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  1. #1

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    I have been playing for a while now and I have learnt a lot about using scales, arpeggios and various different soloing concepts.

    It's only now that I'm really starting to look into 'creative expression' when improvising. Singing along with my playing and trying to play what I hear in my head, trying to be honest with what I actually want to hear and not just trying to sound like someone else is surprisingly difficult.

    What is your single biggest frustration with improvisation on the guitar?

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  3. #2
    That true inspiration is completely random. I never know ahead if I really "have it" or not.

  4. #3

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    It takes so long to master something -- so much practice -- that, by the time I can do it, I'm tired of it.

  5. #4

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    Not seeing the lay of harmony in a clear symmetrical way as on the piano.
    Epiphone Casino Coupe (Antiquity P90s) Telecaster (Vintage Stack neck, Fender ‘62 bridge) Stratocaster (3X Little '59 ). Monoprice Chinese "Champ" amp clone (Weber alnico 8", Genalex Gold Lion tubes)

  6. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by mascis2000 View Post
    I have been playing for a while now and I have learnt a lot about using scales, arpeggios and various different soloing concepts.

    It's only now that I'm really starting to look into 'creative expression' when improvising. Singing along with my playing and trying to play what I hear in my head, trying to be honest with what I actually want to hear and not just trying to sound like someone else is surprisingly difficult.

    What is your single biggest frustration with improvisation on the guitar?
    No offense, but it sounds like perhaps you may have stopped a bit short. You said "scales and arpeggios" and are now looking to sing great lines an find your own voice and all that - but - you didn't say anything about motives, phrases, approach notes, and chord outlines.

    Those last two are fundamental concepts - but are also a lot of work. How much have you invested in them and how easily can you express yourself freely with them?

    If the answer is "not much" and "not very easily at all" then it might be a bit too early to be looking for improvisational magic and individual artistic epiphanies.

    What do you think?

  7. #6

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    I know we've had this argument before, but my biggest frustration with improvising on the guitar is the visual aspect--sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. I don't like relying on visual shapes to improvise, so I move around the neck by shifting and use different fingers to feel a phrase. I also improvise on piano, three finger style (because I don't have a pianist's technique). I find melodic content on the piano that I wouldn't realize by just playing a song on the guitar--and I transfer those piano lines back to the guitar. I'm really dedicated to the whole "ear training" thing, and I get frustrated that everything is related to shapes and not sounds in most guitar instruction. Other instruments have their own shapes, but I wish that I had an emphasis on sound from the very beginning.

    When I rely on shapes, I feel like I'm just wiggling my fingers. When I connect with my ear--I have a lot more fun. Then again, everyone has their own way to tame the beast that is jazz guitar.

  8. #7

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    For me improvisation itself is easy, I can noodle around to anything (TV commercials, radio, other songs) but as to do I know am I sitting exactly inside the proper harmonic structure and are actually "playing the changes" - nope. Most of the time still noodling and even though I feel I can create nice single note melodies on top of anything, trying to fit chords to anything more complex is hard, which itself tells me I'm not hearing the stuff correctly outside of simple major/minor/5th structures.

    But, noodling is still fun as it is. Luckily I don't count myself as an actual Jazz guitarist, merely an enthusiast.

  9. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Jazzstdnt View Post
    No offense, but it sounds like perhaps you may have stopped a bit short. You said "scales and arpeggios" and are now looking to sing great lines an find your own voice and all that - but - you didn't say anything about motives, phrases, approach notes, and chord outlines.

    Those last two are fundamental concepts - but are also a lot of work. How much have you invested in them and how easily can you express yourself freely with them?

    If the answer is "not much" and "not very easily at all" then it might be a bit too early to be looking for improvisational magic and individual artistic epiphanies.

    What do you think?
    hm... That's a very good point and sounds logical but I think I disagree.

    My fundamentals are pretty good, but even if they weren't and I was a beginner with little experience in improvisation, I don't think it's a reason not to focus on trying to play the sounds that I like to hear that are going on in my head. I think when I was a beginner this was a focus I had subconsciously but somewhere in learning all those more advanced scales and soloing concepts I lost sight of the end goal.

