“Crepe making/Giant Steps party” was the theme this afternoon, as I look for sneaky ways to bribe my daughter Camille into practicing. Ten minutes making crepes followed by ten minutes trading solos over John Coltrane‘s “Giant Steps“, with each of us alternating between walking bass lines on fiddle and soloing. Rinse and repeat.
As simple as it sounds, I can’t get over how much more fun it is to practice with someone else. It makes me want to practice, and no matter the disparity in abilities (within reason) I think just about anyone can really grow through this kind of purposeful jamming.
I’ve been practicing “Giant Steps” since I was 20. I’m 41, and just now feeling like I can get through the chord progression. Camille, at 16, almost has them down. It’s helped us both to have a jamming partner. Even if all you can do is play the root notes of the bass line through the form, this can be incredibly useful.
Where many drop the ball practicing jazz, in my opinion, is in neglecting to practice bass lines and accompaniment parts, i.e., playing a song as a member of the rhythm section, and thus internalizing it from every point of view. Jazz violinists, or any single line instrumentalists, tend to be more susceptible to this neglect. Ever since I made it a regular habit to play bass lines and comping parts through the entire form of any song, my confidence has increased as I begin to truly comprehend the songs I’m playing.
Eli Bishop and Mike Barnett (see videos below) each came up studying both fiddle styles (and some classical?). When they were about 16 they started getting serious about chord progressions in jazz tunes. In their early twenties, they’ve each developed quickly into world class jazz players. Eli and I sat down last year and jammed over “Scrapple from the Apple” (Charlie Parker’s invention based on the changes to Honeysuckle Rose). Mike and I had a late night “how far out can we take it” jam in Boston over the changes to the Bobby Hebb tune, “Sunny”.
Billy Contreras, who started playing jazz very early (see video at bottom), sets the bar quite high, with a seemingly limitless technical facility, harmonic comprehension, and melodic inventiveness.
If you’re studying jazz, I encourage you to invite someone over for crepes. Tell them to bring their instrument and a book of lead sheets.
Here’s one with the crepe meister: