Monthly Musings – April 5, 2017

Our United States service jazz bands

Last night I heard the US Army’s premier jazz group, The Jazz Ambassadors. As a part of their tour, they performed at the University of North Texas. This was very appropriate since ten members of the band are former North Texas students. I think there are a couple of dozen North Texas grads playing in bands like this one, The Airmen of Note, The Navy Commodores, etc. Naturally, all of our faculty are very proud of their success!

The program last night was outstanding and included a wonderful variety of music that displayed their musical maturity very well. Ensemble sections were tight, the balance and tone were excellent and the solos were interesting to listen to. I hope and I am pretty sure that this band must be inspiring to many young people who hear it. This is one of the most important facets of these groups – to create enthusiasm and passion for American jazz!

I am very proud of the fact that our nation supports the performance of American music, especially jazz with these groups. In this sense, our country is fostering the cause of not only jazz but the arts in general and our cultural heritage. The activity of these service groups reminds me of the power of Radio Free Europe during the cold war. It is a very positive representation of America to the world!

It was and is always great to see former students like Andrew Layton, Tim Young, Pat Shook and Kevin Watt. It is extremely gratifying to me to see their success and growth as musicians to the highest standards of performance. And I am happy for them to have a career making music, raising their families and getting benefits for being artists. Why there isn’t more of this kind of government support for the arts is a concern.

One of the things I enjoy about Facebook is the opportunity to keep up to date with my friends, their professional activities and their families. Some water has gone under the bridge since some of these guys were wet behind the ears and just beginning to show potential. Now, it is fun to see their families, hear about their musical activities in and outside of the band and to see them realize their potential as human beings.

So, when you have an opportunity to see a US service concert band, chorus or jazz band, don’t miss it! It is your tax dollars at work and, thankfully so far, they are being channeled in a really good direction!

Monthly Musings – April 2, 2017

Analysis of “Joy Spring”

This is a great jazz standard by Clifford Brown. It is an AABA form but the unusual thing about it is that the second A section is in the key a ½ step higher than the first, the key of Gb major. This is a less frequent key for most jazz musicians and can be troublesome. It is actually a fairly comfortable key on piano because of all the black notes that fall under the fingers.

First A section – progression:

//Fma7 /Gmi7 C7 /Fma7 /Bbmi7 Eb7 / Ami7 D7 /Gmi7 C7 /Fma7 /Abmi7 Db7 //

The first three measures are in the key of F major and can be accommodated with an F major scale. The interesting feature of the A sections is the 4th measure that includes a II-V progression in the key up a minor 3rd. It’s kind of like a change of mode from F major to F minor. So the main interest here is the change of key. When you play a tune that changes key frequently for short periods of time, just making the key clear is interesting enough. It isn’t necessary to alter any chords.

The next three bars are a III-VI-II-V-I turnaround to get back home to F major and can be satisfied with the major scale of the key. However, we often like to play an altered dominant VI chord to create a stronger resolution to the II chord. The last bar is a II-V progression to modulate into the key of Gb. A Gb major scale is adequate.

 Second A section – progression:

 //Gbma7 /Abmi7 Db7 /Gbma7 /Bmi7 E7 /Bbmi7 Eb7 /Abmi7 Db7 /Gbma7 /Ami7 D7 /

Same as the first A section a ½ step higher: Gb major scale for three bars, A major for one bar, Gb major for three bars. The last measure is a II-V into the bridge and can just be a  G major scale.

 B section – progression:

 //Gma7 /Gmi7 C7 /Fma7 /Fmi7 Bb7 /Ebma7 /Ab-7 Db7 /Gbma7 /Gmi7 C7 //

Including the last measure of the second A section, the bridge is just a series of II-V-I progressions in G major, F major, Eb major and Gb major. The last measure is a II-V to return to the main key of F major.

The bridge can be played very nicely using only four major scales, G, F, Eb and Gb. The simplest and purest way of playing a II-V-I in a major key is to play in the major scale of the I chord in whatever key you are in. Of course, you could use a number of different dominant 7th scales on the V chords of those keys.

