Kwela in 1950s London


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Jet Magazine Oct 1958



The Takadimi system can help you to understand and perform rhythm. It works like Solfege, but for rhythm. It assigns a distinct syllable for each point of a beat. The beat is always spoken as ta.  The division of the beat is spoken as ta – di in simple meter or ta – ki – da  in compound meter.

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Saxophone slings & throat constriction

Recently I bought a saxophone sling (neck strap) that had two apparent advantages over my old ones, as explained here:

Major nerves and the blood supply for the brain run through the cervical vertebrae. With the XXX Sax-Strap this area of the neck remains open while the weight and pressure are distributed to the muscles of the left and right sides of the neck.
Carotid Artery
Conventional slings can cause unpleasant pressure on the right and left sides of the neck, compromising the carotid arteries. A spacer just above the sling-length adjuster reduces this.

ceb sling.png

Now, that second feature of the XXX Sax-Strap is very useful, but the problem with the neck cushion design is that the sling has to stay completely symmetrical. My playing position skews it slightly, causing sideways pressure on the neck vertebrae from the RH cushion. After two rehearsals the consequent pain stopped me playing for a couple of days.

One solution is to stick with a conventional neck strap and use a spacer, such as Andy Scott’s Libero, which retails for £75, about twice the cost of the strap itself. So, here’s my solution, costing £1 in materials, taking 15 mins to construct, and weighing in at 1oz (28 grms):

With spare parts and tools from a child’s construction kit, in this case Meccano, here is what I used for my alto sax:



This simple version with just 2 nuts and bolts worked fine, but here’s a refinement using a rubber band around the two nuts to ease the gaps for your strap, while protecting it from chafing against the nut:


Finally, to guard against slippage once the spacer is positioned comfortably, two nuts may be added at the ends. Here I’ve added a central nut for bracing, plus stopper bolts.


Joe’s Jika

Here’s an outline transcription of Joe’s Jika, by Dudu Pukwana and Spear (The Spears), from 1969. I have no way of paying the rights to publish my transcription. So, if you find it useful, please consider a donation to an appropriate charity: e.g. WaterAid, Bridges for Music, Buskaid, etc.

Joe’s Jika – transcription

Spotify Link



Pentatonic Pairs

I’ve just been looking at Willie Thomas’s teaching on ‘Pentatonic Pairs’ as a simple way of navigating ii-V-I progressions. Link

Here’s my adaptation of the technique using just four notes of the pentatonic scale (major or minor), i.e. avoiding the tonic. For each chord play the associated pentatonic pair in any order, or choose just one of the pair.

Partial pentatonic solutions to major ii-V-Is
added notes (chords 1 & 2) are ∆9ths

Partial pentatonic solutions to minor ii-V-Is
added notes (chord 1) are 4ths and m6ths

Not and end in itself, but a useful exercise nevertheless.

Playing the Saxophone & Sailing

John Harle’s advice on tongue position when playing the saxophone has come as a revelation, liberating my playing from constant bother about intonation, tone and dynamic range. It got me thinking about parallels with sailing (an old passion of mine): e.g.

  • you can’t steer a boat unless it has power, you can’t play the sax with ease and accuracy unless the breath is properly directed;
  • the need for multiple navigational clues when piloting a boat in and out of harbours, as well as when improvising on an unfamiliar chord progression.


Back at last

I’m back after the great platelet escape of 2017, which is too boring to blog about, apart from the steroid-induced psychosis, which I’m still getting my head around. More importantly, I’m playing sax again after a gap of 5 months, which reminds me of a Bill Crow jazz anecdote:

Trumpeter Burt Collins [worked with Dizzy Gillespie, Neal Hefti et al] met trombonist Merv Gold in the street one day, and asked Merv, “How can I lose 35 years’ worth of chops in two days off?”
Merv answered, “I lose my chops during an 8-bar rest.”
Having spent some time reading John Harle’s brilliant if sometimes bewildering book, I’m adopting a more relaxed embouchure, correcting tongue position, playing quieter and enjoying the freedom of expression and better intonation that this technique allows. Also getting my lip back in faster than expected, as a consequence. This will be a significant factor if illness interrupts play again.
One of my current projects is working with jazz guitarist Dave Thomas, tuning and warming up with this exercise:
Tuning Alto Sax to Guitar




I am temporarily on hold while kind people search for my missing blood platelets, or more precisely the cause of the little stickies’ demise. “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown!”

So, why not read my first novel, Stolen Hours, instead:



Meanwhile, a second (I won’t say ‘last’ because that would be manipulative) novel is currently (DC or AC?) being generated by steroids, sleep-deprivation and a cross-circuited (un)consciousness. It’s (possibly – too early to know) a pensioner’s coming-of-age story. Please seek medical advice, if you want to try this yourself.