Openers, Limiters and Pairs of Opposites

One of the things that seems to help my playing the most is teaching advanced students. I am challenged to analyze and describe my personal concepts and approaches to Jazz improvisation. Yesterday as I was teaching a lesson I realized that I like to start out my solos with an abstract theme. I look for something that has an interesting shape to start my solos with. It may not even be such a strange shape or rhythm, or it may just be a pattern that lays funny on the horn. I do this in hopes that I'll stimulate something new in response to it. It doesn't need to be complete idea, just an introduction for what will follow.

For me, the first statement is very important developing the rest of the solo. I want to feel like I'm circling the tune like a vulture, waiting for the right time to drop in and devour my carcass. The first statements of a solo should have some relationship with either the tune or the prior solo. It should let the listener know that a new section of music has started. These first statements also act as a bridge for what came before. It's a mood change. I may not even have a particular mood in mind, it may be just an expression or a type of look that you may give someone.

Sometimes just for a change of pace I'll give myself 'limiters'. This means that I'll pick a few specific limits to different factors of my playing. I might set a limit on the range of just the first chorus, for example only playing between low D and middle G. Another approach would be to limit the dynamics that are you use, an example would be to play only piano on the A sections and only forte on the bridges. You might limit yourself to a couple of types of articulation or one type of interval. You could also limit yourself directionally, like only playing lines that ascend. If you combine more than one 'limiter' you can really get some cool effects that you might not come across any other way.

By using limits in this way you can create some very interesting and unique textural effects. You don't have to use limits for your entire solo, maybe just in the beginning or for a short period of time in the middle or at the end. You might try switching from a set of limiters to the opposite (or complementary) set of limiters half way though the solo. Some limiters would be better used for free playing, they can give structure and variety when there is little form in the music. An example of a limiter best used in free situations would be to only play flat or sharp, or to only play alternate fingerings.

Like any technique or musical device it takes some practice to get from the conscious mentation stage to the intuitive reaction stage. At first limiters are an entirely intellectual process, but with some practice they become automatic and natural. Of course some limiters will probably never be totally spontaneous, like deciding to only play Major or Diminished triads over an entire tune. Sometimes you need to set limits in order to focus what you're working on.

The idea of limiters is also related to what I like to think of as the table of opposites. This is an adaptation from an an idea from an ancient document called the tablet of Hermes. The fourth principle from this document is the principle of polarity. It reads like this:
  • “Everything is Dual; everything has poles; everything has its pair of opposites; like and unlike are the same; opposites are identical in nature, but different in degree; extremes meet; all truths are but half-truths; all paradoxes may be reconciled.”

    This Principle embodies the truth that “everything is dual”; “everything has two poles”; “everything has its pair of opposites”; these phrases are old Hermetic axioms. It explains the old paradoxes that have perplexed so many, and which have been stated as follows: “Thesis and antithesis are identical in nature, but different in degree”; “opposites are the same, differing only in degree”; “the pairs of opposites may be reconciled”; “extremes meet”; “everything is, and isn’t, at the same time”; “all truths are but half-truths”; “every truth is half-false”; “there are two sides to everything”, etc.

    The Principle of Polarity explains that, in everything, there are two poles, or opposite aspects, and that “opposites” are really only the two extremes of the same thing, with many varying degrees between them. For example: heat and cold, although “opposites” are really the same thing; the differences consisting merely of degrees of the same thing. Look at your thermometer and see if you can discover where “hot” ends and “cold” begins! There is no such thing as “absolute heat” or “absolute cold”; The two terms “heat” and “cold” simply indicate varying degrees of the same thing, and that “same thing” which manifests as “heat” and “cold” is merely a form, variety, and rate of Vibration. So “hot” and “cold” are simply the two poles of that which we call “Heat”, and the phenomena attendant thereupon are the manifestations of the Principle of Polarity. The same Principle manifests in the case of “Light” and “Darkness,” which are the same thing, the difference consisting of varying degrees between the two poles of the phenomena. Where does “darkness” leave off, and “light” begin? What is the difference between “Large and Small”? Between “Hard and Soft”? Between “Black and White”? Between “Sharp and Dull”? Between “Noise and Quiet”? Between “High and Low”? Between “Positive and Negative”?

