Archive for May, 2012

First Jazz Transcriptions to Transcribe and Why?

The 12 bar blues, and the chord changes to “I Got Rhythm” are a very rich part of jazz improvisation heritage.  I recommend beginning with transcriptions based on these chord progressions for two reasons.

The first reason is because these chord progressions are so prevalent in jazz history.  One thing that ties in this art worldwide is a common frame of reference in repertoire throughout the world.  Whether you speak Italian, German, Mandarin Chinese, or any other language does not matter when you play with other jazz musicians from these countries.  You will be able to play, and communicate through music together with this common knowledge of the blues and Rhythm Changes.  How cool is that?

The second reason is that the new student in transcribing is trying to get ideas for their own improvisation, and will immediately get a lot of mileage for a smaller amount of work.  Building upon successful experiences is so important at this stage.  Because many playing situations with other people will offer the opportunity to solo over these chord changes, the student can immediately apply what they have learned.

A very important point to consider for “over-achievers” out there is the following. Please realize that you don’t have to be able to play through an entire transcription to benefit in ideas for soloing. Often, it is better to memorize just one or two measures that you find interesting, and can technically play. Then, take the time to internalize that passage, playing it over and over. The next step will be to insert and develop that sound into different settings like over the blues, or other ideas.

Please see below for a few blues and Rhythm Changes solo transcriptions.

F Blues: Fred Wesley playing “Sandu”

Eb Blues: Curtis Fuller playing “Blue Train”

Db Blues: Mark Nightingale playing “On the Side”

Bb Blues: Michael Dease playing “Blues On the Side”

Bb Rhythm Changes: Carl Fontana playing “I Got Rhythm”

What are other considerations for beginning improvisors and transcribing?

The next priority is to start hearing more “Tonic” sounds where the improvisor is basing his ideas on the I (Major or minor) chord; as well as, ii-7 V7 transitional sounds offering momentary tension.

Please see below for some examples. If not familiar with the chord progressions of the songs below, please feel free to refer to a lead sheet, or e-mail me for reference ideas.

Urbie Green playing “Lullaby of Birdland” in Ab:

Listen for the following in this track:
A Sections:
– F minor tonal (i minor) ideas
– Ab Major tonal (I chord) ideas
– ii-7 V7 I in Ab (|Bb-7 Eb7|AbMaj7 |)
– ii-7(b5) V7b9 i min in F minor (|G-7(b5) C7b9|Fmin |)
– ii-7(b5) V7b9 in Bb minor (|Cmin7(b5) F7b9| Bbmin |)
– ii-7(b5) V7b9 resolving to Ab Major (|Bb-7(b5) Eb7(b9)|AbMaj7 |)

Carl Fontana playiing “Hey There” in Ab:

Pay particular attention to the A sections on this track. Some points to consider are below:
– I VI7 ii-7 V7 (|AbMaj7 F7|Bb-7 Eb7|) for tonal ideas based in the key of Ab
– ii-7 V7 I in Ab Major (|Bb-7 Eb7|Ab Maj7 |)
– I VI7 ii-7 V7 (|CMaj7 A7|D-7 G7|) for tonal ideas based in the key of C
– ii-7 V7 I in C Major (|D-7 G7|C Maj7 |)

Feel free to e-mail me if you have questions, or if you would like to share some insight as well.

I wish you the best in your journey of discovery and improvisation!


Dave Bones