JazzPianoSkills welcomes jazz pianist, guitarist, composer, arranger, and educator Bert Ligon; Director of Jazz Studies at the University of South Carolina.
Welcome to JazzPianoSkills, I'm Dr. Bob Lawrence. It’s time to Discover, Learn, and Play jazz piano!
Today, you are in for a real treat! I am joined by jazz pianist/guitarist/composer/arranger/educator Bert Ligon. Bert has served as the director of jazz studies at the University of South Carolina for the past 30+ years. He received his Bachelor of Music and his Master of Music in jazz piano performance and arranging from the University of North Texas. Berthas published four books: Jazz Theory Resources Vol. 1 & 2, Connecting Chords with Linear Harmony, and Comprehensive Technique for the Jazz Musician. Additionally, he has published several original compositions and arrangements for big bands, jazz orchestras, and steel drum ensembles. He composed extensively in the Radio/TV/film industry receiving many awards including national PBS awards and an EMMY nomination. Bert is an accomplished pianist and guitarist - he also has a deep love for baseball - he plays a little 3rd base and pitches which we spend a little time discussing as well. Bert’s accolades go on and on - you can learn more about Bertand all of his tremendous educational resources through his website BertLigonMusic.com
My interview with Bertis a two-part series - you’ll enjoy part one today and part two will be released next week. Both audio and video formats are available for this podcast episode. Of course, you can listen to the audio version of this episode through any of the popular podcast directories (iHeart Radio, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, Pandora) OR directly on the JazzPianoSkills Podcast Website where you can also watch the video of the show as well (which I strongly recommend).
Now, It is my great pleasure and honor to welcome to JazzPianoSkills, Mr. Bert Ligon.
Dr. Bob Lawrence
President, The Dallas School of Music
Dr. Bob Lawrence 0:32
Welcome to jazz piano skills. I'm Dr. Bob Lawrence. It's time to discover, learn and play jazz piano. Today you are in for a real treat. I am joined by jazz pianist, guitarist, composer, arranger, and educator, Bert Ligon. Burt has served as the director of Jazz Studies at the University of South Carolina for the past 30 plus years. He received his Bachelor of Music and his Master of Music in jazz piano performance and arranging from the University of North Texas, North Texas State University back when we were there. Bert has published four books, jazz theory, resources, volume, one and two, connecting chords with linear harmony and comprehensive technique for the jazz musician. Additionally, he has published several original compositions, and arrangements for big band, Jazz Orchestra, and steel drum ensembles. He composed extensively in the radio, TV, and film industry, receiving many awards, including national PBS awards and an Emmy nomination. Bert isn't accomplished, I mean, accomplished pianist and guitarist. He also has a deep love for baseball, which I always knew I like this guy. He plays a little third base he pitches and of course, we spend a little time talking about baseball in this episode as well. Burt's accolades go on and on. You can learn more about Bert, and all of his tremendous educational resources through his website. Bert Ligon. music.com. My interview with Bert is a two-part series you'll enjoy part one today, and part two will be released next week. Both the audio and video formats are available for this podcast episode. Of course, you can listen to the audio version through any of the popular podcast directories, I Heart Radio, Spotify, Apple podcast, Google podcasts, Amazon music, Pandora. Or you can go directly to the jazz piano skills podcast website, just jazz piano skills podcast.com, where you can also watch the video of the show, which I strongly recommend. Now, it is my great pleasure, my great honor to welcome to jazz piano skills. Mr. Bert Ligon. Bert Ligon. Man, have we tried hard? Have we been trying hard to connect? Or if we've been trying hard to connect? Yes, we have been trying hard. Third time's a charm. But man, I am thrilled to welcome you to jazz piano skills to have you on the show and to introduce you to the jazz panel skills community they are in for a treat. I know it and, and it's just a thrill. And I told you I've shared a little bit, you know, with you already that back in 1984 85. Our paths crossed. I know you don't remember me, but man do I remember you and I. And most of all, I remember your plane. And I've told you this already that I got to North Texas and 8485. And I was thrilled to be there at the greatest jazz program in the world. And until I heard you, and then I heard you. I heard you play man, like within the first week of being on campus and I literally went back to my dorm room. I'm not kidding, man. I went back to my dorm room I laid on my bed. I had a six pack of MC alone. And I started, I started drinking my Mykhailo but I thought well, you know, I can be home in about 14 hours if I get in the car right now. I was about ready to leave. But I thought no, I'm gonna stick it out. And I'm, I'm glad I did. But man, you were such you. You were and you are a monster player. And so it's a thrill to have you on jazz piano skill.
Bert Ligon 4:32
I don't know that I've ever been told I've inspired someone to drink a six-pack.
Unknown Speaker 4:37
Well, that's a first for everything.
Bert Ligon 4:39
Yeah, I I don't I can't imagine what you heard, except that I think most of us at North Texas felt that way about at least 15 or 20 other people there. Right. It's a great school to learn from your peers, you know?
Dr. Bob Lawrence 4:55
Yes. Yeah. And you know, it's interesting Bert, I mentioned this to you as well. You know, I tell everybody all the time that I loved my days at the University of North Texas and the jazz program there, and especially that time that, you know, rich Madison, I learned so much from rich Madison, Jack Peterson, and of course DAN HURLEY but you know, is wonderful. I tell everybody all the time I learned so much at the university, but it but I learned even more in the hallways, just Hank, just hanging out with all the musicians that would were studying, there was just an incredible experience.
