Forward Motion Preface
“The trouble with people who do not know is that they do not know what they do not know.” Gene Lees, Jan. 2001 issue: Jazzletter.
This is the umpteenth time I’ve started to write a jazz instruction book. Each time I’d get depressed and stop at a certain point and put it in the circular file. Four major questions stopped me in my tracks every time.
With so many jazz instruction books now on the market does the world need another one?
For many reasons the answer is yes. The general tendency of jazz education toward a unified pedagogy is not in jazz’s best interests. One would be hard put to argue against a general philosophy that the more ways one looks at a subject, the more one achieves a fuller enhancement of understanding and perspective of it. One of the historically basic tenets of jazz has been the development of each musician’s individual voice.
This tendency toward uniformity has created generations of musicians who sound alike. We teach the same scales, the same chords and the process of combining the two in the same general manner. Students should have the luxury of choice about the way they want to personalize their playing, which a uniform approach stifles. They are faced with a variety of points of view about a single subject. When I was a student we had to learn them all. If we, as educators, have as our goal the development of individual voices, ideally then, there should be as many different voices as there are players. Every student should be exposed to multiple approaches to the theory and practice of playing jazz, making their own choices of what concepts fit their individual ways of playing. The process of learning how to play is rarely that of starting out with a strong, clear conception of how we want to play. It’s a process of self-discovery and trial and error, trying out different musical ideas, theories, and concepts to discover our own individual voices. Quite often it’s a matter of “finding out where we don’t want to be,” through a process of elimination. Forward Motion may not answer the question “how do I want play?” It will, at least, give you another point of view to consider. Take from it what works for you and throw out the rest.
How can naïve and inexperienced jazz students tell the difference between a good and a bad book?
They can’t. Not without buying and reading them and trying out their suggestions. Even then it may be difficult to tell whether the book is worthwhile. The problem is that it’s easy to make up almost any kind of theory, make it sound logical, put it into book form and sell it. Selling music information is a profitable venture, if not for the author, certainly for the publisher.
Publisher Charles Colin once confided in me that young jazz students buy every jazz book published, especially if it’s related to a particular instrument and more so if the author has a reputation. Put out a drum book, every young drummer will buy it. These books are written and published for many reasons: profit, self-promotion, university tenure requirements of publish or perish, protection of individual research by copyright, historical documentation and as educational aids.
What makes a good jazz instruction book?
Two answers: First, if you got one usable idea out of it, it was a good book. If you get two or more usable ideas out of it it’s a great book. Hopefully, the readers of Forward Motion will be able to find at least one good idea in it.
Second: A good jazz instruction book adheres to five to rigid standards that validates its concepts:
1. Its concepts can be historically validated by their previous use in the tradition of the music. The chain of how a concept grew and was modified through the passage of time should be clear and unassailable. What worked in Bach’s time in Germany must also work in Armstrong’s time in New Orleans.
2.) It’s concepts are based upon sound scientific principles, i.e., how the mind, body and emotions function in the process of learning and making music.
3.) Valid musical concepts must be applicable in any musical genre irrespective of time and place. They must encompass ideas that are universals.
4.) It has to work. The concepts must be pragmatic.
5.) Concepts must have the “Ring of Truth” for the student. Feelings about practicing and performing that are felt on an intuitive level, when then verbalized, create a sense of recognition. I can’t count the number of times a student has said “Gee Hal, I felt something like that but didn’t know what it meant.” The challenge every educator faces is how to impart these concepts to the student without constricting the development of their individual styles.
Can anyone learn how to play jazz from a book?
No. The only function jazz education can serve, in any of its forms, is to stimulate your mind. To teach you how to teach yourself. Learning how to play jazz is essentially a self-taught process. Always has been and always will be. No one can teach you how to play. You can’t learn how to play jazz by taking a four-year college course. It takes a lifetime of work to accomplish that goal. What jazz education offers is the opportunity to create and organize your own individual self-teaching methodology. The methodology you develop to learn how to play will eventually have a direct influence on your style of playing, your individual voice. If you want to develop your own individual voice you have to develop your own individual way of studying and practicing.
There are however, universals involved in practicing and playing that each student will encounter. These universals could be defined as the “whats” and “hows” of music.
The “whats” of music are factual and genre specific; the various aspects of harmony, melody, and rhythm as applicable to a particular genre or style of music. The”whats” are the smallest amount of musical information one needs to learn. The “hows” of musical ideas are universal in nature and take a lifetime to learn. Seymour Fink in his article “Can You Teach Musicality” (May/June 1997 issue of Piano & Keyboard magazine), defines these two processes as ” conscious factual knowledge (knowing what to do)” and ” procedural knowledge (knowing how to do it).”
The “whats” are intellectual in content. The “hows” are experiential and usually learned through direct and continued playing experience. The only way to learn the “hows,” or how to play what you play, is by performing it. Getting on the bandstand, night after night, with better musicians than you so you’re constantly hearing it being played right, trying to get it right by trial and error.
In Forward Motion I’ve attempted to achieve the goal of keeping the intellectual aspects of learning how to play within the scope and context of the oral tradition and the aforementioned scientific principles. In that way students will be encouraged to focus more, on not only the mere information herein, but the processes involved with learning and applying that information.
Problems playing music can be reduced to difficulties that lay within the realm of mental states of mind such as: perception, conception and attitude. Consequently, this is a theory book only in how it relates to changing those states of mind. It is designed to alter a student’s perception of music. What this book is not, is an exercise book. FM is tailored for the intermediate to advanced level musician, credit is given that the reader has the wherewithal to extrapolate the enclosed musical examples into exercises of their own.