**There is a new post for the 2013-2014 Colorado All-State Band and Jazz Band Auditions here.
This link will take you to the official Colorado Bandmasters Association site, where you will find all of the information you need about the audition:
This post will provide you with some ideas and information to help you prepare for that audition, especially for the improvisation.
You should make the quality of your sound a priority…don’t just play the notes. One of the most prized possessions of a good jazz player is his sound, and it can be a lifetime’s work to develop a signature sound that a listener can immediately recognize. The more you listen to the sounds of the great players, the better you will be able to choose the aspects of sound that you personally identify with the most, and that you can make a part of your own sound. Just as important is your ability to play the music with a strong sense of time…not just the “correct” rhythms. The placement of all of your notes should come from a conscious awareness and mastery of the beat. Read more in the previous post: “Getting Into the Swing of Things.”
And one more general piece of advice: follow the articulation markings exactly. They are very clearly written here (not always the case in many arrangements), and can make the difference between an average sounding band and a great one. If there is no articulation mark, play the note long…its full value, with a full sound that follows through to the next note or rest. This means that the rests should be played just as precisely as notes…their beginning silence must be just as clear as the attack of a note.
Other related posts for preparing the written audition music:
- Audition Strategies: Part One
- Audition Strategies: Part Two
- Using “Add-Ons” to Learn a Challenging Passage of Music
For the required improvising, the Jamey Abersold CD (Volume 54, “Maiden Voyage”) also includes all of the lead sheets, with the melody, chords and applied scales written out. To really learn a new tune it is a good idea to play it at the piano, with the chords in the left hand (played one octave lower than written in the book) and the melody and then later the applied scales in the right. This does not have to be an inspired performance…slowly and out of tempo is fine, as long as you give yourself the opportunity to really listen to these basic elements of the song (read the previous post, “A Casting Call for All Notes” for more details). If you don’t play piano, now is the time to begin learning some familiarity with the keyboard. When Miles Davis first moved to New York it was Dizzy Gillespie who told him he had to learn to play the piano (leave it to the internet to bring us this great photo of the two men…and at the piano!). Years ago when I played with Al Kooper (the keyboard player who started the group “Blood, Sweat and Tears”), he said all of the horn players in his bands (including greats like Randy and Michael Brecker) were better keyboard players than he was. The piano was a large part of the development of the majority of great jazz players. If you play a transposing instrument like trumpet or sax don’t worry about playing the tune in concert pitch…playing off of your instrument’s music (which will then sound in a different key than you will hear it on your horn) is fine…you will still be able to hear all of the important relationships, plus your mind will begin to become more familiar with the elements of the music in your instrument’s key.
Play the melody on your instrument until you can hear it in your head, and then sing it out loud. I’m not sure if you can find examples of the two Abersold blues pieces, but there are most likely countless versions of Summertime to listen to online for those of you gifted in internet searches. Although he does it in a different key, Miles’ version on his Porgy and Bess album is a classic, which is also close to the tempo of the Abersold recording. Listen for all of the things Miles does to the melody and emulate his style as a way of increasing your own vocabulary, even if you choose to play the melody in a different way. Then play all of the chords (arpeggiated, for horns) and scales on your instrument…slowly at first to work out all of the details of fingerings, etc., and then gradually up to the required tempo.
By now you may have seen this equation (on the right) at the top of some of your jazz band music…which tells you to play all written 8th notes with a triplet feeling…what was first a normal 8th note getting 1/2 beat now gets 2/3 of a beat, and the last 8th note is now worth 1/3 of a beat. The two notes still add up to one beat, but now better reflect the triplet subdivision of swing. More on this later.
Chord and scale patterns are a great way to make your mind and technique more facile, to work on your sense of time and swing, and to train your ear to hear the sound of the chord progression. Also, because the notes are already decided upon, you can still put some of your mental energy into monitoring and refining your sound…and learning how to play everything in a relaxed, effortless way. It is essential that you develop the ability to hear these essential pitches before you play them, and if you can accurately sing the pitches and play the patterns by memory, you will be in a much better state to be creative. Freedom comes from discipline like this. Although these patterns may occasionally surface during the course of improvising, they should not be practiced with the goal of using them as a mainstay of your approach.
Below I have written out a 1-3-5-b7 pattern over the F Blues tune that is one of the options for the audition (shown here in the key for Bb instruments, and also found in the Abersold Book). You can see that this pattern adheres to the harmonic rhythm (the rate at which the chords change). Most measures have only one arpeggio, which when played with swinging 8th notes need an additional half note to complete the measure’s four beats. The measures with two chords (two beats each) do not have time to tie to a half note. There are many ways to articulate 8th notes in jazz, but I like to start with the pattern shown below. The tongue will help to accent the offbeats for more swing, and then the momentum of that energy can be used to lengthen the notes that follow on the downbeat, in order to create a flowing, singing like sound.
The articulation pattern of the first four measures should continue through the progression. Many of the intervals will be awkward at first, especially when there are two chords in a measure. If you make a mistake you must keep your place with the beat and within the measure, even if you don’t play all of the notes…something playing along with the CD will force you to do. As an improviser, you must be able to adjust on the fly, all while keeping your place within the structure of the music, so making this ability a priority during this exercise is a great way to begin developing that skill.
