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  1. #1

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    What separates the great improvisors from the rest of us? Setting aside the prerequisite years of study, practice etc, why do some players seem far more advanced when compared to those that have been practicing just as hard for the same amount of time?

    Is it down to how musically gifted one is (perfect pitch etc)? Or how intelligent? Or is it down to how well one can remember what they've learned?

    When you first hear a player playing Jazz involving functional or non functional chord changes (as opposed to modal vamps) that astounds you, you're amazed at the endless invention, the seemingly impossible perfection when spinning perfect lines that meet every change, not with plain arps, scales or patterns, but with melody making at any tempo. The solos can be analysed to reveal true mastery, achieving the holy grail in Jazz improvisation, perfect composition in real time, a masterpiece of invention every time, whether for one chorus or a hundred. Must be genius, right ?

    Well, sometimes it obviously is. Just like there are born mathematical geniuses (people who can solve incredibly difficult equations effortlessly), at any one time there will always be a very small percentage of people alive that are bona fide musical geniuses. But there are also a greater number of people who can appear to be musical geniuses only because they can recall a great deal of pre learned material giving the impression that those 100 choruses you just witnessed must have been freshly minted and unrepeatable. Until you've been to a hundred gigs, or listened to a hundred different recordings where you start to notice large repeated chunks which make you realise that these players are mortals after all!

    Of course, it's no mean feat to have that kind of recall, indeed it's a different kind of gift. So I'm just putting it out there and looking for your own thoughts about this, particularly as it relates to your own aspirations- Are you trying to increase your store of prefab "material" to draw from? Or are you trying to avoid that approach and aim instead for true improvisation? Do you feel that the prefab brigade - that go close to impersonating true genius - are offering the listener better quality music? (because of it being largely precomposed?). Do you think the average listener cares how much is pre learned and recalled? (not just licks or lines, but maybe up to entire choruses).

    Or are you more focused on the enjoyment your improvisation brings you? Is making the changes with less interesting but truly improvised playing more satisfying for the performer if not for the listener? If you play for your own enjoyment, is there any point rehashing words, sentences or even paragraphs of music note for note? Even if you could?

    Finally, do you agree that many players feel the need to impersonate true musical genius and achieve that - to an extent - by committing a lot of material to memory and having it recallable? Are they trying to "fool" the listener? Or even other musicians?? (much harder I expect) ...

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  3. #2

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    Quote Originally Posted by princeplanet
    - Are you trying to increase your store of prefab "material" to draw from?
    I guess my question is, as a beginning Jazzer, are you referring to collecting licks verses just going for it? Is that a gross oversimplification? I remember being a young fresh faced Rocker back in college a hundred years ago, and I was talking to Jazzer who said, in no uncertain terms, "F*$% licks". It scared me off from jazz for about 30 years. And I still assume it's frowned upon to collect licks. Is this incorrect? Because if it isn't this raises a whole slew of additional questions best saved for another post.

  4. #3

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    Well, everybody has licks. Some folks are just better at tweaking them on the fly.

    A good jazz lick isn't like a ceramic bowl, it's a lump of play-doh. It's easily manipulated to work in different situations. You can add stuff to it and it will stick, or you can pull stuff away from it.

    I think I'll do a video on this. I'm good at a couple of things only, but one of them is tweaking licks on the fly.


    The thing with licks is, eventually they're ingrained enough that the lick, and it's permutations and possibilities, aren't "canned responses" to harmony anymore. They're an actual part of who you are musically, they're your "language" (there I go again, using the language metaphor that I've blatantly said I don't like)

  5. #4

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    Conflating musical language repertory with a perhaps simplistic-view term of "licks" makes an entire discussion of "improvisation" a bit ... odd.

    There are only so many ways to do X movement. For any given X. So any approach to any ultimate note has been done a billion times between 1700 and now.

    Add in a couple more lead-in measures to that ending, you add in more variations possible.

    But the language ... the notes ... by nature are rather limited. Even for jazz, which does add in complexities via chord replacement, quartiles, modal inversions and rinky donk. Ahem. (Jazzers always trying to be inventive) ;-)

    So discussions over "the TRUE method [style, form, mode, whatever] of Improvisation" always have a bunch of kinks in the very discussion.

    Improv is a personal "discussion" of musical material. Some are more interesting than others *to the listeners* but that is always a personal thing.

    And listening to Theorists have at it is at times intriguing. And can be humorous or ... very snoring.





    Sent from my SM-G960U using Tapatalk

  6. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by rNeil
    Conflating musical language repertory with a perhaps simplistic-view term of "licks" makes an entire discussion of "improvisation" a bit ... odd.
    Why odd? Improvisation to many means stitching together pre learned chunks - the art becomes how to hide the seams, or as Jeff puts it, how to tweak the chunks on the fly...
    The other extreme may be free form "singing" through your instrument, just inventing melodies without reverting to any rehearsed moves. Personally, I like (and try to do) a bit of both, but am noticing more and more that many players, even some of the greats, relied on prefab material more than I once thought. Kinda makes you re appraise...

  7. #6

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    I read a bit from one of the Yardbirds about Clapton's early days there. He was clearly kinda peeved at the kid at the time. This KID ... well, was getting constantly and rapidly increasing attention from the audience.

    This other YB said it was like every freaking night, Clapton's ability to play solos that pleased the audience grew. But ... it wasn't that he was pandering to them, or even seemed that aware of the audience while soloing.

