Reply to Thread Bookmark Thread
Posts 1 to 24 of 24
  1. #1

    User Info Menu

    On the one hand we have the belief that composition is the same process as soloing. On the other hand we have the belief that we can't possibly improve on the standards set during the era of popular song during the 1940's.
    My question to you all, do you write your own material? If not, have you ever considered it? I ask because I realize jazz is the improvisational process of soloing over a pre-existing song so it might not seem so important to be able to write your own tunes. Still, I just seem to see a lot more young cats writing their own material because the old standards may not describe the music of these times. It also seems to be the point of contention that some more traditional players have that modern guitarists don't play/write real jazz that is as good as the standards. I'd like to hear some different individuals weigh in on the topic. It seems strange that traditionally, guitarists have played a minor role in the compositional jazz canon. It seems a much more even contribution now though. Thoughts? Observations? Comments?
    Thanks -David

  2.  

    The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
     
  3. #2

    User Info Menu

    I've written tunes, but I'm an improviser! I think there are enough vehicles out there for improvisation to keep me happy, and I've no problems with anyone altering the standards to todays if done right, or 'well'. Good or not my best compositions were based on improvisations.

    I think John McLaughlin is the best guitarist/composer bar none.

  4. #3

    User Info Menu

    When I play music,I made my own material.
    First at all I made composition and when I have already recorded I played over what I have written,making only improvisation.
    Then I put the bassline and the drums and so I have a song,that really sounds Jazzy.
    When I have finished my composition-improvisation,I heard what i had recorded and I feel amazed and astonished.
    Frecuently I can´t play again,what I have recorded,but for me It sounds great!!!!!!!.
    I have the opinion ,between the diference of composition and improvistation.
    Composition, speak about a feeling,that takes time.I mean ,what you´re really leaving in this especially time of your life.
    Improvisation speaks about you,re feeling in the special moment you,re playing.
    Improvisation is the most directly connection between your soul and your fingertips.Improvistaion couldn,t be the same and can´t be repeatet,such the feeling you have had for this special connecting moment.
    When You repeat a solo,you,re no more making improvisation,only composition,and this really not more Jazz.

  5. #4

    User Info Menu

    I write when "the spirit moves me." It seems everything I write has a latin feel...hard to explain that one, really. A lot of 'em are on my website...I don't think that my writing sounds particularly "modern," aside from the fact that I seem to love "Lydian" chords.

    About guitarists not writing much of the jazz cannon...guitar has a pretty small footprint in the jazz world in general...I imagine there's a correlation...particularly how guitar has come up through the ranks--you figure--in the 30's through the 50's, guitar wasn't necessarily the cool kid's instrument...and then with rock and roll, it was, but kids weren't playing jazz on it!

    Now you have more and more jazz guitarists, but I think if you asked them, you'd find few of them started out playing jazz from day one.

    I like a lot of modern writing...there's some that I don't like...I still need a melody, something to hum along to..I'll use Mark Turner as an example...the stuff he writes is hip as hell and very modern, but it's also got something you can grab on to...I don't hear that in all modern players, but when it's there, it makes for some fantastic jazz...

  6. #5

    User Info Menu

    I think the skills to compose and the skills to improvise (as we understand the conventional use of those two terms) are very different, and in some cases require opposite mentalities. I know this isn't necessarily a popular opinion, but it's what I've come to believe, and I think there are very few that excel in both composition and improvisation. Even some of my favorite improvisers write, to my ears, somewhat lame tunes.

    I've only written a couple of tunes for a jazz or improvisational setting. I've actually spent a fair amount of time as a songwriter. It seems that I've gone back and forth between songwriting and jazz guitar, sometimes spending years in each. (Guess which phase I'm in now?)

    Songwriting was difficult for a while because it was hard to not approach the guitar like a jazz guitarist. I had to do a lot of mental work to get in touch with the sounds I actually wanted to produce (and then perform, and record) and get away from the "cool chords" or other more technical things my hands wanted to do on the guitar.

    Then again, my perceived discrepancy between improvisation and composition might merely be revealing my own biases and potential misconceptions about the goals of either improvisation and/or composition.

  7. #6

    User Info Menu

    I don't compose enough. But when I do it is where I get my most enjoyment.

    For me composing seems more real (or true or honest). In slow-mo composing mode I'm able to get closer to what I hear in my head.

    I think of myself as an intermediate guitarist... I hear a lot of other guitarists who sound like they're at about my level say they 'play what they hear' when they imporvise. I think most intermediate guitarists are fooling themselves when they say that. What most are really doing is playing scales, arps, and licks that they already know work. (Try singing over some changes without your instrument, record it and then transcribe it and see if that is really the type of lines you're playing, it's an interesting excercise).

    More advanced players, well that's probably a whole different story.

    I also think that this that I'm calling 'realness' of composition helps one develop their own voice.

    And I also much prefer to hear jazz musicians/bands play original compositions.
    Last edited by fep; 07-12-2011 at 04:15 PM.

  8. #7

    User Info Menu

    I've composed several songs. Some are pure originals, arranged for a specific combo instrumentation. Others are contrafacts. I've also done some big band charts with original soli written out for horns, and rearranged/reharmonized existing songs from the GASB.

    At this point of the game, I'm not in a position to say that standards don't hold anything of value for me, so I tend to focus my efforts on assimilating standard repertoire. But as Mr B said, when the mood strikes, I write.

  9. #8

    User Info Menu

    i am always writing and it's a huge part of how i precieve myself as a professional Musician. It's been something I've always done from as a teen writing rock songs to today writing modern contempoary Jazz. I write for trio, for large groups, for big bands on ward and on ward.

    I write new music all the time, and it's come to the point where my peers around me in this small part of the jazz world call me for tunes and I'm getting people asking me to send them lead sheets. I've been to residencies for composition and had music played by Jazz musicians all over the world.

    I see Composition and Improvisation as fundamentally similar yet they serve a different purpose. Not all of the writing I do is meant to have improvisation. Not all the writing I do is "jazz" and as long as I play I'll always be writing. I help students with composition and have an album of all my own writing and a 2nd album being recorded soon of all new compositions, and this past week agreed to play on a new recording and contribute 2 new tunes to it.

    Most jazz musicians today that play or teach for a living are writing new music. It's how you can get noticed and express yourself. When I play my music I am connected to it far deeper then any standard I play and I look forward to those gigs so deeply that they always turn out better. I do practice standards, and learn new tunes all the time. However in today's world many Jazz players aren't spending the time to learn 200 or 300 tunes and learn the 100 or 150 tunes they need to know for their region and from there work on original music either of their own or of those whom they are working with.

  10. #9

    User Info Menu

    Writing great changes is easy, but writing a great melody is not.

  11. #10

    User Info Menu

    Quote Originally Posted by cosmic gumbo
    Writing great changes is easy, but writing a great melody is not.
    +1 on that ... I find allot of modern jazz written by guitarists revolves around changes that support improv. The melodies are often very forgettable and have no hook.

  12. #11

    User Info Menu

    i'd agree with that for sure.

  13. #12

    User Info Menu

    I write all the time and love it. I don't just write what would be considered jazz; I also try to write tunes I can sell (country, I work on musicals, whatever).

    One thing to remember is that the "standards" that most guitarists start out playing were the pop tunes of their day; "All The Things You Are" wasn't intended as a jazz tune and neither were the similar songs of that genre. They are simply great tunes with excellent harmonic structures that gave these players a great deal to work with. From that you got all the contrafacts (fancy word for "bebop head") that were written over those structures. Tunes today, well, some of them I guess are great but most don't have that so you get guys writing their own stuff and it comes out as modern, or a jazz tune, or whatever you want to call it. Some of it I love, some of it I don't and most of it is only stuff jazz players and aficionados are going to want to listen to.

    Quote Originally Posted by TruthHertz
    It seems strange that traditionally, guitarists have played a minor role in the compositional jazz canon. It seems a much more even contribution now though. Thoughts? Observations? Comments?
    Thanks -David
    Nature of the instrument. The tunes I write at the piano come out much more like melodic, "standard" type tunes than the ones on guitar. That's not to say the guitar tunes are bad, but when I was younger a lot of the stuff I would write at the guitar would be very "guitaristic" or I guess "riff" oriented. I have to really focus on writing a TUNE when I do it on guitar. I just think that in jazz it doesn't always have the compositional gravitas that other instruments do, though Mingus played a stringed instrument and was a major composer. I love the stuff Wes wrote, but it's all very guitar oriented and not all that easy to play on other instruments because of the phrasing.

