My best-known composition is undoubtedly Reunion, a solo piano piece I wrote specifically to be the demo song for MuseScore 1.2. The main impetus was to show off the capabilities of the software, but I wanted to make it as musical as I could. Response has been overwhelmingly positive and very gratifying.
I often hear people discussing music theory as if it were a bunch of rules to be followed or broken. But to me this misses the point.
I like to compare music theory to gravity, and to ask people, “have you ever broken the law of gravity?” It’s a silly question and often gets silly answers, but I hope my point is clear: the law of gravity is not a rule to be followed or broken; it just is.
Like music theory, the law of gravity doesn’t tell you what to do, it merely tells you about cause and effect. Gravity doesn’t care whether or not you drop a rock you are holding; it just tells that *if* you let go of that rock, it will fall. You can choose whether or not to let go based on whether or not you want that rock to fall. Similarly, music theory doesn’t care whether or not you resolve a dominant chord to the tonic or not; if just tells you that *if* you resolve it that way, the result is satisfying in a particular way. You can choose whether or not to resolve it based on whether or not you want that particular sense of satisfaction.
Keep this in mind as you study music theory. No “rule” of music theory ever tells you what you must do; it merely helps you understand the effect of various different things you might try.
In the coming months, I plan to launch a whole new set of articles, lessons, and other resources to help you learn more about voice leading, harmony, rhythm, and other aspects of music theory. Please subscribe to this site in order to be informed of updates!
MuseScore is the world’s most popular music notation software. It is free and open source, and it runs on Windows, macOS, and Linux. MuseScore also provides mobile apps for viewing and playing sheet music on your phone or tablet, and it powers the world’s largest sheet music creator community at musescore.com.
I am one of the developers of MuseScore as well as the author of Mastering MuseScore, the definitive guide to this amazing software.
If you have any interest in music notation software, I encourage you to check out MuseScore!
Another year, another “welcome to my new web site” first blog post 🙂
Actually, of course, my web site is not exactly new. In fact, the Outside Shore has been online for over twenty years, and is one of the most known and loved resources for music education in the world. But every so often, I feel the need to start over with a new design to suit a new vision, and this is one of those times. The year 2018 marks my first attempt to turn my online presence into a full-time career. I have a number of exciting projects I will be announcing and launching soon – not just in my spare time as has been the case in the past, but as my primary focus. So thanks for hanging with me through these changes, and stay tuned!
The following tunes are among those most commonly played by jazz musicians. I have made an attempt to categorize them based on how they are usually played. Most of the compositions are by jazz musicians, except for the ones marked “standard”.
You should try to become familiar with as many of these tunes as possible. Most of them can be found in the Real Book or in Chuck Sher’s books.
All Blues blues, modal All Of Me standard All The Things You Are standard Anthropology rhythm changes, swing Au Privave blues, swing Autumn Leaves standard Beautiful Love standard Beauty And The Beast rock Billie's Bounce blues, swing Black Orpheus Latin Blue Bossa Latin Blue In Green ballad, modal Blue Monk blues, swing Blue Train blues, swing Blues For Alice blues, swing Bluesette 3/4, swing Body And Soul ballad, standard C Jam Blues blues, swing Caravan Latin, swing Ceora Latin Cherokee swing Confirmation swing Darn That Dream ballad, standard Desafinado Latin Dolphin Dance modal, non-tonal Donna Lee swing Don't Get Around Much Anymore swing E.S.P non-tonal A Foggy Day standard Footprints 3/4, blues, modal Freddie Freeloader blues, modal Freedom Jazz Dance non-tonal Four swing Giant Steps swing The Girl From Ipanema Latin Goodbye, Pork Pie Hat ballad, swing Have You Met Miss Jones standard I Mean You swing I Remember Clifford ballad, swing I Thought About You standard If I Were A Bell standard Impressions modal In A Sentimental Mood ballad, swing In Walked Bud swing Joy Spring swing Just Friends standard Killer Joe swing Lady Bird swing Lullaby Of Birdland swing Mr. P.C. blues, swing Maiden Voyage modal Mercy, Mercy, Mercy rock Misty ballad, standard Moment's Notice swing My Favorite Things 3/4, modal, standard My Funny Valentine ballad, standard My Romance standard Naima ballad, modal A Night In Tunisia Latin, swing Nica's Dream Latin, swing Nostalgia In Times Square swing Now's The Time blues, swing Oleo rhythm changes, swing On Green Dolphin Street Latin, swing, standard Ornithology swing Recorda Me Latin Red Clay rock Round Midnight ballad, swing St. Thomas Latin Satin Doll swing Scrapple From The Apple swing The Sidewinder blues, swing So What modal Solar swing Some Day My Prince Will Come 3/4, standard Song For My Father Latin Speak No Evil modal, non-tonal Stella By Starlight standard Stolen Moments blues, modal Straight, No Chaser blues, swing Sugar swing Summertime standard Take Five 5/4, modal Take The "A" Train swing There Is No Greater Love standard There Will Never be Another You standard Up Jumped Spring 3/4, swing Waltz For Debby 3/4, swing Wave Latin Well, You Needn't swing When I Fall In Love ballad, standard Yardbird Suite swing
The best readily available jazz discography of which I am aware is the Penguin Guide To Jazz On Compact Disc, which contains listings and reviews of virtually all jazz albums that were in print in the early 1990’s. The book was edited in the United Kingdom, and there is a slight European avant garde slant to the ratings, but it is still the most complete, accurate, and generally useful discography of all types of jazz available to the general public.
