One of the greatest tools we have to help us grow as improvisers is the wealth of artist transcriptions that have been made available. A good solo transcription allows us to see, note for note, how the great improvisers play over changes – the choices they make, how they get “that” sound, how they use or ignore all the scales and riffs that are common in the jazz lexicon. If you’ve ever tried to actually transcribe a great improvised solo, you know how challenging it can be. Thankfully, many others are taking on the task, making some great resources available. Over a series of articles, I will review many of the books that are available here WWBW.
The Chuck Mangione Collection from Hal Leonard
If you play flugelhorn today, it’s nearly impossible to escape the influence Chuck Mangione has had on the instrument. I personally grew up admiring not only his writing but his melodic sense as a soloist. In fact, I listened to his albums so many times that his solos are ingrained in my mind. So, it was exciting to see this collection of his solos transcribed. His contemporary (dare I say “pop”) approach, coupled with his early years as a be-bopper (he was groomed by Dizzy Gillespie, produced by Cannonball Adderley, recorded with Miles Davis’ quartet and toured with Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers!) helped him to come up with a melodic sense that is all his own. For the first time, you can flip through page after page of the actual notes he chose on classic solos.
While I always knew he tended to play fairly high on an instrument not known for its range, until I scrolled through the solos I never realized just how much he explored the upper register, staying up near high C, D and even Eb with some regularity. This book is a must for anyone who is exploring “smooth jazz” because his ability to play inside the changes and create melodies on the fly – not just “riffs” - is admirable.
(A side note for Mangione fans – this book is also the first time I’ve ever seen that crazy flute run from “Chase The Clouds Away” notated!)
Miles Davis : Kind Of Blue from Hal Leonard
Ah, Miles, one of the most important jazz artists of all time and one of the most important jazz recordings of all time. And now you can purchase this book that transcribes not only Miles’ parts, but the whole band’s. Every musician should own this one. It’s particularly interesting to compare the solos of Miles, Coltrane and Adderley. Naturally, saxophonists tend towards more note-filled runs, so there is a bit of more of that in their solos versus Miles, but it is interesting to watch for how the three very different players approach the same chords – both the differences and the similarities. This is the only book I’ve seen that allows that in one place. Interestingly, they aren’t playing “outside” the changes quite as much as I expected to see, which speaks volumes about how much their personal “sound” add to the uniqueness of their solos.
You may or may not be able to duplicate these player’s solos, but having your own ensemble play the actual parts – rhythm section and horns - from these songs could be a great learning tool.
28 Modern Jazz Trumpet Solos from Alfred Publications
I’m a big fan of this book, because in it you can check out solos from many legendary players and really compare their improvisation styles. Art Farmer, Freddie Hubbard, Chet Baker, Dizzy Gillespie, Clark terry…so many more. Now, few players could read through this book and actually play everything (I know I can’t!) but it’s values really comes from being able to analyze how so many great players work their way through changes and how they play with the meter and rhythm. Having so many different approaches to the same instrument in one book is indeed fascinating.
It is very helpful to purchase the recordings of these solos so you can actually hear what you’re seeing. I found most on iTunes or on YouTube. Have fun!