    And ... damn it all, he was getting more interesting for the rest of the band to listen to.

    Yet ... that other YB player has never been able to put his finger on the big question: why?

    What was it that made Clapton's solos just seem more interesting and satisfying than the other guys? Because of course that difference is why Clapton became ... CLAPTON ... for such a large part of the public.

    And the other YB, and so many other very accomplished git players ... never did. Oh, major long careers in several bands for sure. But ... never ... Clapton.

    Doesn't make any difference if any of us like Clapton ... but he's a good example. Why his "sound" is so appealing to so many and distinguished from other players?

    So many jazz players are the same. There have always been highly proficient players who are pretty awesome ... but then there's Wes, Pass, Django, even Metheny.

    There's something there where the rest of us can try to play as beautiful, craftsman-like, and inventive as we can. Become very worth listening to.

    But ... there's something that makes some results just More. And that can't be taught.

    My best voice teacher had been developing an operatic career when young. SF Opera, Merola program, much work with Oakland and other places. I digitized her studio demo/audition tapes here a few years back.

    That gal had the best and fastest coloratura I've ever heard ... yet maintaining the exact same focus on every note no matter the jump.

    Power ... sheesh. Altitude! With the same timbre everywhere and at every volume. Plus incredibly good at acting through the voice.

    She went to her teacher and said "teach me to spin". That's the ability to sing a seemingly very quiet note, yet it still carries in a 4,000 seat house and over the 100 piece orchestra and other voices.

    Victoria DeLosAngeles could do that incredibly well. Emotionally VERY effective.

    But Jackie's teacher just laughed at the request. "No one can teach that. You either can or you can't." Making one angry young 20-something vocal student. Who found ... you either can or you can't. She learned to do anything else with her vocal instrument an operatic soprano need do. She couldn't ever spin.

    You can ... or you can't. Big lesson for some of those top end talent questions.

    The rest of us can always get better, a very worthwhile goal. And we enjoy playing and listening to each other. And we enjoy discussions like this too!

    But ... using music as an incredibly focused, touching language that "hits" people ... at the level of a Master... well ... if you can define exactly why some people are somehow at that level, maybe you can intellectually achieve the goal.

    What is the right mix of familiar and "new" ... that somehow also seems fresh? Why is his timing just ... more *something* ... than the other guy or gal?

    I don't think anyone ever has been able to define this, not really. But the possibility must exist ... ;-)

    Sent from my SM-G960U using Tapatalk

  8. #7
    I don't think Clapton had a very large trick bag. I think I worked most of them out pretty quick when I was young. I never (nor did most) put them quite together with his distinct phrasing and tone, but the method to his approach was relatively simple. Learn a couple of box shapes, some key patterns and licks and you sounded like a Clapton clone within months.

    On the other hand, if you tried to improvise (and what would be the point?) in the style of a Wes clone, let's say, then, then that takes several decades for most. At any rate, I'm not as interested in the "je ne sais quois" of a player's style in this discussion as I am in the player's store of ideas. A vast store (and the ability to use it all) can impersonate true genius maybe? Take Sonny Stitt vs Charlie Parker, or even Joe Pass vs Wes. It's contentious, I know...

  9. #8

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    Good points, and I think it is becoming more clear that it is not really a "musical memory" thing... musical memory, rhythm, and chops are all considered "given" - they comprise the foundation for everything else. It is that "everything else" that is really being eluded to here.

    So given memory, rhythm, and chops, what else?

    I think it is a quality of instantaneous emergent creativity, an absolutely fluid management and development of vocabulary that reveals no seams or rivets of construction, and a transcendent flexibility where one hears multiple musical paths and lets the best one be executed and expressed. But ultimately I think all this "everything else" is really just pure musical judgement, the most difficult thing a musician achieves in one's playing, but of highest valuable because it is the musical magic that cultivates listeners and transforms them into enthusiasts.

  10. #9

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    Certainly memory and intelligence play a role, as they do in the study of anything.


    But if you listen long enough, everyone has a bag. Listen to Eric Dolphy. At first listen, it’s like nothing you’ve heard before. Listen to him for a month, and you practically know what his first line will be.


    Ftr, it’s a hell of a line.

  11. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by vintagelove
    Certainly memory and intelligence play a role, as they do in the study of anything.


    But if you listen long enough, everyone has a bag. Listen to Eric Dolphy. At first listen, it’s like nothing you’ve heard before. Listen to him for a month, and you practically know what his first line will be.


    Ftr, it’s a hell of a line.

    Yes, even the most famous of the renowned spontaneous improvisors like Parker, Rollins, even Wes.... all have their bag. Parker ingeniously got maximum mileage from his tricks by making an art form of hiding the seams. Does not diminish his genius however!

    But if you had a prodigious memory and could compose and remember a thousand solos for every tune you play, then who could tell that you're not actually improvising? Even if you actually analysed every solo (and who's gonna do that! ). Hey, there are people with amazing memories (reciting pi, memorising a card deck within minutes, remembering names and events perfectly from any day of their lives etc etc). If someone with such a memory used if for Jazz, then they wouldn't need to learn to be creative on the spot (totally different art form) and yet still be able to leave those around them convinced they are improvising...

    Yeah, I know, what would be the point, right? The "being spontaneous" bit is the whole point, and the whole reward. But then there are plenty of examples of players repeating entire solos note for note, for one reason or another. Certain bands like the Modern Jazz Quartet (unless I'm mistaken) made a thing of it...

