Saturday, June 20, 2009

Learning Guitar, Jazz Guitar Teacher Extraordinaire, & New Musical Passions


New Blog Entry Topics Covered:
Music Theory Study
Practice - Practice -Practice

Jazz Guitar Teacher Extraordinaire:
Dave Shroeder

The Perfect Travel Guitar:
Voyage-Air Travel Guitar OM6 Songwriter

The Best Steely Dan Cover Band:
Aja Vu
I just completed the first year of Jazz Guitar study with Dave Schroeder, Jazz Guitar Instructor extraordinaire. The year went by so quickly! If you're looking for an excellent guitar teacher in the SF Bay area, Dave Shroeder is the man! In addition to having an encyclopedic knowledge of Guitar Instruction and music, Dave makes learning fun and is incredibly patient and accommodating in terms of helping you reach your musical goals. He is also a most gifted Jazz Guitarist and Performer.

Check out his web site at

The first 6 months were a little painful as I went through a crash course on music theory which included but was not limited to reading music, notes, scales, finding the right key, dot method, music composition, etc. I am still struggling with finding notes on the fret board, memorizing the dot method and forming chords (major, minor, sevenths). I think I will be over the hump soon and can then move on to more exciting stuff like scales arpeggios, soloing, etc. practice has always been an issue for me in terms of staking out more practice time and maintaining a consistent practice schedule through vacations and overnight trips away from home.

At the suggestion of Dave, I started researching travel guitars that could be easily stowed in a car and in an airplane overhead compartment. The guitar would have to be playable and rugged enough to withstand the rigors of vacation and/or business travel. The usual cast of highly advertised, highly promoted guitars appeared when I did a google search for travel guitars. Martin Backpacker, Baby Taylor, Ovation Backpacker, etc. were the top three.
A few words about practice. Most if not all musical instrument instructors will say that the quickest and easiest way to gain proficiency on an instrument is to practice. I have read many articles about famous guitar players and they all have that burning desire to succeed and have spent countless hours of practice perfecting their technique. Guitar players like Chet Atkins, Larry Carlton, Django Reinhart, Pete Huttlinger, and Mark Knopfler come to mind. Mark Knopfler (of Dire Straits) recalls when he was a young boy looking at a Fender catalog with various Stratocaster guitars and he can remember smelling the pages. The object of lust for Mark when he was a teenager was a fiesta red Fender Stratocaster (The very first one imported into the UK) that belonged to Hank Marvin, the lead guitarist for the Shadows, a late 50s British Pop group which was very popular in the UK and later with Cliff Richard. Mark often fell asleep playing his guitar into the early hours of the morning when he was a teenager, in college and later as a schoolteacher and budding journalist (all day jobs). Mark would practice all hours of the day and night and considered Chet Atkins to be one of the all time greatest guitar players and learned Chet's songs by ear. Mark's solo career has taken him into country music territory and continues to explore many different styles of music above and beyond the rock songs he wrote when he had his group Dire Straits. Mark is an exquisite guitar player with impeccable taste with a most unique and unimitable finger-picking style.
You can't practice with out having your trusty guitar at the ready so a Travel Guitar should be the next best thing. The problem is that the Travel Guitar will never play nor feel like the one you keep at home to practice on. It will be at best, a compromise. An exciting new company based in Livermore, CA has come up with a very elegant solution called the Voyage-Air Travel Guitar. They figured out a way to manufacture a full sized bodied Acoustic Guitar that has a foldable neck. Better yet, you can break down the guitar by unscrewing a knurled nut in less than a minute. You can then re-assemble the guitar in less than a minute and get this......The strings stay in place and the Guitar strings stay in tune. It'd hard enough to practice and to take it all in (The guitar lessons and the music theory) I see the Voyage Air guitar as the enabler as you now have one big reason to practice your guitar lesson anywhere, any time at any place. When you buy a Voyage-Air guitar, you are really getting two guitars for the price of one. You are getting a superbly playable full sized acoustic guitar that has a terrific sound and tone. The playability is excellent as you can finger-pick, strum, basically do anything that you would with a normal acoustic guitar. Want to use a capo? No problem. It works and sounds great on a Voyage-Air. Intonation is just about perfect and there is an adjustable truss rod in the neck so that you can make neck adjustments to fine tune the distance between the strings and the fret board.
You are also getting a travel guitar that folds into a very small form factor so that the guitar with its custom case can fit in and airline overhead compartment. I can be carried back-pack style on a bicycle or motorcycle with no problems whatsoever. Most of the major airlines have approved it for in-cabin overhead storage.
If you want to see and play this fantastic guitar, check it out at this Livermore music store called Fine Fretted Friends which is located on Main Street Livermore, CA. The owner’s name is Michael Ferrucci and he is extremely friendly and knowledgeable about guitars and music and will take good care of your travel guitar needs. Their web site is You won't believe your eyes and ears when you see the guitar played for the first time and then broken down to fit in the custom case and then re-assembled and played without the guitar going out of tune. What a terrific engineering achievement. Kudos to Voyage-Air for figuring the folding hinge part and implementing it in a no compromise way making it a snap for the average person to fold and unfold the guitar to playing position in less than a minute. You really have to see it for yourself. It’s truly a marvel where FORM and FUNCTION happily coexist.
Voyage-Air Guitars

