My Father’s Horn, Part 2

(Continued from part 1.) During my eighth-grade year, my father's horn opened the doors to a formative experience in my life. It began when a fellow junior high school classmate, Steve Afendoulis, asked me if I would like to play in a band he was forming. Steve being a drummer, I thought he was talking about a rock band. Now, I have to be honest: Much as I enjoyed playing the saxophone, rock music was in its psychedelic heyday, and what I really aspired to be was the next Jimi Hendrix. The only hitch was that I didn't play guitar. Still, while I'd never heard of Dave Sanborn, I thought that maybe I could carve my niche as a rock saxophonist. I'd be cool, and "cool" was a quality I lacked and desperately wished to cultivate. So I told Steve to count me in. Thus it was that I wound up playing lead alto in a 17-piece dance band called the Formal Aires. It was not exactly Woodstock material. Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong ... good heavens! I was playing my parents' music! Whatever image it might project for me, "cool" didn't figure in. I hadn't a clue what an amazing experience I had walked into. What I did know was that, cool or not, I really enjoyed the weekly rehearsals with my 16 other junior high and high school bandmates. They came from several schools around the Grand Rapids area, and even as our athletic teams clashed, we harmonized. Steve's dad, Gus Afendoulis, served as the band's manager. He owned a tuxedo rental and dry cleaning shop on Michigan Street in Grand Rapids and also wrote a weekly column on bridge for the Grand Rapids Press. Being well-connected, Gus managed to secure frequent weekend and holiday gigs for the band at top country clubs, wedding receptions, and social and community events throughout West Michigan. I'm quite sure it was Gus who purchased our music library for us. Owning his own tux shop, he saw to it that we were properly outfitted in formal attire. He secured a couple of music directors who worked with us during weekly rehearsals, helping us to properly interpret the music and develop our sound. Above all, Gus loved us kids. He was a sweetheart of a guy who made it all happen for us and did so in such a low-key way that his immense significance never dawned on me till years later. I mentioned that the band had two music directors. These men, Sid Stellema and Ted Carino, were the guiding forces for the band. Ted, an alto saxophonist with prior big band experience, was there every week, walking us through the charts, rehearsing us, encouraging us, shaping our sound. Ted was the person who first made me aware that not all mouthpieces are created equal. I had been playing the stock mouthpiece that came with dad's horn. With its small tip opening, it was not designed to move a lot of air, and it gave me a feeble, overly dark sound with little volume or projection. It was by no means a lead alto mouthpiece. One night, Ted pulled me aside and handed me a box containing a brand-new Brillhart mouthpiece. I put it on my horn and experienced an epiphany. This piece was so much louder! And its brighter tone gave me the edge I needed for the first alto chair. Sid Stellema also helped rehearse the band. His involvement wasn't as extensive as Ted's, but his experience as an arranger provided us with invaluable input. Sid also guided me in writing my first--and only--successful big band chart: an arrangement of "Auld Lang Syne." In those days I knew nothing of music theory, and my inner ear was informed by rock harmonies rather than jazz. Thanks to Sid's coaching, though, I came up with an acceptable arrangement of the Guy Lombardo classic, which the band played every New Year's Eve henceforth and eventually passed down, along with the rest of its book, to its successor, the Stardusters. The Formal Aires was a profoundly important part of my musical learning curve. Through it all, my father and mother faithfully drove me to the weekly rehearsals. The saxophone that Dad was unable to play now rested in the hands of his oldest son, and Dad could hear both it and me coming to life, doing what we were created to do. I played in the Formal Aires, and afterward the Stardusters, all the way through high school and even into my early college days. I think the Formal Aires must have played at every country club in West Michigan, and not just once, but frequently. We had the New Year's Eve gig locked in every year at the Cascade Country Club. The band was a great way for us kids to make a bit of money playing music--and above all, we had fun! To Steve, to Gus, to Ted, to Sid, and to all my old bandmates: Thanks. I've never forgotten. The Formal Aires and the Stardusters steeped me in the classic swing band literature and gave me the confidence I needed as a lead alto player. Too much confidence, really. I was naive as to how much I had yet to learn ... (To be continued.)

