Recently in Philosophy Category
"networking is different in the musician business than it is in something such as selling medical supplies. You really need to be friends with people genuinely. You can’t fake the friendship. You have to be a good person and a good hang for people to hire you."
By Al Stevens
This is a list of rules for jazz jam sessions:
I developed this list over many years working in house bands and from sitting in at sessions with other house bands. Any resemblance between the behavior depicted in these rules and any particular performer is purely an unlucky coincidence.
At my best, I roll with it, and have faith that stuff works out.
This week was full of that kind of "stuff", that worked. In fact there were so very many minute pieces of stuff that went well, I can't remember a fraction of them. Two stand out though. The first happened on Monday, last week, when I saw an email with the subject "Kenny Werner available for lessons this week in San Francisco". Now, I've been to San Francisco 4 or 5 times in my life. I imagine that Kenny has visited a few more times. That he was in the city at the same time as me went beyond good fortune. Kenny and I met on Saturday, and he taught me lots. I hung out in "Japan Town", and heard his set with Betty Buckley.
The second "piece of stuff" happened today. I got up in a leisurely, quiet manner, managed to stuff all my Macworld "swag' into my bag, and took an 1 1/2 hour stroll through the city. Then, I jumped on the BART, and headed to the airport, with much time to spare (which is quite unlike my usual modus operandi). I got of the BART, and onto the "wrong" tram, which took me out of the airport. At this point, I had an opportunity to get bent, and for a moment, I did get upset. But, then it occurred to me to just get off the tram, and get back on the inbound. I found myself on a remote platform with virtually no one around. I've often been in the airport, and wished for a place to pull out the horn and practice while I wait, and have wandered airports looking for some seclusion. On this platform, I found my perfect practice room. It was sunny, the perfect temperature, and secluded. I practiced, for about a half hour, a few of the things that Kenny and I had talked about, then got on the inbound tram, and made my gate with plenty of time to spare.
I was given a very blessed week.
A curious and challenging thing "feedback" can be. We ask for feedback, but often cringe when it's given. I say "we" because I've done the same. I often wonder why that is. Certainly, in the case where no feedback was asked for, it likely wouldn't be well received. Perhaps when we ask for it, we're really hoping to hear "Doing great!", "Wow, you're incredible!", "I'm really impressed!", or "Keep up the great work!". But when we hear feedback like, "Um... you know... you should really work on your touch. You're banging on the keys" (Hal Galper, to me, at Aebersold clinic), "Man, that note is really sharp!", or "Don't give up your day gig!", it's a little harder to swallow. While that last one is just a joke, constructive and appropriate criticism is often as difficult to give as it is to take.
For the most part, unless we're in a "teaching/learning" scenario (like an Aebersold clinic), the most benefit will be gained by carefully and actively listening to each other. In particular, listen to the stronger members of the group. This type of communication gets better as we get better at listening and at articulating our musical intentions through our instruments. In fact, if I can't demonstrate something on my instrument, I avoid trying to talk too much about it. Even when I can demonstrate a concept on my instrument, I often come up short when tying to use words to describe the concept. One of the beautiful characteristics of music is that words often fail to capture it's essence.
All that said, it seems important that we carefully choose our words, and that we're very specific when offering feedback. In addition, feedback sought after should be received graciously, and "seasoned with a grain of salt".
On Monday, September 15, we're going to fire up the Jazz Workshop again. We'll meet from 6:00 until 8:00, and make a plan for the fall.
Here's a little video that I'd like to share of me playing with a little trumpeter. Note her complete lack of inhibition, and how closely she listens and watches. She, without any prior knowledge of jazz practices, is hanging in there with trading fours. Okay, so the notes aren't quite there, but she plays with such reckless abandon, and has some serious phrasing going on. After the session, I wondered who learned more, ALG or me.
We started the evening with the high schoolers (and a couple of adults), and practiced scales, major, and "jazz melodic" minor (ascending form up and down), in two octaves. Most of the students found out that they knew the stuff over a one octave range; however, extending the range to two octaves proved difficult. We drew out on the white board, and examined the modes of the ascending form of the melodic minor scale. Finally, we used the "Locrian #2" (Am7 b5), built a bass line, a vamp, and improvised. They really got into a good groove.
After the younger crowd, came the adults. We started "from the end", learning a typical Dexter Gordon type ending in every key:
At this point, you might be saying, "Tim, we're going to have to mark you down on this post because the title and introduction say how hard teaching is, and you haven't even cited one example in the paragraphs that follow. Redo, and get back to us". Well, be patient. I'm getting to that.
Finally, we sat in a circle and played the blues in the key of C. We took turns playing solo (no accompaniment) through the 12 measure form. It's amazing how transparent it feels when we play without accompaniment. After about 15 minutes of this, I went around the circle and gave comments. Here is where it got hard. For me, talking about music is similar to trying to tell someone about a dream. The spoken language usually falls short. But, I gave it a try. To a couple, I said "You're solos lack 'intent'. You should mean what you play, and play what you mean." I said to another "You have great ideas, but you're not steady. You should try to keep your body more still". Then, I said to another "Some of what you're playing sounds like 'fluff'," making reference again to not playing clearly with purpose. In the end, I felt like the language I used fell short of the same concept I was trying to address. Teaching, like playing a solo, like writing blog posts, involves a constant search to express ones self clearly and with purpose. I hope that, though I might not always be clear, my intent is still communicated. It is my intent to help. But it's hard!
But first, please know that I won't be here for the next jam session. If the jam "sessioners' want to get it together, feel free to use the comment feature on this site to communicate, or use one of my previous emails to send to everyone on the list. To comment on this weblog, you'll need a "TypeKey account". It's free, and secure. It's needed so that this site doesn't get comment spam. Anyway, I hope you all still get together.
I was asked the age old question again last night, "what do you think of when you're soloing." I've seen this answered many ways:
- "try not to think"
- "think when you practice, don't think while you perform"
- "practice from the head, perform from the heart"
- "play what you hear"
where I am in the form/structure of the tune (including the over-arching
plan of the tune... e.g. who played solos already, and who's next)
- the idea that has occurred (and is occurring) to me related to the chord/scale, phrasing, and overall composition of my improvisation
- what others in the group are contributing to the improvisation
- the room (who's listening, what are the acoustics like)
I told everyone last night, that I'd like to hear more of the "bebop scales" within your improvisations. When I hear you all playing, I miss the melodic flow that chromatisism gives to the line. The bebop scales are a great way to introduce that chromatisism, and along with it, some meaningful direction in your lines.
Finally, please know that if I tell you something about what I hear (or don't hear) in your playing, I mean it to be only constructive. I may be right, or wrong in what I say to you, but that's for you to find out. I'd advise that you just take it in (without quick judgment) and let it "bake". It'll either stick, or it won't... and that'll prove it right or wrong.
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The graphic that's on the first page of this web site set me to thinking today...