Tag Archives: jazz

Q&A about “dots and dashes”

1) How did this album come about?
Like many independent musicians, I’ve been at this for awhile, saving, investing in new gear as I’ve been able, and writing/recording whenever the opportunity arises. In this case, I knew I had some vacation time coming up, and I just cleared my calendar, put my head down, and put in the hours in the studio. Got up early, made coffee, and went in to see what the writing/recording gods had in store. For me, no matter how exhausting, challenging, and sometimes frustrating the creative process can be, it’s always worth it in the end.

2) Tell us about your gear.
I run a PRS Custom 24 through a Mesa Boogie Mark V combo. The PRS is stock, except for the addition of a Tremol-No system I had installed, because I really wish it was a hardtail. But other than that, I love my PRS. It’s a ’96, and it plays like a dream. I also have an original CA (Composite Acoustics) Guitars “Legend” acoustic, from before the company was bought by Peavey.

My preamp is a FocusRite Saffire Pro 40, and I’m running Logic. I’ve basically been doing what I can to copy my heroes… Jim Matheos and Kevin Moore are two musicians I really look up to, so I’ve taken bits and pieces from their studios and gone with that. I’m very happy with the results.

3) I understand you got an endorsement deal with CA Guitars for the Legend?
Yes, that’s true. I was doing some work with Lance Keltner at his studio in Austin back in the early 90’s. He was on the phone with the guys from CA Guitars that particular morning, so I had to wait awhile. Of course, there I was, sitting in the studio of one of my heroes, playing his acoustic while he was in the other room. I was happy as could be. I would have gladly sat there all day.

I guess he was impressed that I didn’t cop an attitude… but honestly, how could I have? I was grinning from ear to ear, looking around, taking mental notes, and just trying to soak in the whole vibe while it lasted. He was incredibly down to earth, friendly, and patient. One thing led to another, and the CA Guitars folks were interested in supporting the arts-based diversity work I was doing at the time.

4) Let’s talk about the album. The song “dots and dashes” is 16:09… what inspired that, and what was your writing process for that song?
Well, I never actually planned to write a song that was so long. It just sort of unfolded. I guess I had a lot of pent-up creative energy, and I’ve just been bursting at the seams for the chance to have the time and space to focus completely on writing and recording.

This particular song just kept happening in little sections. I was sitting on the couch with my acoustic and a little hand-held digital voice recorder, capturing ideas. The night before, while walking into the dining room to eat supper, I had a brainstorm, and I told my wife I’d be just a few minutes while I jotted down some ideas. Next thing I knew, I’d written all the lyrics to “dots and dashes”, and it was an hour later. Thankfully, as a musician herself, she’s very understanding. She knows what it’s like when inspiration strikes.

So I was reading through the lyrics and just goofing around with different ideas and recording them in little bits and pieces as they came out. I would read a phrase from the lyrics and matching music would present itself. Later, I pieced it all together, recording it in sections since the instrumentation was so different between certain sections.

5) That song alone jumps from genre to genre, and everything from blues rock to prog metal to jazz is found on this album. When people ask you what genre of music you play, what do you tell them?

I’ve given up trying to fit myself into a box. When I first got some decent recording equipment and started getting serious about writing and recording, I was just in heaven, exploring all kinds of sounds and not worrying about genres or marketing or anything. Then, as I started to get a few albums done, I heard people tell me that in order to market myself properly, I had to have a target audience, choose a genre and stick with it, etc. And I tried to do that. But as time went on, I felt like I was trying to squeeze myself into a smaller and smaller box.

Finally, with this album, I just decided to forget all that and go back to what I love doing, which is writing and recording and exploring the endless world of sound. That’s why you’ll find so many different styles of music on this album. Things have come full circle, and I’m digging deep and setting aside the inner critic that likes to say, “Uh oh, you shouldn’t do that… it won’t be well received.” Maybe not. But I’m happy.

