Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Sapphire Ng | Berklee Guitar Styles Skills - Jazz (Week 12) SPRING 2016 [Class Materials & Concepts]

Guitar Styles Skills - Jazz

Berklee College of Music
SPRING 2016 Semester

Class Teacher: John Baboian

[Week 12]

Class started with us playing "Cheesecake" by Dexter Gordon. As usual, after playing the melody through the form, we took turns improvising. John allocated each of us 32 bars to solo, where alternatively a student will solo for the first 2 A sections of the tune, whilst the next student will solo for the B section and the last A section of the tune. After our first round of improvisations, John drew our attention to all the G7 chords present in the tune and suggested we play the G whole tone scale over the G7 chord. 

He specifically mentioned 3 fingerings we could utilize for the G whole tone scale. One of the fingerings would be playing the G whole tone scale from the root note on the 6th string, 3rd fret, and keeping the scale within the confines of the 5 frets, i.e. play a combination of 2 notes or 3 notes per string in order to stay within the fretboard position. Another possible fingering would be playing 3-notes per string starting from the 6th string, 3rd fret, in which the scale would gradually travel upwards the guitar fretboard. Another scale fingering for G whole tone is one which starts from the "B" note on the 7th fret of the 6th string, whereby only 2-notes per string would be played, the scale thus would gradually travel downwards along the guitar neck.

At this point, John introduced the "Whole Tone Blues", which goes like this :

|| G7(#5) | C7(#5) | G7(#5) | G7(b5) |
 | C7(b5)  |            | G7(#5) |            |
 | D7(b5)  | C7(#5) | G7(#5) |  D7(b5) || 

Since there are only 2 Whole Tone scales that exist, John went on to label the chord progression with how those 2 scales will fit in as they are used to improvise over the chord progression. 
1 refers to G Whole Tone scale;
2 refers to Ab Whole Tone scale

||  1  |  2  |  1  |  1  |
  |  2  |  2  |  1  |  1  |
  |  2  |  2  |  1  |  2  || 

We then had an exercise. John played the Whole Tone Blues progression and asked all of us to practice playing the right whole tone scale along with the chord progression. The result was hilarious and chaotic, everyone was playing the whole tone scale in any order they liked, and I can't help but burst into laughter. Nevertheless, it was a really fun exercise. 

John similarly asked us to play the bassline for the Whole Tone Blues as he improvised over the progression using the same formula he prescribed us. His lines sounded really cool ! Though he joked that we may not want to practice this all day long for fear of driving our roommates crazy LOL. 

After that, we were asked to attempt a second round of solos to the progression of "Cheesecake" and asked to deliberately incorporate the whole tone scales when soloing over the G7 chords in the tune. As the G7 chord is approaching in any student's turn to improvise, John would give the hint "[The G7 chord's] coming". That was the case for me too, however I was not particularly sure of the specific location of the G7 chord in the BA section of the tune I was supposed to solo to, and I was pretty sure I missed it LOL, but I did play a couple of notes from the G whole tone scale haha. 

After everyone had a go at soloing, John pointed out that the class sounded a little too bright/sharp and asked that we adjust our guitar tone so that we could sound a little more like Wes Montgomery playing the tune rather than otherwise. He mentioned and acknowledged that yes, jazz guitarists like John Scofield definitely has a tone very different from the traditional jazz tone, but for our case, he would want us to sound more like Wes. In response to that, I changed my pickup from the middle position to the neck position. And we were asked to play through the melody and the form of the tune yet again. This time round the class definitely had a warmer tone. In ending off the tune, the last 4 bars of the melody was repeated 2 times.

Another feedback John gave me when we were playing "Cheesecake" was that I had too much reverb in my guitar tone. I then went on to lower the reverb knob on the amplifier.  

Concepts/content covered in class:

~ The handout "Exercises in 4ths - Physical" was given out. John demonstrated the examples where in both ascending and descending, we were to practice the technique of finger-rolling for all 4 of our left-hand playing fingers. 

[Interestingly in the lead-up to introducing this 4th-interval exercise handout, he drew our attention to the fact that if we played all the scales in the world, the intervals we practiced would just be 2nds, whilst when we learn arpeggios the intervals we practiced would have been only 3rds. The exercises he introduces to us then would focus on practicing the 4th intervals. 

