Gary Burton: Jazz Improvisation

Author: Gary Burton | Course Code: OPERF-312

Although it's not uncommon for musicians to develop their improvisational chops by simply listening to recordings and imitating what they hear or playing with other aspiring improvisers in ensembles, once a musician has achieved a modest level of fluency, a more detailed understanding of the process is necessary to improve further and truly master the art of improvisation. There are few musicians more qualified than Gary Burton to provide this guided path for an aspiring improviser.

Winner of six Grammy Awards (and 15 nominations), Gary Burton is recognized as one of the best improvisers in the jazz world and known as an inspiring educator. Burton codifies a sought-after “Berklee approach” that has been at the core of Berklee's jazz improvisation curriculum for decades.

Gary Burton: Jazz Improvisation begins with an overview of the mental processes that take place in improvisation and goes on to provide an explanation and understanding of harmony and melodic construction that is unique to improvising as compared to the performance of written music. You'll learn how to shape solos, use dynamics effectively, and employ reharmonization techniques, in addition to how to analyze and interpret songs, make effective performance decisions, and work successfully with an ensemble. The course explores different types and styles of compositions from the perspective of the improviser, and takes an in-depth look at how music learning experiences contribute to the instinctive skills that the improviser puts to use when taking a solo. The course features compositions from the standard repertoire by established composers such as Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk, along with more contemporary composers such as Chick Corea, Michael Gibbs, Carla Bley, and Steve Swallow. You will learn a set of skills specifically tailored to the art of improvisation, all intended to make it possible for you to make the necessary musical decisions required for improvising in real time. You will also gain a full understanding of the musical and mental processes that are unique to improvisation, and learn about it all from one of the living legends in the jazz world.

By the end of the course, students will have a solid background in:

  • interpreting harmonies and composition structure in real time while improvising
  • demonstrating a variety of improvisation techniques, including use of chromaticism, voice leading, and theme development
  • effectively practicing the art of comping
  • analyzing compositions from the perspective of the improviser
  • understanding the mental processes required for successful improvisation

Lesson 1: What Is Improvisation?

The Relationship between Improvisation and Spoken LanguageSolo AnalysisDiscussion of Musical VocabularyImprovisation Assessment

Lesson 2: Chord Outlines and Scales

Different Approaches for Dealing with Changes and ScalesTen Most Frequently Used ScalesHow to Use the ModesHow the Improviser Practices Scales

Lesson 3: Identifying Chord Scales

Analysis of Chord Scales and TechniquesThe Mental Process of Scale Identification while Playing in Real TimeProcess of Elimination in Determining Scales ChoicesChord Scale Identification Based on Written NotesChord Scale Identification Based on Preceding Harmonies

Lesson 4: Harmony for the Improviser

Identifying Guide Tones and Voice LeadingHow to Use Voice Leading in Improvised SolosUsing Guide Lines to Navigate Harmonic ProgressionsAnalyze Chord Progressions and Songs to Identify Guide Tones and Harmony Resolutions

Lesson 5: Melodic Development

Theme and DevelopmentThe Characteristics of Melodic FormPlaying Over "Green Dolphin Street"Duration of a Theme

Lesson 6: Playing on the Blues

The Blues FormApproaching the BluesMinor BluesBlues Variations

Lesson 7: Song Analysis

Dynamic VarietyOptimizing the Dynamic Range of Your InstrumentCreating ExcitementDynamics in Practice

Lesson 8: Song Analysis (Part 2)

Song CharacteristicsKnowing the FormsUnderstanding the Composer's IntentDemonstrating the Composition

Lesson 9: Song Analysis (Part 3)

Song StructureApplying Compositional ElementsHighlighting Extracted Material

Lesson 10: Advice on Soloing

Approaching the SoloConversational SoloingLength and Pacing of a SoloDynamicsChromaticismDiminished HarmonyAdvice on Ballads

Lesson 11: Comping

The Role of CompingStraight Eighth-Note CompingContrastGeneral Comping TipsComping Approaches

