The Box of Tricks
Dave Brubeck was asked on one occasion to describe the art of improvisation. He said that there were three methods.
1) To carefully construct variations on the tune before coming to performance. These variations would be played as improvisations and could be recognised as such at subsequent performances as they were repeated.
2) Every Jazz pianist develops his/her own repertoire of 'licks'. These are used in improvisations as 'turnarounds', 'intros' and endings. They are the familiar trade marks which help us to recognise their source as typical 'Peterson' or typical 'Miles Davis'. These clichès make up the performers 'box of tricks'. This collection can be added to whenever a newly discovered 'lick' is heard. 'Amateurs borrow licks from others, - professionals steal'.
3) Some improvisations are entirely spontaneous. When this happens, true creativity is experienced. The result is either brilliant inspiration or disaster - but the risk has been taken. This is truly what Jazz improvisation is at its best.
However, all three techniques are used and none is to be despised.
Here are some tricks which you might like to put into your personal box. Click on each manuscript to listen.
1) Here is a II - V - I in the key of F. ie. Gmin C7 F.
Transpose the above into the keys of Eb, Bb, Db, and C. Practise it and look for opportunities to use it.
2) A useful lick using descending thirteenths.
3) A useful 'fill-in', using the 'axis of the third' voicing.
4) Here is a simple and effective Blues lick in Eb, played against a Fm7 chord.
Transpose these licks into the keys of C, F, Bb, Eb, Ab, & Db, and practise until they can be played fluently. Play Blue Monk again incorporating the above licks or fragments of them in your improvisations. The following rules can be helpful in developing a professional jazz performance.
1. Explore tune and chords in different keys.
2. Explore arpeggios for each chord.
3. Explore related scales for each chord.
4. Memorize tune and chords.
5. The following rules apply for pianists in particular.
6. Play chords in left hand and eighth-note arpeggios in the right hand.
7. Play chords in the left hand and eighth-note scales in the right hand.
8. Play chords in the left hand and eighth-note triplets scales in the right hand.
9. Play chords in left hand and eighth-note triplets arpeggios in the right hand.
10. Repeat the above with different rhythmic patterns on drums (or drum machine).
11. Play rootless chords in the left hand sounding the third or the seventh of the chord as the lowest notes.
12. Experiment with voicing chords in differing inversions adding sixths and ninths when appropriate.
13. Experiment with spreading chords as widely as possible and as close as possible in 'chord clusters'.
14. Do not use the sustain pedal when improvising.
15. Practise the art of singing as you improvise.