Harmonic Moss, Part 3: Route 37, a voicing-based melodic line

This melody line  combines patterns from the posts on one-bar ii-V progressions (‘Give it up for the root (position pattern)s‘ and ‘Midnight Donna and Reets in Paris‘)  and with those introduced in the posts on longer ii-V-I patterns (Harmonic Moss Parts 1 and 2 and Six Degrees of Bud Powell, part ii-V-I).   The written left-hand comping models the concept of creating a conversational approach to a two-chord progression by using left hand voicings as ‘bookends’ for an intervening right hand phrase, as well as the concept of using rhythmic placement of chords to accent melodic anticipations (i.e.places where the melodic line lands on the next change a half beat or more before the appearance of the chord symbol and/0r the arrival of the change in a quarter note bassline, a very common occurrence in a bop line.)   A rough recording of the tune can be heard here.

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Simple Paris Dancers: a bop-style rhythm changes

‘Simple Paris Dancers’ is a through-composed bebop-style melody line on the ‘Rhythm Changes’ progression. ‘Rhythm Changes’ refers to the chord changes from the George and Ira Gershwin tune ‘I Got Rhythm’, which has been used by jazz players in many eras as a harmonic basis for original compositions. The changes used in my tune reflect the more harmonically intricate approach that bop player-composers like Charlie Parker (in ‘Anthropology’, ‘Shaw ‘Nuff’ and many other tunes) and Benny Harris (in ‘Crazeology’, aka ‘Bud’s Bubble’, aka ‘Little Benny’) took to the form. This contrasts with the approach of swing-era players who tended to look at the progression as a series of larger harmonic regions; one example of this is Lester Young’s solo on ‘Lester Leaps In’.

My tune is based on the bop rhythm changes outline.  I am posting only the recording of the outline and not notating it in keeping with Barry Harris’ practice of teaching jazz theory concepts by ear and without staff notation. (We do assemble the line slowly in class and use a kind of rap to aid with memorization of it.) In order to give a complete performance of ‘Simple Paris Dancers’ or any other rhythm changes tune (in other words, a performance that includes an improvised solo), it is helpful to practice some sort of melodic outline of the progression using scales (as in the pre-bop rhythm changes outline we study), or arpeggios, or a combination of both as in the bop rhythm changes outline. Practicing the outline should help with giving you an understanding of the melodic and harmonic context of rhythm changes, both conceptually and in terms of physical memory. For pianists, the scale outline helps map out the B-flat major topography of the progression. Although the scale outline is fairly repetitive, it is intended to prepare you for improvising on rhythm changes in the same way that running laps around the perimeter of a playing field warms you up to play a game. It familiarizes you with the landscape in which you will be playing (largely B flat major, but also the 7th scales in D, G, C and F) and the general pace at which you need to move through the landscape (eighth notes). It also models the 7th chord harmony of the progression through its ‘7 up and down’ patterns which emphasize the structure of the chords by stopping short of the octave and the concept of leaving space in solos with the rests at the end of each scale.

The title of the tune refers to three of the tune’s melodic sources. I began composing this tune as an eight-bar example for my improvisation class to show how the Shaker hymn tune ‘Simple Gifts’ has the same basic harmonic and phrase structure as ‘I Got Rhythm’ and can be converted into a jazz line by adding swing eighth notes, the bop rhythmic approach of emphasizing upbeats as well as beginning and ending most phrases on upbeats (two instances of what Hal Galper calls ‘forward motion’ in a melodic line), and bop-style chromaticism (or what Barry Harris calls ‘half-steps’.) I’ve revised the tune a lot since it started life as a class example, but the remnants of bar 1 (‘tis a gift to be simple, tis a gift to be free’) and bar 9 (‘when true simplicity is gained’) of ‘Simple Gifts’ can still be seen in the corresponding measures of my tune. ‘Paris’ refers a part of my tune where I use a pattern from bar 2 of John Lewis’ ‘Afternoon in Paris’ makes an appearance, and ‘Dancers’ refers to a pattern from Duke Elllington and Billy Strayhorn’s ‘Dancers In Love’ that I use. Both of those patterns are also discussed in my blog Give It Up For The Root (Position Pattern)s! It also uses in m. 3 what Barry Harris calls the ‘turnaround lick’ (which can be found in the tune Reets and I by the similarly named Benny Harris); in m. 10 it uses what Barry Harris calls the ‘4 lick’ (which can also be found at the end of Charlie Parker’s ‘Shaw Nuff’ solo), and throughout the bridge it uses the half step between the root and the 7th of the ‘seventh scale’ (a.k.a. mixolydian scale.)

