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Thread: Revolutionizing "Jazz" Guitar

  1. #1
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    Revolutionizing "Jazz" Guitar

    I am fascinated with the harmonic possibilities available when playing jazz guitar. However, I simply can't get excited by the most of the jazz guitar players I hear, even ones who are considered good. Common jazz sounds too meandering and unfocused to me i.e. "easy listening" which doesn't float my boat.
    I find that all my personal renditions of jazz songs have a very intense, heavy feel to it which is contrary to what is expected of most jazz guitarists and how they traditionally play. It's also hard for me to improvise because I'm not happy playing just "anything", I have to plan ahead exactly how to play each chord and find the perfect voice leading that satisfies me. Perhaps I'm too meticulous about it.
    I've tried playing in a big band and they always expect me to play the "3rd and 7th" and play so lightly that I can't even hear myself. It's not expressive enough, and tends to sound too predictable. I tend to put voice leading ahead of always playing the 3rd and the 7th, sometimes using the fifth or the root, or doubling unconventional notes.
    My point is, jazz guitar is so open-ended that it shouldn't be pigeonholed into always playing the same role.
    We should strive to innovate and push jazz guitar forward, because there is so much latent harmonic power that we can experiment with. I love jazz but prefer to play in my own inventive way, unlike other jazz guitarists that I've heard.

  2. #2
    Registered User Malcolm's Avatar
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    Couple of things going on here. 1) Comping guitar in a jazz setting - we are not the principal instrument and less is usually more. 2) If you want to move jazz along your into new jazz and they want to play standards. Yes the two are different.

    My Wife and I disagree on which jazz CD's to take on a trip. I like old jazz, the standards, she can not stand; "That music that gets on one note and just stays there."

    Understand your situation, do not have a cure.

    .
    Last edited by Malcolm; 08-22-2010 at 01:19 PM.

  3. #3
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    You need to search out some more contemporary jazz.
    The big band jazz you mention playing is a vintage idiom. It's important to restrict yourself in certain ways, otherwise the music won't work. There are rules, and recognised parameters within which you may improvise. So, some big band jazz is a little more flexible or "avant garde" than others, but generally it's all based on arrangements, whereby a large proportion of the music is written. It would be chaos if this were not the case. (Not there's anything inherently wrong with chaos, and a big band where everyone improvised how they felt the whole time might be a very exciting musical experience.)
    But the main point here is to distinguish between - on the one hand - "jazz" as a historic genre of music (like "classical", "baroque", etc), with subgenres representing different periods of that history, the whole demonstrating an apparent "development"; and - on the other hand - "jazz" as an artistic approach to the performance of music (IOW, "jazz" as an adjective, verb or adverb, rather than a noun).

    The latter is the way in which, in the present, jazz survives and remains alive - as an attitude, not a set of musical sounds or rules. The "jazz musician" (or band) may take any piece of music they choose (although it will generally tend to be a popular song of some kind, or a self-composition) and play it in whatever way they feel at that moment. There may still be idiomatic "rules" that players may choose to follow (eg the choice of certain scales over certain chords, certain familiar melodic moltifs or "licks", or using swing feel), but these can be a free choice, not dictated beforehand.

    So - on the one hand, I'd say your instinct is good: you don't want to play old-style "easy listening" jazz. It doesn't float your boat. It means very little to you, perhaps because it belongs to a previous generation, or is too stylised, bound by rules you see as irrelevant. You want to play the way you feel - a way that you find exciting. Your preference for an "intense, heavy feel" is perfectly OK, as your preferred mode of expression, and is not "anti-jazz" in any way. (It's not OK in certain vintage idioms, of course, as I said - because it simply "sounds wrong". So when you play those idioms you respect the rules; or you avoid those idioms.)

    However - your desire to "plan ahead exactly how to play each chord" is not a jazz instinct. It's more like a rock instinct. Of course, well-trained jazz musicians know all the options for any chord that comes their way. It may be that you simply need to do some more practice, get a lot more comfortable with all kinds of chords, so you don't feel the need to "plan ahead" so much; so that you're more relaxed and confident without a plan.

    The point is that jazz improvisation is not planned beforehand. That ruins the whole point of the exercise. It's true that every jazz musician has a library of licks that they may use at certain points - either to kickstart inspiration when it dries, or simply to link other improvised phrases. But the point of jazz improvisation is always to approach every performance fresh, with a clean slate. NEVER think of repeating a previous solo, however successful it was. (Keep some favourite phrases by all means, but not the whole thing.) The idea, the driving principle, is to create new music in real time. To produce a truly live experience that can never be repeated. (OK, it could be recorded and listened to again, but that would be missing the point.)

    But mainly it sounds like you need to hear some different players to inspire you. The following spring to mind (and there would be many more):

    John Scofield
    - plenty on youtube: here's one (showing his bluesy style mixed with angular harmonies)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nVaot...eature=related
    - and a good lesson on improvisation from his younger self:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x_hdsf32Pvo

    Frank Zappa (of course)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQ6vl...eature=related
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kf8TM4CIk5g

    Bill Frisell
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VPhSK...eature=related
    - he's grown more mellow with age, but still interesting:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Svzv-...eature=related

    Marc Ribot
    - his take on Blind Willie Johnson's classic
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QLbi...eature=related
    - and some free improv with the great veteran pianist McCoy Tyner:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=laRMH...eature=related

    Phil Robson
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3pGnV...eature=related
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vc9TceRKJ_A

    Billy Jenkins
    - began with free improv, but more recently touring a sardonic (but respectful) take on blues cliches:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ogyx1dEpxp4
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_vVYb...eature=related
    (Obviously very little of harmonic interest there...)

