Transitioning between soloists is one of the most important parts of keeping the momentum of a song alive. In my first transitions post I discussed the basic choice of every transition, whether to emphasize or de-emphasize it. This choice gives you two distinct approaches for dealing with this particular transition. Either you can try to carry the energy and mood of one solo into the next, de-emphasizing the transition by making it smooth, or you can create dramatic contrast between one solo and the next, thereby emphasizing the transition. Both approaches can be effective, it is just a matter of finding the appropriate time to use them based on where you feel the music is going.
1. The Smooth Transition
The main danger of this kind of transition is that the music will get monotonous. If there is not enough contrast in the music, you will lose your audience. That being said, this type of transition can also lead to some of the most exciting and uplifting musical exchanges.
One of my all time favorite examples of this type of smooth transition is on the album "Live At Birdland" going from McCoy Tyner's solo to John Coltrane's on the tune "Afro Blue" (around 4:50):
2. The Contrasting Transition
The main danger of this type of transition is the the contrast will be so strong that it will derail the song and the soloist. If you do not handle this type of transition with great care and musicality, you will also lose your audience. On the other hand, this type of transition can also lead the music in exciting new directions, and give a soloist a whole new angle to work from.
In the following clip, the bass player (the wonderful Blake Meister) and I create a really open and subdued sound at the start of the new solo at 3:22. As you can hear, this contrast allows the music to breathe.
No matter whether you are going to emphasize or de-emphasize the transition between soloists, here are a couple of things that you should always do:
1. Switch ride cymbals- This is a simple way to subtly alter the vibe of the music without really changing too much. Changing ride cymbals gives the music a slightly different sonic palette, helping to prevent fatigue in your audience.
2. Listen- One of the great challenges of transitioning between soloists is to be able to adapt to the new soloist as quickly as possible. The more focused your listening, the easier and smoother this process will be.