Picking Notes out of Thin Air?
(A COLLECTION OF QUOTES POSSIBLY USEFUL TO THE STUDENT LEARNING TO PLAY JAZZ)
You really learn a lot about yourself on the road, and you get hurt a lot. You learn about how you react emotionally to different people telling you things that they feel aren't right about your playing, because you may have a different idea about what's right musically. You can reject what the other person said, or you can try to adjust according to the critisicm you got. But in some cases you find yourself trying to adjust so much to accommodate another performer, it gets very confusing in terms of your own musical identity. You begin to wonder, "Well, exactly who am I?" Akira Tana
When I hire the musicians, it's no problem, but when I work with other groups, I have no choice about who the other musicians are. When serious problems arie, it always amazes me why leaders of groups hire people who can't fit in. Gary Bartz
Jazz is a democratic form of music. When a piece is performed, everybody in the group has the opportunity to speak on it, to comment on it through their performance. It' a democratic process, as opposed to most European classical music in which the two most important people are the composer and the conductor. They are like the king and the queen. In a sense, the conductor is also the military official who's there to see that the wishes of the masters - the composers - are adhered to, and as a musician your job may depend on how you conform to the conductor's interpretation of the composer's wishes. However, in a jazz performance, everone has an opportunity to create a thing of beauty collectively, based on their own musical personalities. Max Roach
For my bands, I look for musicians who have spent the time really developing themselves, trying to find their own individuality. It always helps if a person knows his instrument as well or better than anyone else around, but I also look for other qualities. Are the musicians as well rounded as possible? Do they compose? Is their writing, the way they voice chords, as unique to them as their instrumental performance? Max Roach
When a person like Miles Davis, Art Blakey of Charlie Parker hires you, that means one thing: you have what they want already. They have heard you with other bands, and they have heard you play on records. Bird never said, "Comp this way, or comp that way," because he hired me to play the way I play. It's the same when I hire somebody. When I hire a drummer, it's because I've seen what he does with someone else. He knows that I know what he can do, and he can do the kinds of things I like a drummer to play behind me. Walter Bishop Jr.
Playing jazz is like a team effort, the kind you find in baseball or basketball. Everybody has to do their specific job. That's the only way you're going to score. One guy can't take all the the shots in basketball, for instance. He has to lay back at times. You have to give the ball to whichever player has the best shot. It's one big group effort, and when everybody's in harmony, that's when the best things happen. You have to sacrifice your own ideas sometimes. Leroy Williams
Whenever you have a group of people playing together, somebody has to lead and somebody has to follow. If you get five people on the stand and they all play the way they want to, it sounds terrible. But if you get one person to show those five people what to play, they can sound great....Everybody has to follow the leader's concept, but add everything they can to it. Wynton Marsalis
There are people who want you to do the robot thing. They're interested in controlling every note you play. Don Pate
I've played with some leaders that want what they want when they want it or bang, you're fired. John McNeil
Earlier in my career, when I way playing with Pharoah and McCoy and others, I played a certain way according to whoever I was playing with. I used to do this even more than the particular situation required. It was almost like not being Calvin Hill. If I played with, say, Joe Schmo on the piano, then I was playing more like Fred Schmo on the bass than Calvin Hill. I felt like I didn't have a personality of my own. Recently, I've been really starting to feel that I have an identity of my own, a sound of my own, and a personality of my own. I can play in any situation now and fulfill the requirements of the situation and still maintain my identity. I carry that wherever I go. Calvin Hill
There was one piece in which I wanted the drummer to solo over a melodic figure that the rest of the band played, and he just wouldn't do it. I asked him over and over because I wanted to hear what it sounded like, and he just refused to do it. We argued over it for a while, and when I asked him if he could give me one good reason why he wouldn't do it, he said, "I just think it sounds terrible and I don't like it." I said, "Okay. We'll compromise. Since you think it sounds terrible and you're not going to want to play it very much, we just won't do it..." John McNeil
I have to be open-minded concerning what the other musicians might play.. At times, I have to fight not to tell anyone else how to play. It might not be what I had in mind, but that's the whole point of playing jazz, to be open enough to accept what someone else has to say. Fred Hersch
I have learnt through experience how to assess what is needed in different musical settings and how far I can go in my playing before I step beyond the boundaries of what people expect. You can see what different people's concepts are. Then you know how far you can stretch it and still give them what they want. Rufus Reid.
