Love, Funk and Fela!
Take time out to listen to Fela Kuti. He was many things during his time on this earth: a voice for Africa, a star on par with the likes of Bob Marley and Bob Dylan, a trend-setter, a political malcontent, and unrepentant sexist, Between himself and the great Tony Allen, they invented a genre, Afrobeat. A previously unknown gumbo that combined African American music such as Jazz, Funk and Soul with sounds only heard in the heart of the mother continent. That continent and its music are eternally etched into the DNA of the human race. When Fela Kuti combined those mythical beats and sounds, the radio waves carried worldwide. The effect was seismic in nature. The ground would shake as the people came together. The majority of Africans oppressed through corrupt government now united against their common enemy. Fela declared that his home was independent from the Nigerian state, calling it the Kalakuta Republic. At one time, the Kalakuta Republic was laid under siege by over 1,000 Nigerian troops, stemming from Fela’s outspoken political stance. Fela was severely beaten and lost his mother in that attack. His response was the single "Coffin For The Head Of State". To mark the occasion a year later, Fela married 27 women in a single ceremony. The 80s and 90s found him behind bars on regular basis due to his outspokenness in regards to Nigerian politics. An arrest for smuggling currency and one for murder jump off of the page among others. The world lost Fela in 1997 due to complications from the AIDS virus. His legacy lives on through his music and countless sons and daughters. He was the light and the dark. This still shines through the Funk that he left.
Love, Funk and Fela!
There is a tendency to think of scales and chords as separate things, especially in practice. In jazz, the two are inseparably linked, being that one is basically the other, only played differently. If you look at a common jazz chord, for example the dominant thirteenth, written C13, you will find that when you voice the chord vertically using scale degrees: 1, 3, 5, flat7, 9, sharp 11, 13, you are using every note in the scale to fill out the chord. In every case, 9 is the same as scale degree 2, sharp 11 means sharp 4, and 13 is the same as scale degree 6. Every note is a chord tone, and every note of the scale is in the chord. The chord, technically C13 #11, and the scale, C Lydian dominant, are comprised of the same tones. Playing the chord is to use the notes vertically, as in stacked thirds, and playing the scale is to use the notes horizontally.
It is important for every musician, not just a jazz player, to know that scales and chords represent one another. To think of a chord should be to think of that scale. This is true if the chord is simple; say a C major triad, or complex, like a C altered dominant. If one breaks down chord and scale relationships, at the most elementary level, both could be seen as working with numbers. Every degree of the scale and every chord tone are associated by a number; the root is one, the third is three, etc. When you practice scales, chords and arpeggios, try to hear each scale degree and think in terms of these numbers. This is especially helpful when practicing all twelve keys on your instrument. Instead of having to think individual notes, try to hear numbers. When visualizing music on your instrument, think numbers as opposed to individual notes. A good musician should also be able to name the notes of the chord or scale that they are trying to play. As you practice chords, remember that the notes in the chord are also in the scale you use to improvise, and when you practice scales, remember that a chord change goes with those set of notes. Practice the scales up and down, on the full range of your instrument, and practice arpeggiating all the notes in the chord. Think of the scalar sound as being heard horizontally and the arpeggiated chords as vertical uses of the same set of notes. Just playing scales and chords can be boring though, so mix it up with scalar patterns, arpeggiating in fourths and fifths, playing different modes of the scale as you ascend and descend, etc.
Being able to hear scales and chords is important, but as you improvise try to think melody. A good starting place is to have the melody of the tune in your head as you improvise. This helps your thinking as you improvise, and helps you to keep track of the form of the tune as you play. Eventually one will be able to recognize music without having to think notes. You will begin to feel the music instead of thinking notes and numbers.
As always, happy practicing!