More Slonimsky questions...

Q: Carlos,
Hey, can you elaborate more on this idea of "resolving" your harmonic lines? Obviously things like taking the leading tone of a dominant to the tonic make sense to me, but in your last email regarding Slonimsky you said the following....

"Just make sure you resolve them strongly, you'd be amazed what you
can actually get away with and still sound good."

and ..

"Tonal harmony is after all mainly about forward motion, so the lines
found in TSMP offer away to still retain forward motion while playing
outside. It just becomes a matter of being able to resolve these
lines in a logical way...."

A: Charles McPherson has an exercise that he makes his students do. He has them play totally outside over dominants and then land on a strong chord-tone on beat one of the next resolving bar. He says if you resolve on the downbeat with a strong chord tone you can play anything and it will sound like Bebop. This is just about true, even though it does sound quite extreme.

Q: Related question.....do you use diminished stuff freely against dominants resolving to both Major and Minor, or just for dom's resolving to Major? I've heard both suggested....and can you specifically tell me how you resolve a diminished scale, like do you actually try to resolve each dissonance (flat 9, sharp 9, sharp 11....) or just go to the Lydian mode/melodic minor of the tonic and leave it at that?

A: I do use diminished modes when resolving to major or minor chords. To determine what chord-scales are available I only look at the root motion of the chord that the dominant resolves to. If the root motion is going down a fifth (up a fourth) then anything is fair game, no matter what chord quality the resolution is. Yes, there are scale choices that are smoother as far as voice leading when resolving to a minor chord, like a harmonic minor scale from the fourth or and altered dominant scale.

Remember that if the dominant chord is moving down a half-step in root motion you only should play a Lydian dominant (even if the #11 isn't notated) because it is functioning as a tritone!

Berklee teaches that certain tensions are available for each of the secondary dominant chords:

V7/II b9, 9,#9, b13
V7/III b9,#9, b13
V7/IV 9, 13
V7/V b9, 9,#9, 13
V7/VI b9, #9, b13

The most important thing is to watch for root motion! Where do the dominants move to?
Don't worry about resolving individual tensions, this will drive you nuts and slow you down.
Some people would argue with me, remember I consider myself a post-bop player, which to me is like an abstract expressionist painter. The rules are a bit more relaxed and I'm looking to use a more 'painterly technique', I don't want photo-realism in my playing. So what if a few lines bleed over or if some canvas shows? You could follow stricter rules than I do as far as finding scales for chords, but mine keep you out of trouble and I can always break them if they get too constraining.

Q: Also, other than Bird, what specific solos would you prescribe for an intermediate level aspiring improviser on alto to learn by ear and transcribe? How about tenor?

A: I usually get intermediate level students working on Sonny Stitt transcriptions, both alto and tenor. Stitt is very clear rhythmically and he has nice long lines. Early Phil Woods is also a good altoist for transcription, the Phil and Quill records.

Q: And what about more advanced concepts,
are there some specific examples you could point me to for my students that aren't too long or too fast but that would show in detail some specific stuff. Most of the stuff I have them do is Bird and Lester, but you don't get into more far out harmonic stuff with them. Some I've graduated to Dexter, but I'm trying to get them onto some newer material. Cannonball? Who else and what else?......If you could toss out a handful or so that would be great....

A: How about Dick Oatts, Grossman or Rick Margitza for 3-tonic lines, Jerry Bergonzi for use of pentatonics and digital patterns, Kenny Garrett for triads and pentatonics used for outside playing. Try to find examples that are rhythmically straightforward, since complex rhythmic figures are the bane of young transcribers.

Q: Also, the Gary Campbell article is great on the blog, and I've seen the book. I seem to remember it being detailed but mostly covering the triad pairs being practiced up and down in their various inversions. Are there other ways to use these that sound good?

A: Gary does offer many examples of situations for triad pairs in his book. Triad pairs can also be used to play outside. Kenny Garrett does this very well. You can use one triad that fits the chord alternating with a triad that doesn't fit at all, this slips you in and out of tonal harmony.
Triads are so strong that they can supersede any chord progressions. Once you learn to create lines that shift inversions as they move between triads you can then use these lines to navigate outside harmony. Triadic lines are so strong that you can use them over any changes regardless of how they fit over the changes.

Q: Also, I worked with one of my former students who's in the jazz program at USC yesterday, he's now studying with Jason Goldman. Ever heard of this guy? Anyways, my kid was using the bis key for b flats exclusively, so I questioned him about it. He said his teacher told him to do it this way. So, since you do the same, I ask you, is this orthodox technique? I make my students master the side b flat, particularly for chromatic stuff, and then show them how to use the bis for leaps, like g minor or b flat major. Isn't that the way it's generally taught? What did Viola teach?

