[Dixielandjazz] Linear vs. Vertical Solos - Classisc and Jazz - Art

Steve barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Fri Oct 15 23:38:51 PDT 2004

Jazz improvisation is a very tricky subject, and generalizations are

For example, many would say that bebop is vertical and so when they listen
to Bird, they hear gibberish.

Yet others, like me, have no trouble hearing melody in virtually everything
Bird plays. Basically he invents a new melody based upon the extensions of
the chord changes. A melody which has no basis in the pre existing melody.

Is that linear or vertical? I don't know and don't even try to generalize
about it. All I do know is that Bird's "Embraceable You" is melodic
improvisation. Or that Bird's "Confirmation", Dizzy's "Hot House", etc are
melodic improvisations. Same for my favorite jazzer (not a bebopper)
Thelonious Monk. Very melodic creator. Beautifully constructed melodic
solos. Compare "Evidence" to "Just You, Just Me" because they use the same
chords. Both are easily heard melodies, yet most listeners don't realize
that they are based on the exact same chord changes.

For OKOM, compare "Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone" with "Five Feet
Two". Same chord changes, different melodies.

The confusion comes about when we say "melodic improv" is based upon the
song's melody. No, not the case. Melodic improv is when the improviser
composes a "New (and different) Melody" for his solo, yet one which fits
with the chord changes. A solo that is based upon the original melody is

However, are not most improvisations based upon the chord changes? Heck,
that even includes avant garde or free jazz.

By the same token, the clarinet counterpoint in Dixieland seems to me to be
vertical. I would call it something like short interval chordal fill, unless
you are playing strict harmony from a chart. And I hear many Dixelanders
playing chordal improv solos rather than creating melodies through melodic
improvisation, or constructing a linear solo.

While others simply embellish the existing melody. Relatively few, to my
ears, are really "melodic improvisers".

Want to drive yourself crazy? Is Hawkins' "Body & Soul" vertical or linear
improvisation. I've seen it described both ways. Further crazy? Check out
Coltrane around 1958-1960 when he was just getting into scalular
improvisation. Do you hear a melody in the overall sounds, or just scales?
Or both? If it is vertical, then a definition of vertical must also include
scale improv.

How did Bechet improvise? He neither read, nor did he know, by name, what
the chord changes of most tunes were. But he could play the chords and he
taught me several songs by blowing the chord arpeggios for me so I was able
to work them out. However, all of his improvisation has a distinct melody as
I hear it.

Armstrong does the same thing, only with less complex harmonies. And
speaking of Armstrong, if you want to hear "classics" in a jazz piece,
listen to his solo on "Muskrat Ramble" from the "Ambassador Satch" Album. He
quotes Bizet (Carmen) et al extensively during that ride. I suspect he
worked it out in advance. But since he is re-playing what was already
written is it jazz (art) or not? Theoreticians, knock yourselves out. :-)

Personally, when bored by "The Saints", or performing it with known
classical musicians in the audience I quote several passages from
Prokofiev's (spelling?) "Peter and The Wolf". (did it earlier this evening)
Also quote "The Children's March" in minor tunes like Summertime or "Black &
Blue" in that scenario.

Much jazz, pop, etc., has roots in classical music. Want to really dig
Richard Rogers? Then listen to Brahms. Want to really dig Bix? Listen to
Debussy. Brubeck? Equal parts of Bartok and Milhaud. And so on. Even those
bebop "inventions" pre-exist, for the most part, in classical music.
That's why if you listen to dead jazz guys, you might consider listening to
dead classical guys in equal measure. :-) VBG.

Very tricky subject.  One thing for sure. In the broad sense, it is all
"Art", no matter how you play it. Why? Because the broad definition of "Art:
is simply: "That which is created by Man, (or Woman) as opposed to that
which occurs (naturally) in nature."

If we can accept that, as most dictionaries do, it sure solves a lot of
going around in circles, based upon differing personal opinions, about the
eternal and heretofore unanswerable question, "What is Art?"

Art is just about everything we humans create. From the "Art Of The Deal" to
the "Liberal Arts" to the "Art of War" to the "Art of Musical Farting."

Final thought quoting Keith Jarrett: "Jazz is the least teachable of all art
forms. "Maybe we should forget about trying to teach jazz in music schools.
After all, what school (except the school of hard knocks) ever taught Bix,
Bird, Louis, Bechet, Pres, Bean, Basie, Ellington, Trane, LaRocca, Keppard,
Oliver, Teagarden, Ory, and all those other GIANTS how to play jazz?

Even Bix and Bird who each often said they wanted to study classical music
at conservatories, did not want to learn jazz by doing so. They wanted to
learn more about the roots and complexity of music.

Perhaps the best way to learn jazz is on the job, learning from one or more
gigging mentors and keeping an open mind?

With that thought, how many of us seek out and help the kids these days?

Steve Barbone  

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