Hochschule Luzern - Musik, Abteilung Jazz

Picking Notes out of Thin Air?

4. Additional Factors Affecting Improvisation:

Vibes and Venues: Interacting with Different Audiences in Different Settings

Whether I exceed my own expectations in performance depends on a lot of different things - the piano, the sound, the audience. Sometimes, you play in big halls in which only five guys show up. Other times, you play in small clubs where guys are sitting in each other's laps. Some crowds are responsive and others are not. When you're on tour, every night presents a different situation: a different piano, a different sound, a different crowd. Walter Bishop Jr.

I was only nineteen when I went on the road with Dizzy, and I never played that steadily before or under such different circumstances. If we had been travelling all night and hadn't been to bed, I had to be able to get off the plane and to go right to the gig and play. I had to be able to perform well even though I was tired and hungry. Also, I remember we once went to this small club in Cleveland, and when I went to sit at the piano, there were only about five keys that worked....It was one of those pianos! The point was, what was I going to do then? Was I going to feel sorry for myself and hold back, or was I going to go ahead and play? One of the things I learned with Dizzy's band was how to be consistent in my playing, how to play the best I could every night, no matter what the odds, no matter what the circumstances. Kenny Barron

A Venue's Acoustics

It's the total sound that turns you on or turns you off. If the acoustics are strange and the sound is not right and musicians can't hear one another well, it creates great problems. Harold Ousley

There is a whole different approach required in dealing with the electric aspect of the music today. During sound checks you must listen to how the various textures of your instrument sound in the hall. You have to try out each part of your drum set with all the equipment that you use - brushes, mallets and sticks. Its sound has to be checked by itself, and it has to be checked together with all the other instruments to see how they balance one another. And when everybody on stage is miked and you have monitors, you have to check thoroughly to see that what the audience hears is what you hear on the stage. A sound check shouldn't be taken lightly. As most professional musicians know, this can either make or break a performance. Max Roach

Room Design, Audience Capacity and Management Policy

It's hard to get the energy up to play when it's forty-five minutes on and forty-five minutes off. You know that as soon as you get cooking, you have to break. Then you lose the feeling and have to start up all over again. Benny Bailey

Playing at a jazz festival is like an all-star baseball game. When you put all stars together who haven't played together, it's never really that good. That's what I wish concert promoters would learn. For instance, the promoter at a major East Coast jazz festival is taking Ira Sullivan and me by ourselves this year, and we're going to have to use one of the festival's rhythm sections. I don't know who they are yet. They're all going to be stars with big names, but it's not going to be the same as playing with your own group. Red Rodney

At the beginnging of a tour, my body is always fresh; it feels lose and flexible when I perform. But after a few months of steady playing, night after night, my muscles begin to get stiff and sore, and I'm not as flexible. Paul Wertico

Interacting with Different Audiences

There are a few really special clubs around the country which have a special feeling because of the tradition associated with them, like the Village Vanguard in New York. You know the history of the great players who have played there, and you know that the people who come there really come for the music and they understand it. Keith Copeland

Playing the Village Vanguard is not like playing at other clubs. It feels like a showcase. People from all over the world are always coming through, and you never know whether someone might hear you and other gigs will come from it. It's also not like playing in some small club somewhere, because other musicians will come out and sit in with you, like Woody Shaw came to sit in last night. A lot of musicians hang out together evenings and go from club to club. Also, out in the audience there were a lot of young players from the North Texas State Jazz Band Program. You're really exposed unde those conditions.
It's like that in New York. That's why the musicians are such nervous wrecks....Benny Bailey

One of the things that can be a pleasure about performing in Europe is that people do the research. They really know who you are and they want you to play real jazz. Lou Donaldson

In Europe and Japan, audiences are so conscious of what the artist is doing, their applause is always encouraging. They know your name and what you've recorded, and they acknowledge that when you're introduced. Backstage, you can sit for an hour after performances, just signing albums. George Duvivier

