what’s the difference between playing tunes and free improv?
they’re the same thing. same rules. tunes are free and free are tunes.
the only difference is that when you’re playing a tune the form is inherent.
when playing free the form is extrinsic. it’s still there. you just need to find it or allow it to find you.
look. it’s all about composition. even playing tunes is about composition.
not some rote play the head solo for a few choruses play the head. we’re done.
unless that’s intentional.
or you have 16 bars or 32 bars or whatever and a huge canvas to play with around inside, outside, through, over and beyond the tune.
free playing is composition, too.
it’s just a composition that reveals itself over time
and if the players are truly listening they’re on the lookout for it.
and by the way.
melody, rhythm, harmony, motifs, themes and variations, counterpoint
tonality (now there’s an idea) atonality
it all applies.
okay. I admit it. I had a few ideas. But they were ideas of intent. Not actual melodic or harmonic ideas. The ideas occurred to me a few minutes before I was about to play. The ideas were kind of like guidelines that I wanted to share with my fellow musicians Mark Segger (drums) and Heather Segger (trombone). I said, let’s make things short. I mean get to an idea, play with it and end it. Then move on. Nothing meandering or aimless. Let’s listen for endings. Even if one part is simply one of us taking a solo, let’s be aware that that’s okay. I even had an idea that it could be like a suite. We could interrupt applause if we wanted to so that it didn’t get too broken up. The weird thing is, the audience got it. They only clapped once, but the next time we gave them breaks in the action, they didn’t clap. they knew. they were part of it.
It was part of Leftover Day Light at Somewhere There, the performance space of AIM (Association of Improvising Musicians) Toronto. It’s a series that goes on every Friday night featuring three groups (or solos) who play one set each. I asked Heather and Mark to join me. I had been playing some of my regular “jazz” gigs with Mark lately, so I thought it could really strengthen how we play “inside” if we did a completely “outside” gig together. I was curious about Heather, having heard wonderful comments about her playing. I also loved the idea of having a few trombone/vocal dialogues. I was attracted to the range, timbre and warmth of the trombone with vocals.
I came prepared. I brought my own mike and amp to sing through, even though I knew I primarily wanted to play the piano. I removed the entire bottom panel of the piano in order to get more volume. I had the advantage of having heard the piano in the first set and was determined to make it louder. I even brought my digital tape recorder to tape the performance, but, well, kind of forgot to hit the record button a second time, so it remained in standby mode. ugh. technology… or maybe it was just Friday the 13th.
While setting up I was talking to the audience about the recent concert I saw at the Vanguard. I thought about the ostinato bass line Geri Allen and Esperanza Spalding played on “Au Leu Cha” and it occurred to me that it would be a good place to begin our set. It was such a fun place to start, that I decided to end the set with it as well.
Here are some things I want to remember:
I love the concept of a suite
I love ostinatos. I’m going to use this one again.
trombone/voice. very cool
a good ending
one thing leads to another.
A few months ago I had a lesson and breakfast with Sylvie Courvoisier. Over breakfast we talked about free improvisation and form. She spoke about her concept of form as though you start with a fork, move to the spoon and the knife, perhaps the plate. There is some relationship, development and exploration as you move from place to place and branch out slowly, giving time for an idea to develop and simmer rather than all of a sudden being across the road in unrelated territory. (or worse – my comment – meandering in a sea of nothingness where everyone is afraid to make a move).
In my lesson with Sylvie, we talked a lot about tone, weight and dropping into the keys. Sylvie introduced me to the Taubman Technique and encouraged me to seek out Edna Golandsky. But that’s another blog entry…
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