Sax on the Web Forum banner

1 - 20 of 37 Posts

·
Registered
Joined
·
86 Posts
Discussion Starter #1
Hi, I've been looking at threads on this site for a long time and have found lots of useful information. One thing I am interested in is musicians philosophy on improvising and how they go about it. There is a lot of information on specific chords/chord sequences, scales to be used and technique but not as much on an overall coherence of all that information organised to create a good solo.

I realize that a lot of this is subjective and everyone is tickled by different musical influences but I wonder what other musicians think when on the band stand.

From my own perspective I have heard people state that they try and tell a story whilst improvising, others try and keep a blank mind so everything is as spontaneous as possible. What I say to myself just before I launch into a solo is "OK, so this is what happened"

Sounds strange but since doing this my solos have become much more exploratory and I have been able to build a solo a lot more progressively rather than launching straight into some fast passages.

Is there any philosophy or overall map you use to get the best out of the information you have at the time?

(I say information you have at the time as we are constantly changing as musicians and can only be guided with the practice/knowledge we have)
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
235 Posts
Hey this is cool. My philosophy is statements.

Kinda what Charles McPherson calls the divine logic (gotta find that interview). Each tune has a set solo that captures the total feeling of the song at that moment. I don't really subscribe to making stuff up on the spot, but making up things in relation to what's played before, and also playing in sets....8 bar phrase being ONE statement or etc.

You know how you hear a solo, especially Charlie Parker and think "MAN there's nothing else that could be played in those 2 choruses". It's that. Chasing that ideal. I look to Bird mostly for solo construction, as he played such brilliant **** in a short span of time.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
132 Posts
Improvisation is driven by the desire to create. Performing improvisations is a desire to communicate. The skills required to do the first aren't exactly the same as the skills required to do the 2nd. Example: Parker's "2 choruses" are creative, and they are performed in context so he was able to communicate to many people. But not all. Many musicians and audience members didn't care for his playing because they didn't understand what he was trying to communicate. I can listen to a Verdi opera, be swept away with the music, but I don't speak Italian so I don't understand the words. Point: create as intensely as you can, and remember to shape the improvisations into a form to communicate your intent when performing. I enjoy it more when I understand and am moved by what you are saying.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
86 Posts
Discussion Starter #4
Improvisation is driven by the desire to create. Performing improvisations is a desire to communicate. The skills required to do the first aren't exactly the same as the skills required to do the 2nd. Example: Parker's "2 choruses" are creative, and they are performed in context so he was able to communicate to many people. But not all. Many musicians and audience members didn't care for his playing because they didn't understand what he was trying to communicate. I can listen to a Verdi opera, be swept away with the music, but I don't speak Italian so I don't understand the words. Point: create as intensely as you can, and remember to shape the improvisations into a form to communicate your intent when performing. I enjoy it more when I understand and am moved by what you are saying.
All great advise and logical. I may be missing it but I couldn't find in that answer what you do on the band stand as an overall improvisation. Are you saying you have a pre conceived intent with a song and strive to put that across to the audience? That sounds interesting.
 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member
Joined
·
5,092 Posts
My philosophy is throughly explained in this awesome (free) e-book:
http://www.scribd.com/doc/17489516/A-Jazz-Life-Scribd-Version
I think the views espoused in it aligned so well with my own thoughts that I don't even know which of my current views were mine before reading it and which became mine as this fantastic piece of literature bequeathed them unto me. LOL. It's a great read, hugely informative (with practical information), very interesting, and pretty much the best thing I've ever read as books about jazz musicians and music go. In my top 2 favorite books I've ever read, and that's no lie. If or when it gets published, I will buy it twice!
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,315 Posts
I don't think I ever gave the audience a thought as far as what it was I was going to play. In my early years I did but I wasn't happy about what it was I was playing because it seemed too mechanical and dry. I wasn't getting off from my point of view and I felt more like I was playing for other ears only. What about my own?
I know we are dealing with a communicative process of performer/listener. Does the listener get it or are we only playing for the listener if we remain traditional?

My point on improvisation is how can I, from a personal reference point, understand
how others think? The older I became I stopped trying to understand the listener when I approached the bandstand because I have no idea who they are and what their ear is like. If I take passages from any great sax player I know that someone out there is going to like that particular phrase which has become standard/familiar to any jazz buff but that phrase was not my own doing. I have to do that for others to make them feel good?
Later on I strayed away from copying other musician's thoughts and organized my own thoughts. I've learned a lot of phrasing from other minds but mostly that was done out of respect because I wanted to tap their brain in how they thought. Just like tapping the brain of a physicist, philosopher, etc. Quoting a famous musician now and again is out of respect. I just wouldn't want to rely on that approach.

