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Discussion Starter #1
So I have come off a very long layoff, and getting the chops back, practicing again, and fortunately, finding all the great stuff available on the internet that wasn't there 25 yrs ago. I mean...wow, I can't believe what kids have at their finger tips these days!

In any case, I have also been listening a lot more to many players - kinda 'firehosing' it the last month. Reading on this site, and thinking back on my college days, some things I heard, and comments I see here too - I have a question.

Many folks here mention guys that are un-original 'lick-machines'. They get routed through some regimented jazz program and come out I guess laying down lines that maybe all sound contrived, beaten to death maybe, not sure.

Can you guys be so kind as to find a few clips or youtube's of what you would call a machine like lick player? Pardon my description, I think you guys know what I mean.

And see...I am a guy who never really memorized licks per se. I just played, and stayed away from wrong notes as much as possible and learned to sound OK. I never had the traditional 2-5-1 sounds like others.

I am wanting to get into patterns, licks, and transcriptions more - but want to avoid some mechanical sounding solos over time.

I did play the Omnibook and listen to Brecker and Dexter, Menza - I mainly obtained phrasing, rhythm and feel from these players, just not the licks - although couldn't help but pick up some Parker ism's along the way sure.

Thanks - hope you guys can help!!!

PS. The intention is to HEAR an example of what you guys have been describing if possible.
 

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Chuck,
Don't expect to get any replies. Most of us complaining about 'change running lick machines' are just 'hating where we hurt'. Art is not unlike religion -- we tend to create it in our own image, for better or for worse.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Chuck,
Don't expect to get any replies. Most of us complaining about change running lick machines are just 'hating where we hurt'. Art is not unlike religion -- we tend to create it in our own image, for better or for worse.
Ah darn. Some of the members here sound pretty good from where I sit, maybe I would like one of these 'machines'. :mrgreen:

What I started to hear back in the mid 80's was this new kind of......'out' Breckerish type of licks coming out of NTSU (UNT), and some other places. BTW - I am a UNT grad, so I love the school bar none. Anyway - I remember it sounded different, new, and I started to hear a lot of guys that seemed to sound almost identical. In fact, a lot of their solos sounded not like change running, but rather pattern excercises over whatever chords happened to be in the way at the time. I am exagerating a little sure, but there was a distinct 'patterned sound' - you know, the kind of structured perfectly spaced (symetrical) sound a dim or whole tone lick has?
 

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There are lots of examples of recently posted material where the player has good technique/vocabulary, but nothing to say. Sounds like you would be happy just playing notes that fit so that you are part of the music. That's OK and refreshingly honest. Many learning sax and jazz approach this as system to be learned then applied, like engineering, and unfortunately the result sounds like formulas applied to give a predictable result. One can learn to be a great technician and stand up and play well within the confines of their comfort zone. What's sad is that some of these folk confuse being a good or great technician with being an artist. The artist has a personal voice that communicates, the engineer/technician does not.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Hgiles may be correct after all - the guy is a prophet! - all the complaints I have read really made me curious, but after 155 views, I don't see even ONE example? C'mon, help a paranoid wannabe improviser out here and step up with some info guys. Otherwise, it's a lot of talk and zero substance. Should I become a lick machine and memorize nothing but licks over changes? :)

BTW, I am not being contrary here, I actually thought there would be a flood of examples in all seriousness.
 

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There are great players who draw from an assortment of licks, either their own or someone else's: Michael Brecker, Sonny Stitt, Bob Berg, Lou Donaldson, Dexter Gordon, etc.... And there are players who tend to use less preconceived melodic ideas, I'm sure there are some in there but they're not as easily recognized: Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh, Ornette Coleman, Jan Garbarek, Billy Harper, etc... I tend to like ANYONE who plays well and I honestly don't have a preference. I like listening to music more than critiquing it. I kinda grew out of that phase a long time ago. Play and listen to music that makes you feel good and form your own opinions about what matters to you...
 

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Chuck,
Don't expect to get any replies. Most of us complaining about change running lick machines are just 'hating where we hurt'. Art is not unlike religion -- we tend to create it in our own image, for better or for worse.
You hit the nail on the head!

Where are all the Chris Potter haters?
 

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Discussion Starter #8
There are great players who draw from an assortment of licks, either their own or someone else's: Michael Brecker, Sonny Stitt, Bob Berg, Lou Donaldson, Dexter Gordon, etc.... And there are players who tend to use less preconceived melodic ideas, I'm sure there are some in there but they're not as easily recognized: Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh, Ornette Coleman, Jan Garbarek, Billy Harper, etc... I tend to like ANYONE who plays well and I honestly don't have a preference. I like listening to music more than critiquing it. I kinda grew out of that phase a long time ago. Play and listen to music that makes you feel good and form your own opinions about what matters to you...
Thanks Charles - I gotta say, I have spent many minutes listening to you on youtube and your changes. Man, if you picked a lot of that up from the masters, and think in any way that is 'lick playing over changes', then I would only wish that upon myself. You sound so damn good - not just tone, but your melodic lines. It is just GREAT playing freind, nothing else to say, except - big time kudos - I love and envy your playing from nothing more than a musical perspective.
 

