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"Mental Library of Licks?"

"experienced jazz musicians pull from a mental library of licks and riffs"

  • Totally true, they all do

    Votes: 4 30.8%
  • in some cases

    Votes: 4 30.8%
  • Not the best players

    Votes: 4 30.8%
  • No one does this

    Votes: 1 7.7%

  • Total voters
    13

randulo

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From an article about cooking, in the New York Times, "How to Build a Better Dinner":
In improvising a jazz solo, experienced musicians pull from a mental library of licks and riffs. The flourishes may be added à la minute, but the building blocks are already there.
How true do you rate this statement?
 

thomsax

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"Today's special is Memphis Soul Stew
We sell so much of this, people wonder what we put in it
We gonna tell you right now
Give me about a half a teacup of bass
Now I need a pound of fatback drums
Now give me four tablespoons of boiling Memphis guitars
This goin' taste alright
Now just a little pinch of organ
Now give me a half a pint of horn
Place on the burner and bring to a boil
That's it, that's it, that's it right there.
Now beat, well." Memphis Soul Stew by King Curtis.

To play music is like cooking. Good technique, talent, good tone/sound helps up. And of to know whats blends well together is also important. And to do the right things at the moments. Play jazz in a jazz song. Play rock in a rock song ..... As a player in the "lower segment" I often wonder why I start an improvise blues/R&B solo in style as " Wiggle Wobble" by Les Cooper. When I try a sax I also blow something the same style. Of course I've listen a lot to that song. But it just happens. I've listen to King Curtis version as well. But I can trace some of this to other players I've been listen to. Like Clarence Clemons and David Woodford. As a chef I got a lot of inspiation from the other chefs I've been working with when I was younger. Tips and technique is important.

"Wiggle Wobble" with Les Cooper and The Soul Rockers with Joe Grier on tenorsax.
View: https://youtu.be/dGo5k1ObOnw


"Wiggle Wobble" with King Curtis.
View: https://youtu.be/WcKTNGDiAQI
 

Wade Cornell

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Not directly answering this poll because what people today call jazz isn't what others have called jazz in the past. the term was specific to a type of music that originated around the 1920s. There was some improvisation sometimes, but it was written music. Same (mostly up until end of WWII. Jazz morphed out big band music into small groups that played "standards" with variations on those with some of the patterns frequently repeated (licks and riffs). By the late 1960s jazz included most any kind of improvised music and wasn't primarily "standards". More recently the term jazz has been captured by academics and refers mostly back to the 1950s and 60s and playing standards with somewhat predictable/formulated improvisations often made up of copied licks and riffs that fit within that genre.

A player's style that's recognizable can result in their style and patterns being copied. The originals are just that, it's their own. Others who don't have a style may be best off learning to copy and having a mental library that works like cut and paste, or paint by the numbers. The "artist" will learn to use the tools then draw up from within themselves their own improvisations to fit the circumstance. It's good to have a big mental library, but IMHO not of overused licks, riffs and arpeggios. Being aware of many different styles, and ethnic types of music gives a very wide base from which you can hear more possibilities, and hopefully not confuse improvisation with cut and paste playing.

Are sax players mostly using cut and paste? Unfortunately yes as that's the standard for teaching rather than encouraging creativity. Does everybody do this? Hopefully not and those who are being copied are copied because they were original. Fashion and styles are set by originals, not those who copy. Maybe some day the penny will drop?
 

Pete Thomas

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Not directly answering this poll because what people today call jazz isn't what others have called jazz in the past. the term was specific to a type of music that originated around the 1920s. There was some improvisation sometimes, but it was written music.
The article about cooking was (I presume) referencing waht the author thought was typical jazz (probably some kind of mainstream, bebop etc...)

It's too broad a term to use without a qualifier though. Do the great players of (so-called) free jazz call on a mental library of licks? I was once playin a free jazz gig, and decided out of the blue to play a bebop lick. I got some very filthy looks. (Sorry, Mr Anecdote seems to be around a lot this morning)
 

Jimmymack

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187
I've never been interested in learning licks and when I've had a go I've always found it unsatisfactory. I have learned the odd thing off a record but I'm not sure how much they find their way into my improv, probably the phrasing more than anything. I find that I make my own licks which become my cliches but I generally look to trying to improve my technique and ear so I'll learn patterns, which you might define as licks I suppose.

