Kurt Rosenwinkel and Jonathan Kreisberg Transcription Study: Part 1

While studying at Auckland University, I studied and transcribed both Kurt Rosenwinkel and Jonathan Kreisberg, two of today’s heaviest modern jazz guitarists.

In essence I extracted 8 concepts for improvisation from my transcriptions – not the actual notes these great musicians played in their solos, but the underlying ideas or principles – polyrhythmic groupings, chordal super imposition, patterns, displacement etc – and then composed the concepts into my own lines (as written ‘soli’) over newly composed harmonic progressions.

The effect that this had on my playing was massive! I really struggled with playing the same ideas over and over and so this approach helped me think of new ways of playing my (rather stale!) vocabulary, rhythmically, harmonically and melodically. Please feel free to download the PDF of my studies (Transcription, actual study text and MP3 recordings of my tunes).
Enjoy and please leave comments!

Conceptual Extraction Method


I am a guitarist with 17 years experience playing jazz in many different ensembles and in a wide range of styles. I have taught jazz at tertiary institutes throughout New Zealand (guitar, ensembles, improvisation, moderation) for nine years. Most of my career has been based around performing, recording and teaching jazz but I have also spent a lot of time working on improvisation, often by transcribing my favourite player’s soli.

In the course of researching texts and the internet, conversing with accomplished practitioners of jazz and listening to recorded works, I have found there to be a growing tendency of jazz guitarists who most likely through the processes of transcription, have more or less developed into ‘clones’ of the great players they have studied. That is to say they have copied the artist’s lines, licks, phrases, tonal effects and textures exactly and then applied these to similar, or in many cases, the same harmonic and rhythmic contexts.

While transcribing licks and lines is a valuable tool in understanding a player’s perspective on what notes go where over a given chordal framework, I believe that studying the conceptual ideas behind the notes will yield many more possibilities for potential note choices when applied to a new set of chords.

My desire to benefit from other great artists improvisations without copying them note for note is the driving idea behind this project. Having done many transcriptions I am now much more interested in examining and utilising the underlying conceptual structures behind the transcribed notes, rather than just copying patterns and licks.

I am studying the style of modern jazz (post 1980) as it is most aligned with where I am at in my personal approach to improvisation and is the most relevant and useful resource in developing a modern style and sound. It is also the least represented subject in internet / written media; there is a vast amount of video and text resources which deal with traditional
approaches to improvisation and very little that deals with deeper improvisation concepts in an accurate and thorough manner and to a high standard of quality.

And so for this course of study, I will extract the concepts and ideas behind the improvised lines of two leading modern jazz guitarists’ and from these concepts, create my own linear passages independent from the chordal and rhythmic implications of the original musical contexts. I will then take these lines and rewrite them into two original soli (applied to new harmonic and rhythmic contexts), record the pieces and write a summary of my findings.

Transcription Artists:

For my artist choices I have selected Kurt Rosenwinkel and Johnathan Kreisberg, the reasons being that both artists are well regarded within the international jazz guitar scene, both have several albums of small ensemble / trio recordings of a comparable nature and quality in studio / live situations and they are both leading exponents technically, musically and experimentally of modern jazz guitar improvisation.

On a more personal level, these player interest me because of their mastery of the fundamentals of time, tempo and technique, the highly advanced nature of their harmonic and rhythmic language and also the control and finesse with which they structure their
improvisations. Moreover, they are both at the cutting edge of modern improvisational concepts, having a great traditional jazz language basis on top of which they have developed modern, individualised language.

Artist Biography’s (rewritten from internet sources)

Kurt Rosenwinkel, (born October 28, 1970) is an American jazz guitarist who came to prominence in the 1990s. He is known for his distinct sound and style of improvisation that is influenced by artists as diverse as Allan Holdsworth, George Van Epps, Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Bud Powell and Elmo Hope. He attended the Berklee School of Music for two and a half years before leaving in his junior year to tour with Gary Burton. He then moved to Brooklyn where he continued to develop his jazz guitar skills by performing with Human Feel, Paul Motian’s Electric Bebop Band, Joe Henderson Group, and the Brian Blade Fellowship. During that time he began using a Lavalier lapel microphone fed into his guitar amplifier to blend his vocals & guitar into what has become his trademark sound.

In 1995 he won the Composer’s Award from the National Endowment for the Arts and was eventually signed by Verve Records. Rosenwinkel then branched out as a leader in his own right – an adventurous, searching artist whose playing is marked by a kind of kinetic melodicism, darkly delicate lyricism and cascading, horn-like lines, Rosenwinkel has, over the course of four brilliant recordings for Verve, established an instantly recognizable voice on the guitar–warm and fluid with a tinge of overdrive, a touch of sustain and echo with a penchant for dissonance. Through his first three albums, Rosenwinkel forged a tight alliance on the frontline with tenor saxophonist Mark Turner. The world renowned Joshua Redman fills that role on Deep Song and together with Mehldau, Grenadier, Jackson and Ballard, they all strike an uncanny chemistry on Rosenwinkel’s sixth album overall as a leader (he had previously recorded two albums in the ‘90s for the Fresh Sound and Criss Cross labels).

Originally from Philadelphia, Kurt Rosenwinkel currently resides in Berlin serving as professor of jazz guitar at the
Hochschule für Musik Hanns Eisler. See: http://www.kurtrosenwinkel.com

Jonathan Kreisberg, Born in New York City, guitarist / composer Jonathan Kreisberg started playing guitar at the age of ten and at 16 was admitted to the New World School of the Arts, where his jazz studies took center stage. He was featured in Guitar Player and DownBeat while still in his teens, won a scholarship to the University of Miami, and held the guitar chair in the acclaimed Concert Jazz Band, touring Brazil and performing with Joe Henderson, Michael Brecker, and Red Rodney. He performed 20th century works with the New World Symphony under Michael Tilson Thomas, recorded a C.D. and performed with the progressive rock group Third Wish and also formed the first incarnation of the Jonathan Kreisberg Trio. Based in Miami, this electric based Trio released a C.D. and completed several U.S. East Coast tours, which included opening slots for George Benson and Steve Morse. He also began giving clinics at music schools and universities.

In 1997 he returned to NYC with his focus on cutting edge acoustic jazz, working with many jazz greats including Lee Konitz, Joe Locke, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Joel Frahm, Greg Tardy, Lenny White, Roy Nathanson, Donald Edwards, Jane Monheit, Ari Hoenig, and Yosvany Terry. He has also led groups of various instrumentations featuring artists such as Bill Stewart, Larry Grenadier, Matt Penman and Scott Wendholt and recorded 5 CDs as a leader, including The South of Everywhere, which spent 15 weeks on the JazzWeek Jazz Album Chart.

Although based in New York City, Jonathan can be seen on tour worldwide, recently completing successful tours of Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Finland, Italy, and Japan. With return visits to these countries as well as Sweden, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Mexico, and Ecuador planned for the near future, Jonathan is quickly establishing himself as a serious and unique voice on the international jazz scene. See: http://jonathankreisberg.com/

I aim to develop a method for the extraction of musical concepts from transcriptions which, while minimizing the risks of directly copying, will unearth valuable improvising tools that will in turn enrich my approach to teaching and performing improvisation.

I will transcribe four modern improvised pieces with a focus on linear passages (8th note divisions, continuous passages etc) and modern jazz guitar language. Two pieces are performed by Kurt Rosenwinkel (both original pieces entitled ‘Zhivago’ and ‘Minor Blues’) and two are by Jonathan Kreisberg (both non original but harmonically modern pieces; ‘Countdown’ by John Coltrane and ‘Windows’ by Chick Corea). Rather than just listening to and selecting ‘modern’ sounding passages from the artist’s improvisations, I have chosen to transcribe a large volume of material (approximately 400 bars in total) to ensure an
appropriate amount of conceptual ideas are unearthed and investigated in the course of this work.