A: Joe V taught the use of both for different situations. Joe had a very pragmatic approach to technical questions. He always want you to find the most comfortable and smoothest fingerings for any given situation. The less motion, the better. There is usually one fingering that is clearly mechanically and ergonomically superior, just slow things down, watch your fingers and see which fingering feels best.


Anonymous said...

Once you learn to create lines that shift inversions as they move between triads you can then use these lines to navigate outside harmony. Triadic lines are so strong that you can use them over any changes regardless of how they fit over the changes.

can you elaborate (shift inversions as they move between triads) or show some example

i am self taught and this blog stuff is realy helping me to organize a lot data that seamed to be lose ends thankz dave Itchi

David Carlos Valdez said...

I was refering to a triadic exercise
that Garzone teaches. I had it on this blog but George asked me to take it down. He's working on a book, which many of us have been waiting a long time for. George said he would let me know as soon as his book comes out, as soon as it does I'll do a major review of it.

Drop me a line at: casavaldez@comcast.net
I have someting I can send you to explain what I was talking about.

Anonymous said...

Don't dis the bis!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Talking about strong resolutions etc., I always dug Miles Seven Steps to Heaven and listened to it a million times but never learned the tune. When I started to work on it, it took me a long time to memorize the changes. The first time I tried to play it with others, it was way to fast and I kept getting lost. When I went back and listened to the record and followed the chart, I realized that Miles didn’t really sound like he was playing on the changes but just farting around. What makes it work was that he is always making the phrases make sense and hitting the root on the beat every eight bars. When it came to the bridge, BAM, he was right on the chord on the beat. He plays more on the form in time than actually navigating on the changes. Listen to the tenor solo and he is playing on the changes, the phrases and the form. Miles solo is great but I get the feeling that he is just messing around and doesn’t know the changes. I began worrying less about if I was nailing the changes and more about nailing the resolutions in time on each A section and the bridge.

One of the things that was useful to me messing around with Slonimsky, was the way that he organized the scales. Understanding the idea behind developing patterns is the easier part. I never got to where I was learning his patterns in every key but used his methods to create my own patterns. Understanding how he split the octave into symmetrical parts was the key for me to organize either his patterns, or my own.

The way that I think about his symmetrical scales is:
-a two note scale, C-F#
-a three note scale, C-E-G#
-a four note scale, C-Eb-F#-A
-a six note scale, C-D-E-F#-G#-A#

There is so much material to work with, that I never got into splitting more than one octave into parts. As I started to interpolate one interval, then two or three to create symmetrical patterns off of the scale notes, I began to invert the idea, then play it backwards (retrograde), then upside and backwards (retrograde inversion). In every key, bottom of the horn to the top, of course.

The next thing was to think of these scale notes as places of departure and points of arrival. After I made up a motific pattern, I might make the scale notes go up and the pattern I attached to it go up too. Then the scale up and the pattern down, scale down and pattern up, finally scale down and pattern down.

It took me years and years to get this stuff integrated into my soloing. I'm not sure how much I consciously use it. I really have to be stretching to dig this stuff out. I think that the mental exercises involved in organizing intervals and transposing is a great way to train your ear.

As a teenager, I used to sit in a pitch black closet for hours a day and work on all this abstract nonsense. I got used to manufacturing my own lines, being able to make them go up & down, and when I ran out of horn, be able to shift the way that I use the pattern, making the lines turn back on themselves so that they have shape and forward motion. I hope that makes sense.

The next variation for me, was to apply these organizational concepts to Diatonic and Pentatonic scales. At the root of my playing is the blues. Everyday I have the blues. I use what I think of as altered pentatonic scales, as opposed to black note pentatonic. For a C7 chord, C, D, E, G, Bb. Using these notes as my points of departure and places of arrival, I would superimpose the stock little patterns that I learned over the symmetrical scales. They sound a little out, but are more rooted to the tonality of the scale you are using. Variations off the black note pentatonics are rooted more to the minor.

The techniques of organizing scales and patterns has really opend my ears up. I try not to learn others licks or ideas verbatim. If I do, I steal it so that you can’t hear it. I’m still gonna sound like me. After ten or fifteen years of trying to learn all these arcane lines really fast, I can change the shape of the lines, shape of the patterns and change tonalities on the fly. It’s all ground work for being able to listen and hear in time. It’s all just mountains of abstract material, unless you can put it in a context where it functions rhythmically and harmonically. You can’t play outside until you can play inside.

I don’t know why I want to learn all of this complex stuff, except that it sounds cool when it cascades out. It took me many years to realize simply that I could use diatonic seventh chords as four note scales to superimpose patterns over. If I was just beginning to work on putting patterns over the symmetrical scales, I would learn the same patterns over major7, minor7 and half diminished7th chord/scales. All intervals are connected to some tonality but the diatonic seventh chords are more closely related than say a whole tone/six note symmetrical scale.

