Two Hot 7 Transcriptions

I have transcribed Louis Armstrong’s playing on two Hot 7 recordings from May 1927 – ‘Wild Man Blues’, and ‘Potato Head Blues’.

Louis Armstrong – Wild Man Blues

Louis Armstrong – Potato Head Blues

I have transcribed Louis’ playing on the whole recording of each of these as it is also interesting to see what he plays in the ensemble passages. The other musicians on both recordings are Johnny Dodds (clt), John Thomas (tbn), Lil Armstrong (pno), Johnny St Cyr (gtr/bjo), Pete Briggs (tba) and Baby Dodds (dr). The addition of a tuba playing the bass line (generally on beats 1 and 3) really adds something to the ensemble, while Baby Dodds on drums doesn’t really add much except for the classic cymbal hit on beat 4 of the last bar. However, these two recordings are all about Louis, his virtuosity shining through and dominating in both tunes.

‘Wild Man Blues’ opens with a brief 8 bar ensemble passage, before Louis takes over with his solo. Throughout the solo (and Johnny Dodds’ clarinet solo after) the rhythm section play accompanying chords for two bars and then drop out leaving the soloist on their own for two bars. Louis switches seamlessly between a bluesy triplet feel and a faster double time feel (represented by the semiquavers in the transcription), gliding through different registers with ease. Despite the title, the form is not a 12 bar blues, but much of Louis’ playing has a bluesy sound to it (for example, the use of the ‘blue note’ C# in bars 14 and 26). Following Dodds’ clarinet solo an even briefer 4 bar ensemble passage ends the piece.

‘Potato Head Blues’ is also not a 12 bar blues and has a classic Dixieland feel to it. The opening melody is performed by Louis with the clarinet and trombone improvising counter melodies, up to bar 31 where a 2 bar trumpet break leads to a restrained and melodic 16 bar solo from Louis over a new set of chord changes. Dodds then solos over the chords of the initial 32 bar section, before a 4 bar banjo break sets up an explosive solo from Louis over stop time rhythmic accompaniment – this time, a chord played on the first beat of every other bar. This solo is regarded as a classic, and rightly so – Louis plays some beautifully melodic phrases coupled with exciting rhythmic ideas and complete control over his instrument. Then after 32 bars the rest of the ensemble steam in again and Louis powerfully leads everyone home in the final 16 bar section.

A note about the chord symbols in the transcriptions – I have tried to write the actual chords played on the recordings as accurately as possible, although in some cases there is some ambiguity when, for example, different musicians play different chords (for example, bar 25 of ‘Potato Head Blues’ where Louis outlines a concert G7 chord the note played by the tuba is a B flat). The chord symbols are approximations of what I think I hear going on which is why they might differ from chorus to chorus. One place I had a real problem was bar 126 where there doesn’t really seem to be a consensus amongst the musicians as to what chord they are playing – in the corresponding bar of the first section it sounds like a concert E7 chord so I have put this again in brackets.

I am starting to get an idea of some of the key elements of Louis’ playing. Here is a preliminary list (I will be going into more detail in future):

  • SOUND – what an incredible sound, and an absolutely ridiculous vibrato! I personally can’t get a vibrato anywhere near that, but it is coming along….
  • Rhythm – Louis generates rhythmic interest and propulsion from the juxtaposition of short and long notes, as well as syncopation. His short notes are very short, and the long notes often tinged with vibrato (something Woody Shaw also often does).
  • Generally higher use of arpeggios rather than scalic ideas
  • Common use of rips up to high notes


Louis Armstrong

I have thinking for a while now that I really need to check out some of the older players in the jazz lineage, and where better to start than with Louis Armstrong, the father of jazz trumpet and probably the key innovator from the early days of jazz. In particular I have been listening to the recordings he made with his Hot Five and Hot Seven bands between 1925 and 1928 – these were the first Armstong made as leader, and are recognised as being the first recordings where individual improvisation and virtuosity are brought to the fore. I have transcribed two of Armstrong’s solos on Hot 5 recordings – ‘Big Butter and Egg Man from the West’ (recorded November 16 1926) and ‘Struttin’ With Some Barbeque’ (recorded December 9 1927).

