Hochschule Luzern - Musik, Abteilung Jazz

Picking Notes out of Thin Air?

2. Cultivating the Soloist's Skills:

Composing in the Moment: The Inner Dialogue and the Tale

After you initiate your solo, one phrase determines what the next is going to be. From the first note that you hear, you are responding to what you've just played: you just said this on your instrument, and now that's a constant. What follows from that? And then the next phrase is a constant. What follows from that? And so on and so forth. And finally, let's wrap it up so that everybody understands that that's what you're doing. It's like language: you're talking, you're speaking, you're responding to yourself. When I play, it's like having a conversation with myself. Max Roach

The phrases you play are your message while you're playing. They should relate to one another and they should be logical. Tommy Flanagan

The vital part is thinking while you're moving, and once the momentum has been started, I don't like to break it. I'm concerned with the continuity in motion. If you're not affected and influenced by your own notes when you improvise, then you're missing the whole essential point. Lee Konitz

One approach is for me to think of myself as being two players. See, the upper player was one guy and the lower player was another guy. I was telling the story as if there was a dialogue between the two players. I've heard Trane and Bird and other players do that kind of thing on records, like they were accompanying themselves. Lonnie Hillyer

One way to improvise was to think as if your instrument was a bass. You follow chords and connect them, add a few non-chord tones, play a little more rhythmically, and then you start to solo. Grachan Moncur


It's also like playing a game of chess. There's the beginning game, the middle game, and then there's the end game. Miles is a champion at doing that. So is Trane. To accomplish this, the use of space is very important - sparseness and simplicity - maybe playing just short, meaningful phrases at first and building up the solo from there. Buster Williams

You don't have to play everything you know every minute. You can leave some spaces in the music. Your're not going to start off a solo double-timing. You start off just playing very simply and, as much as possible, with lyrical ideas. And as the intensity builds, if it does, your ideas can become a little more complicated. They can become longer. The way I look at it that you're going to start down so that you have somewhere to go. It can build to different points in different parts of the solo. It's hills and valleys. That's what it is anywhere. There are certain sections of the tune which build harmonically and suggest that the intensity should also build at that particular point. That's a very natural thing to happen, and what you play will always build there. Other times, it's a matter of wherever it occurs,wherever you feel it coming. It could happen in different spots within the tune at different times. Kenny Barron

After a lot of practice, you find that the phrases just begin to fall in the right place. You are able to play a whole chorus of phrases together, and you are ready for the next chorus. The more you do it, the smoother and the easier it gets. When you begin to feel proficient at this, you feel a certain sense of freedom, and you get the inspiration to really get into your horn and try out different things. There's a great excitement about that. Harold Ousley

Each tune has its own feelings, its own shapes and patterns that occupy me when I play it. You just jump from from one emotional mood to another because the moods change with each piece. Chuck Israels

The Teller's Trials

Sometimes when you get ready to play, you say to yourself, "I don't want to play the same stuff I always play," so you deliberately try not to play it, but you end up playing the same old stuff anyway. Bobby Rogovin

Everything is passing by very fast when you're playing, and you've got to play something. I remember a time when I wouldn't want to play anything that I had heard before. I always wanted to play new and different things. But the attitude used to hang me up because I would refuse to play certain familiar phrases that came to me, and it would make me late in playing something else. When I'm practicing or performing a piece now, I'll play whatever comes to me. Harold Ousley

It's like you've got this third ear that oversees the whole business - the craft part - and that's what tells you what to do when you solo. If you're going to repeat a phrase, repeat it in a different way, change it a little bit; make it say something; make it speak differently. Make the phrase I'm now playing shed light on the phrase I just played or the one I'm about to play. Do something to give the music contrast. Don't keep beating a dead horse this way. Try something else. Be resourceful. Use your left hand more. Fred Hersch