I will isolate and mark passages of high interest (in red) with regard to patterns, licks, and harmonic / rhythmic events which encapsulate the usage of non-traditional harmonic ‘jazz vocab’ lines, harmonic super impositions and substitutions and also any non-traditional rhythmic passages. These ‘lines of high interest’ will be chosen for their advanced conceptual
structure, for example:

• Harmonically: Interesting harmonic substitution or super imposition, large intervallic leaps, non-scalar runs, chromaticisms, out-of-phase harmonic pulse, non or partial resolution and scale running against changes, unrelated ‘modulations’ or ‘transitions’ against the extant chordal framework.

• Rhythmically: Non continuous / interrupted phrases of any traditional subdivisions, divisions of the crotchet or minim into 5 and 7 even durations and /or uneven divisions of the bar to form ‘modern’ rhythmic non-resolutions or tensions. Groupings of uneven beats against even meter or vice versa.

I will exclude traditional linear passages from the analysis process as they will not be as relevant to the aims of this paper but I will include surrounding passages for the purposes of context. All transcriptions will be in standard notation form with lead sheets describing chords, meter, tempo and feel. I will analyse and explain the concepts behind the chosen passages and in order to minimize the risk of directly copying the original transcriptions I will compose new and different chordal structures into which original lines developed from these concepts will be inserted. I will not use direct licks / lines / passages but rather the conceptual ideas as explained above, as the basis of my written soli. I may reinterpret the extracted concepts with rhythmic and harmonic variations in order to show development of these concepts and to retain a sense of melody in the context of the new environment. I will then record the soli, analyse them and present my findings in a written summary which will explain the concepts I’ve used, how I’ve applied them, how they relate back to the original soli and the effects these concepts have had on my personal approaches to improvising. The summary will also include comparisons between the original transcribed soli and the final written soli and any practical methods (teaching systems) which may be applicable / useful to others.


I expect to find a huge wealth of modern and thoroughly developed underlying concepts in both players soli, beyond the traditional. I would also think that many of these concepts will be useful to me (as an advanced improviser on the guitar), to my students and in general to many learning musicians interested in improvisation of this nature.

Transcribed Tune #1

‘Zhivago’ is a fast paced tune (240-250 bpm), in ¾ with a swung 8th note feel, although at this tempo the depth of the ‘swing’ is very hard to measure (i.e. 8th note passages often sound ‘straight’ rather than swung). The solo form is in 4 parts with Gb major, B major, Db major and Ebmin as the main tonal centres for each part.

In order to show development and interpretation of the artist’s concepts into a new and different context, I have composed a piece of music (a chordal framework I have called ‘Rosen Koncept’) in a contrasting style and tempo to function as an improvising vehicle for the new lines I have invented. The first three chord progressions are all the same length (8 bars) repeated consecutively, hence:

kurt 1

On to this framework I will write new lines created from the extracted concepts (one concept per 8 bar measure). The lines of interest that form the basis of concepts 1, 2 and 3 will be drawn from ‘Zhivago’. Concepts 4 and 5 will be drawn from ‘Minor Blues’ and applied over a variation on the 8 bar progression used here. There is in most cases more than one concept that can be extracted from each of the chosen linear passages (these will be referred to as concept sets).

kurt 2
Musical concepts extracted:

Intervallic: Usage of large intervallic leaps (non adjacent scalar tones).
Fragmented scale usage: Ascending continuous lines utilising scale fragments and semitones.
Semitone resolution: Semitonic resolution from chords in bar 1 to bar 2.
Out of phase: Harmonic anchor pulse in melody out of phase with rhythmic anchor points (i.e. the upper structure extensions of the scale are on the strong beats rather than the primary tones).

