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Improvised vs Rehearsed Solos

Veggie Dave

Sax Worker
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3,202
A continuation of a discussion from my thread about not knowing if something is good or not. This may actually be nothing more than the worthless ramblings of someone who couldn't find anything to watch on TV and couldn't get his horn out because it's late and his neighbours would kill him ;) but it was something I couldn't stop thinking about after improvising rather than writing solos was brought up in the other thread.

When I first discovered jazz I was amazed that if you went to see a jazz band you wouldn't hear the songs you fell in love on the record, the songs that brought you to the gig in the first place, because it's all improvised. The idea that almost everything other than the head was improvised and that you had no idea what they were going to play struck me as woefully unprofessional.

I know that will sound utterly bizarre to anyone who has grown up with jazz, but the solos in pop and rock music are an integral part of the song. Start messing with the solo and you're messing with the song as whole. For example, Hazel O'Conner's Will You is as much the solo as it is the singing and the lyrics. If you do that song as a cover then you don't just have to sing it in tune, you better nail Wesley McGoogan's solo, too, because that's what the audience wants to hear - the song they fell in love with. You don't change the solo in the same way you don't rewrite the lyrics. Start improvising and the audience will just assume you either don't know the song or can't play it. Either way, you pull them out of the performance. You may do a great solo, but it's not the right solo.

A rock/pop audience also isn't expecting the musicians on stage to start trying stuff that may or may not work. They expect a fully rehearsed, note perfect performance of their favourite songs. In all my time as a rock musician, the only time someone didn't play a part the way it was recorded was because they couldn't do it. The attitude of the audience and other musicians in the scene was that they could only do it in the studio, with a thousand takes and unlimited overdubs, but in the real world they couldn't cut it. Basically, they were fakes. The exact attitude most musicians have today of people who use auto-tune, quantize etc.

For some reason, there are those who consider this fully rehearsed sort of performance as somehow inferior to a jazz performance. It really isn't. In many ways it's actually much harder because there is absolutely no where to hide when something goes wrong. You can improvise your way out of a mistake with the best solo you've ever played but to the audience it doesn't matter because you haven't played the song the right way. Of course, if you're playing classical you better not make a single mistake because there's no way to cover it.

As a performer you really need to understand the different attitudes of your audience. You don't turn up to a jazz gig with two choruses of prewritten solos for each song because you really can't play jazz that way, it simply won't work. Plus the audience expects to hear experimentation. They're happy to hear you make mistakes because that's part of the (terrifying) excitement that is jazz. In the same way, you don't turn up to a pop gig and expect to get away with improvising iconic songs. You certainly don't want to turn up to a pop gig and start banging out your cool flat 9 augmented 13 arpeggios and playing 'outside the chord' licks to an audience that either has no idea what you're doing or is likely to think it's nothing more than an unmusical cacophony. And you don't turn up to a classical performance or theatrical show without knowing what you're going to play, when you're going to play it and how.

As a musician who expects people to pay to see you play, or who expects to be paid to play, your job is to play in the style your audience expects. It's an integral part of the job. Ego and nonsensical prejudice has no place if you want to be taken seriously. Neither improvised or rehearsed is the superior way, neither is the way 'real musicians' do it. They're equally important approaches to different types of performance and you better understand which is which if you want people to ask you to play in their band/show.
 
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s.mundi

Member
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575
A guitar guy hired me twice to participate in his pop/rock band. He explained that the solos were similar to the melody and should be played exactly like the original recordings. The second gig validated that I do NOT like pop/rock music and never want to play it again.
I agree that rehearsed solos can require extensive practice. It's also interesting that some audiences expect iconic pop/rock songs to emulate the original recordings. I don't believe one form of a solo is superior to another. It just depends on the type of Martians you perform for and what floats your boat.
 

randulo

Living the dream
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5,330
your job is to play in the style your audience expects
You said it all right there. The rest is nuance, how much you might be able to "slip in" for your own pleasure... or not. A few examples:

I went to see the Cream at a small local venue. Sunshine of Your Love was an iconic song of theirs, right? Clapton played the main lick harmonized in thirds, I still remember that blew me away, it was actually better, more developed the the original. Maybe the public didn't hear the difference as the rhythm was identical. And of course, the solos were improvised, though he may have slipped in a couple from the recording. However, the blues they played was more like jazz than, say Billy Joel, his semi-jazzy chromatic harmony aside.

In some settings, the people who are paying to see an "act" expect either the solo from the record (or very close conceptually), or a high level of improvisation if that's, say, Weather Report. Imagine if Sonny Rollins played exact same solos every time.

As I've mentioned, I can't even remember the lyrics to my songs 100% and can not play the same thing the same way. On the guitar, I have relearned a solo or two of mine that I liked, but few people will have heard it, in fact, the songs themselves have evolved, some changing both grooves or keys. What matter, since almost no one has heard the original versions?

