By David Carlos Valdez Jazz Harmony for Improvisation- chord/scales

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The Essential Casa Valdez
For the improvising Jazz musician

By David Carlos Valdez

Jazz Harmony for Improvisation- chord/scales

To quickly find scales for these common chords-

C7 #11 Up a fifth melodic (G melodic minor)
C7 b9 (or #9) Up a half step diminished (C# dim)
C7 b13 (or +) Whole-tone from root
C7 b9 b13, or C7 alt, or C7 #9 b13, or C7 b9 #9 b13 #11

Up a half step melodic minor
C7 b9 b13 Up a 4th harmonic minor

C-7(b5) Up a half step Maj (C# Maj) or up a minor 3rd melodic minor (Eb melodic minor) or down a whole step harmonic minor or up a 4th harmonic minor (F harmonic minor)

C sus7 (b9) Down a whole step melodic minor (Bb melodic minor)
C maj7 #5 Down a minor 3rd melodic minor or down a minor 3rd harmonic minor
Here are some important rules for substitution:
1. You may add the related ii-7 before any V7 and add the related V7 after any ii-7.
2. You may add a #11 to any major or dominant chord.

  1. You may substitute any chord for another chord as long as it has two of the same notes.

  1. You can actually add a dominant seventh chord a fifth above before any chord. This creates some nice tension and resolution, and can also create a delayed resolution if the resolution chord is pushed later in the bar.

Cmaj7 /

G7 Cmaj/

When analyzing a tune to determine appropriate scales for blowing, first look at the dominant seventh chords and where they are resolving. Look only at the root motion; the quality of the next chord (Maj, min, sus, ECT) is not important.

If a dominant seventh chord is moving down a 5th to the next chord, then you have the freedom to alter that chord however you wish (whole-tone, diminished, altered dominant, Lydian dominant, ECT).
If the dominant seventh chord is moving down a half step, then only add the #11 (the Lydian Dominant, up a fifth melodic).
Also the V7 may not go directly to its resolution, there may be a delayed resolution.
/C7 / C-7 F7/
The C7 is still resolving down a fifth (by way of the C-7) and can be altered by the improviser.
Remember that if you add alterations to a Dominant 7th chord, start less altered and add alterations. For example- If you are playing over two bars of G7 going to C you may play a straight Mixolydian in the first bar and then play a G7#11 (D melodic-) for the first two beats of bar two and an G7 altered dominant (Ab melodic-) in the last two beats of the second bar. You would not want to start with the G7 altered dominant and THEN play a straight Mixolydian before resolving in bar three.
This is OK:
G7 G7#11/G7b13 G7alt/ Cmaj7 /
This is not:
G7alt G7b13/ G7#11 G7/Cmaj7 /
The first example has forward harmonic motion; the second has backwards harmonic motion.
Here is an easy way to help you analyze chord changes. This is the way Berklee teaches chord analysis. It helps you see the ii-V7s and the V7 resolutions, so you can easily determine when you are free to make chord-scale substitutions.

  • Use brackets to mark ii- V7s and dotted brackets to mark ii-7 subV7s (example: D-7 C#7)

  • Draw arrows from V7 to I resolutions (example C7 to Fmaj, or C7 to F7, or C7 to F-7)

Symmetrical Scales-Diminished, Whole-tone & Symmetrical Major
In modern western music we use a system of tuning that divides each octave into twelve equal semi-tones. Using this system we find that there are only a certain number of possible ways to create symmetrical scales. The ear hears these scales differently than other scales because they are expressions of pure relationships of whole number intervals. We pick them out immediately and can easily predict the next note. The system that I outline here is found in Nicholas Slonimsky's classic book 'The Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns. This book has influenced generations of classical composers and Jazz improvisers alike. The pure definition of a symmetrical scale is a scale that covers one or more octaves with equal intervallic scales between each note.
The first symmetrical scale happens when you divide one octave equally into two parts (or the 1:2 scale). This is a scale that consists of just two different notes, in the key of C -C & F#. The next one is the 1:3 scale, or the augmented triad- C, E, Ab. Next is the 1:4 scale or the diminished 7th chord- C, Eb, Gb, A. {Again, remember that scales can have any number of notes}. If we divide one octave equally into six parts we get the whole-tone scale or 1:6 scale.
The two symmetrical scales that we use in Jazz improvisation are the whole tone scale and the diminished scale. The diminished scale is really just two 1:4 scales (augmented chords) a whole step apart. Let's deal with these two in more detail since they are used the most in Jazz improvisation. A diminished scale fits over a dominant seventh b9 and/or #9 chord. So over a C7b9 you would play the diminished scale a half-step up: C# diminished. There are many common diminished licks that every young Jazzer thinks are great when they first discover them. These are really cool until you realize that just about every jazz player on the planet over-uses them at the beginning of their careers. They are as cliché as you can possibly get. As a matter of fact, it is hard not to sound cliché when using this scale. Because they are symmetrical you must play them UNSYMETRICALLY in order to sound interesting. The Slonimsky book is a great place to find interesting non-cliché diminished and whole tone patterns.
Some ideas for hipper diminished (and WT: #1-3) patterns:
1. Play patterns with intervals that contain wider intervals
2. Add leading tones/approach notes that are outside the scale
3. Instead of using 4 note repeating patterns (like usual cliché patterns) use 5 or 7 note patterns, so they shift around in the bar.
4. Think of the diminished scale as two diminished chords, alternate between the two chords.
5. Alternate between diminished scale and the diminished scale a half step up. Remember to keep in mind that diminished scales resolve down in half steps. Diminished scales moving down in half steps are like Dominant seventh flat ninth chords moving around the circle of fifths. If you're playing over a dominant seventh flat-ninth chord you can play the diminished scale up a whole step from the root, then the diminished scale a half step below that (up a half-step from the root of the dominant chord). This implies a V7b9 of V7 to V7b9.
Original chords:

G7b9 / G7b9 / Cmaj7

You play:

A dim /Ab dim /Cmaj7

Implying this:

D7b9 /G7b9 /Cmaj7

Each diminished chord has exactly the same notes as THREE other diminished chords. Each dominant 7th b9 chord is therefore almost exactly the same as three other dominant 7th b9 chords.
C7b9 is related to: Eb7b9, F#7b9 and A7b9. These chords are the same except for ONE NOTE difference (the roots).
So here's where things get interesting. You may substitute any of these chords for any other chord AND THEIR RELATED ii-7s.
Put in to practice it looks like this:
/D-7 /G7b9 /Cmaj7
You may substitute:
/F-7 /Bb7b9 /Cmaj7
/Ab-7 /Db7b9 /Cmaj7
/B-7 /E7b9 /Cmaj7
Or even hipper:
/D-7 /F-7 Ab-7 /Cmaj7
Bob Mover reminded me that when you're adding substitutions you can use the related ii-7s rather than the V7s. Bob says that Phil Woods often does this. This seems fairly obvious yet most players don't do this very often.
We know that Trane was very deep into the Slonimsky book. During his 'sheets of sound' period he used this type of substitution. You could call this type of substitution a 'Four Tonic System'. Later on Trane started exploring 1:3 and 2:3 substitutions, these are the classic Giant Steps (Countdown, Fifth House, ect) 'Three Tonic System' subs. This system spawned a school that is sometimes called the 'Jewish Tenor School' ;) The key exponents of this school are Brecker, Grossman, Liebman and the late great Bob Berg.
There are other players, like saxophonists Rick Margitza and the Northwest's Burt Wilson who have thoroughly incorporated this system into their playing. This is a modern 'New York' sound. The three tonic system is used not only over ii-7 V7s but also over almost anything and everything! It has so much internal momentum that it can be used as a way to go outside without losing forward motion.
Personally I find it really hard to use the three tonic system without sounding too much like I'm playing patterns. I find the four tonic system a bit easier to use without sounding stiff. Bob Mover once told me that he thought that the three tonic system had ruined the course of modern Jazz. I do see his point. When I was at Berklee a tenor player I knew had T-shirts made with one of the most famous Grossman lick on it, the one that sounds like this- weeee-ba-da-ba-doo-be-ahh. Any Steve Grossman fan knows just the one I'm talking about.

  • One more symmetrical type scale is called the 'Symmetrical Major' scale. This exotic sounding scale is made up of three major triads major thirds apart.

C Eb E G Ab B C

This is nice over a Cmaj7, Emaj7, and Abmaj7 chords since it has leading tones to each note of the major triad.
There are other symmetrical scales in Slonomisky's book just waiting to be applied to Jazz improvisation!

Basic ii-7 V7 chord substitutions

Here is a very common type of ii-7 V7 substitution. To do this one you simply turn the ii-7 into a secondary dominant of the V7 or V7 of V7. This is an easy sub to make because all you are doing is changing the quality of the ii-7 from minor to dominant, with or without alterations. Here are just a few of the many ways to do that:

D-7 / G7 / Cmaj7 /

D7 /G7 /Cmaj7 /

D7b9 /G7b9 / Cmaj7 /

D7alt /G7alt /Cmaj7 /

D+7 /G+7 /Cmaj7 /

Or you could turn the ii- into a subV of V, like so:

Ab7#11/G7 /Cmaj7 /

Coolest ii-V7 substitution ever

Here is a really great and easy to make substitution that I often use. It's a straightforward way of substituting a V7 of V7 in place of the ii-7 in a ii-/V7/I. This is one of Bob Mover's favorite devices and you can really see why once you give it a try.

  • First remember that you may substitute any related ii-7 in place of a V7, or vice versa.

All you have to do is to play a minor a half step up over the ii-7 and then play a regular V7 (or possibly an altered V7).

So over:

D-7 / G7 /Cmaj7

You would play-

Eb-7 /G7 /C maj7

This implies the related V7 of the Eb-7, which is Ab7.

Ab7 is the sub V7 of V, or the tri-tone sub of the secondary dominant of V7.

So the substitution is implying this:

D7 alt /G7 /C maj7

* The beauty of this substitution is that it is so easily calculated on the fly; it sounds very outside yet soon resolves perfectly and completely to the V7. The tension of playing a half step away from the minor is total, yet the resolution is so strong that it makes perfect sense to the ear.

It's simple, yet elegant and easily to put into practice.

Bob Mover's ii- V7 subs

You can blow over these subs while the rhythm section is plays a standard ii-7 V7 Imaj7.

/G-7 / C7 /F Maj7

/Ab melodic- / Db melodic- /F Maj7

/G-7 Ab7#11 / Db Maj7 Db mel- /F Maj7

/Ab-7 / G mel- Db mel- /F Maj7

/G-7 Ab-7 / GbMaj7 Db mel- /F Maj7

/B dim / Bb dim /F Maj7

/G-7 Bb-7 / Db-7 /F Maj7

/Ab-7 Db7 / Db-7 Gb7 / F Maj7

/Ab-7 Db7 / Bb-7 / F Maj7

/Ab-7 Db7 / Bb-7 Db-7 /F Maj7

/Ab mel- / Bb mel- / F

Modes of the Harmonic Minor Scale
The harmonic minor scale is considered by some to be the homely sister of the elegant and useful melodic minor. Yes, it's kind of clunky. Yes, it makes you want to do the snake charmer dance. Just like the melodic minor the harmonic minor scale generates some modes that are very useful for improvisation. Here they are:

  • On a C- maj7 you would play a harmonic minor from the root

  • Over a minor ii/V7 you would play harmonic minor from the root

For example:

D-7b5 would take a C harmonic minor scale starting on D (down a whole step):
D Eb F G Ab B C (root, b9, b3,11 b5, 13, b7)

Note: A more modern sound for a half-diminished chord would be to play a melodic minor from the b3rd)

  • On a G7b9 chord you would play a C harmonic minor scale starting on G (up a fourth):

G Ab B C D Eb F (root, b9 ,3 ,11 ,5 ,b13 ,b7)

This is a classic Bebop approach to V7b9 chords; some call this an Augmented-Phrygian scale. Bird used this scale on minor tunes all the time and it is distinctly pre-Trane bop. The altered dominant (whole-half) scale for the most part supplanted this sound in the post-bop period.

  • Over a Maj 7th chord you can play a harmonic minor scale from the third.

So over a Gmaj7 chord you can play a B harmonic minor scale starting on G:

G Bb B C# D E F# (root, #9, 3, #11, 5, 13, 7)
This is called a Split Third Major Scale. Of course you wouldn't want to hang out on the #9. This scale is very close to the Symmetrical Major Scale, which is made up of three major triads a major third apart (C, Eb, E, G, Ab, B) or C triad+E triad+Ab triad.

  • Over a minor 9(b5) chord you can play a harmonic minor starting on the fifth.

Over a D-9(b5) you could play an A harmonic minor scale starting from D:

D E F G# A B C (root, 9, b3, #11, 5, 13,b7)
You could call this a Minor Lydian/Mixolydian scale.

  • Over a Maj 9 (#5) chord you can play a harmonic minor scale down a minor third.

So over a D Maj7(#5) chord you can play a B harmonic minor scale starting on D:

D E F# G A# B C# (root. 9, 3, 11, #5, 7)
This is called a Major Augmented Scale. Notice the clunky natural 11, a melodic minor scale from the same root would give you a #11 instead.

  • Over a diminished 7 (b9) chord you would play a harmonic minor scale up a half step.

So over an Adim7 (b9) chord you can play a Bb harmonic minor scale from A:

A Bb C Db Eb F Gb (root, b9, #9, 3,#11, b13, 13)
Now we are stretching things but you could think of this scale as an alternative to the Altered Dominant scale.
Obviously some of these scales are more useful than others, and most are not quite as hip as their melodic minor counterparts. These scales do offer some different flavors to add to your harmonic pantry and are worth exploring.

Special Function Dominant Chords
Special function dominants are dominant seventh chords that do not resolve down a fifth or down a half step. These dominants have reasonably strong resolutions to tonic Imaj7 chords and can be used by the improviser or arranger as substitutes for V7 chords. Though these special function dominant chords do not have as strong resolutions as V7s or subV7s, they are strong enough to be used as subs for these chords. SFD chords can be used to create a more desired bass line or to harmonize hard to voice melody notes. Special Function Dominant Chords can be used by the improviser to create interesting re-harmonized lines over existing chord changes. One thing to keep in mind when you are creating re-harmonized lines or chord changes is that you may always precede these SFDs with their related ii-7s.
Here are the Special Function Dominants:
* I7 this is used in blues progressions as a tonic dominant. It also sometimes resolves to the Imaj7 tonic.
* II7 this chord is closely related to the bVI7 and the #IV-7b5 (they all share the same tri-tones). It is normally analyzed as V7/V (secondary dominant function), except when it resolves directly to I when it acts as a SFD.
* IV7~ used in blues progressions, resolves to an I7. IV7 is diatonic to melodic minor, and has a subdominant function in that context.
Blues context: /C7 /F7 /C7 F7 /C7

Minor context: /C-6 G7(b13)/ C-6 F7/ C-6 /

* bVI7 ~ usually analyzed as a sub V7/V. When resolved directly to I it creates a special function cadence. This chord is derived from the chromatic harmony of the 19th century. This chord is closely related to the IV- chord, although it is not diatonic to the minor key. This chord is said to have an altered subdominant minor function.
* VII7 ~this is usually analyzed as a V7/III, except when it resolves directly to I. Since VII7 is not associated with any particular area within the key, its function is simply cadential.
* bVII7 ~this chord is derived from natural minor and has a subdominant minor function. This is an example of modal interchange. The IV-7 is often used with the bVII7 in a subdominant minor pattern like so: /C- /F-7 Bb7/C- //
How do we apply this knowledge?

As improvisers, we need to be able to create valid and functional chord progressions on the fly. Special function dominants can help us do this.

* We can add SFDs after V7s, before resolving to I:
/D-7 G7/Ab7 Cmaj7/

This creates a delayed resolution, which is always interesting.

*We can use them at the very end of a tune for a cadenza, right before the last chord of the tune.

