I took part in a Deborah Henson Conant webinar, "Play With Freedom", and she told about learning to play jazz, and how a seasoned musician told her that she had to always follow the bass player. That was an arresting thought, and when she asked for participant’s takeaways, I considered it with respect to my life, and I thought; Do I have a melody, and is there an accompaniment and bass, and how do they play off of each other, enhance each other, support each other? And do I follow the bass, and/or the melody? Which do I listen to, which do I emphasize, and when? How to understand them as parts, and as a whole.
As a teen, I bought one of those albums that had been re-issued by a connoisseur’s label: an album featuring the legendary Gerald Moore, one of the great accompanists of the 20th century. He was not an accompanist who played in the background or who just played non-essential notes. He took the accompanist’s part and shaped it, all to put on display, compliment, and show off the melody; his accompaniment made the melody. He knew how to feature the melody, and the accompaniment was essential to make the melody the best it could be. As a result of listening to this album, I started to love accompanying and learned how to dress up the melody. Later on, singing in a choir helped me hear the parts of the whole.
The lessons I learned from Gerald Moore, hold true for harp ensemble and session playing. And it also impacts how I play or compose a solo piece. The accompaniment is a major element that transforms the melody. I want to use all the notes, both melody and accompaniment to say what is to be said.
I often fall in love with the accompaniment, hearing it as important an element as the melody. The melody can start sounding tired, shrill, and shopworn, whereas the accompaniment can keep the melody fresh and interesting. The accompaniment is not so obvious as the melody, and there lies much of its charm. I have heard other musicians sometimes suggest that "the bass accompaniment is too loud" ( that is probably me they are talking about; and an indirect request for the accompaniment to be toned down). Sometimes the accompaniment can overwhelm the melody, but if the accompanist’s part is well-written, it is the foundation for that melody. I want to hear the melody sing, and I want to undergird it with real substance, not simper in the background. And when I am playing the melody, I am listening for that accompaniment to be there and to be heard.
But back to business. How do I develop the quality of accompaniment that I compose? And what does the quality of accompaniment mean? I am wondering about this, as I edit/re-write the NamePieces for my book.