Practice This!

Sponsored by The Seattle Drum School and organized by David Marriott.

Practice This! is an educational project of Earshot Jazz with sponsorship from The Seattle Drum School. Each month in Earshot Jazz a new lesson by a different local jazz artist will appear for students to learn from and for non-musician readers to gain insight into the craft of improvising.

Practice This!
August 2009

Chad McCullough on Diversifying Your Sources

One of the definitions of diversify in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is: to balance (as in an investment portfolio). Let's run with that for a minute and discuss the topic of musical diversity, or the balance of your musical portfolio. Music that has the ability to move you doesn't always have to fit into a specific section at a record store. (Note: If you're not sure what I‘m referring to, stop reading and go shopping–sorry, you'll actually have to leave your computer.) It's important to actively seek out any music that you find interesting and, hopefully, use it to grow personally, as a musician.

Allow me to talk in “trumpet players” for a moment, not because it clearly shows that I've already strayed from the diversity topic, but as a way to show that within one narrow musical subcategory we may find a great depth of musical diversity. Setting aside the generic "Classical” and “Jazz" subcategories, how much else is out there? The great Egyptian legend Samy El Bably, Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen, and Americans like Chris Gekker and Seattle's Cuong Vu all play the same instrument and sound totally different. They are all a product of their musical upbringing and have figured out ways to make the limitations and idiosyncrasies of the instrument work for them. There's something deeply moving in the music each of them creates, and besides that, the only thing they have in common is the instrument in their hands.

One more word to throw into the mix: intent. Everything that has ever moved me-musically or otherwise-has deep intent. Whether it's the imagery invoked by a completely improvised passage of music, Martha Graham’s agony-filled ballets, the passion of a Ravel string quartet, any one of the solos on Miles' The Complete Concert 1964, or a Robert Frost poem, the intent is so strong that it's infectious. As you listen to, and hopefully perform, music that you enjoy, work to convey the same intent that drew you to the music. Find those elements, and then ask yourself what exactly this music says to you. Why is Stan Getz's time so amazing, or is it? What gives a Steve Reich piece so much power, or is there nothing there that moves you? Question what makes things good, and try to explain why you might not like something. Now, how can you apply those answers to your own music?

Within the scope of "jazz" there are so many exciting elements. It's one of the reason many of us devote our whole life to music. It has the ability to get us excited, make us cry, and, at its best, make the whole world seem to stop for a moment. Most of the time these aren't tangible elements. We can't write them down and practice them. But, we can listen to them and search for personal answers about the depth, and how it affects us. This often just extends the search that much further. There is music from across the globe and throughout history that can move you. Throw away the earbuds, buy some good headphones, take off whatever blinders you may have on, and really listen.


Chad McCullough owns many different trumpets. He's played in just about every big band in Seattle, many of the orchestras, a few salsa bands, rock bands, ska bands, an African band, and has worn a vest for a gig on several occasions. He's written for strings, brass, and for dancers. He works for Origin Records and helped found the Origin Classical label. His new record Dark Wood, Dark Water was released in June 2009. Currently, he's producing a classical trumpet record, writing a jazz suite, and trying to grow tomatoes in his backyard. McCullough is performing at Tula’s on August 10 at 7:30 PM with the Banff Nocturnes.

Earshot Jazz is a Seattle based nonprofit music, arts and service organization formed in 1984 to support jazz and increase awareness in the community.  Earshot Jazz publishes a monthly newsletter, presents creative music and educational programs, assists jazz artists, increases listenership, complements existing services and programs, and networks with the national and international jazz community.
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