Thanks, Starbucks

Woke up well-rested and with excellent coffee. My Starbucks-employed friend generously gave me a pound for free.


I began with long tones. This time I checked every pitch against a piano to make sure I was really in tune. That helped me finely adjust my intonation especially when playing both high and soft.


After that, I went through diminished scales at 180 BPM in 8th notes. I played them in thirds, and alternated between breath accents and tongue accents for a while before combining them.

One thing I’ve noticed from doing long tones is that it is easier to simply produce sound now. It actually frees up a surprising amount of mental and physical energy that allows me to focus more on other aspects of technique. My fingering has become smoother and faster as a result.


Later, I practiced Out of Nowhere again. To build a stronger fundamental grasp of the tune, I played through all the chord tones in time, then my 9-note exercise.


During both exercises I gave careful thought to smooth voice leading. I was able to think more contextually/melodically and use some passing tones more effectively rather than exclusively chord tones and pre-conceived licks. In the past I was dedicated mostly to playing things I knew, but lately I have been feeling stronger in fundamentals and more excited to start experimenting.


After playing the Stitt version of the head and improvising over several choruses, I repeated these exercises. At times I would pause over certain chords and take extra time to figure out patterns (like how to use blues here) and ways to approach and leave the chord.


Each time I did this, my improvisation felt stronger. I felt better about what I could do; I had more tools at my disposal. Sometimes I transcribed a bit of Stitt’s solo or even quoted his embellishments on the head.


Eventually I took a break, and then devoted the last hour to review. I began with my chord tone and 9 note exercise on Donna Lee. Then about 20 minutes of improvisation, sometimes playing free and sometimes trying to extend certain sequences and licks as long as possible.


Then I spent about 10 minutes practicing my teacher’s lick from last week in all 12 keys. Just as last time, I played it slowly once, then in fast two-note chunks, and then at a normal tempo in a normal manner.


And I spent the last 30 minutes becoming acquainted with a new tune, How High the Moon. Most of the time I went through the chord tones and my 9 note exercise. I didn’t even bother with the head yet. I took a couple choruses of improvisation to feel out the tune. Definitely laid a decent foundation for the next day.


Next week will feature an interview with another jazz pianist from Wisconsin.


Happy practicing!

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