You have to fit into the style of the band you're playing with. That's just professionalism. You can deviate a little, perhaps, as long as what you do fits in with the form and general style of the band. When a rhythm section is playing older music and older styles, it's hard to play the newer soloistic patterns and figures. They won't fit very well. So, I just try to stay in the style that I hear around me. Red Rodney
You're hired by people to make their music sound good and to complement them. The drummers in New York that I admire so much, like Al Foster, Billy Hart and Ben Riley, are all people who can perform in many different settings. They are the ones who are always working. They can adjust and make other people's music sound good, and at the same time, they still contribute something of their own. Akira Tana
In one group I played with, the bass player was a brilliant player, but he had a more laid-back way of playing that wouldn't allow me to take the kind of liberties I would with someone else. With that group I had to play less, so that the bass player and I would lock up more and make the foundation of the band sound good. If I played too much off the bass figures and off the improvisation of the soloist, keeping a dialogue going with the soloist as well as keeping the time, it would be taking things too far. It would confuse the bass player, and he wouldn't feel as sure of the time as he would if I just tried to play along with him and let him dictate the kinds of embellishments that were going to happen for the rest of the band. If I played solely off of him, then I would play to whatever peak he would play to. If I went beyond that, it became too intense for him. He wasn't used to playing with that kind of energy level behind him, because the group he had played with for so many years was much more laid-back.
I could have taken many more liberties in my playing if he had been accustomed to playing a different way. It would work if I was playing with a bass player who understood the way in which I like to play off the soloist, like the way Jimmy Garrison understood how Elvin Jones was playing off John Coltrane, or the way Jymie Merritt understood the way Art Blakey was playing off of Lee Morgan or Freddie Hubbard. But if the bass player doesn't feel comfortable about the way I'm taking liberties playing off the soloists, then it's better for me to play just to the level of the bass player, locking up with him, and let the rest of the guys play off of us. When I play with bass player like Sam Jones, it's very different. Sam plays so melodically and rhythmically that I can play things simultaneously with what he is playing and still enhance the soloist. Keith Copeland
I would go into the recording studio with Bud Powell and ask him for directions, but he'd just tell me to hit. He'd say, "You'll know what to do." I had no choice but to go with it, but it could be very frustrating. I just had to trust my own instincts and musicianship. Art Taylor
Because they were so relaxed, I thougth I might as well be relaxed, too. That was the only way I was going to be able to play the music. Nevertheless, I felt uncertain what my precise role was supposed to be. Nobody told me - and I was afraid to ask, because everybody took it so natural...It was like trying to find my way through a maze....I listened to Tony, and when I found out that I couldn't figure out anything from Tony, I listened to Herbie. But Herbie was laying out half the time. Wayne seemed just to float on the periphery of everything, and Miles would just make his statement and go to the bar. I didn't know what I was supposed to do, man, except to play the bass. So, that's what I did. I played what I considered to fit in with what they were doing. Also, the guys were so beautiful, they adjusted to me. Buster Williams
Herbie Hancock told Miles once, "I don't know what to play behind you sometimes." Miles answered, "Then don't play anything." Lonnie Hillyer
One pianist asked me not to play too much because it confused him. He was talking about volume and playing too many figures. He wanted me to play more simply, to play intensely, but softer because it was a trio. In a horn band, you tend to start soft, but you can build up to much higher levels of intensity and volume that you can with a trio. If I get too exuberant, I can cover the piano player up. So, I had to learn how to keep the intensity there, but to keep the volume down. I can get busy in the latter parts of his solos when I have an idea where he's going to go, but I can't start off that way. I have to give him a chance to build his solo and find out which way he wants to go. With other piano players, it's different. There's no way I can play too much because they're playing so much themselves, all kinds of ways rhythmically. I can't play as freely with this piano player. I have to play less busily or I'd get in his way, and he'd have to follow me. Keith Copeland
Lee Konitz said to me, "Listen, man, I love your playing and everything, but I want you to play softer, but with the same kind of intensity." He told me there was this record called Motion that he did with Elvin Jones and wanted to know if I was hip to that. I searched and searched until I finally found that record, and I could see what he was trying to tell me. Around the same time that Lee and Elvin did that album, Elvin was also playing with Coltrane. When he was playing with Coltrane, he really had to hit it. It was intense. But when he got on the record with Lee, he was just tipping. He was playing the same stuff that he played with Coltrane, but playing much softer. It felt like a whole different way of playing, but the intensity was still there. He was playing the same polyrhythms and everything he played with Trane, but at a much lower level of volume. I heard this record and I couldn't believe it. Everything was surging ahead, but it was soft, pianissimo. When Lee told me to listen to this, he wasn't telling me to play like Elvin, but to play my own way. But not loud.
