How to Play Cherokee like a Pro: 24 Melodic Tricks for Insanely Fast Tempos
Have you ever wondered how the best players can play incredibly fast…
Regardless of the key, the chords, or the tune?
I’m not just talking about running memorized licks and technical patterns…I mean soloing at breakneck speed with actual melodic lines over the progression.
Trying to improvise on uptempo tunes is something that can be frustrating for even the best players and the truth is, you hear more than a few players faking it. Unfortunately, most resources leave you with more questions than answers.
But this doesn’t mean that there aren’t specific techniques to practice that will teach you the skills you need. If you’ve been stuck wondering how to create long melodic lines, improvise at fast tempos or create double-time passages you’ve come to the right place…
Today we’re going to show you 24 improvisation techniques for creating melodic lines at fast tempos – taken directly from the solos of the music’s greatest improvisers.
While there are dozens of factors that go to into improvising at fast tempos – technique, time, phrasing, swing, articulation – today we’re going to put these solos under a microscope for one reason. To understand the nuts and bolts of creating long melodic lines at very fast tempos.
And to do this, we’re going to take one of the most well-known standards in the jazz repertoire: Cherokee.
Composed by Ray Nobel in 1938, Cherokee has been played by nearly every important jazz musician to pick up an instrument and is famously noted as the musical vehicle that sparked Charlie Parker’s harmonic revelation about bebop.
If you’ve practiced improvisation for any amount of time, I’m guessing that you’ve played this tune. And if not, rest assured that you’ll encounter it in jam sessions, private lessons, and your study of improvisation.
Cherokee, along with a few other standards, is a rite of passage for any serious player…
A perfect template for approaching the skill of creating melodic lines, Cherokee’s 64 bars hold the basic chords that are in every tune: Major, V7, and minor and ii-V’s that quickly switch keys – in essence the key elements that you need to become a successful improviser.
Today we’ll look at 8 landmark solos that have defined this chord progression, solos by:
- Charlie Parker
- Clifford Brown
- Sonny Stitt
- Stan Getz
- Wynton Kelly
- Tom Harrell
- Chris Potter
Rather than looking to steal single licks, it’s more important to uncover how these players mentally approached these chords and progressions – What were they thinking about and what concepts did they apply?
Once you discover this, you’ll have the power to use these techniques in any solo that you play.
The A section
To begin, let’s focus on the ‘A’ section of the tune – the first 32 bars.
One of the big challenges in creating melodic lines over Cherokee is the result of a fast tempo paired with a slow harmonic rhythm. The quarter note is flying by while the chords move by at half speed in 2 measure chunks.
As a result, you can’t just “speed up” your normal lines, you have to actually play longer 8th note lines. Not an easy feat!
However, these will only get you so far. To make music in a creative way like your favorite soloists you need to do something different – but what is that approach?
Well, that’s exactly what we’re going to find out today.
The reason we’re still playing Cherokee today goes back to Charlie Parker.
For Parker, the chord progression to Cherokee was a musical laboratory for his harmonic and melodic ideas about bebop, and it’s a tune that he returned to again and again throughout his career.
Here’s an early trio recording he made with the guitarist Efferge Ware and drummer Phil Phillips. On this track Parker demonstrates not only his harmonic acuity, but his ability to create an unrelenting swing feel with the simplest of harmonic backdrops.
Take a listen…
Below we’ll highlight two examples of how Bird approaches the A section of Cherokee. The first excerpt starts at [0:18] in the video as Parker moves seamlessly from the melody into his solo.
(These 2 excerpts are shown in concert Eb for range considerations):
And the second excerpt comes from the last chorus of his solo at [2:23] in the video:
Here are 3 techniques that Parker uses in these excerpts to create long melodic lines…
The key to improvising at fast tempos isn’t playing scales as fast as you can…
And it’s not trying to fill every single beat or measure with an endless string of 8th notes. Whether the tempo is fast or slow, improvisation begins with making melodic statements that have rhythmic definition.