Bert Ligon 5:31
Exactly. And even just walking down the hall listening through the doors that people practicing makes, you just want to pack up and
Dr. Bob Lawrence 5:39
it was, um, it was unbelievable. So, you know, hey, I want to I want to start at the beginning, if you would be kind enough to share your story. You're, I'm fascinated to learn more about how you got into music, your childhood, your inspiration, and basically how you've gotten to this point in your in your life. So man, rewind time, go back for a start at the beginning. And tell us about Bert Ligon.
Bert Ligon 6:09
Alright, I I didn't have the, the background of studying classical piano from an early age. I wish it did. I'm not like Keith Jarrett, or many, many of you out there, who got the start. I just had kind of a different situation. And I didn't, I played little piano like everybody knows a little a few chords on guitar, a little piano, you know, and I could play like a triad and an octave in the bass. But that was the extent of my skills. After I graduated from high school even, and I went what for about a year not knowing what I wanted to do at all. And, you know, tried to but I was writing music. I was trying to figure out stuff on the piano writing music. So I decided at one point to buy a piano right when I was 19, and a barn electric piano a little a Wurlitzer. And
Dr. Bob Lawrence 7:09
that's classic back in those days, too, right?
Bert Ligon 7:11
Yeah. So in a big amplifier, and I called someone said, I'm a new piano player in town, which is kind of true because I just bought the piano. And within literally, within seven days of mine, that piano was on the road, playing in a pop band. No way, playing mafia clubs in the Midwest. Now, this is just your straight path to being a piano player. Right? Right. Right, exactly. So but this is really important because we played seven nights a week, nine o'clock to three o'clock in the morning. There were there was no music, there was just a guitar player, turn around key A D, and then go on in key of A, and I would have to kind of learn these tunes by ear, but they were pop tunes, the hardest thing we play was misty, and I kind of knew that I was like, oh, man, finally, you know, a jazzy tune because I was always drawn to jazz. Right? Um, but I'm too young to be in these bars. And they're scary, dangerous, you know. And everybody's packing, you know. So I spent all the breaks up there at the piano, just practicing scales and arpeggios with those little speakers. Right? So I sat at the piano for six hours, seven nights a week. Oh, my goodness. And that's really where I learned how to play piano. That's amazing. I worked out tunes. I didn't know that they played you know, not. And then I've just practice scales. Nobody could hear me. Nobody cared what that kid was doing over there. When I left that gig, which was pretty quickly because it was scary. I came home, I was already conditioned to practice and sit at a piano six hours a day. So I was averaging when I got back about eight hours a day sitting there trying to teach myself how to play piano. It was so frustrating because I didn't play you know, and I would learn tunes and I would start trying to get you know, gigs learning a tuner to that I needed for a gig. So maybe like, I think maybe Girl from Ipanema was one of the first things I really tried to tackle. And that's got a lot of harmonic information.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 9:13
Yeah, that, that that bridge, that bridge has tripped up a lot of musicians over the years, right.
Bert Ligon 9:18
But because I tackle that bridge first is like, Oh, I got I kind of get how some of this stuff works. And I would practice everything I did in 12 keys because, you know, I think it was only 12. And so I disappeared from the planet for about two years, because I just worked a few gigs. i i My rent was $47.50 a month if you can imagine where I was. I was right.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 9:49
Yeah, even at that time. $47 man dude, where were you living
Bert Ligon 9:53
$47.50 Man, I was living at that at the foot of the runway. Feel
Dr. Bob Lawrence 10:03
Oh, that's funny.
Bert Ligon 10:04
in a neighborhood where they didn't care if I was playing piano all night, there were cops everywhere in gunshots and I mean, it was. It was, it's amusing to look back to but I'm telling you this is this is where I learned how to play piano.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 10:17
So So is Dallas, your home? Is it? Okay, Dallas is home for you. Okay, got
Bert Ligon 10:23
it. Alright, so um, and then I kind of emerged from the shell, and people who didn't even know I played piano was going like, holy moly, what have you been doing? Well, I've been practicing eight hours a day, and trying to figure it out. But I did the traditional kinds of things that is scales, arpeggios. I wasn't studying classical music, but I would read through classical music and try to do a lot of writing. So from there, untrained, traditionally, you know, I started playing a rock bands, and I started writing for the bands, because back then, they had horn players in the band tower power, Chicago,
Dr. Bob Lawrence 11:01
right. Blood, Sweat and Tears. Yeah, yeah.
Bert Ligon 11:04
So we had horn players. And I wrote for him. So I ended up kind of learning more about reading from writing. Wow. And then, I've always been drawn to jazz. And I think I was drawn to jazz because my dad was a big band fan, you know. And so when I was a child, I mean, you can see at home movies that he's got the stereo turned up, and I'm tapping my foot, you know, so I think that inoculated me. And that's where I got the, the bug to do it. In fact, my dad was the kind of guy who built a stereo system in the 50s, when that you couldn't just go down and buy a stereo system. He ordered parts and built the cabinets. He was a furniture maker and stuff. And
Dr. Bob Lawrence 11:44
so that was he a musician? Was he a musician at all, or just a lover of play?
