All posts by funnelljazz

transcription: “Uptown Up” – alto saxophone solo by Maceo Parker 🇬🇧

Transcription of Maceo Parker's solo on Uptown Up (page 1)
Transcription of Maceo Parker's solo on Uptown Up (page 2)

Methodical analysis of the melodic content

Passages¹ where Maceo uses the major blues scale:

  • [ bar 0 – bar 3/beat 3 ]: Bb major blues
  • [ bar 5/beat 3 – bar 7/beat 1 ]: Bb major blues
  • [ bar 8/beat 3 ]: Bb major blues
  • [ bar 8/beat 4 – bar 11 ]: C major blues
  • [ bar 13/beat 4 – bar 15/beat 1 ]: C major blues
  • [ bar 17 ]: Bb major blues
  • [ bar 24 ]: Bb major blues

Passages¹ where Maceo uses the minor blues scale:

  • [ bar 3/beat 4 – bar 5/beat 2 ]: Bb minor blues
  • [ bar 7/beat 2 – bar 8/beat 2 ]: Bb minor blues
  • [ bar 15/beat 2 – 16/beat 2 ]: C minor blues
  • [ bar 18 ]: Bb minor blues

Passages¹ where the major and minor blues scales are intertwined:

  • [ bar 12 – bar 13/beat 3 ] with, in particular, an ascending chromatic motif (D# E F F# G) [ bar 12/beat 2 – bar 12/beat 4 ], which includes notes from the C major blues scale (E) as well as the C minor blues scale (F, F#). Both scales are indeed commonly used to improvise over the C7 chord;
  • [ bar 16/beat 3 – bar 16/beat 4 ], a short ascending chromatic motif (D D D# E F) including notes from both the Bb major blues scale (D) and the Bb minor blues scale (D#, E). This sets up the return to the Bb7 chord in bar 17 (anticipation)²;
  • [ bar 19 – bar 20/beat 3 ], a phrase based around two very similar ascending chromatic motives (C C# D D# E F and C# D D# E F), the second of which is played an octave above the first. Again, notes from both the Bb major blues scale (C, D) and the Bb minor blues scale (D#, E) are featured here, being tones of choice to improvise over the Bb7 chord;
  • [ bar 20/beat 4 – bar 21/beat 3 ], the presence of the notes C (from Bb major blues) and Ab (from Bb minor blues) together in this segment evoke the Bb Mixolydian mode, another natural choice to improvise over the Bb7 chord;
  • [ bar 21/beat 4 – bar 22/beat 2 ], here we have the pattern C# D D# E F again, with the note D from Bb major blues, and the notes D# and E from Bb minor blues (C# and F are common to both scales);
  • [ bar 22/beat 3 – bar 23 ], a diatonic descending motif (Ab G F Eb D), which again clearly evokes Bb Mixolydian. While Ab and Eb belong to Bb minor blues, G and D belong to Bb major blues (F being common to both scales).

Key takeaways

Based on this transcription, two distinct patterns, characteristic of Maceo Parker’s style, stand out when he intertwines the major blues scale with its minor counterpart:

  • an ascending chromatic motion from scale degrees 2/#2/3 up to scale degree 5;
  • a descending diatonic (Mixolydian) motion from scale degree b7 down to scale degree 3.

In the first half of his solo, Maceo sets up the tone of his improvisation by shifting between the minor blues scale and the major blues scale, utilized as strictly separate entities. Beginning in bar 12, he gradually throws in more and more segments where both scales seamlessly intertwine. Between bars 19 and 23, he finally crafts a longer melodic sequence featuring both extensive chromaticism as well as diatonic ideas from Mixolydian, before wrapping up with a strong, effective major blues statement (bar 24).


Practice tip

Although Maceo’s rhythm, phrasing, and expression aren’t discussed in this post, they are also really hip and crucial to the powerful effect of his solo. Don’t neglect imitating these elements as accurately as possible on your instrument while practicing this transcription. Becoming familiar with the notes and scales is only half the work (at most)!