    The Principle of Polarity explains these paradoxes and no other Principle can supersede it. The same Principle operates on the Mental Plane. Let us take a radical and extreme example – that of “Love and Hate,” two mental states apparently totally different. And yet there are degrees of Hate and degrees of Love; and a middle point in which we use the terms “Like” or “Dislike,” which shade into each other so gradually that sometimes we are at a loss to know whether we “like” or “dislike” or “neither”. These opposing sentiments are simply different degrees of the same thing.

Can musical principles also be seen in this way?

How about these for a start:

and on and on.....

The more you become aware of all of the opposites, the more you can determine where your playing is on the scale of the opposites and the more you can bring balance and variety to your playing. Some players may be totally unaware of let's say the Sad-Happy opposite and always play happy sounding solos, never varying the level of happiness. Some of the West Coast swing players might do this. By consciously playing toward the opposite poles of your usual playing you can break yourself out of some real ruts.

Awareness of the musical opposites can really help give you a better idea of all your musical options for improvisation. If you aren't aware of these opposites then you could end up getting stuck in a rut with regards to your overall sound and texture. Even the mental and emotional sets of opposites can help you give more variety and depth to your improvisation.

And the Infinite,
according to Its Wisdom,
took a portion of its own being
and separated itself
into the pairs of opposites
which make up all aspects
of the manifest;
Dark and Light;
Night and Day;
Cold and Hot;
Wet and Dry;
Soft and Hard;
Negative and Positive;
Female and Male;
Dead and Living.
We must develop our abstract thinking in order to fully understand such an abstract art form like music.

Astrology and pairs of opposites


TV Links- better than a remote control

I usually try to keep this blog on topic, sometimes I even do. One of the themes on Casa Valdez is digital entertainment and I just discovered the motherload. My buddy just sent me a link to a British site that has links to just about every TV show, movie, cartoon, documentary, music video and anime that you can think of. I was in shock when I saw it. No more trolling Limewire for days just to find that last episode of Six Feet Under or the Six Million Dollar Man. Everything is here and in high and low quality streaming video, and it's F- R- E- E. Toss out your TV and cancel your cable TV service, now all you need is a fast connection and a big computer monitor. How do they possibly get away with this shit?!

Can you say," Yaaaarrr, ye scallywagger!"

Well, here's what their legal page has to say:

  • TV Links is not responsible for any content linked to or referred to from these pages.

    TV Links does not host any content on our Servers

    All video links point to content hosted on third party webites. Users who upload to these websites agree not to upload illegal content when creating their user accounts. TV Links does not accept responsibility for content hosted on third party websites.

The categories are Shows, Documentaries, Cartoons, Anime, Movies and Music Videos. There are plenty of new movies here also. I haven't watched many so I don't know if they are of the handy cam in the trench coat variety or not.

and you thought that YouTube was wasting too much of your time.

UPDATE: TV Links did finally get busted and pulled off the Net. Here's another similar site that is almost as good- alluc.org


George Garzone- less on the fringe

George Garzone now has a long overdue website at www.georgegarzone.com. It looks to me like the web design of Kenny Brooks, one of his favorite students and lately a musical collaborator. When I saw George in Boston last weekend I asked him about the three tenor gig he played a couple of days prior with Kenny Brooks and Douglas Yates. He told me," Man, those guys are playing on a totally new level. That's going to be the first CD I produce myself." Shit, I wish I had seen that show.

George's site has a great page called 'Words of Wisdom', which has memorable Garzone quotes contributed by students and friends. If you have any memorable quotes from the master send them to- saxgarzone@aol.com

Here are a few of the Garzonisms-

"You have to find the center of time." contributed by
Rick Stone

"Don't use your tongue...stop that tonguing..." - contributed by Rick Stone

"Otto, you're playing on those 2 by 4's, aren't you?"- contributed by Matt Otto

"In the early 1980's the Fringe performed a live radio broadcast and George was interviewed after the performance. The interviewer asked George how the Fringe played the way they did. George replied, "We listened to the messages." The interviewer asked where the messages come from, and George replied, "...from God".
- contributed by Wayne de Silva

The Fringe in New York
One Two Three Four
Four's and Two's


Herb Pomeroy- In his own words

This half-hour radio show produced by WGBH features Herb Pomeroy talking about his life and music. Herb talks about his experience playing with Bird, his days at the Stable, his feelings about big bands, the music of Duke Ellington, his teaching career, and his philosophy of life.

