Hochschule Luzern - Musik, Abteilung Jazz

Picking Notes out of Thin Air?

2. Cultivating the Soloist's Skills:

Improvisation and Precomposition: The Eternal Cycle

If you listen to many jazz compositions, a lot of times the melodies were actually once solos. I know because a lot of songs which I've written have come from just my plain practicing of certain solo phrases. When I'm soloing, I'll hear a certain phrase, and I'll say, "Hey, I like this; I think I'll write a song with this phrase in it." Harold Ousley

The Creative Interplay between Vehicles and Ideas

I had been getting bored with the stereotyped changes that were being used all the time.... and I kept thinking there's bound to be something else. I could hear it sometimes but I couldn't play it. Well, that night, I was working over "Cherokee" and, as I did, I found that by using the higher intervals of a chord as a melody line and backing them with appropiately related changes, I could play the thing I'd been hearing. I came alive. Charlie Parker

What Freddie Hubbard and other guys usually do today is to make a scale out of certain intervals, like alternating seconds and minor thirds, and make up a tune on that scale. Then they work out lots of phrases on that scale - their own licks - that they can run altogether when they play. They will basically play that way through the whole tune. They also structure the chords so that they lend themselves to playing those kind of patterns. The chords probably aren't any more minor than they are major. When players like McCoy Tyner use this approach, the whole song basically has the sound of that scale. There is a modal kind of sameness because they are working within the context of one or maybe two chords. Things have moved in that direction since Miles and others moved it that way. Harold Ousley

I learned how to play melodic lines that were very free atonally, without any kind of harmonic reference. The only reference was the tune's melody. Kenny Barron

I create a chord pattern that is my own when I play free - still playing chords in the sense that if you play three or four notes, you've played a chord. It's just that it's not part of a chord pattern that's the same each time you play it. So, that's free. I'm making up the chord pattern as I go along. You just keep going on and on; it's one long melody. I don't think it's different from how I ordinarily play because it's the same music, just another type of song, really, where you don't have the structure set up before you play. So, you work out your own structure as you play, really taking improvisation to the epitome. Gary Bartz

Figures, Patterns, Phrases: The Lives of Licks

The guys always were working on tricky rhythmic phrases that were like an optical illusion on the ears. You could never figure out how they played them unless they showed you. Benny Bailey

I wasn't familiar with Woody Shaw's sound when I first heard him, so I bought his first two albums and started listening and finding out what notes he used, what intervals his phrases were composed of. I took those phrases and played them in different keys and began to get the essence of it. I try tu use them now to a certain degree. I try to incorporate it into my style. Harold Ousley

Wa all have our little bag of tricks, our special riffs that are identified with us. You may gain some new ones and drop some of the old ones. You get different personality traits as you get older. But you never lose your bag of tricks completely. That's just our personalities. Red Rodney

Preparing Strategies for Individual Pieces

If it's a tune worth playing, it should teach you something. A Charlie Parker tune like "Confirmation" should give you information; that's what a theme does. If we're going to play theme and variations, let's pull it apart and play it in twenty different ways, not just one. So, improvising on "Confirmation" is like breaking up the little motives, redefining certain aspects of the melody. A tune like "Confirmation" is jubilant, and it should be articulated the way you articulate a theme from a Mozart sonata. In contrast, those really lush Ellington or Strayhorn ballads like "Star-Crossed Lovers" or "Mood Indogo" give a feeling of much more space than some of the bebop tunes. Or, comparing bebop tunes tunes to a mysterious piece like "Nardis", even if I played them at the same tempo, improvising patterns of eighth notes, I wouldn't play the notes with the same edge or as clearly articulated on "Nardis." I would play more shapes and rolling time. "Nardis" is more evocative; it's more moods. I wouldn't swing it. I might imply swing for a second or two, or maybe half a chorus, but even if I did, it wouldn't be a rollicking swing like "Confirmation". It's not that kind of piece. Fred Hersch

"Little Sunflower" has a very slow harmonic motion and an easy Latin tempo. It's got like three chords in it and is about eighty bars long. Nothing happens harmonically, so you have to be concious of other things when you improvise, like changing registers for contrast. Also, when you play on that, you'r going to leave a lot of space. If you tried to leave that much space on "Giant Steps," half the tune would have gone by. John McNeil

Miles always seems to save something special for the last part of his solo. Benny Bailey

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