And this skill goes back to something as foundational as the way you approach Major chords. If you isolate the way Parker approaches the Major chords in the two excerpts above, you’ll discover that he is using very simple melodic concepts to create his musical ideas…
Instead of the complicated melodic techniques or substitutions that you might expect, he is creating melodic lines and shapes with the basics of harmony – arpeggios, triads, and chord tones.
If you want to sound great at fast tempos, the first step is learning to think simple. Start by making a melodic statement on a single chord with the basic elements of the harmony, then as you build up language and techniques, augment these simple statements and connect them to the other phrases in your solo.
The truth is you don’t need fancy or complex techniques to make compelling music, oftentimes the best melodies are made with very simple ideas.
As you study the other solos below, note how each player uses basic musical structures like triads, chord tones and arpeggios as the melodic skeletons of their lines.
If you rounded up a dozen aspiring improvisers, put them in front of a rhythm section and told them to play double time lines, I’m guessing that you would hear a lot of scales.
However, the problem is that scales don’t sound that musical when you insert them into your phrases note-for-note. And the more solos you transcribe, the more you’ll find that this isn’t what the best improvisers are doing to create their double-time or up-tempo 8th note lines.
Once you’ve mastered making melodic statements with single chords, the next step in creating longer lines is introducing chromaticism. For example, listen to this line Parker plays over a GMaj7 chord in first excerpt…
Here Parker is augmenting diatonic scale passages and arpeggios with some important chromatic notes – the b13, the b9, and the #2.
In this line over GMaj7, the b13 and b9 act as chromatic upper neighbors to the 5th and root, and the #2 as an approach note to the 3rd. Rather than a run of the mill diatonic scale, the simple addition of these 3 chromatic notes lends emphasis to strong chord tones, extends the length of the line, and adds melodic contour.
In the practice room, start using these 3 chromatic tones with triads and arpeggios, then work on the major bebop scale in all keys – incorporating the b13 into the major scale. Finally, practice techniques like enclosure, approach notes, and chromatic motion utilizing these 3 tones.
Once you master these exercises and incorporate them into your diatonic technique, you’ll be able to transform any major scale into a compelling musical line:
As you can see, the second line contains tension, release and forward motion – a melody instead of a scale.
One harmonic tactic that Parker uses to create flowing melodic motion is substitution…
Rather than being chained to the written chords, he employs a key tenant of bebop reharmonization – superimposing a different progression over the existing chords.
You’ve probably encountered this technique in your study of improvisation…
If you’ve ever analyzed a transcribed solo and encountered outside notes or passages that just don’t make sense harmonically, it’s not because the soloist is randomly choosing these notes on the spot, they are more likely superimposing a different progression over the standard chords.
And as you’ll see below, when you use this technique in your own solos a number of new possibilities will emerge. Here’s an example from Parker’s solo, in the 3rd and 4th bar of the second example he approaches the G7 as a ii-V (i.e. D-7 G7 instead of G7). Check it out:
Rather trying to create a string of 8th notes using only the notes of G7, he implies the related ii-V.
Superimposing a chord or progression opens up a number of melodic and harmonic possibilities. With this approach Parker is free to use use D-7 related language, dominant material in G like the bebop scale or an augmented triad, and any other accompanying melodic techniques that he’s developed over ii-V’s.
Once you mentally substitute that V7 chord with it’s related ii-V, you’re free to apply all of the ii-V language, patterns, and harmonic techniques that you’ve learned.
Now that you’re playing a ii-V, the door is open for all types of alterations and substitutions…
What started as a two bar G7 chord is now a spot with unlimited possibilities.
Start by practicing this technique with a play-a-long or sustained chords at the piano. Visualize the dominant chord as it’s related ii- chord and then as a ii-V. Then, as that becomes familiar, begin to add alterations and tri-tone subs to that implied ii-V.
