I’ve posted this solo because someone recently asked me for advice on bebop playing over minor blues changes. I first transcribed it years ago and developed a bit of an obsession with it at the time. I can honestly say that studying this solo really unlocked the minor blues sound for me. I hope you’ll find it useful.
Tommy, faced with the unenviable task of following Trane, turns in a solo that burns with a constant quiet fire. He starts off simple and clear and draws the listener in. This solo is an absolute textbook example of bebop playing over minor blues changes: elegant, melodic, rhythmically inventive, cleanly articulated, beautifully phrased. And it swings like the clappers.
This solo gets an incredible amount of mileage out of simple triads – in particular, Tommy hangs most of his lines over the two tonic chords, Cm and Fm, around the first five notes of the respective scales. He treats these chords strictly as tonic minors, emphasising the 6th – in the penultimate bar of chorus 2, for instance – (or very occasionally, the major 7th), rather than the Dorian minor 7th. Note also the bebop enclosures and approaches throughout.
He plays the changes pretty straight, occasionally adding (D7b9) G7b9 in bar two (choruses 2, 5, 6 and 7). In all but the first two choruses, he explicitly uses a C7b9 in bar 4, to lead more smoothly into the upcoming Fm chord – even when it’s not there in the solo line it’s in the comping. There’s usually a turnaround in the final bar (D7b9 G7b9 or Ab7 G7b9) as well.
In bar 9, he usually clearly outlines Ab7 (often just a 1-2-3-5 figure, but occasionally implying Ab7b9), rather than D half-diminished, which is the other option at this pivot point in minor blues form. The moral of the tale is that when you’re playing tritone subs (like the Ab7 here), you can play very simply, because the substitution is already hip…
The shape he uses for the rapid triplet runs in choruses 3 and 8 is derived from the rootless voicing for Ab7, a spread that matches the C minor blues scale. This produces very satisfying runs in C minor. This is a principle worth extracting so you can use the equivalent shape in other keys. But don’t get bogged down with these little pieces of flash, there’s much more valuable stuff in the rest of the solo. Either approximate them or rest for those bits, and come back and work on them later.
I’ve taken a logical guess at some of the notes that are “ghosted” (marked x).
The LH comping is bebop vintage, rather than rootless style. Tommy mostly uses octave-seventh shells on the dominant chords and sixth chords on the tonics.
Listen to the recording (piano solo begins at 3:20) and read along, then play along to get the nuances down. You could also do a lot worse than transposing it into the other commonly played minor blues keys, F minor and Bb minor. Eb minor sometimes comes in handy too…
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