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  1. #1

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    In a lot of Monk's solo work, he just embellished the melody the whole time lol! I think I'm gonna start doing that.


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  3. #2

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    You should! That's the real point of this music, to hear a piece of music and to meld that with some personal sense of style. I'd go so far as to say most players embellish, change, interpret their playing. If you listen to someone like Oscar Peterson or Dexter Gordon, or someone like Lage Lund or Miles quintets, you can get some idea of how different or how far an artist can go when 'owning' their individual takes on a standard, say, or by composing their own pieces to bring it to the next level.
    Glad you're excited about this music. Have fun with it!

  4. #3

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jimmy blue note
    You should! That's the real point of this music, to hear a piece of music and to meld that with some personal sense of style. I'd go so far as to say most players embellish, change, interpret their playing. If you listen to someone like Oscar Peterson or Dexter Gordon, or someone like Lage Lund or Miles quintets, you can get some idea of how different or how far an artist can go when 'owning' their individual takes on a standard, say, or by composing their own pieces to bring it to the next level.
    Glad you're excited about this music. Have fun with it!
    This is the greatness of these musicians, their playing or sound is recognizable.
    This is what is one of the most important things in jazz music.
    Individuality creates its own recognizable language of musical expression.

  5. #4

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    These are I think some of the most beautiful examples of playing off of the melody within the players personal style.
    I mean the improvised solos, not the head arrangements (which are also spectacular):




  6. #5

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    I tend to think that one should be able to still recognize the tune from the solo, at least on much of the repertoire. Playing a completely different tune over standard changes has its place, of course, but I like to be able to be able to identify the tune from just hearing the solos. Both methods have their place.

  7. #6

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    Be careful when

    ”I like it when…”

    turns into

    ”I think you should”

    Not quite what you just said, I know, but it’s a thought.


  8. #7

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    Here is a question though, if you're not going to use the head as an inspiration for your solo, why bother playing it in the first place? Why not dispense with it and just blow over the changes? Is playing the head just a mindless, automatic jazz etiquette?

    Note playing off of the melody can be more abstract than just embellishing it (see the Joe Pass and Wes Montgomery recordings above).

    Peter Farrell said (in a youtube video) that he asked George Benson to improvise over a set of changes they were working on. George Benson said he couldn't unless he gave him a melody. Peter said "What do you mean, you are George Benson, you can improvise over anything." George Benson said no, he needed the melody. But then George Benson probably has higher standards for what amounts to improvisation than most people.

    Of course you can pick a different theme to play off of, but then again why bother playing the head if that's what you gonna do?

    PS. I can find the video if I get under enormous pressure to provide a citation.

  9. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by Clint 55
    In a lot of Monk's solo work, he just embellished the melody the whole time lol!
    And not just in the solo work. Per Steve Lacy: "Stop playing all that bullshit, play the melody!"

  10. #9

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    You can't be responsible for what the audience hears, whether they "get" what you're doing or whether it's beyond them to hear or enjoy the melody you're playing. Even when playing free, there are players where I can hear their take on the given head clearly and I take delight in the way they re-interpret or craft that head. Paul Bley comes to mind, as does Lee Konitz. We call Charlie Parkers pieces 'contrafacts' but he didn't have that terminology when he was creating Koko or Scrapple, but those original tunes are still very much there.
    The point is, there are a lot of people who 'like jazz' who can't stand any liberties a player takes, even to the point of criticizing a player for playing their own tunes differently from the way they're recorded. You can't let the ears of others adversely effect the growth of your own expressive language; not if you're a real jazz interpreter who has a command of the harmonic, melodic and rhythmic shaping forces of the music.
    Making it yours is what it's about, whether anyone else approves or not. That's jazz.
    Hope it's fun and satisfying.

  11. #10

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    ^ I agree. Just gotta do your best with your idea of what's good.