[We were given some time to try the exercises after John showed us each of the first 4 exercises in the handout. John also noted that more effort would have to be put in should we have any weak fingers. Personally and as far as I can remember, I think I have only used my first finger, i.e. the index finger, to do the finger-rolling technique ever since I picked up the guitar. It is definitely a new concept for me that every finger could put that technique into practice, especially the 4th finger. 

[It is also that class session that it was the first time ever that I saw any guitarist do something that crazy when John demonstrated the finger-rolling technique for all 4 fingers spanning over 3 to 4 strings ! I sincerely thought that finger-rolling would be limited to maybe 3 strings at the most, but the takeaway from this lesson is that anything is possible.] 
~ The "Exercises In 4ths - Diatonic" handout is the next to be handed out. In contrast to the previous handout focusing only on the technical aspects of the finger-rolling technique, this handout puts the exercises into keys. 

~ The lead sheet of the tune "Witch Hunt" by Wayne Shorter was given out, and the primary reason would be the interval of 4ths present in the melody. This tune is said to be a 24-bar blues, that is doubled from the traditional and standard 12-bar blues. Specifically, for example, the first chord of the tune, the C-7 chord spans a total of 8 bars instead of the usual 4 bars in a typical blues form. It is noted that the song is in the key of C minor. The second chord of the tune, Eb7 is the dom7 of the b3rd of the key of the song. It is also important to notice the chromatic movement of the chords from bars 17 to 20, where Gb7 moves a half step down to F7, and then another half step down to E7, and a half step down to Eb7. 

[An important point John raised regarding improvising to "Witch Hunt" is that given that the melody of the tune is made up of intervals of 4ths, the versatile improviser is one who would incorporate 4ths in improvisations in order to complement the melody. Not soloing using the intervals of 4ths may seem out of place.]

~ The transcription given this week is Jim Hall's solo on "The Way You Look Tonight". This transcription is available as an option to play for final exams. We then listened to the audio of the tune in class. 

Class Homework:

~ Practice "Exercises in 4ths - Physical"

~ Practice "Exercises in 4ths - Diatonic" 

~ "Witch Hunt" by Wayne Shorter - Melody, comping, and improvisation

Class Materials/Handouts:

"Exercises in 4ths - Physical"

"Exercises in 4ths - Diatonic"

"Witch Hunt" by Wayne Shorter

"The Way You Look Tonight" by Jim Hall - Solo Transcription

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

REVIEW: "The Prometheus Bomb: The Manhattan Project and Government in the Dark" by Neil J. Sullivan

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

The Prometheus Bomb: The Manhattan Project and Government in the Dark
by Neil J. Sullivan
Potomac Books
ISBN: 978-1612348155
Copyright December 2016
Hardcover, 296 Pages

The Prometheus Bomb is a mostly well-written book on the Manhattan Project. Examination of the nuclear undertaking was aptly set against the political backdrop of the Roosevelt administration, and investigated in reference to and in the context of the international and political climate of the Great War, World War II, and Adolph Hitler as the chancellor of Germany. The book is also dedicated considerably to documenting the bureaucratic lethargy and inefficiencies which befell the fission research, and to chronicling the various figures put in leadership roles of the project.

Challenging to read at certain occasions, the book nonetheless consists mostly of painstaking details, and would make a perfect read for nuclear enthusiasts who crave for an incredible amount of, and even the seemingly minutest of, details. The author personally made a decent case for one to pick up and devour the book, highlighting that today “we live with the legacy of the Manhattan Project;” the shrewd reader might find the trade-off of additional knowledge to be well worth the time invested in the book.

It is rather thought-provoking to be confronted with tough questions that the American nuclear team had to contend with. Surely it is fascinating to learn of for example, the challenge of determining the “military importance of the uranium problem” and subsequently recommending an appropriate and sound “level of expenditure at which the problem should be investigated.”

The reader possesses the opportunity to stand in the shoes of the experts involved in the nuclear project, for example in pondering and evaluating the risk of the diversion of resources should “a crash program” be instituted to “build an atomic bomb” especially in the midst of WWII. In the earliest phase, the scientists had to tackle and determine the actual “feasibility” of an atomic bomb; as the project matured, on the other hand, the various factions of the nuclear team instead contended over issues such as the way to split the atomic nucleus, or to channel resources towards “a bomb or nuclear energy for this war or the future.”