Ko Ko 1945
Considerably faster than the previous recording of Cherokee, Parker continues to evolve on this progression. Take a listen…
Here is the first chorus of Parker’s solo, slightly slowed down, which starts at [0:25] in the video:
Let’s take a look 3 more techniques Parker uses in this solo to create his lines…
Just like he implied a ii-V over a static dominant chord in the last solo, Parker utilizes the same device in Ko Ko, however this time he applies it to a Major 7 chord.
Instead of playing Bb for two bars, he inserts a simple ii-V (C-7 F7) in the second measure to create melodic motion that leads directly to the Bb7 chord in bar 3:
The harmonic and melodic content of this line is very simple, yet effective in extending the line and creating forward motion over an otherwise static chord. So effective that he repeats this line almost verbatim 16 bars later.
Keep in mind that when you encounter multiple measures of the same chord, you don’t have to create a line with one scale…or even one chord.
You can create longer and more interesting lines by inserting the ii-V language that you already know. Give this technique a try along with a play-a-long or a sustained major chord:
When you encounter a stretch of one major chord, simply make a statement in the key, imply a ii-V with your line, and resolve it back to the same chord.
Creating melodic statements over a single chord is one thing, but connecting your line between different chords is something that takes a little more practice.
And if you want to be successful at improvising at fast tempos, this is one skill that you need to have in your musical toolbox.
Another tactic for preserving the continuity of your musical line is anticipation. Let’s take an example from Ko Ko:
Here Parker anticipates the arrival of the C7, playing a C bebop scale three beats before the arrival of the chord and creating linear motion that leads to the downbeat.
Remember, you don’t have to feel obligated to change chords right on the barline. By anticipating an upcoming chord you’ll be able to connect your lines much more easily than abruptly shifting gears. Think outside of the box – or more appropriately, outside of the bar line.
A great way to practice this technique is with a simple 3-note anticipation.
This is a technique that the great Mulgrew Miller showed us and one that’s used by many great soloists. When you encounter two chords that are unrelated or have few common tones, a useful way to connect them and sustain linear continuity is to anticipate the new chord with 3 eighth notes.
Simply begin playing in the new key early, using the three 8th notes as a pick-up to the new chord.
“At fast tempos you play what you know”~ Branford Marsalis
When you try to improvise at a fast tempo, the truth is you don’t have time to think. And you don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing the perfect notes to play…
The unforgiving reality is that the sounds that are going to come out of your instrument are the things that you’ve practiced – those techniques and devices that you’ve ingrained into your fingers and your ears.
As we’ve shown in this solo, Parker uses simple melodic devices to create 8th note melodic motion. And some of these devices can be traced back to common exercises that you probably play in the practice room. For instance, utilizing arpeggios from the 3rd of major, minor and dominant chords.
Here are three examples where he uses arpeggios from the 3rd of the chord in this chorus alone:
In these lines he is not carefully selecting every note, rather inputting this ingrained pattern where it fits his musical objective. And this is one of the big differences between a beginner and an experienced improvisor – a pro thinks in bigger chunks of music rather than the individual notes of a line.
Ingrain this shape in the practice room in every key, arpeggiating from the 3rd of Major, minor and V7 chords. For instance, you could practice an exercise in all keys, arpeggiating from the 3rd to the b9 of V7 chords:
Remember, you can get a lot of mileage out of one simple concept or piece of musical language once it’s been deeply ingrained in the practice room.
Aside from Parker’s renditions of Cherokee, the next highly influential solo (especially among trumpet players) is Clifford Brown’s.
On the landmark recording Study in Brown with Max Roach, Harold Land, Richie Powell, and George Morrow, Clifford recorded some stunning solos over standards, one of which was Cherokee.
His solo begins at [1:17] in the video…
For this solo we’ll focus on the first A section. Take another listen, this time at a slower tempo:
Let’s take a look at 3 techniques that Clifford employs to create linear motion in the first 32 bars of his solo…
The blues is a central element of this music…
Along with phrasing, expression, and musical storytelling, the harmonic content of the blues centers around utilizing “blue notes.” Specifically, emphasizing the b3, b5, and b7 of a chord:
Aiming for these notes will create a blues flavor, especially when you apply them to major and V7 chords. Take a look at how Clifford applies the blues language in his solo over this Bb7 chord:
In this excerpt you can hear how he emphasizes the blues language with the b5 and b3 of the Bb7 chord, rather than standard diatonic notes.