Lee was also the first cat to turn me on to Mel Lewis. Lee called Mel up and said. "Listen, I've got this new drummer that's playing with my band, and I want you to come down and talk to him" - because at that point, I hadn't begun to think about fitting into different situations. I didn't know anything about that until Mel started talking to me about it. He told me that you have to play according to whatever situation you're in. Like if it calls for playing loud, you go right ahead. But Lee is not into that kind of thing. Mel was very beautiful about that. He brought me up to his house and played me different records that he had done. Mel can fit into any situation. Kenny Washington
Dexter Gordon would say, "Now, look, you sound real good, man, but just relax, lay back." Then, the next night, the bass player would play more laid back, or what felt to him like more laid back, and Dexter would say, "Relax, man, just let it flow."That kept happening until, one day, the bass player got sick of Dexter's coming to him with this and decided he was really going to lay back to the point where there was going to be no doubt about his laying back. So, that night they were playing ballads, and he laid back so far that he knew that when he got off the bandstand and got to the dressing room they were going to say that it was too far back. He laid back so far that it hurt to do it, like he was becoming completely unglued with it. He knew they were going to have to say, "Not that much." So, he goes to the dressing room after the set, and everyone came into the room grinning from ear to ear, "That's it!" they said. "You got it now!" Rufus Reid
You weren't supposed to play with it or even be inspired by it. If you started playing off this piano player pattern, he'd change it and he'll tell you about it. That was a very weird concept to me because, in the first place, piano players rarely stick with one pattern long enough, and in the second place, when I go into a playing situation, I try to have an open mind to everything. And if I play off something someone else is playing, I don't even think about it. I don't always specefically think about what the piano player is playing. I just try to hear all the stuff that the whole group is playing, and what the piano is playing is just part of that.
Also, the piano player was always saying to me, "You've got to dig in more. You've got to play with more fire." I wasn't about to tell him that that was the way I thought I was doing already. He used to tell me about how much fire the former trumpet players with the group had. So, one day, I decided to get ahold of one of the groups earlier records, and I copped the trumpet player's solo on one of the tunes that had become a big hit. I changed it slightly, but I played the same thing basically when it came time for me to solo, and I just wanted to hear the leader's reaction. He didn't know what I had done, and he came back to me saying, "Man, you've got to learn to play with more fire." After that point, I knew I'd never know what he was talking about, and I didn't take it so seriously because I considered the trumpet player whose solo I copped to be great.
