Marabi piano style

Thomas Mabilesta – Zulu Piano Medley No.1


Thomas Mabeleta’s ‘Zulu Piano Medley’ is one of the few surviving recordings of  Marabi, a keyboard style popular in the shebeens. The influence of jazz, ragtime and blues is obvious, but its roots lie deep in African tradition. Early Marabi musicians were part of an underground musical culture, so were typically not recorded. As with early jazz in the US, this music confronted establishment culture. Nonetheless, the lilting melodies and catchy rhythms of Marabi found their way into the popular dance music of Southern Africa.



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.

More …


Attending a musicology conference recently, I was reminded of how many dodgy handshakes one can get on such occasions. In my case, unreciprocated, I assure you.

It is estimated that there are around six million Freemasons in the world today. Most live in English-speaking countries, but their influence is global. Whatever other motivations individuals may have, members of ‘the craft’ knowingly join a secretive and powerful elite. The public face of Freemasonry presents a supportive and charitable bunch of like-minded chaps. Yet–ignoring the many distorted conspiracy theories–there is ample evidence to demonstrate that Freemasonry is exploited to corrupt the police and the judiciary, for example.

The United Grand Lodge of England is openly recruiting university students to Freemasonry, no doubt encouraged by many of their tutors. Shame on them and shame on the Grand Master, HRH the Duke of Kent.

However …

Music & Neoliberalism

‘From the latter part of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, as capitalism has adapted into a more fragmented, resilient and contradictory system than it was first envisioned, changes in patterns of circulation and exchange associated with flexible accumulation have produced a number of incongruous dynamics that pose challenges for these models.  For example, the emergence of an increasing diversity of small independent, musical markets devoted to the consumption of niche musical styles brings into question the notions of standardization and interchangeability associated with commodity fetishism.  Yet, even though these new markets may point to a possible long-term restructuring of a transnational music industry dominated by a handful of large stake holders, and despite the role that new media technologies have had in democratizing access for producers and consumers in these markets, these changes are often accompanied by the ongoing economic and social marginalization of the communities on whose music those markets are based.  Creativity, a concept formerly associated with artistic activity that resists or defies the purported homogenizing tendencies of commodification, is increasingly becoming a buzzword designed to quantify and valuate the soft skills of musicians and other artists as members of an emerging new class producers.  Similarly, concepts like originality, hybridity, counterculture, gender, race or cultural difference, are often mapped onto narratives of freedom, possibility, and innovation associated with globalization and the spread of free market capitalism, redefining the potential transgressive character of music and the agency of those who engage with it in terms of their ability to become effective agents of economic development.’ (IASPM call for papers, Feb 2013)


Neoliberalism and Pop Music

Ed Sheeran, the charts and passivity in listeners

Jazz and Neoliberalism

map anarchism

No Rights to The Rite

David Patrick’s brilliant adaptation of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring is no longer available, and the associated tour cancelled, following the threat of a bankrupting lawsuit by UK publishers Boosey & Hawkes. The Amazon CD review reads:

This stunning reworking for jazz octet of Igor Stravinsky’s masterwork retains all of the themes and most of the exquisite orchestration of the original composition. Improvisational sections appear organically out of Stravinsky’s score, allowing band members to be featured as individual soloists as the piece unfolds. Newspaper critics have described live performances of The Rite as “a triumph” and “a brash and brilliant homage”. With personnel drawn from Scotland, England and Germany, this international group is a world-class ensemble, completely at ease with each other and this incredibly complex music. David Patrick’s stylish contemporary piano playing has always worked hand in hand with his arranging and composition skills, whether writing for the dark contemporary edge of The Scottish Jazz Composers’ Orchestra, the smooth swing-feel of singers such as Todd Gordon, Carol Kidd and Jacqui Dankworth, or the avant-garde German cabaret performances of Kurt Weill obsessive singer-actor Bremner Duthie. The Times of London described Patrick’s arrangements as “exquisitely crafted throughout” and the BBC reported that “his virtuosity at the keyboard is matched only by his skills as an arranger and composer of the highest calibre”.