The way most resources will teach you to access this sound is through the “blues scale.” However just like a major scale doesn’t translate into melodic lines, the blues scale can’t just be cut and pasted into your solo.
To create compelling musical lines you need to make a musical statement instead of a scale. A great example is how Clifford begins his second chorus on Cherokee:
In the practice room try applying these blue notes to Major, V7, and minor chords. Listen to how your favorite players utilize the blues language in their approach to the Blues or Rhythm Changes and incorporate this language into your own solos.
Another tactic that Clifford uses to create 8th note motion in this solo is chromaticism – namely utilizing fragments of the chromatic scale.
Take a look at the following line that pops up multiple times in Clifford’s solo:
A simple way to create linear motion between chord tones is by employing the chromatic scale and Clifford does this here by moving chromatically from the #2 (C#) to the 5th (F) of Bb.
Notice how this line also has a “blues” flavor because it emphasizes the b3 (#2) of the Bb Major chord on a strong beat.
In the 1st A section of his solo he uses this pattern five times. Here’s another example of him using this pattern twice in the same line:
And here is an example of a descending line he plays that uses chromatic motion:
In this line Clifford uses a chromatic fragment over Bb7 to descend from the 3rd (D) to the 7th (Ab), extending the length of the line while targeting a goal note. Practice incorporating chromatic fragments in your lines like Clifford, starting with chromatic motion between chord tones.
As you saw in Parker’s solo over Ko Ko, anticipating the arrival of an upcoming chord can be an effective tactic for connecting unrelated chords. However, in the same vein you can also delay the arrival of a chord.
Take a look at how Clifford employs this tactic over Cherokee:
Here Clifford extends the BbMaj chord by one bar and arrives at C7 in the last bar of the example by playing a descending bebop scale.
This is a tactic that he uses in many of his solos and one that you can also use to escape the predictability of changing tonalities right on the bar line.
Give this technique a try – anticipating and delaying the arrival of chords to accommodate your melodic phrases.
Saxophone giant Sonny Stitt was heavily influenced by Charlie Parker and you can hear the evidence of this in his solo.
Here is Stitt’s version of Cherokee from his album Kaleidoscope…
For this solo we’re going to zoom in on one A section, starting at [0:48] in the video. Take another listen slowed down to half-speed:
In this solo you see many of the same devices that Parker used in his solos, namely simple diatonic ideas and arpeggiation. With this in mind we are going to focus on another aspect of Stitt’s playing…
We’ve talked a lot about developing language over the basic chords found in the jazz repertoire – the idea of having lines, melodic techniques and specific harmonic concepts that you can play over Major, minor, and V7 chords.
This concept is important for any solo, however it’s crucial when it comes to navigating an uptempo tune like Cherokee where you don’t have the luxury of thinking about every single note that you play.
One of the reasons Stitt sounds so polished at such a fast tempo is that he is employing the musical language that he’s developed.
Let’s start by taking a look at Stitt’s language over dominant chords. Over the first Bb7 chord he plays the following line:
This may look like a regular old bebop line, however he is incorporating some key tactics of the jazz language. In this example uses a Honeysuckle Rose quote augmented with chromaticism:
Charlie Parker played this same quote with chromaticism in his early solo over Cherokee:
This is a useful line to know in all keys. After ingraining the basic Honeysuckle Rose quote, try to create variations that include chromaticism and combine it with your other dominant language as Stitt does in his solo. Note how he also ends the line with an augmented triad that resolves to Eb.
Let’s take a look at another example of Stitt’s dominant language:
In this line he is using the lower neighbor, bebop scale, and arpeggiating up from the 3rd of chord to b9. In essence, creating a piece of language by combining 3 simple techniques:
Work on developing the musical language that you transcribe, combining and incorporating it into your solos in creative ways.
