Sam DiCamillo wrote a very interesting response to Jeremy and Jessica’s post (see comments). He sees chromaticism as a way of adding ‘color’ which is what the word connotes and in classical music chromatic (non-chordal) tones are often used for that purpose. He then says:
“Bach created some of his great masterpieces almost completely devoid of “chromatics” and others such as his “Chromatic fantasy” were brimming with color tones, and who is to say which were more “Mature”.
Some of Chet’s ( Baker ) solos, in the same vein, are almost void of chromatics, and others are full of them.”
I’m not sure it is maturity as much as the use of musical resources. Bach modulates a great deal, with within each key remains diatonic and certainly there is no reason to want more musical interest than Bach (or for that matter Mozart) offers. But by the time you get to Beethoven things start to look rather different.
My sense is that Charlie Parker’s innovations (extensions of the dominant 7 chord as I discuss in my response to Jessica) is adding the harmonic richness of the romantic composers (which lets you play 11 notes against a dominant chord- every note except the major 7th). Coltrane’s use of whole tone divisions of the octave (Giant Step changes) moves jazz improvisation into the impressionist composers of the first half of the 20th century (permitting all 12 notes to be played, but in a patterned way). Post-Coltrane musicians, for example, Erik Dolphy and Cecil Taylor move chromaticism into the realm of later 20th century music with true poly-tonality and the free juxtaposition all 12 notes against any chord.
This is more than adding color, it is forcing the improvisor to develop sequences that have integrity even when they are not supported by the chords (Coltrane was working with sequences throughout his later recoding).
Naturally you can make music with any of these approached. Louis Armstrong made great music with only blues colors added to a basically diatonic vocabulary.
Please keep the comments coming. Thank you Sam for your provocative post.
The track below is the title track from my Album Straight No Chaser. It may be interesting for a number of reasons. First it is a blues played on bass flute. But what I am really interested in sharing is the imrpvised ensemble passage behind the last 3 choruses of the guitar soloist.
What I did was improvise a response to the solo and then improvised 2 more bass flutes and finally added alto flutes in cl0se harmony. It is improvised equivalent of a big band shout chorus. The guitar solo is by Dave Stryker.
Let me know what you think
09 Straight, No Chaser
In my first post I said I wouldn’t be teaching, but trying to get a conversation going. But then I post two long posts. Oh well!
I’m obviously happy to share my thoughts and experiences but I want this to be a forum for everybody. It’s too bad that the format hides the responses (to my first post) and you can only see my posts (responses) unless you look under comments. Because it is your comments that will make jazz flute tips a meeting of the minds.
If you are out there, write a comment in response to Jess and Jeremy. Or write a comment on any of my posts.
Thanks for joining in Jeremy, your concern with harmonics is an important for flutists who are trying to build chops (sax players take note). My repair man Lou Carlini gave me a simple exercise that he calls “push-ups for your chops.” Start on a low E and SLOWLY slur to the octave E; continue slurring octaves chromatically up to C#. I then do the same thing (slow slurring octaves) but up an back down, concentrating making the low notes as fat as I can (low notes are the bane of my existence).
This prepares for the harmonics. I begin on B in the staff and slur octaves moving slowly down chromatically to low B (playing harmonics- using the low octave fingering and overblowing slightly as in the first exercise, focusing the air with my upper lip). For flutes with C foot, you can start on C, but I find overblowing the C to be harder than overblowing B, so I recommend starting on B.
Next I a start on the B (above the staff) slur down to the lower B and back up to B and up to the next harmonic (F#) and back to B above the staff. Again, all the way down chromatically to low B (or low C for C-foots). Don’t worry if the harmonics jump to the octave, you will eventually get control.
Finally I start on the B on the staff and slur to the first and second harmonic (B and F#) and down again. Continue chromatically to your lowest note. At around G harmonics can sometimes get to the 3rd harmonic, and by the time I get to low C#, C and B, I can slur up to the 5th, 6th and even the 7th harmonic. But always go back down. You want strength but you also want control. Don’t struggle to go higher than is comfortable, the higher harmonics will come. Play softly and use your upper lip for focus and control.
The whole thing takes about 15 minutes, but it is the most important 15 minutes of my practice day.
Anyone have thoughts?