Notes

¹ Like in mathematics, the square brackets turned towards the inside (like this ” […] ” as opposed to this ” ]…[ ” ) indicate that the bar/beat numbers signaled within the brackets are included in the passage under consideration.

² The F# played on bar 17/beat 1 does not belong to either of the Bb blues scales. Rather, it is a lower chromatic approach of the following note G (itself scale degree 6 of the Bb major blues scale). This part (bar 17/beat 1) can be seen as an extension of the ascending chromatic motion initiated in bar 16/beat 3.

References

Parker, Maceo. Funk Overload. What Are Records? 60032. 1998.


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pentatonic possibilities 1: major and minor pentatonics

Pentatonics are 5-note scales. Technically, any ordered sequence of 5 notes can be called a pentatonic. But the most common and widely used pentatonic is without doubt the one obtained by reordering a series of 5 notes stacked on top of each other in fifths (for example, the series “C G D A E” gives us “C D E G A” once reordered). This particular pentatonic comes in its “major” form (C D E G A), and its relative “minor” form (A C D E G).

So, what do I mean by “pentatonic possibilities?” Well, pentatonics tend to break up the diatonic quality of 7-note major and minor scales because of their intervallic content. So, to create fresh melodic shapes and give a more edgy feel to your lines while improvising over changes, you might ask yourself: what pentatonic scales can I use over these chords? Chords derive from modes, and modes from harmony types, so the question may be rephrased as: what pentatonic scales can be extracted from the various harmony types?

For the purpose of this particular post, I will limit myself to what I call the “common” or “global” pentatonic scale (the one discussed in the first paragraph). Let’s have a look at major harmony first. The pentatonics listed in the first and last column of the table shown below are extracted from the key of C major (C D E F G A B). Their “major” forms are listed in the left-hand side of the table along with their relative “minor” forms on the right-hand side, and the roman numerals represent the scale degrees for each pentatonic:

major harmony pentatonic possibilities
C D E G A I Maj. pent. <=> VI min. pent. A C D E G
F G A C D IV Maj. pent. <=> II min. pent. D F G A C
G A B D E V Maj. pent. <=> III min. pent. E G A B D

Natural minor harmony is equivalent to the Aeolian mode. Therefore, the pentatonic possibilities in natural minor are the same as in major harmony (the roman numerals indicating the scale degrees, however, would have to change due to the shift to relative minor).

Now, let’s have a look at melodic minor harmony. It turns out only one pentatonic scale can be extracted from this harmony type. It is shown in the table below in the key of C melodic minor (C D Eb F G A B):

melodic minor harmony pentatonic possibilities
F G A C D IV Maj. pent. <=> II min. pent. D F G A C

Finally, neither harmonic minor nor harmonic major harmony bear common pentatonic possibilities, due to a flatted 6th scale degree in both instances. However, some interesting “exotic” pentatonics can be derived from those harmony types…


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Charlie Rouse on “Monk’s Dream” / nonchord tones and melodic triads

My favourite passage from Charlie Rouse‘s solo on Thelonious Monk’s 1962 recording of Monk’s Dream – Take 8 is made up of the four closing phrases below (Charlie’s final statement right before the piano solo starts):

Monk's Dream, Charlie Rouse_C

Most of the soloing is built on chord tones here: the emphasis is placed on the notes that make up the lower part of the changes (root, 3rd, 5th, and 7th) as opposed to the tensions (9th, 11th, and 13th). It is interesting however to pay close attention to the use of nonchords tones, and to the various triads – interestingly all arpeggiated in a descending motion, and mostly in root position (RP) – that emerge to define a distinct melodic contour.

