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Rhythm changes and Oleo special devices

Rhythm changes and Oleo special devices
What I do want to look at now is rhythm changes, that is, the way that jazz musicians over the years have used the chords of “I’ve Got Rhythm” to compose and create their own tunes over the top of it. I’ve included on the whiteboard a list by somebody called Kimberly Stephan, and it’s a list of tunes which are rhythm changes, which have been used by the well-established jazz musicians over the years. And there’s 100 or so of them. Certainly, it’s not exhaustive and includes famous tunes such as Charlie Parker’s “Anthropology”, “Cotton Tail”, “Lester Leaps In”, “Moose the Mooche”, “One Bass Hit”, “Rhythm-a-ning”, “Squatty Roo”, Miles Davis’s “The Theme”.
I want to look at my favourite one which is Sonny Rollins’ “Oleo”. “Oleo” is a bit strange in a sense because it’s a 32 bar sequence, AABA, but there’s
no tune over the middle eight: it’s just left to the devices of the musicians playing it as to what they do there. So there’s only an A tune really. In fact I’m going to refer to a version of this by Keith Jarrett later. And when Keith Jarrett plays it with his trio, he just plays the A section, and he leaves the B section just for the rhythm section to cook along until it’s time to come back with the final A. OK, let’s have a look, first of all, at this A section, the A tune. 1,2,1,2,3,4.
So there’s an A1 and an A2 and then there’s a middle eight and then A2 again. And that’s the structure of it. The middle eight, in a sense, is much the same as we had for “I’ve Got Rhythm”. In fact, you’ll see I put in the chords D7, G7, C7, F7. But in parenthesis, instead of G7, I put D flat 7 and instead of F7, I put B7. Because that’s actually how Sonny Rollins wanted it originally – to come down chromatically rather than jumping in fifths.
And we will see when we get to discuss the “Clock Of Keys”, in some sense, why G7 and D flat 7 can be thought of as equivalent chords. But we’ll leave that for the moment. So I’ve kept the middle eight the same as “I’ve Got Rhythm” for our purposes, because that will be enough for us. What about the chord sequence? Well the chord sequence is pretty much identical to “I’ve Got Rhythm”, but it’s not exactly the same. The first six bars, if you check it out, are the same but then there’s this extra seventh bar. And then the eight bar is simply II-V taking us back to the I of B-flat major. That’s the first time bar.
The second time bar, the eighth bar, is within one bar II-V-I.
Although we’ve come across the idea of split bars: that’s two chords in a bar each lasting two beats –
here’s an example of a bar with three chords in it: II-V-I in B-flat major; namely C minor 7 for one beat, F7 for one beat and B flat major 7 for one beat (actually two). So what is the function of this seventh bar? Well if we think that we’re in B-flat major – and we really don’t get very far away from it – then D minor 7, a chord built on D, is the third of the chord (scale). So if I used Roman numerals, this is III. So it goes III-VI-II-V-I. And you can think of that as just a longer turnaround really, which is just getting us back to our home key of B flat major.
So you can simply forget about the right scales that go with D minor 7 – as we did with G minor 7, because we’re not actually playing that – and just play B-flat major over all those four chords, because that’s where we’re heading. This is tonal jazz – you may get a couple crunches here and there – but eventually the music will resolve to the tonic. I mean, strictly speaking, D minor 7 with a flat third and flat seventh,
that’s actually a mode of C major: D Dorian – so B flat is naturalised and E flat is naturalised – so two of the notes don’t agree.
Moreover, we’re going to be playing – when we play D minor 7 – the 9th shape: either the first inversion or the third inversion, and that has an E natural in it, which is obviously not in the scale of B flat major. But, as I say, we’re going to simplify things. We will look at this in more detail again when we look at the “Clock of keys” and understand the function of this chord. Its tonality, by the way – that is whether it’s major or minor –
is determined by the scale we’re heading for, which is B flat major. So it’s an F natural, not an F sharp, because F natural is in the scale. F sharp isn’t. Same way as with G minor.
That’s got a B-flat which is obviously in the scale of B flat major. So when it comes to improvising, we’re going to do our usual business of staying on the B flat major for the first four bars, going to E flat major in the next bar and a half, A flat 7 – if you’ve got time – for half a bar, and then we’re going to play B flat major, while the chords go D minor, G minor 7, C minor 7, F7; and similarly in the last bar. So let’s have a look at our voicings. There’s the upper voicing. So we’ve discussed this before with “I’ve Got Rhythm” because it goes –
When we get to F minor 7, we are going to go up.
And then –
for the first time bar, and the second time bar takes us home.
Let’s look at the lower voicings now.
So now we have a choice between going up or going down to do the next bit F minor 7, B flat 7, E flat major 7, A flat 7. As I’ve said before, if you go down –
it’s a bit low. I think that’s probably too low, that last chord. And then you’ve got to jump back –
So there’s quite a jump between those two chords, in which case we would take the middle chords – the chords in the middle of the piano – F minor 7, B flat 7, E flat major 7, A flat 7. And then it’s easy to go down to D minor 7.
The middle eight – if you’re in the upper position – remember we said before it goes 13th, 9th, 13th, 9th. In the lower position then it goes 9th, 13th, 9th, 13th – the other way around. So I think we’re ready to give this a go.
One thing I’d like to point out: remember our fourth route to improvisation is called “Special Devices”. These are ways in which we can add our own signature to our improvisation with bits and pieces that we like. So rhythm changes are very popular with sax players, especially tenor sax players. They like playing in B flat major because it’s C major for them. And so you’ll often find, if you’re on a jam session and there’s a tenor sax player around, they would want to play rhythm changes. And then when they play it, they very often decorate it in a particular way. So one of our first devices is ornamentation. Remember?
Well, there’s a similar thing here where they use grace notes. This is typically how the sax player might play it. 1,2,1,2,3,4.
So instead of – you’ve got – Of course, we can do that as well.
So it’s just one of our special devices: ornamentation. Now, another special device, which I’m going to use, is the idea of playing tunes and, indeed, improvising using octaves. Or more precisely, perhaps, double octaves or triple octaves, where you play exactly the same thing in both hands. Now, this is actually a little bit difficult for this tune because the fingering doesn’t help, in that the fingering is different from the left hand to the right hand. And usually this is played at such a speed that if I do this and make a mistake, you probably can’t hear it. But perhaps in this context, you might be able to.
I’ll have a go anyway, because this is how I want to play it with our playalong. So this is how Keith Jarrett plays it. 1,2,1,2,3,4.
I haven’t really worked out what the fingering should be in the left hand. I think there’s some cheating where I play two notes next to each other with the thumb. It wouldn’t take me long probably to work out what fingering works where I can play the whole thing legato. As I say, if I have done it like this, then I played it so fast that it’s not an issue. Indeed, speed is going to be one of our issues when we come to using the playalong, because usually rhythm changes are fairly up tempo, probably too much for us at our stage. So we’ll slow it down.
I’m going to slow the Aebersold version of “Oleo” down by 75% so that we stand a chance at least. OK, so there we have it “Oleo” and our special devices of ornamentation –
and octaves – double octaves in this case.
Let’s have a go with our playalong.

Rhythm changes consist of the chord changes under the tune “I Got Rhythm” and many tunes have been written over them by jazz musicians.

We look at the Sonny Rollins tune “Oleo” and consider playing the tune using the special devices of ornamentation and “double octaves”.

Click here for a playalong for “Oleo”. You can download the list referenced in the video, as well as “Oleo” and the “Oleo” analysis, in PDF format at the bottom of this step.

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