If you haven’t checked it out yet, give a listen to the Guitar Wank podcast. It’s incredibly entertaining, funny and insightful. A while back – episode 99V – jazz guitarist extraordinaire and co-host of Guitar Wank conducted a special episode in which he walked through 10 “Mother Tunes” for folks learning jazz. What made this so special is that he explained exactly why each song was so important, and what it can teach you. It really sets the foundation to learn and play jazz well. He also touched a lot on how to learn songs effectively, how to solo, how to play these in every key, how to practice. In my opinion, it’s a must-listen discussion regardless which genres of music you like. If you’re a guitar player, you need to check it out.
What’s interesting about this particular episode is that it mirrored my own experience. When I first got interested in playing jazz, I made a goal: “I’m going to learn to solo over Giant Steps!” Yeah… two months into that I figured I needed to take a step back and actually learn the building blocks of the genre. I opened up the Real Book and started learning some of the standards (including a few the Bruce calls out below). It was sooooo much more productive and fun. After learning a dozen or so standards, my ear started picking out ii-Vs, my reading improved, my ability to improve over slower, more basic changes improved. It gave me some kind of foundation to build on. It was absolutely the right approach, and I feel kind of silly jumping right from basically nothing into Giant Steps. Live and learn. Even though this was quite a few years ago, Bruce’s overview of these ten tunes has been really useful because of all the detail he goes into about why these tunes are valuable. What they can teach you. Just learning to play a song from the Real Book is one thing, but there’s so much more to learn from these songs than just being able to “get through them.” That’s why I loved this episode so much.
All that said, let’s get to the songs. I’m going to summarize my takeaway from each, but please don’t stop at this. This is the Cliff Notes version at best. You’ll get a lot more out of actually listening to Bruce Foreman go through them in detail, and there’s a lot of side-information he covers. I’ll also call out little bits I personally want to practice with [Practice].
It’s a minor blues, just a different form. The melody tells you what the chord needs to be. Learning that will make this and every other song make sense. There’s a little turnaround and relative major at the end of the form.
2. Honeysuckle Rose
It’s the best study of ii-Vs, and features an iconic melodic phrase (Charlie Parker used it all the time). [Practice] Try altering practicing that phrase over ii-Vs – come from below, come from above, etc. The bridge harmony is also iconic (AAB Form song). It goes to the key of the IV (ii – V I of the IV) | 2 Dom | 5 Dom. It’s a similar bridge to Take The A Train. Again, the key is always hearing the melody. Scrapple From The Apple = Honeysuckle Rose with the I Got Rhythm bridge.
3. Take The A-Train
The most obvious use of the II7 (2-Dom7 or V of the V). Other examples of the II7 – Girl from Ipanema, Jersey Bounce, etc. The note is actually the +11, the II7 doesn’t try to change keys, it just adds color. AABA, version of the Honeysuckle Rose bridge.
4. Autum Leaves
Teaches you and highlights the concept of Sequential Ideas. That’s what makes melodies work, and it makes solos work. [Practice] Your solos need to consider that every line should have some DNA from the line before. Learning the melody from Autumn Leaves should change the way you solo. [Practice] Learning in all 12 keys if you hear the melody intervallically! Practice finding these intervals with an easy tune (Happy Birthday). Play the melody all over the neck, using different fingers to start. Play the changes in zones (positions) – force yourself to find all the chords within those 3-5 frets. It’s the world’s best study of how relative minor and relative major live together. It ounces back and forth between major & minor (sounds bittersweet). 32 bar form, it gives you the impression of AAB, but B goes on…
5. All The Things You Are
Best study of the cycle of 5ths. All the melody notes are 3rds (note: 3rds are like the guitar player’s root, since the bassist usually covers the root). What a gift it is to really hear the 3rd of all those chords!
6. There Will Never Be Another You
Great example of backcycling / Bird-style changes. Similar to “Blues for Alice.” Just another way of playing the blues. Just a moving 5th. 8 bar A, 1st ending, 8 bar A, 2nd ending (A1 A2 tune). Goes to the IV, then 2dom, 5 dom, 1st ending, 2nd ending resolves. Most A1 A2 songs do this.
7. Just Friends
It starts on a IV chords – lots of songs do this. “Limehouse Blues,” “I’ll See You In My Dreams.” [Practice] strum the chords in 8th notes to really hear the motion – that motion is very common. Another A1 A2 song (note: A2 is where it resolves, but it needs to have a turnaround to set up the following chorus).
8. Green Dolphin Street
Introduces the “triadic shift” – could play it as a “bullfighter progression.” Parallel motion A1 A2 form. Miles Davis rewrote the 2nd A. A2 turnaround (36251 (E- A7 D- G7 C).
9. Ain’t Misbehaving / (Alternate: It Could Happen To You)
Both tunes teach the same thing. Ascends chromatically. [Practice] try this variation on chords (I learned it as D F#7 E-6 A7 instead of D D#dim, E-6 A7). They’re both fine, they’re interchangeable. Depends what kind of sound you wnat.
10. Stella By Starlight
Everybody plays it. In some ways, it’s a song that doesn’t make sense, but it works.
GuitarWank and Bruce Forman
I’ll repeat: this is a wonderful podcast, full of humor and wisdom. It’s not appropriate for kids, so language warning.
Here’s the page with Episode 99V: http://www.guitarwank.com/podcast?offset=1527480000157
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Please support Bruce as well, his records are awesome and he’s a blast live; http://www.bruceforman.com/