Last month I had a small tour with Des mots sur mesure VI. Érick, the sound guy, is someone I’ve worked with a fair amount, both before and after my switch to fifths, and I trust his ears – I’ve always had good sound with him. At the end of the tour we spoke about how mixing a double bass tuned in fifths is different.
In most styles of music, the bass (electric or upright) and the kick drum are playing roughly the same thing, and usually they’re mixed so that the bass provides the attack and the pitch, and the kick drum provides the resonance (jazz is different, because the two instruments play different roles). What this means is that the bass is usually EQ’d in a way that the low and low-mid frequencies are rolled off a bit.
Well, Érick found that with my bass in fifths, there was more than enough pitch and resonance, so he switched the roles. He EQ’d the kick drum to provide more attack (rolling off the low and low mids), while my bass was flat except for rolling off the 60dB range a little bit. He was a big fan of my new sound!
Wow, I’m really not good at keeping up this blog. As a recap for the new fingerboard, it’s settled in nicely, and it feels and sounds great.
But I want to talk about what I’m into at the moment: tuning in fifths.
I changed to fifths almost two months ago, now. My last gig in 2016 was December 14, and I changed my strings on the 15th. I didn’t have any gigs on upright until early February, so I had almost 6 weeks to practise and get the new tuning under my fingers. It’s been quite a process!
Here are a few of my impressions so far:
The bass resonates WAY better! It also rings out more, which causes the bass to cut through when I’m playing with a band. The notes I play are clearer and more focused, and I can hear myself better when I’m playing with a band, so it’s easier to play in tune.
Learning repertoire has been a lot easier than expected (which is quite a relief, since I have a lot of gigs in February). Obviously, the larger range opens up a lot of new possibilities, which leads to minor re-arranging of my bass parts, but that’s no big deal.
Generally, what used to be difficult on the bass is now easier, but what used to be easy is now more difficult. This is not just for intervals, but also for lines and licks.
The most difficult part about the new tuning is improvising. I’m still thinking about way too many things to be able to just let go and play the changes. But at the same time, I’m getting a glimpse of a whole world of new vocabulary that wasn’t possible on a bass tuned in fourths, which is exciting!
I’ll be giving a short presentation on my journey in fifths at the Montreal Upright Bass Day, which is coming up soon. I can’t wait!
This really deserves it’s own blog post, but I’ll just stick it here: I recently got a new endpin system, designed by Mario Lamarre. It’s amazing. I’m still figuring it out, but it’s made a huge difference in my comfort level while standing and playing.
It’s amazing how much my bass has changed in just one day. It was apparent as soon as I started to play today: the sound is much more open, and even throughout the registers. I also fiddled with the action, since it had risen overnight, so the bass is feeling pretty good now.
My bass is definitely brighter, though, maybe a bit too bright. We’ll see if it mellows out over time, I might have to change strings again if it doesn’t. But everything is really full and clear sounding, and the bass is louder than before, which is cool.
This is a pretty interesting process!
It’s been ten months since my last post, and, well, a lot has happened. But I want to tell you about something really exciting: I got a new fingerboard on my bass!
I’ve had tendonitis in my wrists since January 2008 due to a workplace injury, and of course it affected my playing. To complicate matters, my fingerboard became warped due to the extreme fluctuations in humidity and temperature in Montreal. Also, I’ve been getting busier and busier playing music, which has a few important implications when it comes to my tendonitis: I don’t get time to practise anymore, which leads to weaker muscles, which in turn leads to the creation of bad habits while playing; and my tendons don’t get enough time to heal in between the gigs and rehearsals. And of course, everything spirals into a Catch-22 scenario: I can’t stop working because I need to make money to pay rent, but working makes the tendonitis worse.
A new fingerboard for a bass is expensive ($1500), and raising that kind of money on a musician’s income while also paying off debt is difficult. But I finally managed it. Mario Lamarre does all the work on my bass. He’s not cheap, but his work is amazing, and he’s a great human being.
The Test Drive
While at the luthier I played the bass a little bit and it sounded good, but it’s always hard to tell how an instrument sounds until you get it into a familiar space. So when I got home I played it a bit more, and was surprised at how big and full the sound was – but I still wasn’t able to really spend any time with it. So this evening I practised (I actually practised!), and really tried to pay attention to the difference in the sound. The results were interesting! Here’s what I noticed:
The notes really ring. It’s not resonance I’m talking about, though. It’s been over a month since my bass had been played last, and I definitely noticed that the instrument wasn’t resonating the way it does when it’s played regularly, but that didn’t bother me. A couple days of long tones and it will be sounding great again. But this ringing, I don’t really know how to describe it. I guess it’s partly sustain, partly brightness due to the new fingerboard?
However, there’s a tightness to the sound, and not in a good way. Again, I don’t think it’s the resonance of the instrument (or lack thereof) that I’m hearing. Various registers sound different – I mostly noticed this tightness on the A and E strings, as well as in the high register (previously, my bass had sounded quite even in all registers). I’d say this was most apparent when playing with the bow, although the high register tightness was obvious while plucking as well.
