Does anyone have suggestions for jazz music that is arranged for or can be played on the harp?
I would recommend listening to great jazz musicians and arrangers before delving into a lot of harp arrangements without knowing who does it well, who is doing pop, and who is doing it without really knowing the harp’s voice. There is a lot out there. And so many styles and types of jazz. Some of the big bands had harpists in them that did more than play glissandos. I got a Dorothy Ashby recording at long last, and while it had neat arrangements, her parts are not that clear, though stylish. You definitely need to develop a lot of technique to do it well. I heard a song from a Carol Robbins recording on the radio that had some good ideas in it and was well played. Watch out for pedal noise, and play rhythmically as well as melodically.
A good place to start is Verlene Shermer’s stuff.
She has several books out, three of arrangements and one of Music theory.
What I like about her approach is that she takes traditional music and arranges it with Jazz elements. Not only does she end up with some very nice and interesting arrangements of traditional tunes, but the juxtaposition of jazz elements in these tunes makes them stand out so you can really get a grasp of what she is doing. Then you can take what you pick out and apply it to other music.
But more importantly, get her book, Cool Chords and Groovy Rhythms. This book is for lever harp, but can be just as easily applied to pedal harp. It is basically a theory book that goes into how to use chord substitutions and rhythms in jazz arrangements. Since it is for lever harp it is kept very basic, but that is good if you are just starting out. It introduces the basic elements of jazz arranging as a very usable starting point.
Debora Henson-Conant has several other arrangements of her Jazz pieces. Notably Natalina and Nightingale. Two very nice pieces playable on lever harp.
But she also has a really good book called Introduction to Improvisation that comes with a CD of “Vamps” to practice with. This is a great book for learning the very basics of Jazz improvisation.
Of course if you want to get in to Jazz you should work on a good understanding of theory. Jazz is all about the theory. If you don’t know basic theory yet then definitely start there. Books like Edly’s Music Theory For Practical People, and The Complete Idiots Guide to Music Theory (and the two follow up “Idiots” books on Improvisations and Solos, and Music Composition) are great places to start getting your feet wet in the theory pool, assuming you are not already.
From there you should get the Bible of Jazz, Mark Levine’s Jazz Theory Book.
And if you don’t know how to play from a fake book yet then you should pick up any one of the numerous books that will show you how, including Sylvia Woods’ Music Theory and Arranging Techniques for the Folk Harp.
Getting a good chord book (one for piano would work well) is also a helpful reference.
A lot of Jazz is played from “Real Books”, which are basically fake books of Jazz standards, so if you want to really play Jazz then you need to be able to play from a fake or “real” book.
Jazz is all about improvising, so sticking to printed, complete arrangements isn’t really the way to go. Debora Henson-Conant calls her arrangements starting points to get you going, with the expectation that you will improvise over what she has provided. But complete improvising with nothing to go on but the melody and chord symbols is the mark of a true Jazz musician.
Playing Jazz has so many levels that you can really spend a lot of time working on the skill depending on how in to it you want to go. I hope some of my suggestions are useful to you.
Well, its a big subject, and I am getting ready for a big trip so this will probably be my last post for a few weeks.
It’s OK that you are not into Jazz… really ;^)
Improvisation is used in many kinds of music. The specifics of WHAT you do change from style to style, but the general concepts carry over. Playing from lead charts is a skill virtually any decent studio musician needs no matter what style of music they play. In fact, many studio musicians will walk in to the studio one day and lay a backing track for a country singer, the next one for a Rock singer, and the next week do some work on a pop song. All on music he or she never saw before that day, and all presented as lead sheets (fake book format).
There are two basic things you need to know about in order to improvise. Or at least well. You can “noodle” around easily enough playing around with just pentatonic scales in the key of the piece you are playing, but that gets boring fast for both the musician and the listener.
The two things necessary is an understanding of music theory, and an understanding of how to apply it in the right circumstances.
Now I don’t know how much music theory you know. If you have a decent grasp of theory then you are a step ahead of the game. But I have known conservatory trained musicians who can perform classical music wonderfully, but can’t explain what makes a major scale different from a minor scale, so I never take it for granted that an accomplished musician knows theory.
If you don’t then the first thing to do is to work on that. At the very least you need to understand the different scales and modes, intervals, and chords. Since the lead sheets don’t show you the notes in the cords, but simply give you the symbol, you need to be able to look at those chord symbols and understand how to form them on your instrument. With Jazz that can be tricky because of all the atypical chords used and the extensions.
Then you need to learn when to apply what. And that depends on the kind of music you are playing. Different styles of music use different conventions. That is why there are whole books on Jazz theory as opposed to classical theory. Because what you need to do to make Jazz sound like Jazz is some what specific. Same with blues and rock and pop.
Certain kinds of scales work well over certain kinds of chords. Certain intervals work well in certain situations depending on musical style. Learning what to do where is key. Then practicing until you don’t have to spend a lot of time thinking about it.
Once you get past these basics you can get in to things like experimenting with rhythm, chord substitutions, counter melodies and the like.
When it gets right down to it improvising is the same exact thing as composing. It is the same skills and requires the same knowledge base. The difference is that composing you can do at your own pace, sitting down, and taking your time to try out things. Improvising is composing on the fly as you play. Because of that improvisation often lacks the intricacy and detail of development that a fully composed piece of music can have, but when someone who knows what they are doing improvises it can have a wonderful breath of life and energy that can only come from seeing the creative process in action before your eyes.
I mentioned some books before. Two books specifically I would recommend for what you are asking about are:
How to Play From a Fake Book by Michael Esterowitz – This one gives you
I think one of the keys also, is establishing a mood. What does this song evoke in you, and what kind of mood would you want to play it in? That should indicate to you a type of figuration that can be constant, just changing notes to follow the harmony, and the hard part, of course, is a contrasting B section. It’s sort of proto-composing. If you arpeggiate the chords between the melody notes, you should be able to improvise on that for much of a song.
Listen to Dorothy Ashby. She set the standard for playing jazz harp.
She never won world acclaim and was primarily a gigging musician in
Detroit, but her talent is truly exceptional. I don’t believe there are
any arrangements, but it is always advisable to listen to the best.
Of course Park Stickney is an excellent source as well. I bought just
about all his CD’s as well as Dorothy’s. If you get a chance it is
worth attending his masterclasses, performances, and lessons.
Those are the two most hard-core jazz harpists that come to my mind.
There is a difference between pop-jazz and the hard core authentic
jazz. I also enjoy Alice Coltrane, but she was primarily a pianist, but
her music is very authentic.
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