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Taking soloing to the next level...

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by Tom Lane, Dec 4, 2017.


  1. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 28, 2011
    Torrance, CA
    A recent observation that hadn't occurred to me before and I don't think anyone mentioned to me either: once you can competently solo the changes to a tune, a big improvement can be realized by working on playing several choruses while trying to make each new chorus more interesting than the last, while maintaining a sense of logical progression.

    I know, late to the meeting... ;)
     
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  2. PauFerro

    PauFerro

    Jun 8, 2008
    United States
    For me it's about creating tension and release...and that means hiking up the intensity of your solo as you go. David baker said that comes from increasing volume, note speed, repition and pitch....I am still not confident enough over all chord changes to do that. I am still struggling to get my ideas out in a fluid, connective way.

    Strange though, I was doing a gig at Mall -- Christmas music done jazz, and there were a ton of times when I had all these creative ideas that fit the harmonic structure perfectly, and people started gathering around and noticing. It happened a few times. I think that shows progression....

    Another thing is training your drummer to recognize when you are creating tension, because I think the support from the drummer, and his volume also increases it. My drummer is currently trained to recognize certain triplet patterns I use. It sounds canned, but I had him over and showed him three, repetitious musical ideas I will do -- so when he hears them, he knows to emphasize them. It's getting to the point he knows when to quit too, which then creates release.
     
  3. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 28, 2011
    Torrance, CA
    IME, the quality of a jazz band largely relies on the musicality of the drummer. Drummerless combos, then, it becomes incumbent upon the bassist to provide the "feel" between the harmony and the soloists. No small task!
    IMHO, your goal should be to "paint beyond the numbers"... stop creating canned responses and instead, create a vocabulary of malleable themes that all of the players recognize and choose, and respond to, in the moment, with their personal addition. The difference is that the themes are not all the same but are similar to, some less similar than others.
    As much work as that sounds... IME, that's when jazz begins... and there's years more.
    Listen to Dave Liebman to get a glimpse of true, improvised, masterful jazz.
    The takeaway: jazz isn't by wrote. But the prep is endless... and, that's what many of us we enjoy/respect/slave towards.
    OTOH, if your goal is only to get gigs, well, your audience is generally far less knowledgeable than the band. But then, is the band enjoying themselves or only making a buck? How many times will the players agree to a "mall gig"?
    YMMV.
     
    Chris Fitzgerald likes this.
  4. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Learning to understand the scope of an entire solo is a lifetime art. Perhaps because I was a theory/comp major, I tend to think of improvisation as spontaneous melodic composition. To me, the art of soloing is to create a compelling alternate melody over form of the improvisation vehicle. At some point, I had the following thought: if you want to be melodic, you should do as melodies do. This (obviously) led me to take a closer look at what makes great melodies tick. While an impossible question to answer definitively, there do seem to be some qualities that most melodies that I consider to be "great" exhibit:

    - They have a small number of central motives that the composer manipulates and strings together, like the basic subject matter of a discussion
    - These motives are usually repeated a number of times at different pitch levels, gaining meaning as they recur
    - At some point, the initial motive often gives way to a secondary motive that gets the same treatment
    - Small motives are easier to work with for the composer, and easier to identify by the listener
    - Great melodies have a basic direction, contour, or shape to them; they are going somewhere, and telling a story where the motive is the protagonist
    - The form of the song has its own built in structure/shape/arc; to begin to learn to solo, follow that outline before departing. It's built in story/plot pacing
    - Before learning to build an epic story over multiple choruses, spend some time learning to tell a simple, humble story over a single chorus

    Just a few thoughts from a very tired brain!
     
  5. The way to do what you're talking about is to examine the phrasing of the masters by learning and analyzing their solos in their entirely from every perspective. Doing this you'll learn how they build the architecture of their solos and their pacing/timing. Long phrases vs short phrases, vertical phrases vs horizontal phrases, on the beat vs syncopated, how they use consonance and dissonance and so on. A particularly great solo for this is Coleman Hawkins' Body and Soul solo, two choruses of pure perfection
     
  6. PauFerro

    PauFerro

    Jun 8, 2008
    United States
    Agreed. A great jazz musician said that the drummer is the leader of the band in that respect. If you start increasing your intensity, and the drummer doesn't follow, it's hollow. I think the drummer also needs support too, though. He can sound like he's crying in the wilderness if no one follows him.

