Hochschule Luzern - Musik, Abteilung Jazz

Picking Notes out of Thin Air?

3. Collective Aspects of Improvisation:

Adding to Arrangements: Conventions Guiding the Rhythm Section

The first thing I look for is how well the drummer is propelling the band, because that's his main function. I listen for how creatively he is propelling the band, that is, how he phrases and how well he plays the arrangements: making the proper breaks, punching the melodic figures of the band in the right places. And, of course, I listen to what he adds of his own to the arrangement. Charli Persip

Art Blakey was a pianist before he became a drummer, and I also played the piano on some dates. Wynton Kelly and Horace Silver were both fine saxophonists when they came to New York, as well as piano players. Max Roach

Comping is a special skill which means to get under the soloist - not over him or par with him - and to lay down a carpet. One of the reasons why Bird hired me was that he liked the way I comped. Comping has been one of my strong suits. Walter Bishop Jr.

The String Bass

In New Orleans we'd have to pick two notes in one bar, then you'd go six bars of bowing, and maybe have one note to pick. In New york we started picking four to a bar. Now we pick for or eight beats to a bar. Pops Foster

At one time, the bass just provided a thump, thump, thump, thump accompaniment, and you recognized it by his absence. Now, the bass is a voice to be reckoned with, a voice that helps form the music. Rufus Reid.

Today, even when the bass player's keeping the basic time going, he's creating different rhythmic pattern behind you. Red Rodney

Learning the Musical Role of the Bass

I picked up a lot by ear on the bandstand, and I learned mainly by osmosis. Steve Kuhn had a perfect pitch, and he was sometimes very short with me when I played a wrong note or got lost in a series of progressions. Kuhn might call the tune, and I'd know the melody in a general way and would be able to hear a reasonable facsimile of a correct bass line for the first twelve measures, but then I'd turn right when the music turned left. When that would happen, I was told the correct changes, and I made it a point never to forget them.
Later, when I played with Bill Evans, Bill wrote out his chord progressions for his own compositions and for the standard pieces that we would play. Sometimes he'd just write them on the inside of a matchbook cover, and I'd have to read them on the bandstand. He'd write the changes, and I'd play the bass lines. Bill wrote such detailed chord progressions with different chord changes every two beats, there wasn't too much for me to fill in. The bass line was implicit. Chuck Israels

When you come right down to it and start analyzing great jazz bass lines, as long as they remain tied to normal tonal harmony, they're like Bach. Except for a few situations, a good bass player will play roots rather than fifths of chords. Some other rules: a scalewise passage can change direction at any time. After a leap, that is, an interval of more than a second, one returns by a step in the opposite direction, except when that leap is followed by another leap, in which case you have an arpeggiated figure, and you're free to continue or change direction. But as soon as you go from a leap back to a stepwise, conjunct motion, you invariably do that in the opposite direction only to come back immediately and then turn back in the opposite direction so that the continuation in the same direction becomes an embellishment. If you look at satisfying jazz bass lines, alomost all of them follow these rules....Chuck Israels

Chambers would sometimes find some notes in between the notes, putting four pitches in a line in which there was only room for three. For example, if he had to get from D to F and he had to play four notes in there and he happened to go chromatically, he would go from a D to a flattened Eflat to a sharpened Eflat to an E to an F. Chuck Israels

They nicknamed Milt Hinton "Frump" because he plays his notes short. They're not exactly staccato, but they're shorter than players from the younger generation like Ron Carter or Ray Drummond. It was a new experience for me to play with him, because the older bass player's concept is so different. Their time feel is different. Kenny Washington

The Drums

In the original bebop era, the drummers had to play time on the bass drum and drop bombs. The guys laid down the time, and then they made accents around the time, but always went back to the time, so it made for a really solid foundation for other players. But as the music started to become more adventurous, they started stretching out more. In the hard bop era of the amplified bass, the drummers didn't have to play with the bass player in the same way. They created a constant interplay between the snare drum and the bass drum against the ride cymbal and the hi-hat, dropping bombs. Today, especially in big bands, drummers need to be able to play that foundation in the bass drum and to drop bombs, making the accents. They need to be able to function both ways. Keith Copeland