Bert Ligon 11:48
He kind of played some piano, you know, okay. But he's a music lover, for sure. Okay. But, um, so, so I kind of came to the game late. And by the time I got to North Texas, I'd kind of taught myself enough about playing jazz and everything else. Yeah. Yeah, writing. And so I could, you know, I could struggle through that program. First, I had no classical piano background. And I will tell you this because, I mean, I try to teach myself some you know, but that's, you know, tackling Chopin on your own. Sometimes, you're not, you're not going to get the greatest instruction from your if you don't know the material. So. So when I got to know, Texas, the piano faculty who were sympathetic to jazz guys had a full schedule. So they gave me Adam for Netsky. If you know, Adam, now out of business, he is one of the greatest musicians I've ever been around in my life. But he didn't know anything about jazz. And he wasn't going to treat me like oh, he's a jazz guy. So I'll give him this light load. He just poured it on, just poured it on a quarter and on. And I worked my tail off for him. And I loved every second of it. So it was an immersion in it. And the first time I played, he gave me a lot of stuff that was kind of, you know, not real difficult, like, you know, easy. Mozart's not isn't a two party manuscript something. And I had all that stuff memorized in about two weeks. And but I wasn't playing well. You know, I was playing the notes and the rhythms but I wasn't playing the style. Right. So I learned so much about how to bring out the real me. I learned how to rehearse big bands, from working with him on how to bring out the voices that Abrahms are somehow. Yeah, wow. We talked about music. We never talked about technique. We're talking about music. But that first semester, he gave me a memorize the stuff so quickly goes I think I was too easy on you. And I went oh. And the second semester, it was like, such intense music list in Southborough. And I think he had me in the second semester playing Copeland's piano variations. Oh my goodness, and, and then Beethoven concerti, not just the sonata, but like all three movements of concerts and stuff. And I was I was just, I was dying, but I loved every second of it. Now.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 14:18
It's surprising. I'm surprised he didn't throw some Hina stare at or something man.
Bert Ligon 14:22
No, he didn't. But he threw a lot of tough stuff at me. Right. So So I'm saying this because I learned a lot about music from him. And I learned a lot about piano player from just playing that literature because I had the greatest teachers I had him I had Chopin LIS Beethoven, Mozart, and right and so it relates
Dr. Bob Lawrence 14:42
Wow, so I'm really curious because I didn't know this about you till I started poking around on your website as well but your guitarist as well. So what So what the heck Where did that Where did all that fit in fit into this equation?
Bert Ligon 14:56
Well, oh, education You know, growing up in the era, did everybody know how to play a few chords on guitar? You know, so, right. I was one of those guys. But again, I just didn't do music when I was in high school or middle school, you know. And when I decided to be a piano player at that time, right, I just said, I'm just going to be a piano player. And I even wanted to be a piano player because I felt from being a piano player I could, I was addressing everything. I had the Orchestra under my fingers. Right? It wasn't that I, I'm not saying I'm not drawn to piano but I was drawn to it as a vehicle to access music, you know, as a composer and arranger as a as a musician. Plus, I thought there would always be a Steinway piano waiting for me to gig. I found that that is not true.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 15:49
You got to the gig and you wish you had that Wurlitzer back.
Bert Ligon 15:51
Yeah, I was, I was carrying big Fender Rhodes around the time, right. But so when I moved here, like I've been teaching at the University of South Carolina for 31 years, when I moved here, I didn't own a guitar. But I'm in an improv class with kids. I got guitar players coming in who were playing kind of rock and roll chords, right? I thought, let me see this thing. And I'd sure maybe like a major seventh or another way to play dominant seventh, right? It's dominant seventh could have some other colors, you know, attached to it. And so I bought a cheap guitar, just so I didn't have to constantly take a guitar away or push the piano player off the piano or to play something. Right, right. And then it was sitting in my lap, and I play about three notes a class and I leave it at my office, you know. And then one day, I decided to bring it home practice thought man says too much trouble. So I just I didn't. And then another time I did, and I got really hooked. So but there's also kind of a piano story in how I became more of a guitar player is one of the clubs we're in here in South Carolina. Actually had a piano some coffee. There's a piano down here. Do you want to do this gig with me tonight? And I was going, Yeah, I don't have to bring a piano. So on the way to the gig, he calls me he goes, the guy took the piano out of the club. And I'm, I'm already almost to the gig. So I just went to my office and got a guitar. And I go, Well, I really can't solo but I'll come.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 17:18
That is so funny. That is so funny, man. You know, that's funny. I'm telling you why that's this is funny, because I picked up I've done the same thing, right? I play some guitar and my guitar here, right in my teaching, and I got a I got a bass over I got a bass. Oh, there. Right. And so I used to walk like baselines on the piano right for students. And I said, You know what, instead of walking a baseline, why don't I just play the bass lines on a bass, right? So I got a bass. And then I started learning how to play bass and I got an A bassist in town gave me one of his upright bass just right, so I started playing upright bass and so I was doing a little recite a little performance with DAN HURLEY and Dan was playing piano and I'm playing bass behind him. And he it and he gets done solo and he looks at me to take a solo on and I'm shaking my head like I'm, I'm going like this man. He goes, You can't solo I said, No, man, I just I could just walk baseline so I its
Bert Ligon 18:17
roots and fifth.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 18:21
So I totally get that right. Oh my gosh. So wow, that so so so when you're hooked now. So are you still a jazz pianist at heart? Is that still really the?
