Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sunday Video

Here is a link to a great link to an interview with saxophonist Walt Weiskopf. Walt is a great modern player whose ideas about hexatonics/triad pairs are very well known in the Jazz Education world.

Here's a video of Walt's sextet:

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Thoughts on book burnings

Please permit me a brief step away from discussions of Deep Structure and Improvisation. Many will have heard of Pastor Terry Jones' plan to stage a Quran burning in Florida on September 11th. I wonder how our Founding Fathers would feel about this. Below is a transcription of some correspondence between the Touro Synagogue in Newport RI. Among the oldest Synagogues in the United States.

We as a Nation would do well to reflect on these words:

The letter from Moses Seixas to President George Washington:

To the President of the United States of America.
Permit the children of the stock of Abraham to approach you with the most cordial affection and esteem for your person and merits — and to join with our fellow citizens in welcoming you to NewPort. With pleasure we reflect on those days — those days of difficulty, and danger, when the God of Israel, who delivered David from the peril of the sword, — shielded Your head in the day of battle: — and we rejoice to think, that the same Spirit, who rested in the Bosom of the greatly beloved Daniel enabling him to preside over the Provinces of the Babylonish Empire, rests and ever will rest, upon you, enabling you to discharge the arduous duties of Chief Magistrate in these States. Deprived as we heretofore have been of the invaluable rights of free Citizens, we now with a deep sense of gratitude to the Almighty disposer of all events behold a Government, erected by the Majesty of the People — a Government, which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance — but generously affording to all Liberty of conscience, and immunities of Citizenship: — deeming every one, of whatever Nation, tongue, or language equal parts of the great governmental Machine: — This so ample and extensive Federal Union whose basis is Philanthropy, Mutual confidence and Public Virtue, we cannot but acknowledge to be the work of the Great God, who ruleth in the Armies of Heaven, and among the Inhabitants of the Earth, doing whatever seemeth him good. For all these Blessings of civil and religious liberty which we enjoy under an equal benign administration, we desire to send up our thanks to the Ancient of Days, the great preserver of Men — beseeching him, that the Angel who conducted our forefathers through the wilderness into the promised Land, may graciously conduct you through all the difficulties and dangers of this mortal life: — And, when, like Joshua full of days and full of honour, you are gathered to your Fathers, may you be admitted into the Heavenly Paradise to partake of the water of life, and the tree of immortality.
Done and Signed by order of the Hebrew Congregation in NewPort, Rhode Island August 17th 1790.
Moses Seixas, Warden

The letter from George Washington in response to Moses Seixas:

To the Hebrew Congregation in Newport Rhode Island.
While I receive, with much satisfaction, your Address replete with expressions of affection and esteem; I rejoice in the opportunity of assuring you, that I shall always retain a grateful remembrance of the cordial welcome I experienced in my visit to Newport, from all classes of Citizens. The reflection on the days of difficulty and danger which are past is rendered the more sweet, from a consciousness that they are succeeded by days of uncommon prosperity and security. If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good Government, to become a great and happy people. The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent national gifts. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support. It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my Administration, and fervent wishes for my felicity. May the children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid. May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in his own due time and way everlastingly happy.
G. Washington

~ Emphasis mine...

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Sonny Rollins turns 80 today! Happy Birthday, Newk!!!!!

See NPR's story here.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Surface Structure vs. Deep Structure Part II

In my previous post, I spoke a bit about surface structure and deep structure, their linguistic implications, and how they may apply to improvisational pedagogy. In this post, I'll share some examples of how I use these techniques in my own playing and teaching.

Dave Liebman says "Learn from the fathers, not the sons" and this is a hallmark in my study. Transcription serves as the point of entry for all of my study and the transcription I do is of "Primary Sources" - more about that later. We'll start with a Warne Marsh ii7 V7 line I recently transcribed:

This line constitutes a "surface structure" statement. Many would use take this line through all keys and begin to use it over similar harmonic progressions, much the same way we would quote a line of Frost or Shakespeare. It would function very well, and give us very usable vocabulary. There is, however, much more that can be mined from this line. By using a series of transformations, in this case all based on traditional "theme and variations" technique, we can develop much more vocabulary that is original but shares the same "deep structure" as Warne's original line. Here are some examples:

We see that after some rather basic transformations, we have 5 new surface structure statements that all share the deep structure of the original line. Each of these lines can then be practiced through keys and used as vocabulary for improvisation.

Our next step is to return to the original line and really isolate the deep structure. What is the essential construction of this line? What makes it work? One solution follows:

This deep structure now becomes the basis for development of more original material through the process of transformation as discussed above. The next post will go through that process.

It is clear that approaching vocabulary development this way can result in a much deeper well of material than we would have by simply learning and using Warne's line. The beautiful thing is that all newly developed material has Warne's material as its deep structure. Because of this, most transformations will retain the strength and logic of the original line.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Surface Structure vs. Deep Structure

I have been going between two different approaches in my practicing lately. The first is a very traditional approach to learning to improvise: learning pieces of vocabulary (licks), taking them through all keys, and inserting them over appropriate harmonic situations in tunes. The other is an approach that I first came across in Jerry Bergonzi's great book "Melodic Structures" and have seen amplified by Ed Saindon. In this method, a small cell of notes is drawn from the chord scale in use, permutations are practiced and this becomes the raw material for improvisation. The cells are then rhythm-ized, "edited" and the player is left with harmonically and rhythmic sound language.

I have always had a hard time with the first approach. I never feel that I am really deeply connected to the vocabulary when I approach it this way. Using vocabulary that I have learned this way always feels forced.

The second method resonates more deeply with me. It made sense as soon as I started using it, and I feel MUCH more in control of my improvisation as well as more creative.

I have read bits about Noam Chomsky's ideas about linguistics, specifically the ideas of surface structure and deep structure and I feel that these two approaches mirror, in a very general way, Chomsky's model.

The first method is the surface structure; you are learning the sentence and using it verbatim. The second method is the deep structure; you are learning the building blocks of the sentence, understanding the linguistic transformations that take place, and using those rules to create your own sentence.

In my next post, I will post some examples of the two methods.