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.

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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.

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.

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.