Bert Ligon 18:33
No, I think I'm a musician at heart. Who happens to own a guitar? Well, many guitars now.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 18:41
You're a real guitarist now, man. When you start buying guitars,
Bert Ligon 18:45
not only buying them, but I'm having them specially made for me now.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 18:50
You're, you're hooked. Dude, you you're so hooked. Yeah. They're,
Bert Ligon 18:54
they're also I love I love musical instruments, you know, and I've actually tried to play everything else. I mean, I've got a violin up here that I just can't play. You know? I had a cello in here for a while I can kind of have you know, don't tell me too much else friends. I said this, but I could get around on that easier than the violin because this is seems unnatural. But that's right. I own the flute for a while and got a pretty good tone but last poker games I did. I tried playing trumpet and they're probably still talking about me and the brass methods classes at North Texas about how bad I was. Right? So I, I took all those classes because I'm interested in all those instruments, but I do probably play piano better than I play anything else. And I'm really trying to catch the guitar playing up to that as much as I can. You know, what's fun about playing guitar for me too, is that you have to really think through what you're gonna play because piano I mean, always have big chords I'm able to do with my left-hand kind of whatever I want to up here. I've got six things over here and I can't use all six of them at one time, you really got to be economical. And it kind of informs my piano plan in my writing to realize how much can we get done with less on six strings. Right? Right. And I don't have to be playing 10 or writing 10 notes all the time. Yeah, not the not the one do that, you know? Yeah. Well,
Dr. Bob Lawrence 20:19
you're, you're an amazing writer, composer, arranger as well. And, and anybody that's been to your website, I mean, there's a ton of information out there and videos and that check out your writing. I just listened to a little begin the beginning arrangement that you did. It's on your website. It's beautiful. Just beautiful. Right? So I want to encourage everybody listening check out Burt's website. And Bert legen music.com. Right. Right. It is. Yeah. You got a ton of information out there. We'll talk about that here in a little bit. But, but yeah, you're writing your writings. Amazing, too. So how would you just kind of kind of got into that just naturally through the plane of the piano? And
Bert Ligon 21:05
yeah, in the beginning, the first tunes I wrote, were a little melody here there or something, I was trying to practice a little passage ad right to learn how to practice, you know, to coordinate some lines and, and then I'd sequencing, you know, and then like, well, there's halfway to a tune. So really wasn't even a plan to be a tune, it was just a reason to kind of learn this vocabulary. And then pretty soon, I realized I had written maybe 20 of these things, you know, and then people would, would I play it with people in North Texas, and then somebody would actually call the tune, you know, at a jam session, I go like, holy crap. Yeah. Right. If they, if they remember my tune that I got to keep writing, and I got into the being in Dallas, I got into the, the jingle business was kind of hop in there for a while. And I, you know, you write one jingle, and you do well, and then call you back and write I had a very amusing first experience in the studio for this guy, and which I'll try to drill real quickly. He had the whole studio orchestra in there at one time rather than trying to do separate tracks and overdubbing like we normally do, right, right. So he had the strings in there, he had brass in there at the same time. And he was a funk thing. And he had a bass trombone player down there playing quarter-note triplets, and all low C's, while it is like an veal apart, nobody knows what the notes are in the viola part. And so they're all and he couldn't get the timing, right. And there's like, you know, 30 of us in the studio, which is amazing. And it wasn't working out. So I waited until an hour had gone by. Now we're into the second hour, so everybody's gonna get paid for two hours. And I asked him, I said, you mind, maybe help you with making a couple of quick changes. And I went up to score. And I told I, you know, fix the viola notes. I took out the bass trombone parts that were kind of fighting the 16th note funk. I told the the engineer where to put the click so come out, right. And we came out and it was exactly it was supposed to be a minute long. So I made it 59.5 on the money. Everybody played it down to one take, of course. And it worked. And we all went home with two hours of pay.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 23:22
So was he grateful man, I bet
Bert Ligon 23:24
Oh, yeah. And then he started calling me to write stuff. And so I was I had access to really great players in Dallas and all the North horses, right players in the rhythms players, they were there. And the string players was always on so Brusilov who was oh, yes, yeah. Right. I'm used to play with Eugene Ormandy in the Philadelphia Philarmonic. Well, he would be my concertmaster. So I'd write stuff for these strings. And they would do it. Yeah. You know, they were, some of them were all in black, because they're going right to the Dallas symphony concert that night. So I had a real opportunity to try stuff and it worked. And immediately, you know, wow. And so that's, you know, there's a lot of stuff that I've written for strings since then, because of just that opportunity. They're just almost by accident, you know, right. Right. But that's what kind of put me through school I was still doing that when I was in school, North Texas. She knows.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 24:17
Yeah, well, you were always I was always you know, from a distance admiring you because you were always man, you were always on the go, man. You're like You're like that Energizer Bunny, man. There's like you're just boom, boom, boom all over the place. So okay, so look, you know, phenomenal pianist, phenomenal. Writer, arranger composer now good now guitarist. But there's one area I want to talk to you about, specifically, that I I'm always fascinated by when you have somebody of your gifts, your talents, your passion, for education, for music, education. And can you talk about that, because it's fabulous to have somebody like you so committed to education, jazz education, the materials and the resources that you have put together that you've published that you make available for students, literally all over the world. So how did your passion for education come about?
Bert Ligon 25:22
That's a really good question. And there's a couple answers. Okay. I think from the beginning that, that I started doing music, people to ask me, What am I doing? You know, they'd asked me a question about when I'm playing how to, how are you addressing that chord and this tune or something like that? So I'm sure that asked other people too, but I usually had an answer, you know. And I, there's something hardwired in my brain that makes me want to explain things. I don't know what that I don't care what it is, I could teach. I could teach hitting in baseball,
Dr. Bob Lawrence 25:56
which I know you're a big baseball guy. We'll get to that later, too. I understand
Bert Ligon 26:01
the kind of fundamentals of what that is. And there's some part of my brain that breaks it down into components and kind of helps people put it back together. So I've always kind of had that inclination. It's like if there's a natural gift, I don't know, I think maybe it's more that than anything else. But I think it comes. My mom was a teacher, okay, my grandmother. Okay. I think two of my grandmother's were two of my grandmother's were teachers, I think, two of my great grandmother's for teachers, I've got teachers in the family going back, right through the 19th century. I still affect as I may post it again, today, just because we're talking about it, I still have my grandmother's teaching certificate from the state of Texas, she went to what is now TW, I guess, but it was a different it was called. I don't know, it was just a teaching school for women at the time when she got her degree. So maybe that's just come some kind of genetic? We like to explain things in our family. Right? Oh, no. So
Dr. Bob Lawrence 27:05
yeah, well, you know, you have a gift for that too, right. Because, you know, there's one thing to be a great musician and, and try to teach. And there's another thing to be a great musician, and actually be able to teach. And you are able to teach. And that's becomes very apparent, if anybody picks up your materials, and reads through your books, and the linear progression that you use in explaining and teaching, it's very clear that you've given a lot, a lot of thought to not just the concepts and just not the skills, but actually how to approach the study and the learning of those concepts and scales. So talk about that a little bit.
