JazzPianoSkills welcomes jazz pianist, guitarist, composer, arranger, and educator Bert Ligon; Director of Jazz Studies at the University of South Carolina.
Welcome to JazzPianoSkills, I'm Dr. Bob Lawrence. It’s time to Discover, Learn, and Play jazz piano!
Today, you are in for a real treat! I am joined by jazz pianist/guitarist/composer/arranger/educator Bert Ligon. Bert has served as the director of jazz studies at the University of South Carolina for the past 30+ years. He received his Bachelor of Music and his Master of Music in jazz piano performance and arranging from the University of North Texas. Bert has published four books: Jazz Theory Resources Vol. 1 & 2, Connecting Chords with Linear Harmony, and Comprehensive Technique for the Jazz Musician. Additionally, he has published several original compositions and arrangements for big bands, jazz orchestras, and steel drum ensembles. He composed extensively in the Radio/TV/film industry receiving many awards including national PBS awards and an EMMY nomination. Bert is an accomplished pianist and guitarist - he also has a deep love for baseball - he plays a little 3rd base and pitches which we spend a little time discussing as well. Bert’s accolades go on and on - you can learn more about Bert and all of his tremendous educational resources through his website BertLigonMusic.com
My interview with Bert is a two-part series - you’ll enjoy part two today (part one was published last week). Both audio and video formats are available for this podcast episode. Of course, you can listen to the audio version of this episode through any of the popular podcast directories (iHeart Radio, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, Pandora) OR directly on the JazzPianoSkills Podcast Website where you can also watch the video of the show as well (which I strongly recommend).
Now, It is my great pleasure and honor to welcome to JazzPianoSkills, Mr. Bert Ligon.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 0:28
Okay, I'm going to, you know, now we're gonna move into what I call the rapid-fire segment, that rapid-fire segment of the jazz panel skills. Yep,
Bert Ligon 0:37
sudden we have technical problems. Question. Oh, good here, you. Sector, right.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 0:44
So um, so the rapid-fire session here, I'm going to throw out some musical terms, some musical skills. And I want you too, as simply and concisely as possible, speak to the students, the jazz panel skills listeners, and kind of give them your do's and your don'ts with regards to this particular topic or skill. All right, so I'm going to start I'm saying I'm going to start easy, but it's not easy. I'm just gonna throw it out. Scales. Everybody talks about scales. So Bert Ligon, what are your do's and don'ts?
Bert Ligon 1:24
I think that's a great place to start. I don't think I could play an instrument without learning scales. Because if we go back to what we're really trying to do, we're trying to play melodies. And you can only play melodies, either with steps or with leaps. So that indicates at some point, I'm going to need to practice steps which are scales, and leaps, which are pages. So it's fundamental. So you can't get that's like that basic baseball skill. You got to practice that, do it, you cannot do that. Here's the do's and the don'ts. What you cannot do is think that that is studying harmony, or that is studying melodic development. It is kind of like just the the spice rack and certainly have to know it. So I spent years practicing scales. And I'll admit that I don't practice scales at all anymore. But I do practice arpeggios. And when I practice our pages, I connect the arpeggiated notes with passing tones. And to me, I think that maybe even a better way to think of scales is to think of them as, like, a way to get to the arpeggiator notes,
Dr. Bob Lawrence 2:37
right? So yeah, got it. Right.
Bert Ligon 2:40
This is coming across, across. That's a Beethoven theme from the cello piano, piano trio, I think that's a scale, but that's just what I've seen this, that, here's another piece that everybody knows.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 3:03
I'm just gonna say that,
Bert Ligon 3:04
they're gonna hear that as a scale, but but it really is. Missing, right? But so then I want to really think about scales in as a way to get to these points. So here's my Google Maps thing I'm trying to get from here to here, right? The important thing is my starting point, my endpoint, and I can choose the scenic route, I can take the freeways or whatever, that's the scales or arpeggios possible analogy, and I'm shooting from the from the hip here. But the too many people start thinking that every every chord symbol, or every thing has to do with playing a scale, when it would be better to think maybe, what is the one note I want to play here? Correct. And then use scales and arpeggios to get there. But fundamentally, yeah, you have to probably play scales, to to work out issues of what the hands do with the piano and right hands are symmetrical associate piano, you know, right. Right. And
Dr. Bob Lawrence 4:00
I always I always talk to students about scales, practicing scales with always a, an intentional entry point. And an intentional destination point, you know, everybody wants to practice scales from the root to the root. And I'm always like, No, I don't want you to go root the route. How about root to seven? Or how about 39? Or how about 50? You know, how about some kind of entry points, some destination point? And then what arpeggio coincides with that, you know? Yeah,
Bert Ligon 4:27
I think and the way we teach scales, in classes, in piano lessons, everything is this root root thing, because it's easy to talk about that way. But most melodies don't start
Dr. Bob Lawrence 4:38
with that's exactly what that's exactly right. And we do
Bert Ligon 4:41
that I just played did. But you know, think about just little folk songs like that they a lot of times start on the five and then or, you know, the national anthem or some of these things. So yeah, practicing from some melodic content point.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 4:57
Yeah. And plus, I think that if you're if you're always praying Practicing the scale from the root to root, you're doing such a disservice to the ear, right? How about you know, if I practice from the root to the seventh might I'm listening for that seventh, if I'm if I'm practicing something, you know, from the fifth to the ninth, I'm listening for the fifth to the ninth, you know, my ears are starting to hear these relationships.