Nonchord tones:

  • Db in bar 1 (technically the “second” measure here: the very first measure shows the 3-beat pickup to the first phrase and we’ll number it “bar 0”) is a passing tone approaching the following C from above (upper chromatic approach);
  • A# in bar 3 approaches the note B (which, as the major 7th of the following C chord, is itself an example of harmonic anticipation) from below (lower chromatic approach);
  • the first E in bar 5 can be seen as a lower chromatic neighbor tone of the two Fs it’s surrounded by, although E is technically the flatted fifth of Bb7(b5), and could arguably be considered a chord tone as well;
  • D# in bar 5 is a lower chromatic approach to the following E;
  • the notes A (diatonic note to the E7sus/B chord) and G (chromatic note since it doesn’t belong to the E mixolydian scale from which E7sus/B derives) in bar 7 form an diatonic-chromatic enclosure, surrounding the following Ab; such nonchord tones are also commonly referred to as changing tones;
  • both Abs in bar 8 are upper chromatic neighbor tones;
  • the first F in bar 8 is a lower neighbor of the G, which when struck against the Ab7 chord becomes a bold sounding nonchord tone itself!;
  • Ab and F# in bar 9 form a chromatic enclosure of the following G.

Melodic triads:

  • Eb+ (RP) over C and F7 (bar 2);
  • Bb (2nd inversion) over Bb7(b5) (bar 3);
  • C- (RP) over F7 (bar 4);
  • E- (RP) over C (bar 6);
  • D- (RP) over F7 (bar 6);
  • C (RP) over F7 and E7sus/B (bars 6-7);
  • A- (RP) over E7sus/B (bar 7);
  • Bb- (RP) over Ab7 and G7 (bars 8-9);
  • Db (2nd inversion) over G7 (bar 8).

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“She’s Out of My Life” arrangement on Jazz Magazine staff playlist

The arrangement of Tom Bahler’s hit song “She’s Out of My Life” that Jim Funnell contributed on saxophonist Philippe Lopes de Sa‘s debut album Woandering has been featured in a monthly playlist curated by the editorial board at Jazz Magazine, France’s foremost publication entirely dedicated to jazz.

playlist Philippe Lopes de Sa / Jim Funnell
Jazz Magazine
2017-07


Philippe Lopes de Sa / Jim Funnell
She’s Out of My Life

“Not only are the eleven original compositions by this saxophone and piano duo remarkable, but this arrangement of Michael Jackson’s hyper-emotional ballad (“Off the Wall”, 1979) will not possibly leave you indifferent.”

Where? “Woandering” (philippe-lopes-de-sa.com / cdbaby.com)

getting into the altered sound

Let’s take a look at a few things that can be done when an altered dominant chord presents itself in a tune (e.g. Eb7alt). The first thing to know is that the altered chord derives from the altered mode, otherwise known as mode VII of melodic minor. But to break out of the diatonic sound of the scale and gain a little freedom with it, here are a few tricks…

There are 5 different triads that can be used as numerators (the denominator being the basic chord sound, i.e. combinations of chord tones 1, 3, and b7) to get a solid sounding upper structure triad voicing for an altered chord:

  • bIImi
  • bIIImi
  • bV
  • bVI

getting-into-the-altered-sound_screenshot-1

You can then combine both minor triadic upper structures and both major triadic upper structures to form two hexatonic scales, which can be used as interesting melodic devices:

  • bIImi / bIIImi
  • bV / bVI

getting-into-the-altered-sound_screenshot-2

Now, if you take a closer look at both these hexatonics, you’ll notice that they have five notes in common. These notes make up a pentatonic scale (bV major pentatonic, a.k.a. bIII minor pentatonic), which can also be used as an even more angular melodic device.

getting-into-the-altered-sound_screenshot-3

Click “Download File” below to hear the midi examples notated above. The full PDF document is also available here. Enjoy!


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“meditative practicing” technique

The following “meditative practicing” technique comes in really handy when far away from your instrument.

