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If you need to hear the recording…
I remember back when I was a student at Oberlin, I was having one of my lessons with Gary Bartz and I had just heard John Coltrane’s album Soultrane. I was telling Gary how Coltrane’s solo on the first track, Good Bait, had left me speechless. I had heard plenty of Coltrane’s playing before, but this solo was certainly something very special. I was completely in awe of his technical facility and rhythmic sense.
When I started talking about the solo, Gary told me that it was this particular solo that taught him how to play rhythm changes. Obviously, I’m sure there were other sources that Gary drew from in his development when learning how to play over these immortal Gershwin changes, but it’s a testament to this solo that a legend would cite it as a crucial source of information and inspiration in their own development.
Back then there was absolutely no way I would even dare to try to transcribe the solo. Besides the obvious challenges of transcribing a tenor solo on an alto, Coltrane’s flurries of notes and scales are so quick and ferocious that I thought it impossible to accurately learn the solo by ear. Now almost a decade later I rediscovered this solo and immediately searched online for a copy of this solo transcription. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) I couldn’t find anything and I then decided to try to transcribe the monstrosity. Now, many months later I think I’ve pretty much completed the task.
I’ve included links to download both a PDF of this solo (for alto only, sorry tenor players!) and a PDF of various lines and patterns Coltrane plays in his solo. It would most definitely be beneficial to learn the entire solo and play it along with the recording, but in my opinion a student will get more out of the transcription process if they can identity particular parts of a solo which they would like to assimilate into their own improvisatory vocabulary (does this sound pretentious?). So feel free to check out the solo excerpts PDF as well and see the material which I really like.
The way I would practice the excerpts are to first memorize each one and then learn the lines in all 12 keys. Of course some lines are going to flow much more easily than others in certain keys, but the point isn’t to be able to play the excerpts with equal facility in every key (although that’d be pretty cool if you could do that - I certainly can’t). The reason to do this is to help you transpose more difficult lines in your head and at least gain a little more facility in tricky keys. Once you’re able to play most of the material in all keys, then you should force the material into your own improvisations, no matter how unnatural or mechanical it sounds. And this solo is particularly good since the changes are so ubiquitous within the jazz genre. There are so many songs that contain the I-VI-ii-V progression, and this is practically all Good Bait is made up of. I recommend playing along with Jamey Aebersold recordings, which are actually all available now on Spotify. There is even a Good Bait track which is almost at the same tempo as John Coltrane’s version.
But don’t stop there either. Find other songs with similar chord progressions and plug in the material from this solo into your improvisations on these other songs. The progression from the I (tonic) key area to the IV (subdominant) key area in both the A and B section of Good Bait is also found in so many other songs, and of course in the blues. So find ways to insert the Good Bait solo lines into your improvisations on these songs as well.
After enough time, it will become easier and easier to recall this new vocabulary and eventually this material will surface in your improvisations without you even having to think about it. Just like how you don’t have to think about how to string together words you learned in 3rd grade when you speak today.
I could go on and on about this so I’ll stop now and just briefly explain each example from the Coltrane solo excerpt PDF.
#1 - Pulled from the 2nd A of the 1st chorus (m.11 - 13). As Coltrane really snakes around here and doesn’t exactly resolve his lines on downbeats, it’s pointless to stress about the exact rhythm of the line. Just pay attention to the chromatically descending minor arpeggios and understand that they are employed over a ii-V progression in one measure.
#1 (More Practical Version) - As the title suggests, this is a more practical version of the previous Coltrane line. Again, don’t worry so much about your rhythm here and just fit three chromatically minor descending arpeggios within one measure, resolving your line on the major third of the I chord (in this example B, over the G6 chord).
#2 - Just a little ii-V line which I happen to enjoy. From the 1st B section of the 1st chorus (m.18).
#3 - Another line which is from the 3rd A of the 1st chorus (m.30-32). Sounds nice over a I-vi-ii-V progression, or even just a static tonic sound.
#4 - These are some diminished arpeggios and then a run down a melodic minor scale that Coltrane messes with in the 1st A of the 2nd chorus (m.39-40). Again, the rhythm is a little suspect here, so perhaps focus more on the following variations, which are conveniently grouped in quintuplets, sextuplets, or 2 sixteenths and a sixteenth note triplet.
#4 Variations 1 - 3 - I wouldn’t really treat these as licks or patterns to insert into your improvisation, although I’m sure you could figure something out eventually as you get more familiar with the sounds. I would use these as more of technical exercises.
#4 Variation 4 - This series of diminished arpeggios could work hypothetically over a ii-V progression.
#5 - This is one place among many in Trane’s solo (m.41-42) where he uses note enclosures. As with #1 and #4, focus on the following variations. They sound nice over a static key area. There are so many ways you could approach note enclosures, so I’m only focusing on the major 6 sound and enclosing the 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 6th degrees of the major chord. So in G, that would be G, B, D, and E.
#5 Variations 1 and 2 - See above.
#6 - A sweet line Coltrane plays on the B of the 3rd chorus (m.81-84).
#7 - Another line Coltrane plays on the 3rd A of the 3rd chorus (m.89-93)
#8 - Taken from the B of Trane’s 4th and final chorus (m.113-115).
Welcome to anyone who purposefully or accidentally ended up here. I started this blog to help other saxophonists and jazz musicians in their endless pursuit of improving their craft. I’m rather methodical when it comes to practicing and have amassed quite a bit of material for both improvisation and general technique.
Each month I will post an entry dealing with a specific item, whether it be a transcribed solo, scale exercise, pentatonic pattern, etc…
Hopefully you’ll find at least some of the material interesting and even useful for your own playing.