    Quote Originally Posted by Tal_175
    Here is a question though, if you're not going to use the head as an inspiration for your solo, why bother playing it in the first place? Why not dispense with it and just blow over the changes? Is playing the head just a mindless, automatic jazz etiquette?
    Cuz we're jazz musicians and we (sometimes) can hear the changes. :P
    I like the sound and idea of being able to spontaneously create good lines only with the changes. I have been working on that lately to get better at it. However, I've always really liked the melodic approach.

  12. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by Clint 55
    ^ I agree. Just gotta do your best with your idea of what's good.


    Cuz we're jazz musicians and we (sometimes) can hear the changes. :P
    I like the sound and idea of being able to spontaneously create good lines only with the changes. I have been working on that lately to get better at it. However, I've always really liked the melodic approach.
    Everybody can hear the changes (otherwise why play them). Playing off of the melody also doesn't negate playing the changes.

    I'm not saying people always should play off of the melody. My question is why bother playing the head in the first place if your solo will have nothing to do with it and it'll only be based on the chords. Infinitely many melodies can be based on the same chords, in fact contrafacts are just that.

  13. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tal_175
    My question is why bother playing the head in the first place if your solo will have nothing to do with it and it'll only be based on the chords. Infinitely many melodies can be based on the same chords, in fact contrafacts are just that.
    I don't know, I didn't invent the tradition. In general, I would agree with you that I'm more likely to enjoy a song or really be impressed by it if the solo sections either continue honoring the melody or use the solo section to build in the style of the tune. Rather than 'ok boring melody is over, 1 2 3 blow!' But blowing is part of the tradition for one reason or another. Think of C jam bluez. Are you mad at that tune?

  14. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by Clint 55
    I don't know, I didn't invent the tradition. In general, I would agree with you that I'm more likely to enjoy a song or really be impressed by it if the solo sections either continue honoring the melody or use the solo section to build in the style of the tune. Rather than 'ok boring melody is over, 1 2 3 blow!' But blowing is part of the tradition for one reason or another. Think of C jam bluez. Are you mad at that tune?
    Just to be clear I'll repeat again. Playing off of the melody and playing the changes aren't contradictory. In the recordings by Joe Pass and Wes Montgomery above, you can still hear the changes in the solos. But the melody of the tune is still present in an abstract way. Especially the important moments of the melody.

    Of course nothing is wrong with spontaneously inventing themes and melodies. But in that case, you're not playing the tune. A tune is defined more by it's melody than it's chord changes. You can reharmonize the melody and still recognize the tune. So if you're not playing the tune (which is perfectly fine) why play the head in and out.

  15. #14

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    Just to be clear, I'll repeat again: I didn't invent the tradition. I noticed almost no allusions to the melody in the Joe and Wes solos, although I thought they suited the feeling.

  16. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by Clint 55
    Just to be clear, I'll repeat again: I didn't invent the tradition. I noticed almost no allusions to the melody in the Joe and Wes solos, although I thought they suited the feeling.
    OK we hear the solos differently then.

    Does anybody hear the head in those solos? I hear it very clearly that the solos are based on the head. (in fact not even that abstractly in some important moments of the head).

    Try singing the head along with the solos. It helps if you know the tune really well.

  17. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tal_175
    Here is a question though, if you're not going to use the head as an inspiration for your solo, why bother playing it in the first place? .
    Because a solo is what you chose to play and sometimes it's a dialogue with the melody by the original composer that is complete once it's stated. It's respectfully stated but what you take from it and what you create may not be apparent to other listeners.
    Sometimes I'll have a guest at the dinner gathering, they say something interesting but I don't need to repeat nor make a commentary on any aspect of what they've said, but still, their presence propels the conversation to a unique place.
    Just because one doesn't have overt reference to what you hear in the tune, doesn't necessarily mean there's not a profound or inspired catalytic solo that comes from it.
    Isn't that reason enough to play it?

  18. #17

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tal_175
    OK we hear the solos differently then.

    Does anybody hear the head in those solos? I hear it very clearly that the solos are based on the head. (in fact not even that abstractly in some important moments of the head).

    Try singing the head along with the solos. It helps if you know the tune really well.
    How are you establishing that Joe and Wes's solos are representative of the melody and not totally built creatively from the chords if they don't quote it anywhere? On first listen I heard Joe hit the melody note maybe twice and Wes not at all.

