What Jazz Means

Jen P., Utah

I need to start jazz clues soon with a number of students. Help me understand what we mean by “jazz” and how it differs from the accompaniment things (playing all types of chords, variations) we’ve already been doing.

Laurie Richards, Nebraska

I believe Neil talks about perceptions of Jazz music in the TTMs for Jazz Clues. People have different ‘stories’ about what jazz music means to them.

Jazz Clues uses original songs by Neil in lead sheet format. Students learn different simple clues to play nice-sounding solo arrangements using the lead sheet, and also to ‘comp’, or play ensemble-style by learning different jazz chord voicings and rhythms. The style of music is more contemporary jazz. Really nice music. You can plan on this program unfolding over several years. It takes some time for most students to get confident with each step. It’s a really wonderful program.

Gordon Harvey, Australia

I agree with Laurie Richards’ summary. I think it’s worth drawing a few further distinctions. It uses the word Jazz, but that’s a very loaded term. In my view, its main connection with “jazz” is that the program focuses on more sophisticated chords, of the kind that are common in jazz music, more so than in pop. However, the pieces by Neil are not a lot like most music typically associated with jazz, and the approach we take to mastering the chords is very different to the way jazz is traditionally taught. If you or your students are intimidated or uninspired by things like Fly Me to the Moon or Autumn Leaves, fear not! Neil’s pieces are really lovely contemporary-sounding pieces that most people will enjoy. If they like pieces like Dark Blue or Sit By My Side, they can consider these pieces a development from there, presented in lead sheet form.

You can also apply the clues to traditional jazz pieces, but also to any other lead sheet. I think of it more as “Lead Sheet Arrangement and Comping Clues”, but that doesn’t quite have the same ring as “Jazz Clues” 😉

Comping in this situation is like accompaniment jazz-style, that is, playing the chords as backing for other musicians. In Jazz Clue 3, Neil has us play the chords in a different way to the way we play them in accompaniment. In a band setting, the pianist doesn’t usually need to play bass because you have a dedicated bass player. That allows you to use both hands to play the chord and gives you more choices with the inversions (or “voicings”) you can use, as well as playing extra notes. Then in Jazz Clue 4, we look at adding cool rhythms. The SHMs include a full band, minus piano, so you can comp ’til you drop.

Original discussion started May 4, 2019