How I Did It

I've wanted to use that title ever since I first saw "Young Frankenstein".

I thought I'd take a different tack this time around. Usually, I'm cooking up examples to illustrate some topic of discussion. That's cool; it's a pretty typical way to get a point across. But I think it might be interesting to look at how some of these concepts actually work in a solo.

I've performed the ultimate self-indulgent act and transcribed one of my own solos, from the tune "Yearn To Burn" on my CD, "Watch This!". Rather than pick it apart lick by lick, we'll just take a whole chorus and see what's going on.

To hear the solo, click here. To see the notation, click here (Acrobat Reader required).

Before we go on, I have to emphasize that while I was playing the solo, I was in NO WAY thinking about any of the stuff I'm about to discuss, at least not in the way I'm going to discuss it. We're in analysis mode now (you know... analysis... starts with 'anal'...); we have the luxury of hindsight. While I'm playing, I'm just listening for sounds to play and trying to find them. BIG difference. On the other hand, the reason I can do that is that I've spent a lot of time trying out different sounds and thinking about it when I practice!

In the first eight bars, I'm basically having some fun with the fact that the upper structure of Gm7 contains a D minor chord. Try playing all that stuff over Dm7; there'll be a couple of rubs where I'm playing up the thirds of Gm (Bb), but it mostly works. This is a sound I'm very fond of; Coltrane and Wes also played this kind of sound a lot.

Speaking of Coltrane, he went through a period in which he was very much influenced by the music of India. I listened to my share of Ravi Shankar as a kid, too; this often manifests itself in a tendency to play lots of notes slurred up and down one string instead of playing across the fingerboard. Measure three is a good example of this. I like this sound; to me, it's more vocal sounding than position playing is.

In the next four bars, I'm hearing Bb minor, which is an upper structure of Dbma7+. The Db chord has an augmented fifth (A natural); my lines reflect that, so you could say I'm really thinking Bbm(maj7). Some wacky little triplet phrases there too. Note how the rhythmic phrase in bars 9/10 is related to the phrase in bars 11 and 12.

Back to G minor. I'm still hearing that Dm over Gm sound, although by bar 16, we've got some greasy blues action happening. Rhythmically, some hemiola has crept in; I'm playing some three-beat phrases against the 4/4 time in bars 13/14.
The phrase starting in bar 17 features a little chromaticism, not unlike what you'd hear in a Parker phrase, although it doesn't sound like bop in this context. Like Parker and Gillespie, I really love the sound of the sixth against a chord; notice how often I play the note 'E' against G minor.

Bar 21 features the longest actual rest in the first chorus, although there've been a few pregnant pauses along the way. Things start to speed up a little past this point. Note the pinch harmonics (ZZ Top style) in bar 23. The jazz police aren't going to like that...

In bar 25/26, the bebop chromaticism thing returns. When you're playing a string of 16th notes, having those upper and lower neighbor tones to play with gives you all kinds of interesting options for shaping a line. Bar 26 is just nutty; I won't even pretend to remember what I was thinking about there.
More three against four stuff in bars 29 and 30. Bar 31 starts a line of thinking that carries me on into the next chorus. Sometimes I don't like it when I end a phrase just because the form's turning around. Too blocky.

Note also that in the last bar, I play repeated pitches in more than one place. I bend up to D on the 3rd string, then play it on the second string. The G gets played on the first string, then the second string. At the start of the next chorus, it's played again on the third string! Horn players do things like this with false fingering and half-valving; it's a way to use the same pitch but have the tonal quality of the note change in a rhythmic way. Michael Brecker does this a lot; check out his records to hear it done by a master.

In closing, I have to grudgingly admit that I'm pretty happy with this solo. I think it holds together well. I also found it interesting to hear reminders of many of the kinds of music I like. In the solo, I can hear little echoes of Indian music, Coltrane, Zeppelin and Mike Brecker. In the backing parts, there are hints of Caribbean, country, Metheny... these are a few of my favorite things. I don't think this tune "sounds like" anyone in particular, but it wouldn't sound the way it does if I hadn't listened to all that different stuff.

Thanks for letting me indulge myself, and I hope you find this useful!

(Thanks and a tip of the hat to Dan Peterson for providing the inspiration for this lesson.)