Skip to main content

String Theory: Crafting Melodies Over a Standard Minor-Key Jazz Progression and Bossa Nova Groove

These videos are bonus content related to the December 2013 issue of Guitar World. For the full range of interviews, features, tabs and more, pick up the new issue on newsstands now, or in our online store.

In my previous columns, I’ve explored how to create melodies over chord changes using the Latin American–inspired themes of Carlos Santana and referencing the improvisational genius of Michael Brecker and others. I’d like to continue in that vein for this month’s column.

One of the first jazz standards I learned in music college was a fairly simple instrumental called “Blue Bossa,” a tune written in the early Sixties by trumpeter Kenny Dorham that was purportedly inspired by the great Brazilian composer-songwriter Antonio Carols Jobim. Dorham recorded the song with saxophonist Joe Henderson for the latter’s 1963 album Page One. With its fairly compact 16-bar form and attractive set of neatly spaced “2-5-1” chord changes, the tune has since become a favorite soloing vehicle among jazz musicians of all skill levels.

They customarily play its melody, or “head,” twice before proceeding to improvise over its repeating form, taking an open-ended number of 16-bar “choruses,” as they are so called, before reprising the head (again, twice) and concluding the performance with a worked-out ending, in the same way one would typically approach playing a 12-bar blues.