Hochschule Luzern - Musik, Abteilung Jazz

Picking Notes out of Thin Air?

3. Collective Aspects of Improvisation:

When the Music's Happening and When It's not: Evaluating Group Performances

Going out to hear musicians live is just like going to see some live drama. Either it's going to hypnotize you and cast a spell on you, or it makes you say, "This is not it. There's no magic here." When I go to listen to music, I tend to be antsy. When I run from club to club, I'm looking for those few minutes of magic. There is no constant magic, but I am hungry to witness as much as I can. Every now and then I get hypnotized. I'll plan to run from club to club to hear several different groups, but I'll get to one place and enjoy it enough not to leave. Don Pate

When I discovered the records Bill Evans made at the Village Vanguard, I especially appreciated that chamber music concept of real spontaneous give-and-take - that unity of direction established by a great solo, accompanied well. Fred Hersch

You can only really appreciate jazz if you listen to the whole group. The soloist's part by itself is just one line in a whole painting. In a lot of cases, the most interesting things are what the rhythm section is playing. It's what those cats are playing that makes the soloists sound as great as they do. Bobby Rogovin

Ascending to the Music's Heights

When you find a group that is rhythmically attuned to one another, it's the most beautiful thing that you would ever want to hear in your life. Barry Harris

Every jazz musician wants to be locked in that groove where you can't escape the tempo. You're locked in so comfortably that there is no way you can break outside of it, and everyone is locked in there together. It doesn't happen to groups every single night, even though they maybe swinging on every single tune. But at some point when the band is playing and everyone gets locked in together, it's special for the musicians and for the aware, conscientious listener. These are the magical moments, the best moments in jazz. Franklin Gordon

When the rhythm section is floating, I'll float too, and I'll get a wonderful feeling in my stomach. If the rhythm section is really swinging, it's such a great feeling, you just want to laugh. Emily Remler

The musicians I played with this Thursday hooked up so well, it just gave me a cushion for my own solos. They made it possible for me to put myself in a state of mind where I didn't block my ideas and was able to feel that freedom that we all strive for. Harold Ousley

Relating fully to every sound that everyone is making not only keeps the improvising spirit going, but makes the experience complete. To hear it all simultaneously is one of the most divine experiences that you can have. Lee Konitz

This music is really about the relationships between all the players. When the relationship is happening, you don't hear piano, bass and drums....You hear the total communication of individuals. Ronald Shannon Jackson

It's like when the soloist improvises a figure. Before he finishes his figure, I can almost telepathically know where he is going with his next idea. I can answer him halfway through his phrase while he's still creating it and know where he's going after that, so that we end up playing phrases together that match each other. It's like we're talking together at the same time. One example is Charlie Rouse. Charlie has that ability to make you hear one thing and play something else against it. He does this by the way in which he builds his solos. Ahmad Jamal has that gift too. He'll have you in the palm of his hand. He'll bring you to the point where you can actually sing what he's going to play next, and then, instead of playing that, he'll play something against it which complements what you're singing in the head. Keith Copeland

Playing jazz is a spontaneous thing and I've experienced times in which it was almost like I've been able to read a soloist's mind. I'll play a phrase, like a descending passage, at the same time he does. We'll come down together in unison or maybe in harmony, and we'll hear it and react to it almost after the fact. After the thing is over, we'll say, "Hey, man. Did you hear so and so?" There are some things you just can't explain. George Duvivier

Jazz musicians interact and learn from one another as they perform. That's what jazz is. Many times, I've listened to recordings I've made and said, "Wow, I don't remember doing that! I never practiced that phrase before." I played it because of what the other musicians were playing at the time. Rufus Reid

He (Bob Moses) can interpret things I play in the hippest way, hearing things in what I did that I never even thought of. For example, when I play a phrase, he'll play a rhythmic counterpoint to my rhythms that is very original. It will show me a different way of doing things and even push me to a point that I've never been before. I'll hear myself do something because of what he played and say, "How would I ever think of that?" I just played the way I play, and he played his thing against it, and we came up with a new thing together. Emily Remler

If you want to hear how it's possible to play exciting music with brushes, just listen to Elvin Jones on an album of Tommy Flanagan's called Overseas. Elvin plays nothing but brushes and, if Tommy weren't playing such brilliant piano, you could play that record over and over, just listening to Elvin's playing.

