Interviewing Eric Ineke on Jazz Phrasing and Interplay

As part of my research during my Master’s studies at the Royal Conservatoire of The Hague, I conducted a number of interviews of renowned jazz musicians and academics from the International Jazz scene. Dutch jazz drummer Eric Ineke was very generous to offer me his time and share his wisdom in this conversation we had via telephone. You can listen and read the whole interview below.

Title of the research project:

Phrasing and interplay from the vocal point of view.
Phrasing as the vocalist’s tool to stimulate interplay within a jazz combo.

Research Question:

How can phrasing become the tool of the jazz vocalist that wants to stimulate interplay and respond creatively in the band’s musical conversation, while singing the theme or improvising?



1.    What does the word phrasing mean to you?


(Phrasing means…) To clear up the articulation of musical sentences. First of all, the phrase has to swing. If it doesn’t swing and it’s not right rhythmically it doesn’t come in my ear. It doesn’t catch me. Also the dynamics in the phrasing… that’s the thing that makes the phrasing. So the swing, the rhythm; if there’s no rhythm in the phrasing, then it goes from one ear in to the other ear out immediately. That’s what catches me and I say “hey, that’s nice phrasing.


2.    Why is phrasing considered to be one of the most important elements in jazz music?


First of all, the most important thing for me is the swing. The phrasing has to be swinging. The rhythm of the phrase and the dynamics. If you sing like (example) bee-deedle-da or if you sing (example) pa-you-dlee-da, then it’s different! Well, the pa-youdlee-da (example) will catch me. The bee-deedle-dee (example) wouldn’t catch me at all.

I.K. Yeah, because it’s vibrant! Dynamics is good! If someone wants at some point to be soft, it’s also good. But if there is no energy…

E.I. The energy has to be there! That’s what it is! The dynamics are in there! Most of the time in the phrasing, it’s the offbeats. (example) Pa-dou-ba-dou-ee… if that’s not there (the accents on the upbeats) then it’s not alive anyway. 


3.    Besides the limitation of the lyrics and the fear of risk taking while scatting, what more differences have you noticed in the rhythmical phrasing of an instrumentalist in comparison to that of a vocalist, when playing the theme of a song and during their solos?


I think that when you stretch the time, when singing the lyrics makes it interesting. So when you think in six’s, in big triplets, then you can stretch the time and everything is more relaxed. If you sing like Billie Holiday…. She can stretch that time SO well!

I.K. By stretching you mean to make it loose…

E.I. YES! That’s the thing! You can see the difference in the singers. For example in the students at school I don’t hear that! And for me, when you really go over the barline, stretch it, then you make it interesting! And then it starts to swing! And then it’s music! But to just sing with a nice time and everything… well, so many do that! But the thing that would be catching your ear, it’s the way they stretch the time and take the time. You have time!

I.K. There’s pure wisdom in that phrase: “you have time, take your time!!!”   

E.I. Yeah, take your time!!! And I think that’s what you learn also from horn players. If you listen to how Dexter Gordon plays a ballad, you think he’s not gonna make it but he makes it! And that’s what I think is important for a singer.

I know YOU can do it; but there are a lot of beginner students that they have no idea. They have to learn and develop the voice and they have to catch some authority. This is also very important thing; that you have the authority when you sing.

I.K. Yeah, it needs confidence.

E.I. Yeah! Even if you sing alone without the rhythm section, YOU have to be the rhythm section!

I.K. You have to provide that.

E.I. You have to provide it!

I.K. Of course, when you’re totally alone (a capella) you also have to provide the rhythm, so if you stretch it too much, then…

E.I. Yeah!!! Try to do it!!!

I.K. Yeah…bring it in!

E.I. Yeah, bring it in! I mean, a quarter note is a quarter note. If you stretch it and the time is there, then it’s fantastic!

I.K. And what about the solo? What differences do you see when a singer is scatting in comparison to when an instrumentalist is soloing?  

