Today is the last day of my notes for the website. If you want to find out what happens the very last week here, you’ll have to attend camp! I can tell you that there is a lot of rehearsal, kung-fu, wing chun, and a whole lot more along with a concert at the end.
Anthony Wellington joined us and taught us about fingerboard patterns. But before he dug in, he addressed the many people noodling in the classroom. “Very few people have the discipline to not play music when they’re supposed to”.
Continue reading “Day 14: Last Day of Notes :(“
If I took out a singles ad today, the description would include, “must love long walks in the desert, and getting caught in the wind.” My trip to Vegas ended with a three hour drive to Death Valley, which is in the Mojave Desert across the border in California. The drive there was just as breathtaking as the actual valley itself, which is over 200 ft below sea level: the lowest area of land in the entire United States. I cannot possibly describe the desert in adequate detail. In Vegas, every one of my senses were overloaded and feeding me more information than I could process. The Mojave Desert was quite the opposite. A barren land, very little vegetation or life lives out here. As soon as you exit your vehicle, you’re met with 120 degree winds blowing at your body. The air is as hot as the air inside a dryer, but much more dry. Within a short time, your sense of touch is severely limited by the wind. There are no smells. There is no taste other than the arid air. The only sound is the sound of your own breathing and the wind blowing in your face. No animals to howl. Very few cars to drive by. No cell signal. Being in the desert is a sobering experience that makes you aware of your own mortality as a human. It further makes you realize just how small and dependent on others you are.
Continue reading “Day 13: Yea, Though I Walk Through The Valley Of The Shadow Of Death…”
Farewell for just a couple days, Bass/Nature Camp… I’ve got to head to Vegas baby. In just two days, I’ll have flown to Vegas, toured the Las Vegas crime lab (including the Secret Service offices), gave pointers to help with an iPhone-related case, and hiked in Death Valley in the Mojave Desert. I’ve never been to Vegas before, and I must say there were plenty of turnoffs to the city, but there were also many amazing things to explore. I barely scratched the surface, but the strip at night has got to be the most lively activity one can do. People are out and walking around everywhere at all hours of the night. Club music is playing everywhere, large volcano shows are going on, fireworks, and much more. What I didn’t care for were all of the losers snapping up a racket trying to hand out tickets for strippers, or the fact that you can’t turn anywhere without seeing some racy advertisement for something sleazy. But if you can ignore that, you can actually have a ton of fun in Vegas at night… just be careful what streets you walk down.
In addition to being jet lagged, as soon as I stepped off the plane, the culture shock of going from the Tennessee countryside to a city like Vegas had already begun giving me anxiety. In Tennessee, we focused on peace and music, and appreciating the stillness of nature and the world around us. Vegas was a sensory overload on all fronts… I heard everything. I smelled everything, I saw more than I wanted to… every single sensory gate in my mind was overloaded and it took a while to clear my head.
Continue reading “Day 12: A Quick Excursion to DefCon”
Music theory is the theory of how music works. In other words, music already works without theory. But theory is useful for understanding what made that amazing music you just heard. Theory is broad enough to include any statement, belief, or conception about music. In other words, theory is how someone might analyze why things sound good, but is not the end all to playing well. Music theory is observation. Music came before theory. Music comes from within.
Theory can really come in handy when you’re looking to play something complex. With high caliber musicians, theory can help to make sure that what you have to say fits in with the rest of the conversation. It’s like trying to have a conversation with a handful of rocket scientists. You’ll only be able to say so much if you’ve only mopped the floors in the lab.
Continue reading “Day 11: More Theory, Then VEGAS BABY!”
Jonelle Mosser is an older woman in her early 50s with a heart still in her 20s. Full of passion for life, music, and signing, Jonelle brings us much more than vocal lessons, but has caused most of us to be able to truly appreciate music in being a human demonstration of the kind of life it gives. I’ve particularly enjoyed her affinity for old gospel from the 20s, 30s, and 40s, and negro spirituals. The wakening of the soul is just as important as the wakening of the heart in making music. Without a soul full of live, music is sterile and without hope.