Some of the jazz-dinner-drink places are just awful. There was one incident when Stan Getz was touring with our band in which there was a very noisy table right in front of the bandstand. A woman kept talking loudly about the mink coat her friend had just bought. After a while, the waiter came over and told her that she was disturbing another table of listeners. Then, the woman became indignant. "What do you mean I should keep it down?" The waiter said, "That's Stan Getz soloing." She yelled back, "Who's Stan Getz?"... Ira Sullivan

Preparing for Audiences

My father taught me about the audience a long time ago. It's a big factor. They're the one who come to hear you, and they're the ones who buy your records. Without them, you don't have a living. Tommy Turrentine

The audience is what's it all about. No audience, no conversation. If I wasn't concerned with the audience, I might as well stay in a room alone and practice. Curtis Fuller

I've developed a knack for feeling out a club or an audience over the years. For example, recently in Europe, I found out right away that the audience wanted a lot of swing music, and I just played a little touch of bebop. In the early days when Club Bohemia in New York was going, I knew I could stretch out and play "Cherokee" and stuff like that all night. When I played in Harlem, I would stick to the blues and more funky stuff. Lou Donaldson

It's important to develop a repertory of standards to keep audiences happy when you play commercial jobs. Since you're background and they're not really listening anyway, you can get away with improvising if you play tunes they know. If you play standards, they will accept whatever you do with them. Red Rodney

Music Presentation as Drama

Sometimes, I think that you can't really understand how important this music is until you go to the clubs and watch the people play it. Benny Bailey

Hands can be a great communicative device. People interested in my career pointed out to me how to use my hands when I sang and when not to use them. Hand gestures and every subtle thing you do is noticed on the stage, and you try to be less awkward and more graceful in your movements. The more relaxed I am on stage, the easier it is. When I became aware of how important posture was, I began taking dance. I learned to control my posture from ballet, modern dance and stretch classes.
Also, people would point out when not to overstress the lyrics, like singing with your eyes closed all the time. Sometimes, I still have to remember to do certain facial things, to furrow my eyebrows or to crease my forehead. There is so much concentration involved in a total, great performance. Carmen Lundy

There are ways of going about doing things on the drums that get a response from the audience. Most people want flash from a drummer. They're not checking out what you're playing, but how fast you hands are moving. Sometimes, I can play certain things around my whole drum set as a flash thing. I don't try to do this, but I realize that some things look fancy to the audience. Because the visual aspect of playing is important and a lot of people come for entertainment, drummers can sometimes get across by the ways they play things rather than by what they play. Kenny Washington

I must look at people or they feel you're withdrawing into yourself and they turn away from you. Looking into another person's eyes can be captivating. By watching other singers, I learned how important it is to keep a certain feeling when you are performing and to use the power of the eyes. Carmen Lundy

Interpreting Behaviour during Musical Events

There are ways in which musicians can sabotage a person's playing. Or, when one person is soloing, another can be talking loudly or looking elsewhere, obviously distracted. Also, jealousies sometimes arise within groups when a sideman is getting more praise than the leader. Things like that affect the whole group. Art Davis

Many audiences didn't seem to be able to tell whether the band was having a good night or a bad night. sometimes, we'd play in ways we thought were awful and we'd still get a standing ovation. It made some musicians cynical about the audience, and they'd laugh about it after concerts.

Musical Responses to Difficult Audiences

There are players who, under the pressure of commerce and looking for acceptance, have lost their own voices. There was a famous tenor player who used to have an incredible way of coloring the sound of his saxophone. He had more colors, more timbres, than anyone, and you could identify him immediately from his sound alone. But now he seems to have decided to sound like a second-class imitation of a more commercially oriented tenor player. The tremendous invention that he used to employ all the time is now stifled in favor of really simple, repetitive music.
If you stifle your creativity in order to try to appeal to a mass audience, and you get involved with pandering, you run the danger of not knowing the difference between what you're doing for yourself and what you're doing in order to please the audience. To me, an artist is somebody who is deeply concerned with communicating what he believes to be his message and not what the audience wants to believe is his message. This is not to say that a true artist purposely cuts himself off from the audience. but his message has to be what he finds valuably. When people haven't followed that, I have only seen artistic disasters result. Chuck Israels

