My Father’s Horn: A Grown Son Reflects on a Priceless Musical Legacy

Most of my music posts share technical exercises or theoretical information. This post is different. I want to share with you something very personal. It is the story of the saxophone that I play: my beloved Conn 6M Ladyface. When I was a small boy living with my family in Niles, Michigan, my dad kept his alto sax in its original black case up against the wall by his bed. He had bought the horn back when he was a young man, and was learning to play it until service in WWII interrupted his musical aspirations and a bout of tuberculosis finished them off entirely. He met my mother in the TB sanatorium, where she worked as a nurse. Dates followed, letters, a ring, marriage, and then me. My parents moved from Chicago to Niles when I was a year old. The sax sat quietly in its case, all but forgotten. Once in a great while, though, Dad would take that case and open it up, and it was on one such occasion that I got my first glimpse of the horn. There it lay, cradled in the case's rich, purple velvet lining: a shining complexity of rods, springs, pearl buttons, pads, and palm keys, all neatly arranged on that deeply golden, sensuously curving body. It was beautiful, fascinating, and to me, impossibly complicated. How could anybody take something so bewilderingly engineered and make music with it? Ever after that first glimpse of my father's horn, I wanted to see more of it. From its aureate luster, to the resonant sound of its bell pads thumping against the tone holes, to its mysterious, brittle reeds, that saxophone captivated me. I was far too young to play it, but it was already beginning to play me. In the summer after my sixth grade year, my family--which had grown to include my brothers Pat, Terry, and Brian, and my sister, Diane--moved to Grand Rapids. Junior high school loomed on the horizon. No longer would I be attending a private Catholic school; the Forest Hills public school system awaited me in the fall, including its band program. Band? I was going to be in band? Yes, that was the plan. In September, when I climbed aboard the school bus for the first day of school, that black case containing my father's horn was in my hands. Private lessons with my band director, Richard Streng, commenced soon after. And I took to my dad's alto sax as naturally as if I had been born for it--which, of course, was the case. The first note I learned to play was A. The second was D. After that came G, and then, I think, C; after that, I don't recall the order. What I do remember is stopping between each note and carefully inspecting my fingers to make sure they were positioned properly. It seems amazing that the fluidity with which I get around on my instrument today got its start with such painstaking deliberateness. But I didn't mind. I was learning to play music, learning to play my dad's saxophone, and I was absolutely thrilled. I could do this! No one needed to tell me to practice; I couldn't wait to get in my daily time on the sax. Mr. Streng seemed to enjoy my private lessons with him as much as I did. He recognized in me a genuine desire to excel. I came to my lessons prepared and ready to play, so he consistently had something he could work with. I still remember his baritone voice after every lesson: "Bob, as always, it has been a pleasure." From Mr. Streng, I learned a life lesson every bit as important as those first music lessons, and that was the power of praise. Never underestimate what a good word can accomplish in a person's heart. A child's heart, a young adult's heart, a heart of many years' experience ... it doesn't matter. Praise empowers; praise instills vision; praise nurtures an inner voice that says, "Yes, I can!" (To be continued)

Altered Major Scales for Secondary Dominant Chords

Some months ago I shared a table of non-diatonic tones and their common uses. This morning I found myself thinking once again about non-diatonic tones, and specifically about an effective way to practice them, one that could quickly translate to actual jazz improvisation. The standard bebop scales came to mind. The insertion of one extra note into a scale--typically a raised fifth in a major scale, and a raised seventh in a dominant (Mixolydian) scale--does more than allow a soloist to move through a scale with ease and land on an octave. It also creates new harmonic possibilities. That principle can be exploited by inserting other tones that also suggest secondary harmonies. Click on the image to your right to enlarge it. You'll see three scales. The first two contain a single added note. Scale #1 includes a raised first, and scale #2, a raised fourth. The interpolation of these notes adapts a basic major scale for use with two commonly encountered secondary dominant chords: the V7/ii (or VI7) and the V7 of V (or II7). In the key of C, which these scales are written in, those chords are A7 and D7. These scales are as fresh to me as they are to you at the time of this writing. Not that I've never played them before; I just haven't made a conscious point of focusing on them as actual scales to invest my time in practicing. I see two benefits to doing do. The first is, obviously, developing technical facility. The second is raising one's awareness of the added notes as harmonic devices, with an eye on the secondary chords that they apply to. Each added note serves as the major third--a critical identifying tone--of its secondary dominant chord. So when you play scale #1, remember that it works readily with the VI7; and likewise, scale #2 pairs with the II7. Many playing situations feature both of those secondary dominants, and often the VI7 moves directly to the II7, which in turn moves to the V7--in essence, coasting around a segment of the cycle of fifths. The third scale incorporates both the raised first and the raised fourth, making it a kind of granddaddy scale that accommodates both secondary dominants. Now, don't look at these scales as magic harmonic bullets.. Rather, look at them as resources that allow you to judiciously select certain tones when you need them as well as furnishing you with good linear resources. It's not all about your fingers mastering the technique of the scales. It's also very much about applying your mind to grasp the uses of the introduced tones. In other words, build harmonic awareness, not just digital dexterity. To assist you, I've included an exercise for each scale that will help you hear how each added note implies a certain harmony. Play these exercises on the piano so you can chord along with the melody line, or else get a keyboard player or guitarist to comp for you while you play the different lines. Have fun! And if you enjoyed this post, drop in on my Jazz page and check out the many other exercises, articles, and solo transcriptions.

Jazz Sax Friday at The Seasonal Grille

With the advent of storm season, I've been so preoccupied with severe weather that I've let my jazz saxophone posts slide. But the jazz musician in me is still very much alive, and I'll be kicking out the jams this Friday evening in downtown Hastings. Did I mention that besides playing the sax, I've added vocals to my tool kit? Yes, I can sing! And having finally gathered the courage to do so, I'm finding that people like my voice. The Seasonal Grille is the venue. I've played there once before. It's a wonderful new restaurant, all ambience, featuring gourmet Italian food impeccably prepared by Justin Straube, the owner and head chef, at prices that are almost ridiculously affordable. Really, it's one of the best dining deals you'll find in these parts, and the setting is enhanced by a beautiful bar. I'll be playing there from 6:00–9:00 p.m. with West Michigan keyboard veteran Bob "Gus" VanStee, so you can pleasure not only your taste buds but your ears as well. I might add that Bob and I will be fitting into the larger tapestry of the annual Hastings Jazz Festival. It's a weekend of urban music in an unexpected and very cool small-town setting. I love how this modestly sized community halfway between Grand Rapids and Battle Creek has embraced the American art form known as jazz! Kudos to Justin for supporting the music at his restaurant. It's a perfect fit. The Seasonal Grille is the kind of place that's tailor made for live jazz. So ink this Friday into your planner. Here are the details:
The Seasonal Grille 150 W State St, Hastings, MI 49058 Friday, April 15 6:00–9:00 p.m. (269) 948-9222

Double-Time Solos: Tips on Playing Fast

Last Saturday's gig at the Cobblestone was once again a blast. The lineup was different, as Dave DeVos and Paul Lesinski both have previous commitments through February. But  bringing in new players livens things up with fresh approaches, and with Steve Talaga playing keyboard and Charlie Hoats supplying the bass, I had no concerns about the quality of musicianship for the evening. It was my first time playing with Charlie, and he was every bit as superb a player as I'd been told. As for Steve, he's always been nothing short of fabulous. I am so blessed to get to make music with the kind of guys I've been working with lately--not just great musicians, but really decent, down-to-earth people.

But enough about the gig. Let's talk about playing in double-time.

