hi all...

the guy i gig with likes to stretch songs out with long passages of improv of 5 minutes or more before starting to sing, my problem is that he likes to do this on sections that only have very few chords, for example... we play:

waiting in vain (bob marley)
g maj7 - g7 - c maj7

another song we do, goes:  
ii, v, (in d)  
ii, v, (in c)

after a while i start running out of steam and indicate, by just comping lightly, that i'm laying off... but, he just indicates to me to continue improvising...  

have you guys dealt with this sort of thing before? how do you manage this type of scenario, i.e. playing over a 2 to 4 chord vamp for an extended length of time?

also, can anyone suggest any tunes that have really long vamps over very few chords? would be nice to see what the pros' do in that situation.....

There are 13 comments, leave a comment.
start by comping for a long stretch, at least a minute. then solo very sparsely for a minute. then go into full solo mode... then back to sparse... then practice scales and arps over it... repeat for ever....nobody is listening at that point anyways...
this type of musical situation is really no different from any other.  it is just a little more obvious.   it is all about the groove.  you concentrate on and give priority tp time and rhythm ... harmony is a second consideration.  again this is how it is with all music it is just more obvious with harmonically simple situations.  harmony by itself with no rhythm is nothing.  but rhythm by itself without harmony can do just fine.  if you are bored in these situations marvin rhythm and time is most likely not a strong point in  your playing.  listen to the rhythms others are playing and try to get ideas to play off from them.  the examples of tunes with really long vamps are endless.  funk is almost this by definition.... simple harmony with
interesting rhythm..... chameleon by herbie hancock.  
my favorite things.... coltrane version e - 7 forever.  
i don't think trane or mccoy sounded bored on that one.
just pretend you're a drummer
very inspirational post, mike.  you make me want to go play a 10 minute vamp.
keith jarrett takes those "outro" vamps to the extreme. most of his standard cds have at least one tune that drags out the ending forever.
thanks a million for all the responses, some me these ideas are new to me others gig-wise, mike: you're right about the need to work at the rhythm thing, i'm just discovering that now. i guess you're basically saying have solid time- be adventurous harmonically?  
not sure about your drummer advice cynbad, can you elaborate? also thanks for the tune tips.
you know, it's hard to say, because this sounds like a pretty undesirable musical situation. 5 minutes is a really long solo, anyways, inconceivable for any type of gig with a vocalist, and before the tune even starts, well...that's not good.  

also, if you're indicating you're winding down your solo, and the singer doesn't get it and tells you to keep playing (i imagine you've been playing for a while at this point), they sound like they have absolutely no concept of what sounds good (not unusual for many vocalists), or are just not listening to the music, because the musical situation doesn't warrant it. nothing sounds worse than somebody finishing a solo, and then having to haphazardly start improvising again begrudgingly or out of steam. so many vocalists don't really understand the musical situation, they're content to just sit there and "get in the mood" or whatever, when doing things like having a piano solo over a iii-vi-ii-v for 5 minutes. nobody wants to hear that, even if it's the world's greatest rhythm section. if it was after the melody, that would be one thing, but before the melody?

mike's advice is great, and so is jazz+'s. i completely commiserate, however, that this is much, much more difficult before the melody of the song -- it's very hard to know what's appropriate or musical, and not get people bored before the melody, what all your soloing should lead up to, comes in. playing after the melody is easy. the cat's out of the bag. before the tune, though, it's a different game. it has to be inviting and mysterious.

this may sound obvious, but be very effective with your density of notes and dynamics. maybe open by playing two loud notes, and resting for a bar. george duke does this on long funk solos. if your bass player and drummer are good, textural playing might cause them to break up the texture, for some interest. honestly, though, you're not going to hear a lot of examples of a soloist playing for 5 minutes over a 3-6-2-5 before a vocalist comes in the tradition of recorded jazz, because it's not that musical.

practice all this stuff, but overall, tell your vocalist that they have to listen to you and respect your musical judgment that if you're through with your solo, you're through with your solo. that's the most important thing. good luck!
keeping concentration is the difficult bit, and sometimes the physical exertion takes its toll.  i needed a lie down after this one:

the feeling that it's all going to fall apart any minute adds to the atmosphere.

i think the desire and pressure to play something cool gets in the way.  we all have our stock vocab that we blow, but what happens when we run out?  we improvise.  

i like how kenny werner says you have to yield to what wants to happen.  this approach is really useful in situations like this.  just surrender, listen, and voila, ideas will come.  don't worry, just play...
wow, complaining about getting as  much time as you want to improvise?


i wish i had that problem.

just relax into the music, start slow, build up simple themes, don't play anything that you've played before (improvise new), and think about it as floating down a river.  if the music is vigorous, it's an energetic river, if the music is slow, the river is slow.

if you're getting impatient or think you're running out of steam, take a few mental steps back from that line you feel like you're getting to.  walk back a bit, look at some more scenery, don't worry about what anyone else thinks, just create a mood, create some colors, and paint away.

consider yourself lucky to have this freedom on stage!
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the old timers used to shoot up heroin to help deal with these situations.
i think sid hit the nail on the head..... after a gig with quite a few songs of this nature, i tend to feel exhausted, but i'm dealing with that by trying to have a fairly relaxed day on the day of the gig....also i think i might be just running too many noodling type lines, because i sometimes feel my hands running out of steam (i.e. fatigue)when doing those long solos....

ok... thanks scot/dr whack, this is turning out to seem like more of a psychological issue as opposed to a 'what to play' issue.... there is a lot of food for thought here. i used to have quite bad stage fright and found it almost impossible to play in public, but have been working at that.  i've seen a video of myself at one of these gigs, and i seem quite tense..(shoulders very high, contorted spine etc).. and i can remember feeling a little 'too' concerned about what the audience will think about the improve going on too long.... perhaps i need to let go a bit more and just enjoy the ride...

lastly: i do notice that sometimes when improvising on the other songs, my co-gigger will decide to go back into the chorus/verse etc, and i get annoyed because i was sooooo into the improvisation and didn't want it to finish so abruptly.... so perhaps the issue isn't how long the improv goes on for, but maybe whether i'm enjoying the improv or not....  

thanks for all the avenues... got a couple of weeks to digest this thread before the next gig...
one of the easiest ways to get stressed out while playing, to start feeling tense and bunch up the shoulders, is by worrying too much about what your audience or band members are thinking.

and then in a visious circle, when you get tense, you tend to stop breathing evenly.  one of my best exercises when playing is to keep breathing regularly.  you'd be amazed at what normal deep breathing while playing can do for you.

lastly, about playing careful and worrying about what the audience wants, consider this.  

first, your band members would not have you playing if they didn't like, or at least tolerated :) what you played, your style, and how you approach music.

second, when people come to hear you play, they want to hear you play.  they don't want to hear you play what you think the audience wants to hear, they want to hear you play what you want to play.

so, when you're on stage, all you really have to do is one thing: play music your way, because that's what everyone wants you to do.

the greatest players are also the most relaxed.  my brother is an a-list wind player, tenor sax is his instrument of choice.  he's the kidn of guy who is so chill he doesn't even think to tell folks when he's going on the road with the duke ellington band or things like that.  so when he plays, when he is soloing (think pete christlieb mixed with 'trane), it's great stuff, but it's also relaxed, and that's part of why it's great.  no strain, no stress, just playing music his way which is what everyone wants.
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