Years ago as a young lad coming up I had the chance to play my first gig with the great Zoot Sims almost 30 years my elder at the time along with the rest of the band being 50 years and I had to work hard to keep up ! Zoot came up with Stan Getz and they were both part of the famous Woody Herman “Four Brothers” sax section and the West Coast sound in Jazz that came out of Lester Young. Zoot unfortunately didn’t achieve the recognition of Stan at least with the general public but he was loved in the music world as a “musician’s, musician”. Milt Hinton a dear friend was on this gig and he told me Zoot was “the salt of the earth”. This was the first time we ever met and Teddy Wilson was on piano and the great Gus Johnson on drums but Teddy was late coming down from Boston due to weather, so Zoot and I started a blues without the piano. We had instant rapport when we found out we were both “ear players”. I loved to get in the head of the legends I admired and had a chance to play with – like Zoot and Benny Goodman and share their musical approach which is how I learned and this gig was worth 4 years of music school even if you could get this in school which you can’t. I am playing alto here and I remembered those incredible Al Cohn (another one) and Zoot records they did and what a honor it was to do some “trading” with Zoot. My alto almost started to take on a tenor quality as I got into Zoots head and his approach to music. There is something I would like to say to the aspiring student or anyone on this point. If you ever have the opportunity to be around greatness get into their head and “permeate” while being yourself and see what it feels like for a minute. If you remember Star Trek and the “Vulcan Mind Meld” you would be surprised what you can learn very quickly. My whole musical life has been like that ! Zoot passed not too long after this gig but you would never know it by his playing and I certainly miss him ! A bit later when someone was doing an article on me he said this about my playing which I cherish.
“Glenn has ‘big ears’ — he is a natural jazz musician.”
“I find him equally talented on both trumpet and alto.”
Here is another track or “barn burner” as we say . These guys lit a fire under me . Check out the interaction with Milt and Gus a real act in itself :
With the release of my new Anthology and having played and recorded with some of the greatest jazz artists of our time like Chick Corea , Benny Goodman , Frank Sinatra , Gerry Mulligan , Mel Torme , Peggy Lee , Zoot Sims , Ella Fitzgerald , Joe Williams and many more over the last 50 years I am offering Skype or Apple FaceTime jazz lessons to any instrumentalist or vocalist , student or pro , focused on making music and creating your own style. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a free consultation/lesson.
These last 3 years since coming out of retirement so to speak after my TV show closed I have had a ball with “production” like the old days. I have had a chance to do some tribute albums to pay homage to some of the legends I owe everything to in my career and also pass down what was passed down to me by them. My anthology “Glenn Zottola – A jazz life” should be out this month. On this 2 CD set I selected tracks from all my recorded work almost 50 albums starting when I was 16 years old up to present. It includes my work with many jazz greats and celebrities including Milt Hinton , Zoot Sims , Peggy Lee , Maxine Sullivan , Steve Allen , Suzanne Somers and Chick Corea. Also coming out is a very special album with strings as a tribute to Clifford Brown with a special track with Dinah Washington and a story behind that. It feels so great to be able to put all my work together this way and I want to thank Irv Kratka a dear friend the president of Music Minus One and Classic Jazz record labels for giving me this opportunity. The Music Minus One releases come with CDs , Books and all my transcribed solos geared toward the aspiring jazz student or professional. The Classic Jazz releases are designed strictly for listening and enjoyment. Have a great and healthy 2014 ! Glenn
Charlie Parker Tribute just released has half the album with strings and half with small group and includes a booklet of transcriptions of my solos which is thrilling for me as i have never had that done before. Here is a small group track as a sample :
Embraceable you :
With the release of my trumpet mouthpiece from RS Berkeley, I’d like to say something about what got me started playing the trumpet and jazz beyond the great advantage of growing up in a musical family. I also have posted a partial track from my Stardust Album recorded 30 years ago which is out of print now but hopefully will get re-issued on CD. My dad was a big Louis Armstrong fan and played trumpet in his style. My first influence beside him and “mentor” was the great Louis Armstrong who started the “Golden Age of Jazz” in the 1920s that ended with Charlie Parker in 1950 in my opinion. (This is not just my opinion but was also attributed to Miles Davis.) I used to come home from school and listen to Louie and then put on the original MMO records to practice improvising as I was an ear player and didn’t practice out of books. I used those original MMO records 50 years later with the all star jazz rhythm section Milt Hinton, Kenny Clarke, Oscar Pettiford , Osie Johnson, Jimmy Rainey etc. to record my recent tenor albums for MMO and re-visit this period. My dad’s original instruction to me “just try to embellish the melody like Louie” carried me through my whole career. Even as those embellishments became more advanced like Charlie Parker’s “Bird Flights” they were always melody driven. On this album I used Norris Turney on alto who was lead alto with Duke Ellington. Interesting story about this solo which got 5 star review from the noted jazz writer Leonard Feather who took note of the Louie influence. I did one take and actually wanted to do another as I thought I could do better as we all do. The producer and Norris wouldn’t let me as obviously they liked it, so I conceded and moved on to the next tune. Glenn
I would never advocate someone not to practice. Charlie Parker said he practiced 12 hours a day for a period of 3 years. I didn’t enjoy practicing formally out of books and exercises so never did that as I simply wanted to make music from a very early age. I used my ear to teach my body to execute what I heard. As I developed I heard more and my ear responded by training the body. Looking back I wish I had put the 12 hours a day in. The thing that amazes me is that I have been able to hold my own with other artists who did practice formally intensely ranging from Benny Goodman to Chick Corea. What I want to impart is don’t ever underestimate the power of the ear. Whether you practice formally or not, you will need to cultivate that ability to be a real jazz artist.
I thought I would post what Yogi had to say about jazz maybe better than you might get in school Glenn
Yogi Berra explains jazz via Rex Allen
What is jazz now?
Interviewer: “Can you explain jazz?”
Yogi: “I can’t, but I will. 90 percent of all jazz is half-improvisation. The other half is the part people play while others are playing something they never played with anyone who played that part, it’s right. If you play the right part, it might be right if you play it wrong enough. But if you play it too right, it’s wrong.”
Interviewer: “I don’t understand.”
Yogi: “Anyone who understands jazz knows that you can’t understand it. It’s too complicated. That’s what’s so simple about it.”
Interviewer: “Do you understand it?”
Yogi: “No. That’s why I can explain it. If I understood it, I wouldn’t know anything about it.”
Interviewer: “Are there any great jazz players alive today?”
Yogi: “No. All the great jazz players alive today are dead. Except for the ones that are still alive. But so many of them are dead, that the ones that are still alive are dying to be like the ones that are dead. Some would kill for it.”
Interviewer: “What is syncopation?”
Yogi: “That’s when the note that you should hear now happens either before or after you hear it. In jazz, you don’t hear notes when they happen because that would be some other type of music. Other types of music can be jazz, but only if they’re the same as something different from those other kinds.”
Interviewer: “Now I really don’t understand.”
Yogi: “I haven’t taught you enough for you to not understand jazz that well.”
I don’t think in school one is prepared for what one might encounter pursuing the life of an artist which is of course different for everyone. I think the statement below paints a picture of what that might be, along with a validation of why it is worth it. Glenn
“Artists are some of the most driven, courageous people on the face of the earth. They deal with more day-to-day rejection in one year than most people do in a lifetime…. Every day, artists face the financial challenge of living a freelance lifestyle, the disrespect of people who think they should get real jobs, and their own fear that they’ll never work again. Every day, they have to ignore the possibility that the vision they have dedicated their lives to is a pipe dream. With every role, they stretch themselves, emotionally and physically, risking criticism and judgment. With every passing year, many of them watch as the other people their age achieve the predictable milestones of normal life – the car, the family, the house, the nest egg. Why? Because artists are willing to give their entire lives to a moment – to that line, that laugh, that gesture, or that interpretation that will stir the audience’s soul. Artists are beings who have tasted life’s nectar in that crystal moment when they poured out their creative spirit and touched another’s heart. In that instant, they were as close to magic, God, and perfection as anyone could ever be. And in their own hearts, they know that to dedicate oneself to that moment is worth a thousand lifetimes.” – David Ackert
I don’t hear great art as old and new even though for sure there are different periods and style. Great art rides above the time stream in my opinion. I don’t hear Bach as old and Bartok as new any more than I hear Louis Armstrong as old and Charlie Parker as new. Same with Rembrant and Picasso. I leave that kind of categorization to the pop music world. The point is real ART from an earlier period can even be more meaningful and powerful than a later period so don’t ever discount it is “old” as what you may get out of it may surprise you.
Picasso once said “Good artists copy and great artists steal”. Very humorous but there is something to this. I once wrote “You can never totally be anyone else so you don’t have to be afraid of sounding like those you admire. This can only push you towards your own individuality in the long run because you’re not resisting what you admire and love”. The way I apply this is not by learning other’s solos note for note and I have never done that. I am not saying that is a bad thing necessarily, but what I have always done is get the general “concept” or “feel” of how a great artist personally approaches the music. This could include many things like sound, melodic and harmonic approach, rhythm etc. All these things put together make up that artist’s personal style and message. With that in mind, in a general sense along with other great artists I admire I practice and play and eventually those influences seep into my own playing “organically”, helping to create my own individual style. It’s a very natural unforced process because you are just “hearing” and playing what you love. Splurge on it ! Glenn
Beauty is one of the most important factors to me in music. One could say beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that is true but for me beauty has a definite “wavelength” very high, fine and exquisite. I guess the reverse would be ugliness which to me is dark and rough, jagged and coarse. I find that ballads are the perfect vehicle to create beauty and we used to say if one could play a ballad you would own the audience. Not so sure if that is true today but when I create beauty time stops and everything becomes very still inside. It is a glorious (beautiful) sensation to experience and one of my favorite things about making music. You can create that wavelength even when playing fast and a perfect example is Charlie Parker’s lines on his string album which is total beauty- listen to his intro on “Just Friends”. I recommend trying it and splurging on it as the world could definitely use as much beauty as you can pump out and it would be a better place for sure.
I had the pleasure of being a member of the Benny Goodman Sextet for 2 years. Benny was known to say “it’s not what you play that matters it is what you leave out”. True enough and let me give an example of this on another subject regarding design. If you look in the window of a high end store like Cartier or Tiffany’s you might see a diamond all by itself with lots of space around it. Look in the window of a low end discount store and you will see clutter. The space around the diamond in the high end store makes the diamond look very important which it is and valuable elevating the quality. Same with music and improvization as space is so important. I remember my first gig when I was very young with jazz great Zoot Sims. I played a very exciting solo with a lot of notes and emotion and even got a huge ovation from the audience. After I was done with my solo Zoot left some space before he came in and played one note. He placed that note just right with the right sound and even made that one note swing. That was worth 4 years of college to me and said so much about space. His one note was like the diamond in Cartier’s window. If I have one complaint about a lot of Jazz today and Pop music is no space and lots of “clutter”. When you create try to keep space in mind as part of your composition along with Benny Goodman’s advice.
As I said before my Dad’s first instructions to me for improvising were “embelish” the melody like Louie Armstrong. That great advise has carried me all the way. I improvise with no knowledge of harmony or chords and I am not even aware of what key I am playing in. I hear the lines I want to create off the changes inwardly before I actually play them and the melody of a song is a key factor. As I weave my lines over the changes I will land on certain melody notes. Those melody notes are the guide posts that connect the dots of the solo in a “horizontal” manner. Even if I take it “out” a bit away from the melody I am still aware of the melody inwardly. Because the solo is very connected to the melody, “Lyricism” is acheived in the solo which is so important to me, something that could get lost when just playing patterns or licks. If you listen to the greats of the golden age of vintage jazz from Louie Armstrong through Charlie Parker you will definitely hear lyricism in their solo lines.
“Swinging” is one of the most amazing things in Vintage Jazz and probably the most mysterious and hardest to explain. Case in point take an arrangement from any great jazz arranger like Quincy Jones and give it to a jazz musician and a classical musician. When the jazz musician interprets the notes it will swing and when a classical musician interprets the notes except in rare cases, it will not. Why, as they are the same exact notes on the page ? Duke Ellington wrote a famous song : “if it aint got that swing it don’t mean a thing” and I believe he meant it in the truest sense. Through the years I have noticed any great jazz arrangement I have played no matter how good, had little notations made by previous players related to interpretations of the music. When I did the 50th anniversary at Carnegie Hall of the 1938 historic Benny Goodman Concert for Bob Wilber we had the original music from Library of Congress. I was playing lead trumpet and there were handwritten notes on the music from Harry James who played lead trumpet in 1938. So the point I am making is “jazz interpretation” by the player is key to playing any jazz written or otherwise. All this has a very simple solution in my opinion. Listen to the “great swingers” in jazz and it will eventually be obvious. Of course one could explain technically what someone is doing when they swing like my football analogy on the earlier post but I believe a more direct and enjoyable route is just groove on the great swingers of all time and try to emulate that in your own playing. Also a tip on the subject of “how to listen” in general which I will expand upon in subsequent posts. When listening you can focus on a specific area, for example you can listen specifically for the “swing” factor in a performance and isolate that. Let me say one more thing about this and this is in no way to invalidate later art forms which have their own strengths and beauty. You will not hear the same “swing” in more modern forms of jazz and players that you will with “Vintage Jazz” and players. Just like you won’t hear the same rhythmic factors (their own kind of swing) in Bach and Mozart that you would hear in Bartok or Stravinsky. That’s the beauty of it great art is an individual thing.
This is the second post in the series on the subject of “My Approach To Vintage Jazz” the first one is below this post.
