I was organizing some of my recent transcriptions (read: avoiding work on my woodwind piece) and as I was looking at my work here is what I saw:
- Sonny Rollins
- Stan Getz
- Hank Mobley
- John Coltrane
- Wes Montgomery
A respectable list, of course, but also they are all 50s-60s era solos. That time period is still considered to be the gilded age for the codification of the modern jazz lexicon, but when I compare what I have been listening to to who I am transcribing, a bit of a dichotomy appears, at least at first glance.
I am a big believer in studying Primary Sources. While I love David Liebman's playing, for instance, I have not yet transcribed one of his solos. It was ingrained in me pretty early in my development that "if you want to sound like "X", don't study "X" but study who "X" studied". This has served me very well in my development and, while I acknowledge that there are many schools of thought on this, this remains my modus operandi as well as the basis of my pedagogy.
This works for me because this is where my passion is. It took me a bit to get there. When I really began to get serious about this music, my sun rose and set on Branford Marsalis. I had all of his records, I begged my dad to take me to hear him whenever he came to Chicago, and I think I still have an old VHS tape of him on "Night Music" with Jools Holland and David Sanborn. As I followed his work I began to learn of his influences. I was already pretty familiar with Trane, Newk and Wayne. But through Branford, I got to Joe Henderson, Lester Young, Ornette Coleman, Lucky Thompson, Chu Berry and many more. I actually got to hang with him for a couple of hours once in Chicago, it's a funny story. I may share it sometime. Suffice it to say he was a very patient and generous cat to a very naive 15 year old. But what I took away from the experience was something along the lines of, "I play the way I do because I studied X, Y and Z."
This was deeply reinforced several years later at David Liebman's Saxophone Masterclass.
Lieb is big on transcription and he devotes a substantial amount to time during the week to it.
This way of learning is very time tested. I have heard accounts of authors copying out entire sections of Hemingway or Steinbeck. At the Picasso Museum in Paris, I saw some early sketchbooks in which he was clearly copying another's work. I have also seen it first hand. When I lived in the Chicago area, a favorite way to spend an afternoon was at The Art Institute of Chicago. A wonderful collection, and Chagall's America Windows ranks around #3 on my reasons to stay alive list. But as I would walk through the museum I would see student after student sitting before the masterworks copying...all disciplines transcribe!
The way I see it is that the Primary Sources are the tea leaves and the current scene is the hot water. You need both to make tea. I'm going to have some now...