I recall an article or interview of a saxophonist who said that when he knew he was going to solo on Joe Henderson's Inner Urge (seriously complex changes!), he spent a day or two figuring out what he was going to play over them.

I think you have a lucid, mature perception of the answer in your question, but it is a very interesting topic. Your conclusion is probably what you seem to be doing, constructing something "optimal" you believe will work, rather than relying on taking chances and the solo maybe working, maybe not. Go for it!
 
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randulo

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He explained that the solos were similar to the melody and should be played exactly like the original recordings.
Hence the success of "tribute" bands who not only play, but dress up and use makeup to look like the band they are, um, "tributing". Sometimes in jazz, there are "homages" to great players, but they only play the melodies the same, not arrangements or solos. Pop is something I haven't played since the late sixties and even then we didn't copy solos except for rare exceptions, like Nowhere Man or Midnight Hour. On the other hand, in blues rock, anything goes!
 

Jazzaferri

Well-Known Member
Messages
2,679
interesting Thread. If one is replicating another bands tune I guess that would be the way to go.

When doing your own thing covering a tune written by others there is freedom to experiment within the context of the genre IMO. it took me a few years after completing my jazz performance degree before I stopped doing solos too “jazzy”.
 

Pete Effamy

Senior Member
Messages
2,596
A continuation of a discussion from my thread about not knowing if something is good or not. This may actually be nothing more than the worthless ramblings of someone who couldn't find anything to watch on TV and couldn't get his horn out because it's late and his neighbours would kill him ;) but it was something I couldn't stop thinking about after improvising rather than writing solos was brought up in the other thread.

When I first discovered jazz I was amazed that if you went to see a jazz band you wouldn't hear the songs you fell in love on the record, the songs that brought you to the gig in the first place, because it's all improvised. The idea that almost everything other than the head was improvised and that you had no idea what they were going to play struck me as woefully unprofessional.

I know that will sound utterly bizarre to anyone who has grown up with jazz, but the solos in pop and rock music are an integral part of the song. Start messing with the solo and you're messing with the song as whole. For example, Hazel O'Conner's Will You is as much the solo as it is the singing and the lyrics. If you do that song as a cover then you don't just have to sing it in tune, you better nail Wesley McGoogan's solo, too, because that's what the audience wants to hear - the song they fell in love with. You don't change the solo in the same way you don't rewrite the lyrics. Start improvising and the audience will just assume you either don't know the song or can't play it. Either way, you pull them out of the performance. You may do a great solo, but it's not the right solo.

A rock/pop audience also isn't expecting the musicians on stage to start trying stuff that may or may not work. They expect a fully rehearsed, note perfect performance of their favourite songs. In all my time as a rock musician, the only time someone didn't play a part the way it was recorded was because they couldn't do it. The attitude of the audience and other musicians in the scene was that they could only do it in the studio, with a thousand takes and unlimited overdubs, but in the real world they couldn't cut it. Basically, they were fakes. The exact attitude most musicians have today of people who use auto-tune, quantize etc.

For some reason, there are those who consider this fully rehearsed sort of performance as somehow inferior to a jazz performance. It really isn't. In many ways it's actually much harder because there is absolutely no where to hide when something goes wrong. You can improvise your way out of a mistake with the best solo you've ever played but to the audience it doesn't matter because you haven't played the song the right way. Of course, if you're playing classical you better not make a single mistake because there's no way to cover it.

As a performer you really need to understand the different attitudes of your audience. You don't turn up to a jazz gig with two choruses of prewritten solos for each song because you really can't play jazz that way, it simply won't work. Plus the audience expects to hear experimentation. They're happy to hear you make mistakes because that's part of the (terrifying) excitement that is jazz. In the same way, you don't turn up to a pop gig and expect to get away with improvising iconic songs. You certainly don't want to turn up to a pop gig and start banging out your cool flat 9 augmented 13 arpeggios and playing 'outside the chord' licks to an audience that either has no idea what you're doing or is likely to think it's nothing more than an unmusical cacophony. And you don't turn up to a classical performance or theatrical show without knowing what you're going to play, when you're going to play it and how.

As a musician who expects people to pay to see you play, or who expects to be paid to play, your job is to play in the style your audience expects. It's an integral part of the job. Ego and nonsensical prejudice has no place if you want to be taken seriously. Neither improvised or rehearsed is the superior way, neither is the way 'real musicians' do it. They're equally important approaches to different types of performance and you better understand which is which if you want people to ask you to play in their band/show.
I very much agree, and with added bells on with your last paragraph. That is the essence of being a professional musician. There is a job to be done, the music dictates and you have to be respectful. There is right and wrong and there are bad choices. Prep of an improvised solo is fine, it’s called practice - nothing wrong with having an attitude that is all about being the best you can be.
 

Pete Effamy

Senior Member
Messages
2,596
interesting Thread. If one is replicating another bands tune I guess that would be the way to go.

