I WAS DOING ALL RIGHT

An aspiring jazz trumpet player's blog about jazz improvisation and ear training.

April 16, 2022 Jazz Improvisation 4 Comments

Jazz improvisation recordings, 2022

This page contains my jazz improvisation recordings from 2022. As you'll hear below, these jazz recordings feature such highlights as cracked notes, poor note choice, unsteady rhythm, and meandering phrases! And that's why recording myself is so important. It's the best way to evaluate my playing and to chart my progress over time. I don't expect that I'll ever become a great jazz trumpet player, but I am anxious to hear how much better I can get with practice. As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions.

All of my jazz improvisation recordings: 2004 - 2005 - 2006 - 2007 - 2008 - 2009 - 2010 - 2011 - 2012 - 2014 - 2015 - 2016 - 2022

APRIL 16, 2022

It's been six years since the last time I shared any new recordings, and nearly three years since I started taking jazz improvisation lessons with Garry Dial. The material that I've learned in those lessons has already transformed my playing, but I still need more practice before I can truly pull off a "good" solo. Currently, I'll have an idea and I can't quite execute it, or I find that the idea doesn't quite connect to the next chord change as I intended. There's also some hesitation in my playing, as I'm trying to incorporate all of the concepts that I've learned. I'm fairly confident, though, that I'll overcome many of those issues with continued practice.

In this recording, you'll hear me play "Soon," by George Gershwin (my solo starts on the second "A" section). I wasn't familiar with this tune until yesterday, when it popped up in my daily randomization of Aebersold recordings. Despite some mistakes and the issues I mentioned above, I do think it demonstrates some of the progress I've made in my lessons with Garry. I also like how I pushed through, after the low C didn't come out as intended. In the past, that probably would have derailed the rest of my solo. Before you listen, I should mention that since I'm still learning how to put everything together, I am intentionally playing a note-heavy solo, in attempt to outline each chord change. As I get all of that under my fingers better, I will definitely focus more on musicality, leaving more space, holding some notes longer, etc.

iwasdoingallright - audio clip Soon, by George Gershwin

December 20, 2021 Jazz Improvisation 3 Comments

Jazz lessons with Garry Dial

After contacting Nadje Noordhuis for trumpet lessons two and a half years ago, I still needed to find teachers for ear training, jazz improvisation, and piano, in order to achieve my goal of finally getting a comprehensive jazz education.

Back in 2007, I received an email asking me to add a starting cadence to my online ear trainer. The person explained that a cadence was needed in order to practice an ear training exercise that they had learned from Charlie Banacos. I had never heard of Banacos before, but since the cadence sounded like a good idea, I went ahead and added it to the ear trainer.

Over the next decade, I'd receive several more ear trainer requests from former students of the legendary jazz educator, Charlie Banacos. I now know that Banacos taught much more than ear training, but since he was always mentioned to me in the context of ear training, he was the first person I thought of when I began my search for an ear training teacher.

Charlie Banacos passed away in 2009, but just as Laurie Frink had led me to Nadje Noordhuis, I figured I'd start by contacting one of Banacos' former students. After a Google search on "Charlie Banacos," I ended up at the official Charlie Banacos website, which led me to Banacos' daughter, who then put me in touch with Garry Dial.

When I first contacted Garry Dial via email, I told him that I was a trumpet player looking for ear training lessons. I also mentioned that I was learning piano. Garry wrote back and asked if I wanted piano lessons as well. I responded, "I'm primarily interested in ear training, but perhaps we could add piano lessons at some point in the future." Basically, I wanted to "try him out" with ear training, prior to committing to anything else. In my defense, I knew nothing about Garry Dial at the time, but my lukewarm response to the piano lessons is hilarious to me now -- especially since that's been one of the most rewarding parts of my lessons.

