A few years ago I transcribed Ellis Marsalis’ Duke In Blue from the album of the same name (1999). From time to time I like to review this transcription and each time I return to it something new grabs my attention.
This time it was the ascending diminished scale he plays over the sixth bar of the Bb blues chorus. I recorded a wave using Anchor.fm to demonstrate.
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.
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.
Grant Green plays a concise and expressive solo over the blues form on the tune “Green’s Greenery” from the album Grantstand. This tune is included as the bonus track on the CD version of the album and was not included on the original 1961 release, although it was recorded during the same session.
Brother Jack McDuff (organ) and Al Harewood (drums) create a solid rhythmic foundation for Green to groove on, and the buoyant swing feels great throughout. McDuff and Yusef Lateef (tenor sax) both solo later in the track, and Green improvises two more choruses before returning to the closing melody.
Richie Powell is one of my favorite hard bop pianists. His vocabulary is clear and accessible and this solo is a great example of that. He died at a young age in the same accident that took the life of his contemporary (and bandleader on this album) Clifford Brown.
Listen for the inventive rhythmic variety that helps the blues scale come to life and the way the energy builds over the three choruses, resolving gracefully in the lower octave.
This app comes very close to the vision I had three years ago of being able to jot down by hand a quick melody on my iPhone or iPad and immediately be able to hear back the notes or copy them into a music engraving program like Finale or Sibelius (or Notion on the iPad).
While the recognition is not perfect, I have high hopes for this type of workflow in the future.
As for the music, if you have ever wondered how to use the blues scale effectively, check out Richie’s three choruses on Sandu. Only once or twice does he play a note outside the blues scale, but he finds a way to sound fresh on each chorus and build the intensity thought the entire solo. This would be a good first transcription for a beginning improviser.