Alphabetical Locomotion

This is an improvised solo on a well-known tune, played during a trio gig I did last year. It's recorded absolutely live - you can hear the crowd noise, etc. Also the chatter from the band, which is amusing at times. It's a total of three choruses with a short lead-in. I chose this one because (a) everyone knows the tune, (b) I kinda like the spirit in it, and (c) it doesn't make much use of any squirrely theory-type stuff. So let's have a look.

First, you'll want to download the notation and probably print it out. Then, you'll want to listen to the solo as you read.


I play a two-bar lead-in phrase straight out of the melody. In the last measure before letter A, I'm playing the b9 and #9 of G7 although Kevin is still holding a C chord. Doesn't bother me. Bother you?

As letter A gets underway, I'm already playing with the time, playing three-beat phrases over the band's 4/4 time. Notice how often I use chromaticism: that little phrase going from bar 5 to 6 to 7 in letter A is a good example. I'm hitting the 9th of Dm7, the #5 of G7 and the 7th of Em7. Finding little chromatic inner lines is part of the fun of bebop!

Rhythmically, there are lots of little pauses in the lines and phrases starting on offbeats. Sometimes I catch myself stringing too damn many 8th notes together. Also notice that I try to keep the direction of the line changing; if the line's moving generally up or down, I'll try to have it go up a few notes, then come back down a little before going up again. Sometimes I mentally picture a snake crawling through some sand!

That little thing I played in bars 12-13 reminded me of "I'm Beginning to See the Light", so I quoted the tune in the first two bars of the bridge (you can hear Kevin yelling "Ah, I heard that!"). Then I kind of spin out of that melody with a "Donna Lee"ish figure that uses a duplicate fingering for A (bar 23) so I can change positions to get ready to play bar 24, which uses a wide jump to Ab, which resolves to the 5th of the C chord in bar 25. There's another duplicate fingering thing in bar 31 - sometimes I use those to get the effect of a trumpet player half-valving or a sax player using "false fingering". It just gives the note a different tone quality that can be used in a rhythmic way.

Chorus one ends with a greasy blues double-stop lick. I've heard piano players do stuff like this, and it's a sound I like.


The blues swagger continues. I move the lick up in bars 3-4, working the #11 of the D9 chord into it. Since it sounds a little weird like that, I also displaced the rhythm to make it even weirder.

The lick in bar 5 is something I dragged out of my rock and roll experience. As I played it, I remember thinking, "Nah!", and I abandoned it quickly for something that kind of surfs through the turnaround in a more bebop-approved manner.

In bar 11, I start playing with offbeats again, messing with Arlin to see if I can get him to turn the time around. He guards that backbeat like a bulldog, though - that's one of the things I enjoy about playing with Arlin and Kevin. They like it (and don't get thrown) when I do weird stuff!

The bridge is interesting. I felt like making some big-bandish noises, so I started out in double stops, then built up the texture using some chords with seconds in the voicings. I sort of quote the rhythm of "Beginning To See the Light" again, then chop off the quote with a "brass fall" on Fmaj7. The fall is answered by a sax-section-like figure, then the brass shouts back in the second bar of D9(#11). The brass hits and saxes duke it out through the rest of the bridge, with the saxes winning out in the end. In the last four bars of chorus two, we're back to a blues scenario.



Chorus three opens with a continuation of the blues lick that ended the second chorus. The lick ends on the 6th of the C chord and shifts gears into a snaky little phrase that squirms through D9(#11). The figure in bar 5 is a pretty typical triplet arpeggio lick; I don't let that go on for too long, because I've got other plans for those triplets in a couple of bars!

Bars 9-11 are just some wacky fun with triplets and the chromatic scale!

In the bridge, we see a return to the double-stops I used in the Chorus Two bridge. This time, it's a sort of unconscious quote from "Hit the Road, Jack". Again, it's truncated by a horn fall. Then, I notice that the guys have been messing with a three-against-two feel, and I join in the fun for the rest of the bridge. Whee!

I use more offbeat phrasing to close out the chorus, winding down by simply playing guide tones in the final turnaround and ending on a partial C 6/9 voicing to set Kevin up for his solo.


Notice that I haven't said much about scales? That's because I wasn't thinking about scales when I made this stuff up. If you look at the lines, you'll see things that could be said to come from one scale or another, but you'd usually have to say there were "passing tones" or "neighbor tones" or whatever to explain certain notes which don't belong to the scale. For example, on most dominant chords, I play "tensions" that could be said to come from the altered dominant scale, but I'll usually also play "vanilla" notes in the same phrase. As I'm so fond of saying (too fond, according to my students), for me there's basically just the chromatic scale, and I use whatever parts of that seem interesting at the moment. On a tune like this, I'll be more often just thinking about the sound of the chords and thinking up ways to get from place to place in the harmony.

One of the things I like most about this solo is the energy and the way it feels in the time. I think I did a pretty good job of keeping it interesting rhythmically.

Articulation and dynamics are very important aspects of improvising, and I think they play a part in this solo. Notice how many notes are "ghosted" and how many figures feature slurs, smears, etc.

Anyway, I hope you've enjoyed this departure from "1,001 Altered Dominant Licks" and that kind of stuff. Hopefully, hearing a little bit about the kinds of things I think about during a solo will help you in some way... even if it just shows you what you want to avoid! Happy pluckin'!