The following discography is included to supplement the history discussion. Many of the specific artists and albums mentioned there are listed here, with a brief description of each. The albums listed are from my personal collection, and are listed in roughly chronological order, organized by style. I have tried to include mainly albums that I know are readily available, especially those that have been reissued on CD.
I encourage you to check out any album mentioned more than once by name in the text of this primer. These albums include Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue and John Coltrane’s Giant Steps. These two albums illustrate many of the ideas and techniques discussed in this primer, and are considered among the most important jazz albums of all time.
To supplement these classic albums, you should consider some recordings by the remainder of the musicians in the “Top Ten List”. Most of Louis Armstrong’s important recordings were made before the advent of the LP, so any album of his you buy today is probably a compilation. Look for something that contains recordings made in the 1920’s with the Hot Five or the Hot Seven. Duke Ellington led one of the greatest big bands ever, but also made many recordings in small group settings. Look for recordings that feature Cootie Williams, Johnny Hodges, Ben Webster, or Jimmy Blanton. Billie Holiday’s voice developed and changed over her career; you may wish to check out something from early and late in her life. Charlie Parker’s greatest and most influential recordings were as the leader of a quartet or quintet; there are hundreds of compilations to choose from.
Art Blakey was the first musician on this list to record extensively in the LP format. Any of the albums by the Jazz Messengers from the late 1950’s or early 1960’s, such as Moanin’ or Ugetsu, are good choices. The quintessential Charles Mingus album is Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus, which features Eric Dolphy. For Thelonious Monk, the compilations on Blue Note are excellent, as are albums from the 1950’s and 1960’s such as Brilliant Corners and Monk’s Dream. For Ornette Coleman, try one of the early quartet albums like The Shape Of Jazz To Come, and when you are feeling braver, Free Jazz. Ornette also leads a fusion oriented group called Prime Time; you may wish to check out some of their albums as well.
Miles Davis can hardly be fairly represented by only Kind Of Blue; you should also consider The Birth Of The Cool, Miles Smiles, Sketches Of Spain, and Bitches Brew at the very least, as they represent very different periods in his career, all of them innovative. Similarly, John Coltrane is not sufficiently represented by only Giant Steps; you should supplement this with something from the classic quartet like A Love Supreme, and, if you are feeling adventurous, one of the later albums such as Ascension.
- Louis Armstrong, The Louis Armstrong Story, Columbia – several volumes, including records with the Hot Five and the Hot Seven, as well as recordings with Earl Hines and others
- Art Tatum, The Complete Capitol Recordings, Capitol – solo and trio recordings
- Bix Beiderbecke, Bix Beiderbecke, Columbia – several volumes, including recordings with various big bands
- Duke Ellington, Duke Ellington, Laserlight – a sampler including record- ings from the 1930’s through the 1960’s, featuring Johnny Hodges, Cootie Williams, Ben Webster, and Paul Gonsalves
- Errol Garner, Concert By The Sea, Columbia – this was for a long time the best selling jazz album ever
- Charlie Parker, Bebop & Bird, Hipsville/Rhino – several volumes, includ- ing sessions with Bud Powell, Fats Navarro, Miles Davis, J.J. Johnson, Art Blakey, and Max Roach
- Charlie Parker, The Quintet, Debut/OJC – a famous live concert with Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus, and Max Roach
- Bud Powell, The Amazing Bud Powell, Blue Note – trio and small group recordings with Fats Navarro and Sonny Rollins
- Thelonious Monk, The Best Of Thelonious Monk, Blue Note – early boppish recordings
- Miles Davis, The Complete Birth Of The Cool, Capitol – nine piece group with Lee Konitz, J.J. Johnson, Gerry Mulligan, and John Lewis
- Lennie Tristano, Wow, Jazz – a sextet with Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh
- Dave Brubeck, Time Out, Columbia – featuring Paul Desmond and “Take Five”
- Art Blakey And The Jazz Messengers, A Night At Birdland, Blue Note – featuring Horace Silver and Clifford Brown
- Art Blakey And The Jazz Messengers, Moanin’, Blue Note – featuring Lee Morgan and Bobby Timmons
- Art Blakey And The Jazz Messengers, Ugetsu, Milestone – featuring Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard, and Curtis Fuller
- Clifford Brown, Study In Brown, EmArcy – the quintet with Max Roach
- Horace Silver, The Best Of Horace Silver, Applause – several of his most well-known compositions
- Miles Davis, Walkin’, Prestige – one of Miles’ favorite albums; hard bop with J.J. Johnson and Horace Silver
- Lee Morgan, The Sidewinder, Blue Note – hard bop
- Miles Davis, Workin’ With The Miles Davis Quintet, Prestige – the first great quintet with John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers, Philly Joe Jones
- Miles Davis, Kind Of Blue, Columbia – the quintessential modal album, with John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderly, Bill Evans, and Wynton Kelly
- Miles Davis, Complete Concert 1964, Columbia – the forerunner to the second great quintet, with George Coleman, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams, playing standards
- Miles Davis, Miles Smiles, Columbia – the second great quintet with Wayne Shorter, at its peak
- Miles Davis, Sketches Of Spain, Columbia – with the Gil Evans Orchestra
