A little over a year ago I subscribed to the Facebook group Jam of the Week headed up by trumpeter Farnell Newton. Each week he posts a new tune, and the group members submit videos of themselves playing a chorus of improv over it. Fantastic opportunity to learn new charts and simultaneously get exposure/critique from other players who are in the same boat as you. I lurked for a really long time before posting anything myself, but a few weeks ago I decided I should start playing along.

This week's tune was Herbie Hancock's Chameleon, from the Head Hunters album. I used to play this with my high school jazz combo (you know, back in the 20th century), so the tune itself wasn't new to me —but since I'm currently learning how to use Logic, I thought I'd take the opportunity to mess with my sound a bit.

Here's the basic setup:

  • First, I put together a mind-numbingly simple backing track, consisting of two-bar loops for the bass, keyboard and drum parts. Didn't worry too much about accuracy here, just the general idea. (The bass patch, incidentally, is called "Funk Bass Blast." Probably the hardest part about electronic music in Logic is that all the patches are so "creatively" named —makes you feel a bit like this guy.)
  • The trombone track is where things get interesting. I went into Logic's "Experimental Guitar" effects library and found something called "Blue Wave." One of the key components of this effect set is how it uses the Logic pedalboard plugin to create some automatic synchronized echo after everything you play —which when used carefully allowed me to play some of my own accompaniment live.

This turned out to be a really interesting way to improvise. Couple of things I learned about playing with my own echo:

  • Stepwise melodies are dangerous, especially around the chromatic bits. The bebop scale, for instance, is particularly troublesome because it contains both the leading tone (major 7) and the subtonic (minor 7); the former is really only supposed to be used as a passing tone, but the echo really prevents that. Intervallically speaking, I found myself playing less seconds and more thirds/fourths to avoid this.
  • I'm not always great at using empty space in my improvisation, but practicing with this kind of an effect would be a great way to retrain. I ended up leaving lots of space between phrases (and sometimes even between individual notes) so that the echoes could play around on their own for a bit.
  • When I play this tune without these kinds of effects, I tend to gravitate towards blues licks …but with the echo turned on, I found myself playing in Dorian mode more often. That's probably because the two chords taken together (Bbm7 and Eb7) spell out Bb Dorian, and the echo sort of melded them together in the final mix.
  • I also tried to do some interesting interlocking rhythm stuff by playing in the holes left by the echo. That was harder than I thought it would be, because oftentimes those holes fell on beats I'm not accustomed to hitting —which seems like an odd thing to say, now that I've said it. I guess what I mean is, I'm used to starting phrases on certain beats, and found myself having to rethink that in order to create these patterns. A good lesson, because I suspect my unprocessed improv could benefit from a bit more variation of that sort.

Please enjoy, and let me know if you have any suggestions!