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.)
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.