I wanted to put this comment from Monk on my website regarding my new album and video as it meant so much to me as he is a legend in the Jazz interview world and has done many interviews with Jazz legends who made me who I am musically. Thank you Monk for all you do.
“Super! Glenn has the chops on brass and reeds to play anything he hears and what he hears is HIP!”
I was so moved by the comment by my good friend Kabir Sehgal world acclaimed author , musician and grammy winning producer on my last recording with Chick Corea I wanted to put it on my website.
Thanks for your note. Yes, you were dear friends, and it’s a pure joy to hear your music with him. I’d call your music “When 2 Geniuses Come Together!!” Congrats on your upcoming singles. I’ll be listening and sharing with my family and friends. Honored to know you, maestro!!
Ron is a great player and arranger he was with Lionel Hampton for many years.
I truly believe that you are a musical genius. How anyone can play alto, tenor, and trumpet on that level is mind boggling. You have no equals! A lot of great players, including my first teacher Bobby Tricarico, made a good living doing studio work. Bobby used to say “You wanna play jazz? Grow a beard and get an apartment in the Village.” Many of those cats were monster jazz players and nobody (other than a handful of musicians) knew who they were. I’m guessing you were in that elite group. And you made the right choice, but the jazz world suffered.
Comment fron Ron Aprea on my Chick Corea Tribute album :
I just listened to a couple of tracks and you sound fucking great! You should be on tour making $50K a week. I will be happy to post this link for you. Man, if this don’t get a GRAMMY they should level that building. Congratulations on this classic.
Glenn- I’ve got some things that I think you should know. First of all I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and living with some greats of Jazz. Trane was so intense & could play so pretty with his ballads. Dexter was such a groover and played beautiful ballads. I knew him well. I could go on & on–but my point is you are as great a musician as any of them. You play with such passion & sweetness too on your ballads & then you really swing too. You were born with these talents & I’m sure you’ve worked your ass off practicing over the years. Lots of your passion comes from your Italian blood– I’m so serious about that. Plus I don’t know of anyone that plays 3 differant horns – all equally masterful. You are one of a kind. I hope to God you win the Grammys. With all the talent that’s out now- you stand out as one of the greats. The young musicians try and play LIKE the greats of Jazz. You ARE one of the greats. I’ve never said these words to anyone before. I just wanted you to know how special you are. You remind me of Philly Joe Jones– he grooved his ass off- but there was a prettiness in his playing. He is my favorite drummer. He use to stay at my house in LA when he was in town for a couple of years. George morrow too. Anyway Glenn of course you should be on the Grammy Jazz committee, you know and play the real music called Jazz! I’m so proud to know you. Your Friend. Century
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. Kind regards, Zvonimir Tosic
Dear Glenn, 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 🙂 Zvonimir
Dear Glenn, 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; https://youtu.be/vvI9wG4_JTM?t=1955
– 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
Dear Glenn, 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! Zvonimir
Hope this helps!
Dear Glenn, 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! Z
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 https://www.amazon.com/Ornamentation-Baroque-Post-Baroque-Music-Emphasis/dp/0691027072/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?dchild=1&keywords=The+Ornamentation+of+Baroque+telemann&qid=1600419259&s=books&sr=1-1-fkmr0
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. Zvonimir
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! Zvonimir
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: https://www.henle.de/en/detail/?Title=Methodische+Sonaten+für+Flöte+oder+Violine+und+Continuo%2C+Band+I_1266
He wrote this guide for flute, or violin, on top of lines for bass continuo (which is baroque rhythm + basic harmonic arrangement section). Kind regards, Zvonimir
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 ?
Dear Glenn, 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!
Kind regards, Zvonimir Tosic
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.
Dear Glenn 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. Zvonimir
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. Ta, Z
Dear Glenn, Well, yes and no. You do not merely ornament.This is a complex subject, which I explore in my reviews of your albums with books.