*We can add the SFD's related ii-7 and substitute or add to an existing ii-7/V7/I:

/D-7 / G7 /Cmaj7 / (original)
/F-7 /Bb7 /Cmaj7 / (substitute)
/D-7 G7 /F-7 Bb7 /Cmaj7 / (substitute)
* We can also use them as passing chords to break up a bland Imaj7 section in a tune:
/G7 / Cmaj7 /Cmaj7 / Cmaj6 / (original)

/G7 / Cmaj7 Ab7 /Cmaj7 D7 /Cmaj6 / (with SFDs)

/G7 /Cmaj7 Eb-7 Ab7/Cmaj7 A-7 D7 /Cmaj6 / (with added related ii-7s)
The best way to get used to the sound of the SFD chords is to sit down at a piano or with a guitar and play through all of them. Try playing them one at a time and resolving to Imaj7 after each one.
For example:

Cmaj7 /C7 /Cmaj7 /D7 /Cmaj7 /F7 /C7 /Ab7 /Cmaj7 /Bb7 /Cmaj7 /B7 /Cmaj7 /

Triad Pairs for Jazz
Gary Campbell wrote a book called Triad Pairs. Mr. Campbell is a professor at University of Miami, which has a highly respected Jazz program. His book thoroughly details how to use pairs of triads in Jazz improvisation.
In his introduction Mr. Campbell explains the importance of triad pairs in improvisation:
Why Practice Triad Pairs?
1. By limiting note selection to six tones (each triad consisting of three), a more concise sonority is created. For example, the conventional chords used in the Jazz idiom are oftentimes associated with parent chord-scales of seven or more tones (melodic minor, major, minor, harmonic minor, and so on). Rendering these scales in the form of triad pairs yields more variety in tone color and suggests novel melodic possibilities.
2. Each of the triads expresses a tonality. By using two triads, bi-tonal effects are created. This effect is multiplied when the triad pair is used over a root tone that is not present in either triad.
3. The structure and "tensile strength" of triads give the melodic line an independent internal logic. The "stand alone" sound is oftentimes enough to make a strong, effective melodic statement regardless of how it is (or isn't) relating to the harmony over which it is being used. It sounds "right".
4. The triads offer a skeleton structure to base lines on. This can be very helpful in modal settings where there are no diatonic, cycle-forth root movements or resolutions and where each chord change may last a long time (for instance, four, eight, or sixteen measures)"
Here is an example of the concept applied to a C melodic minor tonality:
A C melodic minor scale contains the following triads-
Cmin Dmin Eb+ F Maj G Maj Adim Bdim
The possible triad pairs are:
Cmin/Dmin Dmin/Eb+ Eb+/F Maj F Maj/G Maj G Maj/Adim
Adim/Bdim Bdim/Cmaj
Of these the preferred selections are:
Cmin/Dmin Eb+/Fmaj Fmaj/Gmaj
These are the chords that a C melodic minor scale can effectively be applied to:
Cmin(maj7) Dsus(b9) Eb Maj7(#5) F7(#11) G7(b13) A-7b5 B7alt
* One of the most basic triad pairs is Major triads a whole step apart. This one triad pair is explored exhaustively in Walt Weiskopf's book Intervallic Improvisation (Abersold press). I f you have ever heard Walt play you will hear him use this A LOT! It can be used over ANY Major chord and any Dominant chord with a natural 9th and 13th. These two triad triads contain the following:
1st triad- root, 3rd, 5th
2nd triad- 9th, #11th, 13th
Other triad pairs covered are:
* Major Triads a half step apart
* Major Triads a Tri-tone apart (works well over dominant seventh b9 chords from the root)
* Minor triads a half step apart
* Minor Triads a Tri-tone apart
And on and on.........

Here are is a triad pair idea for a /ii-7 /V7 /I Maj:

Over a:
/ D-7 /G7alt / C Maj /
/ G triad F triad / Eb triad Db triad / C triad D triad /

  • Here is the same concept applied to a diminished scale:

Over a C7b9 chord you can play a C# diminished 7th chord, a D# diminished 7th chord, also A, F#, Eb, and C major triads.

All these ideas will open your playing up and break you out of the linear rut that Jazz players often fall into. If you start with some of these ideas and then start adding more outside triads to the mix you can come up with some very modern and interesting lines. Try adding some passing tones between the triads to smooth things out.
I would highly recommend Gary Campbell’s Book Triad Pairs to any player looking for new improvisational material. This book will really open up your lines and give you some new ideas for playing over chord changes. It is also good for improving sight-reading and technique.

Harmonic Minor Triad Pairs
Let's examine how triad pairs would work when the triads are taken from the harmonic minor scale:
If we take the diatonic triads from a C harmonic minor scale we get the following triads:
C- Ddim Eb+ F- G Maj Ab Maj Bdim

These are the possible triad pairs from C harmonic minor scale are:

C- /Ddim Ddim/Eb+ Eb+/F- F-/G Maj G Maj/Ab Maj
Ab Maj/Bdim Bdim/C-
Each of these triad pairs works over every chord that a C harmonic minor scale fits over!
The chords that take a C harmonic minor scale would be:
C-maj7 D-7b5 Ebmaj7(#5) G7(b9,b13) Abmaj7 (careful here, implies a split-third major scale)
(Please refer to the chapter 'Modes of the Harmonic Minor scale for Jazz' if these don't make sense to you)
To apply these in an informed and meaningful way you should first try them at the piano. Play the chord with your left hand while playing each the triad pairs as alternating arpeggios to hear which ones work the best. Some triad pairs sound hipper than others so decide which ones you like and write them down.

This is quite a lot chew on. When you're finished try the same thing for the modes of melodic minor. This will open up new worlds of two-tonic-triadic possibilities for you!

Digital Patterns
At some point in almost every Jazz musician's development he/she usually works on digital patterns. By digital we mean both fingers and numbers. Digital patterns can be helpful for learning to play over changes that move around a lot, like Giant Steps or Stablemates. Trane's solo on Giant Steps is packed full of digital patterns. You can tell that he practiced many of them before recording the tune. The down side to practicing digital patterns is that they sound like digital patterns, but they can be good for getting your fingers working fast over difficult changes.
Here are some digital patterns in order of difficulty. First try playing the patterns around the circle of fifths then half steps and whole steps (up AND down). Next try playing them over a tune with a lot of changes that are two beats long and move around a lot, like Giant Steps or Stablemates.
(A 1-3-5-3 pattern over a Cmaj7 chord would be C-E-G-E, Over a C-7b5 it would be C-Eb-Gb-Eb)











Obviously you could keep going and going with these.

At first just practice one pattern at a time. Then start mixing them up. You might alternate between 1-2-3-5 and 5-3-2-1 for example then eventually incorporate all of them at random.
As I said earlier, Coltrane used these digital patterns all over the place when playing on all of his 3-tonic compositions (Giant Steps, Countdown, Satellite, Seventh House, ect). It's hard to play linearly over these types of tunes because of their rapid harmonic motion. The goal is to be able to play over these types of tunes and not be forced to rely on digital patterns at all. This is very difficult to do.

