Interpreting jazz standards

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by yawnsie, Aug 10, 2001.

  1. yawnsie


    Apr 11, 2000
    This is something that I've been wondering about for a while now. Basically, when playing a jazz standard, or any well known song in a jazz context, how would the song generally be interpreted?

    For example, say that your bandleader decides he wants to do Giant Steps. How would you generally go about preparing for this - would you listen to different versions, perhaps leaning heavily on one definitive take, or would you just find the changes and take it from there?

    I know that this is probably something that differs from person to person, and that I've probably unwittingly made a complete fool out of myself somehow by asking this, but please just humour me, ok? ;)
  2. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
    Well, Giant Steps may not be the best example you could come up with - generally because it's usually done as a very fast swing. But I understand what you're asking.

    For me, I usually just get the changes and go from there. That is, if I'm not figuring it out on the bandstand:eek: , which has happened a lot to me. For a standard, you've got to have a solid grasp of styles as well, because you never know if your bandleader will call Giant Steps as a latin, or funk, or waltz (if he calls GS as a waltz, just quit right then and there, it's not worth it! :D ). So a good working ability reading from changes, and a solid grasp of styles is my RX. Some of the tunes I played reqularly with my last band I still haven't heard recorded.
  3. Richard Lindsey

    Richard Lindsey

    Mar 25, 2000
    Metro NYC
    I'm pretty much in the same boat as Pacman--I mainly get the changes and go from there. I'd also emphasize the other things he mentioned, though--you have to know what tempo the leader wants and what specific feel (if it's not the most commonly used one). Also if there are any tricky bits in the leader's desired approach, like stops, kicks, or unison passages.

    It can help to be familiar with how a standard is most often done, if only because it can save time on the bandstand. For instance, in All The Things You Are, there is a little intro figure (Db7#9 to C7#9) that a lot of people (though by no means all) use. So if you know that, it makes things go easier if the leader wants to use that intro.

    But you don't really need to research a bunch of recorded versions as a rule, though more familiarity with the repertoire is never a bad thing (I wish I knew more tunes by heart!).
  4. Something I read on Ray Brown's site and I think it's great advise, be familiar with the head (melody) of the tune and sing it to yourself as you're playing even during the solos. It helps you keep your place and it helps you to be able to be continually outlining the changes in a way that is supporting the song. I'll usually learn to play the heads on the bass as part of my tune learning process.
  5. frederic b. hodshon

    frederic b. hodshon Supporting Member

    May 10, 2000
    Lake Forest, CA
    here's something i found while scanning the net for ideas on interpretting SO WHAT...

    i posted this on alt.guitar.bass

    with my new band in its second week, and our first few tunes including a
    couple of miles davis and coltrane charts, i scoured the net for

    one of the tunes is the famous SO WHAT from KIND OF BLUE.

    my search yielded a GREAT page of transcriptions and soloing tips - even in

    here's the main page for SO WHAT:

    there are a couple of pages with scalar and arpeggio exercises to play over
    the changes



    oh the whole thing...

    very nice treatise on a landmark tune.

    thought i'd share.

    for soloing the main thing is to phrase like a wind instrument....let your solos BREATH!!!!!!!!!

    playing should be similar to having a conversation...

  6. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999 link, thanks.
    (I didn't even know they had Jazz in Kentucky) ;)

    I'm NOT a Jazz player, only an avid fan.
    That said, my approach is to know the 'basic' changes AND melody while being open enough to accept doin' the tune in a different feel(as PacMan mentioned).
    Personally, I like the notion of doin' it "different"(though this won't get you gigs anywhere!).
    I've mentioned my arrangement of "All Blues" before(a Latin/Funk in 11)...I also re-vamped "Giant Steps" into a Hip-Hop/Shuffle Funk 1/2 time groove; basically, the bass plays ONLY the first chord of each bar. Rather than, say, these roots-
    /B-D-/G-Bb-/Eb---/ etc

    /B---/G---/Eb---/ etc

    Bass Rhythm sample-

  7. yawnsie


    Apr 11, 2000
    Thanks for the input. I'm not at the stage where I could play jazz convincingly, but I just thought I'd ask for people's opinions. And cheers for the links, fhodshon - they should keep me very busy... :eek:
  8. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    We don't...this is disinformation spread by myself and a few of my friends. Everybody knows that Kentucky has nothing to offer but Horses, Cows, and Pigs, right? ;)


    Yet again, I have to agree with Pacman (that seems to happen a lot these days - either he's been right on the money, or we're both crazy)...changes and styles are very important. To that I would add that I think it's important to try to hear what you are playing in you "mind's ear" BEFORE you play it, even if you've never seen it before. In the beginning, you might only be able to "hear ahead" by a bar or two, but with practice and patience your aural "vision" begins to extend further to the point where READING and PLAYING BY EAR become much the same thing.

    Back in undergrad, I studied for 4 years with a piano teacher who was - and remains - the best teacher I ever met. Her main point was that if you train yourself to HEAR the music that's on paper instead of only SEEING it, you will automatically play about 100 times better than if you are only looking at it. In my first semester, one of my assignments was to take a grand staff score of whatever new piece I was to be working on next and make a copy to put on a bedside table. Every night before I went to sleep, I was directed to "READ THROUGH" the music while sitting in bed until I stopped seeing it and began hearing it. This has had a tremendously positive effect on both my "reading" and "hearing" ever since.
  9. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    ...sorry, I just assumed you were a Northener; you certainly have both Ed's & Dave K's act down pat. ;)
    BTW, Kentucky looks like it's way ahead of SE Virginny...
  10. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Interesting question - of course I agree with most of what has been said before, but I think the big enjoyment (the fun!) of playing Jazz is to get a new tune that you have never heard before and play it with other people.

    I think the thing about learning the head is a good one - I often think that you can learn the whole history of Jazz, just by playing heads,composed by the greats - all the ideas of the musicians get encapsulated in that 32 bars or whatever.

    I think that if you have time to prepare then as JimK says, it is interesting to try to do something completely different. So as I mentioned elsewhere, on my Jazz Summerschool a few weeks ago, we took a Joe Lovano tune (In the land of Ephesus) and did a "Drum 'n Bass" version of it, which was very fast and had some arranged parts. One of the nice things about this sort of course is that people have time to work on pieces and do things that you would never hear the rest of the year.

    Usually though, it's just a case of someone putting a sheet of A4 in front of you with the changes and head if you're lucky - a quick call of swing, latin, 3/4 etc - and off we go!
  11. yawnsie


    Apr 11, 2000
    Thanks for the interesting comments, everyone. Like I say, it'll be a long time before I'll be in any position to use any of this advice practically, but you've satisfied my curiousity. For now...
  12. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Come to the Jazz Summerschool next year at the University of Glamorgan (not too far from Liverpool!) - it's a great experience. There were quite a few "beginners" there this year. I got talking to another fairly young bass player who was playing a 5-string Ibanez and he told me he had only played "rock/pop" before. He looked quite nervous at the beginning of the week, but by Thursday he had played a reggae-type bass solo on a Jazz standard at the evening Jazz Club!

    He asked me about how much more responsibility there was for bass players in Jazz and how it seemed very daunting at first - but just in a week he seemed quite happy with this.