As I'd later learn, Garry Dial first studied with Charlie Banacos in the 1970s, when Garry was a student at Berklee College of Music. After Berklee, Garry went on to play with a variety of bands, including ten years with trumpeters Red Rodney and Ira Sullivan. In 1990, Garry joined the faculty of Manhattan School of Music, where he developed their six-year jazz curriculum and taught for nearly 30 years (coincidentally, Nadje Noordhuis is a former student). Up until Banacos' passing in 2009, Garry remained a student of Banacos' and was specifically chosen by Banacos to continue his teachings.

Although I initially thought Garry Dial would just be my ear training teacher, he ended up becoming my ear training, jazz improvisation, and piano teacher. And thank goodness I found him. I've been studying with him for two and a half years now, and he is without a doubt, the most knowledgeable, demanding, and supportive teacher that I've ever had.

Since Garry teaches me so many different topics, I thought I'd give a brief breakdown of each discipline, as it pertains to my lessons. Before I do, I should mention that I'm not allowed to discuss any specifics regarding the Charlie Banacos exercises. In fact, I had to sign an NDA when I first contacted Banacos' daughter.

JAZZ IMPROVISATION

The jazz improvisation part of my lessons is done on the trumpet, primarily using exercises created by Charlie Banacos. So far, the focus has been various bebop concepts, with each concept lasting about 3 months. For example, when I worked on approach notes, I'd receive a separate exercise each week, as I worked my way through eleven chord types in all twelve keys. The lessons are thorough, and they tend to be rather challenging. The lessons are also transformative. For the electrical engineers in the crowd, I'd liken the lessons to a schematic diagram. With practice, they seem to rewire my brain to adopt a specific approach.

In addition to a Banacos exercise, the jazz improvisation portion of my lessons will often include a solo transcription that's impossibly difficult for me to play. For example, early on, Garry wanted me to play Freddie Hubbard's "Birdlike" solo AT FULL SPEED! I didn't even come close on that one, but it gives you an idea of the high bar that Garry can set in the lessons.

From time to time, Garry will also have me compose a written trumpet solo that incorporates all of the material that we have covered thus far.

JAZZ PIANO

In my two years of piano lessons with Garry, I have learned four different voicing types, which I can now use to comp and solo on any tune (slowly). And thanks to my ear training, I can now pre-hear the next notes in my head before I play them. Interestingly, I can pre-hear notes better on the piano than the trumpet, yet I never took the piano seriously until two years ago. I think that's due to the visual aspect of the piano, and my ability to see all of the notes and their relationship to each other.

As fun as it is to play through jazz tunes on the piano, I've also enjoyed how deeply the piano has broadened my understanding of jazz theory. Jazz theory, which was previously taught to me solely as a concept to memorize, has now become a living entity, as I play chord voicings, alter chord tones, and play through chord progressions. Knowing what I know now, I don't think schools should bother teaching music theory at all, unless it's done on the piano.

In case it isn't already obvious, I absolutely love playing the piano. Even if I never make things happen on trumpet, the piano is enough.

Speaking of the trumpet, I have finally reached a point in my playing where I actually want to play jazz with other people. This is a big deal for me, because in the past, whenever I played with others, it was always with a sense of obligation and dread. I knew that I *should* be playing with others to improve, but I also knew that I wasn't really prepared. Now, however, I do feel prepared. And I'm happy to say that, as of a few months ago, I've been playing every week with a piano and bass player (I pay them to come over and play). They are both quite a bit better than I am, but I'm able to mostly keep up, and I'm playing better than I ever have in the past.

EAR TRAINING

I've already had a couple of requests from people about the ear training portion of my lessons, so this section is a bit more detailed.

During my first year of ear training with Garry, almost all of my ear training assignments revolved around singing. One of the benefits of singing is that it requires a greater degree of precision than simply identifying something by ear. For example, when I started my lessons, I could easily identify a minor triad by its sound, but I couldn't accurately sight-sing each note of a minor triad against a reference pitch. When I tried, at least one of the notes would be a little sharp or flat and it wouldn't have the correct "minor" sound. Now that I've used singing to fine-tune my ear training, I have a much stronger grasp of the sound of each interval, chord, etc., than I ever had before.