Live Saxophone Jazz Friday at The Seasonal Grille in Hastings

Tomorrow night keyboardist Bob VanStee and I join forces to play for the one-year anniversary of The Seasonal Grille in downtown Hastings. I feel honored to be a part of the celebration. Justin Straube and his crew are great to work with. They appreciate their musicians, genuinely enjoy the music, and all around are just plain "good people." In other words, this place is a pleasure to play at. Justin has turned out a first-class dining establishment that gives his patrons far more than their money's worth. The ambiance is comfortably elegant, the kind where you can dress up or dress down and feel good about either option. As for the food and the prices, it's hard to believe that culinary creations of such superb quality can be so ridiculously affordable. You'd have to look far and hard in order to find meals of comparable gourmet deliciousness that cost so little. Frankly, I don't know how Justin does it. I think a large part of it is, he simply wants to give people a good deal. Anyway...Bob and I play tomorrow (Friday) from 6:00–9:00 p.m. Come on out and get a plateful, a beerful, and an earful. I might add, this is a great date-your-mate location! Here's the info:
  • The Seasonal Grille
  • 150 West State Street
  • Hastings, MI
  • Time: 6:00–9:00 p.m.
  • Phone: (269) 948-9222
Some of my storm chasing friends will be coming out tomorrow to hang out with each other. Maybe I'll see you there too.

The Giant Steps Scratch Pad: As Crass a Plug as You’ll Ever Encounter Anywhere

BUY MY BOOK! BUY MY BOOK! BUY MY BOOK! BUY MY BOOK! BUY MY BOOK! Never mind the rest of the gobbledegook on this page--just go to the bottom and start clicking on shopping carts. As for you less impulsive types: Gosh, I hope I'm not being too forward. In real life, I'm the retiring, wallflower type who would never think of grabbing you by the lapels and shaking you wildly about while protruding my eyeballs at you and screaming, "BUY MY BOOK!" Never. The marketing methods I use to get you to buy The Giant Steps Scratch Pad--available in C, Bb, Eb, and bass clef editions--are far more subtle. I prefer to drop discrete hints, such as sending out glossy, full-color mailers that say things like, "This Father's Day, give Dad the gift that says 'I love you!' Give him The Giant Steps Scratch Pad." Low-key is best, that's what I say. Ummm...did you get the mailer? Well, no matter, because here is your reminder that now is the perfect time to get Dad, or Mom, or your Aunt Bronte who plays the crumpophone, or maybe even your little old self, a copy of the Scratch Pad. Why is now so perfect a time? Because now is such a totally in-the-moment time, and jazz improvisation is such an in-the-moment art form, and Coltrane changes typically fly by at such an in-the-moment, near-light speed, that, overlooking the utter pointlessness of everything I've just written, you really should cough up $9.50 and BUY MY BOOK. Do it. Not only will you be keeping a starving artist in Ramen for a week, but--seriously now--you will also be getting a truly unique and valuable practice companion for jazz improvisers. If you've ever wanted to master Coltrane changes, this book will do the trick. To the best of my knowledge, it's the first practical, hands-on resource for jazz instrumentalists of every kind that helps you develop the technique to play Giant Steps changes. You can find plenty of material on Coltrane's theory, but very little that you can actually wrap your fingers around in the woodshed.* The Giant Steps Scratch Pad fills that gap, taking you beyond theory to application. Here's what you get:
  • * A brief overview of “Giant Steps” theory
  • * Insights and tips for using this book as a practice companion
  • * 155 licks and patterns divided into two parts to help you cultivate facility in both the A and B sections of “Giant Steps”
  • * 2 pages of licks using the augmented scale--the "universal scale" for Coltrane changes
Click on the image to your left to view a printable page sample from the Bb edition (for tenor sax, soprano sax, trumpet, and clarinet). Print it out, take it with you to your next practice session, and get a feel for what the Scratch Pad has to offer. Each line takes you through the first four bars of Giant Steps changes. Transpose the pattern down a major third for the second four bars. AVAILABLE IN C, Bb, Eb, AND BASS CLEF EDITIONS, AND BOTH IN PRINT AND AS A PDF DOWNLOAD. 32 PAGES. Instant PDF download, $9.50 C edition Add to Cart Bb edition Add to Cart Eb edition Add to Cart Bass clef edition Add to Cart View Cart Print editions--retail quality with full-color cover, $10.95 plus shipping: order here.
PRAISE FOR THE GIANT STEPS SCRATCH PAD "Ever since John Coltrane recorded 'Giant Steps,' its chord progression has been a rite of passage for aspiring improvisers. Bob's book The Giant Steps Scratch Pad presents a practical approach to Coltrane changes that will challenge advanced players and provide fundamental material for those just beginning to tackle the challenge of Giant Steps.'” --Ric Troll, composer, multi-instrumentalist, owner of Tallmadge Mill Studios "In this volume, Bob has created an excellent new tool for learning how to navigate the harmonies of 'Giant Steps.' This is a hands-on, practical approach with a wealth of great material that will be of assistance to students of jazz at all levels of development." --Kurt Ellenberger, composer, pianist, jazz educator and author of Materials and Concepts in Jazz Improvisation
------------------------------- * Unless you're a guitarist. For some reason, I've found a modest offering of good, practical material available for guitar players. You'd think that tenor sax players would be the prime audience for lit on Coltrane changes, but not so. Guitarists are the torch bearers. Sheesh. You string pickers have all the luck.

