Structuring An Improvisation (2 of 2)

Tuesday, 12th December 2017

Last week I blogged about a few approaches to developing ideas in an improvisation and I featured a sax solo by Bob Reynolds, promising to break it down further ... so here goes!  If you've not read the previous blog then it might be worth checking in with that first.

The solo is 32 bars long and is made up of four sections, with each section containing four phrases.  Each section has it's own themes and the solo has an overall sense of building towards a climax.  I'm not suggesting that Bob is actually thinking in this formulaic manner as he's playing but, as I wrote last week, musicians aim to go on stage with no preconceptions, opening themselves up to be lead by the band, the audience and the experience of the things they've listened to, transcribed and practiced in the past.

The video below is of just the solo itself, but it's still nearly two minutes long.  As I wrote last week, the genius of the improvisation is in how Bob manages to maintain the attention of a mainstream pop audience for that long when improvisations in pop music are rarely even half that length!

Firstly check out the opening in which Bob plays a single note with a strong rhythmic feel, locking in seamlessly with JJ Johnson's snare drum fill.  That's the sort of musical telepathy that you only build up by playing with another musician lots!

Section 1 (0:08):
Notice how the second phrase starts in exactly the same way as the first, instantly establishing a theme.  The third phrase starts with a pair of ascending notes in the low register which are instantly copied in the higher register, again creating a sense of cohesion.  This section is also characterised by lip bends and grace notes, which add interest to an otherwise relatively simple pentatonic and blues scale approach.  The section ends with another rhythmic idea on a single note, which book-ends it nicely with the introduction!

Section 2 (0:31):
Here's a new idea using larger intervals from an 'anchor' note rather than flowing, mainly stepwise lines.  Notice that, once again, the second phrase starts in exactly the same way as the first which clearly establishes this new theme and keeps the audience on board!  The third phrase takes the idea one step further until the fourth phrase builds the energy with a strong, rhythmic bend.

Section 3 (0:54):
Bob starts to build the tension in the solo by extending the range of his playing, hitting notes that are way up in the altissimo register of the horn.  In fact the highest note he plays would be way out of the natural range of even an alto sax!  His execution is remarkably flawless, missing absolutely nothing.  He also plays the major and minor third of the key off against each other, creating some nice resolutions.  The section ends with a fast, running pentatonic passage which paves the way for things to come ...

Section 4 (1:18):
Having taken his audience with him on this journey, gradually building as he introduced and developed new ideas, Bob finally pulls out the big guns!  The suspense and tension that has been built up across the last 24 bars is released, bringing a cheer from an audience that might have otherwise been bored by now in the care of a less accomplished player!  Had Bob begun his solo with this approach then it would have had nothing like the impact - it's the anticipation that he's built up across the last minute-or-so that makes this final chapter so exciting.  Just as before, this fast section is made up of repeating and developing themes, and three of its four phrases start in exactly the same way.  The final phrase rises and falls in an arch that brings the improvisation to a close with a real sense of completion - he's taken his audience on a journey and they've unmistakably arrived at their destination!

I hope this analysis has been interesting.  I have transcribed large portions of this solo for my own interest and study but this blog was never intended to work through the actual lines note by note.  Instead, it's the overall shape and structure which I find inspiring and I hope you do too.  These are simple concepts executed to a top class level, and there's things here that I think every improviser (myself absolutely included) can learn from.  When you take each section apart, this solo is just full of little ideas and approaches which are extremely practicable.  Explore an idea in the practice room and then go on stage and see what happens!  Enjoy.


If you've enjoyed this blog then please consider sharing it on social media:




Structuring An Improvisation (1 of 2)

Monday, 4th December 2017

As a jazz saxophone tutor there are a few fundamental principles that I'm always talking about.

One of the first things I aim to achieve with my students is a basic feeling of phrase structure; especially groups of two bars which is usually an ideal length to comfortably play in a single breath.  Melodies are almost always built from short statements that we call phrases, and developing the ability to keep these phrases a consistent length is really helpful when it comes to shaping a solo to fill a specific length within a song.  From that starting point, we can then aim to develop phrases so they contain common threads and ideas, almost like building a verbal or written argument with each statement developing, supporting and elabourating on the last.

I teach my students how to play the same idea twice (quite hard to do on the fly when you're first starting out!) and try to alter the ending of the second playing.  I teach them to try and repeat a phrase but with each note one higher or lower than in the previous version (we call this a "sequence").  I also teach my students to try and link phrases together so that the beginning of the second phrase matches the end of the first.  These methods (and many others) are all simple ways to turn a single musical idea into a coherent melody.

These are all practice ideas, of course.  I think it's Miles Davis who famously said you should think about these things in the practice room and then go on stage and just forget about it all.  The idea is that we expand our musical vocabulary in our own time and then just go out and play.

Other things that I'm always talking about include "shaping" an improvisation to perhaps start relatively relaxed and build to a climax, so the audience feels like they've been on a journey with you.  This is a great way to construct a longer improvisation without either loosing your audience's interest or running out of ideas!  Rhythm is key in music and I'm always encourage my students to think like a drummer, using only one or two notes at a time but focusing on ways to make those notes interesting!  Ironically, the other big thing I'm always reminding students of is the need to use larger intervals.  It can be very tempting to just meander up and down a scale and at times I feel like I could hit the pause button on a student's solo and bet my house that the next note will be either one higher or one lower than the note they just played!  Music certainly needs to be melodic and stepwise movement does have a pleasing shape and flow, but the occasional surprise doesn't hurt either!

A little while ago I came across the video below.  Firstly, a quick side point - I'm a big Bob Reynolds fan and for a while I even studied saxophone with him via his online studio of video lessons.  I've been lucky enough to have him critique and give feedback on my playing on a number of occasions and I'm really into his style and approach.  So it didn't surprise me when I liked this video as soon as I watched it.

However, what struck me is not just that I "liked" it, but that it's an amazing example of all the basic principles I'm always talking about.  In fact, if I'd called him up, told him all the things I find myself teaching at a grass roots level and asked him to record an example of how to approach a solo, I don't think he could have done it any better than in this video!

In my next blog I'm going to break it down for you in plenty of detail, but do have a listen first and form your own ideas of where Bob's coming from.  The solo starts properly at 5:45 but definitely check out the rest of the song so you have the context first.  The video was filmed at an informal gig with a blues/pop band in front of a mainstream audience, and how Bob maintains the audience's interest with a solo of almost two minutes in length is an absolute masterclass.

Finally, do check out Bob's music at and his latest album 'Hindsight' is definitely worth having.  In fact, it featured in my 'Now Listening' playlist earlier in the year and there are a few tracks in my 'Previous Highlights' playlist as well.

To be continued ...

If you've enjoyed this blog then please consider sharing it on social media:




The Solo Sessions trial

Tuesday, 14th November 2017

I've been in the studio quite a bit over the last week or so, playing with ideas for a new project that I'll be calling 'The Solo Sessions'.  All being well, I'll be aiming to release a new video in every month of next year, with each video featuring a studio performance of a different track from my solo repertoire.  There's no videos this month I'm afraid as I'm still experimenting with equipment, setups, angles and software, but here's some of the audio that I ended up with.  Enjoy!

If you've enjoyed this blog then please consider sharing it on social media:




Check Your Sax At Home (DIY guide)

Tuesday, 31st October 2017

A good repair man is worth more than his weight in gold!

For ages I've known that my sax has been in need of a little TLC but I've been putting off checking as it's such a logistical nightmare to be without it whilst it's serviced.  For the eight-ish (maybe more?!) years I've owned it, it's only ever been patched up and bodged as I've always needed it back quickly for the next gig in a day of two.  So last weekend I decided to bite the bullet and see just how bad it had become.

If a sax isn't working properly then you find yourself having to try really hard to produce the notes, especially at the low end.  Larger jumps in pitch (especially down to the bottom) become extremely hard work and the whole thing just starts to misbehave.  The problem is, it happens little by little and you gradually find yourself compensating without thinking about it, until one day you realise how much effort you're having to put in, even to produce something basic!

