1.07: Improvisation, Part 1
Terms in this set (30)
to keep the pace or tempo of music steady
style where the entire group of musicians improvises at the same time
musical patterns that prompt other musicians to play
a musical pattern played by a drummer to fill up time and space at the end of phrases
a double cymbal with a foot pedal that snaps them together
the ability to play music spontaneously by ear
a spontaneously created musical melody over a given harmonic progression
method of playing a string instrument by plucking the strings with the right hand rather than using a bow
a section of a jazz band usually made up of a piano, bass, and drum; may include a guitar
walking bass line
series of notes a bassist plays to set the time and provide the roots to harmonies
The Rhythm Section
Keeping the beat is the job of the rhythm section . The musicians in a jazz band count on the rhythm section to know "what time it is" in a jazz performance. The drums and the bass are the key timekeepers, with the piano feeding the chords to the soloist at just the right time, so that the soloist can keep the overall form of the tune in his or her head.
By listening to the rhythm section, musicians can tell if they are at the beginning, middle, or end of a song. The rhythm section also helps guide the musicians by providing musical cues that something new or different is about to happen.
It all starts with the drum. The drummer is like a heartbeat in a jazz group. Most jazz has a steady time and a lot of it has a swing feel to it. All the other instruments follow the rhythms of the drummer. Musicians listen to the drums for the tempo. Jazz music can have a large number of things going on all at once; melodies, countermelodies, harmonic structures, and solos can all take place at the same time. The key to the success of all of these elements coming together in the proper way is for all of the musicians to share a sense of time or tempo.
What Drummers Do
Jazz drummers have four main jobs.
2.Work with the other instruments of the rhythm section (bass and piano).
3.Give cues for new sections of music.
4.Solo from time to time.
Because of all of the sounds and rhythms available on a drum set, drum solos can be quite complex. A drum set, also called a drum kit, has drums of different sizes and at least two types of cymbals. More drums and cymbals can be added, but a great deal of music has been recorded using a five-piece drum set.
Playing the Drums
Jazz drummers are versatile: they need the power to propel an 18-piece big band forward, as well as the finesse to back up a soloist. Jazz drummers use all the parts of the drum set.
They also use both arms and both legs to do independent things. Normally the right hand plays the cymbals, the right foot the bass or "kick" drum, the left foot the high-hat cymbal , and the left hand the snare drum. The other drums and cymbals are played during a drum fill .
-Try two rhythms together (using one hand and one foot, two hands, or two feet).
-Try three rhythms together (again using combinations of hands and feet).
-Try all four rhythms at the same time (each hand and foot doing something different).
There are two types of basses used in jazz today: the acoustic bass and the electric bass. The traditional acoustic bass, or double bass, has been part of symphony orchestras for a very long time. The acoustic bass found a home in jazz settings almost since the beginning of jazz itself.
Before modern amplifiers, acoustic bass players had to pull very hard on their strings to get a big enough sound to be heard over a jazz band. Slap bass became a popular technique in jazz music, allowing bass players to create a percussive sound with their instrument while providing a strong downbeat. Bass players would either pluck their strings so hard that they bounced off the finger board making a distinct sound that became characteristic in many styles of jazz music, or they would "slap" their strings with all four fingers on their right hand (the same hand that plucks the strings) in between the notes of the bass line they were playing. Slap bass, also called slapping, can be heard in many styles of jazz music.
Electric Bass Guitar
The other type of bass that you will find in jazz bands is the electric bass guitar. These guitars have four, five, or six strings and are always played through an amplifier. Leo Fender invented the first mass-produced electric bass in 1951.
Today, most popular music uses an electric bass guitar, but most often, jazz groups still prefer the mellow sound of an acoustic bass. Not only can the acoustic bass produce warm, short percussive sounds when it is played using pizzicato , it can also produce smooth connected sounds when it is played with a bow. Electric bass guitars cannot duplicate the smooth sound of an acoustic bass and rely on plucking the strings to produce a sound.
