Talking Jazz with Evan Christopher and Yaakov Hoter – Part 2. Melody, Chords and Colors



Talking Jazz with Evan Christopher and Yaakov Hoter – Part 2. Melody, Chords and Colors

Talking Jazz part 2

Let the melody put you on the road

The melody is a fantastic foundation for improvisation.  So you need to know the melody very well. It’s a great strategy to stay close to the melody on the first chorus of the solo, then stray a little by playing phrases around the melody and then get a little further away from it and maybe go back to a little bit of the melody towards the end of the solo.

The melody is at least as important as the harmony.
If the melody is strong in your mind, it gives you a much bigger source, makes sure that what you play is related to the song, not just finger-wriggling, even at a fast tempo.

On When Day is Done, Django creates his own version of the melody in a way that call the original melody to mind all the time.  The swing players Django most admired (such as Coleman Hawkins on Body and Soul) had that connection to the melody in their playing.


Chord tones, Guide Tones and Neighbors Take You Far

Harmonically it’s great to think about chord tones, neighbor tones and also the tones a half-tone below them (chromatic approach).  In fact, if you have enough neighbors in there, it becomes scales. 

In modern jazz, they want to teach you what scales to play over chords.  That’s okay, but thinking of the arpeggios and neighbor notes gives a much richer and more interesting solo.  Using chord tones rather than scales tends to emphasize the more pivotal relationships. It makes it natural to use the notes that get us from one chord to another. Like guide tones- the 3rd and the7th degrees.  

You can travel further when you’re dealing with the chord tones.  Especially with dominant chords, those chromatic neighbors give you all those colors (like the flat 13th, the 9s sharp 5s, etc.).  Just thinking of the scales doesn’t get you into those colorations as much.

Playing with chord tones, chromatic approach, feel, articulation and keeping the melody in mind so you can automatically go to it are great foundations for improvisation.

Get Up There with a Second Voice Above the Melody

The clarinet’s role in New Orleans jazz was backing the trumpet. The clarinet provided those relationships between the melody and the color notes with a rhythmic and melodic counterpoint. So it’s very interesting to hear the relationship of the clarinet line to the melody.

It’s a great exercise in improvisation to record yourself playing the melody and improvise over it, like a second voice above the melody.  When soloing, this helps you to get to other parts of the chord, instead of always starting from the root.  You end up with a melodic line that complements the melody itself, playing a kind of chord scales avoiding the roots, but building a lot of things off the 3 and 7.  You get into all the interesting parts of the chords – the 9s and all the colors.

Django’s voicings get you up there.  Charlie Christian’s lines actually were derived from the voicings themselves; he played a lot of things above the chord tones.  It’s excellent to see these relationships on the piano.

You can end up getting pretty far away, by using blues voicings that might be played on piano, even on another instrument.

Remember that Louis Armstrong started out playing second cornet to King Oliver, which is playing the harmony part.  He often imposed the sixth against the dominant chord.  For instance, he would work with an Am triad over the D7 chord.  The imposition of the different chord gives us colors, the 13 and 9 automatically.


How to Practice

The King of Melody – Melody Mastery, is a comprehensive course that guides you in mastering the melody and basing your melody over it. In this course, you get a step-by-step learning process that gives you the ability to:

  • Master the melody in as many places and octaves on your fingerboard.
  • Master the chord progression.
  • See the melody inside chord shapes.
  • Connect the melody to the harmonic form.
  • Add notes to the melody and improvise with it.
  • Embellish the melody with arpeggios in your improvisation.
  • Embellish the melody with triads, neighbors and chromatic notes.
  • Implement 11 tools to create your improvisation around the melody over 4 of your favorite songs – All Of Me, When Day Is Done, Avalon and I’ll See You In My Dreams.

Click here>> to get instant access to the course:

The King of Melody – Melody Mastery