Bert Ligon 5:17
Well, someone asked me the other day, another college teacher about, I think we're talking about some melodic minor arpeggio stuff, which is maybe too deep for this conversation. But the point he was asking me, How do I have them practice for this tune, and I say, I haven't practiced the arpeggios from the melody note in every measure, instead of going, Okay, this is a right, such a such chord. So I'm going to play from root to root, no, find the melody note and then frame it with the arpeggio and or the scale, because then that's what we call a safe Stella. And we're called Stella because it's a beautiful melody. And we want to hear that melody. So I practice any kind of scale motion or arpeggio motion from from that rather than root to root. That's not my job. Correct? That's not what I hear when I hear any tune. I don't hear the melody, you know. And yet, as musicians, sometimes we get so so skewed, you know, what's that tune in the piano player will start hauling off a bunch of chord changes. You know, the bass players, they can root fifths and anybody else in the world, they're thinking of the lyrics and the melody. That's right. And so let's go back to I go back to that a lot. So that's my thing on scales. I won't go any further. Yeah,
Dr. Bob Lawrence 6:31
that's very good. All right. Here's another here's another topic that I think is, in my opinion, I think is probably the most complicated or confusing skill set for any aspiring jazz pianist. Everybody seems to struggle with the concept of voicings, what are voicings? What are good voicings, what how should you practice voicings so, so that what happens to help students so that voicings I always say if you're not careful voicings can become like fishing line, they can get tangled up real quickly. So what is your advice, do's and don'ts for students as they approach the study of voicings?
Bert Ligon 7:17
Okay, when when I first started figuring out voicings and I didn't have formulas, I didn't have any books. I didn't have anybody telling me these are the good voicings, but when I would find one that I thought worked, and looking back most of them did, you know, right, I was approaching it as if there was a five-note chord, I looked at that as five voices. Alright. And I listened to every voices that went through. So even, even if I'm just talking about a left hand, top note really beautiful line. Right? Right. Where the ear, I can play these for my students in a class that don't know anything about theory. And they're not thinking theory, but they can sing the next note, because it's logical. It goes, what should go. So, while I was playing, and practicing a two, five cycle or whatever cycle I'd figured out, you know, I would have to practice it several times to get my fingers to play in the right spot, right? Like we all do, we have to practice many times, you can just do what's right, and then I will take it to the new keys. But what I would do is I would play this cycle five times in this key, and every time I would sing one of the voices. I wasn't just playing an F down here with my thumb, I was singing the F and hearing how it eventually you're good, right? And then I would do the same thing. You know, I'm thinking about like, those are five voices instead of thinking chunk, chunk, chunk, I'm thinking five individual linear mode. Right? Right. I didn't know that this was a good thing. Now looking back, I think, Man, that's a great thing to do. Because I when I play piano, today, I'm still trying to hear those as five individuals that have linear implications every time I play a note has a linear implication in this context. And so yeah,
Dr. Bob Lawrence 9:09
so nothing's nothing secondary there. It's all important.
Bert Ligon 9:13
Right? And and they if they are pointing somewhere, then the listener is expecting it and I can prove that I can go out to a middle school in the middle of Kansas and these kids will know where that notes gonna go because certain inevitability about it, right? And if I want to go someplace else, I have to realize that I am playing with someone's expectations and that may be exactly what I want to do is do that against the grain thing, but for me, it starts with their five lines going on. Yeah, right. Um, so you know, no matter what I'm doing I'm starting point.
There's a lot of stuff going on there. That was that example of like, maybe those notes weren't where you expect them to. to go, but then each one of them in turn has an inevitability. So I mean, if we're really going to talk specifics, I mean, I could get down to where I start, close, open, left, right, this than the other. But at the whole time, I'm trying to, to hear lines. And when I'm accompanying myself with a solo, I'm still thinking about these as lines, even if two or three notes down here. Right, right. So yeah, not just, oh, I stab, here's a, here's a shell, I throw down on the piano. I mean, they are shells, and I am throwing them on the piano, but I'm still trying to be aware of them how they fit into the musical line and how they coordinate with, you know, whatever else is going on. Right. So. I don't know, I dress specifically, voicings questions, but
Dr. Bob Lawrence 10:51
yeah, no. And, you know, and then practicing them though, when you do find like, the muscle memory, right. Repetition, repetition, repetition, going back to like the baseball drills again, right? You have to get you have to play these what I tell students all the time, we play shapes and sounds, shapes and sounds. So be aware of the shapes be aware of the sounds. Yeah, right. So Oh, you have another comment on that? That probably. Okay. All right. So here's another topic. This is every student wants to know this. What are some do's and don'ts about approaching tunes study, practicing tunes working on developing repertoire as a jazz player?
Bert Ligon 11:39
That's a great one. There's 1000 lists online, you can find a standard that everybody should know and overlap and stuff. And we can figure out what they are. But so start with those. If you don't know some of those top 10 tunes, you start with those. If you're going to jam sessions, and you hear people call a tune that you don't know. By tomorrow night at eight o'clock, you should know that too. And I'd be surprised how many kids will come out to a jam session and a pretty standard tune is called and the next week, they still don't know the tune. I don't understand what they're thinking. Yeah. Why didn't you ever happen with me? I was like, so embarrassed that I didn't know every tune that was called, you know, right. So I'm gonna lose track of what I'm what I'm trying to get to here.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 12:20
Oh, and you think about that update story. I remember in college, I went to a jam session with these old jazzers. And the room was packed, it was crowded, all kinds of folks there. In fact, it was in Davenport, Iowa. And it was the Bix Beiderbecke Jazz Festival. So there was all these musicians and all these people. And I'm on the piano on the sax player turns around, he says, he's counting. He's like, this ridiculous tempo. And he says, Lady be good. One, three. And I, I'm on the piano, and I go, I go, Jack, Jack, Jack. I don't know it. And he goes, You do now? Yeah, yeah.