    Speaking for myself, I would be more than a little disappointed if I were to realise that a player who had amazed me with their endless well of ideas was actually drawing from a large resource of memorised large chunks (say 8 bars or more), because the memory trick ( as impressive as it is) seems far less transcendent than the spontaneous creativity feat we admire so much.

    Further, I'm willing to bet there are many players, even some among us, that would rather their audience or band mates be left thinking that they are genuinely freewheeling when they are in fact just regurgitating prefab lines. Takes a lot of shedding to be a magician!

  12. #11

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    It's like fairytales: you thought they were true when you first heard them; then in spite of learning that they're not, that first impact isn't lessened.

  13. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by princeplanet
    What separates the great improvisors from the rest of us? Setting aside the prerequisite years of study, practice etc, why do some players seem far more advanced when compared to those that have been practicing just as hard for the same amount of time?

    Is it down to how musically gifted one is (perfect pitch etc)? Or how intelligent? Or is it down to how well one can remember what they've learned?
    Your first paragraph glosses right over something, and that is the practice of improvisation itself. It's not a matter of practicing rote material or memorizing exercises and then flipping a switch to masterful improv. And memory? Sure. But thoughtful, reflective, recall? No. There is no time. What one improvises is more like an impulse. So how does one prepare themselves to respond with effective impulses?

    Generally speaking, you have to practice the way you want to play. So that means that one's improv routines should be comprised of the exact same challenges that will be encountered when improvising. The "pure" creation part - almost like one is possessed by a spirit, or is relying on pure chance, has to be very small. Otherwise, what gets played will probably be pretty darned forgettable.

    IMO of course.

  14. #13

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    Sonny Rollins was mentioned above, I think he is an interesting example. His earlier work seemed to have more ‘recognisable’ lines and I personally find it more enjoyable. In later years he tried to get away from that approach, and play with more ‘pure improvisation’ as it were. Even by his own admission, this resulted in good nights (when the inspiration flowed) and bad nights (when it didn’t).

    Unfortunately the only time I saw him was one of the latter, it was one of the most tedious concerts I have ever endured. He just basically honked single notes repeatedly, or played the most banal phrases endlessly, for twenty minutes or more on a single tune.

    So that is probably why most jazz soloists rely on a certain amount of pre-learned ideas (I know I do). But when you play, you try and let your mind go almost blank and see what comes out. Sometimes phrases emerge that you have never played before, or maybe some of your usual ideas get transformed a bit, then you know your ‘music brain’ can subconsciously create new things out of the old (at least that’s how it feels to me when it happens).

  15. #14

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    Great point about memory.

    I am thinking about it since a few months... I mean is my lack of memory of the bottleneck of my progress. The trigger was Mark's great tagline about learn the repertoire. I see it every day, and I am happy to see it every time.

    There is a trap in this conversation, there are two kind of memory, the melody memory and the muscle memory. To simplify the topic, just disregard the high tempos, where muscle memory is mandatory.

    So I think the key is a great memory (in head, you can recall, associate, sing) full of melodies, both tune heads, and great moments of solos. Then in case you can play by ear, plus you have at least medium or better creativity to combine, alter then you are done. We can call this a "trick", but this case every high level human activity can be called as a trick, so I see no reason to call it that.

    My current view is a great recallable, associable melody memory in ear is mandatory, maybe in unconcious level.

    This is very different from muscle memory and what we usually mean on lick. Of course no one can be live entirely without licks, especially when starting learn to improvise.

  16. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by grahambop
    your ‘music brain’ can subconsciously create new things out of the old...
    That's what I'm in it for, I think, that feeling you get when you sink back and let your subconscious express something. If you were 100% rote, you miss out on that feeling and you may as well be a parlour magician. I emerge from an artful experience like I do a sexual one, there's transformation, release, and yes, sometimes, disappointment!

    But I hear ya re latter day Rollins, and agree that pure improv might make the player feel good, but the listener unmoved. That's why I think I rely on more prefab stuff when playing in front of others, I don't wanna bore people. You gotta be either brave, ignorant, or confident in your ability to entertain for long periods if you're gonna eschew the licks...

    But to get back to the memory thing, do you ever get the feeling some players (past or present) are just basically rehashing etudes?

  17. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by princeplanet
    That's what I'm in it for, I think, that feeling you get when you sink back and let your subconscious express something. If you were 100% rote, you miss out on that feeling and you may as well be a parlour magician. I emerge from an artful experience like I do a sexual one, there's transformation, release, and yes, sometimes, disappointment!
    I really do not think that sexual experience has similarity, I mean if there is similarity that is not the way. High emotions and high sensual and chemical state seems to be obviuos to get the great great solo, but if you examine the greatests, you will find, that majorty of them a very disciplined, self concious, and controlled even during the performance. Miles, Bill Evans, Coltrane, Chick Corea (my hero of creativity), Brecker (well, an other hero of creativity). Of course you can list contra examples, Keith Jarrett seems to be in trans sometimes

    If you insist to search mind states, then a very relaxed, meditatve state, where you allow your mind to wonder and explore is more useful I think, to achieve creativity.

  18. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by Zina
    ...A biology teacher says it could be due to a pretty bad concussion I had not long before this started. Is that possible or just hippie talk? ...
    I'm quite sure there are many confirmed cases of head trauma leading to special "gifts" regarding sudden increased capacities in memory, creativity, or both if you're lucky!

