It's jazz, you can play almost anything you want...

Discussion in 'Music Theory [DB]' started by glocke1, Jul 19, 2021.

  1. glocke1

    glocke1 Supporting Member

    Apr 30, 2002
    Any thoughts on this statement?

    Been running through some jazz standards with some guys who are really pretty much rockers at the end of the day and more than one has made he comment "its jazz, you can play just about anything ", implying I guess that in their mind they aren't locked into any kind of changes in whatever tune is being played.

    I've copied and forwarded changes to a lot of the tunes that we run through, and the KB just shows up with his own set of scribbled down notes he got from listening to the recording, and just disregards or ignores whatever I send out which is usually from the Real Book or a chart I have obtained from somewhere else. The whole purpose of me providing those is just to get everyone on the same page.

    Problem is that while playing, some things just sound off so its obvious we aren't on the same page but I just don't have a strong enough background in this stuff to really say anything other than " are you using the chord sheet I provided and if not could you please do so "?

    I get that listening as opposed to reading whats in front of you is a big part of this, but I guess Im not quite sure where the mentality that "you can play almost anything " come from and am left feeling that the people who say this are really doing nothing but hammering out random chords that are only closely related to whats written down in a lot of these charts...

    Hope that makes sense..>Typing this out as Im getting ready for a work meeting.
    G Aichele and Keith Rawlings like this.
  2. Jazzdogg

    Jazzdogg Less barking, more wagging!

    Jul 29, 2006
    San Diego, CA
    You have to know the rules before you can break them. When playing with others, you have to be able to play the changes before you can start making chord substitutions. By the way, there are a lot of incorrect changes in the Real Book.

    My question is: how well do you know these songs and their changes?
    MonetBass likes this.
  3. glocke1

    glocke1 Supporting Member

    Apr 30, 2002

    The ones we are playing ? Some of them reasonably well...others not so well but I'm really just a novice player.

    The one thing I am trying to do with these guys is just reinforce the idea of a fixed list of tunes to play through so that we can all get to know these better. If I hadn't of done that they'd be playing through different tunes at random every time we get together...Which is fine I guess for more advanced players but thats not us.
  4. turf3


    Sep 26, 2011

    Which "jazz"?

    In my trad group, don't you be playing those Giant Steps substitutions in "Sweet Sue".

    In my bebop group, you'll have more freedom to make chord substitutions and apply different tones over a given chord, but there are still lots of note choices that do not sound good. Yes, it is possible to play any note over any chord, but where and how and what goes before it and what goes after will drive whether it's an acceptable note choice. If you don't get that stuff right, it is not a correct note.

    Even in free jazz you cannot "just play anything".

    That bit about "you can just play anything you want, it's jazz" typically comes from people who have inadequate knowledge of the forms and practices of the music we call "jazz". It also is generally said by people who sound bad when they attempt to play the music we call "jazz"; and instead of learning how to play the music, they hide behind this supposed theory that you can 'play anything". No, if it sounds bad, it's wrong.
  5. Keith Rawlings

    Keith Rawlings Gold Supporting Member

    Aug 3, 2019
  6. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    It sounds to me like you are a self-described novice player, but may care more than the other guys about improving. My advice to you is to keep your tune list limited right now, rather than expansive, and listen to as many recordings as possible of those tunes. Interrogate the changes on the chart and trust your ears if you hear things differently. Transcribe what you can of solos/riffs/turn-arounds so that you get a sense of what the players on record are doing.

    What do I think about the statement? No. If that were true, anyone could do it. Take a classically trained pianist and tell them to "just play along" and see what happens. It's not musical. They can't do it. Really experienced players can get away with a lot of stuff, because they know where home is and they can go out and come back, that's not the same thing as "the notes don't matter, just play whatever".

    I think that's what rock players hear when they listen to Coltrane, but that says more about their ears (and their interest) than it does about jazz.

    If you care about this, and it sounds like you do, don't let those guys bring you down. Listen, listen, listen, listen. You'll find your voice and you'll likely outgrow those guys before the end of the year.
  7. Jim Dedrick

    Jim Dedrick Jim Dedrick

    Nov 8, 2016
    Ridgely, MD
    My opinion, if you hear it, play it. If you don’t hear it don’t play it. If the music is not in your head than it is not likely to come out by forcing some patterns, scales, or iiVI riffs. Kind of takes away the concept of right and wrong notes. For inspiration try listening to the other folks you are playing with, or even more fun, let the audience influence what you hear.
  8. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    Yeah, well stated. Joe Henderson can play whatever notes he wants, because he is playing something that he hears and intends. That's not the same as randomly stringing a bunch garbage together and calling it jazz.
    Ed Fuqua, Sailfish, nbsipics and 2 others like this.
  9. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    Trailing thought that separates non-jazz musicians from even novice jazz students:

    The form is sacred. Someone said above "you have to know the rules before you can break them", which is related. The reason you can hop on stage and play a standard with people who you just met is that you all agree to play the form and not deviate from it. Chords are part of that, but what I'm really talking about is everyone goes to the bridge at the same time, everyone hits the top at the same time, everyone including the soloist arrives at that little modulation together, etc. This isn't necessarily how other genres appear to work, in my observation, and when playing jazz with non-jazz people this stands out. Sometimes they even sound like they're playing jazz, they may have that guitar tone and might even have some good lines, but when they say "we'll just vamp on this part until I give you the signal" or "after the solos, let's come back to the bridge" then you know you're not with your people. When you hear professional jazz musicians (usually with a singer) come out of solos into the bridge, someone soloed over the form up to that point. They never* just skip 16 bars to make things come out the way that they want them too. If you want to work as a jazz bassist some day, don't allow these guys to lull you into that. It's a bear to overcome.

