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Thomas J. West Music

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Great Performances

Performances that inspire and impress. Enjoy.

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  • Great Performances - McChesney Trombone ...
    by ★ Owner on October 27, 2010 at 8:48 PM
    2124 Views - 0 Comments

    Back in high school, during my formative exposure to jazz music via my two best friends from concert band (both saxophonists), I was introduced to two amazing artistic talents: Charlie Parker, and the Parker tribute band known as Supersax. Parker, one of the innovators that ushered in the be bop era of jazz music, was known for his technical pyrotechnics on the alto saxophone. Supersax took Parker's transcribed solos and arranged them for the sax section of a big band (two altos, two tenors, and a bari), turning Parker's genius into a stereophonic voice with 5-part harmony at 200+ beats per minute. This Great Performance reminds me a lot of those early days of my jazz exposure. Vituoso jazz trombonist Bob McChesney arranged the Cole Porter tune "I Love You" for four trombones and then recorded his performance of all four parts. The accuracy and virtuosity of this recording is astounding, and following McChesney's score on the screen as he plays is equally as impressive as listening to old recordings of Bird and following along in the Omnibook.

  • Paul Nowell Covers Mike Posner's Please ...
    by ★ Owner on February 13, 2011 at 1:06 PM
    2095 Views - 0 Comments

    Today, a friend of mine shared this video on Facebook. I have had a few exchanges with Paul Nowell on Twitter (@jazztrombonist) before seeing this performance. Paul shows that sometimes pop music such as this has some hidden depth to it that can be coaxed out of it with the proper adaptations. I'm a big fan of musicians who cover a piece of popular music and reinvent it. When done well, reinventions bring out nuances in the original song that sometimes enhance its effectiveness. For a comparison of Paul's arrangement to the original, click here.

    At the end of the video, Paul gives us a funny little invitation to subscribe to his YouTube channels. You might just take him up on it.

  • Great Performances - Richard Stoltzman P...
    by ★ Owner on February 11, 2011 at 7:54 PM
    2059 Views - 0 Comments

    Clarinet is my primary instrument. As a lover of all kinds of music and all kinds of musical instruments, I can honestly say that every mature musical instrument (meaning one that has been mechanically and acoustically improved over time by scientists and craftsmen) has aspects of its sound and the way it is used in music that I find enjoyable.

    The clarinet, besides being an instrument capable of great dexterity and virtuosity, has a depth of tone quality and breadth of playing range that few instruments can match. While many instruments require vibrato to "warm" the tone for a more expressive presentation, the clarinet can use simply its round, full tone in the lower register and its clarion upper register to great expressive effect.

    The Andante movement of Aaron Copland's clarinet concerto is one of my favorite pieces of music and a great example of the expressive capabilities of the instrument. Richard Stoltzman's performance is flawless and beautiful. This piece, along with the accompanying movements, were originally premiered by jazz legend Benny Goodman, who was equally at home in the classical realm.

  • Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir 2011 Conne...
    by ★ Owner on April 7, 2011 at 10:12 PM
    2029 Views - 0 Comments


    In the moment when the camera pulls back and we see all 2052 singers orbiting director and composer Eric Whitacre, we get a glimpse of something truly bigger than ourselves.

    Riding the success of the first installment of the Virtual Choir , Eric Whitacre and his team have created something truly breathtaking and important with the 2011 performance of "Sleep". The 2011 Virtual Choir video features 2052 performances of 'Sleep' from 1752 singers in 58 countries, individually recorded and uploaded to YouTube between September 2010 and January 2011. The true magic of this project is not in the performance of the music, however, but in the ability of the internet to bring together human beings from all over the globe with the common goal of creating art.

    One of the comments left on the YouTube page says it best: "This is what the Internet was made for. Not for giving people their 15 minutes of fame. Not to view videos of them acting idiotic, and not a way to spew hateful words. The Internet was made to bring us together and make us feel connected. It is because of this need to feel bonded to one another that something so beautiful like this could be made. I strongly hope that you will take the time to listen to this great accomplishment in music, and take comfort in knowing that you're not alone."

    Music connects human beings in ways that transcend any boundaries we create with our boarders, our languages, our customs, and our self-imposed conventions. Thank you very much, Mr. Whitacre and your co-creators, for showing us the potential we have for understanding one another in new and intimate ways thanks to the rapid progress of technology.

  • Great Performances - Rockapella Sings El...
    by ★ Owner on July 11, 2011 at 7:50 AM
    1994 Views - 0 Comments

    Ok, I admit: I've got contemporary a cappella on the brain right now. We just had a combined rehearsal of the two summer Project-Philly a cappella group last night, and we're in the final 3 days of Project-Philly's Kickstarter campaign (we only need $230! Please help if you can).

