Stolen Moments

Sometimes you don't know how strong you are until you're tested. Sunday was a test: we were up against the Packers for the 1st half of the jam and another jazz event for the 2nd half; our drummer didn't show up; and the stage was a mess with the piano in the corner behind the drums.

We passed. John Lombardo joined us on drums within a moment's notice (thanks, John!), we moved the piano, and we had a good turnout. Competing Packer games or other jazz events do not seem to affect our attendance and that was true again on Sunday. There were quite a few new faces including a large turnout from Middleton HS.

The Packers made sure they won't be competing with us on Feb 1st, but it will still be Super Bowl Sunday. Who cares, right? We've had a great turnout every year during the Super Bowl and this year should be no different. As always we have a stellar band: Dave Cooper - trumpet, Doug Brown - guitar, Matt Rodgers - bass, and Keith Lienert - drums. The featured tune is Stolen Moments.

Michael's last educational post was last week so for now I'll add a few comments about Stolen Moments. The most important thing to be aware of is the form. There is a standard intro and ending that is always played, and most importantly, solos are not played over the form of the song, but over a standard minor blues form. What is a standard minor blues form? Take a look at Equinox, it's a minor blues in the same key. That's the progression to practice. Here's the famous version from Oliver Nelson's, Blues and the Abstract Truth.

New format offers more diverse feedback

Last Sunday was our first jam under the new format and it went well. In case you missed previous communications, we no longer have a designated educator and all band members are part of the feedback process. After one jam it is obvious how much the rhythm section players have to offer. Comments were specific and direct, and more diverse than in the past.

If you are truly interested in jazz there is nothing like our jam to speed your progress. It's true, your ego can't be fragile: playing at a jam can be nerve-wrecking and public feedback can add to the stress. But it's not nearly as rough as it sounds. Comments are always given within a positive, helpful framework and we work hard to welcome jammers into our community and ensure everyone feels comfortable and welcome.

It seems to be working; we always have a large turnout of jammers. On Sunday we had 16 jammers including students or former students from Waunakeee HS, Sun Prairie HS, Memorial HS, and West HS. I mention the students because one of our goals is to nourish the next generation of jazz musicians and fans. If you aren't a student, though, you are just as welcome. Anyone interested in jazz, as a fan or musician, will easily fit in.

Our next jam is January 18th and the band is Dave Stoler - piano, Eric Koppa - saxophone, Lucas Koehler - bass, and Rick Flowers - drums. The featured tune is Toots Thielemans' jazz waltz, "Bluesette." Helpful notes from Michael are posted and here's a video with the original version.

Bluesette and playing to the chord

This is my last educational article for the jam. My composition schedule is falling pretty far behind due to the jazz writing I have been doing. It's interesting, and has allowed me to clarify my own ideas, but I have music to write, and prepare for publication, and need to end my tenure as Educator Behind the Scenes.

For my last set of comments for the MJJ site, let's dig into this well-known and quite conventional song for a hidden secret. The chords, always my first concern, as both a pianist and an improviser, are a long string of IIm7-V7-I-something chords. We encounter the keys of Bb, Gm, Eb, Db, Cb (!) and then back home to Bb via some delayed resolutions and substitute chords.

Fine. Let's take all this harmonic information and LEAD with it, rather than simply follow it.

When improvising a line, look to see where your line is going, where it will end up, and take less consideration for what the chord you are playing through implies. This is the essence of Hal Galpers' Forward Motion book.

Take each measure, and play TO its downbeat, then STOP. Then, consider the next measure in just the same way, and you can create a line that goes TO each chord, rather than plays ON any given harmony.

We are in ¾ time here, and this gives us a different kind of chance for this approach. Since each measure has one less beat than a 4/4 piece, we have less time to wait for the next chord. But, by the same token, there is less time to prepare. So, it cuts both ways.

Miles Davis used to say, “everything is a pickup note to something else...” This is just how we are going to use Bluesette. Play to each downbeat, with a three-note pickup that starts OFF the beat, usually on the AND of 2. The last note, note #4, will be on the ONE of the upcoming bar. Play no more with that chord in mind. Move right to the next chord, before it arrives, and play the same three-note pickup rhythm, with the 4th note of the four-note group landing on the NEXT downbeat. Keep this going for as long as you can. Take a break, or a breath, and jump right back in. If you have a play-along track for this tune, use it for accompaniment. Play to a chord-tone, of course.

This approach moves your line forward, almost whether you want it to or not! See the examples linked below. Two choruses. Keep swingin, MBB

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