Any ornamentation is hardly possible without some, at least intuitive drive to compose harmonic lines. So good ornamentation belongs to — composition. That is why when people mention jazz improvisation, as if it is something ‘new’ or amazing, I refer back to 250-300 years ago, and ask if anyone is familiar with baroque real-time improvisation, which is also real-time composition. Many have never heard of that. There is no real difference in what good jazz musicians do, and what good baroque (and classical) performers did. Or to put it in another context; many people know how to speak well. Many know to put down a few words on paper, or write a diary. But some people dare to write a short story, some even go to write novels. Music is the same; most people know how to whistle melodies, some know how to extend whistling and play an instrument. But some know how to use events from their own lives and make into new stories (compositional improvisation). And some dare to write a new operatic opus (novels). The analogy goes forward; some musicians play scales and chords and think they improvise; it is the same as writers who use cliche lines in dialogues, cliché and predictable lines in descriptions, which is nothing original – but just a beginner’s stuff. With really good improvisational composition there are no exacting rules, and this is where you excel, and puts you several cuts above skilled jazz musicians, at the level of Getz, Parker, etc. I completely stand by those thoughts. However, because you roughly follow some anchor points in the melody, which was written by Gershwin for example, you do not rely on anchors of your own, brand-new composition. You ‘re-interpret’ Gershwin using the new harmonic material. What composers like Beethoven etc. did, was writing down some brand new melodic lines, on which they could apply their great skills as improvisational composers on top of it. Here is a bit of an exaggerated example of Beethoven’s improvisational compositional skills, which was a sport in his days. (this completely debunks stupid theories that classical musicians can’t improvise in real-time, a theory taught even in some shools and elsewhere which I hate). Please note that another character here, Steibelt, was not that bad as portrayed in this short movie; far from it, he was an excellent pianist, but the example here was exaggerated to show Beethoven’s virtuosity in developing new and unusual material on top of existing tunes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qT8cBX893ic I say unusual because they both play on a concert key instrument (piano); but Beethoven would dare going in unexpected directions. When you play Bb tenor, and Eb alto, you already are mingling in unusual keys when playing on top of seemingly the same tune. This is why I urge that you continue to play both tenor and alto, even one on top of another, because it is (very roughly) similar to playing low register with the left, and upper register with the right hand on the piano. However, on the piano you mingle through one key at the time, whilst playing on two saxophones, you can play in two keys at the same time. I hope my explanation is not over the top, so please forgive me. Ta, Zvonimir
Several years later 2023 :
I also wanted to go through the emails we exchanged all these years, and summarise — better to say, expand on — my love and admiration for your music. You are a one-of-a-kind musician. I feel privileged to have known you, and your musicianship, and to be acquainted with your talent. The reason why you are so excellent is your musical imagination and absolute lack of effort when you perform. Whatever you think of, your mind follows and the instrument listens and produces with clarity, nuance, and incomparable feeling. I think you were lucky, for working with a wide variety of artists and being able to absorb many genres, subgenres, and styles and not only one as most players do. While some famous players dominated in one style that brought them fame (and then they were celebrated by those who wanted to be as famous as they were), you – on the other hand – played brilliantly in many styles, and have acquired more gold and jewels than them. If we observe how jazz was developing, from 1. Classical > 2. to swing > 3. to bebop, you are able to incorporate in the last many elements of the former, because they indeed are there … but not many players understand it, or hear it. But you do. Many who don’t understand how some phrases came in, or why are played in bebop, simply call it “chromatic passages”. (You will hear the same expression when some virtuoso guitarists play long solos in progressive rock music). But that is an excuse only – those people don’t really hear echoes of past music styles in a new style that developed from them, so they are confused. When they need to play, they follow “the formula” of the style, but which soon created repetitive, predictable and boring music. You have the ability to avoid all that, and you are able to breathe in an air of freshness even in something considered “a standard”. Your phrasing is so bloody good and refreshing that I like your rendition of Charlie Parker way better than the original. As a sort of musician myself, who loves the art of music, I tend to respect the art of music, and I don’t really care WHO is playing … I listen to the QUALITY of music and musicianship, and I’m always drawn to your performances.