I don't know why it has taken me till now to think of writing about this topic. There was a time in my musical development when it consumed me. My introduction to it began when I got my first earful of Bird back in my college days and found myself thinking, "How the heck did he do that?" A lot of people over the years have wondered the same thing about Bird, but I quickly came to realize that he wasn't the only jazz musician capable of playing really fast and sounding really good. Starting with the boppers, there was Dizzy. There was Dexter. There was Bud Powell. There was Sonny Criss, and Sonny Rollins, and of course Sonny Stitt, who seemed to have built his home in Double-Time Town. Then along came Trane, who progressed from ridiculously fast to...well, what would you call it? In 1958, "Downbeat" jazz critic Ira Gitler described Coltrane's approach as "sheets of sound," and the term has been used ever since. The speed, creativity, and beauty with which skilled jazz improvisers incorporate double-time passages into their solos can seem daunting to beginning players, not to mention flat-out bewildering. I mean, you've heard it played, so you know it can be done, but how do you even begin? As is true with a lot of things musical, the answer is quick but the implementation takes considerable time. Really, the answer is plain old musical common sense that applies to learning how to do anything as a jazz musician: Listen analytically and practice carefully, ad infinitum. And, I should add, transcribe solos or at least memorize a few solo transcriptions. That being said, let me expand on that wisdom with a few suggestions. 1. Identify a double-time passage that you like and then memorize it. By memorize, I mean work it over faithfully every practice session for a while until it sails effortlessly out of your fingers. If you really want to get something out of it, memorize it in every key, or at least a few other keys besides the one it was originally played in. Doing so will not only develop your dexterity, but also your ability to think quickly in different keys. 2. Start slow! Yes, it's double-time, but you won't play it well fast unless you can first play it well slowly. Once you've nailed down your passage at that slower speed, then increase your tempo a bit, and keep increasing it incrementally until you're playing the lick at the same speed as it was originally performed--or, if it's an idea of your own creation, at a speed as fast as you'd like to be able to pull it off on the bandstand. 3. Use a metronome. It's easy to race with double-time, and trust me, it doesn't sound at all impressive when you end up two beats ahead of the rhythm section. 4. Once you've got the passage drilled into your fingers fairly well, play with the artist's recording or with some kind of accompaniment that lets your ears hear a harmonic and rhythmic context for what you're playing. 5. Note any distinctive features of the passage. Does it involve one or more grupettos (a favorite device of Sonny Stitt's)? Where do passing tones occur? Are there any alterations to a dominant chord such as an augmented fifth or a flatted ninth? 6. Be aware of how the scales, intervals, and arpeggios you've been practicing relate to your double-time passage. They do, and seeing how will add inspiration and direction for your ongoing work on the fundamentals and suggest new ways of approaching them. 7. Be patient and be persistent. This stuff doesn't come overnight. But it will come provided you stick with it. 8. Realize that you're striving for the snowball effect. You know: You start with a small snowball, and as you roll it along, it collects more snow and becomes larger and larger--and the bigger it gets, the greater quantities of snow it is able to pick up as you continue to roll it. As you build your musical vocabulary and the technique to execute it skillfully, you'll find yourself adding material to material, expanding your musical inventory in increasingly creative ways, and ultimately, spontaneously generating brand new ideas. Your thinking will speed up, your capacity to respond intuitively to the music will increase, and so will your dexterity to play on your horn what you hear in your head. I'll conclude with a bit of cautionary advice: Just because you can play fast doesn't mean you should. Let taste, not technique, be your guide. As a jazz musician develops speed and discovers that he or she can play swift passages with increasing effectiveness, a temptation enters to "prove" oneself by playing lots of double-time. But playing fast isn't the same thing as playing well. A good jazz soloist knows how to build a solo using slower passages, longer tones, and space as well as the really fast stuff. Double-time is just one device to use along with other devices in the larger context of telling a musical story. The story's the thing, and a good story is about pace, contrast, and development, not perpetual fast action. I'm preaching to myself as I say this, because I'm prone to overplay, and one of the things I'm working at is to hold that tendency in check--to lay back more and play in ways that are stylistically appropriate. Strangely, I have a hard time playing with blues bands, and one of the reasons is because in that style, simpler is usually better. Once you develop speed and complexity, it can be hard to trust simplicity. But it's important to do so. Enough on this subject. I hope you'll find this article to be helpful and encouraging. The big thing, again, is  to practice hard and stick with it. Do that and you'll do fine. Like everything else in music, you'll master the art of playing double-time in due time as long as you keep working at it.