Bert Ligon 13:00
Well, you know, really, how I learned a lot of tunes is on gigs. And if the singer called the tune and the bass player looked like he knew it, right. Figured I have the melody. Right. bass note. Yeah, I can't figure out the chord. I shouldn't be up here. You know? I wouldn't. I would, I would pretend I knew tunes that I didn't write. And then I would learn them and use it there. Maybe like one quarter like, where does it go for the bridge? What the heck is going on here? Right? I'd figure out that the second time. And I'd be watching the bass player really tuning in. And then there'd be some point where they come in. And the melody lands on on a fifth and he's on a route. I'm going I don't know if it's major minor, you know, and I would play these ambiguous, you know? Where, if they were if it was supposed to be an F sharp and there they would hear it. If it's supposed to be F natural. They'd hear bass move that goes major. Right? Yeah, right. Maybe it was. But yeah, so.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 13:56
But how do you approach when you are? So yeah, so you so okay, you're at a jam session. Somebody calls a tune. You don't know it? You go home? You go. I'm gonna know this tune by eight o'clock tomorrow night. What steps do you take to have that tune into your fingers by eight o'clock tomorrow night?
Bert Ligon 14:12
Yeah, I think a lot of people worry about the chord changes, and how can I memorize the chord changes and you know, you play music by this long and you know that chord changes are kind of liquid anyway, nobody has a lot of changes work to a tune, but here's the thing. All the good ones work with the melody. Right? So if you know the melody, right, that's the thing and even kids even this week, you know, somebody brought in a great tune and they didn't really know the melody. They've kind of half learned the melody and and and done something that might have initially wasn't the melody This is a victor Victor young tune you He doesn't need to be fixed. Right, you know, so just learn it. In fact, just if you and learn the lyrics to it helps because then it's not a it's not an abstract. It's not Oh, that's a it's an A flat. No, it's a word, you know, right. It's, you know, the days it could be. It's, it's amazing, right? And then the chords, I mean, yeah. So I would, I would have people play the tune as simply as possible for white, until I'm not trying to do too many cute things with it until they really have the melody learned. And with some more and more advanced, we learn a new tune, like a kid comes into my office and, and I asked them if they know this tune, and they go, No, I don't know that too. Well, let's play it in about four or five keys. You know, and this is a dress level student, I mean, college love student and, and we play it in, you know, sometimes up to 12 keys, depending on the situation, how much time we have, because then they're learning the shape of the melody. And not, you know, Days of Wine starts on seeing goes day, no, it doesn't. It only works that way. If you're in the key of F, right. I'm in planning B Major, it's a whole different thing. Right, right. So by playing a simple melody, simply, in as many cases as you can, or several keys, you don't have to play 12 all the time, but, but it really helps you learn the piano and learn the melody. Because if I'm playing a tune, and the first thing I'm going to do is play it in 12 keys, right? By the time I've done that, I really know the melody. I've played it 12 times in relationships, and yes, in the end.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 16:39
In fact, I try to encourage pianos play the melody. And we you please just sit on your left hand, we just please just sit. I want you can you please just think like a horn player for a second? Can you think like a vocalist for a second? And just can you just play that just let's just play the melody. Here's the key. Let's play the melody. Let's not even worry about chord changes. Can we can we play the melody? That's great.
Bert Ligon 16:59
And I completely concur with that. And also, when we first start improvising on this new tune, it's like I don't want to hear any jazz stuff. I want you to analyze on the melody. So
Dr. Bob Lawrence 17:13
yes, yes. Right. How about improvise with the notes of the melody? Right? Yeah, right.
Bert Ligon 17:19
You can disguise it like, you know.
It's still in there somewhere. But we're not just playing licks are.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 17:31
Right, right. Exactly. Right. You know, it's it's funny I heard toward the end of his life. Dave McKenna interview always enjoyed Dave McKenna's plane because like they McKenna says the melodies never too far away. It's all it's always there. Right. But I liked what you know, in the end, he said to the interviewer, the interviewer was referring to him as a jazz pianist. And he told him to stop calling him a jazz pianist. And the, what the interviewer said, what, what should I call you? And Dave McKenna said, you know, at this point in my life, I like to think of myself. I'm a song player. I play songs and melodies. Yeah, well, I play melodies. Yeah, right. I thought, wow, how fabulous right?
Bert Ligon 18:14
I still, I still feel like that's motivating me when I'm even on a gig not just in a classroom, but just on a gig. I've always got the melody under my fingers. And right, everything is sometimes even when I when I'm off into my cool stuff, I realized that I'm landing on the melon on every time correct. So I'm trying to frame it. When you
Dr. Bob Lawrence 18:36
when you know the melody you can. Here's what's funny, right? If you really know the melody, then the challenge is if somebody said to you, okay, now play and don't reference the melody, you'd go, like, that's impossible. I can't do that. It'd become hard to not right. You can't you can't help but the reference when you know it, right. So it's, it becomes very, it becomes very obvious. I think when you listen to somebody improvising or playing, it becomes very obvious that they don't know the melody. Right? Right.
Bert Ligon 19:05
That is, or if they're, yes, it or if they're just thinking they're really just thinking of a bunch of chord changes. Like I have stuff that I can do over F minor, two, B flat seven to E flat, right? Well, this tune and this tune are different characters and a different partner set. And so why, like the same stuff, you know,
Dr. Bob Lawrence 19:26
right? Yeah, like, right. That's right.
