Sept 5, 2015: Alex Hutton

Many thanks to Alex Hutton for a session in which we covered:

The Shadow of Your Smile” by Johnny Mandel
Groovin’ High” by Dizzy Gillespie

As usual, Alex’s session was packed with nuggets of good tips. See the whiteboard at the end of the post!

The use of E harmonic minor was discussed for use in “Shadow” as it could work over most of the tune. Introducing A- and B triads to create a bit of interest.

The use of patterns over the ii-V as a method of internalising the harmony as well as a spring-board for further improvisations: ii (1, 3, 5, 7) V (3, 2, 1, b7).

Starting the pattern on the third instead of the root to introduce 9ths: ii (3, 5, b7, 9) V (1, b7, 6, 5)

For “Groovin'” mention was made minor 6 pentatonics (1, b3, 4, 5, b7) throughout the tune: EbMaj7 (C- pent), A- D7 (A- pent) and G- C7 (G- pent).

Many thanks to Alex for coming to see us.


June 20, 2015: Roger Beaujolais

Many thanks to vibraphonist Roger Beaujolais for tutoring us in a session in which we covered

Lover Man” by Jimmy Davis
Body and Soul” by Johnny Green

Starting with “Lover Man”, we each took a turn playing the head applying our own interpretation to it. After that a round of improvisation was embarked upon with Roger point out the blues F7-Bb7 section.

Roger attempted to get us to up the tension using altered notes whenever a dominant chord was present.

After the break “Body and Soul” was played through with roger pointing out the use of Tritone substitutions at points in the song.

The importance of knowing your instrument discused, especially your arpeggios. Roger showed that simply by connecting arpeggios a melodic solo could be achieved. That’s a lot of work right there. Decorating arpeggios with a leading semitone below created more interest as did other patterns.

Many thanks to Roger for coming to see us.


June 13, 2015: Tommaso Starace

Many thanks to saxophonist Tommaso Starace for tutoring the session in which we covered:

“Killer Joe” by Benny Golson
“Whisper Not” by Benny Golson

Looping on the first part C7-Bb7 vamp of Killer Joe, Tommaso suggested a few approaches we might use. The one he particularly wanted to used was triad pairs, alternating between C and Bb triads and their inversions – these could be played over either of the vamp chords. We all had a go at this, but (for me) it is definitely something for the woodshed. Tommaso also suggested playing out by alternating the consonant triads with up a semitone triads to good effect.

Other suggestions were the use of the pentatonic scale (C minor) and playing a digital pattern 1-3-5, 2-4-6, 3-5-7 over the changes.

The bridge section was then tackled and we all had a blow over the changes. In a fit of sadism, Tommaso got us to perform a complete chorus with only drums. this is very telling, and shows up (as Tommaso pointed out) any lack of knowledge of the arpeggios.

After the break we played through Whisper Not.

Many thanks to Tommaso for an enlightening session.

June 6, 2015: Brandon Allen

Many thanks to saxophonist Brandon Allen for a session in which we covered:

Mr. P.C.” by John Coltrane
Cherokee” by Ray Noble

Tackling the blues Mr. P.C. first, after a brief demonstration, Brandon discussed the modes to be used over the chords and got us to play through them all, emphasising the importance of knowing your scales etc.

The use of motifs was discussed with Brandon demoing how this is done using relatively simple phrases played with confidence and good rhythm changing them subtly as the chords change beneath them. Great stuff. The co-op members took another run through Mr P.C. using the same technique.

After the break, Cherokee was looped a few bars at a time so that it was possible to get familiar with the chords and their related scales. While not performed at super break-neck speeds, this is still a tricky standard which the co-op managed to perform using this incremental approach.

Many thanks to Brandon for an educational session.

May 30, 2015: Dave Jones

Many thanks to bassist Dave Jones for an educational session in which we covered:

“Here’s that Rainy Day” by Jimmy Van Heusen
“Yes or No” by Wayne Shorter

The main theme for the session was the relationship of the diminished scale to the major scale with regards to the dominant chord. Barry Harris’ 6th diminished scale was also touched upon.

“Here’s that Rainy Day” was taught by ear, first by the roots of the main tonal centres followed by roots of the associated ii-V-I or IV-V-I etc. Finally, we played through the piece attempting to use the diminished scale over the dominants.

As some light relief towards the end of the session, we played through “Yes or No”.

Many thanks to Dave Jones for coming to see us.

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.