I don't know if I can describe it, but I know it when I feel it. Just one night, everbody can feel what each other is thinking and everything. You breathe together, you swell together, you just do everything together, and a different aura comes over the room. Melba Liston

With Miles, it would get to the point where we followed the music rather than the music following us. We just followed the music everywhere it wanted to go. We would start with a tune, but the way we played it, the music just naturally evolved. Buster Williams

With certain groups, like Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, and now my own group, there is a level of playing which we try to reach which is the same thing that people do when they do transcendental meditation and yoga. They talk about "out of the body" experiences. That's what this music is. It's chanting; it's meditation; it's yoga. It's all these things. In order to play, something transcends. Something happens with the physical, the spiritual and the mental state in which they combine, and their energy is turned free. It's a cleansing experience which in a religion they would say, "It's of another world." The state I'm talking about even transcends emotions. It's a feeling of being able to communicate with all living things. Ronald Shannon Jackson

There are many hardships in this business, but I wouldn't give anything for some of the experiences I have had playing this music. There's a feeling that you just can't buy. It's a beautiful, floating feeling, almost like getting out of your body. I never know when it's going to happen, but when everybody is there and it happens, it really happens. I'll get it playing with Barry Harris because we can really get into the music together. It's almost like there's a oneness. You and your instrument are one, there's no separation. And it's like a oneness with the music. It's like you're in tune with the universe. Leroy Williams

I'm not necessarily a religious person, by and large, but there are many times where I'll play music and just kind of look up and say, "Thank you." And it's a strange feeling. It's like I'm in touch with something so big and the joy is so incredible. And I don't even know why. It's not like I'm looking up and I know there's a heaven and a hell, but it's like I'm thanking the big picture for just the opportunity as a human being to feel this way - which is incredible. Paul Wertico

The most prevalent situation in a band is of the people really loving each other's playing, loving the music, and supporting each other. Recently (the national Jazz Ensemble) did a concert, and it was just electrifying. Everyone in the band was caught up in astonishment and pleasure at that. Everytime Sal Nistico gets up to play, the band is ready to cry from the pleasure of the swing in the guy's playing. Tom Harrell shuffles modestly to the front of the band, and people are deeply touched by his playing. Bill Dobbins plays a piano solo, and people would just get knocked out by that. Every once in a while, Joe Temperle will get up and play a baritone solo bubbling over with joy, and he'll get the whole band just romping. There's a great sense of mutual respect and appreciation in working together in any band that is functioning well. Those are the high points. Chuck Israels

One of the most wonderfuls benefits of this career is the feeling you're left with after an evening when the music is really happening. It's an incredibly warm feeling that you have, one that you've shared with the other musicians and you've shared with the audience. And when the evening's engagement is over, you still retain it. It fills you up inside, and you feel it like there's an aura all around you when you leave the club to go home. It's the kind of precious feeling that no other kind of career can give you. Herb Pomeroy

Deficient Musicianship and Incompatible Musical Personalities

The chemistry between musicians is just not predictable. It is always a pleasant surprise when you play with a musician who's a stranger, and it happens automatically, the music really flows. But you never know until the actual performance situation whether the right combination is there.
It's like love. Sometimes, you look at somebody and decide you're in love, but you find out differently later. The greatest things don't happen in bands often, because the chemistry between the combination of players doesn't lend itself ot the most positive or highest level of music. It seems like it's a stroke of luck or genius when everyone is matched perfectly and the music's really happening. Don Pate

Very few bands have everything perfect. It may look like things are perfect, and you may not be able to tell in the audience, but there is always some kind of conflict going on in the band. Gary Bartz

Sometimes, the tempo doesn't stay where it should. If it gets too slow, the life gets out of the music. If it gets too fast, it just sounds amateurish. Art Farmer

When the bass player or the drummer is right in the middle of a beat and the other is not, there's going to be a little tug, and you're going to feel it. Tommy Flanagan

If the relationship between the bassist and the drummer is not working, you know that right away. It's just painful when we can't agree. Chuck Israels

There are times when I am playing with a drummer who wants to play more on top of the beat than I do. I feel like he's rushing, so my reaction is to hold back. Since I like to play on the top of the beat myself, if someone is playing even more on top of the beat, it usually means the tempo is going to pick up, so I have to step back and hold the beat down. Calvin Hill

