Saturday, April 23, 2016

Piano Night New Orleans 2016

Seems like I make this announcement every year about this time. It's a yearly event that I get pretty excited about, and I feel like I want to share it with everyone who is remotely interested in American piano music and especially the music of New Orleans.

The event is called "Piano Night," and it's held every year, usually the last Monday in April. That means tomorrow, as of the date of this post.

It's a live show of some of the best New Orleans piano players in the world. This year the headliner is the fabulous Monty Alexander, who hardly needs an introduction to jazz piano fans. It will be interesting to hear how he weaves New Orleans elements into his playing. Also on the show is Henry Butler, a New Orleans native who, for me anyway, is the best living piano player on the planet. Check him out on Youtube. Especially his rendition of "Something You Got." Amazing.

Marcia Ball is back again. I don't think she has missed piano night in at least the last 15 years. She is very entertaining whether she plays solo or with her band.

Also featured is a lesser known artist, but one who is special to me as I got to study with him back in 1987 when I went to New Orleans to learn how to play that style. Tom McDermott has several CD's out, and I recommend all of them (at least the six I've heard so far). Very creative player.

There are quite a few others on the bill too.

So you may be wondering how you're going to travel to New Orleans on just 24 hours notice. No need. The entire concert is broadcast live by local radio station WWOZ and you can stream the broadcast on your computer, smart phone, tablet or whatever you use. Click here.

If you want a sneak preview, there is an excellent video clip you can view that features Butler and McDermott. Click here.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Free Teleconference

We recently had a significant sale on several of our home study products, including materials for total beginners through advanced intermediates.

I'm grateful to all those who made purchases, and I want to return the favor by offering a follow-up conference call, featuring your questions on one end, and my answers on the other.

Before I go much further with the details, I'd like to get a sense of how much enthusiasm is out there for such an event. You can help by expressing your opinion on this blog page below.

Here is my plan so far.

1. It will be a conference style telephone call, using plain old telephone service (POTS) so as not to confuse anyone (especially me) with advanced Internet technologies.

2. We will set up some way to accept questions, whether through live dialog on the call or by having them pre-submitted.

3. The call will be open to everyone on our newsletter subscription list, whether they have purchased anything or not.

4. It will be open to guests who are not on our subscription list too. So if you are a member of a piano interest group (online or otherwise) I encourage you to share the information with anyone who might be interested.

5. The call will be scheduled at a time that would hopefully be convenient to everyone in all three of our time zones (seven if you include Alaska, Hawaii, and the Maritimes).

6. It will be 100% free to participate, either as a direct participant or as an observer. The only thing you pay for is the long distance call if you are on such a calling plan. Most people aren't, so it will be 100% free for them.

Sound like a plan? Then please let me know what you think. Really, I won't go to the trouble to put this together unless I can anticipate real participation. So please, don't hold back your thoughts.

If you have prior history with us, either from buying our home study products, or from taking workshops or retreats, I especially want to hear from you.

Just leave your comments below.

Friday, March 27, 2015

What About the Readers Digest Song Books

Recently a subscriber wrote as follows:

Attending your workshop opened up hours of personal enjoyment for me. In addition to playing the songs in your workbook, I found another book that adapts songs to my limited talent, titled: A Reader's Digest Songbook, The easy way to play 100 unforgettable hits. Thanks for developing an understandable teaching method that's transferable to other books.

My reply:
I have always loved the Reader's Digest series. The chords they choose to provide are intelligent, sumptuous, yet don't call too much attention to themselves. And they are fairly easy for an intermediate student to play.

Later I thought my reply could use a little amplification, so here goes.

I grew up believing that a certain song would always have a certain unique chord progression, and that was that. Of course you could transpose (change the key of the song) and end up with entirely different chords. But the chords would always be relatively the same from key to key.

But that's not true, necessarily. Sometimes chord progressions are dumbed down. Extreme example: put the song Misty into a collection of "Songs with Three Chords." By definition those chords would be wrong, but you might be able to make them work with enough forgiveness from your audience.

The opposite extreme is to take a fairly simple song and to feature it with a lot of jazz chords. I've got a fake book full of Christmas songs that does this. Pretty interesting maybe. But not always appropriate. And often not easy to play when sight reading.

The Readers Digest series doesn't succumb to either temptation. I don't think I ever owned any books in the series, but I remember playing from them often. I wonder if they're still around.

The lesson?: There are more than one way to play chords in a song. A book's editors need to choose how sophisticated (and thus challenging) a chord set they wish to use. If you the piano player are going to have the incentive to practice, you should find the chord arrangements that you like. Only you know what those are. So try a few different song book series. Find one you really like. And compare it to a Reader's Digest song book if you can find one.

If you are working out of a three chord book, be sure to get beyond that stage eventually. Unless all you like to play are songs that naturally have three chords in them.

Friday, April 25, 2014

New Orleans Piano Night - Listen for Free

It seems I make this announcement every year, but I think it's really worthwhile. Bear in mind that the music of New Orleans holds a special place in my heart, and that New Orleans PIANO music is the best there is.

Which brings me to the subject of "Piano Night" in New Orleans. This is an annual event which brings together most of the top New Orleans style piano players in the world.

Perhaps the best known living New Orleans pianist remains Dr. John (Mac Rebennac). But there are many others. This year's lineup features Ellis Marsalis (Wynton's father), Jon Cleary, Davell Crawford, John Gros, and Marcia Ball. This event is held in conjunction with the annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. This year piano night will be held at the New Orleans House of Blues on Monday, April 28. Things usually start around 7 pm local time (or 8 on the east coast and 5 on the west coast).

