LJS 93: How to Unlock Bebop Language (feat. Chad Lefkowitz-Brown)

Welcome to episode 93 of the LJS Podcast where today we have on special guest jazz saxophonist Chad Lefkowitz-Brown to talk about developing bebop language. Chad talks about his musical journey and the lessons he’s learned along the way to becoming a renowned jazz musician and recording artists. Specifically, he hones in on Bebop, and gives us some great exercises to work on. Listen in!

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One of the most defining eras of jazz was the Bebop Era. This is a time period in the 1940’s where pioneers like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie innovated a style of playing that included a more virtuostic instrumental approach to jazz.

Joining us on the show today to talk about developing bebop language is renowned New York City based saxophonist Chad Lefkowitz-Brown. He’s played with jazz musicians like Arturo O’Farrill and Clarence Penn, and has also played with some pop icons such as Taylor Swift and Don Henley. He also teaches at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music as a visiting artist.

Chad knows a lot about playing music and especially jazz. Today he talks about his roots and how he developed into the musician he is today. I know I learned a lot from hearing his story and you will too!

Chad also shares with us some great exercises for conceptualizing bebop language and different things we should be doing to develop jazz language. This episode is super value-packed, so I hope you have your notes ready.

Here are some of the exercises Chad talks about today:

The Bebop Scale

F Bebop Scale

Exercise #1

Adding chromaticism to the Mixolydian Scale

Exercise #2

Enclosure Pattern

Important Links:

chadlefkowitz-brown.com

Chad’s Store

Read the Transcript

Brent: What is up, everybody? My name is Brent. I’m the jazz musician behind the website learnjazzstandards.com, which is a blog and a podcast all geared towards helping you become a better jazz musician.

Welcome back, if you are a regular listener. If it’s your very first time ever listening to the show, I want to thank you so much for being here. I’ve got a special treat for you today. I’ve got a special guest, and that is jazz saxophonist Chad Lefkowitz-Brown, who lives out here in New York City.

He dedicated a little bit of time to talk to us today about bebop, about playing bebop. Not only just that but talking a little bit about himself, about his career, his development in jazz, all these things which I know for a fact you’re going to be really interested in hearing. Today’s episode is a little bit longer than normal, but it’s totally worth it, and I know you’re going to love everything Chad has to say.

Chat Lefkowitz-Brown, real quick, just in case you don’t know who he is, he is an internationally renowned jazz saxophonist and recording artist. He’s played with lots of artists, including Arturo O’Farrill and Clarence Penn. He’s also even appeared with some pop icons, like Taylor Swift, Don Henley, and Phillip Phillips. And he’s also part of the faculty, as a visiting artist, for the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

This guy is the real deal. He is a professional jazz musician. He has so much to teach us about his development. Again, our special topic today is bebop. He has some really cool exercises he’s going to share with us, and a little bit of his knowledge of developing bebop language.

There’s going to some examples that he gives out today. So if you’re listening on your run, listening at the gym, listening on your commute, and you want to go back later and check out some of the notation for the exercises he’s talking about, go to the show notes today: that’s learnjazzstandards.com/episode93. Episode 93. You can check all this stuff out there, but you’re going to get a lot just listening as well, so no worries on that end.

You can check out Chad at his website: chadlefkowitz-brown.com. That’s chadlefkowitz, L-E-F-K-O-W-I-T-Z, dash brown.com. He has some awesome CDs and some e-books for you to check out. Without further ado, let’s get on Chad Lefkowitz-Brown.

All right. Welcoming on the show today is jazz saxophonist Chad Lefkowitz-Brown. Chad, thanks for being on the show today.

Chad: Thanks for having me, Brent. Great to be here.

Brent: Yeah. Super excited. Of course, not all of my audience probably knows who you are, but they should know who you are. So why don’t you give them the two-minute Chad Lefkowitz-Brown bio? Tell them what you’re all about.

Chad: For sure, for sure. I started playing when I was very young. My dad was a saxophonist and music teacher. At first, I actually didn’t really like playing that much. I was more into sports and video games and stuff like that. Then my dad took me to Charlie Parker, right off the bat, which was way over my head at first.