One thing that made a lasting impression on me took place during the first tune I played with Monk. We'd only gotten a few bars into it when Monk gets up from the piano and comes over to me and says,"We have all night to play." That's all he said, and then he went back to the piano. Wilbur Ware was playing bass, and he looked over at me and laughed. Monk was just telling me to relax. Leroy Williams
If you tried some stuff on the gig that didn't work, like accents that didn't fit the head, or if you broke the flow, you'd get a dirty look from Barry. He had a way of looking at you that could scare you to death. He didn't have to say anything. Also, by the time I had a chance to play with Barry, I was listening a lot to Philly Joe Jones and a few other drummers from the hard bop period, and I was trying to do a lot of the things that they did. I wanted to drop all the bombs I had been practising. But Barry would give me this funny look and say, "I need more bass drum. Give me some more foundation." It meant using the loud/soft technique, playing the bass drum on every beat and varying the dynamics and accents. Keith Copeland
Whether people want less accompaniment or want you to play right along with them isn't necessarily discussed. With Sonny Rollins, it didn't need to be. You know when you feel like you're being crowded out. There's less room for you to play. Tommy Flanagan
If you don't like what someone else is doing, there are little, polite musical ways of saying, "I don't really want you to do that. It's lovely, but I would rather you did this." I might do something musical with my left hand, the certain way I play a line....Or, if Art Farmer plays some real unexpected stuff which makes what I'm playing behind him sound wrong, it means, "Lay out!" You have to be able to communicate this way with the people you're playing with if you're going to play jazz. Fred Hersch
Sam Jones, at fifty-five, was a legend. He's a beautiful cat, but he's got his opinions, and he's stubborn. He plays impeccable time and great changes, but he doesn't go with you....but all of a sudden I started getting into his groove. And then it all opened up. I started to understand how you can be as free artistically within different parameters. I started realizing that Sam's playing is so classic and so subtle. Like, all his notes lie right under his fingers, and he always plays the right note for you. He plays the right notes, the right chord substitute, the right line - and the groove is just incredible. He's a rhythmic player, and it's just like playing with a whole rhythm section. Within a groove time, or within a standard tune. I started feeling a new sense of freedom playing with Sam. I could go ahead and be melodic and not have to worry about all this textural pianistic stuff that people play. I could play bebop and play music just like Tommy Flanagan plays. It's very musical.
It was hard for me at first because I wanted to get my other thing off, my other way of playing. But then I really got into working the gig, learning something and satisfying myself. Just playing with Sam Jones and coming to understand that way of playing was an incredible learning experience for me. Fred Hersch
I'd play the line for a while, and then, when it had become too repetitive for me, I'd change the line and play something else. Then Ahmad would turn around at the piano, like the strict disciplinarian he is, and say, "Only play the line! Only play the line!" But being rebellious like I am, I would sometimes continue what I was doing. I would acknowledge the line and go in and out of it. I'd play the line to a point, but sometimes it's physically uncomfortable to play the same thing over and over. Eventually Ahmad would give up his vocalizing, "Play the line!" and if you played something that he liked, he'd play your line back to you on the piano and smile. So, that was his way of compromising or giving. He still wanted you to play the line, but at the same time, if you took the risk and had the creativity to augment it, he was large enough to accept it. Don Pate
There are certain people that you have a special musical thing with, but it just isn't designed for you to hit together. Don Pate
When you don't play together with the same group a lot, and you're playing with different musicians all the time, you don't develop the right feeling for one another. Each one goes his own way. When the musicians are out there just to play the gig and not to accomplish anything special, musically, you can't get that closeness that you need, that feeling for one another when you're playing. You just can't create, now, like you used to be able to. Jimmy Robinson
When you're not working regularily, inactivity makes you lose the inspiration to practice. When people say to you, "You can play in this club this week only, not for the next six months," it's difficult. It's like, preparing for this gig that's coming up, there's not enough inspiration to really practice. Because when the gig is over, that's the end of the group. So, the musician's attitude is just, "All right, we'll play this gig, but it's just to get through it." It's frustrating to play unter those conditions and with those attitudes.
