Jim Lill’s short tips will help a guitarist to survive an unexpected jazz tune being called, or a much-needed gig that turns out to be jazz, but what if you are suddenly hooked by jazz and want to learn it? Where do you start, given that there are hundreds of “beginner” jazz books and DVD’s.
Ideally, you would learn as all of the jazz greats did, by figuring out the solos of your favourite guitarists and playing along with them, then finding a group of like-minded players and play with them long enough to get the sound and feel of jazz into your ears and fingers.
Right. And now the real world intrudes: work, family obligations, and the rest of life that seems to take up 110% of your time. On top of that, if you are new to jazz you might not even have a favourite guitarist to start with. Then where do you happen to find these “like-minded” individuals who happen to play other instruments that you need? At this point most people either choose a teacher, or more often now, look for a good DVD or online course, something they can do at their own pace. But again, where do you start with the seemingly infinite variety available to you on, say, YouTube, where everybody is an “expert” or a “teacher” or “just knows how to play.” Usually you get what you pay for with these free lessons.
Now for the good news.
One of my first blog reviews years ago was Robert Conti’s Ticket To Improv (Volume 1). I had played with a jazz band on and off, and my comping was fine but my soloing was less than inspiring and I needed good help fast. I have great credentials in theory and composition, but jazz requires split-second decisions and follow-up on their ramifications that classical music just doesn’t. I had bought some of Mr. Conti’s early books and found them to be both sound and entertaining so I looked forward to seeing what his DVD’s were like. Excellent!
In addition to being a stellar performer, Robert Conti was an early advocate of learning to play without learning scales and modes, decades before it became such a popular approach. Instead he teaches complete solos that you truly can “take to the gig” and they will amaze your friends as much as they impress your audience. The Ticket To Improv (TTI) series are meant for beginning improvisers, although there is nothing about them that says ‘beginner’ except perhaps the tempo (as he demonstrates, at speed they would grace any serious jazz album). There are four volumes, three of which consist of four of the most popular jazz standards, while volume 3 is dedicated to the blues jazz-style. They are all well worth getting, and each is a terrific bargain. Mr. Conti teaches more in one DVD than most teachers cover in months, perhaps more than a year. Everything is geared toward playing music, and you get pro tips that only someone who has worked the bandstand for decades can tell you. Even with all of this experience, Robert Conti obviously remembers what it was like to start out wondering where to begin, and he spares no effort to get you playing while having fun doing it. He works with you, bar-by-bar, showing you fingering tips that make the solos easier while increasing your own playing speed.
Robert Conti’s series of “Ticket To Improv” instructional DVD’s continue to be at the top of the list for beginners’ jazz guitar instruction. Like all great teachers, Mr. Conti demonstrates that you learn to play jazz guitar by playing jazz guitar. Theory is good when it helps you to play better, but unfortunately few teachers present it that way. One reason I recommend the whole series of TTI videos is that as you learn the different solos you will find recurring patterns (such as series of chromatic passing tones or arpeggios over the extensions of chords) that work their way into your hands and ears, so that your own solos have more variety and sophistication.
Supporting the great content is Mr. Conti’s personal presence. He is down-to-earth and easy-going with constant assurance that you can and will succeed in learning the solos, and he has a site full of student testimonials showing that they have done exactly that. While most teachers boast of the success of their students, RobertConti.com has a huge library of students playing Mr. Conti’s solos, ranging from the beginner’s series Ticket To Improv through intermediate arrangements, right up to professional level solos appropriate for the most demanding gig. Mr. Conti is acclaimed as a brilliant player by other players as well as jazz lovers in general, and fortunately he is as generous in sharing his knowledge. He also encourages you to send in your videos playing these solos, so that your success can be shared with the world, hosted free on his site.
Full disclosure: I wrote two articles on his teaching philosophy and practice for Mr. Conti’s web site for remuneration, and he is the only artist that I have done so for. I fully believe in his products and use them myself, and I began as a satisfied customer before I began reviewing his teaching DVD’s (for which I was not paid, as is my policy for all of my reviews including this blog.) When Robert Conti asked that I formalize my statements on his teaching philosophy for his web site he insisted on paying me, which I must say I really appreciated. However, the reviews of his products, which are reproduced on his site with the permission of Just Jazz Guitar, were done for the magazine.