Since my dad was a music teacher, he didn’t really have any parents to report to and explain why he was giving super-advanced material to a kid who was just 9, 10 years old. So he just kind of threw it in front of me and I inched along, day by day, week by week. Eventually it ended up working for me. I love Charlie Parker and I got addicted to the idea of jazz improvisation. You know, scales right off the top. Then I was hooked.

I was very fortunate. I started playing locally, which, for me, was Elmira, New York. It’s upstate New York. I started playing locally, gigs with this guy who was like a local jazz legend. His name is George Reed. He lived in New York for a long time and played with all sorts of people, like Teddy Wilson, and even Marian McPartland while he was down in New York, but just moved out of the city, I think, in like the ’70s. He used to sub for Philly Joe Jones. He was always around and doing a lot, just wasn’t necessarily on any famous, Landmark Records or anything like that. Moved out of the city, I think, in the ’70s, early ’70s.

Anyway, it was amazing to play with him. I was probably, like, 10 or 11 years old when I started playing with him, and really was getting full out by the time I was 12 or 13. He was, like, approaching 80. It was a really fascinating generational collaboration.

Because of that, I got such an early start playing. I was really fortunate. So I went on to study at the Brubeck Institute in California, which was a two-year scholarship program, and then I moved to New York from there and started playing with all sorts of jazz projects. Mainly I was touring with Clarence Penn for a few years. I started playing with the Manhattan Jazz Orchestra, which is a multi-Grammy-winning group that I am still in to this day. I also jumped right into doing a lot of pop stuff as well. I toured with Taylor Swift for awhile. I’ve done a whole bunch of TV gigs playing with various artists on all sorts of late-night shows and all that stuff.

Now I also teach as well. I teach at the San Francisco Conservatory in California. So I go back and forth. I spend a few days there each month. It’s a brand-new program out there. I’m really excited to be part of it. I teach on Skype a lot as well. That encompasses my activities at presents.

Brent: Awesome. You’re like the ultimate professional musician dude. You’re the real deal. It sounds like your dad played music and that’s how you got really hooked into it. I love how you describe being super into video games. That’s our generation right there. So it sounds like you got that early start from your family, right?

Chad: Yeah. I was fortunate that music was always playing when I was growing up. I mentioned I didn’t really like saxophone when I started playing it, but I really enjoyed music and it was always around. Once my dad was able to find the right approach to teaching me, that’s when it really took off. He didn’t even teach me that much, honestly. I was self-taught in a lot of ways. Getting lessons from your dad is hit or miss. A lot of people just avoid that. A lot of musicians avoid teaching their kids.

Brent: Right.

Chad: It worked out. I think that’s something that I really take into my pedagogue approach today. I think each person needs to learn differently. You kind of have to find the right way to teach each individual, for sure.

Brent: That’s so true. I couldn’t agree with you more on that. Everybody has a different learning style and different people come across music or connect with music in different ways. It’s all about finding for yourself what those are and it’s also about finding, in your case, the right people to guide you and be a mentor.

I know you mentioned a lot of things earlier about your development. Is there a specific moment or string of events or particular people, even outside of your father, who really took that interest or that level of your musicianship to the next level, like really helped guide you along down that path?

Chad: Yeah, yeah, totally. As a kid it was mainly that guy George, just because getting to play with someone who’s really part of the jazz tradition, not in that he was a famous name in the jazz tradition but in that he was around and played with so many people. Blakey was one of his heroes. And he saw Blakey. And, again, subbed for Philly Joe all the time. Just something about playing with him, there’s kind of this spiritual understanding of the music that I think I was able to gain a little bit of. Of course, it’s just the surface of what a lot of people have been able to experience, what the older guys went through, living through that time.

But I was able to get a lot out of that. A lot of it I’m still learning now, or it’s really hitting me now. Like oh man, George showed me Don Byas back in the day, for instance. It was just like, yeah, cool, he’s great. And then I went back to listen to Bird. Now it’s like Don Byas to me is the best saxophonist ever. I wish he was still alive today because I wish I could call him up and say, “Hey, you were right. Don Byas is the best.” I didn’t really fully mature, sadly, until after his passing. I’m sure I’m still maturing, but you know what I mean.

And then as a professional, it would probably be mainly playing with Clarence Penn. He’s played with everybody from Michael Brecker when he was alive to Chris Potter now, all the time. I toured with them for a few years and played on one of his albums. That was always an honor in itself, the fact that I was playing with him, because he had played with and continues to play with the best saxophonists in the world. He plays with Mark Turner all the time, that’s another one.

He also toured with Betty Carter. Everybody who plays with Betty Carter, they bring, as a leader, they bring a very specific idea of what they want in the music to their own music or just to the music that they’re arranging. A lot of my experience with Clarence was playing his arrangements of Monk tunes. Betty Carter was known as being very, very strict and she’d really push her band. Clarence, as a leader, I think he always had a very specific idea of what he wanted the music to sound like. We would have to jump on board and go with that, and he always wanted there to be a lot of energy but he also wanted there to be a lot of dynamics. It was a process the first couple of years, just getting all that music together. It was very difficult music. It just kept getting better and better.

So many times in jazz when a project happens, it lasts for a few months. You do the record, you maybe do some follow-up gigs and that’s that. The band doesn’t really grow. This band played together for four or five years. Professionally, that was really my first experience growing with a band and getting to consistently play with the product and seeing how many forms it could take and see how the same music could get better and better and better and better, even if it’s just a jazz arrangement over a few years. So that was special to me as a professional, and that sticks out for sure.

Brent: Yeah. It’s amazing, too, how just hearing you talk, there’s so much time put into becoming a better jazz musician, a better musician in general. The improvement that happens individually is separate but also together with that improvement that can happen with other musicians. I know I can relate as well, when you’re playing with a band or a group of musicians constantly, how you can grow together and learn how to play together better. On top of that, just how specifically with jazz or improvised music, how much flexibility there is and different possibilities there are. Even if you’re playing the same arrangements over and over again, there’s always something new, there’s always something fresh that can happen. It’s really cool to hear you talk about that.

First of all, just so the audience knows, you are an awesome player. You really know how to play your instrument. The first time I heard you play, I think I had just moved to New York. I think this was around 2010. It was at some club in Harlem at a late-night jam session. I don’t think I played on the jam session. I think I was just showing up, checking out the scene at first. I think there were some heavy cats in there, like Gerald Clayton was in there. I remember you came up and started playing and you were going to the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York City at the time.
I heard you play and was like, Damn, this guy can play. It’s just very inspiring. I’m happy to have you on the show today. I’m excited to introduce my audience to you and your music. You’ve got some great albums out. You teach, you do all this stuff. I really appreciate you sharing your story and getting to know you today and sharing some of that, because I really do believe that our stories are so important to how we develop as a musician, and we can all learn from hearing each other’s stories on these things.

You’re a busy guy. How much time do you have to practice, and when you are practicing, what are you regularly doing?

Chad: Practicing can be tough when you’re really in the professional world. I’m just constantly booked these days. What I’ve started to do, as opposed to trying to get in a good practice session every day, because that’s just not realistic for me unfortunately now, a lot of times now it’s just maybe 15 or 20 minutes of, as sax players would know, going through some reeds or something like that. Just doing a little warm-up routine, just for sound or whatever.

My practicing has become less daily and it’s become more like, oh, I’m going to take Wednesday off in a couple of weeks and that’s going to be my day to shed. Now it’s maybe one day a week. Sometimes I’ll even take a week off where I’m like, this is going to be my week where I practice and get a lot of stuff done other than the things I’m doing professionally, as a side man, or teaching, or studio sessions or anything like that.

I think my practicing regimen has definitely changed since when I was a student. When I was a student, I would try to practice a good two to four hours a day for sure. A lot of times there are the stories about the people who do 10 or something like that. That’s amazing. I don’t think it’s necessarily, like I think you can be a world-class jazz musician and never practice more than two hours a day, honestly. I think it’s just a matter of being focused and, over time, making sure that you’re chipping away at a lot of different things.

I personally don’t believe in practice routines in the sense that you practice every day, you practice the same idea to get better at this idea over and over again. I think it’s okay to have a practice routine in a broad sense of I work on a transcription every day, I work on technique every day, something like that. But I think some people get really stuck on this thing of practice routines, and that they get out their horn or their instrument or whatever, and the first half hour of their practice session is always the same every day. Or maybe their first hour.