In early traditional jazz styles, the tuba was also responsible for playing the bass part. Most New Orleans style jazz combos continued to feature a tuba, but the acoustic bass became the norm during the swing and big band era. Even though the listeners may often not realize the bass is playing, it provides a very important role in the rhythm section
Bassists have three jobs in a band. The bassist, along with the drummer, is responsible for keeping time. In most jazz, the bass player will keep a constant stream of moving notes, which musicians call a walking bass line . The bass line usually plays along with the drummer's cymbals. In most modern jazz, the walking bass line is even more important than the drums for keeping the time. Even the drummer locks in with the bass, because the drummer does so many syncopations and kicks.
The second job of the bassist in a jazz group is to provide the foundation for the harmony that underlies any song. The bass provides a type of "home base" for the harmony, also called the root of the harmony. The bassist chooses the root of the chord as the first note of a measure and then fills in stepwise motion to the root of the chord on the next measure. He may also just choose to outline the entire chord in his bass line.
The third job of a bassist in a jazz band is to solo. Most of the time, when bassists accompany the other musicians in a band, they are playing nonstop! Next time you see a jazz performance, look at the bassist—see if you can hear when the bass solos.
The piano was first invented around 1700 and was an important instrument for classical composers. Pianos were used with symphonies to accompany soloists, and were part of a large number of chamber music groups. Mozart wrote music for the piano, as did Beethoven.
The piano is an incredibly capable instrument. It can play slow or fast, loud or soft, short or sustained. It has one of the largest ranges of any musical instrument. It can even play ten notes at the same time.
It is not surprising that jazz musicians have used pianos since jazz's earliest days. The piano is an important instrument because of its versatility. A pianist can perform alone, accompany any type of musician, play solos in a combo, or be part of a rhythm section
Functions of the Piano in Jazz
Like the other members of the rhythm section, the piano can do many things. It can provide a sense of harmonic progression as the chords are played under the rest of the band. Since it can play so many notes at once, it is a natural to play the complex chords in certain styles of jazz music that have four, five, or more notes at a time. The pianist indicates the changing harmonies of the piece.
Many musicians try to learn to play a little piano because they can play the melody and harmony at the same time. The right hand usually plays the melody, while the left hand plays the harmony. Composers use the piano both as a tool to create melodies and also to work out chord progressions.
Pianos are heard in almost any type of jazz setting from traditional New Orleans parlor music to modern free jazz styles. In fact, one of the basic jazz ensembles consists of piano, bass, and drum. To this core, other instruments can be added to form larger and larger performing groups.
Finally the piano is an excellent instrument for improvisation. It lets the player control the melody and harmony. It also has a distinctive sound that is bright enough in the upper register to cut through other sounds and dark enough in the low register to blend with other instruments.
The element that distinguishes jazz from most other styles of music is improvisation . Most jazz players are accomplished improvisers and are able to create interesting melodies over existing harmonic patterns with ease.
When a person first starts to study jazz improvisation, many questions come to mind: What do jazz musicians do when they improvise? Can musicians play anything they want when they improvise? What are the "hidden rules" that musicians follow when they jam?
There are many ways to improvise. Many musicians improvise based on the chordal and harmonic structure of the tune they are playing, while other musicians listen with their ears and play what they hear in their head. Musicans will often use some combination of these two methods to create their solos. The art of improvising is a delicate balance. It utilizes both spontaneous and rehearsed creative impulses. It is a combination of lots of practicing, listening, intuition, and imagination.
Even though there are many different ways to improvise a jazz solo, there are several fundamental elements that musicians can alter as they improvise. The fundamental elements of music—rhythm, melody, and harmony—are also the basic building blocks for improvising.
A good improvisation has some rhythm contrasts. Sometimes a soloist will choose to double up or cut in half the length of the notes. Sometimes the rhythm section will play at a fast tempo while the soloist plays notes that are twice or even four times as long. Another rhythm variation during an improvised solo is when the performer doubles the number of notes and plays at a faster level than the rhythm section. Doubling up the number of notes and accenting certain ones can add excitement and interest to a solo.
