Archive for the ‘Players’ Category

10 Modern Improvisation Techniques from Woody Shaw that’ll Rock Your World

Wednesday, October 19th, 2016


Every musician wants to sound hip and modern…

To play complex lines that move outside of the harmony and above the time. Solos that’ll make your fellow musicians shake their heads in disbelief and leave the audience speechless.

The only problem is that few players actually get to this point, and even less sound authentic, unique, or even innovative in their efforts.

However there is one musician in the jazz lineage who achieved this and more – Woody Shaw.

And today we’re going to dive into one of his live performances to uncover some of the key devices he used to create a highly innovative approach to improvisation.

For starters, let’s take a listen to Woody Shaw’s solo on the tune Stepping Stone:


The solos and ensemble playing sound complex, however the chord progression for the solo sections is deceptively simple:

And by studying how Woody Shaw plays over just two simple chords you can get a glimpse into his larger approach to improvisation.

The way he plays over an extended dominant chord or minor 7 chord is directly connected to the complex lines and harmonies that he uses in every other solo.

Let’s take a closer listen…

Breaking down the solo

At a quarter note equals 400+ bpm it’s hard to hear the individual ideas that Woody is playing.

So let’s slow down the tempo and take a close listen to each line so you can actually hear what’s going on…

Below I’ve transcribed Woody’s two … Read More

How to Play the Blues Like a Pro: A Lesson with Wynton Kelly

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016

How to play the blues like a pro

Every serious improviser has to deal with the blues…

From the players just starting out in school, to the musicians at local jam sessions, to the biggest names performing on international stages.

Because the blues goes hand in hand with creating music in the moment.

But unlike many players think, it goes beyond the blues scale, memorized licks or even the 12 bar progression.

The blues is about making a musical statement – telling a story through the lines you play. Rather than thinking about notes or theory, it’s the sound, style, and feel of what you’re playing that matters most.

And this is an essential skill that every improviser must develop…

Today we’re going to take a lesson in the blues from one of the most swinging and melodic players out there – the great Wynton Kelly.

Wynton Kelly’s solo on Freddie Freeloader

Wynton Kelly only played one tune on Kind of Blue

But it’s a solo that sticks with you. One that you start singing without even realizing it.

He has a swinging, bluesy, melodic style that can’t be notated on paper. And like all masterful improvisers, something special happens when you turn on the recording.

You don’t think about notes, technique, or music theory when you’re listening to him improvise – you hear music.


I’m guessing you’ve listened to this solo before, but if you take a closer listen you’ll discover that he is using some key concepts to create a masterful solo … Read More

The Talent Myth: Why Exceptional Musical Ability Is Within Your Reach

Tuesday, July 26th, 2016

The Talent Myth


It’s a word that’s thrown around in all professions and all parts of life. From sports and academics to art and music.

And nowhere is it more prevalent than in jazz improvisation.

We listen to the musical masters of the past century, we look at our teachers, the musicians at jam sessions and the young improvisers in school that show promise.

…and we imagine that these players were born with innate musical gifts.

That they can simply pick up their instruments and start playing beautiful music in any key, at any tempo, and at any time of the day…all because they have this thing called talent.

But is talent real?

Is it the missing link between an average musician and a master musician? The elusive piece of the puzzle that you need to gain exceptional musicianship…

Or is it a word that hints at a much deeper process?

For many people, the process of improvisation is hard to define and talent is often the easiest explanation. But what you might not realize is that chalking everything up to talent can actually hold you back in the long run.

Let me explain…

The Musical Truth Hidden in Plain Sight

It’s easy to use a term like talent.

Or to say that a musician is a natural, or gifted, or even a prodigy.

However, when you attribute musical skills or musicianship to talent you start to believe that improvisation arises from natural ability – that great improvisers are born instead Read More

4 Steps to Mastering the Solo Break: A Lesson With Clifford Brown

Wednesday, July 6th, 2016

Clifford Brown Solo Breaks

Improvising over any chord progression can be a challenge…

But the true test of your skills as an improviser comes in those moments when the band drops out and you’re forced to improvise alone, without any accompaniment.

The solo break.

All of a sudden the spotlight is on you and you’ve got a split second to come up with a musical line.

What are you going to play?

For some players the answer ends up being a guess and for others, a panicked attempt at throwing in some scales. But there has to be a better way…

Today we’re going to take a look at how a master musician navigates the solo break – Clifford Brown’s solo on After You’ve Gone from the album More Live at the Beehive.

Take a moment and listen to the opening of Clifford’s solo, paying special attention to how he navigates the solo breaks:


The distinctive feature of this particular arrangement is the four bar solo break that happens at the end of every chorus:


Each chorus concludes with a hit in Bb and is followed by a four bar break for the soloist that resolves in Eb Maj7.

Below we’ll show you 4 simple techniques that Clifford Brown uses in his solo to sound great over every solo break…

Solo Break #1: Creating Harmonic Motion with ii-V’s

Clifford opens his solo with the following line:

Clifford Brown solo break #1


You hear a long melodic line that stretches over all … Read More

How to Completely Change How You Think About Practicing: Words of Wisdom from Harold Mabern

Thursday, June 30th, 2016

How to change your practice

As he stood in the hallway, the students gathered round…

You could see the crowd growing, one-by-one as the people walking by heard what was happening.

