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Taking tunes to the next level...

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by Tom Lane, Dec 31, 2017.


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  1. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    I've been on this kick - program? - for the past 6 months or so. After I feel I've really learned a tune in the common ways it's usually done, I look for ways to make it more interesting, freshen it up, reinterpret it.

    I came to that realization when I was working on Dolphin Dance. I was happy with the way I played the melody, bass lines, and soloed but then all I had was a nice homage to the original recording - a competent cover. Now I don't feel as though I can put a tune down until I've come up with something new to do with it, and that "new" thing can't take more than a few words on a gig to make happen - I don't want to write out arrangements, in general, anyway.

    One of the tunes I've been working on is Blue Bossa. A tune I've played for years, but the past few months I got the melody arco at the nut and octave and focused on soloing for multiple choruses and trying to make that engaging. Okay, so now I feel I can hold my own if someone calls the tune and expects to play it in the traditional swinging Latin feel.

    To do something more interesting with it, I've experimented with a bunch of different things but the 3 that work, IMO, is 1) to play it as swing ballad, about 90 bpm instead of the typical 140 bpm. That feel transforms the melody and my solo. 2) a less dramatic change is to play it as a straight 8ths tune ala Pat Metheny at around the original tempo. Finally, the last, perhaps most drastic idea is to make it modal - Cm to Db to Cm, straight 8ths. I'll admit, it took me a while to appreciate the melody against the modal changes and I'm sure there are people who will absolutely hate it, but I've come to like it, particularly soloing against that form. It continues to surprise me how much the groove and tempo of the tune change my solos.

    For intros, outros and interludes, the 16 bar form is short enough so that the entire form is one possibility. Playing the form without melody for a chorus is a nice breather, IMO.

    So, now, if I'm the BL and I'm playing with experienced players, and I can just say "Let's do it as a ballad" or "Let's do it straight 8ths" and after a little trepidation, I'd expect it to settle in and be fun. The modal version, I'd probably pass out a chart at least first, and I'd expect some pretty strong resistance from some players, in which case, I'd just drop the idea with them.
     
  2. PauFerro

    PauFerro

    Jun 8, 2008
    United States
    I took the chords to blue bossa, and renamed the song Blue Blossom. Put my own melody to it in a swing kind of feel....attached.
     

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  3. I'd been working on singing Bye Bye Blackbird on gigs while playing DB or playing guitar. I found 6 very different recorded versions: solo guitar, Duo, Combo to Big Band arrangements, swing ballad to Dixie dance tune to gypsy jazz.

    Phew!! Hard work, but I think I'm closer to having it gig-ready now. It took a lot longer, but (as an average singer) I feel much more confident having internalised several versions of it.

    I wouldn't do it for every song though, not unless it was a personal favourite or a real crowd pleaser (Bye Bye Blackbird is both IMO).
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2017
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  4. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    So, I have to conclude that I'm not "a singer" but... I have found a lot of value in being able to sing a melody and play a bass line and hear both at the same time. My next tunes will be to revisit, several times at this point, Rhythm Changes and Autumn Leaves and I'm planning on being able to sing the melody and play the bass line on both. I'd never sing when a "real" singer is available, but, in a pinch, I'm on pitch. I suppose that puts me ahead of a large part of singers! ;) But the big thing, is, as a musician, it's another level up, IME.
     
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  5. The cover band I played bass for for several years was pretty ambitious. We did a lot of grunge, alt-rock, and hard rock, most of which was not intended for a power trio. Sure we had the power trio staples like Sunshine of your Love and White Room, but we also did some pretty solid covers of Cochise by Audioslave, or Electric Funeral by Black Sabbath. We even did a cover of Dirthouse by Static-X that went into the 4th set (you know, when everyone in the bar was drunk and even we were wondering if we should drive ourselves home). One of the challenges was always, firstly, making it work. And in making it work, we would make it ours, just a little. We also did a fast, hard rock version of Wicked Game where I would do a bunch of triplets and fills. And there was a cover of Sweet Caroline. Which I must admit I hated playing, but I had it rock as best I could :p

    Not exactly what you're doing, but I can appreciate what you're doing because of it.
     