  19. #18

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jimmy blue note
    Because a solo is what you chose to play and sometimes it's a dialogue with the melody by the original composer that is complete once it's stated. It's respectfully stated but what you take from it and what you create may not be apparent to other listeners.
    Sometimes I'll have a guest at the dinner gathering, they say something interesting but I don't need to repeat nor make a commentary on any aspect of what they've said, but still, their presence propels the conversation to a unique place.
    Just because one doesn't have overt reference to what you hear in the tune, doesn't necessarily mean there's not a profound or inspired catalytic solo that comes from it.
    Isn't that reason enough to play it?
    Of course it is. But I still consider that playing off of the melody. You can even hear the melody in your head and make your solo a counter melody. People may or may not detect it but that's not the point, your playing is still connected to the melody in one way or another. So if you asked the player s/he will say they were hearing the melody in their head as they were playing the solo.

    On the other hand a player may play by only concentrating on the changes and the generic chord specific language they developed. Even maybe going off to places with their own material in the moment. Again that's fine but if a player is doing the latter, then I'm not sure why they even need to play the melody.
    Last edited by Tal_175; 11-24-2021 at 10:19 PM.

  20. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by Clint 55
    How are you establishing that Joe and Wes's solos are representative of the melody and not totally built creatively from the chords if they don't quote it anywhere? On first listen I heard Joe hit the melody note maybe twice and Wes not at all.
    I don't know how to describe what I hear.

  21. #20

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tal_175
    ...But the melody of the tune is still present in an abstract way...
    There's the bitter nib between peanut halves! How abstract are you allowed to get before it's unacceptable? How is that measured? I think we're free to do what we like. What the listener likes is of course a different bowl of peanuts, so to speak.


    Quote Originally Posted by Tal_175
    ....So if you're not playing the tune (which is perfectly fine) why play the head in and out.
    The head sets a mood. It gives a starting point. Sometimes I look at the head as a suggestion of what might be played. I might like to propose some other options, but I'm still coming from the head. And then there's the finish leading back to the head. I like to hear some relationship there or it might be too abrupt. Maybe even more so than at the top. The idea of resolution.

    And... what JimmyBlue said.

  22. #21

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    Quote Originally Posted by ccroft
    There's the bitter nib between peanut halves! How abstract are you allowed to get before it's unacceptable? How is that measured? I think we're free to do what we like. What the listener likes is of course a different bowl of peanuts, so to speak.

    You're allowed the get as abstract as you like or even completely make shit up. Who says you're not allowed to.

    Quote Originally Posted by ccroft
    The head sets a mood. It gives a starting point. Sometimes I look at the head as a suggestion of what might be played. I might like to propose some other options, but I'm still coming from the head. And then there's the finish leading back to the head. I like to hear some relationship there or it might be too abrupt. Maybe even more so than at the top. The idea of resolution.
    Then you're playing off of the head and not ignoring it. So I don't know what you think I was saying all along.

    You can also completely ignore it if you like. That's perfectly fine too as I said.
    Last edited by Tal_175; 11-24-2021 at 10:51 PM.

  23. #22

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    Thing about jazz, if you know your jazz history, is there are some who hold to the elements of the original melody more than others. There are traditions, but when traditions become limitations, or they become restrictions that diminish the, as ragman so eloquently puts it, spirit of the tune, that's losing the reason of why we do this.
    You need to respect history, know the music of those who came before, know who you're building on and taking from, including the composers, but modern players, it's not a mandate to hold the head in a shrine.
    Ornette, Paul Motian, even going back to Wayne Shorter, are all part of an evolution that not only evolves the language of the music but the relationship to the vehicles that one improvises off of.
    But again, there are no law books of jazz. There're just players with integrity, and those who may be on their way to finding it.
    You make the rules; just make sure they are respectful of form and spirit.

