Steve Slagle: Scenes, Songs & Solos - A Composition and Improvisation Workbook for the Creative Musician

Dan Bilawsky BY

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Scenes, Songs & Solos: A Composition and Improvisation Workbook for the Creative Musician

Steve Slagle

Paperback; 139 pages

ISBN: 97819361822882

Schaffner Press


There's no substitute for experience in the world of jazz, and saxophonist Steve Slagle has experience in spades. Slagle has been putting his horn to good use, working with the likes of bassist Charlie Haden, saxophonist Joe Lovano, pianist Carla Bley, the Mingus Big Band, and many others over the past thirty years, and he puts his wit, wisdom and hard-earned knowledge onto the pages of this book.

Slagle avoids the overdone path of rote exercises, out-of-context transcriptions and play-along melodies in favor of a more holistic route toward musical proficiency. He uses some conceptual cornerstones of musical importance, such as "The Spirit Of Composition," "The Talent of Orchestration" and the importance of good time as an introduction and springboard for all that follows.

The core of this publication is broken down into five chapters—"The Blues," "Melody Rules," "People Music," "Songs Over Standards" and "Free Songs"—which cover important, need-to-know topics. Each chapter begins with a nuts-and-bolts explanation of the matter at hand and contains a variety of musical examples which are prefaced by "Tips," information on form, harmony, and performance practices, and "Trips," background on the origins of the music and anecdotes to provide insight into Slagle's writing process and history. Each of the five chapters then concludes with some form of complementary exercise or "To Do" list.

"The Blues" chapter starts off with a fairly standard 12-bar form example and then branches out from there, touching on extended lengths, odd harmonic twists and chromaticism, while "Melody Rules" is a self-explanatory title. Ballads and Brazilian-tinged examples dominate here, as Slagle emphasizes the importance of melodic motifs and lines serving as the kernel for compositional growth.

"People Music" is two chapters in one, as it deals with songs written in honor of jazz greats which are also built atop specific cultural/world rhythmic foundations. Afro-Cuban grooves, NOLA second lines ("Skee," written in honor of the late Dennis Irwin), West African highlife rhythms, and odd-metered boogaloo all help to make this chapter unique, while "Songs Over Standards" deals with building new compositions over the harmonic framework of preexisting material. The ever popular rhythm changes are covered ("Rhythm Method"), along with material built on the scaffolding of "Just In Time," "Yesterdays" and other classics.

The final chapter—"Free Songs"—has nothing to do with public domain material, but everything to do with looser constructs and concepts. Tonal freedom and saxophonist Ornette Coleman's "harmolodic" concept are both key components, but the reading/learning doesn't stop here. The "Outro" of the book contains some words of wisdom, delivered via auto-biographical segments, and specific essays on "Listening," "Life Lessons" and "Lifestyle." A detailed discography that can lead the student/reader to the recordings from which these examples came is a helpful, book-ending bonus.

While the educational music book market is as crowded as Times Square during the holiday season, the unique perspectives and solid musical material Slagle presents make this a welcome addition to the bookshelf and a worthy educational tool for those looking to expand their knowledge base and musical skills.

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