Charlie Parker Teaches Focus

Have you tried reading the charts in the Charlie Parker Omnibook?  I find that some of them require a level of focused attention that is quite difficult to maintain over a 3-hour practice session.

Right now, I am working on the tune “Cosmic Rays” on tenor.  This one really calls for attentiveness.  How do you acquire and maintain that level of focus?

I began today at 6:00 AM by doing 40 minutes of long tones on clarinet.  This lessens the distraction caused by issues of breathing, tone production, tone quality, and intonation.  Now that I have established a platform of tone production, I can move on to content.

Next, I spent some time improvising over changes in Band in a Box.  Today, I used the Artie Shaw classic “Dancing in the Dark,” which has gorgeous changes, perfect for improvisation on clarinet.  This awakens the ears, stimulates the creative impulse, and exercises intuitive reflex.

Generally, I then spend some time working in Jerry Coker’s “Patterns for Jazz.”  The Patterns get your fingers limbered up.

Yesterday, I input Charlie Parker’s solo from “Cosmic Rays” (pages 30-31 of the Omnibook) into Finale.  From there, I transferred the melody to Band in a Box and added a set of blues changes.

Now I can play along with the Band in a Box track at any tempo, in any key, looping as necessary.  Wow!  What a great tool!  It helps develop your reading, chops, and ideas.

But how does one maintain one’s concentration in such a dense rhythmic, harmonic, and melodic landscape during a typical 3-hour practice session?  Bird plays this thing at mm=132!  So far, I’ve got it up to half of that, and some of the curve balls still throw me off base.

Concentration, single-mindedness, convergence of all one’s faculties, centeredness, maintaining a focal point, centering one’s attention … This is a steep learning curve.  Is this what the mystics practice?  Is this similar to the discipline of contemplative prayer?  If you have any insight into this level of focus, please share your insights below.

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