This week’s Transcription Tuesday is the first sixteen bars of Kenny Dorham’s solo on Blue Bossa from Joe Henderson’s debut record Page One (1963).
The tune was written by Dorham and and is the type of tune that you can always call at a jam because everyone will know it (it also tends to get groans from those who feel it has been “worn out”). The harmony is primarily in the key of C minor with bars 9-12 taking a short detour to the key of D-flat major.
If you are not already familiar with the tune, make sure to listen to the original melody in addition to checking out this solo.
I won’t spoil the surprise for those of you who haven’t heard it, but suffice to say this is definitely a solo to study if you have ever wondered how to begin improvising.
This weekend I’ll be playing in the house band for an educational jam session. It’s always a pleasure to work with students as they muster up the courage to improvise on a tune, or confidently showcase the techniques they’ve been working on.
One of our jam tunes this week will be Doxy, written by Sonny Rollins. This tune became an early jazz standard and is often one of the first tunes that beginning improvisers learn.
For this week’s Transcription Tuesday, we’ll look at the beginning of Miles Davis’ solo on Doxy from the album Bag’s Groove released in 1957 (the actual recording took place three years earlier in 1954 and features Sonny Rollins on tenor saxophone, Horace Silver on piano, Percy Heath on bass, and Kenny Clarke on drums).
If you are new to the jazz language, this is a great solo to learn and to study. You can use the steps outlined in yesterday’s How To Start Transcribing to learn the solo by ear, and then check your work against the notated version below.
Once you’ve learned the sound of the solo, try to make sense of the note choices and rhythms by studying the harmony. I didn’t include the chord changes in the transcription, but careful listening to the bass and piano on the recording will reveal the harmony (or you can surely find a chord chart online).
I find the simplicity and clarity of this excerpt inspiring and the tune overall is fun to play. I encourage you to try using some of this language in your own playing.
I remember trying to play along with recordings in high school (I fell in love with the melody to Desafinado and tried to figure it out), but it wasn’t until I got into college that I set out to methodically transcribe parts of solos or entire solos. The pause and rewind buttons were my best friends. In fact, the printing on the pause and rewind buttons of the boombox I schlepped to the practice room each day are mostly worn off from use!
For my students, I recommend the following process to begin transcribing a solo:
Listen to the solo many times to become familiar with it. You will eventually be able to sing or hum the solo even without the recording.
Begin by just trying to hear the first note. Hit the pause button right after the first note is played, such that you can still hear it ringing in your tonal imagination
Try singing the first note. Once you can accurately sing the note, you’ve got it made; keep singing the note and try to find it on your instrument.
Repeat the process to get the second note, the third note, etc. You may find that you are soon able to hear several notes or whole phrases at a time. Stick with it; like most things worth doing in life, it takes time and practice to gain skill.
If you are not already familiar with the album Kind of Blue by Miles Davis, do yourself a favor and golistenrightnow. As one of the most popular and best-selling jazz albums of all time—it went quadruple platinum in 2008—any jazz fan should at least be aware of this great work.
For this Transcription Tuesday, I chose to focus on the first chorus of the piano solo on Freddie Freeloader. While Bill Evans is the pianist for most of the album, this track features the great Wynton Kelly instead.
I love Kelly’s touch and bouncy time feel, as well as his melodic blues-based language. Pay attention to the way he uses chord tones as arrival points for the melody.
One of my favorite parts of this chorus is the final two bars. The form is generally based on a 12-bar blues in Bb, with an unusual Ab7 chord in bars 11 and 12. Kelly arpeggiates a Bb major triad over the Ab7 harmony creating a wonderful polychordal sound that can by described as Ab13#11. Once you wrap your ears around how this chord works, you will begin hearing it in countless other tunes that have been recorded since.
Listening to a playlist of Christmas music, I heard a bass line that I knew I had heard before in a different context. The line uses a descending “major bebop” scale which is essentially a major scale with an added half-step between the fifth and sixth scale degrees.
As a bass line, playing this scale in a descending pattern over the span of two octaves can fill four bars of 4/4 time and makes for a nice intro.
This first example is played by John Clayton on Diana Krall’s Christmas Songs album on the tune “Winter Wonderland.”
The second example is played by Sam Jones and is used not as the actual intro but as the first four bars of the head on “Sleepin’ Bee” from the album Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley (1961).
Here is the transcription of both lines. I have boxed the scale degrees that are essentially the same in both lines. Jones and Clayton each embellish and end the line slightly differently, but the primary pattern is quite effective and recognizable.
Donald Byrd’s solo on Elmo Hope’s “On It” is a particularly clear example of the hard bop aesthetic. Over the 12-bar blues structure Byrd deftly incorporates both bebop vocabulary and elements of the blues language.
For this transcription, I’ve included three versions—For C, Bb, and Eb instruments. You can flip through them using the arrows.
Update: a previous version of this post had the transcriptions in the wrong key. This should be fixed now.
September 28 marked the anniversary of the death of Miles Davis, the iconic jazz trumpeter and composer. This New York Times article from 1991 came up in my newsfeed and sparked my interest in revisiting some of his music from the standpoint of his influence on the jazz language. The full article is worth a read, but here is what the author, Jon Pareles says about his contribution to the idiom:
His solos, whether ruminating on a whispered ballad melody or jabbing against a beat, have been models for generations of jazz musicians. Other trumpeters play faster and higher, but more than in any technical feats Mr. Davis’s influence lay in his phrasing and sense of space. “I always listen to what I can leave out,” he would say.
Here is an excerpt from the beginning of Miles’ solo on “So What” from Kind of Blue. There are so many elements to examine in this short sample, but if nothing else pay attention to the phrasing and sense of space.
From: Lush Life (Red Garland, piano; Paul Chambers, bass; Al Heath, drums)
This cut of I Hear a Rhapsody is from Lush Life, one of Coltrane’s earliest albums as a bandleader. He recorded it in late 1957 and early 1958.
There are plenty of things to analyze melodically and harmonically in what he plays, but it’s just as valuable to look at what he doesn’t play. Like all great improvisors, Coltrane uses space. When you listen closely to this and other solos, you can hear his intense, clear ideas punctuated by rest. Read more