The controlled freak out- outside/inside playing
Improvising over changes takes many years of dedicated practice to master. It is a highly intellectually demanding act that requires knowledge of music theory as well as an excellent memory and quick thinking. Once players get a basic grasp of Jazz improvisation it is often hard for them to let go and play by ear again, as they did when they first started to improvise. Long before they were thinking about symmetrical scales or tri-tone subs they just followed their ears and let their fingers do the walking. Once they are blowing bebop lines through changes with some proficiency they find it hard to trust only their ears to navigate for them. I often try to get my students to move outside by disengaging their rational minds for just a moment at a time. It's almost harder to get an intellectual player to play by ear than it is to teach an ear player to learn Jazz harmony.
I like hearing bebop players who are able to step outside without using set harmonic formulas. There are many post-bop players who use harmonic devices in order to take it outside, fewer who are able to play freely by ear and then drop right back inside.
It can be hard to convince a student who has worked hard to play over changes to ignore them, even if it is just for short periods of time. I may cross out a few chord changes and tell them to just blow whatever they hear over those bars. I tell them not to play anything that is harmonically related to the changes played by the rhythm section. They should then try to land on the next written chord change with a strong chord tone.
I try to get them to feel comfortable with playing totally outside by ear for just a bar at a time. This is like popping the clutch in a stick shift vehicle. The rational mind is forced to disengage from its calculations and computations while the ears and the fingers momentarily take the reigns. When the 'clutch' is re-engaged the rational mind takes over again without losing its place in the tune.
After the student is comfortable with one bar of cosmic freak out I'll have them try for a few more bars at a time. It's also nice to work your way outside and then work your way back inside using chord substitutions. For example let's take the first five bars of the bridge of 'What is this thing called love?'
The written changes are:
C-7 /F7 /Bbmaj7 /BbMaj7 /Ab7 (b9) /
Let's try playing the first chord of the bridge and then work our way out using strong resolutions, then right before the Ab7 (b9) we'll play a few changes to get us back inside.
C-7 B7 /E7 A7/FREAK OUT! / E-7Eb7 /Ab7 (b9) /
By beat three we are starting to head outside, culminating in a six beat cosmic freak out in the third bar and the first half of the fourth bar. Beats three and four steps us back inside where we land on terra firma in bar five. Unscathed!
This example shows how we can gradually move outside using standard diatonic harmony, play free for a few moments and then step back inside without anyone knowing what hit them. We weave the psychedelic freak-out seamlessly into the tonal harmony. It doesn't come as so much of a shock (which isn't always bad) to the listener, and the transition from inside to outside and back will be much smoother. You'll be able to play like Archie Shepp even at a Bar Mitzvah or your hotel lobby gig!
Listen to George Garzone or Ellery Eskelin for their ability to step across the line between inside and outside playing with ease. Free playing doesn't always have to drive the grandmothers out of the room (my grandmother used to ask me when she came to my gigs if I was going to play any of that 'drive the grandmothers out of the room music'). Grandma won't even know that anything's wrong before you're back from your full-fledged FREAK OUT.

Randy Porter's Be-Bop harmonic devices
I started studying with pianist Randy Porter last year. It's been years since I had a formal lesson with anybody. Randy has one of the deepest harmonic and rhythmic concepts I've ever encountered, plus he is my favorite saxophonist's (Charles McPherson) favorite pianist. In my first lesson we looked at a couple of standards and Randy gave me some new ideas to think about. One interesting harmonic device he showed me was a classic Bop delayed resolution for a Major chord. When you have a Major chord all you do is play a diminished chord/scale from the root of the Major chord and then resolve to the Major chord.
So in the context of an ii-7 V7 Imaj7 it looks like this:
D-7 / G7 / Cdim C Maj7/
Simple, just really nice classic Be-Bop.
Another thing Randy does is use a melodic minor up a fourth over a Major chord, which then resolves to a Major 6 chord.
So over two bars of Gmaj7:
C-maj7 / G6 /
This is something Charles McPherson likes to do and it sounds quite cool. It suggests a G major Bebop scale by bringing out the #5 of the major. You could look at this as a special function dominant b7 with a #11. You should really try to bring out the melodic minor sound with this one and then resolve to the 6th of the Major.
Randy showed me some four tonic substitutions over a Minor chord. He had me play over Solar and over the first two bars of C minor we substituted four different dominant 7th #9 chords, resolving after each one to the C melodic minor. This is kind of a variation of Barry Harris' diminished subs where you can substitute any dominant seventh chord Minor thirds away from any other Dominant. Example: over a C7 you can play an Eb7, Gb7, or A7
What we did was this-
C-7 / C-7 /C-7 / C-7 /
We played this:
D7alt Cmel- / F7alt Cmel- / Ab7alt Cmel- / B7alt Cmel- /
You can also think of it like this:
Ebmel- Cmel-/ F#mel- Cmel-/ Amel- Cmel- / Cmelodic- / (except the last one).

Randy showed me an interesting way of a resolving a dominant 7th (b9) chord. He thought it sounded like something that Cedar Walton would play, someone who is definitely worth emulating!

Over a C7(b9) resolving to an F you would play:
A triad, Ab triad, F# triad, then resolve to F
This creates a descending triadic line that leads to the tonic.
This works for chordal as well as for single line instruments. Just be very clear as you play your triads or triadic line. Major triads are always very strong and are able to supercede almost any harmony they are played over. In this case the triads are drawn directly from the chord-scale and descend in stepwise motion, very strong motion indeed.

Questions from Sammy Epstein
Hey David,

You've definitely got good stuff on your blog! Now, when you take a lesson from Randy, and he talks about, say ii-V-Idim-Imaj7, how do you implement that on your horn? And how do you teach single note players to implement on the horn? Do you have a set of licks that work for I dim to I Maj, and work them in each key? I say one can't simply do scales over the hip solos come from merely scales (my opinion) and the other example, over Solar: C-7 /C-7 /C-7 / C-7 / We played this: D7alt Cmel- / F7alt Cmel- / Ab7alt Cmel- / Cmel- C-7 / or you can think of it like this: Ebmel- Cmel-/ F#mel- Cmel-/ Amel- Cmel- / Cmelodic- / something you spoke about months ago... or Eb-7 /Ab-7 /Cmaj7 How do you implement these substitutions in your playing? Do you come up with licks that "make" the changes, and then practice the licks in twelve keys? As I see it, gotta have structure (i.e., licks, patterns, call it what you will) or scales sound just like scales, nothing more, leading to naive solos that simply don't work. Your thoughts? From sunny Austin, Sammy”


As a horn player studying with a piano player there is a little translating that I must to apply certain ideas, but not much. Pianist can certainly flesh out chords substitutions in a way that horn players only dream of. As a horn player applying chord substitutions you need to be clearer than a chordal instrumentalist does. As you move further away from the key of the original changes you need outline the chords in a more direct way.
Single note lines can suggest chordal structures strongly enough to create convincing advanced re-harms if there is enough clarity in the lines. This doesn't mean playing only digital patterns (for exp. 1,3,5,3) or playing all the notes in every chord. Create strong melodic lines without running scales or chords.
As for licks for I diminished to I maj7 resolutions; take a look at my symmetrical scale article for diminished ideas. Everyone should be familiar resolving from diminished to Major or any other chord. Download the Ray Brown diminished lines that I posted for many of the most common diminished patterns. Write some patterns of your own and learn them in 3 keys, which will get you 12 keys, what a deal!
Patterns should be learned so you can use them as the templates for creating your own lines. I'm not big on learning all your lines in every key. You need to be able to transpose ideas to different keys, but practically speaking if you really learn every new line in all 12 keys then you'll end up repeating yourself like crazy. The listener won't recognize that you played lick X in four different keys, they'll just hear redundancy.
We want to have variety and balance in our solos. Don't play too chordally/vertically OR too linearly/modally, new ideas OR repetition. Don't play too many patterns OR freaky lines. The chord/scale approach needs be balanced with the development of motifs, and the motifs should be drawn from relevant material (the melody, ideas that the rhythm section is comping, your own and others' solo ideas, quotes from other tunes that have similar changes, ect).
Remember BALANCE and VARIETY! If ideas are not being developed in your solo then no matter how many cool lines you play your solo will seem static. Focusing on all this theory and re-harmonization, chords and scales, can distract you from taking simple melodic ideas and making melodies.
Randy has been trying to wean me away from relying on modes too heavily,” Less Trane, more Bird!” This allows you to outline re-harmonized chords without obliterating the underlying harmony with a hail of notes. After all a scale is much more dense than a chord. Try to choose your chords consciously; don't just randomly play wider intervals. Be prepared to justify the chords that you're outlining.
Randy had me do something that was meant to help melodic awareness. He had me improvise blues choruses, but I had to play the exact same chorus twice in a row. This of course eliminated many unimportant notes and forced me to play stronger, simpler melodies. Another thing Randy suggested was to be aware of when I played a really good idea and then let it breath for a second or two. How will the listeners appreciate your best shit if you never leave them time to digest your amazing lines? How will they hear the true extent of your genius?

8th note lines
Jazz musicians tend to practice 8th-note lines more than anything else. This can lead to a string of 8th-notes common on most bandstands. Here are a few things you can think about in order to make your lines sound more interesting.
1. Practice anticipating the chord changes by an 8th-note

2. Practice delaying the chord changes by an 8th-note

3. Practice purposely slowing your 8th-notes down and then speeding them up to catch back up with the time

4. Focus more on the direction of your lines. Don't just swoop from top to bottom over and over. Really try to change direction unexpectedly.

