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A Conversation with Mike Mainieri

Anthony Smith By

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The following is an excerpt from the chapter "A Conversation with Mike Mainieri" of Masters of the Vibes by Anthony Smith (Marimba Productions, 2017).

So you've been working on a new project this week?

Yes, just finishing some overdubs... it's a project I'm involved in with some friends, but I really can't talk about it right now.

Sure.

Also, my daughter and I performed at her school this week. She's a harpist and we performed a duet piece at her concert. She's graduating elementary school.

So you were shedding for that?

Yes, we were both shedding.

(laughs)

I've been in New York for a little over a year, Mike. My wife and I moved here with our kids to embrace a new life adventure.

This is the city I love. I was born here.

I grew up in the Bay Area, and Bobby Hutcherson was the guy who first got me excited about the vibraphone.

Bobby's one of my favorite vibes players. My influences go from Lionel Hampton to Red Norvo, to Milt Jackson and Bobby. In that order.

Good, I was going to ask you for your version of the lineage of the instrument in jazz... who you consider the most important figures, and what each of them innovated.

There are some excellent (unheralded) vibraphonists during the instrument's first era who also made contributions, but Hampton was the Louis Armstrong of the vibraphone. I think Hampton made his debut on a Louis Armstrong recording of "Memories of You." Or maybe that was with Benny Goodman. But in any case, I listened to Hampton as a kid. This is going back to the early forties. I was born in '38, and there was always music happening in my house. We were very poor. We didn't have a phonograph, or a phone. We had nothing but we had a radio and big band music was popular at the time.

You lived in the Bronx, right?

Yes, that's where I was born, in a very poor neighborhood. We had a large family living in three rooms. It was the end of the Depression. My father was taking care of not only his mother's family, but his children and our grandparents also. It was busy in our three-room tenement! Nine people were living in there at time. But the wonderful thing about it was that the whole family was into jazz. They were into the Big Band Era, and grew up listening to Duke (Ellington)... as a kid I would get to hear some of the great bands... whatever was happening on the radio, from Tommy Dorsey to Harry James. A little later on, I guess in the mid-forties, we did manage to get a phonograph, and then my step-grandfather, who was a jazz guitarist, began buying records. He was into Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt. Some of the first records he bought were like, "The Hot Club of France," with Django, and the Basie Band. I started working at the very young age of twelve years old, and made my first professional appearance with my trio on television, on the Paul Whiteman Show when I was fourteen. As I began earning money I started buying records. Of course Hampton was my original influence on vibes, as was Red Norvo, who was one of the first four-mallet vibraphonists. I had this wonderful album which is a classic now, called "Move," with Red Norvo, Tal Farlow and Charles Mingus.

I remember that tune.

Yeah, that was a very cool album. You know, for me to go through six decades, this will be a very long interview! (laughs) Ask me the questions you'd like to ask, otherwise I'll just yack for the next two hours.

Which could be interesting unto itself, but I know what you mean. You mentioned that you started playing gigs when you were twelve. Was that always on vibraphone?

Yes mostly on vibes although I was also playing drums. I studied drums with Ted Reed, tympani with Doc Frieze and vibraphone with Phil Kraus during my teenage years as I was thinking about going to Juilliard... I liked being a bandleader and as you can probably guess, there weren't too many vibraphonists that were sidemen in those days. If you wanted to work you started your own band. It really hasn't changed for vibraphonist after all these years. The nature of the instrument forces you to be a leader. Hampton became a bandleader, Terry, and Red. Milt was the main soloist of the Modern Jazz Quartet, not to take anything away from John Lewis, who was an incredible arranger and composer. When I met Milt, he mentioned he looked forward to playing with his own group where he could really stretch out. But the money was performing with MJQ. It was an incredible quartet but it was more subdued than Milt's groups.

Gary Burton and Bobby also led bands, as well as other vibraphonists during the sixties and seventies. Currently Joe Locke, Stefon Harris and Warren Wolf, who I first heard with Christian McBride's band, is now going out with his own group. That's what you have to do eventually to remain active, although there are exceptions.

I was talking to someone else about this, and the only prominent vibes sideman we could come up with was Steve Nelson.

I saw Steve recently at the Jazz Standard, where he was playing with Chris Potter's large ensemble.

Musically, what was it about the vibes that attracted you? What led you to decide, "This is my instrument." It's a very personal thing for everyone. It's a unique instrument we play, not many people play it, and even fewer go on to make a whole career out of playing it, like you have. What initially led you to that decision? What was it about the vibraphone?

My story is probably not like most vibraphonists. My mother was a very strong-willed woman and I credit her for foresight and tenacity. She listened to a radio show broadcast from Chicago featuring vibraphonist Marjorie Hyams.

She played with Shearing.

She did, but she had her own group and her own radio show. My mother loved the melodious sound of the vibes. I was taking music lessons at the time at Mr. Shiller's music school. We were just a bunch of kids from the neighborhood whose parents wanted them to stay out of trouble. I was asked to play orchestra bells, piano and other percussion. I was about eight or nine years old. That was my introduction to the use of mallets by playing bells, and a tiny little xylophone.

My mother asked my father, "Should we buy Michael a vibraphone?" He replied, "Are you nuts? It's an expensive instrument. We can't afford it." So she went out to work in a sweatshop for two years, saved enough money and bought me my first vibraphone for $125. It was a two-and-a-half octave Deagan. It was built during the war and the resonators were made out of cardboard, as there was a shortage of metal during the war. I had that instrument until recently, but unfortunately it was ruined in a flood. Anyway, my mother said, "I'd like you to play this instrument. I said, "Okay!" She found a teacher for me, way down in the Bowery. His name was Lem Leach, and he was a fantastic vibes player, but completely alcoholic—to the point that he could barely function. She would haul me down to the Bowery a couple times a week. We took three elevated trains from the Bronx to get there! Knowing Lem would inevitably have the shakes, she'd bring a bottle of wine that my grandfather had made, go in first to wake him up, make some coffee to get him sober, pay him a couple of bucks and say, "Give Michael a lesson."

I already knew my major, minor, whole tone and diminished scales from my piano studies—which was helpful. Lem immediately started me off with four mallets, and his really weird four-mallet grip, where the outer mallet is placed between the pinky and ring finger. That was the way he played. He started me right off with standards, first lesson. "Tea for Two." II-V's. He wrote out a couple improvisational riffs that I would practice over the II-V's, and I studied with him from eleven to about thirteen years old. I was also schooled by my step-grandfather, who was a very good guitarist. Very hip. He knew all the chord changes, substitutions and re-harmonizations. He would test me. "Okay Mike, "Body and Soul..." what are the chords to the bridge? Okay, if you flat the ninth and add the thirteenth, what four notes would you play?" He taught me to learn the bridge first, because in most cases you only play it once, as opposed to the verse, which is typically played three times.

Right.

He gave me little tips like that.

How old were you then?

Twelve or thirteen. I also had an uncle who tap danced with my dad (they had a small time Vaudeville act). This uncle could improvise on like five instruments, and when he visited us, he'd walk over to the vibes and start improvising. He was really into Hampton, and what really turned me on was when I bought my first 33 RPM record of Lionel Hampton and the All Stars, where Hamp plays "Stardust." I memorized Hampton's entire solo, which was in my estimation one his greatest solos. I still have the record. Loved every solo on that record. Such incredible heart and humor. Hamp begins his solo in single time, then doubles it up and by the fourth chorus you can hear his foot stomping in triple time. When the horns enter on the last chorus, I get goose bumps.



As an aside, I never dreamt I'd get a chance to perform with Charlie Shavers later in my career. I also began memorizing solos from various records by ear, by putting the needle on and off the record until I had them down, or wore out the record.

Did you always learn vibes solos, or did you do other instruments also?