    The more I focus on singing the lines that I'm hearing in my head when I solo, the less concerned I become about any kind of theoretical description of those sounds or whether or not I'm using a particular musical concept, I simply want to express the emotion in the sounds that I'm hearing. Technique, approach notes, target notes, keys, scales etc is all just happening in the background.

    However when I hear something in my head or sing something that I can't play very well it guides my practise and lets me know that I need to work on that particular concept, for example it's made me realise how much I like to hear long and fast chromatic lines to create tension, which to play fluently I find difficult so that's something I'm going to focus on in my practise time for the next few weeks and improve fluency in. Although it doesn't stop me from giving it a go when I hear those chromatic lines, I just have to use cruder methods and think creatively to get around my limitations but I'm only interested in the result, I don't really care how I get there.

    Or am I going mad? Not sure...The main challenge I find is making sure I don't drift off and just start rambling on with licks and unfocused random melodies, it's like I go into autopilot, it can be quite tiring.

  10. #9

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    Yes I understand. Short posts don't always serve us well in fully conveying a message/idea.

    So, to your point - I agree that ear training and singing lines can be very helpful from the beginning of the improvisational skill building journey until the end goal is reached (as much as it ever is).

    But listening, singing, and imagining alone aren't nearly enough for 99.99% of the population.

    Understanding, visualizing, and physically mastering the jazz language as laid down by the masters informs what we are capable of imagining and playing. For example, mastering 10-15 chord outlines each for typical "harmonic formulae" (i.e. blues, II-Vs in major and minor, rhythm changes, dominant cycles, Coltrane changes) in all keys around the circle of fifths, with 2-3 fingerings each and playing each non-stop without looking at the fret board very much - should build a very strong foundation to spring from. Trying to master those formulae from (almost) pure inspiration is a very tall order indeed, and to be honest is probably a impossible task for most.

    That said, I also understand how this can breed mental fog and fatique, especially if taken in too quickly for adequate digestion. :0
    Last edited by Jazzstdnt; 04-30-2019 at 11:45 PM.

  11. #10

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    If we're talking about the jazz masters who translated the language of swing, bebop, and beyond

    they all said, almost in unison, we learned the language by ear.

    The shapes help execute the language, and certain fingerings will lend themselves better to the line that you want to express.

    But the key difference in how jazz is learned in most circles these days is that it is purely theoretical and visual. That's not just my opinion, that's what most of the masters lament about how most of us learn the guitar.

    I learned through visuals and theory until 11 years ago. After that, I used my ear to relearn my theory (because it was now connected to sound) and I used shapes to execute certain articulations. I still use the Contextual Ear Training method that Charlie Banacos started (and I learned through Bruce Arnold), and I'll continue to study if for the rest of my life.

    There's nothing wrong with shapes and theory. There is something tremendously wrong with shapes and theory with the absence of the ear--especially if you want to improvise. That's why I wish that ear training, as a life long process (and not just rote interval training), is stressed from the first day of jazz instruction.

    If you take the time to really work on your ear, through transcribing or contextual ear training or whatever works for you, you will have a lot more fun playing any music that makes your heart sing.

  12. #11

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    What frustrates me most is when I can have a great melodic idea to use in a solo when I’m miles away from my guitar. But when I get home and pick it up? Nothing... nada... zilch.

  13. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by dallasblues View Post
    What frustrates me most is when I can have a great melodic idea to use in a solo when I’m miles away from my guitar. But when I get home and pick it up? Nothing... nada... zilch.
    Yes that happens to me. But if you develop your ear enough, it is possible to at least figure out the relative pitches of the notes in your head and scribble them down on a bit of paper, I have done that sometimes. One benefit of transcribing is that it trains your ear to be able to do things like this.

  14. #13

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    I can hear shit I can't play, I can play shit I can't hear.

    Not sure which is more frustrating.
    Jeff Matz, Jazz Guitar:
    http://www.youtube.com/user/jeffreymatz

    "Jazz is like life...it goes on longer than you think, and as soon as you're like 'oh, I get it,' it ends."

    --The Ghost of Duke Ellington

  15. #14

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    Quote Originally Posted by Irez87 View Post
    If we're talking about the jazz masters who translated the language of swing, bebop, and beyond

    they all said, almost in unison, we learned the language by ear.
    Well, they also said that they learned all their heroes' solos note for note, and others have spoken about their practice routines (I seem to recall Satchmo using that term).

