Last week’s video was on simplifying improvisation to the point of making it much easier for you to feel confident standing up to play a solo.
I used the standard I Thought About You to demonstrate that you can play nothing but Eb major and sound good throughout the entire form of the tune. My message was, stop obsessing about the chords, scales, and patterns. Just hear Eb major and play cool phrases.
For the video, I played over an Eb drone harmony track while I recorded a few 8 bar phrases. I then brought those phrases over to the actual rhythm track and played it. Spoiler alert: the phrases sounded surprisingly good over the harmony.
I noticed as I played random scales and patterns over the tune, note emphasis was good and phrases ended well. I’m not bragging. It was just something I noticed especially when I started doing it on the piano.
Because my scales and patterns didn’t sound good and phrases didn’t have as happy a phrase ending as they did on trombone Why?
I even checked the electric piano patch to see if there was something funky about the tuning. Of course, there wasn’t! What was happening?
Musician’s driver assist
Jazz musicians have a radar that anticipates their playing. Perhaps the better the jazz player the more long-range the radar. But on piano, I felt like I was tailgating the rhythm track. A stunted ability to anticipate and create.
I recently bought a new car. It has diver assist features. Somewhat annoying but probably beneficial to my longevity. The safety features remind me of that radar I mentioned. But there’s more to it.
The standard I Thought About You does deviate from Eb. I made the point, you can play any note and that the next one is more important. There are potential accidents if you land on C natural over the Ab min/Db7 bar and don’t resolve it well. Get back quickly in your lane, you’re forgiven.
By lane, I mean your flow, whatever flow is for you. By lane, I’ not suggesting artificial limits on your playing. Leaving your lane might come from losing your focus or getting lost on a tune, or not trusting yourself as you get into difficult keys. Times what you start going a direction you don’t want.
As you play, do you notice that there is a bit of a force guiding your note choices?
I don’t see it as anything mystical. I think it’s something you develop over time and practice and performance. I have always loved the idea that Pablo Casals was asked how he plays with such great intonation. He replied that he just knows how to adjust very quickly. That’s a reaction that is developed over a lifetime of playing at a high level.
I’m fascinated by the idea of strengthening the connection between mind and instrument. The speed with which choices are made that create wonderful musical phrases is a sign of that dissolving barrier between mind and instrument.
I created some exercises for this in Jazz Ear Savvy I provided a rhythm background and ask the reader to play up or down but in intervals of only half and full steps. Like a scale. The challenge is that the key is moving so you need to be alert and super-focused. I think that practice will build that anticipation muscle that keeps you in your lane and prevents bodily injury!