Dan McKinnon sings

Home Music Blog
Gallery About Contact
                    
Instrument abbreviations
(as) - alto sax
(b) - bass
(d) - drums
(fgh) - flugelhorn
(f) - flute
(g) - guitar
(h) - harmonica
(k) - keyboards
(mel) - melodica
(o) - organ
(perc) - percussion
(p) - piano
(ss) - soprano sax
(tb) - trombone
(tr) - trumpet
(ts) - tenor sax
(v) - vocals
(vs) - vocal scatting
(vln) - violin



Tuesday, May 28, 2024
I was surfing on YouTube and found this gem: On the Sunny Side of the Street (wait for it)
Monday, April 15, 2024

The passing of singer David Arteaga, April 4, 2024

A great jazz singer passed away very suddenly recently. For those not from Seattle and/or not into male jazz vocalists, Mr. Arteaga was the best of the best, singing in the tradition of Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Junior, though retaining a strong and proud Latino heritage. He had others pronounce his name “Dah VEED”.

Here is his website: https://davidarteagajazz.com/

He and I were certainly acquaintances, and comrades in arms, as we both sang jazz as males, being of the same vintage (both in our 70s; Paul Green, before he moved to Arizona, was another colleague on the Seattle scene). On my side anyway, I counted David as a friend, and he was often kind and friendly, even cordial, to me.

We often ran into each other at jazz and vocal jams. He was one of the few vocalists who showed up, with the option to perform at times, at the vocalist-challenging (really any musician-challenging) environment of the Tuesday jam at the Owl & Thistle. (Joanne Klein is another vocalist who often shows up and performs there.)

It is a real love of music that motivates someone to brave that environment. On more than one occasion I remember bumping fists with him and feeling a real kinship as we waited to see the musicians that fate would put on the bandstand with us when we took our respective turns onstage. (Sometimes he and I would just listen and after a time exit—individually—when the overwhelming odds against a successful performance seemed to be just too much.

I first heard David sing at Shuga’s in Renton in about 2015 (or was it 2016?). I don’t know when he worked it out, it could have been years earlier, but he performed Moody's Mood for Love, first created and sung by Eddie Jefferson, and later by King Pleasure. (Here is King Pleasure's version on YouTube, which is the more familiar version to me: https://youtu.be/v0Qs5Ln12Hw?si=W08bLrq6gTdU550GI)

I heard David do it two or three more times in the ensuing years and was stunned each time I heard it. Now that took some work. It is an original vocalese created by Jefferson sung to James Moody’s improvisation of Charlie Parker’s Parker's Mood. Only an "all in' jazz singer/musician like David would put the huge investment of time and effort to learn that song like David did.

I recall the last time I heard him perform in person, two weeks before his death. He always put his audiences first. He was friendly and conversational to his side persons on stage. And he really, really brought it. He could really turn it on, and did so each time he performed, and brought his audience along with him.

I was hit by a great sadness and feeling of intense injustice that night as I thought of the billionaire Taylor Swift, and the near-billionaire Beyonce, and the continual, disproportionate amount of attention and adulation they receive. And there is other very profitable and popular music and the artists who create it. They are no doubt talented. But I thought couldn't some of that attention and money be shared, even a little, with all the true, dedicated, hugely talented but more obscure singers / crafts people like David?

I heard his granddaughter sing once, a true chip off the old block, but with her own style and talent. His son is also a musician, but I've never heard him. Maybe one day I will. I would be surprised if I'm not impressed, as he has the genes and the heritage to be quite a player.

David's music impacts me and has value for me, and he has value as a person. I love his story, and feel it when he sings. He was a role model for me, and even a friend. I'm shocked and saddened by his death. He leaves a big vacuum I don't see how can ever be filled.

Friday, March 1, 2024

    Splitting hairs... theoretically, but not sound-wise

There are a couple songs that always mystify me, and stand as enigmas. One I finally figured out why, but I'm going to save that one for a future post. (If I get to it...)

The other is Chitlins con Carne. The chords are not in iReal Pro, but if you can find a chart, you'll find that the seventh chords in it are listed as dominant sevenths (with major thirds). But if you hear the tune, it sounds like a minor blues (I and possibly IV chords with minor thirds).

