A Musician's Guide to Free Jazz Improvisation (2006)

Beyond Time and Changes offers a methodology to guide the advancing jazz improviser through the un-chartered musical territory known as free jazz.

Beyond Time and Changes explores numerous musical topics, including:  motive development, through-composed line, compositional direction, tension/release, continuity, balance, pacing, impact, dimension, self-critique, rhythmic pulse, exercise design, chord transformation, micro and macro views, leading and following, form and free settings, interpreting musical signals, group performance scenarios, melody-guided constant structure, interactive and supportive comping.

Addressing the inherent contradiction in explaining how to play free, Hal writes in Beyond Time and Changes:

"Free improvisation is only as free as the musician doing it.  If the goal, then, is to be free while playing free, we must first know and understand what it is we are trying to be free, and play free, from.  In other words, we must know and understand form (time and changes), so we can then forget about it-without forgetting it-while we play free.

"Musical improvisation began and evolved as an art form played in time (tempo and meter) and on changes (chord progressions), thereby making form an integral part of its nature.  Once acquired, a thorough understanding of the elements of form and the rules that govern them can be used to guide our improvising in free settings, giving us the option (or choice) of creating order or disorder.

"As improvisers, we cannot declare our musical freedom from form if we have never learned it in the first place-only our ignorance.  Ignorant of form and the methods used to learn it we get only accident and chance (i.e., disorder); and without a choice, true freedom is impossible.  Genuinely free improvisation does not result from (or depend on) our ignorance of method and form-but, rather, our mastery and transcendence of it. 

"The path to artistic freedom is paved with method and form; method and form must be used to go beyond method and form; and therefore, a system for learning how to play free-based on observation, analysis, logic and even rules-has definite purpose and value.  After all, instructing oneself to improvise without rules is itself a rule."

Beyond Time and Changes shows improvisers how to prepare for soloing and comping in free settings by exploring the issues of musical accuracy, musicality and continuity (motive development) on form, and then reveals how to create structure and order within free settings by using the known to navigate the unknown.

With the aid of lucid explanations, concise musical examples, practical exercises, solo transcriptions, and a compelling demonstration CD featuring 17 performances by the author and a stellar rhythm section, Beyond Time and Changes solves the mystery long associated with how to make free improvisation make sense-without losing your freedom in the process.
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"Deep in the mind of this legendary musician, composer and teacher lies profound thoughts and ideas about true creative freedom and how to reach it.  Hal's book and CD says it all.  Go for it, Hal!  I only have a few idols, and you are all of them!"

George Garzone (saxophone)
Professor, Berklee College of Music

"Hal Crook is the freest, most technically adept and imaginative trombonist we have. Combine that with the ability to clearly state his musical objectives, and Beyond Time and Changes is a sure winner. Highly recommended."

Bob Brookmeyer

"Hal Crook's Beyond Time and Changes is the ultimate literature on improvisation. This book will deeply stimulate the artistic approach of the modern, creative musician. The demo CD is proof positive; Hal is the chief of improvisation!"

Frank Mobus (guitar)
Professor, Hoschule f. Musik "Franz Liszt"
Weimar, Germany

"In Beyond Time and Changes, Hal Crook brings back what improvisation is all about:  developing ideas and musical interaction.  His demonstrations command and convince.  This book is a 'must have' for professional musicians, students and educators."

Ed Tomassi (saxophone)
Professor, Berklee College of Music

35 Jazz Originals (2002)

The Music of Hal Crook is a collection of 35 original jazz songs written for the purpose of challenging and developing the composer's own improvisational skills and creativity, so that by playing his compositions he may advance his ability.

The Music of Hal Crook features conventional and unconventional song forms, swing-8th and even-8th rhythmic feels, low to high musical energy, medium-slow to fast tempos, modal and modulating chord progressions, tonic system progressions, and free compositions.

The Music of Hal Crook includes general performance considerations, rehearsal techniques, terms and definitions, soloing suggestions, and the composer's recommendations for preparing each song for performance.