The last A section is like the first except the last measure ends with a II-V in F major.

Monthly Musings – March 31, 2017

The Blues Progression and the Blues Scale


The simple blues progression consists of three dominant 7th chords, I 7, IV 7 and V 7. The measure layout is as follows: I 7 (4 bars), IV 7 (2 bars), I 7 (2 bars), V 7 (1 bar), IV 7 (1 bar) and I 7 (2 bars). So blues in the key of C would be: C 7 (4 bars), F 7 (2 bars), C 7 (2 bars), G 7 (1 bar), F 7 (1 bar) and C 7 (2 bars). Before you try to improvise on the blues progression, you should first know the structure of the chords! The C7 includes the notes C, E, G, Bb (1, 3, 5, b7), the F 7 includes the notes F, A, C, Eb (1, 3, 5, b7) and the G7 includes the notes G, B, D, F (1, 3, 5, b7).


You can improvise on just the chord tones and that is a good place to start. It is always good to emphasize the 3rd and 7th of the chord because those tones identify what kind of chord it is! In this case the major 3rd and flat 7th reveal the dominant 7th sound! You can also improvise on dominant 7th or Mixolydian scales. They are simply major scales with flatted 7th tones like the dominant 7th chords. Remember that the 4th scale step is very dissonant against the 3rd of the chord and wants to move to the 3rd! Otherwise, any other notes in the scale will sound okay when emphasized. So, when a C Mixolydian scale is used with a C 7, C, D, E, G, A and Bb are all notes that may be emphasized. However, F must resolve to E! I call that the “amen” of jazz!

The Blues Scale

The Blues Scale is so-called because it includes notes that are considered “blue” notes, the lowered 3rd, lowered 5th and lowered 7th of the key. A Blues scale built on C has the following notes: C, Eb, F, F#, G and Bb (1, b3, 4, #4, 5 and b7). When used with a C 7, the Eb gives a “bluesy” sound to the chord. That is probably because Eb would be a minor 3rd in the chord and we generally seem to hear minor sounds as being sad or bluesy! However, you don’t normally have both a major 3rd and a minor 3rd in a chord so the Eb is really D#, the raised 9th of the chord! So we hear it as an alteration of the harmony. The same is true of F# which is the raised 11th of the chord. Bb, of course, is just the lowered 7th of the chord but it is not in the normal major key signature so it takes on a bluesy character!

Minor Blues scale of the key!

The beauty of the blues scale is that it generally fits all three chords in the blues progression. Unlike other chord progressions and their related scales or modes, you don’t use a separate scale for each chord. The blues scale built on the key center works with all three chords in the progression! However, you do have to be careful of certain notes that will sound dissonant or “wrong” on each of the chords.

 Dissonant Notes!

Below you will see the blues scale in the key of C shown next to each chord with the “wrong” notes in parentheses.

C7 – C, Eb, (F), F#, G, Bb – F clashes with the 3rd, E

F7 – C, Eb, F, F#, G, (Bb) – Bb clashes with the 3rd. A

G7 – (C), Eb, F, (F#), G, Bb – C clashes with the 3rd, B and F# clashes with the 7th, F.

Since the blues scale has such a strong feeling of the key, we generally don’t worry about the clash of C against the 3rd of the V chord, G7. Melodic ideas moving through the scale may pass by those dissonant notes without a problem but they shouldn’t be emphasized against the chord! The best test is to play each chord on a keyboard, holding down the sustain pedal, and play the scale over it with your instrument (if you are a pianist, play and hold the chord with your left hand and play the blues scale with your right hand). Listen for which notes sound best with each chord! If you listen carefully, your ear will tell you which notes are a problem! At first improvise using only two or three notes of the blues scale and compose ideas that you like the sound of on each chord.

Major Blues Scale

Another mode of the blues scale may be used. I call it the Major Blues scale and, built on C, it contains the following notes: C, D, D#, E, G, and A (1, 2, #2, 3, 5, and 6. Since it contains both the major 3rd and the minor 3rd of the key, it is easy to emphasize important chord tones. On the C7, you could emphasize E and when the chord changes to F7, you could emphasize Eb (D#). All the other notes fit both chords. Another option is to use a separate Major Blues scale on each of the three chords. So, on the IV chord, F7, the notes would be F, G, G#, A, and D. The scale for G7 would be G, A, A#, B, D, and E. This would create the opportunity to use exact repetition of ideas on any of the three chords.

There are not just one or two blues scales. There are variations for major chords and some scales contain chromatic passing tones in different locations. There are many jazz cliches that use a form of the scale that adds a passing tone between 5 and 6. So this variation of the blues scale would look like this built on C7: C, D, D#, E, G, G#, A and C. One typical melodic idea might be : G, G#, A, C, D, A, C or Eb (D#), D, C, A, Ab (G#), G.

There are many variations on the chord progression of the blues. One of the most common forms uses a II-V-I progression in the last four bars. The blues scale may not sound as good over this progression. One solution is to play the major scale of the key over those three chords. Also, in the 8th measure, there is usually a VI7 chord to lead to the II chord in the next measure. This usually will sound best if it is altered by using either Harmonic Minor of the II chord or Melodic Minor a 1/2 step above the root of the II chord. So, on an A7, the scale would be D Harmonic Minor or Eb Melodic Minor.

Dominant 7th Scales

On any of the dominant 7th chords in a blues progression, there are a number of scales that may be used: Mixolydian, the Bebop scale, Lydian b7, and the Lydian Bebop scale. If you want more tension, you could use scales with alterations in them like Whole Tone, Diminished and Super Locrian. A handout on dominant 7th scales can be found on my web site,

Monthly Musings – March 27, 2017

Just for Today

This was written for a column in the Boston Globe in 1921 by Frank Crane.

Here are ten resolutions to make when you awake in the morning.

They are Just for One Day. Think of them not as a life task but as a day’s work. These things will give you pleasure. Yet they require will power. You don’t need resolutions to do what is easy.

  1. Just for Today, I will try to live through this day only, and not tackle my whole life-problem at once. I can do some things for twelve hours that would appall me if I felt I had to keep them up for a lifetime.
  1. Just for Today, I will be Happy. This assumes that what Abraham Lincoln said is true, that “most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Happiness is from within; it is not a matter of externals.
  1. Just for Today, I will adjust myself to what is, and not try to adjust everything to my own desires. I will take my family, my business, and my luck as they come, and fit myself to them.
  1. Just for Today, I will take care of my body. I will exercise it, care for it, and nourish it, and not abuse it nor neglect it; so that it will be a perfect machine for my will.
  1. Just for Today, I will try to strengthen my mind. I will study. I will learn something useful. I will not be a mental loafer all day. I will read something that requires effort, thought and concentration.
  1. Just for Today, I will exercise my soul. In three ways, to wit:

(a) I will do somebody a good turn and not get found out. If anybody knows of it, it will not count.

(b) I will do at least two things I don’t want to do, as William James suggests, just for exercise.

(c) I will not show anyone that my feelings are hurt. They may be hurt, but today I will not show it.

  1. Just for Today, I will be agreeable. I will look as well as I can, dress as becomingly as possible, talk low, act courteously, be liberal with flattery, criticize not one bit nor find fault with anything, and not try to regulate nor improve anybody.
  1. Just for Today, I will have a program. I will write down just what I expect to do every hour. I may not follow it exactly, but I’ll have it. It will save me from the two pests, Hurry and Indecision.
  1. Just for Today, I will have a quiet half hour, all by myself, and relax. During this half hour, some time, I will think of God, so as to give a little more perspective to my life.
  1. Just for Today, I will be unafraid. Especially I will not be afraid to be happy, to enjoy what is beautiful, to love and to believe that those I love, love me.