More later, kind regards, Zvonimir & family.
I will surely write more about all the details that fascinate me as well.
TALENTS AND SETTLERS I never take arts, especially music, for granted. When I hear something extraordinary, I try to get closer to it and understand it better. I have learned that in pursuit of knowledge in any field, but especially in arts and music because they seem to be so elusive, I cannot rely on “common wisdom”, or even worse, on common taste.
Much we read about music playing is not quite correct because it’s written by people who profited from the show biz side of music (or arts). In any genre, there are a few pioneers who define the landscape, and then come in “settlers”, who populate that landscape with their enterprises.
While the pioneers usually have an excellent talent, the settlers have a very limited scope of understanding what they do music-wise; they are there to make money. But when asked, they “supposedly” talk about music, and give formulaic answers that make no deeper musical sense. That formulaic gobbledygook became “music theory” taught in colleges.
INCREDIBLE SKILL In terms of your improvisations, there are many variables that make you distinct from other players. When you read the notation of your solos, which you improvised on the spot, it’s difficult for you to analyse yourself. So it is best to do it via some analogy. I’ll provide you with my thoughts when I was studying your solos.
Firstly, I saw what is the basic melody line written by the original composer. It’s always simple, anyone can whistle it.
Your solos are quite the opposite: incredibly complex but sound so beautiful. If I want to play one of them – for someone like me who hasn’t touched an instrument for decades – I know I can’t do it. But, I study the general motion of your progressions; if you played three bars of 1/32 notes, I isolate key ones among them, and then play them only as 1/16 notes, while trying to understand why you played other notes next to it. Then I see the pattern: you played them because it is *melodically correct*. You have the skill to add as many extra notes as necessary towards the general motion of the melody, and you do it very often. The composer already made sure that the harmonic part fits the melodic motion (progression), so you don’t seek ideas in “harmonies” alone, as many others do. Why do they do that? Because they learned music the wrong way. They play as percussionists do, not as vocals would do. That is where the art of saxophone playing goes downhill.
A COMPOSER AMONG DRAUGHTSMEN
And that was the hint for me to understand the complexity of your talent: you are quite an original composer yourself. Most other players are players only, they can “improvise around chords”. That means as fully fledged musicians they are hopelessly boring, but .. you are a composer. You have original ideas, and it seems you never run out of them.
But you do it all correctly. One of the reasons you can compose on the go is that your skill on the instrument is incredible. That lack of effort determines and increases the complexity of what you play. Your skill is so advanced, that I don’t know of any other saxophone player who can play so smoothly, elegantly and accurately, and sound so correct and melodic at the same time. There are no wrong notes there. Why? Because you silently took your liberty and “recomposed” parts of the melody to sound — better.
Your toolkit: slurs, accents, legatos etc. are — impeccable. I have listened to a ton of saxophone players. I did listen a lot to Charlie Parker too, who had very advanced skills. As much as everyone admires his skill, for example, your playing is — technically speaking — even better than his. Your fingers are quicker, your phrasing is smoother. And, unlike Charlie Parker, you never repeat yourself. You don’t stare at the blank spot in the middle of a song and begin repeating some phrase with minimal changes; that doesn’t happen to you.
Why is that? No matter how great he was, Mr Parker was still a player of his genre, and regardless of what he contributed to that genre, he did struggle to find fresh new phrases and ideas. Maybe it was the outlook, or circumstances. I think he recognised that, although others did not understand him. I heard him wanting to go study more, go to Europe, study classical music, etc. But he never had the chance. On the other hand, even if you did not know that information, you did expose yourself to a lot more than Charlie did, and many other players, and have used that to polish up yourself on so many levels and details. Being a touring musician who works in different bands has its benefits, and some benefits are not immediately recognisable.
Now, if Charlie had struggled, then, pray tell, how much struggle those who worked less than him, and who have less talent than him?
I think an honest musician must recognise that; for the sake of art itself. We all have a different capacity in what we do and we can choose two paths: \