Major to parallel minor technique
One harmonic “trick” that we’ve discussed before – and one that we’ll highlight in a few more solos to come – is the connection between a V7 chord and it’s related ii- chord.
For instance, in the key of Db, the V7 chord is Ab7 and the ii- chord is Eb-7. These two chords are connected by their function in the harmony and can be approached interchangeably…
You can approach the Ab7 chord with Eb- language and on the flip side, the Eb- chord with Ab7 language. Practice this technique by visualizing the related minor chord when you see V7 chords and utilizing related V7 language when you encounter a minor 7 chord.
This technique is useful on individual chords, but it can also give you new harmonic and melodic options when applied to the movement between chords.
For example let’s look at one way you could creatively apply this concept to the chord progression of Cherokee. Instead of trying to connect Eb Maj to Ab7 in the fifth bar of the form…
Approaching the progression in this way simplifies the process. Instead of worrying about transitioning between or connecting two unrelated chords, simply move between Major and parallel minor.
Let’s take a look at some examples of this concept in action from the solos we’ve seen so far…
The first example comes from Bird on Ko Ko. He makes a melodic sequence over the EbMaj7 and changes one note to delineate the new chord:
Here you can see how he keeps the same melodic shape of the phrase, but changes one note (G to Gb) to mark the change from Major to minor. Try this in your own solos by creating a melodic figure based around this descending guide tone line.
Another great example of this technique comes from Clifford Brown’s solo. Like the Parker line above, Clifford uses a motif that changes one note to indicate the new key:
Here he is essentially moving from an Eb Major triad to an Eb minor triad while retaining the same melodic motif.
Another approach to this parallel movement involves arpeggios and scalar movement. Take a listen to this line from Parker’s Ko Ko solo:
In this line he plays an Eb arpeggio and scale and transitions directly to an Eb minor arpeggio. With this concept in mind you can easily switch between your major language and techniques to the same devices in the parallel minor.
Finally, check out how Sonny Stitt approaches the transition from major to minor in his solo:
Here he moves from an Eb Major arpeggio to an Eb-7 arpeggio. Try to incorporate these techniques into your own solos at this spot in the form – instead of the expected progression of Eb to Ab7, think major to parallel minor.
You might think of Stan Getz as a cool, laid-back West coast player…
However, he was also a master at burning at extremely fast tempos, cable of creating lyrical phrases at any speed.
Case in point, his solo on Cherokee from the album Live in Stockholm. Take a listen beginning at [0:57 ] in the video:
OK, catch all that? Me neither…
So let’s take a listen to his opening A section at a slower tempo:
Here are three techniques that Getz employs in these 32 bars to create linear motion…
In the previous technique we talked about the interconnectedness of V7 and it’s related minor, and Getz shows this concept in action.
Over a C7 chord he plays the following line:
In the excerpt below he uses G-7 language over a C7 chord – an ascending harmonic minor scale and enclosures of the chord tones of G minor.
Give this a try in your own solos, applying your minor language and techniques to the related V7 chord.
As we highlighted in Clifford’s solo, you can use blues language to create melodic material over the progression to Cherokee. But what you might not realize is that you can treat the opening measures of the progression like you would a blues.
The first five bars of the form essentially moves from the I chord to the IV chord (Bb to Eb) just like a Blues:
With this in mind, you can apply techniques that you would normally use over the first 5 bars of the Blues to Cherokee. And this is exactly what Getz does in his solo, applying the descending progression of a “Bird Blues” to the first 5 bars of the form:
He still arrives at the Eb chord in the 5th bar, however he gets there by implying a more complex progression which allows him to create more melodic motion and harmonic interest.
Use this same concept over the other tunes you play by implying different changes or a sequence of changes from another tune, for example a different turnaround sequence or even substituting in the changes to Giant Steps.
The human ear naturally follows melodic patterns and sequences.
