Saying Good-Bye to July

Looks like I almost let July slip by without making a single post. Almost. I just haven't felt inspired to write in this blog lately. Weatherwise, what's to say? Right--the drought. Frankly, I haven't felt like writing about the drought. We all know how horrible it has been: day after day and week after week of relentless, rainless heat. No doubt that's newsworthy, but I'll let the news media tackle it. From my perspective, it discomforts me, it annoys me, it inconveniences me, and certainly it concerns me, as it should anyone living in the continental United States. To say it has been disastrous is putting it accurately. But while I suppose this drought is severe weather in its own way, it doesn't interest me the way that a thunderstorm does. Mostly, it's something I wish would go away, a sentiment shared by millions of Americans roasting in the Midwestern heat. Fortunately, it won't be here forever, and lately the pattern around the Great Lakes has seemed to be nudging slowly but progressively toward a stormier one. As I write, the radar screen for Michigan looks like this (click on image to enlarge it). I like that: a cold front dropping out of the northwest bringing a nice line of storms and a good dousing of much-needed rain. Shifting gears to music, there's not much to say on that topic either. Of course I've been staying on top of my instrument, but that's par for the course. My woodshedding on "Giant Steps" and "Confirmation" continues, along with "Ornithology," and I'm getting to where I'm starting to shred the bejeebers out of those tunes. But, mmm, yeah, okay, so what. Where do I go from here? The studio, I think. It's about time I finally recorded my efforts, put something down for ears besides mine to listen to. Otherwise, why am I bothering with all this practicing of tunes that no one is ever going to call for on a gig? Folks want "Satin Doll," not Coltrane changes. Still, somewhere out there I think there are people who will take an interest. So I need to get with my buddy Ed Englerth in his Blueside Down Studios and make some noise. 'Scuze me if I sound a bit cranky. At 56 years of age, I'm rapidly approaching full curmudgeonhood and I am getting in practice for it. The lack of heavy convection and lack of gigs combined is assisting the effort. But a shift in either aspect of that equation will restore my humor and give me something to write about. No, that's not right--there's always something to write about. What I need is something I feel like writing about. Maybe later tonight will do the trick, when that storm line which is presently 50 miles to my north moves in. Hmmm ... the cell that is just making landfall near Pentwater is packing straighline winds of nearly 70 knots. That'll create some interest for folks south of town. Now to close up shop and see what kind of action we get around here a few hours hence. If it's nothing more than a good dumping of rain, I'll be more than happy. But I'm betting it'll come with a spark and a growl.

Giant Steps E-Book Soon to Be Released

If you want to bone up on the theory behind John Goltrane's landmark tune "Giant Steps," you'll find plenty of information online as well as in print. But when it comes to actually cultivating the chops it takes to play "Giant Steps," you may have a tougher time finding material.  Could be that I'm uninformed, but I just haven't seen much in the way of practice resources for Coltrane changes. So I've decided to share my personal material. Years ago, I went through a period when I steeped myself in "Giant Steps," and during that time, I started writing down licks and patterns for  "Giant Steps" in a music notebook.  Today, after supplementing the stuff I had already written with some new material, including licks using the augmented scale, I completed the front matter and introduction. All that remains to be done now is to register the copyright and set up an online store on The e-book's title is  "The Giant Steps Scratch Pad." It will be the first product I've created and sold on this site, and I feel excited about offering it to you. If you want to view a sample page (and cop some free licks), click here. Otherwise, stay tuned. I expect to have "The Giant Steps Scratch Pad" available for purchase soon, and will announce its publication upon release.

Using the Augmented Scale with “Giant Steps”

I tend to arrive at things the hard way, which is to say, by personal discovery. For instance, I come across a large circular object and find that it has a unique quality, namely, that it rolls, and this gets me all excited, and of course I have to go tell all my friends. "Hey, Fred," I say, rolling my circular object around on the lawn in front of him, "check this out! Pretty nifty, eh?" "Ermmm, yeah. Nice. A wheel," says Fred. "A what?" I reply. "A wheel," Fred repeats, confirming my sudden suspicion that others may have already crossed this territory before me. "Exactly, " I say. "A wheel. Isn't it great?" Fred scrutinizes me for a second, then walks away. Now you know why I don't have any friends named Fred. Used to, don't anymore. Anyway, the same principle probably applies to this post on using the augmented scale over "Giant Steps" changes. I'm sure it has already been done, and I'm probably just the last person to know about it. But since I haven't come across any other literature that addresses the subject, either on the Internet or elsewhere, I thought I'd talk about it here.* I do seem to recall reading somewhere about a connection between the augmented scale and the Coltrane tune, but it was just a passing comment that never went into any detail. I have no idea where I came across it. Evidently it planted a seed, though, because the relationship between the scale and the set of chord changes, both of whose symmetrical constructions emphasize the interval of a major third, has been intriguing me lately. So earlier this evening, having thought the theory of the thing through, I finally sat down with my sax and my Jamie Aebersold "John Coltrane" CD and played around with the concept. It's still very new to me, as is the sound of the augmented scale, but I'm satisfied at this point that I've acquired a very useful and colorful tool. Simply put, the augmented scale is as close as you can get to a universal scale that covers "Giant Steps" in its entirety--not just the cantilevered dominant-tonic cycle, but also the ii-V7-I cadences. The application isn't picture-perfect, but it works, and besides, a little dissonance is beautiful, right? I'm not going to get deeply into the theory behind my thinking. I'm just going to assure you that, just as you can play an entire 12-bar blues using one blues scale, you can improvise on all of of "Giant Steps" using a single augmented scale. It's not something you want to base an entire solo on, particularly since the augmented scale is such a foreign sound; but for that same reason, it's also a very nice color to tap into, and you can coast along on it for as long as you please without having to think too much about making the changes. As long as you stay within the scale, you're golden. But of course, you want an example. So without further ado, here are a couple of licks on four bars of the "Giant Steps" cycle. Me being an alto man, I've written them for Eb instruments, so you may need to transpose. Click on the image to enlarge it. Three points to be aware of: • Use care in handling the perfect fourths of the dominant chords and the flatted thirds of the tonics. • I've shown the standard chords without alterations. However, by virtue of its construction, the augmented scale works best with "Giant Steps" when you flat the ninths and raise the fifths of the dominant chords and flat the fifths of the minor sevenths. • The sound of the augmented scale is quite different from everyday major/minor tonalities. So set those standards aside and suspend judgment until you've worked with the augmented scale long enough to get it into your ear. That's it. As for any further brain work, that's up to you. Of course, you're probably way ahead of me on it to begin with. That's why, at this point, I'm turning my mind in other directions. For instance, I was sitting under an apple tree the other day, and an apple dropped off and bonked me on the head. I wondered why. What makes things fall? It's almost like there's some kind of a force or something. Has anyone looked into that? They have? Nuts. I was afraid of that. -------------------------- * ADDENDUM: I take it back. After posting this article, I came across an excellent writeup by Jason Lyon that digs deeply into the theory of using the augmented scale with "Giant Steps."