Harold, animated and speaking with vibrant energy, was sharing his experiences with a group of lucky students that happened to catch him in-between classes.

While I was at music school, pianist Harold Mabern’s spontaneous hallway-lunch-time talks became something you did not want to miss.

A walking encyclopedia of jazz history, tunes and techniques, Harold actually lived it.

He played with greats like Cannonball Adderley, Roy Haynes, J.J. Johnson, Sonny Rollins, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Hank Mobley, and Miles Davis, just to name a few!

And Harold, as you can tell from the scene described above, loves to share his experiences and knowledge that he’s picked up along the way.

Having the fortunate opportunity to study and spend time with him for several years, he taught me all sorts of things.

But sometimes the things that have the greatest impact on you are the simplest of ideas…

An then it hit me…

Box after box I unpacked. What could be in this one? More lead sheets, another 10 play-alongs, a manuscript notebook filled with messy lines and chord symbols. What is all this junk? And then, in small barely-legible handwriting, scribbled on a piece of paper, I read something profound…‘Harold told me today that it’s not how much you gain, it’s how much you retain’

This was me as I went through my boxes … Read More

Killer Triadic & Pentatonic Concepts Made Easy: A Lesson With Kenny Garrett

Friday, June 24th, 2016

Kenny Garrett Triadic Concepts

Kenny Garrett is an incredible musician. He’s arguably had one of the largest impacts on alto saxophone since Charlie Parker…

In fact, when he started to gain popularity, most every alto player in the world had to rethink their concept.

All of a sudden, copying Charlie Parker didn’t seem that cool anymore.

But the thing is, Kenny Garrett built his unique style using the jazz language of his heroes. Besides his huge beautiful dark one-of-a-kind tone, that’s why it sounds so awesome.

Because he mixed his own unique style with the bebop language, it sounds like a natural and progressive evolution of the music.

Today we’ll have a listen and a look into what makes some his lines tick…

Getting into Kenny’s head

It’s always difficult trying to understand a modern player by listening to them play on their own esoteric compositions.

What’s easier?

Studying their playing on a standard or a tune you’re ultra familiar with.

In this lesson, we’ll check out what Kenny plays on the Charlie Parker tune Ornithology, which is based on the tune How High the Moon.

Here are the chord changes to Ornithology so you have an idea about what’s going on with the harmony if you’re not familiar with the tune.

Listen to Kenny Garrett play Ornithology and how effortlessly he weaves through the chord changes and commands the direction of the entire band.

Every phrase he plays has intent behind it and leads perfectly into the next one.

And, somehow … Read More

3 Secrets to Soloing with the Pentatonic Scale: A Lesson with McCoy Tyner

Tuesday, June 7th, 2016

Lesson with McCoy Tyner

No pianist has influenced the modern approach to jazz piano more than McCoy Tyner…

From players like Chick Corea and Mulgrew Miller to non-pianists like Woody Shaw and Michael Brecker, McCoy has left his mark on generations of serious improvisers.

And one distinctive element of his approach to improvising is his creative use of the pentatonic scale.

But it’s more than the five simple notes that most musicians think of using over a minor chord. As you’ll soon learn below, the pentatonic scale can add a wealth of harmonic and melodic possibilities to your solos.

Take a listen to McCoy Tyners’ solo on Blues on the Corner from the album The Real McCoy:


The Blues is a form that every improviser must learn and master if they want to become a proficient player. You can approach it with blues language, bebop, or even modern and outside approaches – it all comes together in the blues.

And today we’re going look at 3 creative ways McCoy Tyner uses the pentatonic scale on the blues…

1)  Using the Minor Pentatonic Scale over Dominant Chords

If you’ve subscribed to JazzAdvice I’m guessing you’ve learned more than a few options for improvising over V7 chords.

And you probably have a few tricks up your own sleeve when it comes to creating solos over this sound…

However, one scale that many players don’t think about on V7 chords is the minor pentatonic scale. And that’s exactly what we’re going to look … Read More

8 Techniques Mark Turner Uses to Dominate the Blues

Wednesday, May 11th, 2016

8 Techniques Mark Turner Uses

If you’ve ever listened to Mark Turner you’ve probably wondered the same thing as me…

“What the hell is he playing?”

Rather than coming from the mind of an improviser, his solos sound like the work of an ambitious architect. Complex structures reaching into the stratosphere, lines with impossibly wide leaps, columns of arpeggios, and winding phrases that arch over the chords…

So as a musician, where do you begin when you want to discover the techniques behind his unique sound? For starters, you need to find a solo over a standard that you know inside and out.

And that’s why exactly why we’ve chosen the blues

These days you’ll hear more and more players imitating Mark Turner’s distinctive sound. But it’s not the actual notes in his solos that will make you a better player, it’s the concepts behind them…

The solo

The Mark Turner solo we’ve chosen comes from a live recording he did with the OAM Trio. Give it a listen:


On your first pass it probably sounds modern, innovative or even abstract, but underneath everything he plays lies the 12 bar blues form.

And it all works because he has a deep understanding of this form.

One thing to note about this particular version: Instead of the standard I – IV – I progression in the first 4 bars of the tune, this blues utilizes the following substitution:

The result is a minor 3rd relationship that leads to the B7, serving as … Read More

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

Tuesday, April 12th, 2016


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):


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

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