Jonelle taught us basic breathing technique today for singing. Think of a balloon in a bottle filled with air. As much air as you need to sustain the note, but don’t take huge deep breaths. Lean against a wall with both hands on it and make a plank out of your body – like you were doing pushups on the wall. Breathe bottom to top as you’re headed towards the wall, exhaling. Breathing is one of the most important things needed to phrase properly. As bass players, it’s easy to become detached from our instrument. Don’t be detached from it, and don’t be detached from your audience. Everything has its place and time… including breathing.
Continue reading “Day 10: Every Time I Sing, An Angel Loses Its Wings”
What most musicians wouldn’t give for just one day packed full of growth. Bob Franceschini: world renowned saxophonist; helped design a new breed of sax for Yamaha. Victor Wooten: most proficient bassist on the planet. JD Blair: drummer for Shania Twain; so tight, they thought someone turned the metronome off during the audition. Not to mention Richard the nature guy, the one dude you’d want to be friends with if you were half eaten by a bear. I get to spend three weeks with this, and much other amazing talent, and have direct access to ask them questions, request demonstrations, or just pal around. If you haven’t signed up for a camp yet, you don’t know what you’re missing. This blog certainly doesn’t do it justice.
I’ve been recovering from heat exhaustion the past 24 hours, so I missed out on some of the festivities last night and early this morning. Our morning kicked off with another nature walk followed by some archery. Quite frankly, I prefer shooting things until they’re dead. I can do that real well. I have no need for toy sticks and rubber bands. Give me a .44 magnum and we’re cool.
Continue reading “Day 9: I Had No Life Today Whatsoever”
I know Kung-Fu… and about seven other Japanese words. Victor started out the morning showing us some limbering exercises to build our tendons, in preparation for our SiFu’s visit later on in the week. Victor says once you build a tendon, you never lose it. We approach the martial arts from a defensive perspective, but in many ways directly relates to bass playing. Today’s session didn’t feel like it was related to anything but pain. As I type this, I’m still tending to swollen body parts that I never knew I had.
The first exercise had us on our knees with our palms faced backwards. Vic showed us a little magic trick: Flip your hand the other way backwards, then rotate it out, and it looks like you’re rotating it a full 360 degrees. Eat your heart out, David Blane. The next exercise had us lay on our stomach and put all four appendages in the air, like we were a banana. This built our abs, or some other muscle that hurts down there. We then flipped to each side and on our back, balancing only on our center mass with all other body parts up in the air. Next up, calf exercises. Grab a partner’s arm and then push up and down on your calves to raise and lower your legs, without moving the rest of your body. Then spend three minutes raising your leg parallel to the floor and point your foot at the wall. If you’re not in agony by now, pull it to your chest. Finally, grab a partner, take their arm, and alternate round kicks. Try not to kick your partner in the package.
Continue reading “Day 8: You Know No Fu! Talk to SiFu!”
Sundays mark a day off at Wooten Woods, so seven of us got together for a field trip to the music city. The first landmark to hit: Pancake Pantry. We were told by several different sources that it is by far the best place to have breakfast in Nashville, and that became apparent when we came across a line wrapped around the corner outside, at about 90 degrees. When asked, random people polled in line explained that it was worth it and we’d be stupid to go somewhere else. About 20 minutes later, we were sitting down. Georgia peach pancakes. Flavorful sausage. Delicious hash browns. Breakfast was insanely filling and ridiculously delicious.
We have two campers visiting from Russia. We call them the cosmonauts… we spent a good part of the day trying to teach them lame lines to pick up American women. It’s slightly entertaining, but entirely unnerving to hear someone with a thick Russian accent trying to say, “How YOU doing?” and then wink. It was even more unnerving trying to put together a story they could use to impress someone, like “I’m really ex-KGB”. We had them practicing on us a bit, and they did get pretty good: “How YOU doin? Nice shoes. Can you show me around Nashville? I’m kind of a big deal. *wink*”
Continue reading “Day 7: Field Trip to Nashville!”
Have you always suspected the pros had some amazing studio secrets that made their playing reach far beyond scales and modes, and into the realm of impossibility? Pro technique is the Matrix of music. We know it’s there. We’re searching for it. But the secret of the techniques are rarely ever revealed. Instead, we musicians sit in frustration wondering what it takes to play like our heroes. Our heroes have indeed pioneered the way and deserve the pedestal we put them on for finding out the hard way just how to emit great music. Fortunately, we also have men like Vic Wooten and Steve Bailey who are not only pioneers, but generous enough to share their findings with us and show us openly how to dance to the same rhythm and see what they see. Today was the first day of coming into maturity as a musician. I’ll warn you though, you really need to be here to experience these techniques first hand, before you’ll “get” them.