I started with vibes players because I was really into the instrument. When I was 11 years old, I became ill for six or seven months from an appendix that burst. I recovered at home, from the spring until after Christmas holidays of that year. I had nothing to do, so all I did was get up around seven in the morning with my mother, and I'd practice until she couldn't stand it anymore, like eight or nine o'clock at night. It was all I did. I couldn't go out and play ball with my friends, which was what most kids were doing. I really got into the instrument at twelve or thirteen. I just kept practicing and practicing. By the time I was fourteen, like I said, I started auditioning with my trio for kids' television shows, which they had in those days. I can name them: The Paul Whiteman teen club, The Children's Hour, The Mickey Mouse Club... there was Kids and Company on Saturday. I don't know how many times I played on that show. You didn't get paid much. Sometimes they'd give you a coupon for Red Goose shoes, or a Bulova watch. I was also leading my own trio and I began working various gigs during my teenage years, like weddings, bar mitzvahs and dances. Those gigs required that you knew quite a few standards as folks would request their favorite song. I still have the original fake book I bought back in the 40's. It had all the lyrics, the refrains and verses. Of course, I was now listening to everyone who was playing with Hamp and Milt, and was thus exposed to Bird, Dizzy and all the greats. A lot of it was over my head, but I heard it and started slowly absorbing their approach to improvisation. I was coming from the Swing Era, and definitely not a bebopper. That only came when I started getting into Milt, in my later teens and early twenties.

In your late twenties, you started playing with Sonny Stitt and other bop artists. Did you become a sought-after jazz sideman during those years?

I was your typical, straight "jazz cat." Suit and tie. From '59 to '64. When I came back from a State Department Tour in '62, where we performed in Afghanistan, India, Nepal, Indonesia, Hong King, Singapore, Thailand, Laos, Viet-Nam, Cambodia and Iran with the Buddy Rich sextet, the folk music from those countries had a profound affect on me. I began getting into the folk and rock scene that was happening here in the States. I started playing with Jeremy Steig and the Satyrs, the band that backed the folk singer Tim Hardin (as did the group Oregon, years later). It was at that time I was exposed to Bob Dylan, Richie Havens and other folk artists. The Satyrs played the Fillmore East, Fillmore West, and the Electric Circus, as did Charles Lloyd (with Jarrett, McClure and DeJohnette). There were very few jazz/rock groups playing those big rock clubs.

Were you doing that at the same time you were playing jazz with Paul Desmond, Art Farmer and Kenny Burrell?

It was wild because I was doing a lot of sessions, whether it was with Manny Albam or others. I was a session guy. Fortunately, I played all the percussion instruments fairly well, and could jump in and cover what was required in different genres of music. I was also in the midst of raising a large family, and at that time the kids were coming along pretty fast, and session work paid very well. I decided I was going to stay in New York and become absorbed in the session scene on every level. I moved to Woodstock later, and that was a whole other part of my life that was very important, because there, I was exposed to rock, folk, and blues artists as well as a diverse community of jazz musicians... and NYC was only two hours away, a fairly easy commute. I loved the idea that I'd get a call from Steven Tyler to do a large string arrangement for a sixty piece orchestra on "Toys in the Attic," or play on Don McLean's "American Pie," then do a session with Kenny Burrell. "Toys in the Attic" was my favorite rock album when I was a kid. I used to play it all the time.

I have a friend, Jay Messina, who engineered that session! About a year ago he told me, "We're going to remix that album in surround sound. Come over to the house and I'll play it for you." He lives two blocks from me. "Now, you can hear the symphony orchestra." On the original record, you could hardly hear it! He played the new mix for me and I really got a kick out of that! Then, I was interested in writing for large ensembles and was curious as to how one writes for various size strings, brass and reed ensembles. This led to me getting calls as an arranger, then a little later as a record producer.