Many drummers play too loud, and this can really do damage to a delicate acoustic instrument like the piano. There are many wars between pianists and drummers. Charli Persip

It can be very discouraging to have a drummer just keep roaring right on through your solo. One drummer played so loud it was difficult for me to play. I didn't like to play that loud all the time, because after two or three tunes, I'd be wasted. I would have to force my sound just to be heard over him, and then the leader would say, "Man, your sound is a little brittle." When you hear that enough, you begin to doubt yourself. John McNeil

When you have bass players with amplifiers, the pianists and drummers get mad because they can't hear over the sound of the bass. Then when you go on a job, no one can adjust to the acoustics or hear anyone else, and it's just chaos. Jimmy Robinson

Amplifiers, pick-ups and the fender bass have brought the level of the bass up to the point where it can be as loud as any drummer. The problem is that once you even begin to approach that volume, you lose the subtleties of dynamic shading. There is less difference between the loudest and the softest thing you play. Among other things, what this has also done is to drown out the piano players, who need to use two microphones. The horn players also have to stick their horns into the microphones, and some pianists are forced to switch to electrc piano just to be heard. This just electrifies the music in a negative way, robbing it of all its nuance.
The other nicht, I went out to hear a friend's band, and the rhythm section was playing so loud, the music just started off screaming and screamed all night. I was out of work and went to the club wishing I was playing there, but I left feeling relieved that I wasn't.

I don't know what's happened to bass players since they started using amplification. At times, it's indistinguishable where the beat is in their playing. Lonnie Hillyer

There are very few drummers besides Ben Riley and the old masters like Max and Philly Joe that I enjoy playing with when they use brushes. The masters are very smooth in the way they play, but other players can sound very scrapy. When they switch to brushes, it sounds like the whole bottom of the music has dropped out. Kenny Barron

Brush work is almost a lost art today. There are not many players who know to use brushes anymore, especially the younger players. Akira Tana

One bass player we had for a while could play different rhythmic patterns, but whenever it came time for him to walk, four beats to the measure, he just played unaccented quarter notes. He couldn't throw accents around with that, doing the kinds of things that make you want to dance. Even if what he did had been metrically perfect, which it wasn't, it felt horribble. It was a perpetual drone of quarter notes. John McNeil

Certain kind of root motion belong in certain places in a bassist's harmonic phrase. There are rules for this that you can extract from common practice. The weakest kind of root motion is to move a third or sixth; the strongest is to drop a fifth or go up a fourth. In beween those extremes are stepwise motions of all kinds. One of the perennial errors made by people who have not studied bass lines is to put too many movements by a third in there or to put them in the wrong places. Movements by thirds work in a very special and specific way when they are used. When they are used right, they are a beautiful thing. When they are used wrong, the sound is dumb and weak. I don't really know how to talk about this except to compare it to grammatical practice. If you put prepositions at the end of your sentences, I can still understand you, but it sounds weak. Then players string together ungrammatical phrases and seem to wander into situations like that, unless they're trying to create purposeful mistakes for a delierate effect, it simply vitiates the music for me. Chuck Israels

One piece is completely different from another. You shouldn't play two songs the same way. For example, if I play a show tune, I'm not playing that tune in order to be destructive. If I play a song like "Namely You" or "Here's that Rainy Day" then I want to hear the harmonic structure. Some piano players play those songs like they don't really want to play them, as if the songs were not hip enough. They alter the chords so much the song is barely recognizable. They obscure the form of it. Some of them play the chords in the first chorus, and then they just want to vamp, which has nothing to do with the song. They play the same chord over and over, even whan they're supposed to be playing the harmonic form of the tune. Art Farmer

On a tune like "Giant Steps" there are so many changes, and they move so quickly, all the rhythm section has to do is keep the rhythmic flow going and comp. But a slow tune like "Little Sunflower" is different. If you have a rhythm section that is just laying there in an uninteresting way, you can't possibly play anything interesting over them and sustain it very long. John McNeil

It can be frustrating to play certain ways unless the whole band context is suited for it. Jo Jones played the way he did because Basie played the piano the way he did. Sidney Catlett played the way he did because Armstrong played the way he did. Elvin Jones played the way he did because he was playing with Trane. Max Roach

Problems Apprehending and Interpreting Musical Ideas

A drummer might set up a pattern that really swings, but if he's not listening to the little things, like the way the piano player is comping, it's not going to complement the whole group. Leroy Williams