I've always tried to remain true to my own thoughts in improvisation which turned out to be not traditionally grounded. My inspiration dictated how I was going to develop.
So, isn't the best place to be, the one that communicates within oneself? The communication of my own ideas between brain and fingers is one that I always strive for the older I became. If I can't relay the idea what I'm hearing then I can't communicate with myself. Does it not become music if no one likes it other than the musician/composer themselves? Is it too 'one sided'?
Trying to understand how others think in the name of art, as in communicating to any potential listener, can possibly inhibit what it is the artist truly feels. Possibly?

I'm curious how others see this point. Maybe my thinking is all wrong to most individuals, but the point I'm sure of is that I play exactly what it is I want to play and my inspiration always leads me to this area. I hold no allegiance in how others play it and what others expect me to play. I'm simply not obligated.
I find it very pleasing when we walk our own walk and others are getting something out of it.
In my days of working live my own way was met with a good percentage actually. The fact that it wasn't familiar music seemed to create a refreshing outlook for the listener. They were very sincere with their questions about what it was I was doing.
 

·
Banned
Joined
·
2,397 Posts
Not sure there is one answer. You can already see from the above that there are lots of points of view. I agree with Mike in that you have to be true to yourself so that whatever comes out has personal integrity. But we all must learn and there are lots of "conventions" within which we play and communicate.

The learning process often embodies mechanical aspects and formulaic methods of examining the music within which you will improvise. This (IMHO) is a phase to get through rather than an end goal. One needs to develop their vocabulary and technique in order to be able to then make personal statements.

We have all heard players who have great technique, but that's all. It's also obvious when you hear someone who plays with a voice of their own. That, to me, is the goal. Play the way you would sing and use the instrument as an extension of your inner voice.

The unfortunate reality is that not everyone has much of an inner voice or anything to say. That doesn't stop people from playing and enjoying what they do, but it too often makes them somewhat pedantic about proposing that a mechanical/formulaic technique based way of playing is the only goal.

If you are a player with the X factor then at some point you need to express those inner thoughts and ideas or just stay in the queue with all the other wanna bees trying to be a "fastest gun in the west" technical player.

If you have something to say within the music do it. If not then do whatever you can to make it sound OK without boring your audience with a bunch of useless pyrotechnics.
 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member
Joined
·
1,210 Posts
Hey this is cool. My philosophy is statements.

Kinda what Charles McPherson calls the divine logic (gotta find that interview). Each tune has a set solo that captures the total feeling of the song at that moment. I don't really subscribe to making stuff up on the spot, but making up things in relation to what's played before, and also playing in sets....8 bar phrase being ONE statement or etc.

You know how you hear a solo, especially Charlie Parker and think "MAN there's nothing else that could be played in those 2 choruses". It's that. Chasing that ideal. I look to Bird mostly for solo construction, as he played such brilliant **** in a short span of time.

Good points.
I'd say, no matter if we are talking Jazz, Rock, Free or any other kind of music where improvised solos or non-solo-improv are asked for:
Every existing sound has a very immediate influence on the other sounds around it (timewise). If a solo seems to flow with the other instruments and if every idea in that solo flows with the ideas before and after that, you get a solo that sounds and feels right. I guess most musicians who are good at this focus mainly on the sound and get immersed in it, stringing ideas together and making up new ideas while playing other ideas. It's like talking in a way, but with a very different set of rules to follow... plus you have to have to be very sensitive to all the sounds you hear, just as a sculptor has to be very sensitive with to the material they use.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
610 Posts
Tone and phrasing... for me if that ain't happening then I'm not happenin'. If my attention was a pie worth ten bucks, how much of the pie would I spend on that? Maybe a couple bucks. Most of my attention is spent on being relaxed and trying to listen to what is coming out. If I think too much, try to get to crafty, try to impress people or myself... I start to get tense and begin to freeze up mentally. If I can stay relaxed then I won't get ahead of my self. I guess every buck worth of phrasing spent, a buck is spent searching for the pocket and laying in the groove.
 

·
Banned
Joined
·
2,991 Posts
Personally speaking, defining how I improvise and why, would probably not be a good idea. I'd find myself attempting to play to some kind of formula, for what that's worth. If it's all about communication, which I believe it is, then I don't want to read from a cue card. The moment that I'm in, the audience, the ambience etc etc would inform my conversation for the evening.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
86 Posts
Discussion Starter #11
Not sure there is one answer. You can already see from the above that there are lots of points of view. I agree with Mike in that you have to be true to yourself so that whatever comes out has personal integrity. But we all must learn and there are lots of "conventions" within which we play and communicate.

The learning process often embodies mechanical aspects and formulaic methods of examining the music within which you will improvise. This (IMHO) is a phase to get through rather than an end goal. One needs to develop their vocabulary and technique in order to be able to then make personal statements.

We have all heard players who have great technique, but that's all. It's also obvious when you hear someone who plays with a voice of their own. That, to me, is the goal. Play the way you would sing and use the instrument as an extension of your inner voice.

