See Steve's Hand-Written Solo transcription
Though he could execute the melody with a reasonable degree of fluidity, in my opinion, I was not so certain that he was at all ready to improvise gracefully over this classic [A][A][B][A] structure, and all its requisite chord changes. Sadly, time was at a premium too. I gave him a prepared CD-R, with any number of great players playing over "Rhythm Changes" tunes from various epics, in hopes that he could familiarize himself with everything. As a side note to all this, another student had sent me a link to a YouTube clip of John Scofield and his quartet performing Charlie Parker's, "Steeplechase" which is actually part of John's DVD performance available as "THE PARIS CONCERT"(Inakustik), and was recorded at the wonderful club in Paris, France known as The New Morning. This particular quartet of John's included: pianist Michael Eckroth, acoustic bassist Ben Street and, longtime drummer, the wonderfully swingin', Bill Stewart. I believe that the performance was recorded in 2010.
When I first listened to this YouTube clip, more than anything, I was struck by the spirit of the playing in general. The performance projects such a spirit of musical fun while being deathly serious at the same time. That's not such an easy thing to achieve, and, of course, my perceptions will differ from what someone else might hear. As my student seemed so fascinated by what was going on, I suggested that, for our next lesson, he should transcribe a chorus and that we would then discuss it in more detail and analyze it. All this in hopes of broadening his perspective on playing "Rhythm Changes" for the future. As it usually goes, my student returned with a rather sloppily written version of the first 2 choruses. Though I applauded him for his determination and hard work, I then had to be most critical of his sense of organization and attention to so many details. We then spent the better part of the lesson with me correcting all the errors, and just how he had written out the solo in a manner where, when one is viewing it, you don't see a sense of form and structure. Frustrated by this, I decided to simply finish transcribing the rest of the solo for future use as a presentation here. Lucky for me there were only 5 choruses that remained.
One of the things that makes John Scofield such a great player, and such an appealing and influential player, is the fact that, as simple as it is to say, he just gets up there and plays like himself, warts and all, he is always himself, and is always going for it. Like most of his performances, the "Steeplechase" solo is loose, and even reckless at times. Improvising, by its very nature, is not supposed to be a precise act, or series of actions. After all, one is improvising, making music with other players, everyone's concept and perception of time-keeping and rhythm is different. This means that there are going to be moments where ideas can clash, and there can be times where the perception could be that an error has occurred. These things do happen, they happen to everyone - but, to me, the great players don't spend time worrying about such things, and just plow ahead. The result of the whole is more important than any one individual moment. To play like that, it requires a great deal of elasticity from all the players. The music can move, shift, bend but not break, and in the end, it comes back together. One has to maintain a faith in their bandmates, otherwise, this coming together can't possibly occur. I think that this is the great thing about the relationship between John and Bill Stewart. They are both always listening, and commenting, musically speaking, and that dialog serves the greater good, and makes for some wonderful music, just as we have here during this performance.
As I often have to say prior to speaking about a particular transcription, there are going to be moments, as you listen and read through this transcription, when something that I've written might not completely agree with your sense of what you are hearing. As I just stated in the prior paragraph, improvised solos are not meant to be executed perfectly, after all, how sterile would that be? So, when writing out any solo, and there arrives a moment where I am uncertain as to just where some phrase might fall, rhythmically speaking, my decision is almost always to write out what, I believe, the player was trying to play - and not so much try to stick rigidly to what I am actually hearing. Though I have written this at the site before, it is worth repeating here. At some point in time, during the '80s I believe, Sco' did a feature interview for "GUITAR PLAYER" magazine. And, towards the end of that interview, he was asked this question: "What do you like the least about your own playing?" And though I am only paraphrasing here, John responded by saying: "My clumsiness! I'm just so damn clumsy sometimes that I can't believe it myself!" When I read this, it was actually a great affirmation for me, because, had I been asked the same question, I might have responded in exactly the same way. There's nothing wrong with being one's own toughest critic - but, not to the point where it prevents you from moving forward. In a sense, even a player of John Scofield's creativity, grace, dignity, funkiness, rough-around-the-edges style, being "clumsy" ends-up being not such a bad thing! During the "Steeplechase" solo, I believe that you're going to hear moments where the clumsy factor enters ever so briefly, but you will also hear all the glorious attributes that I mentioned, and those far, far outweigh the fact that an idea or two might not have been executed to perfection. In the end, all this is to say, don't worry so much about that stuff, just play, and play hard!!!
