Archive for the ‘Players’ Category

How To Create the Perfect Solo: A Lesson With Herbie Hancock

Tuesday, April 12th, 2016

herbie_hancock_perfect_solo

Herbie Hancock is one of the greatest living improvisers…

From his work with the great Miles Davis Quintet to his own musical explorations, he has spent decades evolving and pushing musical boundaries.

But the thing that stands out most is his ability to craft a musical moment for the listener. To transport them out of their daily routine and expectations and into the music itself.

This is the mark of a master musician in any style of music. The ability to create magic with the simplest of tools – rhythm, harmony and melodic statements.

Transcending the details of notes and scales to create a musical message on the spot. And this is a skill that you should start thinking about in your own playing.

For the best players, every solo is an opportunity to create a new musical idea. To make a statement, to interact with other musicians, and to see where the music will go in that split-second…

Remember, not every solo has to be full of double time lines, memorized licks, and theory devices. The secret of a great solo lies creating music in the moment.

Herbie Hancock’s solo on Ceora:

A masterful example of this concept is Herbie Hancock’s solo on Ceora from the Lee Morgan album Cornbread.

Take a listen below (the solo starts at 4:05):

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The chord progression to the tune is relatively simple – 32 bars in the key of Ab

You’ll find ii-V’s to the I … Read More

10 Surprising Secrets to Jazz Phrasing I Learned From John Coltrane

Friday, January 22nd, 2016

John Coltrane Phrasing

John Coltrane is probably best known for Countdown and Giant Steps, or his earth-shattering intensity on A Love Supreme.

But often overlooked is the depth and beauty of his phrasing and lyricism.

When I first heard the album Kind of Blue, I was blown away.

And I still am to this day.

There is so much there. Every time I listen to it, I hear more.

One solo that has always hit me dead-center between the eyes is Coltrane’s solo on Blue in Green.

Bill Evans Quote Blue In Green

This solo transports me to another world…

But this is not the Trane that we think of. The one that’s pounding down the door, in your face, playing faster than what seems humanely possible!

No. It’s a different side of him, yet the intensity of his playing is still just as present.

And much of this intensity has to do with how he phrases.

What’s the secret behind Coltrane’s beautiful phrasing and how does he sound so lyrical?

Does Coltrane phrase like a pro?

Over five years ago, I wrote an article about how to phrase like a pro.

In that I shared four points about phrasing that pros do and amateurs do not:

  • Avoid starting phrases on beat 1
  • Break up the eighth notes
  • Connect one idea to the next
  • Play into beat 1 and beyond

They seem simple, right?

But, as many things go, the simpler they seem, the more difficult they are to put into practice.

Do pros … Read More

A Lesson With Bill Evans: 14 Techniques to Master the Minor ii V Progression

Sunday, January 10th, 2016

A Lesson With Pianist Bill Evans

What do you play over a minor ii V?

Minor ii Vs are notoriously tricky. As compared to their brother, the ii V in major, the ii V in minor adds quite a few more challenges.

First off, instead of a minor 7 ii chord, it has a minor 7 b5 ii chord. This causes a world of pain for most people. They simply don’t know what to play over this chord.

It’s actually not that difficult if you master the chord tones instead of thinking of scales all the time. Sure, you can do what everyone teaches you to do and think of the Locrian mode, but that will only get you so far. You need to get beyond that and not suck at half diminished chord.

Ok, so once you’ve learned how how not suck at half diminished chords it’s time to understand what’s going on with the dominant chord in a minor ii V…

As you’ll see, I simply label them as dominant chords and don’t add any alterations to the symbol. Why? Because alterations can be implied even on a standard V chord. Simplify your life by just thinking of them as a dominant chord with all sorts of flavors you can add to it or modify.

When you look at charts of jazz standards, you’ll see that the editors add in alterations to the V7 chord in a minor ii V, and in general, you’ll hear alterations at this point, however, who’s to say … Read More

The Secret Behind Every Solo that You Can’t Afford to Miss

Thursday, January 15th, 2015

There’s a secret hidden in every great solo.

You’ll find it in those old records of Louis Armstrong and those videos of Bird and Diz that you watch on YouTube. You can even hear it in the players of today like Terence Blanchard, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Tom Harrell and dozens of others.

It’s a secret that not many people even think about, let alone talk about. But it’s there if you really look for it.

Still guessing? Well I’ll tell you right now that it’s not a fancy scale, not a music theory trick, and it’s not the lick.

You might even think it absurd that there is anything more to a solo that the actual notes. I know I did until I started digging into the solos of my favorite improvisers.

But keep reading because this secret will change the way you approach improvisation…

Shhhhh!

The secret is this:

Behind one line of a great solo lies the weight of thousands of hours of practice. Years of listening. Dozens of transcribed solos. Decades of private instruction. Tough lessons picked up in jam sessions and revelations passed on by mentors.

…all in just a dozen notes.

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Think about it: all of the practice on technique, all of that work on sound, every gig and every hour of study led to that solo you just listened to. It’s all there hidden in those notes.

These notes could fly right by you if you’re not paying attention. You might hear it and … Read More

7 Crucial Lessons from History’s Greatest Improvisers

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

I’m guessing you’ve heard of Miles Davis.

And you probably know Louis Armstrong and have listened to Charlie Parker and John Coltrane.

But have you ever stopped and wondered why you, sitting here in 2015, know these names?

Some of these masters have been gone for 40 years and some of these records are nearly 80 years old. So why are we still listening?

And why does an album like Kind of Blue become the best selling jazz album of all time?

There must be a mystery ingredient that makes some players or albums stand the test of time and become household names, while others are lost to obscurity, failing to connect with a wider audience.

While these musical masters couldn’t predict the future, they did have something in common. In fact they all shared some very specific qualities that allowed their music to travel the world and endure for years.

What’s more, these qualities are true of great people in various fields of work and these principles can be applied to more than just music.

So take note and pay attention to the greatest improvisers, if you’d like to share your music with more people and you’d like to reach a new level of artistry, learn these 7 lessons well.

1) Connect with your audience in a meaningful way

We love fireworks.

We’re drawn to technical flash, larger-than-life stage presence and shocking special effects. The high notes and fast tempos make us squeal with delight and the lure of … Read More

7 Surprising Qualities of the World’s Best Improvisers

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

Wow.”

You’re sitting in the audience at a sold out concert and your favorite musician has just taken the stage.

Flawless technique, impeccable sound, and endless creative musical lines flow from the stage and fill up the concert hall.

Unbelievable,” you think. “This musician must be super-human!

They just might be, but have you ever wondered what this master musician is like in person?

What would it be like if you struck up a conversation after the show? What if you could see inside his/her practice room?

I’m sure your imagination could run wild with the possibilities, but be careful…

What you’re expecting isn’t always what you get. In fact, your perception of great players can often be completely wrong.

I’ve been pretty lucky to come in contact with some of the best musicians in the world and after each encounter, I always walk away surprised by what I find.

Here are seven qualities and habits of the best musicians that will catch you off guard.

1) It’s all about the fundamentals

It never ceases to surprise me.

I finally snag a lesson with a big name improviser and immediately envision an hour of life-changing insights, new harmonic possibilities, and secret licks that will transform my playing. However once I show up at the lesson, it’s all about the fundamentals.

Long tones, breathing, articulation, a single chord progression, time, scales, a standard tune…

Why? Well it’s no secret, the fundamentals of musicianship are … Read More

Becoming a Musical Character

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

Have you ever seen a movie where a certain character stuck with you long after the film was over? Or what about a piece of artwork that kept popping up in your mind’s eye?

Maybe you’ve witnessed a speech that had the same lasting effect or attended a concert where the performer played their instrument in such a way that it altered your own musical approach.

We’ve all experienced these moments, but what was it about these performances or experiences that stuck out for us?

In any field there are certain people that stand out and there are certain voices that rise above the masses. Nonchalantly, we often say that these individuals have character…but what exactly is character?

A quick glance at a dictionary will give you the following definition: The combination of qualities or features that distinguishes one person, group, or thing from another.

And a character is a person who embodies these distinguishing features.

A character is someone that stands out from the crowd. A character has immediately distinguishable traits. A character has a unique way of speaking or a specific vocabulary. A character has a unique sense of style. A character grabs your attention and sticks in your mind. And a character has a story to tell.

Characters of all types catch your attention and connect with you in a personal way and in an art like improvisation, this is an essential tool in developing your voice and connecting with the listener.

Musical Characters

Characters in … Read More

Jazz Contrafacts and Reharmonization: A Creative Approach to Jazz Standards

Monday, May 27th, 2013

Creativity in its most basic form is simply the act of taking something old and making it new…

Whether you’re a novelist, an architect, an engineer or an improviser, artistic creation stems from a desire to make something new within the existing confines of your craft. To put a personal stamp on your art form and to have your voice heard in some way.

For musicians this revolves around our personal interpretation of the fundamentals of music: sound, melody, rhythm and harmony.

However, creative inspiration doesn’t just appear out of the blue like a bolt of lightning, instead it slowly reveals itself through the diligent study of previous generations and the mastery of established skills. Schools of thinking must be studied, styles are to be imitated, and techniques will need to be ingrained.

“Creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.”~Albert Einstein

The study of jazz improvisation is a perfect example of the progression of creating the new from the old. This idea of continual reinvention and self expression is prevalent throughout the history of this music and you’d be hard pressed to find a lasting piece of music or style that didn’t have a direct line back to the creative work that came before it.

Take the process of transcribing a solo for instance: starting with the musical language from a previous generation, learning it slowly and eventually making it your own. An old musical language ingrained and interpreted into new musical language.

However, this concept of musical … Read More

Learning Tunes Your Way

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

On this site we’ve frequently written about learning tunes. This is no coincidence – learning tunes goes hand in hand with improving as an improviser.

Whether you’re practicing, performing, or simply listening to a few records with some friends you’re dealing directly with tunes. Keeping this in mind, building a solid repertoire of tunes should be near the top of your practice list as a serious musician.

If you haven’t done so already, be sure to check out some of the these articles to help you get started with building your repertoire:

These articles are a good place to begin when you want to start building a solid base of tunes that you’ll feel confident performing, but what’s your next step?

If you’ve learned a handful of tunes and have a solid grasp of chord progressions, the answer is simple – you just need to learn more tunes.

However, this simple solution isn’t as easy as it sounds. As soon as you get into the practice room things begin to look a little different. The prospect of picking out one tune to learn from the hundreds upon hundreds of standards out there can be an overwhelming and even depressing process.

Where do I even begin? Why choose one tune and not another? Read More

Connecting to the Music…Wherever You Are

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

Music is meant to be heard live.

There is no substitute for the visceral experience of sitting in an audience and soaking up a great live performance. Not only hearing the music, but feeling the physical vibrations of those melodies, chords and rhythms. Seeing the interaction between musicians as they collectively create music in the moment and experiencing the excitement of the audience.

This is what improvisation is all about.

As a performer, experiencing a great live performance is like a shot of adrenaline for your musical motivation. When you witness music at its highest level, you can’t help feeling like you need to rush into the practice room. Your inspiration is immediately renewed and you suddenly have a new focus for your musical direction.

Any way you look at it, there is no substitute for the atmosphere of an intimate live music venue. You can rub shoulders with the greats and be in an environment where people not only love jazz, but are often serious about pursuing it themselves.

All of this live music sounds great, but what if you don’t live in New York City, the jazz capital of the world? What if you don’t even have a venue for live jazz within a 100 mile radius of your home? Are you just out of luck when it comes to experiencing this music?

Of course not! It’s 2013 and the world is a much more connected place. Thanks to the web, there are some key resources to utilize … Read More

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