    I agree wholeheartedly. I play with a lot of different musicians, many are very accomplished -- the accomplished ones seem to be able to do this "beyond the numbers" concept with no problem, including our drummer in the accomplished band in which I play. They have an ear for repetition or "intensity" as I put it (to encompass all aspects of tension), and they all support it when it happens. They take the song from quiet anticipation, to a frenzy if they want (or just plain controlled tension) and then bring it down again for a rest, before starting up again. There are hooks and patterns that appear spontaneously in the music that we may never play again...or have never rehearsed.

    However, I have one group, which surprisingly, I like as much as the accomplished players. This is due to their comradery, humor, their overwhelming appreciation for the work I do in getting them work, their progress so far, and their willingness to embrace original music and learn new things. They also go out for those low paying gigs that sometimes cross our path. They even do marketing and have packed restaurants for me.

    But they seem incapable of the spontaneous tension and release. I once had them over for a rehearsal to to address this very issue, and we actually practiced, in round robin fashion, leading the band to tension and then release during solo sections of some tunes. The followers were to listen for cues from the "assigned leader" and then support them spontaneously. For some reason, the keyboard player never got it.

    The drummer -- he didn't get it either until I pulled out about three different patterns and told him they were the kind of cues I was talking about. I put them in my solo and gave him some ideas for what he might do to strengthen them when he heard them....He was able to do it then. We practiced over and over. But it has to be canned or he doesn't seem to pick up on it -- even if I lean over and look at him, or start using my body language to signal the need for accent or other support from him.

    So, I do think a canned approach is appropriate for certain kinds of players that are incapable of, or not interested in the tension/release aspect of a solo. The strange part is that this drummer was a drummer for Dr. John and plays in a really complicated progressive rock band. But he rarely seems to be able to do anything but the canned patterns I came up with for him.

    I agree whole heartedly again. However, I'm also influenced by an interview with one of the top players on today's scene. He said that when he writes tunes, whether the tunes make it on the CD have a lot to do with what the musicians are capable of doing. This was revelatory for me. Because this musician, who is a serial grammy winner, recognizes that even the top players of our era have limitations. And that certain songs and approaches just don't work with them. His comment puts musicians on the same plane as people we often hire in our work -- some are masterful at details, others at speaking and visioning; each has their own set of native talents. This one particular group I'm with just doesn't seem to have the tension and release concept down, in spite of my focusing on it. So, the canned approach it is....I often wonder if I should be creating more and more canned approaches for the drummer....as this is the most I seem to be able to accomplish with him -- even though he acknowledges it's important to do T & R (tension and release).

    As they said on the Blue Note Cruise (Marcus Miller and Terrance Blanchard), untrained people also know what good music is when they hear it. They just can't articulate it -- so T&R matters even if your audience is uneducated musically. .

    It's probably well known to certain players here that I put performing and gigging at the top of my priority list. I will make sacrifices in instrument scale, and mastery of the entire fingerboard to get out and play live. But I don't see it as only revenue and fun. Playing out makes you sharper -- way sharper. Make a mistake in practice, well, that's why you have rehearsal -- the moment passes. Make the mistake live, and you remember it forever!! And you don't make it again. Write a song you love at home -- play it live to figure out what moves the audience. Start playing out side the changes accidentaly and you have to figure out how to make it work. Playing live is a great teacher.

    Further, lots of gigs takes the fear out of playing. I am as comfortable in front of a crowd of a thousand (jazz festival we do every year) as I am in rehearsal now. All the BUGS are out of my equipment, and I can go into any situation, even pitch darkness, strong winds, and inadequate sound engineers, and do the job with confidence. Not a virtuoso, but all that live playing has given me a lot of confidence so my instrument and equipment is not an impediment to my playing. Provided I bring my backup stuff. (Once I forgot and it bit my in the ankles, having to do a pop set on upright as a result).

    The pressure of playing live has done a lot to sharpen my ear too when the keyboard player takes a wrong turn in the changes (like gives me a hand signal I don't understand, and we end up in different places in the song), and I have to use my ears to get out of it. In rehearsal someone usually stops the band and points it out, so you never get the experience of using your ears like you do in a live situation.