All you have to do is choose a notated piece of music that you’ve got memorized and try and play it in your mind as precisely as possible, hearing it, and even feeling the touch of the piano (this also works if you play another instrument: just mentally recall the feeling you experience when playing your particular instrument). For pianists, Bach’s Inventions work well because they consist of two contrapuntal parts, which are already challenging enough to hear simultaneously with the mind’s ear. But you can choose virtually any piece of music. When a passage seems unclear, go back and “replay” it again, slower if necessary (just as you would when you practice on your instrument) until you’re able to hear each note, as well as each item of expression attached to each note, with utmost precision.

This technique certainly requires sharp concentration and thus works best in a calm environment. But if practiced correctly, its benefits are certainly to be felt as soon as you return to the piano (the following day for example – it’s always good to allow the mental exercise to fully sink in during the night…): overall, your knowledge of the piece will have been considerably strengthened; your memory won’t fail you and you’ll be able to concentrate on musicality right off the bat.


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cantabile style playing: practicing both legato and staccato

I’ve recently been working on most of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Two-Part Inventions as a kind of warm-up for the fingers and the ears (I learn them by heart and usually go through several first thing in the morning or at the beginning of each of my piano practice sessions). As I was playing No. 3 (D major) today, I realized I mostly was using legato phrasing and decided to venture into a staccato rendition of the piece. With the change of expression (staccato versus the former legato phrasing), I found myself much less self-assured: my memory failed me and I had to refer to the music on a couple of occasions. This, to me, was an indicator that I wasn’t hearing the melodic lines as clearly as I thought I was able to. Indeed, I don’t think my memory would have been caught off guard in that manner if a had been hearing them strong. So in addition to being a useful technical exercise, practicing cantabile style playing using both legato and staccato phrasing seems to be yet another great way to strengthen one’s inner hearing, and thus a very musical exercise. Highly recommended!


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review of “Spirit of the Snail” on Le jars jase jazz 🇬🇧

Review (in French) of Jim Funnell’s Word Out’s second studio album Spirit of the Snail on jazz critic Guillaume Lagrée’s blog Le jars jase jazz (also available on paperblog.fr).


Jim Funnell’s Word Out
“Spirit of the Snail”

Produced by Jim Funnell
Released on Tuesday, 22 September 2015
CD release concert at the Sunside in Paris at 7.30pm on Tuesday, 22 September 2015.

Jim Funnell: piano and compositions
Oliver Degabriele: acoustic bass
Thibault Perriard: drums
Isabelle Oliver: harp

“Dear cosmopolitan and xenophile readers,

As you know, the EU motto is “United in diversity.” As far as politics are concerned, it remains to be proved. On the subject of music however, British pianist Jim Funnell, Maltese bassist Oliver Degabriele, and French drummer Thibault Perriard illustrate it perfectly every time they play together. I have already praised their music in concert and in the studio. On this album, the triad is augmented with the presence of harpist Isabelle Olivier. She is nor a feminine alibi for a masculine trio, neither a classical one for a jazz trio. Her harp sounds like the kora of a Mandinka master.”

“[ Jim Funnell’s ] music is the singular result of a thorough reflection on rhythms, sounds, and colors.”

“Whether you want to stimulate your ears, your brain, or get your limbs in motion, enter the Spirit of the Snail with Jim Funnell and his band!”

– Guillaume Lagrée


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why it’s a good idea to practice soloing with the left hand while comping with the right hand…

To improve rhythmic independence? Of course. But also:

  • it might lead you to use different voicings than the ones you usually use for comping. Sometimes a voicing might be too low and sound muddy when played with the left hand in the lower part of the keyboard, but the same voicing played higher up will sound OK due to the absence of low interval limit restrictions;
  • the left hand is generally weaker and slower than the right hand. Such technical restriction forces you to rely more on musicality, inner hearing and singing when improvising with the left hand. When you then go back to improvising with the right hand, it feels a lot easier! Musicality is now right at your fingertips, with the greater technical ability of your strong hand available to serve it.

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