The Music of Hal Crook also presents a study of 8 basic chord types, including chords symbols, chord tones, tensions, chord scales, parent scales, as well as musical examples of typical voicings played for each chord type on piano and guitar.

The Music of Hal Crook provides a demonstration CD containing one chorus of each song with each instrumental part performed by the composer on a digital keyboard.

The Music of Hal Crook is currently being used in ensemble classes at Berklee College of Music, and many of the songs have been performed and recorded by professional players of note.

The Music of Hal Crook is for intermediate and advanced level improvisers.

See "audio".
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"Hal Crook has written music for as long as he has played it, and the result is as challenging and musical as his playing.  His compositions remain lyrical and accessible while at the same time asking the player to expand and develop his language and linear concept.  This is a collection of challenging and rewarding jazz compositions.  Highly recommended."

Bob Brookmeyer

"This enlightening and probing anthology takes us on an amazing musical journey into the compositional world of Hal Crook.  Quick, witty, profound, and always musical, we can all learn a lot by stealing from this 'Crook'."

Greg Hopkins (trumpet)
Professor, Berklee College of Music

"This is an amazing collection of great compositions.  It is appealing from so many perspectives:  wonderful melodies, sophisticated harmonic terrain, interesting forms, great comping, excellent (and realistic) bass lines, diverse rhythmic layering, effective use of bi-tonality and rhythmic superimposition...  Simply put, this is great music."

Mick Goodrick

Exploring the Basics of Jazz Improvisation (1999)

Ready, Aim, Improvise! is a clear, comprehensive study of the most important steps in a jazz musician's education.

Ready, Aim, Improvise! explores the critical areas involved in learning how to improvise, including:  music theory, jazz harmony, ear training, jazz execution, jazz vocabulary, melodic and rhythmic content, advancing via restriction, how to practice, and self-critique.  It also offers insights on career planning, the teacher/student relationship, ego and improvising, and the deleterious effects of negative criticism from non-playing professional jazz critics.

Ready, Aim, Improvise! includes numerous musical examples, practical exercises, daily practice routines and two play-along CDs featuring modal, key-area and modulating chord progressions performed by Hal Crook on piano, John Lockwood on bass, and Take Toriyama on drums.

Ready, Aim, Improvise! is also an effective supplemental study-guide for the jazz textbooks How To Improvise and Beyond Time and Changes by Hal Crook.

Ready, Aim, Improvise! is for all levels, all instruments and voice.

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"If I had just enough money to buy only one book on jazz improvisation, Hal Crook's Ready, Aim, Improvise! would be it!  That's because this book contains the truth about jazz as I see it, and as I teach it myself."

Clark Terry

"This book (Ready, Aim, Improvise!) is written by someone who knows so well how to do it and who has equal skill as a teacher and a writer...[with] a most welcome sense of humor.  Until now I have never seen a book on jazz improvisation that made me envious, and that I intend to use with my students as soon as I can lay hands on a copy."

Bob Brookmeyer

"Hal Crook's latest masterpiece-Ready, Aim, Improvise!-is so well written, so intelligently structured, so meticulously detailed, and so beautifully laced with humor, compassion and wisdom that (in my opinion) no one will ever need to write a book on this subject again.  Well, maybe in a hundred years."

Mick Goodrick

"Ready, Aim, Improvise!-another excellent contribution to the literature of jazz improvisation by Hal Crook-brings to the reader the strategies and methods used so successfully in the classroom by one of our great jazz pedagogues.  I highly recommend this book to every musician and music teacher."

Matt Marvuglio
Dean, Performance Division, Berklee College of Music

A Study In Jazz Accompaniment (1995)

How To Comp presents a clear, comprehensive one-step-at-a-time method for learning how to accompany an improvised jazz solo.

How To Comp organizes a vast amount of information into multiple areas of study, including:  building voicings (from 2 to 6 notes), stock voicings, constant structure voicings, voiceleading, independent lead lines, rhythmic interaction, rhythm vocabulary, rhythm motives, harmonic anticipations, embellishment, non-harmonic voicings, dividing and shifting attention, single-note-line comping, interacting with the soloist, and more.