E.I. Most scatting I just skip it. When a singer doesn’t scat well, then it’s terrible! The most scatting you hear from singers is shoo-be-oo-bee… This is the worst ever you will encounter in your life! I’ve played with so many singers and when they begin to scat, they’re horrible! That shoo-bee-oo-bee…. It’s terrible!!! But…. They have to know, of course, they have to think of going through the harmony. Like a horn player. The way of scatting is like…. If you close your eyes, you have to hear a horn. If a guy like Chet Baker for instance, starts scatting, it’s like an extension of his horn. If I hear Sarah Vaughan scatting, for me, I hear a horn player. When I hear Deborah Brown scatting, I hear a horn player. And in that case I can (I’m a drummer) the rhythm was there, the feeling. It doesn’t matter any more if it’s a trumpet, a saxophone or a voice. It has to be equal. And I think that’s what it should be! That’s what you have to aim for! …To get so far in your development. A singer, if she scats like shoo-bee-doo-be-doo, then there’s nothing I can react upon either. And that’s also in one of your questions; how to get the interplay going. And the way to make space! If you make space, then there is something. And if you make space, then you sing rhythmically. You’re great rhythmically! There’s a great feeling. And if you make space in your improvisation, then we (the rhythm section) can react! And there are so many saxophone players who really want to play everything they know. And they play like a million notes, all great, all good and perfect timing but there’s NO room for interaction!

Singers (who just do shoo-bee-doo-be-doo) don’t have a proper swinging rhythm, no energy. It’s the language! I don’t mean the lyrics but the language of the music (that they lack in). Try to sing Charlie Parker. For timing also and phrasing, it’s interesting to try to get to Coltrane, cause his way of timing is totally over the barline. And that’s what singers should study! Singers should not study singers! If guitar players start to study guitar players, you get a horrible guitar player! Of course they all play a million notes but when you hear a guitar, you know immediately if the guitar player plays like a horn player. It’s a WAY big difference! With singing, it’s exactly the same! If you have that feeling, then it makes sense to me, to scat. Listen to Freddie Hubbard, how he phrases! I mean you can learn so much from that! He stretches, he can get in front of the beat, he can be backwards… When you can PLAY with the time, that’s an important thing! Then things start to happen!  


4.     Besides the obvious contribution of the story that lyrics offer into music, what more strong points/advantages or tools of the jazz singer are there, that could reinforce her/his role in the band?


First you have to swing, have that feeling. If you got that feeling there (swing feel) then you can play with the time! And that’s so interesting! Also as a drummer you can do that, you can stretch the time. If you hear guys like Elvin Jones, who can stretch his lines over the bars. He has HIS one (beat in the bar)!

I.K. It’s a challenge to be able to follow Elvin Jones!

E.I. Yes! And sometimes he’s not playing on the form! Most of the time he does but he can stretch it so much that you have to listen to… He always lands in a “one” (beat) and that’s the next section of the tune.

I.K. Too much freedom can cause that, some times.

E.I. For a drummer it’s easier when he’s alone, in his solo. When you do it (stretch the time), the beat can turn around. That’s another thing!

I.K. These things happen! Even in the most famous recordings, mistakes happen! It’s only human!

E.I. The thing is, how you solve that mistake.

I.K. How you “present” it. The real professional makes it sound like “we meant to do that, it was not a mistake!”

E.I. Yes! You see?


5.    How can a jazz musician achieve a more adventurous and interesting phrasing in your opinion?


When he plays with the time. You can stretch it, you can make it shorter… as long as the groove is there and it’s not f….cked up!

I.K. Provided that you don’t lose the form, yes.

E.I. And the space absolutely! The space brings the interaction.


6.    What are the elements of phrasing itself that encourage the interplay within a band?


Playing with time, stretching the time, making space. You never get any interaction if you don’t leave space! You just play (example) dingi-ding-dingi-din…


7.    What different types of interplay are there in your opinion?


When you’re soloing, first of all you need to make the space. In order to get a reaction, one more factor is also, how interesting is the theme (the phrasing of the theme), the phrase or that line (during improvisation) that you are singing. What can I do rhythmically as a drummer with what you’re doing? If there’s no rhythm in there (in what you’re doing) …. You see, for drums, the rhythm is an important thing. Because then, rhythmically, I can play in a very musical way, that has something to do with your phrase. Or your phrase is so inspiring, interesting, that I can play something totally different, that you’ll get inspired from.