I dug the environment in Woodstock and the scene in NYC. In 1969, I bought a farm near Woodstock and was a weekend farmer for about six years. It was a fruit farm, so it only required my attention during the summer months. It's not like being a dairy farmer, where you have to be there every day, and up at three-thirty in the morning to mild the cows. I had six, no, seven children at the time. A lot of my friends lived in Woodstock... Warren Bernhardt, (Jack) DeJohnette, (David) Sanborn, Tony Levin and Steve Gadd, Carla Bley, Steve Swallow, Dave Holland, vibraphonist Karl Berger... others I can't recall were all part of the Woodstock scene.. There were a lot of bands that played at a club called The Joyous Lake in 'Stock. Everybody played there. Gary Burton's band would come down from Boston and stop at The Joyous Lake when he was on tour. Charles Mingus lived up there, as did Sonny Rollins. You'd get to hear Paul Butterfield Blues Band one night and Mingus the next. I believe that's where I first heard David Sanborn, who was playing with the Paul Butterfield blues band. Dylan would come by and sing. It was a great, great experience living in that community during those years.

What years were those, exactly?

I moved up there in late '68, and finally sold my house in '93. Some of my children still live in the area.

Why did you eventually decide to leave Woodstock?

After the children left the nest, I missed the energy of the city.

And now you're back living in the city.

Yeah, I've been here for quite a while. But I think my children benefited from being raised in the cultural environment of Woodstock.

I've done a lot of conversations now with vibes players, and one of the questions I always ask people is who they really admire on the instrument, and vibraphone artists who have been influential in helping them find their own style. For several of the great players I asked, the first name out of their mouth was Mike Mainieri. I just wanted to pass that along to you. I imagine it makes you feel good to know you've been influential for some of the most established artists who are currently out there playing the instrument.

That's great to hear, because I really respect all these guys. A lot of them are out on the road all the time. I didn't start going back out on the road until maybe '77, when the Steps Ahead group started touring and making albums. I'm grateful for the compliments, and I like knowing that I've inspired some people.

You're kind of the pioneer of amplified vibes, right?

Yeah, I was the first one. I give credit to the great folk singer Richie Havens, for the idea coming to fruition. I was playing with Jeremy Steig and the Satyrs, and Jeremy had all kinds of electric stuff hooked up to his flute. We had a blues guitarist, Adrian Guillory, who played really loud, and electric bass and electric keyboards. Everyone was amplified except me. I was playing acoustic vibes. Richie was in the back of the room, and after we played I asked him, "How did it sound?" He said, "The group sounds great. I couldn't hear a note you played."

(laughs)

I had played with some really loud drummers like Buddy Rich, and used hard mallets on many occasions, but I didn't want to use the hardest mallet possible to be heard. That just sounded like noise to me. Ritchie had this little hot dot pickup on his guitar attached to a very inexpensive preamp, and he would just plug the guitar into an amplifier which he could crank up. He said, "Why don't you just put one of those pickups on each of your bars?" I figured out where the nodal point was (where the string goes through the bars and it vibrates the least), and I started experimenting with gluing these pick-ups on the bars. I had a friend who was an electrician, and he set up the rails for me. I started playing through an amplifier, got a fuzz box, a wah-wah pedal... all the equipment guitar players used, and I've been using a pickup system ever since. Then in the early 70's, I bought my first Minimoog, and had a friend who MIDI'd the vibraphone to the Mini Moog. It was monophonic in the very beginning, but later we built a polyphonic pickup system. I also invented another instrument called the Synthe Vibe, which wasn't an acoustic instrument at all. I won't go into that—that was a whole other project that I was involved in. Now, there's quite a few cats that are using a pickup system. I don't know if you are familiar with Malletech's new vibraphone. They have a model with pickups.

Yes, I actually own an Omega Vibe.

How do you like it?

I've come to really like it, and I dig what Leigh and the Malletech crew are doing... all the ongoing research and development to refine their new vibraphone models: The Omega and also the Love Vibe. I was at Malletech for the Vibes Congress, and a lot of guys made it out. Joe Locke, David Friedman and a bunch of people. It was a two-day thing, which was amazing. Everyone played and got to talk with each other. You should come next year!

