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Join us for the final ESG of 2018 – we got five of them in this year! Many thanks to Del and Dave from the Academy of Scoring Arts, and to the staff at Vitello’s, and special thanks to the entire board of directors of the ASA for underwriting this series of master classes. Details below, see you there!

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 8TH, 2018 – 10am – 12:30pm


Hone your harmonic superpowers while hanging with your cool LA colleagues and ingesting large quantities of caffeine!

On Saturday the 8th we’ll start off by listening to and giving feedback on demo recordings and scores that were sent in to the ASA. Then I want to spend some time talking about chord substitutions and linear jazz harmony, with a particular focus on jazz piano voicing techniques and keyboard harmony.  I’ll have examples from the masters going back to the 1920’s.


The first half will have been a fitting preparation for the second half of the class, as I will then introduce one of my favorite musicians, L.A. keyboardist, fellow caffeine lover, and overall cool guy Jeff Babko. Jeff will talk about his multi-faceted career as a live and studio performer, and give us some insights into how he approaches his art in today’s musical environment. This is one not to miss. So lock and load people, let’s get to it!

About Jeff Babko:

Pianist/keyboardist Jeff Babko is a native of Southern California, and has remained on the west coast throughout his career. Babko constantly balances many musical and professional hats, as an in-demand recording musician and touring keyboardist.

After graduating from the University of Miami’s distinguished Frost School Of Music, Babko began working with international superstar Julio Iglesias on a series of worldwide tours. He also appeared in Iglesias’ “Tango” longform video.

After leaving Iglesias, Babko began regularly touring Asia and Europe super-drummer Simon Phillips. Soon after, he joined guitarist Robben Ford’s band, and later extensively toured and recorded with Larry Carlton. With Carlton, Babko performed for the King and royal family of Thailand in Bangkok’s royal palace. Listeners can enjoy Babko’s recorded work with Ford and Carlton on their joint effort, Live In Tokyo, as well as on some of their individual recordings (see “other people’s rekkids” section). Babko also backed Carlton with Japanese B’z guitar superstar Tak Matsumoto on their Grammy award winning recording.

Other tours included Europe with the L.A. supergroup TOTO in 2000 (including the “Live In Sofia” television special), and also with Grammy award winner Shelby Lynne.

Television work began with Martin Short’s syndicated talk show in 1999/2000, and later on the Wayne Brady daytime show. For the past 15+ years, most significantly, Babko has been the musical arranger, a composer, and house band member on ABC TV’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live”. He’s backed up countless rock, pop and jazz artists on the show, and has produced much of the music for its comedy segments (including co-writing “I’m F**king Ben Affleck”).

Always keeping one foot dipped in comedy territory, Babko has been the touring musical director and accompanist for Martin Short since 2002, and also performs with Mr. Short & Steve Martin, also joined by the Grammy award winning bluegrass group Steep Canyon Rangers. Look for their Netlfix special in 2018!

In 2010, Babko recorded (“100 Miles From Memphis”) and toured with Sheryl Crow. The “100 Miles” band, dubbed “The Thieves”, recorded a live set from the Pantages Theatre, which has been a televised mainstay since its release. Another ongoing touring and recording situation has been with James Taylor, and Babko can be heard on Taylor’s “Covers” record, including its single, “It’s Growing”. Babko joined Taylor on the 2017 stadium tour with Bonnie Raitt, performing at Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, among other legendary ballparks.

Other recent recording highlights include Jason Mraz’ “Love Is A Four Letter Word” and Frank Ocean’s “Channel Orange”, Nathan East’s 2 solo albums, as well as Smokey Robinson’s “Smokey & Friends” record of duets, produced by Randy Jackson for Verve Records. You also have heard Babko on recordings from Alanis Morrisette, Maná, Willie Nelson, Tim McGraw, Jennifer Nettles, The Madden Brothers, and others.

