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1. Background


“I spend a lot of time transcribing material, but I’m having a tough time bringing these ideas into my playing – what do I do?”

Mark, Student

How do you get the most out of a transcription?  It’s important for any musician, particularly jazz musicians to transcribe (learn a piece or part of music be ear) – but its equally important to be able take what you already know, or have learnt and make better use of it, by taking this knowledge into different context, styles, keys etc.  

In order to do this, we are going to examine material/vocabulary from the first chorus of Wynton Kelly’s iconic solo on “Freddie Freeloader” on Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue – and see how far we can take some of these simple, great ideas.

The album features the mighty Bill Evans on all tracks except for this one, which features Wynton Kelly.   Though he played in bands with leaders such as John Coltrane, Wes Montgomery, Canonball Adderly, Kelly received the most attention as a member of Mils Davis’ band from 1959.  

Kelly’s four chorus solo is a masterclass in phrasing, using the blues scale, triads and just all-round building great solos, but for this exercise we are going to focus on only the first chorus, or twelve bars of his solo.  

According to The Rough Guide to Jazz stated that Kelly “combined bopp-ish lines and bluesy interpolations, but with a taut sense of timing quite unlike anyone else except his many imitators”, and highlighted the effectiveness of his block chords in contributing to a “dynamic and driving accompanying style”.[9]

Our aim is to figure out how to take a few simple ideas from what we transcribe and maximise their use in our soloing. 

Table Of Contents:

1. Background

2. Concept: Triads Unleashed

3. Hear It: Wynton Kelly’s Solo on Freddie Freeloader (First Chorus)

4.  Analyse it (Harmonic Analysis)

5. Own it (Take what we have learnt and apply it to different situations)

Concepts Covered “Doing more with less”:

  1.  Triads – taking simple ideas everywhere
  2. Superimposing Triads
  3. Phrasing
  4. Stylistic Devices: Chromatic Passing Tones, Enclosures 


2. Concept: Triads Unleashed

Let’s understand as quickly as we can, the core concept: 

A phrase/lick/ build on a Major triad can be used to outline not only a major chord, but the same phrase can be used for dominant, minor and even diminished chords.

Here is the Bb Major Scale, and under it is the scale harmonised as triads.  To create a triad, we simply start with a root say “Bb” and stack intervals in “thirds” (alternate notes from the parent scale) up to the 5th of the parent Bb Major scale:

A Bb Major triad is Bb,D,F (where Bb->D is an interval of a Major 3rd, and D->F is an interval of a Minor 3rd).  

Here is the harmonised the Bb Major scale:

Now to create a Bb Major 7 chord we stack on another 3rd from the scale which results in the following intervals from the Root (Bb,D,F,A, where F->A is a Major 3rd, and the 7th of Bb Major 7). 

Similarly we can “extend” to 9th chords (we could keep going!) .  Extended intervals, that are not the “1,3,5,7” of a chord are named as follows (2=9, 4=11, 6=13)

So what does all of this mean? 

If we look at the notes of the Bb Major Triad, Bb, D, F, we see that they are present not only as the foundation of Bb Major 7, but also exist as a sequence starting from the b3rd of G Minor 7, the 5th of Eb Major 9, the 11th of F Dominant – in fact the Bb Major triad is present in almost all the “upper structures” of the extended-harmonized Bb Major scale! 

This means that if you have a lick or a phrase that has a major triad, you can play that same phrase under different chords, and depending on which interval in the new chord you launch your major triad from, you will be able to outline different intervals for you giving a more diverse sonic palette. 

For example,

  • playing the Bb Major triad from the b3rd of G Minor 9 outlines the b3, 5th and b7th of G Minor 9.  
  • playing the Bb Major triad from the 9 of F Dominant 7, outlines the 9th, #11th, 13th intervals of F7

I’ve given some examples below (and I’ve also borrowed some options from the concept of “triad pairs” – read more about them on here): 

Press “Play” on Musescore’s Web Player to hear what the Bb Major Triad sounds like over various chords: 

And here lies my point, by playing a simple major triad from specific intervals of a chords other than a major chord, you can highlight interesting intervals such as #11 to get a lydian flavour, or sound more “outside” if you like.  

Wynton Kelly’s first chorus is full of great little major triads.  So let’s hear it, analyse and using the principles above create some interesting lines. 

3.  Hear It:

4. Analyse It:

A phrase in music is exactly the same in definition in music as it is in any language – “Phrases are units of meaning that can be put together to make up sentences” – Kelly’s solo has a number of beautiful phrases that put together create a powerful statement. 