    I played with a duo partner. We had a way of playing standards wherein the head wasn't stated until the closing of the tune. It worked. Yeah we had to work harder to establish the form, but it was also what pulled things together. I respected the forms of standards in a much deeper way by exploring them, not stating them until the head was stated in the final statement.
    Our playing was an evolution from a tradition that did state the head at the beginning, but doing that became an option and not a mandate. That was just us, and it worked.

  24. #23

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    .

    'Play off the melody' is an oft-repeated slogan but I don't go much by it myself. Literally using the melody, except in certain circumstances, may give the illusion that it gives shape and meaning to a solo. But what it actually does, in my view, is simply limit one's soloing possibilities.

    I know there are many who support the idea, probably because it sounds like a nice safe way to create a solo, at least in theory. But what it actually does is inhibit creative feeling. It makes one think 'I should go up here, I should go down here, I should play fast here', etc, etc. But you're not really improvising, you're conforming to a set pattern.

    It's been said that one doesn't really hear known players echo melodies much, and that's true. Depending on the melody is considered a guide for those who think they can't just solo by feel, which is really what one should be doing. Therefore one's being held captive by the very thing one considers will free us up.

    This doesn't mean we shouldn't play the head without some creative embellishment, it's much better than just churning it out mechanically. And if it's one those short-form tunes that needs the head played twice then loosen it up the second time. And then solo.

    But there's a big difference between following the melody and playing to the spirit of the tune. That's a wholly different thing altogether. One definitively ought to use the feel of a tune to guide one's soloing. Without that, again in my view, it's not going to be a very good solo. It implies that any old notes will do as long as they fit the harmony. That's not so, the solo should enhance the melody, not simply replicate it with minor variations.

    I think there's another point which is overlooked. One still needs to be able to improvise fairly fluently whether one uses the melody or not! Following the melody won't magically give us skills and imagination we don't have.

    In some cases it might be much harder to make a decent solo using the head. It still takes the abilities to make it happen and that might be harder than just following the changes. In any case, if one is soloing to the feel of a tune, it might well end up sounding like a variation on the head anyway. But it'll sound natural rather than forced, which I think is the real point here.

    But, like everything else, there are certain times when using the structure of the melody makes a better solo than a free improvisation. One that comes straight to mind is 'Take The A Train'.

    The solo's at 2.00 but listen from the beginning.


    (And here's one that doesn't use the melody but still keeps the feel of the tune)


  25. #24

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jimmy blue note
    I played with a duo partner. We had a way of playing standards wherein the head wasn't stated until the closing of the tune. It worked. Yeah we had to work harder to establish the form, but it was also what pulled things together. I respected the forms of standards in a much deeper way by exploring them, not stating them until the head was stated in the final statement.
    Our playing was an evolution from a tradition that did state the head at the beginning, but doing that became an option and not a mandate. That was just us, and it worked.
    OK that's a good example. Suppose you played the form first but in no way and shape based your solos or the arrangements on the head. Instead you created completely original, cool material off of the changes and the form. That's great. Then in the very end you finished the tune by playing the head which up to that point had no bearing on what happened before. I'm not saying this shouldn't be done or anything. I'm sincerely curious about this point.

    What effect do you intent to have on the audience by playing the head in this context?
    - A surprise twist in the end: Audience thought you were playing original material but it was revealed in the end that you were using the form of that famous standard?
    - Tipping your hat to the tradition: Although you weren't inspired by the composition of the head throughout the performance of the tune, it's still a cool gesture to play it in the end?

    To me a tune is a cohesive entity. A story with related, connected and developed parts. If the head is not connected to the solos, I find it difficult to motivate it's existence.

    But perhaps in your performances you had an aural connection with the melody of the tune even if it was only stated in the end. An aural connection might be the mood, melodic shape, or even a counter melody w.r.t the head. Anything that when the head is played in the end, the audience may find some residual, intuitive connection with what has been played before. If that's the case then scratch the questions above. I wouldn't consider that ignoring the head.

  26. #25

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    I also think it's a generational thing. In Duke Ellington's time they were going to echo the melody. In Kenny Burrell's time they were moving, or had moved, away from that. And it got more and more individualistic.