Hochschule Luzern - Musik, Abteilung Jazz

Picking Notes out of Thin Air?

1. Initial Preparations for Jazz:

Hanging Out and Jamming: the Jazz Community as an Educational System

I tell people: I was a high school dropout, but I graduated from Art Blakey College, the Miles Davis Conservatory of Music, and Charlie Parker University." - Walter Bishop Jr.

I hear what you're trying to do, now what you must do is get around the people who play this kind of music and learn everything from them. - piano salesman

Informal Study Sessions and Apprenticeships

It's hard not to be a little envious of the environment in which some of the great players grew up. Many jazz players grew up with other jazz players in their neighborhoods. Jackie McLean was telling me not long ago about how, when he was a young kid, Bud Powell was always dropping by the house and playing with him, encouraging him to develop, and inviting him along to gigs. - Don Sickler

This was 1961, and at that time, it was an incredible block. Elvin Jones and Pepper Adams lived upstairs, the guys from Detroit. Across the street in one apartment were all the guys from Philly - Reggie Workman, Lee Morgan, Percy Heath, and somebody else. Up the street a few doors away was Ted Curson. The Jazz Gallery was around the corner. The Five Spot was three blocks away. There were a lot of coffee shops and a lot of music out there. This was 1961. - Kenny Barron about living on East Sixth Street

I stayed at 101st Street, and Coltrane was at 103rd Street, and every day I could just take my horn and walk around there - stay over all day. We'd have some tea and we'd sit and talk, and we'd laugh and put on records. Coltrane would say, "Hey Curtis, try to play this on the trombone," and I would try to run something down. I'd struggle with it and he'd say, "You're getting it"- and so on and so on. Paul Chambers lived all the way in Brooklyn, and he would get in the subway and, gig or no gig, he would come over to practice. He got this thing from Koussevitsky - the Polonaise in D Minor - and he'd say, "Hey Curtis, let's play this one." It wasn't written as a duet, but we would run that down together for three or four hours. A couple of days later, we'd come back and play it again. The whole thing was just so beautiful, the camaraderie. - Curtis Fuller

More than anything specific, it was a matter of Jackie McLean being a model for me, it had to do with his personality, too, his sense of humor about life. He was always so positive that just to have a word from him was enough to send me home to practice for hours. It was enough to keep me going until the next time I saw him again.

Jam Sessions

New Yorkers had a way of learning from each other just as we did in Detroit. From what I heard from Arthur Taylor, Jackie MacLean and Sonny Rollins, they all used to learn from just jamming together with Bud Powell and Monk and Bird. Even though Bird wasn't a New Yorker, he lived there a long time and got an awful lot of it. - Tommy Flanagan

Everybody was in the process of learning. Some guys were better than others, but it was always swinging, and the guys went on and on playing. We played maybe one number for an hour, but nobody ever got bored with it. - Benny Bailey

During the day you would go to somebody's house to play. At night there were afterhours clubs where the would hire maybe one horn and a rhythm section, and then anybody who wanted to play was free to come up and play. Then these clubs would have sunday matinee session. We used to just walk the streets at night and go from one place to another. - Art Farmer

A certain club down the corner was for the heavy cats and you would not dare to participate until they knew that you were ready. You didn't even take your horn out of your case unless you knew the repertoire. - Rufus Reid

During that time, there was somewhat of a mutual respect among the musicians, and they had cutting sessions. They would say, "I am going to blow so and so out". It wasn't with malice. It was no put-down; it was just friendly competition. Maybe two tenor players would get up; maybe there would be about seven horn players on the bandstand and let them have it. Everybody had the sense to know that saxophones was going to hang up there tonight - they was going to be blowing at each other - so we all got off the bandstand and let them have it. Maybe the next night, two trumpet players would be getting up there at each other; then there would be drummers. I have seen it many times. It was really healthy, just keeping everybody on their toes. Tommy Turrentine

You would hear so much good music each night that, when you went to lay down, your head would be swimming! Tommy Turrentine

Sitting in at Concerts

"Don't be apologizing for yourself. Anytime you have heart enough to come on this bandstand, it's okay for you to be here. You have to believe you can play in order to play." - bandleader to Leroy Williams

First of all, he (Roy Eldridge) sat down and played the drums with us. And then, since he was on his night off, he went back to his hotel and got his trumpet and brought that back and played with us. It was just wonderful because he was at one of his peaks of popularity. For him just to spend his night off with some dumb kids was really marvellous. The next night there was a dance at the club where we played. The Artie Shaw Band played the first part of the dance from nine to one. Then we played from one to five, and they just stood around and listened to us. So we thought that we were pretty hot [he laughs]. We were very flattered by their attention. - Art Farmer

Professional Affiliations with Bands

In the winter of 1939, I wrote Coleman Hawkins a letter after hearing his record "Body and Soul". I had heard of him before that, but I was knocked out by his record; that's what everbody was talking about. He lived eight blocks from me, and I felt I had nothing to lose. The letter was the usual "I heard about you and I liked your record" kind of thing. And I also told him the truth, that I had been classically trained and only played jazz for a few years, but I would appreciate it if I was given the opportunity to work with him. And I included my phone number and address. That was a lot of nerve, let's face it. Two days later, the phone rang and there was this deep voice, "This is Coleman Hawkins." I almost dropped the phone. "Are you free this afternoon? I'd like to hear your playing; bring your bass by." When I got to his place, I found out that he was also a pianist. He played the piano while I played the bass; he never touched his saxophone. We went through a couple of tunes, all in different keys that you wouldn't expect them to be in. I played and he seemed to be satisfied. he said, "Do you have a tuxedo?" I said, "Yes." He said, "Fine. We open Monday night, nine o'clock at Kelly's Stable." - George Duvivier

Paying Dues as Learners

I had to prove myself. It was like paying your dues. Who was I to be coming into the band at that time? I hadn't worked with anybody else of note before joining Max Roach's band. Anyway, we were living in the same hotel, and after practicing with the band, Booker and George Coleman and myself would stay behind and practice together. After Coleman left, it would just be me and Booker. He had an incredible endurance as a trumpet player and always wanted to keep rehearsing after everyone else had quit. At the same time, he continued to be standoffish. But one day, after we finished playing, he asked me if I wanted to go to dinner with him. I knew then that I had been accepted. - Art Davis

In New York I'd sit in withsome great players I had known from records, and the music would sound bad and feel bad. I'd think that they didn't like my playing and I'd blame myself. Sometimes, the heavy players themselves would mess up because they weren't as capable of playing as their reputations had it, and they'd blame their problems on you. Or they would deliberately mess with you, and you'd go home and cry or feel like you couldn't play. It was only later that I realized that the problem wasn't me; it was somebody else. You have to learn everything the hard way.

Developing Extraordinary Skill

We started young when our minds were open, and we had no obligations - no wives, no babies, no rent to pay. - Lonnie Hillyer

All the great jazz musicians have also been great teachers. their lessons are preserved for students on every recording they made. - Lonnie Hillyer

When I was learning, you heard people play things that sounded nice and thought about what you were playing, you thought about how you sounded and how you would like to sound, and you went home, and you worked on it. If you couldn't learn by what you heard, well then, it was you own fault. - Art Farmer

There is so much information out there for you to get access to, if somebody has to tell you how to get it, you don't deserve it. You know what it is; you've got to get it. If you hear somebody say, "Man I think so and so is really great," then you listen to that person and decide for yourself. You don't take anything for granted. - Wynton Marsalis

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