‘Big Butter and Egg Man from the West’ was Louis’s first vocal recording, and was also his first chart hit in April 1927. The recording features the other members of the original Hot 5 line up – Johnny Dodds (clt), Kid Ory (tbn), Lil Armstrong (pno), and Johnny St Cyr (gtr/bjo) – and also the wailing guest vocals of May Alex. Louis’s solo still shows similarity to the melody in some places, but over a simple accompaniment of piano and banjo chords pounding on every beat his solo is extremely melodic and masterful in its simplicity.

Louis Armstrong – Big Butter and Egg Man

In ‘Struttin’ With Some Barbeque’, Louis solos over a stop time feel where the rhythm section play chords only on beats 2 and 4. However, the intensity and forward drive he generates is amazing – I know from personal experience how difficult it is to keep rhythmic momentum going in stripped down situations like this. This is a more virtuosic solo – Louis plays with a wider range than his solo in ‘Big Butter and Egg Man’, and in bar 15 he nails a highly tricky triplet break. The band on this recording are the same Hot 5 members mentioned above (minus May Alex).

Louis Armstrong – Struttin’ With Some Barbeque

There is much more to be said about these solos – however, I am going to wait until I have transcribed a few more of Louis’s solos until I try to comment on things such as his style and development.

New Year

Wow, it’s been a while since my last post……… I graduated from college last June, and since then I have been pretty busy and not really had the time or inclination to do any more transcriptions or analyses. But now the new year has arrived, I have to decided to focus once again on this blog, and also to expand the scope to transcriptions of other musicians (not that I am finished with Woody Shaw, he remains one of my favourite players and I am looking to transcribe some more of his solos soon). One trumpet player I have wanted to study in more detail is Louis Armstrong, and I have been working on several transcriptions which will be posted soon.

In case anyone is interested, here is the project I submitted for my course (it is heavily based on ideas from this blog). The project was marked my the saxophonists Martin Speake and Mark Lockheart, and I was very pleased to receive a mark of 75% for it.


In Case You Haven’t Heard Transcription

Woody Shaw – In Case You Haven’t Heard

Here is a transcription of Woody’s solo on In Case You Haven’t Heard taken from the 1976 album Little Red’s Fantasy.The chord sequence consists of 4 lydian chords a minor 3rd apart with 8 bars spent on each chord. For the first chorus of his solo, Woody trades 8s with the drums, then 4s for the second chorus before soloing continuously for the final two choruses.

One interesting device Woody uses frequently is the use of the minor third over a lydian chord – for example, see bars 6, 20, 52 and 77. The sound he creates sounds in some cases more like a dominant flat9 chord based on the note a semitone lower than the root (for example, F#7 flat9 instead of G lydian). It is probable that the musicians discussed beforehand ideas to try out as when Woody starts playing notes outside the lydian scale the pianist, Ronnie Matthews, supports him with chords outside the lydian scale.

Woody also uses some more familiar pentatonic language, often using the II pentatonic scale (eg. E flat pentatonic over D flat maj7#11 at bar 1). He also uses pentatonic material to venture ‘outside’ the harmony – for example, at bars 116-119 he moves swiftly between G flat pentatonic to C pentatonic, then to B pentatonic and ends with E flat pentatonic. This is a very effective passage and shows the excitement that can be generated by a musician skillfully linking together different pentatonic scales.

