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The structure of “Blue Monk”

We investigate the structure of "Blue Monk".
I now want to introduce you to a blues in B flat, a very important blues by Theolonius Monk called “Blue Monk”. Let’s first of all have a look at the chord sequence. It’s the enhanced chord sequence with the diminished chord in the sixth bar. If I play seventh tenths the very first chord is B flat7, then it goes to the subdominant E flat 7 and then it goes home for two chords.
The it goes back to the subdominant, then the diminished chord, which when you play it as tenths is just a question of raising the lower finger a semitone and leaving the other two alone - because that is the sixth of E diminished and that is the flattened tenth which both belong to the scale. Then, as before, home again for two bars. Then the dominant seventh F7, then the subdominant seventh E flat7 and then home for two bars. Let me play the tune for “Blue Monk” because it’s the tune I want to look at in detail.
So, roughly in time, and I’ll just play open sevenths in the left hand to keep it out of the way of the tune - I’ll keep the chords fairly low. Here we go. 1,2,1,2,3,4.
One of the problems with the left hand is that it wants to agree with the tune in the right hand, so I might not have got that quite in the right place. It’s the tune that I want to look at anyway. It starts off with a phrase which I am going to call a motif or a motivic element which just begins on the third of B flat 7, which is D, and goes up to the fifth of B flat 7, which is F, chromatically. It’s just a four note phrase. That’s it. Motivic element 1.
Then in the second bar we get motivic element 1 again but it is displaced - it’s displaced to agree with the underlying chord, which in our enhanced chord sequence, is E flat7. It starts on the third of E flat7 and goes up to the fifth.
Then in bar 3 we have a new motivic element. I want to call that the second motivic element - even though the first time we hear it it is extended by having two extra notes on the end of it. If I call that motivic element 2 then the extension, which is just a slight variation of it, I’ll call motivic element 2 prime. Then we go to bar 5 and its motivic element 1 back again with E flat7. Then we have this - as often happens in the blues -
sixth bar: diminished chord and the tune is simply again displaced - translated.
Then we have motivic element 2 again.
Now we have a new idea, which I am going to call motivic element 3 - da da da da da da - that’s motivic element 3. Then we get motivic element 2.
And that motivic element 2 is repeated. But - and this is part of the genius of Theolonius Monk - it isn’t just repeated, it’s actually also rhythmically displaced. Because the first time you hear it the phrase is on the first beat of the bar, whereas the second time you hear it is on the second beat of the bar. A bit of a problem about linking the left and the right hand. It’s difficult to hear it out of context, but when you get to play it for the first time you’ll know about it because you will probably get lost in the last bar - in the twelfth bar - in knowing where 1 is when you get back to the top.
You see this tune is built up of quite simple motivic elements, essentially three in all. It’s importance is that it’s a paradigm for our third route to improvising. The third route is called motivic. We’ve got the first route to improvising which is scalic, the second route to improvising which is chordal and the third route to improvising which is motivic - which is using motives, using phrases and doing things with them: repeatng them, displacing them, inverting them, varying them, but nonetheless using the phrase as the source for your improvisation

You will learn about the structure of “Blue Monk”.

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

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Learn Jazz Piano: Begin with the Blues

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