For brass, I think that’s a separate thing. For a brass instrument, from what I’ve gathered, it’s very important to have this very specific routine. But for other instruments, I think we don’t necessarily have that same issue with our chops, having to go through this process every time we get the instrument out. I think a lot of times people spend too much time practicing the same thing and then they’re not just chipping away at the endless possibilities of practicing. There are so many different exercises, so many different things to do, and you don’t need to perfect an exercise, I believe, before you move on from it.

A lot of times I have my students do an exercise just in a couple of different keys or a few different keys, memorize it in two or three different keys, then move on to the next thing. Then we come back to that exercise that we only learned in a few different keys a couple of month later. At that point, they have to relearn it. They have to go through the process again and they have to get it back in their ear. Then we add on a few keys. Over the course of a few months or a year, we’ve learned a few different exercises, but not one at a time. I find it sticks much better at the end of the year. This is just my opinion, but the way I teach this is also the way that I now practice this sort of thing. I don’t necessarily, over the course of a few weeks, master this one exercise. But over a year I might master five or six, something like that.

Brent: I’m glad you mentioned that just because I get emails from students that are in my courses, 30 Days to Better Jazz Playing, which is a jazz practicing course, and the New Ear training course, how to play what you hear, and they’re emailing me and asking me, I don’t know, should I move on to this next lesson now, I feel like I’ve got the material but I don’t feel like I’ve mastered it.

I think it’s really important what you said, that the mastery is almost not the point when we’re talking about individual things. When we’re talking about our jazz education or musical education, we’re talking about this cumulative approach here where we’re learning material. We’re grabbing little bits and pieces, just like learning a language. You’re not going to be able to internalize everything you hear, every single word or sentence you’re hearing, perfectly and then never forget it ever again. It doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes it’s an accumulation.

Being able, like you said, attacking different aspects of your musicianship, I think that’s a real good piece of advice and not to get too hung up on this perfectionism. Thanks for sharing that, that’s a really great tip.

I want to jump into our main event today, which is talking about bebop and bebop lines and playing bebop in our jazz improvisation, which I know that you’re more than qualified to talk about. Especially you were talking about how much of a Charlie Parker fan you are. I think we’ll just start with those who have no idea, they might even get confused by bebop and jazz and what the correlation is and what the difference is. What exactly is bebop?

Chad: Great question. Bebop, as they say, was invented by Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. They were just writing all this music. There was no label for it. An analysis of bebop is a funny thing because it’s always just putting names to things. Just like counterpoint, Bach was not thinking about counterpoint because there wasn’t that term counterpoint. That was something that became a label after the fact. A lot of bebop analysis has been labeled after the fact. It hasn’t even been officially labeled in books and jazz theory classes and stuff like that.

But bebop itself, the genre name, did exist back then. I guess the story is that they had this tune that went like this (music playing). Reed’s drying out over here. They had this tune that went like that and people would request it at their gigs. They’d be like Hey Diz, play that bebop, bebop, bebop, bebop. And so that tune became known as Bebop. Somehow the genre as a whole after that became known as bebop. I’m not sure how that came to be. I know that’s how that tune came to be. It’s how eventually the genre became labeled as bebop.

From a more theoretical standpoint, pretty much what happened was in swing, improvising started with really embellishing melodies and outlining chord changes super clearly, maybe outlining some chromatic harmony within the chord changes. But a lot of lines would be like, here’s a Lester Young line. (music playing). So there’s certainly some chromaticism, chromatic approach notes. But it’s a little bit more arpeggio-based and diatonic. And then bebop just became a lot more chromatic and intricate as far as the harmonies would go.

A lot of the chromaticism was still very melodic chromaticism. It’s not like it was random, non-diatonic notes like this (music playing). It’s not that type of non-diatonic material. It’s not the type of chromaticism where it’d be like (music playing).

Brent: Right. Yeah.

Chad: Stuff that can be really hip. There’s a place for that stuff, and those are all totally other techniques to practice. But the first thing is always being able to use chromaticism in a melodic context and that’s what really happened with bebop. So lines like (music playing).
Brent: Yeah, that’s textbook, right there. Everything you just played was like, Someone write that down and sell that in an e-book, you know what I’m saying?

Chad: A lot of the analysis that we’ve added to it wasn’t something that Charlie Parker or Dizzy Gillespie was thinking about. Still, for some people, it can really help them wrap their minds around it, and more importantly it just helps us create material to practice that I fully believe was similar to what Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie were practicing. They weren’t writing books. But they were certainly practicing all of that. Apparently Charlie Parker practiced 10 to 15 hours a day. A lot of the things that I teach are kind of my attempts at, I bet Charlie Parker was practicing this. He wasn’t transcribing himself. He didn’t have that luxury. So we can only kind of take stabs at figuring out what he was practicing in order to be able to play the music that he played.

Brent: Right, he was a huge innovator. I would say that bebop as the language or the dialect, if you will, of jazz, is still the modern bass line of the music, of modern jazz music and improvised music that’s going on in the jazz realm. Bebop is still that fundamental language that emerged out of that time.

One thing I think that’s interesting is that a lot of the bebop heads that Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie wrote, they’re solos, basically, by themselves. I’m thinking about “Confirmation,” “Anthropology,” all these different tunes. It’s interesting how they’re really just… they’re very virtuosic and angular. They’re basically solos, right? Would you agree with me?

Chad: Yeah. Totally.

Brent: Organized solos.

Chad: Yeah, for sure. The heads themselves are studies on their own, for sure.

Brent: So if there’s someone who’s just like, okay. You talk a little bit about chromaticism. That’s one of the characteristics of bebop, and they’re just like okay, what’s something that I can start working on or practicing, maybe some techniques. Of course, last month of the podcast, we talked a lot about transcribing solos and how to do that properly, and learning the language by ear, and all of that is so important. So obviously that’s the first place we go. We go to the recordings and we start learning this music by ear because it’s a language, it’s how we’re going to get it. But what are some techniques or approaches that we can kind of conceptualize some of this bebop language with?

Chad: I know that you already talked about the transcription so I won’t stick on that for so long. Real quick what I always say, to horn players especially, is there are a few mistakes that people always make with transcription. You’re absolutely right, not that there are right ways to do it, but that there are ways to make it more beneficial.

One mistake that people always make, especially horn players, is they don’t learn the chord changes to the song first. And they don’t learn how these monophonic lines function with the harmony. I have so many students, when they first come to me, they tell me some of the transcriptions they’ve learned, they play me the transcription, I’m like, all right, can you play the tune? We play the tune and it’s clear that they actually don’t know the chord changes of the song. So that’s the biggest mistake that horn players in particular make, since we’re not chordal instruments.

That was the main thing. I really just wanted to mention that, which you probably mentioned in your last podcast anyway. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t say it myself.

Brent: No, sure, I’m glad you did. Yeah, sure.

Chad: Getting away from the transcriptions a little bit, which are so, so important. But it’s not like they learn 20 transcriptions and voila, they can play jazz or they can play bebop. The other thing is you have to memorize it. That’s super important. So many people don’t memorize the transcriptions.

Brent: As opposed to reading a Charlie Parker solo out of the Omni book or something like that.

Chad: I actually believe that it’s okay to read transcriptions, it absolutely is, especially when you’re developing. I find that, actually, to be a common theme among some of the best musicians I’ve worked with is that when they first started, or even all the way through their studies, they actually would read the solos. The important thing is memorizing it. Eventually I think it’s really important to just listen to the recording and do it yourself, maybe write it down if you want. But so many people make the mistake of, and again, this is just my opinion, so many people just write it down and never memorize it or they read it and never memorize it. To me the important thing is the memorization and the harmony.

Brent: So memorizing, for you that’s a really critical thing. That’s really great. Awesome.

Chad: Totally. And then down the road, learning it in different keys. Maybe we could get to that briefly later today, because I think that’s super important, but kind of a monumental task for a lot of people.
Moving away from the transcription stuff into some more mechanical approaches, because this is stuff that hasn’t really been written in any books from what I can find. People just haven’t really figured out how to do a lot of mechanical practice for bebop. I think one of the reasons is because we don’t know what Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie were practicing, for instance, what scale exercises they were doing.

But jumping into some of the things that I do, one is approach note exercises. Essentially the bebop scale, which a lot of people listening to this might be familiar with already, but I’ll go over it to just to make sure…

Brent: Yeah, go over it just to make sure for those who don’t know about the bebop scale.

