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!

Horace Silver – The Cape Verdean Blues (1965)

In the years 1965-66 Woody was a member of the Horace Silver Quintet, and this was his first recording with the group. The other members of the band at this time were Joe Henderson on tenor sax, Bob Cranshaw on bass, Roger Humphries on drums, and of course Horace Silver on piano. J J Johnson also guests on trombone for three numbers. This album was recorded only a month before Woody and Joe Henderson played on Larry Young’s Unity, and the music is far more straight-ahead. Woody proves himself to be a fine hard bop trumpet player – just as on Eric Dolphy’s Iron Man he sounds at times like Lee Morgan and at others like Freddie Hubbard. However, most of his solos contain relatively conventional changes playing. His playing is often bluesy too, especially on the slower numbers. The only tune on which he explores more adventurous harmonic territory is the second tune, The African Queen.

I think that at this time Woody was pursuing various experimental ideas about harmony and improvisation (as shown by his playing on Unity a month later), but he felt the Horace Silver Quintet was not the place to try out these ideas. For one thing, Silver would have been 37 in 1965, 16 years older than Woody, and had already established himself as a big name in the jazz world. Whereas Woody, a young 21 year old, was still finding his way as a musician, and will have wanted to play in a style fitting with that of his band leader, saving his experimental ideas for sessions with more forward thinking musicians such as Larry Young.

Larry Young – Unity (1965)

Joe Henderson and Elvin Jones appear alongside Woody and Larry Young on this album, in many ways a breakthrough album for Woody. He was only 20 years old at the time, and three of his original tunes are featured on the album – Zoltan, The Moontrane and Beyond All Limits. Although Woody’s playing is not as fluid as it would be in a few years time, and his time feel is sometimes not spot on (especially on the up tempo numbers), overall his contribution to the album is very impressive. He is definitely beginning to find his own voice on the trumpet, and has clearly been checking out his pentatonic scales, as well as ways of playing ‘outside’ the harmony. A similar approach can be heard in the organ playing of Larry Young – like Woody, he was from Newark, New Jersey, and the two of them had played together for several years. Woody has attributed much of his harmonic knowledge to Larry Young in an interview with the now defunct ‘Musician’ magazine.

The first track is a composition by Woody entitled Zoltan and features a march theme by the Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodaly which utilises the pentatonic scale. The second theme is also composed entirely out of pentatonic scales. Woody uses the pentatonic of the II over a I chord, creating a lydian sound. The other compositions by Woody are The Moontrane, a tribute to John Coltrane, and Beyond All Limits, an incredibly fast swing number. Both are difficult tunes to play with lots of complicated chord changes and reflect the ambition of the young trumpet player. Woody’s best solo on the album, however, comes on the Joe Henderson tune If. This is a blues in F (concert), and the medium tempo and familiar structure means that Woody is free to explore his new method of using pentatonic scales to play ‘outside’ the standard chord changes. Woody’s sound on this album is still very similar to Freddie Hubbard, but he has now moved into new harmonic realms unexplored by the older trumpet player.

Rosewood (1977)

Rosewood is the first Woody Shaw album I ever heard and it is a fantastic record, fully deserving the award of Best Jazz Album of 1978 in the Down Beat reader’s poll. The album is built around the quintet of Woody Shaw (tpt), Joe Henderson or Carter Jefferson (tnr), Onaje Allan Gumbs (pno), Clint Houston (bs) and Victor Lewis (dr) – however, on most tracks these musicians are augmented by a “concert ensemble” including flutes, saxes, trombone, percussion and harp.

Woody composed most of the tunes, with the sidemen Victor Lewis, Onaje Alan Gumbs and Clint Houston submitting a tune each. Most of the tunes on the album are up-tempo with a latin or samba feel to them, and the pulsating, energetic latin grooves provide the perfect canvas for Woody to showcase his masterful use of pentatonic scales to alternate between “inside” and “outside” playing. This is the case both on tunes with fast moving chord sequences, such as Rosewood, and on more modal tunes such as The Legend of the Cheops and Isabel, the Liberator. Rahsaan’s Run is the most straight-ahead number on the album, an extremely fast blues based on sus chords in the manner of Miles Davis’s Eighty One. Another Davis influence is evident on the introduction to Sunflowers which sounds incredibly similar to the introduction to In A Silent Way, the second tune on Miles’s 1969 album of the same name.

Woody is in incredible form on this recording, and there is much I can learn from his playing. His time and articulation are impeccable, even though most of the tunes are played at seriously fast tempos. His explorations of “outside” harmony are measured and confident, and his resolutions are often exquisite. This is definitely a record made by a musician at the top of his game. I have transcribed Woody’s solo from Rosewood and will hopefully post it on this blog soon complete with analysis. Then I will move on to transcribing some of the other solos as there is much for me to learn from this album.