Babko has four solo albums out under his own name, including 2012’s critically acclaimed “Crux”for Tonequake Records, featuring Mark Isham, Tim Lefebvre and Matt Chamberlain. His 2007 release “Mondo Trio” w/ Jeff Coffin and Vinnie Colaiuta is considered a classic “drum fusion” record. The collective supergroup “Band Of Other Brothers” with Will Lee, Dave Matthews Band’s Jeff Coffin, Nir Felder and Steely Dan’s Keith Carlock was a critical favorite and the band headlined the Iridium in NYC in 2017.

Babko can be seen on Steve Martin & Martin Short’s Netflix special, released in May 2018. He also runs his own studio, TudorTones, with his wife, studio violinist Songa Lee. Also, Jeff hosted a podcast from TudorTones featuring fellow keyboard players called “The Caffeinated Keyboardist.” (http://caffeinatedkeyboardist.podomatic.com).

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“Writing outside the Box” – ASMAC Master Class with Scott Healy – Sept 23rd 2017 – 11am-2pm

Join ASMAC for an exciting Master Class with Grammy nominated composer SCOTT HEALY! “Writing Outside the Box Techniques for Expanding Jazz Composition” Saturday, September 23rd 2017 – 11am – 2pm The Evergreen Stage – 4403 West Magnolia Blvd Burbank, CA 91505 $25 Members & Students / $40 Non-Members The master class on September 23rd will explore some of the ways a composer can extend the harmonic, rhythmic, orchestrational and emotional language of large ensemble jazz writing. Topics will include linear harmony, plastic meter, “off the grid” writing, controlled and notated improvisation, spatial and box notation, layered counterpoint, and techniques borrowed…

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“MY FOOLISH HEART” – Laura Dickinson

Music and Mirror Records has released Laura Dickinson’s extraordinary performance of my arrangement of Victor Young’s classic jazz ballad, “My Foolish Heart”, and now it’s on the ballot for the 59th Grammys®. CLICK HERE FOR ALL FYC INFO, SESSION PHOTOS, PREVIEW TRACK AND VIDEO. This arrangement began as an experiment –I wanted her to sit in and sing with my ten-piece band, write a chart that challenged the players, highlighted her vocal ability and her musicality, but also work live without a conductor. Why do a just another torchy big band ballad? It’s not like I’m getting paid…wait, I’m paying for this!…

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Screen shot 2015-01-19 at 7.20.06 PMI’m posting this lesson from Keyboard Magazine last Spring–for no other reason than I began a draft of this post (which involves pretty much simply copying and pasting from their website), and never posted it. So here goes…the only thing harder than writing out right hand blues licks is playing them back as written. I attempt it in the soundcloud audio examples below.

How to play traditional slow blues piano

May 12, 2015

Playing a traditional, slow, Chicago-style, 12-bar blues tune can be a real challenge for a pianist. Doing so involves many duties: laying down a groove, establishing proper harmony, and creating excitement, all while restraining yourself to a simple chord progression and a five or six-note scale. With traditional blues, the only strict rule is there are no rules, only traditions. So let’s look at some of them.

1. Starting from the Five

Ex. 1 demonstrates how sometimes you’ll be starting the blues with a loud guitar or drum pickup into the last four bars of the progression, a la “Key of C, from the five! . . . two, three, four…” At that point, you start right on the V chord, so come in strong with both hands. In this scenario, the entire rhythm section is setting up the time, the groove and the harmony with the “walk-down” chords (V7-IV7-I7) and the subsequent turnaround (V7#5-I7).

2. Slower Than Slow

A traditional slow blues can be really slow, as illustrated in Ex. 2. In this scenario, the singer might cut the band on the downbeat, and break things down to a really soft first chorus of solo or vocals. Now the band’s suddenly playing very softly and your part is exposed. In this situation, open chords work great. Spice them up with a few fills, tremolos, slip notes, or hammers, which are basically on-the-beat grace notes. If you’ve grown up listening to rock and blues, these licks might already be in your DNA; it’s just a matter of activating them and playing them tastily. In this example, I’m moving to a “quick four,” which is a IV chord on the second measure. Then I’m back to the I7 chord in the third, and then to a V7#5 to a I7 in the third to fourth bar. Whatever you do, you must watch the singer, listen to the drummer, and listen to the vocal phrasing. You can play a tasty fill in the space between lines. So too might the guitarist. In my experience, some of the authentic stone-cold blues players want you to fill and solo with them at the same time.