A live duo recording of ‘Simple Paris Dancers’ that I made with mandolinist Jamie Masefield can be heard here.  I welcome comments of all kinds, including your favorite tunes and solos on the rhythm changes progression (tunes in the Real Book that use it include ‘Anthropology’, ‘Cottontail’ and ‘Dexterity’, but rhythm changes tunes have also been recorded by artists from Nat King Cole to Phish) or thoughts on practicing scale outlines. I’d also consider posting recordings of ‘Simple Paris Dancers’ being performed solo or with accompaniment on any instrument followed by a chorus of solo.

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Everybody's Inside Blues: 'making the changes' in a blues line

‘Everybody’s Inside Blues’ is a through-composed melody line on the twelve-bar ‘jazz blues’ progression.  A concert chart for the tune is below; here’s a link to a recording of it from a gig I played with guitarist Steve Blair and bassist Jeremy Hill.  It is written in the style of Charlie Parker compositions on those changes such as ‘Cheryl’, ‘Relaxin’ at Camarillo’ and ‘Chi-Chi’, and illustrates a couple of concepts related to improvising on the blues form. It’s a melody line that ‘makes the changes’ (jazz terminology for outlining the chord progression by highlighting the differences between chords.)  In order to understand what this means, it is crucial to study and learn to play the basic seventh scale outline of the F blues progression. (The seventh scale outline can be heard at the beginning of the linked recording; it is followed by two more choruses that break the the seventh scale outline down to a pentascale outline and then a triad outline.  Learning one of these simpler versions first may be helpful if your technique is more basic.)  Pianists should learn the scale outline with their right hand while playing the chord progression in their left, and players of all other instruments should practice playing the outline with the accompaniment that can be heard at 1:24 after the choruses of scale outline.

Many improvisers, particularly rock and traditional blues players, take an approach to improvising on the blues that is less chord-oriented and uses one or two scales (as in Eric Clapton’s solo on Robert Johnson’s ‘Crossroads’). The one-or-two-scale approach to improvising on the blues is a musical game where working within a limited space challenges the player to come up with multiple strategies for using that space, something like half-court basketball.  ‘Making the changes’ is a musical game with more goals, using a more harmonically complex version of the blues progression, that many jazz improvisers engage in either for an entire solo (as in Charlie Parker’s solo on ‘Billie’s Bounce’) or for certain sections of a solo (such as Art Farmer in his solo on Sonny Clark’s ‘Cool Struttin’. This can be heard at 2:11 in the linked recording.) This approach to the blues could be compared to slalom skiing, where the time of an average event is comparable to the time of an average drive to the hoop in half-court basketball, but the skier has to navigate a number of pre-ordained obstacles and cover more ground during that time, while the half-court hoops player battles a moving obstacle in a more limited space.

The seventh scale outline of the F blues indicates the kinds of parameters within which jazz players work when they strive to ‘make the changes’. The most prevalent scale in the outline is the one built off the root of the tonic chord, the F 7th scale (the F major scale with the 7th flatted), which is used in bars 1, 3-4, 7 and 11). The three other scales in the outline each alter the pitch collection of the F 7th scale by a single note: the Bb 7th scale makes an Ab ‘available’ in bars 2, 5 and 6 (replacing the A in the F 7th scale), the alteration of the F 7th scale in m. 8, which accompanies the arrival of the D7b9 chord, makes an F# available (replacing F natural for that bar), and the C 7th scale in m. 9-10 and 12, which outlines the Gm7 and C7 chords, makes an E natural available in those bars (replacing the E flat).

From the perspective of the contemporary jazz player, being able to play the ‘make the changes’ game is an essential skill which frees one from having to navigate a twelve-bar progression with one or two scales (which might be compared to the situation of having to play a 9-hole golf course with one or two clubs.) ‘Everybody’s Inside Blues’ also involves another game that improvisers play, particularly within the bop tradition: re-using a melodic motive two or more times and placing it in a different rhythmic context, harmonic context or key each time to give it a fresh sound. This game is not, like ‘making the changes’, an essential component of the improviser’s toolbox but is rather a specialty of certain players, like base stealing in baseball. Sonny Rollins’ ‘Oleo’ (discussed in my Viral Rhythm post) and Thelonious Monk’s ‘Straight No Chaser’ are both composed melodies where this kind of rhythmic re-use occurs. Charlie Parker was adept at playing the rhythmic displacement game in improvised solos, such as in the bridge of his solo on ‘What Is This Thing Called Love’ where he uses the same three-beat lick two bars apart, with the second use transposed down a half step and moved from beat 3 to beat 2 of the measure. (This is discussed in my post What Is This Scale Called?)