- John Coltrane, Soul Trane, Prestige – one of Coltrane’s favorites of his early albums, with Red Garland and Philly Jo Jones
- John Coltrane, Giant Steps, Atlantic – the album that established Coltrane as one of the most important improvisers of his day
- John Coltrane, My Favorite Things, Atlantic – the forerunner to his long lived quartet with McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones
- John Coltrane, A Love Supreme, Impulse – the crowning modal achievement of the quartet
- Charles Mingus, Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus, Candid – the classic album with Eric Dolphy
- Charles Mingus, Mingus Ah Um, Columbia – contains his most well-known compositions
- Charles Mingus, Let My Children Hear Music, Columbia – supposedly Mingus’ favorite of his own albums; his music arranged for a large ensemble
- Thelonious Monk, Monk’s Music, Riverside – with John Coltrane, Coleman Hawkins, and others
- Thelonious Monk, Monk’s Dream, Columbia – his long-lived quartet with Charlie Rouse
- Bill Evans, Sunday At The Village Vanguard, Waltz For Debby, Riverside – available as a combined set; a live recording from the trio with Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian
- Wes Montgomery, Full House, Riverside – an early hard boppish recording
- Sonny Rollins, Saxophone Colossus, Prestige – one of his most popular albums
- Sonny Rollins, The Bridge, RCA – with Jim Hall
- Chick Corea, Inner Space, Atlantic – an album of mostly straightahead jazz with Woody Shaw
- Herbie Hancock, Maiden Voyage, Blue Note – modal, non-tonal, and avant garde compositions with Freddie Hubbard, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams
- Wayne Shorter, Speak No Evil, Blue Note – some of his best compositions, with Freddie Hubbard and Herbie Hancock
- VSOP, The Quintet, Columbia – live recording with Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams
- Eric Dolphy, Eric Dolphy At The Five Spot, Prestige – with Booker Little and Mal Waldron
- Eric Dolphy, Out To Lunch, Blue Note – influential avant garde recording
- Andrew Hill, Point Of Departure, Blue Note – with Eric Dolphy and Joe Henderson
- Max Roach, The Max Roach Trio Featuring The Legendary Hassan, Atlantic – Hassan Ibn Ali is a little known pianist who combines aspects of Thelonious Monk, Cecil Taylor, and Don Pullen; this is his only known recording, and is highly recommended
- Ornette Coleman, The Shape Of Jazz To Come, Atlantic – one of his best freebop quartet albums
- Ornette Coleman, Free Jazz, Atlantic – a collective free improvisation with Don Cherry, Freddie Hubbard, and Eric Dolphy
- John Coltrane, New Thing At Newport, Impulse – live concert; half of this album is the Archie Shepp quartet
- John Coltrane, Interstellar Space, Impulse – free duets with Rashied Ali
- John Coltrane, Ascension, Impulse – free large ensemble improvisation
- Albert Ayler, Witches & Devils, Freedom – avant garde
- Pharoah Sanders, Live, Theresa – similar in style to Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, but more free
- Cecil Taylor, Jazz Advance, Blue Note – relatively straightahead music, including some standards, but with Taylor’s sense of harmonic freedom
- Cecil Taylor, For Olim, Soul Note – free solo piano
- Cecil Taylor, Spring Of Two Blue J’s, Unit Core – free group improvisation
- Sun Ra, Out There A Minute, Restless/BlastFirst – avant garde big band
- Miles Davis, Bitches Brew, Columbia – early, relatively free fusion with Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul, John McLaughlin
- Mahavishnu Orchestra, Inner Mounting Flame, Columbia – heavy rock oriented fusion with John McLaughlin
- Tony Williams’ Lifetime, Emergency, Polydor – heavy rock oriented fusion with John McLaughlin
- Herbie Hancock, Headhunters, Columbia – funk oriented fusion
- Weather Report, Heavy Weather, Columbia – pop oriented fusion with Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul, Jaco Pastorius
- Chick Corea and Return To Forever, Light As A Feather, Polydor – Latin oriented fusion with Stanley Clarke and vocalist Flora Purim
- Pat Metheny, Bright Size Life, ECM – esoteric fusion with Jaco Pastorius
- Steps Ahead, Modern Times, Elektra Musician – tight modern fusion with Michael Brecker
- Miles Davis, You’re Under Arrest, Columbia – funkier modern fusion
- Ornette Coleman and Prime Time, Virgin Beauty, Portrait – free modern fusion
- Art Ensemble Of Chicago, Nice Guys, ECM – post modern jazz, world music, and freebop with Lester Bowie and Roscoe Mitchell
- World Saxophone Quartet, Dances And Ballads, Elektra Nonesuch – a capella (unaccompanied) saxophone quartet with David Murray
- David Murray, New Life, Black Saint – octet with Hugh Ragin on trumpet
- Anthony Braxton, Composition 98, hat ART – a post modern suite featuring Marilyn Crispell, Hugh Ragin, and Ray Anderson
- John Carter, Castles Of Ghana, Gramavision – a suite of post modern compositions
- Willem Breuker, Bob’s Gallery, BVHaast – avant garde big band
- Don Pullen / George Adams Quartet, Don’t Lose Control, Soul Note – blues oriented post modern jazz
- Improvised Music New York 1981, MU – energy music with Derek Bailey, Sonny Sharrock, Fred Frith, and John Zorn
- Oregon, 45th Parallel, Portrait – New Age pioneers
- Paul Bley, Floater, Savoy – harmonically liberated trio doing compositions by Paul and Carla Bley as well as Ornette Coleman
- Abdullah Ibrahim, African Dawn, Enja – solo piano with South African influences
- Keith Jarrett, Mysteries, Impulse – quartet with Dewey Redman doing relatively free post bop with world music influences
- Wynton Marsalis, Think Of One, Columbia – adventurous neoclassic quintet with Branford Marsalis, Kenny Kirkland, and Jeff Watts
