Relaxin' at Circa


Time for another installment in the "Putting Things Together" series. This time, we'll revisit that trio gig I did in February '04, and check out what I played on Charlie Parker's blues Relaxin' at Camarillo. Nothing too fancy; just a straightahead blues solo in C.

As usual, I have to give out props to my posse: Kevin Kolb (The Man With Two Brains) on keys, and Arlin Strader on drums, who gave me one of the best pieces of advice I've had lately - "Learn which dogs won't bite and which women won't shoot." It's a small posse, but what the hey. Works for me.

Also as usual, I must issue my standard disclaimer: I am not claiming, stating, saying or implying that the following is the best way to play on a blues. It's just the way I did it that night! If you can learn something from it, then I'm ecstatic. Well... okay... pleased.

Here's the link for a .pdf of the notation. I transcribed the first three choruses out of seven total. (If you're feeling froggy, jump! Here's a link to an mp3 of the entire tune. Feel free to take down the other four choruses. Check out Kevin's solo too!)

Okay. Got that notation downloaded yet? Good. Let's proceed. I kinda like the opening chorus; I always try to come up with an interesting "first sentence" for a solo, and this one worked out OK. Believe it or not, the thing I had on my mind when I played the first line was that old kids' song, "there's a German in the grass...". I sort of turned the rhythm sideways by starting it on beat two instead of on a pickup to bar one. The original melody is a bugle call; I didn't want to quote it literally. It was just a goofy spark that got things started. Lots of space in this chorus; that's okay. I make up for it with excess later on in the solo.

It always bugs me when I hear my students playing blues, trying to be "hip" and "out"... and never playing any blues licks! So just in case any of them were in the crowd that night, I used some bluesy stuff to wind up chorus one and lead into the second chorus. The notes with "X" heads are ghost notes, something I wouldn't want to live without. A good way to get some inner dynamics happening in your lines.

Notice how often I lead into the third of the IV chord when going from I to IV. I count three times in three choruses. Maybe I did it too much; I don't know - when I'm playing music, statistics are far from my mind.

There's a figure in bar seven of the second chorus that uses "approach tones" and "enveloping tones". I approach the 5th and 3rd of C7 from a half-step below, the minor 7th from a half-step above, then "envelop" the third of F7 with half-steps on either side. So what scale was I thinking about there? NONE OF 'EM. :-)

Sometimes I like to do that "superimposition" thing where I play lines based on chords that aren't the chord I'm playing over at the time. In bars nine and ten of chorus two, that's going on for a few beats. A C major triad over a Dm7 chord extends the sound to give the impression of Dm11; an Abm6 over G7 sounds like G7b9.

Chorus three starts with another "goofy spark" incident. I had the old Dionne Warwick song "What Do You Get When You Fall In Love?" running through my head. No WAY was I going to play that, but I sort of borrowed the rhythm. Which brings up a point: Listen to lots of melodies and learn to play them. When I was a kid, I used to always have my guitar close by when I watched TV or listened to the radio. Any time I heard something that grabbed me for whatever reason, I would try to at least pick out the melody. As a result, my fevered brain is programmed with lots and lots of melodies. For better or worse, these melodies often become the impetus for parts of solos. That's how my brain works; it would feel really stiff and unnatural to me to just start playing a scale or an arpeggio when I'm improvising. Not organic. I hardly ever quote a melody directly; they seem to work more as springboards for me. Try it and see how it works for you.

I hope you will enjoy this second foray into the windmills of my mind.

Have fun playing around with goofy sparks! (Be careful on extremely dry days...)

- Bob R.