Learning the Drums's Role

I had some experience playing club dates with my father and other musicians older than myself where we had to learn how to play for dancers in that earlier jazz tradition, and I had to learn how to play time in my foot on the bass drum for that. When we played for dances, we weren't playing tempos as fast as they did in the bebop period, and I mastered a little of what drummers refer to as the loud/soft technique. That was the ability to pat the bass drum very softly on all the beats so it's more felt than heard and then to accent louder when you want certain accents to be heard. Keith Copeland

One of the first things that John Hicks told me when I got to New York was, "You're going to have to learn some new turnarounds. Turnarounds are the key." In the bebop style, many people were locked into clichés. The horn players were always listening for a particular phrase for the drummer to play at the end of their solos. All the drummers were playing certain turnarounds that Philly Joe Jones had been playing. A lot of turnarounds were basically played on the snare drum, like a steady roll or a triplet figure leading to a crash on the drums. But then, about that time, Tony Williams joined Miles, and he began introducing new turnarounds. The group was still playing bebop, but the turnarounds were different. They made the music move a different way. Then other guys started changing the figures, breaking up the rhythms and playing them on different drums and cymbals. It changed the whole color of the music and freshened it for other musicians. If they heard the drummers play something different, then they might come up with something different. Ronald Shannon Jackson

The lessons I always learned from my father and from other soloists was to see where the soloist starts off and to build in intensity with the soloist. Don't give him too much at the beginning. If the soloist starts off really busy and burns right from the beginning, then you're going to have to come up to his energy level and build even higher before the solo's over. But other soloists want to start fairly relaxed and build to high intensity as they go along. Keith Copeland

Roy Haynes concept is a little busier and more complicated rhythmically. He wouldn't always play the hi-hat on two and four. He broke up the cymbal time, playing all kinds of little fills between his two hands....When I first heard Haynes perform, he didn't seem to play a constant pulse of any kind, yet I could feel a beat coming from all of his broken rhythmic figures. I said to myself, "Wow. That's another way of playing altogether!" Keith Copeland

We used to call him (Roy Haynes) "Snap, Crackle, and Pop" because he had that kind of rhythm. Charli Persip

Max was so musical, through records, he was the first cat to teach me about melody and form and tuning the drums. Kenny Washington

Elvin was breaking up the time on the cymbals, and he had a hell of a feeling of six going through all his playing. He was playing time, but it was like he was dancing with the time, all around these quarter-note triplets and stuff happening against the ride cymbal. It was so laid back. He could do it at fast tempos too. He could still emphasize the time and dance with it, and he'd never miss the "one". You always knew where he was. Keith Copeland

The role of the drummer has changed so much, that today you could find a lot of drummers not just keeping time any more. I mean, you could take away the rest of the group, and the drummer would be soloing throughout everything. That's the kind of respectability that the drums have now. Akira Tana

The Piano

The advantage of jam sessions was that you could learn what a horn player expects or would like to hear from a piano player. Such things were often discussed. It was also good to see what other pianists played behind soloists. At close hand, you could see how they really accompanied someone else. Tommy Flanagan

Conventions of Accompaniment Associated with Different Idioms

When I was the house bass player at the Jazz Showcase, the concept of many of the musicians I played with was a swinging kind of bebop. Bebop required straight-ahead walking bass lines without much in the way of syncopated rhythmic embellishments or jagged rhythmic lines. Also, no matter who I played with, I knew what was going to go down harmonically. If it's this chord, then you're likely to hear this kind of bebop line played over it. Of course, different people play differently within that, but you can rest assured that it's going to be in a certain fashion. Rufus Reid

In the 1950s, rhythm sections became much more active in the music as they had ever been before, and the textural variety in the music became tremendous. The bass was freed up from playing constant quarter notes. You could play note values that occured in different places, in very fine subdivisions of the pulse while the actual pulse stayed the same. Bassists like Stev Swallow and I could play with a strong sense of rhythm without having to play every quarter note. Both of us were lose enough to be able to play a variety of note values and still play time. Sometimes, we would skip a quarter note and break up the steady bass pattern. You could come back in on the next quarter note or on en eighth-note subdivision or a triplet subdivision, if you play it in the right place. Sometimes, if we were playing a piece in 3/4, I would play two dotted quarter notes, or I would play four quarter notes in a 3/4 measure. And if I laid them in there as an obvious polyrhythm, three against four, that was playing time to me.
Later, things loosened up even more with drummers like Elvin Jones, Pete LaRoca and Donald Bailey. The cymbal pattern was freed from playing a constant ding, ding, ding, ding to varieties of patterns that implied ding, ding, a-ding, ding but were not exactly like that. The drummer's polyrhythms, what they would do with their left hands, and left and right feet, also became much more complex. They'd play polyrhythms anywhere in the measure, placing rhythms across the main 4/4 pulse or across barlines. Chuck Israels