- Wynton Marsalis, Marsalis Standard Time, Columbia – standards with rhythmic twists, featuring Marcus Roberts
- Branford Marsalis, Crazy People Music, Columbia – adventurous neoclassic quartet with Kenny Kirkland and Jeff Watts
- Steve Coleman, Motherland Pulse, JMT – acoustic M-Base
- Steve Coleman, Drop Kick, Novus – electric M-Base
- Gary Thomas, The Kold Kage, JMT – electric M-Base
- Cassandra Wilson, Jump World, JMT – vocal and electric M-Base with Steve Coleman, Gary Thomas, and Greg Osby
- Dave Holland, Extensions, ECM – mostly acoustic modern quartet with Steve Coleman, Kevin Eubanks, and Marvin “Smitty” Smith
- Tim Berne, Pace Yourself, JMT – frenetic post modern jazz
- Michael Brecker, Michael Brecker, Impulse – modern acoustic and electric post bop
- Charlie Haden, Paul Motian, Geri Allen, Etudes, Soul Note – modern acoustic post bop
- Steve Lacy, Live At Sweet Basil, Novus – modern acoustic post bop
- Phil Woods, Heaven, Blackhawk – post bop with Tom Harrell
- Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Discovery, Blue Note – post bop with Cuban influences
- Don Byron, Tuskegee Experiments, Elektra Nonesuch – post modern, post bop
- Don Pullen, Kele Mou Bana, Blue Note – post modern with world music and blues influences
- David Murray, Shakill’s Warrior, DIW – post modern blues with Don Pullen on organ
My personal experience with other books on jazz improvisation is limited; my ears have been my best teachers. Here is a listing of some of the books with which I am somewhat familiar, or which have been recommended to me. Most of the instructional books and legal fakebooks are available at any well-stocked music store, or can be ordered through Jamey Aebersold. The ordering information can be found in his ads in Down Beat magazine.
- Chuck Sher, The New Real Book, Sher Music. This is probably the most popular legal jazz fakebook around today, and perhaps the best in terms of broadness of selection, accuracy, and readability. Many of the most commonly played tunes from other popular fakebooks are included here. It is available in Bb and Eb editions for transposing instruments, and like all of Chuck Sher’s books, it contains lyrics where appropriate. It contains standards like “Darn That Dream”, jazz classics like Sonny Rollins’ “Oleo”, and some contemporary pieces such as Michael Brecker’s “Nothing Personal”. It also contains some pop songs like Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly”. Because of its diversity, it does not contain as much straightahead jazz as most of the other books listed here and therefore, while this book is still highly recommended, you may need to find something else to supplement it to fill out the selection of mainstream jazz.
- Chuck Sher, The New Real Book Volume 2, Sher Music. This is a good companion to the first volume, since there is no overlap, and this book adds a good helping of classic jazz from the 1950’s and 1960’s, including several tunes each by John Coltrane and Horace Silver. There are also arrangements of complex modern compositions by Michael Brecker and others, as well as a few standards. It is available in Bb and Eb versions.
- Chuck Sher, The World’s Greatest Fakebook, Sher Music. This was Chuck’s first fakebook, but it was not as well received as The New Real Book since it contains even fewer jazz standards. It still makes a good companion to his other books.
- Herb Wong, The Ultimate Jazz Fakebook, Hal Leonard Publishing. This has hundreds of tunes in it, but is printed in very small typeset to fit them all in, and as a result is very hard to read. Many of the songs are old Tin Pan Alley songs not commonly played any more, so the selection of true jazz standards is not as broad as it looks at first. It is available in Bb and Eb editions, and contains lyrics.
- The Real Book. This was the standard for many years. It contains a broad selection of standards and jazz classics, and indeed helped define those terms over the last couple of decades. There are many errors in this book, and many of the recordings I hear of tunes from this book over the last twenty years duplicate these errors, which shows that the Real Book has been a primary source of tunes for many professional musicians. It is only recently that The New Real Book has begun to supplant it. The original Real Book is not legal, however, since the authors did not obtain copyright permission for the selected songs, and they do not pay royalties to the copyright owners. For the most part, the original authors do not make any money themselves from this book; most people obtain copies by photocopying a friend’s copy, or from someone who photocopies the books and sells them at a small profit under the counter. If you can find a copy, and your conscience does not bother you too much, it is worth picking up. There are versions in Bb and Eb, and also a vocal version. There are several slightly different editions, with the Pacific Coast Edition and the Fifth Edition being most common. Being of questionable origin, it is hard to tell how these differences evolved, or what exactly the differences are between them, but be forewarned that not all copies will contain exactly the same set of tunes.
- The Real Book Volume 2. This book, like the original, is illegal. It is not nearly as popular as the first volume, but it does contain a lot classic jazz.
- Spaces Bebop Jazz. This book is actually available in several forms, none of which are legal as far as I know. The one I have is spiral bound and is printed on standard sized paper, although the music itself is printed small. I have also seen it printed on half size paper and separated into two or three volumes. It contains mostly songs from the swing, bebop and cool eras.