The biggest catch-22 I’ve run into is figuring out who I’m writing for. I’ve heard musicians getting criticized for being self-indulgent in their writing, like having obscure lyrics, or stories that aren’t readily understood by everyone. Steely Dan, one of my favorite bands, is a great example. On the other hand, you can write something very accessible and that can be seen as pandering to your audience. After awhile, I finally realized that no matter WHAT I did, there was no way to please everyone. So now I write what I love and roll with it.

6) I see that some of the songs on this album are brand new, and others are from 2004. How did that come about?
I have quite a back log of songs I’ve written over the past decade, but back then my equipment was comparatively crude, and the recordings I have from back then reflect that. Initially when I started this album, I set out to write new material and only record that. Then a dear friend happened to ask me about re-recording an old song from back in the day that he loved. I decided to go for it, just to see how it would sound, and I was really pleased with how it turned out. At that point I realized that I have a lot of really good songs that could finally receive the proper treatment they’ve deserved all this time. Bringing those songs back to life has been enormously rewarding.

7) Do you have fun recording?
Like Jim Matheos said in a recent interview, “‘fun’ is a strong word.” Writing and recording can be a very rewarding and satisfying journey, but it’s certainly not without its frustrations. Some of the most beautiful music I’ve ever made has been the result of days, weeks, sometimes months of effort to get things just right.

8) How long does it take you to record a song, once it’s written?
I’ve been following this pretty closely over the past six years, and the average for me is about two hours worth of recording time for each minute of music. The song “dots and dashes” is 16:09, and I can tell you that, yes, it did, quite literally, take me 32 to 35 hours to record and mix that song. Basically, four or five days straight of nothing but working on that song, for 8-10 hours at a time. Draining, but very satisfying in the end.

9) What is your dream?
I’m living my dream. I’m writing and recording my own music, on my own terms. I’m surrounded by people I love, I have food, clothing, and shelter… I have everything I need. Compared to so many people in the world who struggle just to eat every day, I’m the richest man in the world.

10) Any advice for musicians just getting started, or looking for their “big break”?
Just do what you love, and do it for the joy of it. Another one of my heroes, producer Ken Scott, says that if you do it for the money and you don’t get the money, you’ll be unhappy. But if you love what you’re doing, you’ll be happy either way. I agree with him. Whether I’m cutting a guitar solo or cutting the grass, if I’m doing it for the joy of it, then I’ve already won.

Check out “dots and dashes” and all of Tim’s music for free at www.timbirchard.bandcamp.com

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Another new album: dots and dashes

If Santana went to a jazz barbecue, bumped into the guys from Fates Warning, and they all jumped up on the flatbed with the house string quartet to have a jam session, this is what it might sound like.

Listen for free: www.timbirchard.bandcamp.com.

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Miles Davis: “So What” trumpet solo on guitar

All my life I’ve been mesmerized and intimidated by jazz guitar. I’ve wanted to play jazz so badly, but didn’t believe that it would ever be within my grasp.

Until now.

Turns out the only thing that had to change was my thinking. My beliefs. “I AM a thriving, talented, successful jazz guitarist.” “I AM able to learn jazz guitar.” “I AM someone who enjoys the challenges involved in learning new things.”

Over the past week or so I assigned myself a new challenge: to learn the first solo (Miles Davis on trumpet) of Miles Davis’ “So What” on the guitar. Note for note.

The last three bars on this page took me on a two-hour journey of exploration and discovery. (This is not my transcription.)

This solo is about 2 minutes and 5 seconds long. When I woke up this morning, I could play all the way through 1 minute and 19 seconds of it. After about an hour and a half of practice, I can now play through 1 minute and 23 seconds of it. An important lesson for me here: it took me nearly two hours to move forward 4 seconds. The cool thing is, I ENJOY that challenge. It’s fun and exciting to think that almost 2 hours of work is needed for me to gain only 4 seconds of the solo… when I’m able to do the whole thing, it’ll mean a lot more than simply 2:05 of guitar playing… It will represent my energy, my love, and my passion… my willingness to change my mind about how I see the world… about how I view myself and my abilities. 