After my first year or so of singing exercises with Garry, he gave me some very challenging listening exercises. In part, they were challenging because the exercises had me listening to piano voicings with root notes in the octaves below middle C. In all the years that I had been doing ear training on my own, I typically focused on notes above middle C (the primary range of the trumpet). Since I neglected the lower pitches, my ability to hear them was much worse than my ability to hear notes in the staff. Similarly, I wasn't very good with notes above my playable trumpet range. All of that is stuff that I'm working on now, though, by incorporating higher and lower octaves when I use my online ear trainer (you can change octaves with the ear trainer's Key Center option).

Some of you may be aware of Charlie Banacos' exercise of a cadence followed by a single note. I had actually learned about that exercise long before my lessons with Garry, and long before I signed the NDA. It's mentioned in several of other web sites and ear training methods, so it definitely isn't a secret anymore. Although I have become very accurate with that exercise, I still use it each day as a warmup before moving on to more challenging ear training exercises. It's an exercise that I'd recommend, especially to anyone who has trouble identifying interval sounds. I even turned it into a sample exercise for my online ear trainer (Sample Exercise: Intervals: Cadence + Note).

I'd say the most important lesson I've learned about ear training is in regard to practice time. Obviously, ear training has been a major focus of mine for many years. I built the first version of my ear trainer back in 2004, and have practiced ear training ever since. I was often so busy with work, though, that I was lucky if I could sneak in five or ten minutes of ear training practice each day. While that was better than nothing, it just wasn't enough time to get significant results.

Since studying with Garry, I spend at least an hour on ear training every day. I break that up into three sessions. The first session is all listening, which occurs while I do yoga and other activities. That session will include hands-free ear training exercises, like the cadence followed by a note, which I mentioned earlier. Other exercises include singing notes over a chord progression (similar to sample exercise: Outline Chord Tones: Single Key). In my exercises, however, I practice singing non-chord tones as well. For example, while listening to a C-7 chord, I'll sing a major third (E natural), as well as all of the other intervals.

My second ear training practice session of the day is all sight-singing. When I started with Garry, we focused on singing intervals by relating them to a C reference pitch. From there I moved on to chords. I still practice some of that each day, but now I also sing a wider variety of things like four-part Bach chorales (a suggestion given to me by Dave Douglas), as well as jazz chord progressions (I take a page of the Real Book each day, sing the melody, outline the chord progressions, sing a solo, etc). I originally used solfege in my sight-singing, but since all of my exercises at that time used C as the root, my solfege became fixed to a C key center. To break myself of that, I started using "ba" or "da" for all of the syllables. As of a couple of weeks ago, Garry has had me return to solfege, but this time I'm using moveable "Do," as I sing the melodies of jazz standards.

My third ear training session of the day is done on the trumpet (and sometimes piano). Most of that uses custom exercises that I created, based on the Charlie Banacos material in my lessons. I can't share those exercises, but I can recommend things like playing jazz licks and random melodies on your instrument by ear around the circle of 4ths/5ths (Sample Exercise: Melodies: Play by Ear in 12 Keys). You can also try to outline chord progressions by ear, after you've established a key center and/or listened to a reference pitch (again, Sample Exercise: Outline Chord Tones: Single Key). I also practice playing jazz licks over random chord changes by ear. For example, if the lick starts on the 3rd of a chord, I listen for the 3rd of each random chord and start with that note.

To my amazement, I'm now at the point where I can wake up each day, go to my ear trainer, and sight-sing 10 random notes (using an exercise like this). I don't use a reference pitch and I'm correct nearly 100% of the time. Note, there's nothing wrong with using a reference pitch. After all, reference pitches are the backbone of "relative pitch." I just don't seem to need them when I get up each morning. I do, however, use reference pitches throughout the remainder of the day. That way I can check myself and make sure I don't get thrown off, especially if I've been working in a specific key for a while.