I.K. Yes, this is the point! This is what I want! To bring in nice things (phrases), so that I can get nice answers.

E.I. That’s it! Maybe I can take something from the last part of your phrase and then MY last part of your phrase will be something totally different, that you’ll say: “hey, I can pick something from that up!” And then you’ll have a goo and interesting conversation. Then you don’t feel like you talk to a wall or like somebody’s deaf! That’s an important thing and then the music starts to get interesting!

I.K. So do you think there are different types or “layers” of interplay? Because I have noticed there are differences in the amount of interaction between musicians that meet in a jam session for the first time. If they “speak” the same “language”, they can have a certain level of interaction, a musical conversation. But what about if they don’t have the same language?

E.I. The ideal of course is for everyone to know the language of the music. If you’re in a jam session and someone doesn’t know the language, then… it’s over. Let’s have a beer! (laughs)

I.K. On the other hand, I think there is another layer, more “advanced”, where people (the musicians) play for a long time together. So apart from having acquired the same language, they’re also capable of elaborating their ideas, so they create something new, they’re not just exchanging the same licks all the time.

E.I. Yes, that’s true!

I.K. I mean Miles Davis second quintet (with Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, Tony Williams and Herbie Hancock) is the best example of that.

E.I. Yes, that’s absolutely right! And later on they played in “time no change”, like for example in the tune “Pinoccio”, they’re not playing the changes! The only one who’s playing the changes is Herbie Hancock. He plays the form and suddenly Miles goes (example singing the theme). (laughs)

Well, when you’re in an ideal situation, where you play with top musicians, then you get feeded so much by what’s happening around you, that you can play, you can sing/improvise things you had never probably sung before in your life! And the thing is that you could never think by yourself, that you could do that!

I.K. Yeah, it’s amazing!

E.I. Once I had played with Frank Foster and all of a sudden; it was at the end of a long tour we had, that then I felt so free and I played things I had never played in my life! And I could never repeat it, either. And that’s a sort of ideal situation that you can get so creative!

I.K. But that’s the ideal situation! What about the other situation, that’s not so ideal?

E.I. The other situation… you just work on your “radar”, on what you already know, on your “luggage”…

I.K. Your own language, your own tools…

E.I. Yeah, the tools you have already… You work on your routine. BUT…

I.K. You work on your routine BUT you’re not an “automatic pilot”!

E.I. You’re not an automatic pilot! BUT your routine has to be a really good one!

I.K. So that you can “feed” the others and get something!

E.I. Exactly!!!

I.K. Because we’re not usually in the situation to play with huge musicians…

E.I. NO, No, no, no! Few times in your life (you’ll play with huge musicians). And those moments you’ll remember!!! You’re aiming for that but when you start doing that, it wouldn’t happen because what’s happening around you is not in that level. Or you can be so “strong” that you can get it out of the others. If you’re such a strong personality (musically) that you can “carry” all the rest (musicians in the band) up to a level. And then they’ll be really thankful to you and they’ll say: ”we worked with this singer and we could play things we’d never played in our life!” Here you go!!!

I.K. The contribution never stops!

E.I. That’s right! Exactly!


8.    In what way(s) can the interplay become a sort of musical conversation?


Well, it depends on what kind of musical lines you provide! If that’s interesting or not; rhythmically plus harmonically.

I.K. And how much space you leave for your “interesting” contribution to be perceived!

E.I. Exactly! Exactly!


