jazz evolved from the reharmonization of popular music. in technical terms, it means taking songs out of a diatonic context. learning jazz means learning harmony and reharmonization. there's many paths towards competency in jazz, but they all lead to knowing harmony, so the most direct path is to start with what matters.

jazz scales are a direct consequence of the reharmonization of the melody. a chord is only one "aspect" of harmony, it is not the complete picture. so, knowing only chords is not sufficient for improvisation. neither is knowing only scales. in order to improvise, you need to know how to establish a harmony linearly, which means knowing which tones to use, which to avoid, which to target as fulcrums, and which you may use only as passing tones.

these things evolved out of the simpler diatonic harmony, so this is the place you must start if you aren't already very comfortable with it.

there is a structure to jazz, there is no mystery behind it. in fact it is highly structured. if you do not learn the structure, you will at best only approximate the jazz experience. you start first with diatonic harmony. the you learn reharmonization techniques, first simple ones, then gradually more complicated ones. you do this without written music. in the process, your ear gets better.

random exercises aren't useful. exercises must be built around tonality, because jazz, like all popular music, is tonal.

jazz is not a "free for all." if it were, then each person's jazz would sound completely different from everyone else, and a "jazz group" would not be able to function.

the trick to improvisation is knowing the many ways in which a melody may be harmonized, and to be sufficiently comfortable with each method so as to be able to spontaneously reharmonize the tune as you play it.
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thanks for the post, michael.

i'm trying to learn some improvisation and core theory using tim richard's improvising blues piano, and when i'm successful at absorbing that knowledge and practice, i'm hoping to use his exploring jazz piano.

i'm spending a lot of time not only absorbing some of the theory, but just simply trying to improvise. it's both hard and exciting at the same time.

i've a long way to go, and i don't know if i'll ever gain competency. but the journey is a fun one that i'm enjoying!
it seems to me that musical improvisation is much like speaking in that we use learned vocabulary to formulate and express ideas that ultimately flow effortlessly as we speak.  i'm doing it right now, as i type.  often times, we may hear a person use a very cool phrase that we will in turn remember and use ourselves.  and it also happens that new words or phrases may inspire us to come up with some new thoughts or ideas of our own.  (what makes a great writer, a great writer?)

the same is true of musical composition or improvisation.
hm i always thought jazz evolved from the blues.   in fact i am sure every teacher of note that i have have had in my life and there has een a few has told me that.   saying jazz evolved from pop mudic instead of the blues is like saying people evolved from garbage men instead of saying they evolved from chimps.
interesting.  the question that is always asked is, if humans evolved from chimps, then why do we still have chimps?  in parallel, the question to also ask is if jazz evolved from blues or pop music, then why do we still have blues & pop music?

the question i want answered is/; who widdled  it all down to 12 tones?  oy...there are so many others

i love these deep discussions
humans didn't evolve from chimps, that's why we still have chimps :)  humans evolved from hominids that are long extinct.

back to music :)

i'm digging on almost everything you say up there, michael, and i agree to an extent and disagree to an extent.  i think what makes jazz jazz, is that it's an improvisatory art based on a few rules with a lot of variations.

jazz is like talking, and the vocabulary and language you use is like the style of jazz you're playing.  bebop has it's own rules, and rhythmically, they are very strict.  swing has it's own rules/language.  just like in conversation, if you don't know chinese you can't have a conversation in it.  you gotta know the rules and vocabulary of the language you want to speak.

that's where science comes in, practicing, learning formulas and chords and licks in the style/language you want to play in.  without studying the science the ear/finger connection will take longer to develop.

one of the things great players have in common is being able to play what they hear.  when you learn how hear and play something simple, it lets you get to the next step and you'll be hearing and playing something more complex. eventually you'll be able to hear some skunk funk by the brecker brothers and pick up that line.

even people who are making up their own style of music/jazz, there will eventually be rules to their music. perhaps very loose rules, loose harmonic and melodic boundaries, but those rules and boundaries will be there none the less because without them, as michael basically says, without parameters and boundaries there won't be any definition to the music, it won't be set apart from the rest, no individuality.

in summary:

1. jazz is an artform based on improvisation

2. improvisation has a foundation of rules and formulas that fit into the style you're playing.

3. improvisation relies on, or should rely on, how readily you can translate what you hear into what you are playing.