kurt 3

Intervallic: Usage of large intervallic leaps in bars 1, 3, 5 and 7. Start points for lines are also displaced.
Fragmented scale usage: Ascending continuous lines utilising scale fragments and semitones (bar 1), further developed by writing bars 3 and 5 in descending form and also breaking up the passages of 8th notes rhythmically for purposes of melody
Semitone resolution: Semitonic resolution from chord to chord, further developed by semitonic non-resolution from bars 1 to 2, 3 to 4 and 5 to 6.
Out of phase: Harmonic anchor pulse in melody out of phase with rhythmic anchor points on beats 1 of bar 2, and beats 1 and 3 of bar 4.

kurt 4

Musical concepts extracted:

Poly rhythmic grouping: Usage of poly-rhythmic device (repeated quarter note – 8th note – 8th note grouping over two beats which creates a ‘half beat’ pulse against the 3/4 pulse).
Pattern: Descending lines utilising adjacent then quartal scale fragments (pattern devised from scalar transformation).
Out of phase: Harmonic anchor pulse in melody is again ‘out of phase’ with the rhythmic anchor points, same as in the ‘extracted lines of interest #1’. This seems to be made possible by the often delayed harmonic resolution of his lines as evidenced in the Bbmi11- Abmi11 bars (65 – 66) at the start of the passage. This creates an overall melodic ‘sense’ even when notes played on strong beats are not necessarily primary tones or guide tones as would be expected in most melodic passages.

Interpreted and reapplied concepts in own linear passages:

kurt 5

Poly rhythmic grouping: Usage of poly-rhythmic device developed by repeating an 8th note – 8th note – 8th note rhythmic grouping over one and a half beats which creates a dotted quarter note pulse against the 4/4 meter pulse (bars 9-11).
Pattern: Descending lines utilising a patternistic scalar transformation approach in bars 9-11 but instead of the adjacent >> quartal scale fragments from the original concept of Kurt’s, I have inverted this pattern to quartal >> adjacent scale fragments.
This is further developed by writing bars 13-15 in ascending form.
Out of phase: Harmonic anchor pulse in melody is out of phase with the rhythmic anchor pulse at many points, a characteristic of using uneven beat groupings against an even grouping form (3 over 4 in this case).

kurt 6

Musical concepts extracted:

Pattern / intervallic: Descending (for one 3/4 bar of 6 8th notes) then ascending (for one 3/4 bar of 6 8th notes) usage of patternistic scalar transformation through intervallic leaps and scale fragments. The basic pattern is 1-5-9-10-13-14, with a few tiny alterations (bar 149 is replaced with a rhythmic motif possibly as ‘breathing space’ from the barrage of notes and bar 156 begins with the 7th of Dbmaj [the note C] instead of the tonic). Most usually however, this pattern is kept true and ‘transforms’ through each new chord type in the same intervallic fashion.

Pattern inversion: at the end of the first 8 bar form of this section (bar 150) the pattern is started almost as a ‘pick up’ into bar 151 so that the pattern now begins in a descending form at the next 8 bar measure (151)

kurt 7

Pattern / intervallic: I have reinterpreted the original concept into a pattern made of continuous 8th notes with the intervallic formula 1-6-9-10-13-17-14. Using this formula the guide tones and upper extensions of the chord (and basic scale) are spelled in a very open manner, with notes spread more than two octaves. This arpeggiotic pattern omits the 5th which is most often the note omitted from the spelling of a chord if it does not contain an altered 5th (flat or sharp 5). From a technical stand point, it presents quite a challenge in both fingering (left hand) and picking (right hand) when played on the guitar.
Pattern inversion: The pattern is played from the lowest point to the highest for the first 4 bars then inverted for bars 21 – 23 then reverted back to its original form at bar 24.
Rhythmic displacement: Seven 8th notes against 4/4 (bars 17-19). Rosenwinkel’s pattern had an ascending / descending direction which creates a more melodic structure but I have opted to utilise the initial tonic position of the new pattern for the first three repeats so that the seven note rhythmic grouping is more evident upon listening.

Full Lesson Transcription

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