Chad: The bebop scale is essentially a scale where we add one approach note, one chromatic approach note. If you have a dominant chord (music playing), there’s F7, and you look at the mixolydian scale (music playing), which is the mode that pairs with a dominant chord, and you add one chromatic at the top (music playing), that’s a bebop scale. The reason why we add the chromatic at the top for the bebop scale is when we start on the root, if we add the chromatic anywhere else, the chord tones aren’t following on the strong fall. So we add it here (music playing), then all of a sudden we’re hitting the 4.

Brent: Just to verbalize that really quick, it’s based off the mixolydian, that’s what you said, and the mixolydian, a way to think about it is a major scale. It’s not the way to think about modes, necessarily, but you can think about it as playing a major scale but with a flat 7 rather than a major 7, correct?

Chad: Right. Totally.

Brent: Where’s that chromatic note in there?

Chad: And then the chromatic note, thanks for making sure that we’re thorough here, the chromatic note is in between the flat 7, which is diatonic and mixolydian, and the root. So essentially it’s the major 7. But I think it’s good to think about it as being a chromatic note, because we’re in mixolydian, there is no major 7 in the tonality. It’s just a chromatic passing note from the diatonic 7, which is the dominant 7, to the root.

Essentially, the bebop scale is just a scale with a chromatic approach note. The bebop scale can be great. You can do a lot with it. You can improvise with literally just a bebop scale and it can sound awesome. For instance, (music playing). Now for me, I almost tripped in the beginning because it’s hard for me to just use that one.

Brent: Right, that’s tough. It’s actually a good practice to try to not do anything else. That’s tough.

Chad: It totally is. So it can be really useful to then say okay, now I want get past just the bebop scale. I wouldn’t want to, say, obviously, take too much time obsessing over the bebop scale before getting onto adding other approach note exercises. One that I do is we go up diatonically (music playing), here it is on F7, we go up diatonically and down diatonically. We connect to the next degree of the scale with a diatonic approach note. So essentially we have a diatonic shape that just does this. It goes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (music playing) on each scale degree. Stepping up the scale here. That’s kind of part one.

Brent: So it’s like 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 2, 3, 4… like that?

Chad: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, but for some people, for me, it’s easier to just think about it as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 on each scale degree. So it almost becomes like a modal shape. But different strokes for different folks. It just depends on how you want to think of it. It is all connected, there are no skipping notes (music playing). That’s the other thing that some people like to think about. They like to think about skips and steps. These are all steps. We just skip down to that next scale degree.

Now, so that’s the diatonic part. Now, the part with the chromatic approach note is when we go back down. Essentially we’re going (music playing) just back down to that next degree, but in order to do that in a way that rhythmically works, if we don’t have that chromatic approach note, that next degree doesn’t fall on the downbeat. We’ve got 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and. So if we add one chromatic approach notes, 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and 1. Then it falls on the downbeat. This is exactly how they theorized the bebop scale. They said if we go 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and, we fall on the root, that’s just mixolydian without a chromatic. Then we fall on the root on “and a 4.” But if we add a chromatic, 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and 1. Then, great. We’re landing on the downbeat.

Same idea here, we’re just going back down. Back down, connect there. Now here, to get to the third, we don’t have any room because it’s a half step. The way a scale is spaced, we don’t have a half step in between the two diatomic notes anymore. So we just dip below. So now we’ve got (music playing). We dip below the target note. Now we’re back just above. So we’re just adding a chromatic approach note at the end. Here, we’ve got the other part where we have to dip below (music playing). And that’s it.

Brent: Okay, cool.

Chad: I’ll play it on sax.

Brent: Sweet, let me hear it.

Chad: (music playing)

Brent: Awesome. That’s so cool.

Chad: (music playing) All really great exercises, especially as you get into the harder keys, to really get the nice approach notes under your fingers. For instance, you would be concert F sharp, minor A flat, I’m just going to try to play it really fast. (music playing) So this is an exercise, but it sounds kind of like a line in a solo. You can go (music playing). All I did, I just added an arpeggio at the end, and I went up the 13th and then I did a chromatic approach note going down to the 4th, and then I did the arpeggio down, resolved on the root. So you don’t necessarily want to just ultimately think about improvising in such a theoretical way in the moment, but I think it’s totally okay to think it through like this when you’re practicing.

I think that Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie probably thought about this stuff. I think they must have been practicing exercises like this in order to get it under their fingers. Again, they didn’t have themselves to transcribe. They’d transcribe the people who came before them, for sure. But to get to this stuff, I think they had to be thinking about things theoretically, even if maybe they didn’t write it down or write a book about it.

Brent: Right, totally. That’s a great exercise. We’re going to have that in the show notes today, so feel free to go check that out if you want to see what that looks like a little better. As far as connecting chords together, what are maybe some approaches? You’re talking about approach notes here. If you could just quickly define approach notes, just in case that passed over anybody’s head there. What are some ways we can use approach notes further to connect chords together?

Chad: Approach notes, the way I think of them, are usually just chromatic. This gets into the fact that I don’t think there are any books on this yet. So it hasn’t necessarily been decided officially what the definition of an approach note is in jazz. To me an approach note is just any note that approaches a chord tone. It makes the most sense to really label it an approach note when it’s chromatically…

Brent: Approaching the target note.

Chad: Yeah, otherwise it’s just something diatonic. So if we’re playing an F7 (music playing) and we’re going to the third, that would be just diatonically approaching it. So maybe these are all diatonic approach notes. I’m not sure. It depends on what jazz theorists decide. But one thing for sure is that these would be chromatic approach notes (music playing).

Brent: Right. So you’re coming from above and then you’re doing some chromatic notes above, and then a half step approach from the top to resolve, correct? And that was to the third?

Chad: Yeah, exactly. So this was like starting on the fifth, going chromatically down to the fourth. So you could say it’s one chromatic approach note. There’s no right or wrong way to analyze it. But you could say it’s a chromatic approach note from the fifth to the fourth and then a chromatic approach note below the third, and then you land on the third.

Brent: Some people would call that technique, where you’re approaching from above and then below with a chromatic approach, they would call that enclosure, right? It’s another one of those terminologies that a lot of people throw around, but I don’t know if it’s an official one or not.

Chad: There just don’t seem to be any books on this yet. But that’s totally what has become known as an enclosure. I think absolutely Bird and Diz were practicing this. But I think also they didn’t have a name for it, just like Bach didn’t have a name for counterpoint. It was just what sounded good to him and he figured it out and practiced it. I think it was the same thing with Bird and Diz.

A cool exercise, another one, would be to just practice enclosure, going up each degree of the scale. So doing that same enclosure shape, potentially we had the scale degree above it, it was like an enclosure moving down. That one would have been actually an enclosure moving down a third. So if we have F7 (music playing), here’s going to be the shape that we’re moving down. We’re moving down a third. It goes A, F, B flat, G, C, A.

Then we’re moving down a third using an enclosure, so we’re going to use that same enclosure we did. This one will function a little differently though because of the shape of the scale. It always depends on where you are in the scale. You always have to have two different options. I’ll get to that in a second. But here’s going to be our first option. Moving down a third, we’re going to go 3, 2, and then chromatic (music playing) around the 1.

Brent: Okay.

Chad: Now we’re going to do that same thing so it’s going to be, moving down a third, we’ll have (music playing) 4, 3, chromatic around the 2. Then here, our second note isn’t going to be diatonic because the spacing is a minor third as opposed to a major third. So now it’s (music playing). Now it’s back to our old one. Now it’s the second one. So pretty much we have two different enclosures when we’re going down a major third. It ends up being diatonic, diatonic, and chromatic around. Or when the spacing is a minor third, like from the fourth to the second, then it ends up being, in this case, diatonic still, wrapping chromatically around. That one’s actually the same in a way.

But over here, because of the spacing of the scale, we wouldn’t do diatonic, diatonic, because then we run out of notes. So here we actually go chromatic, to the fourth, and then wrap chromatically around it.

Brent: Awesome.

Chad: So the idea is just it can be really valuable to practice enclosures going up a scale.

Brent: Can you play it on your sax really quick?

Chad: Yeah. Totally. So again we’re going up F mixolydian.

Brent: F mixolydian, okay.

Chad: (music playing)

Brent: Awesome.

Chad: (music playing)

Brent: Awesome. Just to reiterate to the audience today, this is all, outside of the ear side of this, learning solos and all that stuff, these are all technical little things that can help us conceptualize this language, this chromatic and approach tones and enclosures. All this stuff, all these little exercises, are just ways to get under your fingers or whatever you’re using to play your instrument to just get these ideas into your head. These are actually some really great exercises to start doing this. We’re going to close it pretty soon, but is there any last things you want to say about developing bebop language, Chad?

Chad: Yeah. For sure. I think the only thing I didn’t mention is that it’s really important to sing all this stuff.

Brent: Ah, love it.

Chad: If we’re just playing it, it’s going to be frustrating as people try to learn it in new keys, and it never really sticks, and doesn’t come out in their playing. If they never sing it, it’s not going to happen, because it’s just not getting into their ears. One of the reasons why we play the things that we play is because they’re the things that we can hear, the things that are in our ears. So a lot of times if we feel like the stuff that we’re playing isn’t hip, it’s because the stuff that is in our ears isn’t hip.

Really important to sing this stuff. Check yourself. Make sure the intonation is pretty good. It doesn’t need to be perfect but you just need to make sure you’re really getting the note and then you really hear it against the chord. Getting to that point where you can play the chord on the piano or the guitar and sing right through the whole exercise. That’s going to make it much easier to learn. I try to apply that to everything. Learning transcriptions, learning…

Brent: Yeah. Sure. And just to reiterate, my audience has heard me talk a lot about this, but just to reiterate is that what singing really is doing is ensuring that you’ve internalized the information. It’s ensuring that you actually truly know it. You could play the notes and get it under your muscle memory, but by actually singing it, that means that what you heard is up there. The only thing that you have to do now is transfer it to your instrument. That’s exactly what you’re talking about Chad.

All this information has been completely golden. Thanks so much for absolutely unleashing a ton of really valuable stuff. I’m excited, again, I’ll have some of those exercises up in the show notes if you want to check those out today. Chad, I want to do whatever we can do to lead my audience to your stuff, your lessons, whatever it is. Is there anything that we can send the audience to today?

Chad: Yeah. Totally. I hope you’ll all check out my last album. It’s called “Onward” and it features Randy Brecker on a couple of tracks, he’s a blast. I had a lot of fun with that one. I have a transcription book that Ron Fix wrote that’s up on my website, which is transcriptions of a bunch of the videos and recordings that I’ve recorded over the past few years. That one is a real honor for me to have released. I flip through it and it’s always really surreal for me to see my own solos. I never assign my own transcriptions in lessons, for sure, but…

Brent: You’re a humble dude. You’re a real humble dude.

Chad: Yeah, right. Well, I don’t really think that says much. But thanks, man. Some people do seem to see the value in not just transcribing the legends. I’ve transcribed Brecker, of course, and Potter, growing up, and stuff like that. For anyone who’s interested in learning the solos that I’ve played, that’s up on my website as well.
Brent: I’d highly suggest everyone to go get that book and also go get Chad’s album “Onward.” I think you have another album on there too. Where exactly can they go to find that?

Chad: For sure, yeah. That’s up on iTunes and there are physical copies available on my website as well.

Brent: And your website is ChadLefkowitz-Brown.com, right?

Chad: Exactly. Yep. That’s it.

Brent: All right, ChadLefkowitz-Brown.com. Now Chad, I want to thank you so much for being here today, again, for teaching us these lessons and just sharing your knowledge with my audience. I really appreciate it. I know that they appreciate it too. I look forward to having you back on the show again sometime soon.

Chad: For sure, my pleasure, man. Thanks for having me.

Brent: All right, that’s all for today’s show. I want to thank you so much for listening. Thanks for tuning in. Again, you can check out the show notes with some of these musical examples from today at learnjazzstandards.com/episode93. Be sure to check out our special guest, Chad Lefkowitz-Brown’s website, at ChadLefkowitz-Brown.com.

Now, as I always ask at the end of this show, if you got some value out of today’s podcast episode, go to iTunes or your favorite podcast listening service and leave a rating and review that helps other people find this show and helps us keep producing this podcast. So thank you so much in advance for taking a little bit of time to do this.
I want to thank you so much for being a listener, and I hope to see you back next week on episode 94.

30 Stepsto Better Jazz Playing

4 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Brent, in the exercise #1, I don't understand the title: "Adding chromaticism to the Bebop Scale", because I think it's based on the mixolydian scale and not on the Bebop Scale. You add one chromaticism at the end before the next downbeat, which one is the next scale degree and there isn't the E. Am I right? Please forgive my English, I'm French, I hope you understand what I mean. Thank you for your wonderful site.

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