    They are all different from each other - each with their own very clear musical personality - but most have a challenging "edge", and all have an approach a million miles from the "easy listening" jazz guitar typified by the bop and post-bop players of the 1940s, 50s and 60s.

    This stuff - and more like it - is out there! (And various stages in between this and the vintage styles of course). None of these may be quite "your thing", but they demonstrate that jazz is not dead*, and you can create "your thing" within this culture if you want.
    The important thing is not to throw the baby out wirh the bathwater. All the above players are fully conversant with jazz (and blues) history. (Billy Jenkins is a Duke Ellington fan, believe it or not.) You go through that stuff, you respect it and learn from it, but you only take what you need for your onward journey.

    (* -"it just smells funny", as someone once said.)
    Last edited by JonR; 08-22-2010 at 01:11 PM.

  4. #4
    JazzNerd gersdal's Avatar
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    How far do you want to take it? Here's one of the guys who have taken guitar jazz very far. Great stuff imho, but there is not many of us that love this music

    Derek Bailey
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9XE2N4mxeRw
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ow-YP...eature=related

  5. #5
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    Thanks for the links, they were awesome! That's a good variety. I particularly enjoyed Scofield, and that piano player McCoy Tyner blew me away.
    I get so frustrated trying to improvise because it ends up sounding unfocused and "clunky", sometimes I get a certain perfect melody in my head but my fingers/theory knowledge can't keep up with my mind and then it vanishes.
    Well here's the approach I'm taking: listening to horn/piano parts and vocal melodies, and applying those concepts to guitar. If anything, I'm good at listening, copying and analyzing. It seems like I have to develop such a deep understanding of theory and chord tones so that I always know what I'm doing. That intellectual component is essential for me to play with any confidence. When I go at it blindly and with clunky randomness, I am never happy with anything I play.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by epiphanes777 View Post
    Well here's the approach I'm taking: listening to horn/piano parts and vocal melodies, and applying those concepts to guitar. If anything, I'm good at listening, copying and analyzing.
    Listening to, absorbing, transcribing, and analyzing the music of the greats who came before is THE time tested way of learning jazz, you can't go wrong!
    Last edited by walternewton; 08-23-2010 at 02:06 AM.

  7. #7
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    spent the last 2 hours working on this ella fitzgerald recording i randomly found. its energetic and cheerful but layered with instrumental variations & dynamics and exciting voicings. i got a lot of ideas from this copying on guitar and adding whammy, etc.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHkk0...feature=search

    who said i didnt like "standards"

  8. #8
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by epiphanes777 View Post
    Thanks for the links, they were awesome! That's a good variety. I particularly enjoyed Scofield, and that piano player McCoy Tyner blew me away.
    If you like McCoy Tyner's playing you should definitely check out the modal jazz of the 60s: Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, John Coltrane.
    It's not based on chord sequences, but on quartal harmonies (stacks of 4ths), chords that don't move anywhere (no voice-leading) but just hang.
    Quote Originally Posted by epiphanes777 View Post
    I get so frustrated trying to improvise because it ends up sounding unfocused and "clunky", sometimes I get a certain perfect melody in my head but my fingers/theory knowledge can't keep up with my mind and then it vanishes.
    Common experience!...
    Quote Originally Posted by epiphanes777 View Post
    Well here's the approach I'm taking: listening to horn/piano parts and vocal melodies, and applying those concepts to guitar.
    ...and that's the solution, IMO.
    Quote Originally Posted by epiphanes777 View Post
    If anything, I'm good at listening, copying and analyzing. It seems like I have to develop such a deep understanding of theory and chord tones so that I always know what I'm doing. That intellectual component is essential for me to play with any confidence. When I go at it blindly and with clunky randomness, I am never happy with anything I play.
    Right, I can understand that. Still, I think the more you absorb phrases from existing melodies, the more ideas will come to you without needing to analyse them, or to understand how they work beforehand.
    There's a lot of bull**** talked about "playing from the heart", as if it was as easy as that. Well, of course that's where we all want to play from! The question is: how to get to that point where we can? And it's purely the drudgery* of playing tunes and more tunes (including catchy riffs or licks from solos).
    Naturally the technical side of knowing your scales and fretboard goes with that - but both improve together if you do it right. Eg, for any new tune or phrase you learn, learn it in all keys, in as many octaves as you can reach.
    The theory side can also go hand in hand with it. You begin to appreciate the "shape", the feel of a phrase in an intuitive way. Eg, a lydian dominant arpeggio, has a certain character: you may know (or learn) what it means and what to call it - but it comes down to the aural shape of it in the end. Eventually, you bypass the part of your brain that does the theoretical number-crunching (deciding what to play based on conscious analysis and understanding of what's coming) and connect your "heart" straight with your fingers.
    The theory certainly helps you connect stuff on the way, by giving it names and categories. But it is only a stage on the way.

    There's a saying in jazz (yeah there's lots of these...), that "the first idea is the best one". Meaning that when improvising (eg when recording), you can overthink what you're doing. After a certain level of experience, you can trust your subconscious more than you might think. You can just go for stuff, take a jump, and it will probably work out OK. Maybe not "perfect" - but more perfect than subsequent attempts.

    * I said "drudgery" - but really this process shouldn't be dull or arduous. IMO that's what sorts the sheep from the goats: those who get good never find it hard to do all this "work"; it's all just "play" to them.

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