In his tune "Giant Steps," John Coltrane plays the melody, or theme, twice through. The notes are fast but they are slightly elongated. When he gets to his improvised solo, a torrent of notes come flying out of his horn. Coltrane doubles and even quadruples the number of notes he plays within each beat to create a style that one writer called "sheets of sound."
The melody of a song is like the main theme of a story. Each musician adds his or her own style to an improvisation on a melody by changing the notes of the melody.
Let's use the familiar song "Merrily We Roll Along," also known as "Mary Had a Little Lamb," as an example of improvisation.
Melodic vs. Harmonic Improvisation
Occasionally, musicians will choose to improvise with the harmonic progression of a tune, sometimes called the chord changes.
Improvisation on harmony is one of the more modern styles of improvising. When musicians improvise harmonically they create solos based on the chord changes of a song.
One way of thinking about melodic vs. harmonic improvisation is to think about melody as a horizontal idea and harmony as a vertical idea. Listen to the melody.
Now compare the melody you just heard to the harmony or chord changes that would accompany it. Notice that the music for the melodic example is written in a horizontal fashion while the harmony is more vertically structured.
Traditional or New Orleans Jazz Improvisation
This improvisation style was based on altering rhyths and melody. What sets New Orleans jazz apart from other contemporary styles is the idea of collective improvisation . The Eureka Brass Band's recording of "Whoppin' Blues" is an excellent example of a group improvising collectively.
Swing Jazz Improvisation
During the swing era, musicians continued to emphasize melodic improvisation but focused on a solo improvisation instead of a collective one. One of the true masters of melodic improvisation, and one of the original architects of jazz, is Louis Armstrong. His recording of the standard "West End Blues" is an impressive example.
During the bebop revolution, jazz musicians created more complex improvisations. Solos began to be based on harmonic structure as well as melody. The tempos were sped up and the amount of notes played increased dramatically. Accents, along with abrupt stops and starts, added to the excitement and difficulty. Charlie Parker, a master of rapid, melodic improvisation, offers a great demonstration of the increased complexity of the bebop solo in his Savoy records recording of his composition "KoKo."
Cool Jazz Improvisation
Just like its name, cool jazz represented a "cooling down" of the fiery improvisations of bebop. Tempos are a little slower and the overall feeling is more relaxed. Miles Davis's solo in "Boplicity," off his album The Birth of the Cool, provides a window into the spacious soloing typical of this time period.
Soul Jazz Improvisation
By the 1960s, jazz began to mix with popular black music styles like blues, gospel, R&B, and soul. A soul jazz improvisation uses rhythms that are similar to the ones used in R&B and rock but maintains many of the harmonies used in the blues and jazz. Electronic instruments were also used during this time.
The Cannonball Adderley Quintet's live recording of "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy," off the album of the same name, includes a number of soulful improvised interjections by pianist Joe Zawinul, who played a Wurlitzer electroacoustic piano during this session.
Free Jazz Improvisation
The pioneers of the free jazz movement of the 1960s changed everything. Free jazz musicians pushed the rules of rhythm, melody, and harmony to their breaking points. Sometimes free jazz musicians would ignore the structure of an even rhythmic background and play a melody "out of time." Other times, free jazz improvisations might ignore the structure of normal melody and harmony and concentrate on producing rhythm "textures" and sounds.
Though it may sound like free jazz musicians were "just making noise," there was often a deeper connection between what each musician was playing. Pianist Cecil Taylor's soloing in "Steps" typifies this loose interpretation of rhythm and meter.
Jazz Fusion Improvisation
Jazz fusion mixes jazz improvisation with rock style and power. Electronic instruments are often used alongside acoustic ones. Pianist Herbie Hancock and his group, the Headhunters, exemplified this funky, rock-infused approach. On their famous track "Chameleon," Hancock was featured on electric keyboards, with an electric guitar and bass laying a groove rich with syncopated polyrhythms.