Last year I posted an article helping vocal directors with this question… How do I help my student’s work on their improvisation when they sing?
The answer was simple. Listening and then mirroring: copying! Last year we discussed memorizing a vocal improvisation, specifically Sarah Vaughan’s All of Me. This year, I challenged my students with a step further. Instead of copying a vocalist’s improvisation, I had the vocalists memorize a saxophone improvisation solo. I played three examples of a solo on the tune “All the Things You Are.”
The first example was Stan Getz’s solo from the Essential Stan Getz Collection. We discussed Stan Getz’s tone and sound, the second, John Coltrane and the third, Chris Potter. We compared and contrasted what was alike in their sound and soloing, and also what was different.
Next, we took the assignment a step further. We memorized Stan Getz’s solo on “All The Things You Are.” At 1:03-2:00min on the track, I had students try and find words or sounds that would go with Stan Getz’s tone. I then had the students memorize the same solo and have each student sing along with Stan Getz’s solo.
Finally, I used my amazing resource, YouTube! I found the “karaoke” band in a box that played “All the Things You Are” at 130bpm, then 150, then 200bpm and heard the students sing back Stan Getz’s solo. Originally, the students did not think that they could memorize a 1 min solo, yet alone do it without his lead track, but by the end of the week, not only were students singing Getz’s solo by memory, they were doing it twice as fast. Once the students gained confidence in this, they began to venture away from Stan Getz’s solo to begin creating their own ideas, and then return back to the original solo.
Why is this important? It gives students a road map and something to start with. It also takes away the fear of having the student come up with ideas on his/her own. It’s very hard to pull ideas from a file folder if that file is empty!
I would love to hear what your students think after this experiment and if you have any input on what you experienced as a teacher! There is not one way to start teaching jazz improvisation but hopefully this will give you an idea on how to get started if you need one. Please email me and please share what has worked for you as a teacher too! I would love to column other ideas that teachers have found to ignite improvisation!
CAJ Vocal Jazz Representative