Jazz breakthrough #1: Stop with the matchy-matchy

Listening to: Chris Botti. My Funny Valentine.

Three things about Chris Botti: 1) He has over 2000 followers on Twitter but 0 tweets; 2) I heard him at the Blue Note and he was way, way beyond what I expected; 3) the Kenny G-ish stuff you hear him doing on PBS is nothing like what he does in jazz clubs. Seriously.

My friends who’ve been following my jazz frustrations have been pushing me to find a new teacher, one that doesn’t make me want to cry in my lessons. And this week, I almost did it. I almost sent a text that said, “I’m done.” But somewhere in me, I couldn’t let go of the belief that L (let’s call her that) has something to teach me. Stubborn, masochistic, crazy. I know. But I today, I returned for another lesson.

My assignment this past week was to pick out a tune with my right hand and find some chords that went with it in the bass. So I did that and gathered a pretty cool list of chords to go with my G-minor -ish tune. I had a couple of core themes, a few riffs to hold everything together. I practiced. I had something to show for my week. I was ready to face my teacher.

The good news is: I didn’t get beat up. L listened to what I’d put together and liked what I was doing with the bass. I tend to go for minor 6ths and 9ths, moving in 4ths. So I had something going there. The problem was the tune. Which I knew was kind of lame.

My first attempt at songwriting, a few weeks ago, sounded like a church hymn. All my phrases ended in key. Once L pointed out the problem, I broke that habit, and my new song was a little better, but it wasn’t my kind of jazz. It was Yanni at Red Rocks. The New Age stuff that plays in the background when you get a massage. So I asked L, “What am I doing wrong?” The answer? Starting, staying and ending in clean G-minor. How do I fix it? Don’t be so matchy-matchy. (My phrase, not L’s). I hate it with clothes, hate it with music. And the way to get some color, some surprise, a little “hm” is diminished chords. That was the first thing I learned. The second: Sing words to create the tune, so the sounds connect to something real, rather than being atmospheric, wallpaper.

So I have my great set of chords for the bass, my diminished chords to put some flavor to my sound, and an idea for another piece. We did “Scarf song” in the lesson. But I think this week, I’m going to work on “dog song.”

Hey, this is where it starts. Love, pain and heartbreak require way more chords than what I’ve got — today. I’ll get there.


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