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How to Listen to Jazz



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hi guys so someone recently asked me how

should I listen to jazz and I thought

that was quite an interesting question

so I've made this video in response to

try and answer this question but first

let's answer the question why should I

listen to jazz so people listen to jazz

for many different reasons for enjoyment

to challenge themselves and push them

out of their comfort zone away from the

stuff they're used to listening to as a

learning experience to steal ideas and

incorporate them into your own playing

or for culture signaling so that you can

show people that you're a real

sophisticated cool cat and to be honest

I think most people listen to jazz for

some combination of all of those reasons

and probably others now when I listen to

jazz ultimately my goal is to figure out

what the soloist is doing and thinking

as he or she improvises so I've tried to

follow and understand the solar all the

way through now this can be very

intellectually satisfying but there are

still two opinions as to how to

appreciate art the first is that greater

understanding allows for greater

appreciation the idea that you can

appreciate Picasso's beautiful and

haunting painting Guernica if you know

something about cubism about modernism

about abstraction about symbolism about

the Spanish Civil War and about fascism

but the second opinion is that greater

understanding destroys the magical and

mystical aesthetic of art that the

cliche no one wants to see how the

sausage is made

applies to art now philosophers and

poets call this a feeling of the sublime

you lose that sort of or inspiring

quality of wow that was amazing how did

he do that I have no idea how anyone

could ever create something so mad

called and mystical and beautiful now

obviously I personally am of the first

opinion but if you are of the second

then it's probably worth stopping this

video now so how should you listen to

jazz well my first thought when asked

this question was in a quiet smoky and

dimly lit room with a glass of scotch

and while tapping your left foot two

beats two and four but more seriously

genres of music or art in general have

certain features or traits that are

prevalent in that genre right by

definition that's what makes the

collection of songs fall into a

particular genre the genre is defined by

similarities between the songs and

knowing these features or similarities

or common traits of jazz allows you to

better follow what's happening through

the performance and thus better

appreciate the creativity of the artists

and of the song itself but you really

need to listen this isn't just you know

casual background music listening you

really need to pay attention listen to

the song five or six times and really

try and figure out what the soloist is

doing and what they're thinking okay so

when listening to jazz here's my

personal list of what I listen for and

you should listen for and keep in mind

this is a subjective list and there's no

doubt other things you can listen for

but this is a good start

so firstly at a very high level listened

for that head solo head form standard or

traditional jazz performances start with

the melody there followed by a whole

bunch of improvisations and then they

finished with the melody again also

listen for tension and resolution right

all of jazz improvisation and all of

music in all of art and all of the world

and life really is all about tension and

resolution you create tension by playing

outside

[Music]