‘Everybody’s Inside Blues’ has a number of instances where licks are re-used in a different context.   After using what Barry Harris calls the ‘5’ lick in the first three beats, I use what he calls the ‘4’ lick in two different transpositions (on the first two beats of meas. 6 and 10).  For an explanation of the 5,4,3 and 2 licks, see my post on Charlie Parker’s ‘Anthropology’.  It also uses a lick borrowed from Louis Armstrong’s ‘Hotter Than That’ solo in two different rhythmic placements (the ‘and’ of 1 in m. 4, the ‘and’ of 3 in m. 10).

These borrowed phrases are an example of another non-essential but fairly common practice in jazz improvisation: quoting melodic phrases from various sources, such as popular songs, classical pieces or other improvised solos.  Great examples of this include Clark Terry’s solo on ‘Straight No Chaser’,  which begins with a quote from ‘Frankie and Johnny’, and Dexter Gordon’s solo on ‘Sticky Wicket’, which begins with the same quote and moves on to a number of others, including ‘Things Ain’t What They Used To Be’, ‘Shortnin’ Bread’ and ‘Entrance of The Gladiators.’

Besides using the word ‘inside’ in the jazz sense of working within the harmonic structure, the title also refers to a spring break Amber and I spent one March in Montreal, where temperatures were so frigid that we, along with much of the city’s population, did most of our walking travel in the city’s many underground tunnels.

As always, I encourage comments of any kind on this post.  I also encourage you to try writing your own through-composed melody line on blues changes that uses a line based in eighth notes to ‘make the changes’.



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You Are Here: a melodic study on ‘All The Things You Are’

‘You Are Here’ is a tune I composed based on the chord changes of the Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein tune ‘All The Things You Are’.  (Recordings and charts for it are below.)   One of the ways I use this tune is as an etude for players and singers who are working on improvising on ‘All The Things.’  Before one tries to improvise on the chord progression of this tune, it is important to first learn its original melody and chords, as well as a basic scale outline of its chord progression.   Click here for a recording of a scale outline which outlines the key areas of the ‘All The Things’ progression (Ab, C, Eb, G and E major) using major scales.  (The outline is played on piano with LH voicings but can be transposed an octave lower for other instruments.)

The melodic inspiration for ‘You Are Here’ comes from the compositions and solos of pioneering bebop pianist Bud Powell, who I have listened to since my teenage years and transcribed since my undergraduate years in college.  The inspiration for how to construct the tune came from a transcription and analysis by Katharine Cartwright of Ella Fitzgerald’s solo on her version of ‘St. Louis Blues’ from ‘The Birthday Concert – Live In Rome’ .  (Cartwright’s work on this solo can be read in the collection Ramblin’ On My Mind.) Cartwright shows how Fitzgerald built the solo almost completely out of quotes from other tunes, including jazz melodies and show tunes.  This process, which I think for Fitzgerald was partly preconceived but often spontaneous, is what I would call ‘melody collage’.  For players who have studied the original melody and chord progression of a tune like ‘How High The Moon’ but still find it challenging to improvise on, I think that learning to play a melody collage on the same progression (such as Charlie Parker’s ‘Ornithology’, discussed below) and being aware of its sources, or even composing a melody collage of one’s own, can be a helpful in working toward greater fluency and spontaneity.  (Fitzgerald mentioned a number of times that she was not naturally disposed toward singing blues tunes, which would suggest that she may have found it challenging to improvise melodically on them as well.)

Cartwright’s work on Ella Fitzgerald led me to analyze Benny Harris’ bop standard ‘Ornithology’ in an earlier blog post and show how Harris’ composed tune, like Fitzgerald’s solo, was assembled from a vocabulary of ‘licks’, but in case of ‘Ornithology’ Harris was drawing all the pieces of his collage from the melodic vocabulary of a single player, Charlie Parker.  ‘Ornithology’, like some of Harris’ other lines, is based on the chord changes from an earlier tune (‘How High The Moon’), but also works as a countermelody to that tune.   In ‘You Are Here’, I challenged myself to compose a melodic line which, like ‘Ornithology’, is based on a pre-existing set of chord changes  (‘All The Things You Are’), uses excerpts from the melodic language of a single player (Bud Powell) and also works as a countermelody to the tune from which its chord changes are borrowed.

