Tag Archives: chromatic motion

away from the roost: reharmonizing the “Chicken”!

This article is also available at www.lessonface.com/content/away-roost-reharmonizing-chicken, along with a downloadable Reharm Worksheet (PDF).

Here are a few notes about Flavio Lira‘s “THE CHICKEN Travels the World,” a cool multi-groove arrangement of “The Chicken.” Flavio invited me to record it over at Lessonface’s studio in New York’s West Village earlier this year, along with some fantastic musicians, most of whom teach on the platform as well. Each of us also got to record a short tutorial (see right below) to showcase something we played in the video. Fun times!

Now, let’s try and make the most of the present article and focus on things I did not mention in the tutorial video…

  1. The original piece (“The Chicken” by Pee Wee Ellis) is a funk tune with a bluesy feel. Although its chord changes don’t follow the most common 12-bar blues format, the tune does possess one of the foremost features of the blues: the appearance of the IVth degree as a dominant chord (Eb7) in its 5th bar. Besides, blues scales and minor pentatonics (Bb minor in particular, as in the famous break in bar 12 for instance) suit the chord grid perfectly (for more on the use of blues scales, take a look at this post, an in depth analysis of a solo by one of Mr. Ellis’ close fellow funkateers!);
  2. Screen Shot 2018-02-14 at 3.10.51 AM

  3. Where the keyboard solo starts in the arrangement, Flavio deliberately penciled in a BbMa7 chord (instead of the original Bb7), which gives this section a more “tonal” feel (as opposed to the original “bluesy” feel, characterized by some amount of ambiguity and crunchiness caused by the presence of both the major third – from the Bb7 chord – and the minor third – from the Bb minor pentatonic or blues scale frequently used to improvise over Bb7). Flavio further enhances that sense of tonal harmony with a II-V resolving to Gmi7, the VIth degree in the key of Bb major. D7 is what we call a secondary dominant resolving to that Gmi7, and the Ami7(b5) is D7’s related II chord (incidentally, it is also the VIIth degree in the key of Bb major). The Bb7 preceding Ami7(b5) is a sub V of VII (in other words, the tritone substitute of E7, which would have been a “regular” secondary dominant to Ami7(b5));
  4. Screen Shot 2018-02-14 at 3.19.40 AM

  5. By now, our ears may well have been accustomed to a Bb major tonal context… And when the Eb7 chord finally hits (at the pinnacle of a nice rhythmic ascending chromatic motion), it can quite plausibly be heard as a modal interchange chord (the IVth degree of Bb dorian) rather than the characteristic IV7 blues chord mentioned earlier.

To sum up, we have a deliberate choice of Flavio’s to depart from the original blues context of the tune and delve into a more tonal realm for this section of his arrangement. Our chicken is, at the very least, cage-free, and at best truly multi-dimensional, traveling through various grooves and harmonic devices! More seriously though, this classic reharmonization technique has in fact been used since the bebop era. Take a jazz standard like “Au Privave” for example: it is a perfect illustration of how Charlie Parker departs from a simple F blues progression to get to a tonal 12-bar form in the key of F major, complete with II-Vs, secondary dominants, and modal interchange.

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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)!


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.


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

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