How Red Garland’s first chorus of solo on ‘Blues By Five’ models a number of often overlooked jazz piano techniques (State of The Blues, #12)

(note: some of the links to which WordPress has added a strikethrough to mark them as ‘broken’ seem to actually work. Feel free to email me at the address above or add a comment below with any thoughts on this.)

Red Garland’s first twelve-bar chorus on the recording of his tune ‘Blues By Five’ by the Miles Davis quintet is a great example of a number of concepts important to both jazz piano playing and jazz in general.  Before reading my analysis of the solo, please listen to the solo both by clicking on the link above, which will take you to where Garland’s solo begins at 4:36, and by listening to it in the context of the entire performance by the quintet, which is a little less than ten minutes long. After listening to the original recording, for more detail on the first chorus, read and watch the two versions of my transcription below, one of the solo with Garland’s complete left hand comping, and another with what I would call Garland’s ‘paralinear’ left hand comping (i.e. the chording that he plays parallel to, i.e. simultaneous with, his right hand phrases) edited out to emphasize Garland’s ‘hand to hand conversation’. Each transcription is accompanied by short videos in which I demonstrate the solos on the piano. (Here are links to the videos of the first chorus in its original form and the first chorus with edited left hand on Google Drive, where they may be slowed down.) Please note that all the sixteenth note triplets can be simplified by making the first note of the triplet an eighth note, which then becomes a swing eighth note pair when combined with the eighth note that follows it. Also please note that an alternate fingering for the right hand in m. 9 (really measure 8 of the twelve bar form) is 1-2-1-4-3-2. (I am ambivalent about the 3-4-3-2-1 fingering I use in the video, as it contradicts the guideline of keeping the thumb away from black keys in scalar passages, however, it does works in this context.)

Version with edited left hand:

The first four bars of Garland’s right hand melodic line exemplify Clark Terry’s concept of ’emulate, assimilate, innovate’, a phrase he used to describe a creative process jazz improvisers move through constantly.  Garland’s left hand voicings are a great example of what I call ‘crossless voice leading’, a concept I’ll explain below.  Garland’s voicings are also an example of ‘melodic comping’, or maintaining a melodic line within a series of chord voicings.  Although Garland maintains a chordal rhythm heard in many of his solos, with most chords on the ‘and’ of 2 and 4, the places he chooses to begin his right hand phrases make this solo an example of what is sometimes called ‘hand-to-hand conversation’ and which I also call ‘dialogic phrasing’.  I also find Garland’s right hand phrases in this solo to be an example of what I call ‘voicing-based melody’, my own term for a concept elaborated by pianist and theorist Mike Longo.   Finally, Garland’s last melodic phrase in the first chorus is another example of the ‘Emulate, Assimilate, Innovate’ process, this time involving another primordial phrase from the jazz vocabulary, the opening of Fats’ Waller’s ‘Honeysuckle Rose’, which I think Garland likely learned from quotations of the tune by other bop players.

– ‘Emulate’ stage: the Collins English Dictionary defines ’emulate’ as ‘ to try, often by imitating or copying, to equal or surpass’.  I think that there are three possible source for his opening one-measure phrase: two from the preceding solos by Miles Davis and John Coltrane and one from a lick heard in a number of Duke Ellington solos.  It sounds likely that Garland’s first two bars echo the opening of John Coltrane’s fifth chorus, where Coltrane begins with a one bar phrase (E-G-A-Bb, or scale steps 3-5-6-7) which he plays again in the second measure, transposing it up a perfect fourth (A-C-D-Eb).  Garland innovates on Coltrane’s chorus by using a similar phrase three times, and by expanding the phrase the third time he uses it.

Coltrane’s phrase could be heard as an innovation on the phrase heard in m. 5-7 of Miles’s solo, where he begins with scale degrees 3-5-6-5 (G-Bb-C-Bb) of the Eb major or seventh/mixolydian scales.  (The phrase can been seen in trumpet transposition, i.e. up a whole step, in this video.) Garland borrows Coltrane’s transposing concept, but changes one note of the lick, returning it to the shape used in Davis’s solo.  This demonstrates  remarkable listening skills to pick out and excerpt four notes the beginning of Davis’s solo, and then remarkable memorization skills to retain that phrase while accompanying long solos by Davis and Coltrane. 

