ok, so this post is inspired by the superjames thread about piano giging with just a drummer.  this is a story about when i had the extreme pleasure of being able to study with max roach. (who taught  in in the afro-american studies dept at umass amherst in the 70's and early 80's.)  jazz in amherst at that time was hot.  because max, archie shepp, billie taylor and roland wiggins were on the staff there ... there were also frequent visits to the area by greats such as mccoy tyner.  
    anyways,  for those of you who do not know who max was... first of all... you really need to study more jazz history... this is part of becoming a good player... it does all play a role... but max is one of the most important jazz musicians to ever have lived.  he is one of the inventors of be bop.  he invented it along with bird, diz and maybe a few others.
     max while a professor at umass used to have open rehearsls with his band frequently at a place called the "old chapel" on campus, which he often opened up to questions from the students after they completed playing a tune.  
    at one particular rehearsal max had a group with  cecil bridgewater playing trumpet and his brother ron on sax.  and upright player calvin hill.  
\   so they play giant steps.  ( just a side note of no relavance to this thead... when they come out of the head.. calvin is still playing half notes so max yells at him very audibly.... four calvin four!!!)  to this day whenever i get the chance to yell at my best friend on stage who is a bass player and was there that day.. i yell
"four calvin four".  
    so when they finish playing a briliant version of giant steps max opens the floor for questions.  this piano player student raises his hand  and max lets him speak...  the guy asks.." didn't you guys lose the form a couple of times... i was listenng pretty close and i think you did?".
   well max was obviously pissed..
his responce was something like this...
"what instrument do you play?
student replies:
"piano"
max:
    "you see thats why i do not use piano players any more... you get so caught up in form you all have forgoten how to play"

the lesson was a life long lesson for me.  invaluable for me.
i have never forgotten to at least sometimes sit at the piano and just play not thinking about form.  and even while playing tunes... just play the tune but not worry about the form... again this can be the absolute joy of playing without a bass player... you do have to worry about form as much.   although i have noticed all he best bass players never comment if i lose the form they just seamlessly adjust with me.  the weaker the bass player the more they comment if i might lose the form.  the same with me ... if i am having a bad night it can freak me out if the bass player loses the form... if i am on i simply adjust and move on and assume the change and form might just have well have been for the better.
There are 13 comments, leave a comment.
losing the form is not bad, i often dispense with it when playing solo or even in a guitar piano duo. but it's a problem if the form is lost unintentionaly and never recovers for the whole tune. unless of course you want to play free jazz.
but it's a problem in an ensemble if the form is lost unintentionaly and never recovers for the whole tune. unless of course you want to play free jazz.
actually i think you missed one of the points there my friend.  when max roach was playing he was playing with the bridgewater brothers and with calvin hill... this was most unquestionably "in an ensemble".  and
they were playing giant steps.  giant steps is a tune which has never been considered "free jazz".  what they were was "in an ensemble" that did not have a piano player.  max roach's point was that he had grown weary of including pianists in his ensembles because over time he felt they had become increasingly inflexable regarding form when performing to the point of it being a detrimental to good jazz performance.  max was never an advocate of nor a performer of free jazz... one only has to have the vaguest familiarity with his body of  work to know this.
i don't think i missed that point.
"you see thats why i do not use piano players any more... you get so caught up in form you all have forgoten how to play"

but roach did in fact record with piano players after that.

this is not at all a  logical statement:

"you get so caught up in form you all have forgoten how to play"
if you did not miss that point what you wrote certainly seemed to indicate it.  because you said "but it's a problem in an ensemble" and the whole context of what max roach said was at an ensemble rehearsal.
and i will say again "free jazz" was not being played.  
and  he never did say nor did i say that he said that he was never going to play with a piano player again as long he lived.
maybe i am confused and kind of dumb. well what is the great wisdom to be received from this?
"you get so caught up in form you all have forgoten how to play"  

and therefore what ????
i play the piano.  do you?  i talk to other people who play the piano frequently.  this sort of thing is beyond discription really.  we all just know what it is like to work for years to try to learn how to keep form and never lose it.  it is one of the more difficult challenges of becoming a good pianist.  it was a shock to have one of the true masters of jazz, a god literally in that he was a creator,
teach me that i now had to learn how to give form a little less priority in some certain situations. it was a very advanced lesson from a master teacher.  as i said earlier it is a technique that i have learned takes practice.  i practice not concentrating on form just as practice concentrating on form... it can be equally difficult. if you find that hard to comprehend i suggest you quite simply try it.  i do not know that you are confused and dumb.  certainly the lesson was much more easily understood when you heard god himself standing behind his drum set
shouting it out.  max roach was an extremely kind and warm hearted man and to have him all of a sudden speak with great passion and a little anger made you stop and give great attention and thought and concentration, much more than you are ever going to give to any of my words in this forum.  "and therefore what ???? "   i would think that would be obvious.  be more flexible in your playing.  if you are playing with someone who loses the form ... do not try to stubornly hold the course... let the form change to wherever it may go if that is the best cource for the music.  if a piece of music sounds great and is a pleasant listening experience do not critique it because it did not hold to your idea of form.
thanks mike this is a very helpful story.  in the bands i've played in, keeping the form is important but not as important as listening to each other and adjusting if necessary.
that is the ticket gs you understand the lesson of the story correctly.
a little out of date here -- sorry.  but isn't the key to jazz+'s comment the "and never recovers it for the whole tune."?  seems to me this is about being able to lose the form and still maintain as a group, both staying together (adjusting) and getting back to the form to complete the tune.  max's group lost it "a couple of times" meaning they also got it back.  in a word - listen.
yes.  also i might point out that it was a student that said they lost form.  max never admited they did.. what he said was  if we did "so what"... it was one of the finest versions of giant steps of had ever heard... if i found out that the form was not perfect on every chorus...
should that have ruined it for me... the point of this is that the answer is no.  form is a means of achieving good music.  music is not a means of achieving good form.  if you think you can only make good music by keeping perfect form you have it backwards.  all great lessons turn out to be simple logic like this:
  keeping form = means of making good music
  good music  =  pleasing thing to listen to

   keeping form is only a tool. just like knowing major scales inside out is only a tool for playing good music. i advise everyone know both very well.  i also advise that after you master both you learn how to make good music with out both.  any tool you learn to use you should learn to do with out.... even eyesight as it turns out.
piano is so much easier to make music on using your eye.  but you will learn to do it so much better if you learn to do it blindfolded.
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