If the bass player is playing from something he heard somebody else play on a record, then there's always the time problem and other things that can go wrong. If the player is trying to play somebody else's licks, then the time doesn't get real settled, because he's thinking ahead of the notes, thinking of certain passages that somebody else played. But if he's thoroughly trained and relying totally on his own playing, then you have music, and you don't have to worry about the pulse, either. Ronald Shannon Jackson

Once, I copped another trumpet player's solo that I'd sound really good when I played with an experienced band I was invited to play with. What I didn't count on was that they took the tune at a much faster tempo than on the record. I could barely play the slow part of the solo, and when the double-time section of the solo came along, I fell apart completely. The other musicians just laughed. They seemed to know what had happened. Don Sickler

In my experience to play with this one saxophone player, it was easier for me to get lost accompanying him than anyone else I ever played with. The challenge of playing with him was to play free and not free at the same time. He had such a raw sound that when he played the tune's head, it made you feel like he was playing free, but he really wasn't. He was in the conception of bebop. But when he got to the improvising portion, he was playing freely, really. The problem I had was following his improvisation and knowing where he was going to go next. I'd start off playing with him, and I'd hear one thing and start working on that, and by the time I got to developing and resolving that, he'd be resolving something else that he started midway after I got on the track of the thing I had first heard him doing. Ronald Shannon Jackson

Some bass player's choice of notes is just not good when they walk a line, and it makes the particular chord voicing I'm using sound wrong. Or it just prevents whatever I'm using from sounding as good as it would if the bass player had chosen other notes. Kenny Barron

There are many approaches to improvisation that are very satisfiying for people like pianists, but some of those ways drive me nuts as a bass player. If you take Art Tatum, for example, he was a genius who would stick close to the original melody while varying the harmonization from chorus to chorus. That could drive a bass player nuts, because there's no way of knowing where a piano player like that is going. Since his improvisation is in the harmony, you either had to play something that was so basic that almost anything would work with it, or you would have to play the melody, since that was the predictable part that you would play with him. Or you would have to be able to read his mind. These are the reasons why players like Tatum were often most succesful as solo performers, although there may be sides of them that are sympathetic to playing with other musicians. Chuck Israels

As my time started getting pretty good, I would experiment with playing things against what the rhythm section was playing. I would play against the rhythm with polyrhythms. When I did this, some guys would not trust me enough that I knew what I was doing, so they'd actually skip a beat to follow me, figuring that I had made a mistake. Emily Remler

If someone does something adventurous and the other person isn't there at the right place at the right time to catch him, it's like splatsville! Curtis Fuller

Conflicting Notions of Tasteful Conversation

I'll tell you something else that really gets on my nerves. It's when I hear a horn player who comes in playing the last phrase of someone else's statement. I never do that. That's that person's statement, he's got it. Let me do something else. James Moody

There might be times where you would play exactly what someone else plays, but you don't really like to do that. Leroy Williams

If you heard imitation all the time, it would be boring. If each time you say something in a musical situation, I repeat it back to you, it really kills conversation. Chuck Israels

I want a drummer to listen to me, but not to play my stuff back to me. If I go "fot do dot, " there are guys who will go "flop ba ba, flop ba ba". Some drummers and pianist will do that just to show that they are listening. If it happens once a night or so, that's fine, but sometimes guys will do that to you to the point that you're sorry you played the idea in the first place. I mean, I don't want to hear it three times, I just wanted to hear it the one time I played it. If I make a thing out of it, if I take a figure and play it over and over, then he can pick up on it and it's all right. John McNeil

Since the piano player is the one playing the chords, the soloist has got to go with him. Some people try to lead you to places that you might not want to go. James Moody

Pianists, or whoever is feeding the chords, can really do things that get on soloist's nerves. They're thinking about the harmony one way, and the other person is dealing with the chords a different way. The soloist may be thinking of a certain chord, and the pianist may play a substitute chord. That can contrain the soloist to the substitute chord when he wants to play something else. If he tries to play something else, it will sound like a clash. Art Davis

Some pianists put a lot of weird comping stuff behind you while you're playing, weird little figures and interludes. But when they get a solo, they don't play any of that stuff. They just play straight. Lou Donaldson

An insensitive pianist can crush you. If the pianist isn't listening to you, you can't take a tune or a phrase and stretch it out in a relaxed way. You have to do it the way the pianist is doing it. That stifles your creativity. Vea Williams

