i've been learning jazz for about 4 months now and autumn leaves is the first song i learned. how can i improve my style and improv?
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sounds nice to me. what voicings are you playing there ?

my suggestion would be to give the song a bit more space --- have a couple of periods of not so many notes.
i'm playing open voicings. i think that's what they're called.
hi jace,

one of the simplistic explanations of improvisation is in the end, you'll need to somehow bring out the quality of the harmony in your solo. in basic terms, a solo is nothing more than voicing of the 3rds and 7ths and harmonizing around them. these important chord tones bring out the tune. i didn't here many of these important chord tones so instead of randomly picking out notes, how about taking a good read of "forward motion" by hal galper? or i'll summarize a quick lesson related to that here. try to put the important chord tones on the downbeats (1,3,5, 7 of each chord). then vary the length of your notes more. some quarters, some eights and don't make it predictable.

now the other thing to start thinking about is the proper scale for each chord. i couldn't see the keys to tell which key you're playing this -- maybe g (em). but i can hear that you're not using a minor ii-v-i scale when appropriate. you're using a major scale throughout. that's another lesson.

another element that you'll need to develop is swing. i'd say play it a little bit faster to give you some more impetus and see if you can swing it better. this in itself is another big topic and there's some prior threads that discuss this in detail.

you've done a good job at 4 months. autumn leaves was also the first song i learned so you're on the right track. keep at it man!
hi jace

you're doing really well so far and if you've only been playing jazz for four months then you've learnt a lot in short time.  here's a couple of suggestions that may help you out.

firstly, i think you need to spend a little more time working on the head.  both at the start and the end of the piece you miss half of the 'a' section out completely.  more importantly, there are a lot of variations in tempo and added beats where there shouldn't be.

i would suggest that you practice with a metronome.  the more solid your playing of heads is, the more likely you are to develop the 'internal' metronome that allows you to improvise without having to keep time with what you are playing.  the ability to keep a steady rhythm is the single most important factor in playing mainstream jazz, the cornerstone of everything.  without it, nothing else works.

ok, now in terms of specific improvisation tips, i agree with oli above that your playing would benefit from a bit more space.  think of trying to form complete musical 'sentences' that make sense on their own.  resolution is really the key here.  

to make a line complete, you need to end it on a consonance - the root and fifth of the chord are the best notes to aim to end on initially.  if you resolve your line correctly, you won't feel the need to overplay because the phrase sounds properly 'finished'.  

i know that some people are opposed to it in case it becomes a distracting bad habit but i think it helps, at least sometimes, to sing along with what you're playing.  you will form more rhythmically coherent musical sentences if you let your musical brain take care of the phrasing.  when playing, we can often block our natural musical instincts with thoughts about scales and fingerings and voicings and so on.

i would also advise you try and avoid starting lines on the first beat of the bar for now.  if you push the beginning of your phrases to the other beats, i think you will find more space and more swing in your lines.  

at the moment, even when you are trying to play continuous lines, you are either accenting or starting what is in effect a new idea on beat 1.  have a listen to miles and notice how few phrases he starts on beat 1 compared to the other beats in the bar.

i also agree with jazzwee that a few chord tones in the right places would help outline the harmony better.  as well as using scales, practice improvising using only chord tones/arpeggios and then mix them both together to add some variety.  

personally, i wouldn't advise you to start studying scales for minor ii-v-i's yet, but i think you might find the blues scale and the minor pentatonic scale can give you other options as well.  assuming you're in em, then they are:

e minor pentatonic - e, g, a, b, d
e blues - e, g, a, bb, b, d

experiment with these scales over the whole progression and see where they can be used to best effect.

good luck it with all, you're doing great, keep up the good work!
so i should make my improv unpredictable? yeah, now i notice on my improv that i always started on beat 1. the song is in e minor. when am i suppose to use a pentatonic scale?
barry's advice is great. and i agree with that as well. try starting your lines at 4+. variation comes also, as i said from changing the length of the notes, mixing eights and quarters. the idea of starting a 4+ is called a "pickup".

what barry is saying for the e minor scales is to use it on the minor section of autumn leaves. the minor section starts with f#m7b5 in the g (em) version. so look for the m7b5.
thanks for the compliment jazzwee.

jace, you can actually use the pentatonic & blues scales above anywhere you like in that tune.  try them over the whole thing and let your ear tell you where you like it the most.

pentatonic scales are only major scales with a couple of notes missed out - it just gives you a different sound than major scales and can add a feeling of a bit more space in your solo because the interval pattern of the pentatonic scale is more spaced out than the major scale.

overusing pentatonics and blues can become boring but mixed in with major scale and arpeggio-based improvisation it can give you more variety in your solo.

it's not so much that your improv should be unpredictable necessarily, it's more that beat 1 isn't really a 'strong' beat in jazz so if you keep emphasising it by starting lines there the music doesn't swing as much.  when you click your fingers to jazz, you'll find that clicking on 2 & 4 should feel most comfortable.  

think of beat 1 as a place to end lines rather than start them. it's hard to explain verbally but hopefully if you try it, then you'll see the benefit.