Continue reading “Day 6: Play That Funky Music, White Boy”
Day five felt like we were introduced to the universe, life, and everything. We were packed with so much music knowledge today, I’m still struggling to grasp onto all of it just to write a reasonable blog entry about it. While previous days at bass/nature camp have been more nature intensive, today was much heavier on the music side. You name it – upright basses, improvisation, theory 101, and advanced techniques all wrapped up in one 100-degree day in where-the-heck-am-I Tennessee.
Continue reading “Day 5: You Just Thought You Knew Music”
Day four was much of a blur for a number of reasons. We started out with 90 minutes of what felt like advanced Yoga which both exhausted and rejuvenated me. Our Yoga instructor put us through the gauntlet in the dome, on a day that was approaching about 95 degrees. After an hour and a half of the workout from hell – in a sauna, I felt better than I could imagine. My shorts and shirt were entirely soaked, and I was entirely covered from head to toe in sweat… yet somehow I felt remarkable, as if my body had been through a transformation of sorts. Doing it to some Cheryl Crow made it enjoyable at least. What did we get out of it? We learned how to strengthen our muscles, how to relax, and how to breathe. All things critical to a bass player.
After Yoga, we had three classes back to back along with a bunch of exercises. The first class was with Victor: the power of chromatic scales. Vic had us play the chromatic scales to a groove and taught us how to make it sound like a solo. A few tricks: start a fifth up or down from the root, and start walking back to the root every quarter note. By the time it resolves, it makes for a real pleasing solo to the audience. Also try soloing on the chromatic scale starting a half step below the root for a similar effect. Lastly, start on the flat fifth and work your way up to the ninth. Vic also cleared up some issues I’ve had with chords for years. A lot of chords I’ve tried never sounded quite right, so I’ve been sticking with the ones I’ve read in tabs and such. The secret to great sounding chords is to raise the third of the chord an octave. He also showed us some basic chord 101: Any chord with a 7 or above in, the 7 is minor unless specified as a major. And the third is always major unless it’s specified as a minor.
Continue reading “Day 4: Hot and Sweaty, At No Extra Charge”
Day two was an eventful day at woot camp and full of fun surprises. The morning felt more like an opening ceremony to the camp. Bass / nature camp isn’t so much about bass as much as it is about music. Before I discovered Vic’s videos and books, I was somewhat torn on music. I played it as an expression through my time with various church bands, but overall thought music was something to compete with. Picking up the bass had originally felt as if I had resigned myself to a lifetime of frustration and competition. While I knew there were ways to serve with music, Vic taught me that music is something to fellowship with, similar to a relationship. It’s something you grow with and learn to become familiar and affectionate with. And if you stick with it, you and music will grow old together and learn to appreciate the trials and frustrations you’ve faced together; the pain is someday replaced with joy in your playing.
Our nature instructor, Richard, proceeded to build fire in only a couple of minutes using the bow and drill method, while Victor serenaded us to some smooth bass. Every native culture has fire as an integral part of their makeup, and soon we’ll be making our own fire building sets. Fire produces warmth and companionship, just as music does. It gives life just as music does. Much of what we have learned so far about music, in fact, comes from our understanding of nature. Richard made the point that what you don’t take the time to get to know something, you fear it. When you don’t take the time to get to know nature, you can fear it too, such as strange bugs or animals, but also in life. How many things have I feared in life because of mere ignorance? How many opportunities did I have that I’ve abandoned because of ignorance and fear? Richard continued, saying that what you fear, you also destroy. Whether it’s a non-threatening spider crawling into a tent, or bigger things in life; how many things have I destroyed in my life simply because I feared them or failed to understand them? I’m no more innocent of making bad decisions in my life than anyone else, and have plenty of regrets in my 34 years on this planet. Have fear and ignorance robbed me? What have I destroyed, or almost destroyed, in my past simply because I was afraid? What you fear, you also attract, and the things you fear in life keep popping up; you can’t run away from what you fear because you call to it. Your fears haunt you like old ghosts.