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I'm sorry to throw this into the mix but ALL players are "lick" players of a sort. That's what - along with their tonal signature - makes them readily identifiable.

Once you know an individual's playing, you will certainly recognize their habitual patterns that crop up in similar situations while they're improvising.

We all have our favorite ways of negotiating familiar territory and patterns are obviously one such way.

I also personally feel that learning phrases or licks around the horn in progressions or just intervalic relationships is a wonderful way to begin the process of improvising. Gives you physical, mental and aural dexterity. Where it falls short is where guys take that approach as an end unto itself instead of the foundation of a deeper well of ingrained ideas to draw upon.


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Discussion Starter #12
Ok I was warned up front, but I am a little surprised at the silient response.

Ok, so I am fine with learning ii-V7-I licks indesriminately, or bebob licks/dim licks, etc, and just laying them over stated Abersold chord changes by the book, and I am GOOD? Yeah sure, playing a 'little' devils advocate here, but was hoping for a better response. I mean, I can spend a few years doing that sure....

Dont' worry - I have my own voice, and my own statements musically, and those will come out - I want to focus my practice the best way possible. But in the same vein of thought, I want to avoid the percieved errors as expounded by the educated masses who seem to know the lay of the land here.
 

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This may not be what you're looking to hear but it's something I shared on my FaceBook page earlier.

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Just wanted to share a quick email correspondence that I had with a student. I think this will be helpful to some of the other students that download transcriptions from my site:

Hi Charles,
Thank you for building such a wonderful sight. I am a student at UCLA
for jazz saxophone and your site is really cool and is a lot of help
for analyzing solos and transcriptions.
Out of curiosity, what do you think is the best way to absorb a solo
to get it into your playing? Playing it over and over again with the
recording?

Thanks,
Tim
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(reply)
Hey Tim..

Sorry for taken a while to get back to you.

I feel if it's a transcription that you didn't do yourself the "least" that you should do is read along with the recorded performance. Depending on where you are in your development as a saxophonist, playing the solo along with the artist is more beneficial than copping licks from the solo. Also try to memorize all or the 1st couple of choruses from your favorite solos.

I know a lot of people just get licks and patterns from a transcription but to me it's more important to be able to hear the melodic make up of a improvised solo. Copping licks is fine but there's so much more that can be learned from a transcription "especially" if you transcribed it yourself. Also, really listen to the phrasing that's used (even if it's not a player you're trying to emulate). The way you phrase a melody/line is a HUGE part of your sound.

Hope this little bit of info helps, any other questions feel free to ask (I'll try to respond a lot quicker the next time).

Take care

Charles McNeal
 

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I'd seen this thread pop up the past few days but never bothered to read it until now.

As a player, I've been studying jazz and improvisation for about 11 years now and I feel like I'm just getting to the point where I feel I'm transitioning from being a lick player to saying something more meaningful. By being a lick player, I don't mean that I just regurgitate licks, but that my primary focus in improvisation has been simply to play lines that fit the chords. And me coming to the music mostly from a theory (rather than ear) approach, that's very natural. I wasn't really paying attention to what I was playing past just making the changes. But now I'm starting to listen a lot more and am actually building solos. It's a different mental approach. Once when I was in college, I played a solo on a concert that my director said he would've been proud to play. Now I feel like I'm playing solos that a lot of guys that I listen to would've been happy to play themselves. It's not consistent in my playing yet. Sometimes it takes a while to get into the frame of mind I need to be in to play that way. Sometimes I play a great solo and then lose my focus and go back just change running on the next solo. But I'm getting there, my goal now is really to just become more consistent. But I can hear when I'm in "lick mode" and when I feel like I'm truly saying something.

So I view change running as simply being concerned only with making the changes and disregarding a lot of other things. The solo has no space, every moment is spent playing 8th notes. There's no development. There's no tension, there are no peaks or valleys. There's no interaction with the other musicians. There's no sense of nuance.

Anyway, I was listening to somebody the other day to somebody where I felt that the solo was nothing more than bebop vocabulary and nothing else. I with I could remember who it was. I want to say it might have been some early Hank Mobley since I've been listening to him a lot lately but I'm not sure.

I think that there's some apprehension about calling out players as lick machines because maybe they aren't just consumed with playing licks but they come off that way anyway.

