support Tutorials CDs PPT mouthpieces

Improvised vs Rehearsed Solos

s.mundi

Member
Messages
577
Locality
Texas Gulf Coast
Last night, we performed James Brown's "Try Me" and I played the extremely simple rehearsed solo as done on JB's track. The tune was a success because the clients were dancing.
 

Iain

Member
Messages
60
Locality
Helsiki Finland
Louis Armstrong once stated that me memorised the solos he had played on his records because these were the solos his audiences expected to hear.
 

MikeMorrell

Netherlands
Café Supporter
Messages
1,774
Locality
Breda
I missed this this thread in 2020 and I just noticed it through the recent post by @Iain. I've also not trawled through previous posts so forgive me if I'm just repeating a previous post!

I've never played in a 'Tribute Band' but I can well imagine that 'Tribute Band' audiences still want to hear 'iconic' sax solos. On the other hand (as host for this week's BOTM), I note that 'iconic sax solo's' for each song change over the years.

Now for something completely different:
I play exclusively in (amateur) Big Bands and I play a couple of solo's, some of which are written out. I learned early on not to play written out solos but instead just improvise on them. I've found that the written out solos -for me - are restrictive: they are often not what I'd usually play, I often don't have any musical 'feel' for them and - perhaps most importantly - they often require technical skills that I just don't have. So I just improvise a 'musical alternative'. So far, so good :)
 

Veggie Dave

Sax Worker
Messages
3,557
Locality
Citizen of Nowhere
I play exclusively in (amateur) Big Bands and I play a couple of solo's, some of which are written out. I learned early on not to play written out solos but instead just improvise on them. I've found that the written out solos -for me - are restrictive: they are often not what I'd usually play, I often don't have any musical 'feel' for them and - perhaps most importantly - they often require technical skills that I just don't have. :)

Imagine what your playing would be like today if you had worked on those solos that weren't in your personal style and were technically very challenging. ;)

That was a lesson I learned over lockdown when I was asked numerous times to play stuff that I really, really would never had played out of choice. I think it was one of the best things I ever did for my playing.
 

just saxes

Member
Commercial Supporter
Messages
337
Locality
Santa Cruz, CA
Re the OT, now a different sort of "OT," a few factual observations:

- improvisation activates (happen in) different parts of the brain than rote recitation. Different people are differently neurologically suited to both of those activities. Glenn Gould, for example, probably wasn't very good at improvising much of anything in life, and probably didn't much like improvisation -- some of that is surely nurture, but surely some of it is nature. Actually, if you look at Gould's life (e.g. what people say about him in personal relationships), not much that was improvised seemed to go very well for him (or for others, downstream). A weird observation: almost every great improviser, OTOH, loves some form of classical music (e.g. Dexter and Ravel and others, etc.).

- there are a lot of players associated with improvisatory contexts who did a lot more rote performance than people might think. Fred Kemp, for example, from Fats Domino's band, where most of the guys around him were improvising every night, played mostly rote solos (at least this is what other band members told me -- there is someone here who may confirm or deny? :D ). Sonny Stitt is said to have largely performed rote solos with variations built onto them, and he would choose certain especially developed tunes to play when he would share the bandstand with other top players (I forget where I ran across this, but it can be confirmed with a Google search or two). Main point: there is more fluidity in practice (on recordings, among very influential players) as far as rote/totally-improvised construction in solos than people generally think -- if consciousness is a brain process (and there is no concrete evidence that it isn't) this implies that different brain types will favor different music and different approaches to solos.... That may seem out on a limb to point out now, IMO in the future it will be common knowledge, far less "out."

- the truth value of any arguments about the audience's rights are purely rooted in belief and emotion, not anything more stable than that. If people had to serve the audience, if that was the law, there would be no Ornette Coleman, no LOVE SUPREME, no BIRD! Remember: at first, there was mixed reception to bebop, much of it unfriendly. The genius of the music created its own audience, not the other way around. Innovation is the heart of jazz, traditionally. Herbie Hancock, others, say that Miles basically sought to have his bandmates -- and explicitly told them -- to avoid practicing, to practice on the bandstand (because if they reached the level of playing with him, they were already in his mind beyond that need, and the point was discovery and creation, in the moment). If you're on the other side of Miles on questions of jazz practice, you're on thin ice. I say that, but I actually don't think it's one way or the other. It's all the ways at once.
 

turf3

Member
Messages
949
Locality
Earth
Do you think Duane Allman and Dickie Betts played the same solo on each song every night?
 

just saxes

Member
Commercial Supporter
Messages
337
Locality
Santa Cruz, CA
Do you think Duane Allman and Dickie Betts played the same solo on each song every night?

