Tag: 1960

Hank Mobley on This I Dig Of You

Hank Mobley tends to be a polarizing figure. He was famously called the “middleweight champion of the tenor saxophone” by jazz critic Leonard Feather positioning him between “heavyweights” such as John Coltrane and Coleman Hawkins, and “tonal lightweights” like Stan Getz and his ilk.

Feather clarified his position in the 1968 Mobley bio for Blue Note:

Hank is the middleweight champion because his sound, as he once put it himself, is “not a big sound, not a small sound, just a round sound” and because, while fads and fancies change, he has remained for some 15 years a consistently successful performer, working almost exclusively as a sideman except on records, and retaining a firm, loyal following.

As I listened to Mobley for this transcription, the word that came to mind to describe his sound was unencumbered. Putting aside tonal characteristics, I find his vocabulary to be firmly based in the bebop idiom, rhythmically inventive, and original.

In his current Blue Note bio, Mobley is credited as a pioneer of the hard bop sound, described as “jazz that balanced sophistication and soulfulness, complexity and earthy swing,and whose loose structure allowed for extended improvisations.”

Applying those descriptors to Mobley’s sound seems fitting to me: sophisticated, soulful, complex, earthly, swinging.

Here is Hank Mobley soloing over his own composition, This I Dig Of You.



John Coltrane on Giant Steps, Part 1

Coltrane Giant Steps.jpg
Coltrane Giant Steps.” Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

The first time I saw this solo analyzed, it was like a veil had been lifted and I could suddenly see more clearly.

This tune has a (deserved) reputation for being devilishly difficult, in part because of the rapid harmonic motion through seemingly unrelated chord changes. Harmonic analysis reveals that there are really just three basic key centers happening here, and the standard ii-V and V-I and progressions are used throughout.

But what is perhaps more interesting from a language perspective, is how simple the melodic/rhythmic material is. The vast majority of the excerpt here is made up of chord arpeggios or diatonic scalar patterns.

In language learning, an important concepts is “comprehension,” or the ability to understand the message that is being communicated. In musical terms, we want to be able to understand how the melody and harmony are related so that we can truly learn and apply this vocabulary in other contexts.

This excerpt, despite its supposed complexity, might be easier to comprehend than many other solos. Lets look at a few examples.

Bar 2 (first bar of the form):

  • the first chord Bmaj, and the melody notes are F#, D#, B—a simple 5-3-1 arpeggio of a Bmaj triad
  • the second chord is D7, and the melody notes D, E, F#, A are simply the scalar pattern 1, 2, 3, 5 of the D7 chord.

Bar 3

  • Over a Gmaj chord, melody notes are G, D, B—a simple 1-5-3 descending arpeggio of a Gmaj triad

Bar 9

  • Even longer runs like bar 9 are comprehensible. A descending Bb Dominant Bebop scale over Bb7 chord (and it’s related Fmin7).


Just like learning a spoken language, try this simple approach for developing fluency with this material:

  1. Pick a word or phrase you like
  2. Try to comprehend it
  3. Begin using it in other contexts.

Check out this excerpt that begins at about 0:26 into the tune.

John Coltrane on Giant Steps pt1