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Agent27
12-07-2007, 01:15 AM
This was written by a local Houston trumpet player named Eddie Lewis. I thought that some of you might get something out of this.

How Is Jazz Like Chess?

by Eddie Lewis
Dec 5th, 2007

This is something I've been thinking about a lot. I'm not a very good chess player but I do enjoy playing the game. Now, there are lots of people who compare jazz to chess in saying that you need to think ahead in both. I won't dispute that comparison. However, when I think of jazz and chess, my comparison is much different.

To me, jazz is like chess because they both have limitless possibilities. With those limitless possibilities comes the daunting task of making confident decisions. How do you pick one item from a limitless menu of delicious food? Then, to add another level of complexity to the picture, what if the menu changed every time you placed an order? In both jazz and chess we are working with other people who are affected by our choices and we by theirs.

That's why memorized moves and memorized licks don't work. They're too static in this dynamic context. In chess, if you play a memorized sequence of moves, then your opponent will likely recognize those moves and take advantage of the situation. Same thing with jazz. If you play a memorized lick in jazz, real jazz musicians will recognize that it's memorized - not necessarily because they had heard it before but because they can detect your lack of dynamic sensitivity.

Even worse is the fact that by playing memorized licks, you are basically turning off your ears and becoming unaware of your musical surroundings. It's just like in chess when you're spending five or six moves on a memorized sequence, not even paying attention to what your opponent is doing in his five or six moves. In chess, this kind of insensitivity will cost you the game. And that's exactly why some beginners do so well against some of the players who have memorized a lot of moves. The beginner doesn't have any moves. Every turn is a new game to them and they see only what's on the board at that given moment. The memorizing player misses that in the way they play. They are not aware of what's on the board at that given moment.

So, to me, I guess my comparison is the opposite of what I've heard other people say. To me, jazz is like chess because you have to think about what's happening NOW. In such a dynamically changing environment, NOW is all we've got.

But don't mistake this to mean that we should never work on memorizing moves or memorizing licks. I didn't say that. I said you shouldn't use memorized licks in your jazz solos or memorized moves in a chess game. Memorization is part of the learning process. In jazz, it's like, "learn this lick, learn that scale, memorize that solo, memorize that tune - now forget all of that and just play". Like I said, I'm not much of a chess player, but I can't imagine that it would be any different from playing jazz. You memorize and learn tons of moves and then, when you actually get to the game, you put all of that out of your mind and play the game.

I think this is important because it puts all of that information into your subconscious mind. From there it indirectly influences your game or solos. Just because you're not consciously thinking about it doesn't mean that you're not benefiting from it. But by moving that information to your subconscious mind, you free your conscious mind to think about what's going on here and now. This makes you more functional in the ever changing environment of playing jazz or chess.

And to me, that is what makes chess and jazz so similar. It's all about the here and now.

Pgraves
12-07-2007, 01:46 AM
Chess is a little different because if you "you put all of that out of your mind and play the game" you'll probably get chewed up some chess discoverers/researchers/obsessives who have found every little secret nook and cranny in the openings that cannot be ignored.

Arguably the best player ever was Bobby Fischer. Nut case he very well may be now, but there is a list of reasons why he is a legend.
He was the most talented "over the board" tactician but, he was also the most "booked up". He had studied more than his competitors, and remembered everything. Including every variation ( thousands) in MCO (Modern Chess Openings). But end game where the book is gone, it's about pure calculation and cleverness. Fischer was unbeatable. He was probably the best because he had the best both worlds.

A difference between jazz and chess is that in chess there is a much harder line drawn between right/wrong in chess.

But the general point is good. An infinite(?) world within finite boundaries and rules that requires both knowledge and improvisation.

clarnibass
12-07-2007, 09:33 AM
As an obssesbie improviser and chess player and I agree with most of what he says, especially his ideas. He has some facts wrong, for example in the highest level of chess memorizing is a huge part of the game and players really don't put any of it aside when playing. Also for jazz he then says "solos" which only a part of jazz and a lot of the improvisations are not solos.

