Today is characterised by moments of real enlightenment along with a growing realisation of the enormity of the journey I'm embarking on: to become a competent jazz pianist. As a reasonable pianist already (when playing in almost any other style) the challenge is that when I play jazz I'm still having to think too much when comping or improvising, making me often sound (and feel) like a rather poor player.
Of course there just isn't enough time during a performance to be thinking about scales or chord voicings. Pat Harbison's Theory session today was once again illuminating. He explained that all the thinking about scales, fingering and melodic patterns, and chord voicings needs to be part of the preparation before a performance. The big question for many of us remains: how to organise a practice session in order to get the greatest benefit and development.
Yesterday Pat recommended that we focus on a single scale for half an hour and showed us how he would practise simple patterns, starting with the entire scale in a single key. When he played the various 2, 3, 4, up to 7-note patterns, starting on successive degrees of the chosen scale he played "at a speed that made him feel relaxed and in control, with only rare mistakes occuring". When he played he started with no metronome, playing in quite free time for each breath's length. It was expressive, beautifully phrased, almost narrative and meditative.
In our combo session we are working on the song, 'Caravan' which begins with a C7b9 chord, against which I will be using the 5th mode of F harmonic minor to create my impro and chord voicings for this chord: C Db E F G Ab Bb. In a short practice session I tried Pat's approach and found I was able to internalise some of the terrain around this scale in this key quite rapidly. I can't wait to get home and put this into further practice.
Denys Baptiste, who leads our combo class, emphasises the importance of jamming with other musicians as the best way to put any theory into practice. In our combo sessions I'm still far from satisfied with my piano playing, though I can now comp in a useful, rhythmic way to support solos. I can already hear changes in scale types being used by the soloist which I can respond to in my own chord choices. Also our rhythm section is beginning to work together really nicely as we each begin to listen more carefully and are starting to sound like a band, rather than a collection of individuals.