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!

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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.