Issue 23 Volume 1 May 2011
HEARING MORE THAN JUST DRUMS
“I’m originally from the Motown state of Michigan, and by age 16 in the early 70’s I had already started playing drums and percussion with saxophone legend Sonny Stitt and keyboardist Eddie Russ,” says Calvin.
Despite growing up in the musical mecca that was Motown, Calvin says he didn’t come from a musical family.
“I’ve got six brothers and two sisters but I’m the only one who played music although there was always a lot of music in the house. When I was four I started playing drums on my mother’s pots and pans and you’re beating stuff all the time so they finally bought me a pair of bongos - so I guess I was always interested in drums. Even in my kindergarten year I wanted to be a musician and a lot of my little friends did too and we did all actually end up becoming musicians! People think the ghetto was so bad but when I went to grade school all those teachers let us bring our instruments to school and play at recess and play shows to the younger kids so it wasn’t bad as far as I was concerned. When I finished year six I joined a band and I’ve been playing ever since.”
Calvin credits his technique and passion for the drums and percussion to years on the road honing his craft.
“I started travelling as a teenager, you know a floating gun for hire, and then I spent most of the seventies touring and recording around the US and Europe. I moved to LA in 1980 and became involved in the Funk scene playing, recording and writing with Rodney Trotter, Kevin Dorsey, Greg Williams (Switch), Nate Thomas, Jim Mackey and Alan Lindgren to name a few.”
But it wasn’t Calvin’s love of music that brought him to Australia but love of a different kind.
“My wife’s Australian and I met her in LA, back in ‘84 and we stayed in touch. We hooked up a couple of times and then in 88 I moved out here. I didn’t know anybody but her so she used to drop me off at the drum shop and I’d hang around there all day and just start talking to people and before you know it, I was gigging. I met a keyboard player who was working at Brashes and he gave me the number for a bass player by the name of Craig Calhoun and we started doing Kevin Borich and the Brothers of Oz, and it was Kevin who introduced me to the pub rock scene.”
During the 1990s Calvin toured with the Party Boys, Kevin Borich featuring Renee Geyer and Marc Hunter, Marcia Hines, Christine Anu, Swoop, Professor Groove & The Booty Affair and Coloured Stone. It was also during this era that he formed the well respected Doudomba.
“Soon after arriving in Australia, I met Philippe Lincyand and Yaw Glyminand and together we formed Doudoumba and started performing traditional African music. This led me to exploring my African musical roots and soon I found myself leading parallel lives playing rock and roll or blues and roots one night and traditional African music or Jazz the next.”
But as the scene changed so too did Calvin’s interests and he found himself frustrated with the lack of outlets for Australian music.
“In 2000, I was approached by the organising committee of the Sydney Olympics to put together events involving traditional drumming from around the world, culminating in the torch ceremony and opening of the athletes’ village. It was at one of these events that I was asked by legendary didge player cousins, Mark Atkins and Janawirri Yiparrka, to play with their world music band Ankala. Ankala’s violinist and keyboardist is Tim Huang. He’s a music virtuoso and we had an immediate connection first and foremost as players. We agreed that there was more to Australian music than what was being played on commercial radio. So we set about creating ihearmusic.com.”
With his two children, born and raised in Australia, Calvin now passionately calls Australia home and believes that we make some of the best music in the world, but he also believes that this is sometimes our best kept secret.
“We wanted to create a community of Australian musicians online but we also wanted to start booking gigs and festivals for them so we could create work for people out of it. We’re getting a lot of hits from people wanting to see a smaller site with a variety of good music. When I tour you realise that a lot of people overseas still think Australia is purely an indie rock scene but nobody knows we’ve got reggae music, middle eastern music, funk, soul and African music, gypsy music and every other type of music you can imagine. If I can get people in the world to start to see that Australia is a bigger melting pot than they thought that would be wonderful. Everybody’s advertising Itunes but if you don’t say you’re on there, they won’t do anything to promote you. If you don’t keep pushing your music then nobody’s going to buy it which is why I’ve got some Australians who are actually doing better on this site than on Itunes because the people that want to find their music can find them easier,” says Calvin.
I Hear Music artists are currently being featured in a series of upcoming gigs at Sydney’s iconic jazz venue, The Basement. Calvin says that live performances will continue to be integral to both the website and his ongoing career because, quite simply, he can’t get enough of it.
“I love it – I grew up as a player and I’m really addicted to playing. Some people can just teach or whatever but I’m addicted to gigging. I think you get hooked on people telling you they love your music and I just love it.”
To hear Calvin’s latest musical offerings visit www.ihearmusic.com or www.arabesk.com.au
You have had the misfortune to encounter a contract written in old fashioned “legalese”. This used to be the standard way that legal agreements were written. The claim was that the use of all that obscure terminology and duplication was to ensure that all possible circumstances were dealt with. That may or may not have been true but the main effect was to make contracts incomprehensible to anyone without formal legal training. (There is a great contract send up in the Marx Brother’s movie “A Night at the Opera”).
For many years the tendency has been to write contracts in “plain English” (interestingly the Canadians call this “plain language”, but they do have all those French speakers). All legislation in Australia is now written this way. My suggestion is to take the thing back to whoever is trying to get you to sign, ask them why it is written in such a confusing fashion and point out that “plain English” is now the norm. I would also be slightly suspicious of anyone who presents you with a contract of this nature.
Lastly, the Musicians' Union is a good source of assistance for situations like this.
Dear Uncle Terry,
We have some gigs at a pub near one of the big football grounds, the venue owner has said we have to learn the football team songs. Can he make us do this? It’s not really the sort of stuff we play.