The unfortunate reality is that not everyone has much of an inner voice or anything to say. That doesn't stop people from playing and enjoying what they do, but it too often makes them somewhat pedantic about proposing that a mechanical/formulaic technique based way of playing is the only goal.

If you are a player with the X factor then at some point you need to express those inner thoughts and ideas or just stay in the queue with all the other wanna bees trying to be a "fastest gun in the west" technical player.

If you have something to say within the music do it. If not then do whatever you can to make it sound OK without boring your audience with a bunch of useless pyrotechnics.
I'm not looking for an answer, just different points of view as you suggested. No definitive answer can be given for this question, just interested in what people think.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
235 Posts
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NrV8kW8nTJw

I think most of us wish to have a night like this.

Start at 7:40.

This is what you call being ON. Don't you get the feeling that everything Joe played was SUPPOSED to be there, every increase in intensity, every phrase that was repeated to be built upon was the right phrase. The momentum is NEVER lost or questioned, take away the band and Joe is still swingin 8:49-9:00. That's beyond making stuff of, that's total control.

This is what I mean about that logic. Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker and Lester Young are like that. Listen to Bird's stuff with McShann or that Town Hall 45 concert. Can't nobody open a solo like Bird. That stuff was supposed to be there.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
476 Posts
My gig is a big band, so for me a long solo is two choruses. But the principal is that same - I think of a shape I want the solo to be: Start soft end loud;start low end high; start on a long loud high note, and fall off into faster action - can be anything as long as there is a plan. If it's only one chorus, it's hard to get it all in. If you've got as many choruses as you want, the trick is not reaching your goal too soon.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
132 Posts
All great advise and logical. I may be missing it but I couldn't find in that answer what you do on the band stand as an overall improvisation. Are you saying you have a pre conceived intent with a song and strive to put that across to the audience? That sounds interesting.
When I being paid I try to be as creative as I can and deliver the performance I am being paid for. If I take a traditional Jazz band clarinet job, I won't channel my "inner Dolphy" It's work for me to play trad jazz and sound like I belong. That's being creative to me. I can put a trio together and do my Dolphy thing another time. I do like to play off the group thats backing me up, so I listen to whats being said and that informs my first notes, then I can hear and sense what is being played and play off and play around. I will make a conscious choice to finish strong or fade away to give the next soloist something or some place to start.
When I play Creston, I find the creative moments of being fully engaged in making music with the piano and touching my audience so that they put down their cell phones, quit texting that they can't wait to leave and listen, however briefly. I try to tell my story, and the composers story every time I play. If you engage, then even scales and long tones have beauty and poetry. Bach and Joplin were tremendous improvisers, but they didn't swing in the way we think now.
 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member
Joined
·
3,492 Posts
For me it's this:

Be confident and throw yourself in the deep end. If you float, great. If you sink, you will umm..... be ..... rescued. You must also understand that stuff takes ages to internalize. Ages. Months or even years. Know your theory as well and listen. Be confident and play.
 

·
Forum Contributor 2017
Joined
·
7,526 Posts
Scales people. Know them, live them, play them. B
 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member
Joined
·
3,287 Posts
It's pretty hard to put into words because words can only describe improvising in a pretty loose sort of way but here goes.

To me, it's about having idea options that are ready to go in a split second for that particular moment that are connected to the just past and just coming future context that then lead into other options at other moments, all basically based on at the moment instinct and previous trial and error practicing.
Joining all the options up is an art that is mostly done by instinct and is not based on thinking about scales etc while improvising.
Scales and working on ideas etc are done when practicing.

There is a loose sort of awareness of what key centre you are currently in etc but basically mostly instinct is being used.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,411 Posts
I've actually been giving this a lot of thought lately. What do I really do when I improvise and what do I think when I play?

Well for me, the answer lies in a few influences: Joe Lovano (duh ;)) Lee Konitz, Chris Potter, and Dave Liebman

All four are top notch phenomenal players who each have different concepts of jazz.

With Joe Lovano and Lee Konitz comes my thought on "being in the moment." Improvisation to me is exactly what it is: improvised. I've heard players around me who sound the exact same way each and everytime they solo and when I hear them practice I can see why. They focus on practicing licks, patterns, etc... which I do consider important, but not the purpose of improvising. Each solo I try something different whether it is with my sound, rhythms, or harmony.

With Chris Potter and Dave Liebman I see the importance of scales and telling a story. All four are extremely melodic when they play but these two I consider to be the best. Scales-wise, it is exactly what Liebman says about them "scales are our language and I have to know them. It's not something I feel happy or sad about, I just need to know them: they are my words."

At least this is what I hear in my playing.
 

·
Banned
Joined
·
1,812 Posts
The creative spark comes fro the subconscious. Like a bird, we each have our song. It's better to have a limited vocabulary and do it well than know every mode for every key and chord. There are only 12 notes in western music so the chromatic scale is the only scale you really need to practice.
 
1 - 20 of 37 Posts
Top