Though am a non-scientist and non-science major, the scientific details included in the book proved to be distinctly dazzling and intriguing. It was profound to learn of the ironic situation for example, ofthe limitations of the abundant” uranium-238 isotope versus the “promising” but unfortunately “extremely rare” uranium-235. It was also interesting to read about the discovery of plutonium—a transuranic element—noted to possibly be “as fissionable as U-235 and would be far easier to acquire.”

It was certainly refreshing to be acquainted with certain fundamental knowledge pivotal to the atomic project and research—the methods of isotope separation of gaseous diffusion, liquid thermal diffusion, electromagnetism, or a centrifuge; the distinction between subcritical, critical and supercritical in the context of atomic fission; or even to be reminded of a crucial concept—the oft mentioned “chain reaction” of fission, or of atom splitting.

The Manhattan Project, instituted by President Franklin Roosevelt, and instigated by the Einstein letter, was repeatedly emphasized in the book to be an endeavor to counter the “terrifying prospect of a German bomb;” the German prospect was “always the ultimate drive” to the American bomb. The author further pointed out curious details including the insulation of the clandestine project from the Madisonian “remedy of separated powers and checks and balances” through FDR's “cunning;” or funding for the bomb through the “first 'black,' or secret, weapons budget in the nation's history” due to the supposed impracticability of heeding the normal budgetary process.

For a book which title supposedly betrays a predominant focus on the nuclear discussion, the author furnished a particularly lengthy account of Franklin Roosevelt's career prior to succeeding the incumbent President Herbert Hoover during the Great Depression to become the 32nd U.S. President. Certain details provided on Roosevelt's presidency was also unmistakably more interesting than others. A singularly invigorating, and even unique, notion was FDR's supposed vision of a Hamiltonian adjustment in a Madisonian system, and his use of the executive order—an “important instrument” to secure control of the research and development of the atomic bomb—which bypasses the Madisonian structure. The reader is sure to appreciate certain additional engaging morsels of information, for example the infamous sanction of the internment of American citizens of Japanese heritage as a consequence of FDR's Executive Order 9066.

The book contains references to certain historical events and treaties that are undoubtedly absorbing. The brief mention of the Nazi-Soviet Non-aggression Pact serves to augment the reader's bank of historical knowledge, whilst allusions to “Somme,” “Verdun”—the Battle of the Somme and the Battle of Verdun—, and even the Phoney War could potentially spur the reader to scour the internet for more information, and thus overall enrich one's learning experience.

The book contains the occasional dense and formidable paragraph packed with unexplained references that potentially require basic external research and re-reading in order to fully appreciate and understand the relevance of the material within the context of the subject matter.

An example of such a paragraph went, “...Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation as well as his extremely controversial suspension of habeas corpus. The latter move was challenged in the case Ex parte Merryman, and Chief Justice Taney, author of the execrable Dred Scot decision, excoriated Lincoln for what Taney claimed was an abuse of power.” The inclusion of the legal jargon “habeas corpus,” immediately followed by a legal case titled yet again in legal idiom, and trailed by the reference to Chief Justice Taney's “Dred Scot decision” might potentially overwhelm the reader.

In certain parts of the book, the painstaking and meticulous details, though relevant to the narrative in one way or another, sporadically came across as monotonous. Paradoxically, the tediousness of the reading experience in such portions of the book gave the impression of actually mirroring the discussion of bureaucratic sluggishness manifested within the Uranium Section, or the S-1 Section, of the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC), and which thereafter transferred to the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD).

Certain parts of the book also distinctly strike one as being repetitive. Acknowledging that skillful reiteration of concepts are an effective tool to foster cohesion within the book, and helpful as signposts for the reader, sometimes the mere rephrasing without an injection of a fresh slant or perspective, however, compounded with previous multiple mentions, might turn the reader off.

An example pertains to the opposing nuclear factions of the Do more now versus the Wait for the results of serious experiments on atomic fission or Wait for more research. Especially with the abundant coverage of the major themes in the lead-up, the nature of the rephrasing of the same concept seemed rather redundant—The American experience with transforming atomic theory into a bomb included elaborated tensions between factions that believed in a deliberate and thorough approach to complex questions of science and those that were frantic to build a bomb to drop on the Germans and win the war.”

Disclaimer: I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley for this review. 