Yet Another Update: Huge Progress!

I know I've been posting a lot of status updates concerning Maybe I'm guilty of overkill, but I feel it's better to let you know what's going on with this blog than keep you wondering. And the fact is, a LOT has been going on. I should have scrapped my old NexGen plugin weeks ago, done the reinstall, and gotten on with replacing my image files. I didn't because all I could think was, "Oh, man, all those files!" Nearly 500 of them. But as it turns out, reinstalling them hasn't been nearly the prolonged hassle that I thought it would be--not that it isn't time-consuming grunt work, but the process is moving along just fine. Much better, in fact, than I expected.

Image Files Are Now Largely Restored

That's right--I've got the bulk of my galleries back in place. The work certainly isn't finished, but right now, if you go to my photo page, you'll see that most of what used to be there is back where it was. Well, sort of. I took the opportunity to do a little reorganizing, but that's a good thing that brings a little more order to my collection. Anyway, just about all of my storm photos are back in place. Ditto my wildflower, bird, and other images. Check 'em out!

The CopyFox Has Reopened for Business

One of the worst parts of this whole debacle was having to take my CopyFox page and subpages offline. There was no alternative. Nothing looks worse than a copywriting business site that's having communication issues! But huzzah! The days of woe are past and the time of jubilation is at hand! The CopyFox now has its very own website, which is how things should have been from the beginning. Bang the drums, bring on the jugglers and dancing bears, and let there be music in the streets! And by all means, check out the site at

What Still Needs Doing

Now that I've got the bulk of my image files downloaded, I need to sift through my posts one by one and restore images to their proper places. There are also plenty of galleries that still need to be downloaded. But so much has already been accomplished. This blog is essentially well on its way to complete recovery. And even as I sort backwards through past posts, you may notice that is also moving ahead with new posts that will keep storm chasers current on the incoming spring weather season and equip jazz musicians with fresh food for thought and material for the woodshed. So there you have it. The news is all good. Thanks for your continued interest and loyalty to this site as it endures its growing pains. I've been amazed and encouraged to see that traffic has not only remained consistent through the worst of it, but now appears to be experiencing some impressive growth. Having changed to a new web host, I'm not sure yet how accurate my WordPress stats are--perhaps they are inflating the numbers and need to settle in a bit; but I think that Awstats is pretty dependable, and assuming that's the case, then March is off to an awesome start. So again, thanks for bearing with me. And stay tuned, because repairs are being made rapidly at this point. Goodonya, Bob

Some New Audio Clips for Your Listening Pleasure

Last Monday I got together with Ric Troll (guitar), Dave DeVos (bass), and Randy Marsh (drums), and we rehearsed a few of Ric's original tunes in his studio, Tallmadge Mill. These guys are wonderful jazz musicians, and Ric is a composer of long standing. His music can be chewy stuff to work through, but this last session the tunes started to gel and we got some pretty nice grooves going. Ric recorded the whole session, so I'm able to share some sample tracks with you. What you'll hear are the tunes in rough, but there's some very nice playing going on. The New Hip is a basic 12-bar blues, but Ric's head suggests a soloing approach different from your standard bebop. Attempting to free myself from cliches, I incorporated a more angular style. The Urge is a fun tune with a high-energy A section and a swinging, cooler-sounding bridge that offers a lovely contrast. Orcs has been the most challenging number, with it's polymetric approach and shift to 7/4. It is coming together, though, and will be one heck of a tune once we've nailed down the form and the feel. Listen to Randy--the guy just tears it up on the set! Here's a second take for all you double-dippers. If you like what you hear, check out my Jazz Page for more sound samples as well as solo transcriptions, articles, and exercises of interest to improvising musicians.