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  6. BrotherMister

    BrotherMister

    Nov 4, 2013
    Scotland
    PVG Membership
    I really love taking standards and finding new ways of doing stuff. I actually find playing a lot of fusion tunes from the 70's works nicely, there are a few videos of Chick and Stanley playing Return To Forever tunes as a duo, purely acoustic, and it breathes so much life into them. The sad thing is when you do a standards gig it just goes back to the same thing everyone knows. So much can be done with the standards!
     
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  7. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    Passive voice.

    It only "just goes back to the same thing" if you, personally, decide that's where it goes. Operate that shtuff, man!
     
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  8. BrotherMister

    BrotherMister

    Nov 4, 2013
    Scotland
    PVG Membership
    True, but that is easier said than done at times. I did a duo gig once and we played a bunch of tunes backwards, which was a lot of fun and an absolute roast, but it opens up a whole lot world of new possibilities.
     
  9. PauFerro

    PauFerro

    Jun 8, 2008
    United States
    I am not a singer. But for some reason I cant' explain, the upright bass and a lead instrument duet (singer can be one) is very effective in a lot of tunes. Something that is hard to duplicate with an electric bass and a lead instrument duet.

    For example Mercy Mercy Mercy can sound decent with a soloist and the bass only. We start out with the section that starts on the C-oriented chord with just myself and the sax player as an introduction....then the full band joins us Same with Gimme One Reason -- bass and singer instead of bass and guitar at first....

    Anyway, i thought it would be cool to do some songs as a soloist with just Upright bass and whistling (since I can't sing worth beans). Blue Bossa was one of them. Almost exactly 1 year ago today, I got my upright bass, and that was the solo I played for my daughter when she came home from university. I whistled the head to Blue Bossa and played the latin bass line under it on upright. Her eyes bugged out of her head when she heard it. I assume because she liked it.
     
    Last edited: Jan 1, 2018
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  10. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Yes, changing up the texture of the band is a very smart idea, IMO. Someone mentioned sometime ago that not everyone needs to solo every tune which I think is also sage advice. Regarding whistling: have you heard Toots Thielemans? His whistling was virtuosic.

     
    Last edited: Jan 1, 2018
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  11. PauFerro

    PauFerro

    Jun 8, 2008
    United States
    Never heard it before, but I get where the idea comes from! I like how he doubled the guitar line. Creates a unique sound.
     
  12. How are those songs going @Tom Lane ?

    We changed Fly Me To The Moon to a fast samba feel in one group many years ago. Singer was happy, audience loved it, and the band didn't fall asleep.
     
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  13. Seanto

    Seanto

    Dec 29, 2005
    USA
    Just a couple ideas to "freshen up" a tune on the spot.

    -Change of time signature. Try playing a waltz in 4 or vice versa. Sometimes mid tune, like for the solo sections, 3 might turn into 4 or 2 a la Bill Evans Trio.

    -Improvised intros and outros. Try improvising a sort of etude over changes leading into the beginning of the tune. You can make up your own changes on the spot or rely on changes already built into the tune, like improvising over the B section changes to lead into the A. An improvised outro might be a series of changes "in suspense" to resolve into a more bombastic ending with the full band.

    -Rephrase the melody into your own voice. practice embellishment. Let it drag a bit more than usual...add gaps that aren't written..create lyricism with your melody line. Add notes in between the notes, like a chromatic run up to a pivotal tonal point of the melody.

    -Play through changes rather than explicitly outlining each one. Something i need to work on more, but practice hearing a longer phrase over an 8 bar section that doesn't hammer the root on the ones and may not even explicitly hit the chord tones of each bar.

    -Tension and release. Something i don't see talked a whole lot about around here, but practice creating tension and releasing tension in both walking lines and soloing. For example, playing "outside" to wind up the tension then going back "inside" to release it at a pivotal moment. When soloists and the rhythm section can achieve this in tandem, it can create an exhilarating effect for the listener.
     
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  14. Seanto

    Seanto

    Dec 29, 2005
    USA
    His everything was virtuistic! Not why i stopped playing Bluesette...fun tune.
     
  15. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    I can hear in my mind that I'd probably like FMttM as a samba better than as moderate swing. Smart idea, IMO!

    You asked how RC and ALs are coming - thanks for asking! I'd say well enough that even though I'm still practicing them, they're in a kind of maintenance mode and I've added a few mores tunes to my daily practice regimen.

