String Theory with Jimmy Brown: Jamming on the Changes to a Three-Chord Modal Jazz Gem, “Cantaloupe Island”

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In my previous three columns, I presented some cool approaches to improvising over the late Horace Silver’s mid-Sixties jazz classic “Song for My Father,” which is in the key of F minor.

It’s an ideal introductory tune for rock and blues players looking to get into jazz, due to its fairly simple modal harmonic structure, defined by the fact that most of the chords are played for at least two bars, which gives you ample time to think about and play over each chord before the next one hits.

While jamming on that tune these past few months, I recalled a similar and equally enduring jazz instrumental from the same era, one that’s also in F minor and played at a laid-back tempo and with an even-eighths feel. The tune is “Cantaloupe Island,” a soulful, enduring composition by pianist Herbie Hancock that he debuted on his 1964 album, Empyrean Isles, featuring the great trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and legendary rhythm section of drummer Tony Williams and acoustic bassist Ron Carter.

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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.