Lesson 12: Communicating with the Unconscious

The Art of ImprovisationLearning and UnlearningEvolution of the Learning ProcessUnderstanding the Unconscious mindRole of Unconscious MindRole of Conscious ThoughtPutting it All TogetherThe Importance of Recording Your ImprovisationsDemystifying the Process

Gary Burton

Author & Instructor

Born in 1943 and raised in Indiana, Gary Burton taught himself to play the vibraphone and, at the age of 17, made his recording debut in Nashville, Tennessee, with guitarists Hank Garland and Chet Atkins. Two years later, Burton left his studies at Berklee College of Music to join George Shearing and subsequently Stan Getz, with whom he worked from 1964-66.

As a member of Getz's quartet, Burton won Down Beat magazine's Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition award in 1965. By the time he left Getz to form his own quartet in 1967, Burton had also recorded three albums under his name for RCA. Borrowing rhythms and sonorities from rock music, while maintaining jazz's emphasis on improvisation and harmonic complexity, Burton's first quartet attracted large audiences from both sides of the jazz-rock spectrum. Burton's burgeoning popularity was quickly validated by Down Beat magazine, which awarded him its Jazzman of the Year award in 1968, the youngest ever to receive that honor. During a subsequent association with the ECM label (1973-1988), the Burton Quartet expanded to include the young Pat Metheny on guitar, and the band began to explore a repertoire of modern compositions. In the 1970s, Burton also began to focus on more intimate contexts for his music. His 1971 album Alone at Last, a solo vibraphone concert recorded at the 1971 Montreux Jazz Festival, was honored with his first Grammy Award. Burton also turned to the rarely heard duo format, recording with bassist Steve Swallow, guitarist Ralph Towner, and most notably with pianist Chick Corea, thus cementing a long personal and professional relationship that has garnered an additional four Grammy Awards.

Also in the 1970s, Burton began his music education career with Berklee College of Music in Boston. Burton began as a teacher of percussion and improvisation at Berklee in 1971. In 1985 he was named Dean of Curriculum. In 1989, he received an honorary doctorate of music from the college, and in 1996, he was appointed Executive Vice President, responsible for overseeing the daily operation of the college.

After eight years at RCA Victor, five at Atlantic Records, and sixteen at ECM Records (resulting in two more Grammy awards in 1979 and 1981), Burton began recording for GRP Records in 1988. In 1990, he paired up again with his former protege Pat Metheny for Reunion, which landed the number one spot on Billboard magazine's jazz chart. After recording a total of eight CDs for GRP, Burton began his current label affiliation with Concord Records. Departure (Gary Burton & Friends) was released in 1997 as well as Native Sense, another duet collaboration with Chick Corea, which garnered Burton's fourth Grammy Award in 1998. Also in 1997, he recorded his second collection of tango music, Astor Piazzolla Reunion, featuring the top tango musicians of Argentina, followed by Libertango in 2000, another Piazzolla project. His 1998 Concord release, Like Minds, an all-star hit featuring his frequent collaborators Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, Roy Haynes, and Dave Holland, was also honored with a Grammy win, Burton's fifth. His vibraphone tribute CD, For Hamp, Red, Bags and Cal, was released in March 2001 and was honored with a 12th Grammy nomination (to date he has a total of 15 Grammy nominations). His 2002 release was a unique project with Makoto Ozone, Burton's pianist collaborator of the past 20 years. For Virtuosi, the pair explored the improvisational possibilities of classical themes, including works by Brahms, Scarlatti, Ravel, Barber and others. In an unusual move, the Recording Academy nominated Virtuosi in the Grammy's Classical music category, a unique honor for Burton and Ozone.

As Burton announced his retirement from Berklee College of Music in 2003 after 33 years at the college, he formed a new band and began touring regularly. The Generations band featured a line-up of talented young musicians, including then sixteen-year old guitarist Julian Lage and Russian-born pianist Vadim Nevelovskyi. Burton recorded two CDs with the group titled Generation and Next Generation and the band toured steadily from 2003 through mid-2006.

