Updated: Apr 24, 2021
Jarmo Hoogendijk is a jazz trumpeter from the Netherlands. He was one of my combo and improvisation teachers at the Royal Conservatory of the Hague and at Codarts Conservatory of Rotterdam in the Netherlands. He was an important expert for my master research and he helped me develop as an improviser and a jazz singer.
Hereby, I present you an interview that was held in 2019 during my first year of Master at Codarts. During my research, I wanted to learn improvisation techniques from trumpet players. I believe that the sound of the trumpet is very close to the human voice and I wanted to improve my singing by studying trumpet solos. It was a way for me to understand how does a horn player practices, comparing to a singer, and If there are any differences or similarities between a singer and a trumpeter in jazz improvisation; in terms of practicing, agility, phrasing and articulation.
I found his answers very helpful for my personal development as an improviser and I wanted to share them with you because they might help you as well and that's wonderful.
I would like to deeply thank Jarmo Hoogendijk for giving me such valuable answers to my questions as well as for the inspiration that he gave me throughout the years of studying jazz music in the Netherlands.
Enjoy the read!
1. How would you suggest to a jazz singer to practice improvisation on modal jazz tunes?
It could be very handy to work on phrasing while starting on modal tunes, because we do not have to be concerned with (many) chord changes (provided we are not looking for bitonal/outside language). We can try practise different rhythms and articulations on just 1 pitch. If we approach the blues as just a single mode, we can do the same thing with blues tunes as well. And we can use our time to see what we can do with just one scale: all kinds of scale variations that need different phrasing.
2.How would you explain phrasing? Why is Phrasing one of the most important aspects in Jazz?
Phrasing is how we articulate notes (f.e. starting AND ending the note with a consonant), how we colour a note (f.e. with a certain vowel, tongue position, shape of the mouth cavity, or by bending the pitch), how we go from one note to the next one (f.e. legato, staccato or portato), how we put accents on certain notes (f.e. by using more air), how we "doodle" certain notes (by manipulating the air stream with the tongue). Clark Terry (master of very diverse phrasing both on trumpet and in his singing) avoided the word "accent", he thought these words would indicate that there is an interruption of the air stream, which is not the case. He used the words "highs" and "lows" instead, meaning that the air pressure would always be on, while the mouth and the tongue manipulate the air stream. Phrasing is also how we build a whole phrase/sentence, just like in speech: what rhythm do we use, do we use short or long words, do we use long or short space between words, do we use many words or a few words for each sentence etc. Each person has his/her own sound from birth, but we will all develop a personal way of pronouncing words, building phrases/sentences, using space, using accents and dynamics. Phrasing is important in every kind of music, but in jazz we seem to have more freedom to come up with our own ideas, taste and choices in terms of phrasing than in European classical music for example, where there is more general consensus about what would be correct phrasing as opposed to wrong or distasteful phrasing. In jazz we have fun toying with rhythm, we can repeat words/notes, we can start a phrase several beats later if we want, change the melody, or we can even decide to leave things out. Think about the difference between Billie Holiday and Betty Carter delivering the melody of the same song: they differ enormously from one another, and both of them are giants. Or the difference between Ella Fitzgerald and Chet Baker doing a vocal improvisation on the same tune in the same tempo: entirely different phrasing, and both greatly admired for their personal way of doing it. In other words: it would not be jazz if we do not toy with melodies and pronounce words in our own distinguished way. That is probably the reason why people sometimes debate about Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Nat Cole or Billy Eckstine (the so called "crooners") being pop singers rather than jazz singers: they sang the melodies of tunes more or less as they had been written and they don't do scat solo's. In my opinion they were jazz because they swung the melody.
3. In your opinion, what are the differences and similarities in the Rhythmical Phrasing between trumpet players and vocalists?
