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Sage Wisdom

"Good improvisation communicates harmonic progression melodically. Effective melodies manipulate harmonic content through the use of guide tones and preparatory gravity notes, masterfully woven in systematic tension, release, and transparent harmonic definition."

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January 3, 2013 | Tips on improvising from the Pros; Michael Lampert

In our April Mandolin Sessions finale, we asked a dozen of some of the industry's high profile players about their take on the creative process. Objective vs. subjective, cerebral vs. intuitive, planned vs. spontaneous, established harmonic language vs. muse, all are ends of a continuum of approaches on how to successfully improvise. This week, we'll look at Los Angeles based electric mandolinist and cutting edge jazz mandolin innovator Michael Lampert for his take.


I've spent many years searching different sources (written and otherwise) in order to broaden my creative choices when given the opportunity to take a solo. To play jazz solos, it is imperative to listen to jazz solos. While I certainly have my favorites (including John Coltrane, Lester Young, Thelonious Monk, Grant Green, etc.), there are literally hundreds of great players (actually thousands) who I could listen to all night (and in fact, I have). Without having some sort of idea of how a solo might sound, it's very easy to lose one's way. I probably learned the greatest amount from my teacher Harry Leahey. He emphasized chord construction, chord alteration, and extensions and substitutions and the application of the modes and synthetic scales to that end. I also took lessons from Charlie Banacos, John Carter and an important lesson or two from Dave Pike (among other); they all taught me important concepts that were based upon their personal approaches. I was actually able to sing solos and make up songs and structures before I could do it on the mandolin. The lessons and practicing help one obtain technique and an understanding of how the pieces fit together. I am really not particularly analytical; I really play by ear and at this point I have my own style, which is partly a function of technique (or lack thereof) and taste.

Playing a solo that sounds good is actually a magical thing and like other kinds of magic there is preparation, performance and mystery. When one is playing with other like-minded players in front of an appreciative and sympathetic audience, the chances that real magic will occur are greatly increased.

Released Spring of 2012, "Ephemeral."
Read Review: Michael Lampert; Ephemeral
Artist Website: Sojourner Records

Photo by Nancy A. Weiss

Posted by Ted at January 3, 2013 5:39 AM

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