There is really no one correct way to play the chords for "Rhythm Changes." Yes, there are some very basic approaches that are agreed upon as common ground for everyone. But, when one grows tired of the rigid nature of that, one seeks to open-up the format. This often requires that the principal chordal accompaniment instrument, usually a piano, should just lay out because, depending upon that player's style, any chords that are injected can constrict what the soloist is going to hear. Below, I have offered some basics, and some fundamental substitutions within the brackets. With regards to how John Scofield might be approaching soloing during "Steeplechase," I might describe it as free "Rhythm Changes" meaning that, he can invent what the changes are going to be as he plays. How the bassist, in this case Ben Street, chooses to interpret what he hears John playing is then up to him. He can stick to the basics, and it will not box-in the soloist at all. Sometimes that actually even sounds better, because it can make the linear configurations sound all the more sideways. If everyone is harmonically in the same place, it can actually sound too consonant - and you've been trying to get away from that.
|| Bbmaj7 / G7(alt.) [Db7] / | Cm7 [C7] / F7(alt.) / | Dm7 [D7] / G7(alt.) / | Cm7 [C7] / F7(alt.) / |
| Bbmaj7 [Fm7] / Bb7(alt.) / | Ebmaj7 / E°7 [Ab7] / | Bbmaj7/F [Gm7] / G7(alt.) [C7] / | Cm7 / F7(alt.) / ||
For the [B] sections, the basic changes start with a cycle of dominant 7th chords, usually beginning on the dominant 7th based upon the 3rd degree of the major scale for the key of the tune. Here we are playing in the most traditional key of Bb, so the cycle would begin on D7. After a lot of experience navigating these 8 bars, one searches for alternatives. One basic alternative is to simply play sideways through [B], and by that I mean, ignore the root chords and play b5 substitutes through everything. You do not have to inform the bassist that you are going to do that.
|| D7 [Ab7] / / / | / / / / | G7 [Db7] / / / | / / / / |
| C7 [Gb7] / / / | / / / / | F7 [B7] / / /| F7(alt.) / / / ||
Below, I have also offered a way to make the sonorities sound more majestic by turning them all into suspended sounds. Then, in each 2nd bar of the phrase, you make the V of V chord become altered to pull to next chord as your point of resolution. When you are ready to move beyond the b5 approach, try turning the entire [B] section into ii-Vs of the b5 substitutes, meaning that you begin with a bar each of Ebm7 to Ab7(13) replacing D7, Abm7 to Db7(13) replacing G7, and so on. So, a studied and skillful improvisor, like a John Scofield, is going to put to use some and/or all of these devices at some point during a solo.
|| Am7/D / / / | Am7/D [Ebm7-Ab7] / D7(alt.) / | Dm7/G [Abm7-Db7] / / / | Dm7/G / G7(alt.) / |
| Gm7/C / / / | Gm7/C [Dbm7-Gb7] / C7(alt.) / | Cm7/F / / / | Cm7/F [Gbm7-B7] / F7(alt.) / ||
After I had actually completed writing my analysis of this Scofield solo, and began reviewing it, I was astounded at how very long and detailed it was. So, before you begin to read through it, and perhaps compare what I've written here to the transcription, and to what you actually hear, my best suggestion would be that you just take things slowly, and perhaps attack only one chorus at a time. This is why I have chosen to separate them a bit more than is usual for these pages. The other thing that I would want to say to preface what I wrote is that, there comes a point when one is analyzing music where all the theories, their applications, the words, etc. cease to mean all that much, and everything comes down to this: Does what is being played sound good to you or not? In the end, that is the only thing that matters. It really doesn't matter whether or not my analysis, or explanations are correct, close to correct, or just plain way off base, it's all about how it sounds! So have some fun with this, and don't get too caught-up in how serious I do try to treat what I choose to write.