Bert Ligon 19:28
That's exactly right. You know, we all know, we've probably all been there too, you know, like, at the point where we can't wait for the tune to be over so we can start playing jazz. And then the old guys going, Yeah, but, but let's, you know, why do we call this tune if we're just gonna,
Dr. Bob Lawrence 19:44
right, right. So, okay, here's another here's another topic to hit another toughy right. Do's and Don'ts for a student starting off and wanting to develop their ear, ear training do's and don'ts. of ear training.
Bert Ligon 20:02
All right. Do you see this thing? Yes.
Yeah. So I know, you just think is off my mind. That's where I have them start. Alright, nice, because that's physics, these notes come out of the air. So those are the notes that came out of the two. Fundamental. And those are the notes. And so many songs start like that
like I could, I could be sitting here just playing over and over and over again. I'm not playing scales. I'm playing the notes that I got at Lowe's or Home Depot. I can't remember.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 21:06
Right? Doesn't matter.
Bert Ligon 21:09
All the other notes that I'm using notes back to these notes, right. Yeah. And if they're good, so. There's Parker, so I play, man Seanie. Secret Love Doris days hit from 1954. Amazing Grace, the Alma Mater from the University of South Carolina go Cox.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 21:43
You had to get that in there.
Bert Ligon 21:45
Charlie Parker, and Simple Gifts. And I haven't left the notes from the tube,
Dr. Bob Lawrence 21:50
right. Wow. Fabulous. Fabulous.
Bert Ligon 21:54
So instead of trying to hear 12 pitches or trying to hear intervals, try to find the home pitches that so many tunes are based on which physics is not because some theory teacher said we need to learn these notes, right? This is physics that I take it to any continent on the planet, and it will still ring those same pitches. Yeah. But rings in those pitches, strings vibrate harmonically in those pitches. So I can start there. If I can hear these pitches. I can hear that pitch. Because it wants to point here. Yeah, that's fabulous. Limited. No, no one wants to go because I know where these primary pitches are. Yeah, I break it into primary pitches, which are physics, diatonic pitches, which point back to there, yeah, cheery pitches or you know, that want to point either right back.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 22:47
You know, right.
Bert Ligon 22:51
From chromatic notes, but that's the point back to the primary pitchers. So if you are 12 pitches, that's a chore. It's a three and then hear the pitches the point back to it. Something else. If I play just these pitches, and I play twinkle, you know, the pitches that point back, points coming after this points to F points. Add up all the pitches that point to F melodically, not harmonically, right, I end up getting that G minor triad or a C triad, the two in the five. So it's for me, it's not a chicken and egg thing which came first the chords. What are the right is the melodies? Yeah.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 23:42
No doubt about it. Right? Yeah, absolutely. I
Bert Ligon 23:44
was playing with Bach, we did not have chord changes.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 23:47
Right. Right. You know. So
Bert Ligon 23:50
that's, that's, that's where I'm gonna break down your training. So we're gonna find three pitches first.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 23:54
Yeah, that's fabulous. That's fabulous. Now the tube sales at Lowe's and Home Depot are going to go up significantly later.
Bert Ligon 24:04
Here's the thing. You have to you have to cut in the right links like I have. When I'm working with string players we play in the key of G. So I have a link that's in G this was an F for when I'm playing with horn players because I like the flat keys. Ratchet and kind of tune in
Dr. Bob Lawrence 24:21
you're cracking me up, man. Oh, that's fun. Okay, how about this one? Okay, here's here's one that I think gets ignored way, way, way too much. The importance of history
Bert Ligon 24:40
hmm, yeah. I haven't I have another one over here. I'm going to get to that thing. It's really important if you let me Oh, I sure will. History boy. You know, I was a my study of history was not such a I didn't do it right when I first started playing piano The first records I got were mild smiles. Can you imagine?
Unknown Speaker 25:04
Like, yeah, you don't get a lot of stuff there.
Bert Ligon 25:07
Well, I mean, it was just I was mid 60s or 70s, or something like that. Someone handed me that record. And it was so confused about what to play the didn't even play sometimes. I've actually talked to him about this, you know, wow, he goes, Man, I told Myles, I didn't know what to play and my son didn't Don't play. And so he left big blanks, and sometimes he's just playing with his right hand because he wasn't sure what to do. In court. You know, this is Herbie Hancock, and he's a genius. Oh, my God. So I kind of had to work my way back to Red Garland, and I'm from Dallas, and I didn't know Red Guard. Right? Oh, my goodness. Right. And what he had moved back kind of after this period, but, um, and you know, when Kelly and then and, but And of course, Bill, I mean, but you know, I kind of had to work my way back through history to find these things. So, yeah, it's important to know where you're coming from, and I still look back at some of those players from the early jazz is like, man, we're not worthy. Correct. Right. Right. So yeah, and I all, you know, and then as a classical piano player, which I was for a while there, you know, just how much there is to learn from that history, too. So it didn't start with bud Powell or, you know, right. Or Ted, you know,
Dr. Bob Lawrence 26:22
right. That's right. That's right. Right. And I tend to think that, you know, that, you know, the study of history is is actually a pretty darn good. Blueprint, right, a developmental blueprint for us as as musicians, you know. So I try to encourage my students to get very comfortable with history to go back to these to the early jazz fathers if you will, and, and, and begin listening and listen forward and keep listening forward. You know, so, okay. Improvisation. Somebody wants to learn how to improvise. How do they begin?
Bert Ligon 27:06
I'm going to go back to the to begin, okay. I'm really serious, because if they can find those those notes on their instrument, they've got under their fingers, literally. 1000s of melodies, folk songs, Christmas song. Correct. Right? Standards, like I've just played, you know, right.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 27:23
There. All right here, right there, right.
