Jazz School: Solo Versus Ensemble Playing

While you need to have a broad suite of knowledge and skills to play in any musical setting, there are some very different mindsets and approaches to playing solo versus playing with a band. Think of jazz music as requiring three elements: rhythm, harmony, and melody. The basic question is this: Who will have primary and secondary responsibility for which element? The most important consideration is whether or not you will be playing with a bass player. If you play solo, you alone will be responsible for all three elements, so your left hand will normally need to "be the bass player" and your right hand may need to take more responsiblity for the harmony. If you play with a bass player, your left hand is much freer to add harmonic and rhythmic interest, which in turn frees up your right hand for improvisation. This will all become clear when we study some Jazz standards.