of them even going so far to express their admiration for the fact that I pursued private instruction. There are even those who asked what the focus of my studies were with the following being my answers.

My first teacher's name was Swede Meredith, an old school Jazz drummer who was determined to get me to follow in his footsteps. He started me on traditional grip and focused on teaching me how to read music and on how to play drums in a relaxed way. Aside from that he also worked with me to prepare for the annual A.F.N.A. Musical Festivals that were held once a year where we performed rated drum solos for a panel of judges. We worked together for about five years before I moved on to my second teacher.

The work I did with Swede prepared me for my second teacher whose name was Greg Alban. Greg to this day has been my greatest mentor because he had a much broader vocabulary since he wasn't set in some old school ways that are still typical of many traditional Jazz drummers. By the time I started studying with Greg I was a good reader and had decent technique so he took what I could do even further by challenging me in with modern techniques and playing styles that were current at that time period. 

However, one of the things that both Swede and Greg both emphasized to me was the importance of listening to other players. Meanwhile, our lessons focused on reading and technique while they tracked my progress on how I moved around the drum set. So you can see that when it came to listening to other drummers and learning from them on my own time I actually come from the same background as the self-taught players so that is why I have always challenged the idea that studying with a teacher somehow harms your feel as a player.  Further, how much more did I learn because I had the chance to sit in the presence of a master drummer on a weekly basis who not only tracked my progress but also played for me. (Side note: I am blessed to have never had a physical injury in my hands, arms or legs and I am most grateful to my teachers whose guidance taught me how to play with great efficiency. How is that a bad thing? I did have some back problems but the solution to that is addressed in my blog titled: http://desertdrummer.blogspot.com/2015/01/method-to-madness-talking-drum-set-up.html)

My third teacher was Jeanette Wrate and since she knew Greg and was familiar with his work she focused on getting me into World Drumming ideas along with polyrhythms. A lot of what we did was on a practice pad as we worked on various types of rhythms as well as complex meters but just like Swede and Greg, she directed me to even more drummers that I should listen to because they were doing the things she was teaching me.

At that time I was also encouraged to start transcribing music. At first I really didn't think much of the idea because I could learn any song by memory and play everything that I heard without a problem. Yet, once I took the time to sit there and write the whole drumming performance out it gave me an understanding of this particular drummer's performance that I never knew existed. Now can you also become familiar with a drummer's style by listening to them? Of course, but how can anyone claim to learn nothing from transcribing someone's musical performance unless they have actually done that and found nothing new in what they wrote out? Sorry, but you can't comment on what you don't know.


Music Education

In college I started out as a Music Major before changing my major at the end of my junior year. Therefore, I have an Associates of Arts degree from El Camino Community College in Torrance, CA and earning this degree is something I am most grateful for because I learned so much during my musical studies at ECC. Prior to entering college I had just started messing around with the guitar but the truth is, I had no idea what I was doing other than just playing some power chords here and there and learning a few basic Rock songs. That was because I had what I call a drummer's ear, meaning that I did struggle to a certain degree with figuring out chords and melodies because my ear was more in tune with the rhythmic parts of the song and not the melodies and harmonies that I heard over the groove.

I was very nervous when I sat in my Music Fundamentals class because I more or less knew nothing about melody and harmony. I was a strong reader when it came to rhythmic figures so that part of the class was a piece of cake. But, I was just as much of a beginner as everyone else when it came to learning scales and chords.

Honestly, it didn't take too long for me to catch on as I guess I was more of a musician than I realized. That and because it was something I really enjoyed because now I could sit at a piano and have some idea what I was doing. In other words, it wasn't just about taking a class and getting a grade. I was learning the skills that allowed me to get the musical ideas out of my head. Soon after I started taking this knowledge to my guitar and I could really see a difference in the music I was writing.

Music Theory classes came after this and again, the musical doors began to open even more. Sure, there are those who figure all of this out on their own and that's okay. I have no shame in saying that I needed a little bit of help and if someone has a problem with that then that's just too bad because I really don't care. Considering the fact that my music career includes songs I have written that have been featured on various television shows to songs that fans of my original bands enjoyed speak of the quality of my work. I don't care how someone gets to that point so long as they get to where they want to be as a musician.

To be fair we should all admit the fact that there are weaknesses in both points of view. I know plenty of musicians who can't do a thing unless they have a sheet of music in front of them. I also know illiterate musicians who can only play songs from memory who are unable to work in an improvised environment. Still, to each their own but if someone chooses not to learn how to play music by ear and/or can't take gigs that require some sight reading, well...it is what it is. We all have to live with our choices.


Benefits of Musical Literacy 

I have a busy schedule because of my day job, my writing background and most importantly, because of my family obligations. As a working drummer there are times when I have a lot of songs to learn with a limited amount of time. Some of these songs are known to have some tricky changes so it is smart for me to make a chart just in case I forget a song's arrangement. No shame and no apologies folks and if anyone thinks this limits my ability to groove come on down to the gig and play along with me or ask the people on the dance floor if they are having a good time. Of course it is my preference to play every song from memory but my schedule doesn't always give me enough time to study the songs enough to memorize them.