Bert Ligon 27:25
There's a Wine Roses, Twinkle, twinkle, and right, simple framework to just go like, I'm not gonna worry about chord changes, I'm not gonna worry about anything, I'm just gonna try to create some melodies. Correct? A play a folk song that no one's ever heard before. But it has the components of these things. Correct. And step from there. So that's where I'm gonna start, you know, and I've had, I've taught Suzuki camps where, you know, my advanced, were bunch of 11 year old kids. And, and we improvise there based on twinkle or the songs in the twinkle book, in other words, right, they play around the melody. And they've played Clemente, and they've played Bach, and they played some some Mozart and Sonatina things and, and they are able to incorporate some of that vocabulary, because like, they played it before, right? So they'll add things that you don't even have to suggest to do. There's no reason they can't even play some chromatic notes because they, right here, White Christmas are right in town of Bethlehem. They're the chromatic notes there, right, and they can hear where they want to point. So fundamental is still back to the tube, and then all the harmony comes off that tube anyway, as far as I'm concerned. Yeah. Yeah. So yeah, I don't want to get too deep with that. I mean, it because I could get really deep with that. But
Dr. Bob Lawrence 28:44
yeah, and you know, what it will, you know, to with the improv and the ear training, kind of, you know, linking those two together, you know, quite often students, I think, have, you know, it's kind of an intimidating thing for a lot of students, you know, the ear, you know, they, whether they hear things or you know, and I always I always encourage them, I always go like, Look, you have great ears, you have great ears, and you're going to be able to pick this up quickly if you exercise those ears and, and think, Well, how do I how do you know I have good ears and I always go like, Well, look, I'm going to test you. I'm going to say something and you won't even have to hear you don't have to hear you don't have to have that sound here present to hear it. You'll you'll just hear it and they go okay, I say I go dog barking and they all smile. They think Oh yes, I hear a dog bark. I said you don't need a dog here, right? You hear dog barking? And they go yes, I go now I'm going to even be even more specific. tiny dog barking. Yeah. I'm a big dog barking, right? That if they can differentiate my point being is if you can start if you can differentiate between daily sound sounds that you hear daily. That if you dive in musically, you can start differentiating and hearing musical sound
Bert Ligon 30:01
right? I'll take that analogy back to even pitches then now you're trying to imagine have them imagine a sound but even a musical sentence could be that dog bark. Correct marking idea. So, dog and right. All those notes are just a way of describing the dog. All those ways are describing how he's barking, right? Right. So there's like two notes, I'm only thinking of two notes are only thinking of one note. But how do I want to say that one note? I want to say it like that. I want to say like, I want to say like, like that, right? And all I'm thinking is just f or something is correct. So I'm starting with the tube, even my college kids, I still go back to that business, because that's where Charlie Parker started his solo. And so it's enough for him, it's gonna work enough, right? No doubt, we are really getting like a step or two deeper, we're having to deal with chord changes. And we are in jazz, we have to deal with like secondary keys almost right off the bat. Correct. Right. So a lot of people are worried about all of the notes that they have to worry about when it reaches that secondary key. There is one impossibly two pitches that they need to worry about. And not wholescale. Yeah. So what I mean, now that you asked. So that's C major go into an E seven chord, what he said was not in the key of C, right, right. Oh, my God, what key are we in? Well, we're just going point a mine for a minute. So right just blacks. Right. One note changes, right. And that's the guy you should aim for. That's like the doorway to this room. Yes. Right. Right. And the next chord, you know, a seven, well, a seven is pointing to D minor, there's two notes that correctly differentiate the key of C major, which is no sharps and flats, right? Minor, which is one flat, right? Old school notation. Right, right. Right. So I got to get one flat in there and also have to get the Leading Tone. Correct. So that's gonna come in if I want. If I'm an improviser, and I want you to hear D minor, and I've got a bass player playing the D. What is one note? That's going to do it? There's I got 12 pitches, but one note, I don't want to play a D, the bass players got that an A.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 32:37
Right, right, in fact, is
Bert Ligon 32:39
if I play an am probably going to hear an F sharp ringing in the ear. Correct? Right? I'm gonna play an F. Correct. These are not like artistic choices, as much as those are the doorways. This is what lets those symbols mean up there. Find that one pitch that we're at. Right? Very good. You can find a million ways to get there. Yeah, that's very good. Yes. So I'm looking for this one pitch at a time kind of things that really identify it. And then I have to then make an artistic decision. How do I want to get there right? Or do I want to give it to you right when you expect it? Or do I want to hide it and make you wait for it and go I was there? Yeah, there it is. Right. That's the art. Yeah, that is, right. You know, D Major has an F sharp, that's not art. That's just fact.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 33:24
That's musical fact. Yeah. Alright. So awesome. What about, Okay, how about transcriptions? You hear people talk about transcriptions, all the time? What are the do's and don'ts of transcriptions? Because there are do's and don'ts to approaching transcriptions? What are they?
Bert Ligon 33:42
Hope I did? Right? It seems like you know, you know what you want me to say? Well, I,
Dr. Bob Lawrence 33:46
I know what I would say, but I'm curious what you would say. Alright.
Bert Ligon 33:50
The first thing you need to do is try to find the most difficult solo you can possibly imagine it goes on for seven minutes and transcribe every note. No.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 34:00
That's not what I would say. Oh, yeah.
