Dear maestro Zottola,I just watched your video “My approach to playing Jazz by ear”.
I thought of writing this in a youtube comment, but decided to send you an email instead.
If you allow me to say, firstly, the episodes are splendid. Anyone lucky, and smart enough to listen to them, will learn a lot. But more to the point of your uniqueness as a musician. You showed us how Charlie Parker, Stan Getz and Clifford Brown played their solos, and your interpretation of all three. I think yours are *musically* better than any of those three.
You may think I’m exaggerating, but I shall explain why I think I’m not, but indeed, only stating a fact.
All three musicians you quoted, play their solo parts because that is what they’ve used to play. However, you as a multi-instrumentalist, who played in various roles inside many big orchestras, have A. trained your ears to hear more, B. developed your character to be more cooperative with the rest of the band than any famed soloist, and C. then enriched your imagination to deliver more, especially in terms of — harmony.
Your interpretations follow the melody roughly, they are sketchier than Parker’s, Stan’s, etc., but are immensely dense and complex in harmonic parts. None of the quoted musicians does that. That unique ability helps your playing to establish links with various parts of the orchestra. While Charlie Parker or Stan Getz would simply “float” on top of “the orchestral cushion”, and deliver melody which they then embellish, you play *both* the melody, and the harmony part, using an incredibly complex chromatic palette, that extends beyond a well embellished melody! While it is possible for a good saxophonist to emulate Stan Getz playing in a certain music key, you, however, play inside, and also well *outside* the key, as if you were borrowing from parts (and phrases) played by *other instruments* in different tuning, or, filling in parts that other instruments should be playing, but those instruments aren’t really there. But you make them present. And all of that happens in real time.
When I was analysing your play-along books, I noticed those incredibly complex excursions “outside the music key” of the melody of the piece, to weave a rich tapestry of tonality, using all chromatic notes (all the notes outside the key). I often said to myself, “Oh goodness me, this is so incredibly complex .. there are harmonic parts of other “invisible” instruments in this!” I think I’m correct in stating this. Because what you play is not mere embellishment of melody – you indeed play harmony too.
Now that is quite something! Skilled guitar players may do that on an acoustic guitar, but on a saxophone? Goodness me! You, by far, are the most accomplished saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist I have ever heard in my life! Anyone who has any wits, should study how you play, which is unique, and more than what famed soloists on saxophones & trumpets delivered in the past.
Hope you’re well, safe and healthy.
The way you play those chromatic phrases (notes outside the key of the music piece) is revealing. You often play them legato (or connected, in a single breath; tonguing the first note and then merely flowing with other notes). That alone means you are not really working on melody alone (which would require more pronounced structure, more tonguing, or, holding onto the music key, because the music key makes the melody distinguishable and coherent). But you sketch around extra harmonic parts, actually, there are too many notes outside the scope of melody.
So what are those notes, if not mere embellishment on melody?
If one sticks to jazz alone, one can’t answer this question. Your play-along books reveal the mystery, I think. The transcriptions of your solos are there, but when one looks at all the notes, and how the editors tried hard to figure out (quite literally!) which “chord progressions” you “were using” (by writing down the name of the chord above each measure or structure), the notation they’ve put for those “chords” .. makes no sense.
They were overthinking it, really overcomplicating. Because you don’t play chord progressions at all. You improvise on harmony, and all the chromatic notes used to play improvisations, in theory only, they may “fit” into some obscure chord(s), but, that was not the point of your playing, and not the reason you played all those extra chromatic notes.
This is where a typical jazz player is facing a blank wall; those chord progressions in your music aren’t really progressions, but they are A. lyrical extensions of the melody, yes, and B. improvisation on extra harmony parts.
You are in fact a classical player, and not a typical jazz player. Although jazz has become a genre, with certain structure of music, progressions, etc, you play so much extra on top and around it, that enables you to go outside of its confinement. You play chromatically, as if you were playing a few instruments in various tunings.
