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

February 28, 2015: Alex Hutton

Many thanks to amazing pianist Alex Hutton who equipped with his blackboard took us through the dominant seven heavy compositions:

Just in Time” by Jule Styne
Doxy” by Sonny Rollins

Ever with hope in his heart, Alex helps up handle compositions containing sequences of dominant seventh, using a number of techniques

  • Arpeggio/scales
  • Stacked thirds
  • Triad pairs
  • Domininant Bebop scale
  • Pentatonics

The dominant bebop scale (mixolydian with an extra major 7) was shown as a connecting device usually descending and always as a scalar fragment rather than a pick and mix that might be used with other scales.

Pentatonics were a particularly interesting sound reminiscent of McCoy Tyner although (apparently) Alex was showing sixth based ones whereas McCoy would be using sevenths. Suggestions for the pentatonic scales were:

Am6: 1 b2 3 5 7
D7: 1 2 3 5 b7
D7b9: 1 b2 3 5 b7

As with all these things, they sound amazing in the hands of a master, less so in mine. Back to the shed.

February 21, 2015: David Ellingham and Giulio Lampronti

Due to the unfortunate illness of the scheduled tutor, David and Giulio stood in to give us an educational session in which we covered:

“Tenor Madness” by Sonny Rollins
“Whisper Not” by Benny Golson

We started with a headless Bb blues with each of the members took a couple of choruses of improvisation. David and Giulio pointed out that one of the great points of interest in the blues is the movement to the IV7 chord in the fourth bar and at which point all sorts of extra tension can be introduced from a simple ii-V-I7 and its tritone substitution. We tried quite a few of these sequences both with the rhythm section playing the substitutions and without; this showed that if the backing played the substitions as well, the desired tension was much less.

A few tricks in the Bb blues where to play the E triad or Bm triad in the third bar to really emphasise and ramp up the tension without having to use exotic scales. So long as you play with intent and resolve correctly is works well.

Using the new tricks we had a play through Tenor Madness.

After the break we had some fun with Whisper Not.

Many thanks to David and Giulio for stepping in at short notice.