  19. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by Gabor
    I really do not think that sexual experience has similarity, I mean if there is similarity that is not the way. High emotions and high sensual and chemical state seems to be obviuos to get the great great solo, but if you examine the greatests, you will find, that majorty of them a very disciplined, self concious, and controlled even during the performance. Miles, Bill Evans, Coltrane, Chick Corea (my hero of creativity), Brecker (well, an other hero of creativity). Of course you can list contra examples, Keith Jarrett seems to be in trans sometimes
    Some call it "spiritual", some liken it to a sexual thing, I think what we all mean is that we get to experience some level of transcendence...

  20. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by princeplanet
    I'm quite sure there are many confirmed cases of head trauma leading to special "gifts" regarding sudden increased capacities in memory, creativity, or both if you're lucky!
    "Falls down a well, eyes go crossed. Gets kicked by a mule, they go back to normal."

    Cousin Eddie

  21. #20

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    Quote Originally Posted by princeplanet
    That's what I'm in it for, I think, that feeling you get when you sink back and let your subconscious express something. If you were 100% rote, you miss out on that feeling and you may as well be a parlour magician. I emerge from an artful experience like I do a sexual one, there's transformation, release, and yes, sometimes, disappointment!

    But I hear ya re latter day Rollins, and agree that pure improv might make the player feel good, but the listener unmoved. That's why I think I rely on more prefab stuff when playing in front of others, I don't wanna bore people. You gotta be either brave, ignorant, or confident in your ability to entertain for long periods if you're gonna eschew the licks...

    But to get back to the memory thing, do you ever get the feeling some players (past or present) are just basically rehashing etudes?
    Not sure if this is quite what you mean, but I read somewhere that Sonny Stitt was sometimes thought to be a kind of ‘lick-machine’ player. But then again he knew so many and they were so good, that he always sounded great!

  22. #21
    Quote Originally Posted by grahambop
    Not sure if this is quite what you mean, but I read somewhere that Sonny Stitt was sometimes thought to be a kind of ‘lick-machine’ player. But then again he knew so many and they were so good, that he always sounded great!
    Well yeah, that's exactly what I mean, and a fine example. I know that a lot of his audience wouldn't have cared whether he was recalling licks or not and might even be impressed that he's actually not "just making up all that stuff" - haha, but other jazz musicians I think can sense when a player is just too perfect. We like to hear some risk taking and a flub or two is not just forgiven, but appreciated!

  23. #22

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    Imo, musical memory, as most memory types, is active. The "bits" are "processors" themselves - merging the emotional memory - the feel - with ways to produce this. If a lick or snippet doesn't have much emotional value anyway, using this comfortably while putting the mind into rest would cause some annoyance probably.. eventually. Hopefully enough, to go search for a better way to play a nice solo.

  24. #23

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    So the spontaneous thing... personally I believe external stimulus or interaction is part of the show. And when one is not able to recognize what's going on in that moment... or some basic conscious skills of playing music, much can be missed or misinterpreted. I know... I get the level of performing up to where it may sound magical etc... (it's obviously not, I'm just an average pro...) But music does get more dialed in.... when good players want to. Personally again... there are standard very physical approaches for reaching those levels of performance. And not just putting together licks.

    But... there are those players where you just get on board and go. And make sure you don't cross that line.

  25. #24

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    Quote Originally Posted by princeplanet
    Well yeah, that's exactly what I mean, and a fine example. I know that a lot of his audience wouldn't have cared whether he was recalling licks or not and might even be impressed that he's actually not "just making up all that stuff" - haha, but other jazz musicians I think can sense when a player is just too perfect. We like to hear some risk taking and a flub or two is not just forgiven, but appreciated!
    I saw Sonny Stitt once and he sounded great, it was certainly a lot more enjoyable than that Sonny Rollins concert I went to!

    Also I think when it’s live, the impact of any good player is different from hearing them on records, it probably sounds more spontaneous when live because everything is played once and gone, as it were.

  26. #25
    Quote Originally Posted by Reg

    But... there are those players where you just get on board and go. And make sure you don't cross that line.
    Which line do you mean here?

  27. #26

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    Regarding memory... For a long time, decades actually, I've thought a good memory was an important asset for musicians. So, I've often paid attention to the correlation and it has held true that the best musicians I have known have really good memories, musical memories.

    You can't play a tune by ear if you can't remember how it goes. I have a friend, perhaps the best musician I know, that I've asked to sing some random song... like Beethovin's 5th (which I did ask once). He'll sing it with surprising accuracy going on and on into the B section etc. And he's into jazz not classical. This is not about finding it on an instrument (which he can), it's just about remembering it in your head. That kind of memory is something that is hard for me to fathom, kind of like someone born blind trying to understand what being able to see is like.

    My memory, not so good.

  28. #27
    Quote Originally Posted by fep
    Regarding memory... For a long time, decades actually, I've thought a good memory was an important asset for musicians. So, I've often paid attention to the correlation and it has held true that the best musicians I have known have really good memories, musical memories.

    You can't play a tune by ear if you can't remember how it goes. I have a friend, perhaps the best musician I know, that I've asked to sing some random song... like Beethovin's 5th (which I did ask once). He'll sing it with surprising accuracy going on and on into the B section etc. And he's into jazz not classical. This is not about finding it on an instrument (which he can), it's just about remembering it in your head. That kind of memory is something that is hard for me to fathom, kind of like someone born blind trying to understand what being able to see is like.

    My memory, not so good.
    So, do you feel one can still be a good jazz player (or improvisor) with a below average memory? (general, or musical memory - or are they somehow different?)

  29. #28

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    Quote Originally Posted by princeplanet
    Which line do you mean here?
    Really... never upstage the soloist

  30. #29

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    Yea... photographic memory, perfect pitch, There seem to be some of those players.... years ago in one ensemble... both the pianist/ violin and the sax player both had perfect pitch. I don't... but when you play all the time, you develop relative pitch... I remember tunes in different keys...and can mechanically name and hear notated pitches... or transcribe on paper.

    But for most... you can really help your ability to remember tunes by understanding Form and common harmonic motion, and then become aware of the few small changes for different tunes. Yea... I know most want to memorize the melody and then put together the pieces around that melody. I guess if you were a single line player etc... sure. But generally we as guitar players... aren't. We play harmony, at least most of the time. Anyway that's the point of memorization by Form... it covers all aspects of the tune. And if you can't remember everything... at least you can be in the right place.

  31. #30

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    Regarding my previous post #27... I guess I'm referring to memory and recall. I hear my friend sing a melody and I'm amazed it how accurately he remembers/recalls it. I guess I must be remembering Beethoven's 5th also as I can recognize how accurately he is singing. So perhaps my issue is not memory but recall.

  32. #31

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    Quote Originally Posted by princeplanet
    I'm quite sure there are many confirmed cases of head trauma leading to special "gifts" regarding sudden increased capacities in memory, creativity, or both if you're lucky!
    Thanks! I didn't know that. My memory was near-eidetic already (it sounds like I'm heaping up the oddities, but it's true), so maybe the 2 work better together now? I'm very happy with this part of the side-effects, anyway. (removed original comment, because embarrassed)

  33. #32

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    I’m sure genes can enter into it as well as environment. But for the average person who hasn’t any exceptional genetic gifts or upbringing, I suspect what makes some stand out as improvisors has more to to with how deeply they have engaged with music, both listening and making it, especially when young.

  34. #33

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    Quote Originally Posted by Reg
    Yea... photographic memory, perfect pitch, There seem to be some of those players.... years ago in one ensemble... both the pianist/ violin and the sax player both had perfect pitch.
    I used to think that having perfect pitch was a huge asset, but as my relative pitch has improved a lot over the years, I think it's less and less important. There are a bunch of musicians who were good quite young that do have absolute pitch (Mehldau, Chris Potter), but there's also tons of top level players that don't have perfect pitch. Geoff Keezer was super good as a very young person and doesn't have absolute pitch.

    Everyone I know that has perfect pitch has always said to me that they felt relative pitch is a lot more important. I definitely agree. You can hear most of what you need to as a jazz musician just by having good relative pitch and enough understanding of the language to hear the changes to most standards.

  35. #34

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    There is something about musical memory, however, that is required of great improvisers. It is that they can remember the song. They can remember the harmonic relationships and movement, the melody and always know where they are in the song while soloing. They don't need a chart in front of them.

    When I go out to hear live jazz, one of the things that I notice is that at least half the band has the chart for the song in front of them. If they need the chart, they don't know the song. Usually I am one of them. But relatively few people seem to be able to know 500 songs and be able to play them at a moments notice. Hmmm, no pun intended there. The people who are great jazz musicians can do that.


    I am not a great jazz musician. After 40 years of studying this music, I have a couple dozen jazz songs memorized that I can play at the drop of a hat. I have tried various things that some great jazz musicians say to do in order to be able to remember the songs. They don't work. I don't have that kind of memory, as far as I can tell, or at least have not been able to access it if I do. There are multiple memory systems in our brains; memory is not a monolithic process. It may very well be, as the OP noted, that some people are simply biologically equipped for this; it's also quite likely that people with that ability will not understand people who don't have that- because it seems so natural, like breathing. And sometimes those people will denigrate musicians who can't memorize that many songs and play them in any key at any moment at any tempo in any kind of feel.

  36. #35
    OK, so there's remembering tunes, that's one aspect of musical memory, sure. But I'm more interested in this thread to hear about the ability to remember chops, mainly single note chops let's say. If you added up all the lines, licks, devices, tricks etc you ever committed to memory at some point (if only for a brief time), what percentage would you say you've forgotten? I know, it's hard to know what you've forgotten, but I'm guessing that the average player forgets a lot, maybe up to 90%.

    But imagine how more advanced you'd be if you managed to keep 50% of everything at call, right under those fingers at any time - hear it clearly and execute upon demand. How about 75% ? You'd be a monster, right? You'd rely less on creativity, maybe, and and more on recall, "creative" recall maybe... So how many great players, I wonder, simply have strong musical memory in this sense, as opposed to being strong at actually improvising fresh lines most of the time? Can one be so good at recalling that even their band mates don't know? Parker once said "I can play all I know in only 8 bars", but Owens showed he actually had a few hundred motifs he frequently pulled from. After decades of analysis, we face the fact that we can never understand his methodology, so what chance did his band mates have, or his audience for that matter? Is great improv at that level sometimes a high level, calculated game of "mix 'n match"?

    Those of us with only an average memory need not apply... ?