For example, you play Bb tenor saxophone, and Eb alto saxophone. When you want to play C note on each, on tenor, C actually sounds like Bb concert, and C on alto sounds like Eb concert. You have a memory of both tunings in your ear, two different pitches, and when you wish to play something on Bb tenor that you remember from your alto playing, you remember the pitch, but you must shift the music key and must play in a different key on tenor, change the key on the fly, and then you return back.
That was the reason I was confused with your tenor playing, when you interpret some songs not specifically made for tenor; the instrument sounded a lot like alto in those quick chromatic passages. Ordinary tenor players, like Stan Getz, would never play that, but you played it. You extended into the pitches that alto makes more easily, but which in the case of tenor playing, do not constitute melody any more (played by main instrument), but harmony (played by secondary instrument).
I wrote to you some time ago, that you do not sound like a typical jazz player, at all, and I think we know the answer why that is. You played in big orchestras, of 20+ players, surrounded by instruments in various tunings: straight trombones in C, pianos in C, tenor saxophones in Bb, alto saxophones in Eb, clarinets in Bb, trumpers in Bb, perhaps even horns in F, flutes in C, etc. For years you listened to all of that, and you remember the pitches. In a big band, each instrument supports the other, often through harmony, and when you wish to improvise as a soloist, you integrate some of that “support” by adding notes as if coming from a different instrument, but the notes fit well because the emphasis is on melody.
On the other hand, when a typical jazz player improvises like that on the melody, the result is often AWFUL, and cacophonic, because they work on artificial extension of melody, they shift keys to extend the melody alone, and produce awkward sounding nonsense. But you don’t do that.
For example, you do exactly what Beethoven does in his beautiful piano concerto:https://youtu.be/vvI9wG4_JTM?t=2005
If you listen the piano from this moment of the concerto, you will hear that all the extra notes piano is playing are not melodically required, nor are they really the extensions of the melody; the pianist’s left hand and the orchestra (even the violins) both play main melody of the movement, which is simple, but the extra arpeggios and legatos played with the right hand at a fast pace are harmonic extensions around the melody, that make the melody sound even better. Again, thank you very much for your time, and for bearing my enthusiasm 🙂
Sure. Here it is:This is piano concerto, so it is a sort of a dialogue between the piano and the orchestra. The theme (main melody line) is exchanged between the piano and the orchestra; at this particular moment, which is around 32:35min of the concert, the orchestra iterates the melody;
– first all the strings- then the woodwinds, including the flute, oboe, etc- then the piano continues using the same melody line, but adds heaps more notes, which is not really the extension of the melody (as they wrongly teach us when it comes to improvisation), but because the orchestra is nearly silent then, the pianist is enriching of the melody with more harmonies (which all sound like extra sparkling notes around the melody), to compensate for the lack of flute, oboe, clarinets, etc. at that very moment. Because our purpose in improvisation is not to butcher the melody (as people usually do), but to EMPHASIZE the melody by adding harmony lines around it, using chromatic notes (which can be outside the key of the melody), but they sound — harmonious.
So your approach is classical because you respect the melody, but add extras, which are harmonics. On a piano it is much easier to do because it is a polyphonic instrument (many notes can play at the same time), but with the saxophone, you must (seemingly) interrupt the flow of the melody for a short while, then insert harmonies, then continue with the melody, then interrupt again to add harmonies, and so on.
Now, your interruption of the melody with harmony is so good and invisible, that it sounds just like a classical composer would do it because your inserted harmonies are indeed harmonies. What you learned in your youth, is part of you.
Hope this helps,Z
Yes, let me show you your harmonies, and then the utter absurdity of notation using the chords, when dealing with complex (chromatic) playing.
Your harmonic embellishments Say, your Stan Getz play-along book, song “Girl from Ipanema”; (page 11, measure 47, 48 and 499).The first line is your playing, and the second line below is the basic melody of the song by Jobim.
In measure 49, while the original uses syllables in words as simple quavers (all the same repeating notes E, then D and F#); you, however, play legato (connected) quarters, and then a rapid succession of sixteenths in full chromatic scale, from E up to high F#.
