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Herbie's Rhodes Solo on Chameleon - Jazz Theory


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Can anyone tell me what techniques, scales/modes etc... that Herbie is using on Chameleon during his rhodes solo? I was transcribing it last night and although the groove seems to be in Bb minor he's soloing and using a lot of notes out of the Bb minor or dorian scale. Some aren't just chromatic passing tones either. Can anyone explain this?
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Greetings, welcome to the forum!

 

That's a great solo, and there are a lot of folks around here who will be happy to help you. But nobody's going to post a 3 page analysis of every second of that solo for you. If there is a particular section of the solo you'd like to call attention to, maybe you could say something like "around 8:56, Herbie seems to play a passing chord - what is it?" I'll tell you this much to get you started. The solo doesn't stay in Bbm. If you listen to the bass, he's going up to a Db, and thus the tonality changes everytime he does that. Sometimes it's a Db minor tonality, other times it's whatever Herbie wants it to be, as he and the strings are the only ones providing harmonic substance. Basically the harmony can be whatever he wants it to be. Now if there's a specific question you have, ask away.

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he does a run such as Bb > B > C > F > G# how would you explain a run like that and where he's building it from. there's a few others where he's using some techniques i read about in the bebop book but i had a hard time as i was going through learning his licks determining exactly where they came from harmonically. just learning his notes is easy, the thing is i'm trying to really understand where these notes in his solo are coming from.
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Bb C F Ab are all chord tones....the B is a chromatic passing tone to the C.

 

As simple as that. Don't try to over analyse. Linwood is completely right, simply chord tones with a chromatic passing tone.

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I have a transcription of that solo, there are lots of scalar runs with slight use of chromatics and some outside things like on the (assuming the 2 chord vamp) Bmaj7/C# chord he plays a quick (going down) B G (outside tones) then Bb Ab Gb F E Eb Db etc.. kind of run... but he plays it so fluid and very legato and swinging that it just comes across effortless...

 

Its actually a really interesting exercise looking at those runs... I'm not sure of the Logic (sic) behind most of it as I think the solo is very much based on feel (as Herbies solos tend to be) rather than some analytic reasoning (which you can apply to most jazz solos)...

 

I think Mr funkfingerz JD73 would be a good person to discuss this... Dan, any comments? ;-)

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Mmmm!

 

Well, for me Herbies concept and the concept i suppose i approach soloing from is the superimpostion of triads over a tonic bass. Thats pretty much it for me, passing notes

are added to smooth transitions but generally its a feel thing. When im playing im just visuallising chord shapes which could literally be anything e triad over b flat, g over a flat bass etc. The trick is timing of the transitions back to the tonic key, so go outside as wide as you like but bring it back in at the right time...shock verses ear comfort..!

 

Hard for me to describe really but i got failed on modules at college when the tutor asked me what id play over what chord and i said well it depends on the moment its a feel thing, i dont subscribe to the scales over chords approach..she didnt like that! ah well! Absolutely dont try to analyse, train your ears by listening absorbing and playing over as much of your fave music as you can. Scales over chords approach can help of course but its not for me, nor do i reckon Herbie thinks like that but i could be wrong!

Chief Product Officer at Rhodes. Project leader and designer of the Rhodes MK8 piano. 

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Hard for me to describe really but i got failed on modules at college when the tutor asked me what id play over what chord and i said well it depends on the moment its a feel thing, i dont subscribe to the scales over chords approach..she didnt like that! ah well! Absolutely dont try to analyse, train your ears by listening absorbing and playing over as much of your fave music as you can. Scales over chords approach can help of course but its not for me, nor do i reckon Herbie thinks like that but i could be wrong!

 

+1 !!

 

There is no magic math.

 

 

 

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Something to remember is that the more cryptic things can sometimes be just whatever the player wanted to play at that moment. In other words, it didn't have to have a specific harmonic definition or substitution principle; the secret is that as long as it is grooving, you can pretty much play any note you choose or hear at the time. Now, I'm not throwing chord/scale relationships out the window because they're great learning tools and there is still a lot of convention in improvised music, as original as we may try to be while creating it.

 

That being said, Herbie is a pretty deep harmonic cat so there's a ton to cop by transcribing him. Good on you for bringing it up!

 

Incidentally, I always dig how on this record on "Sly" he starts his solo playing in Bb minor/Bb blues while the rest of the band is playing E minor.

 

I'm re-listening now to Chameleon now to see if I can shed any light on your original question. Without transcribing it, I can tell you at least that there are definitely times where he plays a different chord change that falls outside of the harmony of the vamp and solos with corresponding modes to that chord. Transcribing the LH voicings along with those more "outside" lines would point the way.

 

Now WHY he chose them is a whole different story... ;)

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For one thing, at the Rhodes solo it's no longer the Bb- Eb7 vamp, it's

 

||: Bb-7 | Db7 sus :|| vamp

 

different tonalities

 

 

 

Harry Likas was the Technical Editor of Mark Levine's "The Jazz Theory Book" and also helped develop "The Jazz Piano Book." 

Harry teaches jazz piano online using Facebook Messenger, FaceTime, or Google Meet.

 

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The trick is timing of the transitions back to the tonic key, so go outside as wide as you like but bring it back in at the right time...shock verses ear comfort..!

 

Best short explanation possible ! Great !

 

when the tutor asked me what id play over what chord and i said well it depends on the moment its a feel thing, i dont subscribe to the scales over chords approach..

 

Good example.

Practising scales over chords is exercises, it improves playing technique and knowledge, but is just only basics and theory you can choose from.

 

Absolutely dont try to analyse, train your ears by listening absorbing and playing over as much of your fave music as you can. Scales over chords approach can help of course but its not for me, nor do i reckon Herbie thinks like that but i could be wrong!

 

When I started listening to the stuff from Miles, Herbie, Joe Z., Chick, Bill Evans, Dave Liebman/Richie Beirach and as a guitar player example, John Scofield,- I was very young and relatively soon, I recognized, it makes no sense analyzing, transcribing and copying their solos. It was better trying to understand the mood and tension and to find a personal way to play this music.

These cats have BIG ears and BIG experience and it grows until they die. In addition, their sidemen perform on the same level.

They don´t think about chords and scales anymore, they even didn´t 30 years ago because they were on that level already.

 

A.C.

 

 

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Absolutely dont try to analyse, train your ears by listening absorbing and playing over as much of your fave music as you can. Scales over chords approach can help of course but its not for me, nor do i reckon Herbie thinks like that but i could be wrong!

 

When I started listening to the stuff from Miles, Herbie, Joe Z., Chick, Bill Evans, Dave Liebman/Richie Beirach and as a guitar player example, John Scofield,- I was very young and relatively soon, I recognized, it makes no sense analyzing, transcribing and copying their solos. It was better trying to understand the mood and tension and to find a personal way to play this music.

These cats have BIG ears and BIG experience and it grows until they die. In addition, their sidemen perform on the same level.

They don´t think about chords and scales anymore, they even didn´t 30 years ago because they were on that level already.

 

A.C.

 

 

 

Hold on, so if I want to get good at this, it is actually better not to study and practice? Just feel my way out of it? And that is how Herbie does it, too?

 

 

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it's really quite difficult to say. It should be a blend of the two approaches! But I think theory is incredibly important. I mean at that time, Herbie probably would have been given tips about scales, harmony by other great players (I mean didn't he have a tenure with the great Miles Davis sextet?). But honestly, there's only so much that your ears can do (and on the flip side, there's only so much theory can do)

 

Don't forget that he was a classically trained pianist, and his harmony is greatly informed by studying Ravel and Debussy!

 

One of my teachers once told me, it's one thing to know what you want to communicate, but it's another to say how! By learning theory, you're given a framework to express your ideas and communicate with other musicians. Like learning, you need case studies, so in music to learn theory, you should analyse the works of great players in lieu of "case studies"!

 

Often by using theory to analyse other musicians, it allows you to engage with their methods (whether spontaneous or planned) and adapt it into your own vocabulary.

 

It's not about BECOMING Herbie Hancock, or learning how to play like Herbie Hancock, but deconstructing what he plays in a methodical, and as mentioned above, Logical (sic) way in order to learn it more effectively until it become intuitive!

Nord Electro 3 -73 || Korg CX-3

 

 

 

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Mmmm!

 

Well, for me Herbies concept and the concept i suppose i approach soloing from is the superimpostion of triads over a tonic bass. Thats pretty much it for me, passing notes

are added to smooth transitions but generally its a feel thing. When im playing im just visuallising chord shapes which could literally be anything e triad over b flat, g over a flat bass etc. The trick is timing of the transitions back to the tonic key, so go outside as wide as you like but bring it back in at the right time...shock verses ear comfort..!

 

Hard for me to describe really but i got failed on modules at college when the tutor asked me what id play over what chord and i said well it depends on the moment its a feel thing, i dont subscribe to the scales over chords approach..she didnt like that! ah well! Absolutely dont try to analyse, train your ears by listening absorbing and playing over as much of your fave music as you can. Scales over chords approach can help of course but its not for me, nor do i reckon Herbie thinks like that but i could be wrong!

 

Great post Dan :)

 

I recall years back practicing soloing over Patrice Rushen's "The Hump" (I know you know that one!) and when i just let my mind wander I found I entered that world.. briefly.. but as soon as I started to really think about things i.e. in some kind of formal way (I am a scientist after all), I lost it... same with Johnny Hammond, various CTI, Prestige records and all...

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Another interesting "out solo" on rhodes I'm looking at atm is this one from Joachim Kuhn starting at around 2.55 mins...

 

 

I'd love to know what's going on there... sounds like a lot of 4tal stuff in the LH and some kind of strange bop thing happening in the right...

