Jazz Performance, the Tip of the Iceberg

Jazz improvisation is probably the most demanding kind of musical performance. Because of its spontaneous nature, what the jazz musician practices at home includes as much as 1,000 times more material than what the listener ever hears in a single performance. When you look at all the tunes, the scales, the interval patterns, the ii-V-I licks, the solo transcriptions, when you look at all of that combined, it represents literally tens of thousands of pages of musical material. And all of it is tucked away in the improviser’s mind, just waiting to be used.

Several famous jazz musicians have been quoted to say “It’s taken me all my life to learn what not to play.” (this one comes from Dizzy Gillespie) That famous quote means something a little different when you consider just how much material and ability an accomplished jazz musician has locked up in his mind. Each and every performance is the very tip of the iceberg and the rest of what he “could do” is hidden beneath the surface.

You could say that classical music is in some ways similar. But I would argue, having my feet planted on both sides of that fence, that the myriads of material necessary for successful jazz improvisation far outweigh the literature requirements of classical performance by sheer volume. Classical music is different. On the classical side of the fence, it’s not the amount of material you have within your grasp, it’s the way you perform that material. And yes I know that the way you play jazz is important too, but I’m talking about where the effort is invested. A typically classical musician will spend about the same amount of time on his sound as a jazz player will spend on acquiring new material.

Perhaps this is the reason why some classical musicians say, “close enough for jazz” when they are referring to things like pitch and some of the other finer details of performance. In our quest for more material, jazz musicians tend to place less emphasis on those finer details.

I guess the reason I’ve been thinking about this is because I have been preparing for the final stage of writing my next book. It’s actually going to be a sort of reference book to be used to help younger students develop a better jazz vocabulary. But the process is heavily work intensive. This is not a method for someone looking for a shortcut. That’s ironic because it does make things move along quicker. The approach is more efficient than anything I’ve ever seen before, but it is NOT a shortcut method. The material this book will eventually generate for the students is massive. And only the diligent practicer should consider using this method to gain a better vocabulary.

That said, someone who doesn’t practice diligently probably will never be much of a very good jazz player. There’s just WAY too much material to cover if you want to be successful.

I will keep everyone posted on the progress of the new book as things develop. I think this is my most significant work as a teacher since I invented the tonalization studies.

About Eddie Lewis

Eddie Lewis is primarily known as a Christian free-lance trumpet player in Houston, TX. Eddie makes a living playing trumpet, teaching trumpet and jazz improvisation, writing trumpet music and authoring trumpet books. His second book, Daily Routines for Trumpet, is used regularly by thousands of trumpet players around the world. If you would like to purchase some of his CD's, feel free to visit our online music store at http://www.TigerMusicStore.com.
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