Whenever I play with this one cat, I never have any ideas. All I hear is his noodling around, filling up all the space. There's another piano player I worked with who would never leave any space between his figures. There were chords all the time, and I could very rarely play anything I wanted. From a horn player's point of view, I don't think he ever realized how much he tied your hands. Maybe some guys need that kind of support, but I never did. If you give me too much support, I have a great deal of difficulty thinking of anything to play, because, if I want to outline the harmony and change the sounds around a bit, it's like all those chords are already being played for me, and anything I do would seem sort of repetitious. What I have to do under those conditions is just to think more of very rhythmic punctuation or just playing hish and loud to cut through all the comping. It becomes high intensity all the time.

Things get out of hand, as they do with so many drummers, when they cease to be the accompanyists and become the soloists themselves. When you're trying to develop something and the drummer takes away the rhythmic foundation, it can create a great deal of confusion. Curtis Fuller

I condemn those drummers who fill up all the space, making me feel like I have to fight to get my lines across. Walter Bishop Jr.

The other night, the drummer was just playing "tit-a-ding, tit-a-ding, tit-a-ding, tit-a-ding," all night long. Now, what in the world can that generate? Shoot, it was pitiful. This music is about listening and feeling and intensity. If the feeling ain't there, you got nothing. Tommy Turrentine

When you're still young you're just figuring out what you're doing. You're more involved with expressing yourself than playing with other people. You don't really learn to feed other people ideas until you've been playing for a while and feel independent enough as a player.

I want the piano player to play as basic as he can. He should play the basic chords to the song and leave the improvisation to me. A lot of piano players talk about feeding me ideas, but I don't need no feeding. Jazz is very simple music. That's what makes it. You take a simple motive and you build from there, if you've got the talent. Also, in a small band there is nothing more important than the drummer, because you have to have your rhythm to make the band tight and to project to people. But a lot of drummers don't understand that.
The toughest thing for any of them is just to play "one, two, three, four," just regular swing. It's not supposed to be this way, because playing swing should be as easy as turkey for a jazz drummer. But it's not, today. They're taught a lot of nonsense about improvising and doing stuff they have no business doing. They get into those habits, and when they get into a spot where they have to swing, they can't do it. They play much too busy. When I was starting out, there wasn't any problem like this. If they didn't swing, they didn't have a job. You knew that if you called somebody they could do it, because it was a prerequisite for playing the music. Today, even if they can't swing, they can work. And they're stars! Lou Donaldson
You see, in the 1960s the beat was freed up. Tony Williams killed it.
In the 1980s, drummers who have to keep going back to "one" don't have a feeling for the music. In the 1980s, drummers who have to keep playing the sock cymbal on two and four are corny. So are cats who have to keep playing the bass drum all the time. That's corny unless it's a drummer from the period in which they played that way. Today, a drummer has to keep the time, but the time now has a flow. It's no longer something locked in like a beat. Time is now something that just goes by. It till has structure, though. The purpose of the drummer is to keep the time flowing, not to keep steady time,"ONE, two, three, four, ONE, two, three, four." Now, time is like, "one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, etc." It's not 4/4 or 6/8. It's just a steady flow of pulses. Wynton Marsalis

When an insensitive bassist goes off in his own musical world, he can really kill the soloist's spirit. James Moody

Some bass players undermine what you do as a soloist when they're trying to develop something else at the same time you're trying to develop something. Curtis Fuller

There is a way of playing more than bass notes without becoming too much, but when it's overdone, it drives me up a wall. I was once playing with a bass player who's a fantastic technician, but we were playing a ballad and he was playing so much, I just stopped in the middle of my solo and let him play by himself. Kenny Barron

There is a certain thing called a groove that the whole band should settle into at the beginning of the piece when we play the melody, and that needs to be maintained. If that groove is broken, then it's all over as far as I'm concernned. A lot of cats like bass players to do other things, but not me. Lou Donaldson

Today, with all their technique, young players feel confined by limiting themselves to playing a good bass line and providing the root and foundation for the group. It doesn't give them enough of a challenge. They don't understand the value and the beauty of just playing bass. They want to play a thousand notes, all on top of the harmony. Mingus and LaFaro began to take it there, and then everybody started to become freer in their playing. Now bass players become easily bored. Art Farmer

