This article is copyright 2009 by Antonio J. García and originally was published in Down Beat, Vol. 76, No. 12, December 2009. 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.

Errors occurred in the original publication that were not the responsibility of the author. These errors were acknowledged in a later issue of Down Beat, though no corrected reprints were made available by the periodical. The document below has been fully corrected.

“Woodshed” Pro Session

by Antonio García

“Red Top” Blues Variations

There are seemingly infinite ways to vary blues chord progressions. You can find some of the most delightful examples of chord reharmonization within the rendition of “Red Top” recorded on Dexter Gordon’s Sophisticated Giant in 1977 (released originally on LP as Columbia JC 34989 and then on CD as Sony/Columbia/Legacy 65295). The big band on the cut features Gordon on tenor plus Frank Wess (woodwinds), Howard Johnson (bari sax), Woody Shaw and Benny Bailey (trumpet), Slide Hampton (trombone and arranger), Wayne Andre (trombone), Bobby Hutcherson (vibes), George Cables (piano), Rufus Reid (bass), and Victor Lewis (drums), with yet more luminaries on other cuts. Ben Kynard and Lionel Hampton composed the tune. Dexter dedicated its presence on the album to his tenor colleague Gene Ammons, who had played this blues often.

Here are some of the harmonic tools used to present three very different, yet complementary, sets of Bb blues changes in the opening minutes of this track. A triangled number on the lead sheet highlights each tool, with the presence of some basic I, II, IV, and V chords noted below the staff:

1.     Tritone Substitution: A chord (in this first case, Eb9) is approached by a dominant chord a half-step higher (E9). That chord is a tritone away from the usual dominant approach-chord (Bb7) and shares its third and seventh (D and Ab/G#).

2.     Half-Step Planing: Approaching a chord by the same quality of chord a half-step away.

3.     “Bird” Major: In Charlie Parker-esque “Bird” blues (such as “Blues for Alice”), the I and IV chords are often major rather than dominant, brightening the key of the blues by one flat.

4.     Diatonic Planing: Walk up the modes of the major scale, in this first instance I Ionian (Bbmaj7), ii Dorian (Cm7), and iii Phrygian (Dm7).

5.     “Every ii can have its V.” You can expand any V chord (Gb9sus) by adding its preceding ii (Dbm9).

6.     This descending progression is common in such tunes as “Hit the Road, Jack” and “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”

7.     Arrive at a bass-tone a half-step higher (B) than expected (Bb). Instant brightening of the key!

8.     “Every V can have its ii.” Complementary to Tool #5 above. Compare measure 1 with m. 12 beat 4 through m. 13, and you’ll recall that the E9 in m. 13 is a tritone-sub approach to the Eb9. If you were to view the E9 as a V chord, what would be its partner ii chord be? The Bm7 preceding.

9.     Harmonic Enclosures: Just as you can melodically enclose a pitch (with appoggiaturas and escape tones), you can harmonically enclose chords. At the same time that Gm7 planes to F#m7 and then Fm7, the A7 and B7 enclose Bb7; and the Em7 and F#m7 enclose Fm7.

10.  A bVII –> I progression (Db to Eb, if you were to temporarily call Eb the I instead of the IV it is), common a la “Stella by Starlight” bars four to five.

11.  Surprise Minor: instead of the expected dominant quality.

12.  Pedal Tone: four bars of F bass as dominant function build up tension to the next chorus.

13.  Triad Over Foreign Bass: G/Bb sounds like a Bb13 (b9) without a seventh. G/E sounds like a Bb13 (b9, #11) without a seventh. Both function here as the I chord, with just enough spice added.

14.  Tritone Bass Movement: Changing from Bb to E to Bb sustains the feel and function of the initial Bb bass, heightening the tension before resolving to the IV chord (Eb).

15.  A ii-V Half-Step Higher Than The Target: The Em9-A9 would typically resolve to a Dmaj9 chord but instead land on DbMaj9. The higher ii-V momentarily brightens the key. This technique is often used to reharmonize jazz standards’ solo sections. If the target is considered “I,” than the ii-V is of the key of bII. (Consider “Autumn Leaves” in G with the first ii-V as Bbm7-Eb7.) As an added pattern, Slide launches this ii-V from a major chord a half-step lower (Eb), repeating that bass-shape in the next progression (DbMaj9-Dm9-G9-BMaj9).

16.  Interrupted Progression: No one would blink at a typical iii-VI-ii-V progression (Em9-A9-Dm9-G9). But the major chord in m. 31 (DbMaj9) interrupts it. Similarly, m. 33’s BMaj9 interrupts Dm9-G9-Cm9-F9.

17.  In contrast to these highly arranged initial choruses, this uninterrupted iii-VI-ii-V eventually sets up Dexter to solo over the swinging rhythm section in the next chorus, free to solo and comp the blues as they wish in balance to the successful progressions that Slide had orchestrated thus far.


Here's a look at the entire three choruses:

Many other variations on blues progressions are possible. For a concise look at 17 different 12-bar blues, see page 35 of Jamey Aebersold’s free Jazz Handbook (downloadable and orderable from <jazzbooks.com>). The examples come from Dan Haerle’s Jazz/Rock Voicings for the Contemporary Keyboard Player, also available from that site.

According to Ira Gitler’s liner notes, Dexter stated to Slide after the recording session for this album: “This is a classic. It should be in everyone’s library.” Say no more.

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

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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