To check for sure how a saxophone's feeling, you take a strip light (I've just got a cheap strip of LEDs like you might put underneath a kitchen cabinet, but Christmas lights work as well!), remove the sax's neck and feed the light down inside the body of the sax.  Then you press all the keys down as if you were playing a low note and look to see if there's any light showing through from underneath the pads.  Of course, if there's any light leaking out then there'll also be air leaking out and that's when you start to have a problem.  A little bit of leakage usually isn't a huge issue, especially for a reasonably capable player, but you certainly wouldn't want a lot.

I put a light down my sax last weekend and it looked like a Christmas tree!

After a week away at the Health Spa for Overworked Saxophones, it's like a new instrument!  It made me wonder how many other saxophonists are putting up with an instrument that's in need of a little TLC, and I felt that a 'check your sax at home' guide might be helpful.  I'm definitely not recommending trying to carry out any actual repair work yourself (such things are best left to the professionals!), but the ability to give it a DIY check up is really handy.

Massive thanks to my repair man Phil at for doing such a blinding job of getting things back to how they should be.  Rumour has it he put quite a lot of work into this one!  Phil's been looking after my gear for years (as much as I let him, with my gig schedule!) and I wouldn't take my horns anywhere else.  Thanks also to James at Your Music School for lending me the music school's spare tenor sax whilst mine was in pieces!

A post shared by Dave Brazier (@davebraziersax) on

If you've enjoyed this blog then please consider sharing it on social media:




Marici Saxes

Wednesday, 18th October 2017

I'm not going to write a lot about these fantastic ladies as I think their music speaks for itself.

I've had an eye on the Marici Saxes quartet for a while via the wonder of social media and their debut album 'Light' has quickly become one of my very favourite saxophone records.  We rarely get to hear this level of effortless technical control combined with such sensitive and expressive musicianship - in fact, so many musicians seem to see these two as an either-or situation!

The Marici Saxes repertoire choice is brilliantly balanced, with mainstream classics such as Faure's 'Pavane' and Rachmaninoff's 'Vocalise' combining beautifully with a Piazzolla tango, four country dances, a suite of Irish folk music and others, to create a rich, colourful and yet still cohesive selection.

I can't recommend this album enough and I haven't been able to stop listening to it.  Please do check out their promo below.


If you've enjoyed this blog then please consider sharing it on social media:




Another Before Tomorrow video!

Monday, 11th September 2017

I hopefully won't just resort to writing a new post only whenever there's a new video to show off, but then again, this blog was always intended partly as a showcase for media updates.  So anyways, here's a little clip from a recent gig.  Enjoy!

If you've enjoyed this blog then please consider sharing it on social media:




Swinging by the sea

Saturday, 12th August 2017

A really quick blog today, just to let you guys see a few clips from the latest Before Tomorrow gig at The Belle Vue Tavern in Pegwell Bay.  It was a beautiful day to play swing tunes overlooking the bay and we had lots of lovely comments from those who came to see us.  I hope you enjoy the video!

If you've enjoyed this blog then please consider sharing it on social media:




Becoming a musical chameleon

Tuesday, 18th July 2017

The best thing about what I do for a living is the sheer variety!  One minute I'm teaching a beginner flute lesson, next I'm working with a seriously motivated up-and-coming sax player, then I'm on stage with a jazz/pop/funk/etc. band or even just playing some chilled solo dinner music with some backing tracks.  I never loose sight of how lucky I am to be able to do what I love for a living, especially as no day is ever the same as the last.  And I'm always preaching to my students about the importance of being a chameleon and fitting into every genre of music as if it were your home.

One of the latest trends in sax playing is DJ collaborations, performing dance, deep house and cafe del mar music reminiscent of the clubs and beach bars of Ibiza.  This is becoming a more and more popular request for weddings and parties, and it's actually a lot of fun to do.  There are some particularly well known tunes (at least, well known to fans of the style!) but it's more about the vibe than the individual tracks or specific melodies, giving the player huge freedom to explore ideas and make each show totally fresh.  It's certainly not something that I would have set out to do, but it's grown on me hugely over the last year and I had a lot of fun playing two shows last weekend.