If we could only get back to the cohesiveness that I would really like to see come about. It's one of the injustices in jazz that, with only two rehearsals or so, we're supposed to walk out on the stage and sound like we've been playing together for five years. Like, "Hey, wait a minute! What do you want from me?" Somehow, it works because we make it work. And that, to me, is a blessing in disguise. But just think what the music would be like if a group could actually play together for any length of time. Curtis Fuller
You can't develop just by sitting at home and practicing so that you can gig once a month. You need to play with other musicians all the time in order to play well. Lonnie Hillyer
Performing chops are a particular kind of chops, and sometimes you don't experience that until you're out on the stand, and then it's too late. I realized once that the only time I play at full volume was when I played on the job, and that's not the way it should be. That's when I get sore lips. Lee Konitz
Playing a gig is like running a marathon. You can prepare for a marathon by training up to eighteen or twenty hours, but the final push is all psychological in the race itself. You can't really train for that. It's the same in playing a gig. The intensity in which you play is something that you can't practice by yourself. You wouldn't put yourself through that unless you had to. Calvin Hill
At first, I thought that the problem was the musicians I chose for the rhythm section. But then I realized that I was the one who had gotten out of shape. I just wasn't used to performing with top-notch rhythm section players and having them respond to me.
Once musicians have played with a record a few times, they already know in advance what's happening, and it can't test their abilities the same way as a live performance can. Lonnie Hillyer
A lot of people won't really tell you how they feel about your playing. Either they like it or not. And if they don't like the way you play, they just won't call you for another gig. Akira Tana
Compatibilty is the name of the game. There are jobs that pay well that I'll turn down because I know who's in the rhythm section, and I'll take certain jobs for less money because I know who is in the rhythm section. George Duvivier
When you play with a group of people, you're influenced by where they're at and you try to match where they're at. Sometimes, when I would play with a certain band, someone would come up to me and say, "How come you don't sound like you did when you played with Tristano?" I'd say, "Because I'm not playing with Tristano, schmuck!"....Basically, I tended to play simpler with this particular group than I would with Tristano. Playing with Tristano's band got me to try to play as intricately and as intensely as possible. I didn't have to be that intricate, but after Lennie and Warne got through with their solos, I felt a little funny playing simple. I would want to play my eighth notes and make them as intricate as theirs. And believe me, they really got intricate. When I was with Tristano, it became clear to me that I had to find a situation where I was really able to function best, because I felt that the music was way over my head. Lee Konitz
One group was too conventional. The players weren't responding to me, and it really dragged me emotionally. The second group I sang with came a lot closer to having the kind of freedom that I wanted to have, since that was what they were doing in their own music. The were willing to take chances, creating a kind of anarchistic climax within the structure of the piece. But after a year of playing with the second group, I began to feel that playing outside was also a limitation. Sometimes, the other players didn't know where they were going. Other times, they became so busy that I couldn't get my ideas off. When things become too anarchistic, you can be overwhelmed by the sound. So, there can be different problems at each end. Roberta Baum
You have to be prepared to deal with the different musicians you come in contact with, because they're all different. So, you have to bend to be able to play with them, personality-wise, on and off the bandstand. Betty Carter would really be tough on the young musicians because she didn't want them to get into anything bad. Sometimes, she wanted to mother the band. Johnny Griffin was more or less a freestyle person. He used to say, "If you don't have some fun, you can go out of your mind on the road." Kenny Washington
With the Messengers, we hung out together. It's like the group that hangs together, plays together. We didn't just meet on the bandstand. It was nothing to see Freddie Hubbard and Wayne Shorter and myself together all day long. Curtis Fuller
Working with Max Roach was not only important to me because of his music, but because of the tremendous dignity that he brought to the music, the respect with which he treated other people, and the respect they had for him. Calvin Hill
If you are working with a group of good players, then you can learn from them. But still, sometimes you find the music bogging down and you need to find other people. This is not to say that the players you are with are not good, but the whole thing has reached a stale-mate as a unit. If you play the same songs night after night and year after year, and you find yourself playing in the same way, people get bored with it because there's no energy there. If you don't find some other way to break it, then you have to get somebody else in the band. You have find some new songs or some new players. Art Farmer
The groups I like to play with are the kind in which, if you changed one person, everything would be completely different. For example, I was playing a blues on my first album when Rufus Reid and Billy Hart got into this weird rhythmic thing that I never heard anybody do on an album before. It would be very hard to describe, but it's the kind of thing that wouldn't happen with any other bass player or any other drummer. It was just great and made me so excited I wanted to try all kinds of new things in my solo. John McNeil
I like to play with other people because you can bring some other things back to the guys you normally play with. Kenny Barron
It was a shame in some ways, because we had just built enough of a following to be invited to record by a major label. But we reached the point where we were all tired of the music, and we wanted to follow different musical interests with other bands.
