Picking Notes out of Thin Air?
(A COLLECTION OF QUOTES POSSIBLY USEFUL TO THE STUDENT LEARNING TO PLAY JAZZ)
My development was a gradual thing. I didn't wake up one day and have it. As you grow older, you realize that you've got tomorrow. When I was younger, I used to hear Blakey and Monk say that: "Well, we've got tomorrow. We can try it again." If you mess up a song, you can try it tomorrow. learning those things, you begin to understand that you don't have ot play all those notes right then and there.
I don't think my playing style has really changed over the years; it's just gotten better. I can hear the improvement in comparing older records and later records. I'm referring to soloing ability, to having a better sound, to knowing chords better, and getting rhythmically stronger. It also has to do with ideas - learning how to edit your ideas and being better able to follow ideas out to a logical conclusion. Gary Bartz
One of the most obvious aspects of the music to people who know jazz is: How does it feel in the swing? These are things that are very subtle and that jazz musician appreciate in a particular way. I appreciate the way Tommy Flanagan swings, the way that Barry Harris swings, the great pulse that Hank Jones and Bill Evans have - end every one of them is different. Chuck Israels
"What both saxophonists played was garbage. but there is an important difference between them. The second player's garbage swung!" veteran of Charles Mingus's band rehearsing a high school big band
There are some drummers who are great technically and can play the most complicated polyrhythmic exercises, but they can't make them swing. Their figures are mathematically precise, but they're stiff and mechanical. Paul Wertico
There's a certain kind of time that's metronomic, that's correct, but doesn't want you want to dance. It doesn't make you want to move, and it doesn't make you want to play. Fred Hersch
A lot of guys in New York will only play with an edge. They find their groove and that's their groove. to me, once I do that, there's no point in playing anymore because it should always be a mystery. Depending on who you are playing with, there are hundreds of ways of playing. I think that a master can play all those different kinds of time. Fred Hersch
Great jazz players start and end in different places as they go from chorus to chorus. It's often beautiful to start a phrase just before the end of one chorus and carry it over into the beginning of the next. Because that's such an obvious line of demarcation in form, you want to dovetail that joint together. These are the formal issues, and some people have an instinct for them and some don't. Charles Mingus once said, "How come alle these modern players play I Got Rhythm with the same eight-bar phrases? How come they don't play from the end of the second eight bars into the bridge or from the end of the bridge into the last eight bars? Why do they alway breathe after every eight bars?" With great players like Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker, you could never predict the places where they were going to breathe. Chuck Israels
Having heard Clifford Brown play all those fast runs, I used to really practice Clarke trumpet exercises all day long so that I could play fast. That's all I wanted to do. I was like a child with a toy. Wynton Marsalis
I try to play the bare essence, to let everything be just what it's supposed to be in that particular spot...You have many things to pick from when you're playing, so you try to train yourself to pick out the best things that you know. Dizzy Gillespie
Lee Morgan used to stand behind me when I was playing a ballad and he'd be hollering, "Play the pretty notes, man, play the pretty notes." I thought I was playing the pretty notes, but you know, things like that help you to reach a little further. Gary Bartz
Economy: that what you played had to have meaning, not just a bunch of sixteenth notes. You learn to make better choices of notes as you get older. Art Farmer
If I take a lick from so and so, I'm not going to get that many variations from it, because their phrases are just based on a scale. That's why I say Wes Montgomery has more substance than others. I find myself listening to the older players. You see one bar of theirs and you can get one hundred more licks out of it. Emily Remler
Whenever those licks really fit in with the story you were telling, you'd stick them in your solo. Then, other people could tell by listening to you that you were influenced by Diz or Fats or whoever. Most players held Diz and Fats and those fellows in high esteem, and you could tell whether other musicians were also working on those things. There wasn't anybody else coming along with anything as good or anything better, so you had to listen to them. And if players weren't working on those things, well then, they weren't trying to be artists in a true sense. Jimmy Robinson
Playing inside the changes means playing enough of the important notes of the chord progression at important times. A good solo might be very free, but every once in a while it loops or hooks into an essential note that describes the harmonic change. Chuck Israels
The more your level of hearing gets better, the more you can hear complicated kinds of ideas, and assuming that you are technically proficient enough, you can execute those ideas. By more complicated ideas, I mean ideas that would be longer in length and make use of notes that might be considered outside the chord. Being able to play complicated ideas means being able to position those notes in such a way that they flow back and forth between the notes that are in the chord. Kenny Barron
You can always tell cats who have the whole body of the music down by the licks that they play, because thee are certain licks that are phraes in a certain way that you just won't know unless you've listened to a lot of music. Bobby Rogovin
You don't try to duplicate certain things that other cats do, because you could never do it as well as they do. Nobody can get on that tenor saxophone and play like Trane, because he's the only one who can spell out chords and sound good when he does it. Wynton Marsalis
I thought of the soloist's lines like the way we talk sentences, and I heard all the emotions in them: he's saying this now, he's saying that next. He's sad there. He's getting a little cocky here. He gets a little happy there. He builds up here. He relaxes there. Things phrased in a certain way have a certain meaning. Like if you bend a note, it's almost like trying to be cute. Miles is really good at this. It's not so much the notes he plays as the way he plays the notes. Bobby Rogovin
Many musicians used to complain about that, and they'd blame the instruments when they didn't play in tune ot made a puny sound, but when Wilbur Ware took over the instruments, no matter whose they were, those basses always played in tune, and they filled the whole room with sound. And that was without amplification.