When doing your own thing covering a tune written by others there is freedom to experiment within the context of the genre IMO. it took me a few years after completing my jazz performance degree before I stopped doing solos too “jazzy”.
Agree, but still basically within the parameters of the style.
 

thomsax

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,926
I'm a Rocksax player so I don't know so much about jazz, . Some band (bandleaders) wants a solo to be played as it is written (transcribed). The songs are often played as the original version. Most of the solos I played I play ad lib. But of course, I listen to other players that had played the solo. I borrow licks, articulation, effects ...... During a solo you other musican maybe join. Backing riff or some king of "call and response" ....... Maybe it's better to play solo in well known songs close as they were played? Springsteen/Clemons, Rollings Stones/Bobby Keys ........ A collective horn solo or interlude must be played as it's written.
 

Pete Effamy

Senior Member
Messages
2,596
I'm a Rocksax player so I don't know so much about jazz, . Some band (bandleaders) wants a solo to be played as it is written (transcribed). The songs are often played as the original version. Most of the solos I played I play ad lib. But of course, I listen to other players that had played the solo. I borrow licks, articulation, effects ...... During a solo you other musican maybe join. Backing riff or some king of "call and response" ....... Maybe it's better to play solo in well known songs close as they were played? Springsteen/Clemons, Rollings Stones/Bobby Keys ........ A collective horn solo or interlude must be played as it's written.
Yes I guess it’s the choice of the band. Or the person paying your wages. Either is valid, as long as the style is correct.
 

Colin the Bear

Well-Known Member
Messages
13,332
We mustn't mix up an instrumental break with an instrumental solo.

I can't and wouldn't want to play it how it goes. I could do it for a while if the money was right but my heart wouldn't be in it.

Horses for courses.
 

Jules

Formerly known as "nachoman"
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4,699
For some reason, there are those who consider this fully rehearsed sort of performance as somehow inferior to a jazz performance.
Its that joke about the classical vs the jazz musician- what's so clever about that, you're just playing what some other guy wrote? vs.. well you're just making it up as you go along!

Tangentral to this thread I’ve always been fascinated by Fela Kuti’s working methods. His live set always consisted of songs which were a work in progress, once he was happy with them, they’d go into the studio, record them and never play them again. From a creative viewpoint I can totally understand this but very odd from a regular gigging musician perspective (you would never, ever hear a song you’d heard before at one of his gigs)
 

randulo

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That's like standup comics that develop a show and once the special is filmed, they write a new show.
 

GCinCT

Seeker of truth and beauty
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That's like standup comics that develop a show and once the special is filmed, they write a new show.
Speaking as a guy who once made a living as a comic, you have to do it that way. The element of surprise is essential to a joke. Once a large mass audience has heard it, you have to develop new material.

Also, in live performance, stand up is much like jazz. In fact, Jerry Seinfeld once call it "the jazz of language.: I never did two shows exactly the same. I always left room for improv and depending on the response of the audience, there were times half my set was improvised. In stand up, you have to read the audience constantly and adjust accordingly.
 

Pete Effamy

Senior Member
Messages
2,596
We mustn't mix up an instrumental break with an instrumental solo.

I can't and wouldn't want to play it how it goes. I could do it for a while if the money was right but my heart wouldn't be in it.

Horses for courses.
That’s the choice for many. West End = £50k+ and eating is quite nice, not to mention a house and all that. I chose to teach part time because I’d rather hate teaching than hate playing music.
I get what you say though, there are many boats to float.
 

Veggie Dave

Sax Worker
Messages
3,202
I’ve always been fascinated by Fela Kuti’s working methods. His live set always consisted of songs which were a work in progress, once he was happy with them, they’d go into the studio, record them and never play them again.

I never knew that. It's actually a pretty cool way to play.

The element of surprise is essential to a joke. Once a large mass audience has heard it, you have to develop new material.

Sadly no one ever told Billy Connelly this. Every tour was at least 90% of the previous tour (that was also available on video so it's not like everyone hadn't already seen it). Some of his routines were well over 10 years old. He was funny but not overly concerned about churning out the same old stuff day in and day out, irrespective of how many people had already heard it.
 

GCinCT

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Sadly no one ever told Billy Connelly this. Every tour was at least 90% of the previous tour (that was also available on video so it's not like everyone hadn't already seen it). Some of his routines were well over 10 years old. He was funny but not overly concerned about churning out the same old stuff day in and day out, irrespective of how many people had already heard it.
I heard that about him. I can't argue it, he's had a good career.

I read a book by George Burns where he said that in the old Vaudeville days, your routine lasted a lifetime. As soon as comedy programs hit the radio, that was it. You had to develop new stuff.
 

nigeld

I don't need another mouthpiece; but . . .
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I would be interested to know how much the jazz greats changed their solos from performance to performance. For example, did Johnny Hodges make up his solos on the fly, or did he more-or-less play the same version each time? (Bearing in mind that he will have performed some songs hundreds of times with the Ellington band.)
 
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