9.    How do you teach your students to become more elaborate and interactive while playing in a band?


Talking about my instrument, the drums… First of all, they don’t have to listen to themselves. And they have to be able to listen to everybody at once! That’s the thing. To be so quick and so concentrated that they can hear the whole band. Plus they have to know the historic insight. They have to know the history of the music. So that when you’re comping (accompanying) somebody who plays in the style of let’s say… Lester Young… You have to know what to provide there. When you’re backing him, you cannot play like Elvin Jones behind that guy.

I.K. You have to fit into the style!

E.I. You have to fit in a certain style…

I.K. The language of that certain style!

E.I. Yes! So you hear certain things and you say “ah, that’s typical of Lester or… When I play with someone I can tell like: “He listens to him or he listens to him, etc…

I.K. Yeah, all the influences!

E.I. The influences, yes! That makes it very interesting also: to know what to do and where. That thing I tell my students… to listen to all styles of jazz., as much as possible. Listen to the records! But don’t listen to the drums only! Listen to how Hank Jones comps for instance, how the piano plays… the piano and the drums! Because this (the piano) is a percussion instrument, where you can play melodies on. So the comping is more or less the same; the left hand of the drums is the same as the comping of the piano. That’s an important thing to be aware of.

And also to be able to get in touch with the bass player. So if the bass player is dragging, then you probably are able to help him. You have to listen to bass players! There is a difference between Ray Brown and Ron Carter and George Mraz.

And the important thing is to listen to the whole record not just one piece from that record one piece from the other! And that gives you the language! And the more language you have….

I.K…. the more you can add to the conversation!

E.I. Right!!! Exactly! That’s what I try to tell my students. They have to listen to everyone, not only to themselves.

I.K. It’s the same for everyone!

E.I. It’s the same for horn players, for the piano players, for everyone! Plus when you do that, you become faster in reacting.

I.K. Of course, it’s different when you start. For a beginner, who is so absorbed by the technique, by the lack of knowledge, it’s very difficult. I remember when I started, at the beginning I was so anxious about not making a mistake, not losing the form, not losing the pitch…! A beginner is so concentrated on himself, that we’re “locking” our ears!

E.I. Yeah! When I was a kid I knew how to play time (example), I was playing along with the radio. With the records, too! And I felt like I was a part of the band! I was not even listening to the drummer! I was listening to the music! That’s why I wanted to be a drummer.

I.K. So you tell your students to play over the records. Real recordings and not “play along”.

E.I. Yes!!! Real recordings! You can play with Lee Morgan, you can play with Hank Mobley, you can play with Sonny Rollins, etc…. That’s so nice! It feeds you! That way you learn the language! Because you hear the real language without the bull shit!

I.K. Yes! And it’s important to listen to the whole album and not only to one song!

E.I. And you have to learn the tunes. And later on you may hear the lyrics!

I.K. Hearing it only once, does not mean anything! Because there are so many layers in jazz music, that you have to hear a record a million times; it’s like a good movie, that you have to watch many times, in order to see the details.

E.I. Yeah! That’s the thing! I always hope that students do that! I tell them: “Oh, listen to Sonny Rollins, how fantastic he plays in his solo! Try to sing his solo”!

I.K. That’s why you have to stick to one record for a long time…

E.I. That’s when the solo comes automatically and you start to whistle along with the solo! Get the rhythm of the solo! That’s what I was doing! And that makes your rhythm “feel” better, too! Everything is connected!   

Space! Also gets the attention! Pa-doo-ya-doo-ya-doo-bap… (example)…

I.K. Yeah! It creates anticipation!

E.I. …and it starts to swing harder! When you make space, it swings better; and you can make some beautiful lines there! 

I.K. So what you did right now was simple things but very clear! So you sang phrases, according to Schoenberg!

E.I. Yeah! Clarity! Clear phrases!

I.K. Clear… rhythmical but also melodical. But mainly rhythmical. Because if you don’t know where it has started and where it’s ending; and it’s vague, so then how will the other person react? It’s really annoying!

E.I. Yeah, I don’t have the patience any more to listen to that.

I.K. Yes but if you play… you can’t leave the drum-set and go!

E.I. Of course not! You have to be professional enough to help and raise the level.

Irini Konstantinidi