For you jazz guys...

jcdrum14

Member
I've recently started my own jazz trio with a sax player and a bassist, and I was wondering if some of you professional jazz musicians can elaborate on your writing process for original songs, or how you go about arranging your own versions of things.

Do you just jam or start with an idea and just build upon it?

Thanks,
Joe
 

Clayton_C

Senior Member
In terms of arranging, be bold. You could obviously just go with the typical Head, Solos, Head "form," but my combo has received a lot of credit for the interesting arrangements we do. It's hard to do in a trio, but you can do a lot by limiting certain sections to a certain portion of the combo. You can also write cool riffs/licks to insert during, say, a drum solo or bass solo. There is a lot of showmanship to be had with small group jazz, because it's not as difficult to stick together as in, say, a big band or a 9-piece group.

As for writing songs, start with a modal approach. Learn II-V-I chord changes and the modes of a scale (for a C scale, the ionian scale would begin/end on C, the dorian on D, phrygian would be E, lydian F, mixolydian G, aeolian A, lochrian B and then you're back at C an octave above). Most of the jazz that works in a trio is based off modal chords (which are essentially just changes that are based around a single key signature, allowing soloists greater melodic freedom during improv sections), for example, the entire album, "Kind of Blue," by Miles Davis is modal jazz.

You can do some Wikipedia searches and get most of the info necessary to start experimenting with this stuff... or you could just ask your pianist, they'll probably be able to explain it all much more efficiently than I just did.
 

KCDrummer

Silver Member
In terms of arranging, be bold. You could obviously just go with the typical Head, Solos, Head "form," but my combo has received a lot of credit for the interesting arrangements we do. It's hard to do in a trio, but you can do a lot by limiting certain sections to a certain portion of the combo. You can also write cool riffs/licks to insert during, say, a drum solo or bass solo. There is a lot of showmanship to be had with small group jazz, because it's not as difficult to stick together as in, say, a big band or a 9-piece group.

As for writing songs, start with a modal approach. Learn II-V-I chord changes and the modes of a scale (for a C scale, the ionian scale would begin/end on C, the dorian on D, phrygian would be E, lydian F, mixolydian G, aeolian A, lochrian B and then you're back at C an octave above). Most of the jazz that works in a trio is based off modal chords (which are essentially just changes that are based around a single key signature, allowing soloists greater melodic freedom during improv sections), for example, the entire album, "Kind of Blue," by Miles Davis is modal jazz.

You can do some Wikipedia searches and get most of the info necessary to start experimenting with this stuff... or you could just ask your pianist, they'll probably be able to explain it all much more efficiently than I just did.
I don't think it has to be this complex. You can do your own versions of existing tunes by just tweaking one or two aspects. For example, you can keep the harmony and melody the same, but change the groove (like play "Freddy Freeloader" as a Bossa instead of a swing). The band Liquid Soul does a killin' funky backbeat groove on "All Blues".

You could keep the groove the same and write new changes under the melody. I especially like doing this with jazz arrangements of pop/rock tunes. I've done some arrangements for a singer I play with (check out the "Your Playing" section, there's a link to her myspace with a couple of my arrangements).

You could also mess with time signatures, which usually requires alterations in the rhythm and pace of the melody. I did an arrangement of Monk's "Well You Needn't" that had the A sections in 4/4 the bridge in 3/4. My point is that you don't need to do a complete overhaul of a tune to put your stamp on it. I think what makes this type of arrangement work is retaining aspects of the tune that make it cool and familiar while adding a few of your own ideas that put a new spin on it.

As for writing original stuff, I like starting out with one aspect of the tune and building around it. You could start by writing a set of changes you like and then figuring out a melody to go over them. I've done the opposite with some tunes, write a melody then fill in the changes under it. I enjoy writing contrafacts, which is an original melody over existing changes (i.e. take the changes from a tune you like and write a melody of your own that fits over the changes).

If you want to go a slightly funkier route, you can start with a drum and/or bass groove and build from there.

Clayton is right that the trio is fertile ground for adding some intricate and subtle aspects to your arrangements and there are a lot of ways you can approach it, it's just a matter of which works best for you and what your most comfortable with. If you're not that proficient in jazz harmony, start by messing with the non-harmonic/melodic aspects of tunes and see what you can do with the rhythmic and stylistic aspects to make it your own. I think the key, especially at first, is to not over-do it. Don't try to deconstruct a tune and rebuild every part of it, focus on one component at a time. Like I said, with a lot of tunes, just making little changes to one or two aspects is enough to give a tune a complete makeover.
 

jcdrum14

Member
Wow, that's alot of information to digest. Taking different music theory classes in school has helped me so much. My band already started on our own arrangement of "Chameleon" by Herbie Hancock and, your right Clayton, it is so much easier to stick together in a small combo. We have tried writing some rhythmic cues out and it has been fairly easy to hit them with each other.

KC Drummer, I like your idea of adding time signature changes throughout the tune, the really seems like a good idea to make something your "own". We might try that and see how things go from there.

When I get a recording device for my birthday I will try and upload some songs for critique although I am not that good with computers..Anyone else have any neat suggestions? I would like to keep this thread going.
 
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