hi ljp. the other night i got to see the organist dr. lonnie smith play (absolutely f-ing amazing). one of the things i noticed about his performance is that he was basically singing all of the melodies he was playing on the organ while he was playing them. i know many piano greats do the same thing. it's gotten me thinking. i've been transcribing bud powell lately, on his recordings you can hear him vocalizing his lines, although it sounds kind of more like grunting than singing (sometimes after listening to the same passage over and over trying to get the right notes, i almost want to start grunting along with the record!). keith jarrett is another "singer" who comes to mind. a number of bass players i've played with i've noticed also sing under their breath during solos.
i'm wondering what some of the people here feel about this habit/(technique?). randy halberstadt, who was my piano teacher when i went to school, used to strongly caution against it. he felt it was distracting from the performance, that it was basically a crutch, and used to say that piano players who fall into this habit become dependent upon it and find it a highly difficult habit to break. randy is all about using the voice as a learning tool, he has his students take tunes apart and sing the melody, then sing the roots of every chord, then the thirds, then the fifths, sevenths, then smooth voice leading from thirds to sevenths, sevenths to thirds, etc. but singing while improvising was discouraged. i had another piano teacher since randy who encouraged me to sing while playing, but i never practiced it because of my prior teaching.
since seeing dr. smith's mind blowing performance the other night, i've been rethinking all this. i've been playing around the last few days with vocalizing my lines while playing. for the most part i find it a little distracting, i start thinking more about singing than i do playing. but there are moments where i kind of go into that zen "state" where i'm not thinking much at all, just listening, to my voice and to my playing, and from there i think i'm noticing there are definite differences in my playing when i'm singing.
one is that i think i utilize space better. i have a bad habit of playing continuous, endless streams of eighth notes. i try some times to make myself "insert" space into my solos, but when i do that it often sounds contrived, like i'm adding spaces where i intellectually "think" there ought to be a space, but not necessarily where a space musically makes sense. somebody on this website once said something about how bach or beethoven, or somebody with a b at the beginning of their name, once said that if a musical phrase couldn't be sung, then it didn't make sense, the logic was that if the phrase lasted longer than ones voice could support before running out of breath, than the phrase didn't make sense.
the other thing i think i'm noticing is that i'm better at what i guess you'd call thematic improvisation, something i've always struggled with. i seem to naturally find myself taking a single idea, and actually developing it, altering that one idea to fit different parts of the chord progression, etc., but still basically playing the same idea. it's like i'm actually able to remember what i just played in my improvisation, and then i can expand upon a single idea, playing different variations. usually it's like i have add when i'm improvising, i play something and then immediately forget about it, incessantly trying to figure out my "next" idea is going to be.
so, i'm curious. does anybody here sing their lines? do you find it annoying when you hear a piano player who does? i know a lot of people find keith jarrett's singing pretty annoying, i've heard it called more like whining than singing. i think he's trying too hard to keep his voice in the same octave he's playing in, his voice gets overstretched and thin, and out of tune. i don't think it would be that hard to keep your voice in a range that's comfortable, dropping your voice an octave when your line starts to get too high. i think that if your voice was kept in a comfortable range, it would be possible to keep it mostly sub-audible to your playing, or at least so i think. i'd have to record myself doing it to know for sure. but even if not, while watching dr. lonnie smith, i didn't feel that it in anyway detracted from the performance. comments?