The Legend of Cheops and Rosewood Transcriptions

Woody Shaw – Rosewood

Here are two transcriptions from the 1979 album Rosewood. Both tunes have long forms with several different sections, and Woody only takes one chorus on each tune. The Legend of Cheops is by Victor Lewis and for the most part has a samba feel to it. The opening section is in concert A, or B major for the trumpet – this is a very difficult key to play in but Woody copes with ease. In fact, the B pentatonic scale appears to be one of Woody’s favourites and he uses it in several of the solos I have transcribed (for example: If, What Is This Thing Called Love and Zoltan). He also spices things up a bit by inserting C naturals (eg. bar 16) and G naturals (eg. bar 18). Woody’s playing in this opening section is a mixture of strongly diatonic, pentatonic material and chromatic scales.

From bar 41, the start of the next section,  Woody does not venture outside the changes for the rest of the solo. Instead, he concentrates on constructing smoothly flowing, melodic lines, often using pentatonic scales but using them in an inside manner – for example, the I pentatonic over a I chord (as heard in the first 40 bars) can be heard at bars 41, 65 and 86, and the II pentatonic over the I chord can be heard at bars 57 and 85. Woody uses the pentatonic scales in an extremely melodic way. His time feel is, as usual, spot on, and I should make a special note of the phrase he plays between bars 52 and 56. This is an exquisite phrase and shows his complete mastery of articulation, as well as the ability to navigate wide intervallic leaps at speed with ease.

The tempo on Rosewood, this one of Woody’s compositions, is again very fast, and his articulation and speed of fingers is astounding, particularly on the semiquaver passages. A fast tongue is essential to playing the wider intervallic leaps employed by Woody, and Woody has developed his tonguing ability to outstanding levels. I am not sure if he is maybe using double tonguing – however, this would also be incredible as double tonguing large intervals is extremely hard.

As with The Legend of Cheops, much of the material is based on pentatonic scales. He uses pentatonics in some of the standard usages – for example, I pentatonic over a I chord (bar 4), V pentatonic over a I chord (bar 8), II pentatonic over a I chord (bar 13), and IV pentatonic over a sus chord (bar 25). But he also uses pentatonics as a means of playing outside. In bars 38-40 he uses chromaticism to switch from C pentatonic down to B pentatonic, then down again to B flat pentatonic, resolving with and F and G over the D-7 chord at the start of bar 40. Then over the Aflat maj7 chord in the next bar, he sets up to play a phrase using the E flat pentatonic scale, only to again use chromaticism to switch to B pentatonic, implying A flat minor – however, he still manges to ensure he resolves correctly with a C natural for the A-7 chord in bar 42. Bar 53 is also interesting – here he starts off playing using the B pentatonic scale, switching up a semitone to C pentatonic on the 4th beat, only for this new scale to become an inside sound as the chord moves to D-7 at the start of bar 54. This is another example of the anticipation of a change of chord, seen already on several other occasions in other solos I have transcribed. Bars 62 to the end are also very effective – here Woody plays almost exclusively notes from the E flat pentatonic scale over shifting chords. The scale is consonant with each chord except for the passing chord of A7sus, and creates a stable frame of reference on top of the shifting harmonies underneath.

Things for me to work on:

  • melodic use of pentatonic scales, using simple applications such as the I pentatonic scale over a I chord
  • mixing strongly diatonic material with chromatic lines
  • faster tongue and finger speed, and an improved time feel (maybe experiment with double tonguing fast passages)
  • shifting between pentatonic scales a semitone apart through the use of chromatic material
  • chord change anticipation
  • use of one consonant pentatonic scale over shifting harmonies

NOTE: Due to a complaint from Victor Lewis, the composer of ‘The Legend of Cheops’, I have removed the transcription of Woody’s solo on this tune.


I had a really great tutorial with Martin Speake yesterday in which we looked in depth at Woody’s tune Zoltan from the Unity album. I had been having trouble working out the chords for the middle 8, but with Martin’s help I have managed to work them out. Here is a lead sheet for the tune:


The tune opens with a march like theme taken from Zoltan Kodaly’s Hary Janos suite. This theme is a prime example of the lydian sound heard when the pentatonic scale based on the II is played over the I bass note – in this case, D pentatonic over C. The second theme of the tune, marked A on the lead sheet, switches to a latin feel but is harmonically similar, switching between a D pentatonic scale over C to a C pentatonic scale over B flat. This tune is in AABA form, and the solos are over this form. The B section is also comprised of lydian chords which appear fairly straight forward in the head – however, I was later confused by what Woody was playing in his solo. Here is a transcription of the solo:

Woody Shaw – Zoltan

(Warning: this solo is at B flat trumpet pitch, ie. one tone higher than it sounds)

What confused me was the fact that Woody was clearly playing phrases using bebop language outlining the chord of Eflat7 (concert) where I had reckoned the chord to be Gflat maj7#11 – see bars 17 and 49. However, Martin helped me to realise that the chord is still Gflat maj7#11, Woody is just superimposing fresh harmony on it. Here is an example of Woody using bebop language in the ‘wrong’ key to create a fresh sound. Joe Henderson also does this is his solo but in a more ‘inside’ manner – if you listen around 3’38 on the track he can be heard playing F7 bebop language over the chord Eflat maj7#11. Martin and I then proceeded to try out this idea on all of the lydian chords in the tune – firstly, Joe Henderson’s inside way using the bebop scale starting a tone above the root note (Woody also uses this idea – see bars 13 and 37), and then Woody’s more dissonant way using the bebop scale starting a minor third below the root note. In both cases, familiar bebop language is used in a different context to how it is normally used.

Woody does a few other interesting things on this tune. He consistently uses the A pentatonic scale over the Cmaj7#11 chord – this scale mostly fits but there is a clash between the C in the bass and the C# in the scale. In fact, the only time he uses the conventional approach to lydian chords seen in the head – using the pentatonic scale based on the note a tone above the root – is at bar 81 where he plays Aflat pentatonic over Gflat maj7#11 (concert pitches). This solo shows that Woody was not content to use the conventional pentatonic approach, he wanted to explore and discover new ways of incorporating dissonance. It also shows his respect for jazz language of the past and a willingness to incorporate it in fresh situations. There is much in this solo for me to explore further.

More Transcriptions

Here are two more transcriptions I have done:

Woody Shaw – You Stepped Out Of A Dream

Woody Shaw – If

You Stepped Out Of A Dream is taken from the 1986 album Solid, and whilst it is not a particularly adventurous solo harmonically, it is still a very impressive solo. Woody’s sound and sense of melody on the solo are fantastic, and his time feel is impeccable. He uses a lot more scalic passages than he did as a younger man, and the big intervallic leaps are becoming less evident. Woody uses several sequences in the solo to great effect – for example, bars 1-4, 15 and 57-58. The use of pentatonic scales is sometimes evident – for example, bars 79-80 – but they are less key to Woody’s approach to improvisation than they were a few years earlier. This is a more mature and more melodic improvisational style, one less focussed on ‘outside’ playing and large intervallic leaps.

Woody’s solo on the Joe Henderson blues If, taken from Larry Young’s Unity album, is a very interesting solo. The chords I have put on the solo are some standard blues changes – however, neither Woody nor Larry Young stick to a distinct set of changes, and I have put these in as a reference only. For much of the solo, Woody jumps between two pentatonic scales – B flat major and B major. The B flat pentatonic scale creates an inside, bluesy sound, and can be played over the whole chord sequence without ever really sounding dissonant. The B pentatonic scale is used as a contrast as it doesn’t really fit with any of the underlying harmony. Woody switches between the two scales at will and uses the dissonant B pentatonic scale on all sections of the chord sequence, the only consistent aspect being a consonant resolution at the end of each chorus. I really like the way he varies rhythmically how he links the two scales together, only rarely allowing the change to fall on a barline. This is a novel way of playing on the blues – Woody takes two scales, one consonant and one dissonant, and juxtaposes them to create tension and release. The fruits of such an approach can be seen in his later recordings, and this is a key idea I need to incorporate into my own practice.  This is a truly masterful solo, and Woody was only 20 years old at the time!