Your life won’t last forever
Have you done enough?
Are you simply baying at the moon?
Do not go gentle into that good night
What is wrong with the above? Does anything seem out of place or incongruous?
It’s verbal Frankenstein. I created three mediocre phrases and then slapped a great ‘lick’ from Dylan Thomas in at end.
I have an idea… Let’s teach poetry by giving people great licks to insert into their poems that will make their prose sound better – more sophisticated.
Here’s a few licks to memorize and put into your poems:
- To be or not to be: that is the question
- Tis better to have loved and lost
- Tread softly because you tread on my dreams
- I took the road less traveled by
- If I should die, think only this of me
- I wondered lonely as a cloud
I’m writing this after watching a Youtube video of someone demonstrating a couple of dozen or so jazz licks by Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Oscar Peterson, etc.
While there can be value in hearing and seeing the notes comprising those three to four bar lines, the person posting the video gave no explanation of what to do with the licks . Tell me I’m wrong, but I fear people will assume they should memorize the phrases in order to regurgitate them within their ‘improvisation.’
This goes back to my post last year on jazz becoming a caricature of itself. My opening “poem” was a caricature of poetry.
Even worse, let’s just put the above six iconic poetry lines together and call it a poem.
After only one week since its posting, the Youtube video I mentioned has amassed nearly 40,000 views and nearly 100 comments praising it and encouraging more of the same.
If at the end of my grand jazz teaching experiment, I end up failing to influence a significant audience of jazz players it will because I never gave people what they so desparately wanted: the specific notes to play within their jazz solos.
But I can’t possibly know what notes to give you. They’d be my notes, my phrases, my emotion, and fragments of my story.
Seeing and hearing iconic jazz phrases is benefitial, but only within the proper learning context. To provide that context, the description I wish would have been written under that Youtube video goes like this:
Here are some phrases recorded by a few of the greatest jazz musicians to ever play this music.
Listen to them and compare the notes they played to the chords. Go ahead and practice them in order to strengthen your technical fluency and to feel the notes coming from the movement of your own fingers.
Resist the temptation, however, to memorize these phrases and insert them into your solos. They are not interchangeble building blocks for helping you sound like a master.
Each of these phrases were components of a complete solo, therefore, they each required a context for them to have their full meaning and weight.
One advanced way of using these phrases is to play and record one over a rhythm track of the tune (I’ve provided a list of the original tunes from which each was extracted). Then immediately following that phrase, play your own phrase. Listen back to the recording in order to judge the continuity of your phrase and the melodic composition of it.
Again, this exercise isn’t intended to create more building blocks to memorize and stuff into your performances, but to help you strengthen the compositional fluency of your own playing.
Last, remember that authentic jazz improvisation is a statement about YOU. It reflects YOUR life, YOUR emotions, and the story YOU wish to tell the world. The world doesn’t want to hear you tell Charlie Parker’s story. That musical identity has been taken.
Using the notes of others in order to sound like you are improvising is not jazz. While it may sound like jazz and impress others by your parroted note choices and technical fluency, the result is simply a caraciture of this music. If you choose that direction for your music, just be honest and aware of your choice.
Yes, there is a standard acceptable style to playing jazz in the traditional authentic manner, and you learn that style by emulating the masters. The question to ask yourself is, where is the line between learning the phrases and solos of the masters such as Bird, Trane, Chet, Miles, J.J., Wayne, Herbie, and others – and performance of my personal and unique musical voice?
In other words, how best will you tell your story musically without being a clone of others? What is unique within you that can’t be expressed using the notes and phrases of other players? Is your authentic expression being smothered by the urge to sound like someone else?
You may or may not possess the strength of talent or instrumental prowess of the masters, but regardless, are you allowing the full expression of YOU to come out of your instrument or through your singing? Be aware of limiting your improvisation to what has already been played and therefore risk drowning in a sea of sameness.
I’ll leave you with something Randy Brecker shared with me in one of my Jazz Master Savvy interviews with him. This was an important lesson brother Michael helped him realize.
Eary in Randy’s career, he went through a period of working through a Woody Shaw solo transcription book. One day after playing a solo for Michael, expecting Michael to be impressed by his developing jazz prowess, Michael’s reaction was…
Did that mean Randy should not have spent that time learning Woody Shaw solos? No. Certain aspects of Woody’s playing crept into Randy’s style which added to his vocabulary. But that vocabulary was and still is very much Randy’s own.
As I wrote earlier, there is value in playing the solos and phrases of the masters, but only if you do it as the means to add ingredients that facilitate your own musical voice.
If Randy had dedicated his life to simply becoming another Woody Shaw, would we all know Randy Brecker as a 7-time Grammy winner and giant among trumpet players?