Yesterday, I discovered a sequence in Stan Getz’s 1952 Clef recording of “Stella by Starlight,” (MGC 137). The three-by-three format unfolds as Stan finishes the bridge on his first chorus. Here it is:
If you’ve studied “Stella,” you know that the final 8 bar section of the form contains the intriguing 6-bar harmonic sequence shown below:
As shown here, that harmonic sequence features 3 iterations of 8 beats each, for a total of 24 beats. But Getz begins his amazing melodic sequence 2 beats before the passage shown above, so he needs to fill 26 beats.
The diagram below illustrates the incredible way he accomplishes this Herculean feat. Stan’s motif of six eighth-notes covers 3 beats and is repeated three times on each of three starting notes. But on the second iteration of round two, he leaves out a beat. Thus, the total episode comprises 9 + 8 + 9 = 26 beats. Even at 160 beats per minute, Getz is able to execute this monumental feat so smoothly that it sounds effortless.
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.
How has the quarantine impacted your chops? This no-gigs lock down has been absolutely disastrous for many working musicians financially. But our chops don’t have to take the same hit our wallets are taking, if we’ll explore innovative approaches to practicing.
My practice strategy is similar to what Sonny Rollins described when asked how he practices. Sonny said:
“I start out playing things I know to get the blood flowing. Those things are often described as ‘clichés.’ You begin with the cliché so you can get the process in motion. Once the process is in motion, ‘thinking’ gives way to ‘playing.’ At that point, you get out of the way and let the music play.”
Over the past decade, I’ve written down over a thousand licks I keep in a notebook, each of which I woodshed in all 12 keys. Some of these ideas come from transcribed solos of the masters, but most simply emerge as I’m connecting with the horn. Practicing joy. I encourage you to try this technique, as it supercharges your chops, strengthens your improvisatory muscle, and turns you into a composer.
Here’s a lick you can play with, in order to get started down that path. The tonal center of this phrase baffled my friends and me at first. Eventually, I settled on a basic ii-V-I progression, which perfectly fit the melodic contour. If you want more background, leave a comment at the bottom of this post.
To see a chart, click on “CONTINUE READING” below.