One sax player is so far to the forefront of this style that her name is almost interchangeable with the style itself.  'Lovely Laura' (otherwise known as Laura Fowles) is an honours graduate of the jazz program at Leeds College of music who's made such a successful carrier for herself in Ibiza that she's since bought a home there.  Holiday makers travel from all over the world to see her live shows, playing alongside world famous DJs at some of the most prestigious clubs on the island.

I've been aware of Lovely Laura (and been inspired by her playing) for quite some time but I only recently discovered her own jazz album whilst looking her up on spotify.  Blown away by it's sheer contrast with everything I've heard from her before, I can't help but see Lovely Laura as an amazing example of what I spend so much time preaching about.  To fit so seamlessly into such contrasting styles takes some serious doing (and what a beautiful voice as well!).

Her album is my latest "album of the week" and I've got a feeling it'll be in the playlist for a little longer than just that!  See what you think.

Main sources:

If you've enjoyed this blog then please consider sharing it on social media:




Who's job is it?

Thursday, 29th June 2017

I remember my grandparents used to have this poster up in their house in wales, and then a few years ago my genius wife found one in a shop and bought it for me. It's been on the wall in my studio ever since and from time to time I stop and read it again.

A post shared by Dave Brazier (@davebraziersax) on

If you've enjoyed this blog then please consider sharing it on social media:




Listen to my radio interview!

Tuesday, 20th June 2017

Here's a recording of my radio interview that aired a couple of weeks ago.  Thanks to KMFM for having me on and giving me permission to post it on my blog.  Unfortunately they had to cut out quite a bit of what I said (it seems I talk too much ... who'd have thought it?!) but it was a real privilege to be on the show.  That's one more ticked off the bucket list!

If you've enjoyed this blog then please consider sharing it on social media:




Taking opportunities & doing things properly!

Wednesday, 14th June 2017

This week has been an interesting exercise in taking opportunities as they present themselves, and always putting your best foot forward.

The parent of one of my students recently recommended that I get involved with a new website which had been created by a friend of hers.  The website is called Quirky Kent and is essentially a directory of small businesses in the country which are all in some way out of the ordinary.  I suppose my student's mum felt that my solo sax performances and Before Tomorrow might fit well into this category!

As a rule I tend to always make time to pursue these opportunities.  I don't expect a flood of extra business to come my way, but I do it largely out of respect for those who make the effort to actually set something up!  If someone's had an idea and then actually made it happen, then they are just the sort of person I want to connect with!

About a week or so later I got a call to feature on a radio show on KMFM, Kent's local radio station.  This came directly out of my involvement with Quirky Kent and proved to be a fantastic opportunity.  It was pretty daunting to record a telephone interview knowing it was going to be aired to thousands of people, but I did it and it was really fun!  Hopefully I'll be able to post a recording soon.

Then on Sunday, my YMS student flute and clarinet group Double Take performed at a local church fete.  We were playing after the Canterbury Brass Band and I always go out of my way to meet and become friendly with the organisers, promoters and anyone else involved in events that I take part in.  I therefore made a point of greeting the director of the brass band, being polite and positive, and also offering to be flexible about times to try and help the afternoon flow smoothly.  Only afterwards did I discover that the brass band's director was in fact the father of my current most advanced clarinet student!  I was aware that this particular student's dad was a prominent figure in regional wind and brass ensembles, but had no idea that he would be there at this small, local event!  He was very complimentary about my students' performance and it was great to get to know him a little.

This last couple of weeks has been a real lesson in how important it is to approach every opportunity with the same level of enthusiasm and professionalism, however big or small it may seem.  There's no way to know where things may lead and it's impossible to know who you may be working with.  And a little reminder is never a bad thing!

If you've enjoyed this blog then please consider sharing it on social media:




What a stressful week!

Wednesday, 31st May 2017

It's been a little longer than planned since my last blog (which I hope people found useful), largely due to a combination of insane teaching and performance commitments and frustrating IT problems.  Both my macbook pro and my tablet are currently being serviced and/or mended (I hope!) and so I'm stuck using my old PC laptop which I'm fairly sure runs on coal.  As I said, add that to a full teaching schedule and six gigs in nine days, and the end result is a fairly stressful week!

