Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine


The Jazz Diet

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We all know there are many diets for losing weight and maintaining good health. There’s the Atkins diet, the low-carb diet, the low-fat diet…the list goes on and on. The concept is clear: if you do certain things consistently, you’ll achieve a certain outcome. It’s in fact pretty motivating, which is why I’ve created a diet of my own—the Jazz Diet!

The Jazz Diet consists of three basic elements: practicing, playing, and listening. By being diligent and persistent in these three things, you have a good chance of becoming a very competent jazz musician with a strong base.

DAILY PRACTICE!! Practice makes perfect, right? Well, in a jazz musician’s case, no, because there’s no such thing as perfection in jazz. Jazz is like life—there is no script and it can be quite unpredictable. There are a few guidelines and parameters, but even those can be broken from time to time. In order for jazz to be this wonderful living organism, we must be free from the restrictions of our instruments. And we must be able to speak fluently the “jazz language” to other musicians. This means mastering every scale and arpeggio imaginable, along with learning the solos and language of the jazz masters. Emulating them will eventually lead you to your own free voice.

PLAY, PLAY, PLAY!! Now it’s time to apply what you’ve been practicing and get together with other musicians and jam. This is the only way you can become fluent in the jazz language. Each time you play, you learn something more about your own voice and how it fits with others. Also, you can try out your hot new licks. The more you force yourself to do this, the more these lines and phrases will become your own—to the point where you will not have to think about what you want to play.

LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN!! Listening rounds out our diet. Not the passive listening my mom does when she cooks dinner to Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. I’m talking about active listening, really paying attention to all the fine details that go into making a particular track great—things like form, bass lines, melody, harmony, groove, time signature, key signature, rhythms, solos, dynamics and song arrangement. By striving to understand each of these elements, we are fine-tuning our ears, learning new repertoire, learning new language, and getting the distinct sound of jazz in our ears. What we hear will eventually seep into our own playing and also allow us to notice more of what’s taking place within a band while performing.

There you have it—just three steps to greatness. Simple, right? Not by any stretch! But if you are consistent and persistent, you can develop real competence. As with any diet, you might want to consult your physician first…

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