I've spoken with Japanese jazz musicians here in New York City searching for their own personal expression. They have worked with black and white musicians here and have come to the conclusion that they are different from them. The identity thing is very complicated. Things can get confusing, and you can have an identity crisis. As a Japanese American, I feel that parts of myself are very American and differ from the Japanese tradition. At times, I wonder if jazz can really express who I am fully. It's not the same for me as it would be if I were black ad raised exclusively within that tradition.
My musical vision is a little broader than that of people who just hear and see jazz, because I've tried to learn so many different kinds of roles as a drummer - like studying classical orchestral percussion as well as jazz improvisation. Also, sometimes I feel a little dated playing the swing feeling, because a lot of musicians my age are playing funk and fusion. The funk thing is also very challenging for drummers, but the swing thing seems more conducive for a group playing jazz. Anyway, I believe in jazz, and for now I'm just trying to play meaningful music within the jazz field. But there are so many different ways of expressing yourself which have value. It's just a question of what you like. Akira Tana
Playing with each group is a formal education. Each has a different feel and different repertory. Walter Bishop Jr.
It's true that in Bill Evans's band my function was pretty much to hold Bill's bass line through the duration of the performance. But I never felt it as a restriction, because the lines were so beautiful in all their detail. In other bands, the demands on me were much less specific and I had greater freedom. Chuck Israels
In Max Roach's band, some of the challenges were the tempos and the length of the pieces. You had to be able to play faster than you played with most groups, and you needed a lot of endurance. Art Davis
Johnny Griffin is known as the fastest temor player in the world. One thing that working with Griff has really done for me is, it's made me physically stronger. Kenny Washington
Suddenly I had to be an integral part of a group as a soloist and I wasn't playing in the background anymore. There was no piano, and Max put the four of us in a line on the stage. There was nobody in front and nobody in back, just four individuals. Max said, "I want everybody in this band to be long-winded," so we could play a tune for an hour and fifteen minutes. Soloing with Max was not a problem, because Max is a master accompanist.
When I first joined the band, I was concerned about this, and he said, "Look, don't worry about anything. I've got the time covered, so you just play whatever you want. Just be free." He just lays everything down beautifully for you. You just go ahead and play. There is a lot of mutual feeling in the band. Everybody was on an equal level, and that's why it was so easy to solo in his band. You're not really out there by yourself. Calvin Hill
I'm known as being open-minded by other musicians because I feel there's a need for every kind of jazz: swing, bebop, free jazz, fusion. Each requires you to create different things. To me, playing with a different kind of jazz group is like going to a new city or a new country. I'll try anything once, for the experience. Don Pate
Gerry Mulligan's quartet was pianoless. It just had a baritone, trumpet, a bass and drums. Basically, I missed the piano. We had a few rehearsals, and then we went to work. The first night, I just felt like I didn't have any clothes on. I felt really exposed because you didn't have any piano playing the chords to make what you're playing sound good. That was something I had to learn to handle. It was a matter of being more careful. I learned to play lines that had musical value by themselves. Also, I leaned to make an adjustement in volume, because Gerry's style was much softer than others. The drummer was playing a lot with brushes, instead of bearing down with sticks, and so you couldn't go out there with your horn and start hollering and screaming. Art Farmer
In each group, dealing with different musical personalities on the bandstand - just individual ways people had of expressing themselves - was a lesson by itself. John Hicks
When you are playing with people who have their craft together, if you're wise enough, you just look and listen and learn. There is a special sensivity that you learn from singers which is incredible. Sarah Vaughan has got perfect pitch, so you have to play perfectly in tune with her. Betty Carter's a real jazz stylist. Nobody's a stylist like her. When she does a ballad, she does a ballad softer and slower than anybody else I've ever experienced. So, I had to learn to play with a lot of space. It's always more difficult to play slow than it is to play fast. Those are the kinds of things that really expanded my playing. Buster Williams
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