Voice Leading for the Giant Steps Cycle

Both in print and on the Internet, there's no paucity of theoretical material available when it comes to "Giant Steps" and Coltrane changes. Of course, theoretical knowledge can't take the place of time in the woodshed hashing out the changes on your instrument. But it can help you make some sense of what you're practicing by revealing the order in what can at first seem like an odd, rambling array of chords. Once you understand some of the voice leading in "Giant Steps," you'll be able to pinpoint certain guide tones and use them effectively in your solos. This post is by no means intended to offer an in-depth explication of "Giant Steps" theory. All I'm going to do is call your attention to how a few select tones proceed, so you can be mindful of them for the reason I've just stated. Let's begin by naming the changes to the first four bars of section A in "Giant Steps." In concert pitch, they are: Bmaj7 D7 / Gmaj7 Bb7 / Ebmaj7 / A-7 D7. The second four bars repeats that chord progression a major third lower, thus: GMaj7 Bb7 / Ebmaj7 F#7 / Bmaj7 / F-7 Bb7. If you delete the last two bars in each four-bar phrase and crunch together the remaining chords, you get the following sequence: Bmaj7 D7 / Gmaj7 Bb7 / Ebmaj7 F#7. This is the essential Giant Steps cycle. As you can see, once you reach the end of the cycle it repeats itself as the F#7 resolves downward by a fifth to the Bmaj7. So far, so good. Now let's see what happens when we start moving some basic chord tones. We'll start with the root of the Bmaj7 chord. If you move it down by a whole step, you wind up on the note A, which functions as the fifth of the next chord, the D7. Move A down another whole step and you land on the root of  Gmaj7. Continuing down by whole steps in this manner--in other words, moving down the B whole tone scale--will move you from root to fifth to root to fifth through the entire Giant Steps cycle. You can also apply the same down-by-major-second movement starting on the fifth of the Bmaj7, which is F#. In this case, the fifth moves down a whole step to E, which functions as the ninth of the D7 chord. (You could also look at it as the fifth of an A minor chord that serves as the ii/V7 to the D7.) This note in turn moves downward to the fifth of the Gmaj7. Again you're descending through a whole tone scale, this one beginning on the fifth of the Bmaj7. So if you want a handy memory aid to help you organize your guide tones in the Giant Steps cycle, simply think of two whole tone scales (using half notes to match the harmonic rhythm), one descending from the root and the other from the fifth of the Bmaj7 chord. When you spotlight the third of the major seventh chords, things get more interesting. The third of the Bmaj7 is D#. Moving down a half step lands you on the note D, which is the root of the D7. To get from there to the third of the next chord, Gmaj7, you have to jump down a minor third. When you extend this downward movement of half step/minor third throughout the entire cycle, you wind up with an augmented scale. You also get an augmented scale when you use the same movement starting on the seventh of the Bmaj7 chord, thus: A#, A / F#, F / D, C#. To recap: * For voice leading from the root and fifth of the major chords in "Giant Steps," consider using, respectively, the B and F# whole tone scales. * For voice leading from the third and seventh, use the D# and A# descending augmented scales. I hope these concepts will help you see the symmetry in Coltrane changes and make life easier for you as a result. If you want a resource you can take into the practice room with you to help you master "Giant Steps," check out my book The Giant Steps Scratch Pad. It's available in C, Bb, Eb, and bass clef editions. See below for ordering info. Happy practicing! Oh, and be sure to visit my jazz page for plenty more tips, solo transcriptions, exercises, and articles of interest to jazz musicians.

The Giant Steps Scratch Pad

. Instant PDF download, $9.50 C edition Add to Cart Bb edition Add to Cart Eb edition Add to Cart Bass clef edition Add to Cart View Cart Print editions--retail quality with full-color cover, $12.95 plus shipping: order here.

C Edition of “The Giant Steps Scratch Pad” Is Now Available

I'm pleased to announce that "The Giant Steps Scratch Pad, C Edition" is now published and available for purchase on If you play the flute, piano, guitar, or any other concert pitch instrument and want a practice companion to help you master Coltrane changes, then this collection of 155 licks and patterns is for you! Besides the new C edition, "The Giant Steps Scratch Pad" is also available in Bb and Eb editions. A bass clef edition is next in line. I'm not sure what kind of editing it will require, since the shift is to a different clef rather than a different key. I'm hoping that the process will be a simple one and I'll be able to release the bass clef edition soon. If you want to learn more details on what the book has to offer, read the initial release notice for the Eb edition. The description applies to all the editions, which are identical except for the keys in which the musical material is written. At the risk of sounding immodest, I'm not aware of any other resource, either in print or online, that offers such extensive practice material for the Giant Steps cycle. You can find plenty of information on the theory of Coltrane changes, but it has been a different story when it comes to a hands-on, made-to-be-played book that jazz musicians can take with them to the woodshed. "The Giant Steps Scratch Pad" fills that gap. If you want to solo confidently and creatively over the challenging, lopsided changes of "Giant Steps," then pick the edition that's right for you and order your copy today!