    I think it's not one thing, not so much this vs. that, not either/or, but rather, all or almost all of it.
    Last edited by Jazzstdnt; 04-30-2019 at 10:06 PM.

  16. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by mr. beaumont View Post
    I can hear shit I can't play, I can play shit I can't hear.

    Not sure which is more frustrating.
    Well, between shitting and playing, probably playing :-)

  17. #16

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    If you can hear something that you can't play (yet), be grateful.

    When you no longer can, you're done.

  18. #17

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    The flipping articulation.

  19. #18
    I Studied for years with Barry Galbraith and published his Jazz Guitar Study Series. I should be the world's greatest jazz guitar player by this time, however I am the world's slowest learner!
    Here is a way to have a breakthrough on your improvising:
    There is an old joke: "Do you read music?"Ans: "Not enough to interfere with my playing."Lotta truth there! Improvising comes from the ears, not the eyes. I have been told by a number of great jazz players that you should keep in mind the melody of the song you are improvising on. Heres how to do it:
    The Great American Songbook (the standards written in the thirties and forties by Porter, Berlin, Gershwin, Carmichael, etc.) contain the most beautiful melodies the world has ever produced. This is why they are the training ground for jazz. Get CDs (or downloads) of these song performed by the great jazz singers: Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee, Rosemary Clooney, Etc... and play along with them. Choose the songs that you are most familiar with. When you are doing this, you will have the melody right there at all times and those beautiful melodic concepts will inspire you own ideas! As you try to grab and execute these ideas on the neck, your fingers will learn where they are. . . muscle memory! The more you do this, the better you get. No thinking, no looking at lead sheets, just listening to the great melodies and to your own ideas and grabbing them. I guarantee a breakthrough.
    It helps to figure out the key of a song, and sometimes the changes (especially if they are difficult), before you start but don't look at anything while you are improvising. Just listen and improvise!

    Allen Johnson Jr.

    PS. This is really fun!!!!!

  20. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by mr. beaumont View Post
    I can hear shit I can't play, I can play shit I can't hear.

    Not sure which is more frustrating.
    ha ha .... true that !
    good man

  21. #20
    Wordiness obfuscates wisdom.

    love your response!

    Allen

  22. #21

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    Quote Originally Posted by Allenacreejr View Post
    It helps to figure out the key of a song... before you start
    You definitely have a point there

  23. #22
    Yeah, nobody would've believed me, if you hadn't backed me up! :-)>

  24. #23

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    Allenacreejr,

    I think we had a thread on Barry Galbraith a while back, I just can't find it. Can you create a new thread and share your experiences working with Barry to publish all of his books. Did you work on his Study Series or his Chord Melody books?

    Galbraith's books taught me how to comp, and I still go back to them. I used to pour over the intro's to his Chord Melody books and imagine that I was studying with him.

    His work with Hank Jones, Hal McKusik, and his own album were all masterclasses in how to play in a group. His improvisations, when he took them, were also masterclasses in melodic development and composition ala spur of the moment.

    Please share, I'm waiting in anticipation.

  25. #24
    Howdy,
    You are right about Barry. He was the best, a great guy, too. I produced the Study Series. After Barry died, I realized that I couldn't do an adequate job distributing The series, so I sold it to Jamey Aebersold. My friend Jim Lichens did the chord solo books. (I did some fingerings editing on those.) One of those books has an article in it that I wrote titled My Friend Barry. If you email me, I will send you a copy of the article. My address is allenacreejr@gmail.com.

    When I was studying with Barry, we were both living in Vermont (me Middlebury, Barry Manchester).I would drive down for a 2-3 hour lesson and go home and work for a couple of months on what he had given me, then go back for more! I liked and admired him so much.

    Warm regards,

    Allen

  26. #25

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    Quote Originally Posted by mascis2000 View Post
    What is your single biggest frustration with improvisation on the guitar?
    Playing bad notes and bad chords
    Pete Martin - just a mandolin guy but loves jazz guitar
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  27. #26

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    My biggest frustration with improvisation is the same as it’s always been. I want to be able to run before I’m able to walk.

  28. #27

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    Quote Originally Posted by TKO View Post
    For me improvisation itself is easy, I can noodle around to anything (TV commercials, radio, other songs) but as to do I know am I sitting exactly inside the proper harmonic structure and are actually "playing the changes" - nope. Most of the time still noodling and even though I feel I can create nice single note melodies on top of anything, trying to fit chords to anything more complex is hard, which itself tells me I'm not hearing the stuff correctly outside of simple major/minor/5th structures.

    But, noodling is still fun as it is. Luckily I don't count myself as an actual Jazz guitarist, merely an enthusiast.
    Try jamming with Oscar Peterson. His stuff is pretty bluesy and can accommodate playing from simple to crazy extensions.

  29. #28

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    Subjectively, I see honest improvisation as something that happens when one is performing with others for an audience, that is, when there is potential risk and "penalty" of not being well received. To some degree this would include studio recording where there is an intended audience for the recording, less so for a rehearsal among just one's band members, and even more less so for practicing alone. I think most of us have understood and felt that playing live is different, most real, demanding, committed, interactive, spontaneous, intuitive, and rewarding - because the stakes are high. The vast majority of what I have learned with regard to improvisation has happened while performing, which is how I think it should happen, naturally, wonderfully. So from my perspective, the biggest frustration with improvisation is the frequency of opportunity to perform live, so it varies; for example, this month I have six jazz shows, which is not quite as many as I would like, but I'm grateful.

    Objectively, my biggest frustration is with the observation of jazz guitar improvisation as a thing - the peculiar diversion from the methods of Christian, Reinhardt, Montgomery, and Pass, toward the ubiquitous recommended methods of learning to play jazz. Generally, when one wants to be able to do what another has done, the first thing you do is find out how they learned to do it, and then follow that path. Who are we to second guess? Wes is my favorite by far, as a poll thread in this forum shows is true for those voting in that poll. Yet how many of those very people will read this quote of modest Wes' summary of his method, then smile knowingly and turn back to their music books to work on reading, naming notes, and theory in preparation for their next lesson?

    I can’t read music, I never studied music. Technically I don’t know what I’m doing. You know, I never took guitar lessons. I never was taught how to play the instrument. I just picked it up by listening to records and then figuring things out by myself.
    Wes Montgomery, 1963
    "Bent my ear to hear the tune and closed my eyes to see."

  30. #29
    I agree that playing to an audience will do a lot for your guitar playing. The possibility of making a fool of yourself brings a marvelous focus to the mind! Now that I am an old dude (83) and no longer gigging, I am playing along with Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee, Nancy Lamott, Dr, John. Rosemary Clooney and Nat King Cole, I am having a ball. I am not playing better but am much more creative. Having these beautiful melodies and wonderful arrangements right there seems to cause the ideas to bubble up out Out of Nowhere! Usually, I can grab 'em! Fun!!!!!!

    Allen

  31. #30

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    My #1 frustration with improvisation is that when tempos get above a certain point I tend to fall into familiar patterns. That “certain point” is a function of how well I know the tune and how much I’ve been playing & practicing lately. My main jamming partner has gotten used to me saying “can we try that one again a little slower?” Sometimes a slight slowdown is all I need to come up with a more interesting interpretation. Of course it’s also a sign I need to practice and play more.
    Last edited by KirkP; 05-09-2019 at 01:56 PM.

  32. #31

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    My biggest limitation is that I hear other people play ideas that would never occur to me and employ a level of technique I don't have, and I want to get there, but can't devote the necessary time to developing the ideas and chops. Life is what it is. I settle for slow progress, eating the elephant one bite at a time.

    However, improvising itself has never been frustrating. I've always been able to do it, almost literally since I first picked up the instrument. I've always enjoyed it, always preferred it to playing written music; it has always felt natural.

    John

  33. #32

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    I practice creatively , practicing with records is part of it , I have a sequence I go through every day, and each part is like a little creation, with improvisations . After that, I hit the records, I try to push faster, not to play fast, but think quick, with the idea , when I come down , things flow really well...it's like prayer for me.

    yes, I'm self taught bandstand learner all the way...I went to a year of music school and left to go play with a monster older sax player who gigged on the west side and south side of Chicago

    improvisation ? Isn't that taking all you know and trying to get in touch with your intuition, subconscious emotions ?

    im amazed their are things my intuition and subconscious are telling my body to do, that I don't realize consciously. I have to hear a recording and realize I didn't know I did that, something out of my control is taking over

  34. #33
    Yes. Your subconscious knows what you a capable of and tries to give you ideas that you can grab. When it is really working it feels like it is coming from outside. What a feeling!

    Allen

  35. #34

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    To much practice and looking towards some day when I'll be able to play.

    Or, put another way, not enough of actually creating something.
    B+
    Frank (aka fep)

  36. #35

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    fep

    enjoy the journey

    the early days are the most inspiring , you get into the profesional world and you have to strap your defences on as you go out the door. in all honesty, in all my years out here, among my music colleagues, true freinds are far and few in between .

    in new york, if you are playing with top cats, everyone is a brand, a walking corporation , sure you get your cirlce and net work, but, down to the nitty gritty , its not true freindship, dont show weakness or vulnerablilty etc

    if you are guitar, you have the great thing of being able to work alone solo.work to create a solo presentation , you can actualy work solo while you are waiting to meet more people to play and network with.

    your practice can be creative and you can gear solo presentaton to practicing as if you are playing with people by emphasizing groove instead of legato linear solo presentation. the more you tighten up your groove solo presentation, the more you will fit with other people when you play with them , of course adjusting to each situation because each situation is differant

    i miss the early days , so much was new and exiting , and when it gets exiting now is when i do something new i discover for myself, it seems like at the end here, im going back into the things that were most important to me then

  37. #36

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    I have recently come to realize I'll likely never be a very good improvisor, partly for having only the normal person's musical talent, partly for not having the time to practice and drill, partly also because I am a bit superficial. I learn a tune, bang through the chords, hack out a block-chord melody, and often never close the loop in fully digesting a tune. I have memorized a lot of great solos, but I've had trouble re-using the ideas in other contexts, though I dearly enjoy playing those memorized solos and hearing those wonderful ideas coming out of my own amp, which in those moments probably thinks it's been sold to a real jazz guitarist!

    So I've decided that I am just going to enjoy what I can do. I'm going to keep playing "real" solos either transcribed by me or in print, but I am more or less at peace that I won't be able to play much improvisation in a pickup ensemble. I comp well, and I can play the head of a tune in a basic chord-melody style, but I can't see myself taking much of a solo. But those things are still good things, and I'd love even to have the chance to do that.

    I hope this more relaxed attitude will have the effect of freeing me a bit to perhaps become a better improvisor, but I suspect I will only get there by... not thinking so much about getting there.
    - Lawson
    "Whenever you come near the human race, there's layers and layers of nonsense." - Thornton Wilder, Our Town

  38. #37

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    There is a gap for all of us, between; (1) playing transcriptions, jazz language patterns, "licks of the masters", heads, comping, even chord melody of songs etc., and (2) being able to improvise "horn lines" on a tune with challenging changes.

    Practicing all of the above is very helpful, necessary in fact. But if we stop there it's not unlike practicing classical music, from simple to very difficult. It's not enough to get us over the divide between jazz language regurgitation and jazz language creation.

    There is a way, there are ways, to bridge the gap.

  39. #38
    Improvise with the great singers on CDs, performing the Great American Song Book. Learn to play without muscle tension.

    Allen

  40. #39

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    Improvising comping. If I can do that well I can play anywhere (except sight reading gigs perhaps)

  41. #40

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    Chops , not having a lot ....

  42. #41

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    One thing that's frustrating is seeing a guitarist on youtube playing the kind of outside type riffs I've always wanted to have a better grasp of. And the guitarist is about 30-40 years younger than me!

  43. #42

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    Allen's words are very wise. Most of what I know I learned from Nelson Riddle and Ella, Frank, et al: the most sophisticated tunes ever written with Riddle answering all the musical questions. Also the small groups like the Oscar Peterson Trio(s), great lessons is building and releasing tension, creative arranging (sometimes on the spot!), dynamics, etc. We often get too involved in the notes, when the response we're seeking is pretty much emotional.

    At one point in my career, I was doing more music biz than actual practicing and playing, but I ended up on several high-level gig situations, including doing a week with George Coleman when my chops were really down. I had to play melodically and emotionally, and George was very complimentary, stating his happiness at hearing music instead of notes! Among all of our guitar heroes, the one that spent his career editing his playing is the one that, outside of Wes, is the most influential on many of today's second generation: Jim Hall. He has been my favorite for over 50 years, not that I ignore the rest, but his constant seeking of the perfect note was always an inspiration.