Or, there are those moments in the recording studio when I might get a demo of the song the night before and don't have a lot of time to review the song. That's when I sit down and write out a chart to take to the studio the following day and place it on the music stand before I track my part. Mind you this is an environment where I am not only being paid for my services but also tracking my parts while the person hiring me is paying for studio time. If this helps me do the job imagine the impression I left on the artist who hired me. That helps me get hired back by the artist for a later studio gig while also giving the producer and/or engineer a reason to ask for my business card in order to refer me to other artists who might be looking for a reliable drummer.

This discussion also reminds me of an article I read about drummer Phil Collins. Years ago he decided to do a solo tour where he performed Big Band versions of his classic songs. Since Big Bands are known for figures that involve lots of hits and figures played by the whole band Phil talked about how he had a hard time remembering all of the figures so he had to create notes to remind him what to play. Since he didn't read music he said it was really hard to create something that would remind him of what he had to play. Later he then admitted that it would have been better if he had taken the time in his youth to learn how to read music. I totally understood where he was coming from because I have experience playing in Big Bands and some of the charts were rather extensive so it was hard to remember the whole song. Of course I also remember times when we'd be onstage and the band leader would call out a chart and we would sight read the tune at the gig. I was simply given the tempo when the band leader counted off the band and away we went. Thank God I was able to read all of the figures because the band would sound terrible if everyone played all of the figures with me just grooving under it.

Also, there are times when I make a chart and then don't end up needing it at the gig. I find at times that I remember the figures better because I wrote them down. It's almost like those days when we had to study for a test in school. Students at times remember the material better because they took notes in class and then made note cards to help them study for the test . Then there have been studies done that show how writing things down help us remember things: http://www.lifehack.org/articles/featured/writing-and-remembering-why-we-remember-what-we-write.html

Does anyone think the same idea would not apply to writing music?

Aside from having to learn music I can also say that music literacy helps me when I am composing music. Sometimes I am not near an instrument when an idea comes to me but thankfully I have a piece of music paper nearby. Some people like to hum their ideas into their mobile device and that's fine but in my case I get ideas for a new tribal drumming composition and once I write out one rhythm I'll end up coming up with 3-4 more ideas. Then I will go on with my day and by the time I get home I might forget some of the ideas I had but am fortunate enough to have my ideas on paper. Then I'll go into my home studio and program my ideas into my drum machine and there it is.

I also remember stories that my Music Theory teacher Dr. Wallace Bower told us about musicians who preferred to stay at home rather than go to a live Symphony as they preferred to simply read the score in the privacy of their own home. By doing this they were able to hear the music in their head and they found that to be a most enjoyable experience. Again, to each their own but I do know this experience because I have done the same thing both with my own music that I composed after all of my ideas were written down as well as music written by others.

Speaking of Music Theory classes, I am most grateful for the things I learned in these classes because they have done wonders for my songwriting. One recent composition that I am pleased with was something I wrote that I plan to put on my next CD titled "Suruuq." It incorporates various Middle Eastern rhythms that my study of world drumming has afforded me while also working with a main melody that comes from a mode that I learned from my music studies along with something else that I have wanted to work with for a long time, counterpoint! I finally got the chance to do this with this composition and it was a lot of fun. I wrote out the melody that I wanted to put a counterpoint to and then followed the various methods I learned in class. Within minutes I had the part written and once I tried it out I loved it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zXgQY_TNfDU

One listen and you can hear that I did more than just play the melody at a different interval as there was in fact a scheme to my choice of notes as well as how they moved. I could have never done this if I had never gone to music school.


Concluding Thoughts

At the end of the day it comes down to comfort but over the years I have grown so tired of the labeling that goes on from both sides of the discussion. The raw and the schooled can work together if musicians can just learn to respect each other's abilities and do what is best for the group. Such a thought reminds me of Journey band mates Neal Schon and Jonathan Cain. The former was a talented teen that was good enough to play on the road with Santana at age 15 with the other attending the Chicago Conservatory of Music before embarking on a successful professional career. Yet, they have worked together for several decades now and have written some of the most amazing music in Rock and Roll history, together!

I too have worked with some amazing musicians as well who also come from both sides of the discussion and have some great memories of working with these talented musicians. I think vividly of guitarist Alex Gonzalez who I worked with in Sanaiya who was as self-taught as it got yet could play his guitar like no other. Then there was Andre Marins who attended a music conservatory in Brazil who I worked with in an improvisational duo called Invocation of Improvisation. Both of these men are like brothers to me with these personal relationships coming out of our mutual respect for each other that came from working together in a musical setting. That only happened because we made the effort to work together rather than impose

It's not about one way being better than another. It's about either way being best for the person taking that path. Respecting someone's abilities regardless of where they come from is about giving someone their due because you recognize the effort they put into their craft. No one is perfect and it's nice to recognize our shortcomings rather than spin the topic in one's favor based in order to avoid discussing our own shortcomings.

I know my weaknesses as a musician and I continue to work on them. I am not afraid to admit such because I am an imperfect human being that knows that our imperfections do not take away our dignity, regardless of the way we are seen by others.


Carlos Solorzano
@csolorzano18
https://www.reverbnation.com/carlossolorzano