- Think Of One. I have no idea where this book came from, but someone apparently decided Thelonious Monk, Wayne Shorter, and Horace Silver were shortchanged in the original Real Book and produced this rather sloppily transcribed book that is equally illegal and consists almost exclusively of tunes not in the Real Book, many by the aforementioned composers. Very few people seem to know of this book, which is too bad, because there are a lot of wonderful compositions here that are not in any other fakebook I’ve ever seen.
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of books on practice methods, theory, and analysis methods out there. I’ve only seen a handful of them, and no good, holistic, general purpose introduction to improvisation, which is why I wrote this primer. The comments below vary in amount of detail included. Predictably, I have more to say about the books with which I am more familiar, while the ones with one sentence summaries are, for the most part, books that I have never seen but that have been recommended to me.
The books below are listed in the following general order: background material; basic, intermediate, and advanced general instruction; instrument specific instruction; and composing/arranging.
- Jerry Coker, How To Practice Jazz. This is not so much how-to book as a how-to-learn book. It has many practice tips, as the name implies, as well as many pointers to other books, mostly by David Baker or Coker himself, that contain more specific information on improvisation.
- Jerry Coker, How To Listen To Jazz. This book is a good introduction to jazz from a listener’s perspective. There is discussion of history, the roles of the various instruments, various styles and forms of jazz compositions and performances. There is a straightforward discussion of common techniques and devices. Coker also walks the listener through several famous recordings, pointing out how particular techniques or devices he has described are used. Since most of the available theory texts do a poor job of putting their instruction into a broad context, this volume is recommended as a companion to whatever other beginning or intermediate method books you may read.
- Dan Haerle, The Jazz Language. This book is concerned with the theory and terminology used in jazz, and is not necessarily organized as a how-to book.
- Jerry Coker et al, Patterns For Jazz. This book presents a series of patterns based on particular chords and scales, and has you practice them in all keys. The patterns are related to specific chord progressions.
- Dan Haerle, Scales For Jazz Improvisation. This book lists most of the scales used by jazz musicians and writes them out for practice purposes. It is useful if you wish to see all the scales in one place, but really does not contain that much information that cannot be found in most of the basic or intermediate instructional texts, or in this primer, for that matter.
- Jerry Coker, Improvising Jazz; David Baker, Jazz Improvisation. These are probably the most widely used introductory texts on improvisation. Coker and Baker are among the most respected authorities on jazz pedagogy. They write from similar perspectives. The emphasis in both of these texts is on basic scale theory and melodic devices.
- Mark Boling, The Jazz Theory Workbook. This is primarily a beginning and intermediate text.
- Scott Reeves, Creative Jazz Improvisation. This book has been recommended as one of the most useful texts on improvisation. Like this primer, it places an emphasis on historical context, rather than simply presenting the theory.
- David Baker, How To Play Bebop. This actually consists of three volumes that are mostly dedicated to developing the melodic line. The bebop scales are emphasized.
- Hal Crook, How To Improvise. This is an intermediate to advanced level text in that it assumes some knowledge of scale theory. It stresses the use of harmonic and rhythmic devices in melodic development.
- Steve Schenker, Jazz Theory. This is an intermediate to advanced text.
- Jerry Coker, Complete Method For Improvisation; David Baker, Advanced Improvisation. These are more advanced versions of their introductory texts.
- Walt Weiskopf and Ramon Ricker, Coltrane: A Players Guide To His Harmony. This is an entire book dedicated to the Coltrane changes.
- Gary Campbell, Expansions. This intermediate to advanced text goes through various scales, including some rather esoteric ones, and shows how to construct lines that take advantage of them over specific chords. It assumes familiarity with the basic scales described in this primer.
- John Mehegan, Jazz Improvisation. This is a series of several volumes published in the 1960’s. At the time, they were considered quite comprehensive, but they contain very little information on developments since that time, or even on advances that were being made at that time, like the Coltrane substitutions and quartal harmonies.
- George Russell, The Lydian Chromatic Concept Of Tonal Organization For Improvisation. This is an advanced theory text that describes some unique applications of scale theory to improvisation. It uses some unusual scales, and shows how to construct complex chromatic melodic lines using these scales as a basis. The process is rather involved, and involves the use of a slide-rule-like device for associating scales with chords. It was considered a landmark when it first came out in the 1960’s, although the direct application of the theories never really gained widespread usage except among a relatively small group of musicians, perhaps because they are so complex. Still, they form of the basis of much of the scale theory as taught by most others, including this Primer.
- David Liebman, A Chromatic Approach To Jazz Harmony And Melody. This is a thorough discussion of melodic chromaticism and what I have called non-tonal music. It contains many examples of lines from recorded solos by John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, and other modern players.
- David Baker, The Jazz Style Of …. This is a series that include volumes on Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderly, Sonny Rollins, Fats Navarro, and Clifford Brown. Each volume includes a brief biography and summary of the musical style of the subject. Several transcribed solos and analyses of them make up the bulk of each volume.
- Martin Mann, Jazz Improvisation For The Classical Pianist. This is an introduction to jazz improvisation aimed at the musician accustomed to a structured approach to learning. There is a lot of emphasis on scales and exercises.
- Mark Levine, The Jazz Piano Book. This is the most complete book I have ever seen for jazz pianists. It covers scales, voicings, comping, and other topics also discussed in this primer, but it is able to go into greater depth. It contains many useful musical examples, which makes it much more readable. It also contains a very good discussion of Latin jazz, including information that is of use to bassists and drummers. However, it does have its shortcomings. It glosses over the blues, not even listing the blues scale or describing a blues progression except in passing. Also, while it does attempt to put some of its content into a broad context of history and playing situations, this is done in a somewhat haphazard manner.