A Fun Jazz Night at Noto’s

It has been a long time since I went to a lounge where a group of topnotch musicians was playing and sat in with them on my sax. Tonight I took the plunge and headed over to Noto's in Cascade, where keyboardist Bob VanStee, vocalist Kathy Lamar, and drummer Bobby Thompson were performing. I'm glad I went! I had an absolute blast. I've known Bobby for a couple years now and enjoy him both as a player and as a person. I'm just getting to know Bob VanStee, but I've known OF him since my college days, when he was well-known about town prior to his taking a 15-year hiatus from music from which he has only recently reemerged. As for Kathy, I'd heard her name but never met her until this evening. Holy cow! What a fantastic vocalist and charismatic entertainer! I love playing side man to a good vocalist, and Kathy is an absolute joy to play alongside of. It really did me good to jump in with this trio and provide some horn work. While I brought my fake books, I wound up not having any use for them. Vocalists frequently sing tunes in keys different from the standard instrumental keys--a good reason for jazz musicians to become as fluent as possible in all twelve tone centers. I like that kind of challenge; it forces me out of my comfort zone. For instance, I've woodshedded "How High the Moon" in its contrafact incarnation, "Ornithology," to the point where I can pretty well shred it in its normal key, concert G. I've also been working on it in concert A and F#, and bit in C. But playing it in Eb tonight took me places I wasn't used to! Sure, Eb puts me in the nice, easy alto sax key of C, but the tune quickly modulates from C to Bb, then down another whole step to Ab. Navigating the key of Ab makes life nothing if not interesting. Aebersold CDs and Band-in-a-Box are great assets for getting one's chops together. But the real joy is in playing live with real-life musicians in a spontaneous framework. That's the essence of jazz--musicians listening and responding to each other in a way that brings coherence and beauty to collective improvisation. It was wonderful to spend some time this evening with three superb talents who know what that's about.

Bb Edition of “The Giant Steps Scratch Pad” Is Now Available!

Tenor sax, soprano sax, trumpet, and clarinet players, I've kept my promise and haven't forgotten you! I'm pleased to announce that The Giant Steps Scratch Pad, Bb Edition is now published and available for purchase on In case you haven't followed any of my related posts, "The Giant Steps Scratch Pad" is a book of licks and patterns on the Giant Steps cycle. Made for the woodshed, it had its inception over ten years ago during a period in my life when I was immersing myself in Coltrane changes. Finding nothing in the way of practice material, I bought a spiral-bound book of staff paper and began writing down my own ideas, which multiplied over time into more material than I could wrap my arms around. In recent months, it occurred to me that the material could benefit other jazz musicians. So I transcribed it using MuseScore, and after more hassles and delays than I care to describe, finally published the Eb edition for alto sax and baritone sax players just two weeks ago. Read the release notice for more information on what the book has to offer jazz instrumentalists of every stripe who want a practice companion to help them develop their technique for improvising on "Giant Steps." In a nutshell, information abounds on the theory of Coltrane changes, but this is the first book I know of that actually gets you soloing on "Giant Steps." Flutists and other concert pitch instrumentalists, fear not: The C edition is next in line, and I'm already underway with editing. Bass players and trombonists, a bass clef edition will follow after the C edition has been published. So, campers, be patient. Nobody's going to be excluded from the party. "The Giant Steps Scratch Pad" is now priced at $10.95. I had initially settled on $13.95, but when I factored in the cost of shipping from Lulu, I decided to trim down by a few bucks. Head to the Scratch Pad landing page to access both the Eb and Bb editions, and other editions as they become available. I'm hoping to have the C edition published within a week, so look for another announcement soon.

Chromatic Exercises: Descending and Ascending Lines Against Static Tones

chromatic-lines-mscz-1The thumbnail to your cleft contains a couple of patterns I like to practice from time to time to limber up my ability to interpolate chromatic lines with common tones. I've also included a third exercise that I just thought of, and since I'll be incorporating it into my saxophone practice sessions from now on, I figured I'd drop it into your lap as well. Click on the thumbnail to enlarge it. The repeat signs don't mean repeat just once; they mean repeat ad infinitum until the pattern is laying easily under your fingers. Then bump it up or down a half step and practice it in the new key. Repeat this process until you own the pattern in all twelve keys throughout the full range of your instrument. While each pattern begins by outlining an A minor triad, it implies other harmonies as the chromatic line descends or ascends while the remaining tones remain static. I'll leave it to you to figure out different practical applications. You'll find plenty more patterns, exercises, solo transcriptions, and articles of interest to jazz musicians on my jazz page.