Monthly Musings – March 24, 2017

Analysis of “The Girl From Ipanema”

This tune is a great standard from the songbook of Antonio Carlos Jobim. I can remember that, when it was first popular, we often played it several times a night due to requests. I fear many musicians became burnt out on the tune because of that. If you ask a jazz player to play the tune, he may say something like, “Aw man, are you kidding? I’m sick of that!” My comment to some musicians would be, “Don’t bitch about it unless you can play the bridge!”

As a composer, Jobim is a master at doing the most with the least. Many of his pieces only utilize one or two melodic ideas that he masterfully develops into a complete melody. Also his use of harmonic and melodic sequences is wonderful. As improvisers, we can all learn something about melodic development from Jobim.

This tune is a common AABA form except that the bridge is sixteen measures long instead of eight.

First A section

The progression is: //Fma7 /Fma7 /G7 /G7 /Gmi7 /Gb7 /Fma7 /Gb7 //

To establish the sound of the key, an F major scale is called for at the beginning. Later in the solo, for variety, an F Lydian scale could be used.

The G7 is not altered and probably shouldn’t be. This is a dominant II chord that is only one note different from the key (B natural). The unaltered 9th and 13th of the chord are in the key of F and want to be in their natural state. You could use a Lydian, b7 scale which would add a C# to the sound if you want more color. The C# is the #11 of a G7 chord and is not an alteration but is the normal extension of the harmony. I find that, in general, dominant II chords sound better if left unaltered. There are exceptions, of course.

Gmi7 is the normal II chord of the key and calls for a Dorian (F major) scale.

Gb7 is an interesting chord that we often encounter in jazz compositions. It is a tritone substitution for the V chord C7. Both chords resolve to the key center of F major. But the bII chord (Gb7) requires a Lydian, b7 scale because we want to hear a C natural in the scale. This is because the Gb7 is a substitute for C7. It only hit me in the last several years that Jobim had used a tritone substitution in the composition of the tune!

Second A section

 The progression is: //Fma7 /Fma7 /G7 /G7 /Gmi7 /Gb7 /Fma7 /Fma7 //

The only difference is that the progression stays on Fma7 to end the phrase.

Bridge – B section

 The bridge of this tune is where the real harmonic interest occurs.

The progression is: //Gbma7 /Gbma7 /B7 /B7 /F#mi7 /F#mi7 /D7 /D7 /

/Gmi7 /Gmi7 /Eb7 /Eb7 /Ami7 /D7 /Gmi7/C7 //

The bridge is easier to make sense of if you keep in mind the context of each chord, specifically what sound occurred just before. Generally, if a note just heard in one chord can continue into the next, it sounds good to let it do so.

The first chord of the bridge, Gbma7, was preceded by Fma7. So a C natural (the 5th of the Fma7) has been recently heard and can continue into the Gbma7 as a #4 or Lydian sound. If you are skeptical, play the Fma7 scale and then play both Gb major and Gb Lydian. I think you will find that the Lydian scale sounds better.

When we arrive at the B7, we have recently heard F natural which would be a #4 in the B7 scale so that implies Lydian, b7. In the B7 scale we heard D# so that implies Dorian on the F#mi7. We hear G# in the F# Dorian scale so that implies a #4 in the D7, again a Lydian, b7 sound. Gmi7 is a II chord in F major and calls for Dorian but that is reinforced by the fact that we just heard an E natural in the D Lydian, b7 scale. The Eb7 also requires a Lydian, b7 because we just heard the #4, A natural in the G Dorian scale.

Read the previous paragraph over again slowly (several times) and possibly play the scales as you do to hear the interesting effect of context on our choices of colors. Extensive use of Lydian, b7 scales is required to make the bridge sound “normal.” I personally love any mode of melodic minor for its unique quality of a mixture of darkness and brightness!

The last four measures of the bridge are a III-VI-II-V turnaround. This is an extremely common progression with many variations. In this case, the melody implies an altered sound on the D7 and C7. There is a #4 in the melody on both chords. I like the altered scale (melodic minor a ½ step above the root). This is also consistent with the Lydian, b7 scale used on the Gb7 chords since that is the same as an altered scale on C7. The minor chords can simply be Dorian scales since they are II chords.

Last A section

This is old business since it is identical to the first A section.

It is recommended to look for guide tone motion in the progression, especially motion of ½ steps across the bar line. For example, here is a guide tone line for the first 8: Start on C on the Fma7, move to B on the G7, move to Bb on the Gmi7 and Gb7, move to A on the Fma7. Here’s another one: Start on E on the Fma7, move to F on the G7, repeat F on the Gmi7, move to Gb on the Gb7, move to G on the Fma7. Here’s one more: Start on A on the Fma7, stay on A for the G7and Gmi7, move to Ab on the Gb7, move to G on the Fma7. Building your melodic line around guide tones can give them a stronger forward motion!

Monthly Musings – March 23, 2017

Modal Improvisation


Most improvised jazz solos are related to the chord progression of some standard from the Great American Songbook or a jazz composition written for instrumental use only. These pieces may have a couple of dozen different chords, each requiring a different scale or mode for improvisation. However, there are some compositions that have only a few different chords, each of which lasts four measures or longer. This makes it easier for the improviser because he or she doesn’t have to remember a lot of different scales and also doesn’t have to navigate changes between those sounds quickly. However, a different sort of challenge presents itself. When there are many chords, an improviser may create interesting melodies by simply outlining the various chords. In a modal environment, the soloist has to use more imagination to create interesting melodies in relation to a single chord/scale. Never fear. There are some practice techniques that will help inspire your melodic thinking! But first you have to learn the mode on which you wish to improvise.

Learning a Mode (what notes are in it?)

Let’s take a look at a Dorian mode, a scale that is popular for modal improvisation. A Dorian mode is the 2nd mode of a major scale, that is, it begins on the 2nd note of the major scale. Since it comes from the major scale a whole step below, it has the same key signature as that scale. So a D Dorian scale has no sharps or flats like the C major scale from which it comes! It relates to a D min7 chord which is found in the scale as the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 7th notes of the scale. You can also think of a Dorian mode as being a natural minor scale with the 6th scale step raised a ½ step. A third possibility is to think of Dorian as a scale with ½ steps between 2 and 3 and 6 and 7. So there is no one way or best way to learn a scale.

Which notes to emphasize!

Naturally, chord tones are always important to emphasize when improvising to make clear what kind of chord is being heard! But it is also important to be aware of which notes identify a particular mode! In the case of Dorian, it is the 6th scale step that identifies the Dorian sound. The 6th scale step is a half-step lower in a natural minor scale so, if we don’t hear that scale step, we might recognize that it is a minor sound but we won’t be able to tell whether we are hearing natural minor or Dorian minor. So, in our improvisation, we want to emphasize the 3rd and 7th notes of the mode to support the minor 7th chord sound. But we also want to emphasize the 6th scale step which identifies that it is a Dorian scale and not a natural minor scale. By the same token, it would be important to emphasize the 2nd scale step which is only a half step above the root in a Phrygian mode .

Pick your favorite notes!

In any scale, some notes are dissonant and some are consonant. In the Dorian scale all of the notes are possible because they are all chord tones of a minor 13th chord. But, in any scale, wherever there are two notes a 1/2 step apart, one will be more dissonant than the other. For example, in the D Dorian scale, the notes E and F are a 1/2 step apart. E is more dissonant. In the same scale, B and C are a 1/2 step apart and B is more dissonant. E and B are still good choices because they are the 9th and 13th of the chord respectively. It is important to listen to each scale tone and think how it feels to you in relation to the chord. Though it is impossible to verbalize, I know exactly how I feel about every note in a Dorian scale (or any other scale for that matter) and why I like to emphasize certain notes in an improvisation!

Exercises in different types of motion

When you play a D Dorian scale, D, E, F, G, A, B, C, D, that is only the beginning. To aid in learning the scale more thoroughly and to discover a variety of types of melodic motion, it is useful to play through the scale doing the following:

1) Play broken intervals such as 3rds – ex. D-F, E-G, F-A, G-B, A-C, B-D. These intervals may also be broken in the opposite direction – ex. F-D, G-E, A-F, B-G,  etc.

