Charlie Hooks charliehooks@earthlink.net
Tue, 06 Aug 2002 14:48:13 -0500

on 8/6/02 1:19 PM, john Petters at jpettjazz@btinternet.com wrote:

> For many, I think, it
> is the Blues that eludes them. You need to understand Blues to play the
> older styles of jazz.

    You know, John, I think that's a very important point.  In April of 1942
I had just turned 13 and wanted to play jazz with the older guys who were
playing in the clubs.  We had just gotten into the war, and so many draft
age guys were leaving or already gone that it was indeed possible for a 13
year old to get hired in a Texas beer joint.

    Advice I got: learn to play the twelve bar blues.  Learn the chords so
you just hear them automatically, so you don't have to think where you are,
so you just know where you are without needing to think about it.  Simple
now, isn't it.  We all do that.  Naturally.

    Back then it was not natural at all: I remember blowing on the alto and
having my father count beats silently to see whether I ended where I
intended to end.  Knowing where the next chord would take me didn't happen
until I began playing piano; then I could hear it.

    I learned hundreds of tunes in the early forties, but learning to
IMPROVISE came from playing the blues.  There wasn't any melody--not
usually. You had to invent something. And it wasn't modes.  It wasn't
scales. It was Ideas. Ideas succeeding one another, connecting and
proceeding until, hopefully, a great chorus unfolded.  The blues talk to
you, and make you say something in return.  Modes don't do that.  Scales
don't do that.  You can play blistering showout-tempo modes and scales all
night long and not say one damn word!

    And then, there's the attitude.  "You can try hard/ Don't mean a thing/
Take it easy, greasy/ And your jive will swing..."  You need to lie back on
it (or, as my students all say, "lay" back on it) and let it happen.  Forced
swing doesn't swing.  All those riffs were a way of lying back on it, doing
reps until it got right.  Remember Basie's long intros?  Piano and rhythmn
play in front until it feels right, then dah--daht--dahh...and in comes the
band: explosion!

    I feel the difference especially when I'm reading familiar swing
arrangements with younger musicians--often highly competent players who just
can't make the music sound right.  Can't tell how much sense I'm making.