Bert Ligon 27:52
Well, yeah, it's all related to just clearly presenting any kind of argument, you know, you want to set it up, you want to be able to if you want them to understand this if they don't have this, and this, they're not going to be able to get here. That's right. So that requires a lot of thinking sometimes to back it up. Okay, I get this, why don't they get it? Well, maybe they don't get these other steps First, you know, correct. So even with people who do kind of get this, a lot of times I try to back them up over to here, let's make sure that we really understand everything. So we're when we get to here, it's like, well, of course, that takes a lot of time I stay awake at night when it should be sleeping, sitting there thinking about the order of things, in how in order to explain this, what things need to proceed it and, and writing books for teaching classes, I can kind of reorganize that. And over the years, I kind of have figured out the order that I like to present things. Yeah. But that skill, to me, is related to writing music, too. Because if I'm writing a piece of music, and I want the audience to receive this big moment here, I've got to do the same kind of thing. I know, right? And I remember writing a piece one time where I had this figured out, but I had it in the wrong place. And it took me like three months on this one chart I was working on I had this really nice thing. And I realized that I had it here. Right, you know, right. And I had to all I had to do is switch around like this first, you know, but to me, that is all related to the same kind of thing. If I'm improvising the solo, and you know, you've experienced that too. We've all experienced when we do that thing. Oh, I should have waited for the second course for that, you know.
I'm in the first eight measures. Or, and then that second course comes around and it's like I got nothing left.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 29:49
You're looking at the sax player. That's yours.
Bert Ligon 29:51
Yeah. Why did they why did i Why did I take this repeat?
Dr. Bob Lawrence 29:55
Oh, that's fun.
Bert Ligon 29:57
But that's an ongoing life skills that you keep trying to To bounce, you know, work that balance out, and whether storytelling through teaching of some a topic was just telling a good joke whether it's, you know, right writing a piano solo or improvising piano solo writing,
Dr. Bob Lawrence 30:13
arranging, right? Yeah, you know, I tell students all the time, you know, consult conceptual understanding drives, drives and determines your physical development. So I'm always saying that, you know, if, if how you think and approach, a concept here is confusing, fragmented and complicated, well, then it's going to be confusing, fragmented, the complicated here. So you have to take time, like you said, those steps, those essential steps to get to that big moment. So that actually, the concept of the skill becomes clear here. So that you will have productivity and practicing and developing it hear, would you not? Would you not agree with that?
Bert Ligon 30:57
Oh, absolutely. And sometimes the sometimes that thinking is away from the piano, you know, all the time. And sometimes I tell them, you know, they need to pick up a pencil and they need to write some things down. And it may be just like, rules paper, not necessarily musical paper. Yeah. All right. And then sometimes they need to just write. Yeah, and walk around the house and sing some. So there. Because, you know, I mean, playing an instrument you get so caught up. I asked my students, I mean, twice this week, I've had students that I don't, why are you playing that thing? Well, my fingers just played it. So they're not really playing what they're hearing this finger just like, my finger must play this note. Well, we have a laugh about it, of course, because they know they're busted. They know that notes don't make any sense. But their fingers somehow just kept going down. weird places. So we have to, you know, say what do you what are you actually hearing? So stop playing get your fingers away from the guitar the piano for a second? What are you actually hearing? And then let's try to find that under the fingers, you know? Yeah.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 32:04
Right. You know, the importance of thinking melodically right, the importance of thinking melodically at all times, right? You know, in fact, what is the book that you have one of your books, I want you to talk about this for a second, because I love the title. I absolutely love the title that you picked for your book. It's connecting chords with linear harmony.
Bert Ligon 32:29
Yeah, a friend told me that's the least sexy title.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 32:35
You know, maybe it's me, but I think it's pretty sexy. I like it.
Bert Ligon 32:38
It's, it tells you what you're going to what you're going to deal with, you know,
Dr. Bob Lawrence 32:43
what? Well, it tells you what you're going to deal with. And it also stresses a very important fact that I think a lot of people miss in their, in their journey, their musical journey. And unless you get this, your musical journey, you will be always struggled, like you said, and your fingers will just kind of do things without really thinking about it. You know, I had I, I'm curious to get your take on this. I used to have old jazz was when I was a kid, you know, 12 years old, 14 years old trying to figure things out, right? And I would have these old jazz was say to me, man, you really want to get good at improvisation? Yes. I mean, you really want to get good at playing melodies and improvising. Yes. And then they would say, well, then study harmony. And I used to go, huh? What? What? You know, and that's at 12 and 14, like, what does that mean? Exactly? Well, then your book, your book, that title, basically those old Jazz's will be going like Yes, finally, somebody wrote a book that actually addresses this. Yeah,
Bert Ligon 33:50
and I think that in my experience a lot of university theory classes talk about harmony as if it's constructed you know, up and down. Correct vertical, this is soprano, alto, tenor, bass. Yes, note soprano, alto, tenor bass, right spirits music. That's right time in line. So that's why I talk about linear harmony because it's not a result of some kind of vertical stacking of chords, and it's not a necessarily a scale-based solution to life. It's right. It's like lines and then we can so yeah,
Dr. Bob Lawrence 34:26
Bert Ligon 34:30
there's a there's an infinite number of ways to do things with music and I only know you know, like this tiny little piece of it, but I will try to help out. I always feel like no you've listened all these things. I you know, that you know, guitar and piano and writing and education. And I feel like a hobbyist and all these things because there's just too many things. You know, I envy these people who were like, Man, that guy is a guitar player or that guy is just a great piano player and, and, you know, I don't know But I'll I'm just kind of a good hobbyist at many things, you know?