And this is something that can benefit you in your approach to tunes with fast tempos. Repeating a shape or creating a sequence in your melodic approach will create continuity over any chord progression.
Take a look at how Getz employs this technique in the line below:
Here he is creating linear motion using diatonic material with the lower neighbor. And he continues in the next 2 bars of the example with another sequence/shape. No matter what the content harmonic of the line, the ear of your listener will follow the repeating shape or sequence of your phrase.
Practice starting your phrases with a shape or pattern and strive to continue it throughout the progression or the end of your phrase.
Wynton Kelly is well known for his time with the Miles Davis Quintet, but over the span of his career he played with nearly every important improviser that you can think of.
This solo comes from his collaboration with Wes Montgomery at the Half-Note. Take a listen, Wynton’s solo begins at [5:26] in the video:
Let’s focus on the 16 bars he plays below, starting at [6:04] in the video clip:
Here are two techniques that Wynton uses to create his musical phrases in this excerpt…
One of the distinguishing features of this short melodic passage is Wynton’s use of 2 note chromatic enclosures – approaching goal notes from a half-step above and below.
In this example he enclosures the third (D) of the Bb7 with chromatic upper and lower neighbors (Eb, C#). Here’s another example where he uses two chromatic enclosures in a row over an EbMaj7 chord:
In this line he encloses the 5th and 3rd of the chord in the same fashion, using this chromatic enclosure in a sequence to create linear motion.
This a useful technique that you can ingrain in all keys in the practice room. You’ve probably practiced standard enclosures (diatonic note above and chromatic note below), however you should practice chromatic enclosures as well.
Start with an exercise like this one enclosing the chord tones of a CMaj7 chord:
Learn it in every key and then incorporate these 2-note chromatic enclosures into your lines, using the lines of Wynton Kelly and the other soloists highlighted here as inspiration.
The other tactic that Wynton employs in this excerpt is 4 note enclosures – approaching a goal note with a 4 note figure. Check out the figure he plays at the opening of this chorus:
The goal note in this line is the third of the BbMaj7 chord (D) and he arrives there by playing a 4-note enclosure – two notes above and two notes below.
Here are two more examples from the same solo:
These longer enclosures are a good way to create 8th note motion in your phrases. Be sure to practice them in all keys and all chord types.
The great thing about using 4 note enclosures is that you only have to aim for one goal note to create linear motion.
One variation on four note enclosure is an “over-under” approach to a goal notes that you choose. Here are two examples from Stitt’s solo:
With this method you can have create a four note grouping for every goal note, again creating a linear motion with one simple device. Take this concept into the practice room, starting with a pattern like the one below and ingrain it in every key:
To hear this pattern in action, listen to this Clifford Brown line for an alternate take of Cherokee. Here Clifford is essentially creating a line with the notes of a Bb Major triad:
Ko Ko 1976
Tom Harrell is one of the most melodic improvisers playing today…
Today we’ll check out from the hard to find Cecil Payne album Bird Gets the Worm. Take a listen to an excerpt from Tom’s solo on Ko Ko:
There’s a lot happening in these 32 bars so let’s take another listen with the tempo slowed down a bit. Keep your ears open for the techniques we’ve covered in the past solos and any new devices that Tom employs…
Here are 4 techniques Tom uses to create melodic and linear continuity at fast tempos:
Remember, you don’t have to start your solo on beat one of the first chord every single time. You can leave space and anticipate the next chord or even an upcoming progression.
Approaching your solos with this technique will get you out of your usual approach to soloing and give you a melodic tool to connect upcoming chords. To see what I mean, take a listen to how Tom begins his solo below…
As Harrell begins his solo, he is not starting on the I chord (Bb), rather he is already anticipating the F-7 chord and anticipates each upcoming chord thereafter. Instead of starting right on the I chord, try starting with the ii-V to Eb.
In any jazz standard that you play, you’ll encounter the movement from V7 to I. A great way to add tension and melodic motion to this common chord movement is to alter the dominant chord.