There is an old, old saying: “he who pays the piper calls the tune”. If someone is paying you to do a gig then of course they can make it a condition that you play certain music. Mind you, you can always refuse to do the gig but that strikes me as a little foolish for a musician in the current climate!
Football team songs tend to have strong melodies of reasonable range and relatively straightforward harmonies. This goes with their function as “sing-along” songs. It also means that you can do your own version in the musical style of the rest of your repertoire but still recognisably the team song. Audiences will usually enjoy this, particularly at pubs near big football grounds.
One final word of warning, if you learn one of the team songs be sure to learn them all or risk offending some inebriated football fan/punter who demands to know why his/her team’s song has not been performed!
We can view this type of chord several ways as its effect is quite ambiguous. One way of thinking of the diminished is that it is like a supercharged minor. Another way is to consider it an edgy dominant in disguise. We dealt with the simplest member of this family back in Issue 7 of “The Dues” Remember the essence of this strange beast? If we start with a major triad (1, 3 and 5 of the major scale) all we have to do to create a minor triad is to flatten the third giving us 1, b3 and 5. The diminished takes this idea a further step by flattening the 5th of the minor chord. Now everything that can be flattened has been flattened (and in case you’re wondering – no, you can’t flatten the 1, this is the note that gives us the chord’s note name!)
So here is a diminished triad:
1 b3 b5
If we started on the note “C” we would get:
C Eb Gb
Which will look like this in musical notation:
Notice the two alternative symbols. We can indicate this chord by “dim” (obviously an abbreviation of “diminished”) OR… by a small circle in a “superscript” position. Of course, since there are no chord-symbol-police, people tend to put the circle at different heights but it is always AFTER the note name. For example, most musicians would recognise “Co” as C diminished but not “oC”.
OK, so now you’ve refreshed your memory of the basic triad, go and play it on something, listen to the sound. Hear what I mean about it being like a supercharged minor? It’s certainly got that dark minor sound but there is an extra “edge” (Oh dear!! I’m beginning to sound like a wine critic!!). The diminished chord is often associated with mysteriousness or dramatic tension.
Other members of the diminished family
Probably the most commonly used member of this family with more than three notes is the “Diminished Seventh” and this name is going to cause us a slight problem. For some years now I have been banging on in this column about how seven means flat seven in chord symbol notation. Well it does…. Nearly always. We have just bumped into the exception!!
Now, as you would expect, the symbol for the Diminished Seventh chord is “Cdim7” or “Co7”. All our previous experience would tell us that this symbol would produce a chord made up of a diminished triad (1,b3 and b5) to which is added a flat 7. ie: 1, b3, b5, b7 or if the starting note was “C”:
C Eb Gb Bb
This is a chord we have already met back in Issue 15 , it is called the “half diminished” or “minor seventh flat five” chord. What is going on here?
Well, here is the big exception in the chord symbol system. (I could say that it was the exception that proves the rule but the logic of that particular expression has always eluded me.) OK, here it is, read it, understand it and memorise it:
In the diminished seventh chord, 7 means DOUBLE FLAT 7 . You actually flatten it twice. If we were making a C diminished seventh chord then the seventh note of the C major scale is B, the flat 7 is Bb so the double flat 7 is Bbb. Now we know that Bbb is the same note as A, and A is the sixth note of the C major scale so…..
DOUBLE FLAT 7 IS THE SAME AS 6!!!!
This means that if the chord symbol notation system was consistent, then we SHOULD call this chord the diminished 6th chord, but it isn’t and we don’t. Got It?
Apart from being a big exception, the diminished seventh chord is odd in another way. All of its notes are the same distance apart. Let’s look:
C dim7 has: C Eb Gb A
C to Eb is three semitones, Eb to Gb is three semitones, Gb to A is three semitones, and A up to the next C is also three semitones! We could keep going forever. This symmetrical structure means that we can describe the diminished seventh chord as a stack of notes 3 semitones apart. No matter which note you start on, you will only get 3 other notes and then the pattern will simply repeat for as long as you continue.
This structure also means there is another oddity. The notes of Cdim7 are C, Eb, Gb and A. They are all 3 semitones apart. Now let’s build an Eb dim7 chord. Start on Eb, go up 3 semitones to Gb, 3 more to C, 3 more to A. Wait a minute, these are the exact same notes as those in the Cdim7 chord!!
Since the stack of notes 3 semitones apart is theoretically endless, we can take a section of any 4 adjacent notes from it and we will have a diminished seventh chord, so one stack of notes will give you 4 different diminished seventh chords. Put another way, this means that every diminished seventh chord is exactly the same as the 3 diminished seventh chords which start on the other notes of the first chord. Confused?
Here it is in an example. C diminished seventh contains these notes: C, Eb, Gb and A.
If you build a diminished seventh chord on Eb it will contains these notes: Eb, Gb, A and C (same 4 notes).
If you build a diminished seventh chord on Gb it will contains these notes: Gb, A, C and Eb (same 4 notes).
If you build a diminished seventh chord on A it will contains these notes: A, C, Eb and Gb (same 4 notes).
Her it is in notation:
There are only twelve different notes so there are only three different stacks of notes 3 semitones apart. Therefore:
THERE ARE REALLY ONLY 3 DIMINISHED SEVENTH CHORDS!
Work out diminished seventh chords starting on each of the twelve notes and you’ll have a better idea of how all this works. Next time more on the crazy world of the diminished family and we might even get to family number 6, our last.
Don’t diminish yourself too much!