The journey from ‘beginning jammer’ to ‘creative improviser’ involves many steps.
Quite apart from the necessary acquisition of enough instrumental technique to create and convey your musical thoughts to others – i.e. to ‘speak’ – there is a need also to present your ideas in an orderly fashion that communicates with your audience.
The tyro jammer will often find the best beginning steps of improvisation are found in just embellishing an existing tune – altering note placements and phrases and filling gaps in the melodic line. This method does not involve much involvement in study of harmony or reading notation, as much can be done by ear. It does however confine you to a limited area of exploration and expression in the longer term.
The be-boppers of the ‘40s faced similar challenges in adapting the ‘public domain’ tunes of the time to the tsunami of harmonic and rhythmic challenges of their new music. Rather than take those known current tunes per se as their medium, they kept the main harmonic structures as the basis for their new rhythmic and melodic ideas. Even before the bop era similar adaptations existed (‘Moten Swing’ based on ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’ being just one example). Apart from the blues in its many forms, the harmonic structure of ‘I’ve Got Rhythm’ became the basis of more bebop tunes than any other, although ‘How High The Moon, Honeysuckle Rose’, ‘What Is This Thing Called Love’, ’Lady Be Good’ and ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ also got plenty of exercise.
For the next few weeks, I will pose to you a list of 5 jazz tunes (called ‘contrafacts’ in the trade) and challenge you to identify (for your own personal gratification and repertoire expansion) what indeed was the popular/published tune from which they are derived.
Answers will be included in the next week’s “Jammers News” along with a fresh set of contrafacts. You will already know some of the popular/published tunes and perhaps may even go on and add the jazz tunes to your bag….. here we go:
- Ornithology (Benny Harris) derived from
- Hackensack (Thelonious Monk)
- Lullaby of Birdland (George Shearing)
- The Preacher (Horace Silver)
- Oleo (Sonny Rollins)
See you next week!….