Motific development- Herb Pomeroy, Fred Lipsius

I want to talk about what goes into a solo besides the nuts and bolts of the music theory. A lot of players come out of music school playing BURNING JAZZ. They basically learn to play tons of shit over changes. It is nice to be able to lay down sheets of sound at the drop of a hat, I won't deny that. But what kind of artistic content is there? What is the person saying besides,"Check out this badass shit!". I was lucky to spend a lot of time with Herb Pomeroy while I was at Berklee. I played lead alto in his 'recording band' and also played in his small improvisation ensemble. He made us develop motifs. He would have us start a motif and develop it as we played through our solo choruses. If we threw in a pre-worked out lick he would stop the whole band and call us on it. Each idea had to be a development of the last, eventually the motif would get too complex and we were then expected to start with another simple motif. This is a much different way of thinking that what most players use. Everyone has some cool licks that they've worked out in the woodshed, how can you not help throwing them in?!? He saw these 'licks' as irrelevant to improvising in the moment. They always stood out like a sore thumbs when compared to ideas that were developed naturally in a spontaneous and musical way. He actually plays this way himself, it's a very compositional way of thinking. Herb is truly one one the great improviser/composer/arranger/bandleaders of all time. I had heard of motific development before studying with Herb Pomeroy but I hadn't really considered the possibility playing this way exclusively. Herb used to play with Bird but even Bird didn't play this way, he had a ton of licks and he played them often.

Fred Lipsius wrote a great book called 'A Creative approach to Jazz improvisation'. In it he gives nice short ideas for every type of chord in every key. After this he has tables to show how the ideas can be played over different chords and keys. For example a B7 alt lick will also work over a C-maj7 chord and a F7#11 chord. Then he talks about all the different ways that a pattern can be developed/changed. He then would take a pattern from the book and showed what the pattern would look like if it was compressed, reversed, stretched, transposed, fragmented, ect. He wanted you to practice using each one of the methods of changing ideas. This is the same thing that Herb was trying to get us to do. If you learn all the different ways that you can possibly transmute an idea then you will never be at a loss when you're trying to develop a motif. It then stops being about how many licks you can memorize and becomes about learning how to mess with any giving pattern or idea. Licks are like a crutch that gets you walking but eventually cripples you if use it too long. The layperson may think that a lick player sounds great, that can even keep the player dependent on licks. It really comes down to the fact that a lick is something that keeps you from hearing what the music should sound like in the moment. I tell my students that if they're going to memorize licks, at least learn your own licks. Take a lick and change it somehow to put your mark on it and make it yours. If you learn a lick in all keys then guess what, you'll probably end up playing the same lick in a bunch of keys. The listener doesn't always hear that the lick is in Db this time and E last time, it just sounds like you're repeating yourself! So although it IS a good thing to be able to do, it can make you sound redundant. It's better to learn how a single lick (if you must use licks) can be used over many different types of chords. This way the lick sounds totally different in each harmonic situation.

Where do we get these motifs from? There are many different ways to come up with these motifs. It's usually better if you don't just pull them out of your ass, rather take them from existing material. Of course fragments of the melody are always a good place to start. How about quotes from other tunes with similar changes? You may want to start your solo with an idea that the previous soloist left off with. Be sure to pay attention to what the soloists before you are playing so you can refer to their solo ideas. {Be sure to make your rhythmic ideas drive your solo development rather than thinking of harmony as primary.} Take ideas from the rhythm section as they comp for you, always be reactive to what they might throw out there. Takes up ideas that you may have dropped earlier in your own solo. You may even want to use motifs from tune that the band has already played or from your own solos on these earlier tunes! This gives continuity to the entire performance.

Vary these motifs by learning to change every possible element- shape, direction, range, dynamics, timbre, placement in time (lay back or speed up), duration, articulation. This takes constant practice but the payoff in your overall musicality will be immense.

-Motivic Development (from melody or newly formed)
1. Repetition
2. Transpose
3. Mode Change
3. Fragment
4. Add to (start, middle, end)
5. Sequence
6. Embellish or Ornament
7. Augmentation (pitch, rhythmic)
8. Diminution (pitch, rhythmic)
9. Invert (upside down)
10.Retrograde (backwards)
11.Retrograde inversion (upside down & backwards)
12.Displacement (pitch, rhythmic)

(Fred's 'Creative Jazz Improvisation' is currently out of print- I found one copy on Amazon for $57.95, still worth it!)


Anonymous said...

Great Articles! Thanks Dave.

chicken little said...

You know, the problem with jazz education in general is that most teachers do it out of need (pay rent etc.). Herb and Fred seem to do it out of love. They are different. Same with George and, was the case, with Joe and Joe Allard. I wonder what guys in our generation (mid 30's to late 40's) who came up with those guys as teachers will do. Will we be able to teach that that way? I don't know. I think that the joke entry that you have above (which were hilarious but sadly true) is where it is at. Young cats will take a gig for little money, making guys who are established obsolete. Mostly that is because most people don't have any idea what they are listening to. I know this is a bit off topic but it goes together. Wynton, for all his supposed evils, is at least trying to make younger audiences hear jazz. Maybe it will all die maybe it won't but I hope that we (the middle aged jazz players) don't teach kids to blow boring shit over Countdown changes before they can play beautifully over Stella.