Dr. Bob Lawrence 35:05
Yeah. Yeah. You know? Yeah. Well, that just tells you how far down the road you are when you start thinking like that, right? Because you really have an appreciation for how much there is to know and study. That's the great thing about that's the great thing about music, right? I always say that. It's not like a model airplane that you put it together and then you go, Okay, I'm done with that. I guess I'll go do something else. Now. You know, it's not it's not that, you know. So, okay, so let's, let's talk about a hobby for a second, then we'll come back music man. I see that man. You're a big baseball guy. I'm a big baseball guy. So talk to me about your love for baseball. I'm curious about that.
Bert Ligon 35:45
Well, I just think it's a great game. I'm not. I wouldn't call myself a sports fan. But I'm a baseball fan. And, you know, follow baseball, there was a period of time I would take my spring breaks. And I'm not that far from Florida. So I go down to Florida spend the week oh, yeah, I wouldn't show up at 730. In the morning, when the guys show up. I would watch them do all their drills. I would watch them play one of those exhibition games, and I would watch them do drills. They would let this is long time ago, they'd let me in the batting cages. And I'd watch the guys take batting practice, right? That's right. I've watched guys who won batting titles, hitting off a tee over and over again, I would watch millionaires because that's what these guys are out there doing drills over and over and over again. Can you hit the cut off? Man, if you're pitching in the ball sets that side? Will you cover first base these to me are things like what we do in music, we drill these things. It's exactly right. And it's the fundamentals. Right. It's fundamentals. And then when in the game, they're not thinking about what should I do here? It's kind of like body, you know, muscle memory. Yes, they've already pre thought that they their body knows what to do. You know, that's, that's how I liken it to jazz but then it's just such a great game. Everybody takes turns, you know, you blow it somebody else takes your place. And so,
Dr. Bob Lawrence 37:02
yeah, there's a lot to it. Yeah. A lot of parallels to music.
Bert Ligon 37:06
Yep. Yep. So everybody knows their job. So that's like a musician, but we all react at the moment. And we have we pick each other up. And it's very, very jazz, like, in that sense.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 37:18
No doubt. Yeah. It's funny. I used to go out, take my boys. Every spring break, we go to Phoenix, though. We go to Phoenix spring training, you know, so. And yeah, it's the same. It's fascinating to go watch, like you said, these pros, right, doing fundamental drills that you're also seen on the little league field. Right, exactly.
Bert Ligon 37:40
So it gives me a chance to remind my music students that yeah, no, you sometimes you still have to address the fundamental so your finger doesn't just play that note. Just
Dr. Bob Lawrence 37:50
yeah. Yes, look. But man, I saw I saw a picture of you though, man and a baseball uniform. On your website. You're like, look, you're like playing third base. What's that all about? We're, you know, and I mean, this in the kindest way. You didn't look like a spring chicken in that picture, man. So what's this all about?
Oh, you got the trophy, man.
Bert Ligon 38:18
I got trophies. Yeah, I got I got souvenir balls from home runs. I've hit man. I found a men's league that when I was in my 40s. And I thought, well, I'll play for a couple years. See if I can keep up and yeah, I kept up and then ended up finding out I could I could pitch and play third base. You know, when I wasn't playing third base, I could pitch because I could throw strikes and I could kind of mix it up to where I could. I could fool some people, you know, and yeah, I am. I'm gonna be 68 In a few weeks. Okay. And I'm still playing.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 38:55
Yeah, that's awesome. Okay, well, that you know what, man, I'm so excited. I'm gonna have to come watch you play dude. Because I'm so excited. I just I just told my wife and my boys this morning here in Farmers Branch, you know, just a suburb of Dallas. Right? They have an old timers League. Great. Yeah. And so I told my boys I said, Man, I'm going I'm going to try out for the old timers League and my boys are so you know, they give me so much confidence. They said, Dad, what if you get cut? What if you don't make the team? I go. Well, I said, you know that I don't make the team but I'm gonna I'm gonna go I'm gonna go do it, man. Yeah, so you're still Yeah, you're. You're playing stuff in?
Bert Ligon 39:33
Yeah, get warmed up though, man. Because at first you got there. You throw the baseball. You'd be go, man, this feels so good. And the next day you're walking around.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 39:44
So when you start warming up like the day before, I mean, how far in advance do you warm up man?
Bert Ligon 39:51
Oh, you know 20 years ago. I start throwing on January 1 Oh, this year. I'm a little behind schedule. I'm it's hard to you know, I don't have kids literally how Seymour and I should go down to find the neighbors. They're not looking at me like what are you talking about? Anyway, this is kind of weird, but I have I have a basement here. Right? That has a 60 foot pitching tumble in it. Oh my gosh. So and I also have some batting cage stuff down there, too. I know. I know. This is nuts, man.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 40:29
I'm gonna come live. I'm gonna come live with you for a couple weeks. Man. We can play music do some baseball, do some hitting. I mean, it'd be fun, man.
