Picking Notes out of Thin Air?
(A COLLECTION OF QUOTES POSSIBLY USEFUL TO THE STUDENT LEARNING TO PLAY JAZZ)
People never understood how arranged Bill Evans's music really was. Sure, it was free and improvised. But the reason we could be so free is that we already knew the beginning, the middle, and the ending. Chuck Israels
If you could only afford a few records, you learned them so thoroughly. you played them over and over and over, studying them for every musical detail, every bit of information you culd get about the heads, and the arrangements before you wore them out completely.
Gerald Wilson was a trumpet player and a fine arranger. I started copying for him in the Lunceford band and studied his scores so that I could write just like him. He didn't like that too much, and he finally let me go - everbody was saying he wasn't writing any of his music. But he was good to me and taught me a lot. I reached a point where I was writing about half his book. Melba Liston
We'd work on a tune like you would paint a portrait. You want something special to come from it. We'd work on all the possible shadings, the softness, the loudness, balancing the way the tune sounded. We'd work on phrasing the tune. There are so many things you can do to make each tune say something so that you wouldn't forget it and its effect would be lasting. Working this way is a matter of sensivity. It's what I call being a true artist. Jimmy Robinson
Play every phrase as if it were the whole song. Max Roach
"If you're going to do a standard tune that's been done a lot, don't do it like everybody else does it. Change it. Do it your own way." Betty Carter
People have given me special advice about tempos, like really taking a couple of seconds to find out exactly what tempo you want before you count it off - not being casual with tempos because every tempo is different. Certain tunes will really feel strange if they're a hair too fast or a hair too slow. Fred Hersch
Personally, I love the undercurrent created by the third or fourth horn part in big ensembles, the way the voices move and cross each other. At times, that can be more interesting than the melody. I listen to how those parts are constructed in any arranged composition. Tommy Turrentine
Some of Ellington's voicings and orchestrations were so unique that you couldn't tell which instruments were playing together on the records, you had to see the band in person to figure it out.
Once everybody had gotten the melody, Mingus would play the rhythm. Once you had the two together, he would work out the harmony. He'd say, "Alright, Tommy, I want you to play such and such." Once I could play it back, he'd say, "Okay. Now, tenor player, I want you to play this." The he'd say, " Let me hear you play it together." He'd do that through each tune, section by section, and then we would work on the background lines. That's how we'd rehearse. The ways we did Mingus' music was so complex, the only way to be able to play it was to live with it. I remember one suite we did called "Tours of Manhattan." The ensemble part alone was thirty minutes long. With solos, it was about forty-five or fifty minutes. Tommy Turrentine
In Horace Silver's band, we never played anything that we didn't rehearse. We even had rehearsals on the road. If Horace wanted to add a new tune or do one of the old ones, he'd just hand out the music and tell us to memorize it. We played so many different kinds of pieces, including one that was through-composed. There was no improvisation at all. It had some repeated sections, which made it easier to memorize, but it was quite long. John McNeil
When Dizzy taught us in his big band, he would show us the way to think when we were playing. Every pattern was a different challenge. Accents had a lot do to with it. You can take triplet figures and, by accenting them a certain way, you can create an optical illusion on the ears. The figure sounds like it's turned around; a lot of it has to do with false fingering also. Those figures get very tricky, and nobody would ever find out how to play them unless someone showed them how to do it. Benny Bailey
Most of my rehearsing (with the Jazz Messengers) was done on the bandstand, because, with just one or two new guys coming to the band, there wouldn't be special rehearsals unless something special came up - like a television program. I got my experience right there on the bandstand listening to some of the vets who already knew the arrangements. John Hicks
In Max Roach's band, we did some of Kenny Dorham's arrangements, because he was in the group before Booker Little. So, Kenny would come over sometimes and rehearse his pieces with us. He'd make certain suggestions like, "This isn't right; phrase that this way." We'd just play the arrangements down, getting the phrasing of the melody right for the horns and getting the bass notes right. There were certain lines written for the bass. Art Davis
With Blakey, you had to memorize the music since you couldn't have it on the bandstand. John Hicks
In Horace Silver's band there were never any music stands, so we read off the floor half the time, or off the piano. Basically, you memorized it as soon as you could so you didn't have to mess with it. John McNeil
While Benny Goodman always had big arrangements, with Basie, we had something no expensive arrangement could touch. The cats would come in, somebody would hum a tune. Then somebody else would play it over on the piano once or twice. Then someone would set up a riff, a ba-deep, a ba-dop. The Daddy Basie would two-finger a little. And then things would start to happen. Half the cats couldn't have read music if they'd had it. They didn't want to be bothered anyway. Maybe sometimes one cat would bring in a written arrangement and the others would run over it. By the time Jack Wadlin, Skeet Henderson, Buck Clayton, Freddie Green, and Basie were through running over it, taking off, changing it, the arrangement wouldn't be recognizable anyway. Everything that happenned, happened by ear. For the two years I was with the band we had a book of a hundred songs, and every one of us carried every last damn note of them in our heads. Billie Holiday
You've got to write with certain men in mind. You write just for their abilities and natural tendencies and give them places where they do their best - certain entrances and exits and background stuff. Duke Ellington
My band is my instrument. Duke Ellington
The music's mostly written down, because it saves time. It's written down if it's only a basis for a change. There's no set system. Most times I write it and arrange it. Sometimes Billy Strayhorn, my staff arranger, does the arrangement. When we're all working together, a guy may have an idea and he plays it on his horn. Another guy may add to it and make something out of it. Someone may play a riff and ask, "How do you like this?" The trumpets may try something together and say, " Listen to this." There may be a difference of opinion on what kind of music to use. Someone may advocate axtending a note or cutting it off. the sax section may want to put an additional smear on it. Duke Ellington
Booker Little did a lot of the writing in Max Roach's band. Sometimes, he would write things on the spot for us to play. Other times, he'd have things already written. Also, Booker would modify the arrangements at times. He'd tell George Coleman to play something else here or there, or he would pick up his horn and try something out himself, playing something different from what he had written. This would add alittle bit of flavor to the arrangements; just one note might make a difference. Sometimes, he would change whole sections just to get it in there. Art Davis
We were constantly changing the songs around, none of them stayed the same for very long. I didn't write much of this down with Betty (Carter). Writing wouldn't have helped that much. My own memory just developed over a period of time. John Hicks
Duke Ellington used to have all those different versions of his pieces floating around the band. All the cats had five or six arrangements of the same piece. And when you joined the band, no one would tell you which was the current one. They'd let you find out too late that you were playing the wrong one, and you'd scramble for another. Ellington was always rewriting the parts. Benny Bailey
In Blakey's band, some of the older tunes from a few generations ago would be updated, and we could make new arrangements for them. The way this would come about was that Art would tell Lee Morgan that there was a particular thing that he wanted you to do, and Lee would tell the rest of the guys, and we'd put it into the form of the tune. He' break the tune down into sections and say, "At letter A, I want such and such to happen." It might be a different meter or break time or stoptime. That would usually be done right on the bandstand. John Hicks
If you have six people in the group and you want to do something different, you have to go around whispering to everyone on the bandstand. It's like the more people you have on the stand, the more restricted you are. If you try to do something different without telling everybody else what you're going to do in advance, then they're thrown and they don't know how to react. If you've had a rehearsal and told people you're going to do one thing and then go on the job and do something else, it's disruptive. Especially if the arrangements are written up. Art Farmer
Betty Carter had different ways she'd want you to play in terms of the tempo. You had to watch her on the bandstand, her hands and her movements. She would bring her arm down a certain way to establish the beat. There would be no counting off, like "one, two, three, four". The secret was being able to to figure out the tempo from the way she brought her hand down. Kenny Washington
There was a lot of pressure from within the bands, you just missed one note in the arrangements or blew the dynamics, and every head in the band turned toward you. Nobody would have to say anything. You'd never do that again. Lou Donaldson
One night at Birdland, we were playing Mingus' suite "Tours of Manhattan", and I forgot a little interlude that we were supposed to play about Chinatown. Do you know what he did? He stopped the whole band in front of the audience. the place was packed, and he walked up to the microphone and says, "Ladies and Gentleman, as you know this is called the Charles Mingus Workshop. We had just left the Village on our way to Chinatown, but it seems that our trumpet player got lost. So, if he can remember his way now, I'll give him a car check and we can go back to the West Village and resume our journey to Chinatown. Can you remember that, Tom?" I said, "Yes, sir," and we continued playing the suite. Tommy Turrentine
Please be encouraged to send in further quotes!