The phrase introduced by Davis begin on the downbeat, and Coltrane innovates on it by adding an upbeat.  Garland adds the innovation of starting the phrase a half beat later and incorporating a triplet.  In adding the triplet, I think he is likely emulating  (whether consciously or subconsciously) the Scottish tune ‘The Campbells Are Coming‘, which had been quoted by Duke Ellington in his 1942 solo on C Jam Blues and his 1952 solo on Take The A Train and would be quoted by Garland in his 1960 solo piano version of Mary Lou Williams’ tune ‘Cloudy‘.  (This recording by Garland is the only example I know of a major jazz pianist of his era recording a tune by a female jazz composer who was also, like most male jazz composers, a working instrumental performer.)  As one can see from single staff and grand staff versions available on, ‘Campbells’ has a number of different melodic variants, but two aspects shared between these two variants are the triplet rhythm and that the second triplet being a descending major triad arpeggio.  In the solos I cited above, Ellington changes the triplet rhythm to some combination of swing eighth notes and quarter notes, while Garland uses the triplets from the original.  In the first measure of his Blues By Five solo, Garland again uses the triplets from ‘Campbells’, but borrows the melodic shape from Davis’ fifth measure while adding the opening upbeat which all the versions of ‘Campbells’ have in common. 

– ‘Assimilate’ – the Collins dictionary defines ‘assimilate’ as ‘to make like or alike; cause to resemble’, which is comparable to the musical concept of transposition, which Wikipedia defines as ‘ the process or operation of moving a collection of notes (pitches or pitch classes) up or down in pitch by a constant interval’; transposing a melodic phrase also usually involves maintaining the same melodic rhythm as the original phrase.  In m. 2 of his Blues by Five solo, Garland moves the five-note phrases he has likely amalgamated from Davis, Coltrane and/or ‘Campbells’ up a perfect fourth, following the move of the chord progression from Bb7 to Eb7 and maintaining the same intervals and melodic rhythm. 

– ‘Innovate’ – One of the definitions of ‘innovate’ in Collins is ‘make changes in anything established’.  I would say the telltale sign that ‘Campbells’ is Garland’s main source is that when he develops or innovates the one-bar phrase from m. 1 and 2 into a three-bar phrase in m. 3-5, the first three notes he adds are the descending major triad heard in the second triplet in both the variants of ‘Campbells’ I cited above.  The end of the phrase is a classic example of the bebop technique of incorporating non-scale tones (or what Barry Harris calls ‘half steps’) on upbeats, which Garland does no less than three times in the fourth measure, ‘enclosing’ or ‘surrounding’ the third of the Bb seventh scale (D) between the fourth and the flatted third on beats one and two, adding what Harris calls the ‘half step between the root and the seventh’ (A natural) on the ‘and’ of beat 3, and on the ‘and’ of four, a half beat before the Eb7 chord arrives in the chord progression, approaching the third of that chord (G) from a half step below (Gb).

It has always been curious to me that some transcriptions of classic piano solos, such as the Jazz Solos of Chick Corea book and most of Oscar Peterson Note-for-Note, omit the active and prominent left hand comping that is a crucial and distinctive element in these solos.  The transcription of Garland’s solo included in this blog post combines a fine transcription by Canadian pianist and composer Tony Genge of Garland’s right hand and my own transcription of Garland’s left hand comping.  (To his credit, Genge includes left hand transcriptions elsewhere in the same book.) 

While more recent transcribing of piano solos, such as The Wynton Kelly Collection from Jamey Aebersold book available from, includes left hand transcription, I have seen very little discussion of the role the left hand plays in the creative process of an improvised piano solo.  Transcribing the left-hand comping in an improvised jazz piano solo where the left and right hands are playing their traditional roles of harmonic support and melodic invention (or to borrow a phrase from Antonio Vivaldi, ‘The Contest Between Harmony and Invention’, which we might adapt here as ‘the conversation between harmony and invention’) allows the listener and player to shed light on three important and often overlooked techniques in the use of left hand voicings during a piano solo.  My terms for these techniques are ‘crossless voice leading’, ‘voicing-based melody’ and ‘dialogic phrasing’.

– Crossless Voice Leading:  By transcribing Garland’s voicings, one can see that he is using what Phil Degreg calls ‘rootless voicings’ (voicings built off the third or seventh of each chord, and omitting the root).  These voicings allow him to do at least three important things:

– keep his chords above D3, which allows Garland to avoid his chords becoming too ‘muddy’ to be identified by ear (below D3, the sonic identity of chord degrees other than the root and 5th tend to be obscured by the harmonic series)

– keep his chords from overlapping with Paul Chamber’s walking bass part (D3 roughly defines the upper range of many walking bass parts, which tend to stay centered on the notes of the bass clef.) 

– The rootless voicings also allow him to voice his chords in a way that avoids ‘voice overlap’, which, as explained in this short video by Prof. James Harvey of College of Southern Nevada, is crossing over the ‘invisible boundary’ between two horizontally adjacent voices of a single chord in a vertical move or ‘change’ from one chord to another. 

In the video, voice overlap is described as an ‘error’ in writing harmony for two or more independent voices (i.e. voices intended to be performed by four separate instrumentalists or singers).  This is the conventional music theory definition of voice overlap, as it is easier to perform two vocal or instrumental parts which don’t cross one another, as in the first measure of The Everly Brothers’ All I Have To Do Is Dream, and more difficult to perform a passage where one part has to jump over the other part’s previous note to get to its next note, as in the transition from the first measure to the second measure of that song. 