Yeah, Leigh told me I should come and hang. I'd probably be the oldest guy out there. I believe Gary (Burton) appeared at the Vibes Congress the year before last, and was the designated senior citizen! For the musical situations I was exploring, I was MIDI'd up to the max. I had three synthesizers and was hooked up to: an Oberheim, a DX-7, and a polyphonic Moog. I had all kinds of gear as did (Michael) Brecker. That's when he started playing the EWI. We were really getting into electronics and experimenting with various sonic textures and loops.

My first three octave vibe was a Musser, until I joined Buddy Rich's quintet, at which time I switched and endorsed Deagan. I've been with Yamaha for more than 20 years, and I play their three-and-one-half-octave 3910. I've been hoping they'd build an instrument like Joe (Locke) designed with Leigh. Joe was influenced by my setup: K&K midi system with pickups, played through a Roland Jazz Chorus amp. He used to come hear me play when he first came to New York, and when I played in Rochester, where he lived and attended Eastman. I use Malletech mallets, and I'm due to go the factory to tweak my mallets. I've never played the Omega with the pickups, and I hear the pickups are fabulous. Joe was raving about it. He said, "Mike, you've got to come out here and check this axe out. I just put it in my backpack when I go on the road." Many of the innovations of Malletech are the same tips Dave Samuels, David Friedman and I have suggesting to Yamaha for years: Make it lighter, make it easier to assemble and (incorporate) a pickup system as an option. I just did this gig in Switzerland with a big band. It was really fucking loud! It was "holy shit" loud! It was a big band playing the music of Steps Ahead, with the addition of a person playing the EWI, two electric keyboard players on synths, Rhodes and acoustic piano, and an electric guitarist wailing on some of the high energy tunes like "Beruit." I'm seventy-six years old... how am I going to cut through that wall of sound, without pickups?

Also, Mike, isn't volume an issue with your grip? You described earlier how you learned from your first teacher to hold the outer mallet within your pinky finger. I was going to get around to asking you about this: contrasting your grip with the universally embraced, four-mallet Burton grip. The benefit of the Burton grip, I've found, is that you can get sheer volume and power out of it. That's the nature of it.

Oh yeah, absolutely. And I've used the Burton grip when I'm playing in certain situations. It's not like I'm not familiar with it. I've played with Joe's grip also, but the Burton grip works better for me. If, say, I fly to Europe and don't bring my bars because the gig is supposed to be an acoustic gig and then discover there is a really loud drummer and guitarist who's blasting away, I'll switch to the Burton grip to make sure I'm heard when I'm comping with four mallets, then I may drop two mallets for soloing i.e. Hampton, Terry and Bobby.

I don't give lessons a lot—When I do I usually give three lessons within a week or two-week period, then you're on your own—but I do suggest to students, "I know you're a four-mallet player. Drop two mallets, as an exercise, and improvise." You'll play differently, rhythmically and swing-wise. There's a difference, in my estimation. Another exercise is to hold four mallets, but improvise with the inside mallet of the right hand rather than outside mallet. I'm a drummer, too, and I can't imagine playing a ride cymbal pattern with the outer mallet, using either Stevens, Burton or even my own Mainieri grip, and having it swing.

There's a rumor among the little clique of vibes players out there... you're quoted as saying, "The Burton grip doesn't swing. You can't swing with that grip." Did you say that?