There was a thread here maybe 5 or 6 years ago about Eric Alexander. As I recall, the general consensus was that he was a great musician but that his playing lacked depth and was just kind of a lick machine. I remember reading that thread and it really coloring my opinion about the guy before I really gave him a listen. I eventually got around to listening to him and bought most of his CD's and a lot of what was said in that thread I found to be true and I don't know if I was actually agreeing with the thread of if my opinion was dictated to me before I had a chance to form one of my own. Regardless, that's how I hear the guy. He has a fantastic tone, amazing technique, and a huge vocabulary. Virtually any one of us on SOTW would love to be able to play the way he does. Yet there seems to be something missing in his playing, something that's hard to your finger on. Something that his contemporaries like Chris Potter and Joshua Redman (all 3 were in the 1991 Monk Competition) have that he doesn't. The guy sounds great but I can't listen to a whole CD in one sitting because I get bored. I don't want to casually write him off as a highly skilled lick player, but that's kind of how I hear him.

I was reading an interview with Joel Frahm the other day and he had this to say which is somewhat relevant.

This is kind of a philosophical question: to what extent do you think that you’re the same musician that you were back then as a teenager?
Wow, that’s a good question. I think in an essential way, I’m very similar to what I was like then as a musician. In the essential way that I always felt the need to communicate through the horn. I think there was always something about the way I felt while I was playing that people could relate to, even though I didn’t really know what I was doing when I was 17 years old and figuring out jazz for the first time. I think that there was an emotion there in my sound that audiences could feel.

When I listen back now, I cringe a little bit at the content some times. But the actual feeling that I hear when I listen to those old recordings that I made when I was a teenager, it still seems sincere to me. And it still seems there’s some kind of purity about that — that I’ve gotten back to again now that I’ve turned 40 that actually I got away from in my 20s and 30s, I had felt like I had lost something. I had gained a lot of technique, but I had lost something essential for a little while.

Really?
Yeah, I feel like I had stopped having fun a certain point during my 20s and 30s. Other issues crept in. I had some harmful teachers that gave me bad advice. I just became obsessed with the wrong things. I became obsessed with my saxophone sound to the point where I became paralyzed. I couldn’t play unless I had the perfect reed and so on and so forth. It took me a while really to unravel all that stuff and now I feel like I’m back to the point where I can put together the horn and just play, and really enjoy myself again on a deeper level.

Obviously it’s deeper and much more multi-faceted now than it was when I was teenager, but it was a little bit of a journey to get back to an emotional spot in my playing where I felt it was again enjoyable and not just ego-driven or something to make myself feel better about myself, you know?

Now it’s more of a celebration. now it’s more about my enjoyment of music and not having to prove something as a musician or a saxophonist to other people.
It's kind of funny because Joel is a great musical storyteller and I'm sure that even when he felt like he'd lost this feeling, this element of bringing emotion into the solo, he had the rest of us fooled. And while Eric Alexander may well not just be running changes and is trying to tell stories, I think what he lacks is this "feeling" Joel is talking about and that's what causes him to sound more mechanical.
 

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@ agent27

I know what you mean about the running 8th notes thing. I listen to a lot of "west coast" jazz and the thing I like about it is that they are not just playing 8th note lines, they are a lot more diverse with their rhythm.
 

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@ agent27

I know what you mean about the running 8th notes thing. I listen to a lot of "west coast" jazz and the thing I like about it is that they are not just playing 8th note lines, they are a lot more diverse with their rhythm.
I think that one of the things that helped me a lot was taking a big interest in Stan Getz. When I was studying in college, I was interested in the hard bop guys. Dexter, Sonny Rollins, Sonny Stitt, Gene Ammons. Big Cannonball fan too. And when I initially listened to the west coast guys, I just couldn't get past the difference in tone and style. I never gave Getz much more than a passing glance because I wasn't digging his tone at the time. I'm past that now. I think I heard differently then than I do now. I think I glossed over melodic content for other easily noticeable attributes and just dug the bigger tones and higher energy of what the guys in New York were doing at the time. But I started really getting into Getz about 8 months ago and I love it. I can tell a difference in my playing on a gig if I've been listening to Stan that day. After listening to him, I started to add a lot more space and longer note values into my playing.
 

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I've never really understood all of this lick copying.

Do some people think, I will now insert lick number 31 from my lick library that I got from Adderley, here, and that takes care of that?

I can't and don't operate like that.

I try to find my own licks and I don't really like transcriptions except to look at what the player is doing in a general sort of way.
 

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I've never really understood all of this lick copying.

Do some people think, I will now insert lick number 31 from my lick library that I got from Adderley, here, and that takes care of that?

I can't and don't operate like that.

I try to find my own licks and I don't really like transcriptions except to look at what the player is doing in a general sort of way.
It doesn't work like that, you break your licks up into little tiny pieces and put them together to get your own vocabulary. I wonder what you sound like if rarely transcribe someone
 

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Don't know really, it just comes out the way it comes out.

Over analyzing the playing of music is not something I do.

I am influenced by a lot of musical things and even birds to some extent and some of these things might be hard to believe.

If someone has bits and pieces of other sax players as their foundation then I would say that an astute listener could pick out all of those bits and pieces.
 
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