Bach Shapes Etudes ebook up for Preorder Now!

In my first year of Berklee, there was an eccentric piano player that lived down the hall in the dorms who was obsessed with Bach. I didn’t get it at the time, and I remember saying to him that “Bach just sounds like a bunch of predictable sequences” or something like that. 20 years later I’m putting out a bunch of books on Bach sequences. Anyway!

The new book covers are almost done,

and the books are up for preorder now at You can also still buy the original Bach Shapes print edition for only $10, though you may have to purchase them separately from any preorders, due to the way the system is set up. The Etudes books are going to be officially out on Bach’s (updated) birthday of March 31st. It will be his 336th birthday, 3+3+6 = 12 etudes. They include playalong audio, recorded by a great NYC band, that will be linked to once you download the book.

There are 7 pages of analysis, breaking down which shapes were used to construct the etudes.

10 of the 12 are based on standard progressions. They are:

  • All The The Things You Are
  • Just You, Just Me
  • Autumn Leaves
  • Love Me or Leave Me
  • Gone With The Wind
  • Just Friends
  • All of Me
  • How Deep is the Ocean?
  • Lady Bird
  • Indiana (Donna Lee)

Some preliminary feedback:

“I really like these!”

“the chord outlining in the melody and the way leaps between octaves are incorporated, make it super helpful for practicing finger evenness and center-of-pitch clarity”

“yeah man”

And some recent performances by friends:

Preorder here:

Zoot Sims the Altoist

I recently had a chance to stop in to the Library of Congress and look for some scores by Jimmy Giuffre. I acquired his pieces for Clarinet and Orchestra and an as yet unrecorded Clarinet and String Quartet piece. While I was there I had a little extra time to dig in to the extensive Gerry Mulligan collection that they have, consisting of over 200 boxes of music and correspondence. I only had time to pick one box, so I saw in the finder’s guide a chart for Venus de Milo, of Birth of the Cool fame, and went with that one. Inside I was excited to find a set of complete parts with the names Lee, Art, Coop, Willis, and Gerry on them, some also said Zoot.

Mulligan Turnstile Parts

This was for a series of charts for five saxes, the above names referring to Lee Konitz, Art Pepper, Bob Cooper, (Willis) Bill Holman, and Gerry Mulligan. I had never heard of a record by this band so I felt I had discovered something of import, perhaps as yet unheard music. Instead, I discovered that these were the charts for The Gerry Mulligan Songbook released on Pacific Jazz in 1957. Instead of the above named saxists, the recording features Lee, then Zoot Sims on second alto, Allen Eager and Al Cohn on tenors, and Gerry. The charts are great simple blowing affairs by Bill Holman, a couple of which we will perform on October 22nd at the Drawing Room. I bring this up as a lead in to today’s topic, Zoot Sims’ alto playing.

Zoot Sims Plays Alto

Certainly known more as a tenor player, Zoot Sims plays alto on a few recordings, mostly his own, but this was the first time I had heard him in a section on alto. His solos are a strong substitute for Art Pepper, who was apparently intended for the session, and in fact I would say stylistically the two are quite similar, deriving from Lester Young rather than Charlie Parker. Here is Zoot on track 1 from the Gerry Mulligan Songbook, “Four and One Moore.”




Paul Desmond always claimed Zoot as one of his favorite players, and one can hear some similarities in feel and vibrato, while also being generally more propulsive than most of Paul’s playing.

Zoot also made a couple of novelty albums with new overdubbing technology, namely Zoot Sims Plays Four Altos, with arrangements by George Handy. You can hear a bit on Amazon here:

Bassist Bill Crow told me that when they recorded this, Zoot improvised on one alto, then gave the recording to George Handy, who transcribed it and voiced it for 4 altos. When he brought the arrangements in for Zoot to record, he had voiced every single note, creating some tricky lines. Zoot complained that he wouldn’t be able to play it, so George simplified the parts a bit. The result is this unusual record, but it does feature some great alto playing by Zoot.

One can find examples scattered throughout the 50’s before Zoot focused on the tenor, and occasionally soprano. Here is one I just discovered today, another overdubbing experiment:


I love this particularly Lesterian lineage of alto players, that also includes people like Bud Shank, who’s live at the Haig recording especially swings, and of course Art Pepper, and in a way Benny Carter and Cannonball Adderley,  alto players that are really descended from the swing era.. I’ll talk more about lineage in next week’s post, but I encourage you to check out more Zoot Sims on alto. And please do share any others I don’t know about in the comments!





Pete Brown’s Talk Of The Town

Those that know me know that I’ve been spending a lot of time practicing and playing standards from the swing era lately. In the process I’ve discovered a lot of great tunes that are seldom played, great recordings seldom heard and players that have been largely forgotten. I thought that I would cover all three in today’s post by sharing a transcription I just finished of the great swing ( or “jump” according to friend and bassist Murray Wall) altoist Pete Brown.

I first heard about Pete Brown earlier this year while reading the only biography published of Paul Desmond, by Desmond’s friend Doug Ramsey. Paul lists Pete Brown among his main influences. Ramsey and other writers at the time didn’t see the connection between Pete Brown’s growling swing alto and the lighter Desmond but I think they’re looking at it superficially.

Pete Brown was a master of simple motifs and beautiful melodic shapes played with strong rhythm and swing. I learned this from a record I picked up featuring 4 tracks from Pete Brown (along with 4 from Benny Carter, and 4 from Willie Smith).

Alto Artistry
This led me to this great track, It’s the Talk of the Town, featuring Joe Thomas on Trumpet, Kenny Kersey on piano, with Milt Hinton and JC Heard rounding out the rhythm section. Recorded in 1944. Check out Pete’s double time chorus.


I’ve included the solo in Eb transposition here. It’s a fun one to play along with, watch out for those whole tone runs:


Pete Brown Talk of the Town_0001

Pete Brown Talk of the Town_0002

I’ll end with a brief bio of Pete Brown:

James Ostend “Pete” Brown was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on November 9, 1906. A son of musical parents, he received tuition from an early age. Besides alto sax, Brown also played piano, violin and trumpet. He worked his first job at a cinema in Baltimore and played with the local theater orchestra. In 1926, he briefly joined the Baltimore Melody Boys and Johnny Jones’ band. After a residency in Atlantic City with Bernie Robinson, Brown also played with the latter in New York. The alto saxophonist stayed on and began to work intermittently with pianist Charlie Skeets in 1930. In the early thirties, he also regularly appeared with drummer Fred Moore’s trio. It is possible that Pete Brown recorded with Clarence Williams in the mid-thirties, but he probably did not make his first records until 1937. In May of that year, he became a member of John Kirby’s small band, staying with the bassist for a year. Pete Brown then formed his own combo and was quite often recorded, albeit never under his own name. Many of his best performances were for Frankie Newton’s band, one of his closest friends. In the early forties, he formed another group of his own that played at various clubs in Manhattan. In 1943, he fronted fellow altoist Louis Jordan’s band for a short time. With his own combo, Pete Brown then worked in Chicago but was mostly heard at clubs in the Bronx and in Brooklyn. From the early fifties on, ill health forced him to limit his appearances. He was rediscovered by a wider audience in 1957, when he participated in the Newport Jazz Festival. Throughout his career, Pete also worked as a teacher, his most famous students including Flip Phillips and Cecil Payne. In 1961, Pete Brown made his last recordings, already marked by his bad health. He died in New York on September 20, 1963.