As you may know, we recorded the first totally free music in 1949 or so. It was just a couple of 78 rpm records. "Intuiton" was the name of one of them. and we were doing that kind of thing where we would just start playing with no plan at all. We knew each other well enough to be able to do that, and it was a lot of fun....It's very difficult to really make a fine art out of, but as a procedure, it's one of the very, very important ones, I think, in playing together. Lee Konitz

I had never seen anything like it before. Trane and Elvin played at such an energy level all the time that it scared you to death the whole time you were listening to them. It was just constant conversation between them, all the time. They broke all the rules I had learned about starting gradual at the beginning and building up from there. Trane would start off at a level that would be way up there, and he'd continue to go from there. Keith Copeland

Unique Stylistic Fusions

Coleman Hawkins was the first to hire Thelonious Monk. From Hawkins, I learned that music doesn't have to be dated. Hawk always kept up with the music. Gary Bartz

When Cecil Taylor and I recorded together, people in both bebop and free jazz wondered what we were both up to, and many were skeptical. But we had a great time playing together. Max Roach

Louis Metcalf was somewhere between Louis Armstrong and Roy Eldridge stylistically. It was a tremendous experience playing with this band, because I wanted to learn their tunes. They liked the freshness and drive that I brought to the band and were open enough to appreciate bebop. They let me do my thing, so I just played the way I normally played, but in their context. Walter Bishop Jr.

Ira Sullivan and I are still really bebop players, but we've embraced the newer modal-like forms and have molded our individual styles of playing towards them. The you people in our group also help us with this. We're playing original tunes with today's patterns, changes, modes and feelings. Red Rodney

Playing with Miles, I learned how to keep a structure in mind and play changes so loosely that you can play for sometime without people knowing whether the structure is played or not, but the hit on certain points to indicate that you have been playing the structure all the time. When you hear those points being played, you just say, "Wow! It's like the Invisible Man. You see him here and then you don't. Then all of a sudden you see him over there and then you see him over here." And it indicates that it's been happening all the time. Buster Williams

What I was trying to do and what I feel they were trying to do was to combine - take these influences that were happening to all of us at the time and amalgate them, personalize them in such a way that when people were hearing us, the were hearing the avant-garde on one hand, and they were hearing the history of jazz that lead up to it on the other hand - because Miles was that history. He was that link.
We were sort of walking on a tightrope with the kind of experimenting we were doing in music, not total experimentation, but we used to call it "controlled freedom". Herbie Hancock

Practises Established by the Bands of Renowned Artists

The Modern Jazz Quartet sounds altogether different from Erroll Garner's trio, then you got Miles Davis' rhythm section, Red Garland and Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones. They had another way of playing. And then there's Ahmad Jamal's trio with Vernel Fournier and Israel Crosby. They had their own way of playing. Every band should have its own characteristics. Tommy Turrentine

Within most groups, the leaders would have some drummer in mind that epitomized the drums. You would almost have to play in a certain framework. They wouldn't tell you precisely what to play, but I've had instances where they'd say, "Give me more of that Elvin Jones type of thing" or "Give me more of that Philly Joe Jones type of thing." Ronald Shannon Jackson

Since I was living in New York City, I was often the first drummer to play with certain bands that other drummers from Philadephia and Boston played later. Sometimes, I had the chance to set up a certain kind of feeling in these bands. When some of the others came along, they would be required to do some of the things that I did, along with what they brought of their own. Max Roach

Performance Conventions Surrounding Repertory

What was great about playing with Eddie Harris was that his repertory covered many different styles. We played many of his tunes, and he wanted you to play each tune in a way that suited its style. If Harris played a ballad, he wanted you to accompany him in a ballad style. What you played had to be pretty, and that was a challenge in itself. Rufus Reid

