COLLECTED WISDOM:WHO GOT RHYTHM? By DON GLASGO JazzImprov Magazine, Vol. 4, # 4, Summer 2004 I don't know how many of you have experienced an epiphany, but it's a blast! As far as jazz improvisation is concerned, most learning occurs through a never-ending series of plateaus: you reach a certain level and you're stuck there for awhile, you break through to another level and sit there for awhile, and on and on. An epiphany is different: once you experience it, it changes your perception forever. You can't go back again, and you don't want to! But an epiphany doesn't necessarily apply to all aspects of the music at once; it can be very specific. I know because I have had an epiphany re: rhythm brought about by a few pages in a remarkable new method book by Hal Galper, FORWARD MOTION FROM BACH TO BEBOP: A CORRECTIVE APPROACH TO JAZZ PHRASING. (International Copyright by Hal Galper 2003. Available through ) Some of you may recall Galper's legendary "forward motion" articles in Down Beat back in the '80s, in which he suggested ways of practicing which emphasized playing the strong beats of the chord on the strong beats of the bar. (Somewhat similar to Barry Harris' renowned method of teaching bebop, but less content oriented and more conceptual: less "what to play" and more "how to play.") Hal's teaching reminds me of a legendary figure among brass players: Phyllis Stork at Stork Mouthpieces in Plainfield, VT. Phyllis' ability as an analyst of mouthpiece/ embouchure problems and solutions is damn-near psychic! She knows more about your chops after listening to you play for 15 seconds than you do. Phyllis' insightful knowledge is uncanny, and Hal is the same way! Galper views improvisation primarily as a mental process, not a physical one. Over time this has led him to two important conclusions: 1) any problems you have with your instrument are essentially mental, not physical, and 2) the instant you play, you are expressing your mental concept of "playing," and it is there--in your mind--where the real work needs to be done! I have seen Hal use this method many times to analyze and diagnose the gamut of issues students have with improvisation; his ability to instantly "backtrack" from a student's playing to the student's thought processes and concepts is truly profound. It's an amazing experience to witness. (Hal's "How to Practice" and "Forward Motion" workshops should be required at every institution teaching jazz at the college level!) And Galper's not only seen them all, he's played with them all! Chet Baker, Cannonball Adderley, Phil Woods, Dizzy Gillespie, you name it! Hal's incredible wealth of knowledge and teaching genius come directly from his vast experience as a player. He knows whereof he speaks. It is rare to encounter genius teachers who are also brilliant players. There are lots of great players who teach--in New York City, Boston and other places--but none of them think and write about jazz improvisation as often or as well as Hal Galper. So what kind of epiphany re: rhythm am I talking about? It's profoundly simple: thinking in 2/2 instead of thinking in 4/4 or, as Hal puts it , "Playing in Half-Time." Until you make this transition--from thinking in 4 to thinking in 2--you're in a 4/4 straight-jacket, which is where we all naturally tend to be because of the way we've been taught. How many times have we been told the "essence" of swing is 4/4, quarter-note motion? How many times have we been told to practice with a metronome set on "2" and "4" to emulate a "correct" swing feel? Right? Wrong!! Thanks to Mr. Galper, I'm here to tell you that ain't it! So what's the problem with playing in 4/4, quarter-note time? As Hal says, it's "childhood musical behavior!"Furthermore, "quarter-note time induces tension and creates over-excitement and compulsive 8th note playing, literally reducing instrumental facility by 50%. 8th notes played with an under-laying quarter-note feeling have a forced, over-articulated quality. These difficulties occur for one reason only:quarter-note tempos occur at a rate of speed too fast to conceive and execute 8th note ideas" (FORWARD MOTION, p.53). Thinking in quarter-note time is a hold-over from childhood: counting "1-2-3-4" as you learned music notation in elementary school. And what about that hip metronome on 2 & 4? Emphasizing 2 & 4 doesn't matter: counting in 4/4, whether it's "1-2-3-4" or "1-2-3-4," is "childish musical behavior." Conversely, "learning to play in half time is ADULT rhythmic behavior." This is true for all situations EXCEPT ballads, the only case in which 4/4 still applies. (SEE below.) I want to carry this a little further so that you may begin to understand and appreciate the importance of this breakthrough concept and it's relevance. To demonstrate the effectiveness of "playing in half-time," Galper suggests you play a typical "bebop" scale. Could be a C7 (mixolydian) scale with an added half-step between b7 and 1, or a C Maj. bebop scale, with an added half-step between 5 & 6. Play that scale up and down a few times, playing 8th notes in 4/4 time at m.m.