Jazz Improvisation 4: Something To Say

Ahh yes.  Now we come to the crux of the matter.  There you are.  On that stage, instrument in hand.  Expectant eyes gaze upon you.  Expectant ears perk to your sonic presence.  That spotlight seems brighter than physically possible.  They are ready for you.  And you don’t have a damn thing to say.  The horror!  The horror!

We’ve all been there.  I am not talking about stage fright here, which is something else entirely, but simply that moment where you find yourself standing on stage and absolutely nothing is happening.

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Jazz Improvisation 5: Road Blocks, Trip Wires and Dead Fish On Docks

We all know that golden kid – the one who is absolutely fearless; the one who is so sure of his footing that he just forges ahead, trusting completely in his instincts and carelessly relying on his “mind” to take care of the details.

We know that kid because we were that kid before the world got hold of us and instilled the necessity of dotting every “i” and crossing every “t”.  Growing up, more often than not, involves putting the clamps on much of our creativity in favor of fitting in, doing a good job and the like.  Oddly enough, the more advanced we become in most fields, the more difficult it is to step aside from the intellect and trust instinct.  It feels far too much like relinquishing control.  And control is what it is all about.

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Jazz Improvisation 6: Transcribing Solos, Licks, and Making Music

One of the BEST things you can do is transcribe solos.
One of the WORST things you can do is transcribe solos.

While both of these can be true, no one can tell me that transcribing solos is a poor way of learning to improvise.  We are imitators at heart and the best advice I could find was to find a musical mentor, available in the flesh or not, then listen to, transcribe, and learn as much as I could about the music and the man that I could. The second statement is a warning though, and an important one.

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Jazz Improvisation 7: Assembling Coherent Solos

Little Jennie arrives home from school. She is very, very late. We are flies on the wall listening to the exchange with her mother as she walks through the front door. Our timing is right because we get to hear a concoction strung together at the last minute by one of the best storytellers of all time – a kid knowing she is in trouble.

“I was coming home from school with Willy, and we were walking past the corner store, when a guy on a bike came round the corner really fast and knocked Willy over, and he hurt his leg, Willy did. So I took him into the store and the shop guy said he would help him, then he went in the back, but he didn’t come out for a long time, so I thought he might be dead. Anyway, Willy started feeling better, so I helped him walk home, but it took a long time because he had to hop. Then it started getting dark, and I forgot how to get from Willy’s house to my house, so I got lost, and I remember what you said about not asking strangers, so it took me a long time to get home, and I dropped my pack somewhere, and I can’t remember where I dropped it, so I can’t do my homework.”

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Jazz Improvisation 8: Where’s the Zowie?

“Well, I can’t say I did much yesterday.  I had a few tasks to do around the house, then I went down to the grocery store  and picked up a few things.  The weather wasn’t very good, so I didn’t bother to take a walk or anything, I just watched T.V. for a while and eventually, waddled off to bed.”

Nobody wants to hear a story like that.  Its only redeeming feature is the image of the writer ‘waddling’.  This story needs way more features, way more waddling, if it is to fly as any sort of tale at all. The fact is, it is reasonably well put together.  The problem is, it doesn’t have any Zowie.  

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Learning the Whole Guitar Neck

The guitar is a strange and wonderful instrument. It comes in all shapes, sizes and configurations, and is played with a variety of techniques in many different styles. More often than not, guitarists learn the instrument with the requirements of one of these styles as their guide. In fact, I would be willing to bet that most guitar players have gathered their entire understanding of music, and how the guitar is organized, through the lens of the style they play.

This often causes problems when we attempt to annex another style or get to the next level in our playing. It’s at this point that most guitarists realize that they don’t know the guitar neck well enough.

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Swing Chording

I didn’t really ‘learn’ to play swing, I more or less ‘grokked’ it. For most of my early youth, my father was a working stride piano player. He played every swing standard known to man and he swung his butt off. Our house (and my head) was filled with the sound of that piano every day of my life. Needless to say, I had an advantage when I got calls to do traditional swing or dixieland gigs, as I felt I already knew a lot of the tunes, whether I had played them before or not. All I had to do was ‘remember’ the changes.

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