Another interesting point: As I was learning that new 4 seconds of material, I found myself spending a lot of time on one 6-note phrase. I played it over and over. I explored different ways of playing that same phrase, and found THREE different places to play it on the neck. Now I had an interesting decision to make: WHICH way should I focus on? As I explored deeper, I found that one way seemed the most simple because I could base the entire phrase on two adjacent strings, but there was quite a horizontal reach with my pinky involved. This option kept me well within my comfort zone.

The second path took me farther down the neck, utilized three strings, and involved a whole-step upward slide with my index finger on the high “e” string. A little more challenging, but all movement was on adjacent strings, so this was still within my comfort zone.

The third path involved string skipping; reaching up with the pinky from the 2nd string to the 4th string, up 5 frets. This took me well outside my comfort zone and even made me stop a minute and wonder, “can I even DO this??” I can’t recall purposely skipping strings during a solo. Then I thought of Steve Vai. Steve Lukather. Larry Carlton. All of my heroes. What would they do? Do they skip strings while soloing? Or do they only move across adjacent strings? These guys don’t practice to success; they practice to failure. That is, they don’t simply practice something until they can do it right… they keep practicing beyond that, until it’s second nature… until the rare occasion of goofing up happens… then they practice it even more.

When I realized this was a limitation that was holding me back, I decided to practice it some more. I quickly ditched the first path. Decided the second path on the high “e” string sounded too whiny/trebley. Went with the third path. Worked on it for awhile… not sure how long, lost track of time.

Then, following my intuition, I backed up and practiced the approach and entry into this new phrase. Of course that felt completely foreign at first, but after a few tries, I began to see how the phrases connected. As I became more comfortable, I realized I was creating new neural pathways in my brain.

I’m not in a hurry. I’m not trying to get this solo down before Tuesday, or by any sort of deadline. At the same time, I do feel motivated to learn the whole thing and get it into my fingers… into my bones, so that it becomes mine. I’m practicing at least a little bit every day, even if that means just running through what I know once or twice to make sure it’s still there. When I was a young teenager at the local public swimming pool, I remember challenging myself to learn how to do a gainer off the high diving board. Not having any sort of lessons, I didn’t know how to go forward with any sort of formal process for learning this new skill. So I just ran off the end of the low diving board and threw myself into the air, trying as best I could to approximate that backwards flipping motion without cracking my head on the diving board.

After many false starts, I finally did it. Sloppy. Dangerous. But I did it. After doing that a hundred times or so, I decided to try it from the high dive. After facing down a terror that made me want to vomit, I finally did it. The interesting thing was that I was never satisfied with doing it only once. There was no victory in that for me. No. I had to prove to myself that I could do it repeatedly. So only after doing it dozens of times over the course of an entire summer would I allow myself to say, with any sort of confidence, “I can do a gainer off the high dive.”

This is sort of the same. It’s one thing to patch together the phrases of this solo and to execute them all in a row one time without making a mistake. It’s an entirely different thing to be able to visualize where my fingers will land and hear the notes in my head as I’m lying in bed. A whole different animal to be able to play it without analysis, without thinking about where the next notes will come from. Without counting beats.

Of course, this is simply one step along the path. Since everything in this realm is temporary, my ability to play this solo will diminish and disappear. The guitar I call ‘mine’, as much as I love it, will change hands. Disintegrate. Be destroyed, sooner or later. This body I call ‘mine’ will collapse and return to ashes. There’s no trophy here to be claimed with any sort of finality. Like everything we can see, hear, taste, touch, feel, or think, this experience is temporary. Finite. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

The joy for me is that, in the midst of this understanding, I can fully embrace the spirit and passion of learning this solo. Even as we know leaves on a tree will end up on the ground come autumn, in this moment they can blow wildly in the sunshine, glinting sunlight and brilliance. And understanding that we can’t make them shimmer forever, we can still appreciate their beauty in this moment.

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“Bacon” Rocks The Hank

BACON ROCKS THE HANK (Saturday, May 12, 2012)
by Tim Birchard

Debuting to a full house at Durango, Colorado’s Henry Strater Theater, Bacon lived up to its addictive name, leaving the audience shouting and begging for more. This reviewer begs the reader’s forgiveness for not yet knowing the names of all of the band members, and for possibly even coming across as a bit incoherent at times. Having just witnessed one of the best performances of the year, I’m a bit stunned, taken aback, and inspired, all at once.

