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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).

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.