While my upcoming book pays unique attention to the alto trombone, an important section of the book focuses on improvisation on any flavor trombone – alto, tenor or bass.
The following is a short excerpt and audio file from the section on improvisation using the 12 bar Bb blues as the backdrop. The overarching theme of my instruction on improvisation is: melody. Certainly learning scales and patterns is an important part of developing your skill as an improvisor, but I am addressing what I consider an under-taught skill that I believe is critical to good improvisation.
Throughout the section on improvisation I include tips that form a methodology for thinking melodically about jazz playing. I have recorded my own playing examples and rhythm section backgrounds for your practicing. For this section, I’ve recorded two chorus of my playing followed by two choruses of rhythm section, one chorus each, then trading fours. Next, I record six sustained chords making up the blues form. I play some melodic phrases over the sustained chords then provide them for you to do the same. Much of the book will include these types of audio files and exercises. I am including recorded exercises and tips using rhythm changes, a standard, and more static harmonies within a modern electronic soundscape. (Think Electrik Project!)
Here are the first two choruses improvised over the Bb blues. I have deliberately left out the phrase markings and articulations so that you can use your ear to match the style. The two choruses following my improvisation are open for you to play.
Start by playing with my solo. Listen to your phrasing. Are you able to match my feel? Are you matching the articulations? How’s your intonation? Next, play my solo over the rhythm section that follows my two choruses. Modeling the style I played will exercise your ears and jazz feel, but at a certain point, play your own solo. After all, this is about improvising. Use various elements of my phrasing where you choose, or not at all. Resist the temptation to play rote scales or familiar patterns. Remember, we are exercising your skill at creating melody. If you have the resources, record your soloing and listen back to it critically.
Listen to each chorus that I played as a whole. Rather than a series of disconnected phrases, each 12 bars string together a complete melodic idea constructed of diverse rhythms.
One goal I would urge for your practicing and for your performing is to increase the length of your phrases. Listen to the better improvisers and you will hear that their phrasing not only contains complete thoughts, but one phrase tends to follow the next in a logical manner. Each phrase is of varying length but together, they form a single idea–much like a well-written story or book. Advancing this skill as an improviser is much like the evolution a child makes from shorter simpler sentences to the longer more complex sentences or verbal paragraphs of a well educated adult.