As far back as I can remember, musicians I respect and admire have talked about “telling a story” in a solo. But what does that mean in musical terms?
While mentoring a wonderful group of young musicians at the Mission Jazz retreat, we talked a lot about the structure of storytelling (with the aim of applying it to improvisational soloing).
Along with exploring the hero’s journey and the elements of a three-act story, (and the South Park creators’ awesome advice about what keeps a story moving), we’re working to translate these concepts to musical examples.
As a demonstration of high-level storytelling in a jazz solo, we listened to “Jig-A-Jug”, from Joshua Redman’s Spirit of the Moment: Live at the Village Vanguard.
Before you listen, here are a couple storytelling devices you may not have learned about in the last pattern, theory or etude book you picked up:
The Rule of Three
The Rule of Three is a writing principle that suggests that things that come in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things…A series of three often creates a progression in which the tension is created, built up, and finally released.
Setup, Confrontation, Resolution
The three-act structure model is used in writing to break a narrative into three parts, often called the Setup, the Confrontation and the Resolution.
In an attempt to translate that 3-act arc to an exciting jazz solo, we came up with these elements:
- Act I: Control. The soloist begins with something that establishes confidence, focus, and engagement with the band and audience.
- Act II: Risk. Development of ideas and a willingness to go places musically that push the limits of the player’s comfort zone.
- Act III: Definitive destination. A plan for how and when the solo will end…cohesively.
With all that in mind, pay attention to each solo of this performance. Can you feel the three acts within each? Can you sense the connection with the audience?
written by Brian Blade
from: Spirit of the Moment: Live at the Village Vanguard (1995)
Joshua Redman – tenor saxophone
Peter Martin – piano
Chris Thomas – bass
Brian Blade – drums
So, what about you? Are you aware of story arc in your soloing? Try experimenting with these three elements and see what changes you notice a few weeks down the road.