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.

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.

Transcriptions

Woody Shaw – There Will Never Be Another You

Woody Shaw – What Is This Thing Called Love

Here are the first two transcriptions to go up on my blog, There Will Never Be Another You from the 1986 album Solid, and What Is This Thing Called Love, from the 1981 album United. (The transcriptions are written at B flat pitch, ie one tone higher than they sound)

There Will Never Be Another You is played at a medium tempo and for much of his solo Woody outlines the changes without being too adventurous, concentrating on the melodic line and also his sound. He often uses a sharpened 4th to create a lydian sound, especially on Fma7 chords and the G7 found in the 13th bar of the form. He also makes use of the pentatonic scale based on the tritone of a dominant chord (see bar 49), sometimes combining it with more conventional dominant chord harmony to good effect (for example, bars 9 and 33). The last four bars of each chorus he plays are of great interest. In bar 30, he sets it up with a strong statement in the home key, before seemingly shifting up a semitone and outlining the key of F# major – over the II-V of A-7 – D7, he outlines G#-7 – C#7, a II-V in F#. This then resolves to the G-7 in the underlying harmony, but Woody soon returns to F# major which functions as a tritone substitution over the C7 chord to provide a resolution to the tonic key at bar 34, the start of the second chorus. The four bars at bar 62 are very similar – again, the first bar contains a strong statement in the tonic key before Woody outlines the chord C#7 in the second bar which resolves to an A# on the first beat of bar 64. This can however also be viewed as a B flat, the third of the underlying chord of G-7 , and Woody uses this as a pivot note, linking two harmonies, to return to ‘inside’ playing on the G-7 chord. This does not last long however, and over the next bar or so Woody outlines the tonality of B major, which then resolves to the tonic key of F major once again for the return to the start of the form.

What Is This Thing Called Love is played at a burning tempo, and, propelled in part by Mulgrew Miller’s harmonically ambiguous comping, Woody plays a lot more adventurously and ‘outside’ the harmony. Once again, he often uses the sharpened 4th to create a lydian sound especially over the Dmaj7 chords – on these he also uses the E pentatonic scale (for example, bars 6-7 and 49). In this solo, Woody also shows himself to be a master of more traditional bebop language, particularly towards the start of the solo. This is then developed into more complex pentatonic based language such as that seen in bars 38-41. At this point, Woody links together the pentatonic scales of E flat and B by use of a common tone or pivot note, E flat or D sharp. Neither of these chords fit with the underlying harmony, yet Woody manages to resolve on to a C# for the Dmaj7 chord in bar 41. Bar 71 shows a similar linking of the E flat and B pentatonic scales, as does bar 104. The phrase from bar 121 to 126 is particularly masterful, with Woody combining sequential playing with pentatonic ideas, wide intervallic leaps and chromatic movement all in the same phrase. Another important idea can be seen at bar 56 – here Woody anticipates the A7 chord by two beats. This anticipation of harmony is a device used frequently by Woody, and one I need to look at in more detail.

What points have I taken from these solos to incorporate into my own practice?

  • use of the tritone pentatonic over a V chord and the II pentatonic over a I chord
  • use of a sharpened 4th over tonic chords to create a lydian sound
  • substitution of different II-V’s to create a new sound (this is something I have been discussing with Martin Speake and will be writing more about later)
  • the use of a pivot note contained in two distinct harmonies to link the two together
  • juxtaposition of more traditional bebop language with more complex pentatonic and intervallic lines
  • the linking of pentatonic scales a major 3rd apart as a means to go ‘outside’ the harmony
  • the anticipation of chord changes

What Do I Want To Achieve?

  • Incorporation of the use of the tritone pentatonic over a V chord and the II pentatonic over a I chord
  • Increased use of and control over vibrato
  • An increased range of articulations and inflexions (smears, falls etc)
  • Greater fluency when playing ‘outside’ the harmony, and the ability to resolve at will
  • The ability to anticipate or delay changes in the underlying harmony
  • An exploration of some of the methods Woody uses to play ‘outside’ the harmony – for example, side stepping up or down a semitone, or the use of pentatonic scales a major 3rd apart
  • The ability to be able to play accurately and with even articulation at very fast speeds
  • The ability to combine pentatonic ideas with bebop language and chromaticism

What have I been practicing?

One thing I have been working on is playing pentatonic scale exercises in all keys, trying to get the scales under my fingers. I have been trying to gain fluency in all the various intervals and shapes available within the scales. I have also been working on exercises linking together two pentatonic scales a semitone apart as this relationship can be used in many situations – for example, playing a D flat pentatonic over a G7 chord can resolve to either a C pentatonic on the I chord, or a D pentatonic, creating a lydian sound which Woody uses a lot. Following advice from Martin Speake, I have also begun to insert pentatonics at all points of a chord sequence – mostly on the blues so far but I aim to incorporate this approach playing on standards too.

I have also been transcribing a lot of Woody’s playing, and I have been trying to play his solos along with the records. From these solos I have been picking out areas of interest to work on further – for example, the use the pentatonic based on the II of a I chord to create a lydian sound. Here is a list of the solos I have transcribed so far and the albums they are on:

  • ‘Rosewood’ from Rosewood (1977)
  • ‘There Will Never Be Another You’ and ‘You Stepped Out Of A Dream’ from Solid (1986)
  • ‘What Is This Thing Called Love’ from United (1981)
  • ‘Sashianova’ from Little Red’s Fantasy (1976)

I am also working on a few more transcriptions. My next goal is to transcribe some of Woody’s playing from the 1960s when he was still in his teens and early 20s.

I have also recorded myself playing three tunes with a band – ‘There Will Never Be Another You’, ‘What Is This Thing Called Love’ and ‘In Case You Haven’t Heard’. I hope to post these online soon with transcription and analysis. These recordings should hopefully help me to highlight other areas I need to work on.

Woody’s Style

I have been listening to Woody Shaw a lot recently and I have picked out the following stylistic features of his playing:

  1. Variation of articulation. Woody uses a wide range of articulation to punctuate phrases and create interest, ranging from flowing legatos to spiky staccatos.
  2. Inflexions. Smears and falls are used to obscure the beginnings and ends of notes. He also uses vibrato regularly when landing on important notes of phrases.
  3. Use of the tritone pentatonic scales over dominant chords, and the II pentatonic scale over I chords to create a lydian effect.
  4. “Side slipping”. The art of slipping from one scale or key centre to another a semitone away, and then back again (often this is achieved using pentatonic scales).

Developmental Criteria for Pentatonics

Here are a few stages I have identified on the road to mastering Woody’s approach to pentatonics:

  1. Mastery of each individual pentatonic scale, getting them “under the fingers”. This includes all the available intervals within the scale. To be achieved  by repetition of formulated exercises.
  2. The ability to be able to comfortably improvise on any given pentatonic scale.
  3. Being able to switch between pentatonic scales a certain interval apart (eg. a semitone apart would be C-D flat, a tone would be C-D, etc). To be accomplished at first by playing formulated exercises with regular rhythmic groupings.
  4. After the preceeding exercises have been mastered, switch to irregular rhythmic groupings.
  5. The final goal: the ability to incorporate various pentatonic scales at will whilst improvising, switching between the different scales with ease and utilising a wide range of rhythmic groupings.