In chess there are the rules of the game, and in music there are limitations that are equivilent to chess rules (i.e. if you play saxophone you can't sound like a piano). After those limitations, which in music are just natural and in chess are decided, then comes the logic and in that chess and jazz are very similar. Playing a lick without any connection to the specific music you are playing is pretty much the same as a blunder :)

FighterForJC
12-07-2007, 07:24 PM
Horrible analogy in my opinion. Who exactly are you playing against, in jazz? Critics? Who cares if the musicians recognize your licks as being memorized? How are they going to check mate you, exactly? By pulling another Pat Metheny? Is the point in jazz to checkmate other musicians? What context was he talking in? Are the other musicians listeners, or part of the band one is playing in? Why are jazz purists so arrogant? Don't they have other things to live for besides their music?

hakukani
12-07-2007, 07:37 PM
Who exactly are you playing against, in jazz?
Yourself, just as in any other pursuit.


Why are jazz purists so arrogant?

Because most of the time, jazz purists are the most knowledgeable musicians on the planet.


Don't they have other things to live for besides their music?
There's something else?

wersax
12-07-2007, 08:22 PM
Yourself, just as in any other pursuit.



Because most of the time, jazz purists are the most knowledgeable musicians on the planet.


There's something else?

;) 8-) :D

Agent27
12-07-2007, 08:44 PM
The whole point of the essay is to not get so caught up in playing predetermined licks and phrases that you lose sight of what's going on around you and what's happening in the moment. His arguement is that in chess, if you get caught up in playing out a particular opening or other scenario, you can totally miss what your opponent is doing. You're missing half the game. Similarly, in jazz you can miss what the rhythym section is doing. They could be feeding you cool ideas and you could be totally oblivious because you're off in your own little world. Might as well play with nothing but Aebersolds if that's all you're going to do. I know I improvise better when I let everything go and just play in the moment and can actually interact with other musicians.

It's the exact same thing as the old impov proverb that dates back to Bird: Practice, learn everything you can, then forget it and just play. If you've really studied it, it will show up in your playing without you saying "Oh, I'm going to start my solo the same way Trane did, then I'm going to play this lick here and then quote Ornithology over here, and play a diminshed-whole tone over this chord, and do a tritone sub over this ii-V-I."

FighterForJC
12-07-2007, 09:08 PM
I just say his analogy sucks. I do agree that it is important to not be a lick dispenser. I do think that most of the saxophonists who depend on licks are the ones you'd find in the lounges of hotels in Vegas or some clubs, you know, the working musicians who don't have the luck of getting a record deal or doing studio work through an inside connection (let's be honest, here folks. There's no such thing as a self-made gazillionaire all the rich people you know probably have been rich from birth; same with famous celebs or musicians; they HAD to have known somebody in the industry). Musicians who have no aspirations of "making it big" are the ones who'll most likely rely on predictable, recognizable licks, as it is the standard of the niche they've fallen in.

Martinman
12-07-2007, 11:28 PM
Just because his analogy only applies to one aspect of jazz does not make it suck.

"Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to find" only applies to that one aspect of a box of chocolates, but that doesn't make it a bad saying.

Pgraves
12-07-2007, 11:56 PM
The whole point of the essay is to not get so caught up in playing predetermined licks and phrases that you lose sight of what's going on around you and what's happening in the moment. His arguement is that in chess, if you get caught up in playing out a particular opening or other scenario, you can totally miss what your opponent is doing. You're missing half the game. Similarly, in jazz you can miss what the rhythym section is doing. They could be feeding you cool ideas and you could be totally oblivious because you're off in your own little world. Might as well play with nothing but Aebersolds if that's all you're going to do. I know I improvise better when I let everything go and just play in the moment and can actually interact with other musicians.

It's the exact same thing as the old impov proverb that dates back to Bird: Practice, learn everything you can, then forget it and just play. If you've really studied it, it will show up in your playing without you saying "Oh, I'm going to start my solo the same way Trane did, then I'm going to play this lick here and then quote Ornithology over here, and play a diminshed-whole tone over this chord, and do a tritone sub over this ii-V-I."

