Improvisation 101

As an improviser, one of my main goals is to be able to play what I hear immediately. This is the basis of my improvisation education.

An improviser is a type of composer. One of the most important things a composer/improviser can do is to listen to as much music as possible and learn how to translate what he or she hears into a performance or composition. This will help immensely when one attempts to translate one’s own ideas into a performance or composition.

You can start to develop your translating abilities by mimicking recorded sounds that are easy to recognize, such as major scales or blues scales.

With that in mind, I recommend that you train to perform as little as two or as many as all choruses of Miles Davis’ solo on “Trane’s Blues” by listening to the recording, on the CD Workin’. If you do not have this recording, please purchase it here (or download the mp3).

Miles uses notes from the C major scale and the C blues scale throughout.

C Major: C D E F G A B C
C Blues: C Eb F F# G Bb C

Rather than attempt to learn the whole solo or one note at a time, try breaking the solo down in phrases. Listen carefully to each phrase as many times as needed. Practice each phrase on your instrument and then play along with Miles. Try to mimic everything exactly as Miles plays it -the rhythm, articulation, style, dynamics, everything. Do not worry about writing anything down. It is more important to listen and play back at this point.

If this solo is too difficult for you, please try learning the melody “Sonnymoon for Two” by Sonny Rollins. The CD, “The Best of Sonny Rollins” on Blue Note has a good recording of this as well as others. The melody is mostly a descending blues scale (minus one note) and repeats itself three times. Please do not use written music (you must rely upon your ears).

This should be a somewhat challenging yet fun and satisfyingly rewarding exercise. Please share your comments below.


Born to be Blue and Miles Ahead

There are a couple of films set to come out in 2015 sometime that will tell the tale of two different jazz trumpeters: Miles Davis and Chet Baker. Don Cheadle will direct and star in Miles Ahead. With his strong acting experience and striking resemblance to Miles, Mr. Cheadle seems like a great fit for the role and I’m excited to see how it turns out. He must have a passion for the man and his music to invest his time and energy into such a project.

Canadian director Robert Budreau must also have a passion for the life and music of Chet Baker. He follows up his 2009 Chet Baker documentary The Deaths of Chet Baker with a feature length film about the trumpeter called Born to be Blue starring Ethan Hawke as Chet Baker. The synopsis of the film on IMDB indicates that the trumpeter will star “in a movie about his own troubled life to mount a comeback”. I’m unaware of any films Chet starred in, so perhaps there is a film of which I’m unaware or maybe Mr. Budreau is taking some liberties with his story. Either way, it will be interesting to see how it turns out.

With both films I’ll be curious to see what musicians are involved. For Born to be Blue, the Canadian pianist-composer, David Braid is listed in the credits. For Miles Ahead, Miles collaborator and pianist-composer, Herbie Hancock is involved. Herbie Hancock is a perfect choice to represent Miles, having been a “key” member in his quintet in the 60s.

Miles Ahead on indiegogo.

Born to be Blue on IMDB