May 23, 2015: Sam Leak

Many thanks to Sam Leak for coming an interesting session in which we covered:

C Jam Blues” by Duke Ellington
Pennies from Heaven” by Arthur Johnston

To start the session, we played through “C Jam Blues” and had a chorus or two of improvisations each so that Sam could gauge our ability. In order to determine whether we improvised with our voices in a similar fashion to that with our instruments a few brave volunteers stepped forward to do a bit of scat; apparently there was a good correlation. Certainly for me as I didn’t sing at all.

One of the main topics of the session was ear-training. Sam handed out some paper and then after informing us that the key was C, played Pennies from Heaven from a recording and asked us to notate the chords. I’m not sure how many of us managed that, but it certainly showed me that I need to do some work in the ears department.

Continuing from there, Sam played each note of the C major scale and indicates the image he has of it, e.g. F is “proud”. With that in mind, he played some short phrases to each of the co-op members in turn to repeat back. Ramping up the difficulty, he played a track with some long tones diatonic to C major and got us all to play the note only once we were sure what it was. Well, that’s certainly a skill worth honing.

A discussion on the structure of standards followed with a chord sequence being generated using standard rules of form and ii-V progressions taken from a list of ii-V-I/i’s generated from the harmonised C major scale, e.g Dm G7 Cmaj, Em A7 Dm, Fm Bb7 Em etc. Using a standard form (ABAC) and suggestions from the members we ended up with a chord sequence that had many non-diatonic chords in it, but because they were all essentially ii-V’s resolving to a diatonic harmonised chord, the whole tune could be considered to be in C still and improvisations could get away with being diatonic too.

With that in mind, another attempt at transcribing the chord sequence for Pennies for Heaven was undertaken.

Many thanks to Sam for an educational session.


May 16, 2015: Martin Hathaway

Many thanks to Martin Hathaway for a session in which we covered

“Three to Get Ready” by Dave Brubeck

Martin is amongst the many tutors that emphasise the importance of not having your head in a lead sheet or squinting at your mobile phone when playing a tune so we put away our music stands and listened to Dave Brubeck bashing out “Three to Get Ready” followed by a chorus or two of Paul Desmond’s improvisation to get the feel for the tune.

It’s a tricky tune with the melody firstly being stated in 3/4 and then restated in sequences two bars of 3/4 followed by two bars 4/4. Following the “if you can’t sing it, you can’t play it” maxim, we learnt to sing the tune. Then having been taught the chord sequence, we tried playing it with our instruments. We all managed to do that fairly well.

The co-op members were then let go on some improvisation; the tune is largely diatonic so we could get away with just sticking to the C Major scale if you had to.

Martin discussed the importance feeling the “rhythmic key” of the piece, i.e. the “clave” and then using that as a cornerstone of the improvisations; feeling the rhythmic key” is much more useful than desperately trying to count through the piece

Using the “rhythmic key” idea and playing simply but with the use of the underlying rhythm in certain sections of the improvisations, they became a lot more coherent and grounded in the piece when the co-op members had another go.

The co-op members paired up for duets (with backing) improvising on alternate sections of the tune.

Thanks again to the always entertaining Martin Hathaway for a rhythmic session.


March 14, 2015: Matthew Roberts

Many thanks to Matthew Roberts who shepherded us through a session in which we covered:

“Functional” by Thelonious Monk
“Stealin’ Trash” by Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis

“Functional” is a Bb blues on which Matthew got us to improvise use solely the Bb blues scale so that we could focus on nailing the timing.

We talked about the transition to the IV chord at the end of bar four and how to use tension to highlight this change. Referencing an excellent work sheet that he had furnished us with, he discussed and showed on the piano on how a dominant 7 could have more and more alterations on it, making it increasingly dissonant. Along with each of these alterations is an associated scale/mode that can be applied.

Rather than attempting to learn all these scales, Matthew recommended that instead we learn what each alteration sounds like and to which note on the I that it resolves to. To this end, the second part of the supplied worksheets contained a number of ii-V-I licks, each of which showed a different alteration and its resolution.

Having learnt the first lick incorporating a b9, we all then had another go at Functional with each person taking a solo and then everyone applying the lick whenever it could. His advice on how to really learn a lick is to be able to play it and then to go to a tune and apply it whenever it can be applied until it becomes natural.

“Stealin’ Trash” is Eb Rhythm Changes. After playing through this, we applied the same lick to all the ii-V and anything ii or V-ish in the tune.

We learned that the theme to “University Challenge” is rhythm changes.

Many thanks to Matthew for a highly educational session.

March 7, 2015: James Brady

Many thanks to trumpet master and educator James Brady for an enjoyable session in which we covered:

“Up Jumped Spring” by Freddie Hubbard
“From Gagarin’s Point of View” by Esborn Svensson

Starting with a bit of a warm up using some scalar patterns, James showed how even those could be made to sound more interesting by varying the rhythms and even just by starting the phrase from a different point in the bar.

A run through “Up Jumped Spring” (a waltz) turns out to be quite a challenging composition. A particular sequence of alternating 3/4 bars of Dm to Ebm was looped for further investigation. Focusing phrases heavily on the 3rd and b7th of the two chords was a particularly successful approach. Ignoring the Ebm and continuing to play Dm was a bit more of a challenging listen, but if you glared at the audience whilst doing it, you could get away with it. Or you were Michael Brecker.

This brought us on to guide tones where James presented us with an interesting analysis of the tune on two staves, one with the guide tones and the other with the notes that changed between the chords. That was particularly interesting as blank bars showed that nothing changes whereas dense bars showed a lot of change. The co-op had another go at the tune, this time focussing on the guide tones which in general/theory results in a more coherent improvisation.

“From Gagarin’s Point of View” is a sparse composition which because of the lack of harmonic motion is suitable to have other harmonic ideas superimposed on it. In particular dissonance to create a lot of tension by playing ideas a semitone away from where you might expect them to be. James discussed a few ideas, and the groups had a go too. Great ideas in small portions, but I couldn’t eat a whole one.

Thanks again to James for an interesting session.

James Brady at the Cambridge Jazz Co-op
James Brady at the Cambridge Jazz Co-op