GREG FISHMAN: I started playing clarinet at the age of 12. My best friend at my Chicago area school happened to play clarinet, and he invited me to listen to one of the concert band rehearsals and sit in the clarinet section with him. I loved the sound of all of the instruments and started to study the clarinet. One day, after school, I heard the jazz band rehearsing. I really loved the sound of the saxophone section. I asked for a saxophone for my thirteenth birthday. I just couldn’t wait to learn the saxophone. I remember the day it arrived. The music store called, and my father took me to get the horn. It was a Selmer MK VII! (I sold it to a fellow student a year later and bought my first MK VI).
I immediately loved the horn, and started practicing many hours a day. Within two weeks, I was playing in the junior high school jazz band. My private teacher, a man named Rick Schalk, gave me a few cassettes to listen to. One of them was a compilation of Stan Getz records. I just loved his sound. Somehow, I related to t his music, even< though it was all from "before my time."
saxophonforum.de: You work as a performing musician, as a teacher and as a writer. Which is the most important part for you?
GREG FISHMAN: I think of myself as a player first. Everything I write and teach is based on my experiences as a professional player. There is nothing like performing with other musicians who share your passion for the music. To create something new and meaningful each time I perform is extremely satisfying .
Without my experience as a performer, I wouldn’t be as effective a teacher. It gives me a very good perspective on the final goals of the student, which, in the end, is to play music, and not just play the saxophone.
I spent many years developing my teaching method, and it’s also very satisfying to hear my students improve so quickly when I share some of the concepts I’ve learned over the years. I really enjoy the challenge of trying to explain the “unexplainable” aspects of jazz improvisation, and put complex theory into terms that a non-professional can understand and relate to. Over the years, I have developed the ability to quickly assess what a student needs to help them reach the next playing level.
As a writer, I feel a very strong connection to the reader. I try to make my books and articles communicate on an accessible level so that the reader comes away with a very clear understanding of my concepts. I try to take things that are often presented in a complicated, technical way, and make them easy to understand.
I spend a lot of time on every detail of my books, from writing the pieces, to producing the play-along CDs, to doing page-layout, Finale music entry, and even choosing the kind of paper used for the books. I’m involved on every level. I feel that the quality of my books stand out because I’m so committed to quality at every level of production.
saxophonforum.de: Ok, I know this is neither the most important nor the most popular question for professional musicians, but it seems inevitable: what setup do you play and why? And how important is the “hardware” for you?
GREG FISHMAN: On tenor I play an 84,XXX Selmer MK VI tenor and an Early Babitt Hard Rubber Otto Link #6. On alto I play an early, silver plated Yamaha 62 alto with a 1970’s Meyer hard rubber #6M mouthpiece. I use Selmer ligatures on both horns. I’m a Rico Reed artist, and I play Rico Select Jazz #3H Unfiled on tenor and Rico Select Jazz #2M Unfiled on Alto. The reed is very important, and I’m extremely happy with the Ricos. They have a warm sound, and they break in quickly.
I play these setups because they play very easily for me. I like a little bit of resistance, but not too much. My setups allow me to get a wide variety of sounds from my horns, as well as a wide dynamic range.
The hardware is also important. I have a clear idea of the sound I want to produce and I look for hardware that will allow me to get that sound with the least possible effort. I’m very picky about my horns, and I look for very specific characteristics in the horn I choose. I like a good core and a lot of depth to the sound. I also look for horns with great intonation and a very even weight to each note.
saxophonforum.de: Your educational books feature some very nice pieces – it is certainly appealing for those of us who like melodies. Is this melodic approach typical of your own style or is this mainly for education purposes?
GREG FISHMAN: Yes, this melodic approach is definitely a part of my own style. It’s something that I ’ve really worked on over the years. My concept of improvisation is that it is basically spontaneous composition. All of my books were written by ear. The pieces are like solos that I would have played on a gig. I try to create well-balanced lines in my etudes and duets. I use a lot of voice-leading in the etudes, and I also try to make them especially clear in terms of outlining the chords. I use a lot of sequences in the written pieces, as well.
I always want the pieces in my books to be something that I’d be comfortable playing on a gig. It’s very important to me that they’re not only fun to play, but that they’re musical and enjoyable to hear, as well.
In my studies, I’ve transcribed about six hundred solos. I feel that my books are a distillation of the concepts I’ve learned from studying the jazz masters.