So, you see, you anchor yourself in the melodic beginning (note E) and in the melodic end (high F#), same notes that Jobim uses, but in between them, you play seven notes, not just one (Jobim only plays one note). With seven notes you add incredible dynamics in that part, and two out of those seven notes are outside the key of the melody (those two notes are A# and C#) A# and C# are not in the key of G (the music key of Jobim’s melody), but are outside of it, and that is why they are called “chromatic” – you borrowed them from the chromatic scale, and then did not use further. They were required for the harmonic improvisation in that part, so that a little slow and a bit repetitive part of the song sounds more exciting.
Then again, in measure 50, you don’t play simplistic F# then E, but instead you substitute F# with the rapid sixteenth notes F#-G-F#, which to our ears sound like F#, although there is a “quick G” in it. G alone would sound odd if played instead of F#, but wrapped inside two F#, it all sounds so much better. There, again, you extended F# harmonically (by just a semitone to G), and then returned back to F#, just to make it sound more exciting.
Those are two examples of harmonic embellishments, which is a hallmark of your playing. You do it so well, with taste and dignity, and totally respecting the major principles and main anchor notes of the melody.
The absurdity of chord notations Now, when we have such embellishments of yours, done according to your feelings during your playing, writing chords to “describe” them is like putting the cart before the horse. Say, editors wrote for the measure 50: (D7 b5). That id D7 chord with a flat 5th, which means notes: D, F#, G#, C .. it’s ridiculous, because your G# was so short and pure embellishment. Structurally, it is not important because it is not in the melody!
I have never seen chord notation in classical music. Let’s open any score by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven etc., you won’t find any chord notations there. I only encountered it when I read jazz music sheets and I was puzzled. Then I figured out, that chord notations were used for several reasons: first jazz musicians could not read music notation at all, they all learned to play by ear, and could remember notes in the scales on the piano. Then, when they heard a song, they would write down chord names, one after another, (but not regular music notation for chord structure — only chord names), and that succession of chord names, one by one, would give them “a general idea” of the harmonic and melodic structure of the song.
That’s the first problem; chords alone do not preserve the originality of the song, but allow endless skewing of it, to the point of no recognition – the melody can be so skewed that nobody knows what was the original! However, proper music notation preserves everything, the rhythm, the tempo, all accents, exact note durations, harmonics, counterpoints etc, and that is why classical music is so beautiful, and performed the same as Bach or Mozart composed it. Because it’s written down exactly. (Of course, there are parts in classical music that can be improvised upon, but composers who wrote exact notation, would also note where improvisation is possible.
Back to your books: writing “chords” on top of full score in proper notation, is nonsensical, because you already improvised! Chords could be given in advance, if you worked roughly on some new song, and then given a task “work around these progressions, and figure out what kind of melody could be interesting”. That is proper use of chords, especially on a guitar, or on the piano, where a musician can play with chords to construct a new song.
But not a variation on an already existing, well-known song; that makes no sense.
Hope this attempt of mine somewhat answers the question!
Thank you so much for your time and patience!
Hope this helps!
Yes, Stan Getz does the same, or similar, but he also interferes into the melody, especially when he does concerts and then plays songs that he recorded once for an album that was very popular.What that means, is that players like Getz also intervenes into the structure of the song; when one changes the entire key of the song, well, that is not exactly the same song anymore — it is an experiment based on song. Remember the piano concerto I referenced yesterday? Imagine that concerto played in a different key? It would sound nothing like Beethoven imagined; it is in a certain key because of the exact mood and feeling; change the key, and the feeling is changed, the mood is gone. But a Romanticist composer like Beethoven is concerned about exact and intense feelings, which contain a certain message! So, you see, I personally can tolerate experiments to a certain extent, because experimenting in classical European tradition is allowed A) for the sake of learning, B) composing new songs using some interesting phrases from existing songs, or C) new variations on the song (which then changes the authorship), but not performing the existing songs that became popular and loved because of the exact key, rhythm, and the intent of the author.