    *Okay, maybe not never, but again, people who have mastered everything can make adventurous choices. Screwing with the form, because everyone can't keep track of where they are is not good for the music and will hold all of the players back from playing with anyone except each other.
  10. Rama Temmink

    Rama Temmink

    Nov 30, 2015
    When the situation calls for it, I thoroughly enjoy inviting "enthusiastic Jazz-bashers" to come over and bring their axe to a "jam-session".

    Unbeknownst to them playing changes are the most definite norm at said "jam-session".

    The establishment where the "jam-session" is being hosted is quite popular and it looks very inviting from the outside and warm from the inside.

    The look on the face of the "Jazz-basher" looks somewhat grim when he or she enters the establishment and the further we go into the evening the "Jazz-basher" seems to be not talkative anymore.

    "A musician should be able to play anything when the situations calls for it."
    -Grant Green
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  11. The statement isn't wrong, but, like all "freedoms" your peers will judge you on how interesting your results are.
    What isn't really discussed is how all western music has sections of connecting and disconnecting from vertical harmony - in the "disconnected" sections your line still needs melodic interest to work. There is very little music that is a solid block of sound with melody and harmony at the same dynamic for an entire composition.
    Jazz pushes these ideas even further - the term "changes" literally means meeting the moment the chord changes. In between changes you do have more melodic freedom than most music but it does need to hang together and hit that meeting point. For jazz.

    If being "free" means checking out and not paying attention, then it won't get you very far. If being free means listening for multiple logic systems but being in the moment and trying to stay connected to all the musicians you are playing with, you likely have more leeway than you might think.
  12. David76112


    Feb 19, 2012
    If you are not All one the same page, it's Experimental!
  13. bass12

    bass12 Have You Met Grace Jones? Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2008
    Montreal, Canada
    Sure, you can play whatever you want. And if you don’t know what you’re doing it will probably sound like it. :)
    Chris Fitzgerald likes this.
  14. Also, it is a very true statement in relation to most "rock" music.
    A true but embarrassing story:
    There was period where I was playing the most jazz I'd ever played - I was walking through changes everyday with a horn player and even playing the odd restaurant gig. I was also playing a ton of free jazz and improvised music. I got called to do the soundtrack for Werner Herzog's "Grizzly Man" - and I had truly lost touch with basic rock playing and hitting the root on 1 with a back beat! I could hit the root on the 1, but wasn't much use the rest of the bar at first! I worked it out, but I struggled and I've respected the precision it takes to play that stuff ever since.
    You have FAR more leeway even in the most harmonically literal jazz than the most basic rock.
    It all depends on your perspective.

    *I got my licks in by proposing music for the bear fight, which Werner wasn't going use music for and he used a bit of the duo the 'cellist and I did, and nice arco duo with Richard Thompson. Still, it was an embarrassing and high profile situation to find out what playing jazz DOESN'T give you!
    I also got a quick lesson in how disorienting it can be the play the double bass with headphones on that same day. I got a second chance on "Encounters at the End of the World", where I showed up more prepared and assertive.
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2021
  15. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    I missed an important piece of this earlier, maybe "KB" didn't register with me the first time, but someone's response made me go back and re-read. Talk to the keyboard player about his notes. If he has listened to the recording and determined that the Real Book had something wrong, I would not push him back to the Real Book changes. He may be doing the work that I suggested for you and he might be a really good woodshedding partner for you. That is very different than "just playing whatever you want", which it is possible that the other players may still be doing.

    Reading from the Real Book is an essential skill, especially for rhythm section players, but it is also limiting in ways that you won't like for very long. If the keys are pushing past those limits, go with him. Keeping your tunes to 8 or 10 until you turn this corner will help. Different tunes that you aren't really familiar with every week will keep you in the dark.
  16. Silevesq


    Oct 2, 2010
    There is a lot of good thing being mentioned.

    I feel like I am going to be the party pooper, but enjoy jamming with these people for what it is worth. Don't try to change them if they are not open to it.

    If you really want to play with the real book, find people that want to do so.
    I could say a lot of things but I'm not sure it is worth for that situation. Just enjoy it!
  17. The Real Book or not question shouldn't really be under discussion here. It is about playing jazz and changes, and what you can play on them or not.
    Once the changes are agreed upon, then those are the changes. Whether from the Real book, a recording or a chart directly from the composer.
  18. Also, tracking down historically "correct" changes when a person can't navigate a II-V-I or keep a 32 bar form is a massive waste of time.
    The Real Book is great place to start learning the basics - that is one of the best uses of it. It is more than a fine place for the players the OP is playing with.
  19. james condino

    james condino Spruce dork Commercial User

    Sep 30, 2007
    asheville, nc
    Find another KB.
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  20. Jim Dedrick

    Jim Dedrick Jim Dedrick

    Nov 8, 2016
    Ridgely, MD
    I think it very important to be able to play without a real book. Your best stuff, in my experience, does not happen with you head in a book. A useful tool to learn toons and, in my opinion, a hinderance to using your ear and going where the music goes,