My ability to play the trumpet by ear has also improved a lot, but not quite to the level of my sight-singing. That's partly due to my old habit of doubting myself as I play. In the past, I'd occasionally hear a pitch and I'd think it's one note, then wonder if maybe it's a different note, then change my mind again and get the note wrong. That process has become so ingrained into my trumpet playing, that it's hard to break free and actually trust myself. The good news is that, more often than not, my initial belief is now correct. Hopefully it's just a matter of time before I can build confidence and trust my ability to play by ear on the trumpet.

THE LESSON PROCESS

If you're thinking of studying with Garry Dial, you might like to know a little about the lesson process.

Initially, my lessons with Garry took place at his apartment in NYC (the same apartment where Bill Evans celebrated his 50th birthday party). At the end of each lesson, Garry would give me a written assignment, which I would then practice and demonstrate at the following lesson.

At the onset of COVID, my lessons with Garry shifted entirely to a correspondence format. For the correspondence lessons, I pay for four lessons up-front. Each lesson comes via email, and a week later I respond by sending him recordings of myself doing the various exercises. Several of Charlie Banacos' students took lessons via this same correspondence method -- although back then they used handwritten instructions and cassette tapes.

During COVID, Garry also added the option for one-on-one Zoom lessons. If you decide to take lessons with Garry, I'd definitely recommend Zoom for the first handful of lessons, since you'll probably have a lot of questions. Zoom might also be your preference if you'd rather avoid the wait between submitting a correspondence lesson and receiving an email reply from Garry. Sometimes Garry responds on the same day, but most often it takes a few days before he replies (I use that time to review some of the older material). Also, while Garry is extremely knowledgable when it comes to music, he isn't exactly the most computer savvy person. Between his typos and cryptic descriptions, it can be a bit of a challenge to decipher a lesson via email. Thankfully, Garry also includes a recorded audio file that explains each part of the assignment. Unfortunately, those instructions are sometimes hard to understand too! Personally, I enjoy the, "can I figure this out?" aspect of the correspondence lessons (it's like a lesson *within* the lesson!), but it might be frustrating for some.

If you do end up taking lessons with Garry, maybe you could avoid mentioning the part where I make fun of his computer skills :-)

December 5, 2021 Trumpet Technique 2 Comments

Trumpet lessons with Nadje Noordhuis

Two and a half years ago, after deciding to study music and take private music lessons, my first goal was to find a "chop doc," to help improve my limited endurance and range on the trumpet.

For many years, I had known about Laurie Frink and her remarkable ability to identify and overcome embouchure issues. Frink was a former student and protege of Carmine Caruso, a pioneer of calisthenic exercises for brass players' embouchures. I had hoped to study with Laurie Frink someday, but due to the demands of my former job, and her early passing in 2013, I never got that opportunity.

Since I couldn't study with Laurie directly, I thought it might be wise to study with one of her former students. As luck would have it, I found myself in a room with several of her former students a few years ago, at the Festival of New Trumpet Music's annual "Laurie Frink Night." When I asked one of the students if she taught lessons, she said that she did, and that's how I met Nadje Noordhuis, my trumpet teacher for the past two and half years.

Not only is Nadje Noordhuis a former student of Laurie Frink, but she is also one of the primary teachers of Frink's (and Carmine Caruso's) techniques. My in-person lessons even take place in Frink's former studio, just as it was when she taught. While I'm obviously not studying with Laurie Frink directly, it sure feels like I am sometimes!

As I'd learn with Nadje, there wasn't anything wrong with my embouchure itself. Rather, the problem was in how I used (or didn't use) my airstream to support each note. Even when I thought I was using more air, I was actually choking off the airstream, using too much mouthpiece pressure, and overexerting my embouchure muscles. As I know now, that's the type of behavior that led to my blowout, and a seemingly endless search for a solution.