3. Triplets and Shell Voicings

You might want to build on a 12/8 feel by playing triplets in the right hand, as seen in Ex. 3. For the left hand, you can choose to play nothing at all, roots by themselves, third and seventh “shell” voicings, or even tenth voicings if you can reach. It’s also cool to open the voicings up, spreading the notes between both hands. Whatever voicings you use, remember to listen to the drummer and put everything right “in the pocket.”

4. Tremolos and Slippery Licks

When you want to kick things up a notch, try playing close voicings or even triplets in the left hand, and tremolo riffs and cool slippery licks in the right hand, as in Ex. 4. Full rhythmic coordination of both hands will take a while to get used to, because so many blues licks are out of time. But no matter what you do in your left hand, don’t comp like you’re playing jazz. Play strong, because you might be the only rhythm instrument playing the chords.

5. Rocking Solo Riffs

During the last chorus of a solo, the whole band should open up and really rock, as illustrated in Ex. 5. This is your time to hook up with the bass player, drummer, and hopefully the guitarist, too. Play the boogie/rock left-hand pattern, and in the right hand you can riff loudly and frenetically in a high register. Out-of-time, four-finger repeated riffs work great, as do traditional rock and New Orleans-style riffs.

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The Return of the E.S.G.

…as opposed to MSG, MDA, MMA or ESL…

Announcing the THIRD meeting of the newly-reformed Ellington Study Group LA, now officially underwritten (thank you very much!) by the Academy of Scoring Arts.

The first two last fall were very well-attended;  we rebooted a bunch of material from past (pre 2015) classes, added some stuff, and got into it even deeper…Ellington’s “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue”, Gil Evans’ “Blues for Pablo” and “St. Louis Blues”… with more to come, including works by Bob Brookmeyer, George Russell, and of course my main man, Sun Ra.

This class is for pro’s: film composers, legit composers, jazz composers, jazz and classical instrumentalists, rockers, or any interested party with a bit of a background in theory and harmony. While some of these folks (mainly the composers) don’t do “music community” involvement very well, when they get together it’s pretty cool. As it turns out, lots of people know lots about writing, everyone has great ears and a love of music, and I end up learning just as much as the attendees.

More info, including materials from past classes is available at ellingtonstudygroup.com.
Join the E.S.G mailing list:

Here’s the agenda for the third meeting on Friday, December 18th, from 10 am to noon at Vitello’s in Studio City.

We’ll visit “Concerto for Cootie”, and revisit “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue” by Ellington, glean some more scoring and comp techniques from a time when the only rule was there are no rules. We’ll move quickly to Gil Evans’ Miles Ahead, and continue our discussion of  “Blues or Pablo”, which will feature a detailed analysis of voicing, composition and orchestration techniques. This piece is a primer in Gil’s techniques–and there are a few choice passages where he moves the music forward through orchestration – this adds a third dimension to the music.

I also want to touch on a few pieces which we’ll listen to without the score…something from “The Individualism of Gil Evans” (by Gil Evans), or perhaps a record I just rediscovered, an early small big band session by Bob Brookmeyer. Or both. Or maybe something from George Russell. Or Sun Ra.

I’m expecting a good turnout like the last two sessions. There will be handouts as well as copies of analog scores to look at, in addition to the projection. See you there! Scott

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MyMusicMasterclass.com: Two-Part Roots Piano Instructional Video

Roots Piano Instructional Video

I had the honor of meeting bassist and producer Adam Small at NAMM last January. As it turns out, he’s also an entrepreneur, having built a website which features instructional videos from established pros like Bob Mintzer, Larry Goldings, and Kenny Werner to name a few. These informal and comprehensive videos cover a wide range of topics from instrumental instruction in a variety of modern and traditional styles, composition and arranging, to record producing, songwriting and career counseling. Adam asked me to do a lesson on what some call “Roots” piano styles – basically anything cool that isn’t jazz, such…

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