How To Comp offers precise explanations, practical exercises, numerous recorded musical examples, daily practice routines, and three fully transcribed comping demonstrations (and play-along tracks) performed by the author on piano, with additional over-dubbed trombone solos played by the author as well.

How To Comp is for intermediate and advanced level players of harmonic instruments (i.e., piano, keyboards, guitar, vibes).  However, drummers, bass players and horn players will also benefit from its study.

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"Hal has a great gift for time feel, counterpoint, note-choices, and spontaneous re-harmonization, all at a very high level of creativity and execution."

Jerry Coker

"In How To Comp, accomplished musician and author Hal Crook looks deeply into the nature and challenge of jazz accompaniment and puts into focus a direct, sure path to mastery."

OK L'Roach

VOL. I, II, III (1992)

Creative Comping For Improvisation-Vol. I, II, III are play-along CDs containing chord progressions of songs commonly played in the jazz idiom.  The musical accompaniment consists of chord voicings and bass lines played in time on an acoustic MIDI grand piano by Hal Crook.

Creative Comping For Improvisation features improvised re-harmonizations and rhythmic displacements (of the original chords) consistent with contemporary harmonic and rhythmic practice that the soloist can play with (i.e., by following the comping) or against (i.e., by following the original chords).

Also included in Volume 1 is 30 minutes of pitch axis accompaniment (i.e., each note of the chromatic scale is sustained in the bass register for 2½ minutes without tempo) that can be used to practice modal soloing and free soloing, either out of time or in time (by adding a metronome).

These play-alongs can be effectively used with exercises from the books How to Improvise and Ready, Aim, Improvise! and Beyond Time and Changes by Hal Crook.

Creative Comping For Improvisation provides lead sheets for each chord progression in concert key, Bb and Eb.

Creative Comping For Improvisation is for intermediate and advanced level improvisers.

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"Hal's play-along recordings are full of challenging harmonies and refreshing rhythmic variety.  A fun approach to practicing and a real workout for your ear."

Chris Cheek (saxophone)

"Using Hal's play-along recordings is an effective way to practice the topics in his book, How to Improvise. His comping is fresh, inventive, and it swings hard!"

Dave Ballou (trumpet)

"Creative Comping is a marvelous addition to the play-along industry.  These play-along recordings have done much to loosen up my own creativity as well as prepare me for concerts and gigs."

Jerry Coker (saxophone)

"Hal's play-along recordings have guided me into harmonic and rhythmic directions I might not have explored otherwise.  He is more than a great trombonist who plays some piano; he is a formidable jazz pianist!"

Jeff Galindo (trombone)

An Approach to Practicing Improvisation (1991)

How To Improvise organizes the vast subject of jazz improvisation into three basic categories:  What to Play, How to Play, and When to Play-and assigns individual musical topics to each one. 

How To Improvise explains how to practice jazz improvisation on all instruments (including drums and voice) by applying the "target approach" to individual musical topics, such as:  pacing, phrase lengths, rhythmic density, dynamics, articulation, chord-tone solos, chord scales, upper structure triads, motive development, rhythmic displacement, syncopation, over-the-bar-line phrasing, contracting and expanding chord duration, non-harmonic structures, chord couplings, tri-tonic cells, chromaticism, special effects, and others.

How To Improvise also offers an effective method for memorizing the melody and chords of songs, and provides numerous recorded musical examples, practical exercises, and a suggested daily practice routine for each topic covered.

How To Improvise is for all levels, all instruments and voice.

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"Learn everything in this book and the phone won't stop ringing!"

Phil Woods

"Incredible book.  I wish it was around 20 years ago."

Jerry Bergonzi (1990)

"How To Improvise brings significant new insight to the art of jazz improvisation and should be an important addition to jazz pedagogy.  Hal's approach to improvisation is a refreshing alternative to the usual "learn your scales and good luck" methods.

"This book addresses the elements of rhythm, melody and harmony in a manner that provides the student with a process and practice routine that enables the development of an improvisational technique so essential to the creative jazz musician."

Larry Monroe
Chairman, Performance Division, Berklee College of Music