I was talking to a friend about music the other day, and a thought occurred to me: If he asked me for specific examples of a great jazz solos, I think I might have a hard time answering that. As a jazz fan, I’m a bit disappointed in this. I really have made a mental or physical catalog of great solos. But I thought I’d start doing that here. I will also expand this endeavor to include great solos, including non-improvised and from other styles of music.
Before I begin here are a few thoughts, off the top of my head, on what makes a great solo. I’m inclined to start by comparing jazz solos from solos often hear in pop and rock music. The former are akin to stories. If listeners don’t follow a story, from beginning, middle, to the end, then they won’t be able to appreciate it. The same is true for most jazz solos. Guitar or keyboard solos in pop/rock are rarely like that. Indeed, if listeners try to follow a story, they likely will end up disappointed, as there really isn’t much of a story there. My sense is that the solos mostly add rockin’ feeling to the music. Sometimes catchy riffs will be a part of the solo, which makes them enjoyable to listen to. I tend to think pop/rock solos that are stories or developed melodies is pretty rare. In summary, a great solo tells a good story or is well-developed melody–one that sounds good, but takes you somewhere. For the listener, such a solo is like starting at one point then going on an interesting journey and then arriving at another point or back at the start.
Swing (or a good groove) and the interplay between the musicians are two other important parts of a great solo in my opinion. Generally, musicians have to be in a good groove. (Maybe that’s not as true for ballads, though.) When this happens can feel a different type of energy elevating the music. Without this energy, the notes may be appropriate and even good, but the music will feel flat. My sense is that swinging depends on strong interplay between the musicians, where what each individual plays fits well with everyone else. I don’t think a music will swing or groove without this.
OK, I think that’s enough for now. The next time I come across a good solo or if I remember one, I’ll put down in this thread.