LAST MONTH WE LOOKED AT A COMMON LICK, APPROPRIATELY CALLED “Th e Lick,” that has been making the rounds in jazz solos for decades and has recently become an online phenomenon. Why do we need licks and patterns when we improvise? Licks are always part of our musical vocabulary, whether we admit it or not. Some musicians say licks should be avoided and we should always create new melodies and bass lines in real time. That’s impossible, though! We need licks we can play all over the bass and to fit every musical situation we encounter. Licks, and their close relatives—scales, arpeggios, and patterns—are building blocks of our musical vocabulary.
This month, let’s look at a two-chorus solo, packed with licks, over the harmonic progression to the jazz standard “Solar.” This jam-session favorite is played worldwide by students and pros alike because of its short 12-bar form, the comfortably open C minor sound in the first three bars, and subsequent harmonic movement through several IIm– V–I progressions.
Note the following:
The opening solo statement outlines the sound of C minor with the note B, which is a major 7th (a Cmmaj7 chord). The typical Cm7 chord would contain the note Bb (the flatted 7th) rather than B, but in this chord progression we use Cmmaj7.
Check out the lick on beats three and four. We’ll see this pattern in several spots in the solo. Here the lick uses the 9th, root, 5th, and 3rd of the Cm chord (the notes D, C, G, Eb).
“Th e Lick” from last month’s column makes a guest appearance!
This phrase emphasizes the 9th (G) and 7th (E) of the Fmaj7 chord.
Although the Fm7 to Bb7 is a IIm–V progression in the key of Eb major, this lick starts on a low Bb and moves up the Bb Mixolydian scale. The note Gb is the only chromatic tone outside of the Bb Mixolydian scale.
This line also begins on the low Bb, which is the 5th of the Ebmaj7 chord. Th e note G in bar 9 changes to the Gb on beat one of bar 10. This precisely out- lines the change from Ebmaj7(the 3rd is G) to Ebm7 (the 3rd is Gb).
Mirroring the lick in bar 9, the line here starts on a low Ab, the 5th of the Dbmaj7. On beats three and four, we see a common bebop pattern: the root, 2nd, 3rd, 5th (Db, Eb, F, Ab) of the Dbmaj7 chord.
This is one of my favorite licks over a minor IIm–V progression, such as Dm7b5 to G7b9b13 in this case. (Some of the chords are abbreviated in the notation.) The b5 of the Dm7b5 (the note Ab) and the b13 of the G7b9b13 chord (the note Eb) are emphasized.
The solo’s second chorus begins with a short statement on the Cmmaj7. The A in bar 14 has a hip sound—it is the 6th scale degree of a C ascending melodic minor scale, which sounds good over the Cmmaj7.
This is the same lick that we hear in bar 3! Using a lick several times in a solo can sound hip. Overusing a lick sounds boring.
The lick over the Cm chord in bar 15 is moved up one half-step to out- line notes in the C7b9#9 chord: Eb (#9), Db (b9), Ab (b13), E (3rd), Eb (#9), Db (b9).
This is a simple inversion of an F major triad: C, A, F.
Here is the same lick found in bar 16, this time used over the Bb7b9#9 chord.
Compare this pattern over the Ebmaj7 to bar 9.
Here is a melodic sequence with the notes changing to fit the chords.
Trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie made this lick famous back in the ’40s. It’s still a slick way to end a solo, even for bass players!
Miles Davis claimed to have written “Solar,” and he even copyrighted the tune in 1963. Davis had a penchant for appropriating musical compositions from others, and recent evidence has indicated that the original “Solar” melody and similar harmony were composed and recorded under the title “Sonny” as early as 1946 by guitarist Chuck Wayne. Regardless of who wrote the changes to “Solar” or “Sonny,” it’s a bop chord progression that sounds great when you just outline the harmony. Take time to analyze the theory behind the tune, and then work out some licks that spell the chord changes.
All great bassists have trademark licks and patterns that define their styles. Which are your favorite jazz licks? Weigh in at the www.musicplayer.com Lowdown Forum!
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