    And then there is the pressure of learning new tunes when someone else books me as a side man. You get exposed to all kinds of musical ideas that you normally don't get if you stay in your own genre. At the theater gig I had last month, I had never seen so many 4/4 bars followed by 2/4 bars, 7/8 bars, and 6/8 and 12/8 time signatures, sometimes in the same tune.

    So, I see heavy gigging as a complement to learning to play well. Not that I have arrived. You know that my scale vocabulary is limited, for example.

    I was on the Blue Note Jazz Cruise last year, and they had these amazing panel discussions where you could ask questions of our current virtuosos who are recording jazz. They had one with Ben Williams, the bass player and drummer from The Bad Plus, Marcus Miller's drummer, and a few other of the musicians with them. i asked about tension and release -- how does it happen? How can you improve a band's ability to make it happen?

    I got long silences and weak answers. The only answer I remember was the drummer from Marcus Miller's band who said it's spontaneous and something he can't describe. I got him after the panel discussion and shared my round robin concept and he thought that was a good idea.

    I wonder if people like @Chris Fitzgerald have strategies for teaching it, as my approach has met with only partial success.
     
  7. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    I was about thirty, sitting in Business Organizations class listening to the professor drone on about the intricacies of shareholder derivative lawsuits, and then it dawned on me: She's really interested in this stuff. And then it dawned on me again: For any topic you can name, there's somebody who's really interested in it. And then came the final insight: . . . . and that person is almost always not you!

    Point being, Tom, that you focus on making "several choruses" become sequentially "more interesting." My experience is that bass solos are really, really interesting to bass players. But . . . most people are not as interested in bass solos as Tom and me are.. Ever. Even though Tom and I really, really like them a lot.

    So I start from the premise that there is nothing I can do to make several choruses of bass solo sound more interesting than the next. Every time I play a bass solo, I assume that I will be playing one chorus. I leave the door open for the prospect that the music and the moment demand one more, and again for the next and so on.

    Most of the time that demand is not present and the overwhelming majority of my underwhelming solos are one or two choruses long. And I believe that the audience appreciates the chance to appreciate a brief, interesting, intentional bass solo, and hope like heck that I'm able to deliver one for them.
     
  8. damonsmith

    damonsmith

    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    One thing that is not often mentioned is looking at a tune from two perspectives. One being the most exact version of the composers intent. The next being it's most abstract, pushing the material all the to edge with out going "out". Meaning, you still are keeping the form and using the material of the composition, but maybe moving the tension to different areas, pushing back the roots and fives, moving the long tones and busy passages of the melody to different bars, etc. In this exercise you would not add new material - just rearrange what is there until the essence of the tune is subverted.
    Working between those two points and back can really get you somewhere.
     
  9. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 28, 2011
    Torrance, CA
    Thanks for your thoughts Sam. You didn't think that I was advocating that I play several choruses of bass solo on a tune did you? I was just commenting that I'm finding it a useful practice technique to improve my facility and vocabulary.

    As to your premise, that bass solos are generally unappreciated and best used sparingly, I think it might still be true, and was mostly true historically, but, even then I can think of some Slam Stewart arco solos that no one present was chatting through. I suspect that it may no longer be mostly true, and is definitely an over generalization because the virtuosity of DB players and their soloing skills have developed to such a point that I know it's possible for a bassist to play an audience pleasing solo. How frequent that is... we'd need some sort of academic survey to know. I will say, a couple of months ago I went to hear one of my teachers play in an 8 piece jazz band or mostly original tunes and the climax of the show was his 5 or 6 minute long solo on his 6-string BG, and the tempo was burning. But, he's a very developed player with a lot of talent and we can't all be him, or John Goldsby, or Lynn Seaton, or John Clayton, or Rufus Reid, or Chris Fitzgerald, or Christian McBride, or... ;)
     
    Sam Sherry likes this.
  10. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 28, 2011
    Torrance, CA
    Yes, actually, I know what you mean, and I practice this too. I think it's helping me have better control of preparing, executing, delivering, and recovering from the climax of the solo. Still a long way to go... but with control comes clarity of intent, with intent comes music. Good point!
     
