Tag Archives: improvisation

Starting 7/11: “Playing the Changes” & “Modern Jazz Improvisation” at CJC

Hi folks, I’m excited to be teaching two 6-week courses this summer at California Jazz Conservatory in Berkeley (aka The Jazzschool). Here are the details:

Playing the Changes

About the course: A structured and in-depth study of techniques for playing harmonically specific jazz lines that “nail the changes.” Students develop the ability to improvise lines that clearly suggest a tune’s underlying harmonic progression in melodically compelling ways. Emphasis on mastering the II-V-I progression in major and minor, turnarounds, and standard jazz harmony. Lots of playing in class. Students should bring their instrument and manuscript paper to each class session. Prerequisites: knowledge of major and melodic minor scales. Tuesdays 8:15–9:45 pm; 7/11–8/15. You can find out more or register here.

Modern Jazz Improvisation

Ready to take your improvisational toolkit beyond bebop licks, modes, and blues scales and into the sonic worlds opened up by artists like McCoy Tyner, John Coltrane, and Woody Shaw? This course will look into three different approaches for developing melodically compelling ideas for use in a wide variety of harmonic situations. Beginning with the applications of pentatonic scales, the course will progress to the simple technique of combining pairs of major triads (and the six-note scales that result), and finally intervallic pairs, in each case examining their use in major, minor, and sus chords, a variety of dominant chords and ii-V-I progressions, and modal or chromatic contexts. Finally we will explore methods to integrate these new ideas into the student’s existing language in a natural and non-contrived way. (Basic knowledge of jazz harmony required.) Tuesdays 6:30–8 pm; 7/11–8/15. More information and registration here.

Workshop Feb 18 in Berkeley: Triad Pair Scale Improvisation

Hi folks, I’m going to be offering a workshop on February 18 (at 11:30am) at California Jazz Conservatory in Berkeley on triad-pair-based scales and how to use them. (That sounds more complex than it really is, but these scales have become a big part of my own language.)

Here’s a short video with a little preview:

The workshop is open to anyone with basic knowledge of jazz harmony and you should definitely bring your instrument. You can find out more about the class and register here.

Blues, Authenticity, and the Hopefully Not-So-Abstract Truth, Part 1

jazzinbluesRecently someone asked a question in Jack Walrath’s excellent Facebook group along the lines of “What tune makes you sweat bullets every time someone calls it on a gig or at a session?” Many responders picked tunes like “Giant Steps,” “Countdown,” “Cherokee,” etc., in other words thorny tunes with lots of intricate changes. I didn’t have to think about my answer at all–firstly because tunes like those have gotten easier since I’ve put the work in (although the challenge then becomes how to play the tune instead of letting the tune play you–more about this here); but mainly because for at least ten years my unquestioned nemesis in improvised music has been The Slow Blues.

Yes, that’s right, a regular old slow blues–the very first tune I ever improvised on, as a matter of fact. Why is it still hounding me? First, let’s establish some context by going back in time for a little background vignette:

SCENE: Stereotypical “Jazz Education” rehearsal room, mid 1990s. Whiteboard with diminished scale pattern on it, acoustical foam on walls, etc. 3-4 young white American and European college JAZZ STUDENTS are “jamming” on a Bb blues because the teacher is late again. Their solos are a mix of unswinging bebop lines, self-conscious “out” pentatonic or chromatic patterns, and corny stereotypical blues licks. One AFRICAN-AMERICAN TENOR PLAYER sits in the corner, looking vaguely stoned (which he probably was), not playing. TEACHER, a grizzled older jazz musician, arrives, looking like he just woke up under a rock, listens for a minute or so, and stops the tune.

TEACHER: What are you guys playing?

STUDENT: Just a blues.



AfAm TENOR PLAYER: They ain’t playin’ The Blues.

TEACHER (eyes closed meaningfully): This guy gets it.

Rest of STUDENTS go into a visible slump.

Yes, this was an actual scene from my past. (And no, I was not the hip African-American tenor player, if you hadn’t already guessed.) This guy has been successfully living in my head since that day, lying low and waiting until I start soloing on a slow blues to jump back into my consciousness at the most inopportune time: “You ain’t playin’ The Blues.”

I should mention that this guy was no great shakes as an improviser, either–he was all style and not much substance, at least as best I can remember 15 years later–but he turned into a symbol of my own inner critic. So let’s unpack what exactly is going on that turned these 12 simple bars into a source of overthinking for me.

Continue reading Blues, Authenticity, and the Hopefully Not-So-Abstract Truth, Part 1