Since then, Burton has focused his recording and performing efforts on collaborations, with old friends and new, including tours and recordings with Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, Makoto Ozone, Spanish pianist/composer Polo Orti, and French accordionist Richard Galliano. Armistad Suite with Polo Orti and the Tenerife Symphony Orchestra was released in spring 2007. L'hymne a L'amour with Richard Galliano was released on the Camjazz label in August 2007. The double-CD live concert recording with Chick Corea, The New Crystal Silence, came out in 2008, resulting in the sixth Grammy for Gary Burton at the 2009 Grammy Awards. Corea and Burton toured full-time from September 2006 through spring 2008, and continued off and on playing concerts in the USA and Europe in 2009.

Next came collaborative project Quartet Live, reprising the Gary Burton Quartet of the 1970s with Pat Metheny, Steve Swallow, and Antonio Sanchez. Having already toured in Japan, USA, and Europe, this group made their third tour with performances in the USA and Canada in June 2009. Plans are already in place to reunite and record and tour again in the near future. Meanwhile, Burton toured again with Chick Corea in 2010-2011.

June 2011 saw the release of Common Ground, Burton's first release on Mack Avenue Records featuring the New Gary Burton Quartet. The new group reunites the vibist with guitar star Julian Lage with the addition of drummer Antonio Sanchez and bassist Scott Colley. The group will be busy touring throughout 2011.

For more information, please visit: http://www.garyburton.com


Jim Odgren

Instructor

Jim Odgren is Academic Assistant to the Dean of the Performance Division at Berklee College of Music. Odgren is an alto saxophonist who doubles on tenor and soprano saxophones and flute. Throughout his fifteen-year career at Berklee, he has taught in the Performance Studies and Woodwind Departments. From 1980 to 1983, he toured throughout the world and recorded two LPs (Easy As Pie and Picture This) with the Gary Burton Quartet. Since then, he has recorded and/or played with Kevin Eubanks, John Scofield, Kenwood Denard, Jim Kelly, Victor Mendoza, Oscar Stagnaro, George Garzone, and many others. In 1989, he received the Dean of Faculty Award for his work in improvisation at Berklee. In 2002, Odgren released his own CD, Her Eyes. He is author of the instructional DVD, Accelerate Your Saxophone Playing, and coauthor of two books, Berklee Practice Methods: Getting Your Band Together, with Berklee Woodwind Department Chair, Bill Pierce. Odgren graduated from Berklee College of Music in 1976.

Basic Improvisation or equivalent knowledge and/or experience. You should have some experience with improvisation on familiar standards (i.e., improvising on the blues form and simply constructed standard songs). You should have some familiarity with chord symbols and the common chord scales.

PC Web Browser: Firefox (Recommended), Chrome, Internet Explorer 10 or higherMac Web Browser: Firefox (Recommended), Chrome, SafariFlash Player: current versionQuickTime: current versionAdobe Reader: current versionA basic audio recording tool that will allow you to record yourself playing along with a background track and save the recording in MP3 format. You will have a tool to use for this purpose inside the learning environment. Alternatively, you can use software like Audacity, GarageBand, or a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW).Notation software such as Finale, Finale NotePad, Sibelius, etc. Alternatively, you can opt to hand-write your notation and scan it for submission.
A printer is recommended, so that you can print out music examples used in the courseA scanner may be required if you are going to hand-write your assignmentsSpeakers or headphones for your computer
Windows XP, Vista, or higherIntel Pentium 4 or higher512 MB RAM100 MB hard drive space recommendedSound card
OS X 10.5 or higherIntel Mac512 MB RAM100 MB hard drive space recommended
  • Level
  • Duration
    12 weeks
  • 3-Credit Tuition
    $1,400
  • or
  • Non-Credit Tuition Add 6 CEUs
    $1,200 + $25

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