There is a lot of talk about ear training in jazz education so let me tell you what that means to me from a personal level. My situation might be a bit unique born into a musical family but I think the same principles can be applied to jazz education by anyone. From the time I was in the crib I was exposed to my dad rehearsing big bands in the living room which I am sure had an effect. My mom, who was also an ear player would sit me on her knee when I was 3 years old and sing and play hundreds of standards that I learned strictly by ear – no written music whatsoever. A few years later we would play music together daily (jam) and she would play these songs and I would play the melody the best I could. My dad then gave me the basic instruction for jazz which holds up even today “just try to embelish the melody like Louis Armstrong” and that was the beginning of my journey into improvisation. During that period at about 9 years old I used the original 1952 Music Minus Records that were already in the house to hone my improvisational skills even further still with no music involved, all by ear. Those records had some of the greatest jazz icons in the rhythm section Kenny Clarke , Oscar Pettiford , Wilber Ware , Milt Hinton , Osie Johnson , Jimmy Raney so I got first hand from these greats how to swing. Also I got to play every week in my parents jazz club with Tommy Flanagan , Bobby Timmons , Ray Bryant , Sonny Clarke and Horace Parlan not a bad start. My mom played piano like Count Basie with great chord changes so I had no shortage of the real thing early on. The point I am making here is this was all “ear training” at it’s best not from a book or method and not pendantic in any way directly applied to performance and making music. Regarding the power of the ear let me give an analogy in sports. How can a quarterback on a football team throw a long pass and it arrive perfectly to the receiver 50 yards away? I am sure someone could calculate all these mathematical equations to explain how it arrives but in a musical performance (a real game) one could never do that. Same with the ear and music with practice the ear and body will calculate all these things without you even have to think about it (god forbid) which frees up your attention to get your emotion, feeling and message out.
Charlie Parker once said: “Learn everything and forget about it when you play”, not that easy for some people to do. I feel the only safeguard if one is going to spend a lot of time on learning music theory which is not a bad thing is to make sure it is balanced with lots of ear playing so you can truly take Charlie Parker’s advice and forget about it when you play and rely in your ear. I will try to give some suggestions how to do that from my vantage point in further post.
I have been urged through the years to put my thoughts down on jazz possibly to help the aspiring student or just as a matter of interest so I thought I would get started.
I have found there is a common denominator that runs through all the jazz masters that emulate the “Golden Age of Jazz” of what I refer to as the “vintage period” of jazz starting with Louis Armstrong and ending with Charlie Parker, the two names Miles Davis used to sum up jazz and I agree. I have included 3 things below in my basic instruction to the student in the Music Minus One albums I recently completed without being fully aware of their importance because it was so natural to me through the years and was what always drew me to this music.
As stated in the liner notes when you play :
1. Try to tell a story
2. Make it swing
3. Create beauty.
Three seemingly very simple things but if done well you will enter a very special “club” of jazz artists and hopefully find much joy as I have. To give the student an idea of what I am talking about regarding the 3 principles above, below are a few of my own actual private practice sessions done in my home (not record quality sound wise) with extended soloing in a relaxed tempo and groove of which I will add more tracks in the future. This is the way i have practiced jazz since I was 9 years old when I first discovered the original Music Minus One play along records. The point I would like to make is whether I am practicing jazz or performing jazz my goal is always the same, to make music rather than just playing meaningless notes or patterns. Also I record myself when I practice jazz and then listen from the viewpoint as if I was in the audience listening to a performance which makes it real. Note these practice sessions are solos that are much longer than I would do in an actual performance but the value to that from a practice point of view is to see if you can keep the “creative flow” going while adhering to the 3 basic points above. When I was “coming up” in my career one did more playing on the bandstand in real situations, some of them very intense because of who was on the bandstand than in the practice room so you had no choice other than to make music or at least try. Unfortunately that environment doesn’t exist any longer for the aspiring student so it is even more important to include the discipline to always strive for making music as part of your goal and practice routine to avoid a sterile clinical approach to jazz which may work techically but not necessarily artistically and is contrary to what jazz is all about in my opinion and what was handed down by the great masters of jazz. The good news is there are a lot more materials and play along tools available like the ones I used recently to record the Music Minus One albums and also Jamey Abersold play along tracks some of which I used below all wonderful for the student to practice with in lieu of actual jam sessions. There is much more to my personal approach to jazz and scroll up to see my thoughts.
Falling in Love with Love (tenor) :
I got Rhythm (alto) :
Second Time Around (tenor) :
Wine and Roses (trumpet) :
Softly As a Mornings Sunrise (tenor):
My Ideal :