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Forum Contributor 2011, SOTW's pedantic pet rodent
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OK, I've got one: What's the most underrated quality in an improvising musician? I say HUMOUR is it. And I don't just mean tired old "quotes" inserted at exactly the same moment in each performance and always on certain tunes. I'm talking about something organic, that's part of the musician's style rather than a little box you need to tick. You could add your "most overrated" as well if you want. (Altissimo, natch). Again, like i said with other threads i've started, feel free to ignore if this is an old topic but I have searched and no luck.:)
 

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Most OVERrated quality: technical fluency. If you've got technique, but no personality in your playing, you're going to sound like a machine. And look at Miles: he didn't have monster chops, but he certainly got his point across!
 

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Yeah I'd agree with the general theme...

Underrated: Something interesting to say - a good story teller
Overrated: Speed and cleverness

...but not on SOTW, we're all far too cool to think technique is everything.
 

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The most underrated aspect of soling is where to insert space. Sometimes you just let a chord drift by and pick up the next chord with a new phrase. Other times you play all the changes etc etc. It's amazing the things your band will add to your solos if you give them some space to do it. You end up with tight little fills from the piano player, or guitar player etc that just give you more to add to your ideas. Play/listen/play/listen/play is a very simple way of thinking about it but it works for me.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Eulipion2 said:
Most OVERrated quality: technical fluency. If you've got technique, but no personality in your playing, you're going to sound like a machine. And look at Miles: he didn't have monster chops, but he certainly got his point across!
I'm very with you on that. I'd maybe want to say something like "technical accuracy" or "conservatoire technique" just because i'm a pedant, though. I reckon all the greats have flow. Miles included. It keeps flowing even when he's silent. That's how I hear it. Within reason, of course, but Lester'll fluff a low D, Coltrane squeaks all over the shop, Bird hardly plays outside a 2 Octave range.. etc etc But when they need to be accurate.. boy, are they accurate. Thnks for your posts, chaps.
 

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Believe it or not, Miles had killer chops. He just only used them where absolutely appropriate, which makes a big difference.

I don't think technique is overrated, but of course it isn't all-important. I think its function is to make it so physical limitations stop getting in the way of what sounds you want to make. That doesn't mean you need to use the maximum of your technical abilities all the time, and if you have chops, it takes maturity to use them as discretely as possible.

Which brings me to what I think is very underrated (who am I to say "most?"), at least by me, for much of my playing career: intention. I don't always have the mental fortitude to be playing, at any given moment, with what I consider to be the right intention; what I mean by that is that I'll often wander and just go into lines I know will work over changes, without putting the creative energy in to make something really happen, to really improvise. It's something I need to work on, and I think it's a common issue for many players. The thing is, the more I focus my intention, the more fun I have! So why don't I do it all the time????
 

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Intention...I'm not quite sure exactly what you mean. You said the more you focus your intention, the more fun you have. Do you usually play better, too? I find your input interesting, because it's pretty close to what I experience as well. Now I have a question about this - this intention or focus thing: while it's probably underrated, is this a quality that is evident when someone improvises? I would venture to say that it is. Have you ever heard those solos from one of your favorite players that just wasn't "on"? I think "mailing it in" is what some people call it. Sounded great, but something was missing. HW77 called it intention, I think I'd call it focus. I'd call these one of the most underrated qualities.

The thing is, unless you've listened to a player carefully for a while, it's not always going to be apparent whether or not his/her intention is in the zone.
 

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Ah, the argument for "too much technique is a bad thing", tired old horse she is. I think the point is completely moot. There are no great players that I can think of with great technique, poorly executed. This is probably why the greats are all called 'great'. Stitt really had something to say, and really had his fingers flying sometimes too, at tempos faster than anybody else could dream of. As did Bird, Dizz, early Miles... so let's not beat the dead old technique horse.

A second vote for humor. I play with a pianist sometimes who simply makes me laugh with his solos. I don't know why, I don't know how. He doesn't quote anything, he doesn't play cleches, his improvising is quite inventive. Something about the way he phrases is just very hilarious. I think it's very underrated and also very uncommon and unique.
 

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Monk sometimes slays me with his funky humor.

James Moody can tell a good joke. Just listen to him sing 'Bennie's from Heaven'. I hear the same good-natured humor in his playing.

Try to play with a twinkle in your eye.:D

Miles had monster chops, and used them. Just listen to the up tempo tunes on Workin' and Steamin' from 1955.

When you listen to Wynton, he always talks about jazz as conversation.

He'll say something like: '...and then Herbie said this, and Ron replied with...'
never '...and then Herbie played this sequence, and Ron picked up on it'.

So,
underatted: humor, communication
overrated: 'making the changes', lots of 'chops'
 

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Raz, I may be wrong, but I think the whole technique thing is that it's a means to an end, a vehicle to help you say what you want.

Not everyone sees it that way.

To quote Kenny Werner: "There are more excellent jazz players than ever. There are no more artists than there's ever been."

My most under-rated would be soul and emotion, I think. If you aren't playing from the heart it doesn't mean anything, IMHO. Even the guy's who had masssive chops (like Brecker) knew how to play something that tugged at that certain spot in your heart.
 

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Raz, I may be wrong, but I think the whole technique thing is that it's a means to an end, a vehicle to help you say what you want.

Not everyone sees it that way.

To quote Kenny Werner: "There are more excellent jazz players than ever. There are no more artists than there's ever been."

My most under-rated would be soul and emotion, I think. If you aren't playing from the heart it doesn't mean anything, IMHO. Even the guy's who had masssive chops (like Brecker) knew how to play something that tugged at that certain spot in your heart.
 

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Razzy said:
Ah, the argument for "too much technique is a bad thing", tired old horse she is. I think the point is completely moot. There are no great players that I can think of with great technique, poorly executed. This is probably why the greats are all called 'great'. Stitt really had something to say, and really had his fingers flying sometimes too, at tempos faster than anybody else could dream of. As did Bird, Dizz, early Miles... so let's not beat the dead old technique horse.
Razzy,
I'm not saying that too much technique is a bad thing. I'd never make that argument because it's just silly. What I'm trying to say is that people focus so much on technique that they forget the rest of the stuff. I've heard players who incorporated nothing but Bird and Trane into their solos. That's not original. It might be exciting at first, but it's not going to have the same effect as true inspiration, really saying something. That's what it's all about, but people for some reason keep thinking that they have to copy Player X in order to succeed and forget to throw in some "Player Me".
 

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Lip, I totally agree. There are some here, however, who believe that any display of virtuosic technique is tantamount to soulless showboating. It's gotten to the point that every time a discussion of technique comes up, the tird old horses keep getting beat:

"Too much chops is no good! Play from the heart! Because somehow I like to equate heartfelt playing with slower, more melodic lines! Rapid 8th notes can never come from the heart, bro!"

"Ah, who's better, Miles or Trane? Trane played too many notes. I'd rather listen to Miles any day. For some reason I like to limit and pidgeonhole my musical tastes and also have needlessly pitted one great artist against another in the equivalent of a jazz boxing match. I am smart!"

I can't help but think it has to do with justifying one's own shortcomings, either in terms of playing or ability to hear good music... but in any case I'm in agreement with Daniel. Again, the only chops-heavy players I've heard that aren't really doing good things with it and sound like they are just playing rehearsed patterns are amateurs and high school/college players. The big names and the greats have always employed their virtuosity in a tasteful, musical manner.
 

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most under-rated quality

.

simplicity


:cool:


.
 

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simplicity is a good one, but the most underrated quality in a really good improviser is definitely knowing when not to play.
playitfunky was right.
playing silence well is painfully underrated...when was the last time you heard somebody say something like "OMG this guy is SO amazing, listen how perfect his rests are..."?
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 · (Edited)
hakukani said:
Monk sometimes slays me with his funky humor.

James Moody can tell a good joke. Just listen to him sing 'Bennie's from Heaven'. I hear the same good-natured humor in his playing.

Try to play with a twinkle in your eye.:D

Miles had monster chops, and used them.
Miles did have monster chops. But not always. Even when he'd lost some quickness (some of the later stuff) or before he'd acquired it (some of the early stuff) I reckon he was still a great, great player. I take the points from others along the lines of "all this talk about 'soul' is just a way of justifying sloppy playing." There's something in that, but saying "you must play from the heart" doesn't necessarily mean that your playing from the heart won't be better when your technique's strong. I always come back to Mclaughlin on Hendrix (i'm probably paraphrasing here): "Jimi wasnt what you'd call a very schooled musician but he made up for that by having a lot of soul. Without the soul you can't make anything happen." My listening and playing experience is that that's absolutely right. "Soul" is hardly underrated though. I'm thinking about "listening" (someone mentioned it) that's a very good one. Oh, oh, oh... I thought of another. Knowing the song you're playing - I mean the words, not the chords. Lester said it - but how many of us do it?
 

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I would definitely say time. Having a solid (yet flexible) sense of time is a big part of every great improvisor's playing.
 
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