- Dan Haerle, Jazz Improvisation For Keyboard Players. This was my favorite book on jazz piano until Levine’s came along a few years ago. Although it claims to flow logically from the beginner level to the advanced level, most of the information is really oriented toward the intermediate. It is not, to me, as entertaining as Levine’s book, and it does an even less convincing job of putting its instruction into con- text. It is available either as three separate volumes (Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced) or as a complete set.
- Dan Haerle, Jazz/Rock Voicings For The Contemporary Keyboard Player. Most of the information here is duplicated in his book on keyboard improvisation, or in Levine’s, but there is some value in having everything you wanted to know about voicings all laid out in detail in one place. However, it really does not cover as wide a variety of voicings as one might expect for a book dedicated to that purpose.
- Frank Mantooth, Voicings. The emphasis on this book is on voicings one would use when comping, as opposed to voicings one might use when soloing. Most attention is given to quartal and other more contemporary voicings. It also has more explanatory material than Haerle’s book on voicings.
- Garrison Fewell, Jazz Improvisation. This is fairly broad text that covers some basic chord/scale theory, chord progression analysis, and construction of melodic lines. It contains many examples, and attempts to explain why the examples sound good. It is geared toward guitarists, but its methods can be applied to any instrument, as they are not concerned with techniques specific to the guitar, such as voicings, picking, or fretting.
- Paul Lucas, Jazz Chording For The Rock/Blues Guitarist. This book is intended for the musician who knows how to play the guitar, but is familiar only with the five common open string chords used in rock music (C, A, G, E, and D). Other common jazz chords are then presented as variations on these patterns. Some more advanced material on voice leading, chord substitution, quartal harmonies, polychords, and scales is included as well.
- Joe Pass and Bill Thrasher, Joe Pass Guitar Style. This book covers harmony and applications to improvisation, including chord construction, voicing, substitution, and voice leading.
- Chuck Sher, The Improvisor’s Bass Method. This book starts with the most basic instruction on playing the bass, including fingering charts and how to read music, and progresses to conventional jazz music theory with applications to playing the bass. It also contains several transcribed bass lines and solos by well-known bass players such as Scott LaFaro, Charles Mingus, Paul Chambers, Ron Carter, and others.
- Steve Houghton and Tom Warrington, Essential Styles For The Drummer And Bassist. This book is a recipe of basic patterns for 30 styles of music, from pop to funk to reggae to Latin to jazz. It includes a CD.
- Peter Erskine, Drum Concepts And Techniques. This book explains the basics of drum set technique.
- Frank Malabe and Frank Weiner, Afro-Cuban Rhythms For The Drum Set. This book describes the various African and Latin American percussion styles and how to play them on the drum set.
- Ed Thigpen, The Sound Of Brushes. This book explores techniques of brushwork for drummers.
- Andy Laverne, Handbook Of Chord Substitutions. This book, useful for pianists and arrangers, discusses various ways to reharmonize songs. The substitutions are much more advanced than the tritone and Coltrane ii-V types discussed in this primer.
- Paul Rinzler, Jazz Arranging And Performance Practice: A Guide For Small Ensembles. This book is geared more toward group performance than individual improvisation.
- David Baker, Arranging And Composing. The emphasis is on arranging for small groups, from trios to groups with four or five horns.
As with the instructional literature, my knowledge of the history and biography literature is also limited. The following books are listed roughly from the more general to the more specific.
- Bill Crow, Jazz Anecdotes. This book contains short stories told by and about jazz musicians.
- Nat Hentoff, Jazz Is, The Jazz Life, Hear Me Talkin’ To Ya. Nat Hentoff is a noted jazz historian and critic. These books include stories from his personal experience and anecdotes told to him by other musicians.
- Brian Case, Stan Britt, and Chrissie Murray, The Harmony Illustrated Encyclopedia Of Jazz. This book contains short biographies and discographies of hundreds of musicians.
- Joachim Berendt, The Jazz Book: From Ragtime to Fusion and Beyond. This book organizes its discussions by decade, by instrument, and by major musicians and groups. Each section can be read independently.
- Ian Carr, The Essential Jazz Companion. This covers the history of jazz throughout the 20th century, discussing many artists and styles, and describing specific recordings. Carr has also written biographies of Miles Davis and Keith Jarrett.
- James Lincoln Collier, The Making Of Jazz. This is an in-depth survey of jazz history.
- Frank Tirro, A History Of Jazz. This is a relatively technical survey of jazz history.
- Gunther Schuller, Early Jazz, The Swing Era. These books by noted his- torian, critic, and composer Schuller are considerably more detailed than most, as they are more focused on specific periods. There may be more volumes in this series as well.
- Richard Hadlock, Jazz Masters Of The …. There are volumes in this series for different decades. Each contains biographies of twenty or so major musicians of the era.
- Leonard Feather, Inside Bebop. Feather wrote this book to try to explain bebop to skeptics back in the days when the music was new and controversial.
- Valerie Wilmer, Jazz People. This book contains interviews with various legends of the 1950’s and 1960’s.
- Valerie Wilmer, As Serious As Your Life. This book concentrates on the avant garde and new music of the subsequent decades. It is highly political in nature.
- Ross Russell, Bird Lives. This is an anecdotal biography of Charlie Parker.
- Gary Giddens, Celebrating Bird. This book contains many photographs.
- Dizzy Gillespie, To Be Or Not To Bop. This is Dizzy’s autobiography.
