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Skip to 0 minutes and 9 seconds Let’s look at our very first mode. In this case C melodic minor ascending

Skip to 0 minutes and 17 seconds which has a chord associated with it C minor with a major seventh. To explore this, let’s have a look at this lovely tune by Miles Davis - or at least attributed to Miles Davis, whether he wrote it or not, I don’t know - called “Solar”. At first sight you might think it’s a blues because it’s 12 bars long, and the first chord, the first 4 bars rooted on C and the next 2 bars on F, and so you might think it’s a blues, but it isn’t really. It’s a chord sequence which has a rather remarkable status. Let’s look at the chords first and then I’ll analyse what’s going on. Take C minor7 and naturalise the seventh, in that particular position.

Skip to 1 minute and 1 second So that’s our first chord - C minor/major7. If I want to thicken it, I can add the fourth. Then we’ve got C minor7 in bar 3 and that splits to C7 which is taking us to F major7. That’s the nearest shape for F major7 from where I was. Then it goes F minor7, B flat7, E flat major7 and then E flat minor7, A flat7 - a thick version of it - D flat major7 - or a thick version of it - D minor7 with a flat5 and a flat9, G7 with a flat9 - with a plus, a sharp5 and a flat9. Why?

Skip to 1 minute and 50 seconds to make it agree with the tune because it’s got an E flat and an A flat in the tune. What’s happening harmonically? Well harmonically it starts off in the minor but with a major seventh. Why? - because of the tune which goes like this. It’s got a B natural in it. Some real books - some fake books give - the first chord as C minor7. It isn’t really because it’s got this B in it. The third bar is C minor7 and the fourth bar the first half is, and then I’ve put in a C7 taking us to F major7. I should add that these are my versions of the chords.

Skip to 2 minutes and 30 seconds You might go to other fake books, you might see they’re slightly different. We’re in F major7 - we’ve modulated to F major7. Then look what happens. We go down in terms of tonal centres, in terms of modulations, a tone at a time. First of all we go F minor7, B flat7, E flat major7. That’s II-V-I to E flat major7 and so we play over E flat major7 in those 3 bars. Then E flat minor7, A flat7, D flat major7, that’s II-V-I to D flat major7. Then the final bar is D minor7 flat5 flat9, G7 augmented flat9, which is just basically a II-V taking us back to C minor.

Skip to 3 minutes and 22 seconds I might on occasion play for D minor7 my half diminished chord with a root voicing, since I quite like it in that part of the piano. But see what’s happening - roughly speaking - first 4 bars C minor. The next 2 bars F major. The next 3 bars E flat major. The next 2 bars D flat major. Then the next bar a II-V taking you back to C minor. What’s happening, in some sense, the chords are moving faster and faster. You’ve got a chunk of C bass, at least, then you’ve got a chunk of F bass, sounds like 3 bars.

Skip to 3 minutes and 58 seconds Then you’ve got a couple of bars of E flat bass, a couple of bars of D flat bass and then a II-V in the last bar taking you back to the top. In terms of the scales that you use to improvise, you’ve got the melodic minor ascending for the first 2 bars. Then our usual Dorian mode for the next 1 and a half bars. The C7 is taking us to F major, so we play that for 2 bars. Then we’ve got F minor7, B flat7, E flat major7 so that’s II-V-I to E flat major - so we play over E flat major. Then E flat minor7, A flat7, D flat major - we play over D flat major.

Skip to 4 minutes and 31 seconds Then finally II-V with some altered notes - because we are in a minor - to get us back to the top. I hope you’ve got used to the fact now that I might now play the tune a bit more freely, because the whole idea is you interpret the tune. You don’t have to play it rigorously, although I try and keep as close as I can to it. Similarly, with the chords in the left hand, I might use other positions. We haven’t discussed the fact that we could have C minor - is that chord, but C minor with a major seventh is that chord. If we want to thicken it we could add the C.

Skip to 5 minutes and 4 seconds If we want to thicken it even further we could add an F, I guess. So it’s going to be that to C7 taking us to F major7. And then - and so on.

Skip to 5 minutes and 19 seconds Then we’re going to use our 3 techniques in the left hand: sometimes legato, sometimes stabbed, sometimes Amen - for example, I might get to D flat major from a semitone above - and playing them in different parts of the bar, so that they kind of complement the tune. So in some ways they set off the tune.

Skip to 5 minutes and 44 seconds Let’s have a go with an Aebersold playalong: Solar.

Discussing and playing "Solar" with a playalong

We discuss the Miles Davis standard “Solar” - which utilises the melodic minor ascending scale in the improvisation - prior to playing and improvising on it with a playalong.

You can download the chart for “Solar” in PDF format at the bottom of this step.

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This video is from the free online course:

Learn Jazz Piano: III. Solo Piano and Advanced Topics

Goldsmiths, University of London