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.

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.

United (1981)

This album was recorded with Woody’s working band of the period, and features Steve Turre (tbn), Mulgrew Miller (pno), Stafford James (bs) and Tony Reedus (dr). This was Woody’s second working quintet and was formed in late 1980, disbanding in July 1983. Gary Bartz also guests on alto for two tunes, What Is This Thing Called Love and Blues For Wood.

This album has been seen as heralding a more straight ahead approach for the new quintet. Woody is definitely the star of the show, with far more solo space than anyone else, but his playing is always strong and full of ideas. The pentatonic approach is less evident on this recording than in some previous recordings. One aspect of Woody’s playing noticable on this album is an increased use of incredibly fast scalic runs, a device often used by Freddie Hubbard. Two of Woody’s compositions on this album are based on other tunes – The Green Street Caper is based on the chords to On Green Dolphin Street, while the chords to Blues For Wood are similar to those in Mingus’ Nostalgia In Times Square. Mulgrew Miller’s tune Pressing The Issue is probably the tune most linked to what Woody had been doing in the 1970s, featuring strange harmonies and wierd chord changes for the soloists to explore, and Woody solos brilliantly on this tune. It also features the juxtaposition of swing and latin feels found in many tunes on Woody’s albums up to this point. Whilst this album could in some ways be seen as a backward step in Woody’s forward thinking approach, the playing on the album is very strong throughout and the players manage to keep up a stream of fresh ideas despite revisiting some tunes and chord changes from the past.


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 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.