- J.C. Thomas, Chasin’ The Trane. This is an anecdotal biography of John Coltrane.
- Miles Davis and Quincy Troupe, Miles. This is a colorful historical perspective by the man who was perhaps the most influential jazz musi- cian ever, with a career marked by innovations spanning almost half a century. However, be forewarned that the language is often crude.
- Charles Mingus, Beneath The Underdog. Mingus’ biography is even cruder than Miles’, and is less interesting as a historical document, except in as much as it documents Mingus’ sexual history.
- Graham Lock, Forces In Motion. Lock provides a fascination insight into the music and philosophy of Anthony Braxton.
Charles Ives was a composer who wrote music that was considered avant garde in its day. His father is rumored to have taught him, “you must learn the rules first so that you will know how to break them”. This is especially true in music like jazz, where you are constantly expected to be creative. Following the rules all the time would lead to predictable and boring music. Paying no attention whatsoever to the rules could easily lead to music that was ultimately boring in its randomness.
There are many rules and conventions that have been presented here. There are no criminal penalties associated with breaking any of them, however. You should experiment as much as possible to find new ways of doing things. The rules of harmony presented here form a framework, but it is not a rigid one. I have already suggested that the manner in which you utilize these rules will shape how you sound. How you break the rules will similarly help define your own style. Experimenting with the rules of harmony is just the beginning of individuality, however. Look for other non-traditional ways to express yourself. Try hitting the piano keys with your fist. Try overblowing your saxophone. Try removing the first valve slide on your trumpet. There are an infinite number of possible things you can do with your instrument.
Also, expand your listening to include other types of music such as classical or reggae, and see if you can learn from them and apply those lessons to whatever you play. It is severely limiting to think that all jazz music should consist of 32 bar songs, walking bass lines, swing ride cymbal patterns, and head-solos-head forms. The world does not beat in four-four time.
Now that you have some idea of what it takes to play jazz, you should have a much more critical ear. You will be less likely to be impressed with mere technical facility, and can listen for melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic sophistication. On the other hand, if the music still reaches you emotionally, do not worry that it does not seem particularly adventurous when scrutinized closely. Do not let your analysis of the theoretical aspects of music interfere with your reaction on an emotional level. The theoretical knowledge should be a tool to help you understand music you might not have otherwise appreciated; it should not detract from your enjoyment of any music.
As a performer, now that you have some idea of the things a jazz musician is expected to do, you can listen to the great ones and learn from them. You can listen to the early Bill Evans trios and see examples of interplay within a rhythm section, and try to develop ears as big as theirs. You can listen to Thelonious Monk and analyze the way he used dissonance and syncopation, and see if you can achieve the same effects. You can listen to the emotional outbursts of John Coltrane or Cecil Taylor and expand your concept of how directly you can express yourself.
As soon as you can get an appropriate group of musicians together, you should begin to play in a group setting. This is helpful for many reasons. First, if several players are at approximately the same level of ability, then they can learn together. If one member is more advanced than the others, he can help them along. A good rhythm section can often give a soloist ideas or help provide the confidence to allow him to take more chances. On the other hand, you should avoid the temptation to have too many horn players, as you will find the tunes dragging out longer and longer as everyone gets their solos in. The rhythm section will tire of the chord progression, and the soloists will grow impatient waiting their next turn. It is probably counterproductive to have more than eight or so players together at once for this purpose.
Once an appropriate group of people has been assembled, you must decide what to play. It helps if everyone in the group has access to the same fakebooks. That way, when a person calls out a tune, you can be reasonably sure everyone will have it in their books. The New Real Book by Chuck Sher is recommended, since it is available in transposed versions for most wind instruments, and contains a good variety of tunes. You may wish to agree in advance on the tunes to be worked on, so everyone has the chance to familiarize themselves with the changes.
Although it is not necessary to designate a leader for a group, it does help if there is someone to choose songs, decide on the order of soloists, pick a tempo, count the song off, and generally keep things moving along. It is not essential that this person be the best musician in the group, but it should be someone with some leadership or organizational skills.
Once you have selected a song to play, you need to keep in mind the things we have observed about form. Normally, the group would play the melody first. While learning a song, you may decide to have everyone play it in unison, but you should eventually give each performer a chance to play a head by himself, to allow everyone to work on making a personal statement even while simply playing the melody. In performance situations, it is also usually more interesting for the listener to hear a melody interpreted by one individual, rather than stated in unison. This is particularly true for ballads. Fast bop tunes are normally played in unison, however.
For songs with 32 bar forms, the head is usually played only once. For blues tunes or other shorter forms, it is often played twice. The melodies of many songs end on the second to last measure of the form. For instance, Clifford Brown’s twelve bar blues “Sandu” ends on the first beat of the eleventh measure. Usually the rhythm section stops playing for the last two bars of the form to allow the first soloist an unaccompanied two measure lead in, or solo break. In some tunes, such as John Coltrane’s “Moment’s Notice”, this break is traditionally observed on every chorus, but usually it is done only as a lead in to the first solo, or at most as a lead in to each solo.
Once you are into your solo, you are largely on your own, although you should listen to what everyone else is doing around you, feeding off what they are playing, and leading them with your own playing. This is your chance to apply the techniques you have learned so far. Think melodically. Take chances. Have fun!