it's a case of 'suck it and see' with this one!
while it's good to know what scales and arpeggios you can use, the most important thing is to think melodically and rhymically.
hear a pattern or phrase in your head first, and then play it.
think up something that sounds good, then figure out how to play it.  start with a short phrase or pattern and play it over all the changes, just moving it around.  then add to the short phrase and make a longer one.
just some ideas.
it also helps to listen to many versions of the greats doing the tune so that you can put some ideas into your brain. singing the improv helps you mind work in creative ways.  temp maintenance is important and i agree that this needs a little work. listen to peterson, jarrett, evans doing this tune.  it will give you some ideas.  don't try to play like them but try to let yourself be influenced by them.
here is an improved version of autumn leaves. i think.
i don't see the link for the improved version, but i just saw the first one- i just recently got a computer finally that can actually handle youtube clips.

i think your note choices are actually pretty solid, i don't think that's the problem. you're playing all the "right" notes, but what i'm not hearing is any kind of phrasing, dynamics, or swing, the stuff that brings music to life. the eighth notes you are playing are swung in the sense that you are playing them long-short-long-short, etc, but there's no differentiation between the accent you're putting on the down beats versus the off-beats, the "ands". the off-beat should get a little extra emphasis, and more so if it is the highest note in the phrase. actually it might be better to think of the downbeats as being a little more subdued than to think of the offbeats as being played louder.

think about dynamics like you'd think about telling a story, or having a conversation. listening to music without shifting dynamics is like listening to the stock reports on the news, monotone and boring. when people are telling a story or trying to make a point, they use dynamics naturally to emphasize their main points and add effect. music isn't any different.  

i would recommend just working on the head for now, varying your rhythms (nobody plays autumn leaves with all those quarter notes on downbeats, it's written in fake books that way, but no one actually plays it like that - check out some recordings, as others have suggested). make it swing a little more, don't over do it, just give those offbeats a little extra weight - your note durations on downbeats vs "ands" is fine, you just need to work on accents. and most importantly, add some dynamics, some nice crescendos and decrescendos. once you have the head sounding musical and expressive, then apply all these things to your improv.

also btw the a section of the tune is supposed to be played twice through before the bridge - you only played it once on both the head in and the head out.
oh and i definitely agree you should be working with a metronome, your time fluctuates pretty wide - you sped way up on the head out because you were back in "familiar" territory - it's a bad habit, a metronome will help you keep steady time throughout. i used to have really bad time also, the metronome is the only cure for that.
i skiped the a section because i tried to fit the song in because my camera turns off at 3 min.
improvisation is what you bring to the song.  for example when i hear jarret play 'autumn leaves', i hear leaves falling in his extended into from 'at the blue note'.  but if i play it, i may hear something else, and create that something else entirely in the moment.
however, my tool chest is going to be severely limited, compared to his.
jmkarns, yes it would be nice if such a tool chest is widely distributed in the population!
doodle around with some notes.
jace, i am also a beginner at this jazz thing, but my humble commment is that you should speed it up..i tha°ink it would help you... do not try to play a nice thing, but try to feel the whatever thing of "autumn leaves" that makes you like it when chich corea plays it :) .it sounds like you are thinking your moves.. like if you were not "feeling the music" ... so , my comment is, try to use some kind of rythm machine (or even a metronome) so that you jazz it up! it sounds like you were playing a march.. so, your unconcious does not do a nice solo.. you can not think it. get the technic (a scale, pentatonic, or blues, whatever..  ) but try to play it like you were dancing. eg: you play it like you were walking. a note hits, you walk forward a step. do it like you are playing with your hand a different thing than your foot steps when you walk. musically it would me like a syncope.  

keep it up :)
i agree lobito w.  there is a syncope to walking.  think 'walking bassline' for instance or 'walking in the rain'.
i always thought "syncope" meant "fainting".  and i was right.

american heritage dictionary - cite this source syn∑co∑pe       (sĭng'kə-pÁ, sĭn'-)  pronunciation key  
grammar: the shortening of a word by omission of a sound, letter, or syllable from the middle of the word; for example, bos'n for boatswain.  
pathology: a brief loss of consciousness caused by a temporary deficiency of oxygen in the brain; a swoon. see synonyms at blackout.
maybe this will give you some ideas!

for some reason, i'm not a big fan of oscar peterson's playing. i like wynton kelly's version of autumn leaves. i like wynton kelly and whining keith jarrett so far.
who said anything about oscar peterson????

the person playing that doesn't look like op to me! :)

when, i listened to your playing (it was very good), but as mentioned before you need to work on the head some more. there is a stutter to it, kind of like you haven't really internalized the melody yet.

what does work on the head mean?  i'm not musically inclined.
to work on the head is what you do when you do not have a piano around :) you imagine the music you are going to play, and hopefully your technique will allow you to play it very similar to what you imagined "in your head". in your head you can most likely put more "flavor" (like we say in spanish) to the music.
jace & lobito,

english is a crazy lanugage.  working on "the head" is quite different from working on "your head"

in music, the "head" is another way of saying "melody" or "tune".
i stand corrected.  try 'syncopation', like our old friend the syncopated clock.
you don't just learn jazz piano. if certain predispositions are there, especialy a strong love for this music, a lot of hard work and perseverience will do the rest.
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