If we're playing a tune that requires a walking bass, and instead the bass player is sustaining notes, playing syncopations and complicated rhythmic figures, soloing is like trying to walk with an anvil tied to one leg and someone constantly trying to trip the other leg. A lot of young bass players don't understand the importance of having an ongoing flow of time in the group. They hate to walk because they think it's not creative. If they can play other things besides regular walking lines and still keep time going, then fine. The guy who plays quarter notes all the time is boring to listen to and boring to play with. But the chances are, if you do too many other things besides walking, you'll lose the time.
Besides that, if you are listening to my solo, there is no way that you can possibly play all that other stuff, because it stops me from playing. It stops me from achieving any ongoing sinse of time when it goes against everything else that's being played.
We are all in this together, but as the solist I am the leader of this particular musical expedition. I'm glad to listen to anyone else's suggestions as to what direction we should go in, but overall it's my safari, pal, and if I think we should go this way through the jungle, then we should go this way. John McNeil

The Rhythm Section's Response to Criticism

Some guitarists can absolutely smother the rhythm section by playing "chunk, chunk, chunk, chunk," four beats to every measure. They should play occasional fills or break the line up, because you have a drummer and a pianist - so you don't really need everyone playing on the beat like this. What they are trying to do is to imitate Freddie Green with Basie's band, but there's an art to that. Freddie Green does it without getting in the way. He's supporting, not drowning out, the others. You can always hear the bass and drums when he plays. George Duvivier

Today, I don't have to prove my technique is together, so I can concentrate more on making the drums sound as musical as possible. I don't have to say, "Well, if I do this, people will say I don't have good singles or don't have a good open or closed press roll, or don't have this or that." I don't have to worry about that now. As a young player, I was swayed by those considerations, at times. If you stay home and practice for hours, days, weeks, months in order to acquire your technique, the minute someone turns you lose, you try to crowd all that in at the moment. It can be disastrous at times. It ceases to be musical, and you can overwhelm people. I have heard a lot of people do it, pianists as well. Max Roach

All the musical players like Elvin Jones and Jeck DeJohnette who can play unbelievably busy are never going to play so busy that it gets in the way of the music. They are only going to play that busy when it fits. Keith Copeland

There's also playing busy because you're excited, and you've got a lot to say, and you're trying to get it all out before it gets away. Fred Hersch

At times, the drummer is just a workhorse, playing chorus after chorus for horn players who can't play. Kenny Washington

Many musicians like less creativity in the beat, they just like me to play straight rhythms and a straight repetitive beat throughout their solos. Their feeble minds get confused when you play a lot of counter-rhythms. Charli Persip

Some players would get immersed in their playing, and they'd forget where the beat was, and they'd listen to the bass to get back to where they should be. If the bass wasn't playing the roots of the chords on the first and third beats or "one, two, three, four" of every measure, they'd get lost and say, "This guy isn't good. We don't need him." Art Davis

Circumstantial Problems Undermining Performances

If you are relaxed enough, you can listen to the other people you are playing with, but if you're uptight, you're just trying to deal with the horn. Art Farmer

Frequently, at best, I can only relate to one person in the group at a time. At worst, I can't listen to anybody else during my solo. Nobody. And to me, that's really a danger sign. When my attention is so much on myself, I know that I'm in trouble. It has to start there, certainly. We have to get our own thing all balanced out before we extend ourselves to the next person. But if I'm just concerned with what I'm doing, I would tend to go into a more automatic kind of playing.
Many times, I've felt I was squelching the possibility of my relating to the other musicians by just hammering away at my own thing, trying to keep up or doing whatever I thought I should be doing. No one said you have to keep playing without a break during a solo. Lee Konitz

Everybody's part is equally important. If you have one weak link, it doesn't happen, man. Wynton Marsalis

If there is something wrong, it makes for a pulling back of our sensivities. You have to defend against it in some way. This usually means you don't listen as sharply as you would ordinarily, and you're not as sensitive to what is going on around you. You just block it out and do your job. Chuck Israels

Maybe the soloist is nervous and uptight and can't get his thing together. Everyone else might really be able to do it, but the soloist is so tense, it makes everybody else tense to the point where nobody can find nobody else. It's just a matter of feelings. People can feel each other's tensions. Like when a person is speaking, if the person is nice and relaxed, then everyone is relaxed when they listen to him. But if that person is nervous, sometimes you don't even want to watch someone who's nervous, because it makes you so uncomfortable....It works the same way with musicians.
There was a time when the piano player might be playing the wrong chords, and as soon as I became aware of that, I got it in the way of my own concentration and I began to fumble. Or I could forget a chord when I worried about those things. Whenever something was going wrong, I tended to go wrong with it. Fear used to do this for me. I wouldn't get completely immobilized, but I couldn't play my best all tensed up. Tension is one of the main reasons why things go wrong in a band. I've had to overcome that kind of sensivity. I've had those moments when I could say, "Well, let me anchor everything," and I was strong enough to pull everything in that went astray. Harold Ousley

If the bass is not right, I don't have the freedom to play whatever I want. I can't play different rhythms without clashing, I'm not at liberty even to think about playing different rhythms, because I'll be trying too hard to keep the time together. Ronald Shannon Jackson

When I solo, I always know where I am, and I like to play with the time. I might play a figure implying that I'm on "one" when I know that it's not "one", just to fool somebody. If the other player's time is not good, they will think that I really am on "one" and go with that and mess up everything for the whole band. So, I won't be able to do those kinds of things in my playing. It really makes me feel restricted when I solo. Gary Bartz

When you have different guys in the rhythm section playing on different parts of the beat, they're going to be fighting each other constantly, and it's very difficult to solo against that. Especially on fast tempos, if the rhythm section is not working together like a well-oiled machine, and I've got three different rhythms going on behind me, I can't relax in my playing. I can't concentrate on the tune and the chords when I've got to listen to what they're doing behind me and worry about their messing me up, making me sound bad if I play a certain phrase or something, even if I'm playing right.
Some soloists have the attitude, "The tune goes this way, and this is the tempo," and they just keep playing their ideas that way. They don't care where the rhythm section is. It's up to the rhythm section to catch up to them or just fall by the wayside. I used to play like that when I had the chops and endurance, but I'm not strong like that now, since I haven't been playing for a while. So now, I've got to depend on the rhythm section's cooperation. If things aren't right, it's going to pull me off. Jimmy Robinson

Group Interplay: A Comparative Perspective

I remember the first time I experienced that floating, out-of-the-body feeling. It was a number of years ago, when I was playing in Chicago. At the time, I didn't know what it was. I said, "What is this?" and I backed off it for a minute. Leroy Williams

The first time I ever got the feeling of what it is to strike a groove, I was pretty young. At the time, I didn't have enough sense to realize that it was one of the few times that I was playing smart. But I learnt that later. Charli Persip

There has to be a certain empathy among all the players in the group before the beauty in this music can really happen. In some situations, everybody is trying to outshine everybode else. Once you experience how beautiful this music can be, and then you play with musicians who aren't up to your level or who don't have the same chemistry, then things don't happen in the music, and it's bad. It's like when you're used to champagne, and you're given beer. Leroy Williams

If it feels good in the band, you can keep playing all night, and it's a pleasure to go to work. If things are poppin' with the other musicians, and if they're really tight, we'll take chances on doing a lot of different things. But if somebody's lagging, we'll just stick to a routine to get through the job. It's just not right to try anything adventuresome under those conditions. You have to concentrate on the chords and make sure everything sounds right - and you're tired at the end of an evening. Lou Donaldson

I remember the way Miles Davis interpreted "Autumn Leaves" in his band with Cannonball Adderley, milking that song for everything it meant to him - autumn time, the falling of leaves, the ending of something, rememberance, and pathos. It makes me think of all the nondescript performances I have been involved in with other musicians playing that tune over the years. Chuck Israels

It's difficult because it's a real intimate relationship to play music with people. It's very intuitive and visceral, very sensual. There are certain things you know right away about people by how they respond and how they feel in the music. The sensivities involved are very much like sexual intuition, although I don't want to make too much of that comparison. But just as I don't need to make love for the sake of making love, anymore, I don't need to play for the sake of playing, anymore. Just as I've had all the empty sexual experiences when I was younger, finding myself just out of desperation with someone that I didn't want to be intimate with, I've had all the empty experiences playing music that I needed in the past. Today, I have a wonderful relationship with a wonderful woman, and a family, and I'm not desperate anymore. The fact is, I'm not desperate to play, either. I've played in situations where music has really been made, and I'm not interested in anything else but that.

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