    Today's Kickstarter update featured a classic Rockapella arrangement sung by the current incarnation of Rockapella. While watching that video from their recent Japan tour, I saw this one on the sidebar. "Ellie My Love" is one of my favorite originals that Rockapella has put out. Scott Leonard wrote and sings lead on this track, and this performance is rather subdued than the album cut in terms of vocal pyrotechnics. This rendition puts an even sweeter touch on a touching ballad.

    As I become more involved as an a cappella singer in my spare time, both performing with live groups and in recording and mixing my own a cappella tracks, I appreciate all that much more the showmanship, skill, and microphone handling technique that Scott displays in this video.

  • Great Performances - Stephen Colbert and...
    by ★ Owner on April 3, 2011 at 9:15 PM
    1990 Views - 0 Comments

    Note: this video has been removed from YouTube. You can see the official version here.

    By now, if you spend any length of time at all online, you have probably at least heard about the viral video "Friday" by middle-schooler-turned-pop-star Rebecca Black. Her video has spawned quite a wave of attention, both positive and negative. The song itself can at best be described as "catchy" and at worst as "a pathetic attempt at a real song". The lyrics are particularly poor, and Miss Black's vocal technique is quite "untrained". If you haven't seen it yet, watch the original.

    This song has over 82 million views as of this posting and has spawned several dozen parodies. Conan O'Brien created his own version called "Thursday," claiming Rebecca stole his idea. There's a Bob Dylan version, and on and on.

    In a totally unrelated story, Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report recently sold a painting of himself for $26,000 in an auction in New York [link]. In an effort to get more people to bid, Colbert claimed that fellow late night host Jimmy Fallon was going to match the final amount and that all proceeds were going to further childrens' art education. However, Fallon never actually agreed to such an arrangement.

    So, being a good sport, Fallon made Cobert a deal - if Jimmy could match the sale price of the painting, $26,000.00, on a Donors Choose campaign, Colbert agreed to come on the Fallon show and sing his own rendition of "Friday." The Donors Choose campaign raised over $65,000.00 and Colbert delivered on his promise below, with a special cameo appearance during the middle of the song.

    Colbert, self-admittedly "not a singer" does an admirable job of managing the rather simplistic melody of the song, and Jimmy Fallon's auto-tuned entrance is quite funny. The over-the-top "epic" pagentry of this performance is a great parody of the orignal song and a true satire of the ridiculousness that is often American pop culture.

    The original video of Friday sparked some interesting discussion on the Music Professional Learning Network as well. What are the implications of a video such as this for music education?

  • Great Performances - Jake Shiambukuro Pl...
    by ★ Owner on January 27, 2011 at 9:20 AM
    1897 Views - 0 Comments

    Few people are a better example of what happens when you take your passion, no matter how obscure it may be, and pursue it as far as you can than Jake Shimabukuro.

    About a year ago, I watched his YouTube video of his ukulele performance of The Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" - a video that really launched him as an international sensation and as of this writing has topped 7 million views. This morning on Twitter, one of the members of the Music PLN discovered his performance of "In My Life" and I figured it was time to check back in on Jake and see what new performances were out there.

    This video comes from the TEDxTokyo conference and it is 22 minutes long. It features Jake talking about his beginnings as a ukulele player in Hawaii, a charming story about playing for the Queen of England, and four performances: a flamenco song entitled "Let's Dance", his redition of Brahm's "Ave Maria", the tune that made made him famous "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", and the song he played for the Queen - "In My Life". In addition to the obvious virtuosic technique, musicality practically drips off of his instrument.

    Jake said "I truly believe that the ukulele is the instrument of peace." The top rated comment for this video on YouTube stated "Truly, this man is a favored son of the islands, taking aloha far beyond our seas."

  • Great Performances - What Pi Sounds Like...
    by ★ Owner on March 11, 2011 at 2:35 PM
    1792 Views - 0 Comments


    This video has been circulating Facebook in anticipation of International Pi Day on March 14th (3/14). It does a great job of explaining the major scale and associated triads, then shows the performance of a piece of music incorporating those pitches and chords.

    This piece is reminiscent of New Age music composed based on the Fibonacci series, the golden mean, and the ancient solfeggio scale. I find sacred geometry and cymatics to be fascinating and look forward to a future time when I can explore those concepts even more in my own compositions. My piece for concert band, entitled Diamond Dance, was based on the golden mean.