Having said that, it was great to run another jazz improvisation workshop on Sunday, giving students of all ages and abilities the opportunity to play with a live rhythm section.  There are some really promising students coming through and it's great to see them develop and grow in confidence.

This week should be hopefully a little less stressful ... until I get the macbook back in a couple of days and suddenly the race will be on to get everything done that I should be doing now but can't!  In the meantime, the old laptop is teaching me how to take life at a slightly slower pace!

I'm looking forward to playing at Port Lympne Hotel on Sunday.  Live music starts at midday.


If you've enjoyed this blog then please consider sharing it on social media:




Practicing a pentatonic scale

Wednesday, 17th May 2017

Here's a few top tips for how to go about practicing a pentatonic scale, to ensure you get comfortable playing, hearing and (most importantly) being creative with it as quickly as possible.

As an improviser, I inevitable teach a lot about strategies (and reasons) for practicing scales.  I'm always aiming to make sure my time feel and tone is as even as possible across the range of my instrument, and I'm focused on keeping my finger movement as small as possible as I press and release the keys.

I talk a lot with my students about 'using the scale to practice your instrument and not your instrument to practice the scale'.  I might blog a bit more about this idea over the next few weeks.

Let's use the example of a basic A minor pentatonic scale ... A, C, D, E, G.


Ex. 1: invert the scale (start on different notes)

Practice one complete octave of the scale but starting on different notes (e.g. go from A up to high A and back down, then from C to high C, then D to high D and so on).  Make sure you include an example which starts as low on your instrument as you can and also one that goes up as high as you can.

This exercise stops you from getting stuck improvising on one area of your instrument and encourages you to explore the full range.  It also helps you to feel comfortable starting improvised phrases from anywhere within the scale.  Finally, it encourages you to listen and hear the scale played differently from how you would normally expect.


Ex. 2: three note sequences

Play the first three notes of the scale in a run (e.g. A, C, D).  Next, play a three note run starting from the second note of the scale (C, D, E).  Then, play three more notes starting from the note above the one you started from last (D, E, G).  Carry on with this pattern until you get to the top of your range ... then turn around and come back down again (for example, G, E, D, E, D, C, D, C, A, etc.)!  

Check out the tune of Horace Silver's latin jazz standard 'Song For My Father' for a great example of a musician using this pattern in a melody

This exercise encourages you to develop your improvised ideas.  The three note pattern is essentially a very small musical phrase which you can then develop and evolve by starting the idea on higher and lower notes.  Also, experiment with different rhythms, making some notes longer and some shorter.  Alternatively, if you play all the notes as even quavers (eighth notes) then you'll find yourself playing a cool rhythmic pattern with one repetition starting on the beat and the next starting off, then on and off and so on.  Finally, why not try runs of 4, 5, or more notes, each time starting the repetition on the note above where you started the last.


Ex. 3: scale in thirds

This is very similar to the last exercise except you miss out the middle note of each run of three.  This creates a stepping effect where you jump over a note and then come back to it.  In this example, you would find yourself playing A, D, C, E, D, G, E, A, G, C, etc.

This pattern helps you to get away from always improvising 'stepwise' melodic ideas that seem limited to moving up or down one note at a time.  If you can become comfortable playing with bigger intervals (jumping up and down by more than one note at a time) then your melodies can quickly become much more interesting.  Why not practice the scale with larger jumps as well?


Please let me know if you've found this blog helpful, as there are many other ideas and exercises I can share with you too.  Equally, please get in touch if anything wasn't clear.  Happy shedding!

If you've enjoyed this blog then please consider sharing it on social media:




Sax Quartet

Wednesday, 10th May 2017

Here's the latest little media update - something I've been working on quietly for a few months.  It's mainly just for the reading challenge (I do very little with paper these days) and its great to work on group skills such as tuning, dynamics (volume) and musical texture.  This quartet features some great players including an ex-student of mine who's since been to music college in London and has come out as a fantastic saxophonist.

The quartet is still very much a work in progress (and as yet, unnamed) but its a lot of fun!

If you've enjoyed this blog then please consider sharing it on social media:




Let's catch up!

