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David's Tip of the Day: Band Training, Part 8 - The Journey

David Barrett Admin's picture

Replace the word "Jazz" with "Blues" and this is pretty accurate to what the new blues musician experiences. I've provided the text and my notes for your review to go along with your watching of the video.

"Journey Into Jazz" by Gunther Schuller
Narrated by Leonard Bernstein (1962)

“This is the story of Peter Parker—a boy who learned about Jazz. When he was still quite small, Peter Parker had strong musical tastes. When his father sang, Peter moaned. And when his mother sang, Peter howled. By the time he was five, Peter had his own toy trumpet. At six, he was given a phonograph that was as small and sturdy as he. And at seven, a transistor radio was added to help satisfy Peter's huge hunger for music.

One day Peter taped a bold sign outside the door of his room, which said… MUSIC IS BEING MADE—DO NOT ENTER… the door was then closed. And from that day on, the sign appeared and remained in place from three to six every afternoon1. From behind the door Peter's parents could hear the trumpet, or the phonograph playing Prokofiev or the radio playing Rossini. And usually, all three at once. Of course, the trumpet was the loudest.

Soon Peter had a real trumpet and a real teacher whose tastes in music were as strong as Peter's. Peter's parents began to hear scales2. First simple scales that soared slowly and floated back down again, sometimes stumbling on the way. Then more and more difficult scales that climbed quickly and fell with dizzying speed and soaring arpeggios3. From exercises4, Peter went on to play real tunes5—tunes that sometimes sounded like a small stream in a great hurry, or sometimes like a deep and peaceful river, or an electric storm, or sometimes like nothing Peter's parents could imagine at all. Peter told them that these very advanced tunes were called 'modern music.' They nodded, but were not quite sure they understood.

Soon Peter and his teacher began to play duets. Gradually, it became difficult to tell Peter apart from his teacher, and by the time he was fourteen, Peter was a most accomplished and exceedingly proud trumpet player. There was no music printed6 that he couldn't read.

One summer afternoon, although the sign was on Peter's door and he was not disturbed, he couldn’t concentrate. Somewhere, in some other house nearby, a small jazz band was playing. And Leading all the other instruments was a tenor saxophone-player who sounded more daring and full of surprises than any musician Peter ever heard. Peter was curious—and he was disturbed. Peter took his trumpet, left his room, followed the sound, and discovered four young men in the garage of a house on the next block. Seeing his trumpet, the young musicians asked Peter to join them. Peter looked, and looked again, but nowhere could he see any printed music. He tried to join in with them, but something was terribly wrong. Peter could not find a place for himself7. Every time he tried, the music would simply sputter to a stop. He just didn't fit. 'Look,' the tenor sax man told him, 'you know your way around that horn all right, but you don't know jazz.

When you do, come back again. We'll be around8.'

Peter sadly trudged home. But he had been excited by the music he heard in that garage. So he began to listen to jazz records9, especially records which featured trumpet players, and soon he was having fun trying to play some of his classical pieces in jazz time. Peter also began to realize that each jazz trumpet player had his own way of playing. It was almost like people talking with growls, and slides and funny in-between notes. He also discovered the fun of different sounding mutes.

Finally Peter Parker felt ready. He ran to the garage in the house on the next block. But when he started to play with the other young musicians, there was still something terribly wrong. He just didn't fit. Whatever he tried, the result was the same. Peter's horn stuck out as if it were all alone. He still couldn’t find a place for himself. The others seemed to be having a conversation, but when he started to blow, it was like another language. He looked at his trumpet… nothing was wrong with it. And he looked at the other players, and they were shaking their heads. 'Look,' the tenor sax man told him. 'You know how to play jazz on the trumpet now, but you don't know how to play with people10.

When you do, come back again. We'll be around.'

Peter sadly trudged home. He thought and thought and finally realized that on all the records he had heard, he had been listening only to the trumpet player, and not to what the other musicians were doing. So Peter began to listen to his records in a new way. He learned about blending with other instruments11. He learned about improvising countermelodies12, tunes that fitted in with the solos other people were playing. You see, up to now, Peter had been playing along with his records on top of the music13; but now he tried to get inside the music14, until he felt as if he were part of the conversation. And little by little, he became a living part of every record he played.

Now once again, Peter felt ready, and he returned to the garage of the house on the next block. And this time, when he started to play with the other young jazz musicians he thought he fitted in perfectly. But after awhile, the other musicians stopped, and they stared at him mournfully. 'Look,' the tenor sax man said, 'you know everything except what to say in the music15. You and that trumpet make a fine machine, but jazz isn't a machine; jazz is how you feel. What do you feel?

When you know, come back again. We'll be around.'

Peter sadly trudged home. At first he was puzzled, but little by little he began to be angry. He ran home and looked fiercely at that sign on his door that said ‘MUSIC IS BEING MADE—DO NOT ENTER.' He rushed to his room, slammed the door, grabbed his trumpet, and began to play. The first notes were full or rage—raw and ugly16. But for some strange reason, playing those notes made Peter feel good. He looked at the trumpet, and he thought, 'These are my notes. This music is me.' And as the hours went by, the angry notes turned into triumphant notes17, then into happy notes18—and all kinds of notes, filling the room. 'And all of these notes are mine,' Peter said. 'These notes are how I feel.'

And that day Peter felt really ready, and he went back to the garage on the next block. And this time, when he started to play with the other jazz musicians, he knew right away that he belonged. They played together for a long time, full of the pleasure of just making music19. Now Peter was listening to the tenor sax man. Now he listened to the alto man—a whole other style. Peter thought, 'Hey, all this music is us! Jazz is PEOPLE!

Late that night Peter Parker returned home, he made a new sign and put it on his door. It said: MUSIC IS BEING MADE—COME ON IN!"

1. “three to six every afternoon” represents the average amount of daily practice time for the serious student of music. Dr. Anders Ericsson, expert in skills acquisition, states that it takes commonly ten thousand hours to reach a basic level of mastery.
2. “scales” represent where a music student’s study begins, preparing them for muscle memory on their instrument of the patterns needed for playing songs and the basic ear training required for tune recognition and ultimately creation.
3. “arpeggios” represent the next step in a musician’s development, chord knowledge, which ultimately leads to more melodic choices in improvisation.
4. “exercises” are scales and arpeggios put into action over the range of the instrument, preparing the player for the integration of technique with music soon.
5. “tunes” application of scales, arpeggios and exercises… now making music!
6. “music printed” is the common medium of directions for what to play with classically trained musicians.
7. “could not find a place for himself” due to the fact that his familiarity is with common modes (primarily Major and Minor). In the music you can hear Peter playing essentially the Major scale, while the jazz musicians are not.
8. “When you do, come back again. We'll be around” is a metaphor for the journey of musical discovery—the music will be there for the student to play once they’ve matured enough to approach it.
9. “listen to jazz records”, listening being the key element here.
10. “but you don't know how to play with people (he had been listening only to the trumpet player, and not to what the other musicians were doing)”… once a musician moves beyond their instrument, they’re ready to become musicians, not just operators of their machine.
11. “blending with other instruments”… a level beyond just playing notes.
12. “improvising countermelodies”... melodic development that uses knowledge of chords, chord scales and relation to the primary melody.
13. “on top of the music”… where most new improvisers spend their time.
14. “inside the music”… awareness of all levels within music .
15. “what to say in the music”… final level of musicianship—a personal voice.
16. “full or rage—raw and ugly”… use of dissonance for emotional purposes (outside tones… such as those used within the Blues Scale)
17. “triumphant notes”… understanding of the power of chord tones
18. “happy notes”… Major Pentatonic for example
19. “pleasure of just making music” practice makes possible… technique makes possible… the end result is the unconscious making of music.