Picking Notes out of Thin Air?
(A COLLECTION OF QUOTES POSSIBLY USEFUL TO THE STUDENT LEARNING TO PLAY JAZZ)
Soloists elaborate upon what the structure of the piece has to say: what it tells them to do. Tommy Flanagan
Keeping the melody in mind, you always know where you are, even when you play intricate things. Lou Donaldson
The oldtimers always used to tell horn players to learn the lyrics just as a singer does, so that they know the meaning of the piece. Dizzy Gillespie
I'd set the chords in front of me and play the melody, watching where the chords fall in relation to the melody. Then I'd start to solo on it, playing through it one section at a time, the first eight bars, the first ten bars, the first twelve bars, the first half a chorus, and so on, up to the bridge. Then I'd just play the bridge. Once I could do that, I'd play through the whole chorus. Gary Bartz
You practice using a phrase when you play along with the records and when you go to sessions. After a while, you begin to hear and feel where the phrase goes, and, suddenly, you are able to play the phrase in the right place. Eventually, it becomes ingrained in you because you practice it so much. It becomes a natural habit when you improvise. Harold Ousley
There may be a certain set of chord progressions that you find in different places in different tunes. If you know a crip that fits that chord progression, you can use it on different tunes. You can prove that if you listen to any record by Bird. He'd play crips all the time. He'd play a crip to a set of progressions on "Night and Day" and the use it again on another tune like "Embraceable You". Tommy Turrentine
Bird had an uncanny sense of rhythm, and he was always unique with the way he would play the same passage. In one tune, he might take that passage and bring it on the first beat of the measure of a progression. Then, on another tune, he might take the same crip and start it on the "and" of the third beat of the measure so that it would come out in a different place. Tommy Turrentine
Maybe, one time through the tune, you play all the first inversions of the chords, just for their sound; then you play all the second inversions for a different sound. Starting on a certain note and going to another note within the same chords gives a different texture to the solo. You listen to what it sounds like one way, and then you say, "I wonder what it would sound like if I switch it around." There are so many different ways to switch chords around. James Moody
For all them cats, it was a matter of conception. Lamont Young was the first person to make me aware of that word. One day, when we was walking home from a rehearsal, he said, "Hey, Tom, you have to start thinking of conception, man," I said, "What do you mean?" He said, "Because you sounded sadder'n seven thousand muthafuckahs on that tune. You didn't know where you were going." About which he was right. In improvisation, you've got to have a basic conception of whatever you're playing just to know when to start and stop. If you don't, something funny's going to jump off. Tommy Turrentine
You really have to practice the coordination between the mind and the fingers, the ideas and the body. You have to practice finding the ideas on your horn, getting there at the same time the idea comes into your head. It' a matter of developing instant touch. Art Farmer
If the rhythm is right and band is really jumping, you don't even think of the changes. But if the rhythm is dragging or something, I really do visualize the changes to make sure I'm playing correctly. Lou Donaldson
You should be able to outline a song without a rhythm section, and be able to tell when you are at the bridge or the last eight bars of the tune. Patience Higgins
Improvisers think mainly in terms of musical ideas. An idea would be a melodic phrase. Kenny Barron
The idea could be one bar long, two bars long or as much as eight bars long. Art Farmer
If you could jump out of a chord, you could always jump back in. That was a trick I learned from listening to Louis Armstrong and many of the New Orleans musicians like Joe Oliver and Jimmy Noone. You hear the same thing if you listen to trumpet players like Clifford Brown play melodies. They call what they use grace notes, and they're beautiful. So, if you play a solo and you're smart, you can jump out of those chords and jump back in by using those. You've got your half neighbors and your whole neighbors, so you can get three notes out of the way and still come back in there. All those things come to me when I'm playing. Doc Cheatham
If I want to, I can improvise on the blues all day long, just by quoting from my colleagues' compositions, paying tribute to Thelonious Monk or Bud Powell or any of those people who have written tunes based on that same structure. Walter Bishop Jr.
Music is rhythmic feeling, and you have to learn how to feel the phrase you want to play in relation to the chords. You have to know how to get into the chord with your phrase because, depending on what you're playing and what you hear, the phrase may not start on the first beat of a new chord. It may start on the "and of one" or on the "two," or the phrase may start in the middle of one measure and go to the middle of the next and you've got to feel that. Harold Ousley
Sometimes, the ideas come from my mind, and I have to find them quickly on my horn. But other times, I find that I'm playing from finger patterns; the fingers give it to you. As I play, my fingers are walking through the yellow pages, so to speak. They roam around and they come up with ideas that I like. Harold Ousley
Please be encouraged to send in further quotes!