My breakthrough with Nadje occurred when she had me play a scale with a mouthpiece pressure device (Note: it looked like that metal one, but may have been a different brand. Warburton also makes a similar and cheaper model). Basically, the device has a spring which will cut off the air supply when you pull the trumpet too hard into your face. Using the device, Nadje had no trouble playing an F major scale from the bottom to the top of the staff. When I tried, however, I was pulling too hard by the second note (G). Nadje then explained that to play higher, I'd needed to increase the amount of air (blow faster, farther, etc) while simultaneously resisting the urge to pull the horn into my face. This lets the air do a lot of the work that I previously had done with my facial (and arm) muscles. Truth be told, many people have told me to use more air to play high over the years, but it wasn't until that lesson that I understood the mechanics of what they were talking about.

It's been a couple of years now that I've been working to rely more on air, and less on muscles alone. I can't say things are totally "fixed" yet, but they are vastly improved. To be fair, I'd probably be farther along if it wasn't for my jazz improvisation lessons with Garry Dial. Since I'm practicing so much each day, I inevitably reach a point where I revert to my old habit of excessive pressure in order to get a note out, and before long, the old fatigue returns. The good news is that I finally know what I should be doing, and with each month I've been able to play a little longer, a little higher, and with less fatigue.

Nadje Noordhuis' students range from beginners all the way to top professionals. If you're having some challenges on the horn, I'd definitely take a lesson or two to see if she can help.

November 16, 2021 About Me 4 Comments

Taking jazz and trumpet lessons

It's been four years since my last journal entry, when I announced my move to Manhattan. Needless to say, a lot has happened (to us all) since then, but for this update I'm going to focus on my musical development over the last two and a half years.

practice

First, some background for those who aren't already aware . . .

Long ago, when I graduated high school, my dream was to become a professional jazz musician. I knew that I wasn't nearly as good as my jazz heroes, but I naively assumed that college music school would somehow transform me into "great" player. After two years at two different college music schools, I was only marginally better, and I could see that neither school had the potential to take my playing to the next level (neither school that I attended had much of a jazz curriculum beyond combo and big band classes at that time).

Towards the end of my second year of music school, I decided it was time to make a change, so I switched to the business school and majored in finance. During that first year of business school, I had a business idea and taught myself computer programming in order to make it a reality. That business idea didn't actually go anywhere, but it did inspire another idea, and the eventual co-founding of my first tech startup.

Twenty years and two more startups later, I was burned out with the tech industry and ready for a change. Over the next four years, I traveled extensively, and thought about where and how I'd like to spend the next chapter of my life. As I mentioned previously, the "where" ended up being Manhattan.

After moving to Manhattan, the first two years were mostly spent settling in and remodeling our apartment. While my days were busy, my nights were free to explore the New York jazz scene. On average I saw two or three jazz concerts each week (and still do). As most of you know, the level of playing here is incredible. It's basically the best of the best, night after night. While seeing so many fantastic musicians could have left me feeling discouraged about my playing, I instead felt more inspired than ever to improve as a jazz musician.

By the time our apartment remodel was completed, I knew exactly "how" I wanted to spend the next chapter of my life. I would devote myself full-time to music, and finally get the jazz education that I never received when I was in college. To be clear, I'm not trying to become a professional jazz musician. I would, however, like to see if I can become (almost?) as good as one. Or at least as good as the person people call when the "good" players aren't available!

Rather than spend a fortune on a top music school that I probably couldn't get into anyway, I decided to take private lessons with the best teachers I could find. And that's what I've been doing for the past two years. For a while now, I've wanted to share my experiences in those lessons, but I've been too busy practicing. Seriously! I now practice a mix of piano, trumpet, and ear training for a total of four or five hours each day. I still have a year or two (or twenty?) before I'll be where I want to be in my playing, but for the first time, I feel like I might actually get there.

