Monday, April 27, 2015

Ben Van Gelder Blues - Part 1 - Transcription & Analysis

Today, we're going to be taking a look at a transcription of Ben Van Gelder improvising, unaccompanied, over a blues in F concert.

This article will be broken down in two parts.

In this first part we'll be going over the 3 choruses of the transcription, talking about the various devices used through the improvisation.

The second part will go over a number of ways we can work with the transcription in order to improve or strengthen our playing, tone, articulation, feel and vocabulary.

Note: transcription is available for download in pdf format at the bottom of this page.

The excerpt was extracted from a YouTube video following Ben in trio, duo & solo settings playing live in New York. Listen to or download Ben Van Gelder's solo excerpt below:

Let's get started!

Note: all discussions below assume the point of view of an altoist.

  • The blues jazz form is traditionally notated with a dominant IV chord in measure 2 (in this case it would be a G7) but the absence of an F natural here indicates Ben simplifies the changes and treats the first opening couple of measures as a D7. He uses a myxolydian pentatonic scale which reinforces the quasi-modal sound.

  • Measure 3 features a simple 1-2-3-5-7 pattern starting on the b7 of D7 which outlines b7-1-9-11-13 of D7. Playing a common digital pattern and starting it from a less obvious chord tone than the root is a great way to bring structure to an improvisation while outlining chord extensions.

  • We find a tritone substitution on measure 4, replacing the usual mii-V7, | Am7\D7 | by | Ebm7\Ab7#11|. Ben connects the digital pattern played in measure 3 with a descending line targeting the Eb on beat one. Note the D natural (#11 of Ab7) on beat 4. You could also consider this whole measure as simply D7 altered. 

  • Classic blues lick on measure 5.

  • We see Van Gelder using another common substitution technique from measures 6 through 8. It is a simplified version of the harmonic sequence found in Charlie Parker's Blues For Alice. The chords in this sequence move down chromatically from the IV7 to the mii in measure 9. These are also known as "Bird Changes" (more on this HERE). In the key of D this would translate into this: | G7 | Gm7\C7| Gbm7\B7 | Fm7\Bb7|.

    BVG treats these with a more modal approach, emphasizing the minor sound of the Gbm7 and Fm7. The Gbm7 sound actually begins on measure 6 with an anticipated quarter note triplet starting on the 11th of Gbm7 (which is also the 3rd of G7), then descending the Gb dorian scale on measure 7 down to the 3rd.

    BVG stretches the rhythmic structure of the blues a little here. However, it would be fair to say he anticipates the Fm7 sound by approaching Ab, the b3 of the chord, from a half step below in measure 7, and stretches it almost entirely over measure 8.

    The A on the upbeat of beat 4 (b7 of B7) gives a half diminished color to the previous notes. One way to look at it is that, although these notes may not seem like the most obvious choice over a B7 (they would be the 13th, 3rd, b9 and b7 of B7), first they are a logical continuation of the Fm7 sound. Secondly, the A half diminished shape created by the last note of the line makes for a smooth voice leading with the following shape, in measure 9, which is an Em chord starting on the 9th. This arpeggio is identical to a G major 7 arpeggio starting on the 7th so it makes sense that an Am7b5 shape would smoothly transition to it. 

    Click below to hear the chords played on piano. First time through without the roots. Second time through, a B is played as the first root, then E.

  • The shape in measure 9 (first 5 notes) is another classic shape, played by many over the years. It's also the opening line of the standard Isfahan written by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. However, where the shape outlines a major 7th chord in Isfahan, here it is a descending arpeggio starting on the 9th of Em7 down the b7, 5th, b3 and again 9th.

  • Measure 10 features a diminished run (root, b9, #13, #9, 3, #13, b7 of A).

  • The first chorus of this improvisation concludes with a simplification of the chord changes. Two measures of D7, filled with some shared language, are used in favor of the usual turnaround (| Bm7b5\Em7 | Am7\D7 |). 

  • Classic bebop lick on measure 13.

  • Measures 14 and 15 feature a line constructed with enclosures (which is also the case with the line above in measure 13) and outline a late G7 sound.

  • The same tritone substitution technique Ben Van Gelder used in measure 4 is found at the end of measure 15 to measure 16. He anticipates the changes by a beat and half and treats the Ebm7 as dorian until beat 3 where we find a F natural. The two notes of measure 16 serve as enclosure to the 3rd of G7 on measure 17.

  • Measure 17 is a clear arpeggio outlining the G7 chord (5, 3, 1, 5, b7). Closing a line on the b7 of a dominant chord is a common but still hip sound many players have favored over the years.

  • Measures 18 to 20 follow a similar construction as in the previous chorus. Measure 18 uses a pentatonic scale fragment to outline the G7 sound (1, b7, 5, 4) and modulates to Gbm7 chromatically in measure 19. The first half of measure 20 outlines an Fm7 which is a logical continuation of the simplified "Bird Changes" and smoothly transitioned into a Bb7(b9) diminished sound over the B7.

  • Measures 21 to 24 are very similarly constructed as measures 9 to 12. Measure 21 features the same shape as measure 9, the A7 is again treated as a diminished A7b9 chord and the last two measures of the form are again treated as two measures of D7. Note the use of the myxolydian pentatonic starting from beat 3 of measure 23.

  • BVG keeps on using the myxolydian pentatonic at the beginning of the third chorus of this blues improvisation, which creates a short motivic construction. 

  • BVG uses an enclosure to target the b7 of D7 in measure 27, goes up a diminished fragment from C to B natural in beat 1 of measure 28, down the altered scale in the first half of the measure and anticipates the G7 chord in the second half.

  • The construction of measures 31 and 32 should sound familiar by now.

  • The last 4 measures of this improvisation again follow the same construction as twice before: the Isfahan shape over the Em7 chord, a diminished run over the A7 and the last two measures played as D7 with the use of the myxolydian pentatonic starting from beat 3 of measure 35.

This is a short and sweet improvisation that makes use of slightly more advanced, yet effective concepts. It would be a great starting point to learn and apply slightly more complex colors to the blues. We'll see how we can do so, and more, in part 2 of this article. Stay tuned! 

Download PDF transcription for C instruments

Download PDF transcription for Bb instruments

Download PDF transcription for Eb instruments

Download annotated PDF transcription for Eb instruments

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