Bert Ligon 34:01
That's right. What I meant to say was, that's where a lot of people think they have to start. That's exactly right. So I tell a kid, you've been listening to a record for a while. And there's probably one line you just like, you can't live without, right. I mean, that is so cool. That's line and transcribe and maybe two measures, and maybe four measures long. Don't worry about the whole record of the whole site, but that's the one that attracts you. And that's also kind of reflective of what may be your musical voices. Because that line attracts you. I mean, listen to that same recording and be attracted to this line over here. Correct. Right, something totally different little fragments. And from that loon fragment it's like digging up pottery Ark, archaeological pottery, right? I don't know the whole civilization, but maybe I can kind of figure out some things from just this little fragment instead of digging up everything. So from this little fragment, which well in that once the one of our users that Charlie Parker example, I found the notes of the I like to use some chromatic notes to get to the notes of the tube. Right, that is going to do me more good than trying to transcribe 128 measures a Clifford Brown three, correct, right. So I could take that little idea presuming this is doing and put it in every key, I can figure out what will it work in minor? Will it work, you know, upside down,
Dr. Bob Lawrence 35:29
Bert Ligon 35:32
In fact does it does. So then I've taken one day, I've transcribed one measure of music, and practiced it upside down and backwards. Now what am I?
Dr. Bob Lawrence 35:46
Yeah, all in an effort to discover you.
Bert Ligon 35:49
Right, exactly. And what have I done, I've not only developed my technique on the instrument, because I'm playing many keys, and practicing chops. This is way more fun than just practicing up and down the scales. Now, I'm practicing a little motive idea. And by extracting what I think it means, I'm learning how to develop a musical idea. Correct. Separate from I'm going to plug in this lick every time boost comes up. See, that's
Dr. Bob Lawrence 36:14
just that right? That there's where I'm getting that a lot of times so many people approach transcription as I'm going to learn a lick that I can drop-kick into days and Wine, wine and roses. And I go like good luck with that. Yeah, good luck with that. But I do
Bert Ligon 36:27
think sometimes that maybe it's a part of the process, maybe not on the gig. But as a part of a process to dropkick these transcriptions into a lot of tunes. So you can see kind of like, how it works. And also they'll find out that just knowing they're going to drop-kicking into this tune is not so easy. It's usually wait until the end of four to start thinking, what what they want to play on one. But that also teaches them something. So there's a there's a right, there's good in trying to plug it in, in some kind of way. But I think there's also a good thing. So, to summarize, I'm going to transcribe something exactly. I'm going to transcribe it literally. But then I'm going to transcribe it conceptually, what's going on? That's right. That's right. Parker is playing an arpeggio with some contrasting tones to get to that is even bigger process, no doubt, and stretches like this. Ryan. Oh, I can't play without plugging those ideas in.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 37:22
Yeah, yeah. And I always just try to encourage students that, you know, really, the study of the study of transcriptions is is the journey to discover you, it's, it's don't get it turned around that you're trying to discover Bill Evans, you're gonna use Bill Evans to discover you. And, and, and I think you approach it that way. You know, it's kind of like I had a teacher one time say to me, Bob, you this was funny, because I was just a kid and my heart sank to my feet. He said, Bob, he goes you cuz he wanted me to transcribe, he wanted me look at some Oscar Peterson stuff, right? And I said, you know, you know, and I was going like, I don't know, you know, I, you know, I don't want to end up sounding like Oscar Peterson. He cracked up laughing. He goes like this. He goes, Bob, because I want to tell you right now, he said, You will never ever sound like Oscar and my heart sunk to my feet. And then and then. But here's what he said that was so beautiful right afterwards. And he said, and Bob. He said, Oscar Peterson will never ever sound like you. There you go. So this is about finding you. Yeah, no,
Bert Ligon 38:21
I will say as an academically oriented person, I've transcribed a lot of complete solos. And the advantage to that, after transcribing bits and pieces that are really attractive, and trying to develop them on your own is that you get to see kind of how Dexter Gordon Bill Evans or Charlie Parker, develop an idea over a whole framework and write it. It's not always about the specific notes, but kind of the gestures that you're making, or they're playing a lot of really fast notes here. And it's really specific to the harmony. They're not playing fast notes in this not very specific to the harmony, how this kind of works together to tell the whole story. Right? Right. And I'm going to tell you to have transcribed like what is the tune how my heart sings, for instance, you know, the elevens recorded that several times. So I've set about to transcribe every place that I have. Now, the purpose, I'm not learning a whole lot new about how to play this tune, but it's interesting to me academically, is just to line it up and see right structure and he doesn't always on any to play the same changes, in fact, is I have other tunes that I've transcribed and I have, like, versions of his harmony with so when people go, those aren't the right changes to a tune. I pull this out I go, this is Bill Evans playing this one tune, and every time he chooses a different harmonic path,
Dr. Bob Lawrence 39:51
I hate Bill Evans.
Bert Ligon 39:56
And, but you know, there It's also interesting to me academically, maybe it's to see how much of the same material he has worked out. Right. And this is kind of the thing I'm going to do in these measures. And this is the kind of thing I'm going to do in that second course that really makes it automatic. And then you hear the one recording where he just screwed it up. I mean, I'm sorry. Yeah. All due respect to bill, but some of those nights. Bad substances were getting in the way, you know. And I could tell that, that maybe some substance abuse that had kind of taken over and he got things out of order. And he went to the second chorus idea way too early. There was nothing left and it was I don't I don't really mean to bring that up. That's a that's a don't. Right. That's a don't, right. Yeah. Right. But it was interesting to me at this point to kind of look and see what was alike and what was different and how,
Dr. Bob Lawrence 40:52
yeah, that's yours. Yeah, that's very fascinating. I've done that with students you know, like using like a recording of Oscar Peterson playing sweet Georgia Brown in 1970. him playing sweet Georgia Brown in 1980. him playing sweet Georgia Brown in 1990. And seeing and hearing the similarities how much of this is how Oscar Peterson plays sweet Georgia brown. This is how he likes to approach this would be hard
Bert Ligon 41:13
to even get to the second recording because after one I kind of want to quit piano.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 41:17
It's true, man. So true. Okay, here it is maybe the toughest one of the day and it's the last one.
