Talking Jazz with Evan Christopher and Yaakov Hoter – Part 3 Phrases, Performance and Practice



Talking Jazz with Evan Christopher and Yaakov Hoter – Part 3 Phrases, Performance and Practice

How to use phrases to make a performance that goes somewhere

A person can know many phrases, Gypsy Jazz licks and Django Reinhardt’s licks very well and still not have the knack of producing an interesting solo. You can think of phrases all the time and use them in your solos but always sound new.  That’s not only pure luck.

There are a few ideas that can make your solo more interesting while playing phrases, or Django’s licks.
You can think of:

  • How your phrases relate to each other
  • Playing phrases within your phrase (sequences, for example).
  • Two phrases that lead up to a third.
  • A sequence of phrases leading to one another.
  • A phrase repeated from a previous chorus.

Examples on Rhythm Changes (I-VI-II-V):

Here is an example of thinking about sequences:

Here is an example of thinking about phrases that use a kind of  A-A-B-A idea, with two phrases leading up to a third:

You can see that these ideas really work.  It’s enough to use two phrases over a short chorus and play with the time.  Even with arpeggios, you don’t have to change very much to surprise somebody.

Once you get into something, the ear knows where it’s going.  If you can find a way to add a surprise and make it go somewhere the person’s not expecting, that’s what makes it fun.  It’s also a good way to practice.

Starting phrases in different places inside the bar

Even on gigs, when playing background music and people aren’t paying much attention, you can keep your own interest up by practicing entering on a different beat for each phrase, like on one, end of one, two, end of two, three…  You can add so much variety in that way. The waiting for that beat to come around and the pause for deciding whether the beginning is a pick-up or a real first note adds interest too.

Another interesting idea is to think of ideas and start the next phrase on the last note of the previous phrase.  These ideas are great for practicing.

Building pick-ups

You can also enter on a different beat for each phrase the other way around, starting on the end of four, then four, etc., and use different pick-ups. You can use longer and longer pick-up phrases, get started thinking about targets and deciding where you want to start a phrase and things like that.

How to get the most out of what we already know

There are so many ways to do it.  Those exercises give you more freedom and variety in what you do.  You’re not always starting in the same place or the same voicing.  And it also makes you wait!  It makes you leave some spaces for things.

These ideas can help anyone play nice solos using what you know:

  • Change the beat you start on.
  • Think of a target for your phrase – where is it going.

You’re the leader and the audience is following you.  If you don’t know where you’re going, they won’t follow you!  You want to hold their imagination from one point in time to another, lead them there and surprise them, by playing with their expectations.  If they think they know where you’re going they’ll go there without you!  Then you lose their attention.

How to get the most out of the time you invest in practicing

It is very important to be very focused and give your full attention to practicing.  If you’re doing scales, you can’t be watching television or walking around the room at the same time.  Ten minutes of intense focus on the sound you’re getting, on the attack etc. can get you into the right zone to focus for hours.  If you can’t focus, you can’t improve.

Just reviewing things you already know is not practicing.  Adding new things is practicing.

You’re only as good as your worst key…  So –  What you need to improve is your worst key.

Practice with a friend

Anybody on any instrument needs to concentrate and practice only things that you need to improve.  The idea of practicing how to connect ideas is much better to practice with a partner.  For instance, when two people practice together, it can be a terrific exercise for one to try ways to articulate the melody and the other to play above it.