At a jam session if the tune is called by someone who has heard it (and wants to emulate it to some degree at least), well, lots of luck. Those who have not heard the song, and assume that it is a garden-variety dominant-seventh blues, might be in for a potential fall from grace. Things could go south for the person who called the tune, and it's possible that it will come off kind of flat and not very recognizable as Kenny Burrell's iconic Latin Blues groover. It could even be a train wreck. (that’s probably overstating it by a long shot and being negative; let’s just say that Kenny might not recognize it if he just heard the soloing part of the jam session attempt of his song.)

It sounds like a minor blues because the tonic chord is a C7 with a raised 9th. The 7th raised 9th chord is a very interesting chord. Some call it the Jimi Hendrix chord because Hendrix used it so much in his famous songs.

A foundational bit of information here at the git-go (and not sure it has any bearing on my main message) is that the greatest dissonance in music is two notes played a half step apart.

However, a C7+9 chord has as its third an E natural and as its raised ninth an Eb (all right already, a D#). But they are far enough apart (like on guitar there is an interval of a major seventh between them) so that the chord sounds legit.

The sound of the dominant seventh raised 9 is not as "beautiful" as the maj7 chord, but it is not terribly dissonant imo. It does have a bite (or flair) to it however. Thus its use in music, at least somewhat sparingly hopefully.

Try to solo on Chitlins con Carne over the bass and chords properly played. Watch out for that E natural people. My advice, treat the song as a minor blues, except maybe on the IV chord; you can carefully use its major third. Or not. :)

Monday, February 12, 2024
There were some technical problems with my website, so it's been a while since I've posted. I couldn't add any content to this blog so had to work with my web hosting provider for a while until it was working again.

This is Black History month and the movie channel we have here is showing a lot of good films that depict the struggles African Americans have gone through for parity. One of the films was "42". Of course there is a tremendous sadness in watching this film anyway becasue of the passing of the main character in the film, actor Chadwick Boseman in real life, but there are also some really gripping depictions of overt racism in baseball when Jackie Robinson became the first Black player in the white major leagues. He is a hero.

Anyway, after watching it, I kept thinking of Moonglow. That is the way it is for me these days. I get songs stuck in my head for days. Sometimes I don't know how they get there. I go to jam sessions, musical events, and there is a good FM jazz station here in the Pacific Northwest named KNKX, so there are plenty of ways a song can get into my head, even subconsciously. I actually didn't know how Moonglow got in my head, but I went back to the movie and found a scene where it plays in the background (the wedding night) and sure enough that's how it got there.

The last song I posted on YT I titled "Pillars of Jazz - Body and Soul." The song actually did well in the US as an instrumental, played by Coleman Hawkins and his band. It has words, but I think it's kind of cool when an instrumental does as well (or better) than a vocal.

I didn't follow suit with this posting by calling it "Pillars of Jazz - Moonglow." I thought about it, but, well, it is a well-known jazz standard sure enough, and some hip dudes have played it, but calling it a pillar of jazz would probably tick off some of the hepcats, primarily because the harmony is simple. (One has to watch out—beboppers are everywhere.)

Here is my rendition of Moonglow on YouTube: https://youtu.be/FugVxoZ4b1Q

Here is my rendition of Body and Soul on YouTube: https://youtu.be/TkWRj-91IQk

Monday, January 15, 2024
Hey! How's it goin'? Happy New Year 2024!

I went to four jam sessions in eight days. The earlier ones where it felt like I failed actually bolstered my playing at the latter, especially if I did the same song(s).

One of the jam sessions was pretty awesome. One doesn't have control over who one takes the bandstand with, but this session worked out well and the band members cohered on some of the songs I was on the stand for. This results in fun for all (it seemed, just going by the obvious signs). It is really a cool feeling to be in sync with others playing music. On one song especially the band got rolling.

There were dancers, who add a whole new awesome dynamic. Some kinds of jazz don't mix well with dancers (and are valid and enjoyable art), and I play that kind of jazz sometimes. But I like to play for dancers.

My wife and I are actually taking dance lessons. Dancing for me is quite a bit like playing / singing. You have to listen and practice if you want to get better, and there are good sessions and others can be disappointing. We are learning the foxtrot, box step, West Coast Swing, waltz, and I imagine others as well, as we just started. We have an experienced and competent teacher named Charles who works through the Peter Kirk Community Center in Kirkland, WA, under the Parks and Recreation umbrella. (I encourage you to explore similar resources in your locale, wherever that may be.)

