Questions from Sammy Epstein

Hey David,
You've definitely got good stuff on your blog!
Now, when you take a lesson from Randy, and he talks about, say ii-V-Idim-Imaj7, how do you implement that on your horn? And how do you teach single note players to implement on the horn? Do you have a set of licks that work for I dim to I maj, and work them in each key? I say one can't simply do scales over the patterns...no hip solos come from merely scales (my opinion) and the other example, over Solar: C-7 /C-7 /C-7 / C-7 / We played this: D7alt Cmel- / F7alt Cmel- / Ab7alt Cmel- / Cmel- C-7 / or you can think of it like this: Ebmel- Cmel-/ F#mel- Cmel-/ Amel- Cmel- / Cmelodic- / something you spoke about months ago... or Eb-7 /Ab-7 /Cmaj7 How do you implement these substitutions in your playing? Do you come up with licks that "make" the changes, and then practice the licks in twelve keys? As I see it, gotta have structure (i.e., licks, patterns, call it what you will) or scales sound just like scales, nothing more, leading to naive solos that simply don't work. Your thoughts? From sunny Austin, Sammy

As a horn player studying with a piano player there is a little translating that I must to to apply certain ideas, but not much. Pianist can certainly flesh out chords substitutions in a way that horn players only dream of. As a horn player applying chord substitutions you need to be clearer than a chordal instrumentalist does. As you move further away from the key of the original changes you need outline the chords in a more direct way. Single note lines can suggest chordal structures strongly enough to create convincing advanced reharms if there is enough clarity in the lines. This doesn't mean playing only digital patterns (for exp. 1,3,5,3) or playing all the notes in every chord. Create strong melodic lines without running scales or chords.

As for licks for I diminished to I maj7 resolutions; take a look at my symmetrical scale article for diminished ideas. Everyone should be familiar resolving from diminished to Major or any other chord. Download the Ray Brown diminished lines that I posted for many of the most common diminished patterns. Write some patterns of your own and learn them in 3 keys, which will get you 12 keys, what a deal!

Patterns should be learned so you can use them as the templates for creating your own lines. I'm not big on learning all your lines in every key. You need to be able to transpose ideas to different keys, but practically speaking if you really learn every new line in all 12 keys then you'll end up repeating yourself like crazy. The listener won't recognize that you played lick X in four different keys, they'll just hear redundancy.

We want to have variety and balance in our solos. Don't play too chordally/vertically OR too linearly/modally, new ideas OR repetition. Don't play too many patterns OR freaky lines. The chord/scale approach needs be balanced with the development of motifs, and the motifs should be drawn from relevant material (the melody, ideas that the rhythm section is comping, your own and others' solo ideas, quotes from other tunes that have similar changes, ect). Remember BALANCE and VARIETY! If ideas are not being developed in your solo then no matter how many cool lines you play your solo will seem static. Focusing on all this theory and reharmonization, chords and scales, can distract you from taking simple melodic ideas and making melodies.

Randy has been trying to wean me away from relying on modes too heavily,"Less Trane, more Bird!". This allows you to outline reharm chords without obliterating the underlying harmony with a hail of notes. After all a scale is much more dense than a chord. Try to choose your chords consciously, don't just randomly play wider intervals. Be prepared to justify the chords that you're outlining.

Randy had me do something that was meant to help melodic awareness. He had me improvise blues choruses, but I had to play the exact same chorus twice in a row. This of course eliminated many unimportant notes and forced me to play stronger, simpler melodies. Another thing Randy suggested was to be aware of when I played a really good idea and then let it breath for a second or two. How will the listeners appreciate your best shit if you never leave them time to digest your amazing lines. How will they hear the true extent of your genius?!

I hope I covered everything you asked about. Thanks for the questions Sammy.


sammy said...

Thanks David! Great answer...Valdez, the guy that can talk the talk AND
definitely walk the walk.

MonksDream said...

Woah, a dialogue between Sam and Dave!

Okay, bad joke. This is a really good posting. One of the things that you get from studying others' solos, is that there are certain lines that recur in different keys. In other words, if Sonny Rollins is playing a ii-V in C#, there are certain things he might do.

Check out Lester Young's recording of "I Want To Be Happy," or Don Byas's most badass version of "I Got Rhythm." There are certain turnaround variations that Lester will repeat over the bridge and, certain "Chromatic over Fourths" patterns that Byas plays over the bridge that are definitely harmonically driven and extremely clear.

I've noticed that most people will play chord tones on the down-beats and more enharmonic things on the up-beats. With a bass player playing straight-ahead, who often needs to be the most conservative player, I've noticed 1sts and fifths recurring on Beat 1 and Beat 3.

I guess that I'm addressing this idea of playing the harmony more clearly as you take destination out. Excellent posting by the both of yous.

One more thing, I think it's important to distinguish between practicing improvisation and improvising. My most effective solos have been when I've cleared my head and just played whatever comes to mind.

cheers, Bill