I can't say that I've become a better player technically, but I have become a more expressive player. I can feel better abut what I play because I have been playing so long that I can express it better than I did twenty or thirty years ago, although I might have played better technically then. I play with more feeling now than I did then, I played what I knew I could play then, and now I play what I feel I can play, which is the way I've grown musically. Tommy Flanagan
Sometimes, you still have days when you don't just feel right, like there is a kind of congestion, and the flow isn't there. You're just not playing clearly. Tommy Flanagan
Endings must come naturally, you're supposed to let it happen, not just to make it happen like that. Barry Harris
You can create new melodies in your solo that can become the melody of a new song. I want my playing to have that kind of cohesiveness, that connection, that kind of syntax. Buster Williams
If I were to try to play mechanically, playing things that I've worked out before, it might make me sound real good, but it would also make me fell guilty - as if I haven't really done anything good. I'd prefer to make things up as much as I can with the smallest amount of preconfiguring possible. John McNeil
I also have licks that identify me, but I try to create all the time. I may not succeed all the time, but when I do, and I surprise myself, that's when I'm the happiest. I get the most rewarding feelings when, instead of playing what I'm comfortable with and know is going to sound good, I try something different and it works. Red Rodney
There is one player I heard recently who can be very razzle-dazzle, and this is very impressive to me. I give him credit for the dues he had to pay to do that, but his playing always feels worked out. He must play pretty much similarly all the time, because he plays at a certain tempo where you can't improvise too much. That's a sock-it-to-me kind of energy and the whole philosophy behind it is to make an effect. He's like a lot of players who are always preparing and calculating for the home run when they solo. They can deliver that kind of a blow with the music and it's very effective. but for someone who demands more, the effect is suddenly over and done with and you're not going to get any more. Lee Konitz
"Play something different, man; play something different. This is jazz, man. You played that last night and the night before." Charles Mingus
"Oh, God. I've played this a million times before. What am I doing standing up here playing"? I feel like this when it gets to the point where I can almost write my solo down before I play it. John McNeil
The main problem is to free your mind when you play. I find that in my own playing, whenever I feel any kind of tension, I'm restricted to playing the most fundamental kinds of things. Art Farmer
Now, as some people get older, they just play all their tricks. I can hear that in great, great names in jazz. Those are the players who are no longer interested in creating all the time. Red Rodney
If you're closed, then the music can't take you anywhere. It's just back to "Well, now I'm going to play this and then I'm going to play that." Don Pate
I have seen a lot of things come and go. Basically, ninety-nine and nine-tenths persent of everybody out there is just copying somebody else. Here in New York, I remember every piano player was trying to play like Horace Silver at one time, and then later on, everybody was trying to play like Bill Evans. Some of the guys who were playing like Horace a couple of years later were trying to play like Bill. and then everybody was trying to play like McCoy Tyner. It's just something that comes and goes. Horace was dominant at one time and everyone dug that, and then along came Bill with a different style. Art Farmer
For an individual fully to play himself, rather than to sound like someone else, is possibly the hardest thing to do. Gary Bartz
To actually come up with that sound, is something everybody dreams about, but not a whole lot of people have achieved. John Hicks
McCoy Tyner is one of those people whose style evolved from when I first heard him. When I first heard him, I thought that his style was going to change, although I don't know many pianists like that. It's just like five or six years made the difference in some people's playing. Like Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea also basically played the way I was playing at one time. But they were still moving; they were in a period of transition. They moved along compositionally, and their keyboard technique moved right along with it. I also remember Cecil Taylor when he was playing standards with Steve Lacy's group. He was on his way then, developing to where he is now. Tommy Flanagan
From listening to Trane's early albums to the last, you can hear a steady progression, a continuous, sequential order that goes from one album to the next. He was constantly plotting each course, each step he was taking to be an expansion of the last step. That's the highest type of mature artist in the music. Arthur Rhames
I wasn't very experienced playing before the transition from swing to bebop came along. When I first heard Dizzy Gillespie, i got confused and I said, "Wait a minute! I gotta stop playing and decide if I want to play like Dizzy!" it sounded somehow funny at first: right but wrong, wrong but right. Tommy Turrentine
I'd get up to solo and wouldn't know what to play: to play the chord changes or to ignore them - just play colors, textures. Sometimes, I'd let a whole chorus go by without playing, turn around and walk off the stage. I had to drop out of the scene for a while and figure out what direction I wanted go in.
