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With a performance career spanning five decades, Charlie Austin has played on The Tommy Banks Show on CBC and the 1970's and 80's ITV Concert series, where he accompanied singers such as Mel Torme, Henry Mancini, Viki Carr, Connie Stevens, Carol Lawrence, and others. Charlie was the house band pianist and arranger for Second City Television (SCTV), produced in Edmonton. For over thirty years, Charlie taught in Grant MacEwan University’s Jazz Program, where he influenced a generation of Canadian jazz musicians. His comprehensive jazz piano text An Approach to Jazz Piano, and 450 Contemporary Piano Studies in 15 Keys, his groundbreaking collection of studies in popular styles, have been sold around the world. Now retired, Charlie continues to perform, teach, record, and inspire. Recent recordings include solo piano If I Should Lose You (2012) and trio recording Homage (2014).

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Rock/Blues Triad Progressions

From Chapter 11 of An Approach To Jazz Piano


A sound you will frequently hear in popular music, particularly rock and blues, is that of closed voice triads used in parallel motion, frequently stepping in whole tone sequences.   There are a very interesting, flexible and applicable set of progressions.

You will recognize this classic I-IV-V-IV progression:


I-IV-V-IV is diatonic, that is, all the notes used in these triads belong to the root key.  But this triad-based harmonization approach works equally well for non-diatonic roots and triad notes. I-bIII-IV, for example, is commonly used.  Note that all the triads are major.

This progression is an example of the bending or  “blending” of minor over major tonalities so prevalent in the blues:


Other popular rock/blues triad progressions include the "Spanish" (I bII bIII bII 1) progression:


and the "Fanfare" (bVI bVII I)  progression:


The video shows examples of all of these and a few ways they can be integrated into your playing, but this is just scratching the surface.   For a more in-depth look at these progressions and how they can be used within Blues progressions, see Chapter 11 of An Approach To Jazz Piano

Friday, May 11, 2018

Exploring the "Blue Monk" Chromatic Moving Line Cliche

This versatile chromatic line pattern is ubiquitous in rock and jazz. Here we explore a few ways of incorporating it into your playing.  These lines can be harmonized with each other of course and go forward or back.. and create a similar passing harmony with some tension and release built in. You can apply pedal tones from the root or 5th either with the chord or leaping to the pedal tones alternating with the line or even the harmonized line. It utilizes passing diminished and or auxiliary diminished function i.e. the Ebdim (or Cdim) in this line: C7 Dmi7 (or Dmi7[b5]) to Ebdim to C7/E... The appealing thing is the fact that all the diminished 7ths that arise can be converted into 4 Dominant 7th (a minor 3rd apart)..and you could take it from there with a momentary transposition and back again etc. It's crazy good :) !!




The basic pattern is very simple -- in the key of C:
C D D# E  or  E F F#G or G G# A Bb etc.
but has endless applications. 

Exploring Constant Structure Voicings

This clip continues the exploration of an interesting two handed chord that makes a kind of melodic texture which is surprisingly versatile.  See also Constant Structure 6/13ths over a Blues Scale.  These constant structure chords work great over a blues scale, and are an easy way to generate passing chords in many contexts.




Here we voice the 13ths in the left hand with the 3rd on the bottom (3-13-7-9).  The right hand plays a major 6 chord in root position (1-3-5-6-1).  These can be played on each of the notes of the blues scale.




It's useful to practice these in chromatic sequences, so they will be under your fingers when you call on them in improvisation.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Constant Structure 6/13ths over a Blues Scale

In this clip we play with an interesting two handed chord that makes a kind of melodic texture which is transferable and workable over blues scales.

Start with learning the chords: that is, in chromatic root sequences. Other same-interval sequences like whole tone, minor thirds, major thirds,  perfect fourths (up), and the tritone (#4 or b5) are beneficial too.

Building on that, we can put together this two-handed chord, with a 6 over a V13.




