The Way You Look Tonight

This song, a timeless movie and stage classic, has a feature that is extremely handy for intermediate improvisers. It has an entirely regular harmonic rhythm.

What the heck is THAT, you may ask? Well, it is the rate at which the chords change. Simple enough. If you have an old Real Book sheet on this song, in F concert, this feature is obvious at a glance. Yet, if you are not Looking for it, you might not notice this fact.

So, Step One of becoming a More-than-Intermediate Improviser is taking note of plain but vital facts like harmonic rhythm. Also, notice that the movement from chord to chord is also quite regular, or predictable, I-VI-II-V7 all over the place. The bridge goes to another key, but uses the same movements, with a diminished chord substituting for the VII chord. Note the tones of F7 are F-A-C-Eb, and the tones of A dim7 are A-C-Eb-Gb, which makes a dim7 an equivalent pitch set to F7 b9.

In measure 5 your lead sheet may have an Eb7 instead of an Am7b5 chord. This is another common substitution. Otherwise, we have complete uniformity of harmonic rhythm and movement. This creates an Ideal Learning Tool for jazz.

So, the notated material for this week consists of two kinds of five-note groups. The first is an arpeggio, up four notes and down one, or its opposite, that is, down four notes and up one. The other element is simply five notes from a scale. They could be thought of as the notes that fit a triad, or five notes of some mode or scale that fits the chord in question. Since so much of the harmony is scaletone chords, and flows in such clear patterns, many of these arpeggios and five-note groups can be used on more than one chord. In fact, most of them can be used on most of the chords in a given section, the A section using F, and the bridge using Ab scales.

So, why the five-note groups, you may ask?

Five notes take you from one strong beat to the one after the next one, using eighth-note melodic motion. Thus, ALL the examples start on a strong beat, that is, 1,2,3 or 4 of a bar, and move to another strong beat two beats later, i.e. from 1 to 3, or 2 to 4, or 3 to the 1 of the next measure. This is the secondary but not by any means the lesser of the two devices presented here.

( The next jam's notes will show how to use four-note groups as pickups to play To the strong beat, not From it. It's Arithmetic, not Math!)

So, do NOT start these segments on a weak beat, that is, the And of 1 or the And of 3. Begin ON the Beat. Move to another strong beat, passing through the one immediately following, like from 1 through 2 to 3, and then STOP. Yes, stop. Knowing where and when to end your line is one of the hallmarks of a knowledgeable and experienced improviser.

Here are musical examples in concert pitch, and also transposed for Bb and Eb horns. Here is a concert pitch mp3 to play along with as well.

The examples show the use of these groups in isolation, and in combination. They start on all four strong beats, in various places throughout the examples, to show you how to do exactly the same thing. We will be using chord tones as the starting AND stopping points for ALL lines. The chordtones could be 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, and even the 11 and 13 on some chords. Bird did that, so we might as well learn how as well.

The coda, which is the characteristic finish to this piece, uses a harmonic rhythm that is twice as fast as the rest of the piece. That will provide an opportunity to show how the same kinds of arpeggios and five-note groups work at twice the rate of speed. These are the two MOST common harmonic rhythms, two chords per measure, and one chord per measure. Most of this material will be universally applicable. “Use it well,” as Prof. Slughorn said to Harry Potter, about the small vial of Felix Felicis, or Liquid Luck. Do not rely on luck to help you make the changes. Rely on skill, information, experience, and an informed intuition.
MBB horiz profile

Thoughts from Dave Cooper

Dave Cooper photo
Dave Cooper

If you missed yesterday's jam you missed Dave Cooper's lyrical flugelhorn, and his remarks after the first two tunes. I don't typically comment on the comments but Dave's remarks were reason enough to attend the jam yesterday. Dave gave very specific ideas on approaching ballads and also more general thoughts about the jam, studying jazz, and life itself. Fortunately, he was inspired enough to go home after the jam and jot some of these thoughts down in a thoughtful blog post. Check it out!

Happy Holidays and New Year

We had a great jam today with lots of jammers, a very attentive audience, and music worthy of that attention. This time of year is special because we get to see old faces again as former HS students, now college students, return home for the holidays. I'm always amazed at how much further along they are and pleased to know the jam has helped them on their way.

The 1st set was slightly different today and a glimpse into future changes for the jam. The results of our recent poll showed the majority did not want to change the time of the jam, but were in favor of trying a new way of incorporating feedback and education into the jam. The new system officially starts in January and if it goes well you won't notice much difference except all band members will be giving feedback and remarks will be shorter. The jam will still be educational but we're trying to keep in mind that non-musician audience members appreciate more music and less talk. Today, Dave Cooper's discussion on approaching a ballad was really helpful ( and who better than Dave to give that advice?), Dave Stoler and John Mesoloras contributed helpful comments, and we kept the music flowing.Read more

Jam recap and "The Nearness of You"

If you haven't voted in our poll about changing the jam time or the format you have until midnight Tues. That's when the poll closes. Here's a link to the poll.

Now, on to our usual business....

We had an outstanding jam today. The crowd was huge with standing room only for almost the entire jam! I talked to many in the audience and it seemed everyone heard about the jam from different sources. It seemed to be one of those days where everything aligned and many people felt like joining us. It sure made for a festive atmosphere , inspired jammers, and terrific music.

Let's keep it up and have another great turnout for our next jam on Dec 21st. Tell your friends about what a great time it is. Trumpeter David Cooper will be our educator and will be joined by David Stoler - piano, John Mesoloras - bass, and Devin Drobka - drums. The tune-of-the-week is Hoagy Carmichael's, "The Nearness of You."

Most of you are familiar with Norah Jones take on this beautiful ballad. The Frank Sinatra and Jo Stafford versions are also popular. Here is my favorite by Nancy Wilson.

Do we have any vocalists that want to sing this song with us? Singers are always welcome!

Michael's prep notes will be on the site later this week. See you at the jam.