Say this sublime piece, filled with sadness and melancholy (Adagio from Concerto di Aranjuez); change the key from minor to major, and shift it around the circle of fifths, and it becomes pathetic!https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TbV9t6U2IIg
Yes, that jazz pianist was mostly correct; you already know the melodies of the songs, you heard them performed so you also know how harmony extensions can be done depending on the exact setup of the orchestra. Say, if you play in a quartet, you may need more harmonic additions than in an octet, because other players will fill it up. Playing in larger orchestras can be more rewarding because all people get to play, and one player won’t exhaust himself doing impossible acrobatics to keep the listeners attentive all the time.
Chords are used for constructing the song from scratch; like quick sketching. Once the song is constructed and polished up, chords are not necessary and could be forgotten. They are like scaffolds on the building; once the building is constructed, scaffolds are not necessary to keep it in place because the structure is already there.
The chords, of course, is playing of at least three notes in unison. Piano can do it, guitar can do it too, organ, etc. The saxophone can’t play three notes at once; sax can play them in succession, one after another – but that is NOT music. Because, what do those notes inside one chord mean? By definition that comes from the classical music, each note in a chord represents one human voice timbre; the bass male voice, tenor male voice, alto female voice, soprano female voice etc. Originally, all music was vocal, then instrumental. Now, several chords alone do not tell how melody goes exactly, nor the possible harmony, because chord changes are usually done once or twice per measure, although the measure – in real performance – may have 3, 4, 8, 12, etc. different articulations and changes of one particular human voice, which decides to play a certain melody.
Therefore, the music is far more complex than chords; with chords we only say, “we’ll use four main voices, and the soprano will do melody in one part while alto, tenor and bass do the harmonic support there, but then, we can silence bass and alto, and leave tenor and soprano, etc”. That means, one really must write all exact changes for each voice, each note, duration, each pause, etc. The exact music is then written for each voice. That is how the music is composed usually.
1. choosing the voices (chord structure)2. roughing out (sketching out) major directions, and basics of melody and possible harmony – that is chord progression.3. nuancing each voice, which is melodic and harmonic nuancing
I’m writing all this also to remind myself from time to time. …Thank you very much!
yes, you are correct. When jazz players play with strings, it is the strings and the orchestra that tame and define the structure of the song, making a nice arrangement for all instruments. Then a jazz soloist comes to play on top of all that. A very large orchestra can’t play by ear, and players can’t read everybody’s body language: improvisation is impossible with symphonic and larger bands. Everything they do must be well rehearsed.
With Charlie Parker, strings and the orchestra thus prepared, lead the melody part, softly, spreading a broad cushion for a soloist to improvise.
It is not much different at all from, for example, clarinet concertos, violin concertos, trumpet or similar concertos. People don’t know this, they don’t teach them this in schools, but the soloists who perform in front of the orchestra, do not always follow sheet music. They too improvise (on harmony, but not on melody), add ornamentations, subtract them, etc. The composers of such work would leave in, deliberately, places within the composition where the soloists are given freedom.
Harmonic improvisation and ornamentation around the melody started to be vogue in Baroque music, and is preserved ever since. There are very fine tutorials on ornamentations, and some composers, like Georg P. Telemann (one of the most famous composers of all times), himself wrote tutorials on how to improvise and ornament playing. He constructed exercises with increasing amounts of complexity, and when and in what context to choose certain solutions (to add variety to repeating phrases, to end certain phrases, etc). Improvisations also varied from place to place (Italian, German, French, etc.).
Roughly speaking, there are two types of improvisations or ornamentations: 1. passaggi and 2. graces.1. Passaggi means adding extra (chromatic) notes to the established melody to increase its dynamics. Something like a set of very quick seven of 1/16 notes in bars 47-49 of your Girl from Ipanema (we discussed this earlier). 2. Graces are adding ornamentation to the existing notes; for example, in your Girl From Ipanema, an example of grace is that F#; Jobim wrote it, and you played it as a quick legato F#-G-F#.
All of these can be rhythmic, when the notes are specially emphasized, say, for dance.