Wednesday, 12th April 2017

It's definitely been a while since I last blogged, and there's been lots happening in the meantime.  I've got a whole load of new things to share over the next few weeks, not least of all this video I made after The Night Before Tomorrow's first gig at the end of February.

We're back at The Hand and Sceptre on the Saturday 29th April.

If you've enjoyed this blog then please consider sharing it on social media:




The Night Before Tomorrow

Thursday, 26th January 2017

I've been working on a new project for around 9 months and its finally ready to launch!

My jazz and swing band The Night Before Tomorrow (or just 'Before Tomorrow' for short) has its first gig at the end of next month and we're now ready to take bookings for private and public events around the south east. We play a mix of classic tunes such as Have You Met Miss Jones, Come Fly With Me, Fever and Fly Me To The Moon, alongside 'jazzy' versions of songs by Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars, George Michael, Otis Redding and more.

I hope you like our pre-launch video, but you can never beat the real thing. Our first gig is at The Hand & Sceptre in Tonbridge Wells on 25th February ... maybe see you there?

If you've enjoyed this blog then please consider sharing it on social media:




Active Listening

Tuesday, 10th January 2017

I've decided I don't do enough active listening. I mean listening to music with a real purpose, to properly try and get stuck into an album and get what it's about.

So here's the new plan (call it a resolution, if you will). I'm setting out to listen to a new album every week. It could be a vintage record by a jazz master or something straight off the press, but I'm going to listen to it every chance I get for a whole week. I'm going to read about it and learn about the players on it, and eventually aim to choose one or two standout tracks to form a compilation of great music as I go along.

Utilising the wonder of spotify, you can follow my efforts, using the links on the right hand side of your screen to check out the last two albums I listened to and follow my compilation playlist. I hope you enjoy!

Last week I started out by listening to an old live album by English born bass player Janek Gwizdala. I've been following his vlogs on youtube recently and he's got a lot of amazing stuff to say, both verbally and musically. Choosing two tracks to go in the compilation was really hard work, but I eventually went with a beautiful ballad called P.K. and the title track Mystery To Me. Definitely both worth a listen.

Finally, I'll leave you with a few shots from the weekend's wedding show at The Old Kent Barn. Until next time.

A post shared by Dave Brazier (@davebraziersax) on

A post shared by Dave Brazier (@davebraziersax) on

A post shared by Dave Brazier (@davebraziersax) on

If you've enjoyed this blog then please consider sharing it on social media:





Sunday, 1st January 2017

The tradition of making resolutions at the start of a new year is something I touched on briefly in my last blog, but I've given it a little more thought since.

Contrary to my earlier statement, I don't think blogging, vlogging, scoping or anything else really counts as a worthwhile resolution. It may be a good thing to do (debatable, perhaps!) but to me, a resolution is supposed to be something that can somehow make me into a better person. I'm not going to become healthier, stronger or a better husband, father, son, brother, friend or musician as a result of writing more blogs.

And why is it that we only think about these things at one time of year? What about the other 364-or-so days? Surely its worthwhile to be thinking in these terms all year around if we're actually serious about any of it, especially as the expectation seems to be that a new year's resolution will have a shelf life similar to that of an already lit firework!

So here it is: my new year's resolution.

This year, my annual resolution is to make a new resolution every month (every day just doesn't seem practical!). Each small resolution will aim to make me into a very slightly better version of me, and I hope to continue every tiny change to the end of it's month and beyond. Perhaps I'll blog about them, perhaps I wont. Either way, that's not the point.

And for January - this month I will no longer keep my phone in my bedroom at night. A random resolution, I know, but have a think about it next time you're checking your work emails from bed within minutes of waking up. I'm just really not convinced that's healthy.

On a final side point, apparently they (I don't know who ... the wizards?) added an extra second this new year in order to somehow make the calendars add up. So how did you spend your extra second?

If you've enjoyed this blog then please consider sharing it on social media:




Continue reading ...





Latest Tweet:


Recent Blog:

Last week I blogged about a few approaches to developing ideas in an improvisation and I featured a sax solo by Bob Reynolds, promising to break it down further ... so here goes!  If you've not r ... (read more)



Spotify Playlists:

Now Listening:     Previous Highlights: