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hag01 Offline OP
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Is jazz piano solo really improvised?
I’m not referring to the simple tutti & solo form, when you play some generic accompaniment on the left hand - basses and chord blocks, and improvising solo on the right hand.

I’m referring to complex piano solos which are much more than that.
Were Bill Evans, Michell Petrucciani and such, really entered the studio\stage without pre-arrange anything and without knowing what exactly they are wanted to do, and then fluently improvised all their complex ideas we can hear on their classic recordings?

Or maybe everything were pre-arranged after all?
To improvise such a complex stuff seems to me like coming up with something as complex and unique as the greatest pieces by Chopin, Mozart, Beethoven and such, just by improvising, without any deep thinking and designing behind, that takes time.

And I also suspect not only complex piano solos are pre-arranged in the Jazz genre, but also many other classics of the genre including ensemble recordings, and even some other one instrument solo recordings like Joe Pass’s guitar solo recordings for example, and if we are talking about ensemble works then John Coltrane’s Love Supreme, Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, and some classic recordings of Round Midnight by Thelonious Monk and his ensamble, are the firsts that jump into my mind…

It really depends on the complexity of the recordings. If it is very complex I suspect it was pre-arranged and not really improvised…

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hag01, The best answer for you would be to find another record of the same piece and compare.




Last edited by Nahum; 07/21/21 11:27 AM.
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hag01 Offline OP
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But endless unique arrangements can be done on standards like this.

By the way, no one argue that big bands tunes are pre-arranged, some none big band jazz set ups\performances are not less complex than most big band performances(including Piano Solo recordings, which is only one instrument), so...

Oh, and as I said in my first post, I can imagine that some recordings are improvised and some not.
For example, lets take your two example of All The This You Are performed by Keith Jarrett.
I suspect that the first performance actually is improvised, it has such a structure that I can believe it is improvised.
But, the second example, well, the odds that it is pre-arranged are higher IMO.

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Originally Posted by hag01
But, the second example, well, the odds that it is pre-arranged are higher IMO.
Jarrett did not prepare solos, he was originally proficient in a variety of textures.

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hag01 Offline OP
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OK I understand.

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Originally Posted by hag01
OK I understand.
I would say more than that: Chopin improvised in real time some of the famous pieces, and then for months tried to write down as accurately as possible in the scores. Bach improvised with notes on paper during lessons with students.

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There are lot's of recordings (many Blue Notes) where re-issues will include alternate takes at the same session. You can listen and make your own judgments, but what I always hear (and I've listened to a lot) is that the heads are arranged but the solos are fully improvised.

I've also known quite a few pro jazz musicians (as teachers in lessons, clinics, camps, etc.) and I've never heard a single one talk about preparing a solo.

In short, I'm sure some jazz musicians have prepared solos, but my understanding is that it's the exception not the rule.

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Jazz piano solos are really improvised. “done or made using whatever is available; makeshift.“


Harry Likas was the Technical Editor of Mark Levine's The Jazz Theory Book and helped develop The Jazz Piano Book. Studied with Mark Levine 1985-89 and Barry Harris 1995-99
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I knew some free jazz types and asked them, in confidence, if the music really was 100% improvised, 100% of the time. They said yes, with a caveat. Sometimes, someone would start with or occasionally wander into a familiar motif for a brief period of time, then the musicians would branch from there. The intention was to improvise/play as one entity, not separate musicians, and some nights were better than others.

These guys were extremely talented, had improvised together for decades, and didn't play "normal" jazz together. So this is probably not representative of typical musicians.

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Hi

I've mentioned this before in previous threads. I remember hearing or seeing Dave Brubeck interviewed many years ago and he said something like "How much is improvised when you've played the same chord sequence a 1000 times".

I suppose the answer is, it depends how talented you are. For me it means not much (of either), but I think the great Jazz musicians can still be original when they are playing "What is this thing called love" for the umpteenth time.

Keith Jarrett's solo concerts are probably the finest example of an improvising musician I know. He walked to the Piano with no idea in his mind at all and everything was completely spontaneous. Sometimes when he would get stuck on a one note rhythm riff this could grate a bit, but at other times his level of creativity was incredible.

Solo Piano is of course different from a Jazz trio. Oscar Peterson said that when playing in a trio he came to a sort of agreement with the other 2 guys about the arrangement (form/harmony) etc. Otherwise, as he put it, all you got was dishevelment! I have many recordings of Oscar playing the same tune and they vary substantially, particularly the solos.

A great story Oscar told when interviewed by Andre Previn was when he was appearing on a TV show with one of his great Trios. The producer asked them to play their tune. So they did a full take (8mins or something like that). Then he asked them to play it again for the sound guy, and then again and again.... Oscar said by the time they had finished doing all the takes he told the producer he didn't want to play the tune on the show. He was starting to hear phrases and things and thinking "I might just play that tonight". And as he put it that's cheating, and you'll probably play the phrase badly anyway as it'll no longer be a spontaneous improv.

So to finally answer the OP's original question. Yes I think they are, but I suspect that as talent diminishes and the form being played gets simpler and shorter the less it probably happens.

Cheers


Simon

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Originally Posted by Simon_b
.

