“Metaphors for the Musician” (Perspectives from a Jazz Pianist) $35.95
Chapter 1 – Jazz Quilt
This quilt is you, it’s all the things you are.
Flag of Brazil stitched in with Jimi’s bandana,
Tattered squares in the center, childhood photos, old man’s cap,
Bring this quilt to the bandstand, unfurl it, let it be seen.
This quilt is all the things you are,
Chapter 3 Jazz Is Freedom, But…
You just learned a tune— or did you? How are you playing the melody? Do you take some rhythmic or melodic freedoms with it? After all, no one wants to hear a stiff version of the melody that comes out the same way each time. And what about the chord progression and the specific voicings that you use— do they vary each time? After all, jazz is about personal expression and spontaneity, isn’t it?
Harmonic Astronomy What is theory for? Jazz is best learned aurally. You imitate, transcribe, and play with musicians who are better than you, and you take it all in by ear and process it. What role does theory play in this scenario ? Strictly speaking, theory is simply an after-the-fact description of the sounds that you can learn directly by ear, so is it really of any use? Think of theory as scaffolding, as a structural foundation around which your ear can develop. It presents you with several pathways from which to choose, not with ironclad rules. It can introduce you to sounds earlier than through the use of a purely ear-based approach. I’ve occasionally heard a young musician express distrust of theoretical knowledge , fearing that it will destroy the mystery and the magic of music for him. No one who has learned his theory feels this way. Read what Bill Evans had to say about this on page 285 . Questions “How do chords fit together?” “Which scales work over chords for improvising?” “What’s the best way to memorize a tune?” “What’s the best way to transpose a tune?”
Here it is, the Key to Being a Great Accompanist: In order to accompany another musician well, you must genuinely want to hear his or her music. That may sound simplistic, but it’s amazing to me how many fine musicians never learn it. If you don’t particularly care to hear what the other musician has to express, you won’t listen in the right way and you won’t accompany him or her well. In part, you need to function exactly as a member of the audience who just wants to hear every note, every idea, every nuance that the musician plays. If you don’t feel that way, then you’ll approach your accompanying role as a separate function in the music. You’ll focus on your own concerns, and the music will not blend. Years ago I learned a great lesson about accompanying bass solos by listening to an otherwise top-notch pianist do it badly. He played very softly and sparsely, which is usually the right approach. In fact, he hardly played at all; yet when he did, it was often at just the wrong time. He managed to cover up many of the bass player’s best ideas. He was thinking of the music as piano comping, not as a bass solo. Accompanying another musician is a high art. It requires tremendous control over one’s musical resources to be able to listen closely to sozmeone else while playing supportively behind him or her. Listen to the pianists who played with Miles in the fifties and sixties, from Red Garland and Wynton Kelly, to Bill Evans, Chick Corea, and Herbie Hancock : they were all first-rate compers. Listen to what pianists do behind singers: Tommy Flanagan behind Ella Fitzgerald, Jimmy Rowles behind Sarah Vaughan,
Part IV Ways to Develop Your Improvising
There’s a fellow here in town by the name of Zass who always goes by his first initial, Y. Mr. Y. Zass is a jazz aficionado of sorts, but the local jazz musicians cringe when he walks in the club. You see, Y. is very knowledgeable about music, knows what he wants to hear, and is remarkably willing to share his criticism of your playing (to your face) at every opportunity.
Several years ago he called me over after a set. “So, Randy,” he began, “here’s what I’m hearing: your solos have all these holes in them—‘ rests,’ I think you call them— and they all line up with the shifts in the harmony. Every time there’s a change of key, your improvising stops for a beat or two. So I’m thinking, ‘Is he choosing these rests based on what sounds best, or is it just because he can’t make the transitions into the new keys smoothly?’ So I don’t trust your phrasing decisions. What do you have to say about that?”
I just shook my head, thanked Y. Zass for his input, and walked away. But as I drove home that night, I realized that he had nailed me: I wasn’t making my transitions. So I cooked up an exercise for myself and called it the endless 8th drill. Simply put, I improvised through a set of changes using eight 8th notes in every bar. I took special care not to hesitate at the seams between the scales. Even if I had to miss a few notes, I kept my fingers moving. Actually I didn’t miss too many notes because I took the drill at a very slow tempo so I could look ahead to the next scale. First I practiced the exercise over the random II- V chart ( page 303 in the appendix). Then I applied it to standard tunes such as “It Could Happen to You.” It took a while, but after a few weeks I was shifting from scale to scale with relative ease.
A few months later, I looked up from the piano and saw Y. at a nearby table, sporting his familiar scowl. “Listen here,” he said to me on the break, “you got that problem fixed— big deal. Now you’ve got another problem: it’s called ‘tonic fixation.’ Why is it that your first note over a II-V-I in Bb is always Bb? Sure , you don’t rest anymore as you make the transition into E minor , but your first note is always E. Is that a musical choice? Are you hearing that note? I don’t think so. I think you’re just scuffling to make the changes, and the one note that you can count on until your mind fully engages is the tonic. So how about that?” What could I say? He had me again. The next day I began working on ……….