Category: Charlie Parker (Yardbird, Bird)

Practice Joy-Subconscious Symmetry

How’s your practice routine feeling lately?  Are you practicing joy?  If you practice joy, your audience will hear joy in your performance, and that lively winsomeness in your playing will win you way more fans than all the chops in the world.

Students ask what I mean by “practice joy.”  Of course, it goes without saying that you need to develop your technique.  But music is way more than just chops. 

It may help to think of your practice session like a lavish banquet.  …(we didn’t have many of those in 2020!)  Think of it in 3 parts.

Your banquetYour practice session
1.  Introductions, greetings, catching up, small talk, hors d’oeuvres, drinks1.  Your warm-up, settling in, loosening up, getting in the groove
2.  The main course2.  Working intentionally through an idea or challenge
3.  Coffee, dessert, farewells, hugs or hand shakes3.  Reward yourself with a fun little jam!

Doesn’t that approach sound more doable, more inviting, more intriguing than staring forlornly at a closed horn case, wondering how to drum up energy to open that case and start playing boring scales?

Those 3 parts of your practice session remind me of Oliver Wendell Holmes’s comment about how a simplistic idea develops into a complex struggle but then resolves into a simple but elegant design.

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So how about let’s design a practice routine  so enthralling — so much fun — that you just can’t wait to pick up your axe and blow! As one typical example, here’s a practice session from a couple days back which was both productive and immensely enjoyable. Every day isn’t exactly like this.  Sometimes the focus is on long tones, sometimes it’s reading through transcriptions, etc. But – on this particular late evening session – I followed Sonny Rollins’ advice.  Sonny said, “just start playing the horn.  Listen to the sound.  Feel your breath and the keys of your axe.  Play a blues.  Play a tune.  Play any old licks that come to mind.”  Rollins called them “clichés,” but he didn’t mean that as an insult.  They’re the bread and butter of learning.  Don’t evaluate, don’t judge, just relate to your axe and enjoy how it sounds, how it makes you feel. After I blew for awhile, this lick just popped out. 

I kind of liked it, so I kept repeating it.  Maybe I tweaked it as I went along, I can’t remember.  After getting it smooth in one key, I ran it down in all 12 keys.  Then I wrote it down in my journal, knowing full well I’d forget it otherwise. After a day or two, I looked back at the transcription and discovered an inner logic — the thing that makes a phrase seem natural and organic – that I hadn’t noticed before.  Up to that point, I’d just been blowing, without a sense of compositional coherence, or any of that theoretical stuff.  But there it was, the musical logic, just waiting to be discovered…

Subconscious Symmetry  

Below is a recording of me playing this phrase in all 12 keys along with a chart.   After that, I discuss the logic hidden within this unusual phrase.

Continue reading “Practice Joy-Subconscious Symmetry”

Band Bus Banter

On the band bus one day, a buddy criticized me for playing too many descending lines. According to him, “Descending is negative; Ascending lines are much more uplifting.” Oh….really?

Players constantly hear advice like that.

Another commentator assured me, “Your phrase cannot EVER begin on the downbeat; It’s got to be asymmetric.” OK, you win, asymmetric it is, smart guy! The customer’s always right, ay?

One nameless critic insisted, “In order to sound hip, your line has to include several non-harmonic tones.” Still another self-proclaimed “authority” touted the need to stuff many rhythmic devices into your phrase.

Finally, a laconic trombonist named Tex snoring in the back of the bus roused himself from slumber just long enough to drawl lazily,
“How a – bout we try ta swing, Stan?”

So what do you think?
What is it that makes a player sound fresh and innovative?

While listening to the masters and practicing, lines like this one seem to pop out of nowhere. Hit ► below and let me know if it works for you.

Click on “continue reading” below to see a chart in all 12 keys. Or download “New Ears Resolution” to supercharge your ear, so you can play licks like this one in all 12 keys without a chart.

Continue reading “Band Bus Banter”

Pres says, “Sing me a song!”

Lester-Young-LIFE-1944

Let’s face it, we all want monster chops.  There are some great books out there to help develop technique.  I work constantly on mastering lix in all 12 keys, but I never play those lix on the gig.  That’s not their purpose.  The reason for practicing lix is to enhance your facility on the horn and expand your musical vocabulary.