This can be as simple as altering individual notes of the chord ( b9, #9, #11) or more complex like substituting the chord (tritone subs) or implying a different progression altogether. In his solo over Ko Ko, Tom Harrell alters the V7 chords in a variety of ways, both simple and complex.
Let’s look at a few examples. In the fourth bar of his solo, Tom alters the Bb7 chord in the line shown below:
Here he utilizes the b9, emphasizing it on a strong beat and resolving to the 5th of the Eb chord by way of enclosure. Also aim to get comfortable emphasizing the other altered notes on a V7 chords like the #9 and #5 (b13).
The next tactic he uses for altering the V7 is the half-whole diminished scale. Take a listen to how he employs the altered notes of this scale:
By playing an F half-whole diminished scale over the F7 he creates harmonic tension on V7 that resolves to I. This scale is particularly useful because it includes the strong chord tones (1, 3, 5, b7) while also emphasizing the altered notes (b9, #9, #11):
Practice the half-whole diminished scale in all keys and start incorporating it into your V7 language. Note the relationship of this scale to the diminished arpeggio – check out this article for more info. Let’s take a look at one more example…
The final way that Harrell alters the dominant chords in this solo excerpt happens in the following line:
Over the Bb7 chord, the skeleton of what he plays is a descending B minor triad that resolves to the 5th of the EbMaj7. He augments this triad by starting the line with a chromatic enclosure and adds the 9th (C#) to the triad.
This descending b2 minor triad is also related to the altered scale and the tritone sub of the V7 chord. To see what I mean, check out the Michael Brecker and Mulgrew Miller examples in this post.
Another tactic that Harrell uses in this solo to create linear motion over the chords is applying melodic shapes and patterns.
Specifically, he frequently employs a 1235 melodic shape over Major and minor chords (ascending and descending). Here’s an example over a BbMaj7 chord:
Note that he also uses this melodic shape combined with 2 and 4 note enclosures. Practice this 1235 shape in all keys and then incorporate it into your solos.
Here are a few more examples – notice how he also uses the 1235 pattern in descending form in the following two examples:
By paring this 1235 pattern with enclosure, he is able to think of the bigger picture (language and phrasing instead of individual notes).
The last technique that we’ll check out from Harrell’s solo is the way that he implies ii-V’s over static chords.
In the previous solos we saw how Parker imposed ii-V’s over static Major chords and in this solo Harrell applies the same technique. However, here he alters the V7 chord to add more harmonic interest.
For example, check out this line that he plays over a static BbMaj7 chord:
He implies a ii-V (C- F7) to create melodic motion and he uses a 1st inversion A Major triad over the F7 chord. This includes the #5 or augmented sound over F7 which resolves to the Bb7 in the following measure.
Interestingly, Clifford Brown also employs the same technique in his solo over Cherokee:
Experiment with using this creative way to apply triads to V7 chords.
All great players owe a debt to the improvisers that came before them…
Even the players that we think are the most innovative and groundbreaking. The Woody Shaws, Michael Breckers or Mark Turners all built their styles on top of existing language and tradition in the music.
Another one of these players that we listen to today is Chris Potter. Take a listen to this solo from a clinic where he plays through Cherokee in all 12 keys:
Let’s focus on the 16 bars he plays at [1:14] in the video:
And for study purposes, here is the clip slowed down to 60%…
If you look closely at this solo, you’ll find that he is using the same tactics to create lines that were used by Charlie Parker and many of the players that followed him – techniques that players have been using since the Forties.
Below we’ll look at 3 examples of how Chris Potter uses the techniques of past players in his solo…
In the opening line to this excerpt Potter uses the #2 and b13 to augment diatonic material over Major chords:
He also uses both chromatic and diatonic enclosures and the b13 to create linear motion over Major 7 chords:
Finally Potter also implies the ii-7 over dominant chords (G-7 over C7):
As you can see from these few lines of Potter’s solo, even the most modern or outside improvisers are steeped in the jazz language.
