|What is Jazz Music?
I believe that jazz music is an expression of an emotion that must come from the heart. Thus the art of playing jazz is simply the ability to convey your feelings through the songs that you choose and the uninhibited openness of your heart. It blends African rhythms and European harmonies. Jazz developed out of the work song which was a call and response. It came from the streets, not colleges, and was played first then analyzed later. That is why jazz music is so unique. Jazz is the only true American art form.
A schooled musician, a blind musician and an uneducated street musician can express themselves equally in a musical dialog. Hearing is more important than analyzing. Therefore, it is my recommendation that one should continue to develop their ear. You should also play with and listen to as many musicians as you can. Practicing scales excessively will do nothing for your ear and make your music sound mechanical. The lions share of your time should be spent listening to others and learning songs. You should also experiment with your ear. Always try to find new harmonies and sounds. Don’t get locked into exact melodies and exact chords.
Serve an Apprenticeship
When starting out you should build a group with seasoned professionals. In my early years I always surrounded myself with musicians that were more experienced and advanced than me. This forced me to step up and learn at a rapid pace. Although I am very proud of my relationships with Joe Pass and Barney Kessel, it was the apprenticeship with bassist Gerald Cannon where I really cut my teeth in the jazz idiom. The things that you learn from a seasoned professional during a gig can not be matched by lessons or practicing.
Don’t Dis the Locals
After a lesson with Joe Pass he said something that I will never forget. He told me that whenever he is asked about his influences he gives the same answer, Charlie Parker, Bud Powel, John Coltrane ect. He said in reality it was the local guys who influence him the most. He told me that he was always striving to be able to play with local jazz musicians. There is an underlining falsehood that musicians are better from out of town or a bigger city. I personally have found that there are many pots of gold in my own backyard. There is the tendency to look at people who play your instrument or style of playing as competitors and shy away from them. If fact, you should get to know everyone in your area and learn from each other. I have always welcomed musicians who come in to the gig and want to sit in. I have made a lot of great friends this way. Become fans of one another.
Guitar and Piano Together
I have always strived to be self sufficient like the piano players. My ultimate goal is to set my personal bull’s eye on Oscar Peterson. I believe that Oscar does everything that is humanly possible both as a pianist and a musician. I have never used the excuse that piano players have eighty eight keys and I only have 6 strings. Music’s main elements, motion and emotion and can be accomplished with six strings or even one for that matter. So I recommend that guitarists should play with and learn from the piano players. However, I don’t believe that a piano player should be part of your regular group. It is very easy to surrender your harmonic contributions and be reduced to a single line player. Learn everything that you can from piano players but force yourself to be self sufficient.
Learn How to play finger style
Playing finger style will open up the guitar to a pianistic approach. Studying classical guitar is the best way to learn the correct use of the right hand for finger style playing. Learning classical guitar will also teach you how to bring out different lines in your playing. It makes it possible to bring our the melody line while keeping the inner voices softer or bringing out inner voice movement. Carcassi had a great method book which is more than enough to get started. It is equally important to learn pick or plectrum style. You will need to for fast tempos and different effects. Mastering both styles will add greatly to your musical abilities. However, when playing finger style don't hold a pick between your thumb and first finger. Use your thumb for bass notes. You need to use all of your fingers if you want to maximize all your abilities. Joe Pass held the pick between his thumb and first finger during his early solo recordings in the 70"s. He eventually dropped the pick in favor of using all his fingers in his right hand. There is no doubt that the latter recordings are more full and much more musical.
Perfect Pitch VS Relative Pitch
There is a lot of confusion and misleading information here. Music is expressed by sounds and contour of phrases weaved through chord changes which must have motion. A true jazz musician is only interested in the relevance the sounds have to each other and not absolute pitch. Perfect pitch in not an advantage where as relative pitch is. I have played with musicians, some who could not read a note of music, who have great relative pitch and could hear everything on the spot. You have to ask yourself, “When I listen, do I hear?” If not, work on training your ear. Great relative pitch can be developed. Many great musicians have perfect pitch but many more do not have it. Most people that I have met who have perfect pitch view it as a hindrance.
Miles Davis is credited with having perfect pitch. However, sidemen who played with him say no. He also does not mention it in his auto biography. Go to www.PerfectPitchPeople.com to read about some who have it. I think many musicians with great ears are put under the umbrella of those with perfect pitch when in reality they have great relative pitch. Joe Pass, Barney Kessel and Bruce Forman are some examples of great ears who I personally know do not have perfect pitch.
How to Communicate
Music is conversation. Good conversation requires the participants to be open minded and good listeners. If you were going to a round table discussion you would not prepare a speech but rather you would do research in order to bring more to the table. Music is not any different. Don’t bring ego or an agenda to your gig. Nobody wants to hear someone dominate a conversation or tell everyone how great they are. It is better to play tunes that have an emotional tie and mean something to you rather than to play a tune that is difficult just for the sake that it is difficult. This will leave a more lasting impression with your audience.
Your Perception is Your Reality
A musician is only as good as the audience perceives them to be today. The greatest gift that a musician has is the honor to play the gig that you are hired for. If the audience in not fully appreciative of your performance don’t use the cop out that they don’t understand. Take it upon your self to make the changes in your playing that will make them listen. I have always taken responsibility for my performance and never blamed my audience. This has forced me to stay in touch with them and I have found ways to relate to them more effectively. If you play tunes that mean something to you, and play from your heart, the audience can’t help but buy into you. On the other hand, if you play from your own ego, the audience will read right through that and you will leave them nothing to take with them. Finally don’t ever forget that life is full of choices and be thankful and honored each time you get the call.