Continue reading “Day 2: Fear, Destruction, and Using Our Senses”
I’m in hot, humid Only TN just outside of Nashville. Three weeks. Thirty students. Vic Wooten and his team of extremely talented instructors are going to pump as much theory, technique, and wisdom into us as we learn the difference between playing around with an instrument, and being a world class musician. If you haven’t heard of Victor Wooten, check him out on YouTube. He’s well respected across the world as quite possibly the most proficient bassist alive. If you want to learn something, go to the best. We’ve got three weeks to whip into shape, and I’d better pay attention as we’ll be performing at a concert in the French quarter of Nashville in three weeks time. I asked Vic if I could blog about my experience, and he cleared me to talk about anything I want, especially if it’ll help people who are reading it. I’ll try and blog every day, and can already tell you my expectations are set high.
This is technically bass/nature “camp”, but being that I can barely focus on bass in this heat, let alone the poor hygiene to ensue, I checked myself into a nearby bed and breakfast down the street. So technically, this is bass/nature/bed and breakfast camp for me. I’ve already taken a reasonable amount of flack for that, but that’s OK: I’m the one sitting here in a nice comfy bed tonight, having had a long cool shower after a sweaty day. Come the first rain storm, or the first 100 degree night, the scoffers will suffer, while I’ll be appreciating my soft, comfy bed, air conditioned room, walk in shower, and mints on my pillow. Chestnut Hill Ranch is a quaint Tennessee farm that’s been converted into a Bed and Breakfast. Hot coffee, juice, and noms await me every morning. I have my own bath robe, rustic furniture in my room, and some of the most comfy pillows money can buy. After all, you spend 1/3 of your life on pillows. They’re worth the money to have the best. And that’s the difference between Chestnut Hill and a La Quinta Inn. That, and the fact that from the minute I left my vehicle, three roosters walked over to greet me, taking turns crowing. Thank goodness I have shades in my room so I don’t scare all the small woodland creatures.
Continue reading “Victor Wooten’s Bass/Nature Camp: Day 1”
Just when I thought my trip to Chicago would be average, some of the sergeants at the Chicago Police Training Academy, whom I’m training in iPhone forensic investigative methods, took me to the firing range in the basement and brought out an old dusty case. What came out of that case was an amazing piece of American history – Al Capone’s original Thompson submachine gun. As each class member took a hold of it for a photo-op, an immediate sense of joy came across their faces. Just looking at it made me excited and anxious too, but when I saw the rangemaster loading magazines, I realized this was going to be more than just a lesson in history. He took me to the firing line, gave me a quick talk about its function, then handed the beautiful antique to me as the the rest of the class smooshed their faces into the glass to get a peek. For a relic, the piece shoots remarkably well, and is probably the smoothest fully automatic firearm I’ve ever fired. We riddled a few targets full of .45 caliber bullets, then emerged much safer than when the two cardboard cutouts were walking the streets.
How freaking awesome is this: After I finished a forensics workshop in liberal Canada, where civilians aren’t allowed to own or even possess handguns, the most awesome regional cops let me come in and shoot at their police range. We tore through about 200+ rounds wearing bullet proof vests (which are required while shooting) and wasted several cardboard dummies like this one. This is one for the history books for sure. I was initially surprised to find that I shot tighter groups than some of the cops, and most of the cadets – but then realized that even the police aren’t allowed to carry their firearms off duty; how much practice can the average Canuck blue get in? Turns out that, due to the heavily restrictive laws on handguns, most only get to shoot once or twice a year when they qualify… very different from our American culture where many cops have been shooting since they were kids. It was amusing to see how excited they were about a new model of handgun being introduced to the force, which they hadn’t gotten to shoot yet… two of which I’ve owned for the past four years. I guess when you’re not allowed to own anything, you can’t just walk into a gun shop to check something out; everything seems new to you.
We were walking down the halls of the police department with my little cardboard cutout getting some strange looks from the cadets, who are required to carry plastic blue guns instead of real ones. A couple of young, blonde female 18-year old cadets looked my way, saw the target, and were noticeably impressed. They then looked at me, and… notsomuch.