  44. #43

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    dupe, sorry.

  45. #44

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    ronjazz, george coleman is one of the top cats anywhere, he is more important to me about understanding what pristine jazz playing is all about , than ornette coleman .

    i agree about practicing with records, unless you are playing with people at that leval 6 nights a week hahahaha

    ive been dealing with a record flopping so im circling the wagons doing damage control , but, i wanted to comment on this.

    lawson-stone, you are exactly a type person id like to tell you this information. first, great you are enjoying what you have defined as your role. nothing wrong with that at all. but, i perceive you are dealing with how to trip rope your solo playing into your intuition , or that is an obstacle for you.

    it seems you have the tools , if you have the bloc chords down, the facility to play simple lines and you have transcribed so you know what the masters were doing , you have certain fundimentals, and it seems you have situations with live playing you are in that you can chose to solo the way you described or try to go into intuition more.

    my first really fast track info to get you started immedietly on your next solo into intuition and not copying , is , take some simple notes and play to your drummer. get into a call responce with him, set up some soft balls and see if he is listening. if you are doing that, you are automaticly out of thinking brain and into feeling with a band mate...for sure one bandmate should apreciete it very much and guess what? you get to see who is actualy listening on the playing feild ,or who is buried in their chart or thinking brain.

    because that is the goal in jazz soloing , to turn off your thinking brain and get into your intuition and getting your physical body to react to that with what you know in muscle memory of what you are playing. this is what is underneath jazz soloing, tapping into your subconcious and feeling and intutuition, and this is the crux of the ancient african concepts. people holding down foundation while one person solos/improvises against the polly rhythm call responce , repeated over and over groove , and soloing to relate to them.

    so use a song that is simple , blues or aaba, its great to have an intro into your solo you kind of have worked out with the idea you could change it everynight or embelish it at your desire, a middle that brings everything together , like simple bloc chords you said you do, and an ending that is intense and rhythmic, more intense bloc chords than the middle .

    then, take the parts in the middle of those parts and use simple notes and try to build rhythmic tension and let your self go...try to take the risk....you know you are going to have a middle to pull together and an end that you kind of know what you will do, but, allow those moments to go into your subconcious , building tension and release with a couple of notes. wayne shorter can solo a long time on one note.

    think of armstrong singing dinah in that film done in switzerland or somewhere. he sings the A all correct and in the B he just takes the well worked out melody of the writer and throws it away and scats all kind of wild stuff and comes strong back on the A. he just seemed to throw all caution to the wind and reach for something , feel something...

  46. #45

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    i just want to say this about solos too:

    when i was in chicago before i moved to new york, id see all these heavy cats come in from new york, art blakey, mccoy tyner, gary bartz , weather report , chick correa , joe henderson ,etc

    and , what impressed me so much was, they had incredable chops and technique at the same time incredable unified groove.

    and they would bring it way down on the beginning of each solo, and the soloist would slowly steadily build in intensity , so it would just build in volume until the huge climax ending and then they would bring it way back down again....to dramatic effect

    and the best cats did this consistantly. and , especialy when i got to new york, but , i was getting it before too, i realised that it was a tremendous control of that solo. still with abandon, but, enough control as a soloist and group , to manipulate the moment to bring in the audience as powerfully as possable. and it seperates the real hip cats from a whole lot of the others.

    they still are giving into intuition, but, they play off of group communication and group objective and individual ability to manipulate and control the solo but still being in the moment ....like that ability to chose to play soft on the first part and slowly get louder and the loudest at the end...playing dynamics is a choice, you can control it and still be firing up...yeah, its that control of time and space thing

  47. #46

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    Frustration is bringing your chops up to a high level and not having the opportunity to use them outside the woodshed, and then having them deteriorate, because you don't have the time to maintain them anymore....

  48. #47

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    There's a perennial debate about the relevant importance of talent, hard work, and good teaching or methodology. Over the years my analysis of what I see and hear has convinced me that, however important the other two might be, no-one is going to improvise at a high level unless they have fairly unusual amounts of innate talent. And I don't.