3 October 2015


A reader from Essex, England, sent me this interesting comment:

I learnt from your blog that many tunes share the same chord progression e.g. the Sweet Sue Progression, which makes life easier for the rhythm section. But then I thought that perhaps this applies to the clarinet and the trombone parts as well. Could it be that a clarinet player has learnt after many hours of practice a standard part for a chord progression that fits many songs or put another way, if you played through all the tunes listed under the Sweet Sue Progression would the clarinet player play the same thing each time (obviously with variations to fit the particular tune)?

..............I know that some very talented musicians could make up something different every time but there must be lesser mortals who learn a set piece and always play that way.

The reader is right.

I'm sure there are great players who do not depend on learning and repeating pet phrases. But it is possible (and tempting) to use the same sequence of notes in several different tunes, if they fit.

I know a clarinettist who plays exactly the same notes in ensembles and exactly the same 'solo' choruses at every performance. Audiences don't notice, but I have heard his fellow musicians complain that what he offers is not really jazz and that playing-by-rote prevents him from contributing to the special excitement generated when instruments feed off each other and respond to what the other is saying.

However, even the very best traditional jazz players have developed a number of pet phrases (known as 'licks') that occur frequently in their playing over familiar chord sequences.