This tune can be used as a head (as I do in a short solo piano version of the tune that I recorded ), as a countermelody (as it is in the version by my band Birdcode, where I added an original long-note vocal melody to replace ‘All The Things’), or as an etude that models the use of eighth notes and bebop chromatacism in a solo.  (One of my students, Remi Savard, posted his own version of ‘You Are Here’ on SoundCloud.) I hope that it might lead you to to check out the music of Bud Powell (in this tune I borrowed licks from his tunes ‘Bouncin’ With Bud’ and ‘Dance of The Infidels’ and his solos on ‘Un Poco Loco’ from The Amazing Bud Powell Volume 1, ‘Cheryl’, ‘Donna Lee‘ and ‘Buzzy‘ from his one studio session with Charlie Parker, and a live version of ‘Ornithology’ for which I studied Ethan Iverson’s transcription in his blog post ‘High Bebop’. The specific page I used is here. Iverson’s series of posts titled ‘Bud Powell Anthology’ are extensive and well worth reading.)  I also hope learning ‘You Are Here’ might lead you to use more eighth notes and bop concepts in your improvising, and perhaps to compose your own melody based on ‘All The Things’ changes as a kind of slow-motion practice of the improvising process.  There are tunes by a number of great jazz players based on the ‘All The Things’ progression, such as Dexter Gordon’s ‘Boston Bernie’ and Kenny Dorham’s ‘Prince Albert’.  These tunes are interesting microcosms of their composers’ improvisational language, and learning them may give you ideas for composing a tune that imitates or contrasts their approach.  I hope you’ll also give ‘You Are Here’ a try.  I have added charts in transpositions for all common jazz instruments below.you-are-here-2a-concert   you-are-here-2a-bb  you-are-here-2a-bass-clef you-are-here-2a-eb

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Harmonic Moss, Part 2: The ‘B form’ voicing of the major ii-V-I (including a scale outline and various melodic patterns)

The ‘B form’ voicing of the major ii-V-I prominently features the 9th degree of the minor 7th chord which functions as the ii.  I find it a useful exercise to apply this voicing to tunes which both use major ii-V-I progressions repeatedly and feature the 9th of the minor 7th chord prominently in the melody, such as David Raksin’s ‘Laura’, Ray Noble’s ‘Cherokee’ and Sonny Rollins’ ‘Pent Up House’.   The Sonny Rollins pattern shown here in step 5 is only one of many possible examples of melodic patterns that can be associated with and practiced with the ‘B form’ voicing of the major ii-V-I; another possible pattern is mentioned at the bottom of the sheet.  (For those interested in practicing ii-V-I patterns contrapuntally, either with two hands or two players, the melodic pattern in step 5 of this sheet can be contrapuntally combined with the Clifford Brown melodic pattern in the post on ‘A form’ voicing of the major ii-V-I progression.)


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Harmonic Moss, Part 1: The ‘A form’ voicing of the major ii-V-I (including a scale outline and related melodic patterns)

This series of blog posts is titled ‘Harmonic Moss’ as it deals with rootless chord voicings, and moss is sometimes referred to as a rootless plant.  This is not the first time I’ve come across moss in reference to music; during my time in bassist Mike Gordon’s band, I appeared on a compilation called ‘Moss: The Remixes’ (downloadable for free from LivePhish.com), where an extended remix of his tune ‘The Void’ includes an improvised solo I played on a celeste to the accompaniment of percussionist Tim Sharbaugh beating polyrhythmically on Mike’s propane tank.  (The celeste is the bell-like keyboard instrument that was played on ‘Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood’ by his resident jazz pianist Johnny Costa, and by Thelonious Monk at the opening of ‘Pannonica’ on Monk’s Music.)  This was one of many musical vortexes I happily explored while working with Mike.  My efforts to nudge the band in a jazz direction can be heard on a live recording of the band in Vancouver from 2014, where (within a version of the tune ‘Susskind Hotel’) we perform my arrangement of the early jazz standard ‘I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate’.  A tour guide at the Louis Armstrong House Museum recently reminded me that this tune, often credited to other composers, is an Armstrong composition.

The sheet below shows an evolution of the ii-V-I progression from (in #1) a two-handed expansion of root position (which Phil Degreg calls ‘four voice shell extension’ and one of my students more succinctly calls ‘split voicings’), to (in #2) the rootless voicing which places the root in the left hand and the rest of the chord tones in the right, to (in #3) the ‘fourth voicing’ which combines the rootless voicing in the left hand with upper structure notes in the right, to various single note patterns in #4, 5 and 6 that combine the left hand rootless voicing with scales and melodic shapes.  An important project is to take tunes you learned with chords in root position, such as the tunes in the Root Systems posts, and learn to comp through their progressions in the style of the #2 example shown here, and play right hand melody up the octave with rootless left hand changes as shown in #4 and 5.