There are some nice books out there on ornamentation and improvisation on the music of Baroque, and onwards. Some of them:
— Ornamentation in Baroque and Post-Baroque Music: With Special Emphasis on J.S. Bach
– The Ornamentation of Baroque Music: A Guide for Independent Embellishinghttps://www.amazon.com/Ornamentation-Baroque-Music-Manfredo-Zimmermann/dp/3739231971/ref=pd_lpo_14_t_2/140-8733774-9723455?_encoding=UTF8&pd_rd_i=3739231971&pd_rd_r=7bdc84e0-3372-4ab9-9fbc-77ac93184fbb&pd_rd_w=AVRum&pd_rd_wg=DSFAc&pf_rd_p=7b36d496-f366-4631-94d3-61b87b52511b&pf_rd_r=3NBH0EAR97MQZBN9C4ZN&psc=1&refRID=3NBH0EAR97MQZBN9C4ZN
No ornamentation is just ornamentation; it is improvisation, because it is contextual and can differ each time. Because they are mostly harmonic additions, they are indeed new lines added to the song.
Depending on the type of orchestra, number of players, the repertoire etc. improvisation is decided upon. The difference I see in your playing is that you totally follow the classical approach to improvisation, which emphasises new harmonic lines. Early jazz players did the same, or similar, because they got songs written by many composers who immigrated from Europe to the USA. They were hanging out together, giving instructions, writing songs for living.While some other players improvised by carving into the melody, and rhythm, and mood, and recomposing it (say, Coltrane) which is a tricky job that often yields disaster.
But .. many people thought that is the purpose of ‘jazzing” — abstract expressionism.
On 18 Sep 2020, at 21:04, Glenn Zottola <email@example.com> wrote:
I looked at the forward of the books you mention wonderful. Yes i love ornamentation and “embellishments” as i call it and the original instructions from my dad on how to play jazz “just embellish the melody like Louie” is the basis of all my playing until you introduced your analysis. How does ornamentation of embellishment relate to your description of my playing using the Beethoven piano concerto as an example or is that something different than just ornamentation and embellishment ?
I love Barry Harris great player and very knowledgeable ! He did a master class on “Giant Steps” which was amazing. He said he doesn’t like the song (the holy grail of modern jazz) and demonstrated how he would approach it melodically.
On Sep 18, 2020, at 7:29 AM, Zvonimir Tosic <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:Dear Glenn,
Thank you for telling me such valuable stories. Indeed, the life of music often springs from such inspirations and sheets found somewhere.I myself have copied heaps of sheets, including an operetta for parts for Bb instruments, etc.
I listened to Barry Harris, the jazz pianist, who says that what we know about many jazz standards, may not be quite true. In other words, that they were not written by people whom we attribute their origin. He tells that from the structure of songs, and from his own experience from working in the field, he suspects many songs to have originated from teachers of music from Europe, who migrated to the USA, especially in between two wars. Those were decades when it was nearly impossible to compose in Europe, or have any cultural life there. But it thrived in the USA.
Teachers would compose songs quite according to long-established rules, and then would write down heping notes to the American musicians how to perform them, and then the jazz players would do that, and improvise. In return, they’d get some pennies for food, clothing, etc. I can imagine that ‘Pennies from Heaven’ is not given such a name for nothing!
On Fri, 18 Sep 2020 at 21:12, Glenn Zottola <email@example.com> wrote:
wow i guess all that early exposure to classical music with my dad seeped in. I know Gil Evans who my dad knew very well as they were both arrangers on the Claude Thornhill band used to have Miles Davis , Gerry Mulligan and others over his apartment after their gigs on 52nd street and play classical music for them. Charlie Parker carried around the scores to The Rite Of Spring and Petrouska. Speaking of that when my dad was studied arranging his professor received the score to Petrouska that was smuggled in from Russia. My dad was what they call an “autographer” meaning his handwriting was perfect all the bar lines perfectly straight etc. He was given the assignment to copy all the parts from the score by his professor and after 3 tries he got a pass and those parts were sent to make plates for printing the music !!