Why not a little of both. Using conscious calculated thought combined with spontaneous inspiration. I don't think they are mutually exclusive.
Whole is greater than sum of parts. It would be interesting to see brain scans of different players while improvising vs reading.
Or classical vs jazz to see what differences or similarities there are. Good musicianship has lots of components. Everyone has there blend of strengths and relative weaknesses.
Thinking vs feeling? Feeling the music is not an emotional is this usage I "think". It's some other kind of thinking. Merging, blending recombining and inventing ideas. Partly conscious, partly not.

Helly
12-08-2007, 08:10 AM
All I can say is that I hope my sax playing doesn't sound like my non-existent chess playing skills :O

clarnibass
12-08-2007, 12:53 PM
Horrible analogy in my opinion. Who exactly are you playing against, in jazz? Critics? Who cares if the musicians recognize your licks as being memorized? How are they going to check mate you, exactly? By pulling another Pat Metheny? Is the point in jazz to checkmate other musicians? What context was he talking in? Are the other musicians listeners, or part of the band one is playing in? Why are jazz purists so arrogant? Don't they have other things to live for besides their music?
I think you are missing the analogy. There are similarities and there are differencnes just like any comparison and just because there are differences it doesn't mean it sucks. By the way, when you play chess you are not only playing against someone, you are also playing with someone.

legato
12-20-2007, 06:05 AM
The problem with Bobby Fischer was that he refused to play unless he could play by his own rules. I remember those tournaments back in the 70's. He would throw a tantrum to get his way.

DukeCity
12-20-2007, 06:16 AM
How is jazz like chess?

Well, painfully few people will drive downtown, pay a cover charge and a two drink minimum to check out either one. 8-)

Ralfy
12-20-2007, 06:30 AM
Honestly when I improvise I don't think ahead at all. That just distracts me from getting into the music and making the most of the improv scales. Instead I think right at the spur of the moment...the ultimate "living in the moment."
I just pick a note to start on then go. I get the rhythmic feel the song (groove). I expirement with different notes, some will sound bad at certain times so I play them at other times instead. Then I just add some of the little tricks that make jazz, jazz.

Also, I don't play memorized riffs.
I DO play variations of rhythms that I tattooed into my head but I make a point not to play them the same every time on the same boring repetitive notes.

I guess I really started improvising just by playing the blues scales up and down to the music then it grew from there to the point where it comes as complete second nature.

asaxman
12-20-2007, 07:02 AM
In chess you have to play offense, and defense! In jazz, you JUST play offense, (with a good piano, bass, and drums). ALL the great masters use licks, including Bird, and Trane. Bird used the same lick, A LOT, on a Gm7 - C7, (concert).

Ralfy
12-20-2007, 07:49 AM
You could play defense in jazz...it would be one of those "best defense is a good offense" things though...

In fact I'm going to try improvising with the defensive mindset tomorrow and see how bad it sounds.

altoist
12-21-2007, 03:56 PM
I think you are missing the analogy. There are similarities and there are differencnes just like any comparison and just because there are differences it doesn't mean it sucks.


That's true, but in this case, the differences are mostly major and the similarities are mostly superficial, so the analogy is quite poor.



By the way, when you play chess you are not only playing against someone, you are also playing with someone.

You are not playing "with" someone in the same way you play jazz "with"
someone. I've played chess against machines, by telephone, by
correspondence, etc. and that's all chess. There is no cooperation in chess,
accept for cooperating on the externalities like agreeing to play chess and
where to play. Communication isn't really a goal in chess either.

The audience isn't invited to participate, so I guess that's more like bebop than swing ;-).

Sure, you can make up correspondences. If you're even moderately clever,
you can make correspondences between just about any two things; this
doesn't seem like an interesting or fruitful one. I like jazz and chess, and
can imagine that lots of people do, but this analogy is very forced. I think
"jazz is like natural language" (notice how I use 'like a' not 'is a') is more
interesting one, but still arguable, as the many threads on the topic here will
attest.

les
12-21-2007, 04:05 PM
Using licks is one thing, but if you use too many, especially the common-as-dirt licks, everyone will know what you're going to play and when your going to play it after listening to you for a few tunes. Live by the lick, die by the lick.