2) Play patterns such as 1-2-3-4, 2-3-4-5, 3-4-5-6, etc. Also, play them down the scale – 8-7-6-5, 7-6-5-4, 6-5-4-3, etc.

3) Play triads in the scale – 1-3-5, 2-4-6, 3-5-7, etc. Triads may be broken in several ways – 1-3-5, 5-3-1, 3-1-5, 3-5-1, 1-3-5-3-1, 3-1-3-5-3, 3-5-3-1-3, etc.

4) Play the diatonic 7th chords of the scale. These may be broken in numerous ways! 1-3-5-7, 7-5-3-1, 3-1-3-5-7, 5-7-5-3-1, 3-1-3-5-7-5, etc. Use your imagination to create arpeggios in a variety of ways.

5) Move around in the scale freely, using different intervals and concentrate on which notes you like to emphasize! 

Some Rhythmic ideas

Rhythmic repetition is a good thing – when we hear an idea we like, we usually like to hear it again. Try using the same rhythm of only a few notes and keep repeating the same rhythm but change the notes each time! In the process, you will discover some melodic ideas that you like better than others and you will be developing a stronger melodic sense. Good melodies are generally composed with two, four or eight measure phrases. Ideas are stated and there are pauses between phrases. If you can play phrases in your improvisation, it will probably make better music. Think of the melody of some familiar tune and use only the rhythm of that tune with different notes. The result will be that you will play more musical phrases of two, four or eight measures.

Some good modal tunes to play are: So What, Cantaloupe Island, Maiden Voyage, Song For My Father, Little Sunflower and All Blues. Have fun!

Monthly Musings – March 20, 2017

Guide Tone Paths

Guide tone paths are very important in building good melodies when improvising. Guide tones are often color tones like 3rds or 7ths, but they may be other chord tones, altered tones and extensions of the basic chords. They are generally the notes that identify the real nature of the harmony and provide a smooth flow through the harmonic progression. As jazz players, we often think of the vertical structures of the various chords in a progression. But, music does not move vertically, it moves horizontally! Guide tones are the hooks on which you hang your melody. The melodic curve may move up or down and all around the guide tones, but the guide tones are what create strong forward motion!

The 3rds and 7ths are the color tones that define the quality of most chords. In a progression down a 5th, the resolution of the 7th to the 3rd is really what causes the chord to progress to the next chord. However, in a guide tone path, we could choose to remain on a common tone as the chord changes to make the harmony less obvious.

Guide tone paths through harmony are like trails through a forest. They may run somewhat parallel to each other, but they will often intersect and allow the melodic motion to either ascend or descend from a common point.

Guide tone paths can become even more interesting when the choice of notes involves extensions or alterations in chords. For example, in the progression Bb-7 to Eb7, the guide tones could be either Ab to G (7th to 3rd) or they could move from Ab to A natural (7th to #11th). Here’s how to work with guide tones: Pick any tone in a chord and, as you move through the chord progression, either stay on a common tone in the following chord or move only a half step up or down. If you move more than a half step, you will not hear the smoothest connection of the two chords. Half-step resolutions of any type, when moving from chord to chord, are just as strong as a traditional V-I cadence. Here is an example:

guide tones 1

In the preceding example, there are a lot of common tones repeated. This might be an interesting effect creating a certain amount of suspense, but the notes are mostly basic color tones. The #11th is an extension of the chord. Here is an example of a guide tone path through the same progression with more extensions and alterations:

guide tones 2

In the preceding progression, the guide tone path could have started on F, G, Ab, Bb, C, D or Eb. So, there could be several different guide tone paths through the progression.

Practice creating different guide tone paths on a simple chord progression to discover the possibilities. On dominant chords, especially, consider all the altered tones and extensions as possible notes to choose. Then, begin to improvise, staying very close to the guide tones, at first. Practice singing the guide tones (in your head) while you improvise around them. Eventually, you may find yourself hearing the guide tone paths without working them out first.