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

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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.



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Over the past 30 years, Jimmy Brown has built a reputation as one of the world's finest music educators, through his work as a transcriber and Senior Music Editor for Guitar World magazine and Lessons Editor for its sister publication, Guitar Player. In addition to these roles, Jimmy is also a busy working musician, performing regularly in the greater New York City area. Jimmy earned a Bachelor of Music degree in Jazz Studies and Performance and Music Management from William Paterson University in 1989. He is also an experienced private guitar teacher and an accomplished writer.