An Auditory Approach
Jazz is deeply rooted in the auditory tradition of African music. The African approach of master/student relationship is one of observation and imitation. Music was taught by rote and the master insisted that the student imitated in a verbatim manner, the exact phrase with the same feeling and nuances of the performance. Generations of jazz musicians learned from their mentors by copying, imitating, and learning their vocabulary – very much like learning to speak a language. Many of the great masters were not thinking about the theory behind the improvised solos but instead relied heavily on the vocabulary they developed. The basic premise was that if it sounded good then the right note choices were performed. In general, we would never use a word we didn’t know the meaning of for fear of looking and sounding foolish to others. Jazz performance is very much the same; one must learn the vocabulary defined by the masters and innovators of this art form to create the authentic feeling of the music.
Jazz Rhythm Dialect
Getting comfortable with the rhythmic concept of swing is critical to developing an improvisation that swings. The late great jazz educator Alvin Batiste would always say “there are no wrong notes in jazz, just mispronunciation.” He was talking about developing a rhythmic and harmonic concept that would help you create the swing feel through a jazz rhythm dialect.
The pronunciation of the jazz language is acquired through the use of syllables that help create the natural rhythmic feel of swing. Jazz like all other music genres gets its momentum from the interpretation of its rhythm. Rhythm is fundamental to creating the feeling for swing. Developing a jazz dialect naturally creates a rhythmic understanding through feeling the pulse of the music. The conceptual approach of this jazz rhythm dialect is rooted in the feel of the rhythm of spoken syllables. This approach can help develop a natural feel to swing and help players understand the concept of swing.
Jazz improvisation is an important aspect of the genre. Jazz Improvisation is the process of spontaneously creating fresh melodies over the continuously repeating cycle of chord changes of a tune. Getting comfortable with the rhythmic concept of swing is critical to developing an improvisation that swings. The ability for performers to create musical phrases that agree with the harmonic structure of the chart is a challenging and gratifying experience. Developing a good sense of rhythm will help in developing melodic improvisation.