Valentin Garvie came around this evening. He had phoned up to say he was in London for four days between a tour around Sweden and a pile of work with Ensemble Moderm in Germany, so I invited him around straight away. We played through a few blues pieces and one or two standards, all with the Aebersold playalongs.
To summarise what came out of the evening:
1. I’ve improved a bit since the last time we tried this together, which is encouraging in itself, but in addition Valentin was particularly encouraging. He’s very good at delivering praise and encouragement wrapped up neatly with some constructive criticism.
2. My polycarbonate mouthpiece is really not bad – we did a sound test and the differences were not quite so obvious as they had seemed last time we compared it with his Bach 1.5C
3. Valentin is a really good jazzer! I don’t know why he hasn’t been doing more of it. As we got warmed up he got much better, very rapidly, indicating that he has been very good at jazz improvisation in the past but has let it get a bit rusty. After half an hour or so he was producing some amazingly impressive stuff and by comparison I felt I was sounding worse and worse. The most noticable thing for me was that I don’t seem to have any sort of style, rather I play in what might be called the “Blandissimo” style. Some gin didn’t help. For a moment or two I felt like giving up but then Valentin managed to find yet more encouragement, somehow.
4. He agreed wholeheartedly with “Really, the best way to learn is to take tunes off records..”. (see previous post, here).
5. He thinks that rather than trying to learn all the turnarounds, all the two-five-ones, all the blues progressions in every key etc. (not that I have been, entirely…) I should I should stick to the simpler more common keys only and concentrate my efforts more on learning a big repertoire of patterns, licks, riffs, whatever they are called, extracted from recorded solos. I must find a ways of chaining chunks of this sort of remembered material together in my improvisation. Hopefully, this should to prevent me meandering around aimlessly, which is what I tend to do when I’m reading chord symbols.
Now, that’s a lot of learning in one evening – and all it cost me was the preparation of a bowl of stif-fried vegetables with rice and a gin&tonic!
(6. I must persuade Valentin to come over more often.)
Here’s another useful exercise I just arrived at after some work on Aebersold, Volume 42 – “Blues in all keys”.
Having learned what the the chord notes and scale notes are (track 11, Blues in Ab -for trumpet) because Aebersold writes them all in for you, I found it hard to ignore them and that I couldn’t avoid playing simply chords and scales. So I wrote just the chord symbols on a post-it and stuck it in the page – effectively taking away one of the crutches. Then I found that because I still kept drifting away from knowing what notes I was playing I needed a way of making me focus this in relation to the given chords, so I went through the sequence playing just the thirds of every chord.
This is a great exercise for me. I must go through the entire book(s) doing this. It will be a great help.
I’ve been trying to think about what I want to achieve by learning jazz.
I think it’s that I want to be able to analyse what I’m doing, as I do it, so that I’m always aware of what I’m doing. That is it, I think.
I don’t want to plan everything I play, consciously – that would be dull, contrived and too slow a process to come up with anything but safe material.
On the other hand I don’t want to let my unconscious autopilot do just anything it chooses, as I have always done in the past with my improvising. It’s fine for free improvising but not much use for particular chord sequence.
It has to be a question of the balance between the automatic trawling for “licks”, learned patterns and inventing brand new material or recombining patterns in new ways.
This is why I think Ken Bartels is right when he tells me that I should try to learn to play much more simply, using limited ranges of notes, for example only the blues scale (that’s my first load of homework), and try to keep track of where I am all both harmonically and within the musical sequence.
What has always happened, whenever I launch into some blues for example, is that I would race around not knowing what notes I am playing – I suppose trying to go straight for the finished product without any considerations for the means-whereby. Where have I heard that story before? Read some stuff I wrote for the Horn Magazine about the Alexander Technique. Click.
The cornet is going well. I think I have a useful range – fairly comfortable up to about top C – and the fingering is mostly sorted, although there’s usually a glitch around high E (same as top A on the horn) where I’m trying very hard to remember to play it with no valves pressed down, whereas it’s best on the horn with 1st and 2nd down.
I’m also gradually getting the register shift sorted in my mind. Although the fingering almost exactly matches that of the horn, if I think in horn pitch, I have decided to make the shift into thinking and reading in Bb as this will make reading music much easier in the long term. Thus I have to re-educate my pitch sense, when I am in cornet mode, to one fourth higher. I get lost sometimes – sort of a pitch whiteout where I have no idea what notes I am playing. My fingers and lips know but my conscious mind is nowhere. Granted, this has always happened when playing the horn, but now that I am formally learning jazz I really need always to know what notes I am playing, what chords, scales, etc… This is new for me. My previous improvisations have always been instinctive, with almost no role for the conscious mind. Jazz, however, needs the guiding keel of definite harmonic navigation. It’s a discipline I’m trying to learn – determined to learn.
Oren Marshall is a brilliant and unconventional tuba player with at least one leg in the world of jazz, although I don’t know how well versed he is in actual jazz improvisation and, for that matter, I don’t really know what it is to be a jazz tubist. He visited me today, partly for a jog over at the Hollow Ponds and partly to “do some playing” together. It was an interesting lesson for me. It made me realise that I was actually quite embarrassed to let go and play “jazzilly” in front of him. When I eventually did – on some blues in concert F – Oren said, in his usually flattering way, that I was loaded with all the right tools but that I didn’t have the feel. Nice of him – and I suppose I kind of knew that. He also said a lot of interesting, thoughtful stuff about how it can be refreshing to hear someone new to jazz playing their own unique stuff and that the “novice” can have a certain amount of freedom that perhaps would be difficult for an experienced jazzer to express. A difficult concept to argue, I think, but it was very nice of him to be so encouraging. We played a few rounds of blues but I don’t think I achieved much.
We talked about Derek Bailey a bit – I’ve done a fair bit of improvising (free, non-jazz) with Derek, donkey’s years ago, and so has Oren only much more recently. It seems Oren was able to make much more sense of Derek’s style of improvisation, which always had me confused. I told him about my general frustration with performing free improvisation to which he had some interesting responses.