The Amazing Disappearing Jazz Student

Some guy in Amsterdam who practises this way.

Some metal guy in Amsterdam who practises this way.

A Suggestion for Practice

It won’t come as news if I say that the best way to really get your jazz chops together is to transcribe. Nor would you be surprised to hear that playing along with the original recordings is also a good idea.

But some of the most powerful practising I’ve ever done involves going a stage further. Playing along to the recording and progressively working on matching my playing to it so exactly that I effectively disappear into it.

The goal is to get a solo down so precisely that someone walking past the room would just think “hey someone’s playing a CD of the Red Garland Trio” (or whoever). Or perhaps someone with cuter ears might think “hey that’s the Red Garland Trio, but the piano’s mixed louder than I’m used to hearing…”


Ellington’s famous advice is often only half-understood. There’s nuance in every microsecond of a good jazz solo. And the detail is where the magic is.

Spending some time doing this is real power practising – you’re actually absorbing loads of different things at once.

Timing, phrasing, swing, tone, dynamics.

You’re copying of course, but you’re also absorbing a deep understanding of the solo in the context of the changes, interaction with the rest of the band and so on. Pretend the choices being made are yours. It’ll also give you more confidence for when you have to make the choices.

A lot of earlier pianists learned from piano rolls.

A lot of earlier pianists learned from copying the keys on player pianos.

In a strange little way, you wind up rather putting yourself in their moment in that studio long ago, somehow becoming them. You’re not just getting their notes, you’re somehow getting them.

Working on any music in this kind of way lets you get into more and more detail the deeper you go. It’s like a fractal.

I’m not really a fan of NLP, but this is an intense version of a useful idea they employ, which is sometimes referred to as modelling.

So there you go. Dig out a solo you really admire – has to be a favourite, because you’ll be spending a lot of time with it – hours over days. Saturate yourself in it. The deeper you get into it, the more you’ll get out of it.

And… Let’s Get Lost…

See also:

Have You Listened to the Recordings?
My First Jazz Teachers

Tagged with: , ,
Posted in a) Soloing Scales & Modes, c) Musicianship, h) Transcriptions
4 comments on “The Amazing Disappearing Jazz Student
  1. Adam Cole says:

    I never had the nerve or patience to do this. I think I ought to. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Jason says:

      It can actually be rather fun – a cross between role playing and meditation.
      Treat it as a game. Turn the lights low and imagine Trane handing off to you and Rudy the other side of the window…
      You need understanding housemates though. I once pretended to be Herbie for a week, four hours a day, going over and over the same three minutes. Girlfriend nearly left me…

  2. Pete Cook says:

    Bang on!

    This is the way we learnt to talk as infants and it’s therefore the most natural (and super-efficient) way of learning. Sadly our education system with its right/wrong mindset tends to knock this out of us early in our schooling.

    • Jason says:

      …and all must have prizes, right?
      Well done little jazz chap, you played all the right scales on that blues – have a silver star. But tell me this – have you ever actually fucking listened to a blues?

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Books for Sale
...appetising young books for sale... Pents book is recommended reading on Gary Burton's Berklee course.

This blog will always be free. But if you've found it particularly useful please consider making a small donation

%d bloggers like this: