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Making Music and Defining Improvisation: Materials and Personal Work
I don’t work like that.
And Rudi Mahall described how practising in this way helped him to alleviate technical
problems indirectly, having entirely rejected his classical practise regime by this
Well, I’d been learning clarinet, the traditional way, in the school, and
technical exercises, études, repertoire... and I’d always practised that way.
20 minutes of long tones, then scales for three quarters of an hour, and
then études for three quarters of an hour. And then repertoire for an hour.
I practised like that every day and that was a routine. You don’t notice
whether it takes three or four hours because it’s a routine, just like doing
the washing up, not really very stressful. And I stopped the routine when
I decided that if they [the Conservatorium] didn’t want me, then I didn’t
want them either.43
And then I bought the bass clarinet... and then I tried... It’s a totally
different instrument, so I tried to learn it again. Again with these études,
tricks. For example there are ‘long’ notes and ‘short’ notes on the clarinet,44
and it’s very important that you can connect these. This didn’t work at
all. And so for three months I tried work on these tricks in the traditional
way, but I didn’t get any better. [...] Then I saw a film with Ben Webster in
Copenhagen. Do you know the film? It’s about Ben Webster. And he was
looking out of the window, and how was he practising? He had a record on,
and was practising with the record. I saw that pretty early on, when I was
12. And then I thought that was how you practised jazz. [...] You put it
on, and then you somehow just play with it. A few notes... And then, like
I said, there was this long period where nothing was working on the bass
clarinet, and then I just thought, “OK, then I’ll just put the record on too”,
because it was getting the better of me. At the beginning it sounded really
terrible! [laughs] [...]
And then I started to play along to Joe Henderson, ‘Page One’, and I
practised along to it, and it sounded terrible, but it didn’t matter - I thought
I just had to keep going. I never got it together to buy a practise book on
how to improvise, or of ii-V-I patterns, or Aebersold.45 I just never had
the idea. And then suddenly, after a week, the technical difficulties just
disappeared. Somehow they just disappeared.
See p. 148.
Depending on the length of the air column - with all holes closed the column is ‘long’, and with all
open, ‘short’
The Jamey Aebersold ‘Play-a-Long’ series for jazz musicians, which consists of several volumes
of popular jazz tunes and standards, with a ‘backing’ tape. See footnote, p. 169, for more on ii-V-I