Bert Ligon 41:24
In case this is not the one Okay, well,
Dr. Bob Lawrence 41:26
let's go to your let's go to yours real quick.
Bert Ligon 41:28
I think accompanying Oh thing that gets talked about the least of all and it's the thing we do 100% of the time? Yes. Yes. All right gig I'm playing. I'm accompanying every I even accompany drum solos. I feel like the drummers got to keep the forum and there's certain kicks and things in the turn. Right. I want to come together. Most of my drummers really like it, we set this stuff up even in their souls, right, when it comes to the piano solo, come accompany myself. Right. So I think that that's right. We could probably spend as far as I'm concerned, like a whole session just talking about
Dr. Bob Lawrence 42:03
I'm gonna have you know, I'm gonna, I'm gonna have you back on we're going to talk about that's going to be the topic.
Bert Ligon 42:07
Right? So I'll leave it at that. And I will, I'll address that because I have very specific things to say about
Dr. Bob Lawrence 42:13
Yeah, yeah, I'm gonna have you back. We're gonna we're gonna set up a date after we get done with this one. And I because that is fascinating. I think you're right. That is totally that. You know, that's so much neglected that you in fact, you don't even hear anybody talk about it. Right? So I'd be happy to do that. That'd be awesome. Bert. Okay. Yeah, the last one that I had. The last one I had I had is the abstract concept. It's not really abstract, but it is. It's hard. Time. Time. Yes. Should we set up another episode for that time, time? So do's and don'ts, some pearls of wisdom, some pearls of wisdom, from birth to jazz piano skills, listeners about time, the awareness of time, the development of time, the practicing of time? Yeah.
Bert Ligon 43:10
Everything that has to do with music has to do with time, even pitches. That pitch is defined by how many times it vibrates a second, you know, correct. I know that's kind of that's abstract. But right. And music only happens in time. You know, it's like, there's a beginning and happens over time. The we can talk about harmony all day long. But harmony dictates how we feel a time.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 43:38
Right? Right. So Right.
Bert Ligon 43:48
You know, I'm in three, four without a conductor being there. Because I'm playing the chords, every three beats, you feel this event happen every three beats. If I take harmony, and I just say oh, it's it's 162 and five and just mix them in any kind of order. We don't get a sense of time, right? You put them in the right order. And in this phrase, one feels like it's here. This feels like it's here. It sets up the field of music. Right? These are bigger pictures of time, right? I think about the form of a tune as when we talk about subdivision, we're usually talking about like eighth notes being subdivided into quarters, like I talked about the tune. This is a BA, this is beat three of the tune in right. And if I walk into a club, and they're playing rhythm changes, I can tell that they're on the second eighth, right? Because these guys are playing different than they play it here here. Yeah, so good. So eight measure phrases feel like different beats to a more mature player. We sense this we're not playing in this measure something correct. So before we even get to eighth notes, we're looking at bigger things and then the eighth note, what's the hardest thing in the world is still it's a Last thing to come a guy can understand a super locrian scale long before they only get maybe the the time feel I'm still working on time field, you know? Correct. You're right. Of how I established the time. Man, you just opened a big can of worms here.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 45:19
Well, you be thinking about that, because we should have an episode on time too. Yeah, yeah. I'll do an episode on time. Yeah.
Bert Ligon 45:25
So what is that practice time? You talked a minute ago about having them not play with their their left hand and just playing melodies? Right. There's another exercise I thought of at the time is I didn't know tell them to put something in their hand over here and play the whole tune just accompany themselves first. Yes. Like if this guy's not giving me the time, not much this is going to do to help. That is correct. I play really slow. People have talked about that I practice really slowly. I'm going to play rhythm changes. We played a gig the other night, and we're playing Cherokee, because there's a Charlie Parker tribute and read it like 320. That's his best man. But I practice this stuff. painfully slow, like, maybe at 60. Yeah, like where it's almost like the matrix where everything's in slow motion. Right? Right. I want to feel like the kind of way things feel and you know, Sunrise practice at different tempos. Alright, practice, slowly, I'm very critical of how these notes feel. I think it's the time feel of jazz has less to do with like, if I noticed swing, or whether what who's getting the accent who's louder, who's softer? This has a lot more to do with feel than anything else. I'm just kind of like hitting these high points of things. So you could play a line and play all the notes correctly. And it's not gonna sound like Oscar Peterson, because Oscars putting his accent and he's hammering the snot out of some of those notes. And some of those notes are like not even really there. You know? And, and that's what makes it feel so good. That's that time feel that he's got right, right. A long time ago, a classical piano player told me that he thought he knew someone who could play all that Oscar stuff without all the accents. So he completely missed the point. It was it all had to be like there was some flaw in the magic because he was accenting polyrhythms and stuff. No. So yeah, work on time. I practice with a metronome. There are times in lessons we work on. Yeah, actually beating rhythms. Right. Right, feeling two pulses, and we'll have to stop play piano play pattycake for a while that right? You really get the sense of where these things happen. Right? Without thinking about notes. We, you know, when the more mature players we're talking about how to punctuate the form rhythmically, so we know where we are. So just don't feel like a just a bunch of
Dr. Bob Lawrence 47:49
Correct. Right. That's that's a great point. Right? You know, we should be able to with mature players, you should be able to walk into the room and know exactly where in the form they are.
