Lots of great vocabulary in this short excerpt from Hank Jones over the A section of Charlie Parker’s tune Confirmation. Major ii-V, minor ii-V, chromatic approach tones, and more! (Listen to Hank Jones play it on the album Bop Redux)
A great tune to learn, and a great pianist to study. Enjoy!
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.
The tune Duke’s Place is the opening track from the 1961 LP Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington: Together For The First Time. The melody is probably better known as “C Jam Blues,” which is the original title of the instrumental version recorded by the Ellington band in 1942. (The track is currently available on the album The Great Summit which also includes material recorded at the same time but originally released separately.)
I have heard that Thelonious Monk’s unique piano style was influenced by Duke Ellington, and listening to this solo I can hear the connection. In particular, I enjoy Ellington’s use of motivic development and use of space.
He begins each chorus with a short, sparse idea and that grows and changes bit by bit. Notice the use of the half-step motive in the first twelve bars and the repeated use of the F sharp – G pattern in the second twelve.
Looking at the notated version, it seems like there are at least as many rests as there are notes, and you can hear the spaciousness in the recording. The melody really breathes in a way that is foreign to most piano players.
Red Garland was the pianist for Miles Davis’ group that became known as the First Great Quintet. Stylistically, he is known for his block chord style, but for this week’s transcription we will look at an example of his virtuosic 8th-note lines.
The album Relaxin’ With the Miles Davis Quintet was one of several albums the group recorded for Prestige between 1956 and 1961. This excerpt is taken from the beginning of Garland’s solo on the tune Oleo (a popular “Rhythm Changes” tune by Sonny Rollins).
Things to note:
most of the solo takes place below middle C on the piano
frequent use of enclosing chromatic notes. Chord tones are often approached from above and below by chromatic neighbors.
I have placed brackets around a few notes where the connecting notes are not heard clearly and probably not played at the recorded tempo. My instinct is that these are the “intended” notes but the tempo does not allow for them to come out cleanly.
Garland often plays four or more measures of solid eighth-notes without rests, but when he does rest, it feels just right.
The bridge section of the musical form known as “rhythm changes” is a perennial improvisatory playground. The harmony commonly follows a cycle of dominant chords, each resolving down a fifth (or up a fourth), and the tension created by this progression provides fertile ground for melodic inventions.
This week we will look at the the way Bill Evans uses harmony and rhythm to create a unique statement on the bridge of Sonny Rollins’ tune “Oleo.” (This recording is on the album Everybody Dig’s Bill Evans (1958) featuring Sam Jones on bass and Philly Joe Jones on drums).
In a typical Bb rhythm changes tune, the bridge begins on D7 and continues to G7, C7, and F7 before resolving back to Bb. Evans takes advantage of the nature of the whole-tone scale and tritone substitution to complete this cycle using a descending half-step motion.
Once you are comfortable with the sound and feel of the harmony, it’s time to move on to the…
The hallmark of developed rhythmic improvisors is the ability to freely cross the estabilished bar lines and still create a musically complete phrase. Bill Evans uses a common technique here that can be understood as a repeated three-beat phrase over several bars of 4/4 time.
The brackets identify the three-beat riff and you can see that it takes three full measures of 4/4 before the pattern begins again on beat one. Evans adds additional rhythmic material for variety, but begins another three-beat phrase in bar 5.
Make sure you can feel these rhythms between the hands before you continue.
Putting It All Together
Here is the complete pattern that Bill Evans plays on the bridge to Oleo. Note that if you learned the rhythm above, the right hand is now split between the higher cluster of two notes and the lower single note.
The moral of this story: never underestimate the power of rhythm in creating unique and exciting musical statements.
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.
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.