Sep 272009

Snoopy 01Our lives begin as improvisations and are slowly composed.

Play is improvisation, so is dancing, also conversation and many sports. Action and reaction and tension and release are things that jazz musicians must master for their improvised solos to be coherent statements.

We can learn alot about how to organize our lives and be more productive by using some standard musical concepts.

Action and reaction

It’s true that there are very few things in life that we can control. One of the most important is our reactions to people and situations.


 Nobody is inspired all the time.


An improviser is required to make constant decisions and to react to those decisions with a refined yet open mind and technique.

An improvised creation can make use of structural concepts often used in composed music. 








Sep 252009

Pat Metheny in flight

By Tom Gates

Jazz guitar instructor Stan Samole had just come from a small practice room on the second floor of the building that housed the jazz department at the University of Miami. “I just met the future of jazz guitar” he said. He was right. It was an eighteen year-old kid from Missouri named Pat Metheny.

It was 1972, and Stan had the job of playing for a few minutes with each of the incoming jazz guitar students to check  their skills.  Just two guitars, face to face, in a tiny room – “blues in B flat” he’d say and off you’d go.

There were very few colleges that offered jazz guitar studies in 1972, and the number of young guitarists that showed up in Miami was impressive. We had been inspired and motivated by the amazing and wonderful rock and roll of the late 1960’s and the new breed of guitarists fusing rock with the jazz tradition.

Pat Metheny had it. He got it. He had listened and studied and practiced and researched and loved it so much that when I met him at age 18 he was stunning. Deep musicality combined with genuine personal presence is a powerful combination. Pat can weave a musical melody over any chord changes. Not just a line that is correct and logical, but a creation with meaning. How? How do you create real feeling and an important moment with an improvised  creation?

I was fortunate to spend some time with Pat both in lessons and socially in 1972-73 before his move to Boston and beyond. It was a joy and his musicality has inspired me ever since.

Pat Metheny has discussed his search for an original voice. Whatever instrument you play do not try to emulate your favorite player. Look at the entire spectrum of players of your instrument. Look in the cracks between styles. What hasn’t been done? That’s what you should do.

Here is a beautiful solo guitar medley from Pat Metheny:

And a soaring band track: