Success! A whole 2 and a half focused hours today.
The short version:
15 Minutes Long Tones
15 Minutes lick
1 Hour Stella by Starlight
1 Hour Donna Lee
Still inspired by Jason Gay, I started off with long tones. After three days in a row of long tones, I already notice a different in my tone and intonation. On the first day, my lips were exhausted by the time I finished with all my practice and rehearsals. But now my endurance feels stronger.
After long tones I went through the lick my teacher sent me again in all 12 keys. I decided to try something which I believe turned out to be a shortcut. Instead of playing the lick at a medium-fast tempo, which I could do, I played it once very slowly. Then once with a technique as follows: I played the first two notes extremely fast, then paused. Played the next two notes extremely fast, paused. And so on. Then I switched it (paused after first note, played notes 2-3 extremely fast, paused, notes 4-5 extremely fast, paused, etc). I don’t know the name of this but it helps increase speed and helps me play more evenly.
After all that, I would play it at a proper tempo. Literally everything (speed, tone, even-ness) all improved rapidly in the span of about 30 seconds per key.
I had to stop after half an hour for rehearsal, but I did make it through all 12 keys.
Later, I did a solid hour on Stella. I read through an interesting slideshow on Jazzadvice.com about how to practice deeply, and I took some cues from that. I now plan to devote whole hours to tunes and concepts in order to obtain mastery. I am convinced that practicing just 30-45 minutes has significantly less impact on long-term memory and ingraining something well enough to use in improvisation.
So I began with the harmony, as usual. I played through all the chord tones in time starting on the lower range of my horn, then starting on the upper range.
I also used my new pattern of playing scalar passages in units of 9 8th notes, using the 9th note to land on a chord tone in the following measure. This has been great for improving my smooth voice leading, and when I do it slowly I can figure out how to connect tons of licks to chord tones in a single run.
So after playing through chord tones and voice leading exercises, I improvised. A lot. Sometimes I would take a chorus improvising freely, sometimes I would try to insert certain licks at certain progressions, sometimes I would try to sequence an idea as far as possible. In the past, I have basically let it go if I couldn’t do something I wanted, but now if I dropped the ball on a sequenced idea, I would actually stop and figure out how to continue it. Not sure how beneficial this is, but I suspect it will be worthwhile eventually.
I also found a great version of Dexter Gordon playing Stella at a very fast tempo. Most recordings are fairly slow, ballads, or just overly arranged to be very applicable to me at this point (like the Miles version). But Dexter did it bebop-esque which helped me understand how to play the changes in a standard way.
Before I did Donna Lee, I took another break. I got some coffee, drank just a little, and meditated for about 15 minutes. It was perfect because not only did the meditation refresh my mind but the caffeine kicked in right on time.
I realized that I hadn’t listened to much soloing on DL, so I listened to several available Bird solos on Youtube before starting. Then I went through the harmony and did the exact same prep that I did for Stella.
I was happy to hear the effect this has all had on my improvisation. I feel greater and greater command, a widening bag of tricks to use over all kinds of changes on this tune. And the more that becomes second nature, the more my swing locks in.
Normally my rhythmic variation comes in the form of slower rhythms on a fast tune like Donna Lee, but today some faster things crept in with ease. Definitely a good sign.
As a bonus, I was able to get a word with Hana Fujisaki on how she thinks about soloing over half-diminshed chords (mainly conceptualized as lochrian).