Dancing is its own thing and reward. But I don't think it can hurt my playing and might improve it. But that's not really why we dance. We do it to keep active and to enjoy ourselves.

Thursday, December 28, 2023

    Jam sessions—hurt locker and indispensable tool for growth as a musician

Dictinary.com says, “Hurt locker is a slang term for a place of deep pain and discomfort. To be put in the hurt locker signifies that something profoundly troubling or painful has happened to you."

I think one has to be a little crazy to be a performing musician. “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” (Although debate rages as to whether it was Einstein who said this, the point is, it’s kind of true, right?) For me, going to jam sessions through the years has been knocking my head against a brick wall continually, always expecting much better results. Regarding being a performing musician, I also think one needs a lot of nerve. (This also can be a kind of insanity.) Some actions are courageous, others nuts.

After I retired I had some time to pursue music. One of the things that excited me and that got me activated, turning my passion into action, was hearing the rhythm guitar part on Eliane Elias’ version of the jazz standard There Will Never Be Another You. I love the sound of that. Nylon string bossa nova guitar by Oscar Castro-Neves. It just drove me nuts in a good way. And I began to really just get so immersed in bossa nova. I bought an electrified nylon string guitar and a little amp, and I began to study and learn.

It’s hard for a musician to practice and to have nowhere to play for people so I thought I'd get some gigs playing for senior communities because I love jazz standards. And I started going to jam sessions.

One of the main advantages of a jam session is that it forces really good musicians to play with inferior musicians, of which I was chief. I had a lot of enthusiasm and even heart, but not much skill. Although I’d been a professional musician in my 20s, I had had to let it go when I got married and had a day job. And to be thrust on to the bandstand with advanced players, some of whom made their living by playing, was a setting for much rejection. But I somehow kept at it.

I love Stan Getz. I learned and recorded Desafinado and put it on YouTube. And I was so enthused about his solo on The Girl from Ipanema that I learned it pretty much note for note (and can still play a portion of it). It was foundational to me. It was everything I wanted to do on guitar.

I went to a jam session in Everett in about 2015 that was hosted by advanced players of the bebop persuasion. It was the standard deal— the house band plays a set, and then they open it up for people to sit in. Now, a jam session is a much better arrangement for the venue than the house band playing multiple sets by themselves, especially if they are so esoteric that they have little draw as an act (i.e. beboppers). The members of the house band probably dislike it quite a bit, and roll their collective eyes when certain players (yours truly) walk (fearfully but optimistically) through the door to sit in.

When my turn came, they allowed me to call a tune. The trumpet player’s wife—who had been allowed by the musicians, or just did it anyway, to help keep things rolling and organized—had had me set up on the floor below the bandstand with my amp, separate and at a lower altitude than the house band, of which several horn players were nearest to me, clustered around the mic. "What do you want to play?"

I responded, "Can we play Girl from Ipanema?" (the idea of being able to quote from Getz’s solo excited me) The horn players’ spokesperson, an alto player, as he and the other players looked me in the eye, said "We don’t know that song." They were of course lying.

The message was clear. Hit the road and don’t come back.

Friday, November 17, 2023
I put up a version of Speak Low yesterday. (You can read about the song itself in the blog entry below this one.) Although the video was doing ok hit-wise (in my humble music world), I didn't like it. I had just seen a video by a really good jazz guitarist about being kinder to yourself and cutting yourself some slack (not hating) your recordings, but even with that, I just felt uncomfortable with keeping it up, so I deleted it.

I did another this morning. (I ended up taking that one down also; here's one done since then that I probably won't take down: Speak Low


Thursday, November 16, 2023
I just posted Speak Low to YT so now have to write this because I said I would.

This song is just so weirdly good!!!

The chord structure blows my mind. It is quite unusual in my experience. You can read about Kurt Weill on Wikipedia if you're interested. Like others, he was a multifaceted person musically.

The words are poetry. Wow. Ogden Nash was mainly known as a poet / humorist. These lyrics are unusual in my experience.

