Tag Archives for " sonny rollins "

How to Practice Licks That Don’t Sound Like Licks

It is my honor to introduce all of you to our guest contributor for our latest post, Mr. Justin Scoville. Justin and I first met at the University of Denver in 2004. Justin, in addition to being a fine jazz trumpeter, has recently started his own blog at The Jazz Daddy (which I highly recommend you check out). He comes from a rich heritage of Denver-based jazz instruction at CCJA, studied at the University of Denver and holds lucrative liberal arts degrees from BYU and the University of Colorado Denver. And (like many musicians these days) balances a family, day job, blogging, playing jazz, etc. 

Thanks to Jason for letting me pop in for a guest post!

The precocious and tragically short-lived trumpeter Booker Little recalled some sage advice he received from Sonny Rollins while rooming with the venerable tenor saxophonist in 1954:  “Sonny was a big help. For one thing, he cautioned me about becoming overly influenced by other players. ‘You’ve got to be you,’ he told me, ‘whether that’s good or bad.’” At the time, Little was heavily influenced by Clifford Brown. After taking Sonny’s challenge to heart, Booker went on to be one of the most unique jazz soloists during the late 50’s and early 60’s before his premature death.

Part of Little’s singular approach to improvisation was utilizing quarter tones and employing harmonic dissonance (influenced by his understanding of classical music) over traditional bebop harmonies. For an example of this, check out Booker’s solo at 4:30 on “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be”:

I believe Booker is a great example for us all. He spent the time to emulate the great masters that had laid the foundation of jazz, but then infused his own musical interests into what was (at the time) common jazz vocabulary.

Booker wasn’t the first or last to do this. Charlie Parker copied Lester Young, Clifford Brown copied Fats Navarro, and so on. The question is, what are you going to do with all of the cool licks you’ve learned?

Today I’m going to share three simple techniques that will help you go beyond rote imitation and start discovering your own sound. These three techniques are 1) octave displacement2) rhythmic variation, and 3) sidestepping. 

Let’s take a lick that is fairly common in jazz, like this one:

To add a little variety and challenge to my practice session, I’ll arbitrarily decide to raise or lower certain notes by an octave, paying homage to Eric Dolphy. Here’s an example:

Next, I’ll add some rhythmic variation. Throw in some quarter note triplets, triplets, and quintuplets, and voila! You sound pretty different from all of your lick-playing buddies:

Finally, some sidestepping adds a final dash of harmonic ambiguity. Here, I raised or lowered certain notes to hint at F7 Altered Dominant. Or something like that.

Well, those are some techniques I use to spice up my licks. What have you all tried? Share your comments below.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog/post. As a thank you I wanted to give you a FREE MP3 from the JKQ. Simply click the button below and fill out the short form and you’ll have it in just a few short moments!

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Improv Tip Week #45-Analyzing Lines Series 6

Welcome back everyone to week #45 and our continuation of analyzing lines series. If this is your first time here-welcome! Please feel free to check out the site. Also, a big welcome back and thanks for returning friends! This week we’re going to look at the 2nd chorus of Sonny Rollin’s improvisation on Tenor Madness from his album, Tenor Madness with John Coltrane (1957). I think Sonny’s entire improvisation on this tune is worth checking out, but there’s some interesting things we can learn and apply to our improvisations that I’d like to look at from his second time through this tune (based on the Blues).

Below is the 2nd chorus:

The first thing I’d like to look at with you is something that we briefly covered in last week’s line from Lee Morgan. That’s the concept of using diminished/altered targeting techniques (for more info, check out my book Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose). However, when I see the line below, I see the whole line (not just beat 4) using this idea. Personally, I see this line as “thinking in G” as opposed to the Bb7 that’s occuring at the moment. I teach my students that it’s all about where we’re going (or targeting). Again, I can’t answer for Sonny Rollins. But, this is how I see it and would apply it to my playing:

The next two are examples of chromatic targeting. In both of these instances below they happen to target the 5th of the chord. The first example is a fairly standard chromatic targeting device. While the second example is great for the chromatic targeting principles, I love how Sonny Rollins takes the simple idea and transposes it down a whole step to fit the changes. Teachers I’ve had have called this sequencing.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip and hope that it adds some value to your playing and improvisations. Please feel free to share this tip/site with your friends, students and colleagues. There are even some quick share social media buttons below for your convenience. If you haven’t already, I’d like to invite you to check out my book (Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose). There are some great reviews that keep getting updated in the Reviews tab above. I hope you get the chance to enjoy it as much as others have!

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