Consider a C minor blues scale (1 b3 4 b5 5 b7 1):

In the right hand play a major sixth chord in root position (1-3-5-6-1).  In the left hand play a rootless voicing of a 13th chord, with the b7 on the bottom (7-9-3-13).   Do this for each of the notes in the blues scale.  It looks terrible on paper, but it's not so bad when you play it.


Note that the general harmonic context for all these chords can be the underlying C7 of the blues.

So this voicing is played over the sequence of a blues scale (1 b3 4 b5 5 b7 1). It sounds okay and strong even though it temporarily breaks some of the niceties of some harmonic rules. Thus for example we have a G13 voicing here sounding okay over the implied C7 chord of the blues in C.  It's part of a strong chain of these voicings that work because the vertical chord sounds like it can and does overrule the horizontal key, i.e. C7 blues (as long as they are moving a little).  Those 13ths over the blues scale sequence have a constant structure -- the same-chord in parallel motion.

This idea will work over all the chords in the blues the same way a blues scale does. It is fun and the concept can be worked with other chord voicings too too.. basically infinite..

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Melodic Generic Shapes in Jazz Improv:
A Practice in Discovery

These melodic shapes are documented and championed by Jerry Bergonzi and others. In this discussion, I'll call them Generic Shapes (GS).  They are available in a one octave diatonic scale and can be calculated and practised into improvisation over scales/chords and, over tunes.

Let's say that a GS will have at least three notes, and in fact can be four notes (quite accessible), five notes and even six notes (not totally impractical). I will outline some thoughts I've had for a number of years on this topic over a series of upcoming blogs. There is a lot of detail and understanding to be discussed so it may take a good number of blogs to cover this. A large part of this will be the discovery and application of possible permutations of the original primary Generic Shapes (GS), followed by permutations of primary GS:

  1. Basic Permutation (BP)—(note order change in a GS)
  2. Rotations R (inversions of a GS)
  3. Staggered Starts of each Rotation (SR) of a GS

Five possible four note Generic Shapes:


The first GS under discussion, since it's the most common and is easy to use, is the four note GS.  There are five unique four note Generic Shapes existing within an octave of a major scale or any seven-tone scale. Using the C major scale and C root as an example, they are the following: 

1235 (CDEG), 1345 (CEFG), 1245 (CDFG), 1234 (CDEF—Tetrachord), and 1357 (CEGB—7th chord. 

These are the primary Generic Shapes and each can be played diatonically over any scale tone. For example CDEG 1235 has an ascending intervallic shape of major second,  major second, minor third. This same 'shape' could be applied to say: D Dorian 'D' being the 'new 1' with the result: DEFA which has this same ascending shape only the interval quality may be different as in major second, minor second, and major third. It still falls under the umbrella of being a 1235 GS(4). See Figure 1.



GS 1235:


It may seem arbitrary but starting with 1235 [CDEG] is a good idea because it abbreviates both the major scale, major pentatonic scale, and, it also establishes a triad chord. A possible first device to be used in the task of finding permutations, is a Basic note order Permutation (BP). It turns out that there are six BP for each of the original primary four note GS. The original primary GS, CDEG, is now reordered five times using the same notes for a total of six BP. See Figure 2.

Six Basic Permutation (6BP) applied to the primary GS4 as in CDEG:


CDEG (prograde-original—BP1) can be reversed to GEDC (retrograde—BP2). The next BP can be discerned by doing an obvious process of every other number as in CDEG becoming: CEDG (BP3) which itself can be reversed (retrograde) to become GDEC (BP4). Making a total of four BP so far. The last two remaining BP can be seen by reordering the original by the only remaining ways available: CDEG becomes CDGE (BP5) and the original retrograde form GEDC is given a similar treatment and becomes GECD (BP6). See Figure 2.

Figure 2.




Outlining the above BP (process):

BP1    BP2    BP3    BP4    BP5    BP6
CDEG — GEDC — CEDG — GDEC — CDGE — GECD
1235 — 5321 — 1325 — 5231 — 1253 — 5312

Thus you have six Basic Permutations (BP) of note order.