Although some of my etudes are technically challenging, there’s always a musical reason behind all of my note choices. Also, the pieces are idiomatic. They’re designed for the saxophone. By the way, for those readers who have already played through all of my books, I recommend going back and doing each piece in all twelve keys. This is how I use the books, and it really keeps me in shape.
saxophonforum.de: What was the reason for writing your latest book: “Jazz Phrasing for Beginners”? Did you feel that your previous efforts were to demanding technically for beginners?
GREG FISHMAN: Over the past few years, I’ve received hundreds of letters from people who loved my etude books. I was very happy to receive so many kind words about the book, but some of the letters were from people who were overwhelmed by the fast tempos and technical demands the pieces presented. I purposely designed the first etude book to push your limits so that you’d be able to handle whatever tempos might get called on a professional job. So while "Jazz Phrasing for Beginners" is less technically demanding than my other books, it is very musical and can be enjoyed by all levels of players.
Jazz Phrasing for Beginners was the result of more than two years of research and development. I wanted to create a book that worked on multiple levels by training the student’s ear as well as teaching essential elements of jazz style and phrasing. The pieces in Jazz Phrasing for Beginners are designed to teach the student to hear the logical development of a musical idea. The pieces are designed to be fun to play and easy to memorize.
I call this the “prequel” to my other books, because it presents the same kind of musical concepts, such as voice-leading and use of sequence, but it does so in a non-technical way. After playing through this book, students will be ready to start working on my other books.
Actually, the phrasing book is fun to play even for advanced players. Because the pieces have sophisticated chords and clear melodic lines, many advanced players are also using the phrasing book to focus on their tone and articulation.
saxophonforum.de: What triggered your idea of naming pieces after streets? Is there any story behind this?
GREG FISHMAN: I was trying to think of something distinctive and fun for the titles of the etudes. I spend a lot of time in my car, driving to gigs in and around Chicago. One night, while sitting at a stop light, I looked up at the street sign, and the idea suddenly came to me. Since I’m known as a tenor player from Chicago, I decided to use famous Chicago street names for the titles of my etudes. I thought that this would be a fun tie-in for my hometown and the etudes.
saxophonforum.de: It seems that the saxophone as an instrument inspires a lot of “late bloomers”. In what ways does teaching a kid differ from teaching an adult beginner? What would be the most valuable advice you could offer to the latter group?
GREG FISHMAN: Have patience! That’s the most valuable advice I can give to an adult beginner. Kids are very easy to teach, because they don’t have a lot of preconceptions about how good they’re supposed to sound after a few lessons. They’re used to learning new ideas and concepts, and they have an easy time grasping abstract concepts. Kids are also great because they don’t have inhibitions about sounding bad while they’re just starting to learn how to play.
Adults, on the other hand, generally have lots of inhibitions and preconceptions. They also tend to set very unrealistic goals. They think that they’re going to be able to skip some steps and avoid the awkwardness of learning something new and slowly developing a new skill.
I think of learning the saxophone (or any instrument) as a parallel process to human development. Everyone goes through being a baby and learning to speak. Everyone goes through those awkward teenage years, as well as young adulthood, where you’re trying to define yourself. Nobody gets to skip any of those stages, as painful as some of those stages of development may be. The things we need to be functioning adults are learned through the different stages of childhood. The same is true musically speaking. You can’t rush it. Good things come with time and patience.
Typically, adult students get frustrated and mad at themselves for progressing slowly. Many of the adults give up after just a few months of study. I would say that it’s very important to have a good teacher. It will save you years of frustration, and it will keep you from developing bad habits, which can be hard to break.
Given the choice of teaching an adult who has never played, and one who is self-taught and who has been playing for years, the person who has never played before will progress more quickly, because there are no bad habits to break. Often times, people think their way of playing is “correct” simply because it’s the way they’ve always played. Many self -taught players are reluctant to give up incorrect fingerings or an embouchure that doesn’t produce a good tone.
On the subject of anger and impatience, I always remind my students that the music is bigger than all of us. It’s out of respect and love of the music that we are both humble and patient. To me, music is almost like a religion, in that I’m always respectful of it and trying to understand it on a deeper level.
