Pentatonic Ideas

One of the things I have found intriguing about Woody’s use of pentatonics is the way he combines different pentatonic scales together in various rhythmic groupings. There has been much written about how pentatonic scales can be used over certain chords (for example, see Jerry Bergonzi’s Pentatonics book) – however, I have recently been thinking about situations where two pentatonic scales a certain interval apart could be used.

  1. Pentatonic scales a semitone apart – This is a classic device of ‘side-stepping’, creating tension by slipping out of key with the underlying harmony before resolving back in the home key. Woody uses this idea frequently – for example, see his solo on If where the entire solo is built around the juxtaposition of the ‘inside’ B flat pentatonic scale and the ‘outside’ B pentatonic scale. Pentatonic scales a semitone apart can also be used over a V-I resolution creating a tritone substitution – for example, a D flat pentatonic can be played over a G7 chord resolving to either a C or D pentatonic over the Cmaj7 chord.
  2. Pentatonic scales a major 2nd apart – These can be played over a maj7 #11 chord, the two pentatonic scales combined actually create a lydian mode (for example, C and D pentatonic scales create C lydian mode).
  3. Pentatonic scales a minor 3rd apart – These can be used over a dominant 7th flat 9 chord – for example, the linking of C and E flat pentatonics will include all the notes of the C mixolydian mode plus an Eflat (the flat 9). The four pentatonic scales coming from the same diminished axis (eg. C, Eflat, F# and A) can also be combined together in the same way the four triads from a diminished scale can be combined over a dominant chord. Finally, switching between pentatonic scales a minor 3rd apart can be a way of playing outside, superimposing a fresh set of chords.
  4. Pentatonic scales a major 3rd apart – It was Woody’s linking of the E flat and B pentatonic scales in tunes such as What Is This Thing Called Love and Rosewood that got me thinking about how various pentatonics can be linked together. In both cases, he uses scales a major 3rd apart to leap outside the changes, possibly influenced by the Giant Steps changes of John Coltrane. He also uses common tones to link the two scales together – for example, the major 3rd of the C pentatonic becomes the root note of the E pentatonic a major 3rd up. The idea can be extended to include all pentatonic scales on the same augmented axis (eg. C, E and G#).
  5. Pentatonic scales a perfect 4th apart – Woody also uses this idea frequently as these two pentatonics combined create a very strong dominant – tonic effect, strongly outlining a tonality. Sometimes this outlined tonality fits with the underlying harmony, sometimes it doesn’t.
  6. Pentatonic scales an augmented 4th apart – These can be combined over a dominant chord, alternating between a simple, unaltered dominant sound and a heavily altered tritone substitution sound.

This covers all possible combinations as pentatonic scales a perfect 5th apart have already been covered talking about those a perfect 4th apart, those a major 6th apart by those a major 3rd apart and so on. All of these combinations have their uses, and I have been practicing the ability to link scales together at will and in a variety of rhythmic groupings as Woody did. I do, however, still have a lot of work to do to get these down.

Song of Songs (1972)

This album was Woody’s follow up to Blackstone Legacy, and features Emanuel Boyd on flute and tenor sax, Ramon Morris and Bennie Maupin on tenor saxes, George Cables on piano and keyboards, Henry Franklin on bass and Woodrow Theus II on drums. All four tunes on the album are composed by Woody, and he is beginning to develop his own compositional voice. The music is generally pretty avant garde and reveals the influence of several key musicians.

The influence of John Coltrane can be heard in the extended sections of collective, free improvisation over drones, especially in the first tune, Song of Songs, and the last tune, The Awakening. This tune also morphs into a funk groove which sounds very similar to the type of music being made by Miles Davis during this period. The Goat And The Archer, the second tune on the album is loosely based on a blues structure in F concert, although the actual chords being played are constantly changed by the musicians in a manner reminiscent of the tune If from the album Unity (see post below). The third tune, Love: For The One You Can’t Have is a beautiful tune which fits in neatly with the evolution of Woody’s compositional technique. I need to transcribe this tune, as well as others, to try and see what principles he used and developed when composing.

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.