and then you resolve tension by playing

inside

especially by targeting a guide tone so

really listen to when soloists target

and emphasize and sit on a guide tone to

the 3rd or the 7th of a particular court

because this is done quite a lot in jazz

soul so really listen to that higher

level sort of where is the tension

building up where is the dissonance

building up and oh it's resolved now

here and then although we're building

our tension again and they've resolved

tension again that's really important

and important to pay attention to when

you're listening to jazz now at a lower

level you should pay attention to

firstly patterns jazz solos use a lot of

patterns they use a lot of repetition a

lot of sequences so repetition but from

a different note so a lot of motivic

development the soloist will often

create a little phrase and then use that

phrase as a motif and then sort of use

it again and again throughout his

improvisation but modifying it slightly

each time cycled patterns which is just

essentially a specific type of sequence

and a lot of call and response so you

could get the soloist or the the horn

player play a little line which is the

call and then you can get the rhythm

section respond well the soloist can do

a bit of call-and-response themselves by

sort of playing something in the lower

register and then a higher register and

so on so : response is really really

important in jazz as are all these

patterns so really listen for melodic

patterns in jazz similarly listen for

common scales and common licks so

diatonic scales are used to Lotso listen

for them and blues scales are used a lot

so listen for them and especially listen

for blues licks because depending on who

you're listening to they could be using

a lot like Oscar Peterson loves blues

licks uses a lot of them

next listen for the melody a soloist

will often use fragments of the melody

of the song in his or her improvisation

that's a really common technique and it

works well because again you referencing

the original material of the song also

listen for interactions between band

members again this call-and-response

between the soloist and the rhythm

section motivic transfer between

soloists very often when one soloist

finishes with a particular phrase the

next soloist will begin with that

particular phrase take it as a motif and

then carry it on from there in their own

solar also listen for the balance of

tension and resolution between the

rhythm section and the soloist

so whatever the soloist starts playing

really loud the rhythm section might

play soft when the soloist plays high

the rhythm section might play a war when

the soloist play is really busily and

really chromatically and very sort of

creating a lot of tension playing really

dissonant fast notes the rhythm section

might sort of pull back and play really

sparse chords or comping to allow more

room for the soloists to improvise and

to really listen to that conversation

between the band members listen to what

the soleus does and listen to the how

the rhythm section responds that's also

a really really important feature of

jazz and finally in terms of the harmony

listen four to five ones to five ones

are everywhere and especially listen for

base movements of a fifth

so the base is moving down an interval

of a perfect fifth each time that's

quite common but also listen to for

chromatically descending chords

[Music]

[Laughter]

right that type of stuff that's

incredibly common in jazz so listen for

movements of a fifth and chromatic

movements and try and pay attention to

the form really try and follow the form

as you go try and find the a sections

the B sections the C sections if there

are any listen to when the song you know

gets to the end and the a turnaround is

played and it goes back to the beginning

for the next soloist or just for another

go around for the same soloist and pay

attention to when the rhythm section

leaves the chord progression because

very often in more modern or

contemporary jazz they won't just stick

to the plain old chord progression

they'll just leave it and start playing

something completely unrelated and

different and eventually fall back into

the chord progression and melody sort of

towards the end of the song so really

pay attention to and try and follow the

form and so that really is a good start

if you if you can listen to all of those

you're doing really well but of course

hearing all of these elements pretty

confidently will obviously take a bit of

practice most jazz performances have

some combination of these elements but

it's important to know what your level

is if you've never listened to jazz

before don't dive straight into free

jazz you're not going to know what's

going on it's gonna sound terrible

you're gonna lose interest and you're

gonna stop you want to start with

something that you're comfortable with

and slowly build up to the more

adventurous stuff as you gain confidence

so if you're listening to a piece of

jazz music and you have no idea what's

going on then take a step back and pick

something simpler and conversely if you

can figure out or understand exactly

what a particular soloist on a

particular song is doing then that's too

easy for you pick something a little bit

more dissonant and challenging and

adventurous and sort of go up to the

next level now while it's impossible to

categorize every single artist into a

perfect little pigeonhole especially

because they generally evolve and change

over their careers the table up here in

the picture-in-picture will give you

just a very rough guide as to where to

start and where to move on to something

with some pretty smooth easy to listen

to danceable swing music or or cool jazz

all the way through to your your post

pop and free jazz and really dissonance

more you know complex stuff so I hope

that was a sufficient answer for anyone

who was interested in the question of

how to listen to jazz and that'll

probably keep you busy for a little

while but if you listen to those things

at least again as a start it'll really

help build your Jazz vocabulary and

it'll really help you sort of follow

what the soloist is doing and be more

comfortable with the genre and if you

really want a challenge and you really

want to take this sort of to the next

level then start transcribing solos it's

one of the best things you can do pick

an artist that you like listen to the

solo and transcribe it write it out in

sheet music learn to play us and then

it'll be sort of right there in front of

you before your eyes you can see exactly

what those they're playing what they're

doing and you can more or less figure

out what they were thinking what scale

they were thinking about or using what

techniques they were using whether using

cycled patterns or superimposition or

chromatic motions things like that and

writing it out and playing back yourself

is really sort of the next step cool so

that's it for me thanks for watching

guys and see you next time

you