In short, this has to be the best trip to Canuckistan I’ve had to date. It was a beautiful drive through western NY, where there are still cows and farms (who knew!). In spite of the fact that NY is almost as liberal as all Canada, you wouldn’t have guessed it driving through the countryside. I guess it’s all of those city liberal babies that really screwed everyone else in the state. Canada consisted of some great scenery around Niagra Falls followed by some fantastic steaks at Ruth’s Chris in Ontario, lots of handguns, and even more hacking. All this crammed into three great days. What more could you possibly ask for? Thanks for a great trip guys!
Yesterday I test drove a 2010 Lincoln Navigator equipped with the MS Sync feature advertised to make driving safer and easier by accepting voice commands. First of all – yes, I loathed the Navigator. The quality was about that of the cheap Rolex watches sold on eBay. Among all of the other things I hated about the Navigator’s poor design, its MS Sync feature made me want to get out a flathead screwdriver and forcibly remove the Navigation system, along with the “Powered by Sync” logo stuck on the dashboard. If you are among those few who love pain and actually like Microsoft Windows, Sync may be for you. For the rest of us who are merely forced to tolerate the craptastic wonderland of a Microsoft-based corporate cesspool, I promise you that once you push the Sync button, you’ll find new meaning to the phrase, “Microsoft crashing”, as you struggle to use sync without dying a horrible, fiery death.
In the audio below, it took me a total of three minutes and thoughts of suicide to assign a simple destination using MS Sync. I was forced to take my eyes off the road several times to read numerous lists of possible voice matches for city, street name, and more. Every time you hear, “Please say a line number” in the recording, I’m actually reading through a list instead of watching where I’m driving. After answering nearly a dozen questions, I had to end up touching buttons on the console, and later the navigation system screen to finally set the destination and accept an “agreement” to drive safely and obey all traffic laws. So MS Sync is sort of a voice-button-screen hybrid input, which I’m pretty sure entirely defeats its purpose.
Continue reading “Microsoft Sync Could Lead to Certain Death”
A nasty windstorm blew through a couple weeks back and decimated the power infrastructure in my town. A large part of the town was out for as much as six days. While most of us New Englanders have generators to take care of the necessities (laptops, WiFi, PS3, etc.), I noticed that many of my fellow generator-powered neighbors were still unreachable via their telephone, and weren’t online. No connection to the outside world, or even down the street, and most importantly – no 911. Come to find, they were all on Comcast.
A few days into the outage, what began as fast busy signals finally began to change into telco messages telling me that these numbers were unable to receive calls. So while Comcast’s network was beginning to light back up, their customers were still dark. By now, it was about four days that I began seeing Comcast trucks finally make it onto the scene (that’s a pretty terrible response time). They were placing what appeared to be battery backup units all over town, about a mile or so apart from each other. I don’t think they were gas powered, but were more likely heavy-duty DC battery units (which work fine on NEBS-rated telco equipment). It took until almost the sixth day for Comcast to bring enough of their repeaters back up to where my neighbors were able to make phone calls. I don’t think their Internet connections came back until even later.
Continue reading “FiOS vs. Cable During a Windstorm”
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman
A friend of mine was going on about really knowing people; “people… are not defined by what they do”, he said. The point he was making was not to judge people by the cover of what they do in life. But the deeper point, that he may not have even realized, was the tragedy in the truth of that statement. How tragic it is that we aren’t defined by what we do. It seems to me that, given the finite amount of time we have to live and become, that we spend more of our lives thinking about what we want to do than actually doing it.
Continue reading “Do What Defines You”
A Spiritual Search for Growth Through Music
“Boy, do I have a lot to learn!” Anyone who’s ever picked up a musical instrument of any kind-from the first caveman banging rocks to that little kid at the guitar shop-has thought that. I know I did. I’d been trying for years to break into the music scene, to show everyone my chops, to make my mark. And I was good. But I wasn’t great. I knew that there was something missing.
Then the teacher showed up. I didn’t ask for him. I didn’t think I needed him. And all he said he could teach me was “nothing.”
From Grammy® Award-winning musical icon and legendary bassist Victor L. Wooten-an inspiring parable of Music, Life, and the difference between playing all the right notes…and feeling them.