:mrcool LOL, given the variance in cognitive status, night to night, there is no rational possibility that they did, even if they intended to (which...there is no possible way that they did). Not to ridicule the OT...it's just a universally active factor in the history of all of badass music, regardless of genre, because of the character of the people who were creating it then. Which is not necessary the same as now.... Even the people who were creating it then are not the same as they are now (I'm thinking of Willie Nelson, typing that). Drug abusers and perception explorers. That's who made all the canons. As for jazz it definitely is not its future. That's a big deal.
 

MikeMorrell

Netherlands
Café Supporter
Messages
1,774
Locality
Breda
Perhaps OT, but I remember (long ago) an interview with top classical guitarist John Willams, who at the time said that he had little or no ability to improvise. It made me wonder how different 'musical brains' (and personalities, abilities and education) work. Ranging from musical and instrumental virtusos such as John Williams who freely admitted that they had no or very limited ability to improvise. To other musicians for whom 'improvisation' was/is the lifeblood of their muscianship. And somewhere in between, musicians who can improvise well in certain passages and/or when called upon.

I'm pretty sure that there's a lot more research on this topic!
 

just saxes

Member
Commercial Supporter
Messages
337
Locality
Santa Cruz, CA
[Ugh...long post...poorly written...illegible to most, probably. Will try again at some future time, when feeling up to it. Short version: (1) the general demographic of saxophone players and jazz musicians has changed greatly over recent years (several decades); (2) consciousness is a brain process; (3) if there are consistencies in terms of who plays jazz and saxophone now, that is a change in consciousness, and that is a change in brain processes in play , (4) technical changes in the music show that that is already the case -- there is a change, the music is more technical, (5) the changes that have occurred are only going to compound, (6) some day the brain-related stuff that is involved in all that will not be a difficult to discuss as now, because the brain will be better understood -- it's inevitable.]

[But...also...improvisation is the basis of jazz. It always has been. Talking about a jazz whose defining characteristic isn't improvisation is like trying to divorce "all men are created equal...with inalienable rights" and "democracy" from any functional idea of what "American patriotism"is. It has it backwards, but that is in and of itself worthy of discussion, because if you can't figure out how you got there -- to upsidedownworld -- you're not going to get the ship going the right direction again.]
 
Last edited:

just saxes

Member
Commercial Supporter
Messages
337
Locality
Santa Cruz, CA
Raga, Maqam, ... all sorts really. A couple of hundred years of western music is a non-improvising exception.

Well...the fact that you think that needs to be said implies a misunderstanding. There is no judgment here about quality of music, depending on whether improvisation is part of it, *essentially*. But improvisation is the essence of jazz. If you don't understand that, you don't understand jazz.

As above, pretty much every canonical giant in jazz loved non-improvisatory music, and non-improvisatory music greatly informs their playing -- most found numerous Western classical composers deeply formative. But that doesn't make jazz non-improvisatory and, again, any one who does not understand that improvisation is what makes "the idiom" itself, that that is the most fundamental aspect, does not know the single most important thing about it. For that not to be obvious is surreally absurd. It means you don't "get it." At all.

It's also fundamentally a music of resistance, not just because of that improvisatory basis, and how it plugs into the society in which the music arose and against whose social ideologies its aesthetic practices were aimed, and much of the canonically defining inspiration was formed in full knowledge of current audiences' disapproval of innovation (because people want both cultural productions, and culture, to remain the same). If you don't understand that, you also don't understand jazz. You could love it, but you don't understand it.

The people that play jazz, as demographic constituencies, has shifted massively over time, and because that change is largely toward a more technical, less "social" (in the way Miles likely intended when he said of his music, objecting to the term jazz, "Don't call it that...call it social music") music, the social demographic of practitioners changing (to be more white, more middle-class and affluent, more bourgeois) is probably only going to change even more in that direction, but specifically to include more people on the autism spectrum, because that's who enjoys sitting in a room alone, doing something exactly the same way over and over again. Technical musicians in the past did that because they had a drive separate from rote practice (doing something over and over again, exactly the same way is a rote practice) *causing* them discipline themselves to drill scales endlessly -- there was a reward at the end of it, beauty, separate from the rote practice itself, driving the will to discipline oneself. Ask a person on the bipolar spectrum how they feel about doing scales, especially if they have to do them "more or less" the same way over and over -- it sounds torture to a person with an overactive lymbic system (bipolarism) which is probably a huge swath of our favorite jazz musicians of the past; they need to have OCD or ADHD to do that, and even then they need a reward down the line, something to make them willing (or even eager) to subject themselves to a regime of torture in order to ascend into joy. Autism spectrum practitioners find a reward in the repetition itself. That is already changing the music, and it's going to change it more.

There are people well into "the spectrum" that improvise joyfully and freely. There are others (probably Glenn Gould is an example) who are generally horrified by everything the sound of unplanned, potentially random/surprising improvisation itself creates.

