Jazz Jam Session Etiquette

I really enjoy going to sit in at open jam sessions when I get the chance.  They are an excellent way to apply things I’m practicing at home in a low pressure performance context.  It’s also a great way to meet and check out other musicians and pick up on new tunes and concepts that other musicians are exploring.

They can also be tortuous when they aren’t organized well or the musicians who are sitting in aren’t considerate of the rest of the players (and audience).  In that spirit, here are some basic rules of thumb for how to behave at a jam session.

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Walter Bishop, Jr.’s Theory of Fourths

I’ve blogged about using perfect fourths as an technical exercise and as a method for motivic development in improvisation before.  The above YouTube video (click read more if you don’t see it) is the late pianist and music educator Walter Bishop, Jr. explaining how he discovered and explored the use of perfect forth patterns to derive both harmonic and melodic material in jazz improvisation.  He plays examples as he describes the application of using the perfect fourth interval on some of his original composition as well as on standards like On Green Dolphin Street and I Got Rhythm as well as standard progressions like the ii-V-I.

Good stuff for improvisors on all instruments and composers looking to expand their vocabulary and explore some new ideas.  The way he starts off by showing how to squeeze the range of a pattern based entirely on perfect fourths into a single octave range will help us non-pianists find a comfortable range in which to start off applying some of his ideas.

Perfect Fourths Patterns

The ascending perfect fourth interval has a very strong harmonic implication that can be useful for both composers and jazz improvisers (as well as being good exercises for technique development).  The perfect fourth interval has the sound of a V-I (authentic) cadence.  This sound is so ingrained in western music that even without any other pitches sounding we can hear the cadence when it’s set up right.  Additionally, stacking perfect fourth intervals together create a characteristic sound when used to voice out chords.  One of my old teachers, Frank Mantooth, was the first person to introduce me to this concept.  Voicings with only perfect fourths can imply a number of different chords, depending on what bass note sounds at the same time.

The above voicing could be used for an F69 chord (containing the root, 5th, 9th, 6th, and 3rd), a Bbmaj9 chord (5th, 9th, 6th, 3rd, and 7th), a Dmin11 chord (3rd, 7th, 11th, root, and 5th), a G7sus (7th, sus 4th, root, 5th, and 9th), and even some others.  Mantooth referred to this style of piano voicing as “miracle voicings” because they allow the pianist to play so many different chords without changing any pitches. Continue reading Perfect Fourths Patterns

How To Transcribe: Some Advice for the Beginning Jazz Improviser

Why Transcribe?
Before covering a process for transcribing jazz, it is important to understand the point to transcribing jazz solos. Today we have access to a lot of written material giving advice on how to improvise and practice improvisation. There are books of solos that other people have transcribed for you. You can even get computer software that will transcribe music for you. With all this information presented for you already, why take the time to figure it out for yourself?

Jazz, like all music, is an aural art form – it is meant to be heard, not read or seen. Attempting to learn to play jazz well just by reading books will take you to a certain point, but will leave quite a bit out that is important to playing jazz. Only a part of improvising involves what notes to play, and you can’t really learn how to swing, phrase, shape notes, or pace your solos by reading music or words. You have to pay your dues by listening to the music. Continue reading How To Transcribe: Some Advice for the Beginning Jazz Improviser