And fighterforjc,
There are many self-made millionaires in the world. A few-- Mike Brecker, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Steve Jobs. I could go on, but the point is that not everyone who is rich got that way by an "inside" connection or birth. Believe it or not, it IS possible to get rich in America without lying, cheating or stealing or being born into wealth.
It's easy. All you have to do is invent something that everyone wants but only YOU have, or do something MUCH better than most people (like Mike B.)
The three most common avenues for wealth are
1. intellectual property (music, art, journalism, software development etc...)
2. Start a small business
3. Real estate
Give it a try!

Ralfy
12-21-2007, 08:09 PM
I like to take up the expiremental side sometimes and make up unusual licks and rhythms as well as make unconventional endings and stuff just because I get tired of normal jazz solos (even though they might be really good).

mudrock1000
01-06-2008, 07:07 AM
honestly i don't have the patience to read it all...but this is my theory to jazz in a nutshell... Chess and jazz are both boring to people who havent expierienced it. Then its fun.

bob3dsf
01-06-2008, 08:32 PM
FighterForJC,

“Musicians who have no aspirations of "making it big" are the ones who'll most likely rely on predictable, recognizable licks, as it is the standard of the niche they've fallen in.”

-WOW, thats pretty arrogant and assuming. “Making it big” is used pretty vaguely as well. I always strive to play with as much spontaneity and creativity as possible. I enjoy gigging out periodically and take advantage of every playing opportunity as I can, but I have no aspirations for a Verve release yet. As mentioned by asaxman, if you read any interviews from the jazz greats (or talk to any skilled, experienced jazz musician) precomposed figures are an integral part of the jazz language. I would challenge anyone to play 100%, pristine, virgin lines for more than, maybe, a few bars. If I read your post correctly then anyone who has made it big doesn't play “predictable, recognizable licks.”

As for my $.02 on the subject, I would say the similarity between jazz and chess begins at limitless possibilities and functionally ends at the need for strategy and situational awareness. The adversarial nature of chess and the collaborative nature of ensemble music nullifies most of the comparison. Some statements from this trumpet player are just plain wrong. Eddy Lewis mentions that using memorized licks turns off your ears. He may not listen to Michael Brecker or John Coltrane, but I know Miles used licks, and Roy Hargrove does it as well.
“- now forget all of that and just play.” This usually means don’t practice when you’re performing by trying to fit practice material into every possible place they can go; let the licks come out in your playing naturally by listening and playing with the other musicians and feeling the audience's reactions, etc.

wersax
01-06-2008, 10:05 PM
How is jazz like chess?

Well, painfully few people will drive downtown, pay a cover charge and a two drink minimum to check out either one. 8-)
:D :D;)

Ralfy
01-08-2008, 02:57 AM
I think jazz is like doodling, which I see as a relaxed and laid back activity. I like chess too but I think there is a lot of thinking in advance with that, but jazz is more spontaneous. I used to doodle a lot in high school when I was bored with my teachers lecture, but this is coming from a background of drawing more seriously, trying to draw scenes, etc. I never imagined my artistic intent would transfer into music and jazz the way it did. I used to draw complex scenes of interconnected parts, sort of psychedelic, but now, I just like to play jazz and express myself through music, and can see the flowing lines in my playing similar to the lines I used to draw on a page, so I don't draw anymore, just play my sax. :D

Yeah, sometimes I don't think teachers realize just how boring and repetitive they are. If only I could "doodle" with music while they blabber on and on. I guess I will have to stick with just sleeping and drawing random drawings.

Reedsplinter
01-18-2008, 01:55 PM
RIP Bobby Fischer!

michaelbaird
01-18-2008, 01:57 PM
I think so. You have to think several moves ahead in chess and in jazz, however jazz is more predictable.