On Sep 18, 2020, at 7:04 AM, Zvonimir Tosic <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:Yes, it does qualify.What wanted to state all along, is that your improvised music draws back from an old tradition, from best composers and players world has seen. You are in that same tradition.
Dear GlennPlease see attached an excerpt from the partitura (music sheets) by G. Telemann, one of the most prolific composers ever. Written way back in 1728, it is one of the guides for performers how to interpret the melody, see the possibilities, and lift it all up to a higher aesthetic and virtuosic expression.
I have emphasised in yellow all lines with Telemann’s own interpretation of the basic melody that runs above. Same as with transcriptions of your solos on top of Jobim’s basic melody, this one too is full of improvisations. This piece, for example, is in Bb-Major, but if you look at improvisations line, notes used there come from the entire chromatic scale. The book I took the excerpt from, with Telemann’s own guides to improvisation (as he notes, “The way I would play it”) is here:
He wrote this guide for flute, or violin, on top of lines for bass continuo (which is baroque rhythm + basic harmonic arrangement section).
On 18 Sep 2020, at 20:51, Glenn Zottola <email@example.com> wrote:
Thank you but does this kind of traditional jazz playing I did in this period of my life when I worked with Benny Goodman and Bob Wilber and other swing artists qualify for what you are describing so beautifully as my “classical approach” using harmony and melody and embellishments ?
When I go online, and see millions of views and thousands of blind/repetitive accolades about totally boring performances by famed saxophonists (who are not great musicians at all), .. and then see just a dozen of views on your stellar playing .. I am saddened. But then, I say to myself, it is better to be appreciated by a handful of wise men, than by the thousands of ignorant and tonally deaf. Thank you for all your efforts, and all time given to future generations, and especially for your play-along books!
This response from Zvonimir truly rewarding was based on my recording “try a little the tenderness” with strings which is on this website in another section. I asked him if this kind of playing fell into the earlier category of his analysis on my improvisation regarding classical approach etc.
Goodness me, this is breathtakingly beautiful ! I must listen to it a dozen more times, to get my head around details…
Thank you for proving my initial impression when I first heard your saxophone playing; you are a genius.
Thank you maestro.
Dear Glenn, Of course, it’s the same approach. Let’s say, that is your philosophy regardless of content, but your delivery may depend on your intent and demand of the audience.
In this beautiful track, you opted for a slow release of emotions, which fits the atmosphere of slow dance / nightclub two step dance for example. So your tones are extended and beautiful, and when needed, you add harmonies as occasional smiles (faster passages) in the conversation on the dance floor.
So in this approach, I would say that your playing is both singing and playing; it is as if you sing first with a human voice on the saxophone, then play an instrument after it to give it some rest; then the voice comes in again, and so on. Ben Webster often opts for more singing quality, that is, if the song is not singable, he is not interested in playing it; he is not at all interested in showing skills that people can’t dance to and immerse all their body and soul. Because he often played slow ballads in quartets or quintets, then other instruments would take a different voice and he’d hand it over, waiting for his turn. It is beautiful, classically American, ballad playing.
And of course, slow ballads aren’t ‘Queen of the Night’ jumpy operatic themes full of harmonics that only a handful of people may sing, if at all. So even when you speed up a little, you leave an open end to it, those notes often merely begin and then disappear .. we have to guess them, rather than listen to them as if demanded by force on our ears.
That quality of such harmonisation is exceedingly difficult. Players like Brecker can’t do it (of course, he is a different genre, but even then). Coltrane can’t do it. Dexter can’t do it in a million years. Parker can, but he plays songs one can’t dance to. Getz can do it, but not with such effortless ease; he still works in clearly defined, more extended sections; faster – slower – faster. Lester Young can do it, but he does not emphasise those expanding and contracting emotions as well as you, but that may be because of the wholly different times and demands of the audience; 1940s and 50s were quite different times; the impact of WW2 was damaging, and those musicians had to heal people’s spirit with a good dose of positive sing and dance.