The blues idiom offered early twentieth century musicians a new way to share deep emotional feelings vigorously and honestly.
A hundred thirty years earlier, Mozart had reveled in the fresh, airy lightness of the major tonality which superseded stolid Renaissance modal forms around 1600.
Periodic innovations like these keep music vibrant and invigorating. Unfortunately, too many of today’s musicians bloat their playing with endless, unimaginative, repetitive blues licks. Sure, blues licks can add a funky edge, but overuse of these clichés leads to tiresome monotony.
Reading an amazing article last night about alto legends Hodges, Carter, Bird, Cannonball, Stitt, and Desmond, i got this uncontrollable urge to practice alto. That’s unusual, as i generally grab a tenor or clarinet for wood shedding, but alto just felt right last night. Well, it takes a while to warm up to the alto sound, if you’re used to shedding on a different horn.
Do your ideas ever start to feel stale, like you need a musical Altoid to put the kick back in your licks?
Well, you ain’t alone, brother. So how do you punch through the clouds and fly up into blue sky?
I just hold up on one note, “fill the horn with air,” dig the way the horn feels, enjoy the sound – or maybe try several sounds – until “i start to feel much more like i do now than i did when i first got here.”
Well, that happened last night, and i want to share the resulting phrase with you. If you like how it sounds and want to try it on for size, click the “continue reading” button below to see a chart of the phrase in all 12 keys. If the chart looks gnarly, download “New Ears Resolution,” so you can play any melody in any key without a chart.
Putting my heart & soul into this one, so come join us. Let’s leap and dance on Leap Day. It’ll be my 80-year-old buddy Tom’s 20th birthday. A great band, some groovin’ music, the finest concert hall on the Peninsula.
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?”→
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.
“Great tunes! Some truly satisfying compositions played really well. It’s been awhile since I have heard a recording that would be labeled ‘Jazz’ that wasn’t overly preoccupied with trying to show off the participants’ musical muscle. This CD is more about songs and songs played really well. Don’t get me wrong, the playing is masterful, but no one seems bent on ‘going to the hot dog stand.’ I love it.”
—– From the Review of “Capistrano Sessions” by “Chicago” drummer Tris Imboden
Any improvisation teacher will tell you that knowing your scales is essential to becoming an effective improviser. But here’s the rub: For many musicians, mindless repetition of scales numbs the imagination, limits your lyricism, and eliminates the joy from your performance.
Here is a solution. I have developed hundreds of phrases such as the one shown below which develop incredible technical facility on your horn while keeping your heart, mind, and imagination fully engaged.
Practice this phrase in all 12 keys, progressing around the circle of fifths as indicated on the example, while listening to the attached mp3 file. Use the contact form below to request a free chart, if you can’t figure out the lick in all 12 keys. Better yet, download “New Ears Resolution” for just $9.99 to totally revolutionize your playing.
The II-V-I progression is perhaps the most widely used of any swing or be-bop chord sequence (besides the 12-bar blues.) Here it is in all 12 major keys. Try to master the arpeggios without having to look at the paper if possible. Play along with an audio track of this progression by clicking on this arrow:
The Dorian minor blues offers up a palette which some consider to be richer and more emotionally expressive than the major blues. Below is a simple step-by-step method for mastering this fun to play genre.
If you want to learn how to play by ear and improvise jazz solos OR get started playing clarinet, saxophone, or flute OR hear the latest from the HONK Band OR discuss issues faced by Christian worship leaders OR schedule a Jazz for Youth workshop in your school, then we have something to talk about! It would be my pleasure to get to know you.