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Steve Weiss Mallet Workshop


The bebop language for me devotes constant attention. I would like to bring up the topic and see what ideas, concepts each of us have.

MY current study has me re evaluating where i play my lines with in the changes and more over where they lie in the rhythmn. Where to place chord tones such as 5th 3rd and 7th? the use of leap and steps, neighboring tones, passing tones ect ..

what really stirred up my interest is that in studying a milt jackson i notice on a triplet line
1 an a 2 an 3 an a .. that milt places the chord tones on the " an" aka the 2nd note in the eighth note triplet, also the two great transcription of Joe Locke playing " but not for me and It could happen to me" enlightened me in to the deep of knowledge that Joe has attained and also studying Ed Saindon's book has given much insige to tension and release .. oh and also the gold mine of youtube videos from Barry Harris

lets discuss bebop and how we play it ...


tmackay Tue, 08/26/2014 - 01:16

i intended for this post to stir up some interest for all of us pros amateurs ect .. to share how we practice and hone or bebop language ... does anyone have a comment about this or would like to share there ideas of how they get thru tunes like groovin high, oleo .. ect

John Keene Sun, 09/07/2014 - 09:41

In reply to by tmackay

Hello, Thomas. First of all, congratulations are in order regarding the success you’ve had with the vibraphone in recent months and also your upcoming teaching gig in Hawaii.

Regarding bebop language, I have a real problem with the word “language.” Maybe I just don’t like to think of music styles as requiring a language, and maybe it’s because I view language as a two-dimensional attempt to convey a three-dimensional concept. Historically, I also find bebop to be “insider” music at the outset, so if it was a language then it was designed to keep certain people out instead of bringing them in.

I also think there is a tendency to over-intellectualize bebop; I just don’t think the original guys thought in terms of language but more of being spontaneously in the moment regardless of the language employed. Fortunately, one of the original guys is a member here, so I would defer to whatever Terry Gibbs has to say on the subject. But I never got the impression from his autobiography that he ever thought in terms of a specific language any more than Chuck Berry thought of rock and roll as employing a language.

I realize that I may be in the minority opinion, and Gary has written about improvisation as a conversation (which I agree with). But I don’t know that he thinks in terms of language when it comes to music.

David Friedman Mon, 09/08/2014 - 17:42

In reply to by John Keene

First of all, I'd like to address the comment that improvisation is a conversation. I'm not so sure about this because it's rare that two or more people have a conversation where everyone is speaking at the same time. Of course it happens when people get excited but it's generally considered impolite and the meaning gets muddled. I think of it more as simutaneous story telling with an ever attentive ear to the other story tellers. As in poetry, it's not always about literal meaning but also about length of words, emphasis and space; in other words, sound. One can "sculpt" one's "story" by listening to what's going on around him or her and reacting with change of emphasis, length and kinds of words and phrases.
I like to think of music as language and certain kinds of music having their own language. I'm not sure what you mean, John, by "a two dimensional attempt to convey a three dimensional concept".
Language can convey specific content in a literal way and in an abstract way, like poetry. It can also convey non-specific content in an abstract way, using the vocabulary of language,(words) as sound, like abstract poets do. Or it can convey totally subjective meaning in a kind of improvisatory way, i.e. stream of consciousness, a bit, perhaps, like William Bouroughs.
I feel very strongly that without understanding the jazz "language", based on the blues, blue notes,
the articulation of certain phrases, as in any foreign language, one will sound like a foreigner.
It's kind of like listening to Itzhak Perlman playing with the Modern Jazz Quartet; the notes are "kind of" right but the emphasis, phrasing and time concept is "foreign".

Years ago I gave a lecture about music as language and invited a chinese speaker. She demonstrated that when using the wrong "melody" or phrasing of certaing words they have a totally differnt meaning. Imagine a classical player reading a blues phrase using even eight notes and no accents or articulation. The meaning and emotional content of the phrase would be completely masked.

John Keene Tue, 09/09/2014 - 07:42

In reply to by David Friedman


Thanks for your insight on the subject. I value the opportunity to clarify some of the points presented.

Regarding conversation – I understand what you mean by collective storytelling. However, I view the jazz group as a roundtable discussion, and sometimes in front of an audience. In a roundtable, the tone is conversational but multiple people are interjecting ideas/comments in the moment. One person tends to hold the attention for a while (the soloist) as others chime in and the speaker (soloist) reacts spontaneously. Jazz tends to be non-verbal, so the concept of conversation is unique in that the other participants (rhythm section) are in motion all the time, but not in the forefront of the conversation; they just interject various comments along the way (accents, counterpoint). So it could wind up being impolite and a cacophony, but multiple people can converse simultaneously and manage to follow some basic rules of etiquette.

Now, I might be persuaded that “blues” is a language, and maybe that bebop is a dialect. Then we have a semantics issue splitting hairs between dialect and language when applied to something non-verbal. Thomas’s original statement was about bebop language, but then one would have to acknowledge Dixieland, swing, Ornette, fusion, jazztronica, as having their own languages, and I’m just uncomfortable with that since it tends to confuse the basic lexicon that we might agree is blues.

To clarify “two vs. three dimensions,” I think of language as the vehicle by which we convey information; that would be the two-dimensional transmitter-to-receiver exchange. The third dimension would be (in our case) the artistic dimension that everyone may interpret in their own manner. Comedy is a good example where the timing and delivery is the third dimension – Americans tend not to understand why the French just love Jerry Lewis; they just ‘get’ something that I don’t.

I’m not really disagreeing with anyone else as much as just stating how I view these things. So I'm not saying that I think I'm completely right on any of this. I try not to be guilty of over-intellectualizing certain aspects of jazz (grammar, syntax) to the point where the music ceases to swing. Sometimes I find it to be a fine line.

Tylerblanton Mon, 09/08/2014 - 10:02

In reply to by tmackay

I believe it is a language. There is a tradition of melodic and rhythmic vocabulary that I associate with that style. I like to think that the bebop language is present in everything I do in music, whether playing modern jazz, fusion, rock, composing, etc. It's not fair to reduce the bebop language to charlie parker catch phrases, it's more of a general approach to harmony and lines based on chromatic tension and release. The players I gravitate to tend to have some flavor of this in the way they play, no matter how far removed it may seem. I can tell immediately weather or not a player is steeped in that language. Not assigning any value judgement to playing or not playing from that space, make the music you wanna make...just saying that to me it's an identifiable musical dialect. Behn Gellice probably has a thing or two to say about this.