    One thing I do a lot is just sit down and play all kinds of spontaneous minor blues riffs, or blues and the ones I can remember I write down and turn them into the types of guitar tunes I'm talking about. The memorable ones are usually pretty good.
    Last edited by paynow; 07-12-2011 at 04:58 PM. Reason: I have idiot realtors traipsing through my home and I keep making typos.

  14. #13

    User Info Menu

    Quote Originally Posted by cosmic gumbo
    Writing great changes is easy, but writing a great melody is not.
    4thd.

    Interestingly, the music we usually play on has predetermined chord changes throughout the whole piece, but we are supposed to improvise melodies for large sections of the performance. It's not surprising that changes are easier to cement, to us, than melodies. It's much easier to know how a group of changes are going to fit together than melodic fragments - which can contain, most importantly, infinite rhythmic variation to then make up a melody.

    It also seems to me to be an earlier fascination to look at "cool chord changes" and be excited by harmonic movement while not paying much attention to all the subtleties of melody and melodic lines. Maybe it's just a guitar thing, since it's primarily a chordal, accompanist instrument rather than a melodic one. Unfortunate.

    Writing about this makes me remember that the average guitarist's upbringing is usually very anti-melodic. Except for those of us who started with classical, most of us probably started by playing rock riffs, strumming chords, and any melodic playing we were doing was rock/blues improv and then probably moving on to modal noodling. That's how it was for me, at least. I rarely learned melodies on the guitar, at least not seriously. I wouldn't be surprised if it's that way for most guitarists. Unfortunately I think a lot of guitarists learn the modes of the major scale without learning any modal melodies - not having a melodic foundation for the material they are getting under their fingers. Anyway, plain and simple, less time spent playing melodies than a horn or piano.

  15. #14

    User Info Menu

    Quote Originally Posted by Jazzaluk
    I find allot of modern jazz written by guitarists revolves around changes that support improv. The melodies are often very forgettable and have no hook.
    Couldn't agree more......some of the worst offenders are some of the leading players on the scene. The undeniable fact is that there are some gifted improvisors who seem unable to write a decent tune, and some who are gifted in both improvisation and composing - this suggests strongly to me that composing is a totally separate skill from improvisation, although it is obviously possible to be good at both.

    Good music is being written now as much as ever, but I think that if someone is a good player but has no compositional ability, then that player should be appreciated for what he has to offer - it seems to me that some players feel that they 'ought' to write their own music, and that some audiences expect them to do so; for myself, I'd rather listen to well-played standards than second rate originals, written out of some sense of duty, or to fulfill an expectation.

    In short - if you can write good tunes go for it - if you can't - then it's better to play somebody else's good tune than your own weak compositions

  16. #15

    User Info Menu

    Quote Originally Posted by reventlov
    Couldn't agree more......some of the worst offenders are some of the leading players on the scene. The undeniable fact is that there are some gifted improvisors who seem unable to write a decent tune, and some who are gifted in both improvisation and composing - this suggests strongly to me that composing is a totally separate skill from improvisation, although it is obviously possible to be good at both.

    Good music is being written now as much as ever, but I think that if someone is a good player but has no compositional ability, then that player should be appreciated for what he has to offer - it seems to me that some players feel that they 'ought' to write their own music, and that some audiences expect them to do so; for myself, I'd rather listen to well-played standards than second rate originals, written out of some sense of duty, or to fulfill an expectation.

    In short - if you can write good tunes go for it - if you can't - then it's better to play somebody else's good tune than your own weak compositions
    Here here!
    Last edited by JakeAcci; 07-12-2011 at 08:00 PM.

  17. #16

    User Info Menu

    Indeed, not everyone must be a composer. I think everyone who is serious about the Music should try to explore composition as it's not only a great expressive tool but a way for one to work out issues in their understanding of harmony, melody and form.

    I've certainly written tunes specifically for blowing and then putting a melody in place that would work well. Most of those tunes I use for gigs with people who I know are not strong readers so that I can break up sets of standards and have something people may have not heard before. People like to go to concerts/gigs and hear original music, even if it is simple.

    For myself 9 out of 10 tunes I write start with a melody first and changes come last. However, many cases I can write the harmony with the melody in places, like target chords and I can edit myself after the full melody is written. I'm lucky these days to have regular sessions happening in the week so that I can bring the new music I'm writing and hear it played by some very talented young players, it helps motivate and inspire me.

    The last week I spent playing with one of Canada's best Jazz musicians and playing his tunes has taught me some new tricks about harmony and mostly about form. Studying compositions from non-guitarists I think is so important as it's really going to help break out of the 'guitaristic' things being discussed. I used to write melodies that were very guitarish and was a pain for Trumpet players (for example) to play. I've been able to curb that somewhat, as I like to play with horn players a great deal and get to work with some real world class players. Getting my music played by them is a powerful source of inspiration.

    Now I figure if I can sing the melody as if stood on it's own then I was on the right track.

  18. #17

    User Info Menu

    i enjoy working on my own tunes as much as learning how to play songs written by others. in fact, learning how to play standards has led to my becoming a decent composer. i know when i've written a clunker and am not ashamed to admit it! however, the older i get, the better i get at putting my life experience to music. i've had the distinct pleasure of co-writing tunes with lyricist oscar brown jr, and one of these days hope to get a couple of them recorded by a jazz vocalist/group.

    and on the subject of popularity of tunes written by guitarists … sometimes i think that guitarists write tunes that are too limiting. many tunes sound too linear—too guitar-like—to be appreciated by horn players. check out "bass face" by kenny burrell. now that's a delightful song that's perfect for a guitarist with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, but i can't imagine too many horn players who'd want to play it.
    Last edited by patskywriter; 07-13-2011 at 06:54 AM.

  19. #18

    User Info Menu

    Sometimes when you're tuning your guitar, and the strings start to resonate with one another in beautiful ways, it's almost like the muses are trying to send you melodies through the interplay of the harmonics and dissonances. Sometimes a whole complex musical phrase will just fall right out of it into your ears. It's incredibly fragile like cotton candy and can disappear in an instant unless you get it down right away. The same with music you dream, like any other dream. If you don't get it down within five minutes, it's gone. And you have to be careful. You have to think, "Did I write that, or am I only remembering something I heard once a long time ago?". But when you get it right, it makes all the hairs stand up on the back of your neck and sends you somewhere that no drug could ever get you to. It's powerful, powerful medicine, and that's why I love it so much.

    Joe

  20. #19

    User Info Menu

    I just go outside at night and listen to the crickets and the peepfrogs, wait for the bullfrog to add some tuba and hear what the other critters have to say. That gives me the chills, especially when I'm using powerful medicine.

  21. #20

    User Info Menu

    Dolphy would hear the most outside intervals and harmonies. He got it from listening to birdsong.
    David

  22. #21

    User Info Menu

    Quote Originally Posted by TruthHertz
    Dolphy would hear the most outside intervals and harmonies. He got it from listening to birdsong.
    David
    Interesting! Has anyone heard of Kurt Schwitters? He was considered too bourgeouis for the Dadaist art movement back in the day, so he went and started his own style called Mertz. He was into phonetic poetry which he infused with birdsong for pitch and rhythm.



    Strange boy!

    And I believe Beefheart used birdsong for inspiration aswell.

    Alot of the jazz guitar players on this forum come from a rock background probably due to exhausting every pentatonic chop over a limited chord progression, I guess we all get hungry for melody sometime!

    I really dig those old tunes that are jazzed up with extensions etc and even trying to jazz up an unusual tune to see what happens is fun too (next project is 'The Skye Boat Song' Scottish folk tune).

    The most interesting guitar player I have heard recently is Leafcutter John from a British group called Polar Bear. He does Telecaster + loops + sound clips, doesn't work all the time but sometimes it's magic.

    But as far as self composition is concerned I always dig up those faithful swing progressions which are easy to improvise over, anything else other than this and I sounds like some art sound instilation or wierd wig out which is fun too(free jazz?).

    That old muse (me-use) can come in many different disguises we just got to keep our lug 'oles 'n' peepers open!

  23. #22

    User Info Menu

    Quote Originally Posted by jazzbow
    He was into phonetic poetry which he infused with birdsong for pitch and rhythm.




    Really, it's as easy as talking... Check out the hip voicings.
    David

  24. #23

    User Info Menu

    Talking of modern musicians has anyone checked out Pierre Bensusan? I love his DADGAD playing(ohno! now he's pushing folk tunings..). Does anyone compose in different tunings??

  25. #24

    User Info Menu

    Wish I had even a fraction of the talent of Burt Bacharach / Hal David.

    Somebody put a link to this blog on another thread. Thought I'd add it here since it's appropriate.

    The Essential Secrets of Songwriting Blog