These are the kinds of things I learned from other musicians by playing in clubs. When you play a ballad, begin the tune with brushes, but when you get to the bridge, switch to mallets. then switch back to brushes. Build up the singer until the middle or tha last part of the song. to give more effect ther, switch to sticks, increasing the dynamics. Don't play the cymbals while she's singing - play only softly, with brushes. Don't play louder than anyone else is playing. Shape the dynamics so that you ar at your loudest at the end of that person's solo. At the end of a horn player's solo, play a loud crash, putting a period at the end of his statement. Ronald Shannon Jackson

Albert Dailey listens and he knows what's needed. When you ask for a samba, he knows how to play a samba. If you ask for a bossa nova, he knows how to play a bossa nova. All that's important if you're a piano player or a bass player or a drummer. Gary Bartz

Interaction in a band means responding sensitively to whatever the other people are playing. It's a matter of being complementary. If I'm playing with a rhythm section and the drummer is playing with a two-beat feeling, I won't start playing a walking bass line in 4/4 time. Or, if the drummer is playing a swing beat and I play a bossa nova beat, that would be a vivid example of not locking in, stylistically. Or vice versa. If he's playing a bossa nova beat, I wouldn't play a walking bass line unless I was told specifically that that was what he wanted. Rufus Reid

If you're playing modal tunes, you have got long vamps on one chord. What works best in that kind of situation is playing your McCoy Tynerish stuff. You have to use different colors and things like that. Kenny Barron

A Monk tune is so profound that you have to be thinking about every note that you play. The whole tune is compositionally tight. Each little inflection - where Monk places an eighth note on one side of the beat or another - means something. Improvising on a Monk tune is like an extension of the composition, because that's the way Monk plays, and that's the way he writes. So, your improvisation grows out of the piece itself. Fred Hersch

Monk's music itself demands a certain kind of accompaniment because the music is so strong. Not many people write that way or think that way. It's so strong that you had to be a strong personality to your own thing off in it. I used to hear all the drummers that played with Monk, and I thought they sounded alike when they played with him. Now that I have played with Monk, I can understand why. There's a certain feeling, a certain strength, that his music has, the rhythm of it, so that you just had to go with it. There are certain off-beat accents, and the music falls a certain way. At first, I couldn't relax with Monk's music, but eventually I learned to. I started listening to the music more, tuning to the littler, finer things. Leroy Williams

Conventions Associated with Instrumentation

Since the intensity of a piano and a horn is different, aa drummer should not accompany me like he would a horn player. He should play the top part of the cymbal, where it doesn't ring as much, or play with one stick instead of two, or use brushes. Walter Bishop Jr.

While every different situation presents special problems, there are some cardinal rules. For example, you should try to match the timbres of the particular instrument that you're accompanying. If a piano solo is followed by a saxophone solo, you should each give proper consideration, using your imagination to play things that are musically appropriate behind each player and making the multiple percussion set blend with the entrance of each new instrument. To change and keep everything interesting, you might use brushes on the snare drum to accompany the pianist and then switch to sticks on the cymbals when the horn player enters. If there's a soft passage where a trumpeter is playing with a mute, you wouldn't pick up some heavy sticks and start pounding. By the same token, if you are backing an electric guitarist who is blasting away, you wouldn't pick up brushes and tip lightly, or you wouldn't be heard. Max Roach

Albert Mangelsdorff didn't use any chord instrument at his jam sessions in Germany - just bass, drums and horns. It gave me the freedom to really experiment with the way Elvin Jones was playing when he played with other people who didn't have piano players in their groups. It was perfect for me at that time because I was really getting into Elvin, and I was trying to play like him with all those polyrhythms. I was just starting to understand that then, and I was trying to duplicate that feeling. I could really do that with Albert because there was nothing to hold me back like having to make it fit with someone else who was comping. If someone else was comping, I couldn't necessarily take those liberties. Also, when there was no comping instrument like piano and I was just playing off the bass, I had to hear the changes from the bass and the way the bass was relating to what I was playing. I really had to know the songs and know the changes to play that way. Keith Copeland

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