Fine Fretted Friends High End Guitar Store Livermore, CA

Steely Dan Tribute Bands
Aja Vu is the Best
I admit I have been a Steely Dan Fan ever since I heard their first single from their first commercially available album Can't Buy A Thrill. This was in 1972. when I was still in high school and I heard the single "Do It Again" as I was strolling through the Kings Plaza Shopping Mall in Brooklyn, NY. I bought that album the very next day at Crazy Eddie's and bought every subsequent album/CD by them to this very day. They (Walter Becker and Donald Fagen) were very insecure about touring and performing live and kept their heads down creating masterpiece albums in the studio with crack session musicians and Jazz artists from the Mid 1970s to the early 1980s. Reclusive is the best adjective to describe their behavior and contributed to a huge demand for live performances of their sizable catalog of songs. Availability of their albums on re-mastered CD's caused sales to surge even though Steely Dan was not making any new records and newer generations of listeners around the world were getting hip to Steely Dan music. With their collective CD sales reaching record sales levels (for the older releases incredibly enough) they started to tour again in 1993 after a long self-imposed 12 year hiatus with Walter Becker retiring to an Avocado Farm in Maui, Hawaii and Donald Fagen chilling out in New York City composing film scores and writing music commentary for Premiere Magazine. They hand-picked very competent musicians to go on the road with them and they performed the Steely Dan songs with their own interpretations of the original studio album instrumental solos, riffs and melodies. Some fans liked this. Others did not. After seeing Steely Dan at two live concerts, I was sitting on the fence. On the one hand I was happy to see them play live but I was a little disappointed that they wanted to distance themselves from the earlier Steely Dan songs from their earliest albums.
As their popularity increased in the nascent 1980s even as Becker and Fagen receded into a self-imposed hiatus/retirement/breather/sabbatical (whatever you want to call it) two phenomenons started to occur. The first one is the sampling of Steely Dan songs for Rap songs (eg. Uptown Baby Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz - Sampled Black Cow) and the second phenomenon is the emergence of Steely Dan Cover Bands. It was a supreme challenge for a guitar player to learn all of the tasty guitar parts from their most famous songs so this emergence did not happen overnight. Deconstructing the guitar solos originally played by Larry Carlton, Walter Becker, Denny Dias, Jeff Skunk Baxter, Jay Graydon, Rick Derringer, Steve Khan, and Elliott Randall was no easy task but a couple of guys became good enough to be hired as lead guitarists for the Steely Dan tours that began in the early 1990s. Jon Herrington, Wayne Krantz and Drew Zingg all come to mind.
At the time, I felt that a Steely Dan cover/tribute band would be a half-baked idea because their songs are so hard to play. Other fans did not and other fans were mixed on rating these live performances. About this time, the first Steely Dan cover bands started to emerge. Since there was a more devoted following internationally, I think the first tribute bands emerged from Europe. What all of these tribute bands had in common was that they tried to replicate the studio recordings of Steely Dan note for note. Some were successful at accomplishing this, some were not.
Fast Forward to 2009. This brings me to the subject of this post, a San Francisco Bay Area Steely Dan Tribute Band called Aja Vu. I heard them for the first time this past Sunday and I was blown away. These guys (and Gal) have really nailed it. They do Steely Dan songs better than Steely Dan. They have a terrific ensemble band with a Saxophone, Trumpet, Keyboard, Drummer, Bass Player, Lead Singer/Trombone Player, Lead Guitarist and Back-Up Singer Percussionist. Their sound is faithful to the Steely Dan album versions of the song and their live performances are not to be missed. It immediately becomes "Party Time" as they are having so much fun up on the stage playing the music of Steely Dan as Walter and Donald intended. I had a chance to chat with the band leader, Ron Jamison and discovered that he wanted to get the Steely Dan music right so he hand-picked musicians of a like mind who also loved Steely Dan and quickly got the band to a proficiency level where they quickly established themselves as one of the most popular SF bay area bands. They also won the "Last Band Standing" award sponsored by KFOX and Morning DJ Greg Kihn of the Greg Kihn Band.

This band is outstanding and every member is an extremely talented musician and performer but I was most impressed with the lead guitar work and the horn section. The Sax, Trombone and Trumpet players are simply outstanding.

Aja Vu Playing Black Cow in Capitola CA 2009

Check out Aja Vu at Their Calendar of upcoming appearances is on their website, Highly recommended. Two Thumbs-up.

Aja Vu


Other Bands and Musicians I've Come to
Admire and Have Stood the Test of Time:

Gerry Rafferty - Baker Street

Stealers Wheel - Stuck In The Middle With You

Seals & Crofts - Summer Breeze performed live

Todd Rundgren - I Saw The Light with Daryl Hall

Sara Smile - Daryl Hall and Smokey Robinson

Jeopardy! Greg Kihn Band - Weird Al Yankovic Video Parody

In the Summertime - Mungo Jerry

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