Date: Wed, 18 Nov 1998 01:40:23 -0600
From: Eddie Lewis <>
Subject: Jazz Improv Comments

I didn't really want to get into this thread because it's so close to my current "web site" project that I don't want to ruin it for anyone. But I think I can make my point in a way which will not only express my feelings on this subject but also give you a breif intro to the ideas behind my "Jazz Pedagogy Web Site".

First, let me say that this is a project that I've been working on since the mid 1980's. It has taken a long time but I finally have solid ideas and a proven approach to write about.

My approach is divided into four areas of study. They are:

1)  Listening
2)  Technique
3)  Idiomatic Expressions
4)  Application

I learned the hard way that focusing on only one of these four, or even two of them, you open yourself up to some very specific weaknesses. The first people who ever taught me jazz were of the "Just Play" school. The didn't believe in putting very much effort into scales, patterns or jazz lines. They were more into "feeling the moment and go with it." They were very big into the whole "hear it then play it".

The "Just Play" approach falls under the heading of number four, Application. What I learned from this approach is that, when you play a solo, don't think about scales, don't think about licks, don't think about patterns, think only about the music.

But as a method of jazz education, "Just Play" is an extremely weak approach. Without technique, you don't have the skills it takes to "Just Play". Without Idiomatic work, you won't sound like you're playing jazz. Without the listening, you won't have a clue about any of it.

So I moved on from there to doing mostly patterns, intervals and scales. Practicing these things helps give you the technique that it takes to "play what you hear". When I was doing these things, I worked primarily from the Coker "Patterns for Jazz". A guest clinician once told me, "If you can play everything in this book, then you can play enything in jazz".

Well, it gave me plenty of technique, but it took me about six years to finish the book. I was extremely unhappy when, after all those years of so much effort, my solos didn't sound "jazzy". I'm still a huge advocate of technical work, scales, arpeggios, intervals and stuff like that. These are the building blocks of music and you simply can't get away from them. But they are not, in and of themselves, an approach to jazz improvisation.

So far, I've described that doing only application is not good enough and that doing only technical studies is not good enough. Next I will also say that doing idiomatic stuff by itself is not enough. People who only practice ii-V-I's don't have the technique to truly improvise. They have difficulty making transitions from one phrase to the next and they find it even more difficult to improvise if the chord changes don't conform to what they've practiced.

Even something as simple as All the Things You Are becomes uncomfortable for them because the changes start on the vii instead of the ii. For a player of this type to play well over the changes for All the Things You Are, they almost have to practice vi-ii-V-I-IV licks. And then, to play Joy Spring, that player would have to practice I-iv-bVII-I licks. The list of different chord combinations is endless and there's no way anyone could cover them all.

But idiomatic work is extremely important because it gives our solos that jazzy sound. Without it, what we play simply isn't jazz....not in a traditional sense.......not in a sense which would get you on a real jazz gig.

So my entire point is that your work (if you follow my approach) should be ballanced between all four of those areas of study. In no way have I even come close to explaining HOW to work on application, HOW to work on technique, HOW to work on idiomatic stuff. I won't give that part of it away like this. If you're interested in what I've written so far, then visit my jazz site when it's done. It will have written, clickable (midi) examples and will cover most of the major points. This one site will give you years of stuff to work on. I expect it to be close to 200 printed pages long. This is why it has taken me so long to finish that site. This one project is bigger than any book I've ever written (I've written nine books now). So please be patient.

- --
Eddie "Tiger" Lewis
Houston, TX