Editor’s Note: Below is a powerful exercise shared by renowned sax professional Kenny Brooks. Thanks to the great saxophonist, David Valdez for putting us in touch with Kenny to get Kenny’s permission to include it here on the site.
As a means of using amazing improvisational material to improve my ability to move around the horn swiftly and smoothly, I transcribed the alternate take of John Coltrane’s seminal recording of the tune, “Countdown” and put it into 12 keys descending.
The first chorus of my exercise is in the original key. I then descend a half step for each following chorus. Note the 13th chorus is also in the original key. On chorus 8, I move down a half step and also up an octave in order to accommodate range.
In this way, one is made to play all of Trane’s shapes all over the horn and in all different keys. Of course, as is always the case some of the keys “lay” better than others, and this is part of the point of the exercise – the point being that one gets to face up to uncomfortable keys and shapes and tries to make every transposition sound evenly smooth.
Trane had obviously worked out the shapes and the ways of moving through the keys, and it is noteworthy how inside the changes this solo actually is. There are very few notes or harmonies outside the given chord changes.
In my study of this solo, I tried to identify those few places where he played a note, or several notes outside the changes.
- On the final bar of most of the choruses, he plays some version of a Cmin(MAJ 7) over the B7, which means often playing the note C (b9 on B7) and G (#5 over B7).
- On the first bar of the chorus he sometimes plays C# (5 over F#-) and sometimes C (b5 implying a half diminished sound).
- In the 8th bar of the 3rd chorus he plays a G# – the #4 over Dmaj.
- In bar 15 of chorus 10 he plays an Eb on beat 2 and an E on beat 4.
- Frequently on the Abmaj on the 3rd bar of a chorus he will play Ab-A-C implying a sort of A min perhaps, but that one is a mystery to me and it is played several times.
Aside from a couple of other moments, those are the only deviations from his incredibly strict adherence to the chord changes. this solo naturally extends itself to an etude in 12 keys.
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