Ticket prices start at $87 and go as high as $314. But even if you won't be in New Orleans to catch this show, you can hear it for free by tuning in to on the web. The radio station broadcasts Piano Night every year. And they play New Orleans music every day 24/7. If you like it and use it, send them a donation.

Now if you want to hear a sample of the New Orleans style of rhythm and blues, here's a clip of a band that I'm in, playing the music I love. That's me on piano, of course. If you view this on YouTube, I'd appreciate getting a comment.

"Rad Gumbo"

Monday, July 8, 2013

Beginner or Intermediate? How to tell.

Piano Retreat approaches. Only a couple of months away. Since there will be different choices in course sessions, how does the camper know which track is right for him? It's not that difficult. Either you are a beginner or you are not. Here's how to tell.

Keep in mind you are a beginner if you have no background in chord piano. You are at least an intermediate in my eyes if otherwise.

You are a BEGINNER if any of these apply:

You don't know how to find middle C.
You don't know the names of the black keys.
You can't read Every Good Boy Does Fine
You can't make a C major chord. Or an A minor. Or a G7 (even though you may have had years of classical training.)

You are an INTERMEDIATE if any of these apply:

You have attended at least the basic Instant Piano workshop.
You have successfully gone through the Popular Chord Style Piano book and CD program.
You have learned about basic chords (major, minor, and seventh) from some other source.

(Either way sight reading ability is not much of a factor.)

Our beginners track will teach you everything we cover in our basic Instant Piano workshops. And more. The instructor will spend three days with you, and will give you lots of personal attention. You will be amazed at what you can do on the piano after these three days.

If you are beyond being a beginner, you will fall into one of two Intermediate groups. If you are a first time camper, we want to put you through "Intermediate Boot Camp." We will test you for this, but chances are you will want to take the Boot Camp Sessions. Here we reveal the Basic Truths about how all music works. Chances are you will completely rethink what you know about music, and start using the Boot Camp Tools to guide you on the path of true music mastery.

After Boot Camp you will be free to choose your courses and sessions.

Returning camp veterans have been through this Boot Camp already, and will start working right away with our most advanced instructors. After Boot Camp, new campers will be welcomed into any of the intermediate to advanced sessions.

Click for more information about the Piano Retreat.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Piano Night 2013

I try to make this announcement every year, and it's hard to believe that another year has gone by. Swooosh.

Of interest to music lovers the world over is what is arguably the most ambitious music festival of all, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Although their music offerings tend to skew toward the fertile sounds that have been bred in the Crescent City, the festival puts on display a wide variety of music from the world over.

As a New Orleans style piano player, my favorite part is the annual Piano Night, which this year will be on this coming Monday, April 29, live from New Orleans' French Quarter.

It's been awhile since I've attended one of these in person, but the beautiful thing is you can listen to all of Piano Night from the comfort of your living room, or anywhere you can bring your computer or smart phone and a WiFi connection. Catch the entire event streamed live on radio station WWOZ-FM.

Things get under way about 7 pm Central time, so add or subtract the appropriate number of hours for your time zone and check it out.

If you like what you hear, let me know. This style of piano playing is kind of a specialty of mine, and if I get enough requests, I may include a workshop of this style at the upcoming Piano Retreat in September.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Here is the question I received from a subscriber who was considering enrolling in the fall Piano Retreat:

I would like to participate in this retreat. I
wonder if there is a way I can bring my spouse and
child, who would entertain themselves doing other
things while I play piano. Is this something that
others have done in the past?

I see this as a two part question.

1. Is it possible for members of my family to pay only for room and board at the Piano Retreat, and not pay for the actual tuition?

2. Will my spouse and child have something to keep them occupied while I'm gaining my piano skills at the retreat?

The answers are (in order) yes and yes.

Whatever accommodation level you chose for your self, your spouse and child can have the same level of accommodations and all meals (except the optional Sunday lunch) for $200 off the posted full price. Full prices range from $427 to $497, so the room and board only rate for them would be between $227 and $297 apiece. Your family would also be welcome to attend the evening "piano bar" party on Saturday night.

Bear in mind the semi private rooms have two twin beds, and would not accommodate three people. The economy cabins would work. We could put you in a co-ed (couples) cabin where you could be all together.

Another option is for all of you to stay off premises. There are hotels/motels in Petaluma (30 minutes), and probably on the coast some 12 miles away in the other direction. That way you would pay the Day Use rate for yourself (currently $377), and the rest of the family would be on their own.

We have had several people take advantage of both options.

If you opt for the $200 discount option, let me know, and I'll set things up where you can make a convenient payment on line. Just drop me an e-mail.

As for what your spouse and child might be able to do while you are immersed in your piano studies.

First and foremost we do have a track at the Retreat for the total beginner. We've been very successful over the course of 30 years in introducing total beginners to the art of playing piano. We will have you playing your favorite songs with two hands by the end of the camp. That's a guarantee.

If you choose to pass on the piano lessons, there is plenty to do right on the property. Walker Creek Ranch is over 1500 acres of pristine rolling hills, and abundant wild life. They have almost 50 miles of hiking trails, a swimming hole, and great opportunities for bird watching or stalking the deer, fox, raccoon, and other life forms. On the property there is also a small natural history museum.

And it's only a few miles to the coast where you will have access to Tomales Bay and the Point Reyes National Seashore and numerous beaches. It's just a short hop to the towns of Sausalito and Tiburon and the Golden Gate Bridge. And on the other side of the GG Bridge...San Francisco.

So there will be plenty to do both day and night, if you choose not to be part of the Retreat itself.