Multiplicity & 20 Jazz Etudes: A Review

By Tom Brantley • September 01, 1997 • 5 min read

Mark Nightingale, the reknowned jazz trombonist from England, has written two jazz etude books, with accompanying CDs, for tenor trombone. The first, Twenty Jazz Etudes for Tenor Trombone, appeared in 1995 from Warwick Music. The second, Multiplicity, was released in 1996 by the same publisher. Both sets are welcome additions to the instructional materials currently available for jazz improvisation self-study, and Nightingale's books/CDs are especially notable as they are specific to the trombone. Overall, the books are aimed at an intermediate to advanced level player. Good undergraduate college students should find these especially helpful, but any trombonist (jazz or classical) would benefit from Nightingale's exercises.

20 Jazz Etudes CoverTwenty Jazz Etudes includes three sections: the first is devoted to 12 separate etudes covering the 12 major keys. Each etude is built around the chord progressions for jazz standards or 12-bar blues. The range is up to D above high Bb and both bass and tenor clefs are used. The second section includes exercises devoted to the cycle of 4ths, diminished scales and chords, and wholetone scales. The last section is devoted to studies of the styles of five important jazz trombonists; Bob Brookmeyer, Frank Rosolino, Carl Fontana, J. J. Johnson, and George Chisholm are included here. The CD includes each etude performed three different ways; the first is rhythm section alone at a slower tempo (tempo de learno), the second has rhythm section alone at performance tempo, the third has Mark Nightingale performing the etude with rhythm section.

This first book/CD has many strengths. Primarily, it is strong because Nightingale is a fine player, and he has written etudes that demonstrate his influences (Johnson, Fontana, Rosolino). Also, the etudes follow the harmonic chord progessions closely and carefully--important for students. The rhythm section swings so students learn to play with a good feel. The second section is especially impressive; these are very useful. The wholetone and diminished scales as well as the cycle of 4ths aren't always easy to grasp. Playing these exercises as part of a daily routine will help students master these important improvisatory tools. The final section is filled with beautifully constructed jazz solos; these are really excellent transcriptions. Overall, Twenty Jazz Etudes helps students develop a catalog of licks in different keys over different changes with a bebop style.

The weaknesses of this first set are really more philosophical disagreements between what I might have included and what Nightingale includes. For example, I would have provided references to recordings whenever appropriate to encourage students to listen to jazz as they work through the exercises. I would have also written out the melodies for the charts whenever possible to educate students even further. I also wonder about some of the specific choices of tunes; using Miles Davis's "All Blues" to demonstrate a bebop style solo isn't exactly appropriate. Although many players might make this choice, this tune is stylistically more related to Davis's work in the Cool era--another reason to include references to specific recordings. And, finally, for the solos to represent real music (rather than just academic exercises) there's simply not enough space--rests or sustained notes--or dynamic contrast to encourage a musically expressive effort from a student. Some of Nightingale's omissions may have more to do with copyright difficulties than anything else.

Multiplicity CoverMultiplicity, the second book with CD set, offers a next step for a student seeking more advanced exercises than the preceeding Twenty Jazz Etudes. Multiplicity offers some of Nightingale's original compositions written for different trombone ensembles: duet-octet with rhythm section. The book includes the "lead" part for each composition for the student to play along with the CD; the recording offers all other trombone parts plus a rhythm section. This gives students experience in playing as part of an ensemble which include one or several other horn players. Styled after the "J and K approach" (no, not the Men in Black guys . . . the other J and K) this CD and book offer Nightingale's fine compositions and playing along with a truly helpful approach to practicing jazz improvisation and reading skills. It also helps that it's fun to work through the tunes; they're all interesting and none seem like a strictly academic exercise.

It would be nice to have all the other parts included in the book so that students working in groups could each have a part to work with, but Nightingale may have been limited to what he could include in this project and perhaps complete arrangements are available separately. I also wish there was more "exchange" in the solos; have Nightingale or a rhythm section player play a complete solo and then allow time for the student to play a solo in response. This would help students master important listening skills while developing a sense of the "conversational" aspects of jazz improvisation--that each solo "feeds" off previously presented musical ideas. It would also be nice to have a tune that featured a "trading fours" sort of experience for students.

Both CDs could have been mixed a little louder; I had to put my stereo on "7" to hear everything adequately. This, of course, allowed a lot of "noise" to come through my speakers, too. In general, though, despite all my nit-picking, I think both Twenty Jazz Etudes and Multiplicity are wonderful and important resources for jazz educators, students, and professionals. I've already recommended them to several students, and I plan to purchase my own set. These are perfect for teachers who want to supplement their students' work; instructors can send their students off to find recordings to use in their lessons or in classroom settings. Maybe in subsequent editions, Nightingale can include some of the "extras" I listed above to make the books even more useful.