Chord-Tone Practice

In an earlier blog I noted the potential un-musicality of the popular chord–scale approach to jazz improvising. But there is an additional issue about this approach: i.e. the need to build skills from firm foundations, which this quote from Berklee makes clear:

‘… for beginner and intermediate-level players, the chord-scale approach has a potential downside. Many students begin studying chord scales early in their musical education and attempt to apply the knowledge acquired immediately on their instruments. Unfortunately, this often happens too soon in the student’s development as an improviser–before he or she has learned how to shape an appealing improvised melody by ear on a chord or chord progression using only, or mainly, chord tones.’ source

As a precursor (and possible antidote) to chord-scale theory, try improvising on chord tones instead, then incorporate this approach into your improvisations, as many great players do. Here’s an initial exercise to try:

Chord tone practice 01


Black Jazz & Freemasonry

Here’s a different take on Freemasonry. Can’t say I’m comfortable with it, but these articles remind us that there were times, places and circumstances in which Masonic Lodges played a less suspicious role in society.

Guardian article

Disinfo article

Nevertheless …

No Rights to The Rite

David Patrick’s brilliant adaptation of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring is no longer available, and the associated tour cancelled, following the threat of a bankrupting lawsuit by UK publishers Boosey & Hawkes. The Amazon CD review reads:

This stunning reworking for jazz octet of Igor Stravinsky’s masterwork retains all of the themes and most of the exquisite orchestration of the original composition. Improvisational sections appear organically out of Stravinsky’s score, allowing band members to be featured as individual soloists as the piece unfolds. Newspaper critics have described live performances of The Rite as “a triumph” and “a brash and brilliant homage”. With personnel drawn from Scotland, England and Germany, this international group is a world-class ensemble, completely at ease with each other and this incredibly complex music. David Patrick’s stylish contemporary piano playing has always worked hand in hand with his arranging and composition skills, whether writing for the dark contemporary edge of The Scottish Jazz Composers’ Orchestra, the smooth swing-feel of singers such as Todd Gordon, Carol Kidd and Jacqui Dankworth, or the avant-garde German cabaret performances of Kurt Weill obsessive singer-actor Bremner Duthie. The Times of London described Patrick’s arrangements as “exquisitely crafted throughout” and the BBC reported that “his virtuosity at the keyboard is matched only by his skills as an arranger and composer of the highest calibre”.

Ironic, given Stravinsky’s boast that mature composers steal (itself not an original assertion). See links below.

That bassoon opening

Stravinsky borrowings

Fortunately, I downloaded David Patrick’s album before the take-down.

Maybe jazz enthusiasts should boycott B&H.

Modes #2

Here’s another exercise on the common jazz modes, this time those using one b

Modes using one b

However, remember that the key signatures of modal music should refer to the appropriate major or minor scale, in order to establish the tonic: e.g.

F major = b
C mixolydian = C major (i.e. no flats or sharps) but with accidentals changing B to Bb
D minor = b
D dorian = b but with accidentals changing Bb to B


Modes #1

Modes #1

Here’s an exercise on the common jazz modes using one #

Modes using one #

However, remember that the key signatures of modal music should refer to the appropriate major or minor scale, in order to establish the tonic: e.g.

G major = #
D major = ##
D mixolydian = ## but with accidentals changing C# to C
E minor = #
E dorian = # but with accidentals changing C to C#


Modes #2

Jazz and Literature #1

Sidney Bechet is said to have been a model for the character of saxophonist and bandleader Pablo, in Hermann Hesse’s novel Steppenwolf (1927).

And as he spoke and conjured up a cigarette from his waistcoat pocket and offered it to me, he was suddenly Mozart no longer. It was my friend Pablo looking warmly at me out of his dark exotic eyes and as like the man who had taught me to play chess with the little figures as a twin.
“Pablo!” I cried with a convulsive start. “Pablo, where are we?”
“We are in my Magic Theater,” he said with a smile […]

He gave us each a little opium to smoke, and sitting motionless with open eyes we all three lived through the scenes that he suggested to us while Maria trembled with delight. As I felt a little unwell after this, Pablo laid me on the bed and gave me some drops, and while I lay with closed eyes I felt the fleeting breath of a kiss on each eyelid. I took the kiss as though I believed it came from Maria, but I knew very well it came from him.

Bechet appeared in the German film Einbrecher (1930), which perhaps echoes some of Hesse’s vision of jazz clubs of the period.

Einbrecher clip

Pablo 1
Hot Music, Ragmentation, and the Bluing of American Literature, by Steven Tracy

Joe Harriott

I heard Joe Harriott play alongside Amancio D’Silva around 1970, in the unlikely setting of Worthing’s then new bowling alley, and not long before Harriott’s untimely and destitute death. A great player, with soul, imagination and integrity.

Having recently bought Tony Kofi’s Selmer Super Balanced Action alto sax (1950 vintage), I’m delighted to hear from Brighton’s legend of sax renovation, Rupert Noble, that Joe Harriott is playing the same model in these photos: ‘how i know?? non linked Bflat table key and that it has detachable bell (unlike a balanced action which looks similar at a glance)…’

The mouthpiece is a Brilhart Tonalin.



Hum Dono

Joe Harriott – Jazz File Documentary

Birth: Jul. 15, 1928
Kingston, Jamaica
Death: 1973
Hampshire, England
Jazz Musician. Born Joseph Arthurlin Harriott.
Bitterne, Holy Saviour Churchyard
Southampton Unitary Authority
Hampshire, England

Joe Harriott’s epitath
Parker? There’s them over here can play a few aces too.

Unsung jazz hero remembered


Joe Harriott: Fire in His Soul
by Alan Robertson

Joe Harriott: Sketches from Life
by Stella Muirhead