Brecker’s Magic Third

Or is it? Here’s a recent YouTube post by Jazz Duets. Do watch it, and subscribe to Nick because he puts up some good stuff.

Now then. All sorts of interesting ideas proposed and some useful approaches spun off. But can we use a bit of detective work, apply Occam’s razor and come up with a simpler way of thinking about this? Did Brecker really magically invent a way of adding a major third to a minor chord?

The late great MB was many things, but before he was anything else he was an utterly fluent classic bebop player. Bear in mind that the lines Nick analyses here are certainly scalar. Consider also that it was always common in classic bebop (and funk) to treat II-Vs or even IIs as just Vs. Where does that get us?

I’d say that Brecker is possibly just playing A7/E (I’ll stick to Nick’s usage of tenor transposition), using the bebop scale and just hanging daringly on the “passing tone” of the scale. (Maybe even straphanging…) A classical analyst might refer to this as a (very) extended appogiatura.

So is this a mode of the A7 bebop scale or Em7 add major 3rd?

E F# G G# A B C# D

Make up your own mind as always, and what matters most is how you make sense of things, but I’d add a few other thoughts.

1. I’ve seen plenty of charts with eg A7/E written instead of Em7 (or 9 or 11). I don’t know whether that’s a deliberate intention to convey this “mode of bebop scale” approach or just the way things happen to have been notated. And the tendency of early jazz and bop to think of just V-Is (with the elaboration to II-V-I as an option that came along later) is borne out by musicians’ playing and by charts they wrote themselves.

2. Brecker certainly did produce some amazing and often technically very intriguing solos. But all I know about the guy indicates that there was usually an underlying simplicity. He was once asked how he came up with his lines (or something like that) and just remarked that “pretty much everything I play is a tritone substitution”. I’d suggest that there’s a man who exhaustively explored simple principles rather than inventing new ones. Such as a sort of “magic” major third on a minor chord.

3. It’s always struck me that the bebop scales seem preordained to add the wackiest possible “passing tone” so as to flow best. Taken in isolation, the #5th freaks out a tonic chord, whether major or minor. The major 7th is added to a V chord – what, so you get both a dominant and major 7th? And of course, the weirdest thing we could add to a II chord is the major 3rd…

Remember also that Brecker is being slightly unorthodox here – in general we use the bebop added notes as a passing tone. I have a bit of a problem speaking about “bebop scales” at all and prefer to regard them as scales with passing tones.

4. Even so, playing eg E7 instead of Em7 is common in jazz. Both modally, as here (where we can recall that Dorian and Mixolydian are just one shade apart) and as substitutes in functional harmony.

5. And as ever – ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it.

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Posted in a) Soloing Scales & Modes
5 comments on “Brecker’s Magic Third
  1. Adam Cole says:

    A lot of fun. You and Nick got me thinkin’.

  2. Ryan says:

    I’m excited to read your thoughts on this, Jason; thanks for sharing them. I’ve been recently watching videos from Bill Graham where he explains bebop lines – as Barry Harris teaches them. (There’s also a cool channel on youtube “Things I Learned from Barry Harris”) Graham’s video goes over many ways of inserting passing tones into scales based on the situation, rather than sticking to a strict “bebop scale.” It also talks about substitutions within that bebop language, like the tritone sub, the backdoor dominant sub, etc. It seems to connect well with what you said about Brecker’s use of bebop.

  3. Ryan says:

    Whoops. Here’s the video I was thinking of.

  4. Adam Cole says:

    This is great stuff, Ryan. I’ve been wrestling with Barry’s ideas for 20 years. Graham outlines them very clearly, and he’s here in ATL too! Thanks.

  5. Jason says:

    Thanks for your interest guys.There’s more to the “mode of bebop scale” thinking. Consider the following example: C# D E F G A B C
    Do you want to regard it as 7th mode of Dm7 bebop scale or C# half-diminished b4 add maj7? Flatting the 4th on a half-dim chord isn’t going to scare the horses much, but how daring would you be with the major 7th? Also, in the given Brecker example you’re effectively “bebop fiving a two” – in my suggested example are you now “bebop twoing a seven”? Or something like that…
    This actually works rather well on Inner Urge.

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