My solo on this leaves a lot to be desired. But whatever. I'm trying not to think and stress about stuff so much. There's a musical friend I know who is on a much higher plane musically. I asked him his advice on improvising through bridges of songs that have a circle of fifths (or fourths, whatever) like on I Got Rhythm. He said, "Well you could put some of the melody in there. People aren't really listening to the harmony anyway, the rhythm is more important." :)

I'll blow some minds by putting this in for the sample vocal version of Speak Low, a surprise non-traditional jazz singer (the vocals on this tune tend to be torchy, the instrumentals quick): (Note that the following four links in this blog entry all go to YouTube)

https://youtu.be/WGUoIpDnH6g?si=BmSJsU_U5c08XNOU

And then there's this for the sample instrumental version, which is just a wonder: https://youtu.be/SpEPWh5_Hwo?si=SWkBU1QhwKsnLoki

Special Thursday, November 16th bonus track, one day only!!! (I mentioned him in the previous blog entry below; now he's with another monster)

https://youtu.be/Fkel3xlU20k?si=eEhRcd8bk2hdFg1_

Special second bonus—afternoon version—for jammers of any ilk, and their friends, and anyone who might or might not ever attend a jam session in their lifetime:

https://youtu.be/Gm92F-ea5aY?si=JbAOVctr6RBsRN0K

Tuesday, November 7, 2023
Passions. I was told, and believe it, that a passion is something that you're very interested in, and in a sense find purpose in, but that you are willing to suffer pain for. Some of our interests flag in light of pain. And then we find something else to get interested in. This is the difference between a passion and an interest.

People talk about "the passion of Christ." There is even a film by that name. Though I believe in Jesus, I have only watched that movie once all the way through, and then looked at various scenes a second time. But even that was some time ago. It is just so intense and heavy. It costs something to deal with the pain in that movie. The Bible says believers in Christ must be prepared to suffer for their faith. It is a warning to help us get prepared for that. And I, like others I know who believe in Him, are not keen on being reminded of it. Just being honest.

Anyway, I intended to write about music today, and will do so. It is an intense interest for me, and even involves willing to suffer pain to get better at it. Practice involves some discipline and pain. And getting out to play with others in whatever form, jam session, gig, choir, band practice or whatever, costs something, sometimes even physical pain. I know there has been emotional pain, sometimes quite a bit, as a result of difficulties and conflicts with gigs and jam sessions. Rejections. I could tell some stories.

Today I won't go into any one thing in depth, but just throw out some things I've been thinking about.

I wrote a song once (one of just a few I've composed) that I was under the gun to create, and prayed to God for help in creating it. It was completed by his grace. I wanted to create a song similar in form to a psalm. It was when I was a leader of a Christian arts group. It wasn't until recently that I realized that the chords and structure may have really come from God, because I just didn't think musically the way that the chord structure (and other elements) came out. It was smarter and more advanced than I could have come up with on my own, and in another paradigm.

In essence, it involved changing the key of the song midway through, tonic major to tonic minor. It was so far out of my wheelhouse that I attribute it to God stretching me and expanding my narrow limits.

There are a number of other songs that do this. One of the most known is "On Green Dolphin Street," a jazz standard written in 1947, and still played today. The first two bars are in the tonic major, Eb, and then shift to the tonic minor. What? It is very unusual, and gives the song a feel (at least for me) that is unlike any other.

Through a musician friend's suggestion, I listened to some Cory Wong. And had my mind blown. Now I know why even at some old school jazz jams youngsters show up with Fender Stratocasters. (Fender Telecasters, on the other hand, have been used across all genres of music for some time—including more and more jazz players, including me.) Back to Cory Wong. There's just a lot going on under the surface with this young man. Holy moly. He is extremely talented in many areas. And yes, he has always played a Strat in the videos I've watched.

My honeymoon with my Telecaster came to an end several weeks ago. The way my pickup coils on the inexpensive Telecaster I bought operate is not exactly "hum bucking". The guitar made a loud buzz when plugged into the amp. The leader of the jam session and I took about five minutes trying to fix it (all while we were on stage with the audience waiting). This occurred in an old, restored building. I attribute it to unshielded, ancient wiring in the building, a restored firehouse. So now I am gun shy about taking my Fender single-coil guitar anywhere to play, and default to my other guitar, a Yamaha (that is a Gibson ES335 copy), that has real hum-bucking pickups that have never failed me. (There are solutions for the Tele, but I'm too broke right now to implement them. Maybe someday.)

Benny Benack III. Monster singer and monster trumpet player, all rolled into one person. Social Call (his grandfather and parents were musical, so he has had a leg up from an early age) In this YouTube video he is singing with Veronica Swift.

Surprisingly, I was turned on to this dude by my pastor.



For more blog prior to March, 2021, click Blog archive