But some of those lix get so obscure, I can’t even tell if I’ve made a mistake in transposing the lick to a new key.  That’s when I know the lick is too obscure!

I just got a killer deal on a great classic clarinet mouthpiece.   That inspired me to do some long overdue clarinet shedding.   I was trying to come up with a lick that felt melodic, one that would swing and sound lyrical, as opposed to clinical.

Let me know what you think of this one.

To see the chart for this lick in all 12 keys, press the “Continue Reading” button.

Continue reading “Pres says, “Sing me a song!””

Mastering Modulation

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.

This month, we learn to recognize an internal modulation and craft an effective response. Continue reading “Mastering Modulation”

RIPPING RIFFS OR MEMORABLE MELODIES?

sax life logoCraig wrote this article for the February, 2016 issue of Saxophone Life Magazine.  It appears here courtesy of SLM.

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?”

Improvising Using Skips

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.

12 9 14 LICK cropped

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!

Check Out This Great Saxophone Web Site

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.”

Charlie Parker: “An Oscar For Treadwell”

Page 43 of the Eb Charlie Parker Omnibook contains this cool phrase in lines 12 & 13.  Why does this particular lick sound so nice over a V7 chord?   One reason is that the 3rd of the chord (TI), the 7th of the chord (FA), and the 13th of the chord (MI) are prominently featured on the strong beats 1, 3, & 1 respectively.  These are the most interesting notes in the chord.   FA & TI form an attractive tritone, while MI is a major 7th above FA.  The line also has an interesting contour.

Although Bird’s solo on “An Oscar For Treadwell” is in the key of A major (on alto sax), you will notice that the lick shown below – which occurs in the first 2 measures of the bridge – is in the key of F#.  For the benefit of New Ears Resolution students, i have written in the solfége syllables below the notes.  (The syllable “SE” – pronounced “say” – is between SO and FA.)    As always, you will derive the maximum benefit from playing this phrase in all 12 keys.  If you cannot figure out the notes in the other keys, email me for a FREE pdf of the complete chart and an mp3 recording you can practice along with.

The more you study the work of the masters such as Charlie Parker, the richer your own musical vocabulary will become.  Playing the licks in all 12 keys develops your “hand / ear co-ordination” and prevents you from falling into “finger familiarity” ruts.

Lick from Bird’s Solo on “Cosmic Rays”

This phrase from Charlie Parker’s solo on his composition “Cosmic Rays” is 1 more example of his stunning melodic gift.   Study a whole encyclopedia of great Bird creations in “The Charlie Parker Omnibook.”  Click on the arrow below to hear the audio file, which was created from the original recording slowed down & transposed into all 12 keys.
BIRD COSMIC RAYS

CELERITY: Bird transposes up a half step

This wonderful phrase illustrates how Charlie Parker (“YARDBIRD” or “BIRD”) could take a simple chord progression (such as III minor / bIII minor / II minor) and transform it into an opportunity to modulate.   In this case, he raises the key by a half-step, a favorite be-bop modulation.  (Thus, the bIII minor becomes a II minor in the key a half-step up from the original key.)   To solo properly over this progression, you need to use the Ab major scale for beats 3 & 4 of measure 1, the G major scale for the rest of bars 1 & 2.  Try it!   As always, try to master the exercise without resorting to the printed page.      Click here to hear the audio
BIRD CELERITY no key sigs

ANTHROPOLOGY (Charlie Parker)

There are so many great phrases in this classic solo.   This one deserves attention because of its rhythmic & melodic vitality and its effortless harmonic insinuation.   Click below to see the phrase in all 12 keys.  However, it is better to practice your ear training by figuring out the lick through  melodic extrapolation.   Click here to purchase the Charlie Parker Omnibook with its 142 pages of heads & transcribed solos by Bird.  Click here to hear a play-along version.    (To slow it down or change the key, download the free program “Best Practice.”)ANTHROPOLOGY by CHARLIE PARKER (BIRD) line 14

 

 

 

 

Continue reading “ANTHROPOLOGY (Charlie Parker)”