 

btw. this is similar to the rhodes tone I have atm.. none of your clean stuff for me ;-)

 

Would this be an example of "time no changes"?

 

 

 

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Hold on, so if I want to get good at this, it is actually better not to study and practice? Just feel my way out of it? And that is how Herbie does it, too?

 

For most of us, studying theory is an invaluable tool in training our ears and musical understanding. Colinio said it pretty well above I think.

 

Theory can be really useful for taking something you've heard, figuring out what it is and then working it into your own playing. Not only is it a shortcut to assimilating different ideas musically (like learning something in all keys) but it also can deepen your understanding of the structure and all other larger aspects of the music you are playing.

 

The cats that can really play, sure they can be beyond the point of thinking scale, scale, scale from moment to moment, but often you get to that free place through years of studying music. In this setting at least, the structure is what sets you free. That "out" substituion that Herbie plays means nothing if it's not sandwiched on either side by the inside Bb blues he's playing. It's all about the context.

 

Someone else can correct me if I misquote but I do believe Charlie Parker said (after learning and practicing scales) "Just forget that sh*t and play!".

 

And (one other thing, sorry) sure there are always examples of those greats who couldn't read music, or didn't know theory etc etc but we're always better off outfitting ourselves with as much skill as possible and honing our musicianship to the best degree necessary for what we want to play. It's foolish to assume you are the same as Dizzy (who played with his cheeks puffed for example) or any other musical giant. Be humble and want to learn more!

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Absolutely dont try to analyse, train your ears by listening absorbing and playing over as much of your fave music as you can. Scales over chords approach can help of course but its not for me, nor do i reckon Herbie thinks like that but i could be wrong!

 

When I started listening to the stuff from Miles, Herbie, Joe Z., Chick, Bill Evans, Dave Liebman/Richie Beirach and as a guitar player example, John Scofield,- I was very young and relatively soon, I recognized, it makes no sense analyzing, transcribing and copying their solos. It was better trying to understand the mood and tension and to find a personal way to play this music.

These cats have BIG ears and BIG experience and it grows until they die. In addition, their sidemen perform on the same level.

They don´t think about chords and scales anymore, they even didn´t 30 years ago because they were on that level already.

 

A.C.

 

 

 

Hold on, so if I want to get good at this, it is actually better not to study and practice? Just feel my way out of it? And that is how Herbie does it, too?

 

 

Don´t understand your question,- who said that ?

 

A.C.

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a serious visual is needed here

 

It would be really cool for someone with the skill to put together the jam on youtube

 

It does not have to be perfect.

Why fit in, when you were born to stand out ?

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btw. this is similar to the rhodes tone I have atm.. none of your clean stuff for me ;-)

 

He, he, yep,- love it !

Definitely Fender Rhodes w/ EH Big Muff.

 

The recording reminds me to the stuff Kuhn did during the times he lived in my hometown and used to hang around w/ Mark Nausseef and Gerry Brown.

I also remember he recorded Hendrix type stuff w/ a Roland Jupiter 4 and tons of FX floor boxes in a studio here and in the early 80th.

He was pretty much electric before he decided to go acoustic only.

 

What´s the linup of this tune, couldn´t find out by Google ?

 

A.C.

 

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btw. this is similar to the rhodes tone I have atm.. none of your clean stuff for me ;-)

 

 

What´s the linup of this tune, couldn´t find out by Google ?

 

A.C.

 

Thanks for the info... Kuhn is one of my heroes...

 

Gerry Brown (dr), John Lee (bs), Toto Blanke (gtr), Zbgniew Seifert (vl)...

 

I guess they were going for a Mahavishnu rock like sound but with heavy swinging influence...

 

Incidentally, Kuhn went back to electric in 90s... I think with a Tony WIlliams Lifetime kind of edge (Tony Newton on bass)

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9HHpTXfLf8&feature=related

 

 

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I'm re-listening now to Chameleon now to see if I can shed any light on your original question. Without transcribing it, I can tell you at least that there are definitely times where he plays a different chord change that falls outside of the harmony of the vamp and solos with corresponding modes to that chord. Transcribing the LH voicings along with those more "outside" lines would point the way.

 

Now WHY he chose them is a whole different story... ;)

(I love the unanswerable questions. :) ) Why he chose them is just his own particular ear system for making music. The best players try to play 'what is needed' at the moment, or what is missing in the music.

 

Once the groove is established in a song like Chameleon, it's there. It's being covered by the whole band. So where's it going to go? Do you just groove, or do you 'play'? That's when supplying things that are not in the existing music can lift it to a higher level.

 

Just generically speaking there, obviously.

 

About transcriptions: it's a good discipline and learning tool (about how others played}, and for reading/writing and ear training.

 

But however you get to the point of playing your own concepts and ideas, you're there. Whether you took more of an academic route or not, you still learn most everything from the actual act of listening and playing. You learn every time you play.

 

I never transcribed a whole solo in my life, but most music aspirers must start out as scavengers, building on things they've heard.

 

 

 

 

 

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