For the sake of simplifying the “visual” aspect of our analysis, I’ve put all the phrases as close to the same octave as possible.  The transcription maintaining all original pitches is viewable HERE.

Bars 1-4

The first Phrase in the first bar is essentially a “call” (phrase 1a) or a question that starts on the 5th of Bb7, plays and “enclosure” (with a diatonic, 6th above, chromatic, b5 notes below) around the same 5th  and then ascends to the root (Bb) – this is is then answered, or finds a “response” in bar 2, by starting on the 6th of Bb7 and descending its major triad down to the Root.  Essentially the two bar phrase or lick is outlining the Bb major root position triad over Bb7 – we need to keep track of inversions the lick is based on.   Also, notice how often Kelly highlights the “6th” each chord throughout the passage as we analyse. 

The second phrase is similar in that it also outlines the Bb Major triad, but an octave higher – this time using a “chromatic approach note” (F#) upto the 6th degree of Bb7 and back down to the fifth, leading up to the Root.   Again, this is an outline of a Root position triad.

Enclosures, “enclose” a target note with either a chromatic note above and below, or one chromatic and one diatonic, along with chromatic approach notes are a foundation of jazz phrasing, to read more about this check out this link.  

Bars 5-8

Bar 5 starts by ascending a second inversion Eb Major triad, hitting the 6th (C), leaps down to a b7 (D#) and makes its way up using a little blues lick b3rd (F#), 3rd (G).  Bar 6 hits the root, where we started, then descend back down to the 9th (F) of Eb7.  This a great line, going up, down, up and down again all in the span of two bars!  Bar 7 is all about Bb7, and the lick starts on the “&” of beat 1 ascending a little major blues motif in Bb, descending through, and past second inversion Bb major triad only to hit the 3rd and 4th of Bb as 16th notes.  

Bars 9-12

The Turnaround – Bar 9 starts with a chromatic  approach note to the 3rd of a second inversion F major triad, which descends down to a b7 of F7 (Eb) and ends on the the 5th (C). On beat 4 of bar 9 itself, Kelly starts to target the Eb7 chord of bar 10 by repeating the motif, but with a slight variation, still descending a second inversion Eb major triad.  Interestingly, again, by beat 4 of bar 10, he is already making a move for a Bb major triad in the next bar and uses a chromatic note F#, to target the 6th (G) – (those 6ths are everywhere!!) of Bb.  Bar 11 hits us with a descent down a root position Bb Major triad that ends on the 5th (F) below the triad – BUT the underlying harmony is that of a Ab7 chord so playing a Bb major triad over Ab7 outlines the 9, #11, 13 (see Table 4 above)- a nice little almost lydian dominant flavour.  In the final bar, carrying on with the idea of superimposing a Bb major triad over an Ab7 chord, in bar 12, Kelly starts on the 5th, hits a b6 and straight away ascends a root position Bb Major triad, all the way up to D, which is the 3rd of Bb BUT The #11 of Ab. 

Finally he NAILS the root Bb on beat 1 of the next chorus.  

I’ve re “arranged” the solo a bit to focus to fit on one octave for the sake of visualisation and being able to play all the phrases as close to a single position on the guitar as possible.  

 5. Own it! 

1.  Map your phrase over over familiar triad shapes

We are going to categorise our licks based on the inversions of the major triad that they are based on, and I’m going to use triads on the guitar to visualise the phrases and I’ve transposed all the phrases to Bb. 

Practice playing these one and two bar phrases over major chord in all twelve keys.  

2.  Play your phrase as a triad under other chords:

Finally let’s superimpose a Bb major lick, for example, Phrase 7 over other chords such as G minor, C minor, F Dominant Etc (see Table 5 to see where you can fit a major triad over other chords) – let’s hear what that sounds like: 

3. Take it to a tune!  Play with your phrases…

 Finally, here is the ultimate challenge  – Lets construct a solo using our major scale triad phrases, as much as possible over the A Section of “Have You Met Miss Jones”.  

To start, Lets map out a random mix of regular root based triads and some superimposed triads the A sections:

Finally, let’s replace some of these triad shapes with corresponding licks, and throw in some other ideas to make it musical – here is what it would sound like:

Transcription coming soon

Try taking these triads to other chords and songs – and most importantly have fun doing this!  The idea of taking a few things to many places is really powerful and allows a player to focus on phrasing and making music rather than hunt for ideas all the time.  

If you have any questions or comments, please email me: “karan at goajazzacademy.com”

Have a great day!