On Beyond Rhythm Changes: Kurt Ellenberger Addresses Underlying Issues of Jazz Culture

In a couple of recent posts, pianist and jazz professor Kurt Ellenberger and I traded salvos on the strengths and weaknesses of that ubiquitous jazz form, rhythm changes. In a nutshell, I enjoy playing rhythm changes and Kurt can't stand them. However, that summary is cosmetic; scratch below the surface and you'll find that Kurt and I think on a very similar frequency. Kurt is the one who came up with the idea for a point-counterpoint dialog on the topic, with each of us sharing opposing perspectives in the interest of exploring an issue from different angles. I really liked his idea and I'm pleased with how it has opened up a much broader conversation. Kurt has responded to my last post in a way that I think brings this particular discussion to a satisfying conclusion, albeit one that makes me want to find my stone axe (where on earth did I put it?). I feel, however, that the issues that have been raised may provide material for more exchanges in the future. Without further ado, here are Kurt's closing thoughts on...

Rhythm Changes: Looking Deeper Than the Form

I find myself almost entirely in agreement with Bob’s thoughtful and well-written response to my post on rhythm changes. As he points out, my dislike for rhythm changes is simply an aspect of my personal tastes, which run the gamut from Scarlatti to Skinny Puppy and all points between and beyond, but do not include rhythm changes. If you like the form, that’s great—love the music that moves you, and never apologize for any of it.  (The corollary of that is to never pretend to love or admire something that doesn’t move you.) Bob’s response identifies what (I think) bothered me the most about this form—namely, the tendency of many in the jazz community to be very doctrinaire in matters that should be left to personal taste. If you’re a “jazz musician” then you must publicly profess your love for all the sacraments of the jazz church,* which include the following:
  1. Louis Armstrong
  2. Dixieland
  3. Dance bands of the '30s and '40s
  4. Jazz vocalists
  5. Blues, rhythm changes, and Cherokee (all in 12 keys, of course)
  6. All Ellington (but not necessarily Basie, Kenton, or Herman)
Of course, I’m being somewhat facetious, but there is a kernel of truth in this list that most jazz musicians will recognize. There are elements of stylistic intolerance in the jazz community, which is not surprising given how marginalized it is in the modern world. The more unpopular a genre becomes (or the more ignored it is), the more important its mythology becomes to its adherents; nothing demonstrates this more than the romanticized history of jazz and the sacraments (as I call them) contained therein. That said, I’ll end my counter-counter-point post with one observation: When jazz is referenced in popular culture, it is generally used as a symbol of sophistication, detached coolness, and intellectual refinement. Rhythm changes, however, are not the chosen form for this highbrow signifier, but they are found in at least one prominent position. Where? As the theme song for The Flintstones! -------------------------------- * Lest I’m accused of exaggerating about the “jazz church,” I would point out that the term “jazz police” (which originates, I think, from a wonderfully odd tune by Leonard Cohen) is well-known to all jazz musicians. The Jazz Police are (metaphorically, I assume) the “enforcement arm” of the jazz church, desperately trying to maintain order and stylistic purity within the genre. As hard as it is to believe, there is even a Jazz Police website.