I do not see many differences. Most trumpet players sang like they played and vice versa. Armstrong didn't sing with the dramatic vibrato he used in his trumpet playing, but other than that it's basically the same thing in terms of rhythm, phrasing and articulation. And I think it's the same thing for saxophone, piano, guitar and even drums as well. We all speak and understand the same language. A singer can learn as much from a drummer as a drummer can from a singer. An American drummer (Larry Wild Rice) once told me: "some drummers should start listening to Betty Carter for the sake of space and a quasi-rubato that is still very rhythmical". I heard Betty Carter during a performance (Anton Philipszaal Den Haag) whisper several times to her rhythm section: "space...space...". Singers can learn to imitate what trumpet players can do: it happens mostly inside the mouth, with the position of the tongue and with the air stream. Other instruments will have to learn it in other ways, but the effect they are striving for is basically the same. A drummer can put a lot of work into phrasing a bebop theme like a horn player. And also piano players have found ways to suggest vibrato, shakes and pitch bending! It all started with Louis Armstrong: he "invented" swing and changed/influenced the phrasing of everyone who came after him, regardless of instrument. Then came Charlie Parker, who entirely changed phrasing on his saxophone, and changed everyone who came after him, starting with Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet. That's why Miles summed up the history of jazz as follows: Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker. And that conclusion also shows that revolutions in jazz are at least as much about rhythm and phrasing as they are about harmony and notes. Bebop was a rhythmic revolution, Dizzy said. He said about Parker: when he played it was as if he had lit a bomb in his mouth.
4. About articulation, singers have lyrics and "scat” syllables that they use to articulate. What are the differences and similarities when it comes to articulation on trumpet in comparison with vocalists?
It depends on the singer and on the trumpet player, but singers and trumpeters can learn basically the same syllables/vowels/consonants, and the range of possibilities is big, both for singers and for trumpeters. We do it in the same way, whereas other instruments have to work out different ways to do it, and they seem to have less options than singers and trumpeters. There are just a few differences: a trumpeter can not really start a note with an "m", "n" or "s", a singer can start with any consonant for all I know. I guess a vocalist can imitate any articulation a trumpeter can play. A vocalist can just not "grunt" (playing and singing through the trumpet at the same time), but vocalists have other options to distort the sound.
5. How can a jazz singer approach a more instrumental phrasing and articulation in your opinion?
Again: I do not see much difference between vocal and instrumental phrasing. But if a singer limits him-/herself to da da da da or la la la la phrasing only, it would not sound very instrumental or horn-like. Ta ta ta ta would sound more like brass instrument phrasing, BUT that would be very limited. Clark Terry would sometimes disapprovingly talk about "ta ta ta ta trumpet players", trumpeters with very limited, colourless phrasing. It is essential for any instrumentalist and singer to work on a diverse and personal phrasing.
6.When you play a song with Lyrics, how frequently do the words affect your musical choices?
I have to admit I never phrased much according to the words (more according to the meaning of the song), while many others stress the importance of playing the melody according to the words. Ben Webster once refused to play a certain song, not because he did not know the melody, but because he did not know the lyrics.
7. I am wondering if and how improvising jazz vocalists differ from instrumentalists when they practice improvisation? How would you suggest the practice routine should be for a singer?
Singers really have to hear certain ideas before they can sing them, and they will have to be aware of the pitches they are singing. A pianist or guitarist can simply finger the instrument, knowing that what will come out will fit with the chords. Brass players are a bit in between this: they need muscle-/motoric memory, but if they do not hear the (starting) note they may hit the wrong note (since several notes can be played with one particular valve combination or slide position). I believe this is also why vocal students do often progress faster in improvisation than instrumentalists do, and they can sound more natural in their improvisations than instrumentalists, because they can (basically) only sing things they really hear, and will only sing ideas when they hear them! Instrumentalists have to learn how to play certain ideas/licks/phrases in 12 keys, but if a singer hears an idea and knows how to come in with the first note, it can already be implemented in many situations. On the other hand, for a singer some ideas may take a lot of practicing in the form of ear training: how to come in with the right note in any situation. It is really all about remembering language and training the ear. And therefore I urge instrumentalists (horn players in particular) to practice improvisation by singing a lot. The question should be: where do I hear a certain idea and do I hear the first note, rather than: what valve or slide positions do I need when I want to play a b13 and a #4 on a Dd7 altered? Practicing ideas in 12 keys should ideally come AFTER a horn player can hear and sing the idea.
8. What do you think is important to tell a student of vocal improvisation?
Basically the same as what I think is important to tell any instrumentalist as well:
● learn to sing/play all scales and to hit all intervals
● remember a lot of language/ideas by listening to any good improviser, regardless of instrument, including drums.
● collect a variety of vowels, consonants and syllables that seem to fit you and that allow you to sing/play many rhythmic ideas in any tempo.
● think of a rhythmical idea first and then find notes to it and the needed articulation.
● record yourself often, decide what sounds good and what needs to be improved.
● listen to great jazz playing/singing as much as you spend time practicing. Listening and remembering language is half the job.