See Steve's Hand-Written Solo transcription
In the course of my private teaching, I am often asked to explain or to comment upon some of my contemporaries, and, of course, some of the younger players who have come after us. Not so long ago, a student came to me with some questions about John's performance on his own tune "Trio Blues" which appears on the "THIS MEETS THAT"(Emarcy) CD, culled from those sessions on that September day in 2006. Of course, the resulting music was not exactly what everyone had envisioned that day as it was to have been a trio recording. Some time later, a small horn section was added to several of the tunes. And so, a "trio" recording, "THIS" met a small horn section recording, "THAT"! My student was under the impression that there were some 'out' elements in John's soloing over this blues in F. I had only heard the tune a couple of times via the MusicChoice® Jazz Channel, which I receive via Time-Warner Cable over my TV. My student had also begun to transcribe the solo, but his efforts were not very accurate, and much too sloppy for my sensibilities. So, as it often happens, I decided to just do it myself, and to then present it to my student, explaining everything as best as I could. And so, I am now sharing with all of you the results of that work.
So, why record such a simple blues head? A-ha! Well, the first reason would be that perhaps Sco' just felt like playing a blues in F, and so, he just wrote a very serviceable head? One has to get over the notion that when one puts pen to paper, you might be changing the course of music history, or Jazz history. Well, if that was truly the case, none of us would ever write anything, because we would all be too very humbled by all that has come before. It is probably worth pointing out that a couple of John Coltrane's blues heads, like "Chasin' the Trane or "Bessie's Blues, are very simple. At this point in time, because I have now written so many pages at the site, I can't remember which anecdotes from the past I have shared or not. But, this one bears repeating even if it appears somewhere else at the site. During my earliest years in New York, again, during the '70s, Mike Brecker and I used to spend a lot of time together hanging out, talking, and of course, playing. I remember visiting him one afternoon and seeing a rather large music notebook opened on his table - which, by the way, was always a maze of mouthpieces and reeds. I could see what appeared to be lots of rather short little melodies scratched out, each appearing to be about 12-bars in length. I asked him, "What are these tunes in this book?" And, he proceeded to tell me that, as an exercise, he was going to spend a year or so writing one blues head per day! He felt that even if most of them were not great, that if he ended-up with 3-10 really good ones, that it would have all been worth it. One of these blues heads became "Uptown Ed" a very fast blues in Bb which was recorded live at the Montreux Jazz Festival by the Arista All-Stars(including: Randy & Michael Brecker; Mike Mainieri; Warren Bernhardt; Tony Levin; Steve Jordan; and some guy named Steve Khan). It appears on the Vol. II of "BLUE MONTREUX"(Arista). I am not at all certain if this particular track has ever been released in the CD format. The point of this story was that Mike's hard work inspired me to do the same thing, and I began writing blues heads as often as possible - hoping for a good one to appear! So, those of you who are looking for points of inspiration, this might be a great place to start? Give it a try, writing one blues head per day, and stick with it!!!
This particular 12-bar blues head was one of the tunes that John decided to orchestrate and add the compact horn section, which included fine players like: Roger Rosenberg: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Lawrence Feldman: tenor saxophone, flutes; Jim Pugh: trombone; and John Swana: trumpet & flügelhorn. The melody is played twice as is our tradition. The first chorus is embellished with some horn 'stabs' which are deftly placed with a leaning towards the 'and' of beat 2. Notice how in the last 2 bars, the full horn section is in to put a punctuation on that chorus, and to shoot us into the next one. The 2nd chorus adds a very nice touch, as the muted trumpet plays in harmony on parts of the guitar line, and the tenor sax/trombone combo makes the stabs. It is all very cleverly done, and greatly contributes to the spirit of fun, while the playing remains most serious!
[Chorus 1] of the solo begins with two symmetrical phrases, each one beginning on 6th degree of the chord and rising to the major 3rd. As is usually the case in Scofield's playing, because of his own legato left-hand technique, there are great subtleties in how some notes speak over others. Personally, I find this to be a most positive thing rather than having each note articulated the same exact way. In this chorus, as well as others to follow, you will notice how effortlessly John throws in little chordal punctuations with the skillful usage of the "guide tones." You can see them in bars: 6 and 8. It's also worth noting that the horns appear during this chorus with some further stabs providing some excellent forward motion.
The horns make their last appearance during the solo with some hits in bar 1 on the and-of-one and the and-of-two, very much like the rhythms played during the head. Sco' begins [Chorus 2] with a paraphrase from the main melody. This is always an effective device that can give continuity to any solo and encourages the sense of 'theme and development.' You can't go wrong approaching any solo like this! It was the little passage beginning at the end of bar 3 and into bar 4 which peaked the interest of my student. He thought that this was 'out'! To the uneducated ear, it might sound that way. But, the truth is, John is just applying one of the great devices in blues playing. Please allow me to explain. It is bar 4 of any blues where the I7 chord, in a sense, truly becomes a dominant 7 chord as it is in this bar that it must create some form of 'tension' to be 'released' with the resolution to the IV7 in bar 5. So, one can approach this bar in a variety of ways, and all the great Jazz players have toyed with each route. For example, one could think of the bar in total as F7(alt.) and this would cause you to put to use your F altered dominant scale(F, Gb, Ab, A, B, C#, Eb), some players like to keep everything in minor and so they think of this as the melodic minor one half-step above the root. So that becomes Gb melodic minor(Gb, Ab, Bb, Cb, Db, Eb, F). You should be able to see, enharmonic spellings and all, that these two scales are exactly the same. Players have experimented by dividing the bar in half and having the first two beats be treated as if it was Cm7 and the 2nd two beats become the F7(alt.) chord. Then, there is the view which asks one to hear the bar entirely as the b5 substitute for F7 which is B7. And finally, there is the device(often associated with John Coltrane) of placing a iim7 chord in front of that b5 substitute, which in this case, give you F#m7 for two beats to B7 for two beats. One could then look at this as either F# Dorian(F#, G#, A, B, C#, D#, E) or B Mixolydian. Either way, the modal tones are the same. But, relative to the 'real' chord of F7 or F7(alt.), one strangely out of place note now appears and that is the E-natural which is the major 7th of a dominant 7th chord. To be certain, in general, this is a note to be avoided. But, in context, if skillfully played, it will be fine. So, when you view and study Sco's phrase in bars 3-4 of this chorus, I have spelled the notes so that they conform to F# Dorian. You can also see that he outlines a simple B-triad, obviously a huge part of a B7 chord - the b5 sub here! This same device will appear in subsequent choruses! In bar 10, over the C7(alt.) chord, you hear John using tones derived from the b5 substitute which is Gb7: Eb-Db-Ab-Gb. This is always very effective too! From my pentatonic perspective, those same four tones, could also be considered as part of the Eb minor pentatonic(Eb, Gb, Ab, Bb, Db) which is often a great linear device because it immediately gives you all the altered tones: Eb(#9); Gb(b5); Ab(#5); Bb;(7th); and Db(b9). The easiest way to think of it is that you are applying the minor pentatonic built upon the #9. Give it a try!
In [Chorus 3], we see another familiar device in bars 3 and 4. Sco' plays a phrase over the F7 which utilizes a B-natural, more as a lower-neighbor to C than as the b5 in F7. Then in bar 4, he plays the same phrase down a 1/2-step. Some might call this "slip-slidin'" around the tonality, but, in truth, it's just sound motivic playing. And, if you look at the notes, even with the chromatic lower neighbor, wouldn't you say that we are, yet again, in the area of F# Dorian? I am a firm believer that things don't just sound good for no reason at all. There has to be some theoretical reasoning at play, even if it is unearthed well after the fact. The resolution of these two phrases comes in bar 5, with the arrival of the IV7 chord, Bb7, and a phrase that is derived more from the blues. At the end of bar 8, also one of the great bars in any blues(like bar 4), John begins a very long angular 8th-note line, rich with his own phrasing, that doesn't end until bar 1 of the next chorus. From a guitarist's perspective, I would say that this all takes place between the 8th and 11th frets on the instrument. So, if you're breaking it down, try that area.
As I just mentioned [Chorus 4] begins with the completion of a long phrase from the prior chorus. Again, in bar 4, as a device to create tension for resolution, Sco' again applies notes from F# Dorian: A-natural, B, G#, and C#. Sounds great, right? From there, the rest of the chorus flirts with blues-related material. But, coming out of the turnaround in bars 11-12, he begins another nice ii-V oriented line to resolve back to our I7 chord in bar 1 of the next chorus. I especially like the little C-augmented triad that appear in bar 12. Simple triads, like that one, appear everywhere in the work of the great Charlie Parker and everyone whom he influenced. So, don't lose sight of that!
In [Chorus 5], John offers another long 8th-note line beginning in bar 2. But here, in bars 3-4, he takes a different route to the eventual IV7 chord set to arrive in bar 5. He begins this journey in bar 3, and you can see the little F-augmented triad(F-C#-A) in the middle of the angular phrase. This chorus also offers some bent-notes and a couple of greasy double-stops appear in bars 11 and 12. For this transcription, I just chose to indicate some of the bent notes using 'slur' markings which either precede a note or tail up or down from one after it has been played. I hope that you guitar 'notation purists' will forgive me for this.
As the solo moves onward, with Swallow and Stewart swingin' hard, Sco' offers more blues-based material as [Chorus 6] begins. In this chorus, there is nothing particularly interesting that happens in bars 3-4. But, another nice, long 8th-note line begins in bar 5 and extends through bar 8. The chorus closes with an interesting usage of yet another C-augmented triad in bar 10. But, before it is played, there is a high 'F' which can be a bit unusual and blurs the sense of C7(alt.) for a moment. Aside from the fact, that so much of the "sound" that any musician produces is based upon his "touch" - it should be noted that there is a wonderful bounce to Steve Swallow's sound in this setting. Of course, those of us who have followed Steve's long and wonderful career remember him as a great acoustic bass player. So, his sense of swinging, walking, should have a great bounce to it. His own search for just the right sound has now led him to the electric basses, the AE5 Swallow designed by Harvey Citron of Woodstock, New York.
John vaults into [Chorus 7] with a simple F major arpeggio to his high 'F' and then, plays some very syncopated phrasing based around bluesy material. This time, to these ears, in bar 4, there is a greater sense of C Dorian, the mode of the iim7(for F7) and the phrase there, with an Eb(the 7th) provides just enough tension for the eventual resolution down to the Bb7 chord in bar 5. Here he just rides an Ab through to bar 8 with a soulful massaging of the note. The chorus concludes with more blues-based fragments.
From a cerebral or intellectual perspective, [Chorus 8] and [Chorus 9] offer perhaps what could be the linear highlights of the solo. Considering that the solo was to end one chorus later, perhaps this was the signal that "the time had come"? Before I get to the specific 'highlight', I would like to again point out an interesting touch in bar 4. Here Sco' mixes his modalities in an interesting way. It would be pretty classic be-bop phrasing to have #9(Ab) and then b9(Gb) heading to an F-natural before resolving to D-natural, the 3rd of the coming Bb7 chord in bar 5, by ascending to it via C and C#. But here, he uses a G-natural instead of the b9, and the Ab is preceded by an E-natural which is unusual over an F7 chord when not being used as a chromatic passing tone or a lower neighbor to the root! So, take a good look at that phrase and how he spins his way back to the blues over the Bb7 chord through bar 7. In bar 8, John begins a long line of streaming 8th-notes. He commences with a pretty typical, for this post be-bop style, 7b9 arpeggio over D7(alt.) to pull towards resolution on the Gm7 chord in bar 9. From there, the line keeps winding and winding with many points of interest which includes a great deal of slurring in the phrasing, which I've tried to indicate here and there. For many of us, the elimination of unnecessary picked strokes bears the influence of Jim Hall, and to many of us, gives the lines a greater sense of swing. It all concludes with two rather dissonant stabs in bar 6. It remains a bit difficult for me to determine whether or not these are an octave Ab, with the lower note bent a bit, or if the guitar, by this point in time, had just been banged out of tune slightly. This is also one of the more charming aspects to Sco's playing. He plays hard and sometimes, with a Gibson-style guitar, like his Ibanez, it's so damn hard to keep that G-string in tune throughout a solo. In bars, 9 and 10, it sounds like he's trying to play a fairly typical blues-rock lick over C7(perhaps indicated as the V7 chord in bar 9 this time), and then over Bb7(IV7) for bar 10. Implying other kinds of blues changes is one of the great beauties and points of liberation when playing in a trio context with great bandmates like Steve and Bill. One's imagination can take you as far as you desire!
The final chorus, [Chorus 10] begins with what is, perhaps, the harmonic device we've been talking about for bar 4, or bars 3-4, taken to the "nth" degree. This passage from bar 1 through 3 just completely ignores the I7 area of F7 and is already in the area of what I am calling F# Dorian. In other words, he is beginning a chorus by already implying the iim7 of the b5 substitute which, under most normal circumstances, would not appear until bar 4. By sharing this with everyone, I am hoping that it will free the ears of some of you to experiment with this. Sometimes, the only way to learn is to just try it out and see if it actually sounds good to you. It matters not whether someone, like me, tells you that there are sound theoretical reasons why this works or is just simply possible. The ONLY thing that matters is whether or not it actually sounds good to YOU!!! if it doesn't, you are just as right for not doing it as Sco' is for playing this way. That's what he hears, or that's how he has learned to hear. Either way, to me, it sounds great!!! Bar 5 presents some rather whacky slides down from blue notes with some attack. For me, this is the comical, whimsical side of John Scofield coming out to play. From bar 8 through the conclusion of the solo, John plays one last, long neo-be-bop string of 8th-notes line. There are some very nice jagged intervals used in bar 11 as he negotiates the I7-VI7(alt.)-iim7-V7(alt.) turnaround to shoot us into Steve Swallow's electric bass solo. Take heart, those of you are inspired by the work here of John Scofield. As the late and great guitarist Joe Beck said to me once, with all due cynicism and respect, while watching Allan Holdsworth playing at the Bottom Line with Tony Williams(we were the other band on those nights!): "No one plays anything fast that they haven't played 1,000 times before." So, in other words, to execute these long 8th phrases, Sco' has spent a lot of time, at home, in the woodshed, and on the bandstand perfecting his style. If you work just as hard as he has, you can obtain similar results. They should be, it is hoped, particular to YOU!!!
At some point in time during the '80s I believe, Sco' did a feature interview for "GUITAR PLAYER" Magazine. And, towards the end of that interview he was asked this question: "What do you like the least about your own playing?" And though I am only paraphrasing here, John responded by saying: "My clumsiness! I'm just so damn clumsy sometimes that I can't believe it myself!" When I read this, it was actually a great affirmation for me, because, had I been asked the same question, I might have responded in exactly the same way. There's nothing wrong with being one's own toughest critic - but, not to the point where it prevents you from moving forward. In a sense, even a player of John Scofield's creativity, grace, dignity, funkiness, rough-around-the-edges style, being "clumsy" ends-up being not such a bad thing! On a great solo, like his "Trio Blues" solo, yes, there are passages that, if one wanted to be critical, one could say that they were awkwardly executed, or clumsy. But, what point would there be in saying that? There are so many, many positives in this solo that to spend any time on such a criticism would be most foolish in my opinion! So, for those of us who don't possess the most perfectly coordinated up-and-down left-hand/right-hand technique, take heart! There is hope, and lots of it!!!
John Scofield and I have know one another since the early '70s. I had moved to New York in January of 1970 and this was around the same time that one of our great mutual friends and highly regarded and respected peers, John Abercrombie, had arrived as well. I had never met Sco' before, and suddenly, one day, when I was living on 8th Ave., at around 19th St., the phone rang, and it was some guitarist named John Scofield who was coming to New York to do a gig or record with drummer Horacee Arnold. Through some mutual friend, and now I'm not certain just who that might have been, John had been told that I would lend him an amp for that gig. Normally, I never lend anything to anyone! But, I decided to lend one of my Fender amps to John. We got along great, and we've been good friends ever since. My son, was born in 1973, and I recall, when John and Susan were living in the Westbeth artists complex in Greenwich Village, running into them both often with their strollers and young babies in tow.
Sometimes, it's so hard to believe that so much time has now passed since those days. During the mid-'70s, our paths crossed on the road many times when John was playing with Billy Cobham and I was out there either with the Brecker Bros. Band or doing acoustic duets with Larry Coryell. For me, at this stage of life, it has been a great deal of fun to present this transcription, and to wax philosophical about it as well.
[Photos: John Scofield-Bill Stewart-Steve Swallow
Photo by: Vikas Nambiar]
John Scofield-Bill Connors-Steve Khan-John Abercrombie
"GUITAR WORLD" 1984 - Photo by: Jonathan Postal]