He was starting to hear phrases and things and thinking "I might just play that tonight". And as he put it that's cheating, and you'll probably play the phrase badly anyway as it'll no longer be a spontaneous improv.

So to finally answer the OP's original question. Yes I think they are, but I suspect that as talent diminishes and the form being played gets simpler and shorter the less it probably happens.

Cheers
It is necessary to highlight the process of becoming improvisation - spontaneous or "prepared". In every improvisation, there are three most important points: the transition from the topic to the first phrase of the improvisation, the climax and the transition back to the topic. They represent a movement towards a goal, which inevitably requires more prepared organization than the spaces between them. Repeated improvisation creates not only memorization of the same phrases, but also the formation of a concept, which is much more important. Phrases are memorized at a conscious level, a concept at an unconscious level. However, listening to Bill Evans' improvisation "You Must Believe in Spring" in the instrumental version and the version of the duet with Tony Benett (both recorded in 1977), the common concept is clearly felt, although the phrases are different.

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Hi

And just add a point for the OP, to what Nahum was saying in an earlier reply. It's not just Chopin that improvised, Beethoven and Mozart were both known as great improvisers. Obviously they weren't playing Jazz, but they were quite capable of improvising in their own idiom.

There is a famous story about Daniel Steibert who challenged Beethoven to a Piano duel. Since it's a bit off thread I won't repeat it here, but you can read about it on-line. Suffice to say it didn't go well for him!

Cheers


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I certainly don't claim to be any kind of expert on this question, but I think the answer depends on the particular pianist. Having listened to quite a lot of Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett, for example, I think many of their improvisations on a particular song are quite similar to other performances. Not exactly the same, of course. I think I read that Art Tatum's improvisations were largely worked out ahead of time but again not in every detail.

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pianoloverus: I see this suggestion a lot on internet sites, that certain jazz performers' solos are partially or wholly worked out, but I've not seen links to recordings demonstrating this. If you've got some performances, particularly of Bill Evans, that show this, it would really interesting to listen to.

You might enjoy listening to Portraits in Jazz (Keepnews Collection). It's available on Spotify. There are 5 versions of Blue in Green played by Evans. While he always sounds like Evans, and it's the same tune, to my ears there is no evidence that anything other than the head was worked out in advance. Each solo is different.

Perhaps the difference of opinion is based on what is "similar." The chords in a tune don't change, and all musicians have certain go to phrases they use in certain spots, but that doesn't mean anything is worked out in advance.

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Coltrane recorded several versions of “Giant Steps” and his solo on each recording is remarkably similar with some sections being identical. Why? Because he used similar devices each time (obviously practiced):
His favorite 1235 motif (variations 5321, 5679)
Arpeggio
Scale outline
Simple, very short melodic phrases.

Numerous tuners and roadies have reported that they heard Jarrett playing the same themes during his sound check that were supposedly invented spontaneously during the actual show.

Chick Corea commented on how is improvisation achieved and said “you play what you know.”


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Originally Posted by jjo
Perhaps the difference of opinion is based on what is "similar." The chords in a tune don't change, and all musicians have certain go to phrases they use in certain spots, but that doesn't mean anything is worked out in advance.
To me this is more than enough to make the performances similar. The reharmonizations a pianist chooses are a major part of the performance IMO.

These two Bill Evans' performances sound remarkably similar to me:


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Originally Posted by jjo
pianoloverus: I see this suggestion a lot on internet sites, that certain jazz performers' solos are partially or wholly worked out, but I've not seen links to recordings demonstrating this. If you've got some performances, particularly of Bill Evans, that show this, it would really interesting to listen to.

You might enjoy listening to Portraits in Jazz (Keepnews Collection). It's available on Spotify. There are 5 versions of Blue in Green played by Evans. While he always sounds like Evans, and it's the same tune, to my ears there is no evidence that anything other than the head was worked out in advance. Each solo is different.

Perhaps the difference of opinion is based on what is "similar." The chords in a tune don't change, and all musicians have certain go to phrases they use in certain spots, but that doesn't mean anything is worked out in advance.

I'm not surprised about Evans playing five different versions of the same standard.
While I can't really tell whether those versions were prearranged or not, I am completely sure it is not proofing at all that those 5 version weren't prearranged.

While I am not familiar with the tube Blue Green, I can tell that the most classic jazz standards are capable to be performed and arranged in endless different versions, that's why they became standards.

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hag01,

I think Nahum’s post was adequate evidence to show that jazz musicians do improvise. I’ve never even heard it seriously disputed. The burden of proof to substantiate your outsider suspicions that they play arrangements rather than improvise, that an entire art form is somehow based on a lie, is upon you, especially when it challenges a perceived status quo. I find your line of inquiry a bit disrespectful to jazz artists.


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RinTin, Lets not make of it a debate, this is just a discussion.
I'm not claiming anything in certainty and not trying to proof anything.

I'm trying to understand what happens, and as you can see there are some evidence that jazz musicians do perform at some level of prearranging, even if not completely arranged.

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Originally Posted by RinTin
Chick Corea commented on how is improvisation achieved and said “you play what you know.”


Can you refer us to the source of this quotation?
This is interesting...

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