As [Chorus 1] begins, it appears that John is going to employ a fairly common group device, which is to allow for as much space and harmonic freedom as is possible by playing for a time with just guitar and drums. What we learn is that, within this group concept, John and Bill are then joined at [B] by the acoustic bass and piano. This will also hold true for [Chorus 2]. In general, as a listener, I would describe John's improvisational approach to this solo as, and I'm repeating myself with a purpose, free "Rhythm Changes," which is to say that he can simply draw upon everything that he has ever learned and experienced while playing such tunes, and apply it at any time or place without having to inform his bassist or the piano player. This is why it's best that the pianist lays out more often than not. In my view, this is a good thing, the tasteful thing to do. In the first [A] section of the solo, John is drawing upon a combination of blues-based material, where you would expect to see some Ab's appear, look at bar 2. And also, a Bb major scale area approach, where you would expect to see some A-naturals appear, just look at bar 5. If you're playing through changes like these, and you see E-naturals, I believe that, depending upon the bar in which they appear, the player is indicating a sense of C7, which becomes a V of V to resolve to the eventual F7, which turns the tune back around to Bb major. Now, look at, and listen to what happens in bar 7 of [A]. As he continues to play through [A2], during the first 4 bars, he is still operating in a place between blues material and Bb major, however, this time, as he arrives at the key bars of 5-6, where the changes could be any number of chords, John's usage of the diminished scale would seem to indicate that he's relating to the chord in the 2nd-half of bar 6 as E°7. If that is the case, we would say that the correct scale for that would be the E whole-step/1/2-step diminished scale[E, F#, G, A, Bb, C, C#, D#]. You see that he begins an ascending line with this scale on beat 3 of bar 5. It's really part of a longer line that began on beat 3 of bar 4 and does not end until bar 8. From a guitar perspective this is the first long legato, very left-hand slurred line, that appears during these 7 choruses. And above all, because of the legato nature of the playing, the touch, it just swings like crazy! When [B] arrives for the first time, he approaches the D7 in a very consonant manner, you see the chord tones: F#, A, and C. But, as the G7 approaches, you see a more sideways approach based upon the b5 substitute of Db7, indicated by: Db, Eb, Bb, Ab, Gb, virtually all the Db Mixolydian tones except for a Cb or B-natural. Then, over the C7 chord, again the playing returns to a consonant place: E-natural, F, G and D. And, alternating again, over the F7, you see and hear indications of a sense of relating to it as its b5 substitute of B7. Most telling are the notes that he plays in bar 7 before the resolution to Bbmaj7 in bar 8. [A3] concludes this chorus as John cycles through a linear progression that alludes to Bbmaj7-A7b9-D7b9-G7b9-Cm7-F7(alt.). It elongates the progression, and spreads it out over 4 bars instead of being a version of I-VI-ii-V over 2 bars. Experience and hearing alternative routes makes this possible. Bar 5 begins as if he's going to play something resembling Bbma7-Bb7 or Fm7-Bb7, but this quickly changes direction, and from bars 6-8, he's back to speaking the blues language.
[Chorus 2] continues with the blues-related approach for the first 3 bars. This time, in bars 5-6, the line indicates a sense of Fm7-Bb7 spread-out over the two bars. But, the tag at the end of the extended 8th-note phrase with F#(Gb) to E-natural is not easy to explain in some cerebral manner. After all, we are expecting to hear something related to F7(alt.), or any of the varied substitutions. The best way to view those two notes is as if it was a modal approach to the F#m7-B7, a b5 ii-V approach. If you think of it as F# Dorian [F#, G#, A, B, C#, D#, E], you can see that both E-natural and F#(Gb) do appear. Bars 1-3 of [A2] return to a Bb major melodic approach to pass over all the changes. Other than bars 5 and 8, this following phrase was most difficult to decide how to notate, so I went with what you see. Melodically, I clearly see a sense of Fm7(9) in bar 5, and Bb7(#5) in the following bar, but it is all leading up to a neat resolution that is clearly Bb major in bar 8. At [B], I view John's approach as being to play as if it was an Ab7 chord more than D7, which gives you b9/#9 over the bass. Then I see bars 3-4 as reflecting a sense of Abm7-Db7, because of the Ab-Gb. Remember, Db7 is the b5 substitute for G7. For bars 5-6 of this section, I would view his lines as indicating a sense of C7(alt.), and you see within the notes these alterations and extensions: b9(Db), #9(Eb) and 13(A-natural). But I believe that it's the angular, jagged nature of the phrase in bar 6 that breaks with any sense a modal or scalar passage ascending or descending. In bar 7, over the F7 chord, you see again the usage of the b9/#9, and this all resolves to something much more consonant for bar 8. At [A3], Sco' uses one of our most important devices of all, he reprises a portion of the [A] melody, but in bars 3-6, he simply extends the last phrase to suit his own linear purposes resolving beautifully on beat 4 of bar 8. Notice all the rhythmic syncopations in his phrasing!
In [Chorus 3], bassist Ben Street joins in full time, and so now we have a trio playing. During [A], for the first 4 bars, John is again playing through all the changes by staying close to Bb major. You only see two chromatic lower neighbors put to use in bars 1 and 2. In the critical bars 5-6, you hear an acknowledgment of Fm7-Bb7 in bar 5 resolving to a G-natural on beat 1 of bar 6, which gives the sense of Ebmaj7 arriving. But, in the 2nd half of bar 6, Sco' takes a different approach by throwing in Db and Gb, which alludes to interpreting the chord there as Ab7, or even a beat each: Ebm7-Ab7. All that said, if you listen carefully to Ben Street's bass line in these bars, you can clearly hear him playing Bb-D-Eb-E-natural, and those changes: Bbmaj7-Bb7/D-Ebmaj7-E°7 are the changes that he is going to apply, and pretty much throughout the entire piece. With all the Ab's in bars 7-8, Sco' is reverting back to the bluesy feeling. [A2] begins with a jagged line that adds in an E-natural, the b5 or #4, still the majority of his approach in the first 4 bars is closer to the blues language, because of the inclusion of the Ab's. Again, in bar 5, because of the insertion of the Bb augmented triad on beats 3-4, the sense is more of a thought process of Fm7-Bb7(alt.). In bar 6, he seems to be relating to the changes as Ebmaj7-E°7, because on beat 4, you see an E-natural-C, and both of those pitches are part of the previously discussed Eb diminished scale. The 8-bar section concludes with some 6ths, which could be viewed as very diatonic, or a bit bluesy. But, the A-natural that finishes the thought is obviously more major than dominant. He then anticipates the coming of the [B] section by playing B-natural-A, but, as the section arrives, he jumps in register, and plays a high G-natural and right down through a C-triad which gives you a sense of C/D or D7(9sus). Midway through bar 2, you hear an Eb(b9), as he uses the space to make the chord D7(alt.) to pull to the G7 chord in bar 3. For the first beat of the G7 chord, he very consonant, but then he introduces the b5(Db) twice, and in bar 3, within the same chord change, resolves back to D-natural and the sense of G7. As the C7 chord arrives in bar 5, he takes a breath for the first 2 beats, and then you can see that he creates a line that ascends from G-natural, as if he's relating to the change as G Dorian. Then, anticipating the F7 chord for bars 7-8, Sco' just goes down a 1/2-step, making the character of the line F# Dorian over the F7, which, as I have indicated before, is like substituting the ii-V of the b5 sub for F7, which is B7 or F#m7-B7. If you're not accustomed to utilizing these sounds, you have to get used to hearing things this way, and over time, it will just become natural to you, unless, to you, it just sounds ugly! And that could happen too! The first 4 bars of [A3] return to a Bb major approach, with a touch of blues that enters at the end of bar 3. Bars 5-6 become very interesting because John changes the approach on beat 3 of bar 5 to more of a Bb7(alt.), as you see notes that would indicate the Bb 1/2-step/whole-step diminished scale[Bb, B, Db, D, E, F, G, Ab], as if one was playing over a Bb7(b9) chord. The Bb7(alt.) chord feeling continues over the first 1/2 of bar 6, as you hear/see an E major triad, and E7, of course, is the b5 substitute for Bb7! As he returns to the joint sense of Bb major and Bb blues for bars 7-8, the line does not resolve itself until the D-natural arrives on beat 1 of [Chorus 4].
As we are about midway through the analysis of this great solo, I believe that this might be a good time to just remind you all of a couple of important things to keep in mind. During the course of the analysis, you have probably seen me using words or phrases like: thinking, applying, or alluding to, putting to use, and perhaps others as well. What is important to remember is that when one is actually playing, performing live, or recording in a studio, one is not thinking! You are simply in the flow of the music-making, and you're just playing. Yes, that is the ideal, the goal. All the thinking has been done long, long before - during years of studying and practicing, jam sessions for experimentation, stretching one's ears and capabilities. Analysis, from me or anyone else, is easy, in some cases, the note choices speak for themselves, in others, I am just speculating, based upon my experience and whatever knowledge I might possess. That does not mean that I am correct - it's just one way to view what I'm hearing. So, if some of these linear and harmonic concepts appeal to you, then, by all means, begin your own process of experimentation in putting them to use in your own way, in your own playing, and in a context where they are useful.
In [Chorus 4], as the tempo is brisk, the first phrase is very minimalist, but one of the key notes in observing the change of G7(alt.) is B-natural, and that's exactly what you see on beat 4 of bar 1. The rest of this [A] section is devoted to phrases related to the blues again, including some bent notes, especially the Db's in bars 5-6, and the Ab in bar 8. [A2] adds the dimension of some fun, humor, as Sco' takes a small motif: F-Eb-F-Ab, which I would describe as part of F minor pentatonic[F, Ab, B, C, Eb] applied over a sense of Bb7, or the blues. In bar 2, he goes up a 1/2-step with the same intervallic configuration, and in bar 3, back down a 1/2-step with the exact same notes as in bar 1, but that phrase is elongated into bar 4, and ends-up going down a whole-step. Turning music-making into something cerebral is not always the best thing to do, but, that's what we're here for, so, you could look at the first 4-bars and say that, the concept was to view it as one long area of Bb7, rather than seeing a sequence of chord changes in Bb major moving at a rate of 2 chords per bar. In bar 5, again his line indicates a sense of Fm7-Bb7-Ebmaj with the phrase beginning mid-bar rather than on beat 1. The angular descending line in bars 7-8, closes the section, and drives the solo into letter [B]. In bars 1-2, over the D7 chord, we see consonant sounds all related to D Mixolydian or A Dorian, depending upon how you relate to dominant 7th chords. Over the G7 chord, you could view the first 6 notes[B-C#-D-G-E-F] as being related to D melodic minor[D, E, F, G, A, B, C#]. But, on beat 3, with Db7 being the b5 substitute for G7, the line seems to be obviously related to Ab Dorian, as Abm7 would be the iim7 of Db7. That phrase ends with, in my view, one of the very important Jazz phrasing mannerisms for speaking the language properly. I am speaking of the little phrase where you see the 2 16th-notes(Fb-Eb) down to Db. This is far more important than some of you might realize! In bars 5-6, John treats the C7 chord with simple notes from a C augmented triad(C-E-G#). But, for one moment, he's in his low register, and then, in bar 7, he vaults up to his high Bb, and then descends using the notes from an F augmented triad(F-A-C#). Simple, but very effective! As [A3] arrives, Sco' goes back to more angular phrasing, but as we still see an Ab in bar 1, you have to think that he's still relating to the overall harmony as a Bb blues area more than negotiating all the changes one-by-one. From the end of bar 2 into bar 3, especially because of the jump from a lower B-natural up to a Bb, this is a classic line configuration that usually indicates the guts of a G7(#9) chord[G-B-D-F-A#(Bb)]. However, this all falls in a strange place relative to the normal sequence of chords. In bars 4-7, he takes a small motivic idea F#-G#-B-C#-A, which you could view as either part of F#m7/B7 or F# Dorian, and then, that motif simple goes down in 1/2-steps. If you were going to insert an alternate chord progression through this passage, you could say that it passes through: B7-Bb7-A7-Ab7-C7, and finally B7[C#-D-D#-F#-G#] in bar 7. I don't believe that you have to force yourself to find intellectual connections between the chordal indications of such a line and the real chords of the section. There are those who would quickly call this "slip-slidin'" around the tonality, but, to me, it's just a particular style of motivic playing. You just have to view this [A3] as having a very angular and dissonant travel route to turn the piece around for the eventual arrival of the next chorus.
In many ways, the [A] and [A2] of [Chorus 5] are about as traditional, in terms of classic Bebop line configurations, as John Scofield gets during this solo. The pick-up line to the [A] section seems like it has more to do with an anticipation of Bb major, however, the presence of F#-E becomes a little hard to explain, in terms of F7 or Bbmaj7. But, because the line sounds good, I suppose it's best to view those notes as upper and lower neighbors, surrounding the more important tone of F-natural, which doesn't arrive until beat 3 of bar 1. Bars 3-4 are really the most in the tradition bars, as you can clearly hear the movement via the lines through Dm7-G7(b9)-Cm7-F7(b9), all arpeggiated beautifully for this style. Again, take notice of the leap from A-natural(3rd) up to Ab(#9) in bar 4, which is very typical for indicating a 7(#9) sound with one's line. In bars 5-6, Sco' is indicating that he is passing through these changes with his lines: Bbmaj7-Bb7-Ebmaj7-Ebm7(Ab7). The arrival of the key note of Gb, which defines the Ebm7 or Ab7 sound, does not arrive until the downbeat of bar 7. So, its arrival is delayed, but that is of no importance. As [A2] begins, the line seems to be headed in a traditional Bb major direction, but bar 2, because of the presence of D-F#-A-C, it clearly sounds as though he is placing his own change of D7 there. And, of course, if that's there, the following bar should be Gm7 or G7. And, if you are following along, you see indications of both, because Bb is there, and in the 2nd half of the bar, B-natural is there. Bar 4 could be viewed as Cm7-F7(alt.) based upon the line. From bar 5-8, it is clear that the end goal of the line is almost more important than how you get there. The goal is to cadence in Bb major in bar 8! So, everything in the prior 3 bars is headed that way, and, in a sense, anything goes! In letter [B], as I tried to indicate earlier via some sample substitutions or superimpositions, John's line shows a sense of Am7 over the D7 basic chord. You can see the classic inner-voice movement of A-G#-G, and the eventual pay-off of F# in bar 2. As the G7 chord arrives in bar 3, you might expect to see a B-natural and/or an F-natural arrive somewhere to give harmonic definition to those bars. Both notes appear, but it is the presence of the Eb's(#5) and Ab's(b9) that give the lines character and direction towards resolution in bar 5 as the C7 chord arrives. Bars 5-6 are about as consonant as you can get, all the notes are from C Mixolydian[C, D, E, F, G, A, Bb]. For bars 7-8 and the F7 chord, he hits a strong Eb(7th) on the and-of-4 leading into the bar. The way he approaches bars 7-8, he has really cadenced to Bb major in bar 8, and then, his line leads him right back to a most consonant D-natural(3rd) on beat 1 as [A3] arrives. This final 8-bar section begins as if it's going to be in the tradition, but it quickly veers sharply away from that! Once Sco' makes the great leap from Bb up a 10th to D-natural, the line now must follow its own path, and to me, this is one of those lines where there can be the sense that the line is playing you more than that you are playing the line. Meaning that, the line has a goal, a direction to it, and you just follow it until you arrive at the point of resolution. So, in bars 2-3, the sounds created by these particular 4-note configurations might sound a bit "Giants Steps"-esque, but to me, it appears that he is moving through what might be Gb or F major to B major to A major, and finally G major before arriving at bar 4, and what sounds like a return to Bb major, our home area. And, after playing on the harmonic fringes of the changes, I would view that bars 5-8 are really just centered around a Bb blues zone.