That already has severe consequences for the music that are only going to compound over time. The people that created the canons probably wouldn't be in jazz today because hiphop has a lower technical/repetition/boredom requirement at every level of production. What is that, hip hop, except today's "social music," after all.

Someone will probably misunderstand and think I'm bagging on people with Aspergers and/or "on the spectrum." I'm not. At the highest level, today, I think most of the players are on the spectrum, because the technical demands today are so ridiculously high. I also think (and hear) that a new kind of beauty and level of aesthetic beauty -- by which I mean expression of human spirit and emotion -- comes out of players who are at that level of playing, the kind of players you hear killing it on "Emmett's Place." To me, with certain combinations of players, the players are at such a high level that they are relating to each other *through* the text, rather than the other way around, which I think was the default norm in the past. In Coltrane's saying, "When I hear a man's sound, to me, that IS that man," I take him to mean he is looking for the soul of man (for him, of God) and he seeks it in the music -- but his focus is on the man, and being able to hear him, inevitably hearing him, in his sound. I think many of today's players at that really, really high level -- maybe most at that level, though they may disagree -- don't seek in that same way. They hear the man in the patterns themselves. The patterns are the man. Neither is better or worse, objectively, but they are different.

That's going to have a lot of consequences for the music and culture (both American and globally). It already has. It's a big deal, that reminds a person that cultural productions are always of the cultures of their times, even when they are specifically trying not to be.
 
Last edited:

just saxes

Member
Commercial Supporter
Messages
337
Locality
Santa Cruz, CA
And jazz-related musics like rock and roll. Even when there's not improvisation, it's supposed to sound like there is.

Jazz-inchoate forms (Jelly Roll Morton and The Blues) lead to Fats Waller -- really, one should go back, at least, to Congo Square and slave dances and drum practice (communicating via drums, not just speech/knowledge/warnings but social feelings) -- lead to Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, all of which were basically Blues coverbands well into public visibility.

I am just fleshing out your first sentence. Which does imply where the obligation to feel like improvisation, even when a format isn't fundamentally improvisatory -- because one is trying to convey an emotional immediacy, which can only be spontaneous in some way, i.e. has to be living "in the now," because if it isn't then it isn't really much emotionally, because emotions are spontaneous/inspired/inspirational. Even in any form of classical music, there has to be a spirit of spontaneous expression -- which is improvisatory, even when the notes themselves are pre-written -- but improvised structure is inherent to the canons of jazz. They might not be in the future.

Some people might also misinterpret what I wrote above about cognitive types to have the consequence of jazz inevitably becoming sort of fundamentally non-improvisatory in the future. It seems obvious, already, that that isn't going to be the case. But the nature of improvisation is going to become so technical -- the default of just the level that qualifies for "MFer can play" is going to be so, so high. It really already is a barrier that 70-80% of people will not find a motivation to cross. Obviously, to say, "many of the canon creators would not be in jazz today" is a subjective, interpretive speculation. I don't know if anybody who understands what a high level people are playing at today, and who also has any kind of interest in neurology/personality, would disagree with it. OCD/ADHD can really only get you so far, unless you have a serious additional driver for it. Some do have enough of a driver of that kind, today, but not very many. The 50-100 top improvisors in the world who set the standards -- that's out of how many players? Yet the standard is the standard.
 

mizmar

Senior Member
Messages
1,940
Locality
Trondheim, Norway
Well...the fact that you think that needs to be said implies a misunderstanding. There is no judgment here about quality of music, depending on whether improvisation is part of it, *essentially*. But improvisation is the essence of jazz. If you don't understand that, you don't understand jazz.
I didn't say Improvisation isn't part of jazz. If you think I did you didn't understand my post.
 

Pete Thomas

Well-Known Member
Commercial Supporter
Messages
16,190
Locality
St. Mary's
I've moved all the off topic stuff - this is a very useful thread and so it should be kept on topic.

All those off topic posts were getting personal so really should be done via PM.
 

mizmar

Senior Member
Messages
1,940
Locality
Trondheim, Norway
I didn't say Improvisation isn't part of jazz. If you think I did you didn't understand my post.
Just to elaborate a little, because I am interested.

Improvisation is an intrinsic part of many music traditions (if you look globally and through history); often very much part of the mainstream "legit" practice, along with playing written or traditional tunes, solos etc. And, any psychology "theory" of improvisation has to apply, somehow, universally.

Further, sure, improvisation dropped out of the mainstream high-art western tradition and emerged strongly in the, broadly, blues/jazz tradition. This also has social, economic and technical drivers. And of course it is always and everywhere human minds playing the music (until AI takes over), so there is psychology at work. So the challenge to a psychological "theory" of, specifically, improvisation ability/inability has to fit within this highly complex network.... A challenge just pointing at cod-theories of one or two pathologies just cannot rise to. IMHO.
 
Last edited:
Top Bottom