Now to each of these examples of six BP we can apply the further changes (permutations) to each GS through: inversion (rotation) and staggered rotation (see the list above under the first paragraph of this blog).

Each one of the original GS (CDEG—1235 as an example) will have 6BP x 4 inversions (rotations) x 4 staggered rotations for a total of 96 possibilities. A first step in practising these might include the 6BP to get familiar with. Basic Permutations (BP) are purely about changing the note order in the starting GS. It sounds like a lot to deal with but once the ideas are committed, there could be some possible freedom experiences in that something right and NEW might emerge from this study. See Figure 2 above.

Permutations (4) through Inversion/Rotation: 'R'


This is a relatively simple process and creates new shapes out of the original.

CDEG 1235 rotated (inverted) once, creates a shape: DEGC (2358) and the new ascending intervallic shape derived is Ma2 Min3 Perfect 4th. By reducing it to it's 'new root tone' D (DEGC) this new shape can be easily thought of as 1247 (Ma2 Min3 Perfect 4th) reckoned from D. In Figure 3, I take this generated GS and impose it on the original root C (CDFB) to get a clearer comparative view.  See Figure 3.


By applying this same thinking process to the 2nd inversion of 1235 (3589 or 3512), related to C as 1 it reads 3589 and if the note E becomes the 'new root' note, the GS of 1235 can be seen as 'E' 1367 (EGCD) in this case the ascending intervals are: min3rd Perfect 4th Ma2nd using only the original notes. Again I've taken this generated GS and imposed it on the original root C (CEAB) to get a comparative view. See Figure 4.


Applying this process to the fourth inversion (rotation) of CDEG, the notes generated are GCDE (589 10) and have a new shape from 'G' (root) which reads 1456 (Perfect 4th, Ma2, Ma2). Note the comparative view with 1456 over a 'C' root (CFGA). See Figure 5.



Thus, from the 4 'rotations' of CDEG (1235), the new shapes 1247 (CDFB), 1367 (CEAB), and 1456 (CFGA) for a total of inclusively: 4 GS through an inversion/rotation process (R). See Figure 6 for a summary of these 4 shapes created by the inversion/rotation of on GS (1235 in this case). All the generated rotations are imposed over a C note as the bottom note. Truly it is the Rotation shapes that serve best as a basis for permutation because once these are learned and learned as transferable (C1235—D12b35 etc.) GS, the application of BP and SR (staggered starts in rotation) can be applied as they are gradually learned.


N.B. If one takes into consideration the 6BP applied to each one of these 6BP x 4R there are 24 individual yet strongly related Generic Shapes (GS).

The next application of permutation emerges when the rotations (R) are given staggered starts (S).

This additional device (GS4 x 6BP x 4R x 4 SR) creates the rest of the potential 96 GS permutation possibilities with four notes. It is simply a process achieved by staggering the start of a single rotation, for example 1235 can be started on successive notes in the shape: 1235, 2351, 3512, 5123. This same idea can be applied to the other rotations of our example: DEGC can be started in a sequence of staggers on the same shape. DEGC EGCD GCDE and C(octave up)DEG.. and so on. When BP (6) and R (4) and S (4) are multiplied the potential numbers of GS is 6BP x 4R x 4S = 96 possibilities. See Figure 7.


See the page below which illustrates the 96 possibilities (on C major etc.) of the GS4 (1235). See Figure 8.

Figure 8.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Outlining Barry Harris' Bebop Scale Tone Seventh Chords

The major bebop scale has been in common knowledge for decades. I have outlined the tonic/dominant (IMa6 iiDim) polarity in an earlier blog (March, 2012). So check that out and you’ll see a few examples of some ideas for expanding upon that idea. OK, then comes Barry Harris (a well known jazz piano/educator) who instructs us with some mysterious sounding, but not necessarily rocket-science, ideas for the bebop scale. The scale: in C major: C D E F G G# A B C.