5. Play a line and then answer it in another octave. Create a dialog with yourself in different octaves.

6. Try varying your dynamics with the shape of the line, higher=louder, make this effect very pronounced.

7. Displace notes unexpectedly into different octaves while playing a smooth line.

8. Try writing repeating 5, 7 or 9 note patterns. These will shift around in the bar and create very interesting effects.

9. Practice repeating notes unexpectedly in your lines. This can make the most cliché Bop lines sound very fresh. Saxophone players can do this with alternate and overtone fingerings. By doing this, the tongue is not needed in order to play repeated notes. This is helpful at fast tempos.
10. Be more aware of when you are playing horizontally and when you are playing vertically.

Most players tend toward one or the other. Change this up consciously.

11. Shift between swinging very hard to playing straighter legato 8th-notes (straighter, not like an old un-swinging Caucasian)

12. Remember the farther outside you go, the harder you need to swing!

13. Practice shifting back and forth between 8th notes and eighth notes triplets or dotted eighth notes
If you are trying to learn licks or patterns keep a journal for yourself. Each day that you practice memorize just three new patterns. Each day after you work on the three new patterns go back through all the previous patterns and refresh your memory. If you try to learn too many every time or don't go back over the old patterns, you will never retain what you are learning.
Make sure you take time to compose your own patterns and licks to memorize along with the classics. Start developing your our style at the beginning. I don't agree with those who say that you should first learn to play like the masters before developing your own sound. You can put your own touch on everything that you are picking up from the masters. No one wants to hear a player that sound just like another player. Why bother?
Spend time using CDs as ear-training tools. Try to play back lines that you're hearing on the spot. I'm not talking about transcribing. Just try to pick out pieces of what you're hearing and play them back.

Do you really need to memorize Jazz licks?
Maurizio Miotti, a regular reader from Rome, wrote in with a great question.
" My saxophone teacher tells me that I can study music theory and harmony, but if I want to improvise jazz music I have to listen, memorize and play “jazz phrases”. The same situation with learn a new language: you can study grammar but when you talk with someone, you have to use idiomatic expressions because grammar is a set of theoretical roles (sometimes “a little distant” from the current language) and pre-defined phrases are more efficient for communication."
This is a very good analogy. Jazz is a universal language that is spoken all over the world. I can go to Poland and call All the Things on the stand and immediately be speaking the same language as the band musically. Licks are very much like idiomatic expressions, they are the elements of a musical language that can be understood the world over. Many licks are favorite patterns developed by an influential player. These are often forever tied to this player as signature licks. Everybody knows exactly whom these licks came from as soon as you play them. Yes, Bird and Trane live, because everyone is still playing their shit!
Other licks are what I call 'Public Domain' licks. These are pattern and lines that can't really be tracked down to any particular player. These are the first licks that young players memorize as they learn to improvise. Most diminished and whole tone patterns are in this class. These licks are your garden variety stale old Be-bop licks.
David Baker has done a wonderful job cataloging these public domain licks in his 'How to Play Bebop' books. These are licks are tried and true, good as gold and oldies but goodies. Everyone has heard these expressions, but they still carry a strong meaning and are understood by everyone who speaks the language. By learning public domain licks you learn how to construct logical and meaningful lines, they can also act as fillers when you aren't feeling totally spontaneous.

If you were to speak using nothing but idiomatic expressions you'd sound ridiculous.

It would be like an albatross round your neck if you thought it was all the rage to jump on the bandwagon with the rank and file who play nothing but licks, thinking they were real deal and the creme de la crème. In all honesty these dime a dozen bean counters make me lose my lunch!
Like idioms, licks are meaningful elements of a musical language, but they can and usually are overused. I once heard Donny McCaslin say that you need to learn the entire common licks so that you don't ever have to play them. Many professional players never get past the point of playing nothing but licks, we would call these guys totally derivative or BOOOOOORING. True, some great licks never get old, no matter how many time you hear them, but some dumb licks can make a great player sound corny and hokey in an instant.
It also depends on location. You might get away with playing an old Bebop line in Idaho that would evoke groans from an audience in the East Village. The less the listener knows about Jazz, the better these corny-ass lines sound, because they haven't heard every beginning soloist play them already. You can fool an uneducated audience into thinking that you're can really play by stringing a bunch of stale licks together, it's a fast way to sound like you're playing Real Jazz.
Is this really creative? Some would argue that it is and that the goal is to sound good, and playing lots of licks helps you sound good. Many, many players take this way of playing to the extreme and play nothing but licks that they have memorized. They are happy to regurgitate dumb licks for their entire career.
There are different approaches that teachers take with students with regards to learning licks. The first approach is to have the student memorize a ton of licks in every key. The great disadvantage to this approach is that the student ends up sounding redundant by repeating the exact same lick in many different keys during a solo. Also if the student never breaks free of this mode of learning they end up sounding totally generic. There is also no cohesion in the player's solos, just a bunch of unrelated parts.

  • "That guy sounds like every other tenor player, but no one in particular"

I have my students work out of books like David Baker's How to Play Bebop in order to get them hearing how lines are constructed and also to give them ideas about how to construct their own lines. To me licks are like training wheels that you eventually take off once you've learned how to improvise your own original lines.

Even great players sometimes break out an old Bebop lick once and a while, maybe as a nod to a favorite player or for some kind of effect. Sure, I use elements of the many different licks that I've memorized over the years, but only small parts of these licks. Now I use licks as templates from which to build my own lines. I do sound like a Bebop player when I play Bebop because I've incorporated the vernacular of Bebop into my playing over the years. You can hear Bird, Cannonball and many other players in there, but you'd probably be hard pressed to pick out exactly which line came from which player.
When I was younger you probably could pick out many Bird phrases in my solos, but as I get older I've created more of my own personal vernacular. The biggest reason players like Pops, Bird, Trane and Woody Shaw were innovators was that they created their own personal language that was so compelling that it influenced players for years to come. Their personal idioms became the public domain licks that everyone else incorporated into their own playing.
How is the evolution of the language of Jazz much like the evolution of language? Once in a while a particularly strong personality comes along, say like a Snoop Dog, and suddenly everyone is putting 'izzle' on the end of words. Sometimes these fo'shizzles and mo'nizzles pass like fads, other times they work their way into the language and end up in Webster's dictionary or maybe even spoken on the lips of the queen of England. “I dub you Sirshizzle Wynton Marshizzlis!”
Yusef Lateef used to tell his students that it is never too early to start developing an original sound and style. The idea that you must first learn all the idiomatic Jazz licks before you can really start creating an original style is BULLSHIT.
You can be working on your own unique way of playing from the very beginning by learning to make everything you absorb your own. Yes, practice the public domain licks and patterns, but as you learn them put your own twist on them. Displace a note here and there, change a rhythm, leave a note out, add an accidental, just do something to it. Take different pieces of patterns and combine them in unusual ways. I have my students look at David Baker's ii-V7 licks (the ones that are all in the same key and stacked one above the other) and play the ii-7 bar from one lick and a V7 bar from another lick. I have them try all different V7 resolutions with the same ii-7 bar. Then I might have them play the same ii-7 bar and play an improvised V7 using a diminished scale, then a whole-tone, then and an altered dominant, ECT. Then I have them play different ii-7 bars while keeping the same V7 resolution the same.
You don't have to wait until you've mastered the Jazz language to start creating your own personal idioms. On the other hand if you create a personal language that has no relationship at all to the languages that everyone else is speaks then no one will be able to converse with or understand you. Remember Steve Martin's routine when he talks about wanting to have a kid and teach him to speak random gibberish for laughs?
It all comes down to balance. A good balance between original and idiomatic material is essential in order to sound fresh and still sound like you're grounded in the Jazz tradition. You don't want to alienate the other musicians or your audience by playing the music of the spheres all night. You also don't want to sound like you sleep with the Omnibook under your pillow (which I thoroughly approve of by the way) or that the only record you own is Heavy Metal Bebop.
Why bother even pulling out your horn if you're just going to play licks that you memorized from records and books? Respect the tradition by adapting its idioms and making them your own, not by being stuck playing nothing but music from before 1957. Take a chance and be creative, even at the expense of sounding sloppy and bad once in a while. Try not to use long licks, instead only use short fragments.
Innovate as you emulate. It's possible to sound very original without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Foshizzle Monizzle?

