String Theory: Drawing Inspiration from a Sax Legend and Melodic Minor's Two Coolest Modes
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In this and next month’s columns, I’d like pay tribute to one of my biggest musical heroes, the late, great tenor saxphonist Michael Brecker. His huge tone, jaw-dropping chops and ferociously funky and always brilliantly compelling solos inspired me early on to learn the language of jazz and taught me a great deal about the art of phrasing and playing intriguing, “outside”-sounding lines that have a method to their musical madness—meaning a theoretical basis that one can analyze, learn from and apply.
And so, I’ve composed a 32-bar solo, presented in two parts and played over a repeating eight-bar chord progression, that was inspired by Brecker’s improvisation on the track "Quartet No. 2 (Part 2: Dedicated to John Coltrane)" from pianist Chick Corea’s 1981 album Three Quartets. That performance features Brecker, backed by an elite acoustic jazz rhythm section, soloing over essentially the same chord progression, albeit in a different key, C minor. My tribute solo is in the more guitarist-familiar key of E minor and follows the progression Em7-C13-B7alt-Em9-B7alt.