Saturday, 13 August 2016

REVIEW: "A Brief History of Entrepreneurship: The Pioneers, Profiteers, and Racketeers Who Shaped Our World (Columbia Business School Publishing)" by Joe Carlen

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

A Brief History of Entrepreneurship: The Pioneers, Profiteers, and Racketeers Who Shaped Our World (Columbia Business School Publishing)
by Joe Carlen
Columbia University Press
ISBN: 978-0231173049
Copyright October 2016
Hardcover, 256 Pages

A Brief History of Entrepreneurship is an unbelievably enthralling and inspirational book, especially so for enthusiasts, practitioners and students of entrepreneurship and business. An inconceivably content-rich and educationally enriching book, the reader is sure to grow tremendously, or at least modestly, in one way or another, with the enhanced understanding of entrepreneurial history, and thus augmented appreciation of practices in the modern business world. This would indisputably be a highly recommended book, even for those who never envisioned laying their hands upon a book on entrepreneurship or history.

Personally, this is the book for me; a book which qualifies as the ideal read, in terms of depth and breadth of content, selection of details, style of writing, pace, and of course, the degree to which the book is intellectually-stimulating and satisfying.

The book covers the profound history of entrepreneurship across a varied spectrum of civilizations, including the Mesopotamians, the Phoenicians, the ancient Romans, the Islamic Empire, China's Song dynasty, and in the case of Britain, the British Industrial Revolution, and certainly, American entrepreneurship.

Certain pieces of information in the book are distinctly fascinating and immensely intriguing, especially those pertaining to the historical origins of currently well-known practices in commerce. A prototype of the initial public offering system was said to be first established by equestrian entrepreneurs in ancient Roman society; China experienced the “world's first incidence of hyperinflation,” attributed to the Song dynasty's official adoption of paper currency, the first in the world; commercial colonization, the shareholder-owned enterprise, passive equity, “credit contracts and other financial innovations,” and also the concept of the “middleman”—“a controversial fixture of Western commerce ever since”—originated in Mesopotamia.

Whilst the Dutch and British colonial joint-stock companies was said to have “foreshadowed the benefits and pitfalls of the modern system of large-scale entrepreneurship backed by a wide pool of investors,” the Song-era entrepreneurial practice of “collecting and tying”—with features such as “the clear separation of active management and passive investment”—was noted as bearing “striking resemblance” to familiar characteristics of modern equity investing.

Extensive research is undoubtedly an evident strength of the book. The author cites riveting examples and details such as the Phoenicians being the first to engage in predatory practices, and being the potential pioneers of the knockoff business that is ubiquitous today; the fact that the British government was the first to issue patents to inventors; or even the way the prime characteristics of economic mobility and labor specialization in the ancient Sumerian workplace have since become two of the defining characteristics of urban capitalism.”

Absorbing details seemed inexhaustible in the book as the reader further learns about the civilization that invented the alphabet; the civilization granted the title of being “an influential pollinator” and whose commercial activities consisted of the “enduring legacies” of coffee and writing paper; the first society in the world “to enjoy the benefits of printed books;” the nation that gave birth to the three-way circuit of commerce, namely the “triangular” slave trade; or even the first non-black civilization to “systematically enslave” sizable numbers of black Africans.

The discussion of the history of entrepreneurship within the context of the British Industrial Revolution is certainly yet another engaging realm the book ventures into. The book covers notable British entrepreneurs such as James Watt, whose name gloriously came to represent Britain's Industrial Revolution; pottery magnate and pottery entrepreneur Josiah Wedgwood who invented the pyrometer, and who “mastered and in some ways originated” the corporate advertising approach of manipulating “product associations to tap into consumers' social aspirations;” or Abraham Darby, who paved the way for the works of iconic inventor-entrepreneurs of the Industrial Revolution.

Certainly when it came to the “quintessential entrepreneurial society” of the United States, the book inevitably discusses certain entrepreneurs familiar to the reader. Examples include inventor-entrepreneurs Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell, investor entrepreneurs Warren Buffett and John Bogle—the founder of The Vanguard Group—, or legendary immigrant entrepreneur and steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. Likely less familiar to the general reader, but nonetheless engaging would be the coverage of American weaponry entrepreneurs.

The variety of material covered in the book surpasses expectations. The ancient Roman civilization was discussed, for example, less so due to the significance of its entrepreneurial achievements, but more so to spotlight its incomparable distinction of being among “the least entrepreneurial civilizations not only of antiquity but of recorded history”—the Romans were notorious for their aversion to entrepreneurship. Similarly interesting, the “quintessential” Roman patrician entrepreneur was profiled, and explored through the epitomic figure of Crassus.

Disclaimer: I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley for this review.