Sing, Sing, Sing
One of the first things my teacher in college emphasized was the art of singing solos along with records. Jazz is a musical language at its core, so it only makes sense to learn it through imitating the “native speakers,” or the great improvisors of past generations. The process is simple: put on a recording you like and try to sing along with the soloist. At first you might only be able to get a half a second at a time, which is why I usually use a software that allows me to loop tiny sections easily. Programs that can slow things down are useful for faster sections, though I try to use those as a last resort unless I’m working on something really complicated.
Just as you subconsciously internalize the inflections of pop songs played hundreds of times on the radio, you’ll intuitively copy the phrasing and articulation of the soloist you’re singing along with. Your swing feel will inevitably improve, as will your pallate of dynamics and articulations. Never underestimate the power of how you present your ideas-it makes or breaks soloists at all levels.
Above all though, I love this process simply because of how intuitive it is. Even little kids can learn surprisingly complex solos through singing along, as no music theory knowledge is required.Below is a fine example of just how simple it can be to sing along with even an artist like John Coltrane. These kids likely don’t know anything about third cycles or chord-scale relationships, yet they have internalized Coltrane’s unique harmonic language.
Wherever you are on your journey to becoming a better improvisor, this video is good food for thought.