Bert Ligon 47:58
Yeah, cuz you walk in a room, the concert bands playing, you know, we're beat one is that looking at conductor because the music does that? Correct? Correct. There's is much when transcribing those excerpts. That's the other thing to try to get is like, how are they playing? Yeah. And it's not just a matter of lining up the eighth notes and playing in the right order. Yeah, what I was gonna get an accent I wonder, maybe not what I was gonna get slurred and one of them's gonna get in or not. I'm transcribing sax or trumpet player. They're tonguing that how do I translate that to the right, exactly right. There's no such thing as legato where either a hammer hit a stringer. Right? Right. But that's right, make it and make you a sense that we're breathing. Correct.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 48:39
That's what that makes. That's what's challenging about the piano, right? It's, it's I tell students all the time, it's probably the least intimate instrument we have. I mean, it's a box right with, with buttons on it that you're pushing, you know, it's not like, it's not like a sax player actually put something into his mouth. That's pretty darn intimate. Right.
Bert Ligon 48:57
And you know, what's great about Saks? Not much, but I'm sorry, the joke. It was just sitting there. Right? What they have is they are actually breathing into their instrument. Correct. And that gives us such a human thing that piano players sometimes miss, because we're really just making hammers hit strings. That's what I'm saying. Right? It's just sometimes I really make him sing, you know? Alright. And breathe. People in improv class years ago. They go every time before you start a line. You take a
Dr. Bob Lawrence 49:30
Bert Ligon 49:32
I go. Yeah, I do. Yeah. Yeah. Yes, I'm right. You're breathing. Yeah. So yeah. Yeah. Well, that's
Dr. Bob Lawrence 49:40
fabulous. So look
Bert Ligon 49:41
questions, and I'm going to update all my answers. posted online later. Okay, great.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 49:47
Well, speaking of online, where can jazz piano students go to learn more about you? I know it's Bert liggen.com. Right. Or music. Bert Ligon music. Bert Ligon music.com and You have resources there, your books, links to get your books, there are links to I think you have etudes for students to access to, to purchase and to utilize and practicing, what else can they find there?
Bert Ligon 50:15
I've written a lot of music for different ensembles, or links about Big Band charts and a lot of string ensemble stuff, because there was a niche for that people weren't getting that. So there's probably links to some of the university sites where I have 1000 transcriptions up, you know, okay, that I've done, or my students have done fantastic. Other things. And I'm the kind of guy if you have a question, email me, I'll answer at 130 in the morning, sometimes, you know, I get I really get emails from all over the world, and they're always surprised that I'm answering them back, you know, like, the ladders question on page 37 of the book. You know, you say this, but I don't want you mean or, or what record does that look from, you know, and, uh, and I'll answer back and, you know, like, 1/3, and more than like,
Dr. Bob Lawrence 50:57
what? Burt never sleeps, man. Burton, you've never slept? I don't think you've slept since 1984. Man. Oh, man.
Bert Ligon 51:03
No. I tell you I've slept I used to throw the Dallas Morning News. Paper out when I was 12. Okay, there you go. See? And I've not slept well since then. Two o'clock in the morning.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 51:18
The old paper out man. I had I had a morning paper out too. But mine was up in the Chicago area. Man. It was cold. It was cold. When? Yeah, I went there. I went that one man. So So Burt Ligon music.com. I can't encourage all all you jazz piano skills. listeners. Check it out. If you are not familiar with Bert legan you need to be familiar with Bert Ligon immediately gets his website, check out his books, his materials. It's a resource, a wealth, a wealth of information that is at your fingertips, ready to help you with your jazz journey in becoming an accomplished jazz pianist and become an accomplished musician, period. So check out Bert Ligon music.com. Bert, what a joy. It has been to spend time with you and to talk music. I literally we could do this all day long. All day long. It's been a joy. And I'm going to have you back on man. We're going to set up a date to have you back on discuss some of these topics, especially the accompaniment. That is fabulous. So thank you. Yeah, thank you so much. It's been it's been a joy.
Bert Ligon 52:26
Jazz Pianist, Guitarist, Composer, Arranger, Educator
Bert Ligon is the director of jazz studies at the University of South Carolina. He received his Bachelor of Music and his Master of Music in jazz piano performance and arranging from the University of North Texas. Ligon has published four books: Jazz Theory Resources Vol. 1 & 2, Connecting Chords with Linear Harmony, and Comprehensive Technique for the Jazz Musician. Ligon has published several original compositions and arrangements for big bands, jazz orchestras, and steel drum ensembles. He composed extensively in the Radio/TV/film industry receiving many awards including national PBS awards and an EMMY nomination. He composed the SCBDA All-State Jazz Band Audition music. Ligon has been president of the South Carolina IAJE and chair of the jazz committee of the South Carolina Band Directors Association. Ligon was commissioned to compose music by the Midwest Clinic in celebration of the 2018 Conference.
Bert has presented several clinics and concerts at IAJE, ASTA, and SCMEA conferences. He has taught jazz improvisation, guitar, piano, conducted jazz string orchestras at Suzuki Institutes and International Conferences and the Mark O'Connor Fiddle conferences, and Christian Howes' Creative Strings Workshop.
At UofSC, Ligon coordinates the jazz combos and big bands, jazz strings, teaches jazz theory, jazz improvisation, arranging, and applied jazz lessons.
Bert plays piano, guitar, plays some third base & pitches a bit.