My left hand feels great! The action is now way lower, so it’s easier to play, and less tiring. This is exactly what I needed. Because the new fingerboard is quite a bit thicker than my old one, the whole neck feels bigger, but it’s not uncomfortable at all.
My right hand will need time to adjust. The action at the bottom of the fingerboard (where I pluck the strings) is way higher than before, so my right hand needs to work a little harder. I’ll just need to practise some technique, and I should be fine soon enough.
The new fingerboard sounds great overall, but I can’t wait till the bass opens up again to hear the full potential. Also, because the bass feels and sounds like a new instrument, I’m excited to play it and become (re)acquainted with it!
It’s been a long time since I posted on my blog! I admit, I had a bad case of social media burnout after my Indiegogo campaign. But I’m back, although this first post is mostly self-promotion.
A lot has happened since May. I finished my album and launched it with a small tour, I graduated from the MLIS program at McGill, I toured on the west coast for a couple weeks and then had a vacation – and, I had a kid!
I promise I will talk more about being a dad in the future. But in the meantime I’ll just say that I feel lucky to live in a place where paternity leave is available for a freelance musician, it makes an amazing difference. I just wish I could have more time!
But now after a spending an amazing month at home with baby Suki, it’s back to work – and I’m diving right in to a crazy first week (I hope my chops can handle it). Here’s this week’s schedule:
Friday: Vertige en 4 temps
We made it!!! We managed to raise $5,130, which is approximately 103% of my goal.
Thank you, all you wonderful people who contributed to my campaign! This means a lot to me, I’ll be forever grateful.
The album is almost finished being mixed, and it will be mastered at the end of the month. The artwork and design is underway, and it looks great, I’m really excited about the direction it’s headed! The physical album will be pressed at the beginning of May, to be released mid-May, just in time for an album launch mini-tour, hopefully in a city near you. I’ll be in contact soon regarding delivery of the CDs and perks.
Here are the tour dates:
May 15: Burdock Music Hall, Toronto
May 16: Silence, Guelph
May 29: Café Resonance, Montreal
May 30: Raw Sugar, Ottawa.
There are only 10 days left in my Indiegogo campaign! Please visit my campaign page, please contribute, please share!
Katie Moore is one of the sweetest people ever, and a great singer. I’ve actually never performed with her, but I’ve heard her many times, either with her own band or with Socalled. And she’s a big fan of the Key-Lites, so she’s heard me play a bunch (both Simon and Dave play in her band).
Katie agreed immediately to make me an endorsement video, but she actually sent me four! I’m not including all of them, but I loved the one above. And the last one was a crazy video by her drummer, Woody, and I couldn’t help but include it as well. Check it out:
I know Mike O’Brien through the guys in the Key-Lites, they’ve been friends for many years. Mike is a fantastic guitarist, and an even more fantastic guy. I first heard him playing with Katie Moore a couple years ago at the Outremont Theatre in Montreal. Every note he played was tasteful and musical. Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to play with him a few times (including in an exciting, upcoming country band featuring many of Montreal’s best musicians – stay tuned!), and get to know him a bit. He happens to really know his beer – whenever I’m at Vices & Versa and he’s working, I basically just ask him what I should drink, and it’s always great.
I knew Mike’s voice-over skills from the Key-Lites pitch video, and I was very excited when he agreed to lend his voice for mine, too. I believe he is a huge factor in the success of my Indiegogo campaign to date. So we decided to put together a short film about Mike that was thematically in line with the pitch video. Thanks Mike!
A little Indiegogo update
Thank you to everyone who has contributed to and shared my Indiegogo campaign! There is just under two weeks left, and I still need to raise about $2,000. If you haven’t already, I urge you to contribute, you won’t regret it! If you’ve already contributed, please share the campaign with others.
As an additional incentive, I’ve decided to pad some of the perks. The Book of Sheet Music will now include all the compositions from my first album, Joel Kerr Quintet, as well as my two pieces from Live in Silence. This means there will be eighteen pieces included in the book! This perk is available on its own, or included in others. Order it now!
Most people only know Yoko Ono as the person who “broke up” the Beatles. If they know a little bit more about her, they will know of the experimental music she made with John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band. Or they might know about the famous Bed-In at Montreal’s Queen Elizabeth Hotel in 1969.
What most people don’t know about Yoko is her work as a conceptual artist (or her work as a peace activist, but I won’t get into that now).
In 2002 I took a road trip to San Francisco with my roommate, Blair Fornwald, and her boyfriend at the time, Adam Budd. This was when I had briefly moved back to Regina, after having dropped out of the Artist Diploma program at the Glenn Gould School of Music. Blair, Adam and I drove straight for 30 hours in my family’s trusty Toyota Previa, to spend only three days in San Francisco. The reason we visited the city was that I had a good friend living there, Erik Franden, a fellow Glenn Gould School dropout; Blair and Adam came along for the adventure. Erik, in addition to being a great friend, was responsible for introducing me to an incredible amount of new music, such as Astor Piazzolla, Marc Ribot, and Ali Akbar Khan.
The trip was super fun – we went to the beach, we ate great Mexican food, we went to lots of record stores, and we went to lots of museums. To be honest, I’ve forgotten a lot of the trip, I just have vague images left. But the one thing that is still vivid is our visit to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, where there was a Yoko Ono retrospective. I, like most people, didn’t know the first thing about her. But the exhibit totally blew me away. Her work was powerful in its simplicity, humour, and positivity.
One example is the same piece that caused John Lennon to want to meet Yoko. Imagine this: There is what appears to be a blank white canvas in a simple frame hanging on the ceiling, with a ladder below it, and a magnifying glass attached to the frame. You climb the ladder, and inspect the canvas using the magnifying glass. After a few minutes (or more) of searching, you find a single microscopic word printed on the canvas, which simply reads Yes.
The Japanese influence in her work was apparent not necessarily in the content, but in the aesthetic. Much of her work is abstract, a lot is minimalist, and all of it is understated. Sometimes it’s surreal, sometimes disturbing, sometimes absurd, sometimes child-like in its straightforward honesty. It speaks of strength and perseverance, no matter what the hardship.
At the exhibition, there was a video of her performance of Cut Piece, where she sat motionless on a stage with a pair of scissors, and audience members were invited to come up on stage and cut off parts of her clothing. Watch it here, and see how you feel while this is happening.
Yoko’s work has haunted me ever since I saw this exhibition. I bought her book of instructions, entitled Grapefruit (Simon & Schuster, 2000), at the SFMOMA gift shop, and have read it countless times, always finding inspiration within its pages. A few years ago I decided to write a suite of pieces based on poems in this book, two movements of which appear on my upcoming album. This is one of the poems:
you are water
we’re all water in different containers
that’s why it’s so easy to meet
someday we’ll evaporate together
but even after the water’s gone
we’ll probably point out to the containers
and say, “that’s me there, that one.”
we’re container minders
Greetings from Atlanta, GA!! I’m here playing with Jump Babylon at the Atlanta Jewish Music Festival! We played a school show this morning, and tonight we are playing the festival opening night concert at a very cool venue called Steve’s Live Music. It’s a little tough to keep up with work for my ongoing Indiegogo campaign while I’m on the road, so I’m happy I managed to get a few hours to work on this post.
I met Dominic Gobeil at McGill, we did our Master’s degrees at the same time. I had just moved to Montreal from Vancouver, and Dom had just moved from Quebec City. About a month into school, I got a gig from the booking office for a trio with sax, guitar and bass. I didn’t really know anyone outside the program yet, so of course I asked Dom to play the gig, along with Patrick Lampron on tenor sax (whose website seems to be out-of-date: here’s his CD Baby page instead). At the time my French was very rusty and Dom’s English was very weak, so conversations were a challenge, but we made it work.
Ever since then, we played together quite a lot, collaborating on many projects. Dom played on my first album, the Joel Kerr Quintet, along with Jared Greeve on trumpet, Patrick Lampron on tenor sax, and Eric Thibodeau on drums. I played on Dom’s first album, DG4, which was the same band minus Jared (and is part of my Joel Kerr Complete Works Indiegogo perk!). And we both played on Patrick’s album.
A large number of our class at McGill got together and formed a composers ensemble, called the M-Theory Collective. The band went through a few members, but in addition to Dom and me, it included Mireille Boily on vocals (who is also singing on my upcoming album!), Jared and Bryson Barnes on trumpet, Jason Stillman on alto sax, Patrick on tenor, Alex Côté and then Philippe Côté on bari sax (no relation – that I know of), Etienne Lebel on trombone, Marie-Claire Durand on piano, and Kevin Warren and then Dan Garmon on drums. It was a great group, very creative. I miss that band – it’s still a dream project for me to somehow record all the stuff I wrote for that ensemble.
In the summer of 2012, Dom, Patrick, Eric and I, along with Craig Pedersen, put together a week-long tour of Quebec and Ontario, culminating in a magical performance along the St-Lawrence River in Les Escoumins. There is a festival called On Jazz sous le lune, the concerts are in the Saguenay-St-Lawrence Marine Park, and the stage is right on the river – so while we played, the moon was setting over the river, and beluga whales were swimming around behind us. We recorded ourselves live the next day back in Montreal with Paul Johnston engineering, and the result is the album Live in Silence (which is part of the Joel Kerr Discography Indiegogo perk).
As you might imagine, when you work on composition and original material for this amount of time with someone, you can’t help but be influenced by them in some way. Dom and I both are influenced a lot by classical music and various modern compositional techniques, and knowing how much output he had was always good motivation for me to compose more.