I’ve decided to reinvest a lot of time and energy into playing jazz. Up to now, I’ve been commended numerous times for my playing. On a few occasions, I’ve even been told that I’m “the best saxophone player ever”. But, I know that, these people, even if they were sincere, know next to nothing about the music and were likely thoroughly intoxicated when they told me. In truth I really am quite average at best.
Presently I’m trying to get inside the changes of jazz and work through the most basic permutations, which involve the first, second, third and fifth of a given scale. This is tedious work. You take a simple pattern and run it through all the keys. It takes a certain level of obsession to get through it.
A number of musicians have claimed that practicing is like meditation and I can relate to that to an extant because practicing can be quite entrancing, especially when you’re really trying to nail a phrase and playing it a hundred times. I used to be naive and think that relying on learned patterns meant that you were devoid of creativity, but it seems as though all the supposed ‘masters’ have done it at one time or another.
These formulas start to read like a math problem or some sort of code.
1235 1253 1325 1352 1523 1532
2135 2153 2315 2351 2513 2531
3125 3152 3215 3251 3512 3521
5123 5132 5213 5231 5312 5321
Those are the 24 possible permutations of 1235
to practice them in all 12 major keys would give you 12 x 24 = 288 sets
and these can in turn be varied by how you look at the numbers
to play them as all ascending notes would sound quite different then playing them as all descending and a combination up-up-down down-down-up etc and you can get into some extreme interval maneuvers, jumping an octave or more…
288 x ?? = ????
As I said, this is considered a basic pattern. To a certain degree, creativity comes from creating a new configuration of these numbers, or altering rhythm, or from making a mistake that sounds good. Somewhere in those numbers are recipes for music.
Back to the 24 permutations, if I focus on one a day, I’ve almost got the month taken care of. So when the masters practice for 6-12 hours a day or whatever, they certainly have no shortage of material, especially when you start to factor actual songs into the equation. Many so-called ‘improvisers’, are just stringing together a bunch of pre-learned patterns to form a solo.
My problem in the past was that I was pessimistic about the whole endeavor, and, aside from that, faced with the prospect of endless strings of patterns, I’d always get overwhelmed (writing this fills me with that familiar sensation). Often, I’d dip into a certain method for a few days or weeks but fail to see it through completely. I can blow over most songs now and sound decent, but I have a low level of awareness as to what it is I’m doing exactly. I’m trying to work on that, set a strict regimen and take baby steps. This kind of approach is the musician’s version of vocabulary building.
A jazz cat’s work is never done… until they done died.