First, thank you Jess for your kind comments about my new page and your insights into the sorts of extra-musical concerns that bedevil jazz musicians who have to live complex lives in order to sustain their art.
But as far as the specifics are concerned. Many classical musicians see different scales as part of their repertoire, practicing scales of many sorts. For me the basic ability is to play scales in all keys, but not to think of scales as starting and ending on a particular scale note. I play all 12 major scales from the lowest note on the flute (in the scale) in 3 octaves. Start with 2 octaves if the high notes give you trouble. If you have problems articulating the starting notes, start on middle C (or B or C#) and go down to the bottom before you go up to the top. Always go up and down. You are doing this for fluency, practice until you can play all 12 keys without thinking.
Playing all scales from top to bottom keeps me from thinking of a scale as starting on a particular note, but rather as a key (sequence of notes). I think of minor scales as modifications of the major scale (rather than in terms of relative minors). So once I have the major scale under my fingers, I just lower the 3rd, the 6th the 7th etc. For me the natural minor is just the major scale as are all of the modes. Of course there are the diminished scales, which I just think of as the leading tones to a diminished chord, the whole tone scale as a modification of the melodic minor (major scale with a minor third) and the blues scale just adds a further modification to the major scale (minor 3rd,flat 5th and flat 7).
As far as playing the upper extensions of a chord I am an old bebopper. The central chord is the dominant 7th, which extends along a diminished chord to the 13th. When I was a trombone player in the 60’s we thought of extensions as a half-step substitution, playing e.g. Ab minor (melodic) against a G7. Thinking of the dominant in this ways opens the door for the whole tone scale. Using both of these ideas gets pretty much all of the common hot-licks associated with Charlie Parker.
The best tune for practicing dominant 7th chords is Sweet Georgia Brown since is has four bars on each 7th chord (Jamie Aebersold, 39 has it). Try playing it in as many keys as you can (or even better get one of the Jamie Aebersold volumes that put you through basic changes in all keys, e.g. volumes 3 and 10.
But let’s hear from the rest of you out there. Your ideas are always welcome and will be the key to the success of jazz flute tips.
I set up Jazz Flute Tips to begin a conversation, not to give advice. I think that a lot of flute players come from different experiences playing jazz and so have a lot to teach each other. I hope that this forum will help us all to share our thoughts.
Of course I am happy to put my 2 cents in. I have a lot of experiences of my own. As you can see from the webpage I have recorded a lot and have recorded with some of the most wonderful musicians in a number of jazz styles. And I will share whatever I know with whomever wants to know. But I’m not a jazz educator and my history as a flute player is probably different from most of yours.
I started out as a trombone player and made a living at that for some time. I started playing flute when I quit the business to get an advanced degree in philosophy. I was going crazy writing my dissertation and thought being able to practice would help. I was completely self-taught. I had picked up the basic fingerings somewhere, but for the first few years I didn’t know that the 3rd octave had different fingerings (I just blew harder to play high notes). Although I knew chords and scales (I had done a fair amount of arranging and understood keyboard harmony) when I played flute I improvised completely freely. I fell in love with the fluency with which I could play lines (try playing jazz with just the harmonics in the 3rd octave and see how much that frees you). I found all sorts of sounds coming out of the flute to be fascinating so I didn’t have a concept of a “good” flute sound.
I did a lot of playing with acoustic guitar players playing folk and rock in the parks (it was the mid-70’s) and eventually started to play with some bebop players in Washington Square Park. I began to record myself within the first few years (I have those tapes somewhere, but I have no idea if they are still playable). My first available recording (The Orisha Suites, reissued with my 1967 trombone “cult classic” Cuban Roots) was made when I was playing about 3-4 years. By then I had taken some lessons with a great teacher and woodwind doubler Harvey Estrin who taught many sax players to play flute. I started to take flute seriously and began to learn how to play bebop. I played Jamie Aebersold play-along records for hours every day and began to play bebop with street bands and play gigs. I started recording seriously in 1996 and am up to album 20 (17 have been released and I have new 3 recordings at various stages of completion).
Just to get the conversation started. I see the jazz flute community to have two major parts, classical flute players who want to play jazz and jazz sax players who want to play flute. I’d like these to groups to engage and help each other accomplish their goals. Since I’m not in either of those groups I hope my perspective will add something to both.
I’m really looking forward to what you have to say!