MY TEACHERS

For the past two and a half years, I have been studying with Nadje Noordhuis and Garry Dial. Nadje Noordhuis is my trumpet teacher, specializing in embouchure issues and playing efficiency. You can read more about my lessons with Nadje in this post. In my lessons with Garry Dial, I'm studying ear training, jazz improvisation, jazz piano, and much more.

December 29, 2017 About Me 6 Comments

Fifteen-year anniversary

All of my anniversary articles: 2 years - 3 years - 4 years - 5 years - 6 years - 7 years - 9 years - 10 years - 11 years - 12 years - 13 years - 15 years

It's now been fifteen years since I started playing the trumpet again, after quitting for a period of seven years.

MORE TRAVELING

As with recent years, 2017 began with a focus on travel. My wife and I spent the first few weeks of the year in Utah, driving through its national parks. It was our first time in Utah and it was one jaw dropping view after another. We've been to the Grand Canyon and other places in Arizona, but Utah really blew us away with its abundance of beautiful scenery. Prior to making the trip, we were concerned that snow might close some of the roads, but we managed to go everywhere we wanted without issue. And best of all, due to the cold weather, there weren't any crowds.

utah

After Utah, we travelled to Mexico. I'm embarrassed to say that this was only my first visit to Mexico. Needless to say, I loved the food, culture, and historical sites. I also had several opportunities to practice my Spanish with the friendly locals. During this trip, we visited Mexico City, Merida, and a few coastal cities on the Yucatan Peninsula. I look forward to exploring more of Mexico in the future.

We had planned a few more trips for this year, but as you'll read below, new priorities arose after our Mexico trip.

NEW SITE DESIGN

The last time I redesigned this site was back in April of 2010. A lot has changed since then in the world of web design and development. One of the biggest changes is the shift towards a mobile-first approach, where sites are now primarily designed to be used on phones and tablets. If you've ever tried to access my old site on a mobile device, you've likely noticed that it didn't scale very well on smaller displays.

For several years I've wanted to redesign this site, but my time and energy has been focused on travel. Earlier this year, however, I volunteered to redesign the website of an independent jazz record label. I really enjoyed the design process and when it was over I thought, "Hey Rick, what about redesigning your own site?"

So now I have a new website design! I will readily admit that this new site doesn't have all of the testing and polish that I'd normally like for a product launch. I hope to address problems quickly, but please let me know if you run into any issues. I'll also note that while most of the site works well with mobile displays, I haven't done much with the online ear trainer. Over time I'd like to have a mobile-friendly interface for that, but it's a sizable project and I haven't had the time to take it on.

LEAVING ATLANTA

In 2001, my wife and I moved from Chicago to Atlanta. I'd like to say that decision was the result of careful consideration, but it came down to this: my wife was tired of the long Chicago winters and she thought she'd like to give Atlanta a try. When we moved, I thought we'd live in Atlanta for 5-7 years before moving to someplace more permanent, but then my career took over and Atlanta became our home for the next sixteen years.

A lot has happened during my sixteen years in Atlanta. I started playing the trumpet again, I befriended members of the local jazz community, I built this jazz blog, I started promoting jazz in Atlanta on this website, I created a few ear training tools, I joined a weekly jazz jam session, I started skateboarding again, I built a mini-ramp in my backyard (so much fun!), I quit skateboarding after spraining my ankle (not fun at all!), I started doing yoga, I learned Spanish and (some) French, I started drawing & painting (this site's Lee Morgan image was drawn on my iPad), and I participated as a co-founder in two very demanding tech startups.

In 2013, after co-founding three tech startups and nearly 20 years as a professional software engineer, I decided to take a break from my career. Since that time, my wife and I have been spending most of our time traveling. For the first time in our lives, we visited countries in Europe, Central America, South America, and Asia. I've loved every moment of our travels, even that time when I got the flu in Paris. Well, maybe I didn't love that, but if you have to have the flu somewhere, you could do worse than Paris!

