This article is copyright 1992 by Antonio J. García and originally was published in the Illinois Music Association Illinois Music Educator, Vol. 52, No. 3, Spring 1992. It is used by permission of the author and, as needed, the publication. Some text variations may occur between the print version and that below. All international rights remain reserved; it is not for further reproduction without written consent.

 

Improvising over "I Like Bebop"

(IMEA required jazz band selection for 1992-93)

by Antonio J. García

 

Antonio García's jazz band composition "I Like Bebop" was commissioned by the IMEA as the required selection for district and state bands. This article suggests various ways educators can utilize this chart to improve the quality of improvisation in their jazz ensembles, also encouraging All-District and State soloists to explore greater creativity in composing their solos.

 

When the IMEA Jazz Division requested I write the required jazz band selection for '92-'93, I wanted to create a work which would be both exciting to and playable by many high schools. In particular, I hoped the tune would serve as a vehicle for teaching improvisation to players of different experience levels. But how could an All-State tune be best accessible for a wide range of soloists?

 

Easy Harmonies for All

For simplicity's sake, I chose the AABA form of "Bb blues with a bridge." The "A" sections follow basic twelve-bar blues form; the "B" sections are eight bars long. So even the most inexperienced players can employ the Bb blues scale over the "A" sections (Ex. 1).

The bridge harmonies are simply four chords, two measures each: Ab7, Bb7, C7, and F7. Though each chord could be matched with its own scale(s), the Bb blues scale still works quite well over all the chords. So students need not know a vast harmonic language to solo over this tune! And when more complex passing chords are being "comped" by the rhythm section at various points of the chart, the blues scale will still serve its purpose as the busier accompaniment generates additional tension and release on its own.

Another common choice for soloists is the Mixolydian scale. The Bb, Eb, and F "Mix" scales will be most useful in the "A" sections, adding Ab and C "Mix" for the bridge (Ex. 2).

But even if the soloist continues using Bb Mixolydian over the initial Ab7 chord of the bridge, s/he will sound fine, as all the notes in the scale except "G" are very compatible with the Ab7. In fact, some of the Bb "Mix" tones (Bb, D, and F) will serve as the "tasty" extensions of the Ab7 chord (9th, raised 11th, and 13th).

The melody of the bridge is actually constructed emphasizing two additional scales, the Lydian-Mixolydian scale (Ex. 3)—in which the fourth tone of the "Mix" scale is raised a half-step—and the whole-tone scale (Ex. 4). But while soloists with the theoretical background to respond to more passing chords or Lydian tones can sound great by doing so, less experienced players can still communicate a great deal using basic blues changes and the corresponding blues and/or Mixolydian scales.

 

Thematic Material for Solos

What separates one Bb blues from another? Often, only the melody itself provides a new perspective; so soloists should take advantage of those motifs when improvising. Look for raw material to "steal" from the tune!

The "A" section melody opens (pickups to m.17) with the idea of steps and half-steps around the tones of the Bb, Eb, or E diminished chords (Ex. 5).

So any soloist who explores the steps around chord tones will be referring to the theme. I suggest directors set up an exercise in which the rhythm section vamps a swing groove on Bb7. The director can then cue half-notes of a Bb7 arpeggio: Bb, D, F, and Ab...then half-notes of an A7 arpeggio: A, C#, E, and G. Students experiencing the tension of an A7 arpeggio over a Bb7 chord will be less inhibited to experiment with steps around the chord tones. Directors can then cue any member of the A7 arpeggio to resolve upwards a half-step to its consonant counterpart in the Bb7 chord. A similar drill could explore the sound of B7 tones over the Bb7 chord. Thus a student might be ready to improvise melodies that reflect the impact of the tune's own melodic line (Ex. 6).

The other primary motif of the "A" section (m.25) is the "long-short, long-short" quarter-note idea (Ex. 7).

This is re-emphasized in the bridge (m.41, Ex. 8).

Therefore, a soloist utilizing this articulation/rhythm pattern will again be strengthening his or her solo by referring to this thematic material.

In fact, soloists confident enough to deliver these motifs need not really adhere strictly to observing the chord changes that are passing by (Ex. 9)

If a player unifies a phrase via themes, the dissonances that result from opposing harmonies can be "tasty" flavors that are more interesting to hear than continuously consonant solos. (Sharp-eyed observers will note that the bridge's melody concludes using exactly that principle, as the C whole-tone melody continues over an "F7 altered" sound in measures 47 and 48: the normally "taboo" notes of Bb, E, and D are clearly acceptable and exciting!) For further information on this concept, see my article "Thematic Dissonance: No Wrong Notes!," IAJE Jazz Educators Journal, Vol. 23, No. 3, Spring '91.

