Jazz Licks: Bass Clef Version is 296 pages of improvisational gold for bassists.
A collaborative project led by Nikita Borisenko, the book contains more than 1,500 jazz licks for the more popular chord progressions (2-5-1 and 1-6-2-5) in the jazz repertoire. The licks are written in standard notation and are provided in all keys. The book can provide the aspiring improviser with weeks, if not years, of study.
Published in October 2014, the book features 17 songs so the reader can apply the melodic jazz licks to jazz standards, including such classics as “All The Things You Are,” “The Days Of Wine And Roses,” “My Funny Valentine,” “Someday My Prince Will Come,” “Stella By Starlight,” and “Take Five.”
The authors and contributors compiled a large collection of saxophone, brass, guitar and piano licks in treble clef. Rather than simply transpose the licks, the authors took great care in adapting the melodic ideas specifically to the range of the bass.
According to Borisenko, the book concept started more than 10 years ago when he was studying jazz guitar and improvisation at Moscow College Of Improvising Music. He was struggling with improvisation and was not having much success finding method books or learning from the one or two licks he’d find on any particular song.
“There were a few people who knew the secret but there were no easy way to transfer this knowledge from one individual to another,” said Borisenko. “(The process) implied a whole lot of work: Listening and transcribing miles of tape, running through a number of books to discover just a few worthwhile melodic ideas.”
After transcribing many recordings, he observed that music closely resembled physics and math. In his view, “beautiful music obeys certain principles which can be formulated and explained.”
Borisenko believed that scientific approach was missing from other jazz publications and set about to build a knowledge base of jazz licks over common chord progressions. Thousands of licks are now stored in the free online database at www.bopland.org.
Eventually, Borisenko decided to publish the online material into a more convenient and play-ready book.
Using Jazz Licks
“One of the best bits of advice I’ve ever heard about memorizing any material was to split the information into small chunks and chew them one by one,” said Borisenko. “My intention was to create a book which would implicitly incentivize a reader to build his own vocabulary based on those patterns he likes most.”
Derek Jones, bassist for Cirque du Soleil’s KA and adjunct faculty in the bass department at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, has started experimenting with the book on a handful of his college students. Starting with the first example in the key of C, Jones suggests playing through the 2-5-1 licks as written: seven lines of three measures (one per chord) per line. That starts the reader with seven jazz licks. Jones then recommends mixing up the chords from each of the seven different lines. For instance, play the Dm7 lick from the first line with the G7 lick from the third line and the Cmaj7 lick from the sixth line.
“Instead of seven licks, you now have 343. And that’s just in the key of C,” Jones added. “This is not a book to learn the songs. It’s a book to help you explore and improvise ideas.”
Jones recommend using the book to focus on improving left hand facility as well as practicing dynamics and articulation with the right hand.
“The book is a really good starting point,” said Geoff Neuman, double bassist with the Las Vegas Philharmonic and instructor of instrumental music of Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas. “It is up to the student to be creative in how to get the most out of it. Like most jazz educational books, it is up to the musician to create exercises beyond just reading through the book to get the most out of it.”
Neuman advocates approaching the book to with both right and left hand studies in mind. The student should vary fingering options with the left hand as well as experiment with rhythmic and dynamic variations with the right hand — in addition to bowing exercises for the double bassist.