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papa jo jones
Continuing with my Papa Jo series (last post), in today's post we are going to talk about one of the most fundamental elements of Papa Jo's style, repetition. Repetition is such a critical part of Papa Jo's style because it gives audiences something that they can recognize and hold on to. There is a great example of this at around 1:51 in the classic solo above where you can hear Papa Jo play a two bar phrase and then repeat it almost note for note. The following exercise from my forthcoming book "Melodic Syncopation" is designed to help you develop some tasteful repetition in your soloing.
Here is a great version of the song from the exercise featuring Candido playing with the Billy Taylor trio! Listen to how brilliantly Candido develops his solo using this idea of repetition. He almost never plays anything just once, and each time he repeats himself he adds layers of intensity and meaning. Also, there are some great melodic ideas in this solo, including quoting the melody of the Dizzy Gillespie classic "Mateca". Can you hear it?
I will try to post some video of me playing this exercise sometime in the near future so you can hear what it is supposed to sound like.
The Reign of Terror/Inspiration
I distinctly remember the first time I heard Kenny Washington playing uptempo brushes (the video above starting around :58). His playing absolutely terrified me. It was this same version of "In the Still of the Night" from the album "Written in the Stars" by the Bill Charlp Trio, I was an undergrad at the University of Michigan, and my first thought was, "This is physically impossible". For those of you who haven't tried to play these kinds of tempos with brushes and don't see what the big deal is, I encourage you to try playing anywhere close to this tempo for yourself.
Kenny Washington's Advice
I had the good fortune to get to hear and talk to Kenny at the Detroit Jazz Festival several years ago. He was again playing with Bill Charlap, and their set included some incredible tempos which Kenny played with brushes. After the show I asked him for advice about developing uptempo brush technique. I thought I would pass three of his pieces of advice on to you because I know lots of people struggle with this issue like I do.
1. Go to the source: Papa Jo
Kenny is a real Papa Jo aficionado, and he told me right of that the bat that his entire brush concept starts with Papa Jo. He recommended beginning by getting my hands on the Papa Jo Jones trio album "The Essential Jo Jones", and trying to get as close to his sound as possible. Here is another terrifying/inspiring example of uptempo brush mastery, this time from Papa Jo:
And here is a famous video where you can see Papa Jo's uptempo brush work (especially around 1:42):
2. Tightening and straightening out the left hand sweeping pattern
From carefully observing Kenny's playing at the festival, as well as from watching the video of clip of Papa Jo, the biggest single adjustment to my uptempo approach was tightening my left hand sweeping pattern so that it is almost just straight back and forth. Kenny plays this pattern straight up and down, and Papa Jo played it side to side, but the important thing is that both of them tighten the pattern. This tightening/straightening out of the left hand pattern correlates to what you are doing in your right hand when you go from a rounded triplet sound to a straight eighth feeling at really fast tempos.
The simple physical reality is that at these kinds of tempos, there is no time for elaborate circular sweeping patterns. That being said, notice how in both of these masters playing, you can't really hear any holes in the sweeping sound, only accents. That uninterrupted/accented sound comes from a carefully calibrated motion that allows the brush to change direction in as fluid a manner as possible.
3. No tricks!
Developing a fast brush spang-a-lang
Mastering this fast spang-a-lang with brushes can be really discouraging at first, and it is a big part of why I found the Bill Charlap recording so terrifying. The amount of practice you need to put in to develop the hand and finger control necessary to play the spang-a-lang fast with almost no bounce is intimidating to say the least.
I remember when I was finally able to play along with "In the Still of the Night" without breaking down after 8 measures. What a great feeling!