[Dixielandjazz] melodic improvisation

Stephen G Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Wed Jun 16 21:09:30 PDT 2010

On Jun 16, 2010, at 10:06 PM, Ken Gates wrote: (polite snip)

> Reference to Steve Barbone's post about soloing and his preference for
> creating an entirely new melody.

>  But I do wonder what audience he (Steve) has
> encountered that appreciates what he is doing musically.  On the  
> other hand, I
> do believe that experienced serious non-musicians in the audience  
> can recognize
> when a creative solo that is a variation of a known melody has been  
> done well.
> For example, Artie Shaw's wonderful solo on "Stardust" where he  
> presents
> a restatement of the composed melody so beautifully.  Finding a nice  
> variation
> of the melody is what I strive for (occasionally succeed) and is  
> what I like to
> hear when performed well in the music I listen to.  That is what I  
> look for when
> attending a festival or listening to OKOM.

I think you nailed it Ken. In my experience, most audiences, whether  
aficionados or not  will more readily respond to a solo that  
references the original melody here and there. The reference is a way  
for folks to know where you are in the improv viz a viz that melody.  
It is a way for them to keep score.

I think also that a melodic improv with virtually no reference to the  
original melody is also appreciated by most audiences as long as it is  
logical in their ears, has some emotion in it and consists of what  
they think are the pretty notes.

Hawkin's Body and Soul is an example of this, circa 1939 or so, with  
virtually no reference to the original melody at all.  Just 8 measures  
or so in the very beginning to give us a hint of what the original  
tune was. Had it not be titled "Body & Soul", many would have never  
known that it was. It was a HUGE hit in the USA and still on every  
juke box into the 1950s. Those not familiar with the solo and why it  
was a landmark in jazz may hear it at:


And/or read a discussion about it at:


Note that others disagree with me that this is a "melodic"  
improvisation. Some think he was simply improvising vertically on the  
chord changes. On my part, I hear a logical and very beautiful two  
chorus melody with long melodic lines. Way ahead of its time in 1939  
though it may be viewed as old fashioned by some jazzers today.

Other examples are the many songs written over the exact same chord  
changes. Like those with Bill Bailey chord changes. In effect, after  
the first one is written, the rest are like melodic improvisations,  
no? Or go even further. A song is written out (composed)  but it is  
that not really the same thing as a melodic improvisation?

And how about various renditions of the 12 bar blues? They are almost  
all melodic improvisations.

I think that virtually all accomplished soloists are composers, except  
that they compose  in the here and now in front of us.

Bottom line is that in my experience, all different types of audiences  
will appreciate whatever it is the soloist is doing, complicated or  
simple, as long as the musician communicates properly. Whether that be  
musically, or via facial expression, gyrations, enthusiasm, grunts or  
whatever. But not every single person in any audience will understand  
what the muso is doing and some may actively dislike it because it is  
"too many notes", "too complicated", "no melody", "no heat", "too  
loud", etc., etc., etc. I think the musos who are secure in their own  
talent, secure in who they are and what they create, have great  
distain for those kinds of critics.

Steve Barbone

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