Writer’s block plagues creative artists from all disciplines. If you feel overwhelmed when you confront a blank page, a simple change in mindset can help you bust through this barrier.
Most adults fear public speaking more than death, so we shouldn’t be surprised when our students are afraid to improvise in front of their peers. If you feel stuck moving past this anxiety, a simple solution can transform your program.
I had a blast directing the inaugural JazzClubsNW Improv Lab at Boxley’s. I led a group of 14 middle school students through game pieces, conducted improvisations, and riff blues tunes.
JazzClubsNW is new non-profit organization dedicated to bringing educational programs and world-class artists to venues throughout the Northwest. It’s an expansion of Boxley’s, the member-supported venue in North Bend, WA. JazzClubsNW just launched venues and programs in Bellingham and Tacoma. Look for more Improv Lab classes in the future!
The intimate musical relationship between vocalist Billie Holiday and saxophonist Lester Young produced a profound body of work in the 1930s and 40s. When they reunited a decade later, a magical moment was caught on film.
In 1957, CBS produced The Sound of Jazz, one of the earliest network television jazz programs. The all-star ensembles featured featured Holiday, Young, Count Basie, Thelonious Monk, Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge, Gerry Mulligan, among other greats.
Lester Young plays the most stunning one-chorus solo I’ve ever heard on Billie Holiday’s poignant blues Fine and Mellow. Lester plays after Ben Webster’s opening solo (1:26):
Poetry has inspired musical composition for hundreds of years. If you have never composed your own music, setting a poem is a great place to start.
– Herbie Hancock, Interview in JazzEd
In a world of standardized tests and big band competitions, many musicians and educators are looking for a step-by-step rule book for jazz. Systems and manuals can help us build skills like sight-reading, technique, theory, but they don’t inspire great art.
“Time and rhythm are king! Number one! All notes seem to sound good when they are played with good time.”
Jerry Bergonzi, Inside Improvisation: Melodic Rhythms
Jazz is rhythmic music. Groove, swing, and time-feel are by far more important than playing the “right” notes. Here is my entertaining attempt to prove it:
A drone is a sustained tone that accompanies a piece of music. Drones can be found in musical traditions all over the word. Indian classical music, Scottish bagpipes, Gregorian chant (organum), Native American flute, minimalism, and modal jazz are a few examples.
Practicing with drones is one of the most effective ways to sharpen your ears and inspire your inner music.
Courtesy of Martin Spaink/Wikimedia Commons
If I asked you to perform a solo piece right now, would you jump at the opportunity or feel a jolt of fear?
If you are ready to play, I’d love to hear your piece. However, you may be one of the many skilled musicians who is paralyzed at the thought of playing an unaccompanied piece for an audience. I invite you to explore this feeling.
Courtesy of Flickr/Alena Getman
A theme and variations approach engages new improvisers and provides endless inspiration for experienced soloists. Practicing this process will help you:
Jazz improvisations aren’t esoteric pieces of art that drop out of the sky. In the early days of jazz, musicians improvised by embellishing the melodies of folk songs, blues, and marches.