The melodic pattern shown in the third section of the sheet below is only one example of many patterns related to the ‘A form’ voicing of the ii-V-I progression.  When I practice a lick through all twelve keys, I find it valuable to associate it with a chord voicing.  In my experience practicing and performing jazz, the process of associating a pattern with a voicing is a subjective one, so I am not suggesting that any given melodic pattern has only one voicing with which it can be associated. I am rather suggesting that, if you want to practice a melodic pattern in one hand through all keys, it is helpful to find a chord voicing that you can see and/or hear as having a conceptual connection with that pattern, and then practice the voicing and the pattern together through all keys.  The goal of this kind of practice is to make it possible to use the pattern in combination with any other voicing or without a voicing.  Although some jazz educators warn against practicing licks, I think that taking a lick through all twelve keys is a valuable exercise, whether or not the lick becomes consciously or unconsciously integrated into your melodic vocabulary.  

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‘Now What?’: a modal melody collage

My improvisation class at UVM begins by studying tunes and chord progressions that were common in the swing and bebop eras, including the blues (in the form of the Charlie Parker tune ‘Billie’s Bounce’), ‘Stompin at the Savoy’ and rhythm changes (i.e. the changes from George and Ira Gershwin’s ‘I Got Rhythm’).  It then takes a sudden turn toward modal jazz with Miles Davis‘ ‘So What’, a tune that uses the same 32-bar AABA form as ‘I Got Rhythm‘, but reduces its constant harmonic motion to just two chords, D minor seventh and E flat minor seventh.  The melody, with its one-bar bass phrases answered by a chordal phrase that uses the same rhythmic pattern as Bobby Timmons’ ‘Moanin’, lays out the D dorian and E flat dorian scales.  These scales can be created by flatting the third and seventh degrees in the D and E flat major scales.  (The tune seems to have been conceived at least partly on piano, as D dorian uses only white keys and E flat dorian uses only black keys.)  We initially learn to improvise over So What through learning an outline of the progression based on one scalar lick and two arpeggio licks.  (Note: The recording to which the link takes you has a three-beat countoff: beats 2, 3 and 4 played on the hi-hat of the drum kit.)

While having fewer harmonic goals can seem to make the improviser’s task easier, anyone who has tried to solo on ‘So What’ knows that having fewer harmonic landmarks can make it more challenging to maintain the AABA form on this tune (in other words, more challenging to remember where the second chord change arrives.)
One technique that a number of improvisers have used on this type of tune is to quote 4-bar melodic phrases from pop songs, folk songs, other solos, etc. as a way of building their solo.  This kind of quoting can be heard in Cannonball Adderley’s solo on the Miles Davis tune ‘Miles’ (often mislabeled ‘Milestones’ and confused with the John Lewis tune of that name recorded by Miles and Charlie Parker), Clark Terry’s solo on Bob Brookmeyer’s ‘Hum’, and more recently, a solo by pianist Tadataka Unno on vocalist Gabrielle Stravelli’s ‘So What Boy,’ (from her album ‘Waiting In Vain’, available on iTunes), a truly swingin’ vocal tune based on an altered version of the ‘So What’ progression.  In a number of these solos, the soloists quote tunes that originally appeared in different harmonic contexts: Adderley quotes ‘I Can’t Get Started‘, a major-key tune, as well as a phrase from Stravinsky’s ‘The Rite of Spring’ over the A minor 7th chord in ‘Milestones’ and Unno quotes ‘Rain Check’ and ‘I Found A New Baby’ over the D minor 7th chord in ‘So What Boy‘.  (This reminds me of something that one of my jazz education mentors, Alex Stewart, mentioned to me: that he likes to play the dorian mode off the 5th of dominant 7th chords and the seventh scale (i.e. the mixolydian) off the 11th of minor 7th chords.) Gershwin’s ‘Fascinating Rhythm‘ is also quoted in (I believe) all three solos; the tune’s first four measures are used prominently by Adderley and Terry while Unno, by contrast, only hints at the second measure.  Finally, to my ear Terry and Unno both quote Miles Davis’ ‘So What’ solo.

While I wouldn’t advise a developing improviser to consciously plan to quote tunes in a solo, I think that composing solos that make deliberate use of borrowed melodic material can be a useful exercise for modeling the process of altering and fusing short patterns that occurs at a subconscious level in ‘real-time’ improvising.   The title of my tune ‘Now What?’ is a condensation of a question students might well ask when ‘So What’ is introduced in my class: ‘so far we’ve learned a bunch of tunes and melodic ideas based on major and dominant 7th chords, and suddenly we’re supposed to improvise on a couple of long minor 7th chords – now what do we play on that??‘   I composed the tune to demonstrate to my class how, in addition to using the dorian scale to improvise on the ‘So What’ progression, one can also use melodic ideas originally based in other modes and harmonic contexts.