Bert Ligon 40:35
So I work on the fundamentals down there. I get out. You know, I won't. I probably should start today because it's going to hit me soon. But you know, I can throw I've got a wall I throw against with a rubber ball since I'm not throwing hard balls against my cement. You know, right, but I've got the strike zone up there on the wall, you know? Yeah. So I'll go through a series of pitches. Try not to hit the middle just hitting corner to corner to corner to corner and break off a curveball. Make sure I no.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 41:04
Well, lately this I gotta. I gotta show you something here, man. Just to show you here is this is my Nolan Ryan. This is my Nolan Ryan Hall of Fame signed by Nolan Ryan Hall fans a great baseball. No, wait, man. I got I got more. Hang on a second. Check this out. Check this out. Now look at this. This is my this is my Johnny Bench. Watch on my Johnny Bench. autographed baseball. But the one I'm most proud of? The one I'm most proud of right here. You're ready. Yeah. My youngest son when he was eight years old, he signed the baseball and he gave it to me. He said he said Dad, you're gonna want to hang on to that.
Bert Ligon 41:49
I I have one of those balls myself from my son. He hit a he hit a ball off of me. Bill did not go over the fence, but it hit the outfield fence and stuck. Oh, no kidding. Yeah. And he was like, yes. So he signed it for me.
Yeah, he's like, Dad, I just I just took you yard
I crushed me man knows getting that.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 42:11
Oh, that's hilarious, man. Oh, that's so funny. Alright, so um, golly. So okay, I'm great about
Bert Ligon 42:18
the game too, for me is that on? Every day of the week, I'm teaching. I'm thinking I'm writing music. I'm trying to be a better musician. I'm frustrated with how hard it still is, you know, right. And then right. And then on Saturdays for six months to a year I go out and I play with people who know nothing about music. We don't talk about music. We're all different walks of life. In many cases, we should never talk about anything but baseball, if you know what I'm saying. And, and it's just fun. And, you know, we're running around and we're just like, we're playing a kids game. The age range on the gas I'm playing with would be like 22 to my age, you know, right. So sometimes I'm up there. And I'm in the batter's box. And it's a 22 year old left hander thrown at my knees, you know?
Dr. Bob Lawrence 42:59
Right. Right. But wow. So it's awesome. Yeah. You know, have you ever been to Kansas City with the, you know, it's interesting. In Kansas City. There's the Negro Baseball Museum. Right. And you've been there. Yeah. And then right next to it, you know, is the jazz Museum, right? Isn't that fascinating? Do you find that fascinating?
Bert Ligon 43:24
I do. And it hits me right in one heart. So I wrote a piece. the 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues, I think was maybe last year and I wrote a piece called 18th and Vine. Oh, wow. Four ends for some kansas city orchestra kids.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 43:40
Oh, my gosh, that's so awesome. That's so awesome. So yeah. You know, that connect that nexus between jazz and baseball, that nexus that love between the players and the musicians? It's fabulous.
Bert Ligon 43:53
Yeah, they're pictures of Duke Ellington's band playing baseball when they're on the road. Yeah. There's a guy named Claude Fiddler Williams. I don't know if you know that name at all. I do not. Yeah, club. Phil. Fiddler Williams is from Kansas City. So I kind of dedicated the tune to him. I'd actually played with him when he was 95 years. Oh
Dr. Bob Lawrence 44:09
my gosh, he still had gigs booked. Truly an optimist.
Bert Ligon 44:16
played guitar with the Count Basie band before Freddie Green. Oh, wow. He taught Charlie Parker when Charlie Parker was playing blues and thought it was a 14 bar tune. This is who Clodfelter Williams was. So when you know when I play with him like there's like some deep history coming out of the violin man.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 44:37
No doubt about that. Holy moly. That's unbelievable. So how long did he end up living?
Bert Ligon 44:44
About another year after I played with him? I believe in 9495 Just on occasion to summer but you know,
Dr. Bob Lawrence 44:52
that's fabulous. Yes. Wonderful. XO great experience. So okay, I'm going to you know, now we're going to move into what I call the rapid-fire segment, that rapid-fire segment of the jazz panel skills. Yes,
Bert Ligon 45:05
sudden we have technical problems. Question. Oh, good, hear you. Sick. You're
Dr. Bob Lawrence 45:12
right. So um, so the rapid-fire session here, I'm going to throw out some musical terms, some musical skills. And I want you to as simply and concisely as possible, speak to the students, the jazz panel skills listeners and kind of give them your do's and your don'ts with regards to this particular topic or skill. Alright, so I'm going to start, I'm saying I'm going to start easy, but it's not easy. I'm just gonna throw it out. Scales. Everybody talks about scales. So Bert Ligon, what are your do's and don'ts?
Bert Ligon 45:52
On this, I think that's a great place to start. Um, I don't think I could play an instrument without learning scales. Because if we go back to what we're really trying to do, we're trying to play melodies. And you can only play melodies, either with steps or with leaps. So that indicates at some point, I'm going to need to practice steps which are scales, and leaps, which are pages. So it's fundamental. So you can't get that's like that basic baseball skill. You got to practice that, do it, you cannot do that. Here's the do's and the don'ts. What you cannot do is think that that is studying harmony, or that is studying melodic development. It is kind of like just the spice rack and certainly have to know it. So I spent years practicing scales. And I'll admit that I don't practice scales at all anymore. But I do practice arpeggios. And when I practice arpeggios, I connect the arpeggiated notes with passing tones. And to me, I think that may be even a better way to think of scales is to think of them as, like a way to get to the arpeggiated notes.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 47:05
Right? So yeah, got it, right.