Remember that great players don’t learn to play long lines all by themselves and they don’t rely on talent to get them to the top. The truth is they’ve spent countless hours listening, transcribing and ingraining the techniques of the jazz language and incorporated their own personality into that tradition.
And the same is true for you…
The bridge of Cherokee, in and of itself, is not that tricky.
It’s simply ii-V7-I’s that descend by whole-steps. However, the difficulty comes with the quick key changes and fast tempo.
In order to play the bridge effectively you need to have a handle on ii-V’s and know some techniques for navigating them in succession.
The key to creating a melodic approach to the bridge of Cherokee begins with learning ii-V language. You need to start with at least one ingrained way to navigate this essential progression.
Start with a piece of ii-V language that you’ve transcribed and practice it until you can play it at a fast tempo in all keys. Strive too see the ii-V-I as a single unit instead of individual chords and notes, and apply it to your phrases as such.
The line you choose can be anything from a simple lick to a more complex phrase, whatever catches your ear. For example, you might take this line from the bridge of Parker’s solo:
But keep in mind that at a fast tempos, the simpler the idea the better. Remember, arpeggios and scale motion go a long way!
Here’s another example of a Clifford Brown ii-V line from the bridge of Cherokee:
Aim to have at minimum 3 pieces of ii-V-I language that you can play in any key and any tempo.
And once you have this language down, there are dozens of ways that you can vary it: add rhythmic, harmonic and melodic alterations to the line or even combine different lines together. One line has unlimited possibilities.
The next technique for the bridge of Cherokee is all about implementing your ii-V language in a creative way. Because the bridge is essentially a sequence, it is perfect for stating one idea and then repeating this idea in a new key.
For example, check out the line Charlie Parker plays on Ko Ko:
In this sequence he starts on the 3rd of the ii- chord, arpeggiates up to the 11th, and lands on the #5 of the V7 chord, resolving to the 5th.
He simply uses the same piece of language and transposes it to each new key.
Clifford Brown uses this exact harmonic and melodic technique in his approach to the bridge:
His line over bridge is almost identical to Parker’s, except it starts on root of the ii- chord instead of the 3rd. He resolves the phrase by enclosing the root and playing a descending arpeggio that resolves to 3rd of the I chord.
The last technique that we’ll look at over the bridge is creating a melodic pattern. Specifically, using one continuous shape or pattern and modifying it to corresponding chord changes.
Check out how Charlie Parker employs this technique in his solo over Cherokee:
Here he is referencing the standard Tea for Two, imitating the motion of the melody. He does this by playing a descending minor 7th arpeggio. Then on beat 3, he resolves the top note by a half-step and repeats the same thing in the next bar.
He continues this shape throughout the bridge, creating a sequence that is very strong melodically and harmonically.
Clifford Brown uses this same technique in his solo as well, but here he ascends up the arpeggio:
Time to speed things up
The irony of these 24 techniques for creating melodic lines at fast tempos is that they all require one thing – slow practice.
You’ve heard the old saying, Before you can run, you have to walk…
And in this case to play fast, you first have to go slow. So take your time and tackle one of these techniques at a time.
- Start with a simple melodic approach to Major, minor, and V7 chords
- Augment your ideas with techniques like chromaticism, approach notes and enclosures
- Start to impose chord progressions over static chords and substitute or alter V7 chords
- And practice multiple ways to approach and enclose your goal notes
The possibility for variation and personal input is endless – this is after all the start of your journey in learning and adapting the jazz language.
Above all, remember listen to and transcribe the best improvisers that catch your ear. If you look closely at each of the solos above, you’ll notice that all of these players borrowed or stole techniques from their heroes starting with Charlie Parker – many times using the exact same lines or techniques in the same spots!
Want more techniques like these?
If you want to take your playing to the next level and are looking for more improvisation techniques and practice exercises like these, check out our newest course – Melodic Power:
Inside we’ve taken dozens of solos from the best players and extracted essential techniques that you can begin to use instantly in your own solos. You’ll get 42 step-by-step lessons, over 200 exercises and 5 hours of video demos all in one place.
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