Using other scales that use the same group of notes as the dorian scale can be an effective strategy, as it was in the Adderley, Terry and Unno solos.  When improvising over a minor seventh chord in the context of the dorian mode, one can use ideas based in the major scale starting on seventh of the chord (the tune starts with quotes from Louis Armstrong’s solo on ‘Hotter Than That’ and Ella Fitzgerald’s solo on ‘Cottontail’.)  One can also, to use Alex Stewart’s concept, use ideas based in the seventh scale starting on the 11th of the chord (as in the quote from John Coltrane’s solo on ‘So What’).  The tune continues with another Ella quote from the same ‘Cottontail’ solo and some patterns based on the one-bar ii-V progressions (these can be found in the ‘Midnight Donna and Reets in Paris’ post) which outline various inversions of the minor 7th chord.  The tune goes on to use the 5-4-3-2 licks that we study in my class (these are explained in my post on Anthropology), which can be thought of as based on the major scale but can be applied in a wide variety of contexts, and ends up with some four-bar ii-V-I patterns from Clifford Brown and Charlie Parker which also work over the extended minor seventh harmony of the ‘So What’ progression.

I hope you enjoy working on this tune; my solo piano recording of it can be heard by clicking here.  (Although in this solo piano version I do it as a fast samba, keep in mind the tune can also be played or sung slower and with swing eighth notes.)  I encourage you to learn the scale/arpeggio outline first, as it shows the context on which ‘Now What’ builds.  I hope that by either listening to or working on the tune, you might also get interested in further investigating the solos that ‘Now What’ borrows from, composing your own line on the ‘So What’ progression, or most important of all, doing your own improvising on this progression.now-what-concert

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Will The Circle Be Unbroken, Part 1: the seventh scale, the circle of fifths, melodic patterns from rootless dominant 7th voicings (featuring ‘October Blues’)

An essential skill for all improvisers is being able to play the seventh scale (Barry Harris’ term for the major scale with a flatted seventh) through all twelve keys with steady tempo and a sense of swing.  There are many patterns one can use to move through all keys; one of the most basic is the ‘circle of fifths’ (i.e. a pattern of descending fifths and/or ascending fourths.)  Here is one way of practicing this sequence on the piano in a conversational style, with the left hand playing chordal ‘question’ phrases and the right hand answering with scales:



To help your ear make sense of the rootless guide-tone voicings in the left hand, try practicing the chords as written in the lower staff with your right and adding the roots in your left hand.

The 7-3-13 voicing of the dominant seventh chord can be heard the intro to the Benny Golson tune ‘Killer Joe’ (played by McCoy Tyner on the original recording) and the intro to ‘Hit That Jive Jack’ as played by Diana Krall on her recording of the tune (based on the Nat King Cole original.)  On both of these intros the four-note version of the chord is used, with a 9th added between the 7th and the 3rd.  The 3-7-9 voicing of the dominant seventh chord can be heard in the left hand of both Thelonious Monk’s intro to ‘Well You Needn’t’ on the version from the album Genius of Modern Music and Duke Ellington’s intro to ‘In A Mellow Tone’ on the version from the album The Blanton Webster Band.

The exercise below expands the three note voicings from the first exercise into four note voicings and guides you through practicing them in a number of ways: with left hand roots and right hand voicings, with rootless voicings doubled in both hands, and with one hand playing the rootless voicing while the other hand plays a pattern derived from it.  The pattern based on the 7-3-13 voicing is from Horace Silver’s The Jody Grind, and the pattern based on the 3-7-9 voicing is from the bop tune ‘Donna Lee’ (on which Charlie Parker is usually credited as the composer, although Miles Davis claims to have written it.)dominant-rootless-ex

My tune ‘October Blues’ uses both of these patterns over a bassline inspired by the 3/4 blues tunes ‘All Blues’ and a progression borrowed from the Lee Morgan tune ‘Calling Miss Khadija’.  It uses two more patterns based on rootless dominant voicings which can be found in my exercise ‘Jody, Donna, Ko-Ko and Four Brothers’ (and which come from the last two tunes referenced in my composite title, ‘Ko-ko’ by Charlie Parker and ‘Four Brothers’ by Jimmy Giuffre.)  This exercise can be found in Part 2 of this post.  The bassline is inspired by the Miles Davis tune ‘All Blues’.  Rather than using that tune’s continuous bassline, here I combine a single note phrase with a rootless voicing in a four bar pattern that leaves room for a right-hand melodic answer.  You could begin your improvised solo by keeping the same left hand pattern and answering it with improvised fills in your right hand.  You could also work your way over the course of an improvised solo toward a more continuous bassline ala ‘All Blues’.  The scale outline below the tune illustrates one way of practicing seventh scales over a simpler left hand bassline to get your hands in shape to create a melodic conversation between a repetitive and spacious left hand and a more active, improvised right hand.   A recording of the tune can be heard here.  Also, I have posted a two-chorus bass-and-drum accompaniment recording with which you can practice playing through the tune and the scale outline (or the tune and a chorus of solo) in steady time.  Also, here is a slower, three-chorus bass and drum accompaniment in case it’s helpful during the practice process.


