Over the years I've been asked some interesting questions. So I thought that I would dedicate a page to posting some of the questions and answers. Anyone can submit a music question and if I have what I concider to be a helpful answer, I will add it to this page. To start things off, here are a few questions I was asked recently. Ask Your Music Question
Q. Working with Vocalists Q. Reharmonization and Improvisation
Reharmonization and Improvisation
"I'm wondering how you approach harmonic modifications to the music. There are, of course, many standard substitutions, but while listening (in Indianapolis) to the new tunes planned for the upcoming Tierney CD, I thought that you had moved rather far from the beaten path of standard substitutions. I was very impressed and wondered if you have a technique or theory for modifying the harmonies. Do you, in fact, think in terms of chords or do you organize vertical elements in other ways?”
First of all, thank you very much for your questions.
I always approach a new project as if I don’t know anything about technique. There are points in the melody that I want to emphasize, maybe with a funny chord, or a dramatic one, or maybe a very plain one; depending on the effect (color) it will give; I call those points “emotional intent”, then I work around those points in no definite directions, I might reharmonize backwards if I need to fill blanks. The key is to always replay the result as if I heard it for the 1st time. So basically, my ear is leading my work, not my techniques. I will constantly erase what does not sound right to my ear. Also, I put a lot of importance on voice leading and bass leading.
The following link is to an online lesson I did for Berklee. It shows in greater detail my techniques and approach to reharmonization.
"On a similar note, I wonder if you ever modify the form spontaneously, especially in the group format. Art Tatum's insertions and extensions come to mind, but these occurred in his solo work, as I recall. I am also reminded of an interview I once saw with Frank Evans (Bill's brother, who may have taught at LSU) in which he discussed an ideal form of jazz in which players were so good that a soloist could modify any combination of melody, harmony and form and yet the group could still follow. Have you ever tried any of these things? Do you think that it's possible to be that free without sounding like Ornette (whom I like)?"
Your 2nd question is truly a great question; I have for a while attempted to improvise harmonically, the vehicle I use is usually a vocal piano duo where I will accompany first, using some unexpected chords that will eventually lead me to a new interesting path, but with a care of still accompanying, thus not losing the singer. Then comes my solo where I will intently break from the key, modulate and go for more of a melodic improvisation, breaking the form, developing small ideas, harmonizing on the go. It is always a very intense moment, and sometimes I feel like I babbled, really saying nothing, and some other times, I feel like I just created a masterpiece, and wish it was recorded. on “On The Other Side” from the Tierney Sutton Band, the track “Smile” is actually exactly that; it was a pure improvisation.