Early Jazz Practice

Following on from an earlier blog about typical approaches to melody in early jazz and swing, here are three simple examples, with parts for instruments in C, Bb and Eb. These and other examples to follow are adapted from tunes and solos by W.C Handy, King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Johnny Dodds, George Lewis, Sidney Bechet, Benny Goodman and many others. Always swing the quavers (8th notes) unless otherwise indicated.

We’ll start with the unelaborated arpeggio of a major triad. These ‘bugle calls’ are common.


Adding intervals 6 & 9 (=2) to a major triad is typical, creating the major pentatonic scale. Additions are shown in red.


Adding interval p4 to a major triad was rare at the time, but here it’s used as an auxiliary note in the first beat of bar 3. More typically, 6 and a b3 are added, the latter being a blue note. No more colour-coding: learn to spot the melodic elaborations for yourself. Borrow these approaches for your own improvisations and compositions. Their use goes way beyond early jazz alone.

* Play the quavers straight in the third beat of bar 2.


These examples and many more are available as iBooks with audio backing:

for instruments in C at link
for instruments in Bb at link 
for instruments in Eb at link


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