I play things according to the circumstances of the moment....For example, if I hear noise and people talking, I know that they are not concerned with what I'm doing. An inattentive audience is very distracting. When I feel any tension or I feel ill at ease, my mind doesn't go out. Under those conditions, I play the most inside things, the safest things. I just don't think any other way. If I feel completely free and relaxed, like late at night with hardly anybody in the club, I'm just thinking other ways. The audience has a great deal to do with it. If you feel that what you're doing is well received, it frees you to go ahead and try for other things. Art Farmer

Sometimes, the informality of the club and the lack of absolute attention gives you the freedom to try out things your might otherwise be hesitant to try. Chuck Israels

The dinner jazz clubs are what make the challenge of playing and trying to reach people even greater. Sometimes, I get tired of the prima donna attitudes of the younger players who get so bugged when you have to play in those places. They say, "What? I'm supposed to play for this noise?" One player thought that the solution was for him just to play louder. I said, "That's not good. They'll just talk louder." People come here to meet old relatives and to talk and eat and have a few drinks. That can't be changed.
But every once in a while you play so strong and beautiful that suddenly you hush up an audience like that, and it's a great feeling of accomplishment you feel. Like you've given them something special even if they don't really recognize what it is you've done for them. You've reached them where they didn't know they can be reached. Ira Sullivan

Responding to Knowledgeable Audiences

If I'm a mature artist and I'm playing to a mature audience, they can hear the reference to artists like Bird in my playing immediately. If it's done in an respectful way, not out of duplication directly, but placed in the right perspective, then everyone is able to relate to what I'm doing. There's an unspoken communication with the audience that way. I'm aware of my predecessors. I'm always aware of this legacy. I'm aware of this tradition. It's a beautiful feeling because it's both nostalgic and has, at the same time, a very present feeling of joy, hearing these different lines, different turns, different mannerisms related in certain perspectives. Arthur Rhames

I feed on the audience when I play. You have to speak the language that the audience knows. I could draw on a familiar figure that even a layman would understand, something in front of a current hit or a blues lick that's soulful. I'll play that and I see someone sway or someone says, "Yeah!" I'll stay right on this because they understand where I'm coming from, and I've got this thing going for me. Then he'll say, "Yeah, baby!" When I get that message, the guy in the audience is saying, "I'm still here. Come on, run it at me again!"...you know? Sometimes, I'll keep the thing going there. I'll deal with that phrase or expand on that, develop that. Then you'll hear him say, "Yeeeaaaah!" or "Heeeyyyyy!" And when I see those little interests tapering off, I'll say, "All right now, come on. Let's try something else and take it another way." I'll put something else out there in my solo, and I flirt with it to feel them out to see what the response would be. It could be something melodic or rhythmic, something like a quotation, but not a gimmick. Just something that would stir up their interest. When I get that audience around that, they won't let me off the stage. Curtis Fuller

I feel good when I get a response. Tommy Turrentine

There are divine moments when you receive feedback from audiences which make you feel sure that you're on the right road. The thrill of being liked and the pure adoration of fans is like falling in love. Charli Persip

He (Charlie Parker) could see something happen and play about it on his instrument. Like he'd see a pretty girl walk in the club we're playing. He'd be playing a solo and all of a sudden he'd go into..."A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody," wherever he was in the piece. Roy Haynes

If I'm tired when I enter a club, I may not even want to play the drums, but if I can feel the electricity from the audience, I can play well. In the Vanguard, I can feel the vibes of what the place will be like that night, Just walking down those stairs. If the audience is attentive and excited, I can go to new horizons in my playing. Kenny Washington

Look at those young cats in the band, playing that music. It makes me feel good to see it. I know they could make more money playing rock today, the easy music. But they chose this instead, to carry on the tradition. It's a beautiful thing. Those sounds bring back memories from my youth, from the forties when they were originally played. And they're still here. The players come and go. Some die. But the music carries on.