I was once in a workshop with Howard Riley and somebody said "..you know, that lick you're always playing" and Howard was mortified and vowed to never play it again.
 

randulo

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Those who have read any of my general questions or posts know this was in the spirit of gentle provocation. My opinion is that it's very common in blues and rock to chain licks together from such a mental library, but that a jazz player would not be considered great if he or she is playing like this most of the time. When the general public refer to "jazz musicians" they can be talking about anything from Benny Goodman, or Bird to Kenny G. The part that makes it jazz is the improvisation aspect, so the question is still answerable. Further, in jazz, it is most common to improvise as a group, so the parallel with cooking fails at that point. The idea put forth in the article, that you can be a soulful cook and use a library of prepared elements isn't so bad. In that light, there certainly are "springboard licks" that we fall into from time to time, but if playing consists only of that, it's not really playing at all.

Regarding the question about free jazz, I assume we'd agree that this philosophy would be a contradiction to the whole point of free. I haven't listened to enough free jazz. I haven't even listened enough to Cecil Taylor or even Ornette to know if they ever repeated "licks".
 

Guenne

Senior Member
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I remember a story one of my former coaches told me, it makes me smile every time I think about.
He was at a concert in LA a friend of his had. There was Kenny G in the audience, and he joined for a song.
My coach told me his solo sounded like his little daughter repeating the only word she knew at this time which was "piscina" (swimming pool) over and over again :)

Sorry for OT, Guenne
 

randulo

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I remember a story one of my former coaches told me, it makes me smile every time I think about.
He was at a concert in LA a friend of his had. There was Kenny G in the audience, and he joined for a song.
My coach told me his solo sounded like his little daughter repeating the only word she knew at this time which was "piscina" (swimming pool) over and over again :)

Sorry for OT, Guenne
Not OT at all!

In a related comment, you probably remember the great pianist Michel Petrucciani, who said in an interview, "la virtuosité est une pute que tu sors quand t'es pas inspiré" (if memory serves), a turn of phrase for which I find no really good English translation. The basic idea being that you whip out the showboat passages when uninspired. Among those are the "library licks".
 

sax panther

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Don't know about experienced jazz musicians as I'm not one of those, but I definitely do...

And when I exhaust my mental library of licks, it's time for quotes from other tunes. Anything to hide my lack of improv skills! People soon learn to limit my solos to 16 bars max.
 

Adrian63

Senior Member
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1,771
Ello folks :
I'm in the middle of playing right now so will read through all this later..
Offhand I think we all have a number of favourite licks we have picked up along the way and that is fine so long as you don't over use them. Firstly it becomes tiresome and you are not stretching yourself as a player. To be able to get the key and play on the fly without resorting to safe old licks is I think the way to go..
 

Adrian63

Senior Member
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1,771
There are a few books out there that I have seen like " 1001 great jazz licks "...
Is this a good thing ? I don't know but meeting in the middle I guess would not be a bad thing . Take one or two but try to develop your own style :
Some players seem to sound good at first listen and in a live situation until you realise they are totally reliant on this back catalogue of remembered licks and reel them off one after another . May sound effective but not an inspired solo at all...
 

Pete Thomas

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I vaguely remember reading somewhere about Lester Young saying you shouldn't just play your stock licks.

Of course, it didn't stop him from doing so...
 
Last edited:

randulo

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Don't know about experienced jazz musicians as I'm not one of those, but I definitely do...

And when I exhaust my mental library of licks, it's time for quotes from other tunes. Anything to hide my lack of improv skills! People soon learn to limit my solos to 16 bars max.
A psychiatrist (friend, not my doctor) once told me "Never speak ill of yourself, the rest of the world will have that covered."
 

randulo

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I guess another answer, related to Pete's anecdote, would be to listen to someone like Michael Brecker (if you like him) or Kirk Whalum, Or Coltrane, or Sonny Rollins, or Kenny Garrett, or anyone you consider good, classic or modern and count the number of times they've used a phrase. I've probably listened to more Coltrane than any other tenor. Trane repeated his concepts often, but I couldn't say he used licks. Same for Sonny, or Joe Henderson. I think, also, it depends very much on whether you know the song or not. Few people are capable of play a medium tempo blues without a few little well worn licks coming out from time to time.
 

thomsax

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I remember a story one of my former coaches told me, it makes me smile every time I think about.
He was at a concert in LA a friend of his had. There was Kenny G in the audience, and he joined for a song.
My coach told me his solo sounded like his little daughter repeating the only word she knew at this time which was "piscina" (swimming pool) over and over again :)

Sorry for OT, Guenne
I have heard worse ... ? I'm not talking about good or bad. And yes he is playing licks. He is known for a good musical memory as well.
View: https://youtu.be/I9iF9R5Ei2I
 

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