Emotional range- the musician as the actor
I see music as an art form that requires the artist to be highly emotionally expressive. One of the things that is usually lacking in younger players, no matter how burning they are technically, is deep emotional expression. Many players never develop this type of expression no matter what their age.
The old saying,” You need to live the blues before you can play the blues", is very true. How can a suburban teen know great sorrow or other deep emotions without years of living a hard life? How can we express a complete range of emotions if we are narrow unexpressive people? It takes living a full life to really understand how to express certain deep or subtle emotions in your music. I think that this is true up to a point.
In many getting your heart squashed and burnt by a lover will do as more for your music than spending endless hours in the woodshed. We can consciously speed up this growth process if we really focus on this aspect of our playing. Like everything, it takes practice to be emotionally expressive.
The Jazz musician has quite a lot in common with the professional actor. The actor becomes the character he portrays by taking on a different personality in his mind. Even though the actor may not feel sadness or joy while working he takes on those emotional states until they feel real to him. If he has a scene where he needs to crie the actor might think about how his puppy got flattened by an ice-cream truck when he was six years old. He relives that sorrow until he cries real tears. The actor's entire instrument (facial expressions, voice, body language) then expresses the emotion or sorrow. To the audience this appears to be real. They don't know that the actor is really crying about Spot.
We all have certain emotions that we are comfortable with and others that we don't understand or have a hard time expressing. We may have no problem feeling angry but can't express tenderness, or vice versa. We need to learn to use the full range of human emotion in our music even if we aren't use to expressing all of these emotions in our daily life.
Jazz musicians in general have a tendency to have 'dry' or unemotional personalities. This is a hindrance to being an expressive artist. It is possible to cultivate the ability to work with unfamiliar emotions but it takes some amount of disciplined practice. Maybe only an 'appearance of an emotional state' is possible for the actor or the musician, at least this is better than nothing. The first step toward this kind of emotional range is to try to purposefully take on emotional states before playing. Think of the time you accidentally ran your kitty over with your Big Wheel, or the first time you got dumped. Look at the tune and try to determine what is appropriate. What are the lyrics about? What is the general tone of the melody?
Here is a list of emotions to consider in relation to playing music. You don't need to understand how they directly relate to a way of playing. Just trying to feel them while playing is enough to affect your music:
Abandoned Ablaze Abominable Abrasive Absorbed Absorbed Absurd Abused Abusive Accommodating Acknowledged Acquiescent Acrimonious Admonished Adoring Adored Adventurous Adverse Affected Affectionate Afflicted Affronted Afraid Aggravated Aggressive Agitated Agonized Agonizing Agreeable Airy Awkward Alienated Alive Alluring Alone Altruistic Ambiguous Ambitious Amenable Amorous Amused Angry Anguished Animated Annoyed Anxious Apathetic Appealing Appeasing Appreciation Apprehensive Ardent Arduous Argumentative Armored Aroused Arrogant Astounded Attentive Avoidance Beaten down Bemused Betrayed Bewildered Bewitched Bitchy Bitter Blah Blessed Blissful Blunt Boiling Bored Bothered Brave Breathless Breezy Bright Broken Bruised Buoyant Bursting Callous Calm Captivated Captivating Careless Caring Celebrating Cheerful Cherishing Clandestine Clear Cold Comatose Comfortable Compassion Competitive Complacent Composed Concerned Confused Congenial Content Cool Cornered Crucified Crushed Cursed Cushy Dainty Defensive Dejected Delectable Delicate Delighted Demure Depressed Desirable Desired Desolate Despair Despondent Devoted Devoured Discomfort Discontented Disgust Dismal Dispassionate Displeased Disregard Disregarding Distracted Distressed Disturbed Doldrums Doomed Droopy Dull Eager Earnest Ecstatic Electric Enchanted Endearing Engaging Enjoy Enlivened Enraged Enraptured Enthused Even tempered Exasperate Exultation Fanatical Fascinated Fearful Fervent Fervor Fiery Flared up Flushed Flustered Fluttery Foaming at the mouth Forbearance Fortitude Frantic Fretful Frigid Frisky Frustration Full Fuming Fun Funny Furious Giggly Gleeful Gloomy Glowing Grateful Grave Grief Grieving Grim Griped Grounded Gushing Gusto Half-hearted Hardened Harsh Having Fun Hearty Heavy Hopeful Horrific Humorous Hurt Hysterical Impetuous Imposing Impressed Impressionable Impulsive Indulgent Inept Inflexible Infuriated Insatiable Insensitive Insouciant Inspired Interested Intimidated Irrepressible Irritated Jealous Jittery Jolly Jovial Jubilation Languid Laughingly Lethargic Light hearted Lively Lonely Lonesome Long-suffering Lost Loving Lukewarm Mad Manic Melancholy Melodramatic Merry Mindless Mirthful Miserable Moderate Mortified Moved Nervous Nonchalant Numb Optimistic Over-wrought Pain Panic Paralyzed Passionate Passive Patient Perky Perplexed Placid Plagued Pleasant Pleasurable Pride Proud Provocative Quarrelsome Quivering Rash Raving Ravished Ravishing Ready to burst Receptive Reckless Reconciled Refreshed Rejected Rejection Rejoice Relish Repressed Resentful Resigned Resistant Romantic Scared Sedate Seduced Seductive Seething Selfish Sensational Sensual Sentimental Serious Shaken Shame Shy Silly Simmering Sincere Sinking Smug Snug Sober Sobering Soft Solemn Somber Sore Sorrow Sorrowful Sour Sparkling Spastic Spicy Spirited Spry Stoic Stranded Stressed Stunned Subdued Subjugated Suffering Sunny Surrender Susceptible Suspended Sweet Sympathy Tame Tantalizing Tantrumy Temperate Tender The blues Threatened Thrilled Tickled Tight Tight-lipped Timid Tingly Tolerant Tormented Tortured Touched Tranquil Transported Trepidation Troubled Twitchy Uncomfortable Unconcerned Unconscious Uncontrollable Undone Unfeeling Unhappy Unimpressed Used Vexed Victim Victimized Vivacious Volcanic Voluptuous Vulnerable Warm Warmhearted Weary Welcomed Whining Winsome Wistful Woe Woeful Worked up Worried Wounded Wretched Yearn Yearning Yielding Zealous
These emotions are tools to the improviser, just like whole tone patterns or 3-tonic lines. Work with them, make them your own, mix and match until you find something you like then make them part of your personal musical language. Remember, these emotions do not have to reflect your personality in any way, wear them like masks!
In certain spiritual traditions this practice is called conscious invocation- certain scents, colors, shapes also helped to put the practitioner in tune with the energies called upon. We don't have that luxury on the bandstand, unless cigarette smoke is what you need to tune in.
Think about this, practice and then FEEL and PLAY.