While it is certainly physically possible on the piano to play two consecutive chords with voice overlap, and it is sometimes unavoidable in voicing a jazz progression, many of the great jazz pianists use crossless voice leading whenever possible, as it often sounds better and is easier to play.  Although Garland is famous for his use of four-note rootless vocings, if one focuses on the three essential notes in each of Garland’s voicings (and omits the usually expendable second note from the bottom in his four note voicings, as I have in the transcriptions), one can see that Garland’s voicings remain ‘crossless’ throughout the first chorus.  Again, like his use of the ‘Campbells’ motive, this is either conscious, subconscious or some combination of the two. 

– Melodic comping: It is also worth noticing that Garland’s left hand voicings form a melodic line of their own, slower-moving than his right hand line but with just as much melodic integrity.  Within the five basic changes of the ‘Blues By Five’ progression (Bb7, Eb7, G7, Cm7 and F7) he creates additional melodic motion by using the Bb7sus4 and Bb7+5 variations on the Bb7, the Edim7 chord in the sixth bar of the progression, and the F7+5 variation on the F7 chord. 

– Dialogic phrasing or hand-to-hand conversation: A crucial aspect of Garland’s first chorus on Blues By Five is that in m. 1, 2, 3 and 8, all of which introduce a chord different from the one heard in the previous measure, Garland first plays a chord in the left hand and then follows it with a right hand phrase.  While this could be described as ‘call and response’ (a format heard across many forms of African and African-American music) or ‘hand-to-hand conversation’ (The term pianist George Colligan uses to describe call-and-response phrasing in Horace Silver’s piano solos), I would suggest the term ‘dialogic phrasing’, which can describe both situations where an improviser is responding to their own statement of a chord (as in Garland’s solo) or leaving space (often at the beginning of a measure) for a chord statement by the rhythm section (as Davis does on the downbeat of the first, fifth, and ninth measures of his third chorus on Blues By Five).  Interestingly, the piano solos I have transcribed from a frequently overlooked category of jazz instrumentalist, female jazz pianists, are all great examples of the similarly overlooked technique of dialogic phrasing. 

– voicing-based melody – this is my own term for a process that Mike Longo explains in his book The Technique of Creating Harmonic Melody for the Jazz Improviser.  Longo generates original melodic lines for standard jazz chord progressions such as the blues by first voicing the chords in close harmony (i.e. avoiding ‘overlapping’ moves like voicing two consecutive chords in root position) and then creating a melodic line that essentially moves within the shapes of the voicings.  (Building on Longo’s approach, I have found that going one step further and using voicings that are both in close position and use crossless voice leading can be an even more straightforward foundation for a melodic line.)  Throughout Garland’s first chorus, Garland’s melodic shapes are based around his chord shapes, particularly in the ii-V-I pattern he uses in the last four measures of the chorus.

As he navigates the ii-V progression in m. 9-10 of his solo, Garland has an even more layered ’emulate-assimilate-innovate’ moment than the ‘Campbells’/Davis/Coltrane quote he opens with.  Garland’s knowledge of Charlie Parker’s music, particularly his recordings with Miles Davis, is evident from his recordings of two tunes Parker recorded with Davis, the well known blues ‘Billie’s Bounce’ and the much less known rhythm changes ‘Constellation’.  In m. 9-10 of his first chorus on ‘Blues By Five’, Garland encloses within a longer phrase a quote from m. 5-6 of ‘Donna Lee’, the Miles Davis composition often mistakenly attributed to Charlie Parker because Davis recorded it on a session where Parker was the bandleader.  This particular phrase from ‘Donna Lee’ is one of three phrases in the tune where Davis quotes Fats Waller’s ‘Honeysuckle Rose’.  As Douglass Parker has shown in his article ‘Donna Lee and the Ironies of Bebop’, Davis also quotes substantially in ‘Donna Lee’ from Fats Navarro’s improvised solo on ‘Ice Freezes Red’, which itself quotes ‘Honeysuckle Rose’ twice (albeit in a slightly altered form with two notes reversed).  So it is possible that this is a moment of Garland quoting Miles Davis quoting Fats Navarro quoting Fats Waller.  I point this out not to suggest that aspiring improvisers should try to do such multi-layered quoting, but to make the point that once a player internalizes strong melodic material such as ‘Honeysuckle Rose’ by learning it in a number of different keys, quoting that is both innovative and multi-layered can occur without conscious effort. 

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2 Responses to How Red Garland’s first chorus of solo on ‘Blues By Five’ models a number of often overlooked jazz piano techniques (State of The Blues, #12)

  1. tgcleary says:

    Hi Gonzalo, Many thanks for pointing out the enclosure I forgot to mention in m. 8-9!

  2. Gonzalo says:

    Let me point out several enclosures (of the form semitone above, semitone below, target): in m. 4; between m.4 and 5; in m. 7; between m. 8 and 9. The target is always a 3 except in the last one ( a 5).

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