Stelios Panos – Johnny Smith & Tal Farlow

In my previous post I remarked that Pierre Bensusan never disappoints. The same can be said about Stelios Panos, whose passion for precise transcription of the music of jazz masters keeps their music alive and available for others who want to learn this art. His is a true contribution for all jazz players.

Stelios’ latest collection includes  45 songs/solos by Johnny Smith and 37 Tal Farlow songs/solos for Band-in-a-Box users. This is crucial, since it provides a more complete, immersive experience than any other software. You can hear the transcriptions on excellently sampled instruments with RealTracks while following along with the music in Notation, Notation with TAB, Chords, or on the Guitar Fretboard! I’ve never heard of any other software that comes close to this.

Note that along with the songs there are also several alternate solos from other years. Since we are dealing with jazz, several of the songs were performed (and are available) with different solos in different years. These document the players’ style as well as their changes over time.

The Johnny Smith section highlights his smooth style that made him so beloved, starting with his all-time classic Walk, Don’t Run. This was then covered by Chet Atkins, who actually asked for Smith’s permission to cover it in person. Chet’s version was then the basis for the version that the Ventures took to #2 on the charts! It’s hard to pick from just a few from the standout list of songs here, but there are jazz classics like My Funny Valentine, My Romance, and Swingin’ Shepherd Blues;  folk songs such as Black is the Color (of My True Love’s Hair) and Shenadoa [sic]; movie themes (Exodus); popular songs (Yesterday); and even classical pieces like Maid with the Flaxen Hair and Romance de los Pinos. And, of course, Johnny Smith’s “signature tune” Moonlight in Vermont.

Complementing Smith’s work is the Tal Farlow part of the collection. While both guitarists share a sophisticated sense of harmony, Farlow tended to be more adventurous. Combined with his blazing single-line playing, this gave his playing an enormous air of excitement that few musicians have matched. This is all the more remarkable since he was a self-taught guitarist who learned while listening to some of the jazz greats on the radio at work as a sign painter. Some of these transcriptions may be a bit daunting, especially for players with smaller hands. Farlow earned the nickname “The Octopus” thanks to his huge hands which not only gave him a huge reach but also moved with blazing speed. His style owes something to fingerstyle guitarists as he played the two lowest strings with his thumb, reserving these for a bass counterpoint to his melodies on the upper four strings (said to be due to his starting with a mandolin tuned like a ukulele!) and also tapping on the guitar for percussive effects. Whatever extra work it takes to learn Farlow’s tunes is more than repaid in your rapid advance in technique and sophistication.

Whether the chordal sections of Smith’s work or the blazing solo lines of Farlow, we have to appreciate the dedication of Stelios Panos in his careful editing of the fingerings which he places on a separate TAB staff (which you may have to turn on in either the Options for the Notation Window or Printing in Band-in-a-Box). Too many transcribers these days rely on the software to generate TAB, where the fingerings can be misleading to downright impossible.

Here’s an example of a software generated chord that I have seen a number of times (including in BiaB):

and a playable version:

You can imagine the hours and days it takes to proof-read all of the songs in a collection, so Stelios Panos deserves great credit for making his fingerings logical and playable. He takes as much care with the transcriptions, so you can be sure of getting the highest quality.

NOTE: This two-artist collection is meant for  Band-in-a-Box users only. (Unlike some previous sets, videos for non-users are no longer included.)

For more information on ALL Stelios Panos transcriptions and to BUY them go to http://www.djangoinabox.com

My highest recommendation for anyone with Band-in-a-Box.

Pierre Bensusan Book – Guitar Collection

Amazing coincidences do happen, so they are probably just coincidences. But they can still take us by shocking surprise.

To start at the beginning, when I was first studying classical guitar at university, a friend who had just returned from France brought me a record that “I had to hear to believe.” It was Pierre Bensusan’s first album, Près de Paris, recorded at the age of 16. I loved it on first hearing, and it is still one of my favourite albums. That was a long time ago, but I still take it out every 5 years or so and it strikes me again as wonderful as that first listen.

This time, after about 10 years, I listened to it on my iPod and was moved to get his first book “The Guitar Book” onto my stand and re-learn several of the songs. In the middle of the first song, I got a notice from Hal Leonard that Pierre had a new book out: “The Guitar Collection.”

Eerie? Maybe. Exciting? Definitely!

Pierre Bensusan never disappoints and his books are always more than mere transcriptions, although there are plenty of those: his entire Azwan album as well as pieces performed live. But there is much more in this fascinating book, which is divided into three parts.

FIRST PART

This first part is devoted to music, the guitar, and technique. It is virtually several master classes. He discusses the guitar and its relation to the player in all aspects: playing, ear training, interpretation, singing, creating, improvisation, and much more. Any musician will learn a lot from this section alone, and by studying it seriously you will become a much better guitarist.

Pierre continues into DADGAD, its history as a tuning, and the artists that established it early on, before artists like Laurence Juber took it to higher and higher degrees of expressiveness. As  usual, he explains his own encounter with it and how it changed his style. The economy of this short section allows him to transmit large amount of information in few words. His writing all though the book is superb.

There follow a number of sections on technique covering position playing, fingering, specifics for the left and right hands, harmonics, and non-standard technique. He includes the important parts of theory that are crucial to understanding music and how to use them to “push the boundaries” and create your own style. This part ends with short sections on practicing, memorizing, and equipment. And we’re only up to page 40!

SECOND PART

The second part contains “transcriptions of some performance pieces”. These are:

  • Chant De Nuit
  • L’alchimiste
  • Silent Passenger
  • Wu Wei
  • If Only You Knew
  • So Long Michael

THIRD PART

Part three consists of transcriptions of Pierre’s album Azwan.

As usual, the transcriptions in notation and TAB are note-perfect and each one is well worth learning. For those of us who have, and cherish Pierre’s first book (and if you don’t have it, buy it!), there are no recipes in this book. But there are several great photographs and drawings, as well as explanations and comments on the songs. His comments are enlightening as to the inspiration for the song, or its meaning to the composer, and even the history of the area it is about or comes from. I won’t spoil the surprise, but we even get the derivation and meaning of Pierre’s last name, which is fascinating itself. (See p. 102 in your copy if you just can’t wait.)

This is yet another fantastic book from Pierre Bensusan, and even though it has been a long time since his first, it was well worth the wait. His advice is priceless and his transcriptions transcendent.

One final bonus, at least for me (and certainly others), is that the text of the “master class” parts are in both English and French, so for those of us wishing to improve our French this is a wonderful, painless way to do that. In particular, we can improve our vocabulary in music in general and the guitar in particular.

My highest recommendation.

 

And if you missed it, get this one too. You will never regret it!

Pierre B - book 1

UPDATE: For some reason comments are getting through today and thankfully so. A few of you (Michael M. you were FIRST) mentioned tunings. MOST of the songs in the new book are in DADGAD (at least one is in CADGAD), and the first book has several different tunings. I find these tunings exciting to learn and love the sound of them. Then again, I have one guitar that is ONLY tuned to DADGAD that I will retune to other tunings, and another only in standard tuning. I consider the time to learn DADGAD well spent, but it’s up to you. (A lot of us have time to learn things now, and you already know half of the strings – more if you use drop D tuning). I consider it yet another bonus if you haven’t tried other tunings, especially the beautiful ring of DADGAD.