I still sit in the dark and shed for hours at a time. My main goal now is to try and relax. I don’t know what I’m playing half the time. It could be just two or three notes over and over again. It doesn’t matter just as long as I’m relaxed, and the sound that I hear in my minds ear is coming out.

I have been tripping on sequences for ever. I am always in the process of learning new sequences. I take a pattern, usually a two or four note pattern because they lay down better in time and learn it top to bottom in every key. I’m not sure that I think major, minor or modally any more. I probably did when I was first learning about harmony. I think now, just of key signatures and twelve different fingering patterns on identical sets of intervals. It has taken me from a few weeks to a many years to learn various diatonic sequences. Sometimes, I have to spend many weeks, even months, getting the strength to relax while working the mechanism. When I finally get relaxed the speed is usually there too. I try to be methodical about getting every key signature/finger pattern to feel as relaxed as the next.

For me, diatonic sequences allow me to have solid rhythmical “Inside” material in my compositional arsenal. Whenever I stumble on a new idea for a sequence I write it in my sequence pattern notebook. I have lifetimes of stuff to work out.

When I started trying to sequence symmetrical scales and various interpolated patterns as what I call “Real” sequences (as opposed to Diatonic) I knowed that I was a sick puppy... No, I realized that I’m never going to be able to scratch the surface of learning all this material so that it is internalized and a functional part of my improvisational language. Just the exercise of organizing groups of intervals in every key helps train my ear.

Every now and then I find myself playing something that I never even thought about and would have to practice a month to play again, but man, I played what I heard. When I listen to it come out I wonder where the heck that came from. I think that is where I’m headed. Channeling directly from the source and not just repeating scale exercises I’ve shedded, over changes.

One night I was jamming with a guitar player that I have know since 7th grade. He’s a smokin’ blues player and totally self taught from ripping off records. In listening to him, I realized a compositional trick he used. He would play a lick, then same series of notes taking the first note off and sticking it on the end. Then maybe start on the third note and put the first two on the end and so on. He would play simple licks but in this circular fashion so that the phrases made sense. I call it the bluze sequence. Works on stock II/Vs too.

When I started to apply that compositional device to my Real and Diatonic scales and patterns, I had mental melt down. In the end, it feels just as good to play a simple funky, bluesy swanging figure, as some ultra extrapolated, interpolated retrograde inversion of a five note scale symmetrical over six octaves.

I’m mostly self taught. When I was fifteen I had a teacher named Jerry Vehmola that got me started out. It took Jerry five years to get through Berklee, ‘60 to ‘65 I think. He took from Joe Viola and so I got his distilled version of the five years, in about a year and a half. Jerry said the same thing about the bis-Bb key that Joe told you. Practice both it both ways.

David, since I read that you only use the bis key I have been trying it more. One particular thing that I have been struggling to play using the side key lays down so well with the bis, that I just kicked myself.

I have been reading your Blog on and off for a couple of years now. I usually don’t have the time to post, barely time to read regularly. I would rather have the horn in my mouth if I have time. Thanks for all the effort. Don’t beat yourself up over not posting. It’s mind bending that you have the energy to get this together at all.

I’m not a working musician any more, I just moved to Portland and don’t know anybody. I don’t interact with musicians at all. I still try to play every day and continue to work on my compositional/improvisational “Vocabulary”. I don’t have a burning desire to play out. It’s more like cheap therapy, keeps me from going insane. Sometimes I will wonder about something and then I read what you said, or an interview and it will tell me if I’m on the right track or not. This question and answer posting was great.

I’ve seen you play a couple of times. I didn’t know who you were until I heard you play on Home Grown Live a few months ago. I really enjoyed your playing.


David Carlos Valdez said...

Beautiful Clary.

I think that will be very helpful to readers. Please get in touch with me, I love to do some playing together. I also have a sextet workshop where I need another Bb instrument. I wouldn't charge you if you could come play.


ilikespying said...

I was curious...i am a jazz studies student and a very loyal fan of Kenny Garrett. I have been listening to his music for years now and have always noticed his incredible use of pentatonic scales and patterns....however..i have only recently been introduced to the idea of triad pairs...are there any particular instances in any of his recorded solos where he makes use of triadic playing that you could point out to me?

thank you for making this blog site exist....it is by far the best place on the internet to gain useful information about all things jazz.


David Carlos Valdez said...

Off the top of my head I can think of one recording that Kenny Garrett did with Freddy Hubbard and Woody Shaw where they played a Woody Shaw tune called Tomorrow's Destiny. Kenny plays a line during his solo using triads that descend in whole-steps, a very common device for him.

Triads are so strong that they can be played over just about anything, especially if they keep moving from key to key.

Kenny Garrett is a master at using major triads to move outside and back in.