I have said several times that a solo should tell a story. This means it should have a clear exposition, development, climax, and release. If you were to chart the intensity level of a good solo, you would often find that it starts at a low level and slowly builds to a climax, after which it tapers off quickly to lead into the next soloist or whatever else comes next. Beginners often have difficulty deciding how many choruses to play. This is something that varies for each performer. Charlie Parker normally took only one or two in recordings, although this was partially because of the limitations of the 78 RPM format. John Coltrane often took dozens of choruses, particularly in live performances. When there are many soloists, you probably should try to keep it on the short side, to keep everyone else from getting bored. In any case, when you are approaching the end of your solo, you should somehow convey this fact to the other musicians so they can decide who goes next, or whether they want to trade fours, or take the head out.
If you intend to trade fours after the last solo, someone usually indicates this by holding out four fingers where everyone can see them. Usually, you will go through the soloists in the same order in which they originally played, giving them four measures each. The bass player is often skipped; sometimes the pianist is as well. Often, the drummer will take four measures in between each of the other soloists. More so than during the original solos, the intensity of the four bar phrases will usually be at a consistently high level, and the soloists should try to develop and build upon each other’s ideas. This cycle may be repeatedly as long as is desired; someone will usually tap their head to indicate when to return to the head.
The endings of songs are, without question, the most difficult to keep together. When you have played a given song several times with the same group of people, you may have planned and rehearsed endings. But when playing a song for the first time with a particular group, chaos almost always results at the end. There are a few standard tricks you can use to end songs, however. Once you are familiar with the basic endings, then all it takes is one person to act as leader to get everyone to follow along.
The easiest ending, used in fast bebop tunes, is to simply cut the tune off short after the last note. This works for rhythm changes tunes such as “Oleo”, and other bop forms such as “Donna Lee”. As a variation, you may wish to hold the last note out. Or, you may cut the last note short, but then repeat it and hold it out after a few beats rest. This is done especially on 32 bar forms in which the melody ends on the first beat of measure 31. This note is cut short, but then repeated and held on the first beat of measure 32, or as an anticipation on the fourth beat or on the “and” of the fourth beat of measure 31.
Another ending commonly used on ballads and slow swing songs is the ritardando. Simply slow down over the last two or three measures, and end on the last note of the melody, which may be held out as long as desired. A variation on this technique is to stop on the second to last note, or on any note near the end that falls on the penultimate chord, and have one soloist play an unaccompanied cadenza, signaling the rest of the band to rejoin him for the last note.
When playing medium tempo or faster tunes, a popular ending is to play the last several bars three times before the last note. In a 32 bar form in which the last note is the first beat of measure 31, you would play the form through the end of measure 30, then play measures 29 and 30 again, and then once more, before finally playing measure 31. This can be combined with the ritardando or the cadenza approaches, or the last note can simply be played short.
Another approach is the III-VI-ii-V turnaround. If the song ends with a ii-V-I cadence in the last four bars, then you can replace the final I chord with the four bar progression III-VI-ii-V, which may be repeated several times. For instance, in the key of F, if the song ends
| Gm7 | C7 | F | F |,
then you can replace this with
| Gm7 | C7 | A7alt | D7alt | Gm7 | C7 | A7alt | D7alt | Gm7 | C7 |...
You can also use tritone substitution on any of the dominant chords. In addition, you can use the I chord F instead of the A7alt chord. You may continue this chord progression as long as you like, soloing or collectively improvising on top of it. This is called a vamp. The song is finally ended with a I chord, usually preceded by frantic hand waving to ensure that everyone ends together.
Another popular ending is sometimes called the Duke Ellington ending, because it is associated with arrangements of tunes like “Take The A Train” that were written by Duke or performed by his band. This ending assumes the song ends on the first beat of the second to last measure of the form, that the last chord is a I chord, and that the last note is the root of that chord. Assuming the piece is in C major, you simply replace the last two measures with “C, E, F, F#, G, A, B, C”, where the second note is a sixth below the first, not a third above. If you try to play this line, I think you will recognize the intended rhythm, so I will not try to notate it.
You should be prepared for any number of things to go wrong. If you lose your place in the form, or sense that someone else has lost theirs, do not panic. If you have become lost, stop playing for a little while to see if you can hear where everyone else is. This should not be too difficult if you are familiar with the song and the other musicians are reasonably secure about their own places. Someone who is sure of where they are may wish to call out changes, or shout out “BRIDGE!” or “TOP!” at the appropriate times, to get things back on track. If one person is clearly in the wrong place, and everyone else is sure of where that person is, they can attempt to move over to match the out of place performer, but this is difficult to coordinate. Also, it is better to try to correct the person who is out of step than to have everyone be out of step together, because ideally, you want the form to continue uninterrupted.
Another thing that can go wrong is an unintended tempo change. Some people tend to rush, some tend to drag. Sometimes the interaction between two musicians with good time may cause the tempo to shift. For instance, if a pianist and bassist both play behind the beat, this may make the tempo appear to drag, and the drummer may slow down to not appear ahead of them. If you are convinced the tempo is moving, you may wish to try to conduct a few measures to right the tempo. A metronome can help keep you honest, but playing with a metronome will usually be hopelessly frustrating, because it is virtually impossible to keep a group synchronized with one. For one thing, it is often difficult to hear a metronome when several people are playing. For another, it is difficult to get everyone in the group to adjust at the same time and in the same way should the group collectively get ahead or fall behind. Nonetheless, practicing with a metronome can be a useful way to solidify your concept of time. One particularly sadistic band director I know used to start us off with a metronome, turn the volume down after a few measures, then turn it back up a minute or so later to see if we had drifted.