=132. Now do the same thing "playing in half-time": you're playing at the same speed, but now you're playing 16th notes at m.m. = 66. (Also make sure you have shifted any physical manifestations of the beat. If you tap your foot on every quarter note--or on 2 & 4--now tap your foot on 1 & 3, the two "downbeats" in half-time! Physical manifestations should really be done away with altogether, but we'll give you a break!) Hal believes you will IMMEDIATELY be more relaxed, swing more, and find the notes easier to execute in half-time (i.e., playing 16th notes rather than 8th notes). Try it and see if it works for you. I know it will! Now here's the kicker, if you completely change your behavior from 4/4 to 2/2, you will break through to another level of rhythmic awareness which was, for me, an epiphany, a profound learning experience! Need more convincing? Here's a couple of real life examples of "playing in half-time." Example #1: Earlier this year I attended a concert by the Chucho Valdez Quartet and a well-known jazz tenor saxophonist. The event was both fascinating and disappointing. Generally speaking, such "concept" tours come from agents/promoters/record company executives rather than the artists themselves. Whether or not that was true in this case, I don't know. What I do know is that, at least on this first night of their tour together, the concept didn't work.And the reason it didn't work was that the tenor saxophonist (TS) was thinking in quarter-notes (4/4), while the Cubans were thinking in half-notes (2/2). There was a disturbingly high level of tension and friction in the grooves all night: Chucho and his quartet were in one distinct rhythmic hemisphere, TS was in another. Lord knows TS is one of the more sophisticated tenor players today, and he deserves every accolade he gets. Several years ago I heard him do a workshop on his approach to rhythm (!) which remains one of the best clinics I've ever seen. This spring night, however, was a perfect illustration--in a cross-cultural context--of what Galper means when he says playing in quarter-note time is not "adult" rhythmic behavior. To wit: 1. One of the pieces Chucho's quartet played together was "Chucho," written by Paquito d'Rivera. Originally conceived as a cha-cha, the quartet did it faster, as a mambo. In the first place, TS had a lot of trouble with the line.(Perhaps because he was hearing it/reading it for the first time?) More than that, though, he had extreme difficulty maintaining the tempo and groove throughout the piece. Why, because he was thinking in 4/4 (m.m. = 200) instead of 2/2 (m.m. = 100). In relation to the 2/2 mambo underneath, his solo sections were stressed, stiff and square.Why? Because "quarter-note time induces tension and creates over-excitement and compulsive 8th note playing . . . 8th notes played with an under-laying quarter-note feeling have a forced, over-articulated quality. These difficulties occur for one reason only: QUARTER-NOTE TEMPOS OCCUR AT A RATE OF SPEED TOO FAST TO CONCEIVE AND EXECUTE 8TH NOTE IDEAS." And that was exactly what was going on: TS struggled throughout his solo on "Chucho," while frantically tapping his foot/moving his leg in quarter-note tempo. Meanwhile Chucho and the quartet were effortlessly floating--and killing!--over the "half-time" tempo. As masters of Afro-Cuban rhythms, it was no big deal for them. For TS, it was a VERY big deal. 2.They played the jazz standard, "Alone Together."They didn't do it as a ballad/bolero, but as a kind of medium cha-cha:a 4-beat cha-cha, if you will (quarter-note = m.m. 112). As Galper points out in FORWARD MOTION, playing in half-time "(using half-notes instead of quarter notes) can be applied to most tempos, except ballads." "Alone Together" was in a kind of sticky "in-between" territory. By doing it as a 4/4 cha-cha, Chucho's quartet was treating it like a ballad/bolero (i.e., playing in 4/4, rather than 2/2). So far so good. Now, if you are thinking in "half-time," then, on a typical tune, you are actually playing/improvising 16th-notes over the two beats of the measure (2/2), rather than 8th-notes over quarter-note beats (4/4). Therefore there is a direct one-to-one relationship between "playing in half-time" and ballad playing in 4/4: 16th notes over the two beats per measure in a regular (2/2) tempo become16th notes over quarter notes in a ballad (4/4). The orientation towards 16th notes doesn't change: that stays constant, it's just a question of whether you're thinking two beats per measure (half-time) or four (ballad). Chucho's quartet did "Alone Together" with