For starters, most jazz players these days will study the scale-tone sevenths of at least four or five different scale types, so most are familiar with playing scale-tone sevenths for example, in major scales in a step-wise root motion as in C major:

CMa7 Dmi7 Emi7 FMa7 G7 Ami7 Bmi7(b5) CMa7 and learning the modes that are often associated with those chords.


I chanced upon a youtube video of Barry Harris working with (astonished) students and he did a similar thing except he played them over the bebop major scale. While paying strict attention to voice leading, each of the four voices, leads to the next note in the scale, creating a very interesting take on the bebop scale. This approach has a very similar effect to the C6 Ddim toggling-polarity application mentioned earlier, yet they sounded different and interesting. Scale-tone sevenths here start out as normal but quickly run into that added note G# (#5 or b6) so the chord qualities start to change quickly from that of the scale-tone sevenths in the pure major scale. I’ve outlined a few ideas from what I heard in B.H’s you-tube video, but basically here is the main theme:


Notice there are eight scale-tone sevenths chords as opposed to seven in a major scale.  Also notice that there are two mi7(b5) chords in the bebop major scale.

Barry Harris played them as triads over a bass note which are outlined below:

              CMa7     Dmi7(b5) Emi11    FdimMa7  G9sus4 G#/AbdimMa7 AmiMa7 Bmi7(b5)


The triads (numerator) over the bass notes can be inverted giving a greater range.


How are these used? They can be used much the same way as the C6/Ddim method. There is the same polarity evident with BH’s approach i.e. tonic dominant toggling. The exception to this would be the V7sus4 or F/G in our example. It’s not a tonic chord but it is an unresolved dominant so it can function also as an unresolved tonic in a way. Once this is looked at the next step (perhaps) could be to learn the associated modes of the major bebop scale. They will be the same as in a major scale except for the added #5/b6. BH quotes the bridge to My Funny Valentine as an example where this might be used—it sounds fantastic! But why is it so hard to learn in all keys and in all forms?

Friday, September 6, 2013

The moving line potential of the Bebop Cliché in the Sound

There are multiple applications of the so called Bebop Cliché from the sound. Check out the previous blogs on the Sound (here and here) to get a background on this. Once upon a time in Boston at a Jazz Ed conference, I was encouraged to expand this cliché material this way by none other than David Leibman.

The bebop cliché traditionally springs from the realm of a ii—V7 harmonic progression for example: Dmi9—G13 (—) being expanded to Dmi9—DmiMa9—Dmi9—G13. What it is really about is the expression of a descending chromatic line (it can ascend too, depending on the chord and intention of the player). This was outlined in the last few previous blogs on 'The Sound.' Another thing about it is that it operates as a delaying tactic towards the resolution of the mi9 chord to the dominant V7 chord. The bebop cliché can also be treated more melodically with a melody that has within it the descending/ascending line.

This blog will explore the multiplicity of the 'Sound' Chord (FS1 [Fma13b5] and FS6 [Fmi11(b5]) function and application of the bebop cliché to these functions that seem to arise.

Here is the most common use of the bebop cliché in a ii—V progression. Note that it is expanded in the 2nd two bars.




Here are the most common and useful functions of 'Sound' 1 (FMa7[b5]) and 'Sound' 6 Fmi11(b5) with the roots that create related chords as either a V7 chord or ii chord.




Each of these Sound Chord voicings using in this case an 'F' Sound (Sound 1 and Sound 6)

The bebop cliché line is a chromatic primarily descending line but it is used as an ascending chromatic line as well.

The bebop cliché chromatic line starts on the C# (or perhaps the D note) which is the major 7th in DmiMa7 which and falls chromatically to the B natural which is the 3rd of the G13 (the dominant partner in this ii—V. This cliché then, operates from the Major 7th of the ii and/or #11 of the dominant. It can easily ascend from the 3rd of the dominant chord to the #11 of the dominant chord (even ascending to the 5th).


















The Sound chord shown here can be held and manipulated with each of these lines individually either as a chord voicing or as a line which can related to these cliché lines on an individual basis. I'll outline some examples in the next blog in this series.