Is jazz improvisation hard?

I saw this question online recently. The number of results for this question on Google is 6.1 million so it’s worth answering.

Is jazz improvisation hard?  YES.

There are two forms of jazz soloing. One form is comprised of stringing together scales, arpeggios, memorized licks, and patterns in order to skillfully weave notes over the chord changes to tunes. To someone less familiar with jazz, it sounds almost identical to truly improvised jazz. It’s like putting together a puzzle in order to hold up the final painting, which is the jazz solo.

The other form is true improvisation in which the musician composes music on the spot. He is swiftly and intuitively bruching away in readl time so that at the end of that two or three minute improvisation, a final masterpiece painting has emerged for all to enjoy.

As jazz got more sophisticated in the 1960s, musicians became more and more skilled at pure improvisation. Charlie Parker was arguably the greatest jazz musician ever. But even he played repeated patterns. Think of those patterns like bricks. Parker created the mortar between them. His genius was in his inspired and fluid way of composing great melodies over chord changes where the patterns didn’t sound like patterns. Like a bird, he seemingly soared through the air without effort. Bird was a great jazz improvisor.

Paul Bley and Ornette Coleman were two of the first pure improvisers. The great bass player Steve Swallow tells of his first gig with Paul Bley. Steve tried a few times to get from Paul what they would be playing, but paul wouldn’t say. As they collected on stage, Paul started playing and Steve knew he’d just have to make his way through figuring it out, so he played his first note. That night turned out to create an epiphany for Steve.

Regardless of the type of jazz player you choose to be, the musician must be highly skilled on their instrument in order to create a jazz solo using each method I described above. A good jazz soloist must be at times expressive and at other times, burning fast. They must have an extraordinary sense of rhythm and know the form of tunes inside and out.

So, even though there are distinct differences in how jazz musicians solo/improvise, yes, it’s hard.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Most recent

The illusion of ego-less jazz

I was recently party to a heated email conversation between two very famous jazz teachers/players who hold polar opposite views on how one becomes proficient

Read More »
Most popular

Just tell me the buttons to push

My recently turned 18-year old son is a passionate photographer. He’s got himself a little business where people pay him for senior photos, family portraits, sport team pictures, and other personal moments.

Read More »

About the movie Whiplash and jazz education

A couple weeks ago I sent Richie Beirach a YouTube clip from the movie Whiplash as a bit of levity. It was the scene where the teacher in the film Fletcher berates that poor trombone player for being out of tune. Spoiler alert:

Read More »

About a metronome

I originally meant to write this as a reply to a comment Richie Beirach wrote on my blog. But as I started writing, I realized that this could be the springboard for something much more important.

Read More »

Elevate your improvisation skills with Pocket Jazz for FREE

The fun online video course of over 60 3-minute lessons

Level up your jazz skills with Pocket Jazz

Sign up now for your free lifetime membership. Always and forever FREE.