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Interview with Doug Hammer
December 09, 2008

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


As promised, here is Part I of the interview with Doug Hammer - pianist, composer, arranger and producer! Check out his website.

Doug Hammer's website
Before I forget to mention it, you can hear Doug perform LIVE at his CD release party this Thursday, December 11th, 8PM at Scullers Jazz Club in Boston. Admission $18. Doug shares the bill with Billboard winner, singer/songwriter Krisanthi Pappas.

Scullers Jazz Club

Part I of Interview with Doug

Debbie: What is your background in piano, Doug?

Doug: It is pretty varied. I started piano lessons when I was six. Iíve always been drawn to pop music more than anything else. My early piano was basic stuff Ė scales and easy piano books. Later, I had a bunch of different teachers in high school. My parents sort of pushed me toward classical and had me work on my chops a bit more. I had a very strict teacher. What she did was she helped me with my posture and just being loose, both the posture of my back and how I was holding my arms and the position of the hands at the keyboard. I played Gershwin, Debussy, Chopin and this and that. I liked the Baroque music Ė Bach, Handel and Hayden. That helped me in a lot of ways to get rid of bad habits.

Debbie: You went to Berklee College of Music?

Doug: Yes. I took classical for a while then Iíd had enough of it so I stopped, went back to more contemporary stuff, learned the sheet music of pop songs. I would be one to embellish what was already there. I always had a hard time sticking to the notes on the page, which did not bode too well when I was taking classical music.

Then, in high school, I decided to go back to classical with the same teacher for a little bit longer. Then I went to Berklee. I did not go there for jazz though. I went there for commercial arranging and song-writing Ė pop stuff. While I was there, I got a lot of experience in their recording studios because I wrote material and the engineer majors needed songwriters. Thatís when I really got the studio bug.

At Berklee, I had a jazz piano teacher. Like my classical teacher, he was really tough. He had me transcribing these jazz solos Ė Oscar Peterson and Chick Corea were relatively easy because their solos tend to be rhythmically on the mark. But then when I got to Keith Jarrett, who plays over the bar line. He stretches and plays so loosely that he was difficult to follow. It was very good for me to transcribe, though, because I was able to get into their styles.

I didnít necessarily want to be a jazz player, but it was really good to help round out what I could do. I ended up down the road, really enjoying and playing jazz. I still do Ė whether itís solo or in a duo, trio or quartet. I learned a lot about embellishing chords and the harmonic richness that comes from all of the different tensions. (#9ís, b9, 13ths etcÖ)

Debbie: How do they teach you those tensions and extended harmonies at Berklee?

Doug: They have paperwork that they hand out and then they play so you can hear the different colors. As a piano major, they have you go through all of those different chord voicings and scales in every key. I learned all of the different modes too.

Debbie: How would you practice differently if you are studying jazz vs. classical music?

Doug: I think they are two completely different worlds. In classical music, you are working the notes to get them in your fingers to the point where you arenít thinking about what your fingers are doing. At that point, you think about how you are doing on the phrasing, dynamics, articulation of those passages. Itís like roughing something out, then adding the fine details. In jazz, I found it to be completely different. When I was first exposed to it, obviously being something new, I was very stiff. It did not sound good. It took me quite a while to really get that itís about the feel.

The other thing about jazz, because itís so improvisational, is that it is necessary to have a tool box of things. Some people just learn a bunch of jazzy riffs and then when they go to play, they will do some standard jazz riffs that they know. There is nothing wrong with that. You can start with a little motif and build on it.

But what really helped me was learning all the different modes, practicing my scales over and over again, and learning chord voicings because, again, I came from a place where I played the melody in my right hand and bass in my left hand. Now, you donít need to play the bass so now I am playing two-handed voicings. My left hand is not used to that. It took quite a while playing with groups to have these voicings become internalized.

I find itís hard to practice it. Jazz is such a feel thing. With jazz, it takes a long time. And it still is taking a long time to integrate all that stuff and have it be completely natural and fluid. Iím always learning new voicings. Owning and operating a recording studio, I get a lot of pianists in here and Iím watching what theyíre doing too.

The Blues class in Lexington was fabulous this past Sunday, December 7th. Everyone was treated to a song played by our special guest, Tim Ray, pianist for Lyle Lovett, Bonnie Raitt and Aretha Franklin! Keep your eyes and ears open for another seminar in the spring. (I'll try to get Tim back too!) I'll get some pictures up on the website soon.

Well, that just about wraps it up for this issue of eNotes.
Your questions, comments and feedback about eNotes always appreciated.
At the risk of sounding like a cashier at Shaws.....
Have a great day!

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