  37. #36

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    I have never consciously committed "licks" to memory. I would probably sound much more proficient if I had! In retrospect I probably should've been doing that from early on. I've tried to commit melodies to memory because within those melodies there are many great ideas for improvisation. There are a few solos of favorite players I've worked out. If you were to listen to me play, however, you would hear a lot of things that you might think of as characteristic licks but which are really just habits and laziness. Maybe that's all licks are, come to think of it. If that's the case, I would rather my licks be my own habits and laziness rather than borrowed from someone else.

  38. #37

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    I do not think it is possible to describe it in a clear way.

    Once I was in a jazz club with a friend of mine - who is not jazzer or musician but loves that kind of sound. He began to ask me: do they improvize now or not?

    These kind of questions for me are like atheist asking a believer: can you show me exactly where the God is?

    I tried to explain the idea behind it but he really pushed for direct 'yes or no'. Then - already irritated - I told him: you are here on your own will! Use your ears, mind, soul and knowledge and answer this question yourself... what do you hear as improvized?

    this is the key for me... in jazz discussions people often discuss an issue of 'if the player improvizes or not', and as a result they come to the point of 'what is 'improvized here'... which is unanawerable from player's point of in my opinion.

    It is much more valuable to try to dig what we here as improvization (every player is first of all a listner!).

    I compare it with classical: there are Schubert's pieces that are called Impromptu (expromts, improvizations).
    Of course he could improvize, but these are pieces of music, they are written out and most probably directly on paper as he mostly did.
    They are called like that becasue they sound like improvizations.
    The composer hears it, the ausdience hears it - they must undertsand musical language well to be able to feel the spirit of improvization.

    Same thing in jazz? What do we hear as improvized and why that solo sounds like a challenging improvization? and that sounds like a pre-learnt routine?
    I am sure this is much more connected with inner spirit and creativity of it than whether the player used pre-composed solos or not...


    very important criteria for me is repetition. A few times I heard solo repeated note for note... that had immidiate effect. It lost the improvized feel. I do not mean variations - or development of the idea...

    It is also an interesting issue: at which point I begin to hear it as 'fake' -- how much, and how accuarately it is being repeated that I begin to feel deceived?


    (This is the differenrnce between classical and jazz -- once it is written it is only 'a charachter of improvization', imitation of it... but not real one, so it is legitimate, in jazz it does not work)
    Last edited by Jonah; 12-11-2019 at 05:38 AM.

  39. #38

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    Quote Originally Posted by princeplanet
    OK, so there's remembering tunes, that's one aspect of musical memory, sure. But I'm more interested in this thread to hear about the ability to remember chops, mainly single note chops let's say. If you added up all the lines, licks, devices, tricks etc you ever committed to memory at some point (if only for a brief time), what percentage would you say you've forgotten? I know, it's hard to know what you've forgotten, but I'm guessing that the average player forgets a lot, maybe up to 90%.

    But imagine how more advanced you'd be if you managed to keep 50% of everything at call, right under those fingers at any time - hear it clearly and execute upon demand. How about 75% ? You'd be a monster, right? You'd rely less on creativity, maybe, and and more on recall, "creative" recall maybe... So how many great players, I wonder, simply have strong musical memory in this sense, as opposed to being strong at actually improvising fresh lines most of the time? Can one be so good at recalling that even their band mates don't know? Parker once said "I can play all I know in only 8 bars", but Owens showed he actually had a few hundred motifs he frequently pulled from. After decades of analysis, we face the fact that we can never understand his methodology, so what chance did his band mates have, or his audience for that matter? Is great improv at that level sometimes a high level, calculated game of "mix 'n match"?

    Those of us with only an average memory need not apply... ?
    I can only speak from my own experience, but I think it is possible to improvise without knowing hundreds of pre-learned ideas. In fact I don’t think it works like that. Sure I probably know quite a lot of ideas or phrases, but I couldn’t list them out or anything. They’re just in the brain somewhere and when I play, I don’t consciously recall them. My memory isn’t that great, if I play a transcription or something I will forget most of it. Actually I think I have picked up more ideas over the years just by listening to lots of jazz.

    As an experiment I just tried playing the first 8 bars of ATTYA a few times, and trying to play different lines each time. I know that a lot of what I played sounded similar to what I always play, so definitely I am re-using ideas to some extent. But I was still able to come up with quite different lines each time. And I reckon I could have carried on doing it quite a few more times. So I don’t think you need a lot of ideas to do this, somehow you can keep on varying and tweaking and re-working what you know, enough to make something reasonably different each time.

  40. #39

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    Yesterday I walked from the car into the office building, but I took steps slightly differently than ever before. Some were the same, others were different. Some were faster, others slower, some were longer, others shorter, some were straight and others off angle.

    I did it somewhat whimsically, but always in response to the stimuli around me. I recognized the form of the parking garage, elevator, and walkway, and random cars going by, but didn't have to think very hard about them. It all seemed fairly effortless - masterful even - but I was warm when finished. Amazingly, I was putting one foot in front of the other and with a steady beat the entire time!

    So,
    Am I special, and possessing of an incredible memory?
    Or
    Am I going through little motions that have been used in whole or in part, countless times before, and without overthinking them?


    And - I also recall that I was once hospitilized and placed into a partial body cast for a few months. When I was finally released from the body cast I struggled to take a few steps before needing to lie down immediately. The next day I took a few more steps, and the day after that I was walking around.

    So what's that all about? Is it all about a great memory of how to walk? Or is it about memory and conditioning combined?

    These are the questions that plague mankind.

