|Lester young 'The Pres' . "Young employed a horizontal style and worked mainly with the melodic line using an airy alto-like, vibrato-free tone as he floated above the beat".|
NB: This post isn't that smart about improvisation theory... or about ashtanga either for that matter, rather it's an excuse to throw some Bird and Trane, Pres and Hawk into a post about practice, cobbled together when I should be in bed.
So I have this idea of two approaches to practice,
One, a vertical approach, going through the series, next pose next pose, physical challenge after physical challenge, dynamic, energetic, powerful practice... nice practice, there are arguments for it, practiced that way myself for a time.
The other, a horizontal practice, working within a series perhaps two, finding the spaces, lengthening the breath, lengthening the stay, exploring the hidden asana, exploring the possibilities of the breath.... kind of how I seek to practice now, tying to make sense of what Krishnamacharya was up to way back in Mysore in the 30's
Both are interesting approaches to practice, I like to think of them as being represented by Lester Young (horizontal ) and Coleman Hawkins (vertical).
Players who came afterwards would often follow one style or another but some would blend the two styles. Charlie Parker and Sonny Rollins come to mind. And Coltrane of course, vertical in his early work but one of the things he appreciated in playing with Miles was the possibilities of exploring a solo vertically or horizontally.
"After leaving Monk, I went back to another great musical artist, Miles. On returning, this time to stay until I formed my own group a few months ago, I found Miles in the midst of another stage of his musical development. There was one time in his past that he devoted to multi-chorded structures. He was interested in chords for their own sake. But now it seemed that he was moving in the opposite direction to the use of fewer and fewer chord changes in songs. He used tunes with free-flowing lines and chordal direction. This approach allowed the soloist the choice of playing chordally (vertically) or melodically (horizontally). In fact, due to the direct and free-flowing lines in this music, I found it easy to apply the harmonic ideas that I had. I could stack up chords - say, on a C7, I sometimes superimposed an Eb7, up to an F#7, down to an F. That way I could play three chords on one. But on the other hand, if I wanted to, I could play melodically, Miles' music gave me plenty of freedom. It's a beautiful approach". John Coltrane Downbeat 1960
And then of course there's modal...
And then of course there's modal...
On reflection being wrapped up with ideas of the breath shouldn't necessarily exclude a dynamic practice either, I'm reminded of the powerful, and exhausting, inversion routine in Vinyasa Krama ( that took me by surprise), the camel walk special subroutine too, advanced postures taken slowly, almost in slow motion....
So we have a choice perhaps, we can practice a vertical style of practice, constantly moving forward, the next posture, the next series or we can practice horizontally, settling for a series we have and seeking to deepen it ever further, finding our edge there, or we can work on a blend of the two, vertical/horizontal or horizontal/vertical. And it's up to us (and perhaps our teacher) each having it's merits.
You see where I'm going with this, several approaches to practice, all have their theories their arguments, their justifications, one approach is not necessarily better than another more, correct but just perhaps more suited to where we are right now in our practice. growing in our practice might mean switching from one approach to another or including elements of both, just as with a solo we'll know when it just feels right.
|Coleman Hawkins 'Hawk' - "...a mainly vertical improvisor"|
Here's Len Weinstock on the different styles and when Hawk met Pres
"It was also in 1933 that Hawkins encountered the first real threat to his monopoly of the tenor sax. Late in that year he played with Chu Berry and, during a December stand of the Henderson band in Kansas City, Hawkins got the shock of his life on meeting local players Lester Young, Ben Webster and Hershel Evans. Hawkins had a "cut session" with these early masters of the sax at dawn at a place called the Cherry Blossom Club. The entire musical community of KC showed up for this session! According to earwittness accounts by Mary Lou Williams and Jo Jones, Lester Young got the best of it. The Hawk had finally met a formidable rival"!
".Just before Hitler attacked Poland, Hawk returned to the United States in July 1939 to find that there were plenty of contenders to his tenor crown. There was not only Chu Berry, Don Byas, and Ben Webster, all of whom were plainly Hawkins followers but also one of his former musical adversaries from Kansas City, Lester Young, who had by now refined a whole new tenor style. Hawkins and Young were musical opposites. The Hawk was mainly a vertical improvisor who liked to run the chord changes. He used a full tone and rich vibrato as he played with strong on -the -beat intensity. Young employed a horizontal style and worked mainly with the melodic line using an airy alto-like, vibrato-free tone as he floated above the beat. The battle lines for tenor dominance were well defined".
from Coleman Hawkins, Father of the Tenor Sax - by Len Weinstock
And for anyone interested a very simple explanation of vertical, horizontal and vertical/horizontal improvising.
Here's another version
Looking for the lyrical
"The story goes that Lester Young found himself on a tour bus with a young gun saxophonist itching to show off his prodigious technique to the older master. Planting himself in front of the laconic Prez, the garrulous bebopper proceeds to blow every speed demon lick he knows in motor mouth fashion. On finishing his dash, the saxophonist looks to Young for approval, yet couches his neediness in bravado. What, he asks, did the jazz patriarch think of that display of goods? Not bad, Young answers, but can you tell me a story?
And there you have it. Like Lester, I too am hungry to hear a story told through an instrument. Not a checklist of technical achievements or a resume of ready-for-use phrases, but a well-told narrative that makes its point through melody, balance and economy, and then jumps on the fastest stagecoach out of Dodge" Steve Futterman.
but before Lester, here's my favourite Coleman Hawkins track
And perhaps my all time favourite Lester Young track, Our Love is here to Stay with Teddy Wilson,
Here's a classic video with the two of them along with Ben Webster and Billie Holiday
Hawk and and a certain Mr Charles Parker
And why not, Lester and Bird.
Moving on, here's Coltrane playing vertically on Giant steps
and a horizontal modal style on So What with Miles Davis