WGBH Jazz portrait of Herb Pomeroy in his own words and music

Walking on Air
This Is Always
Star Dust & Beyond: A Tribute to Artie Shaw


Sonny Rollins Turns 77- rare unseen footage!

Revamped Web Site Celebrates With Rare Music & Video

Sonny Rollins turns 77 today -- September 7, 2007 -- and on the eve of the saxophonist's 50th Anniversary Concert at Carnegie Hall, his newly revamped web site debuts, celebrating an extraordinary life in jazz.

Beginning today, and every day leading up to the Carnegie Hall concert on September 18, the site will be broadcasting rare performances, including a 1956 gig with the Max Roach/Clifford Brown All-Stars. Specifically, two different tracks from an unreleased June 2, 1956 engagement at Cleveland's Cotton Club by the Max Roach/Clifford Brown group, featuring a 25-year-old Sonny Rollins, will be broadcast on the site each day from now until September 18. The birthday celebration also includes a 1968 video of Sonny playing in quartet with Kenny Drew, Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, and Albert "Tootie" Heath.

Since it premiered two years ago, on Sonny's 75 th birthday, http://sonnyrollins.com/ has attracted more than 750,000 visitors. The Sonny Rollins Podcast and additional video produced for Sonny by Bret Primack -- which appear on the site and YouTube and are available for download on iTunes -- have also found a sizable audience with over 300,000 views and downloads.

Primack has given the site an attractive facelift and added dynamic new content, including a multimedia biography; an enhanced shop that features all of Sonny's recordings currently in print, as well as lead sheets, transcriptions, arrangements, and books; and an expanded forum area that provides Sonny's global audience with a vehicle to interact and discuss the man and his music. "With all this video and interactivity, and by linking the site with YouTube and iTunes, as well as selling his own downloads, Sonny Rollins is uniquely positioned as an artist totally in tune with today's technology," Primack explains. "Sonny's utilization of this medium serves as the model for all musicians in the new millennium."

The Bridge
Sound of Sonny
Sonny Rollins: Jazz Play-Along Series Volume 33 (Jazz Play Along Series)
The Sonny Rollins Collection: Saxophone
Jazz Style of Sonny Rollins (Giants of Jazz)


Point of Departure- award winning Jazz website

Point of Departure was the Jazz Journalists Association Jazz Award Nominee for Best Website Concentrating on Jazz for 2006 and 2007. This site has class, which is quite rare in the online Jazz world. There are great articles, photo essays, round table discussions, and CD reviews in this online Jazz journal published by Bill Shoemaker. The design is clean and the writing is intelligent. You won't find any articles about Dave Koz or Boney James here since the emphasis is on Free Jazz and the Avant-Garde. Actually, I think that anyone who is interested in Jazz as high-art rather than just cocktail enhancement will find Point of Departure interesting.


The Tranumentary- all about Trane

Being a Trane fanatic of the first order,
I was shocked when I saw this amazing page about Coltrane (thanks to Tim Price). Tranumentary is a series of audio interviews with some serious musicians, all talking about Trane or commmenting on different Coltrane recordings. As of the time of this article there are 32 different episodes:

As if this incredible series weren't enough you can even listen to episodes via mobile phone!
What is this world coming to?



John Coltrane Solos
Vol. 13 - John Coltrane: Jazz Play-Along Series (Jazz Play Along Series)
John Coltrane: Improvised Saxophone Solos
The Music of John Coltrane (Jazz Giants)
John Coltrane Plays Giant Steps
Coltrane Plays Standards (Artist Transcriptions)
Mel Bay Essential Jazz Lines in the Style of John Coltrane (Guitar Edition)
John Coltrane Plays "Coltrane Changes": C Instruments