4. this is all just my opinion but i've been around for a while and played a lot of music and have a fairly wide perspective on this stuff at this point in my haggard career.
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12 tones:

it's not whiddled down to 12 tones, we're just stuck with them on the piano. every other instrumentalist i know gets to bend their tones whenever they want, hence they have dozens of mini-tones based on every diatonic 12 tone they play...

that's why i like my bender so much.  i need a bender pedal on my piano, something that slightly stretches or de-stretches (word?) the strings that have hammers up.  hmmm... the middle pedal is kind of connected to that situation, wonder..

it would be near impossible to actually stretch the strings, but, one could rebuild the bridge of the piano so that the little pieces of metal the string are on moved up and down based on a pedal, and only the strings that were in use (hammers down/up, whatever).

you guys ready to make a piano?
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i wasn't thinking about bending the 12 tones  we already have, i was thinking about say, 24 tones, but that would make a very weird piano:)

i guess we were all playing around with the concept of evolution.  perhaps that is not what michael actually meant.  it is true, a lot of jazz was created using pop tunes.  aside from free form jazz, the idea (or game) of improvising within the confines of a certain form, be it blues or any other harmonic structure (like pop tunes) is what makes jazz interesting to both the listener and the player

anyway, i apologize for making light of a serious discussion,  i told myself i wasn't going to do that anymore!!
i think that perhaps a lot of what is going on in this thread is based on semantics and should not be regarded in some absolute terms rather just try and appreciate what someone is trying to infer. i often times fail to come up with the proper and most accurate words to describe what i want to say. so much of what we really appreciate is what we have been exposed to and that has been reinforced. i don't think it is necessary to be adversarial or excessively critical when someone does not articulate what we hold true. note: this is not about mike's response to michael's post. i appreciate the messages in both of those posts without necessarily totally agreeing with either. as for dr. whack's attempt of making light of a serious discussion, man don't ever stop, this stuff can get way to cerebral in a hurry and it needs some humor injected. beside the fact that often there is some gem hidden in the lightness. these are the threads that i love the most, they force me to think more than many others. now if dave frank would just say for me to fuck off, my day would be perfect. thanks for allowing me the opportunity to be a part of this community.
i like this post and the cerebral posts that come along from time to time. it encourages me think ‘outside of my box’ and of what i have learned (and forgotten) previously. btw are we including stride and its syncopation in this sideline of evolution?

this post has been interesting so far, especially because it has included a mix of issues:
starting point of blues and the pentatonics (we did need to move on from the five note chants!);
whittling down to 12 notes (do we not have more in some scales/cultures etc, bebop and melodic scales?);
bending notes using electronic instruments (possible) vs acoustic pianoforte  (impossible.
keep up the good work - it's great for us 'lurkers'.
and a special thanks to you, kai, for the correct spelling of "whittle":)

and thanks to dennis for encouraging me:)
absolutely agree dr, and i too, enjoy the fun bits.  i do get a bit 'hung up' on theory 'n things sometimes - a bit like grammar :-) - but i really wish i could play what i hear.  having said that and read your post above , viz  "often times, we may hear a person use a very cool phrase that we will in turn remember and use ourselves." i remember doing just that with skylark played by earl hines, i think it was as he went into the bridge, he used a little motif of using (allegedly german) sixths up and down leading beautifully into the change. i use it whenever i remember now. keep up the posts please.
to add to kai's observations, i use something bill evans did over a d7sus - d7 , i can't remember which tune it is but it grabbed my attention while i was listening to it; now it pops up on a few tunes i play, not exactly note for note, but the same kind of movement of notes... the other one i stole from was an italian pianist called dado.  i was sitting watching a youtube video of him improvising on a tune, and he did a ii-v-i in f, well his lead voices made it sound just like the part of 'over the rainbow' where the last ii-v leads to the tonic, i had been working on that tune for about a month, so i worked out what he was doing, it was something like this

/ ii7b9 - iim7, v7 / im7/
well the sound knocked me out.  prior to this i would have never thought of doing something like this, but hearing it and working it out led to me accepting it and now it pops up over ii-v-is in f, with unintended variations at times, which i end up keeping and using as well; or should i call them 'happy accidents'?? :-)
thanks, i'll get onto this!
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jazz evolved out of a marriage of blues, european harmony, and ragtime (which was an evolution from european marches). what jazz did was take the diatonic progessions that you found in popular music of the time, and transpose them out of their diatonic context. so what you've got in jazz is rhythmic influences from the caribbean, some of the blues harmonic influences, and the western harmonies put together.
(so to say jazz evolved from blues is not correct, it evolved from a few different sources at once)
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