  41. #40

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    Here's the thing, IMO - Make a jazz sound!

    Meaning - if you want jazz sounds to come out of you, put jazz sounds into you. Garbage in, garbage out - just like a computer sytem, even a very sophisticated one. If the data (stimuli) going in is inadequate then we can't expect that the output will be the holy grail of the answer set that we desire.

    Jazz routines must sound like jazz. If you play pop, rock, blues, country, classical, plectrum guitar routines, why would you expect that when you attempt to improvise that you'll sound like the guitar version of a Bird or Trane? That's entirely unrealistic.

    Improvisation output is a result of conditioned input. What we practice, how much and how often we practice it. If we want to improvise - in any style - we need to carefully choose how we practice.

  42. #41

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    If you go into computer systems analogy (we definitely should not), then you must do it way more responsible way, without this, the only thing we got, are misleading half truths.

    - regarding garbage in garbage out: this is true, but does not lead us to any recipe or conclusion, there are systems with value in, but still garbage out. So armed with this knowledge we still do not know how to make music, just one particular recipe of an antipattern.

    - regarding degrading the memory part: both program and both data are stored in the very same type of memory, (Neumann principle) so program, conditioning, etc is also memory in the terms of this thread. This applies to your example of walking after hospital, not only of the computer analogy.

    ***

    Walkin is a learned thing so it stored in memory. Babies who learn 10 times faster than a teenager, take 6 month to learn that and memorize all the different contexts and use cases to get to a low intermediate level. and they practicing many hours per every single day. (a 3 years old child's walking skill is not equal with an adults advanced walking skill)

    So your example proves that many hours of context related (subcontious) learning and memorizing is necessary to get the skill, we can not say it is just conditioning and not memory. It is memory. But learned in baby age, so this skill is deep in your mind. This way it is similar to perfect pitch which is also can be learned this baby age, when brain is way more open and flexible to learn an memorize this kind of "programs"

  43. #42

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    My points are simple Gabor. We mystify and romanticize jazz improvisation too much. We all improvise in many ways, in everyday life. Speech is but one obvious example.

    So,
    Could anyone improvise jazz effectively? No, not necessarily.
    Are all those that can improvise, equally adept? Nope.
    Does it require more work than most people, even most serious musicians, are willing to commit to? Yes.

    My point is - if one wishes to be an effective improvisor in any style of music then they should be direct - not indirect - with their studies/practice time. They should first practice the very sounds that they wish to hear when they improvise, and if there is more time in the day to practice other things, then so be it.

    Here's a little secret - even the very greatest of jazz players still practice. Ask yourself why.

  44. #43

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    Imagine you are about to hear some melodic lines and it is your intention to determine if they are "new", for now they are just straight eighths...

    The first line is just one note - this is not "new" because all lines of eighths start with one note, and if you normalize the lines per key signature there are 12 possibilities, but if you don't normalize and let the note take on any relative degree then you can match any reference counter example, so just the same note... nothing "new" yet.

    The second line is two notes (might be two of the same note) - similar to above despite more possibilities, I won't do the math but there are countless lines that start with whatever two notes you may choose, they've already been played, recorded, and heard countless times, not new.

    How many notes in a line does it take to play something new? When do you reset the count of notes?

    If it takes greater than some particular number of notes to emerge with something "new", what happens when phrasing is mixed in and the shorter segments comprising the phrases are less than the "newness note count threshold", so resulting in just a series of old things strung together? Who decides that one phrase isn't really two concatenated shorter phrases?

    Seems to me that improvising does not mean playing something "new" with respect to the history of music so much as playing something new with respect to what you have played yourself, going with that confident musical feeling within the moment of performance where you just know intuitively that an idea, something you yourself have not played before, is going to sound just right...

    The alternative is the bizarre belief that true improvisation would be performing on a type of instrument with which you had no experience playing whatsoever, like you having never touched a trumpet and I hand you one, "Just Friends in C, ah one, two, one two three four..."

  45. #44

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    Quote Originally Posted by pauln

    Seems to me that improvising does not mean playing something "new" with respect to the history of music so much as playing something new with respect to what you have played yourself, going with that confident musical feeling within the moment of performance where you just know intuitively that an idea, something you yourself have not played before, is going to sound just right...
    Agreed. But maybe you have played fragments of this "new from me" idea, although maybe not the whole idea. Assuming any tempo other than slow, chances are if you go for something that you haven't played in practice - or something pretty close to it - you'll miss.

  46. #45

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    Improvization is first of all feeling of making choice right now for me.

    Somehow I just feel it or not.

    It is what it important for perceptions of it I guess.

  47. #46

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    OK... there have been years... when I've played non stop gigs, day, night... I remember almost any tune, I can't remember all the names of the tunes, but melody or changes etc... and can play or fake the tune.

    A couple things... generally playing the same tune in same way gets old. Changing the feel, the time signature, and even with better players the harmony. Example put tune in relative or parallel major or minor.... or even the older put in a Blues harmonic context.

    Back in the 70's and 80's the modal thing was fun. I guess my point is.... typically improve can be developed through the melody, the harmony, even rhythmically... and combinations of. But when you develop a melody... you don't just keep playing the same melody right. there's some standard approaches for developing melodic melodies, phrases... what ever melodic line you choose. Generally Harmony is involved. There are very organized steps that help organize how your creating improv using that melody or melodic element.

    So unless your playing solo... or forget that your performing with other musicians.... there's more to improv than just yourself.