Ironic, given Stravinsky’s boast that mature composers steal (itself not an original assertion). See links below.

That bassoon opening

Stravinsky borrowings

Fortunately, I downloaded David Patrick’s album before the take-down.

Maybe jazz enthusiasts should boycott B&H.

Qigong & Playing the Saxophone #1

Richard Agnew states that:

Qigong is a perfect kind of exercise to integrate into a [music] practice routine because it involves:

  • Warming up and stretching the body
  • Relaxation – this is a fundamental skill of qigong
  • Postural work – encouraging a neutral posture, but it is also interested in understanding the impact of different postures on the body
  • Breath work, which not only helps relaxation but also massages the organs of the body and improves breath control and capacity
  • Meditation – qigong can be described as a kind of moving meditation, and helps to calm the mind and regulate the emotions

Together with John Harle’s detailed study of saxophone technique and body-awareness, I shall be exploring how elementary Qigong exercises might inform and be adapted to practising the saxophone. Of course, these suggestions may be used for a variety of wind and brass instruments, with suitable adjustments. Further adjustments may be necessary according to your physical condition.

Along the way, I plan to work with other sax players to see how these approaches might enhance our enjoyment, knowledge, understanding and skills. Your feedback is always welcome.

To begin at the beginning, here is a guide for gently warming up and stretching, which can be incorporated into the first 10 minutes of your daily practice. Afterwards, rest for at least 5 minutes before playing the saxophone. It’s important to feel energised but also relaxed throughout these physical and mental processes. Finding sufficient and appropriate times to practise is equally important, therefore.

Many other examples of Qigong warm-up can be found on sites such as YouTube, featuring individuals and groups.

In the next blog of this series we’ll consider posture.

John Harle – The Saxophone

Some reactions to John Harle’s new two-volume study of the saxophone:

  • “John is a consummate musician and saxophonist, and all the expertise and experience gleaned from his forty plus years as a student of our instrument is encapsulated in this book. It is a must read for all professional and aspiring musicians – I will be learning from John for years to come”
    Branford Marsalis – Three-time Grammy award-winning saxophonist and composer
  • “The Saxophone is a work of art, combining scientific research with a balanced and poetic presentation. John gives fantastic advice on learning methods which can be adapted to any age, level and need – musicians, amateur or professional will find the answers to all their questions here”
    Claude Delangle – Professor of Saxophone, CNSM, Paris
  • “It’s a beast of a book, and will take prime position in my teaching studio for ever! A new perspective! Wonderful!”
    Snake Davis – Saxophonist with George Michael, Ray Charles, Culture Club, Tina Turner, Take That, Pet Shop Boys, Motorhead
  • “This is the most original approach I’ve ever seen – it’s like Einstein’s Grand Unified Theory”
    Ted Hegvik – Master Saxophonist, Seattle, USA (The Legacy of Rudy Weidoeft)
  • “John’s scholarly and artful scientific method is marked by formidable research and a passionate commitment to new and revolutionary techniques that open the door to a truly symbiotic relationship with your saxophone.”
    Tommy Smith – Saxophonist, composer and Director of Jazz, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
  • “It’s like having all the secrets of the saxophone in one book”
    Jess Gillam – Finalist, BBC Young Musician of the Year
  • “John Harle’s saxophone sound has sailed through the largest concert halls in the world like the voice of a world-class singer – possibly as close as any player has come to the sound of the human voice. John generously reveals all about the saxophone in his book and offers a new direction in playing that will resound through generations to come. It is a work of genius from the genius of the saxophone, and is testimony to this great player’s unique place in the history his instrument”
    Ashley Stafford – singer and vocal coach



Qigong for Musicians

Qigong exercises support emotional balance, cognition and general health. The benefits can be applied to musicianship, performance, creativity, physical and mental well-being. Make these exercises part of your daily instrumental and vocal practice.



Why Qigong and not Tai Chi?

Qigong & Playing the Saxophone