Initially, we were traveling simply for enjoyment, but after a couple of years we began to think about where we'd like to spend the next 5-10 years of our lives. To help choose our ideal city, I made the following wishlist of amenities: international airport, robust jazz scene, ability to walk to jazz clubs, great restaurants, public transportation, cultural diversity, appreciation of the arts, proximity to friends and family. Oh, and it would be nice if the city is close to water.

The front-runner was an obvious choice, but that city has one major drawback: cold winters. Actually, there are plenty of other drawbacks (like, the outrageously high cost of living), but since cold weather drove us out of Chicago many years ago, that was our primary concern. To see if the weather would be a deal-breaker, we visited our front-runner for the past four years, staying for 6-8 weeks during the winter months. Regardless of how cold or snowy it would get, we'd always find ourselves wishing we could stay longer. And that's how we knew we had found our future home.

I bet you'll never guess which city we picked...

THAT'S RIGHT, WE MOVED TO NEW YORK CITY!

Five weeks ago, we moved into an apartment in Chelsea. It's definitely smaller than our old home in Atlanta, but it has an ideal room for me to practice my trumpet. In fact, it's so well insulated that I've been playing without a mute! I definitely didn't think that would be possible when we first began our apartment search. And best of all, I'm now within an easy walk to about a dozen of New York's best jazz clubs.

nyc

I don't know what the new year will bring, but I look forward to settling into our new home and making of the most of everything New York has to offer.

Happy (almost) New Year!

February 20, 2017 Ear Training 0 Comments

Ear training with recordings, part 2

Seven years ago, I wrote a blog post about the benefits of practicing ear training with jazz recordings. In that article, I included an example of myself doing call and response, as well as improvisation, with Curtis Fuller's recording of "Moonlight Becomes You." For the sake of convenience, you can hear that audio recording right here: iwasdoingallright - audio clip

As one might hope, my ability to play by ear has improved since I made that recording in 2010. Thanks to those improved skills, I've been working on a couple of new ear training exercises which I'd like to share with you in this cleverly titled "part 2" article.

Disclaimer (aka, Rick making excuses once again): These exercises are fairly new to me, so the audio clips aren't particularly good. For example, you'll hear very uneven rhythms and hesitation. Someday I hope to be able to play these with a metronome, but I'm just not good enough yet.

EXCERPT-BASED IMPROVISATION

This exercise combines call and response ear training, improvisation, and compositional development into a single exercise.

Instructions:

  • 1. Start by playing a recording that you haven't heard before.
  • 2. As the recording plays, listen for any melody that jumps out as being both interesting and potentially playable (i.e. not overly complicated/hard).
  • 3. As soon as you hear a melody that you want to use, stop the recording.
  • 4. To make sure that you've heard the recording properly, sing the melody.
  • 5. Next, play the melody by ear on your instrument.
  • 6. Once you've played the melody correctly, improvise a theoretical continuation to the melody.

Step #6 is important, so I'll go into a bit more detail. Rather than just improvise anything I want, I'm trying to imagine what might come next if I were the composer. This forces me to play something that makes musical sense, as I build on what I've just heard. In time, I'm hoping this will add more cohesion to my improvised solos, so I can build from one phrase to another without it sounding like a bunch of random ideas.

Here's an example of this exercise: iwasdoingallright - audio clip

The source excerpt is from Howard McGhee and Benny Bailey's recording of "Nostalgia" from their "Home Run" album. After the excerpt plays, you'll hear me repeat the melody followed by my improvised version of how the rest of the tune might go. At this point I haven't listened to the rest of the tune, so I truly don't know how it should sound. I'll admit that I didn't do a great job with this attempt, but I did at least mirror the piano a bit with my descending phrase and I did manage to play the melody accurately by ear.

LEARNING SOLOS BY EAR

I don't have a particularly good musical memory. I have trouble remembering tunes, and it's especially difficult for me to learn intricate bebop tunes like "Donna Lee." In fact, even though I've heard "Donna Lee" hundreds of times, I probably couldn't even sing the first measure accurately.