That might have been taken out of context. My point was, it's not like you can't swing. It was an observation that I noticed with students using the outer right mallet when soloing, so I suggested they put two mallets down and record both with four and then two mallets. It seemed to me they were using the right hand (outer right mallet) more than their left land when playing single lines. Artists like Bobby, Stefon, Warren and many others (Terry Gibbs, Dave Pike, etc.), can certainly play with four mallets, but when they solo, most of the time they use two. Some guys really get into the four-mallet thing...

re-harmonizations... Ed Saindon and Joe Locke come to mind, but when playing solos they mainly use the inside mallets. For what it's worth, it was an observation and exercise, not a dictum. There's another item that really bugged me! For years, many four-mallet players were taught not to use the vibrato as a tool on the vibraphone. I've played clinics, workshops and a few times also gigs, where the motor and fans were just eliminated! I was like... "Where the hell is the motor?" "Oh, the belt broke, so we just left it that way." I knew that was a lot of crap! I'm glad that's turned around, as many of the younger cats now use the vibrato. I can dig that when one is playing complex or dissonant four mallet pieces, sometimes—not always—playing with the motor turned off works better, for sake of clarity. But other times, I believe the vibrato enhances the sound of the vibes and music, especially when playing with two mallets. I'm talking soul, man! Can you imagine "Bags" not using the slow vibrato?

Stefon heard me play a solo concert a few years ago at PASIC... He came up and said "I just love your re-harmonizations, man. Can I take a few lessons?" I said, "You? You're going to take lessons from me?" He said, "The way you harmonize the chords... (I want to learn that)." He was very gracious, and I'm a big fan of his, and last thing he needs is any lesson. I really dig his approach to improvisation. My comment wasn't a knock against Gary Burton. Gary's a virtuoso on a very high level.

I wonder if you'd agree with this... I've heard it said that Gary kind of screwed things up for other vibes players, because they copied him and his grip so religiously. It worked wonderfully for him, but it's not necessarily the right choice for everyone else.

Let me put it this way, and I say this with incredible admiration for Gary. His grip became the standard grip taught to students at Berklee and other schools. Then those students became teachers, and suddenly the whole four-mallet scene became one-dimensional. If you didn't play the Burton grip, you were looked at like you were some kind of freak. Like myself, or Leigh Howard Stevens. Leigh, I believe, was responsible for me playing my first gig at PASIC (Percussive Arts Society International Convention). I was never invited there until the early 90's. Leigh told people, "You should hear this guy Mike Mainieri play four mallets." They were like, "Yeah, we know Mike, from Steps Ahead." I wasn't playing with the Burton grip. Neither was Lee. He had his own grip, so he was also an outsider in a way. We were outliers, and of course I wasn't teaching at a music school. I don't recall a lot of two mallet players at PASIC either, except for Terry Gibbs. I don't remember Milt being there, or Bobby... perhaps they were there in the 70's and 80's, but not the years I performed at PASIC. Fortunately, that's changed over the last fifteen or twenty years. I've started being invited, as well as Joe Locke, who is amazing, Stefon, Ed Saindon and others that I've mentioned, who all utilize other grips.

I actually switched for a while from Burton to the fulcrum grip, which is Ed Saindon's grip.

That's another beautiful grip. There's more than one way to skin the cat. Gary was very special, in terms of how the grip worked for him, and also the music he chose to play. I still listen to "Duster" once in a while, and of course his marvelous duets with Chick. I was playing with The Satyrs in the Village in the 60's, and Gary's live gigs at the Vanguard with Larry Coryell were very inspiring. What a quartet!

Do you feel that the grip you use determines to some extent the types of musical choices you make, for example the kinds of voicings you favor, because of the spacing of the grip and what is comfortable for your hand?

Absolutely. The use of the Burton grip leaves many players with the difficulty of playing two note half tones chromatically, with one hand fast:s C & C3, C3& D, etc... So when they are comping or soloing, and have to move up the instrument chromatically with one hand playing half tones simultaneously, they're forced to either abandon the idea or use a broken arpeggio with two hands. Some grips tend to use more open voicings, or simpler voicings or inversions. One of the advantages of my grip is that I'm moving the inner parts of my hand, as if I was a pianist. All the bones and fingers are moving in and out, as if the mallets were extensions of my hand. When students comment that, "Your voicings are different," it's partly because my grip allows me to employ half tones with ease. Let me also be clear that there are lines that are uncomfortable for me, and are easier to perform with other grips, such as music that requires the use of the outer right hand mallet for playing fast passages. If I'm reading a piece of music that requires me to use the outer mallet for a fast passage, I will use Gary's grip.

