What should I listen to?

What should I listen to?

Check out Manhattan from George Russell’s 1958 New York, NY suite.  George is one of the greatest jazz composers and his New York suite is one of my favorite pieces of his. In the introduction John Hendricks raps his poem about New York.  At the end he says he wrote the shortest poem ever about jazz, “nuttin about huggin or kissin, one word…LISTEN!”

 That’s the answer.  Listen.  Listen to everything from every angle while you’re playing.  Same thing when you’re listening to recordings or in the audience of a live performance.  You need to train yourself to listen by listening.  Listen from the inside.  Don’t be a casual observer.  Listening demands active participation.

 Take a recording you like and get comfortable.  Listen to the bass part all the way through, then listen to the horn, then listen to the drums, then the piano.  When you listen to the drums zero in on the hi hat, then the ride cymbal, then the bass drum, then the snare.  Then listen to how the bass and drums are combining.  Does one sound ahead of the other?  Are they rushing or slowing down?  How does it FEEL to you?  Comfortable or uncomfortable.  If it feels comfortable or uncomfortable go through all the instruments and see where it feels the best or the worst.  Do the same thing when you are playing live. 

 There is a very good drummer who I sometimes play with and for a long time I had trouble hearing his 4’s.  When he played his 4 bar solos I would be counting and still have trouble coming in at the right place.  I shouldn’t say the right place, I should say I had trouble coming in together.  Saying the right place implies that one of us was wrong.  I started listening to his hands and then to his feet and realized his hands were ahead of his feet!  What an ear opener!  Then I listened to where I was counting and realized I was rushing my counting compared to his feet.  I tried to relax and listen to everything as a whole and hear his phrases.  Once I started to learn his phrasing tendencies the 4’s became much easier to hear.

© Robert Nieske 2015  email me at:    bobnieske@gmail.com