Let’s face it, uptempo jazz tunes can be tricky to play. When I was in my college years, the great jazz vocalist Sheila Jordan heard me accompany one of her voice students at the Jazz In July summer workshop as UMASS. She paid me a nice compliment by saying that I played jazz ballads with the maturity of a 60 year old (I was 19 at the time). While this was nice to hear, I knew that the flip side was also true: I wasn’t so good on uptempo tunes.
Yes, I could keep the tempo, but my improvised lines kind of floundered around and I didn’t really “say anything” with my solos.
I think the turning point for my uptempo playing came when I realized that I had to establish a good sense of flow rather than to simply play as fast as I could. This flow needs to be established mentally before we count off the tempo or play the intro. We can also make the intro all about getting into the flow, so that the melody and solos simply ride on top of the flow rather than force it like so many players do.
Here’s one way to establish the flow on an uptempo tune, by using an introductory vamp. Try it on a few other tunes as well.
Cherokee: Journey Through The Real Book #61
Enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”
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