“Letting go” while playing Ron Carter’s “Eighty One”

Have you ever walked into a room and found yourself having a conversation that you hadn’t planned in advance?

Of course you have. We all have. We do this all day, every day.

We can improvise conversations because we know our native language fluently. We know it inside and out, as they say, and can string together words and phrases spontaneously, according to the needs of the moment.

As improvisers, do we do the same with our music?

One interesting aspect of all this is that even though we may “say” that improvisation means not knowing what’s coming next, we rarely trust this. “Yes, I’ll improvise on this “All The Things You Are,” but I want the tempo and groove to remain steady, I want to know the order of solos ahead of time, and I want to play something during my own solo that is guaranteed to sound good.”

So, it’s “kinda-sorta” improvising.

True improvisation, on the other hand, is more liberating. Freeing. Starting a tune and truly not knowing how it will end. Truly not knowing if you’re going to play a lot of notes or just a few. Truly not knowing if your solo is going to build up in an emotional arc or if it will simmer down to a mellow groove.

True, not every note is guaranteed to sound perfect. But is the “other way” guaranteed either? And who knows? By “letting go” a little bit more, you may end up playing the way you‘ve always dreamed you could play.

I tried this myself while playing the Ron Carter/Miles Davis tune “Eighty One.” Listening to the original recording of the tune by the great 1960s Miles Davis Quintet, I realized that this is exactly what they were doing so I figured this approach might be fun to explore:

Eighty One: Journey Through The Real Book #108

Try it when you’re alone at the piano, and no one’s listening. After all, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain!


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