You have probably heard the saying that “when life gives you lemons-make lemonade.” I know it is a cliché, but it is one that has some value to those that improvise. I wrote a post a few weeks back called Fight Through that talked about regardless of what circumstances life has given you; we still have to fight through and make music. In this post I wanted to talk about something similar and make the correlation between the unexpected things in life and how we can use that in our improvisations.
Let’s face it, there are some things in life we thought would be a “sure thing.” Ask a child what they want to be when they grow up and you will get a number of different answers. Follow those children 20 years later and ask if they are doing what they wanted to do. For some…maybe. For most…probably not. Life gives us some unexpected twists and turns. Improvisation has a way of doing the same thing. We can plan and plot, but when we finally get in the moment unexpected things can happen. Someone in the rhythm section plays something unexpected and before you know it your improvisation goes in a new direction.
Most of the time when this happens it is fun and exciting. Hopefully you know the song and harmonic progression well enough that you can go to that unexpected place together. Much like life; your attitude towards the unexpected will help determine your level of enjoyment and success. Remember you are involved in the improvisation process just as much as those you are playing with. Your input helps determine the destination.
A while back there was a video of Stefon Harris doing a TED talk floating around social media sites. He and his group of musicians did an excellent job of talking about how reacting to the unexpected creates (or detracts) from the art of improvisation. Check out the video below:
I hope you have enjoyed this week’s tip and that it has added some value and benefit to your playing in some way. The holidays are fast approaching and if you are looking for gift ideas for some musicians please go to my Digital Store today and check out my books and recently CD. I am very thankful to all of you that have made a purchase or download!
Jason Klobnak is a versatile trumpet player that has been performing as an active musician, author, clinician, composer and educator. His band, J's Ruckus, is Denver's blend of Post-Bop, Soul, Gospel, and Hip-Hop. They perform infectious and up-lifting originals for audiences hungry for a memorable live experience. J's Ruckus released their latest album, Suck Less, in March of 2020 and their first EP, Sermons, in July of 2019. Both were recorded live in front of an audience. Suck Less was recorded to a packed auditorium at Arapahoe Community College's Waring Theater in Littleton, CO. Sermons was recorded in front of a sold out crowd at the Soiled Dove Underground. The JKQ (the Jason Klobnak Quintet/Quartet) is Mr. Klobnak's Hammond B-3 centered groups. The JKQ released their third full-length album in March of 2018 called Friends & Family. It has been very well reviewed, on numerous Top 10 lists for Jazz radio stations across the country (including Denver's KUVO 89.3FM which named it May 2018's CD of the month), and in Jazzweek's Top 100. Each composition was written for specific family and close friends (that might as well be family). Their second album, New Chapter, was recorded in part thanks to the Pathways to Jazz Grant from the Boulder County Arts Alliance. In 2015 and 2016, New Chapter was in the Top 75 on the Jazzweek charts and on the Top 10 playlists for over a dozen radio stations worldwide. Their first album, Mountain, Move made the Best Recordings of 2013 list from AllAboutJazz.com by C. Michael Bailey. His very well reviewed Christmas single, Hark the Herald, in 2016 as part of a creative project with musicians James Roberson and Nathaniel Kearney Jr. Besides the JKQ, Mr. Klobnak is a B.A.C. (Best American Craftsman-custom trumpet), Denis Wick (mouthpiece and mutes) and Westone Audio endorsed artist (ES20 and Tru Customs). Mr. Klobnak has played and recorded for numerous groups ranging from jazz, soul/R&B, indie-rock/pop and gospel. In addition to performing, he has also written two improvisation-based books called Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose and Breaking the Monotony and is currently an adjunct professor and brass instructor at Arapahoe Community College. Mr. Klobnak holds a bachelor degree from Drake University (Des Moines, IA) and a Master’s degree from the University of Denver, Lamont School of Music (Denver, CO).
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