Funky and syncopated like early Jazz Crusaders, but just a little less polite, Bacon is clearly one of the most important jazz quintets to hit the stage today. Simply put, these guys are on fire. They avoid the typical jazz posturing while maintaining a commanding presence through a solid vocabulary.

Bacon’s trumpet player, Christopher Ross, runs the gamut, from gentle nuances to all-out, red-faced staccato runs.

The sax and trumpet were beautifully locked together, sounding as full as an entire brass section yet as limber and flexible as a single musician. The entire band seemed to shift and pulse like a single organism, writhing like a snake, striking at unexpected rests in perfect unison, even after only five rehearsals together. Bacon’s dynamics were a sight to behold… From soft, gentle brushstrokes of pale shades, they’d turn on a dime and bring the energy up to a blistering crescendo, mirrored by the frenzied excitement of the audience.

The guitarist’s Ibanez semi-hollow body, which he ran through a Fender Deluxe, had just enough overdrive to make it gritty; his chording was clean and brilliant, while his solos sizzled. The sax player was articulate, smooth, and able to play the fastest runs with ease, while the bassist’s 5-string finger style playing was rock solid, locking in the groove with the ever-grinning drummer.

And The Drummer. My. God. This guy was clearly having the time of his life. He was constantly playing musical jokes and laughing out loud at his own punchlines. Sometimes they were so good that I laughed out loud, as well. But as I looked around, it didn’t look like anyone else got it. All the better… it was like they were inside jokes, and I was part of the in-crowd. To see this guy in action was to witness poetry in motion. After they were finished and the next band was playing, he happened to walk by my seat, and I shamelessly grabbed his hand and said, “Dude! You are freaking amazing!” He thanked me, with a stunned look. Either he thought I was a freak, or he doesn’t actually realize how good he is. Maybe that’s for the best; he was clearly playing for the love of it, devoid of any hint of ego. Just like everyone else in the band.

The trumpet player, Chris Ross, has a knack for playing exactly the notes that sound right… like an artist who knows instinctively what color to use in any given situation. From subtle nuances to all-out, red-faced, staccato jamming, it sounded at times as if Chris was blowing his soul out through his horn.

The only disappointment of the night was that Bacon left the stage after only three songs, turning the mic over to the headliners of the evening. Hopefully the next time Bacon performs, it’ll be for at least 90 minutes; preferably for 2 hours. I will gladly buy tickets to see these guys as soon as I can. I urge you to check them out.

More Bacon, please!

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Progress update: A Place Of My Own

Hey Friends,

Just a quick update to let you know that all mixdowns have been finished. Fundraising efforts through Kickstarter.com were wildly successful. Final mixes were delivered to Scooter’s Place for mastering last week. All album art files have been uploaded to Discmakers.com.

Once the songs are mastered, a physical disc (and backup) will get shipped to Discmakers, and the final order for duplication/packaging will be placed. Then, 5-7 days later, they should arrive on my doorstep. That’s when I’ll get to start mailing them out to the generous financial backers listed above!

Again, thanks to everyone involved in making this happen!

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A Place Of My Own — delivered to the studio for mastering!

Hey Friends,

Just a quick update to let you know that after some last-minute tweaking of one of the songs (“Away!”), I got in touch with my friends at Scooter’s Place and dropped off the audio files this morning.

My hero, Scott Smith, and his assistant, Lacey Black (who has her own record label, has multiple cd’s out and can’t be older than 25!!) are pretty booked for the next month, but they’re going to master a song at a time as they get the chance over the next 3-4 weeks.

Scott mastered “Songs for The Reverend” for me back in ’07, and he’s simply brilliant. So I have 110% faith in his abilities to hear what I’ve done and make the songs shine, sparkle, and rock even bigger than they already do.

We may be looking at mid-June before I have the final cd’s in hand and ready to ship out to you. In the meantime, please know how much I appreciate your support. You’re my heroes!

All the best, Tim

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A Place Of My Own: 112% Funded!

I’m humbled by everyone’s generosity, love, and support…

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