Improvising Over . . .


The "Improvising Over . . ." series of lessons is an ongoing collection of lessons on how to improvise over the chord changes to important tunes in the jazz repertoire. Based on a transcription of a master musician improvising over the changes to a standard jazz tune, each lesson describes how the soloist uses chord tones, arpeggios, chordscale passages, approach patterns and other improvisational techniques to develop their solo. The practice sessions will take you from the lesson to the piano and help you get started improvising over these tunes.
Lester Young's development as a player spanned the late swing years through the bebop era. He rose to fame as a member of Count Basie's Big Band and then led small groups for the rest of his career. This lesson looks at his solo over the tune "All of Me" from his 1956 recording "Pres and Teddy" and isolates licks and improv techniques specific to Lester Young that you can integrate into your own soloing. The tune itself is also of interest from an improvisational perspective as it's harmonic sparseness (it's composed mainly of two-measure long spans of single chords) presents a challenging progression over which to improvise.
This Disney classic was made famous as a jazz standard by Dave Brubeck and Miles Davis and has since become one of the hallmarks of the jazz repertoire. Often played as jazz waltz, improvising over it's particularly satisfying changes in 3/4 requires that you construct your lines differently than you would when soloing in 4/4 time. Learn about these differences in this lesson through an analysis of Sarah Jane Cion's solo over the changes to this tune from her new book "The Pianist's Jammin' Handbook."
Sonny Clark's star burned bright and hot but was short lived. In barely a decade, he rose through the ranks as a sideman starting in 1953 for everyone from Serge Chaloff to Dinah Washington and by the time he ascended to the role of leader on seven highly regarded recordings on Blue Note from 1957-1961 he was considered to be the definitive hard bop pianist in jazz. By 1963, he was dead at the age of 31. In this lesson, a transcription of his solo over his blues head, "Blues Blue," from his 1959 Blue Note recording, "My Conception," is analyzed for his use of blues sound and chord sound.
Hiromi's understated solo over this well known baroque keyboard piece is an accessible introduction to improvising with pentatonics. In this lesson, a transcription of her solo from 2010's "Place to Be" is analyzed for her use of the major pentatonic scale within the framework of the Four Components of Melodic Construction. As an added bonus, she incorporates stride and gospel elements as well.
The Dave Brubeck standard, "In Your Own Sweet Way," presents a challenge to improvisors: how to solo over a progression that spans a wide range of keys at a fast tempo. It starts in G minor, moves to Bb, Gb, D, C and then Db in it's thirty-two bars. Kirk Lightsey sheds some light on this problem in his recording of the tune on his 2004 Sunnyside release, "The Night's of Bradley's." Watch as the transcription of his solo is analyzed for the four components of melodic construction and gain insight into his improvisational concept to inform your own approach to soloing over this tune.
Listen to Wynton Kelly improvise over his blues tune "Old Clothes" from his 1959 recording "Kelly Blue" and you will hear him use not only the blues scale but also chord sound. Watch this lesson to see and hear what chord sound is, how he uses it and how you can use it to open up the melodic potential of the blues progression.
The melody of this 1956 standard tune is, you could say, spare. The basic motive is composed of two notes a half step apart that are repeated in quarter notes up to 15 times in each section. To say that Anthony Wonsey's solo over the chord changes to this tune is in contrast to this tame theme is an understatement to be sure. His energetic and exuberant solo from his 2004 Sharp Nine trio album "Blues for Hiroshi," features extended eighth and sixteenth note bebop lines punctuated with a classic blues lick, a tritone-laced outburst and a flashy arpeggiated right hander all extending beyond a three octave range. Use the insight gained from watching the analysis of his take on hard bop in this lesson to invigorate and inspire your own solos over this or any tune.
Here is a transcribed solo of Hank Jones improvising over the changes to "Yardbird Suite" from his 1977 recording "Bop Redux" which was re-released on the 1998 double CD "Master Class." His solo is analyzed to see how he uses chord tones, arpeggios, scale passages and approach patterns to build a masterful solo over these changes.
Explore Hank Jones' improvisational concept by examining the melodic content of his solo over the changes to the 1948 Tadd Dameron tune "Lady Bird" from his 2008 IPO Records release "Our Delight." After considering his use of chord tones, scale passages, arpeggios, approach patterns, tensions, phrasing and his use of chromaticism, take a turn at improvising your own solo with three licks of his taken from the transcription of this recording.
Tommy Flanagan spins out a dizzyingly virtuosic solo (at quite a brisk tempo, needless to say) over this classic Charlie Parker standard on his 1977 Enja trio recording "Confirmation," with George Mraz on bass and Elvin Jones on drums. In this lesson, the tune is analyzed for harmonic content by deriving chordscales from the progression and then his solo is deconstructed into it's component parts of chord tones, scale patterns, arpeggios and approach patterns to demonstrate his use of each element in this lyrical and exciting solo.