a "double-time feel" on the bridge. Chucho, playing in this medium cha-cha groove, was playing 16th notes over 4/4 during the A-sections. Therefore, when he soloed on the bridge with a "double-time" feel, he played 32nd notes. (It's true, the piano gods descended on this man!) For reasons unclear to me, TS chose to play a double-time feel on the last A-section (even though the quartet was playing double-time feel on the bridge, NOT the last A-section). When TS played a double-time feel, he played 16th notes, because he was still stuck in 8th-notes over quarter-note beats in the cha-cha 4/4. (Chucho's quartet was in 16th notes over quarter-note beats = ballad/bolero.) It didn't fit. 3.Perhaps the most stunning example of rhythmic confusion all night was the last piece of the concert (before the encore, "Solar"). It was a calypso a la Sonny Rollins. The trap drummer in Chucho's quartet was playing a fast 2/2 beat on the hi-hat cymbal, with a kind of "back-beat" bell pattern on the ride. If you conceive of this in an up-tempo jazz 4/4 context (not 2/2), the hi-hat was closing on 1 & 3, and the bell of the ride was sounding on 2 & 4. Of course, that's just the opposite of what an American jazz musician is used to hearing: hi-hat on 2 & 4, single-note ride on 1 & 3 (in the typical jazz "lang spang-a lang" pattern).Unfortunately TS heard this as a typical jazz swing pattern and turned the beat around, missing the opportunity to go out with a bigger-than-life Sonny Rollins calypso bang and, instead, turning the piece into complete and utter rhythmic chaos. (The crowd loved it.) The only time TS & Chucho were really "in sync" rhythmically was during the two ballads they did together--(essentially) just tenor & piano--when they both were really thinking in 16th notes. Everything else they played together was rhythmically confused (on the part of TS). "Alone Together" could have been the theme for the evening. . . A long time ago--probably in the '70s--Down Beat magazine did an interview with a Brazilian musician for a short back-of-the-magazine profile.At one point the interviewer asked, "Why can't American jazz musicians play bossa novas?" The Brazilian musician's response was visionary: "Because they can't think in two." It was profound then, and it's still profound now. Getz/Gilberto was a collaboration of genius because Getz COULD "think in two." Whereas TS, at least on the first night of the tour, could not. I left wishing that it had just been Chucho's quartet alone, so the fire could have truly lit rather than imagined. Example # 2: The hot new jazz piano trio of the month came to town this Summer. The concert was interesting, but the group needs more "seasoning. "They didn't really deliver on either the promise of the hype (this is the future of jazz!) or even on the promise of a very good workshop the pianist did earlier with a student combo. Too many elements were "worked out"/arranged to achieve the kind of spontaneity necessary for a truly interactive jazz performance. That said, the interaction between the pianist and the drummer was very good, but the bassist was "off by himself" much of the time. It felt like a duo + 1. The bassist was hearing the internal rhythms/subdivisions a little differently than the pianist & drummer. The latter two "swung" a little more, which may have been a cultural difference. In Example #1, TS and Chucho didn't swing together because Chucho and the rhythm section were swinging in 2/2 all night, while TS was stuck in 4/4. In Example #2, the pianist and drummer swung more in their 4/4 than the bassist did in 2/2, but here I believe something else was going on: the pianist & drummer were American while the bassist was from Jamaica. At work was the subtle difference between a familiarity with the eighth-note triplet subdivisions of jazz vs. the more even subdivisions of 2/2 reggae and other Afro-Caribbean musical styles. Of course, the REAL difference from playing in half-time is the immediate difference you will hear in your own playing when you shift to a half-time state of mind. The benefits are enormous! As Hal points out, "by switching to 2/2, one is 'in effect' changing a swing tempo to a ballad tempo, thereby avoiding the physical, emotional excitement of 4/4 time. 12 bar blues become 6 bar ballads, 32 bar tunes become16 bar ballads. Soloing is done in the same manner as double time 16th-note playing at a ballad tempo! You can't get excited playing a ballad." "When you "get it"-- when you hear it/when you play it--it is an epiphany! Hal Galper's FORWARD MOTION is full of such insights. It is THE most important book on jazz improvisation since George Russell's Lydian Chromatic Concept (and a heck of a lot easier to understand!). Don't just sit there! Order it, savor it, devour it! Hal Galper's FORWARD MOTION will change your life!