    I suppose I'm a bit bored with RCs but I'm not solid on it yet so it's still part of my daily practice. I've got improvising bass lines over the bridge, but I sometimes hesitate about which direction I want to go in when I start the line and how much chromaticism I want to use. Just a matter of practice I'm sure. I'm playing it around 180 bpm now so the next thing will be to take it faster - 300 bpm?

    ALs: I've been using it mostly for ballad - two feel - practice, and focusing on getting multiple beats of triplet lines in and that's coming along nicely. I transcribed Ives Montand's lyrics and have memorized them and am practicing singing the melody while playing the bass. Still working on walking lines too, mostly focusing on not necessarily supportive, more melodic lines that use the full range of the bass.

    For a couple+ years I've been singing as part of my ear training and tune learning but I'd say I sounded a lot like many of my teachers - on pitch, but a strained, toxic tone - and I've been addressing that, by focusing on good breath support and a relaxed projection and by recording myself and listening back and now I'm planning on taking some singing lessons soon because I think I actually might be able to sing if necessary. Lessons sound like a really smart idea.

    Along with RC and AL, I've been continuing to work on my soloing for Garota de Ipanema which is pretty solid; Stella by Starlight - lines, soloing, and singing, and the newest tune is Blue in Green. Listening carefully to the Miles recording with Cannonball and Coltrane, I hear PC doing something that I hadn't noticed before... running triplet lines up in pitch instead of descending and I think it works great there, so I'm transcribing his line from the recording.

    No rest for the wicked! but then I love practicing!
     
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  16. Great idea.

    1. Find your unique voice.
    Firstly, find the style of songs YOU enjoy and sound good singing, then pick tunes that suit your style. I naturally have a Nat King Cole & Willie Nelson-like Baritone timbre and speak-singing style of voice. I'm learning to throw in a bit of Randy Newman lyricism, esp for wordy songs.

    I emulated Ray Brown when I started on DB, and his style permeates my bass playing today. Choose a singer you wish to sound like and dive into their catalogue of songs.

    2. I highly recommend getting lessons from someone who can play an instrument and sing at the same time. All of your singing will be while playing DB so aim towards that. They'll have an innate understanding of how to help you do both. My mate who sings and plays DB helped me carefully choose a song list tailored to my abilities and limits.

    3. Find an avenue to sing these songs, to aim towards and work for. I perform duo with my guitarist brother a few times a year and work on songs towards that.
     
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  17. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    You're ions ahead of me! I'm still working on not making myself cringe when I listen to the recording! Still excellent advice that I'll keep in my mind as I progress. I will say that a lot of my motivation - which fits into the topic of this thread - is that I like to play duo with guitarists and it's a lot to expect that they can play every tune with chord melody. And even if I play the heads on bass, pizz and/or arco, if I could sing some of the heads, it'd make a big difference in the texture of the band. Better yet, if the guitarist could sing some heads too... dare I say... we sing harmony while playing bass and guitar? Not every tune, but I like varying the texture of the band to keep it interesting for all concerned.
     
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  18. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    I've dabbled and gotten voice lessons from someoone who also does voice and piano . It's a worthy side trip and I got a lot out of it, more about intonation than anything else. The voice is a wholly separate instrument and needs to be cared for and practiced in its own right. I dropped it once I realize I needed to practice voice alone before it can be combined with an instrument. I don't have time to learn and practice two different instruments. There's also a big commitment regarding self care (no drinking, getting ample sleep, hydration, etc) if I was to get it to the point where I would be happy with my singing enough to gig: and I was nowhere close.

    As for taking it to the next level, I find that the hardest challenge is actually not to do different styles and treatments but to say more by playing less. And it's a bigger challenge for a given band as they now have to listen instead of expect me to bang out time all the time-including during my solo. Sometimes other players sense of time isn't strong and they end up getting in the way more than helping.
     
  19. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    I can see that. It'll be interesting to see if I follow in your footsteps or if I'll be able to be content just dabbling like I do with the piano. Certainly, I still have too much to learn about the DB to want to dilute my time taking another instrument seriously. OTOH, I've found my time both at the piano and singing to be more helpful to my musicianship and as a bassist than distracting thus far. Each journey...
     
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