In [Chorus 6], finally joined by Michael Eckroth's acoustic piano, Sco' returns to treating letter [A] by basically playing blues-based material throughout the first 4 bars. Bar 5 is a bit of a mystery, not the first 2 beats, but the fact that he slides down to a B-natural, and doesn't really take that particular note anywhere to resolve it in a way that would recognize the general changes in those bars. From there, he just jumps registers, and hammers away at a high Db, another blue note, until [A2] arrives. This 8-bar section continues with more bluesy lines, and more blue notes, in this case both E-natural and Db appear. Bars 5-8 simply continue with a playful sense of the blues, and most would consider this approach just as traditional as putting into play Bebop-type running 8th-notes. Hitting a high Bb on beat 4 of bar 8 with vibrato, and having it hang over into bar 1 of [B], puts John, or any soloist, a couple of beats behind the flow. But, for an experienced player, this is not a problem. It's my sense that he turns that Bb into a phrase that projects more of a sense of Ab7, again the b5 sub for D7, as you see, Bb-C-Eb-F. All these notes appear in Ab Mixolydian[Ab, Bb, C, Db, Eb, F, Gb]. Of course, one wants to avoid the questionable note of Db(C#) against a D7 chord. Over the G7 chord in bars 3-4, I hear the b5 sub again, and more of the sense of Db7 over the principle harmonic area. With this analytical perspective, even though notes like Eb-Gb-Ab-Bb make sense relative to Db7, the real issue for the player is: "Does this really sound good to me? Is it really part of the overall thrust of the line?" If you can answer "Yes!" with confidence, then the rest doesn't matter! For bars 5-6, over the C7 chord, this sideways adventure continues, and we see notes like Ab-Cb-Db-Eb, and all those notes appear in Gb Mixolydian[Gb, Ab, Bb, Cb, Db, Eb, Fb(E)], yet again, the b5 sub for C7. In bar 7, over the F7 chord, Sco' takes a breath, and then utilizes bar 8 to rocket himself into [A3]. Even though the high Ab could be considered as the #9 of F7, if you're looking at playing over Bbmaj7 with a bluesy feeling, in this case, that Ab is more akin to being a part of F Dorian or Bb Mixolydian than an alteration of F7. In this section, we see a return to a more traditional Bebop linear sensibility with the lines alluding to a chord progression: Bb7-G7-Cm7-F7. But I hear the line in bars 3-4 as if the changes were: D7(alt.)-Gm7-G7(alt.)-Cm7(F7). Looking at the line that begins in bar 5, I would have to think that he was, this particular time, hearing those 2 bars as if they were all F7(alt.). In Bar 5, he seems to be employing the F 1/2-step/whole-step diminished scale[F, Gb, Ab, A, B, C, Db, Eb], which then morphs into an F whole-tone scale[F, G, A, B, C#, Eb] configuration: A-B-Db(C#)-Eb-A. Speaking to the guitarists out there, if you begin to play that line with your pinky finger on F-natural on your G-string, and then, sliding up from the F-natural, when it reappears to the Gb, this will leave you in the perfect position to play Ab-A-B on your B-string. On beat 4 of bar 6, I believe that John is once again looking at this passage in terms of B7, the b5 sub for F7. If you just change the note spelling from flats to sharps, you have Cb(B) to Gb(F#) pulling down to an F-natural, and from there, you have returned to F7(alt.). The guitar perspective here would be to use your 2nd finger on the left-hand to have a small barre across your B & E-strings, over the Cb & Gb, and then, it's easy to pull-off the Gb down to F-natural. Just a suggestion. So, the end result is that bars 7-8 were really thought of as one extended F7(alt.) passage, leading us back to Bb major and the final chorus of this terrific solo.
