[Last week, I talked briefly about the five elements of a good jazz solo. This week, I'm discussing an important concept that underlies all five of them, especially tone and style. I'll get more into detail on each of the five elements starting next week.]
Listen, listen, listen. That's what we hear when we go to jazz clinics. Did you ever wonder why jazz instructors pound that point in every time? Do you think it might be important?
It is. When I started, I was like most students. I liked to play jazz, but I didn't like to listen to it. I preferred the popular music of the time (and I'm going to date myself here) like The Cars, Duran Duran, and Oingo Boingo. When my teacher suggested I start transcribing, I did the tenor solo on Duran Duran's Rio. I missed the point.
Several years ago I went to a clinic with jazz trombone legend Carl Fontana. At the time, I was frustrated with how difficult it was to get my students to listen and transcribe. I asked him if he knew of a way to get them to do it. He answered in his cantankerous way, "You force them!"
I have had several students move on to become fantastic jazz players and improvisers; some even have gone professional. Part of the formula, of course, is hard work and practice. Another element, though, was that they all listened to jazz. A lot. And I didn't have to force them. I have NEVER seen someone who became good at jazz who was not a fantastic listener. No one.
So, the moral of the story: if you really want to be a good jazz player, you must listen. There is no other way. Now, I really can't force you to listen, though. YOU must decide to do it. YOU must take control of your education and development. Until you do, you will just be another one of the many mediocre players in the world.
Stand out. Listen. Learn. And besides, once you get into it, the music IS pretty darn good.
Assignment: Find some jazz to listen to. Ask your teacher for some suggestions, or contact me. There is plenty of jazz on the radio (like KUER 90.1 in the evening in Utah). Also, a lot of libraries have jazz CDs that can be checked out.