Improv fun

We had another terrific jam yesterday with students and others from all over Madison sitting in. Videotape from yesterday isn't ready yet, but in the meantime here is a special moment from a few weeks ago: Middleton HS student Eli Bucheit mixes it up with Dave Cooper and the pro's. Check out the grin on Dave's face near the end of Eli's solo (around 3:40) and during the trading that follows.


Straight, No Chaser -- Improvisation Guide for May 18th Jam

from Dan Wallach, Jam Educator

How many times have we said, “It’s only a blues”?  By saying this, we may be unintentionally negating some of the possibilities available within the structure of the blues.  Too often we improvise in this form using ideas that are comfortable instead of taking risks.  This week, I will suggest some strategies to help avoid our own personal clichés in approaching the tune Straight, No Chaser by Thelonious Monk, released on the album with the same title in 1967.

My first idea is to think about the melody of the tune, and incorporate its feeling and style into one’s improvisation.  This tune is very chromatic -- it would make sense to have that be an aspect of the improvisation.  Ideally we should strive to have an experienced listener be able to identify not only that we are playing a blues, but what blues.

Another approach is a general suggestion for any blues, or a tune with non-blues changes.  Force yourself to play the tune and several chorus' of improvisation with no harmonic support.  If necessary use a metronome to help keep time, but use no additional aids.  Think about playing in a way that is simple and straight forward enough to keep your place comfortably in the form.  One method to check yourself is to record this practice, and be your own “Board of Harmonic Responsibility.”

Lastly, never lose touch with the expressive, emotional side of this music.  Jazz with or without a chord progression must, on some level, have a blues impulse.  How to execute this is a deeply personal decision.

Have fun exploring these methods and, as always, listen to the original recording first.


See you all on Sunday,