When I say there's a little trick to not getting lost when someone is soloing, I mean it:
Keep the melody in your head.
This means that instead of keeping your place by counting during a solo, you sing the tune in your head during a solo. In fact, the best way to keep your place and play a great solo is by keeping the melody in your head.
If you have a drummer who likes to be tricky during his solo, sometimes counting isn't enough. Sometimes he'll do something that will make you think the 1 is in a different place, and unless you're super solid with your foot tap, you might think, "Hmmm, maybe I got off, sounds like the drummer is laying it down for me."
Then before you know it, he comes out of his solo and the time isn't where you thought it was. Ever have this happen to you? I remember times it happened to me.
Why does keeping the melody in your head work?
If you base your place in the music off something tangible like the melody of the song, you can not possibly get thrown off because the melody is playing on your mental iPod, over and over again, looping through the form and keeping you on track.
Granted, you can still get thrown off if you're not paying attention (give your band mates respect when they are soloing!) but this technique will work a lot better than trying to count.
What happens next?
You're going to like this. The technique of consciously keeping the melody in your head is a brief but necessary stage in your development of good time.
As you begin to break through the conscious aspect of this technique, you'll start to notice that although the melody is still playing in your mind, it will be more automatic and eventually fade into the background, like stars in the sky. It's everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
It's at this point you go through a sort of rhythmic enlightenment where the form of the song begins to feel like an all encompassing force, like gravity it can not be resisted, like reality, you can not ignore it.
Did I just turn into Yoda?
Yeah, man, a Jazz Yoda. Once this happens, you don't have to think about where you are in the music, you just know it. Instead of spending brain power trying not to get lost, your performance and improvisations use the entire form of the song to create music at the next level.
The greatest improvisers go even further by creating improvisations that cover several forms.
The big picture is key to success not only as a jazzer, but in the world at large as well.
If I'm not back in 24 hours, call the president.
Scot is available for skype jazz piano lessons (and google hangouts, phone call, etc...)
Use the contact link at the top of the page.