Just listened to an inspiring interview with Sonny Rollins. They asked him how he practices. He said he just picks up the horn and starts playing. They asked, “What do you play?” Sonny responded: “I guess they would be what you might call ‘cliches’. You just play those until something meaningful begins to surface.” If Sonny is not afraid to play “cliches,” then it’s probably OK. So i picked up the tenor and just started blowing over some basic slow F blues changes. After 10 minutes, this lick started to emerge from the clay. To you, it may sound like just one more cliche, but for me – as i worked through it in all 12 keys at a moderate tempo – it proved an opportunity to address some fingering and range challenges i might otherwise have missed. It’s relaxing and fun to play a lilting, swinging lick, knowing your chops are improving as you play. Kind of reminds me of working through Hanon on the piano (though i’m only on number 8!).
Here is a recording of that lick in all 12 keys @ dotted-quarter = 100. I quadruple-tracked the tenor to give it a fuller sound.
What do you think about quotes from other tunes in the middle of an improvised solo? Some masters often quote (Desmond and Stitt are prime examples) while others almost never do (Coltrane comes to mind). Do quotes provide a valuable resource, or are they a distraction? Love to hear your opinion! Please leave a post below. Continue reading “To Quote or Not to Quote?”→
Jimmy Heath is another master with whom I hope to become more familiar.
Driving into a glorious autumn dawn on the way to church Sunday, I was listening to “Picture of Heath” and was particularly struck by the third chorus of Jimmy’s soprano solo on “All Members.”
I don’t usually go to the trouble of formally transcribing solos, since there are so many fine transcriptions available on-line. But Jimmy’s third chorus really knocked me out, and i felt compelled to examine the strategy, structure, and logic of this amazing 12-bar chorus. Continue reading “Dig Jimmy Heath!”→
Have you ever ridden on a roller coaster blindfolded? That’s how it feels to improvise without understanding internal modulation. It’s like driving through a thick London fog. Progress is halting, movements are uncertain and tense.
By contrast, the player who understands how to navigate key changes improvises smoothly and confidently.
Last month, we looked at the major scale, which has been foundational to Western music for 400 years. Each of the 7 notes in that major scale can function as the root of a diatonic chord. A basic understanding of those 7 chords will greatly improve your ear and your improvisatory skill, so let’s focus on them this month. Continue reading “Diatonic Chords”→
Do you want your improvised solos to soar and delight your audiences? The first and most important step to achieve this is to develop the link between your ears and your fingers. In fact, ultimately we need to be able to transfer any musical idea we imagine to our fingers. I call this “Hand-ear coordination”.
It is a thrilling moment when a musician first experiences the freedom of playing without reliance on the printed score. To be able to play a melody by ear or to spontaneously create an improvised solo never before heard provides joy not to be missed by the player committed to musical excellence.
It’s definitely impressive to hear jazz musicians improvise at incredibly fast tempos. What is, however, far more inspiring is hearing how the great masters are able to create beautifully crafted, swinging melodic lines, regardless of tempo. Continue reading “RIPPING RIFFS OR MEMORABLE MELODIES?”→
Dexter Gordon is universally revered by saxophonists for his muscular sound. He is equally effective on ballads, blues, and fast tempos.
His Blue Note LP One Flight Up includes a fine reading of the Jimmy Van Heusen ballad “Darn That Dream” on which he dexterously employs a device favored by Charlie Parker. This maneuver involves momentarily raising the key a half-step and inferring a ii-V progression in that key.
Here are two instances in which Dexter deftly employs that ploy. As anyone who has ever tried to transcribe his solos knows, one of the hallmarks of Dexter’s style is his unique approach to rhythm. While his languid phrasing is pure joy to hear, it’s a nightmare to transcribe. I have greatly simplified the rhythm in these two examples, focusing instead on the pitches Dexter chose for the brief modulation. Continue reading “Darn That Dexter!”→
The road to dynamic, expressive improvisation is paved with practice and listening. Hank Mobley’s near perfect solo on Irving Berlin’s “Remember” from his classic LP “Soul Station” is filled with profound lessons on phrasing, rhythm, tone, melody, pacing, and development. Here is just one of the great ideas you will encounter when studying this wonderful recording.
Some saxophone & clarinet students have difficulty with jazz articulation, because they have not learned to tongue properly. They begin each note with a constriction in the throat, which sounds as if the student were humming into the mouthpiece. The beginning of the note is fuzzy and indistinct. Continue reading “Jazz Articulation, Accents, and Proper Tonguing”→
The San Francisco based group “Jews for Jesus” is currently offering “Renewed Hope” for sale on its web site. “Renewed Hope” is Craig’s seventh CD — his third worship CD — featuring words from The Bible, original music by Craig Buhler, the vocals of Rick Tatum, and the music of HONK. Produced by Grammy winner Steve Wood.
Have you ever had difficulty playing a tune, even though it presented no obvious technical hurdles? Perhaps the problem lies in a hidden harmonic riddle, which, when solved, will unlock your understanding of the song and make it easier to play and to remember.
At a recent gig, pianist Mark Schecter called off Dizzy Gillespie’s “Groovin’ High.” Although Storyville used to play the song, it still made me stumble. However, after deciphering its harmonic implications, playing it became simple.
Even many accomplished musicians never learn the fine art of playing by ear. A strong ear is a “must” for those of us musicians with visual disabilities. I owe my ear to a uniquely inspired teacher. The story begins in 1963. Continue reading “HOW I LEARNED TO PLAY BY EAR”→
Do your solos brim with vitality, gliding across a colorful landscape, as you explore ever deeper into the ocean of sound? Or do you flounder among waves of notes, swimming through a maze of chord changes?
Thematic development will transform your playing, as you weave your exciting, personal story.
The following clips illustrate three powerful tools to stimulate your creative potential and enthuse your audience.
1. RHYTHMIC SHIFT– Example 1 presents a 7-beat phrase that starts on the “and” of beat 3. The phrase is then repeated, but this time, it begins on the “and” of beat 2. Repeating the phrase gives your thought unity, while the rhythmic offset offers variety and surprise. Try playing along with this recording in all 12 keys.
2. DIMINUTION– In example 2, the 7-beat phrase is the same, but a triplet compresses the second statement of the theme. Your motif is still easily recognized, but you have added variety.
3. TONAL SHIFT– In Example 3, the second statement of the theme modulates up a minor third. Tonal shift was a favorite device of John Coltrane. The listener still recognizes your theme, but her ear delights in this fresh new element you have added to the mix.
As you become more comfortable with creating and developing thematic material, your unique personality defines your individual style. You improvise dynamically and coherently.
To master these 3 techniques, play along with the 3 audio files offered here. Contact me, if you need a chart. Or, if you want to learn to play by ear in all 12 keys (as I did while recording these clips), download “New Ears Resolution” and liberate your musical imagination!
How often do we teachers hear students complain about having to practice long tones and scales? Every teacher knows that long tones greatly enhance tonal quality and intonation and that scales are the raw material from which improvised solos are crafted. The problem is that any musician who practices being bored will bore the audience. What you practice is what you perform. Practice joy, imagination, and freshness, and your show will be fresh. Practice dry technique, and your gig will be a desert.
Below is a 4-bar phrase containing a descending major scale (Ionian mode) and an ascending Mixolydian mode. I worked on this exercise until the rhythm and note sequence started to feel interesting to me.
Try playing along with the background track provided below and see if this approach adds a bit of zest to your practice time. Develop your own variations on this idea. Email me for a FREE copy of this exercise in all 12 keys, if you have trouble figuring it out. Better yet, download “New Ears Resolution” and learn how to play any melody in any key by ear.
What a great way to ring in 2015! We watched “Labor Day” on Netflix, and then I revisited Sonny Rollins’ 1998 CD “Global Warming.” Sonny has a wonderful ability to compose simple melodies that swing. And, of course, the unique way he develops motivic material during his solos is legendary. Solos brimming over with life and joy. I just had to pick up my horn and play along. Here is the lick that emerged, Adolph Sax’s new year’s gift.
Try playing along with this melodic minor phrase in all 12 keys using this background track. If you have trouble transposing it, email me for a free chart. Or download “New Ears Resolution” and learn how to play any melody in any key by ear.
Are your improvisations based more on the chord changes (Coleman Hawkins approach) or on the melody (Lester Young approach)? Many players look at the chord progressions and derive either arpeggios or scale patterns based on the indicated changes. Here is an exercise that will develop your ability to integrate larger leaps into your melodic flow.
To derive the maximum benefit, practice this pattern in all 12 keys around the circle of fifths using the background track provided below. If you have difficulty figuring out the pattern in the other keys, contact me for a FREE chart (no cost or obligation). Better yet, download “New Ears Resolution” to learn how to play any melody in any key BY EAR!
Several HONK fans have been asking me how to get a hold of the HONK “Clay Figures” album. The complete collection is now available as a download. The first HONK LP was released by Twentieth Century Records in 1973. The cover showed clay figures of the band. A second LP was recorded by 20th Century but never released as an LP. In 2004, both albums were remastered and released on a single CD. This package includes all 20 selections as well as the cover art and the booklet.
The songs are:
From the first album – I Wanna Do For You, So Much Easier, Don’t Let Your Goodbye Stand, Circles in Sand, Caught on a Greyhound, Another Light, We’re On Wheels, Hidin’ Out, I Wanna Stay, Money Slips Through My Fingers, Buckeyed Jim, Pipeline Sequence.
From the second album – Fortune Wheel, Dog At Your Door**, All My Time Is Free**, There Is a River**, Heatwave, Love Ain’t So Common, Please Remember, No One Is Waiting
** These 3 songs also appear on the Epic “Orange Album.” However, those recordings were produced a year later. If you are familiar with the Epic album, you will find it interesting to compare these earlier recordings done by Steve Desper at Cherokee with the later recordings produced by Henry Lewey at A&M Studios.
Jeff Rzepiela is a talented reed player and arranger. His web site contains many transcriptions of solos by the masters of jazz. Check out his latest newsletter Scooby-sax_Newsletter_Oct_2014(1) which features an insightful analysis of an improvised solo by Arnie Krakowsky over the tune “I’ve Never Been in Love Before.” Jeff skillfully singles out several key phrases in the solo, shows how they relate to each other, and makes them available for those of us who benefit from “wood-shedding” over great “licks.”
Kenny Barron’s wonderful composition Voyageis a particularly apt vehicle for Stan Getz. The phrase in bar 4 especially caught my ear (example A.)
It would be fascinating to ask Mr. Barron whether he conceived of Voyagerapidly or – as often happens – the piece evolved over a period of time.
Focusing on bar 4, you see that the melody outlines the F7(b9) chord as shown in example A above. It’s tempting to speculate that the appoggiatura was originally part of the F7(b9) arpeggio. The Eb then takes its place as the 7th in the F7(b9) chord, as shown in Example B. Of course, Voyageas we now know it is far hipper than it would have been if bar 4 looked like Example B!
Speculation aside, one way you will definitely improve your instrumental technique is by playing figures such as this one in all 12 keys around the Circle of Fifths, starting with a slow metronome setting and gradually increasing the tempo.
While I practiced this particular lick, I experimented with various rhythmic combinations. If you do that, you will keep your imagination engaged, so that your practice time does not degenerate into a dry, lifeless exercise. You will also develop your own stylistic preferences, so that choosing the hippest rhythm for an improvised passage will not slow down your reflexes during performance. Some of the iterations I tried are shown in Example C.
The first iteration emphasizes the third of the chord – the “sweet note.” The rest of the sketches experiment with various rhythmic syncopations. Perhaps you also will benefit from playing along with the final lick in all 12 keys using this background track:
Are you or your students or friends interested in big band music? Please help me spread the word about a unique opportunity to join with like-minded musicians in making some swinging music and having a good time to boot. They say the setting is beautiful and the food is great! Many of the players return year after year.
A recent biography of jazz tenor sax giant John Coltrane verified that he had indeed studied the wonderful Bach Cello Suites. The suites, though quite challenging, are a joy to play, and they provide numerous opportunities to build your tone, technique, and conception. As it turns out, they also contain some amazing phrases which can be adapted as jazz improv “licks.” What do you think of this one? It’s from Bach Cello Suite Number 2, “Allemande,” bar 21. Play it through in all 12 keys (see chart below) and let us know whether Bach gives you ideas for your jazz improvisation.