  11. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 28, 2011
    Torrance, CA
    I applaud you for doing whatever you can to help a band sound the best it can. That's my philosophy too and everyone has their limitations.

    Chris Fitzgerald definitely has a method for promoting a combo's building and deconstructing a climax of a solo. I know because I experienced it first-hand in his combo section at the Aebersold camp last year. Every session he'd come in with a new device for the band to explore. By the end of the week, I thought the combo sounded better than most combo's I hear, and probably improved by an order of magnitude. A real pleasure to get to experience that first hand.
     
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  12. PauFerro

    PauFerro

    Jun 8, 2008
    United States
    @Chris Fitzgerald -- do you care to share any of these techniques Tom mentioned?
     
  13. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 28, 2011
    Torrance, CA
    I KNOW Chris is working his butt off between the U and his family... maybe the best idea would be to see if you can setup a Skype lesson. He does do this as his living after all and he already skips on sleep. Just a suggestion. Not unusual, IME, the best people are oversubscribed.
     
    Chris Fitzgerald likes this.
  14. Basshappi

    Basshappi

    Feb 12, 2007
    Tucson,AZ
    Listen to and study solos that are NOT played by bassplayers.
     
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  15. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    In the middle of finals/grading now, but will weigh in when things lighten up a bit. I don't think I have any super heavy wisdom that will be effective on an internet forum, but I'll be happy to share what I can think of.
     
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  16. PauFerro

    PauFerro

    Jun 8, 2008
    United States
    I never listen to bass players for solos. I can't hear what they are doing very well, anyway. I will listen to piccolo bass players in a minor way (wyman tisdale, julian vaughn) but my main inspiration comes from sax players.
     
  17. Basshappi

    Basshappi

    Feb 12, 2007
    Tucson,AZ
    I believe it was Jaco who mentioned listening to Bebop sax players for soloing inspiration.
    As for piccolo bass don't forget Stanley Clarke. He was the pioneer of piccolo electric bass. Of course he is a monster player on double bass as well.
     
    PauFerro likes this.
  18. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    Regarding serially building a solo between choruses.... Most people can't even remember the phrase they just played. Good luck building a new 32 bar solo when you can't remember what you did 29 bars ago. If you can do it you're better than most of us.

    If you can't build one idea of the next, you're not going to be able to build it chorus after chorus.
     
  19. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    My point is the before you go hunting after complex concepts, there's always a lot of simple little things we all overlook in our own attempts to find the thing that makes us better. For me this is the lesson I keep having to learn over and over and I too am somewhat frustrated with myself in this regard so it's not just directed at you.

    To me what separates us from the greats is that they not only have command, but they also an awareness of themselves that keeps them from overreaching. You sense that control in their playing while the rest of us rely a lot on impulse. And in this control, options open up because they're not trying so hard all the time.

    Remembering my own phrases so I can develop a solo is something I've been working on for years and still fairly difficult to do regularly. I don't ever recall anyone talking about that and yet it seems so simple. I'll be happy to be corrected if someone here has come up with something to help with that.

    Iow: nothing helps melody more than context. Context is hard to retain if you keep coming up with new ideas every moment - like a madman who can't stop babbling random things.
     
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  20. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    Lotta deep nuggets in there, Huy.

    Years ago I got looped into doing clinics for high schools. I often gave kids this deceptively-simple exercise: Take the last three notes of your last phrase and make them the first three notes of your next phrase. You can change the rhythms but you have to keep the pitches.

    What does that do? It compels you to listen to yourself while you're playing.
    . It helps you to link parts of your solo together and develop something.
    . It's unrealistic to expect that other people will listen to you if you're not listening to yourself!
    . It's strong encouragement to listen to the people you're playing with. Imagine that!
    . It's strong encouragement to work in phrases instead of just running on and one.
    . It's strong encouragement to play intentionally.
    . Those notes aren't always going to be the Approved Right Notes the second time around, so you will bring yourself to some new, cool harmonic places and be compelled to make them work.

    I am not saying, "Behold The Rule of the Lowered: Thou shalt always start with the three notes you just finished with." I am saying, "Here's a trick that works on any level from beginner to master, which gets you out of your rut, gets you out of your head and helps you listen." I have watched this exercise help kids to play more focused quickly, with better solos and better music as a result.
     
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