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Playing Jazz Standards

Discussion in 'Music Theory [DB]' started by Mikewl, Mar 2, 2004.

  1. Hi there. I've only very recently started getting interested in Jazz music, (when I started playing DB 3 months ago) so I haven't been exposed to too many recordings yet. Thus I can play the bass quite well, but my knowledge of actually what I'm playing isn't too good.

    Anyway, my question is just about the structure of playing jazz standards. Say, for example, that I'm playing Autumn Leaves, which is in AAB structure. If I'm playing it at a gig with drums, bass, piano and sax, how would the piece actually be played? Would it be one chorus played through with the sax playing the melody, and then another chorus for a sax solo, then another for a piano solo? How many choruses is considered normal for an improvised solo? Basically I've just got no idea how the piece takes shape and is actually played.

    Don't know if I made my question clear, but any help would be appreciated. Thanks a lot.
  2. olivier


    Dec 17, 1999
    Paris, France
    Yes, Mikewl, welcome to TBDB, your question is clear. The thing is there is no rule. And it can be made up right on the fly, which is the beauty of it! So it's highly recommended to listen to the jazz greats to see how they've done it. Now, for practical purposes, it's handy at the begining to have a short negotiation on these matters. Say "we play Strait No Chaser (a 12 bar blues) in F, twice with melody, then harmonica, guitar, and DB take each two choruses, then we do two chorus of four bars each then we do the melody again and finish". If you have AABA 32 bar form then one chorus each could be enough. But you could decide to do 12 chorus of solos with change of key in cycle of fifth after each chorus. Or to blend into a medley form several tunes... Also, depending on how used to play together you are, you may be able to throw in some arrangements, from to top of your head or written... Concentrating on the form and living lots of freedom to interpretation is one interesting aspect of jazz.

    My advise is go to the CD section of your public library and listen to lots of stuff to make up your mind. And also to hook up with other musicians to practice together.
  3. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon In Memoriam

    Dec 11, 1999
    Princeton Junction, NJ
    One reliable rule of thumb is that when the sax player has run out of ideas, he'll play 3 more choruses.

    Actually, there is no prescribed formula. Do what feels right, considering the audience and the other players. That will vary from one night to the next, and from one environment to the next. What feels right will change as you grow. If, at the beginning, you want to model your approach by what you hear on recordings, fine; but don't confine yourself.
  4. olivier


    Dec 17, 1999
    Paris, France
    So you can imagine: in an open stage situation where you're on DB, it's well past midnite, the tune is Autumn Leaves, five tenors are waiting in line while tenor #1 is at the top of its 25th chorus... and you feel a blister growing on the side of your finger: agony, just because tenor #1 doesn't know the rule (of thumb)! :eek: :crying:
  5. Nick Ara

    Nick Ara

    Jul 22, 2002
    Long Island, NY
    My completely unscientific experience, when not established beforehand, is as follows: melody / solo instruments go first, followed by the rhythm section. This would work out that the reeds go first (or horns, if so equipped), followed by piano, guitar, bass and drums. Another issue is who plays what when another instrument solos. Big ears rule here. For example, the guitar supports the piano solo (sparse chords, supporting harmony). Everybody needs to LISTEN, Everybody needs to communicate. Jazz is a collaborative experience, after all.
  6. olivier


    Dec 17, 1999
    Paris, France
    Good points, Nick. One difficulty often encountered with unexperienced guitar and piano players is just this: sparse chords, supporting harmony for your DB solo. They will either continue as if you were gonna take on like another horn, or just stop playing (and stare at you).
  7. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    That's the big thing - the best Jazz players and groups have no standard way of doing it or standard number
    of choruses etc. - the level of variety and invention is what marks them out as good players!! :)

    At Jazz Summerschool there have been many discussions about what the pros do to vary it when playing standards. So there were two tutors taking one discussion session on this - a pianist and a sax player.

    So - they explained how it is possible to do things like take a small part of the chord sequence and "loop" this - then re-harmonise it or maybe the soloist will take the changes at double or half the time - while the rhythm section continues at the same speed.

    It sounds like it would be a mess in theory - but as long as everybody listens and knows where they are, then this can be the best part of Jazz gig - the level of interaction and variation.

    The other things is to put standards in a different feel or time signature - Brad Meldhau is fond of that!! I saw a group where the drummer just started interjecting bars of 3/4 and everybody went with it - quiet magical!!
  8. We could go on like this forever.... the ways of changing tunes around to make little arrangements out of them is only limited by your imagination or lack there of!
    Instead of having the standard quartet line-up solo in the obvious tenor=head, then tenor chorus'. Then piano solo, bass solo and drums solo or fours or eights, you can change it up....Tenor=head, then bass solo, then drum stuff, then tenor and piano...you get the drift? Sometimes the bass can walk a line behind a full 32 bar drum solo.
  9. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon In Memoriam

    Dec 11, 1999
    Princeton Junction, NJ
    Amen. "Lack thereof" could have been in bold face.
  10. agree emphatically with all the foregoing suggestions to find interesting ways to depart from the usual head-horn solos-piano solo-and maybe bass solo, drum solo and/or fours-then head and out treatment of standards. Love doing it and love hearing fun ideas done well by others.

    But at the same time I think its worth noting that Mikewl, the starter of this thread, points out that he's new to jazz, with limited playing and listening experience. In that case, Mike, I would venture to suggest that at this stage you need to work hardest on hearing the form and the changes. The goal is to always know where you are, eventually without reading the chart or even thinking much about it. This takes a little time.

    With this in mind, at this stage of learning to play jazz standards, on most tunes you needn't feel too pressured to get seriously creative modifying the time-honored "head-solo chorus(es)-head and out" approach. Unless you're in a pretty loose jam setting, you may want to try to agree basic solo order and form modifications, if any, with the other players before you start a tune.

    Most important is that everybody, especially the bass player, can keep the form together and always know where they are.

    And those horn players who can't seem to get their message across in less than umpteen-hundred choruses may not exhibit very good musical judgement or taste, but the silver lining is that they're giving you a trial-by-fire opportunity to really burn the changes and structure into your brain, and also also work on that all-important bass skill of keeping things popping along, no matter what.

    Otherwise, to reiterate what others have said, off the bandstand you need to listen listen listen to as much jazz as you can. Find someone whose taste you trust, and get them to recommend a jazz listening starter list, and get yourself a good stack of CDs. If you can lay your hands on fake-book charts of some of the stuff you're listening to, so much the better. Start by reading along with your listening, but when you get to the point where without reading you can still always know exactly where they are and what they're doing form-wise, you're off to a good start.

    have fun
  11. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    Go listen to a bunch of gigs.
  12. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    A little time! I'd say it'll take years! Well, it'll certainly take me years anyhow!

    Learning the form is relativley easy, I mean, I play in numerous originals bands, I manage some fairly complex changes and remembering them is not a problem... but sticking to that with some seemingly random trumpet blasting in your ear anda drummer accenting odd beats has gotta be tough!

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