Guest Blog: Jazz Pianist Kurt Ellenberger Tells Why He Hates Rhythm Changes

"I’m attracted to sophisticated harmony, interesting voice-leading, rich chords and dense chord voicings, and tone color...None of that is present in rhythm changes, and the ornate weaving through the static changes is just not compelling enough to mitigate what is missing."--Kurt Ellenberger
Some time back, I wrote a post titled "Why I Love Playing 'Rhythm' Changes." Evidently not every jazz musician feels the same way. Judging from the following post, jazz pianist Kurt Ellenberger may be slightly fonder of rhythm changes than he is of leprosy, but it's a close contest. I'd be tempted to whap Kurt for taking a whack at my article, except that Kurt is one of those rare musicians who makes me want to put my saxophone down and just listen to him play. He is a truly amazing, well-rounded pianist and complete musician who, drawing from a huge array of musical influences, can sweep you away on an inventive, marvelously textural journey that will make you forget there's anything but the music you're listening to. Kurt is also a composer, the jazz professor at Grand Valley State University, the creator of Frakathustra's Blog (aka Also Sprach Frak), and the author of "Materials and Concepts in Jazz Improvisation." All of the above to say, Kurt is hugely qualified to express a conflicting opinion. He's also a great guy with a nutty sense of humor. So I guess I won't whap him. Instead, I'm featuring him here as a guest blogger, knowing that he has some valuable, thoughtful, and provocative perspectives to share. Naturally I'll be writing a rebuttal.* Ain't no Hatfield crosses a McCoy without there be a return salvo. For now, though, it's time for Kurt to share his thoughts in an article he calls...

Why I Hate Rhythm Changes

By Kurt Ellenberger In case the title isn’t clear enough, I’ll say it unequivocally: I don’t like rhythm changes at all, I have no interest in the form, nor any affinity for it whatsoever, and I know I’m not alone. I’ve heard many of my fellow jazz musicians say similar things, but we’ve done it in a sheepish manner, as if uttering some kind of sacrilege against one of the sacraments of the jazz church. Sacrament or not, I think it’s probably the most banal structure in all of jazz. That’s a provocative statement requiring some explanation, which I’m happy to provide. But first, some context and background. When I was listening to jazz for the first time as a teenager, there were certain tunes that I never (for the most part) liked very much. As I became more knowledgeable about form and harmony, I found there was a consistent pattern to my dislike: They were tunes based on rhythm changes such as “Moose the Mooch,” “Rhythm-a-ning,” “Shaw Nuff,” “Cottontail,” “Anthropology,” “Dexterity,”and others.  There were few that I liked, a very few.  In fact, I can name them specifically, because there were only two that I can remember being interested in: Bill Evans’ studio version of “Oleo” and some of Miles Davis’ recordings of “The Theme.” That’s not to say I didn’t appreciate the playing and the technical prowess in display in countless other recordings, I just didn’t enjoy listening to the form, regardless of how well it was played, and that hasn’t changed to this day. As a dutiful jazz student, I worked hard to learn the form.  I transcribed solos, studied them as jazz etudes, extracted licks and learned them in 12 keys, until I could make it through and play it in a reasonably convincing manner.  I say “convincing” because I always felt as if I was acting a part when playing rhythm changes. I had no passion for it and I couldn’t manufacture a musical love affair.  I’m sure that it came across as such, no matter how hard I tried.  I relied on clichés and formulaic licks, especially at faster tempos. I never felt like I was improvising; rather, that I was regurgitating my stable of licks in a form that was completely uninteresting to me in order to be employable as a jazz musician. As time went on, my emotional detachment from rhythm changes made it harder and harder to fake it. I just couldn’t force myself to play those licks as required to maintain the facade.  When someone called a tune based on rhythm changes, I tried to avoid a solo entirely if at all possible. I examined the form to see if I could figure out what I didn’t like about it, and it wasn’t hard to determine.  Rhythm changes is a 32-bar form (AABA). The ‘A’ section is eight measures in length, the first four of which are (as Bob writes in his post) a simple turnaround repeated. In the second four measures, the bass moves from tonic to dominant, highlighting the subdominant briefly, before moving back to tonic again(there are some minor variations there, but essentially this is what is found). The ‘B’ section attempts to generate some degree of harmonic “surprise” as it moves from tonic to V/vi (chromatic mediant). This transparent and trite interjection fails to surprise as it immediately decays into a string of very predictable secondary dominants leading to the dominant of B-flat, which then sets up the return of the ‘A’ section.   To summarize:

* There are three ‘A’ sections in the piece, comprising 24 of its 32 measures.

*The ‘A’ section is a prolongation of the tonic.

*The ‘B’ section is nothing more than a series of passing chords leading to tonic.

The form is therefore virtually static from a harmonic (granted, Schenkerian) perspective which is problematic for me. In general, I prefer music that has a higher degree of harmonic activity and direction, or, absent that (as in music of a more minimalist nature, much of which I enjoy tremendously), there must be some other complexity in play to retain my interest. These preferences have become more pronounced over the years. As a result, I’ve lost interest in a lot of tunes that are similar in construction. The primary reason that I pursued jazz was because of my love for the music of Bill Evans, which goes a long way in explaining what motivates and inspires me musically. To be precise, I’m attracted to sophisticated harmony, interesting voice-leading, rich chords and dense chord voicings, and tone color, all of which Evans excels in. None of that is present in rhythm changes, and the ornate weaving through the static changes is just not compelling enough to mitigate what is missing. Yet I really was attracted to Evans’ recording of “Oleo,” going so far as to transcribe it in order to learn what he was doing.** His recording is remarkable in that it eschews the original harmony almost completely, and treats the form in a very free manner, with implied new progressions (especially in the ‘A’ section), prolonged hemiolas and other polyrhythms, and surprisingly chromatic melodic figures; in other words, it’s barely recognizable as rhythm changes, which is probably why I like it. I write this with enormous respect and admiration for all of the great musicians who have done (and continue to do) remarkable things with rhythm changes. I can appreciate that on many levels, but I simply don’t respond to it emotionally, and without that, what’s the point? ------------------- * ADDENDUM: To read my rebuttal to Kurt's post, click here. ** It is interesting to note that, as far as I know, Evans recorded rhythm changes only once in a studio album (“Oleo” from “Everybody Digs Bill Evans”). I certainly don’t know the reason, but the fact that he didn’t record it again is notable for a jazz pianist of that era. I’ve wondered about it for many years, especially given my love for Evans’ music and my own dislike for rhythm changes.

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Jazz and Storm Chasing: Facing the Trade-Offs

And so it begins in earnest. The 2009 Tornado Alley storm chasing season, that is. Me droogs Bill and Tom left today to chase this weekend's opening action in Iowa, en route to the main play in the Oklahoma/Texas panhandle region. I couldn't join them as I've got a couple of commitments, including a gig with Francesca Amari tomorrow night plus a search for new living accommodations. Today's setup out in Iowa was such that I did't feel too much like I was missing out on something. The storms have turned out to be massive hail producers (LSR from five miles southwest of Greene: "All hail...very little rain falling"), but not a single tornado report have I seen, not in Iowa, not in Wisconsin, not in the entire CONUS. Tomorrow and Sunday look to be a different matter, though, and I wish like anything I could be out there with the guys watching tubes drop. But as I've said, I've got commitments. It's funny how my two great passions--playing jazz and chasing storms--can conflict. But that's how it is. You can't chase storms when you're on a gig, though ironically, sometimes the storms have come along and canceled the gig. Three years in a row, I got hailed out at the annual Grand Rapids Festival of the Arts. It doesn't seem to matter who I'm playing with. I'm a freeking hail magnet, and in June or July, you book me for an outdoor event at your peril. This year, I've actually adopted a policy of not accepting any gigs during the peak storm chasing months of May and June. That's the time of year when the storm chaser in me outweighs the jazz musician. Tornado weather is seasonal in a way that jazz isn't. Once those mid-levels heat up and the steep lapse rates of spring give way to summertime's Cap of Doom, that's all she wrote. I don't have the time or money to chase the Canadian prairies. So I've got to grab my storm action when it's prime time. This year, I hope to spend ten days or so in mid to late May out in Tornado Alley. I am looking forward to it so much I can practically taste it! Meanwhile, Bill and Tom are out there headed for Oklahoma without me. Sniff! Ah, well. I hope those dirty dogs get skunked. No, wait...what I mean is, I hope my buddies see some really great tornadoes and get all kinds of cool footage that they can show me when they get back, causing me to grin in maniacal delight while dying inside. Okay, let's try that one more time. The compensation for not chasing is getting to do a gig at One Trick Pony in downtown Grand Rapids with Francesca, Dave, Wright, and Tommie--some truly fine musicians whom I absolutely love to play with. A Saturday night spent playing my sax is a Saturday night well spent, and I can't wait to hit the stage with Francesca and Friends. If you happen to be in the vicinity, please drop on down to the Pony and give us a listen. You'll like what you hear. The show starts at 8:00 and continues till 11:00.  Hope to see you there!

Using Sequence in Jazz Solos: Some Exercises

Howdy, campers. As promised, I'm back with a few exercises on sequences that you can actually wrap your fingers around. Before you proceed further, please take a moment to read my introductory post on this topic, written a couple days ago. And now, assuming that you've done as I requested and acquired a foundational grasp of what sequence is and why it's such a handy tool for the jazz musician, here's the first exercise. It illustrates the concept of diatonic sequence. The sequence happens to move up by thirds starting on the chord tones of a C major 7, but it could just as easily move up or down by seconds, or fourths, or up and down at random intervals.

Diatonic Sequence

You could use the same pattern over a C7 by changing the note B to a Bb. But my point isn't to show you how to outline a chord. It's to demonstrate how the use of diatonic sequence provides a sense of logic and cohesiveness which you can use to advantage in improvising a jazz solo.

Sequence does such a good job at "making sense" of an idea that you don't even have to play in key to sound good. In fact, "wrong notes" can sound very cool when you play them as part of a sequence. The temporary harmonic clash creates color and interest.

Sequentially mirroring an idea exactly, interval for interval, is one way to quickly slip out of key, letting the weight of the sequence rather than harmonic agreement justify the use of individually questionable tones. In the following example, root movement descends by major thirds.

Notice that the idea resolves to a chord tone. It's cool to take your listeners for a temporary excursion into outer space, but you generally want to bring them back to planet earth again with a healthy dose of consonance.

Exact Repetion

Again, the movement downward by major thirds is just one possibility. You can add further interest by shifting the rhythm of a sequence. The following shows the same sequence as above, but the six-note pattern is now imposed on a 4/4 setting rather than 3/4. I've marked the separations between each group of notes in the sequence.

Exact Repetition with Syncopation

Note that I've used the sequence over a different chord, an F#+7(#9), another nice application for the augmented sound implied by the major third root movement. Finally, here is a twelve-bar blues to illustrate the use of sequence in an actual jazz solo. The ideas may seem a bit forced, but they give you a feel for how both diatonic sequence and exact repetition might be applied in an improvisation.


The above illustrations just touch on the myriad creative and highly personal ways that sequence can be used in jazz solos. To recap: sequence can help you organize musical material in a way that creates cohesiveness and momentum, and that gives "wrong notes" a powerful sense of rightness when you want to play outside the changes.

Like any other component of music, sequence needs to be used judiciously. The right amount adds spice; too much just sounds overdone and even boring. Listen to how the greats of jazz use sequence, work with it yourself, take risks, and let your ear be the judge. And need I say...have fun!