[Chorus 7], the final chorus, brings with it some sophisticated linear improvising concepts. One of the most creative, and sometimes risky, devices that one can employ as, after all, any I-VI-ii-V progression is just a turnaround, a way to bring you back to where you began; so, considering that, why not take any route that you've ever known or played, even harmonic paths from other tunes, and just apply it here? To do this in the most musical way, you have to trust that your accompanists are listening, and not necessarily going to try to figure out on the fly what you're doing. So, in this chorus, you will see/hear John Scofield putting to use lines that allude to Bbmaj-Db7-Gb7-B7. I've written them mostly as dominant 7th chords, but they could just as easily be played as major 7th chords. Just imagine that you're compressing the first 4 chords of a tune like "Here's That Rainy Day." In concept, you are just inventing your own way to return to where you started. It's as simple as that - but, having a intellectual concept does not insure that it will sound good or that, at that moment, it will even be musical. That's the risk - but, that is also the thrill of making music!!! So, all that considered, [A] begins with this kind of linear journey. If you look at the lines, you see, what some would call, the classic "Giant Steps" configuration[1-2-3-5] as you move from Db in bar 2, Gb in bars 2-3, B in bar 3, and in bar 4, you only have small fragments, but, I would say that the 1st 1/2 of the bar alludes to A major, and the 2nd-half to C major. In bars 5-6, again usually a ii-V to the IV chord(Ebmaj7), I see Gb-Emaj(though I spelled the notes as Fbmaj)-Dmaj-Cmaj. But, the thing to pay attention to is that, no matter what the changes were, we are still heading back to Bbmaj7! So, descending in whole steps from Gb takes you right there too! Bars 7-8 are not so easy to place fixed chordal values on. The first two beats of bar 7 would seem to be in an area of Gm7 or C7, because of that single E-natural. And beats 3-4 seem to walk up F Dorian. But, in the last 1/2 of bar 8, when he plays B-G-A-B, that would seem to be related to Gmaj or G7. The lines in the first 5 bars of [A2] contain some of the most jagged, disjointed phrasing of the entire solo. That aside, if you just focus on the landing points, the notes will generally be related to the overall tonal area of Bb major or blues dominant. In bar 1, you see A-natural and Db. In bar 2, G-natural and A-natural. In bars 3-5, you really see a sequential motif: Bb-Db(up a m3rd), then Db(C#)-A-F(down an augmented triad), and finally B-G(down a maj3rd). In bar 4, the same idea is just transposed: F#-A(up a m3rd), then A-F-Db(C#)(down an augmented triad), and finally [E-natural]-G-Eb(down a maj3rd). And finally, in bar 5: D-F(up a m3rd), then F-C#-A(down an augmented triad), and [C-natural]-Eb(D#)-B(down a maj3rd). After all this linear traveling, he brings things back down to earth and some blues in bars 7-8 with a phrase emphasizing Bb's and F's. As [B] arrives, he takes a little breath, always a good idea, and bars 1-2, the D7 chord, begin in a bluesy but consonant way. However, in bar 2, he's clearly using the Eb melodic minor(D altered dominant)[Eb-F-Gb(F#)-Ab-Bb-C-D] to pull towards resolution in bar 3, the G7 sonority. The little G augmented[B-G-D#-B] phrase reaches the highest note in register during this solo, and lands eventually on the blue note, Bb. In bars 5-6, over the C7 chord, there's a lot of idiosyncratic Sco' left-hand slurring, putting to use two of the four altered notes, Db(b9) and Eb(#9). Over the F7 for bars 7-8, he begins as if he's going to be applying Eb Dorian over the F7 to create an F Phrygian[Eb, F, Gb, Ab, Bb, C, Db] sound, which creates many of the important altered notes as well: Gb(b9), Ab(#9), and Db(#5). But, in bar 8, we begin to see notes that we might expect from Bb major with the appearance of Ab being the only odd note choice. Though again, it could be viewed as a blues/dominant reference. For the final [A3] section, and its first 4 bars, you pretty much see all the notes from Bb major, apart from a G# as a chromatic lower neighbor to A-natural. It's all very consonant. In bars 5-6, again ignoring the usual changes there, he vaults up via a Bb major arpeggio, and then descends to close out the solo with more blues-based material. In bar 7, the configuration of playing the major 3rd(D-natural) first, and then going down to the blue note(Db) is something that I always have associated with Randy Brecker's playing, because he used to love to do that. But, I'm not saying that this is where Sco' heard that. As the first chorus of Michael Eckroth's piano solo begins, John plays some lower bluesy throw-away notes that, on this recording, are almost inaudible.