What Herbie and Chick did was just beyond me. It was something that passed me by. I never bothered to learn it, but I love listening to it. Tommy Flanagan
Some people can have a house, and they will stay in that house for fifty years and another person will want to change houses every five years. They're not satisfied staying in one thing. James Moody
There are musicians like Clifford Jordan who play different styles very well. He can play bebop, and he usually does when he plays with Barry Harris. But then he goes and plays free jazz with other people. He can do that very well too. I also like the way George Adams plays. He plays free, but he can also play conventionally. It all depends on who the music is coming from. There are people who are well versed in both and can do both, and there are other people who just can't. There are some free jazz players who can't play the other way and vice versa. Art Davis
Sometimes, I'm not sure it's worth all the dues you have to pay in order to learn to play bebop; it's so hard to unlearn it afterwards. Warren James
A lot of players today are playing different cycles of interval patterns like fourths. I like to study them to open up my ears, but to play like that, you could be anybody. Everybody sounds the same, playing that stuff. A lot of guys I know are going in that direction, and they're going to get trapped if they're not careful. They're going to find out that once they get into that, they're not going to be able to get out of it. After learning to play that way, they go on a record date and have to play on more conventional tunes, and they don't know where to begin. They can't play that way as well anymore.
All players are sounding alike today. They're all working out of Oliver Nelson's book. They play mechanical sequences of changes that will fit anything. When they get to a chord change they skate through it. They work out clusters of notes, whole-tone patterns and things, to get through it. In the old days, we played the exact chord that was supposed to be played. They don't have a feeling for tonal centers in the music anymore, or they just improvise on the harmony in ways that have nothing to do ith the song. Lou Donaldson
The reason why so many of the avant-garde players sound like the earlier players is that they rejected the excesses of chromaticism which you had in bebop and their playing is basically diatonic like the playing of the swing period. David Baker
I remember that in my early career my own playing was awful. I never thought it was great. I felt the same thing for years, even I was working with really great players like Lester Young and Oscar Pettiford. I would go to work with a very enthused feeling, like "Now's the time to play!" But by the end of the evening I always had the feeling that i was slinking home with my tail between my legs. I always felt like that charcter in the old ad for Ben Gay. There's a character with a little tail who's supposed to be pain. And somebody rubs the Ben Gay on this cat and it would disappear and the caption would read, "Curses, fioled again!" And that's the way I felt. Art Farmer
Fats Navarro was a spectacular musician because, in a time when some cats arrived on the scene with nothing, he came on with everything: he could read, he could play high and hold anybody's first trumpet chair, he could play those singing, melodic solos with a big, beautiful sound nobody could believe at the time, and he could fly on fast tempos with staccato, biting notes and execute whatever he wanted, with apparently no strain, everything clear. And every note meant something. You know there are those kind of guys who just play a lot of notes, some good, some bad. Fats wasn't one of those: he made his music be about each note having a place and a reason. And he had so much warmth, so much feeling. That's why I say he had everything. Roy Haynes
When I was younger, I never felt that I really put it all together in my solos, and of course, I learned much later that you never do. You have good nights and bad nights. And some nights are exceptionally good. But no night is ever just fantastic from the beginning to the end. You never put it all together the way you would like to. You can always find something wrong with it. Nothing is ever fully realized, and you never say, Well, this is it." You're always on your way somewhere. To me, playing is generally a never-ending state of getting there.
Sometimes, I feel like a breakthrough is happening in my playing, and then I go back and listen to the records I made years and years ago, and I can see the basis there of what I'm doing now. I might go to work and play something and think "Well, that's new. I never played that before," and then I might hear that I played something very close to it ten or twelve years ago. There hadn't been any real break-off that you could put your fingers on and say, "Well, I went from here to there."
I hear some players who make big changes in their styles, but that's not that important to me. The only goal is to play better. And I feel my playing has gotten better over the years. I have better control of the horn, greater freedom to venture out more on the horn and to be more expressive. Basically, my ambition is just to be more expressive. Art Farmer
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