Why did we choose this as our first JGL Jazz Standard? A few reasons – it was the most commonly asked for standard in recent surveys, it was the 2nd jazz tune I learned at school (‘Sugar’, a minor- blues tune, was the first!), it is easy to learn the melody and chords and it has a great underlying chord progression for soloing over. I am a big fan of research – luckily for us jazzers, researching usually just means ‘listening to’ and ‘reading a bit about’ the subject. Find renditions of your favorite guitarists playing each tune you want to learn; read about the history of the song on Wikipedia; learn the lyric and see how different instruments or vocalists have approached the tune; find different versions, arrangements and instrumentations. While this may be time consuming, Autumn Leaves is quite possibly the easiest standard in the world to find info on and versions of, literally every major jazz artist has performed and recorded this at some time in their career. Some of my favorite versions are here (in no particular order):
Hopefully at the time you read this these links are still working. Even though I mentioned that these are in no particular order, the ultimate version for me is the indomitable pianist Bill Evans and his Trio (the first link) with their take on ‘Portrait in Jazz’: Incredible interplay in the bass solo(s), great arrangement of the head, incredible themes in Evan’s solo, just a wonderful version. I LOVE how Evans, Motian (drums) and LeFaro interact, how they touch the ‘hits’ or ‘shots’ in the head and how there is a constant banter between piano and bass. It is special to me also because when I was a kid learning this tune, I would sit and listen (repetitively) to this version with a good friend of mine (and now great pianist living and working out of Japan) – I think I had it memorized and could sing along to this version before I even attempted to learn it…
So; find something you love and the rest is easy!
We have been very method-minded with our Jazz Standards, because we believe it is the easiest way to learn (step-by-step) and also because it makes learning more approachable. You could think ‘I can do this ‘chunk’ of practice / these specific exercises today, tomorrow I’ll work on the chords’ – rather than ‘there’s so much to go over here it’s insurmountable!’. It is not so overwhelming once broken down into smaller, learnable bits of examples and exercises. My advice is to watch the tutorial video with printed out PDF’s of the material; keeping in mind your playing level and how much time you have to practice at each session. Always try to get the entire way through one idea or example or section. Make a log or tick off each lesson / exercise as you go and make notes on the PDF’s or leave comments and questions in the Forum section. Also, try and be routine-like when you do practice, a little each day can be very valuable and you’re much more focused if it is also the same time of day for each session.
Step 1 – Melody
Always learn the melody first, be able to sing it and learn the lyrics if applicable. Why? Because this is the composers take on the chord progression, because learning the melody and lyric often creates a better feel for the rhythmic and harmonic movement going on in the melody (jazzers often call the melody the ‘Head’) and because this in turn means you don’t get lost when comping or soloing, which often happens when a beginning player is learning a new tune. If you can sing the melody, you will find it easier to learn on to your instrument, and you can use the melody as a platform to springboard into improvised ideas.
• Learn the melody in one position only at first. ONE fingering. Trying to learn it in multiple positions increases the amount of practice you need by double for each additional position, resulting in no clear idea of where the melody sits under your fingers.
• I would usually choose either a high or a low register, with preference given to the higher register because it will ‘cut through’ when playing in an ensemble / solo when voiced at a higher pitch.
• Learn it sitting along the chords where possible. Try to see where the chords pass by and look for chord tones. This happens in almost all of the first 8 bars of Autumn Leaves, where the melody hits the 3rd of the chord played directly after. Voice the melody line around the chord.
• Once the first ‘position’ is mastered (i.e. you are playing it fluently and accurately), you may wish to learn a second position. This may be an octave lower or higher, it may be one that contains embellished notes or rhythms, as taken from your favorite versions.
Step 2 – Chords
I find that guitarists often learn the chords to a tune first, then go back and learn the melody. I sometimes learned only the chords to a tune when I was younger, because I was a slow note-sight- reader and we didn’t have YouTube or the internet to find copies of tunes. If we didn’t have a version on CD or cassette we had to learn by reading a lead sheet and for me the chords always came faster than the notes. I was also very anxious to get to the most exciting bit – which was the soloing-over-the-chords part! This approach lead me to one important conclusion – memorize the changes by heart – this makes soloing over the tune much easier!
• Memorize the changes by heart!
• Work out 7th chord voicings that have the bass note and guide tones only, in the chord (as per the video).
• Find simple extensions (9ths) and voice these on top of the bass note and guide tone chords.
• Keep the rhythm SIMPLE, STRONG and CLEAR when comping. Remember that unless you are playing a chord solo, you are generally playing more foundational than ‘floundering’ around – lay down the time, keep it solid and let the lead instrument or soloist hear the changes.
• Memorize the changes by heart. Did I write that already?
Step 3 – Improvising
We will cover ONE FEATURE concept in depth (and sometimes one or two supplementary concepts that support it) on each JGL Jazz Standard video lesson. All examples of this lesson’s feature concept ‘The dominant diminished’ are clearly explained on the video – exact fingerings can be obtained by watching the video(s) and as usual, excerpts of musical passages are all tabbed and notated in PDF.
Feature concept: ‘The Dominant Diminished’
This is where we place a dominant 7th chord with a flattened 9th a perfect 4th below our destination major or minor chord (in the bar directly before it) and then place a diminished 7th arpeggio a semitone above the root of the dominant chord. The purpose of the dominant diminished is to create a more leading sound towards a resolve chord. For example:
In Example 1 below, a Gma7 is the destination chord in bar3. On bar 2 we place a D7 chord (there is already one there as part of the progression, so we are not substituting new harmony at this point). Note how the top note of these 3 chord voicings goes from E in bar 1, to D in bar 2 and then again D in bar 3.
We then superimpose a 7(b9) over this chord to impart a more leading sound towards the Gma7 – it now becomes a D7(b9), which is a D7 chord (notes D, F#, A and C) with an added Eb (i.e. the flattened ninth degree of D) note. See Example 2:
This introduced chord now contains an Eb note, – this ‘leads’ towards the note D which is the 5th of the Gma7 chord. Note how the top note of these 3 chord voicings goes from E in bar 1, to Eb in bar 2 and then down to rest on D in bar 3 – a much stronger leading sound. It also now contains a ‘diminished chord and a diminished arpeggio’ based off either the flattened 9th degree of the D7 chord and / or the 3rd, 5th and flattened 7th degrees also. Note that the chord tones for the D7(b9) are: D, F#, A, C and Eb – and that this is just another way of naming an Eb dim7 chord over a D bass note! (see lesson 14 on 7th chords for more info); Example 3:
Example 3 contains some voicings for guitar for the diminished 7th chord, in bar 4.
Example 4 shows us a common way of playing the diminished chord as an arpeggio (with the notes sounded individually).
Note that all four chords are the SAME chord.
Learn many positions of this arpeggio; it is a great way to lead into resolve chords of both major and minor chord types.
QUICK TIPS FOR FINDING AND APPLYING THE DOMINANT DIMINISHED:
• Define the resolve chord (major or minor type).
• Define the dominant 7th chord a perfect 4th below the resolve chord.
• Alter the dominant chord to a 7(b9).
• Play a diminished 7th arpeggio based of the note a semitone above the root of the 7(b9) chord.
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