Hangin’ with Mike Kanan pt 2

For those of you digging on some of Mike’s little gems of advice you will have an opportunity to receive them yourself in person if you are in the New York area on Sunday, October 19th.

The Art of Accompanying and the Art of Being Accompanied
Master Class with Alexa Fila & Mike Kanan
Joe Solomon Studio
1133 Broadway, 6th fl (at 26th St) Room 621, NYC
phone: 212 741-2839
email: joesolomio@yahoo.com

Brief description: …
“A Full set with these two wonderful artists will be followed by 30min Q&A. The final set will offer an opportunity for vocalists to sit in with Mike. If he or she wishes, each singer may solicit commentary and guidance from these two masters of the vocal jazz art form…”

JR: So you like these kind of chords (I start playing Abmaj7 chord phrases as inversions)

MK: Right, exactly. Well now uh… well anyway which direction do want to go with this. We could talk in about twenty different directions with this:) Where’d should we go?

JR: Naw, this is good for me. You’ve already given me two nuggets (of info) that I’m going to be using. It’s going to be paragraph one, paragraph 2..

MK: (Laughs) ok! Good. Do you want to talk about accompanying for a minute?

JR: Like doing introductions and stuff? Could you rattle off some type of typical introduction that you like? Like a ballad for let’s say. Any key.

MK: Alright. I doubt if I’m going to say anything you don’t already know. But…It’s just about being clear and leading in. Sometimes I do that better than others. Sometimes I finish an introduction and everybody’s going…

JR: “That’s it?”

MK: “Huh?” “And we come in where?”…(laughs)

JR: (laughs)

MK: Just do like the simplest thing possible. And then maybe you can change it. So it’s clear.

JR: Yeah

MK: So if you just start with something really simple and then… (Plays an intro on G pedal with Cmaj to Do 2x then plays Eb-7 Ab7 phrase to D-7 G7b9 Cmaj6/9)

JR: So you went from one key and went to another…

MK: Well if we’re in C then maybe I’ll go into Ab (plays Ab13 sus) for a second.

JR: Ok. (MK continues to play). That’s interesting. So it’s like the relative minorish or major or something…

MK: I’m not thinking of anything like that. I’m thinking in terms of color If we’re starting with this G pedal we could go (starts playing a different pattern that goes down via the b5 root: C/G to F#-7b5, F-), And the next chord would be C/E.

JR: Right

MK: But you could also. (Repeats the same chord phrase intro starting on C/G, F#-7b5, F-) But then you go minor instead (plays C-/Eb rather than C/E)

JR: So you went C minor mode there?

MK: Yeah. Just for a moment. That’s how I think about intros. They don’t have to be fancy. They don’t have to have the kitchen sink. They just have to be clear and then maybe just one small idea that’s a surprise.

Click below for an audio sample of above segment of the interview:
Mike Kanan playing C major ballad intro

JR: Right

MK: Just a little modicum of creativity. That’s all. For me, I’m 45 now and really now just coming to terms with what I can leave out of my playing.

JR: Right..

MK: And how important that is. And that’s maybe as important as anything I do play. Especially with singers. One of my favorite drummers is Jeff Williams? Don’t know if you’re familiar…

JR: Yeah. I know who he is.

MK: He lives now mostly in London, but… Great drummer. Great comper with his left hand. And he’s a drummer that can play tons of shit all over the drumset. And loud. But for me, he never feels like he’s in the way. It always feels completely transparent and completely wide open and he can shift gears at a moment’s notice. Like if I color a voicing a certain way, I hear it coming out of the drums.

JR:Uh-huh. Like a cymbal shimmer or texture he chooses…

MK: Whatever. It might be a rhythm. He’s listening so intently to everything I’m doing.

JR: Right

MK: So I asked him once. “How do you do that? How the hell do you comp like that?” And when I finally got him talking he said something that really stuck with me that I applied to piano. He said, “One thing that really took me some time to learn was if I’m comping and I play an idea, I don’t need to play the whole idea. I can just play part of an idea. I don’t have to finish it.”

JR: Hmm

MK: You know? Think about that for comping. Like if you have some idea, for example if the singer or the horn player just did that then I’m going to do this.

JR: You get too involved in your own thing.

MK: You get too involved in your own idea and you’re already behind where there are currently.

JR: Right

MK: So I found if I was going to play some fill like… (plays overly long phrase)Ofcourse that’s a pretty long fill. But then I realized I could play like (plays shorter phrase). Just the first part of an idea and then leave it. And usually it sounds complete anyway. (click sample below for audio snippet of this part of conversation)
Mike comping phrases compared

JR: Some players have problems submerging their personality for the greater good. Even really good ones. And they get so developed. Although sometimes there’s a place for that. For example a simultaneous dialogue. For example that record Affinity where Bill Evans is doing a lot of comping but it has so much personality that it’s ok because it’s kind of like a counterstatement. That can be ok if you’re at that level. But if you’re not, you can be too much into your own thing.

MK: Right. There’s a real easy way to understand that whole issue. Sing with another piano player.And particularly with somebody who’s not a skilled accompanist. You’ll find out everything you need to know about how hip you’re going to be.

JR: That’s interesting

MK: I remember trying that out with a friend of mine years ago. And both of us were trying to do all kinds of hip stuff.

JR: And you were saying,”You’re getting in my way…”

MK: He sang a tune and I was doing all kinds of goofy shit. And then I sang a tune and he did all kinds of goofy shit. Not intentionally. It’s just that’s what we were into at that time.

JR: Uh-Huh

MK: And then we finished and look at each other and say “You know all that goofy shit (you did)?” And he finishes and goes “Yeah that’s really not good.” (Laughs)

JR: Right

MK: But how would you know that unless you (tried that out)… And that’s another thing for accompanying. You have to learn to sing a little bit. Not to be a singer. But I’ll do it in sessions alot. I’ll you know… If we’re playing. I’ll just sing a tune. Not to be a singer. I’m a horrible singer, but.

JR: I can never remember all the lyrics.

MK: That’s another thing. You have to learn the lyrics. Now you can say well I’m submerging my personality. But all of us should be doing that. Including the singer…to the song

JR: Yeah

MK: In truth when everyone is doing that. And that happens in the best way, that’s when everyone’s personality comes out. Or perhaps something deeper than the individual personalites.

JR: Well, when Red was playing(saxophonist Red Horndstrom whom I referred to in previous posts)I kind of go back and forth about what style I’m going to use. Like the first night I stumbled upon a kind of propulsive, thematic style that I felt gave him the right kind of bounce underneath him that I tried to do the second time I played with him and couldn’t do it but then Ed (Fuqua)was insisting that what I was doing this time was better… that I was listening and stuff. And I went well, I’m just not hearing that. I was trying to do what I was doing the first time. And then when you heard me I was totally underplaying.

MK: So that was the third time you played with him.

JR: That was the third time. I knew him before that. I met him previously on some of my gigs.

MK: My take is on it was in the first set–and I really wanted to stay for the second set–because already on the first tune (of the second set)… Just after talking and getting all that warm feeling from everybody, my interpretation was that he just unwound, let his shoulders down and said ok everything’s fine and then I thought he sounded fantastic. The first tune of the second set–and then I had to go– but that one sounded better than the whole first set. So I only imagine from there it continued to get better.

JR: Right

MK: But I thought your comping was just a model of good taste. I thought it sounded great. It didn’t sound submerged. It sounded fully present and…

JR: Hmm.. See as a pianist I just have no perspective on that
(Especially given what I mentioned previously regarding my reaction to his presence in the audience)

Next time: Mike’s Metronome Exercise

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