A couple of semesters ago, Fall 08 to be exact, I signed up for Jazz Ensemble I, which was the intro class where you would play Jazz music and learn whatever you could in the process. It was a great experience, because since I was used to playing pop/rock or making beats, being introduced to jazz was overwhelming at first. I thought I was pretty good at guitar solos until I took this class. I ‘m used to just following the scale that my ear picked up, and going with it.
I was taken aback though by these jazz guitar soloists, and when I was asked to solo, I was pretty much embarrassed. =]
For those who don’t know, Jazz for the most part follows this format (at least this is how it was in the class I took with the songs we played, and I only took 1 semester out of the 4 possible):
1. Head (the introduction, some kind of melody with the chord structure) once or twice
2. You go to each soloist where they would improvise their solo on top of the chord structure that was prototyped in the “head.” You may hear the chord structure quite a few times dependent on the soloist, but because each soloist will play the parts different (either because of the different instruments or just different playing style), the song is very dynamic even though the chords repeat.
3. Play the Head again with some kind of ending
A few reasons why it took me a bit to get used to playing jazz:
1. Although I know how to play all the majors, minors, 7’s (majors, minors, and dominants), I couldn’t think of how to play diminished and dminished 7 chords on the fly (though I knew what they were in theory).
2. I also didn’t know what a minor 7 flat 5 was until I took Music Theory I during the Fall 09 semester.
3. I had no idea that there were Blues scales, so there were many times I played where I was either sharp or flat on a note because I was following regular scales.
So every time we’d go around the room and it was my turn to play a guitar solo, I’d shake my head letting Professor Krikun know that I wanted him to skip me.
The last few times I played though I started to get the hang of it just by practice. My solos just became based on the chord rather than the scale. If the chord changed to an Eb minor then I would play in Eb minor, for example, rather than trying to guess what the overall key is and play to that.
I ended up shifting to bass almost halfway through the semester, and had a blast doing that. What made it even better was that I bought a bass specifically for it: The Epiphone Viola Bass.
The Epiphone Viola Bass is in the same shape as Paul McCartney’s Hofner bass. It’s hollow body, so it has a nice round tone to it that is usually absent from solid body basses. I’m a big Beatles fan, so playing a bass that had that look and feel to it was great.
At that point, I started really grasping the basic rhythmic points to a bossa, a 12-bar blues, and so on. I learned how to properly do a walking bassline. A walking bassline is a bassline that you hear in blues songs and other jazzy tracks where you can hear the bassline consistently throughout the song, giving it a nice little thump that keeps the rhythm moving every eighth note or so.
The only successful song I ever did a solo for in that class was a bass solo, and it was for a jazz rendition of Sam Cooke’s Summertime in D minor. The song’ll be forever embedded in me because it was the first time I felt like an actual jazz player playing that walking bassline then performing a cohesive solo that fit and sounded decent.
Now that the history lesson has been given, let’s bring it back to today for some relevance.
With Phase 3 completely done, it was time to, as Jay-Z and Swiss would put it, go “On to the Next One.”
I see Phases 1 to 3 as a trilogy, and I want to start Phase 4 with some new ideas. Plus, I started to find the track listing format that I followed for three albums to become limiting, so I felt it’s time to start with a clean slate. Maybe Phase 4 could even start a new trilogy.
So what I want to do, is somehow make a jazzy rap track, with the rhythm of that Summertime rendition. Even something like Ray Charles’s “Hit the Road Jack.” The basic points being that the drums are fast and the bassline walks.
The drums play in double time what most rap songs are at. Figure a good range for rap (NY style) would be somewhere between 80 and 100bpm give or take a few beats.
I did some experiments, and I found that the tempo for this particular project would sit well around 180bpm.
I did a quick a rendition in FLStudio of that version of Summertime, and using that as a template, I will morph it into something original with the same type of rhythm. I’ll post the results in the next few days. =]
This is just the beginning of course, so let’s see how far I can push the envelope before it breaks. I don’t want it to stray TOO far off; as I want to stay faithful to the hip-hop roots.
Stay tuned! And remember, March 1, 2010.. Phase 3 will be on iTunes!