  • Great Performances - OK, Go White Knuckl...
    by ★ Owner on September 21, 2010 at 9:07 PM
    1689 Views - 0 Comments

    OK, Go is at it again. The quartet is out with a new enrapturing music video. This one is done in one take with a stationary camera and amazing coordination between the performers, the crew, and the trained dogs. As is true with their other music, I find it to have a good bit of quality music making in it, but find the songs to be fairly forgettable. The videos they create totally suck you in, however. I really appreciate the creativity that their videos showcase. Can you imagine what the sketchboarding for this video looked like? "And then we stack some plastic trash cans like those cup stacking competitions, and then a trained dog jumps through it and over the camera, and then...." Let's hear it for creativity!

  • Great Performances: Pentatonix Run To Yo...
    by ★ Owner on January 30, 2014 at 4:38 PM
    1667 Views - 0 Comments

    As an contemporary a cappella enthusiast and part-time professional, I have been closely following the career of mainstream a cappella artists Pentatonix. It has been a pleasure to get to know many of the people behind the scenes who have helped PTX catapult into the limelight. I have gotten to see them perform live once and unfortunately could not stick around to chat with them. I really enjoy everything about their sound - they are pretty much the "perfect storm" of five voices - each person's contribution to the sound is indispensable, yet unique.

    I waited anxiously for PTX Volume II to drop, hoping that it would be the album that sealed the deal for them in mainstream pop culture. It did not disappoint. With the exception of one track, the album is really a tour-de-force of a cappella music, showing how amazing and versitile the human voice is while putting the arranging and performing skills of the quintet on prominent display on both cover songs and original compositions.

    As a professional music educator and self-confessed "chord junkie", there are few things that grab my attention more strongly than lush chords and equally lavish lyrics. Pentatonix, along with producer Ben Bram, wrote "Run to You" for PTX Volume II, and it was immediately one of my most favorite a cappella recordings of all time. Weaned on barbershop quartet music, my early a cappella favorites were the Singers Unlimited and Take 6. "Run to You" has just enough dissonance to make the point of the lyrics, and just enough emotional contouring to drive the sentiments home.

    Now, Pentatonix has released another amazing video of this song in conjunction with FifGen Films, who gave us the record-breaking video for PTX's Daft Punk Medley and many of the videos distributed on YouTube by a cappella solo artist Peter Hollens. What I love about the video is that is doesn't get in the way of the music, yet manages to make an artistic impression of its own. I spent part of the video wondering how they could have worked in the reverse footage of the snowfall while the group members sang the song. I was impressed all over again when I disovered that the group had to practice lip syncing to playback in reverse in order to make the effect. Astounding, and a tribute to true creativity at work.

    I have enjoyed watching Pentatonix grow from their formative days on Season 3 of The Sing-Off to YouTube paragons and globe-trotters. Most of the musical artists that I enjoy began their careers before I was old enough to follow them. My favorite pop artist will always be Billy Joel, with singer/songwriters like Paul Simon, Sting, and Phil Collins ranking high on my list. It is a different experience to watch a close-harmony singing group begin to take hold at what hopefully is the beginning of a long career and watch them affect popular culture.

    This article (c) 2014 Thomas J. West. All content on ThomasJWestMusic dot com is licensed under a Creative Contributions Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License. Please contact the author before publishing on or off-line.

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  • Pomplamoose Reinvents Beat It
    by ★ Owner on January 23, 2011 at 10:16 PM
    1625 Views - 0 Comments


    If you've been online for very long, you've proabably already seen Pomplamoose. They are the poster children for the brave new world of democratized creativity that the internet has created. In today's world, you don't need a record label or film studio to act as your platform for getting your art seen by a mass audience. You do, however, have to be innovative and original to get noticed. Pomplamoose is all that. They don't just cover a popular song, they reinvent it and captivate with how it all goes down on video.



    This cover of Michael Jackson's smash hit Beat It does what everyone knows you shouldn't even attempt to do - it takes a smash hit song and turns it on its ear. The only thing remaining of the original song is the melody, lyrics, and the iconic guitar hook. The rest: instrumentation, harmony, and even the legendary guitar solo, are all totally reworked. The video brings across the love of music making these two have, and they even show at the end that they're in it simply to give the world a gift of their music.



    Be sure to check out the other covers on their YouTube channel. They breathe new life into trite pop songs like Lady Gaga's Telephone and Beyonce's Single Ladies.



  • Great Performances: Cluster Vocal Sings ...
    by ★ Owner on May 17, 2013 at 2:33 PM
    1339 Views - 0 Comments

    I've been a big fan of Italian a cappella group CLUSTER since I saw them live at VoCALnation in 2012, and their new single just hit YouTube and iTunes today. It's a cover of Italian band Matia Bazar's hit song "Ti Sento". Cluster brings their own style to this tune with jazz harmonies, a deeper groove, and a vocal guitar solo. I'm looking forward to the upcoming albums (that's with an "s") that Cluster is currently working on.

    click here

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