10 Modern Improvisation Techniques from Woody Shaw that’ll Rock Your World

Every musician wants to sound hip and modern…To play complex lines that move outside of the harmony and above the time. Solos that’ll make your fellow musicians shake their heads in disbelief and leave the audience speechless. The only problem is that few players actually get to this point, and even less sound authentic, unique, or even innovative in their efforts.

However there is one musician in the jazz lineage who achieved this and more – Woody Shaw.

And today we’re going to dive into one of his live performances to uncover some of the key devices he used to create a highly innovative approach to improvisation.

For starters, let’s take a listen to Woody Shaw’s solo on the tune Stepping Stone:

The solos and ensemble playing sound complex, however the chord progression for the solo sections is deceptively simple:

And by studying how Woody Shaw plays over just two simple chords you can get a glimpse into his larger approach to improvisation.

The way he plays over an extended dominant chord or minor 7 chord is directly connected to the complex lines and harmonies that he uses in every other solo.

Let’s take a closer listen…

Breaking down the solo

At a quarter note equals 400+ bpm it’s hard to hear the individual ideas that Woody is playing.

So let’s slow down the tempo and take a close listen to each line so you can actually hear what’s going on…

Below I’ve transcribed Woody’s two chrouses from the video above:

As you follow along with the music, listen to how he navigates the two different chords F7 and F-7. Here are the first 32 bars (in concert key):

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