This ear training exercise is an attempt for me to improve my musical memory while building my repertoire of jazz sounds and ideas.

Instructions:

  • 1. Pick an interesting, yet playable jazz solo. You certainly don't need to learn the entire solo. A chorus or two is fine.
  • 2. Memorize the solo by ear and be able to sing it accurately. Do not use any written music and don't write anything down. When memorizing, work on small sections at a time, listening over and over again until you are able to remember it all. This can take several days/weeks.
  • 3. Once you can sing the solo, try playing it by ear on your instrument.
  • 4. Once you can play it by ear, start on different notes, testing your ability to play it by ear in various keys.

Here's an example of this exercise: iwasdoingallright - audio clip

The solo is from Chet Baker's recording of "Tangerine." In the recording, I play a section of the solo in one key and then I play it again in another key. Neither key is the original key from the recording.

Obviously, you need to be able to play fairly well by ear already in order to succeed with this exercise. If you're having trouble, you could limit yourself to short phrases, or you could try a dedicated ear training tool like my free online ear trainer.

December 24, 2016 Jazz Improvisation 6 Comments

Jazz improvisation recordings, 2016

recordingThis page contains my jazz improvisation recordings from 2016. As you'll hear below, these jazz recordings feature such highlights as cracked notes, poor note choice, unsteady rhythm, and meandering phrases! And that's why recording myself is so important. It's the best way to evaluate my playing and to chart my progress over time. I don't expect that I'll ever become a great jazz trumpet player, but I am anxious to hear how much better I can get with practice. As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions.

All of my jazz improvisation recordings: 2004 - 2005 - 2006 - 2007 - 2008 - 2009 - 2010 - 2011 - 2012 - 2014 - 2015 - 2016 - 2022

DECEMBER 24, 2016

My weekly jam session group has been playing "Beautiful Love" lately, so I thought I'd use it for one of my jazz improvisation recordings. I don't have an Aebersold play along track for this, so I ended up using a backing track provided by LearnJazzStandards.com, which you can find here on YouTube.

iwasdoingallright - audio clip Beautiful Love

Although my endurance has actually been pretty good lately, this clip comes at the end of my practice session and I can't quite hold on for the full two choruses. Fade out to the rescue!

JULY 3, 2016

In my daily practice routine, I always try to set aside some time to play along with actual recordings. This gets me out of my comfort zone as I try to blend in, as though I'm another musician in the band. I've been doing this for several years, but as my ability to play by ear has improved, the results are finally worth sharing. Actually, I should let you be the judge of that...

iwasdoingallright - audio clip Airelle Besson - The Painter and the Boxer

In the clip above, I'm improvising along with Paris-based trumpeter, Airelle Besson's, recording of "The Painter and the Boxer," from her recent album, "Radio One." This track popped up in Apple Music, as part of their "A-List: Jazz" playlist. When it came on I thought... "ooh, that sounds interesting," so I picked up my horn and started recording. The clip captures my attempt to improvise while listening to the track for the very first time.

I hadn't heard of Airelle Besson prior to this track, but I've since learned a bit more about her and I've listened to the entire "Radio One" album a couple of times already. If you like what you hear in my recording, you should definitely give her album a listen. As you might imagine, it sounds a lot better without me getting in the way.

iwasdoingallright - audio clip Aebersold #44, Autumn Leaves

Before you listen, I should state that the audio quality of this recording is even worse than usual. I know, I didn't think that was possible either! My guess is that I was standing too close to the microphone. Or maybe I accidentally turned on Garageband's kazoo filter. In any case, try to pretend that I have a warm smoky tone. And while you're at it, you could pretend that I didn't miss those notes at the end of the solo.

I like that I took my time in this solo, without trying to play a bunch of notes, as is sometimes tempting at slower tempos. There is a brief sixteenth-note run, but I cut it short after deciding that it wasn't necessary. Other than that, I think it's ok. I won't have a chance to record for a while, but hopefully I'll be able to post a few more clips before the year is over.