Have you ever thought of playing free? Ornette Coleman

If our talking is covering the music, then how much music can be happening on stage?

Recording Studios as Performance Settings

You had plenty of liberty with Billie Holiday because she was that kind of a singer. She slid all around the changes. You could play almost anything behind her, as long as you didn't play a wrong note. A lot of the music was based on head arrangements, except when we went into the studio. Then, of course, we had written arrangements, which were different. If you listen to any of her resonrdings, you'll hear the bass is just basic playing - good, steady and solid. I didn't play any flourishes or anything. George Duvivier

If other people can copy my ideas form the records and do more than I can with them, they're welcome to them. Don Pate

Even by today's standards, the albums we made with the Benny Goldon-Art Farmer Jazztet would be great music. The record company gave us a month to prepare that album and payed us a salary do that we could just work on it.
In many companies today, you're pushed right into the studio, playing material that you may never have seen before, with musicians you have never played with before and no time to do anything. They say, "You're a professional, aren't you? Shouldn't you be able to do that?" These guys just don't understand the music. They'll take the lamest rock group and pay them for a year just to rehearse and work on things, to come up with one lead tune. Our music is much more complex than that, and they push us into the studio to record on the spot. They're always telling me, " That was great , Curtis," even though I may not even have liked the track. They just don't care. The just want to get you in and out of the studio. Give us the time and backing, and we can come up eith things as beautiful as we did with Benny Golson's groups. Curtis Fuller

It takes a while to develop a sympathetic interplay between the members of the rhythm section to get the best out of everybody. It doesn't always happen right away. I've made an awful lot of dates where I played with people for the first time or just a few times...You're lucky when something like that comes out good. It would be interesting, but it might not be the best thing that could happen. Tommy Flanagan

I have some prospects for recording my new band, But I don't feel that we're ready yet. I don't want to rush it. We have two months ahead playing every Monday night at Sweet Basil's, and that should help tighten us up. You know, there is tight, and then there is TIGHT. We're alright as far as reading and playing together, but there is a spiritual thing that isn't there. And that's what I want to work on now. I'll have to see how I can get this thing developed in my band before I go into the recording studio. For my music, it's necessary. Sometimes, a steady tour on the road will bring that about in a group. It seems a shame that it takes that, but for all the steady series of hardships when I was on the road with Dizzy, when you come out of an experience like that, your band is together. Melba Liston

On one recording date I did with a vocal chorus, the recording engineer got uptight when I asked him to allow me to be in the cutting room when they were doing the master. He said, "Do I tell you how to do your business?" When the actual album was pressed, I was not even given a chance to hear it before it hit the stands. I was heartbroken when I heard it. The sound was so bad, so muddy. They undid all the careful work I had put into the music. Max Roach

The problem is that a lot of people get branded as doing only one thing when the really have talents in many different areas. some people get caught up in the labels they're given by the record companies, and they get trapped there. Curtis Fuller

I happen to have an identification from the time I played with Miles and a lot of people don't want to hear me playing differently. They just want a particular sound. Lee Konitz

My music has always evolved. When the record companies told me that they wouldn't record bebop anymore and I was old hat, I found other areas to express myself in. If you've heard my albums on the Muse label, I have five albums which document my work through all the stages I went through, from bebop to avant-garde to fusion and back to bebop. The avant-garde affects everybody. Even if they're not playing free, they become more free in their playing. On my record Call Keith, I did a track which was sort of free, with a tonal center. I wanted to see what it felt like playing that music, and learned a lot about playing free from that. You have to go on instinct, and everybody has to listen. With my fusion album, I was out to prove that I could be just as creative in the fusion area as I could in the bebop area. Since I get off on dancing myself, I could relate to this different beat. The challenge was to do it without loosing my artistry. Walter Bishop Jr.

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