Racer Sessions

Sundays, 8-10pm at Cafe Racer in Seattle, WA

Patrick Ketter - November 24, 2013


The Curator

My name is Patrick Ketter. I’m an oboist/saxophonist new to town and I love the Racer Sessions. These sessions inspire me and I am honored to be curating tonight.

I’m not sure where to start with this, but I suppose I’ll let you know what I’ve been thinking about music lately…

I had the chance to study some really great scores while I was at the University of Delaware. With the encouragement of professors, I became fascinated with the limited motivic materials found in some of our most beloved works, too many to name here. Such works often bear the impression of improvisation. This artful practice of moving in and out of abstraction relative to one or more short identifiable motifs is my aim in improvising recently.

So my ideas aren’t new, but here are some things that I think about. I like to keep my thoughts simple and let my imagination do the work. To practice this particular concept, I often choose small groups of intervals, cells if you will, and come up with different ways to use them in improvisation. My mentor, Bobby Watson, called it “playing games”, whose rules you invent. A simple example: do whatever you can, moving only in half steps and major thirds. I try not to move to the next note until I can hear it in my head. Learn the improvisation game outside of the context of tonal music. Let it sink into my head and over time, flow into my free improvisations naturally. Often, in order to get oriented with tonal use of these tools, I will practice one exercise against a drone on all 12 pitches, one at a time. This also helps me get a feel for where to place the intonation of each note. These practices also inform my arrangement and composition.

I also pay attention to what my instruments do well. Trying to use their idiosyncrasies to my advantage as often as I can effects my note choice. “We’re not trying to make this hard” - another one of Bobby’s maxims. There is also crossover between instruments, of course. I play things on the saxophone that I would never think of without my oboe experience, and visa versa.

Racer Session veterans, Chris Icasiano (drums), Luke Bergman (bass), and Christian Pincock (bone), join me on Sunday to play a couple of my compositions and arrangements of folk tunes, set list TBA. I consider these tunes to be conducive to free playing, partially because of their musical association with the practice games I mentioned above. Folk songs often work well as vehicles for such playing because of their simple melodies. Also, I absolutely love folk songs, my heart melts and stuff. For all of the more or less digital material I practice, I prefer organic styles of playing , sonorous intervals - to improvise music that more or less “sounds good”. Add complexity in varying degrees relative to simple structures.

The Session

Now we get to play with other people. The exercise mentioned above is obviously one of an infinite number such of “games”. I encourage musicians to choose one or more identifiable motifs to work with throughout their improvisations. Use these motifs as hooks, and points of departure rather than the dominant features of your performance. Let the ideas that you can create using these motifs guide you to your material. You might use said motif for formal punctuation, or receptively and quietly as a sort of modal accompaniment. Whatever you do, consider each of your notes as they sound with those of others. Feign tonality as Gus suggested last week. Let things sound good! Balance them with things that sound more “out”. Let’s see what happens!