It's rare that I would transcribe anything played by a good friend, a most respected colleague, so I always try to be careful with what I say and write. And though sometimes I know that I repeat myself, perhaps it's just because certain points are essential to my philosophy where learning about music and music-making are concerned; and the desire for constant self-evaluation, and doing the hard, hard work to try to improve. In that spirit, I want to remind all of you who find playing like this to be inspirational that, you never forget that the arrival at this level of improvisational excellence was not achieved over night. It's a long, long process, and no great player that I've ever known has ever come off the bandstand, or come into the control room after a take, and then said: "Man, that's the greatest shit anyone ever played in the history of this fucking music!" Usually, they all say something like this: "Damn, I really suck! Why do I keep playing that same bullshit?!?!?" You have to have a sense of humor about yourself, and your work, otherwise you would drive yourself crazy, or to drugs and alcohol, and never play another note! If you feel that you are embarking on this journey, then you must force yourself to take things slowly!!! Don't feel that you have to play portions of this solo at this tempo! Slow down your metronome, or your "Rhythm Changes" play-along to a medium bounce tempo, or slower, and just perfect your execution and fluidity. Playing with good time, and swinging are more important than being the World's Greatest Virtuoso!!! Revisiting a story that I've told on countless occasions: The late and great guitarist Joe Beck once said to me, with all due cynicism and respect, while watching Allan Holdsworth playing at the Bottom Line with Tony Williams(we were the other band on those nights!): "No one plays anything fast that they haven't played 1,000 times before!" Think about that! In other words, to execute some of these long 8th-note phrases, Sco' has spent a lot of time, at home, in the woodshed, and on the bandstand perfecting his style. If you work just as hard as he has, you might be able to obtain similar results. I also recall a Guitar Roundtable interview that John, John Abercrombie, Bill Connors and I did for "GUITAR WORLD" in 1984-5, and at some point, Sco' and I were off to the side talking while the Abercrombie and Connors were taking individual photos or something. And Sco' and I were trading thoughts on what we had been working on of late, and we both answered the same way: "I'm trying to eliminate picked strokes as much as I can. The less you pick and articulate everything, the more swingin' the phrasing becomes." And, of course, we both pointed to early Jim Hall. So, when you are listening to the articulation of some of these long lines, what makes them swing so hard is just how he has eliminated certain picked strokes to smooth out the notes and help them be more legato.
However long it has taken you to arrive at this point in my musings, I want to thank you all for bearing with me, and I sincerely hope that you have found some small kernel of information here that helped to demystify something musical for you, and to inspire you to work hard, and to get better.
Addendum: Forgive me if I am repeating myself a bit now, but, I feel that it is important to try to be as clear as is possible. In the course of private lessons, and clinics and master classes, I am often asked all the eternal questions about playing over "Rhythm Changes," and there is no one right answer that will service everyone. Recently, a young student of mine was preparing for his recorded audition submissions, and, of course, everyone has to play a Charlie Parker "Rhythm Changes" head, and then solo some. Like so many students preparing for some institutional Jazz education program, even if the student, in my opinion, is not ready for such complex harmonic improvising, they are simply told, by that institution, to jump in the water, and swim!!! Of course, I don't agree with this at all. But, as a teacher, it's my duty to help, and so I decided to simply write out some very basic, very generic "Rhythm Changes" lines for both the Letter [A] Sections, and the Letter [B] Sections. There are no soundclips for these lines, and you will simply have to print them out, and study them. For those of you who are new to my website, I suggest that you first read my PRINTING GUIDE to assure you of the best possible reproduction.
Like so many players, as a beginner, I was forced to play over this classic structure before I was ready too. And, like many of those before me, I decided to simply memorize some of the classic lines for the [A] sections, so that I always had a sure-fire, can't miss point of departure. Once one has mastered a few of these classic line configurations, and has a feel for the harmonic flow of these sections, one is probably ready to start experimenting with locating, on a night to night basis, their own approach to improvising over these very traditional chordal movements. In my analysis, that precedes this additional section, I have probably touched upon most of the significant devices that experienced players have come to rely upon.
As always, it is my most sincere hope that everything that has been shared here will be of some constructive help to those who are in hot pursuit of the elusive grace that one strives for when playing over "Rhythm Changes."
[Photos: John Scofield
and Michael Eckroth-Ben Street-Bill Stewart-John Scofield
Photos by: Sophie Leroux]