String Theory with Jimmy Brown: A Groove- and Mode-Driven Solo Over the Chord Changes to “Cantaloupe Island”

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Last month, I offered a “funk-ified” rhythm guitar adaptation of the chord progression to jazz piano great Herbie Hancock’s soulful mid-Sixties instrumental “Cantaloupe Island.”

As I mentioned, the guitar part I came up with was inspired by a video of an exciting live performance of the tune at an outdoor jazz festival in Japan in 1991 that I recently discovered on YouTube.

For that performance, which featured spirited jamming over a driving, 16th-note “slap-bass” groove, Hancock is joined onstage by the elite fusion rhythm section of Stanley Clarke on electric bass and Omar Hakim on drums, as well as the great saxophonist Wayne Shorter (Weather Report, Miles Davis).

By comparison, the original version of “Cantaloupe Island” that Hancock recorded with a group of different musicians for his 1964 album Empyrean Isles is relatively laid back, being set to a Latin-flavored eighth-note feel at approximately the same tempo. To me, the denser and more modern 16th-note funk groove is a big musical motivator that, when improvising on the tune’s form, helps me come up with what I feel are some cool and compelling 16th-note lines.

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Jimmy Brown

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.