Free Jazz and The function of freedom
The topic of inside/outside playing is something that I feel is an important issue to address, partly because I personally struggle with it in my own playing. The free mindset is a completely different one than that of straight-ahead, or for that matter any other style of jazz. It’s a much more meditative mindset. You have to listen more to what your ear is telling you to do, by temporarily strangling your rational mind.
When I play free music I feel like my lines might go in any direction at any time, it feels like I’m just trying to get my mind out of the way so my body can play what it wants. It is much easier for this to happen if the audience (and the other musicians) is already expecting and excepting of the possibility of freedom.
I don't hear many modern Jazz musicians who incorporate totally free playing while playing an inside gig. Most jazz players will play 'outside' at certain times, but it's not really free. They will use techniques or formulas to take them outside and get them back inside. They might use three-tonic lines, sequences, 12-tone lines, converging chord changes or pre-worked out patterns. These methods do take them 'outside' and back but they really lack the spontaneity and intuition of free playing. There are a few players who really do incorporate free playing with straight-ahead; players like George Garzone, Ellery Eskelin, and Jean-Michelle Pilc.
To me it's as if the mind cannot be in these two modes at the same time. They seem mutually exclusive in my experience. The rational mind is more constrictive and deals with what is already known and defined. It calculates and applies the rules of musical harmony, form and rhythm. It is reactive rather than active can only rearrange already known elements.
The function of the mind that is used in free playing, let’s call it the abstract mind, is DIALATIVE. It puts together entirely new combinations of notes and can express inner feelings by way of pure abstraction. It doesn’t express things in logical or linear ways; it is above logic and linear time and space.
Since most of us can’t operate using both these modes of functioning at the same time, the best we can hope for is be able to move between them fluidly. To play freely over changes you can’t be thinking how the notes you are playing relate to the changes (or lack of changes).
People say that in order to play outside you first must learn to play inside. I’m not so sure that this is true. I don’t think the Bop players can learn to blow free music by practicing inside playing. Almost the opposite is true; it becomes harder for most players to let go of their rational minds once they’ve mastered musical theory. They don’t want to let go and just let their ‘fingers do the walking’.
Trane was the shining example of someone who had totally mastered Bop harmony and then started toward freedom. This was a rare musician indeed. I think that Trane had so thoroughly mastered inside playing that there was nowhere else to go but out. He had the ability to function on the abstract plane while his rational mind was able to slip into a type of automatic consciousness. He no longer needed to think about keys or scales. He became an 'ear player', but with a mastery of musical theory.
There are still great Be-boppers out there who never learned any theory at all. [Check out ear player and master Bop saxophonist Vince Wallace.] At one time this was the rule rather than the exception, favoring a more natural and organic sounding style of Jazz.
The difference between the rational mind and the abstract mind is very much like the difference between the ear and the eye. The eye is like the rational mind; it can only see the surface of things and only in a direct line of sight. The eye also perceives only one octave in range, whereas the ear can hear almost eleven full octaves. The ear can also hear things that are hidden from the eye, far away or behind closed doors.
Most young players learn to play jazz more by their eyes than with the ears. This was not the way Jazz musicians learned to play in the first half of the twentieth century. It would be hard for us to choose if we were forced give up either our sight or our hearing. So we should also equally value our rational mind and our abstract mind. When we learn tunes we should learn how the changes sound as well as memorizing the changes.
I've noticed that it is easier to play free music if it is a 'free' (read non-paying) gig. Unless you've developed an audience for your free playing or you're in Europe. If you are worried about clearing the crowd out or pissing off the club owners you really can't loosen up enough. My goal is to make my free playing flow right into my straight-ahead playing. I want it to be seamless.
Motivic development
Let’s talk about what goes into a solo besides the nuts and bolts of the music theory. A lot of players come out of music school playing BURNING JAZZ. They basically learn to play tons of shit over changes. It is nice to be able to lay down sheets of sound at the drop of a hat. I won't deny that. But what kind of artistic content is there? What is the person saying besides, "Check out this badass shit!”?
I was lucky to spend a lot of time with Herb Pomeroy while I was at Berklee. I played lead alto in his 'recording band' and also played in his small improvisation ensemble. He made us develop motifs. He would have us start a motif and develop it as we played through our solo choruses.
If we threw in a pre-worked out lick he would stop the whole band and call us on it. Each idea had to be a development of the last, eventually the motif would get too complex and we were then expected to start with another simple motif. This is a much different way of thinking that what most players use. Everyone has some cool licks that they've worked out in the woodshed, how can you not help throwing them in?!
Herb saw these 'licks' as irrelevant to improvising in the moment. They always stood out like a sore thumbs when compared to ideas that were developed naturally, spontaneously and musically. He actually plays this way himself; it's a very compositional way of thinking. Herb is truly one the great improviser/composer/arrangers/teachers/bandleaders of all time. I had heard of motivic development before studying with Herb Pomeroy but I hadn't really considered the possibility playing this way exclusively. Herb used to play with Bird but even Bird didn't play this way, he had a ton of licks and he played them often.
Fred Lipsius wrote a great book called 'A Creative approach to Jazz improvisation'. In it he gives nice short ideas for every type of chord in every key. After this he has tables to show how the ideas can be played over different chords and keys. For example a B7 alt lick will also work over a C-maj7 chord and a F7#11 chord. Then he talks about all the different ways that a pattern can be developed. He then would take a pattern from the book and showed what the pattern would look like if it was compressed, reversed, stretched, transposed, fragmented, ect. He wanted you to practice using each one of the methods of changing ideas.
This is the same thing that Herb was trying to get us to do. If you learn all the different ways that you can possibly transmute an idea then you will never be at a loss when you're trying to develop a motif. It then stops being about how many licks you can memorize and becomes about learning how to mess with any giving pattern or idea.
Licks are like a crutch that gets you walking, but eventually cripples you if use it too long. The positive feedback from the audience can even keep a “lick player” dependent on his bag of licks. It really comes down to the fact that a lick is something that keeps you from hearing what the music should sound like in the moment.
I tell my students that if they're going to memorize licks, at least they should make up their own licks. Take a lick and change it somehow to put your mark on it and make it yours. If you learn a lick in all keys then guess what, you'll probably end up playing the same lick in a bunch of keys.

The listener doesn't always hear that the lick is in Db this time and E last time, it just sounds like you're repeating yourself! So although it IS a good thing to be able to do, it can make you sound redundant. It's better to learn how a single lick (if you must use licks) can be used over many different types of chords. This way the lick sounds totally different in each harmonic situation.

Where do we get these motifs? There are many different ways to come up with these motifs. It's usually better if you don't just pull them out of your ass; rather take them from existing material. Of course fragments of the melody are always a good place to start. How about quotes from other tunes with similar changes?
You may want to start your solo with an idea that the previous soloist left off with. Be sure to pay attention to what the soloists before you are playing so you can refer to their solo ideas. {Be sure to make your rhythmic ideas drive your solo development rather than thinking of harmony as primary.} Take ideas from the rhythm section as they comp for you; always be reactive to what they might throw out there. Take up ideas that you may have dropped earlier in your own solo. You may even want to use motifs from tune that the band has already played or from your own solos on these earlier tunes! This gives continuity to the entire performance.
Vary these motifs by learning to change every possible element; shape, direction, range, dynamics, timbre, placement in time (lay back or speed up), duration, and articulation. This takes constant practice but the payoff in your overall musicality will be immense.

Motific Development
1. Repetition
2. Transposition
3. Mode Change
4. Addition (start, middle, end)
5. Sequence
6. Embellishment or Ornament
7. Augmentation (pitch, rhythmic)
8. Diminution (pitch, rhythmic)
9. Inversion (upside down)
10.Retrograde (backwards)
11.Retrograde inversion (upside down & backwards)
12.Displacement (pitch, rhythmic)

On positive audience feedback
I’ve come to believe over the years that the audience hardly ever has any clue about how good the music is. Only if you see a great musician in the audience will anyone know anything about what you are doing. So this means that compliments mean almost NOTHING. They usually mean something like- they liked how the horn player was swaying back and forth or that the guitarist had really shiny hair, or that the drummer made a lot of cool faces. You think that you want someone to say that you sounded good, but that would just mean that you looked cool playing on stage.
If I go by this assumption then I won't be emotionally attached to the audience’s reaction. I have to assume that my idea of what sounds good is more developed than that of the crowd. Once in a while our tastes will happily coincide, when I will feel that I’ve played good music, and they will feel that they’ve heard good music. Just because there are more of them than me I don’t fall for the natural human tendency to think that they’re right. I have better things to think about when I'm improvising than what the crowd thinks. If I feel that I played really great, then the fact that no one clapped for me doesn’t affect my satisfaction one bit.
If you don’t give a shit what the audience thinks, then you will be free to really relax,. Then you will be able to swiftly pull yourself out of any musical hole that you’ve dug for yourself without losing the natural flow. If you care what they’re hearing then when you hit that ‘wrong note’ you’ll say to yourself, “FUUUUUUCK!!!”. This breaks the natural flow because it brings you back to self-consciousness. No audience, no self, only music. This is of course the ideal.
* If you are thinking about the audience when playing then you are not concentrating on the music enough.

My way of thinking won’t always get you the most chicks, but you’ll play better music. If you want more compliments then go find a really great shampoo and conditioner, practice moving around while playing and making scrunchie faces in the mirror.

Lots of players get into music because they want positive feedback from people. I think that these players didn’t get enough compliments from their parents or were picked on in school. Know that what you are doing is worthwhile. Don't listen through someone else's ears!