Bert Ligon 47:09
Just coming across, across a Beethoven theme from a cello piano, piano trios, like that's a scale, but that's just what I've seen this, that, here's another piece that everybody knows.
I'm just gonna say that,
Unknown Speaker 47:32
they're gonna hear that as a scale, but it really is. Missing, right? But so then I want to really think about scales then as a way to get to these points. So here's my Google Maps thing I'm trying to get from here to here. Alright, the important thing is my starting point, my end point, and I can choose the scenic route, I can take the freeways or whatever, that's the scales or arpeggios possible analogy, and I'm shooting from the from the hip here, but the too many people start thinking that every chord symbol, or every thing has to do with playing a scale, when it would be better to think maybe, what is the one note I want to play here? Correct. And then use scales and arpeggios to get there. But fundamentally, yeah, you have to probably play scales, to work out issues of what the hands do with the piano and right hands are symmetrical associate piano, you know, right.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 48:28
Right. And I always I always talk to students about scales, practicing scales with always a, an intentional entry point. And an intentional destination point, you know, everybody wants to practice scales from the root to the root, and then always like, No, I don't want you to go root the root. How about root to seven? Or how about 39? Or how about 50? You know, how about some kind of entry point, some destination point? And then what arpeggio coincides with that, you know?
Bert Ligon 48:55
Yeah, I think and the way we teach scales, in classes, in piano lessons, everything is this root root thing, because it's easy to talk about that way. But most melodies don't start
Dr. Bob Lawrence 49:06
with that's exactly what that's exactly right. And and we
Bert Ligon 49:10
do that I just played dead. But you know, you think about this little folks always like that their lunchtime start on the five and or the National Anthem or some of these things. So yeah. Practicing from some melodic content point. Yeah. And
Dr. Bob Lawrence 49:26
plus, I think that if you're, if you're always practicing the scale from the root to root, you're doing such a disservice to the ear, right? How about, you know, if I practice from the root to the seventh mic, I'm listening for that. Seventh, if I'm if I'm practicing something, you know, from the fifth to the ninth, I'm listening for the fifth to the ninth. You know, my ears are starting to hear these relationships.
Bert Ligon 49:46
Well, someone asked me the other day, another college teacher about I think we're talking about some melodic minor arpeggio stuff, which is maybe too deep for this conversation, but the point he was asking me how do I have them practice of his tune? And I say I haven't practiced arpeggios from the melody note in every measure, instead of going, Okay, this is right, such and such chords, I'm going to play from root to root, no, find the melody note and then frame it with the arpeggio and or the scale, because then that's what we call a safe Stella. And we're calling Stella because it's a beautiful melody. And we want to hear that melody. So I practice any kind of scale motion or arpeggio motion from that rather than root to root. That's not my job. Correct? Not what I hear when I hear any tune. I don't hear root. And yet, as musicians, sometimes we get so so skewed, you know, what's that tune in the piano player will start hauling off a bunch of chord changes. You know, the bass players, they can root fifths and anybody else in the world, they're thinking of the lyrics and the melody.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 50:53
Bert Ligon 50:55
So let's go back to I go back to that a lot. So that's my thing on scales. I won't go any further.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 51:00
Well, I hope you had found part one of this jazz panel skills podcast, with special guests Bert Ligon to be insightful, and of course beneficial. One of my mentors and teachers, our friends and used to say to me after every lesson, never forget, the greatest thing about music is the people you meet through it. And the privilege of meeting and spending time with Bert simply confirms our sentiment 100% Don't forget if you are a jazz piano skills member. I will see you online Thursday evening at the jazz panel skills masterclass 8pm, central time to discuss this podcast episode featuring Bert Ligon in greater detail and to answer of course, any questions that you may have about the study of jazz in general. As always, you can reach me by phone through the Dallas School of Music 97203808050 by email, Dr. Lawrence, Dr. Lawrence at jazz piano skills.com or through SpeakPipe a handy little widget found throughout the jazz piano skills website. Well, that's it for now. And until next week, enjoy the journey. Enjoy the pearls of wisdom shared by Berkeley. And most of all, have fun as you discover, learn and play jazz Piano
Jazz Pianist, Guitarist, Composer, Arranger, Educator
Bert Ligon is the director of jazz studies at the University of South Carolina. He received his Bachelor of Music and his Master of Music in jazz piano performance and arranging from the University of North Texas. Ligon has published four books: Jazz Theory Resources Vol. 1 & 2, Connecting Chords with Linear Harmony, and Comprehensive Technique for the Jazz Musician. Ligon has published several original compositions and arrangements for big bands, jazz orchestras, and steel drum ensembles. He composed extensively in the Radio/TV/film industry receiving many awards including national PBS awards and an EMMY nomination. He composed the SCBDA All-State Jazz Band Audition music. Ligon has been president of the South Carolina IAJE and chair of the jazz committee of the South Carolina Band Directors Association. Ligon was commissioned to compose music by the Midwest Clinic in celebration of the 2018 Conference.
Bert has presented several clinics and concerts at IAJE, ASTA, and SCMEA conferences. He has taught jazz improvisation, guitar, piano, conducted jazz string orchestras at Suzuki Institutes and International Conferences and the Mark O'Connor Fiddle conferences, and Christian Howes' Creative Strings Workshop.
At UofSC, Ligon coordinates the jazz combos and big bands, jazz strings, teaches jazz theory, jazz improvisation, arranging, and applied jazz lessons.
Bert plays piano, guitar, plays some third base & pitches a bit.
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