Pausing for Breath

Here’s another video. Apologies for writing less recently, but it’s that ho-ho-ho time of year and I’ve got other things on. Anyway, this video is a stone-cold classic.

Here’s Bud Powell in Copenhagen doing Anthropology (not, as a friend of mine who played with us the other week and cocked up the head described it – “An Apology”). There are some very interesting points to take away from this – click below for more thoughts…

First, the tempo isn’t really going to cause nosebleeds. As I’ve mentioned before, “fast” is an illusion and taking things down a notch and being in control actually sounds faster than belting your brains out and flamming off a load of… stuff. Flailing, insecure machismo ain’t so tough.

Second, he’s harmonically clear all the time. The second and fourth A sections in Rhythm changes resolve to the tonic, and you can hear it in Bud’s playing. This being jazz, they don’t have to resolve, but even more modern players often do and you should always be able to.

Third, listen to how he phrases. He plays a statement then pauses to let it sink in – then he develops it or embellishes it:

He’s phrasing as if he were a horn.
Pianists’ hands don’t need to breathe, but phrases still do. 

He plays, listens, stops, plays. Plays, listens, stops, plays. Of course, he has a hell of a lot of “homework in his hands”, but he’s still pausing, reacting to himself, making choices. He’s using phrases and the gaps between them to create musical structure. He doesn’t pause because he’s run out of things to do or doesn’t know what to do – he’s using silence as part of the music. He isn’t afraid to not play.

Taking all points together, it’s actually not too hard to transcribe this solo. The tempo is gettable and the phrases are so clear, harmonically accurate and memorable that you could pause and take them one at a time. I’m not saying you should learn them off-pat, but it could be very instructive – and bits of it will stick in your playing if you work on them for a while.

You’re not so much learning the solution to a puzzle, you’re using an example to learn how to solve a puzzle. In fact, the more of this stuff you do, the more the puzzle will become like a playground to you.

Don’t be afraid to “model” players. Do it in the right spirit. You’re never going to wind up sounding like them – even if you absolutely hammer yourself, the best(?) you’ll get is sounding like someone sounding like someone. Just learn, borrow and steal from the people you like. Not just the notes, that’s stage one – the phrasing, the attack, the dynamics, the feel and so forth. Just about everything, in fact, except the substance abuse.

PS If you want a bit of advice on taking the terror out of Rhythm changes, see if this helps.

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Posted in a) Soloing Scales & Modes, c) Musicianship
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We play every Wednesday night, 9 to 12.30, at Toulouse Lautrec in Kennington, South London. It starts as a gig then becomes a jam. We welcome and accommodate all, but please do have a squizz at Thoughts from the Piano Chair of a Jam Session.
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