This is courtesy of PDX pianist Dan Gaynor. Over the last few years I've been playing with Dan quite a lot. If he really does leave for an East Coast grad school it will be a major blow for the PDX Jazz scene. Thanks Dan!
"I'm reading An Unsung Cat: The Life and Music of Warne Marsh, by Safford Chamberlain (thanks mom! merry christmas!), and it's really informative. There are a lot of interviews and perspectives on Warne Marsh, his music and also on the 'Tristano school' of improvisation. Tristano's thing was very conservative in many ways. For example, he believed that "the major innovators in jazz up to 1945" were Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines, Roy Eldrige, Lester Young, Charlie Christian, Charlie Parker and Bud Powell, with footnotes for Billie Holiday, Billy Kyle (as precursor to Bud Powell) and Art Tatum, but not Ellington, Jelly Roll Morton or Coleman Hawkins. So, he had a very conservative outlook, to say the least.
One of the more interesting things that developed within his method was a means of practicing rhythmic phrasing. Now, this method itself does not appear to be outlined in the book, and I don't personally know any of Tristano's students, but there are a few clues. It mentions "five beat phrases", meaning five eighth notes, and also mentions the last phrase of Tristano's "April," where an 11/8 figure (3-2-3-3) repeats three times. Now, I don't have access to Lennie's method, but I have made a list of uneven groupings of eighth notes that can be practiced over a 4/4 form (or just with a metronome). Accent the first of each group. They repeat in uneven ways compared with the other meter (4/4).
- 3 notes, repeating.
- 5 notes, grouped as 2-3 or 3-2
- 6 notes, 3-3 or 2-2-2 (also 3-3-2-2-2 for a 12 note grouping)
- 7 notes, 2-2-3, 2-3-2, 3-2-2
- 9 notes, 3-2-2-2, 2-3-2-2, 2-2-3-2, 2-2-2-3
- 10 notes, 3-2-2-3, 2-3-3-2
- 11 notes 3-3-3-2, 3-3-2-3, 3-2-3-3, 2-3-3-3
These can be practiced in as many ways as you can conceive. Here are some ideas for pianists:
1. Major/minor scales, both hands, 4 octaves, 16th notes. Play the accents within the scale (either legato or detached with each group).
2. Improvise on a standard song (simpler changes are easier for this exercise), with a LH walking bass in quarter notes and RH playing an uninterrupted line. This has to be done slowly. The simpler the RH line, the better, for purposes of the exercise.
3. Improvise with the RH with an ostinato accompaniment in the LH, like a bossa nova bassline, or more pianistic things like a stride LH or a boogie-woogie line, even.
4. Make a stride/boogie/latin pattern which follows the polyrhythm and try to play the melody with the other hand. Or play chords with the RH and sing the melody.
These exercises are ways to practice how to juggle the polymeter and the meter of a rhythm section and not get lost. They're not limited to a eighth-note and 4/4 context by any means, though it is most useful there. One can imagine Bill Evans practicing this sort of thing with triplets in a jazz waltz. Anyway, I hope you like this stuff. Cheers!"