Does some of what you do conceptually come from the piano? Have you taken harmonic things you got from piano and put them on the vibraphone?

I'll tell you where it comes from. It comes from my step-grandfather. You know when guitar players have fifteen zillion voicings for one chord... C7, plus nine, with a sharp eleven... with a flat or sharp whatever, all over the guitar. So my grandfather really influenced me because that's pretty much all he experimented with... he just loved exploring voicings and tunings. I started hearing all that stuff, and it became a game with us. He would stand next to me and say, "Why don't you try this?"

One of the exercises I give students is to play closed inversions from the bottom to the top of the instrument, then down. Do this with major seventh chords, minor sevenths, minor major, dominant... then more involved chords... dominant seven with a raised ninth. Then dominant seven with a raised ninth and a thirteenth...etc. For example, I'd ask them to play C 13#9 in the lowest possible closed inversion, which would be A-Bb-Eb-E, and I'd ask them to play the next inversion... Bb-Eb-E-A, and continue in that fashion up and down the axe, in circle of fourths and fifths. Then speed things up by requesting they play C13#9 within the first octave on the vibes... F to F, in the circle of fourths and fifths, and then as a chop buster, chromatically up and down the instrument. (A-Bb-Eb-E), (Bb-B-E-F). (B-C-F-F#) etc., voicing chromatically at 200 BPM's and above up and down... It's insane...

That's an unconventional voicing, but I'm guessing it sounds cool on the vibraphone.

How would somebody with the Burton technique play that? The first thing they'd do is put the left hand on top, playing the flats, and the right hand on the bottom playing the naturals. Then I'll say, "Okay, now go up chromatically, really fast." That totally fucks them up. (laughs) You can't do it. For me, I'm playing the minor second intervals in each hand, then I say, "Okay, next lesson." That's why I only give three lessons. After each series of three lessons, I say, "Come back in a year." The other exercise previously mentioned is playing the same closed inversion in the cycle of fourths and fifths, but staying in the same octave: F-F. Sometimes you have two choices of voicings within that octave. Sometimes you only have one. Then, to sort of further challenge yourself, play the closed inversions from Db-Db, again only within one octave The reason I do that is so that when you're playing voicings, say on "All the Things You Are..." when you have all those options under your hands you realize, "Wow, there are lots of different inversions I can use here." There are a lot of different possibilities. Then I do the same exercise with open inversions, which is even harder. After I give that assignment, the student looks at me like, "Oh shit!" I say, "I'll see you in two years." That's how I teach. I don't have the patience that other teachers have. God bless Ed (Saindon), Dave Samuels, David Friedman and Gary! Those guys up at Berklee and at other conservatories have the fortitude to teach both the kids that want to learn and also the ones that don't. I'm not that guy. But I am willing to help. I was just communicating with a vibraphonist who's going to come to New York City from Spain, and another from Italy. They want to take my three-lesson series. (laughs). I talk about fundamentals. Balance, using the left foot on the pedal when you're at the top of the instrument. Having a good, solid center of gravity. How you position yourself at the instrument. Then I'll listen to them play. I'll give them a couple tunes to learn before they come to see me, and it's always an old standard. I want to hear "Body and Soul," a tune with chord changes, and preferably with a modulating bridge. I want to hear how they move through the various II-V's, substitutions and modulations, how and what they're thinking... so I can introduce them to my concept of re-harmonization. The exercises really open their ears, and that's been a wonderful experience for me with these vibists. They'll write back to me and say, "Mike, I'm still working on this stuff. How does this sound?" They send me something to listen to and I say, "Yeah! That's what I'm talking about."

So that's become an important thing for you, helping other vibes players, and keeping the music and the tradition alive by passing along information?

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