On a brighter note, adults often appreciate the gift of music more than kids. For the kids, music might be one of a dozen subjects they’re trying to learn in school. For an adult beginner, music often has special meaning, and it’s a true path to happiness and selfgrowth. I’ve taught many successful business men and women who seemed to get more pleasure from playing music than in anything their nine-to-five jobs could offer.
saxophonforum.de: On your website you also offer “online-teaching”. How does that work? What can you actually do for somebody you cannot watch and listen to in person?
GREG FISHMAN: The online lessons work very well. At first I wasn’t sure how effective they would be, but after two years and many e-Mail students, I’m completely confident in the effectiveness of my online lessons.
A student will purchase a lesson and then send me an mp3 file of themselves playing for five or ten minutes. Some play scales, some play one of my etudes, and some solo over a play-along record. I listen to this and give a running commentary, sharing my thoughts as I listen to the recording. The student gets a recording of my voice speaking over their recording, commenting on what is good and what needs work.
The lessons are completely customized for each student. I create the lesson based on what I think the student needs after I hear the recording.
I also include chords, scales, intervals, and licks to practice, but I don’t overload the student with too much at one time. I try to give a variety of things that will help to improve the student not just as a saxophonist, but as a musician, as well.
I enter the materials to be practiced for the lesson into Finale and send a PDF as well as several mp3 files back to the students, with my comments as well as some recorded samples (on sax or piano) of how the new assignment should sound.
If anyone is considering the eMail lessons, they should give it a try.
saxophonforum.de: Last but not least let us talk about the performing musician Greg Fishman. Together with singer and guitarist Paulinho Garcia you have formed the very successful duo “Two for Brazil”. What is the secret of this success and what are your other projects?
GREG FISHMAN: Two For Brazil is such a unique group. It formed almost by chance. The city of Chicago called Paulinho Garcia and myself separately to play a one-hour concert in 1998. From the first note I felt like I’d been playing with Paulinho all my life. We had no rehearsal, and immediately had great musical chemistry and communication. We recorded our first CD in 2000 (we now have six CDs in release) and then did many tours. Highlights included a sixteen-city tour of Japan in 2002 on the Concord-Fujitsu jazz festival. We were one of three acts, traveling with Michael Brecker's band and the Clayton/Hamilton Big Band.
I think the secret to our success is that we’re unique and that our music is of the moment. Promoters often want to add bass or percussion to our duo, but that would make it just like any other group. It’s the uniqueness of texture of just the sax, voice and guitar, and the unusual mix of Brazilian music (Paulinho is from Belo Horizonte, Brazil) and American jazz that makes our duo very appealing. Also, we play songs from the entire history of popular Brazilian music, from the 1920’s through today’s top composers.
Regarding other projects, I have recorded several CDs with my wife, pianist/singer Judy Roberts. Judy is a world-class musician, and we communicate musically on a very deep and spontaneous level.
I’ve also recorded a very nice duo album called “Indian Summer” with the great pianist, Eddie Higgins. It’s on the Japanese label SSJ, CD #XQAM-1607. There’s also a duo CD with Singaporean pianist Jeremy Montiero, called “Only Trust Your Heart,” on the JazzNote label.
I have a quartet project of originals partially recorded, as well, which I hope to have out in the next year or two.
And of course, there are always book projects in the works. I have a very fun and unique ear-training book/CD set coming out this summer, as well as "Jazz Saxophone Etudes, Vol. 3," which has already been recorded. By the way, volume three is actually a bit easier than the first two volumes. I think that it would be the perfect book to play in between the "Jazz Phrasing for Beginners" book and "Jazz Saxophone Etudes, Volume 1."
saxophonforum.de: What is your perception of the European Jazz scene?
GREG FISHMAN: My perception is that the European jazz scene is excellent, and that people are quite knowledgeable about jazz. There are a lot of great festivals throughout Europe, and I’d like to participate in more of them. Most of my travels to this point have been to Asia — Singapore, Bangkok, Japan, China. However, I have played at the North Sea Jazz Festival in Holland several times.
saxophonforum.de: Any chance of seeing you live in Germany in the future?
GREG FISHMAN: I hope so. I’d love to perform at a club or festival in Germany in the future, and also do some private teaching and masterclasses there, as well. Perhaps we can even set up a masterclass and some lessons for the members of this forum. I love to travel and meet new people. I have students around the world, and it’s lots of fun staying in touch with everyone.
saxophonforum.de: Thank you very much for this interview!
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Rezension von Gregs Jazz Saxophone Etudes im saxophonforum