I try to open up my mind a bit so that I can play something a little different, because I'm boring myself sometimes by playing the same things over and over again. So I'm trying to work on things outside the chord, to approach the chord indirectly - like from a half tone above it or below it, the outside notes - and to mix those with the inside notes. If you think of something outside, it's going to make you play different things. It will give you a bigger overall picture of music and stimulate the fantasy. Or I'll think of playing certain intervals. If I think of an interval like an augmented fifth, it's going to change the way I play. I'll surprise myself and play things I'm not expecting to play. Benny Bailey

Here and there you have unrealized ideas. either you have an idea and it doesn't come off the way you conceive it, or else you might have a stupid idea to begin with - and you have to try them all. Like if you have an idea that comes to your head, and you don't know whether it's going to work or not, well then, you have to try it. That's the only way your're going to find out. By a certain idea, I'm talking about a particular choice of notes, some kind of melodic idea that would come into your head. Like you hear something in the music and would like to play something against that. Like if you're playing in the key of C and the chord is C, but instead of playing the notes that are in the chord, you play some notes that are completely outside of it. Sometime it comes off and sometimes it doesn't. Or you might start out an idea okay and you want to develop it, but then you go as far as you can with it. It gets to the point where you can't handle it anymore because you don't have the technique and coordination between the head and the body. Art Farmer

Musical Saves

Part of the act of performing jazz is taking chances, and sometimes the chances you take don't work. But the craft is taking an idea that doesn't work and turning it into something that does work. Kenny Barron

Whether the chances you take come off or not, either way, you have to preserve the continuity of the ideas that you are playing. If an idea comes to you and you don't make it, you have to experience making something else out of it. That happens all the time when you're improvising. Or if a wrong note comes out, you have of make something out of that note. You can't just let the solo fall apart. As instantly as a note comes out which is not the one I intended, some other alternative comes to me. Of course, years ago, when I didn't have the technique I have now, a lot of times an idea would come to my mind and then doubt would follow it: "No, you can't pay that; you have to think of something else that you can get to." Art Farmer

I'll go for one note and hit another that has the same fingering, and say to myself, "Damn, how am I getting out of this one"? Your chromatics will get you out of anything. Man, you hit a wrong note and just go to your chromatic. You ain't got but two ways to go - up or down or wrong - so your chromatic will bail you out. Tommy Turrentine

One of the tricks is that if play something that you didn't really mean to play, play it again. If you repeat it sounds like that's what you meant to play. Kenny Barron

When you make a mistake, make a loud one, because if you're timid about it, then it really sounds like a mistake. it really sounds like you messed up. Dizzy Gillespie

You can tell before your fingers land on the final note that it isn't going to work, but rather than backing off, you just keep going - whatever happens. The important thing is that you're not lost. You can repeat the same wrong idea and make it work. That's part of the craft of it. For example, suppose you're ending a phrase on a note that is really out in left field. We have a tendency to end phrases or to end lines almost without fail on the first, third, fifth, seventh, or ninth degrees of a chord. So, if you're ending on an EbM7 chord and your phrase end on a Enatural, that's going to sound wrong no matter how you look at it. And you can tell a split second before you land there that that's where the line's headed. If I did that, I might repeat the line and then find a way of moving the Enatural to a note that's in the chord. Kenny Barron

The Improviser's World of Conciousness

There are times when you don't even try to do anything new, and all of a sudden it will happen: you avoid all the clichés, something fresh will come up which you didn't even know you could play. That's what playing is really about; the magic that happens when you least expect it. Bobby Rogovin

A crip is like a crutch. It's like a brace or a bridge from one idea to another. Bird might rip off something real mean and then lay a crip. And after that, he'd come out of the crip, and he'd rip off something real mean again - melodically or harmonically or rhythmically. Tommy Turrentine

I was playing this week, and I played all this technical stuff that I couldn't sit down and play now - even if I could practice it for eight hours. At that moment, the music was happening. Everything just feel in place in my hands and in my head. I felt I was expressing something with everything I played. When I'm playing well, there's a certain freedom of just being able to do anything, really. Fred Hersch

The natural progression of the melody is set from the first phrase you play and it becomes exciting by itself as you move forward toward the punch line. The excitement is shared by everybody. When I start off, I don't know what the punch line is going to be. It's all formed as it goes. Buster Williams

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