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Playing Rubato in a Jazz Quartet

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by PauFerro, Nov 13, 2017.

  1. PauFerro


    Jun 8, 2008
    United States
    This weekend I had to do a gig where I played show tunes and some older jazz ballads like Alfie, and At Last, if you know that one.

    One thing that frustrated the starch out of me in rehearsal was the singer was doing robbed time (Rubato). So there were a lot of liberties taken with where "1" was and how long various chords would be held. I am curious if anyone has ever experienced this in small combo/quartets with jazz instrumentation (upright, sax, keys and piano). And how did you get past it so everyone is hitting cymbals, roots and chords at the same time, and when it's not clear where the beat is due to the robbed time...
  2. rickwolff

    rickwolff CGJ Emeritus (Certified Gear Junkie) Retired??? Supporting Member

    Someone's got to be the 'leader' and that is typically the piano player. Between watching their hands and/or subtle head cues, this can be done. I have enjoyed this type of 'expressive' playing (thought not typically with drums).

    Life with a metronome would be boring. I like to swing as well as the next guy but that's not all there is to life.
  3. s van order

    s van order

    Oct 4, 2012
    I always thought rubato indeed "robbed" specific note values within the measure or phrase but they are made up within that measure or phrase by trimming other ones and the tempo does not change, strictly speaking, but feels flexible and swings or whatever you want to call it in classical. The OP's type of situation seems in essence more like a lot of ritards and/or accelerandos done on the fly. If so have experienced that and it can be tough to deal with if the singer is unaware. Singers and other melody players can fall in love with the phrase and linger. I am guilty of it at times when playing melody on cello and school myself with some metronome practice to clean up the drag.
  4. Dabndug


    Sep 27, 2017
    Somewhere in Oz
    You need to agree at rehearsal who is going to dictate the time for these songs (it could be a different band member for different songs). It's then their responsibility to cue the rest of the band. Simple!

    Of course, remembering to do this at a gig is another thing all together....
  5. elgecko


    Apr 30, 2007
    Anasleim, CA
    It's just a fact of life in combos. As mentioned above, someone usually takes the lead when re-entering time. If no one does, you should. The most important thing though is really listening and remembering that music is a collective pursuit.
  6. PauFerro


    Jun 8, 2008
    United States
    I handled it by cutting out the bass and drums in certain parts where they went nuts with time signature liberties. For example, in "Time to Say Goodbye" I came in only on the choruses. We did get to the point the piano player was head cueing us, but he was reacting to the singer. Then it worked. But rehearsal had me biting my fingernails. You need some kind of a conductor when they slow down or speed up. I thought that was Rubato, so maybe I have that term wrong.
  7. elgecko


    Apr 30, 2007
    Anasleim, CA
    No conductor required.

    marcox, cpaterso, PauFerro and 7 others like this.
  8. turf3


    Sep 26, 2011
    Sometimes you want to follow the singer (I think of this as "out of time"), and other times you want to keep a steady beat under the singer and let the singer vary back and forth.

    My own preference would be that truly going out of time is something that should be limited duration (for example, occasionally used on an introduction). To me it usually ends up just sounding draggy and poorly controlled if you keep doing this for an entire song (this is now the cue for a couple dozen people to post sound files of great masters playing entire songs out of time beautifully - OK, OK, I am talking about the rest of us, not those great masters!).

    Of course my comments are in the "jazz standards" context; free jazz, for example, often has long untimed passages, but that's a whole different thing.
  9. PauFerro


    Jun 8, 2008
    United States
    One one song, our arranger put in 5/4 and 7/4 bars in spots as an alternative to having to "guess" where the time was. But the singer didn't follow it. We found head cues from the pianist unified us. Problem solved...
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2017
    Groove Doctor likes this.
  10. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    Bandleader: "OK, 'Funny Valentine.' Start in A minor. 7/8 in bar 4. Modulate up a half step for all of bar 7 and the first two beats of bar 8."

    Singer: "Gee, I don't think I could do that."

    Bandleader: "That's how you sang it last night."
  11. shwashwa


    Aug 30, 2003
    sounds like your singer is used to playing duo with piano players and not with quartets. kind of like what i call "solo piano syndrome". there are a few piano players around town that have played the last 25 years making a living doing solo gigs, and are awesome, but cant play in a band to save their life. 2 different skills. either you singer needs to stick with duo playing, or listen to a lot of jimmy scott, so she can learn to phrase however she wants while the band plays in time
  12. elgecko


    Apr 30, 2007
    Anasleim, CA
    7/5? o_O
    Sam Sherry likes this.
  13. Bisounourse


    Jun 21, 2012
    Gent, Belgium
    I spilled my evening tea all over my keyboard and screen...
    elgecko likes this.
  14. PauFerro


    Jun 8, 2008
    United States
    Just wondering if anyone can comment on this distinction between to robbed time, and simple ritards and acclerandos. Is robbed time, and the use of ritards/accelerandos the same thing? Or are they two different animals? Just curious as I want to use the right terminology.
  15. Some definitions...
    Tempo rubato - Wikipedia

    I've done lots of Theatre over the years, and Theatre tunes lend themselves to ad lib-ing for dramatic effect. Even with a conductor & many rehearsals it can still sound sloppy.

    To sound any good, a jazz quartet in ad lib sections would need
    - a singer to conduct/cue the band,
    - an MD/muso that has experience with that singer to conduct/cue the rest of the band.

    Singers that don't play an instrument often make terrible conductors and can be a nightmare to follow. My reliable fallback for these singers has been vocal/piano intro ad lib (up to 1min30secs), then a tempo once the band starts. A rallentando & diminuendo at the end (dying away of tempo/volume) sounds cleaner.

    Singers that are also solid instrumentalists give the best cues and are really easy to follow. A ritardando with a strong ending is much easier by comparison.

    Rallentando & Ritardando: What’s the Difference?
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2017
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  16. In situations like this, I find it helpful to know the lyrics to the song so as to know where the chord changes line up. Not always effective, but it at least provides a reference point, especially when the vocalist eschews the melody altogether.

    I've worked with some hip, experienced vocalists who are skillful at "conducting," but these are few and far between unfortunately.
    Groove Doctor and PauFerro like this.
  17. sevenyearsdown

    sevenyearsdown Supporting Member

    Jan 29, 2008
    Sanborn, NY
    I've backed more than one folk singer that does this as well. They like to make the chord change based on their diction, and hold the 4 for odd counts....not because it's jazz and an odd time signature, but because they are folk singers.
    M0ses and marcox like this.
  18. s van order

    s van order

    Oct 4, 2012
    In my experience, when speaking with classical players the way I described it is how I learned it. You can rob the time but eventually must pay it back. You can find that definition and also a looser one of just slowing the time and not paying it back. I figure as long as the players understand what each other mean, it probably is moot. Btw, what a great site this is to learn from others, thanks to all of you experts who share your knowledge with me.
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2017
    Groove Doctor likes this.
  19. mtto

    mtto Supporting Member

    May 25, 2008
    Los Angeles, CA
    Follow the pianist. Use the bow. Drummer uses mallets on the cymbals. Bow and mallets smooth out the attack of the sound, so the band doesn't need to be as strictly together as in standard timekeeping.

    In a perfect world, the pianist and singer are the same person.

    Piano and voice only for rubato sections is also effective.
    PauFerro likes this.
  20. PauFerro


    Jun 8, 2008
    United States
    That's what I did. Just told them I wasn't going to play since I couldn't follow them. Worked great in those songs it could fly.

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