 

Flexible Format

Because "I Like Bebop" is primarily a Bb blues, cuts and additions are easily accomplished by any director wishing to customize the chart to a particular ensemble. Alto I and Trumpet II have required solo space, but there is optional solo space for all other band members. An optional cut eliminates an exposed piano solo; an optional tag adds one at the end of the chart. The tune works not only at a brisk bop tempo (quarter = 280) but also as a swing chart as slow as quarter = 220. Brass ranges do not exceed concert Bb. With these elements—and the suggestions I have offered in this article—I hope that many bands will find "I Like Bebop" a practical chart and improvisational tool for their library.

 

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Antonio J. García is a Professor of Music and Director of Jazz Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he directs the Jazz Orchestra I; instructs Applied Jazz Trombone, Small Jazz Ensemble, Music Industry, and various jazz courses; founded a B.A. Music Business Emphasis (for which he initially served as Coordinator); and directs the Greater Richmond High School Jazz Band. An alumnus of the Eastman School of Music and of Loyola University of the South, he has received commissions for jazz, symphonic, chamber, film, and solo works—instrumental and vocal—including grants from Meet The Composer, The Commission Project, The Thelonious Monk Institute, and regional arts councils. His music has aired internationally and has been performed by such artists as Sheila Jordan, Arturo Sandoval, Jim Pugh, Denis DiBlasio, James Moody, and Nick Brignola. Composition/arrangement honors include IAJE (jazz band), ASCAP (orchestral), and Billboard Magazine (pop songwriting). His works have been published by Kjos Music, Hal Leonard, Kendor Music, Doug Beach Music, ejazzlines, Walrus, UNC Jazz Press, Three-Two Music Publications, and his own garciamusic.com, with five recorded on CDs by Rob Parton’s JazzTech Big Band (Sea Breeze and ROPA JAZZ). His scores for independent films have screened across the U.S. and in Italy, Macedonia, Uganda, Australia, Colombia, India, Germany, Brazil, Hong Kong, Mexico, Israel, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom.

A Bach/Selmer trombone clinician, Mr. García serves as the jazz clinician for The Conn-Selmer Institute. He has freelanced as trombonist, bass trombonist, or pianist with over 70 nationally renowned artists, including Ella Fitzgerald, George Shearing, Mel Tormé, Doc Severinsen, Louie Bellson, Dave Brubeck, and Phil Collins—and has performed at the Montreux, Nice, North Sea, Pori (Finland), New Orleans, and Chicago Jazz Festivals. He has produced recordings or broadcasts of such artists as Wynton Marsalis, Jim Pugh, Dave Taylor, Susannah McCorkle, Sir Roland Hanna, and the JazzTech Big Band and is the bass trombonist on Phil Collins’ CD “A Hot Night in Paris” (Atlantic) and DVD “Phil Collins: Finally...The First Farewell Tour” (Warner Music). An avid scat-singer, he has performed vocally with jazz bands, jazz choirs, and computer-generated sounds. He is also a member of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS). A New Orleans native, he also performed there with such local artists as Pete Fountain, Ronnie Kole, Irma Thomas, and Al Hirt.

Mr. García is a Research Faculty member at The University of KwaZulu-Natal (Durban, South Africa) and the Associate Jazz Editor of the International Trombone Association Journal. He serves as a Network Expert (for Improvisation Materials) for the Jazz Education Network and has served as President’s Advisory Council member and Editorial Advisory Board member. His newest book, Jazz Improvisation: Practical Approaches to Grading (Meredith Music), explores avenues for creating structures that correspond to course objectives. His book Cutting the Changes: Jazz Improvisation via Key Centers (Kjos Music) offers musicians of all ages the opportunity to improvise over standard tunes using just their major scales. He is Co-Editor and Contributing Author of Teaching Jazz: A Course of Study (published by NAfME) and authored a chapter within The Jazzer’s Cookbook (published by Meredith Music). Within the International Association for Jazz Education he served as Editor of the Jazz Education Journal, President of IAJE-IL, International Co-Chair for Curriculum and for Vocal/Instrumental Integration, and Chicago Host Coordinator for the 1997 Conference. He served on the Illinois Coalition for Music Education coordinating committee, worked with the Illinois and Chicago Public Schools to develop standards for multi-cultural music education, and received a curricular grant from the Council for Basic Education. He has also served as Director of IMEA’s All-State Jazz Choir and Combo and of similar ensembles outside of Illinois. He is the recipient of the Illinois Music Educators Association’s 2001 Distinguished Service Award.