    Example... your performing simple old standard... say pentup house, Sonny R tune....

    So maybe... instead of developing the melody with the changes or maybe even hearing both as the same thing.

    So A-7 D7/ Gmaj7 you push... A-9/D D9#11/.. / B-9 E7#9 /

    and bars 9-12 instead of D-7 G7/D-7 G7/ C-7 / F7 / you use /G9sus Ab9sus/ G9sus Gb9sus/ F9sus/ F7#9/

    There are choices.... So is memory or memorizing where you and the ensemble take the tune... have anything to do with what your playing. Personally.... I guess some, but generally your using your very physical skills, musicianship, ears, interaction to just play tunes in a Jazz style. I use to try and explain to amateurs that it's like ....using Plug and play within a Form with musical organization.
    But most musicians just don't really understand Musical organization. There is a difference between memorizing subs and understanding why they're called subs and why they work.

    I play gigs all the time where musicians haven't developed these jazz skills... and yea... they basically need to have rehearsed or Memorized this or that to be able to play ? There is nothing wrong or right with this approach.... it just takes time, so getting back to Prince's point... I disagree... Parkers approach is very understandable... his ability is another thing.

    When you play Parker tunes... do you hear or plays the basic changes, or do you actually play what the melody implies.

    You can call the basic changes a pedal harmony and play vanilla but what's the fun of that.

  48. #47

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    I'm sure it won't be long (if it hasn't happened already) before someone plugs all of Charlie Parker's / Django's / whoever's solos into a big computer and programmes it up accordingly, and out will pop a whole load of new solos that will be indistinguishable from the real thing (at least for anyone other than the most knowledgeable of listeners). And there'll be no creative intelligence or inspiration behind it - only memory. Albeit computer memory.

    Derek

  49. #48

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    Someone posted a podcast interview with Bruce Forman yesterday. Bruce is talking about 10 tunes it is great for jazz guitarists to learn because they teach things that occur in many other standards.

    (The list---which varies from time to time--runs: Summertime, Honeysuckle Rose, A-Train, Autumn Leaves, ATTYA, TWNBAY, Green Dolphin Street, EITHER Ain't Misbhavin' OR It Could Happen To You and, finally, Stella By Starlight.)

    The main point he wanted to get across is that the melody is the "hanger". (As in clothes in your closet are kept from falling into an unwearable heap on the floor by being placed upon a clothes hanger.) He thinks melodies imply harmonies and that melodies are easier to remember than a list of chord changes. (It's hard to forget the melody of "Summertime" but the progression is harder to recall. Same with any standard, really. Remembering the changes is like memorizing a list---which can be done but it is much harder than memorizing a melody, which we don't even think of as memorizing at all, just remembering.)

  50. #49

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    Quote Originally Posted by digger
    I'm sure it won't be long (if it hasn't happened already) before someone plugs all of Charlie Parker's / Django's / whoever's solos into a big computer and programmes it up accordingly, and out will pop a whole load of new solos that will be indistinguishable from the real thing (at least for anyone other than the most knowledgeable of listeners). And there'll be no creative intelligence or inspiration behind it - only memory. Albeit computer memory.

    Derek

  51. #50
    Quote Originally Posted by digger
    I'm sure it won't be long (if it hasn't happened already) before someone plugs all of Charlie Parker's / Django's / whoever's solos into a big computer and programmes it up accordingly, and out will pop a whole load of new solos that will be indistinguishable from the real thing (at least for anyone other than the most knowledgeable of listeners). And there'll be no creative intelligence or inspiration behind it - only memory. Albeit computer memory.

    Derek
    BIAB has several virtual "soloists" - some better than others - that might indeed fool us sometimes if we were just to look at the notated notes on the page of the virtual solos, vs notated solos that Bird actually performed (listening to the BIAB solos are obviously not convincing, but for other reasons...). But I wouldn't say there is no creativity or inspiration behind the virtual solos - the inspired genius went into the creation of the style that the emulations are based on. Further, there is some ingenuity in the composition of the algorithm that spits out these virtual solos to any tune you throw at it. Far from perfect, but also far from crude as well. It can and certainly will get better.

    We can decode this algorithm to a set of probabilities relating to how phrases get linked (or not) across chord changes depending on which notes start or end each phrase, which part of the bar the phrase starts or ends, balancing chromaticism with leaps, developing an over arching logic to a solo so that it mimics "story telling" etc etc, heck, one day an algorithm might be developed that can even react in time to the backing track (real or virtual). The point being that if jazz improv can indeed be replicated with a computer, then it can perhaps also be "replicated" by humans! In other words, it is likely that many players improvise according to a methodology or system that can be reduced to a set of probabilities relating to how one phrase influences another to be selected from a memorised store. There is still some randomness and unpredictability according to how the player feels from moment to moment, and that by deciding to link phrase 31b to 78c instead of the the other 29 choices at their fingertips just because that's how he/she heard it at the moment is still a creative choice, just not quite as creative as constructing a series of perfect new phrases that are not being retrieved from memory! ...

    OK, so no-one probably plays that way100% of the time, but no one plays like that 0% of the time either. And it's down to how much pre learned stuff we can draw from, maybe, if we wish to play more "good" lines, than lame ones.... I think the greats often relied on their own hard won unique systems that enabled them to pull unlimited ideas from a limited bag. I realised this when I first read "Thinking In Jazz" ages ago, which is basically interviews with said greats...