When practicing without the CD (either with or without a metronome), you have the luxury of repeating a trouble spot for as long as needed…but you should keep up the tempo with a strict adherence to the beat, and even the barlines. The examples below show ways of working out your problems without slowing the beat down. Example A below shows the G7 arpeggio converted to quarter notes…repeating it over and over until the fingerings, sound and time are right. Example B shows the note values increasing to half notes…effectively slowing the pace from note to note even more, but still without slowing the tempo. Example C shows a way of gradually reintroducing 8th notes (what I call “Add-Ons”) while still keeping the beat and the tempo. By working out your issues in this way you can assert control in a methodical way, all while the groove becomes more and more ingrained within you. You may rest whenever needed, but keep that internal sense of the beat going, always knowing where “one” is. A quick suggestion about using a metronome with jazz: try setting the metronome at half tempo, and yet imagine that those clicks are beats 2 and 4 of the measure. The barlines will still go by at the same rate of speed of your original setting, but now you will be hearing the backbeats emphasized…much like the role of a high hat in a drum kit.
A variation of this chord pattern would be to play it descending…b7-5-3-1. You can also try playing the pattern with different rhythms (both variations seen below). Example D is more syncopated, with three of the four arpeggio notes played on the off beat. Sometimes it will be a challenge to match a new rhythm with a chord or scale pattern, but meeting the challenge creatively will make you a better improviser. Example E shows the previous pattern did not have to be altered at all when this chord progression went to two chords per measure…the b7th and 5th of E7 are the same pitches as the 3rd and 1st of B-7. With no underlying chord present, that measure might sound as though you are just playing the same b7-5-3-1 pattern over B-7. Example F shows the same two notes (D and B) over the E7, but by retaining the opening rhythm of the pattern and playing the two notes one octave higher there is a little more of a sense that the chord changed. Either version is fine, as long as you know what’s going on.
You should listen carefully to how the great players swing their 8th notes (and not just those who play the same instrument as you), and then try these rhythmic variations yourself. Many players play their 8th notes much more evenly, rather than use the triplet feeling, plus there are an infinite number of variations in between. The (concert) F Blues melody in the Abersold book uses a dotted 8th-16th rhythm as a way of subdividing the beat (which is often just a written approximation of the triplet subdivision we discussed earlier, but with more accent on the second note), so you should try that rhythmic variation as well. The important point here is to have the ability to place those 8th notes in a variety of different ways, based on your familiarity with the options and the context…giving you the opportunity to make an artistic choice. Just as with your sound, your concept of time is both a signature and a strong indicator of your maturity as a player.
Scale patterns should be a part of this practice routine too, since they are another way to create a sweeping gesture through the harmony of the moment. For wind instruments there is not as much time to breathe, but you should be able to improvise a solution. Leave out a note or two when needed (varying where you breathe every time), but still…keep your place. Example G below, is the first three measures of the blues tune we’ve been looking at in this post. I showed an alternate scale on C7 rather than the one shown in the Abersold book…raising the 4th to F#, which creates yet another color for your palate.
Although the applied scales to practice with this pattern are pretty straight forward for most of the tune (one scale-mode per measure), the 8th measure of the tune (seen at left) has two chords in the measure. With only two beats allocated for each chord, there is only enough time to play the first four notes of each scale, and since the chords are a perfect 4th (up) apart there are repeated notes connecting the scale pattern. I like placing a tie at this juncture, which tends to bring out the swinging nature of the offbeats. To include all of the notes of the scale, you can also change the pattern so it starts on the 3rd or the 5th of the scale, but you will still be limited to playing only four notes within the span of two beats.
The Abersold book mentions improvising on the G Blues scale as an option for the entire progression, but you can also change to a new blues scale with every new chord…in this case matching the root of the scale with the root of the chord. Example H (below) shows this relationship between the chord and blues scale, and shows a rhythmic variation seen earlier…starting on the offbeat. The articulation markings have been left out to encourage you to try some of your own. Can you play these running 8th notes like trumpeter Freddie Hubbard?…or alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderly? Again notice that with this particular pattern there is not enough time to play anything more than a three note fragment of the B and E blues scales, since their underlying chords only occupy two beats in the form.
Although chords and scales are some of the building blocks of music, if all of our improvisation (and practice) is based on these fundamentals, it’s easy to sound much the same on every tune that shares the same chord progression. The 12-bar blues is a great example, for once the group gets into the improvising it’s often hard to tell what blues tune they started with. To elevate your playing another notch try working with the motif(s) of the tune. Here I took a fragment (Example I, below) from the opening phrase of the F Concert Blues tune (again, shown here in the trumpet key of G) and labeled both the intervalic structure (the general intervals between the notes), and each note’s relationship to the underlying chord (the 3rd, the b7, etc.). Once those are determined the fun begins. Try making a patten out of the motif and transpose it to each new chord (Example J), or keep the motif in position and only change the notes needed to fit the new chord and/or applied scale (Example K). In that case, look at how those notes relate to the new chord, and then try transposing that new relationship to the progression (Example L). Although the 4th note of the scale did not come up in these examples, be careful of its use on major chords. Unless the 4th is raised, it can often obscure the harmony because of its conflict with the 3rd of the chord.
As you become more fluent with playing these motivic patterns you can try altering their rhythms. In Example M below, can you see and hear how it was drawn from Example J? At this point you are improvising, with ideas based on the original melody, and yet still honoring the chord progression as well.
It will probably be a relief to leave all of this pattern work and just improvise, but you should find that when you do, you will have a much greater command of your instrument and the tune. Your inner ear should be able to imagine and hear more possibilities. You may begin to recognize certain chord progressions when listening to other tunes, and learning new tunes should be easier…all because of the way you invested yourself into this kind of thorough practice. As challenging as this process may be, it produces great results…and it will get easier!
More Related Posts:
- “Using “Shapes” to Improve the Structure of Improvised Solos and Compositions” (includes sound files of written examples)
- “Using Motivic Cells with Beginning Improvisers“
- “More Ways to Improvise Using Motivic Cells“
- “The Visual Connection to a Musical Line“
- “Creating Longer Phrases“