Regarding Jazz Improvisation: Practical Approaches to Grading, Darius Brubeck says, "How one grades turns out to be a contentious philosophical problem with a surprisingly wide spectrum of responses. García has produced a lucidly written, probing, analytical, and ultimately practical resource for professional jazz educators, replete with valuable ideas, advice, and copious references." Jamey Aebersold offers, "This book should be mandatory reading for all graduating music ed students." Janis Stockhouse states, "Groundbreaking. The comprehensive amount of material García has gathered from leaders in jazz education is impressive in itself. Plus, the veteran educator then presents his own synthesis of the material into a method of teaching and evaluating jazz improvisation that is fresh, practical, and inspiring!" And Dr. Ron McCurdy suggests, "This method will aid in the quality of teaching and learning of jazz improvisation worldwide."

About Cutting the Changes, saxophonist David Liebman states, “This book is perfect for the beginning to intermediate improviser who may be daunted by the multitude of chord changes found in most standard material. Here is a path through the technical chord-change jungle.” Says vocalist Sunny Wilkinson, “The concept is simple, the explanation detailed, the rewards immediate. It’s very singer-friendly.” Adds jazz-education legend Jamey Aebersold, “Tony’s wealth of jazz knowledge allows you to understand and apply his concepts without having to know a lot of theory and harmony. Cutting the Changes allows music educators to present jazz improvisation to many students who would normally be scared of trying.”

Of his jazz curricular work, Standard of Excellence states: “Antonio García has developed a series of Scope and Sequence of Instruction charts to provide a structure that will ensure academic integrity in jazz education.” Wynton Marsalis emphasizes: “Eight key categories meet the challenge of teaching what is historically an oral and aural tradition. All are important ingredients in the recipe.” The Chicago Tribune has highlighted García’s “splendid solos...virtuosity and musicianship...ingenious scoring...shrewd arrangements...exotic orchestral colors, witty riffs, and gloriously uninhibited splashes of dissonance...translucent textures and elegant voicing” and cited him as “a nationally noted jazz artist/educator...one of the most prominent young music educators in the country.” Down Beat has recognized his “knowing solo work on trombone” and “first-class writing of special interest.” The Jazz Report has written about the “talented trombonist,” and Cadence noted his “hauntingly lovely” composing as well as CD production “recommended without any qualifications whatsoever.” Phil Collins has said simply, “He can be in my band whenever he wants.” García is also the subject of an extensive interview within Bonanza: Insights and Wisdom from Professional Jazz Trombonists (Advance Music), profiled along with such artists as Bill Watrous, Mike Davis, Bill Reichenbach, Wayne Andre, John Fedchock, Conrad Herwig, Steve Turre, Jim Pugh, and Ed Neumeister.

The Secretary of the Board of The Midwest Clinic, Mr. García has adjudicated festivals and presented clinics in Canada, Europe, Australia, The Middle East, and South Africa, including creativity workshops for Motorola, Inc.’s international management executives. The partnership he created between VCU Jazz and the Centre for Jazz and Popular Music at the University of KwaZulu-Natal merited the 2013 VCU Community Engagement Award for Research. He has served as adjudicator for the International Trombone Association’s Frank Rosolino, Carl Fontana, and Rath Jazz Trombone Scholarship competitions and the Kai Winding Jazz Trombone Ensemble competition and has been asked to serve on Arts Midwest’s “Midwest Jazz Masters” panel and the Virginia Commission for the Arts “Artist Fellowship in Music Composition” panel. He has been repeatedly published in Down Beat; JAZZed; Jazz Improv; Music, Inc.; The International Musician; The Instrumentalist; and the journals of NAfME, IAJE, ITA, American Orff-Schulwerk Association, Percussive Arts Society, Arts Midwest, Illinois Music Educators Association, and Illinois Association of School Boards. Previous to VCU, he served as Associate Professor and Coordinator of Combos at Northwestern University, where he taught jazz and integrated arts, was Jazz Coordinator for the National High School Music Institute, and for four years directed the Vocal Jazz Ensemble. Formerly the Coordinator of Jazz Studies at Northern Illinois University, he was selected by students and faculty there as the recipient of a 1992 “Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching” award and nominated as its candidate for 1992 CASE “U.S. Professor of the Year” (one of 434 nationwide). He was recipient of the VCU School of the Arts’ 2015 Faculty Award of Excellence for his teaching, research, and service. Visit his web site at <www.garciamusic.com>.

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