When I was young my dream was to be discovered and recognized by the next generation of young players (or even two or three generations down the line). I wanted to be several decades ahead of my time. They would hopefully say, ”Man, too bad Valdez didn’t make many recordings in his time, they just didn’t understand his genius back then.” 

Openers, Limiters and Pairs of Opposites
One of the things that seem to help my playing the most is teaching advanced students. I am challenged to analyze and describe my personal concepts and approaches to Jazz improvisation. Yesterday as I was teaching a lesson I realized that I like to start out my solos with an abstract theme. I look for something that has an interesting shape to start my solos with. It may not even be such a strange shape or rhythm, or it may just be a pattern that lays funny on the horn. I do this in hopes that I'll stimulate something new in response to it. It doesn't need to bea complete idea, just an introduction for what will follow.
For me the first statement is very important in developing the rest of the solo. I want to feel like I'm circling the tune like a vulture, waiting for the right time to drop in and devour my carcass. The first statements of a solo should have some relationship with either the tune or the prior solo. It should let the listener know that a new section of music has started. These first statements also act as a bridge for what came before. It's a mood change. I may not even have a particular mood in mind; it may be just an expression or a type of look that you may give someone.
Sometimes, just for a change of pace, I'll give myself 'limiters'. This means that I'll pick a few specific limits to different factors of my playing. I might set a limit on the range of just the first chorus, for example only playing between low D and middle G. Another approach would be to limit the dynamics that are you use, an example would be to play only piano on the A sections and only forte on the bridges. You might limit yourself to a couple of types of articulation or one type of interval. You could also limit yourself directionally, like only playing lines that ascend. If you combine more than one 'limiter' you can really get some cool effects that you might not come across any other way.
By using limits in this way you can create some very interesting and unique textural effects. You don't have to use limits for your entire solo, maybe just in the beginning or for a short period of time in the middle or at the end. You might try switching from a set of limiters to the opposite (or complementary) set of limiters halfway though the solo. Some limiters would be better used for free playing; they can give structure and variety when there is little form in the music. An example of a limiter best used in free situations would be to only play flat or sharp, or to only play alternate fingerings.
Like any technique or musical device it takes some practice to get from the conscious mentation stage to the intuitive reaction stage. At first, limiters are an entirely intellectual process, but with some practice they become automatic and natural. Of course some limiters will probably never be totally spontaneous, like deciding to only play Major or Diminished triads over an entire tune. Sometimes you need to set limits in order to focus what you're working on.
The idea of limiters is also related to what I like to think of as the table of opposites. This is an adaptation from an idea from an ancient document called the tablet of Hermes. The fourth principle from this document is the principle of polarity. It reads like this:

Everything is Dual; everything has poles; everything has its pair of opposites; like and unlike are the same; opposites are identical in nature, but different in degree; extremes meet; all truths are but half-truths; all paradoxes may be reconciled.”

This Principle embodies the truth that “everything is dual”; “everything has two poles”; “everything has its pair of opposites”; these phrases are old Hermetic axioms. It explains the old paradoxes that have perplexed so many, and which have been stated as follows: “Thesis and antithesis are identical in nature, but different in degree”; “opposites are the same, differing only in degree”; “the pairs of opposites may be reconciled”; “extremes meet”; “everything is, and isn’t, at the same time”; “all truths are but half-truths”; “every truth is half-false”; “there are two sides to everything”, etc.

The Principle of Polarity explains that, in everything, there are two poles, or opposite aspects, and that “opposites” are really only the two extremes of the same thing, with many varying degrees between them. For example: heat and cold, although “opposites” are really the same thing; the differences consisting merely of degrees of the same thing. Look at your thermometer and see if you can discover where “hot” ends and “cold” begins! There is no such thing as “absolute heat” or “absolute cold”; The two terms “heat” and “cold” simply indicate varying degrees of the same thing, and that “same thing” which manifests as “heat” and “cold” is merely a form, variety, and rate of Vibration. So “hot” and “cold” are simply the two poles of that which we call “Heat”, and the phenomena attendant thereupon are the manifestations of the Principle of Polarity. The same Principle manifests in the case of “Light” and “Darkness,” which is the same thing, the difference consisting of varying degrees between the two poles of the phenomena. Where does “darkness” leave off, and “light” begin? What is the difference between “Large and Small”? Between “Hard and Soft”? Between “Black and White”? Between “Sharp and Dull”? Between “Noise and Quiet”? Between “High and Low”? Between “Positive and Negative”?
The Principle of Polarity explains these paradoxes and no other Principle can supersede it. The same Principle operates on the Mental Plane. Let us take a radical and extreme example – that of “Love and Hate,” two mental states apparently totally different. And yet there are degrees of Hate and degrees of Love; and a middle point in which we use the terms “Like” or “Dislike,” which shade into each other so gradually that sometimes we are at a loss to know whether we “like” or “dislike” or “neither”. These opposing sentiments are simply different degrees of the same thing.

Can musical principles also be seen in this way?

How about these for a start:


















The more you become aware of all of the opposites, the more you can determine where your playing is on the scale of the opposites and the more you can bring balance and variety to your playing. Some players may be totally unaware of let's say the Sad-Happy opposite and always play happy sounding solos, never varying the level of happiness. Some of the West Coast swing players might do this. By consciously playing toward the opposite poles of your usual playing you can break yourself out of some real ruts.
Awareness of the musical opposites can really help give you a better idea of all your musical options for improvisation. If you aren't aware of these opposites then you could end up getting stuck in a rut with regards to your overall sound and texture. Even the mental and emotional sets of opposites can help you give more variety and depth to your improvisation.
We must develop our abstract thinking in order to fully understand such an abstract art form like music.

Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns- Nicolas Slonimsky
Mark Sowlakis asked, "Is there a good way to practice out of the Slonimsky book? Do you transpose that shit or just run over it in the key of C to get more ideas. It's very interesting but dense harmonically, I never considered all the different permutations that are there."
I've never gotten round to transposing the Slonimsky material. The 1:6 are whole tone, 1:4 diminished and the 1:3 can be used over whole-tone or three tonic progressions, each one of those already cover several keys. The diminished and whole-tone patterns are cool because they are based on the scale but not all the notes are diatonic to the scale. That makes them close enough to use in place of a whole-tone or diminished scale. Remember also that as long as you move a pattern in minor thirds or whole-steps it sounds like diminished or whole-tone respectively.
The 12-tone patterns don't need to be transposed either. You just need to land on a good note when they resolve. This is because they have no key center, just a powerful gravity to the final tone. In fact you can really think of all symmetrical scales as having a strong dominant function, so you can get pretty wild and loose with them. Just make sure you resolve them strongly, you'd be amazed what you can actually get away with and still sound good.
Another way I like to practice from the book is to read through in a loose manner. I might just follow the shapes of the lines but use different notes. TSMP is great for opening your ears up to new directional motion in lines. There are shapes in TSMP that you just don't run across in Jazz. It also can introduce you ways of covering larger intervallic space, the first scale in the book (the 1:2 tri-tone) is a good example of this. Many players practicing out of Slonimsky’s book trap themselves in a prison of starting their lines from the bottom of the horn, heading straight to the top and moving back down to the bottom. I call this the 'Slonimsky Roller Coaster Syndrome'. There is one of my peers in particular who does this all the time. This cat is a great guy and a truly fantastic player, but up-down-up-down thing really gets on my nerves. Take that book away from him!!!
I think what Trane and generations of players found in TSMP were lines that had so much forward motion that they could be used over ANYTHING. These lines are strong enough to make outside playing sound logical. Tonal harmony is after all mainly about forward motion, so the lines found in TSMP offer away to still retain forward motion while playing outside. It just becomes a matter of being able to resolve these lines in a logical way.
Later in the book there are some very exotic sounding pentatonic scales like the Javanese pelog scale, the Japanese Hira-Joshi scale and Scriabin's pentatonic scale from Sonata number 7. These all could be used over various types of C7 chords. They could also fit over other chords with a little ingenuity. All these exotic scales still sound uniquely exotic no matter what chords they are played over.
Internalizing exotic scales takes the same practice as any other scale. Try practicing them in different keys and try fitting them over different chords. Once you have an idea where these exotic scales can fit and have them under your fingers start throwing them in. At first they will sound contrived, later when you start to hear them in your imagination they will come out more naturally.

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