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Root systems, part 5 / Elijah’s Bounce

To conclude this series of posts on root position voicings of the major ii-V-I progression, here’s a tune I composed called ‘Elijah’s Bounce‘.  I borrowed the chord progression from the Charlie Parker tune ‘My Little Suede Shoes.’  To outline the ‘short’ ii-V and ii-V-I progressions in this tune, I’ve used patterns based on root position voicings, including those discussed in Part 3 of this series.   As a introduction to the concept of rootless voicings, I’ve also included patterns based on rootless voicings built ‘off the 3rd’ and ‘off the 7th’ , including some of those shown in the ‘Midnight Donna and Reets In Paris’ exercise that appears in an earlier post.  I will be discussing the comping and melodic uses of rootless voicings in upcoming posts.    In the written left hand comping, each ii-V or ii-V-I lick in the right hand line is accompanied by a voicing that matches its shape.  My point here is not to imply that all right-hand melodic shapes should be based on left-hand voicings; this tune is just an example of how voicings can be one of many sources for melodic ideas.  ‘Melody outline voicings’ such as these can also horizontally condense a melodic line in a way that makes it easier to memorize.  (Disclaimer: any resemblance to the following tunes in the measures listed is purely accidental: Round Midnight (m. 1); Moody’s Mood for Love (m. 3); Boplicity (m. 5); Four Brothers (m. 6-7); Dancers in Love (m. 9); Peri’s Scope (m. 11); Donna Lee (m. 15); Afternoon in Paris (m. 21); Radioactivity (m. 25); 26-2 (m. 27).)      The left hand part of this tune also is an example of using upbeats in comping to accent upbeats in a melodic line, which helps maintain a sense of forward motion.  I have added suggested fingerings in some places.  I hope you enjoy playing this tune, which is named after a student of mine who shows up for his lessons with a wonderfully bouyant energy.  A recording of the tune can be heard here.

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Root systems, part 4: Give it up for the root (position pattern)s! – Melodic patterns based on root position voicings

The name of this post is a variation on the phrase, ‘Give it up for The Roots!’, that Jimmy Fallon often uses to introduce his house band on his late night show. (I made an appearance on the show in 2010 during my time playing keyboards in the Mike Gordon Band.) I was reminded of what an eclectic group The Roots are when, just after the revolutionary saxophonist and composer Ornette Coleman’s death last year, they played a number of his tunes on the show. (It turns out they had performed with him as well.)

Once you have learned to play voicings of the major ii-V-I progression in all keys (as shown in Root systems, Part 1), and learned to outline ii V Is in all keys with scales (as shown in Root systems, Part 2), a possible next step is to learn a tune that includes a melodic pattern based on the root position voicing of the ii V I progression, and then learn that melodic pattern in all twelve keys.

For players who are newer to jazz, I would suggest learning Thelonious Monk’s ‘Round Midnight’ or Bill Evans’ ‘Peri’s Scope’, both of which can be found in The Real Book Sixth Edition from Hal Leonard.   (There is an interesting video by Brazilian bassist Marcos Roberto de Santos that matches a transcribed score of the original version of ‘Peri’s Scope’ with MIDI tracks of the piano and drum parts and a live performance of the bass part.  As the piano part is notated in grand staff, it is helpful in understanding Evans’ style.  The history of recorded versions of ‘Round Midnight’ is, to me, a fascinating jazz mystery: in the two best-known recorded versions of ‘Round Midnight’, by Monk and Miles Davis, the chord progressions used match neither the other recording nor the most common published charts of the tune.)  Two other tunes that use root position melodic patterns are Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s ‘Dancers In Love’ and Billy Taylor’s ‘Radioactivity’; scores of these pieces are somewhat harder to find. Finally, John Coltrane’s ’26-2’ uses a root position ii-V-I pattern in its bridge.  This tune, which involves his ‘Giant Steps’ changes interpolated into the form of Charlie Parker’s ‘Confirmation’,  is among the most challenging of Coltrane’s compositions.

To be ready to transpose a root-position-based pattern through all twelve keys, it is helpful to practice the root position voicing hands together through all twelve keys. The four-note voicing shown here includes a rootless voicing of V7, and is sequenced through two descending whole-step patterns (an alternative to the descending half-step pattern through which I sequenced ii-V-Is in the last post.) Once you have mastered these hands-together voicings, you’ll be ready to convert the voicing in the right hand into one of the patterns shown below (in other words, ‘give it up’ for the root position pattern.)Preview of “root position ii-V-I doubled”

With jazz improvisation, as with any language, it is always a potential hazard to focus too much on learning individual phrases without learning the grammar and vocabulary (or, in music, scales and arpeggios) that allow you to use phrases in context. While practicing hands-together chords as shown above is helpful before learning a root-position-based lick in all twelve keys, mastering the scale outlines of the major ii-V-I in the previous post is an absolutely crucial step.

One of my improvisation teachers, Yusef Lateef, said: ‘when you find something you like’ – meaning a melodic pattern – ‘learn it in all twelve keys.’   (‘Find something you like’ is an extremely important directive that, I think, can be challenging to follow in an age where music delivery systems which anticipate what a listener ‘might also like’ are increasingly common.)  I have sometimes extended this process by searching for examples in my ‘listening diet’ of how patterns I like are used and varied by different players. (In addition to live performances and my iTunes library, my listening diet also includes the internet station Calm Radio Jazz Piano, which plays both classic and rare recordings by great jazz pianists.) Finding a lick in multiple contexts can demonstrate how, in the jazz tradition, a lick is not an immutable object but a living thing that changes from one player to another or even from one bar to another (see the Charlie Rouse example below.)

At the end of this post are five different ii-V-I patterns which, to my mind, are based on root position voicings.  These five patterns boil down to three basic melodic shapes: the first two pairs of patterns are variations on the same basic lick, and the last pattern (from Billy Taylor’s tune ‘Radioactivity’) is a variation on a lick from a Charlie Parker solo.


  • The pattern from ‘Round Midnight’ is one of the main motives that Monk’s tune is based on; it occurs in two different transpositions during the first A section.   (In the version of the ‘Round Midnight’ pattern shown below, I have changed the first four notes from sixteenths to eighths, as the other patterns on the page are based in eighth notes.)  John Coltrane performed ‘Round Midnight’ between 1955 and ’57 in the Miles Davis Quintet and with Thelonious Monk, so it makes sense that one of the tune’s foundational five-note patterns shows up both at the beginning of his solo on Giant Steps (recorded in 1959) and that the bridge of ’26-2’ (from Coltrane’s Sound, recorded in 1960) contains an expansion of the pattern.
  • The pattern from m. 16-18 of the head to Bill Evans’ ‘Peri’s Scope’ is played a number of different ways by Evans; the right hand melodic phrase shown below can be heard on the head out of the original version from Portrait In Jazz, and the left hand chording shown is based on the live 1972 version. Note that the pickup to the phrase, which in the context of the tune anticipates the min7 change, is accompanied by an anticipated chord in the left hand. It is important to be able to accompany melodic anticipation in a bop line with this kind of harmonic anticipation, as playing all the chords on downbeats will contradict the line’s rhythmic energy. The opening phrase from Ellington and Strayhorn’s ‘Dancers In Love’ uses a six-note motive similar to the ‘Peri’s Scope’ phrase, but with a different rhythmic placement and a three-note chromatic run preceding it. The rhythm shown below for the left hand comping is Ellington’s original left hand rhythm, emphasizing the ‘and’ of one in both measures. A similar phrase is also used multiple times by Charlie Rouse in his tenor sax solo on Thelonious Monk’s ‘Ugly Beauty’.  Like Thelonious Monk’s solo on Bags’ Groove (from Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Giants) and Sonny Rollins’ solo on St. Thomas, Rouse’s solo is a model of ingeniously varied use of a single motive.
  • Finally, one way to explain the main motive of Billy Taylor’s ‘Radioactivity’ is that it is based on a melodically condensed and rhythmically extended variation on the lick Charlie Parker plays in double time at the end of his second chorus on ‘Billie’s Bounce’ (around 1:10 on the linked video).root position maj ii-V-I patterns


If you’d rather start from a more ‘cellular’ level, you could start by choosing one of these phrases, learning the tune from which it originates, and then practicing the lick from it in all twelve keys, using the series of ii-V-Is descending by half steps or another pattern (such as ii-V-Is descending by whole steps as shown above.)


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